Saturday, May 31, 2008

Recycling Nuclear Waste

Unlike most European countries and Japan, the US stores perfectly good used nuclear material that might be recycled back into valuable reactor fuel.
In other countries - like the UK, Japan, Russia, and France - the removed fuel is recycled to recover the uranium and plutonium that can be put back into the fuel cycle so that they can later be split (fissioned) to release heat. Those components of used nuclear fuel are also the ones that have long half lives, ranging from a few thousand years in the case of some plutonium isotopes to several billion years in the case of the uranium-238 that is a major component of the material.

Currently, the used fuel recycling regimes in operation still consider the lighter parts of used fuel to be a waste material that needs to be put into long term storage, but there are some very bright people who believe that even that material is far to valuable to throw away. NNadir, a diarist on Daily Kos has written extensively on this issue in commentary like Profile of a “Dangerous Nuclear Waste,” Cesium, Part 5.

The US used to have a plan to recycle our fuel as well, but a great deal of marketing and pressure by people that do not like the idea of using plutonium as a source of commercial heat resulted in President Ford issuing a presidential order to temporarily halt nuclear fuel recycling in 1976. President Carter, a man who claimed to be a nuclear engineer, made that ban permanent in the hopes that forcing US companies to avoid fuel recycling would cause others to abandon the very logical idea.

That effort did not work as planned, but the people who had invested large amounts of time and money into building three recycling plants in the US only to have them shut down with the stroke of a pen decided “once bitten, twice shy.” Though President Reagan removed the ban, President Clinton essentially reinstated it and no commercial company has been willing to build a facility and risk having it turn into a white elephant after an election.

The US is now back to considering the idea that used fuel should be recycled, a concept that makes a world of sense. That is especially true since it looks like there will be a number of new reactors under construction soon and they will provide a ready market for the recycled fuel. __CleanTechnica
As the number of nuclear fission power plants increases across the developed world and the Persian Gulf area, the need for recycled fuel will increase. In North America, a radically bad form of environmentalism has held sway for the last few decades, leading many parts of the continent into energy starvation. As the stupidity of many of the radical environmentalist's causes grows more apparent, a larger portion of the more technically knowledgeable public is beginning to demand a change in government's approach to various energy technologies.

That would come none too soon, as the planet considers the implications of a prolonged solar minimum.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Biofuels Digest Algae Update, with Caution

Biofuels Digest has an ongoing update and wrapup of the state-of-the-art in algae biofuels research and development. Today's update also links to some cautionary words from a Popular Mechanics article out of yesterday's online edition.
This is algae's second coming. The first attempt, run by the U.S. government in the wake of the last oil crisis, was killed in 1996 by the Clinton administration while oil hovered around $20 per barrel. But even now, with record-high petroleum prices, algae stands in no position to compete, and hurdles remain at every stage of production.

Just choosing which kind of algae to start with is a herculean task. There are well over 100,000 species, each adapted to grow in different environments at different rates, and each capable of producing different amounts of oil—or none at all. The government collected more than 3000 different strains from all over the world in the 1980s, 300 of which were deemed promising. Today, many algal strains have been engineered into genetically modified superplants—the secret formulas of biofuel startups—but there is, as yet, no proven winner. Not to mention, there remains the small matter of how to make the algae flourish, how to cheaply dry several million gallons of subsequent slush, and how to get the oil out of minuscule cell walls and into the metaphorical barrel.

"It's not as easy as running a combine through a field of canola to get the seeds and crush them," says Michael Weaver, CEO of the Washington biofuels company Bionavitas. "For anybody who thinks that we can go from ‘Hey, let's look at algae,' to full-on fuel production in the period of the past three to five years, it's just never going to happen that way."

A number of pilot plants scheduled to come online in the next several months will likely give the most accurate glimpse of algae's future: how much oil it can produce, how soon and whether it will live up to its promise. GreenFuel, one of the oldest names in algae, already operates a pilot plant in Arizona, where it houses algae in large, clear plastic bags. Solix will break ground this summer on a new plant in Colorado, growing algae in what are essentially 230-ft.-long, 5-ft.-high freezer pops, suspended vertically in shallow pools; a smaller array, with eight 65-ft.-long bioreactors, has entered production in recent weeks. HR BioPetroleum, which signed a deal with Shell last year to produce biodiesel from algae, is currently building a pilot plant in Hawaii using a "hybrid system"—growth begins in long, clear, horizontal tubes before being dumped into open ponds to multiply further. Blitzing the ponds with algae for a short time has the advantage of rendering species invasion a nonissue, the company says.

"The jury is out on all of them—nobody has fully demonstrated that their system is going to be affordable and scalable, and be robust in terms of operations and maintenance and the ability to produce a large amount of oil routinely," says Ron Pate, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories who evaluated algal oil in conjunction with DARPA's jet fuel project last year. "There are a lot of naysayers out there, and that's fine. It's good to be skeptical. But at the same time, I think there's enough promise with algae that it needs to be given a better shot than what's been done in the past." __PopMech
The latest cost estimates from the US DOD continue to price algal biodiesel's production costs at around US $20 a gallon. I would expect that number to be reduced by a factor of 4 or 5 based upon some of the more recent developments from state of the art research, but even at production costs near US $3 or $4 a gallon, the fuel could not be sold competitively at today's prices. Scaling to industrial production would take about 5 years.

Read both links (Biofuels Digest and Popular Mechanics) to understand both the progress being made and the challenges remaining. One other interesting development in biodiesel, is the expansion of the Neste NExBTL process for hydrogenating biodiesel to an improved "next generation" biodiesel, which has superior cold weather performance to biodiesel and superior emissions characteristics to petro-diesel.

Today's energy shortages are due to high demand from the emerging worlds of China, India, etc. There is still room to increase oil production over time, but it will become more expensive. Our current speculative oil price bubble may prove to be good training for the years ahead.

Sadly, if the past is any guide, we too quickly forget earlier lessons learned under duress.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gasoline from Algae, Miles from Electricity

Bio-crude from algae can be refined to several different products, including gasoline. Yesterday, Sapphire Energy in San Diego announced their innovative "green crude", a gasoline equivalent from algae oil.
On Wednesday, the company took the covers off what it calls "green crude"--a liquid fuel chemically identical to gasoline but not dependent on either a food source or agricultural land. Even better, it promises to be "carbon neutral"; even though vehicles that burn the fuel will emit carbon, creating green crude involves pulling just as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as it will put back in.

Sapphire, based in San Diego, plans to make its fuel from algae microorganisms, salt water, carbon dioxide and the power of the sun. Chief Executive Jason Pyle was deliberately vague concerning how the technology works, but he says the company, which was formed in May 2007, has been able to produce 91 octane gasoline and has had it analyzed at a refinery.

"We created a process that relies on photosynthesis. It absorbs CO2 to produce a carbon molecule," Pyle said in an interview with Forbes.com. Pyle has been involved in two other start-ups and has a background in biotechnology, engineering and physics. "We believe we're setting the benchmark for an entire new industry."

Other alternative fuel companies such as Solazyme of South San Francisco, Calif., are using algae to produce biodiesel. Like ethanol, biodiesel attracts water and thus cannot be shipped in existing pipelines. Both ethanol and biodiesel also have lower energy density than traditional gasoline and diesel fuels. Pyle says Sapphire's green crude has the same energy density as gasoline and can be shipped in existing pipelines and refined the same way gasoline and diesel are.

Amyris Biotechnologies of Emeryville, Calif., is also developing renewable fuels that are chemically identical to gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. Amyris announced in April that it will develop a diesel fuel in Brazil from sugarcane, with a production target date of 2010. (See: "Sweet New Fuel.")

But Pyle asserts that Sapphire's technology can scale to a much greater degree than Amyris can, because Sapphire is not dependent on a food source as its fuel. "Agricultural land is of limited supply. We have a huge amount of land that is completely non-agricultural that we can use, desert land," says Pyle. His aim is to produce 10,000 barrels a day in facilities that may be located on desert land across the southwestern and southern U.S. __Forbes__via__ Earth2Tech

On the electrical front, Brian Westenhaus at New Energy and Fuel takes a look at the A123 advanced battery, and announces that it is ready for prime time. According to the story, GE has reported that if half the US auto fleet was converted to electrical drive, the US could reduce its oil use by 6 million barrels a day. That is very significant.

