Sunday, August 31, 2008

More on New Austin, Texas Biomass Plant

The New York Times is not the first place one looks for information on biomass energy plants, but a recent issue presented a fair near-term outlook for biomass electrical plants in the US.
When completed in 2012, the East Texas plant will be able to generate 100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 75,000 homes. That is small by the standards of coal-fired power plants, but plants fueled by wood chips, straw and the like — organic materials collectively known as biomass — have rarely achieved such scale.

Austin Energy, a city-owned utility, has struck a $2.3 billion, 20-year deal to be the sole purchaser of electricity from Nacogdoches Power, the company that will build the plant for an undisclosed sum. On Thursday, Austin’s City Council unanimously approved the deal, which would bring the Austin utility closer to its goal of getting 30 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020....

...More than 100 biomass power plants are connected to the electrical grid in the United States, according to Bill Carlson, former chairman of USA Biomass, an industry group. Most are in California or the Northeast, but some of the new ones are under development in the South, a region with a large wood pulp industry.

The last big wave of investment in the biomass industry came during the 1980s and early 1990s. Interest is rising again as states push to include more renewable power in their mix of electricity generation.

Last week, Georgia Power asked state regulators to approve the conversion of a coal plant into a 96-megawatt biomass plant. An additional 50-megawatt plant in East Texas is expected to be under construction by September....

....In California, which has the most biomass plants in the country, momentum is reviving after years of decline. The number of biomass plants has dropped to fewer than 30, from 48 in the early 1990s, because of the closing of many sawmills and the energy crisis early this decade, said Phil Reese of the California Biomass Energy Alliance. Six to eight of the mothballed plants are gearing up to restart, Mr. Reese said, helping California meet its renewable energy goals.

At least three biomass plants have been proposed in Connecticut, and another three in Massachusetts — though last week one of these, a $200 million, 50-megawatt biomass plant proposed for the western part of the state, experienced a regulatory setback because of concerns about truck traffic. _NYT
Al Fin is not particularly pleased to see biomass getting all this attention in the national press. The economics of biomass will continue to suit the local and regional level needs long before it rises to the level of the national and international stage. In the US, it is the state governors and legislators who should be out in front pushing bioenergy wherever the resources exist.

The US Congress under Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and the rest of the inept crew, will not work in a timely manner to assure the US of the energy resources it needs for the next half century. Since that is about how long it will take renewable energies to come into their own on a national and international scale, it should be obvious to any voter in the US that they would have to be a total moron to vote to keep a Democrat Party Senator of Congressman in office--at least until we can get past multiple current quasi-crises in energy, global jihad, Russian neo-imperialism, and Chinese hegemonism.

Of course, it never speaks highly for one's intelligence when he expects strict rationality from the American voter. Or any population of voters, for that matter.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Natural Gas Supply in the US Jumps

"Peak Energy" doomsters have suffered numerous setbacks recently, with the drop in oil prices from near $150 a barrel in July to around $115 a barrel for the past weeks. Recent boosts in estimated US supplies of natural gas are another thorn in the side of would-be energy apocalyptics. Improved energy recovery technologies are making deposits of oil and gas more recoverable, and very economic at today's energy prices.
U.S. gas production is up 9% this year - a rate of increase not seen since 1984 - with most of that gain coming from natural-gas shale, particularly the Barnett Shale, a deposit that now produces 7% of the country’s gas supply. Indeed, there could be as much as 842 trillion cubic feet of retrievable gas in shale deposits throughout the United States alone, according to Navigant Consulting. That would support the current level of U.S. consumption for about 40 years....Shale beds are a major part of the story. The Barnett - with reserves of 2.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and as much as 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas resources - was the first shale field to undergo major development, and has seen output increase tenfold since 2001. It’s just one of at least 24 shale beds in North America. The Haynesville in Louisiana and the Marcellus in Appalachia may be even bigger, but will require further development and won’t come online for another two to five years.

The vast potential of fields like these has only been unlocked recently with advances in the technology of horizontal drilling hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal drilling, or slant drilling, allows producers to drill laterally beneath cities and neighborhoods, and hydraulic fracturing is simply a method by which water is pumped into the rock to break the sediment and release the gas. _SeekingAlpha
Doomsday has become an obsession -- a quasi-religion -- for legions of people with nothing important to do with their time or lives. Flailing about for a cause, these unfortunates have seized upon Y2K, Global Warming Catastrophe, Peak Oil, Overpopulation, and any number of other dubious doomsdays. All in the futile quest for a sense self-importance.

