Thursday, July 31, 2008

Quick Bio-Energy

Is biomass shouldering aside other renewables such as wind and solar, to become the king of renewables? Perhaps so, in many locations. Other than in deserts--where solar PV and solar thermal make more sense--biomass can be grown in large quantities. Even on a seastead in the middle of the ocean, aquatic biomass will be a part of the overall energy picture.

Can miscanthus wildgrass produce more ethanol per acre than switchgrass and maize? According to this 3 year field trial from Illinois, Yes It Can!

Sweet sorghum is entering the fray for ethanol feedstock in Florida. Sweet sorghum requires far less water than either maize or sugar cane, and can be grown in a far wider range of climates than sugar cane.

No one knows how much biomass from grain stalks is burnt globally every year. But Indian researchers have looked at the burning of rice stalks in a single Indian state. In the single state, rice stalks with the energy equivalent of 35 to 40 million tonnes of coal were burnt in a single growing season. Even waste biomass presents a significant opportunity for energy production and reduction of particulate and gaseous pollution with advanced technologies.

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US Natural Gas Reserves Doubled! in New Study

It seems that the US EIA and other official estimators of US natural gas reserves have badly underestimated the total US capacity. If a new study by the American Clean Skies Foundation is accurate, the US has enough natural gas reserves to last 100 years!
Aubrey K. McClendon, chairman of ACSF and chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corporation. "New technologies have allowed the rapid emergence of gas shales as a major energy source, representing a truly transformative event for U.S. energy supplies. American producers can clearly supply enough natural gas to meet today's uses and become an economical source of transportation fuel in the form of CNG or greater supplies of electricity for plug-in hybrids for generations to come."

"The assessments and estimates on natural gas supply are very impressive and have, frankly, caught industry forecasters off guard," shared Rick Smead, one of the study's co-authors and overall project manager for NCI. The study found that while all three unconventional gas sources have increased production over the past decade, natural gas production from shale formations is growing exponentially, increasing from 0.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf)/year of production in 1998 to 1.05 Tcf/year in 2007, a 203 percent increase. "The extent of this ramp-up has not been fully captured by many reserve estimators," said Smead, "probably because their emergence has been too rapid for existing models to capture accurately."

There are approximately 22 shale basins located onshore in more than 20 states in the U.S. including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan.

..."Recent technological innovation has transformed the natural gas exploration and production industry, particularly as it pertains to shale," said Dr. Kenneth B. Medlock III, a Fellow in Energy Studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and a professor of economics at Rice University, also a co-author of the NCI report. "The findings in this study indicate significant potential for expanded use of domestically produced natural gas for many purposes, including power generation and even transportation fuel for many years to come." _NextEnergyNews
Newer technologies for converting difficult-to-access coal beds into natural gas fields, and advanced conversion methods for coal-to-gas (CTG) will also expand natural gas supplies far beyond conventional estimates.

To top it off, the up and coming field of biomass renewable natural gas will knock the block off "peak gasers" for the foreseeable future, once production is scaled up.

It may be more fun for the jokers at the oil drum site and the other peak oil sites, to dwell on doom and gloom. If that is what gets them to the promised land, then all power to them. But as for me and most intelligent, energetic, and productive-minded folks I know, it's better to solve problems instead of whining about them.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Quick Bio-Energy

Iowa State University researchers have won the 2008 grand prize for university research from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, for their research that is destined to revolutionize maize ethanol production.
Van Leeuwen said all of that can save US ethanol producers a lot of energy and money at current production levels: eliminating the need to evaporate thin stillage would save ethanol plants up to US$800million a year in energy costs.

Allowing more water recycling would reduce the industry’s water consumption by as much as 10billion gallons/y. And it allows producers to recycle enzymes in the thin stillage, saving about US$60million/y. Adding value and nutrients to the livestock feed produced by ethanol plants would grow the market for that feed by about US$400million per year. In addition, the researchers’ fungal process would improve the energy balance of ethanol production by reducing energy inputs so there is more of an energy gain. _Bioenergy
Meanwhile, University of Georgia researchers have developed a clean new pre-treatment process for the production of cellulosic biofuels.

University of Colorado researchers are pursuing the use of a solar "flash-pyrolysis" technique for converting cellulosic biomass to syngas.

Finally, African biofuels are taking off quickly--especially in Tanzania. Tanzanian farmers currently use only 6% of suitable agricultural land.

We are perhaps a decade away from widespread industrial scale profitable production of liquid and gaseous biofuels. But we are already using solid biofuels (via torrefaction) profitably in medium scale power plants. And the local and regional production of sustainable oilseed crops such as jatropha, moringa, pongamia, etc. in the tropical third world is only beginning. The empowerment of small farmers around the world should go a long way toward building stabilizing participatory local and regional governments worldwide.

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Cheaper Splitting of Water to H2 and O2

Brian Westenhaus at NewEnergyandFuel describes a new and improved approach to splitting water into its constituent gases, H2 and O2. Using titanium dioxide nanotubes plus copper titanium nanotubes, the splitting is done cheaply and in an orderly fashion:
The clever innovation is a “photoelectrochemical” diode that does a “photolysis” of water. New words now. The diode part comes from the light entering on one side, doing one part of the job, continuing across the substrate and energizing the other side to do the other part of the job, a one way only process. A light wave thus stimulates the light facing side, which is titanium dioxide with a doping of iron soaking up the ultraviolet light in the 300-to 400-nanometer range. Passing over to the other side the light in the 400 to 885 nanometer range energizes the copper titanium side. The two materials thus use the full spectrum of the light segment of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The titanium dioxide layer produces oxygen and the copper titanium layer produces hydrogen. Very neat indeed. So when you hear its only 0.30% efficient one isn’t so disappointed as it’s from a very wide range of light, it’s a first effort, and very low cost. Grimes suggests that perhaps as high as 10% efficiency is possible as no optimization has taken place. But the proof of concept works; the materials and construction offer that the devices are photo stable so lasting a very long time.

The other outstanding point is the device separates the oxygen and hydrogen in the course of operation. Grimes’ process is far more sophisticated than just the innovative materials and construction. The building up process itself is quite interesting. In Grimes’ photoelectrochemical diode, one side is a nanotube array of electron donor material – n-type material – titanium dioxide, and the other is a nanotube array that has holes that accept electrons - p-type material – cuprous oxide titanium dioxide mixture. P and n-type materials are common in the semiconductor industry. Grimes has been making n-type nanotube arrays from titanium by sputtering titanium onto a surface, anodizing the titanium with electricity to form titanium dioxide and then annealing the material to form the nanotubes as used in other solar applications. He makes the cuprous oxide titanium dioxide nanotube array in the same way and can alter the proportions of each metal. _NEF
This is an early example of the clever use of the nanorealm to combat macro-stupidity in the everyday world.

Hydrogen has many uses in various industrial processes, and will be used more often in the renewable bio-energy field to process next generation biodiesels and renewable natural gas. If the splitting of water becomes efficient enough, photovoltaics/H2 fuel cells combinations may be a viable approach to 24 hour home energy. In fact, if the process is efficient enough, it may scale up to industrial levels of energy storage.

Hydrogen is not the best fuel for motor vehicles. Methanol, for example, is far better. But a clever innovator could probably think of at leas a million and one good uses for hydrogen, given the time.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

33% Efficient Inverted Metamorphic Photovoltaic Cells Win R&D Award

IMM (inverted metamorhic) photovoltaic cells from Albuquerque manufacturer Emcore, have been awarded the R&D Magazine "R&D 100" Award.
This revolutionary solar cell technology provides a platform for EMCORE's next generation photovoltaic products for space and terrestrial solar power applications. Solar cells built using IMM technology recently achieved world record conversion efficiency of 33% used in space, and it is anticipated that efficiency levels in the 42%-45% range will be achieved when adapted for use under the 500-1500X concentrated illumination, typical in terrestrial concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems. Once commercialized, the CPV systems that are powered with EMCORE's IMM based products will see a reduction in the cost of power generated by approximately 10% to 20%. EMCORE expects to commercialize this technology for both space and terrestrial applications in 2009.