If you do both--convert part of the fleet to electricity, and run the rest on algal biodiesel and bio-gasoline, you could reduce oil use by perhaps another 6 million barrels a day. At that point, North America becomes energy independent.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Enhanced Geothermal News

Enhanced geothermal power uses drilling technology to punch two or more holes down into the "hot dry rock" layer of the Earth's crust. Water is then pumped into one hole and steam is extracted from the other hole(s), to drive a turbine generator for electric power. Enhanced geothermal is being pursued in Israel by Ormat Technologies.
Executives at Google have been clear that so-called enhanced geothermal is on the list of technologies they see as cost effective, compared with fossil fuel energy.

The idea behind enhanced, or engineered, geothermal systems is to inject water underground to enhance the permeability of rock, allowing for the release and capture of more heat.

Ormat is working on an enhanced geothermal project organized by the U.S. Department of Energy, which says that these advanced techniques can dramatically increase geothermal potential--by 40 times. __Cnet_via_NextBigFuture
The US DOE believes enhanced geothermal to have the potential to generate thousands of times the energy and power used by humans over the entire planet.

Humans have access to three virtually unlimited sources of energy that can supply their energy needs thousands of times over into the indefinite future. Solar--which needs better storage. Geothermal--which needs technology development. Nuclear fusion--which needs technology development. Biomass could easily supply all of humanities energy needs given more development--but probably not thousands of times over.

We are living in and near an abundance of energy. If you want to play out adolescent fantasies of living in a post-apocalyptic world instead of working to solve problems, go to the peak oil sites. You will find your soul mates there.

Much more at Brian Wang's NextBigFuture

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chicken Manure to Energy Plant in Connecticut

Poultry manure contains a high energy content. A chicken farm in Bozrah, Connecticut, is proposing to build a 30 MW gasification bioenergy plant, using a mix of chicken manure and clean wood.
Plans for a 30-megawatt biomass power plant in town moved closer to reality last week when Clearview Renewable Energy officials chose KofKoff Egg Farm as its location.

If approved, Clearview, a New Hampshire and New York power company’s project, will help solve Kofkoff’s biggest problem — disposing of chicken manure. The company will use manure from the egg farm at 17 Schwartz Road to produce power.

State Agriculture Commissioner F. Philip Prelli said the project will produce clean energy and provide a use for the chicken manure. The residue from the manure and wood would be sold as organic fertilizer and the remaining steam would be used to warm the farm’s eggs, he said.

Kofkoff, which has four other locations — in Franklin, Lebanon, Hebron and Colchester — is the state’s top egg farm, producing more than 12 million eggs per week.

Plans for the project at Kofkoff have been in the works since 2004. The state Department of Public Utility Control’s decision in January gave the green light for Clearview to move its plans forward.

Once up and operating, Clearview’s project, along with six other renewable energy projects DPUC approved, could inject nearly 110 megawatts into the state’s fossil-fuel energy grid, helping to light more than 110 homes. It will cost ratepayers approximately $101 million over 20 years.
__Source
This project represents just one farm which produces large amounts of animal waste that could be processed to energy. As farms and ranches across North America better learn how to utilise waste for energy and profit, they will become something of an example for other industries.

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50 GW of Solar by 2020?

Currently there are only 430 MW of concentrating solar thermal worldwide.
California and Spain are the biggest markets for these concentrating solar power systems. If renewable portfolio standards get passed in more states, we could see a much greater diversity of technologies beyond the solar trough and solar tower.

The Prometheus Institute forecasts that concentrating photovoltaic technologies will be used in midsize to large power plants that range from about 1 megawatt of production to about 100 megawatts.

Concentrating solar thermal systems, meanwhile, will dominate very large centralized power generation. __Cnet_via_Kurzweilai.net
The Bright Source solar tower heliostat design above provides efficient steam-turbine power production combined with air-cooling of steam--which is important in desert areas. Parabolic trough designs are more expensive to build and will likely require more upkeep.

Photovoltaics will continue to lag behind solar thermal in the utility scale market until better utility energy storage is perfected. For smaller, specialised plants, photovoltaics can be closer to ideal, being simpler systems with fewer mechanical moving parts. Just one breakthrough in storage--a perfected redox flow cell technology for example--would change the equation of cost/benefit very quickly.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Japanese Scientist Demonstrates Cold Fusion

Osaka University emeritus physics professor Yoshiaki Arata demonstrated his cold fusion process to a group of about 60 people recently.
The process consisted of Arata and his co-researcher Yue-Chang Zhang, forcing deuterium gas under pressure into an evacuated cell. The cell contains palladium dispersed in zirconium oxide. Arata claims the deuterium is absorbed by the Palladium sample to produce dense or "pynco" deuterium. The deuterium nuclei are then close enough to fuse releasing heat and helium. After the injection of deuterium gas, the temperature rose to about 70 °C, which according to Arata was due to both chemical and nuclear reactions. With the gas turned off the temperature in the centre of the cell remained significantly warmer than the cell wall for 50 hours. __AzoNano
And more:
Jed Rothwell, who is editor of the US site LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) and who has long thought that cold-fusion research shows promise, said that after Arata had started the injection of gas, the temperature rose to about 70 °C, which according to Arata was due to both chemical and nuclear reactions. When the gas was shut off, the temperature in the centre of the cell remained significantly warmer than the cell wall for 50 hours. This, according to Arata, was due solely to nuclear fusion.

Rothwell also pointed out that Arata performed three other control experiments: hydrogen with the ZrO2–Pd sample (no lasting heat); deuterium with no ZrO2–Pd sample (no heating at all); and hydrogen with no ZrO2–Pd sample (again, no heating). Nevertheless, Rothwell added that Arata neglected to mention certain details, such as the method of calibration. "His lecture was very difficult to follow, even for native speakers, so I may have overlooked something," he wrote.

It will be interesting to see what other scientists think of Arata's demonstration. Last week Augustin McEvoy, a retired condensed-matter physicist who has studied Arata's previous cold-fusion experiments in detail said that he has found "no conclusive evidence of excess heat" before, though he would like to know how this demonstration turned out. __NextEnergyNews
The fact that cold fusion research has survived in reputable institutions this long after the mainstream turned its back on the procedure, suggests that some phenomenon is taking place that is not terribly easy to explain away.

The best question to ask may be: "If cold fusion does indeed produce a small amount of excess heat, what is the greatest benefit that we can expect to derive from cold fusion, other than a basic scientific understanding?" Of course, no one can know the answer to that question. It is almost the same question as "Of what use is a newborn baby?" No one can truly know until it grows up and speaks for itself.

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Power-Spar Combines PV, Solar Thermal, Solar Lighting, and Thermal Cooling

Canadian company Menova Energy manufactures the Power-Spar, an all-purpose solar energy device that can heat, cool, provide natural indoor solar lighting, and generate electricity with PV.
The system is designed for easy integration with heat recovery systems, turbines, thermal based chillers and geo-thermal solutions to maximize the thermal, electrical and lighting outputs. This efficient co-generation yields unprecedented dollar value.

Capable of capturing up to 80% of the sun's energy, Power- Spar systems can reduce typical building energy bills by as much as 70%/year! __PowerSpar_via_CleanBreak
A Wal-Mart in the Markham, Ontario area is slated to be the first commercial scale demonstration of the Power-Spar concept. Read more at the links above.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nuclear Battery Powered Oil Sands Extraction

Canadian tar sands represent most of the oil that the US will be using in 20 years, unless US voters elect a more honest and rational Congress. A better US Congress would also open up shale oil in the Green River Basin for development--with more oil resource than in all of Saudi Arabia. As it is, the inept current US Congress may make Canadian tar sands off limits to US refiners and distributors. Yes, they are that stupid now in Washington DC.