Typical loser political activist mentality. Too bad they never acquired any useful skills, or they may have been able to contribute to a productive cause.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Gasifying the World to Save It

Gasification involves the flash heating of substances to above 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, in limited amounts of oxygen. Most of the yield is a combination of H2 and CO, referred to as syngas or sometimes "coal gas". Any hydrocarbon can be gasified in that manner, including garbage, biomass, coal, shale oil, heavy oils, etc. Nexterra Energy of Canada has developed a process whereby syngas can be conveyed from where it is produced to another location for burning or use in synthesis of fuels. Nexterra has recently obtained new financing to allow it to scale up its process to service Canadian industries, including lime kilns.
Nexterra’s technology uses wood chips or other solid fuels to create relatively clean syngas, which can then be burned in a traditional gas power generation system. The feedstock is put through a tightly controlled series of steps including drying, pyrolysis, gasification and reduction, and in the end, the incombustible and dirty ash is removed and the hydrocarbon-rich syngas is piped away. The company is targeting plant-scale operations in the forest products, institutional, power generation and pulp and paper manufacturing sectors. _Source
Other companies are working on gasification of garbage and biomass, and others are using coal , oil shale, and heavy oils as feedstock.

The US Air Force recently performed an in flight test of synthetic fuel using natural gas as the starting point, but syngas could also serve as feedstock for synthesis of liquid fuels including jet fuel, diesel, gasoline, etc. Chemists are busy at work developing more economical catalysts and synthesis processes for conversion of syngas to both simple hydrocarbons and alcohols, and more complex hydrocarbons -- even plastics.

The opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs will be significant. Some small biomass or gasification companies in your area may come up with the winning formula. Always remember that biomass has very low energy density, so that local and regional processing and pre-processing plants will be needed for some time. These local processors will accept bundled biomass and chip it, cube it, sometimes torrefy it, pelletize it, or will increasingly gasify it either for on site generation of power, or for shipment to another facility for use or processing.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bioenergy News

Destiny, Florida, is to be the site of a 41,000 acre farm where sweet sorghum, algae, jatropha, and other staple biofuels crops will be grown under varying conditions, to optimise the yield as far as possible. Finding the best varieties which grow under diverse conditions will be invaluable.

At Purdue University, researchers are learning to play the maize genome like a harmonica.
"Maize has the same genes arranged in the same order and on the same chromosomes as the other grasses," said McCann, an associate professor of biological science. "We'll switch genes on and off as we identify them to see what they do. Once we know the genes and their functions, then we can assess which ones might make good targets for modification for enhanced biomass and sugars for processing into biofuel."

A bioenergy company named AXI is attempting something analogous with algal strains. Using non-genetic aqua-farming methods, AXI will assist algal biofuels makers in optimising the best strains of algae for their purposes.

In New Zealand, government scientists predict that growing pine forests on less than 2.8 hectares of poor quality land will be sufficient to fuel New Zealands highway fleets of the future.

Researchers from Texas A&M are developing drought-tolerant strains of maize. Such strains should allow a broader range of growing regions for the crop.

More on the "food vs. fuel" debate.

While the modern remedy for energy shortages in population dense areas of the world is more nuclear power and judicious use of fossil fuels, in less population dense areas bioenergy will make an increasing impact on energy needs. Over the next 10 to 20 years, bioenergy will grow from its rural and regional bases to displace a larger part of the fossil fuel infrastructures. It will probably take from 2 to 3 decades for bioenergy to substantially displace fossil fuels from high density population areas.

During that entire time, nuclear energy will take on an increasingly important role, as will solar energy (both PV and solar thermal). These electricity producing technologies will work side by side to allow conversion of transportation fleets from a combustion to an electrical basis. At the same time, fuel cells driven by methane, methanol, hydrogen, and other simple fuels (including carbonised biomass) will also begin to drive large proportions of motor vehicles and homes.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Methane, Methanol: Simple Fuels Making Sense

Methane is CH4, methanol is CH3OH. The simplest hydrocarbon, the simplest alcohol. Small molecules that promise to explode the petroleum monopoly on liquid fuels, likely leaving Mssrs. Chavez, Putin, Ahmedinejad, Qadafi and company in tears. Why? Because they're cheap and easy to make, and besides working in IC engines and fuel cells as is, they can be chemically converted to more complex hydrocarbons, plastics, and other organic compounds.
MCI has been pursuing the development of a process for the synthesis of methanol (CH3OH)—later used in the production of olefins and aromatics—using the CO2 emitted from factories and hydrogen obtained from water photolysis. The effort is part of the company’s strategy to develop innovative processes to contribute to significant reductions of greenhouse gases.