Developed in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Vehicle Systems Directorate of the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the IMM design is comprised of a novel combination of compound semiconductors that enables a superior response to the solar spectrum as compared to conventional multi-junction architecture. Due to its unique design, the IMM cell is approximately one fifteenth the thickness of the conventional multi-junction solar cell and will enable a new class of extremely lightweight, high-efficiency, and flexible solar arrays for space applications. _Source_via_NextEnergyNews
It has been barely a year since Emcore achieved 31% efficiency with its IMM design. And if this design can achieve 45% or better efficiency with concentrating optics, it will be something to write home about.

In the midst of all the excitement, it is important to remember that the usefulness of photovoltaics will remain limited until robust, affordable utility-scale electrical storage is available. For weight sensitive applications such as space missions or airborne energy supplies, this type of efficiency does matter.

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Producing Renewable Natural Bio-Gas

Biomass can be converted into high quality renewable natural gas which can be used in the same ways as fossil natural gas. Such a process is being set in motion in Texas and in the Netherlands.
The Energy Research Center of the Netherlands has completed an 800 kilowatt-hour pilot-scale gasification plant based on its Milena gasifier technology, which uses an indirectly heated biomass gasification process with high cold-gas efficiency and a high methane yield, and is optimized for the production of substitute natural gas.

According to Christiaan van der Meijden, a researcher with the center’s Biomass, Coal & Environmental Research division, the primary feedstock for the pilot plant is waste wood. “We plan to test other biomass fuels, as well, [such as] sunflower husks,” he said. The green gas produced by the pilot-scale plant will be used to fuel one of several natural-gas-powered consumer automobiles currently available in Europe, he said.

The next step will be to begin construction of a 10-megawatt demonstration plant in 2009. “Several industrial parties are interested and involved in parts of the development,” van der Meijden said. “We have not licensed the Milena technology yet.” However, he added, the technology will become commercially available after the demonstration. _CheckBiotech
Biomass can be converted to liquid fuels by various means, to high density solid fuel by torrefaction, and to high quality synthetic natural gas as explained in the links above.

Given that the planet Earth's biosphere is hugely expandable, it would seem that beyond oil reserves, beyond coal reserves, beyond oil sands and shale oil reserves, beyond undersea methane hydrates, the Earth's capacity to produce high value fuels is very far from reaching its peak.

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The World On Coal

Coal is providing an ever larger proportion of world energy production. The economics of high oil and gas prices pushes coal to the forefront--even in Persian Gulf countries such as Oman and Dubai. Now coal is moving beyond the role of electric power producer, and is going head to head with oil in the liquid fuels market!
CONSOL Energy Inc., the US’ largest producer of bituminous coal, and Synthesis Energy Systems Inc. (SES) have formed a joint venture—Northern Appalachia Fuel LLC (NAF)—to develop their first US coal gasification and liquefaction plant to be located near Benwood, West Virginia. The two companies announced last year that they were jointly exploring coal gasification opportunities. (Earlier post.)

...The feedstock will be a blend of run of mine coal and coal otherwise not recovered in the normal preparation process. Coal will be gasified to syngas utilizing SES’ U-GAS technology, licensed from the Gas Technology Institute (GTI); the syngas will be used to produce approximately 720,000 metric tons per year of methanol that can be used as a feedstock for the chemical industry. The partners also expect that the project will be capable of converting methanol production to approximately 100 million gallons/year of 87 octane gasoline. _GCC
The venture all hinges on whether the US Democratic Party controlled Congress will allow them to go ahead with production, then sell their product inside the US.

The current and future congress is haunted by carbon hysteria--an irrational fear of carbon dioxide that causes legislators to run screaming at the thought of productive use of fossil fuels. Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi are particularly affected by this form of insanity, as are most government officials from California.

What the delusional dammes fail to note is that only a prosperous economy can devise and implement alternatives to current energy sources. By amputating US energy production at the neck, these foolish feminasties are wittingly or unwittingly dooming their own country to secondary status in the future.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Quick Energy

ZBB Energy Corporation has developed a regenerative zinc bromide aqueous flow storage system:
Unlike the lead acid and most other batteries, the ZESS uses electrodes that cannot and do not take part in the reactions but merely serve as substrates for the reactions. There is therefore no loss of performance, unlike most rechargeable batteries, from repeated cycling causing electrode material deterioration. During the charge cycle metallic zinc is plated from the electrolyte solution onto the negative electrode surfaces in the cell stacks. Bromide is then converted to Bromine at the positive electrode surface of the cell stack and is immediately stored as a safe chemically complexed organic phase in the electrolyte tank. When the ZESS discharges, the metallic zinc plated on the negative electrode dissolves in the electrolyte and is available to be plated again at the next charge cycle. In the fully discharged state the ZESS can be left indefinitely.

The ZESS offers 2 to 3 times the energy density (75 to 85 watt-hours per kilogram) with associated size and weight savings over present lead/acid batteries. The power characteristics of the ZESS can be modified, for selected applications. Therefore, the ZESS has operational capabilities which make it extremely useful as a multi-purpose energy storage option. _ZBB_HT_NextEnergyNews
The ZESS is said to be compatible with solar recharging, and ZBB plans to install a combined ZESS/Solar energy system at LifeVillage in Cote d'Ivoire.

Also on the energy front, Brian Wang gives an excellent presentation on the efforts to approach Carnot efficiency from heat engines--the source of 90% of the world's power production. Read the article and follow the links to expand your knowledge of this important and growing area of energy technology.

Toyota is taking a close look at "metal-air cells" for the next generation of their hybrids.
In this type of battery, electricity is generated by a reaction between oxygen in the air and a metal like zinc at the negative electrode. The battery does not require the use of a combustible liquid electrolyte, so there is no danger of ignition as is the case with lithium-ion batteries. Moreover, an air battery has over fives times the energy-storage capacity of a similarly-sized lithium-ion battery...It may take some time before air batteries reach the practical stage, but Toyota believes that they will ultimately become the next-generation battery technology of choice. _GCC
The problems with the technology include a poor scaling to large sizes, and complex recharging requirements (as discussed here previously). More work at the drawing board, and in the lab.

Brian Westenhaus at New Energy and Fuel continues looking at new LED technology, and its potential to significantly reduce power consumption across the developed world.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Next Generation Nuclear Plant: Very High Temperature Reactor to Burn High-Level Radioactive Waste

The new high temperature reactors are said to have the ability to reduce high level radioactive waste by a factor of 50!
Research commissioned this week by the DoE would see two teams of scientists examine the potential of a VHTR such as NGNP for 'deep-burn' of nuclear fuel. This means using nuclear fuel which contains not just uranium but also plutonium and certain higher transuranic elements which would otherwise be treated as high-level radioactive waste.

The DoE said that transuranic elements are the hottest and most radiotoxic chemical elements in used nuclear fuel, but that they could be recycled into particle-coated fuel and used to produce more energy. It added that 'deep-burn' referred to the VHTRs ability to burn up to 65% of its inital fuel, compared to burn-up levels of around 5% in conventional light-water reactors.

The concept of deep burn relates to the US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, in which advanced reactors would destroy similar wastes produced by mainstream light-water reactors of the kinds widely used today. It is projected that volumes of high-level waste could be reduced by a factor of 50, while extra electricity is generated. The reactor envisaged for GNEP, however, would be a sodium-cooled model.

The DoE said that the deep-burn research would go towards the GNEP effort but would also "enable a quantitative assessment of the scope, cost and schedule implications of extending the NGNP mission in the future to destruction of plutonium and other transuranics." This is a remarkable turn-around compared to recent years when NGNP appeared to be effectively on hold and GNEP was promoted. When announcing the research, the DoE noting that the two research efforts would be coordinated to ensure synergism and avoid duplication. _WNN
The research on the deep burn program will take place at the Idaho National Lab.

Several different approaches to the rapid, permanent disposal of high level radioactive waste are showing promise. This is but one approach.

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$10 Billion of Virginia Uranium Ore Highlights the Fear of Science by Leftists

The extreme left "environmental" movement is deathly afraid of science and reality-based policy. Leftist faux environmentalists invent fantasies such as climate catastrophe and imminent peak oil in order to funnel the small minds of leftists and left-liberal legislators into defeatist postures and policies. The brouhaha over a $10 billion deposit of uranium ore in Virginia highlights this studied dysfunction.
In Pittsylvania County, just north of the North Carolina border, the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the United States -- and the seventh largest in the world, according to industry monitor UX Consulting -- sits on land owned by neighbors Henry Bowen and Walter Coles. Large uranium deposits close to the surface are virtually unknown in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. And that may be the problem.