Just when better ways of extracting Canadian tar sands are coming along. Like the new Hyperion nuclear battery, that can be used for in situ tar sand extraction.
Since it is portable, the reactor can be deployed virtually anywhere power is needed -- remote industrial operations such as the Alberta oil sands, military installations or communities looking to supplement grid-supplied power. Once deployed, the Hyperion module delivers approximately 70 megawatts (MW) of heat (thermal energy) and 25 megawatts (MW) of electrical power via steam turbine. This is enough power to provide electricity for a community of 20,000 average-sized, American-style homes. Hyperion modules can also be "ganged" to provide even more power.

...About 4,000 units of the initial design will be manufactured at a new U.S. site yet to be determined. The initial rector will be a compact, self-regulating, self-contained design with no moving parts and about the size of a hot tub. Sealed at the factory, the module is not opened until it is time for the unit to be refueled — at the factory — approximately every five years or so. This helps guard against tampering. __Source__via__NextBigFuture
While the US Congress is only interested in political power and pillage, most intelligent observers understand that nuclear energy is the key to a better long-term future. Nuclear batteries such as Hyperion are a small, unconventional form of fission power, but they can fit into incredibly important niches. Incrementally larger and more conventional nuclear fission reactors can provide reliable baseload power for large towns and small cities, large industrial facilities and developments, and could be ganged together to provide larger quantities of power if needed.

We at Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] have become unhappily aware of the fact that the current US Congress is all about restricting energy--depriving the US citizen and resident of access to energy. That is why we developed our patented "corrupt politician to bio-energy" thermochemical process. We believe that if an elected official betrays his duty to the public's trust, that he should be utilised for the benefit of the public in one way or another. At OYNK, we are all about a better future, no matter what the politicians want. ;-)

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Peak Oil? Not Even Close

While the marching morons of peak oil continue their adolescent doom-seeking, the realists of the world understand one simple fact: there is a lot more oil in the ground than has ever been pumped for fuel.
Even with record-high oil prices, about two-thirds of the oil in known oil fields is being left in the ground. That's because existing technologies that could extract far more oil--as much as about 75 percent of the oil in some oil fields--aren't being widely used, according to experts in the petroleum industry.

Several well-established technologies, including "smart oil fields," exist that could significantly boost the supply of petroleum from oil reservoirs. But a lack of investment in such technologies, particularly by the national oil companies that control the vast majority of the world's oil reserves, is holding back implementation. When oil is drawn from a field too quickly, or from a bad location, or with the wrong kind of well, large amounts of oil can be left behind, says Richard Sears, a visiting scientist at MIT who has served as a vice president for exploration at Royal Dutch Shell, based in the Netherlands. But the best technologies for managing an oil field require up-front investment--when an oil field is mapped and characterized and the first wells are drilled--and the payoff can take decades.

...Such smart oil fields have started to become more common for international oil companies such as Shell, Exxon-Mobil, and BP. But they still aren't used in most oil fields. And their use is particularly low in fields run by national oil companies, says Larry Schwartz, a longtime researcher and scientific advisor for Schlumberger, a Houston-based company that provides various services to oil companies.

...Steven Koonin, BP's chief scientist, says that cutting-edge research could lead to automated oil rigs on the sea floor, ultra-deep-water ocean drilling, and arctic exploration and production, as well as to technology for extracting oil from unconventional sources, such as shale. But although oil prices have been higher than $60 a barrel for almost three years, Koonin says that for the most advanced technologies, "oil prices will have to stay high for a couple of years longer before companies think they can make big investments." __TechReview

The situation is even more counterintuitive than that. Huge oil fields which adolescent doom-seekers claim are "tapped out" still often contain most of their oil, because corrupt national oil companies will not invest in better technology. Most of Saudi Arabia and the middle east have not even been properly surveyed, explored, or test drilled for oil.

And still there are the huge reserves of heavy oils, tar sands, and oil shales which lie undisturbed due to incompetence of corrupt governments such as Venezuela, and the ideological incompetence of the current US Congress.

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Biomass Gasification for Electricity, Liquid Fuels

Biomass gasification is the most versatile approach to bioenergy at this time. The gas produced by rapid pyrolysis can fire gas turbines to generate electricity, process heat for industry, or can be turned into liquid fuels for transportation and heavy machinery. Iowa's Frontline Bioenergy plans to use corncobs to replace natural gas, in the production of maize ethanol. Given natural gas prices lately, that substitution should certainly help the bottom line.
Chippewa Valley is owned by 980 farmers, so it's natural that the company wants to make its ethanol using a natural resource that is grown close to home.

"We're looking at harvesting 5,000 acres of cobs next fall" for use at the plant, Lee said.

The biomass gasification technology developed by Frontline BioEnergy uses a thermochemical process to break down wood residues, corncobs or prairie grasses into a substance known as producer gas.

Producer gas is a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane that can be burned like natural gas.

Frontline provides a proprietary process called Cleangas that allows producer gas to be piped to several locations within an industrial facility without the typical hydrocarbon condensation concerns associated with conventional biomass gasification.

Besides providing a source of heat, Frontline BioEnergy's biomass gasifiers will be able to produce synthesis gas that can be converted to ethanol through catalytic or biological methods, the company said. __Source
The chemistry of pyrolysis gas was worked out a century ago or more. The work being done now is to adapt the process to different types of waste biomass feedstocks, such as corncobs, grasses, garbage, etc.

The main problem is the lack of developed infrastructure in farming country, to take low energy density, distributed biomass, and pre-process it into higher density, more compact biomass. Bailing, pelleting, briquetting, torrefaction, and other processes are being perfected to accommodate that need.

The US has never had as incompetent a US Congress as now. The Congress is doing everything possible to reduce the ability of the US to become more energy self sufficient. Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] officials are monitoring the situation closely.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Boosting Algae Production: Montana-Mexico Axis

Greenstar has announced a new micro-nutrient solution that it claims can boost algae growth rates over 30%.
Algae scientists have long searched for a micronutrient formula to increase the growth rate of algae biomass. Now, Biotech Research, Inc., a consortium partner of Green Star, has confirmed a daily growth rate increase of 34% using the “Montana Micronutrient Booster (MMB)” formula. This growth rate booster can increase the total biomass quantity in a harvest algae growth cycle by well over 100%. The tests where conducted at Biotech Research’s lab facility at the UABC University in Ensenada, Mexico (see press release dated Nov. 20, 2007).

Joseph LaStella, president of Green Star Products, stated, “This breakthrough formula is too important to the algae processing industry for any single company to hold for their personal use. Microalgae production holds real answers to the many serious problems facing the world today, including global fuel shortages, global warming and food supply shortages.” __Source__via_GCC
Algae growth rate is not the same thing as oil production. But assuming that the faster growing algae produce the same amount of oil per algal cell, a 30% production boost could make a near-profitable venture into a profitable one.

Algal biodiesel remains in the development stage, with production costs at least a factor of 5 too high for profitability in North America. With competition from vast new oil palm plantations in Africa and Southeast Asia, algae will soon be pressed to begin delivering on its many promises.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Biofuels Reports

Blue Fire Ethanol is betting on the rapid US expansion of cellulosic ethanol over the next 5 years. Officials at Blue Fire say the technology is in place, and it is the financing that is slowing down the revolution.
The company plans to build 10 plants with at least 55 million gpy of capacity in five years throughout the United States to make cellulosic ethanol, the new fuel, Arnold Klann, said by telephone on Wednesday. The feedstocks would include agricultural waste, wood scraps and non-food crops such as switchgrass...Cellulosic has been touted as a fuel that won't raise food prices.. __CheckBiotech
The Tri-Cities of Washington State will host the new biofuel laboratory. The new world-class R&D biofuels lab aims to help speed the movement of biofuels discoveries from the lab to production.
Birgitte Ahring, one of the world's leading researchers in ways to convert biological byproducts like wood debris or wheat straw into ethanol, will head the lab.

She brings with her a string of research contracts, staff members and a $24.3 million grant from the Department of Energy to partner with Pacific Ethanol in the construction a biofuel demonstration plant in Boardman.

The combination - key researchers, partnership with a national laboratory, promising students, first-class facility - is certain to help fulfill the community's vision for higher education.