The pilot plant, located at MCI’s Osaka plant, will have a production capacity of approximately 100 tonnes of methanol per year, using about 150-160 tonnes of CO2 emitted the Osaka plant. Construction of the ¥1.5 billion (US$13.7 million) plant will begin in October, and is due for completion in February 2009. The plant is projected to come online in March 2010. _GCC
While using CO2 from emissions may make sense from a "greenhouse gas" point of view, the biosphere could really use that CO2. Much more reasonable to grow the biosphere and then make methanol from biomass. Brian Westenhaus looks at the prospects for methane in automobiles etc.
I have a certain confidence that.....the compressed methane route for fuel is going to have a few good years. It may be much longer than that should the biomass people come up with a cheap process to convert biomass carbon back to hydrocarbon in methane form. This is a crack in the gasoline monopoly..... Just to throw out another bit for the future - methane is one of the leading contenders for fuel cells too....Methane is way past being a fuel to watch. It’s time to look into how it might work and the costs to change over. _NewEnergyand Fuel
In other energy news, giant conglomerate ADM is collaborating with John Deere and chemical giant Monsanto to develop productive uses for corn stover and other crop residues.
The companies will work together to identify environmentally and economically sustainable methods for the harvest, storage and transport of corn stover—the stalks, leaves and cobs of corn plants. Corn stover can be used in feed for animals, as biomass to generate steam and electricity or as a cellulosic feedstock for biofuel production.

Stover is usually left on the field, where, in proper amounts, it helps reduce soil erosion and build up soil organic matter. A 170-bushel-per-acre corn crop, which was the average last year in Iowa, also produces about four dry tons of stover. The United States Department of Agriculture forecasts that in 2008, farmers will harvest 12.3 billion bushels of corn, resulting in approximately 290 million tons of stover. _GCC
While you were sleeping, hundreds of thousands of people were dreaming up ways to create more energy cleanly and economically. The news media will be the last to know what is going to happen.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fertilising the Bioenergy Revolution . . . . .

About 75% of all fertilizers and fertilizer technology used around the world today were developed or improved during the 1950s to 1970s by scientists and engineers at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the United States... _Biopact
If the biosphere of Earth is to provide a substantial portion of future biofuels and electrical power, the process will need to be fertilised in a sustainable way. Nothing is gained by depleting soils or destroying land and ocean habitats of plants and animals.
Borlaug thinks the price tag for increasing productivity in Africa might be quite high unless new fertilizers are developed. The fertilizer industry therefor needs to do everything in its power to minimize that cost. Farmers are paying way too much for fertilizer products because we are transporting millions of tons of material that is not nutrient and because much of the nutrients in applied fertilizers are never used by the crop. Nutrient losses to the environment are high with consequences for global warming and water pollution, Borlaug says.

According to Borlaug, work should begin now on the next generation of fertilizer products using advanced techniques such as nanotechnology and molecular biology, especially in conjunction with plant genetics research. 'Smart' fertilizer products that will release nutrients only at the time and in the amount needed should be developed, he thinks.
Meanwhile, scientists are trying to understand how cyanobacteria can be twice as efficient (even up to ten times more efficient) as plants in converting the sun's radiant energy to chemical energy.

In other news, syngas made from the gasification of biomass is finally being understood by more people as a promising approach to bioenergy.
Reducing solid waste was a key consideration in the founding of Ze-gen. Davis said more than 300 million tons of waste end up in US landfills every year, about 15 percent of it wood waste from construction. Ze-gen's idea: Tap the waste's energy potential.

The company's engineers determined that channel induction furnaces used in the steel industry provided an energy-efficient way to turn construction debris into a high-quality, clean syngas. The electricity used for the furnace offsets about 15 percent of the energy produced by the syngas, Davis said.

The construction debris is first ground up, then injected deep into the molten metal with ceramic cylinders, much like dipping forks into a fondue pot. The intense heat converts the debris to gas. Heavy metals, such as lead from paint, settle to the bottom of the bath while other contaminants are trapped in crust of silica, known as slag, that forms on top.
There are many other approaches to biomass gasification, but the molten metal approach has the advantage of separating out and trapping contaminants.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Can This Be Right?

This article from India suggests that just 1% of total land area of India devoted to algal farming could provide for all of India's liquid fuel needs. Of course, one algal biodiesel company in the US claims that just 10% of New Mexico's land area could supply the US with liquid fuel. But those yield numbers are wildly exaggerated by a factor of 10, if not 100. The Indian experts claim that 10,000 litres of biodiesel can be produced per acre. That sounds fairly realistic, once processes are scaled up--which may take ten years.
Experts say that algae farming in less than 1 per cent of India’s total land can make the country self-sufficient in liquid fuel. Algae yield from one acre of wasteland can be 10 times more than jatropha and by a conservative estimate over 10,000 litres of oil can be produced from one acre of waste/degraded land, they add.