...Messrs. Bowen and Coles, who last year formed a company called Virginia Uranium, are asking the state to determine whether mining uranium really is a hazard and, if not, to lift the ban. But they've run into a brick wall of environmental activists who raise the specter of nuclear contamination and who are determined to prevent scientific studies of the issue.

The Piedmont Environmental Council is one of the leading opponents. It warns of the "enormous quantities of radioactive waste" produced by uranium mining.

Jack Dunavant, head of the Southside Concerned Citizens in nearby Halifax County, is another outspoken critic. He paints a picture of environmental apocalypse. "There will be a dead zone within a 30 mile radius of the mine," he says with a courtly drawl. "Nothing will grow. Animals will die. The radiation genetically alters tissue. Animals will not be able to reproduce. We'll see malformed fetuses."

Yet it is not as if we have no experience with uranium mining, which is in fact relatively harmless. Handled properly, the yellowcake that is extracted is no more hazardous than regular household chemicals (and unlike coal, it won't smolder and combust).

James Kelly, who directed the nuclear engineering program at the University of Virginia for many years, says that fears about uranium mining are wildly overblown. "It's an aesthetic nightmare, but otherwise safe in terms of releasing any significant radioactivity or pollution," he told me. "It would be ugly to look at, but from the perspective of any hazard I wouldn't mind if they mined across the street from me."

The situation is rich with irony as well as uranium. While you can't mine yellowcake, it is perfectly legal in Virginia to process enriched uranium into usable nuclear fuel, which is somewhat dangerous to handle. A subsidiary of the French nuclear giant Areva operates a fuel fabrication facility in Lynchburg 50 miles from Chatham. It has been praised by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, as a good corporate citizen. The state is also home to four commercial nuclear reactors, which provide Virginians with 35% of their electricity. And, of course, the U.S. Navy operates nuclear ships out of Norfolk, Va.

...Gov. Kaine supports allowing the National Academy of Sciences to determine whether mining could be done safely. So does virtually every elected official in heavily Republican Pittsylvania County. Earlier this year the narrowly Democratic state Senate voted 34-6 to authorize the study. But the measure was killed in committee in the House under pressure from environmental groups. If it was allowed to come up for a vote in the full House, which is controlled by Republicans, opponents concede it would have passed. _WSJ_via_TomNelson_and_GreenWatch
Killed in committee by environmental pressure on leftist and left-liberal legislators? Where have we heard that story before? Oh, yes, the same thing is happening right now in the US Congress. It seems that leftists hate science, hate energy, hate allowing energy issues to be voted upon freely. The only thing leftists and leftist faux environmentalists do not hate, is ruthlessly wielding the reins of power.

You know, lefties, Santa Claus is not the only one who can make a list and check it twice. Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] keeps very scrupulous records.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Quick Energy

Brian Westenhaus of New Energy and Fuel points out that using LEDs for lighting could reduce US electricity demands by 10%. His discussion about new affordable LED technologies for lighting is worth a look.

Brian Wang at NextBigFuture points to this article about a new thermoelectric material that should help recover much of the waste heat lost from combustion processes. In a typical gasoline engine, up to 60% of the energy of combustion is lost as heat.

Torrefaction of biomass is a method of roasting biomass in an oxygen-free atmosphere at temperatures of about 300 C. This process allows biomass to be co-fired with coal in power plants, and makes biomass far more practical and economical to transport and use. Much biomass is wasted every year, often requiring expensive disposal. By converting biomass into a useful form, what was garbage can become useful energy.

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New Battery Type Has More Energy Density

This new type of battery does not burn fuel like a fuel cell, and is not a reversible reaction like rechargeable batteries. But it does have comparable energy density to gasoline--a first for an electric battery type.
As in a zinc air cell, the vanadium boride cell reacts oxygen brought in via the cathode with the anode to produce electricity. And also as in a zinc-air cell, the reaction is irreversible; spent anodes need to be replaced in a “refueling” operation and chemically regenerated. (Earlier post.) The vanadium boride cells combine a conventional air cathode with a zirconia-stabilized vanadium boride anode.

...For regeneration of the anodes, Licht and his team proposed a solar photochemical pathway based on Mg reduction of the fuel cell discharge products.

The large volumetric capacity of the fuel cell, and the pathway for a renewable (solar) energy recharge, are positive attributes of this novel vanadium boride air cell. Systems aspects will continue to be analyzed and optimized. Liquid (higher temperature, solar driven), rather than solid, Mg, should facilitate the recharge formation of VB2...The discharge studies indicate that sub micron particle size VB2, as available following high energy ball milling, can further improve anodic kinetics and coulombic efficiency.
—Licht 2008 _GCC
Achieving this level of energy density makes it worthwhile to explore efficient methods of recharging the cell. If the researchers can achieve a type of solar re-charging system, the new cell might form the basis of new electric vehicle fleets with ready access to a maintenance/recharge facility--taxis, buses, delivery vans, etc. Eventually it may be possible to achieve affordable and reliable home recharge for this type of cell.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

How Will Barak Obama Keep the Lights On?

Barak Obama's political party--the US Democratic Party--appears dedicated to eliminating every single currently viable energy source that is available to US utilities. Obama and his party are against offshore oil drilling, arctic oil drilling, shale oil exploration and development. Obama's Democrats are against the use of coal, they are against the use of coal to liquids, they are against the use of Canadian oil sands. Obama and his cohorts oppose the widespread use of nuclear power to provide electricity.

So just how will the baby Senator from Illinois keep the US lights on, after being elected messiah US President?
While American oil consumption has grown only 15% since 1973, electricity use has shot up 115%. Right now the U.S. has 760 gigawatts of power to meet consumption. We will need 135 gigawatts of new capacity over the next decade to keep the lights on, but right now only 57 gigawatts of power are planned. No matter what Barack Obama and Al Gore tell you, alternative energy sources cannot meet demand. Solar is still only one-tenth as efficient as the cheapest fossil fuels. Today 97% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro power. Wind provides 1% and solar .01%.

The rest of the world knows that green sources of energy are inadequate to keep their people out of poverty. That is why around the world, from Europe to South America to Asia, countries are building coal and nuclear power plants at a dizzying pace while also drilling for oil wherever they can find it. Meanwhile, the United States, crippled by an out-of-control environmental movement, is refusing to develop needed energy sources. _Foundry
I have been involved in renewable energy (wind, solar, micro-hydro) for almost ten years. No one is more eager than myself to see these technologies succeed at every scale in the marketplace. But realistically, they are not going to be able to step in for fossil fuels anytime in the next 20 years, no matter what the cretin Al Gore may demand. They will get incrementally better over the next couple of decades or so, until before you know it they are providing 5 or 10% of US power. But not soon.

As much as I like renewables, including biomass, the technologies simply are not ready to scale up to the huge quantities of power the North American economies will need. That leaves nuclear, coal, gas, and oil.

Over time, fossil fuels will be displaced by improved efficiencies, better ways of salvaging energy from waste, and better methods of fitting renewables into advanced energy schemes--such as micro grids. But changing such a huge energy infrastructure takes time. If Barak Obama and his cronies are not willing to ease the US through the transition period--if they force a "cold turkey" energy withdrawal on US taxpayers--the backlash against Obama and his faux environmentalist backers could be severe. Extremely severe.

So we will wait and see if Obama has even half a clue what he is getting himself and the rest of the world into. I suspect he does not. But somewhere behind the would-be messiah's back-finance, pulling strings and putting words into his mouth, are people who think they have a clue--and they are wrong.

Finding out who they are will be important, when Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] kicks into full scale production.

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Plasma Gasification Waste to Ethanol Outside the Mustang Ranch Near Reno

For those who frequent the Mustang Ranch outside of Reno, you may want to schedule a visit to the new Fulcrum Bioenergy plant being built nearby.
Plans to build one of the first commercial-scale production facilities for converting municipal solid waste to ethanol have been unveiled by Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc. The plant, says the company, will process municipal solid waste into renewable transportation fuel.

Fulcrum BioEnergy says it will design, finance, construct, own and operate the plant, which will be located ten miles east of Reno at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in Storey County, Nevada. This latestage development project is expected to cost approximately $120 million and is set to enter construction by the end of this year.