The new lab's potential has even broader implications for Washington..."The time students spend here will prepare them to drive next-generation bioproducts and biofuels from concept to reality in the marketplace," WSU President Elson Floyd said during the lab's recent dedication...That transfer from research to enterprise promises to benefit the state's agricultural industry by creating new markets and opportunities to diversify. __CheckBiotech
Meanwhile, Italy's Eni industrial conglomerate is moving to join China in the neo-colonialist movement within Africa. Eni plans to develop large palm oil biodiesel plantations in the Congo, and to also develop Congolese oil sands and heavy oil deposits.
Eni has reached agreement for the exploration and exploitation of non-conventional oil in tar sands in Tchikatanga and Tchikatanga-Makola, two areas covering a total of 1790 square km which show 'enormous potential'. According to preliminary studies undertaken on a 100 square km area, recoverable reserves are estimated at between 2,5 billion barrels unrisked and 500 million barrels risked.

The agreement will allow Eni to consolidate its unique skills in tar sands t aking advantage of proprietary Eni Slurry Technology (EST) for improvement of the quality of heavy oils.

The project will also benefit from synergies resulting from the close proximity of the M'Boundi oilfield. Gas associated with oil production in this area can also be used to supply the EST plant and enrich the heavy oil, while achieving the goal of reducing atmospheric emissions under the Kyoto protocol.

The Memorandum of Understanding on the Food Plus Biodiesel project outlines a framework for collaboration in the use of vegetable oils from palm tree cultivation on approximately 70,000 unfarmed hectares in the Niari region, in the North West of the country . This land is expected to produce approximately 340 thousand tons/year of crude palm oil, enough to cover domestic demand for food uses and produce 250,000 tons/year of biodiesel.

The project will employ approximately 10,000 people and will establish a consortium which will cooperate with the best international organisations to optimise agricultural production and development in local communities operating on the basis of the principles of protection of environment and of biodiversity: __Biopact
Africa has many regions that are ideal for bio-energy development. The thing that Africa lacks, is a skilled and trained workforce. That is why Africa always must look outside--to China, Italy, etc--for the leadership, investment, and expertise in developing Africa's rich resources.

So although China's and Italy's involvement may appear to be neo-colonialism, in reality there is no other way large and technically advanced projects can get done in Africa, at this time. We hope that this situation will eventually change.

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Genetic Engineering of Oil Seed Species

The genomes of the Palm Oil and Jatropha Curcus are under intense scrutiny by researchers, who want to tweak their genomes just enough to make farm grown biofuels the next big thing.
The Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Sdn Bhd (ACGT) and Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) [ed:Craig Venter's company] have completed a first draft assembly and annotation of the oil palm genome....The organizations also announced that they have made progress in sequencing and analyzing the jatropha genome.

The oil palm and jatropha genome projects represent the first stages of research undertaken through a joint venture between SGI and ACGT which was announced in 2007 and is aimed at developing more high-yielding and disease-resistant plant feedstocks.

...The draft oil palm genome is already yielding important information including unique genetic variations linked to traits that differ in the two races. One example of this pertains to kernel shell thickness which differs between the two. Since fruits with thinner kernel shells yield more oil, the groups are seeking to understand the genetic basis for shell thickness. These molecular markers and others can be used in breeding and tissue-culture based approaches to address plant yield, oil quality, growth and height and other important properties, including fertilizer requirements and stress and disease tolerance.

...The Asiatic Group has 66,000 hectares of land in Malaysia and is developing 98,300 hectares in Indonesia on a joint venture basis. The Group owns 5 oil mills with a total milling capacity of 235 tonnes per hour and is reputed to be one of the lowest cost palm oil producers with fresh fruit bunches production of over one million tonnes. Asiatic is one of the early members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Synthetic Genomics Inc. is focusing on genomic-driven solutions to address global energy and environmental challenges. The company’s main research and business programs are focused on major bioenergy areas: designing advanced biofuels with superior properties compared to ethanol and biodiesel; harnessing photosynthetic organisms to produce value added products directly from sunlight and carbon dioxide; developing new biological solutions to increase production and/or recovery rates of subsurface hydrocarbons and developing high-yielding, more disease resistant and economic feedstocks. __GCC
For now, these two species require a tropical or semi-tropical growing environment, which limits the growing regions mainly to countries of the third world. If these countries are able to develop these and similar warm weather cash crops before Venter's crew hits the jackpot, we may see some emerging billionaires from the third world.

Both the Palm Oil and the Jatropha Curcus oil seed species offer relatively high yield bio-oil production. But both suffer from significant weaknesses that limit their ability to make a more significant contribution to world biodiesel production. Genetically engineering the oil seed trees and shrubs to provide higher yield, in more locations, with less costly cultivation, would push them into the forefront of biofuels.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Biomass Gasifiers For Rural Village Power

University of Virginia students have started a company to provide power for rural Indian villagers, using rice husk gasifiers. Rice husks are a plentiful waste biomass product in many rice-growing regions of the world.
There are 480 million Indians with no power and 350 million of them live in rural villages, concentrated in eastern India's "Rice Belt," where the villagers are "rice rich and power poor," explained Ransler.

The team was struck, said Ransler, by how "these big things all work together" — three sources of revenue could be produced from what was otherwise a waste product sitting in huge piles slowly rotting in villages across India. Even with conservative electricity consumption, revenue from the three sources would allow each rice husk generator to break even in about two and a half years, and it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 200 tons per year, per village. Furthermore, explained Ransler, a lack of reliable electricity is one of the biggest obstacles to small business growth in rural India, so providing a village with rice-husk power can be the enabler of a dozen other small business ventures. They concluded, "someone should do this. Why shouldn't it just be us?"

With all the refinements, the business plan soon started "looking like Starbucks — you can put one of these in 125,000 locations, hire local people, and turn a raw material into money — just substitute rice husks for coffee beans," said Ransler.
__NextEnergy

Biomass gasification should work well for small rural communities in areas of prolific growth and plentiful biomass. This market is huge worldwide, and presents opportunities for small and medium scale business--since large businesses are currently uninterested.
Decentralised Energy Systems (DESI Power), a young, India-based power company that built a biomass gasification plant that runs on inexpensive agricultural residues such as ipomoea, a weed plentiful throughout the Indian countryside. DESI’s power plant in the village of Baharbari provides a cheap, clean source of electricity that the village uses to meet local microenterprises’ and agricultural laborers’ needs, such as pumping water and charging batteries. Indeed, the driving idea behind DESI Power is to make a profit from designs that fall outside the standard power generation model, and in doing so to create worthwhile jobs and economic growth in places that the government has all but forgotten. DESI does make a profit: The company generates a 10 percent return on its investment by building, owning, and operating the power plants before eventually turning them over to local power producers.

...Though there is literally a world of opportunities for firms to meet basic demand for housing, water, energy, medical insurance, legal and financial services, and much more in developing markets, few are doing so. According to a recent Ashoka report, large companies have tapped only about 20 percent of new markets.Corporations often draw workers from these populations, but rarely do they flip the equation and develop products, services, and brands that target the poor’s basic social and infrastructure needs. __Source

This area represents a huge blind spot in the tunnel vision of most western educated businesspeople. Who, after all, can take weeds, manure, and husks seriously? What are the profit margins in the biomass business next to those in oil, telecom, and jet aircraft?

Urbanisation--the flight to the cities--is driven by poverty and lack of opportunity in rural areas. But what if rural areas are actually rich with opportunity, and poor only in imagination and expertise? A bit of innovation from the big city might go a long way out in the sticks.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Printing Small Parts for Fuel Cells

Fuel cells will soon be replacing batteries in portable communications and consumer electronics devices. Better ways of mass producing the small and intricate components of fuel cells would help to bring down costs, growing the market for the devices more quickly.
Redwood City, Calif.-based EoPlex Technologies has found a low-cost way to make small, complex parts, and it plans to use the new technology for energy efficient and energy generating products.

EoPlex's process makes components using custom printing equipment and proprietary "inks."

The three dimensional parts are printed in layers using the special inks, with the ability to use multiple materials, including ceramic, metals and polymers, in the same structures...EoPlex's ink is what makes the process work.