And not just this, algae farming for biofuels can also provide a solution to the food versus fuel debate. As algae do not need agriculture land, it can be grown using non-potable or sea water.

“Algae farming for oil can be great opportunity for India, its farmers and industry. Algae is fast emerging as the most efficient source of feedstock for biodiesel industry,” says CEO of the Growdiesel Climate Care Council Atul Saxena.....While long-term impact of biodiesel on Indian economy is clear, the question is what feedstock for biodiesel can be sustainable and profitable in the long term.

“As sustainable alternatives are sought in a bid to enhance energy security as well as reduce carbon emissions, the focus of researchers has shifted to next generation biodiesel — those not made from food crops such as soya or palm. It has been conclusively established that, in terms of per hectare oil yield, algae could be the most efficient source of feedstock for biodiesel industry,” explains Saxena. While jatropha takes two-three years for commercial yield, algae starts yielding from two-three days and thereafter the algae oil can be harvested everyday. Algae oil can be suitably converted to biodiesel and left over deoiled cake serves as an excellent source of high value protein to supplement the cattle feed.

.....The summit will focus on producing next generation biofuels using algae as the main feedstock. The main objective is to disseminate information regarding recent research and development activities in the field of Algae, mass production systems, photobioreactor technologies and other important areas of algae biofuel industry. _Source
Sadly, this is all we can expect from academics, think tanks, and governmental/intergovernmental bureaucrats. Form a committee to study an issue and submit a report to another committee, write a paper whose primary recommendation is that a follow-up paper be funded... and so on. Hold a conference when all else fails. That way the various bureaucrats, functionaries, and academics can argue over whose paper-trail gravy trains should receive the lion's share of future financing.

No. If you want something done, you must give the creative people of the planet--the entrepreneurs, inventors, working engineers, etc--incentives to unleash their creativity on the problem. Modern governments tax and regulate enterprise so highly to fund and field massive bureaucracies, that incentives are often slanted toward the career bureaucrat and quasi civil servant, at the expense of the makers and doers.

Society gets the type of people it sets the table for. In other words, if you vote for people who are bound to grow government ever larger--and tax enterprise ever more--then blame yourself for being the fuckup you clearly are. Because if the society you are creating is ever able to solve any important problem, it will be in spite of what you do, not because of it.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sweet Potato and Cassava Have Higher Yields of Ethanol than Maize

Scientists studying sweet potato starch yields in Maryland and Alabama, and cassava starch yields in Alabama, discovered that these crops yielded significantly more starch for conversion to ethanol than maize.
In experiments, sweet potatoes grown in Maryland and Alabama yielded two to three times as much carbohydrate for fuel ethanol production as field corn grown in those states, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists report. The same was true of tropical cassava in Alabama.

The sweet potato carbohydrate yields approached the lower limits of those produced by sugarcane, the highest-yielding ethanol crop. Another advantage for sweet potatoes and cassava is that they require much less fertilizer and pesticide than corn.

...For the sweet potatoes, carbohydrate production was 4.2 tons an acre in Alabama and 5.7 tons an acre in Maryland. Carbohydrate production for cassava in Alabama was 4.4 tons an acre, compared to 1.2 tons an acre in Maryland. For corn, carbohydrate production was 1.5 tons an acre in Alabama and 2.5 tons an acre in Maryland. _USDA_via_GCC
In order to compete with maize ethanol, less labour-intensive methods of planting and harvesting will need to be devised. Automating those processes--preferably using solar powered machinery--should make a significant difference in North American ethanol production.

The same authors claim that kudzu can offer yields comparable to maize and cane. We'll see. H/T

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Byogy Synthetic Gasoline, Nuclear "Batteries" etc

Brian Westenhaus provides a more in depth look at Byogy's intriguing synthetic gasoline-from-biomass process.
The Byogy process is a stack of processes starting with pre-treating the “energy crop” such as municipal waste in the Byogy plan. Then the crop is fed to a fermentation process or the waste is headed on to gasification. From fermentation the main products go on to the thermo chemical process with the leavings like minerals, water and carbon products recycled back in and hard residuals passed on to the gasification process.