When it begins operations in early 2010, the Sierra BioFuels plant is expected to produce approximately 10.5 million gallons of ethanol per year, and to process nearly 90,000 tons per year of municipal solid waste that would otherwise have been disposed of in landfills. _BiofuelReview
Although ethanol is a sub-optimal fuel in many ways, as more flex-fuel vehicles hit the road ethanol will become a useful fueling option. Note that the Reno plant is using municipal waste as feedstock--which is more common now for biomass gasification to ethanol facilities.

The North American infrastructure can handle only so much ethanol at this time. Bioenergy plants that incorporate plasma gasification should consider combined heat and power installations rather than ethanol production--or produce ethanol as a side product that can be expanded or contracted as market conditions warrant.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Biomass Stepping Up

First story: Cow manure can power up to 9 million US homes.
...anerobic digestion of cow manure could...provide 100 billion kilowatt hours of electric power, enough for 9 million homes _BiofuelsDigest
Next, how plasma biowaste-to-bioenergy can solve 2 problems in one: eliminating garbage, and creating energy.
"InEnTec's Plasma Enhanced Melter has huge advantages over both conventional ethanol production and conventional waste disposal," said Jeffrey Surma, President and CEO of InEnTec. "It is a conversion system and not an incineration process, so emissions are extremely low, including very low CO(2) emissions. The feedstock is garbage or industrial waste. This means one of the modern world's most vexing problems--how to get rid of tons and tons of garbage--now becomes one of its most abundant energy resources. It doesn't compete with the world's food supply or even cultivatable land, and it significantly reduces the need for landfills which produce greenhouse gases and can leach toxins into groundwater," Surma added. _Checkbiotech
Next, a Minnesota iron ore processor is starting to substitute a biomass fuel in place of coal and gas:
The proposed upgrades also would allow UTAC to use Renewafuel, a proprietary carbon-neutral biofuel that produces substantially lower greenhouse gas, sulfur dioxide, and mercury than fossil fuels. Cleveland-Cliffs recently became a 70 percent owner in Renewafuel and hopes to use the biofuel in its mining operations....Renewafuel has demonstrated it can produce a densified cube fuel from a number of renewable materials, including wood, sawdust, corn stover, straw, paper, grasses, grain and seed hulls. _Trading Markets_via_biofuelsdigest
Heavy industry, such as steel-making, will no doubt develop better ways to use biomass products in their energy-intensive processes. The smartest managers will be the ones who learn to use the biomass resource to save their companies the most money, to maximise profits:
The Integrated Biomass Technology (IBT) framework lays out a vision for renewable, bio-based economies focused on producing and using bio-based products and materials, including foodstuffs, chemical feedstocks, consumer products, and construction materials (Fig. 2). It identities the needs, opportunities, and research necessary to implement the concept. These include development of technologies such as:

* Initial value assessment and sorting procedures during biomass harvesting and collection,

* Direct conversion of biomass into energy,

* Biorefining some components into bio-based transportation fuels,

* Biorefining other components into chemical feedstocks,

* Processing residuals and other component materials into engineered composites, such as particleboard, fiberboard and strandboard, and paper, paperboard or advanced composites using varying combinations of biomaterials, nanomaterials, inorganic materials, and synthetics.

But most important, the IBT framework recognizes that each of the component technologies must fully integrate within existing process technologies for converting a variety of biomass types (e.g., foodstuffs and timber) into food and traditional wood products, as well as fuels/energy and an array of new high-value materials and products. _Checkbiotech
North American economies are slowly but surely shifting from a wasteful petro-based economy to an integrated, responsive economy based upon local and regional resources, responding to local and regional needs. As this new and integrated infrastructure proves itself on the local and regional level, it will scale whenever possible to address national and international needs. It is a bottom-up growing of infrastructure, rather than a top-down dictating of irrational mandates as we see coming from a Boxer/Pelosi US congress.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Geothermal Energy Discovery in Australia

Geologists have discovered a massive underground basin of "hot rocks" that could provide clean energy to a quarter of Queensland, Premier Anna Bligh says.

A government-funded exploration program has uncovered the Millungera Basin, a 15,000 square kilometre area about 100 kilometres east of Cloncurry in Queensland's northwest. _The Age



Experts have estimated that Australia could draw nearly 7 per cent of its electricity from hot rock power stations by 2030 after Geoscience Australia's analysis revealed the country's geothermal energy source to be about 1.2 billion petajoules - far eclipsing our 140,000 PJ of total proven and probable gas reserves.Geologists discovered the new basin, which is believed to be up to 540 million years old, underneath the younger Carpentaria Basin. Further surveys will be conducted to find out the size, shape and depth of the basin in addition to drilling to assess the geothermal potential of the site. The Government will soon decide which blocks of land will be released for tender for geothermal and gas exploration. _NEN

Australia is better known for its abundant coal resources, becoming a main supplier to China's rapidly expanding coal power industry, and also beginning to supply the growing Persian Gulf coal market.

Thanks to Keven Rudd's new carbon inquisition, Australia may be unable to use its own coal in-country. Very much like the US Congress led by Boxer and Pelosi, placing onerous constraints on US energy use.


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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Drowning in a Sea of Oil?

Conventional wisdom tells us that the price of oil has rocketed skyward due to increasing demand from the emerging world, coupled with a slow decline of all the world's oil fields. This is peak oil pessimism, which adds the ominous warning that all the big oil fields have been discovered long ago.

But what if increasing demand has been exaggerated, and the decline in oil fields overstated? What if supplies are growing, demand is slowing, and there are sounds coming from the henhouse suggesting foxes are about? There is a lot more going on than demand from China and India.
Oil prices have increased by 1,400% in the last decade and have now reached a level that is threatening to drag global economy to a grinding halt....The US and other developed countries attributes this rise in oil prices to the fact that the global oil supply by producing nations has not been able to keep pace with ever increasing demand from consuming nations, more so the emerging countries like India and China.

The mainstream media continues to glorify the view that the world oil demand continues to be robust but in reality the world oil demand growth has been slowing over the last four years. The total consumption is expected to grow by only 0.3mbpd this year which will be easily absorbed by the new production coming into the system. Important to note is that the new supply is coming into the system at a time when the global economy is likely to slow down....At current prices the demand for oil, which we normally assumed to be inelastic, may well drop over the long run. Much of the inelasticity stems from the subsidies enjoyed by populations of many countries. However as governments starts aligning prices of oil to market levels, as recently being witnessed in Egypt, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and others, the demand will rationalize, consumption will fall and result in an increase of supplies as domestic oil companies capitalize on higher prices.

While the growth of emerging markets is cited as one of the key reason that oil prices will continue to rise in future, ignored is the fact that many countries are witnessing aging populations and many countries will see zero or negative population growth for many years to come. For instance, of the top 15 oil consuming nations, 10 of them will see negative or zero population growth for the next decade. This will severely restrict any significant increase in overall oil consumption...

...Most of the recent speculative activity in commodity prices in the US is being channelled through a relatively unregulated mechanism. Energy futures, which were earlier traded through exchanges such as New York Mercantile Exchange regulated by The Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] are now traded on the OTC electronic market. They were removed from jurisdiction of the CFTC in 2000. As of the end of last year, the total outstanding contract value on the OTC commodity exchange stood at $9 trillion, up by $1.9 trillion over the previous year. Assuming oil constitutes around 70% of the contracts, the new money being poured into oil contract would be $1.33 trillion. This amount is large enough to justify the theory that speculation could be behind up to 60% of the increase in oil prices in the last 12 months. _SeekingAlpha
How low could oil go, should there be a speculative bubble, which happens to burst? I doubt oil can drop a lot more than $20 from current levels, perhaps $30--to around $100 a barrel. At that level economies and industries that rely heavily on liquid fuel will be able to relax a bit. The inflationary pressure from high oil prices would continue, but at a level easier to absorb.

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Why Are They Building Coal Plants in Dubai?

New coal plants are being built in Abu Dhabi, Oman, Dubai. Even oil rich Russia is building 30 new coal plants within the next 2-3 years. China commissions a new coal plant every week to week and a half. What is going on?
They have opted for coal for a single compelling reason: cost. They can produce a megawatt-hour of electricity using Australian coal, Der Spiegel calculates, for $17.49 (U.S.). Using natural gas, the cost rises to $41.34. Using oil, the cost rises further to $79.50. At the same time, they can sell their oil on the global market for something approaching (or occasionally exceeding) $140 a barrel. _GlobeandMail
So even in the oil-saturated Persian Gulf, the economics of energy production favours coal over oil and gas--significantly. Of course, the fuel for a megawatt-hour of nuclear fission energy will cost you around $8 or so. So really, if you have your nuclear plant already built, nuclear is the way to go.