"It's the secret sauce," Arthur Chait, CEO of EoPlex, told Cleantech.com. "And it truly is a secret sauce. It looks like sauce, kind of like thick sauce, and it's got multiple ingredients. There's a lot of trade secrets there."

..."One of the things holding fuel cells back," said Chait, "is the ability to make small, intricate ceramic-metal parts."

Those parts are needed for reforming, where the hydrogen is split out of the alcohol-water mixture to fuel the system. Chait said another hurdle is micro-pumps, which have no moving parts.

"Both of those technologies require a lot of small, complex ceramic and metal constructions. Little monolithic parts that have no moving assemblies, but can do all these chemical and pumping actions."

"We can build those cheaply," said Chait.

Inexpensive fuel cells could be a boon to first responders, who currently have to carry extra battery packs into emergency situations. __Cleantech
Methanol (and other liquid fuels) fuel cells are much more practical at this time than hydrogen fuel cells. Substituting methanol fuel cells for batteries should provide an infinitely re-chargeable power supply, that provides charges lasting up to 10 times longer, or more, than conventional batteries. Removing the environmental load of millions of toxic disposable batteries is also a factor pushing the conversion.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Adding Biomass to Coal in the UK

One of the easiest ways to utilise biomass to produce energy, is to partially substitute biomass for coal in a traditionally coal-fired power plant. Yorkshire based Drax power plant intends to do exactly that, making Drax the largest biomass producer of electricity in the UK.
Executives from Yorkshire-based Drax signed a deal with Alstom to build a processing plant that could prepare 1.5m tonnes per year of biomass for use in the power station. Under the plans, biomass would be ground into a fine powder and injected directly into the power station's coal-fired furnaces. Building work for the processing plant will start later in 2008 and the first part of the facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2009.

...Neil Crumpton, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said that using biomass in power stations or combined heat and power schemes is a better use of the resource than, for example, turning it into liquid biofuels for use by diesel-engine vehicles. "Co-firing with biomass is a reasonable way forward - it's a logical extension of what Drax is already doing and I've got no qualms with it on that score. If it helps build the sustainable biomass market in the UK, then all well and good."

...To test whether co-firing would work, Drax has used a 2-3% mix of biomass in some of its coal-fired furnaces for several months already. In their current experiments, the biomass fuel is mixed directly into the coal as it burns but this technique would not work for larger quantities of biomass.

"When you burn just a few per cent of biomass, you can afford to use exactly the same lines as coal," said Patrick Fragman, managing director of Alstom, the company that will build the biomass processing plant at Drax. But, for a higher percentage, he said, dedicated infrastructure is needed.

Peter Emery, production director at Drax, said that the new processing plant was a crucial part of the power station's attempt to scale up their biomass usage. He also added that it would be able to handle a wide variety of biomass fuels.

Different biomass materials burn in different ways, so the processing plant needs to be able to handle the materials accordingly. The resulting fuels then need to be inserted into the coal-fired boilers at different positions to ensure they burn properly. Engineers at Drax estimate that it will take 1.5m tonnes of biomass to replace the energy that comes from 1m tonnes of coal. __Guardian
Biomass CHP or cellulosic electricity, is clearly the most efficient way of producing energy from cellulosic biomass. The only reason for taking the less efficient route of producing liquid fuels (BTL) from biomass is that most of the transportation infrastructure cannot run without liquid fuels, at this time. It will likely require 20 years or more to achieve significant conversion of transportation from liquid fuels to electric drives running on stored electricity. Even fuel cells will probably need to run largely on liquid fuels such as methanol, for the next 10 to 20 years minimum.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

General Information on Crude Glycerin Byproduct

Excerpted from Renewable Energy Online:
Crude glycerol is not a valuable product and currently sells for about 1 to 2 cents per gallon. For every 100 pounds of biodiesel produced, 10 pounds of glycerol is also created.

...Traditionally, glycerin has been used to produce nitro-glycerin and soap. But crude glycerin can also be burnt, composted or fed to ruminants. Research on turning glycerin into an alternative to antifreeze is also within grasp.

Burning glycerin for heat and power can render positive effects, however, temperature is a significant concern. Burning [ed: crude] glycerin at temperatures between 200 and 300°C (392-572°F) emits toxic acrolein fumes so temperatures beyond 1,000°C (1832°F) are necessary.

As a sugar, glycerin can be a considerable addition to compost. This is a much simpler option. However, it is important to make sure the glycerin does not cut out oxygen and negatively affect pH, which harms the composting bacteria. Glycerin is also a liquid and therefore hard to contain. Since it can be harmful to ground and surface water, it is vital to prevent leakage.

...A third option is to feed the crude glycerin to ruminants. In actuality, there are no regulations that affect the use of glycerol as a feed additive. The overall consensus is that crude glycerol can comprise up to 15 percent of a ruminant animals diet and 15 percent of pelleted feed mix. Dairy cows are the exception where a study found the limit to be 1 to 5% with an improvement in energy balance when glycerol comprised 2% of their diet.

Assuming the crude glycerin is 80% pure glycerin, Brett Hess from the University of Wyoming thinks that crude glycerol should sell at 89% of the price of cornstarch. This would give it a price of 1 to 2 cents per pound or 10 times current market value. However in most cases, crude glycerin is 50 to 60% pure and thus should be discounted 33%.

The two other product options for glycerin, making hydrogen or propylene glycol, are still in the research phases. Since the process is complicated, when and if it becomes technologically mature, it will likely be done in centralized plants. This basically means small biodiesel producers will probably only need to invest in storage and sell their glycerin much like a lot of restaurants are selling their waste oil.

The other upcoming use for glycerin is propylene glycol. It can be used as a non-toxic anti-freeze, coolant, or deicer. Although petroleum based ethylene glycol is currently much cheaper, it remains a non-renewable resource that is highly toxic and as such is bound to lose popularity.


More information in the "resources" section here.

As the quantity of produced biodiesel is ramped up, it will be more important to find profitable uses for byproducts such as glycerin, which are up to 10% of biodiesel production by weight. If the value of crude glycerin is to go up between 5 and 10 times its current price, that would represent a significant price adjustment, and should be accounted for by all business interests contemplating using glycerin as a feedstock.

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Another Energy from Glycerin Approach

This article was originally posted at Al Fin:

Here is more information on the Cyclone external combustion engine that is set to power ten 1-MW electric generators. I call it a "hybrid" cycle engine, because it has features belonging to Rankine, Carnot, Diesel, and Stirling cycle engines.
The parties' plans are to power these industrial generators using a glycerol-based synthesis gas produced through Florida Syngas' proprietary plasma process called GlidArc™. Glycerol, the waste product of the bio-diesel industry, is a hydrogen rich, carbon neutral gas with its only waste products being hot water and useable heat. Under the agreement, Florida Syngas will design and build the synthesis gas converters, and Advent Power Systems will develop the engines and generator sets utilizing Cyclone's patented engine technology. Development of the equipment will be co-located in both Grant and Coconut Creek, Florida.___Source

The primary components of the engine include a condenser, steam generator and the requisite valves, cylinders, pistons, pushrods, main bearing, cams, and camshaft. Ambient air enters the engine through the intake blower, which circulates it through the condenser. According to Schoell, the flat-plate condenser �looks like a set of stacked record albums where air goes around the outside of the discs while the vapor on the inside is spun.� It is then directed through heat exchangers, and the air is pre-heated, enters the steam generator, and is mixed with atomized fuel that is also spun in the centrifuge.

...The power output is controlled by a rocker arm and cam design that opens and closes a needle valve in the head. This introduces high-pressure, high-temperature steam into the cylinder and provides the expansion force necessary to drive the pistons. Because it relies on the expansion of the fluid and not the expansive capacity of the fuel to create power, the Cyclone engine is fuel independent.___Autofieldguide

Whereas the old steam engine wasted most of its thermal energy (as much as 90%), the Cyclone Engine is highly efficient due to reheat and regeneration that recycle more than 30% of the heat generated from burning fuel. The engine operates at supercritical pressure (3,200 PSI) and temperature (1,100 degrees F) which makes the superheated steam behaves like a fluid rather than a gas so improving efficiency and making for a more compact engine. The overall thermodynamic efficiency is in the range of the Diesel engine (30-36%). The main advantages are: its capacity of using a wide range of fuels - gasoline, diesel oil, ethanol, kerosene, powdered coal, natural gas, etc.; continuous and complete combustion of fuel, creating less emissions than current gasoline or diesel powered internal combustion engines; high torque at start (700 ft/lb) which eliminates the need for a clutch and gearbox, simplifying the project and cutting down on power losses in transmission; the working fluid, water, is used to lubricate the engine, what avoids the long-standing problem of steam engines, the contamination of lubricating oil by water.___Wikipedia

Using glycerol-derived syngas for fuel is reasonable at this time, since glycerol is an inexpensive byproduct of biodiesel manufacture.