The gasification process outputs hydrogen, syngas and likely CO to forward on to the thermo chemical process. Gasification uses heat and Byogy plans to channel the used available heat back into the fermentation output stream preheating the feedstock....The fermentation process looks to be headed to a methane output for the Ethylene from Concentrated Liquid-phase Acetylene – Integrated, Rapid and Safe or “ECLAIRS.” This process is an innovation in that the methane is reformed up to first acetylene, then adding back in the hydrogen to get to ethylene in the liquid state. From there the ethylene is oligomerized up to gasoline or higher such as diesel or jet fuel. _NewEnergyandFuel
Brian goes on to look at the economics of the process, and at the implications of providing a price floor to oil, and of adding a large new source of methane to a market that is learning how to exploit the smallest hydrocarbon.

Brian also recently looked at the Hyperion "nuclear battery", expanding on a previous post by Brian Wang. If Hyperion can get the efficiencies close to what the two Brians suggest, the $25 million price tag for the 25 megawatt mini-reactor would be an excellent deal indeed. Safe, scalable nuclear fission may be closer than we think!

In other energy news, heavy equipment operators are experimenting with biodiesel blends, as well as electrical substitutes for diesel engines in heavy equipment.

Struggling forestry companies are betting that biomass to fuels/electricity will be their answer to shrinking profit margins.

Kenyans are turning to biodiesel from croton seeds--from the tropical croton tree. The most prolific sources of biodiesel feedstock come from tropical oilseed trees. But clever genetic scientists are learning how to tweak the genomes of crops so that cold weather crops can produce abundant oils.

The intensity of the scientific effort going into creating economic bioenergy sources, as well as the intense competition on the commercial front spurred by high oil costs, suggests that we are on the cusp of a new energy age. If we do not let Luddite politicians such as Pelosi, Boxer, Obama, Reid, Salazar etc. starve us of the energy we need, or let tinpot dictators such as Putin, Ahmedinejad, Chavez, etc. put Europe and the free Far East in thrall to their overpriced oil, society should ride the current wave without too much damage.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

150 MW Biomass Generator Planned for Bristol

The greatest disadvantage to the use of biomass power generation on a large scale, is the sheer bulk and mass of the feedstock necessary to produce industrial scale power. There are several ways to solve the problem, but the use of cheap shipping by boat is one viable approach.
At 150MW, the proposed Portbury Dock Renewable Energy Plant would generate enough power for more than 200,000 homes by burning wood that would largely be brought to the plant by boat. Transporing biomass fuels in bulk by boat is highly energy efficient.

...Portbury Dock is the third of E.ON's biomass developments in the UK. The company already operates Scotland's largest dedicated biomass power station at Steven's Croft near Lockerbie and, earlier this year, received permission for a 25MW biomass station in Sheffield _Biopact
As the prices of oil, gas, and coal rise, biomass will become a more attractive alternative for electric power production and combined heat and power (CHP). Using cheap marine freight is one way around the bulkiness of the feedstock. For the majority of locations lacking a seaport, however, local and regional pre-processing and refinement of the feedstock to a more manageable and transportable form will be necessary. Biomass can now be converted to denser "bio-coal" (torrefaction), bio-gas (treated syngas), and liquid fuel (BTL), for local use or for transport. Biomass can also be baled, cubed, pelletised, and otherwise pre-processed for more convenient shipping and use.

The key to a broader use of biomass is diversification of approaches to best suit the available feedstock, installed infrastructure, and manpower expertise.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Master-Stroke by Researchers Yields One-Step Super Yeast for Cellulosic Ethanol

Japanese researchers have succeeded in integrating cellulolytic enzyme genes from koji mould, into a sake yeast. This yeast now has the the cellulolytic enzyme prominently sprinkled over its cell membrane, where it can break down cellulose from biomass, while the sake yeast itself ferments the resulting simple sugars into ethanol.
To create the super yeast that produces the bioethanol, koji mold genes that produce cellulolytic enzymes were integrated into sake yeast using cell surface engineering so that the enzymes are densely displayed on the surfaces of the yeast cells. Because super yeast combines the capabilities of koji mold, which converts the cellulose starch (cellooligosaccharide) into sugar (glucose), with that of yeast, which ferments sugar (glucose), it can produce ethanol by itself from cellulose pretreated with subcritical water

The combination of subcritical water treatment with super yeast enables clean and easy pretreatment, and simple and efficient ethanol production, which means that small-scale plants could be built and operated in many different rural locations where the plant materials are produced.