In the US, the Congress and environmental regulations/lobbies have made it almost impossible to generate power from any source whatsoever. Whatever compromises the Pelosi/Boxer Congress eventually reaches, you can be sure it will cost consumers and taxpayers at least double or triple what it should have cost. The joys of nanny state government--cradle to grave mismanagement.

H/T istockanalyst

Previously published in Al Fin

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Unlocking Biomass Energy: Lignin to Fuel

Plant biomass is largely composed of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Lignin has been the hard nut to crack. It is the glue holding biomass together, and tends to gum up many chemical processes that try to extract the energy from biomass. Researchers at Peking University may have developed a better process for breaking lignin down to hydrocarbon fuels.
The researchers used near-critical water as a solvent and treated the white birch sawdust over a series of active carbon supported catalysts (Ru/C, Pd/C, Rh/C, and Pt/C) under modest pressures of H2 under varying conditions. Treatment of the sawdust in a mixture of dioxane and near-critical water (364°C and 190 atm) in a ratio of 1:1 combined with 1 wt% H3PO4 over Pt/C and Rh/C catalysts yielded about 45 wt% monomers (very close to the calculated maximum) and 12 wt% dimers. The catalysts can be reused directly after reaction without any apparent deactivation.

Following extraction, the monomers and the dimers were transferred to the second step for conversion into alkanes and methanol. _Read more at GCC
These catalysts are rather expensive, and may later be replaced by custom-made nanocatalysts made of more common materials such as carbon. The yields for this procedure are not optimal, so much work remains. Still, this process is an alternative to gasification, which tends to break biomass down more than necessary, only to be forced to build liquid fuels almost from component atoms.

More on this process from New Scientist

We will need to follow this line of research to monitor progress.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Another Paper Mill / Biomass Energy Plant

Paper/Pulp mills and biomass energy go together like hand and globe. Here is news of yet another substantial biomass energy plant going into a paper making operation.
RWE npower Cogen announces it plans to build a 45MW biomass power plant at a papermaking site in Glenrothes, Scotland. Using combined heat and power (CHP) systems, the £100 million (€126m/$200m) plant will save 250,000 tonnes of carbon emissions from the Tullis Russell papermill. It will provide steam and electricity for the papermill under a long-term contract, while two thirds of the generated electricity will be fed into the Scottish power grid. That would be enough to power a city the size of Dundee, Scotland's fourth largest city with 150,000 inhabitants.

The new facility will replace Tullis Russell's existing coal-fired plant, which is to close because it no longer meets acceptable emissions standards set by SEPA. It will help the company avoid massive fluctuations in gas costs too, which have varied from £6,000 a day to as much as £50,000 a day - costs that have threatened the company's viability. Wood for the plant at the Markinch industrial estate is being provided by ScottishBiopower and Scottish Coal.
_Biopact
We are still in the early stages of the "modern bioenergy age". Humans have relied on bioenergy for most of their existence, and only recently have learned to tap into more dense power sources. The modern bioenergy age completes the circle. It is about learning how to take a less dense form of energy--biomass--and turn it into a useful, medium energy density commodity to produce reasonably priced, clean, abundant energy.

Al Fin has always promoted the local and regional aspects of bioenergy, and the empowering effect bioenergy can have on small and medium sized business. Perhaps that is why big business and big media has been so slow to pick up on the potential of bioenergy. The empowerment of individuals and small businesses can be threatening to big business and media somehow.

Modern humans are oriented toward the "big fix" or the "big score." They seem to want one solution to all problems. It is the result of "sound bite" logic. One fix for all problems (depopulation, reduced energy use, etc.) One cause for all problems (Bush, global warming, etc). The world reduced to a few words. A dumbed down world view for a psychologically neotenised, academically lobotomised, dumbed down populace.

That is why it is so important to focus on the islands of competence and efficacy in the world. You can find them if you try.

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Methanol Instead of Hydrogen for Fuel Cells

Methanol as fuel has a long history, going back to the early days of automobiles. Methanol will fuel internal combustion engines, and will have use in flex-fuel vehicles.

Methanol will have a particularly important role in future fuel cells. It will be used instead of hydrogen gas because it is safer and easier to handle. How much methanol can we make?
....a ton of wood would make between 165 to 185 gallons of methanol. The U.S. alone generates 240 million tons of wood waste each year, which would yield at least 39.6 billion gallons of methanol. U.S. paper mills could add another 9.3 billion gallons. The uncounted tons of trash and garbage would add still more. Methanol can be made from oil, natural, gas, coal and there remains more than half of the U.S. farm acreage that isn’t in production now that could add hundreds of millions of tons annually. Methanol can even be made from CO or CO2 with a hydrogen source made available.

Industry is aware; from 2004 to 2007 the world saw seven new methanol production plants start up making an additional 10 million metric tons of methanol – a 25% increase in world capacity.

....The Direct Methanol Fuel Cell known as DMCF is a technology well worth keeping an eye on. It can’t be too long until a new battle ensues between batteries and fuel cells. _NewEnergyandFuel
Methanol is a liquid at normal temperatures, easy to store in a regular fuel tank. It does not require special high pressure containment vessels and protection. Methanol fuel cells do not run at the high temperatures that hydrogen fuel cells do. While methanol micro fuel cells already power small consumer electronic devices, scaling methanol fuel cells up to drive automobile electric motors should be doable.

The roller coaster of oil prices has driven the world economies through peaks and valleys for too long. It is time for alternate fuels to come on the scene. Oil dictatorships such as Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc. have been given too much clout to affect world affairs.

The world still needs fossil fuels, along with expanded nuclear capacity. But it also needs a much larger variety of fuels, produced in a much wider range of locations.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

80% Savings on Air Conditioning With Sea Water

Deep cold seawater can be a practical and economically viable source of cooling in a centralized air conditioning system. A seawater air conditioning system (SWACS) uses cold sea water from approximately 2000 ft depth to cool (via a heat exchanger) a centralized fresh chilled water distribution loop serving multiple buildings. At ideal coastal sites, SWACS power savings can approach 80% compared to conventional chillers. _IEEE
Anywhere on Earth with easy access to seawater roughly 2000 ft. deep can save 80% to 90% on its energy expenditure for air conditioning. It is being done in Hawaii
The water will travel through the pump system to an onshore station where it will cool fresh water that circulates in a closed loop through customers’ buildings in downtown Honolulu. Once the cold seawater has done its job, it is pumped back into the ocean at a shallower level, going through a diffuser to ensure proper mixing and dilution to the surrounding sea. _Ecogeek
A similar project is being carried out in Curacao.
The pipeline will reach 6 kilometres out into the sea, going south out from the Marriot Hotel, down to a depth of 850 meters, fetching up seawater at a temperature of 6°C at half cubic meter per second. The SWAC system operates with a temperature differential (ΔT) between the water it takes in and the water it lets out of about 7°C, and the return water will go into the sea again at 100 meters depth to avoid any substantial environmental impact. _OTECNews
On an island, fuel must be shipped in, and is very expensive. Saving 80% on energy costs of air conditioning in a tropical island environment means a very large reduction in fossil fuel consumption. The main costs for such a seawater chiller system are electricity for pumps and routine maintenance.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Billions of Tons of Uranium Inside the Earth

One cubic centimeter of uranium is equivalent to 60,000 liters of gasoline, 110-160 tons of coal, or almost 60,000 cubic meters of natural gas. __EnergyDaily
Uranium is an energy-dense material. Russia is producing more Uranium lately, thanks to discoveries in Eastern Siberia. The best estimates place billions of tons of Uranium ore within the Earth, more of that becoming available with advanced technologies.
In 2006, Russia launched cooperation with Kazakhstan. It owns 49% of shares in the Zarechnoye Joint Venture (JV), which is in charge of a 19,000-ton uranium deposit. Last year, Russia signed a bilateral agreement with Australia, which will supply it with one million dollars worth of uranium for civilian purposes every year.

Also last year, Russia set up joint ventures with Canada's Cameco Corporation to undertake uranium prospecting and extraction in both countries. Potential for uranium production has also been assessed in Armenia; and Russia and Armenia have signed an agreement on uranium prospecting and production.