The Florida plans for 10 cyclone driven 1-MW generators, combined with the plasma syngas operation, demonstrates yet another "energy from garbage" approach. Forida appears to be in the vanguard of the advanced energy-from-garbage industry. That is unfortunate from the viewpoint of tourists who were hoping to see huge mountains of landfill dotting the Florida landscape in the near future. At this rate, Florida will be importing half the world's garbage before long--to use as fuel.

Cyclone Power Technologies

More Information on Cyclone engine operation

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Fuel from Waste Glycerin? We'll See

There is enough waste glycerin produced in the US to produce "8 billion megawatts per year." So says XcelPlus Global Holdings, which intends to bring the new glycerin product called "Gly-Clene" to market.
Gly-Clene has the ability to power up turbine engines for electricity production or any other non-aircraft use associated with turbine engines. Gly-Clene can also be used to heat fluid bed reactors as it also performs well in oil gun furnaces as you can see in a soon to be released video linked on www.xcelplusglobal.com .

With the ever-increasing biodiesel production, the glycerin market grows as well. Subsequently, the fear of another glut has concerned biodiesel manufacturers, scratching their heads looking for a stable way to dispose of this by-product.

There is currently enough glycerin produced in the U.S. alone for Gly-Clene to produce 27,000 megawatts of electricity per day or over 8 billion megawatts per year[ed: wtf?] without even adding steam turbines to take advantage of the excess heat produced by the turbines. _EnergyDaily
Interesting, but a bit vague. A brief glimpse at the XcelPlus Global Holding website suggests that the company has ambitious goals in the field of bio-energy. Best to remain skeptical until we see more, however.

What do they mean by megawatts per day or per year? I doubt that what they say is what they mean. If they mean that there is enough excess glycerin so that using their product one could generate an average of 27,000 megawatts over a day, that would mean something--and it would be impressive. That would be roughly 27 new nuclear power plants worth of power. But we cannot know that is what they mean, without them being more clear.

Energy Daily should know better than to use inappropriate units which can only confuse the issue. As for the actual technology involved, we will just have to wait for more information to decide.

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Combining Land Conservation w/Biomass Energy

The largest questions about the future of biomass energy involve concerns about ample feedstock supply combined with land area requirements and impact on land quality.
Rentech, Inc. (AMEX:RTK) announced today that it has entered into an agreement to collaborate with the Wilds, one of the largest and most innovative wildlife conservation centers in the world, to study the effect on the entire ecosystem of growing and harvesting biomass and non-food energy crops.

The collaboration, which will also include Ohio State University, will be conducted on reclaimed mine lands at the Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio. The study will also examine the utilization of marginal landscapes for the production of perennial, non-food based biofuels, and the potential for bio-sequestration of carbon and other environmental services on reclaimed land. __Source
Large areas of wild lands are prolific producers of biomass. The waste biomass from forests and wilderness is plentiful, but requires energy to harvest. Questions about impact of biomass harvesting on wildlife and ecosystems are also involved in the long term viability of the use of wilderness and reclaimed land for biomass production.

Studies such as the one above involving a prestigious university and a respected land conservancy organisation, should go a long way toward answering some of these questions.

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Making Algal Biodiesel Viable

Casa Grande Arizona is the latest focus for the attempt to break through to viability for algal biodiesel. A former agricultural think tank, XL renewables is entering the algal biodiesel R&D fray in an attempt to be the first to cash in on this potentially high-yield biofuel.
"Algae biomass can produce substantially more volume per acre than any other crop and meet the increasing demand for renewable energy and food," Cloud said. "Algae biomass has the potential to add significant volumes of oils, proteins and carbohydrates to world markets for energy and food."

Work continues at the algae center in Casa Grande, where the company has a patent pending on the XL Super Trough it developed here. The Super Trough is expected to go into production on a full-sized, 40-acre plot here in November, a size XL officials consider ideal for algae biomass production.

"It's an actual site so we can demonstrate, running it at a commercial level," Cloud explained. "We expect farmers will take the 40-acre size" and operate multiple-trough fields. Visitors from around the world are expected for a November field day at the site. Eventually, the company hopes to sell the system to farmers for commercial production and wants to begin delivery by January. Installation costs should be about $25,000 per acre.

XL says the Super Trough will enable algae biomass producers to extract three primary products from the algae: high-grade oil for biofuel production, fatty acids for omega and edible oils, and animal feed high in protein. __zwire_via_checkbiotech
As stated previously at Al Fin, current algal biodiesel costs run about $20 a gallon. XL is trying to maximise the yield of its algal crop--to utilise all the products, not just the biodiesel component. By finding a market for products and byproducts of biofuels production, manufacturers have a better chance of operating profitably.

That ability to market by-products is something that most people ignore when calculating the EROI and profitability of biofuels manufacture.

Update 19May08: More information about the Casa Grande plan.
The XL Super Trough uses a miniature greenhouse-type process to produce the algae in laser-leveled, 18-inch-deep, 1,250-foot-long troughs.

Mechanized equipment installs specially designed plastic liner sheets with integrated aeration and lighting systems along 6-foot-wide troughs. An optional plastic sheet called "mulch" can be installed on top of the trough to make it a closed system and increase algae production during cooler temperatures.

There are no moving parts, and the only connection points are at the ends of the troughs. Fortified water is pumped clear through the 40-acre field in 24 hours at a rate of 2,000 gallons per minute. Half of the flow - 1,000 gallons per minute - is then diverted into the harvest system, and 950 gallons of that is recirculated into the fields. Fifty gallons of algae concentrate is pumped into harvesting and can be transported to a central processing plant. __Checkbiotech

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Indium Phosphide Nanowires For Highly Efficient Nanowire Solar Cells

By creating a much larger surface area for photon capture, UCSD electrical engineers have made a potentially higher efficiency solar cell with indium phosphide nanowires.
Indium phosphide (InP) nanowires can serve as electron superhighways that carry electrons kicked loose by photons of light directly to the device’s electron-attracting electrode – and this scenario could boost thin-film solar cell efficiency, according to research recently published in NanoLetters.

The new design increases the number of electrons that make it from the light-absorbing polymer to an electrode. By reducing electron-hole recombination, the UC San Diego engineers have demonstrated a way to increases the efficiency with which sunlight can be converted to electricity in thin-film photovoltaics.

Including nanowires in the experimental solar cell increased the “forward bias current” – which is a measure of electrical current – by six to seven orders of magnitude as compared to their polymer-only control device, the engineers found.

...The UCSD electrical engineers grew their InP nanowires on the metal electrode – indium tin oxide (ITO) – and then covered the nanowire-electrode platform in the organic polymer, P3HT, also known as poly(3-hexylthiophene). The researchers say they were the first group to publish work demonstrating growth of nanowires directly on metal electrodes without using specially prepared substrates such as gold nanodrops.

“Just a layer of metal can work. In this paper we used ITO, but you can use other metals, including aluminum,” said Paul Yu.

...“By growing nanowires directly on an untreated electrode surface, you can start thinking about incorporating millions or billions of nanowires in a single device. I think this is where the field is eventually going to end up,” said Novotny. “But I think we are at least a decade away from this becoming a mainstream technology.” __SD_via_Kurzweilai.net
This is a logical approach to increasing "electron pumping" in PV. Eventually, the technology should allow the inexpensive mass production of highly efficient PV cells using such an approach. The convergence of nanotechnology with PV offers much promise.