Gekkeikan Research Institute has already demonstrated at the experimental level that the new process can effectively produce ethanol from paddy straw and chaff, and it is now working to refine the process for commercial production through research aimed at boosting alcohol yield and integration with various other technologies. _Gekkeikan_via_Japanfs_via_autobloggreen
This one step process utilising a hybrid yeast w/mould genes, is just the beginning of the clever use of biotechnology for meeting the basic needs of human society. Consider it a humble, though important, beginning.

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Getting to Oil Shales, Oil Sands, Heavy Oils, More

Extracting the energy from deposits of shale oil, oil sands, and heavy oil can be expensive. More than half of the oil in a conventional oil well is never recovered, due to expense. Various ingenious ways have been developed to get at that oil, but here is a new one that might get the biggest chunk of that energy out: seed the "exhausted" wells with micro-organisms that convert oil to natural gas.
The OU researchers found that they can use their organisms to convert hydrocarbons in oil reservoirs to natural gas. "Because two-thirds of U.S. oil is still in place, we can use these organisms to convert residual hydrocarbons into natural gas and create a new source of domestic energy. The concept of anaerobic metabolism is an innovative process and the OU initiative is the only one of its kind in the United States at the present time. We are also experimenting with shales and other unconventional reservoirs." _Bioenergy
Micro-organisms can also convert coal, oil shale, and oil sands to natural gas. That is extremely important for where the deposits are difficult to get to by conventional mining methods.

Natural gas can be converted to liquid fuels, to plastics, or to any other organic materials. Or the gas can be used to produce electricity, to drive transportation vehicles, or to cook your lunch.

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Abundant Energy From . . . . . . Rutabagas?

Rutabagas produce a lot of starch, but scientists at Michigan State University have inserted a gene into rutabagas that causes them to produce oil instead of starch. They hope to tweak the rutabaga genome to produce a lot of oil.
Benning and his fellow researchers have inserted a gene called wrinkled1 into the rutabagas that regulates the conversion of carbohydrates into oil.

The hope is that the gene will make the rutabagas produce oil rather than starch inside their bulbous roots, turning these cold-resistant root vegetables into a viable biofuel crop for Michigan....If plants could be made that produce oil throughout, "we could use that vegetative tissue, all that biomass that is going into making a plant."
The most prolific oilseed crops grow best in the tropics. Being able to tweak the genomes of plants to create a prolific cold-weather oil producer could make a big difference in the economics of biodiesel and biofuels.

In other energy news, Nexterra Energy Corp. has developed a breakthrough method of producing syngas in one location, for transport and use at another location. This allows for the economy of scale in syngas production, which should gradually lead to regional centralisation of production with distributed use.

University of Nebraska researchers studied the sustainability of using corn stover for biofuels, and discovered that using a significant portion of stover for biofuels--but not all--can be sustainable. As always, further studied is required.

A Texas A&M developed process can convert waste to gasoline. The process is currently in the pilot phase.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

2nd Generation Biofuels Summary

Popular Mechanics boils 2nd generation biofuels down to the basic essentials. A lot more will be involved, to ultimately determine the big winners and losers in the biofuels jackpot. But it is more likely that it will be a matter of years, rather than decades, before biofuels will begin to make a difference in the global energy picture.

celluosic ethanol biological method
Process*: Raw biomass is typically ground up and pretreated in an acid steam bath before soaking in a massive hot tub for several days. Enzymes break down rigid cellulose into simple sugars like xylose, similar to the sweetener in toothpaste, which can be fermented by yeast or bacteria; it is then distilled into fuel-grade ethanol.
Bottom Line: Fermenting cellulose currently involves a lot of water and several time-consuming steps, adding to expense. The first commercial facility is expected to open in Iowa by late 2011.
Innovators: Iogen (backed by Shell), POET, SunEthanol, Verenium
Freshwater Usage:** 3 gallons
Energy Yield***: 66%

celluosic ethanol [chemical ] method
Process*: Cornstalks, garbage and even old tires are blasted with several-thousand-degree heat in an anaerobic chamber. With no oxygen, biomass can’t combust. Instead, feedstocks break down into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This synthesis gas, or syngas, is cleaned, cooled and either ingested by bacteria or mixed with catalysts to produce ethanol and other alcohols.
Bottom Line: This method uses substantially less water and provides greater yields, but it has yet to be scaled to levels that compete with the ethanol fermentation industry. Plants are set to open in Pennsylvania and Georgia in late 2009.
Innovators: Coskata (backed by GM), Range Fuels
Freshwater Usage:** 1 gallon
Energy Yield***: 66%