Mongolia may also occupy a major place in the global nuclear industry. In theory, its uranium resources are the biggest in the world, and it only remains to explore and produce them. __ED
Long before the world runs out of Uranium, a large number of other energy technologies will be ready to fill the gap. The Thorium reactor cycle, for example, should be even safer and provide much more fuel, than the Uranium cycle.

The problem with modern governments is that they do not plan for the future. They merely react to emergencies as they arise. A society such as the US--super-saturated with trial lawyers--has the worst of both worlds. A government that severely limits the approaches the energy industry can pursue, and a litigation industry that punishes any possible choice that is made. Add to that an environmental lobby that is opposed to all forms of energy, and a news media staffed by the least intelligent of all humans, and the challenges appear in starkest relief.

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Refining Biomass: More Big Players Emerge

Dow Chemical is getting on board the US National Renewable Energy Lab's thermochemical biomass to energy conversion plan. As more large oil, chemical, and energy companies join in the hunt for affordable bioenergy, the chances for a breakthrough bioenergy technology get better.
The thermochemical conversion process for mixed alcohol production has six basic steps:

  1. Feedstock handling and preparation.

  2. Gasification. Heat for the endothermic gasification reactions is supplied by circulating hot synthetic olivine “sand” between the gasifier and the char combustor...Air is introduced to the bottom of the reactor and serves as a carrier gas for the fluidized bed plus the oxidant for burning the char and coke. The heat of combustion heats the sand to more than 1,800°F.

  3. Gas cleanup and conditioning. The hot syngas is cooled through heat exchange with the steam cycle and additional cooling via water scrubbing, which also removes impurities such as particulates and ammonia along with any residual tars. The cooled syngas enters an amine unit to remove the CO2 and H2S. The CO2 is vented to the atmosphere in this design.
  4. Alcohol synthesis. The cleaned and conditioned syngas is converted to alcohols in a fixed bed reactor. The mixture of alcohol and unconverted syngas is cooled through heat exchange with the steam cycle and other process streams. The liquid alcohols are separated by condensing them away from the unconverted syngas.
  5. Alcohol separation. The alcohol stream from the alcohol synthesis section is depressurized and dehydrated using vapor-phase molecular sieves. The dehydrated alcohol stream is introduced to the main alcohol separation column that splits methanol and ethanol from the higher molecular weight alcohols.
  6. Heat and power. A conventional steam cycle produces heat (as steam) for the gasifier and reformer operations and electricity for internal power requirements (with the possibility of exporting excess electricity as a co-product). The steam cycle is integrated with the biomass conversion process.

    ...In its design, NREL is targeting a much higher ethanol distribution (70.66 wt%) than found in pervious work (Dow, 34.5%; SRI, 446.12%), enabled by the almost complete recycle of methanol within the NREL process. In the alcohol purification section downstream, virtually all methanol is recovered via distillation and recycled back to mix with the compressed syngas. This is done in order to increase the production of ethanol and higher alcohols. _GCC
The emphasis on ethanol production reflects nearer term priorities. The ethanol economy has been put in place by US government mandate, reflecting special interest "corn state" industries and politics. An emphasis on ethanol almost guarantees a massive shift to "flex-fuel" automobiles within North America. In terms of motorist choice, the flex-fuel approach may work out quite well.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Small Nuke Reactor Submits Plan to NRC

Oregon State University's Nuclear Energy Institute has designed a new small-scale (45 MW) modular nuclear reactor to be built and fueled at the factory, and shipped by rail to the generating plant. It is designed for loads equivalent to 45,000 US homes, including small towns and large installations such as military bases, large factory complexes or multi-factory industrial parks.
Interest in minireactors has grown over the past few years, according to Felix Killar at the Nuclear Energy Institute. “They're simple and robust, with safety features to allow a country without nuclear expertise to gradually put in small plants, and get people trained and familiar with them before moving into more complex plants.” But small-scale plants could prove useful in the United States, too, particularly in areas where residents must now rely on diesel generators for electricity. Toshiba is reportedly working on a small-scale design for Galena, Alaska. But NuScale Power, the startup spun from Oregon State, is the first American company to submit plans to the NRC, which regulates all domestic nuclear power plants.

The plant's design is similar to that of a Generation III+ “light water” reactor, but the size is unusual. “The whole thing is 65 ft. long,” explains Jose Reyes, head of the nuclear engineering department at Oregon State and a co-founder of NuScale Power. The reactor unit of NuScale's containment unit is 14 ft., compared to a Westinghouse AP1000, a standard current design, which is about 120 ft. in diameter. It has to be built and serviced on-site, but NuScale's units could be manufactured at the factory, then shipped on a rail car or heavy truck to any location and returned for refueling.

As in modern reactors, the containment shell acts as a heat exchanger, Reyes explains. The water closest to the core is vented into the outer shell as steam, where it condenses and drips into the cooling pool, which is recirculated to cool the core. The whole unit sits below grade, without telltale cooling towers. The reactor doesn't use pumps to circulate the water if the unit overheats, which means it needs no external power to cool down. That's a “passive safety” feature that protects the unit from electrical sabotage.

The new unit can be manufactured cheaply, with standard turbines from General Electric, for example, rather than custom-made parts. Because the steel reactor vessel is only 9 ft. in diameter, it can be made entirely in the U.S., rather than relying on Japan Steel Works, the only manufacturer who can cast today's one-piece, 25-ft.-plus reactor vessels. _PopMech

This design will be competing with modular gas-cooled designs. Newer generation designs incorporate more "passive safety" features, meant to make the smaller plants more foolproof.

The US Navy has a long history of small nuclear reactor safety and efficacy. It is past time for the civilian energy sector to demonstrate that it can match the Navy's record.

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Cellulose to Gasoline Conversion

Most biofuels startups today focus on creating ethanol from cellulose and waste biomass. Before long, it will be possible to make gasoline itself from cellulose, using clever catalysts with fast pyrolysis.
the team at PNNL, which Holladay is a part of, uses high-throughput screening to test multiple catalysts at a time and to increase the number of experiments they can do over a given period of time. This method for identifying new catalysts is carried out at PNNL’s Combinatorial Catalysis Lab. Initially, robotic equipment is used to form each catalyst to be tested. Solids handling robots weigh and add an appropriate amount of solid support to a small well on a microtiter plate. Each plate holds 96 wells, so up to 96 catalysts can be developed and tested together. Liquids handling robots then add a salt solution of metals, which fill the pore spaces of the support. The liquid is evaporated leaving the metals embedded in the support. Once the catalyst is treated to set the metals in the active state, the plate is moved to a reactor system where the biomass to be tested is applied to each well. The reaction is carried out in a second reactor and then another set of robotic systems draws samples from each well for analysis, Holladay explains.

...“We’ll take the ones that show activity and do further experimentation on them,” he says. It’s these experiments that provide a fundamental understanding of how the catalyst works. Using tools such as gas chromatography, high- pressure liquid chromatography and microscopy techniques that weren’t available 20 years ago, new catalysts can be discovered and the surface chemistry can be studied to understand and ultimately improve such things as the interactions between the metals and their supports. “It’s kind of a balance of both approaches,” Holladay explains. “We start with the discovery phase and then move into the fundamental stage with the overall goal being to develop this industry quickly.” _EthanolProducer
The race to develop efficient and hardy catalysts that can withstand continuous thermochemical reactions of cellulose to hydrocarbon , is on. Taking a page from high throughput biochemical and pharmacological research, these scientists are developing high throughput tools to find the best catalysts to produce high yield hydrocarbon fuel from cellulose. Skip ethanol altogether and go to the higher energy density fuels--the fuels that modern engines were built for.

Ethanol has always been a stop-gap fuel between petro-fuels and something better. The sooner we can get to the something better, the sooner we can jump over all the controversy over food to fuels, and other ethanol misinformation the media loves to dwell on.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nigeria Hedging Its Bets With Sweet Sorghum

Nigeria is better known for its petroleum reserves--and the troubles revolving around them--than its biofuels leadership. But Global Biofuels Limited, a company with headquarters in Lagos State, plans to expand biofuels in Nigeria using sweet sorghum.
Babatunde Obilana, director of the company, said the process of refining the crop involved three stages: "Crushing to produce a sugary juice; fermentation to convert the sugary juice into ethanol" and the utilisation of what he called "bagasse" (gotten from the dried stalks of the crop), which he said, could be used as a renewable energy source for electricity and serve as fertiliser in farms. _NextEnergyNews
Global Biofuels is using feedstock from India, as well as developing new strains of sweet sorghum within Nigeria. Currently large plots are being cleared in preparation for planting in time to begin harvesting within 18 months.