The problem with large-scale adoption of PV for power utilities is the need for utility-scale electrical storage. At this time, even for an off-the-grid residential installation, the highest costs lie with the storage batteries--to cope with extended sunless days and weeks.

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Neste Oil's New Biodiesel Outperforms All Others

Neste Oil's biodiesel plant in southern Finland imports vegetable oil, processes it to biodiesel with its own hydrogenation process, then exports most of its biodiesel at a profitable price. Neste claims that its new biodiesel outperforms both conventional diesel and other biodiesels.
Neste Oil has launched its 10% biodiesel blend in Finland this month.

15/5/2008

The company introduced its European standard EN-590 diesel as the “world’s first renewable fuel suitable for all diesel engines”. It contains at least 10% biofuel of Neste’s own NExBTL brand. Neste claims EN-590 outperforms both regular diesel as well as other biodiesels on the market.

Neste produces its biodiesel at a 170,000 tonne-per-annum facility located in Porvoo, southern Finland, mainly from imported palm oil, rapeseed oil and animal fats. The company aims for 70% of its biodiesel inputs to be non-food crops within the next 10 years. "In about 2020 we strive to have all the raw materials we use from outside the food chain," said Simo Honkanen, who heads up Neste’s renewable fuels division. That could include both biomass and algae.

Currently most of Neste’s biodiesel is exported and the company is seeing a large demand for its product. A second biodiesel facility is expected to come online in Porvoo next year _RenewableEnergyMag__via_Checkbiotech
Due to higher fuel costs in Europe, profitability of advanced biodiesels such as Neste's may be easier to attain. As prices of fuel in the US rise, profitability for fossil fuel substitutes should improve--particularly as the quality of the product and efficiencies of processes improve.

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Garbage to Ethanol Picking Up

Garbage is gaining value as fuel feedstock, in addition to more traditional recycling of aluminium, glass, and plastic. Using a variety of processing methods, more companies are looking into converting garbage to ethanol and biodiesel.
CleanTech Biofuels is developing a multistep process designed to take municipal solid waste from a transfer station and turn out ethanol on the other side.
The company recently purchased the equipment and found a site in Golden, Colo., to test it using trash, as well other agricultural and forest wastes, to make ethanol. On Tuesday, it said that it trying to identify a site near landfills and garbage haulers to construct a commercial plant.

Within two years, the company expects to move from a proof-of-concept plant to a commercial plant, said Michael Kime, the company's chief operating officer.

"We can literally take a truck with curbside garbage and put it almost exactly as-is into our vessels--we just have to take out the large things like refrigerators," Kime said.

A number of projects have been proposed in the United States and Canada to convert solid waste into ethanol, using different techniques.

BlueFire Ethanol is a cellulosic-ethanol company that uses a proprietary acid hydrolysis process to break down organic wastes. It intends to start construction of a commercial-scale, 3.1 million gallon-per-year facility in Lancaster, Calif., which will be located next to a landfill.

Using gasification and enzymes, start-up Coskata said it can convert municipal solid trash into ethanol as well. In its first demonstration plant in Pennsylvania, Coskata intends to demonstrate its ethanol system using trash - and separately, wood chips - as a feedstock in less than a year, said Wes Bolsen, the vice president of business development and marketing at Coskata. __CheckBiotech
Thermochemical processing and gasification techniques can turn just about any type of carbon into hydrocarbons and alcohols. It is a matter of ingenuity combined with time to scale up processes and secure financing and regulatory permits.

For North America, the new energy processing plants have come along at precisely the right time--when large parts of the manufacturing sector have been moved overseas for cheaper labour and fewer litigational and regulatory hazards caused by government and a labyrinthine legal system. In China, regulatory problems can be made to disappear with a proper bribe.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Big Money Comes to Solar and Bio-Energy


A list of big-money interests who are backing solar energy and bio-energy projects includes Google, Morgan Stanley, BP, Chevron, DuPont, Genencor, and several others. Google, BP, and Chevron are backing Bright Source Energy, the solar thermal tower from Israel. DuPont and Genencor are backing a new joint cellulosic ethanol venture due to begin operation in a pilot plant in 2009. First the Bright Source backing:
BrightSource Energy, the solar thermal startup that scored one of the industry’s biggest solar power plant deals in April, has just raised a massive $115 million in Series C funding and has added some big new names to its list of investors including Google.org, BP Alternative Energy, StatoilHydro Venture and Black River. Return backers include VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley, DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Chevron Technology Ventures. This pushes the Oakland, Calif.-based startup’s funding over $160 million.

BrightSource says it intends to use the funds to start building its five large solar thermal plants in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, which could cost $2 to $3 billion. The company has signed a series of power purchase agreements with Northern California utility PG&E for 900 MW, and the company says it could start construction as soon as 2009; the plants could start churning out solar power as early as 2011. __Earth2Tech
Next the DuPont/Genencor cellulosic ethanol play:
The partners plan an initial three-year investment of US$140 million, which will initially target corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. Future targets include multiple ligno-cellulosic feedstocks including wheat straw, a variety of energy crops and other biomass sources.

The parent companies will license their combined existing intellectual property and patents related to cellulosic ethanol. The goal is to maximize efficiency and lower the overall system cost to produce a gallon of ethanol from cellulosic materials by optimizing the process steps into a single integrated technology solution.

The integration of the partners’ individual technology platforms will combine:

*A differentiated pretreatment process developed by DuPont through its collaboration with the US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that allows for reduced capital costs. The process is a proprietary mild alkaline process that allows for lower cost of capital than other pretreatments. Work is ongoing to optimize this pretreatment technology for other cellulosic feedstocks.;

*Enzyme technologies and production platforms enabling high biomass-to-sugars conversion rates developed by Genencor. Genencor has developed enzyme complexes that deliver a 30-fold decrease in enzyme costs.

*A proprietary ethanologen, also developed through the DuPont-NREL collaboration, based on Zymomonas mobilis. This ethanologen has the ability to convert sugars contained in the feedstock into high yields of ethanol with fewer byproducts, and;

*The companies’ joint engineering capabilities in process integration and facility design.

In the United States, the joint venture will scale up an optimized technology package for corn cobs from integrating the proprietary DuPont pretreatment and ethanologen technologies with the innovative enzyme technology of Genencor, while DuPont continues to analyze the collection and storage of cellulosic feedstocks.

The global joint venture expects its first pilot plant to be operational in the United States in 2009, and its first commercial-scale demonstration facility to be operational within the next three years. __GCC
Of course, biomass cellulosic energy is simply solar energy with its own built-in storage. While solar thermal energy designs by Bright Source are superior to other solar thermal designs in many ways--and are even superior to photovoltaics in terms of electrical load-matching--the storage demands for "after-sunset and before-sunrise" hours power production take away from overall profitability and efficiency.

Cellulosic biomass contains its own storage, and once processed only has to be transported to the point of use. The huge potential for stimulating abundant industry, employment, and economic/energy benefits on the local and regional scales makes bio-energy the most promising overall global new energy approach at this time.

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Butanol from Cellulose: Better Fuel, Better Feedstock

The California Institute of Technology has spawned a bio-energy startup, Gevo. Gevo has recently acquired new financing to pursue its goal of efficient production of cellulosic bio-butanol. Butanol is a superior fuel for gasoline engines than ethanol, blending better with gasoline and causing much less corrosion than ethanol. Progress in the efficient and economical production of bio-butanol would be much welcomed.
Gevo, the Pasadena, Calif., based developer of synthetic biofuels just wrapped up a $17 million third round of funding. New investors Burrill & Co. and Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund joined cleantech regulars Khosla Ventures and Virgin Green Fund; the biofuel start-up has already raised over $30 million since the beginning of last year.

Like competitors LS9, OPX Biotechnologies and Amyris, Gevo is trying to change the face of the biofuel industry by using synthetic biology to engineer enzymes and microorganisms to convert cellulosic crops and waste into advanced biofuels like isobutanol and butanol. Butanol, the company claims, is superior to first-generation biofuels like corn ethanol in several respects: It has a higher energy content; does not absorb water and can easily be transported through the existing gas infrastructure; and — perhaps most importantly — can be directly pumped into current vehicles.