algal biodiesel
Process*: Specially selected or genetically modified strains of algae are grown in enclosed bioreactors—tubes or plastic bags filled with water—and fed waste CO2 from heavy emitters like coal-fired power plants, cement kilns or breweries. The algae are then separated from water by centrifuge, and the oil is extracted with a solvent. It is then processed in
Bottom Line: Algae produce thousands of gallons more oil per acre than crops such as soy or palm, but growing and processing them at scale still present challenges. A number of U.S. facilities are slated to come on line by 2012.
Innovators: GreenFuel, HR Biopetroleum (backed by Shell), Solazyme, Solix
Freshwater Usage:** None
Energy Yield***: 103%

green gasoline
Process*: Simple sugars—either derived from breaking down tough, cellulosic feedstocks or from sources such as sugarcane—are reacted over solid catalysts to remove the oxygen locked inside their molecules and form high-energy hydrocarbons. Like crude run through traditional refineries, raw sugar feedstocks are separated to create the range of molecules in the fuels we know as gasoline, diesel and jet.
Bottom Line: Green incarnations of today’s fuels are the holy grail, but until cellulose can be cheaply converted to simple sugars, domestic potential will be limited. Virent hopes to have its gas in car tanks by 2012.
Innovators: Virent (backed by Shell and Honda)
Freshwater Usage:** None
Energy Yield***: 100%

Process*: Like ethanol, biobutanol is fermented by microorganisms from sugars, which are broken down from raw feedstocks and mixed with water. But for this process, the microbes have been genetically modified to produce an alcohol with a longer chain of hydrocarbons. Since butanol doesn’t mix with water at high concentrations, the finished fuel can be stored easily and transported within existing gasoline pipelines.
Bottom Line: Butanol is the rocket fuel of alcohols, but it has traditionally been derived from petroleum. Plants to produce it cheaply from renewable sources by 2012 are in the works in the U.S. and U.K.
Innovators: Cobalt Biofuels, Dupont (backed by BP), Gevo, Tetravitae Bioscience
Freshwater Usage:** N/A
Energy Yield***: 90%

designer hydrocarbons
Process*: By swapping out natural genes for synthetic ones, scientists trick microorganisms such as E. coli and yeast into converting simple sugars to diesel, gasoline and jet fuel instead of into fats or alcohols. As in traditional ethanol production, microbes ferment the sugars (in this case, from sugar cane) in a slurry, but since finished fuels don’t mix with water, the hydrocarbons are easily separated by centrifuge without expensive distillation.
Bottom Line: Designer fuels are ready to drop into engines, but unless they’re made in a closed-loop system, they’re water-intensive. The first commercial plant will be located in Brazil and is expected to start producing diesel in 2010.
Innovators: LS9, Amyris
Freshwater Usage:** 3 gallons
Energy Yield***: 106%

fourth gen fuels
Process*: Scientists have genetically engineered algae not just to turn CO2 into oil, but to continuously excrete that oil directly into the surrounding water. Since oil floats, harvesting it becomes simple work compared with the energy-intensive drying and extraction traditionally used for typical algae, which store oil within their cell walls. As with second-generation methods, the oil can then be processed into biodiesel.
Bottom Line: If they can perform at scale, these mutant algae may well be game changers. Synthetic Genomics hopes to have commercial amounts of biodiesel on the market within five years, though no plants have been built yet.
Innovators: Synthetic Genomics
Freshwater Usage:** None
Energy Yield***: 103% _PopMech
These are not the only approaches to next generation biofuels out there. Finland's Neste Oil has a hydrogenation process it applies to plant oils that creates a better diesel than anything that comes from an oil well. Germany's Choren creates hydrocarbons from biomass using gasification and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. And there is constant jockeying for the best ethanol feedstock between maize, wheat, cane, sorghum, cassava, beets, and other plants including cattail! Likewise the competition between oilseed crops for biodiesel is a strong race between soy, rape, palm, and latecomers jatropha, moringa, and pongamia.

Longshot biofuel sources include the "diesel tree" from Brazil, and a scattering of natural hydrocarbon excretors including euphorbias and other latex producers.

Genetic engineers all over the world are working on ways to create more feedstock for the scores of biofuels processes being developed. The huge brouhaha earlier in the year over "fuels vs. foods" was fueled by uninformed hysteria similar to the climate hysteria that Al Gore leads. It is to be expected at any time when a centuries old infrastructure is to be replaced by something new. It was no surprise, though, that it was Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and several Saudis from OPEC who were loudest in condemning biofuels.

Bioenergy is ready for local and regional production at this time. Within ten years, bioenergy will grow to the national and international scale. If you want to get in on the ground floor, this is the time to make your move.