Both sweet sorghum and grain sorghum offer improvements over both cane and maize ethanol--in terms of wider growing climates and much less water and cultivation required. Sorghum and cassava both seem particularly well suited to the wide range of soil and climatic conditions found in Africa.

In Africa, small, local solutions to problems is by far the best approach. Larger mega-plantations--as in palm oil plantations--tend to be environmentally disruptive and subject to looting by government officials and ragtag warlord/militia groups. By providing small farmers, villages, and local regions with the means of energy self-sufficiency plus a ready cash crop, you are empowering the continent from the bottom levels up.

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US President Bush Lifts Offshore Oil Ban E.O.

In a rare act of willful provocation to an inept US Congress, President Bush has thrown down the gauntlet of domestic energy production.
President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore oil and gas drilling Monday, putting more pressure on congressional Democrats to address GOP calls to open more acreage for domestic energy exploration.

The executive ban, established under Bush's father in 1990, is coupled with another prohibition Congress established in 1981, so lawmakers on Capitol Hill must rollback the congressional ban before energy companies can start looking for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf....the move increases pressure on congressional Democrats to confront a Republican measure that would open offshore drilling sites 50 miles from much of the country's coastline. Democratic leaders have blocked votes on this amendment in recent weeks, despite calls from their own members to consider it.

"With this action, the executive branch's restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away," Bush told reporters during a brief press conference in the White House Rose Garden. "This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress. Now the ball is squarely in Congress's court." _Source
Don't expect a lot of action from Pelosi and Boxer's Congress, however. The US Congress is determined to gum up the works of the US economy at least until after Novemeber elections. They are gambling that the US voting public will not notice what the unpopular legislators are attempting.

Meanwhile, contrary to peak oil doomsterism, proven oil reserves are increasing rather than decreasing.
In the Americas, proven oil reserves have increased from 170 billion barrels to 180 billion barrels over the last two decades, according to the 2008 Statistical World Review from British Petroleum. In Europe and Eurasia, proven oil reserves almost doubled, from 76 billion barrels to 144. Africa's proven oil reserves did double, from 58 billion barrels to 117. Even the Asia Pacific region, where China and India are reputed to be sucking up everything in sight, has increased its proven reserves. And the Middle East, the gas tank of the world, shows no sign of slowing down -- its reserves soared by almost 200 billion barrels, from a whopping 567 billion barrels to a super-whopping 756.

...But this is still not the end of it. Unconventional oil reserves are now in play. In 2005, the Rand Corporation estimated that the oil shale in America's Green River Formation, which covers portions of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, contains 1.5 to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, with as much as 1.1 trillion barrels of oil recoverable, an amount comparable to the reserves of four Saudi Arabias. Oil shale becomes recoverable at $95 a barrel, it determined. With oil now trading at $140 a barrel, oil shale exploitation is now very much economic. Then there's Canada's tar sands, with its even greater potential--estimates of the total reserves that may be available top two trillion barrels, or eight Saudi Arabias.

This is still not the end to it. Most of the oil we know about lies in the well travelled portions of the globe. But most of the world remains unexplored -- the interiors of Africa, Asia and South America have seen relatively little oil exploration. Oil exploration in the oceans, too, is in its infancy. For all practical purposes, mankind has limitless oil supplies available to it. The story is similar for natural gas and coal, the other major nonrenewable sources of energy. And for nuclear power. And for the renewables. _Much More at the Source
We know that both solar and geothermal energy can potentially power the entire Earth's human population thousands of times over. Biomass and algae have the potential to eventually take over for fossil fuels, in a few decades. Nuclear fusion may not be far off, if the good news from the Bussard research group on IEC fusion continues. Safer and more reliable fission designs that are scalable for most any size from small towns to mega-cities are close to production stage.

This is not a time to talk doom. The only type of peak oil on the horizon is political peak oil, for which we can largely thank the US Congress of Pelosi and Boxer.

H/T Icecap

Previously published at Al Fin

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2nd Generation Biofuels Progress in US and EU

In the US, DOE financing for cellulosic biorefineries was extended to include 2 additional small scale cellulosic bioreactors.
These two biorefinery projects are the final round of selections for DOE’s competitive small-scale biorefinery solicitation. Earlier this year, DOE selected seven other projects, comparable in size and scope, to receive up to a total of $200 million. (Earlier post.)

With the addition of the two new projects announced today, the selected biorefinery projects will receive up to a total of $240 million in DOE funding, subject to appropriations, over the next five fiscal years. Once federal funding is combined with industry cost share, more than $735 million will be invested in these nine projects, over the next four to five years...The two [added] projects are:

Flambeau River Biofuels (FRB), LLC of Park Falls, Wis. The proposed biorefinery will be installed in an existing pulp and paper mill in Park Falls, Wis., and will use thermochemical conversion of cellulosic biomass using advanced gasification technologies followed by F-T catalytic conversion to produce renewable liquid fuels and waxes.

When completed, the facility will produce at least 1 trillion BTUs of renewable energy for the host mill and 6 million gallons of transportation (sulfur-free diesel) fuels per year.

Verenium Biofuels Corporation of Jennings, La. Construction of Verenium’s 1.5 million gallon per year demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility is underway and is scheduled to be complete in late 2008. (Earlier post.)

The project is moving to commercialize its proprietary technology for the production of ethanol from a wide array of biomass feedstocks, including sugarcane bagasse, agricultural byproducts, waste wood products, and other non-food based energy crops. The Jennings, Louisiana demonstration plant is operated by Verenium Corporation, which was formed in 2007 through a merger of Celunol Corp, and Diversa Corporation. _GCC
In Europe, The Integrated European Project “Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains” (RENEW), has published a report on a four year project to study 2nd generation BTL biofuels. Its findings:
Generally the challenge in BtL technology is to modify well developed synthesis technologies like FT- or DME synthesis to be based on biomass. Present processes utilise synthesis gas which is produced from coal or natural gas. The precise challenge of biomass in terms of gasification is its structured, inhomogeneous nature and the high share of accompanying compounds. Hence, the research focussed mainly on the mechanism to introduce the biomass into the gasifier and on the removal of ash and various impurities from the synthesis gas.

Overall, the study concluded that there are multiple opportunities for BTL production in Europe, but that the best regions for first industrial scale BTL plants of the Chemrec type would be West Poland and Sweden.

For the future, it can be expected that highly efficient ligno-cellulosic biomass utilization systems like in Sweden and Finland will be established all over Europe, leading to diminishing differences in biomass supply costs of 3.5 to 4 €/GJ, This will increase the potential number of suitable locations for BtL production in 2020. However, site-specific studies of biomass availability and respective prices are required as well as studies for integration possibilities to e.g. refineries, pulp & paper mills and heating grids prior to any decision on the BTL plant locations. _GCC
Other researchers worldwide are looking further ahead, at the potential of micro-organisms to create as much bioenergy as humans might want. Microbiologists and molecular biologists are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to microbes, just when humans are discovering how much they need their help.
In a new issue on 'microbial ecology and sustainable energy' in the prestigious journal Nature Reviews Microbiology, the Biodesign researchers outline paths where bacteria are the best hope in producing renewable energy in large quantities without damaging the environment or competing with our food supply.

Two distinct, but complementary approaches will be needed. The first is to use microbes to convert biomass to useful energy. Different microorganisms can grow without oxygen to take this abundant organic matter and convert it to useful forms of energy such as methane, hydrogen, or even electricity. The second uses bacteria or algae that can capture sunlight to produce new biomass that can be turned into liquid fuels, like biodiesel, or converted by other microorganisms to useful energy. Both approaches currently are intensive areas of biofuel research at the Biodesign Institute, which has a joint project with petroleum giant BP to harvest photosynthetic bacteria to produce renewable liquid fuels, such as biodiesel. _Bioenergy
Combining some of these disparate approaches to bioenergy might yield some golden combinations. Humans will find ever more uses for microbe communities in bioreactors. It will be a race between the thermochemical approach to bioenergy and the more sophisticated metagenomics approach to microbe bioenergy reactors in series. In the end, the two approaches will be working together for the most efficient and highest yielding approaches to bioenergy.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Paper and Pulp Mills Poised to Produce Biofuels

No other industry is so well suited to produce fuels from waste wood cellulose than the paper/pulp industry. By converting pulp by-products from waste to precious fuel, pulp mills can do a big favour to themselves, the environment, and the energy consuming public.
The pulp and paper industry has the scale to produce more than 9 billion gallons per year of biofuels, or as much as 20,000 MW of biomass power - as much as 16 Quads of cumulative fossil energy savings – realize net CO2 emissions reductions of more than 100 million tons annually, in the process generating financial returns, relative to continued investment in existing technology, with internal rates of return between 15-40% depending of fuel prices and incentives, according to a presentation given by Navigant Consulting’s Ryan Katofsky at the “Florida Farm to Fuel Summit,” which took place in St. Petersburg July last year.