Gevo says its metabolic and process engineering techniques will facilitate the commercial-scale production of second-generation biofuels and bring costs down to compete with current biofuels, like corn ethanol. The cost of producing cellulolytic enzymes hovers around 20 - 50 cents per gallon of ethanol produced; the cost of producing a gallon of corn ethanol, on the other hand, is only about 3 - 4 cents. __CheckBiotech

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Multi-rotor Wind: More Torque, More Power

Multiple rotors on the same shaft can provide higher torque. Torque and power are related by the equation:

Inventor Doug Selsam has devised a way to put multiple turbines on the same shaft, without having the turbines interfere with each other's wind.
Of course, more rotors also means more-complicated physics. The key to increasing efficiency is to make sure each rotor catches its own fresh flow of wind and not just the wake from the one next to it, as previous multi-rotor turbines have done. That requires figuring out the optimal angle for the shaft in relation to the wind and the ideal spacing between the rotors. The payoff is machines that use one tenth the blade material of today’s megaturbines yet produce the same wattage. __PS_via__NextEnergyNews
Selsam is the type of inventor who is not afraid to go up against conventional wisdom. Even better, his ideas make a lot of sense.

The image at top is just an artist's conception. The shaft would not actually bend in Selsam's device.

A flexible shaft loses a great deal of power by flexing. If a shaft could be made that is both strong enough and light enough in weight to double as a "tether" and a multi-turbine shaft, you may see attempts at multi-turbine "kite" configurations, or multi-turbine lighter than air configurations, as suggested by the image at top.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Solid Waste to Ethanol Conversion by CleanTech

Clean Tech Biofuels Inc. (OTCBB:CLTH) is looking for a prime site for its first commercial solid waste to ethanol production facility. It is looking for municipal areas that will pay them well to pick up the garbage. Then, taking this economical feedstock, it will convert the cellulosic solid waste (paper and cardboard) to ethanol using a thermochemical process. This process can reduce landfill waste by as much as 90%.
Municipal biorefineries developed using our technology have the potential to:

* Reduce the costs of transporting waste long distances for disposal.
* Dramatically reduce pollution released into the environment by the disposal of municipal solid waste.
* Reduce the amount of material going into landfills by as much as eighty five percent.
* Increase the amount of recyclable materials that can be recovered from municipal solid waste.
* Generate biofuels and other usable energy products at competitive prices.
__BusinessWire
Clean Tech has developed special separator technologies to remove the cellulosic waste from other materials in curbside garbage.
We have licensed and developed a group of technologies that used together can process municipal garbage into usable energy products. We use the cellulosic material in municipal garbage to make ethanol by first converting it into a sugar and water mixture. Our ethanol production technology uses a two-stage dilute acid hydrolysis process that recycles heat and acid from each stage of the process to efficiently make C5 and C6 sugars from cellulosic material. The resulting sugars are fermented and distilled into a fuel grade ethanol. __CleanTechBiofuels
Other non-cellulosic materials in the garbage can also be processed to hydrocarbons which could be converted to oil for fuels.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Sweet Sorghum Ethanol Instead of Maize or Cane

Sweet sorghum requires half the water and fertilizer of corn, and uses less electricity. Compared to sugar cane, sorghum uses only 1/3 the amount of water, and grows in a wider range of climates.
The timing may be right for sweet sorghum. The United States is reaching its limits on using corn for ethanol, and global concerns are rising about using grains to make fuel while food prices soar. At the same time, researchers are looking for ways to make biofuels that would do more to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Sweet sorghum gets good marks on all counts.

In India, where researchers have made ethanol from sweet sorghum recently, it’s known as a smart crop, because farmers can grow it for grain for food or for the stalks for animal feed or ethanol. It will grow in hot and dry conditions, and it tolerates salty land and waterlogging.

Sweet sorghum is harvested for its juice before the mature plant forms clusters of grain. The stalks are pressed, and the juice is fermented and distilled to make ethanol. The process is simpler and requires less electricity than making ethanol from corn.

Growing sweet sorghum requires only about half the water needed for corn and about half the nitrogen fertilizer. And unlike sugarcane, which grows best in tropical conditions, fast-growing sweet sorghum can be grown in much of the country during the summer. __Source
Sorghum is bulky, and requires local and regional processing and/or pre-processing. This encourages the growth of local industry, which is beneficial for small to medium sized communities.
"Its water requirement is one-third that of sugarcane, and its growing period is short enough to allow harvesting twice a year. While sugarcane is propagated from stem cuttings, sweet sorghum is sown with seed - just 4.5 kg is enough for a hectare of land, compared to 4,500-6,000 kg of sugarcane cuttings." Sweet sorghum's potential as an energy crop - it produces up to 7,000 litres of ethanol per hectare - makes it highly attractive for countries like China [and the US], which is expected to exhaust its economically recoverable petroleum reserves by 2016. __Source
Sugar cane is particular about its growing climate, and likes moist tropical areas the best. In the US, cane grows well in Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana, and parts of Texas. But sweet sorghum grows well across much of the traditional US farm belt, in a much wider growing region than cane. Given its advantages as an ethanol crop over both cane and corn, sweet sorghum should see more acreage soon.

Sorghum should be seen as a "bridge" crop. Currently, its sugar-producing properties are most valued in ethanol production. Eventually, the sheer biomass capacity of sorghum may become its most valued property.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

US High Resolution Wind Map

If you want to know how much wind to expect in a particular area of the US, the new high-resolution windmap from AWS Truewind LLC should give you a good idea.
The 200 meter grid cell resolution map was completed using AWS Truewind’s proprietary MesoMap® system, one of the most advanced wind mapping systems in use today. To date, MesoMaps have been utilized as a prospecting tool for wind farm siting in over 60 countries on behalf of public and private entities.

The new national map is scheduled for widespread release June 1, 2008 when it will be launched with AWS Truewind’s web-based wind prospecting application windNavigator. One of many next-generation powerful solutions scheduled for release this year, AWS Truewind’s windNavigator application will provide unprecedented access to high resolution wind resource maps and data through a fast and easy to use online tool.

Jim Adams, AWS Truewind’s Director of Business Development, expects the US will continue to be a significant factor in the global wind industry going forward. “With more than an order of magnitude growth potential and an expansion in wind capacity of 45% in 2007 alone (16,818 MW installed currently), the US represents one of the largest markets for wind energy development worldwide. The market is maturing, which means being the first developer on the ground at an attractive site prospect is mission critical for many. The new national wind map from AWS Truewind is by far the most accurate wind resource map available. Coupled with the ease and convenience of the windNavigator, our clients will truly have a competitive advantage.” __AWS__via__CleanTechnica
Wind energy company Noble Environmental Power has filed for an IPO worth US $375 million on NASDAQ as NEPI.
The company says it currently operates 282 megawatts of wind power capacity across three wind parks in New York and plans to have 465 megawatts of capacity come online by the end of the year. With another 1,205 megawatts in development, the company says it will have nearly 2 gigawatts of capacity by 2010. All of this is part of America’s booming wind energy market, which grew 45 percent last year and is on track to set a new record this year with 1,400 megawatts of capacity installed in the first quarter, according to new figures from the American Wind Energy Association.

Headquartered in Essex, Conn., Noble will have its IPO underwritten by its majority owner JP Morgan, as well as Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse. Founded in 2004, Noble hasn’t set an IPO date but intends to debut sometime later this year.

...About half of the installed turbines in the U.S. are owned by foreign energy firms and Spanish utility Iberdrola is the largest wind operator in the U.S. with nearly 7 gigawatts of capacity. Today, Iberdrola’s subsidiary Iberdrola Renovables (formerly PPM Energy) ordered 200 1.5 megawatt turbines from GE for $659 million. __Earth2Tech
In the near to intermediate term, wind energy appears to outshine solar in the renewable energy field. Farther in, expect bio-energy, solar (both solar thermal and PV), and enhanced geothermal to take the lead and all greatly out-distance wind. Why? Because the total energy available in bio-energy, solar, and enhanced geothermal--each-- significantly dwarfs the energy used by all humans on Earth. Of course, technically bio-energy is just another form of solar--one that contains its own built-in storage.

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