...Gasifying rather than incinerating black liquor in soda furnaces – as is common practice - results in the production of a number of by-products, including synthesis gas. The bio-syngas can then be turned into a range of liquid fuels, such as methanol, dimethyl ester (DME), Fischer-Tropsch synthetic diesel and hydrogen gas. _Source
Pulp mills could easily become energy self-sufficient by using the waste process heat of paper manufacture, and eventually supply energy to the outside in the form of electricity or fuels.

The more productive uses that can be found for solid waste, waste sludge, waste exhaust gases, waste heat, and waste water, the cleaner the environment will become--land, air, and water.

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Shale Oil Perspectives

North America also contains enough coal and oil sands to supply even more trillions of barrels of oil equivalent, on top of the oil shale reserves.
Can shale oil be developed economically? At today's prices, of course. A few years ago it was estimated that shale oil development would be competitive at around $40 a barrel. That figure may have risen a bit, but with world oil prices over $140 a barrel, shale oil development is a no-brainer.

...shale oil development is being blocked by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the Democrats in Congress. The future of America's economy is at risk as a result. _Source

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Friday, July 11, 2008

On the Other Hand, Biofuels Has to Prove Itself in the Real World Economy

Al Fin defends biofuels not for what they are now, but for what they can become. Biofuels have a lot of significant problems to overcome, as veteran biofuels entrepreneur Martin Tobias can attest. Read Tobias' criticisms of specific biofuels companies below:
Range Fuels: Triple the capital cost of first generation. While multiple feedstocks may be technically possible, actual availability of feedstock and transportation logistics will likely significantly change economics once plant is built. While Khosla likes to pay lip service to investing in technologies that are economic w/o government incentives, cellulosic ethanol generally through the 2.5x RFS credits, and Range Fuels specifically through large DOE grants have been showered with government money. If the plant eventually does get up and running

Sapphire Energy: Inventing an algae bug that will produce a crude oil substance compatable with today's light sweet crude refineries is not that hard. The Aquatic Species program of the DOE found thousands of them over a decade ago. The probelm is building the algae farm and cultivation system at a cost per acre that pays an acceptable ROI. I like the strategy to skip the big oil controled refined products channel and go direct to independent crude oil refiners, but the devil is in the details. What will be the actual yield? How will the refined products perform? Will customers accept the products? While the company announced significant funding, it has yet to enter pilot testing and hopes to one day produce "up to 10,000 barrels per day" of algae crude. Ok, that would be 0.011834 % of US daily crude requirements TODAY. Despite the many challenges and my reservations, Sapphire Energy is my favorite biofuel company funded last quarter.

EdeniQ: Actually the smoking dusty remains of the Altra train wreck "still in formation stage". While at Imperium I reviewed and dismissed as non-economic the Port of Morrow site they hope to develop. Maybe I missed something. On technology side they use all the right buzzwords about low capital costs, ellimination of catalyst and additives. All I can say is "show me".

Mascoma: Again, more non-specific "non-grain biomass" as feedstock. GM invested, that hasn't seemed to help their stock price. More government hand-outs (over $60M) and sky high capital costs. Show me the money.

Aurora BioFuels: $20M ain't nuthing when measured against their plans. Their mission statement lays out too much wood to chop in my opinion and not enough focus. It is not at all clear from public information what Aurora is planning to do new, different and proprietary from anyone else. See Sapphiire: Algae in the lab is easy. Making a million barrels a day (about 1% of US needs) is HARD.

Gevo: While the company is "working on an alternative jet fuel for Virgin Airways", Imperium actually supplied Virgin with such a fuel and flew Richard Branson around in the plane back in January. The company's "advanced" fuels like isobutanol and butanol face many distribution, field test, engine warranty and other implementation issues already overcome by first generation refined biofuels. This one is going to be a LONG burn.

Fulcrum Bioenergy: Waste seems like a good source of fuel. Unfortunately the energy balance has never worked for anything but sucking methane off garbage piles. Again the ethanol oversupply problem, the US is already long corn ethanol through at least 2012. From press releases the company seems more like a build own and operate project developer rather than a technology company. While this is a fine model, I am not sure it garners venture capital returns. Permitting of the first facility in collaboration with Casella Waste Systems is supposed to "start" in next 12 months. If the plant is running by 2010, I will give you $100.

Greenline Industries: No comment (too many NDA's).

GreenFuel Technologies: The long struggling Greenfuel may have finally found their stride. They arguably know more about the implementation details of growing algae for biofuels than any other company and have the scars to prove it. Their first pilot grew algae so fast they couldn't harvest it. Not much good. I like the strategy of co-locating algae farms with carbon emitters for multiple revenue streams. I like the folks at GreenFuel and wish them well. They still face the massive problem of getting the cost per acre of the algae farm down to an acceptable ROI. After 5 years, problem still not solved.

Amyris Biotechnologies: Originally founded with quite a different mission, these opportune scientists are marketing their lab skills to the fuel markets these days. More fancy bugs that look good under a microscope and are years away from any scale. If they suceed in making more than 100 gallons of anything by 2010 I will give you $100. _Source_via_Earth2Tech_via_GreenEnergyTrends
Good criticism is invaluable for a struggling company. Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the area that most needs work when you are too close to the problem.

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The Idiots are Bashing Biofuels Again

"The American farmer successfully produces both food and fuel," said Caupert, director of the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center at SIU's Edwardsville campus.

He said myths such as the increased use of natural space to produce ethanol, the waste of water growing corn and making ethanol and the injury to poor people caused by making ethanol are rampant and wrong.
__Bioenergy
Biofuels vs. food is a debate for the uninformed. Why? Because there is only a false dichotomy there, so no grounds for such a debate exists. Biofuels are the nearest-term substitute for liquid petro-fuels. If our moronic elected officials do not unleash the energy industry to produce oil-equivalent from coal, shale oil, shale gas, and oil sands, there will be nothing but biofuel to fill the need for liquid fuels to power a pre-existing infrastructure. An infrastructure will take decades to replace.

Smart people are starting to recognize the potential. Leaders in various industries, such as oil, chemicals, automobile manufacturing, power equipment manufacurers etc. are starting to look to biofuels for part of the answer to curren shortfalls and high prices.
"Agriculture can supply the solution, providing adequate resources for food, feed and fuel far into the foreseeable future," John Pierce, DuPont Applied BioSciences' vice president for technology, testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing.

Agricultural yields from existing acres will continue to increase in this country, he said. With much of the world lagging behind this country in agricultural productivity, there are dramatic opportunities to expand production globally by bringing modern farming practices to other parts of the world.
__Bioenergy
We are faced with political peak oil. Better political leaders would free up much of the energy locked in the ground by moronic lead brains such as Boxer and Pelosi. But bioenergy offers another--although slower--way to provide today's infrastructure with liquid fuels.

Building enough nuclear power plants will take years and decades. Getting the utility-scale storage that is needed to turn solar and wind into viable baseload power will take decades. Getting enhanced geothermal into position to provide 20% or more of electricity for N. America will take decades.

Converting coal to oil equivalent can be done now, if given the go-ahead by government. Scaling up use of Canadian oil sands and heavy oils could begin now. Increasing development of Bakken oil fields could begin now. Intensifying research and development of harvesting huge oil shale fields could begin now.

Biofuels is on the threshold of plentiful, clean and affordable fuel from algae, cellulose biomass, and synthetic biological forms. Before that, biofuels from cane, sorghum, cassava, jatropha, palm, pangomia, moringa, coconut, and a legion of other biofuel crops will be refined and developed to economical forms.

This is only the beginning of the transition. Biofuels are like a newborn baby with apparently unlimited potential. Babies are a huge drain on resources at first, but if they are raised well, they grow up to take up the load.

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