Previously published at Al Fin


Airlines Push for Reliable Source for Fuel

Airlines are heavily dependent upon a reliable supply of high quality fuel for daily operations. The price and supply instability of crude oil-based fuels is becoming a problem for airline operators.
Boeing and Air New Zealand later this year will test a biofuel made from the oil-rich seeds of the jatropha tree, a Mexican plant that grows in warm climates. Other synthetic fuel tests will follow on Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines flights. In February, Boeing partnered with Virgin Atlantic to test a flight that included a biofuel mixture of babassu oil, which comes from a palm tree in northern Brazil, and coconut oil.

"We're looking for something that is so correct in its performance that it can be interchanged with petroleum-based kerosene," Glover said. "From a distribution standpoint, from a technical standpoint, it needs to fit without modifications or special handling."...

More fuel sources could temper the effect oil speculation has on gas prices, and they could give carriers fuel at a cost they can count on, she said. But "you aren't going to find a fuel that's pennies on the dollar than what we find today," she said.

For travelers, that means that fewer flight options and charges for checked bags, drinks and other items are here to stay.

"Even if we were to double the volume we were to make in biofuels every year for the next 10 years, we're still looking at maybe this will impact 15 percent of the overall fuel supply," said Brian Fan, Cleantech's senior director of research.

"Realistically, for anything to be happening at scale, enough to actually impact an airline's bottom line, we're years away," Fan said. _AP_via_Biofuelsdigest
Realistically, it will be ten years before biofuels are supplying at least 10% of transportation fuels for airlines and ground fleets. Still, 10% reduction in petro-fuel demands will have a substantial impact on the national revenues of Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and all the other bloody tyrants who happen to be sitting on a load of underground oil.

Many people will not forget that Nancy Pelosi and Borbara Boxer are largely responsible for the squeeze that US and western businesses find themselves in. It is unlikely that they and their cronies will get off scot-free when all is said and done.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Local and Regional Scale Biofuels Refineries

Al Fin has always promoted bioenergy on the local and regional scales. Biomass and biofuels crops are ideal for meeting the economic and energy needs of localities and regions. New technology from Oxford Catalysts seems ideal for the use of local bioenergy refineries:
With approximately one tonne of biomass required to produce one barrel of liquid fuel, the transportation of biomass to a large-scale, centralized plant poses a challenge to the economics of biomass-to-liquids production. One approach being taken to address this is the development of small-scale Fischer-Tropsch reactors to convert the waste on a distributed basis locally rather than at large collection centers.

Microchannel reactors—compact reactors featuring channels with diameters in the millimeter range—are potentially the best candidates for this job. They enable more efficient and precise temperature control, and the small diameter channels dissipate heat more quickly than conventional reactors with larger channel diameters in the 20-30 mm (i.e. inch) range so more active catalysts can be used. As a result, microchannel reactors can exhibit conversion efficiencies in the range of 70% per pass.

Microchannel reactors are designed for economical production on a small scale. A single microchannel reactor block might produce up to 50 barrels (bbls) of liquid fuel/day. Conventional FT plants, in contrast, are designed to work at minimum capacities of 2,000 bbls/day, and function well and economically at capacities of 30,000 bbls/day or higher. They exhibit conversion efficiencies in the range of 50% or less per pass. _GCC
Eventually, the infrastructure for large scale biomass to biofuels conversion will be built to meet national and international needs. But for the next few decades, the small-biorefinery niche will present huge opportunities for local investors, farmers, foresters, and entrepreneurs. A bioenergy industry grown from the bottom up is the type of empowerment that should suit rural communities in both the developed world and the third world.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gasification Heats Up: Syngas to the Rescue

Gasification of carbon sources--whether biomass, coal, shale oil, etc--creates synthesis gas, which can be catalysed to create diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, or if you must, ethanol. A large number of approaches to gasification have been devised. The key is the ability to scale up to industrial scale, economically. Eventually production of fuels will be possible at an oil-equivalent price of $40 to $50 a barrel.
Gasification is a process that turns carbon-based feedstocks under high temperature and pressure in an oxygen-controlled atmosphere into synthesis gas, or syngas. Syngas is made up primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (more than 85 percent by volume) and smaller quantities of carbon dioxide and methane.

It’s basically the same technique that was used to extract the gas from coal that fueled gas light fixtures prior to the advent of the electric light bulb. The advantage of gasification compared to fermentation technologies is that it can be used in a variety of applications, including process heat, electric power generation, and synthesis of commodity chemicals and fuels. _Bioenergy
One interesting approach to gasification that promises a clean synthesis gas product, is molten metal gasification.
The HydroMax gasifier uses a patented molten-metals approach that can gasify a broad range of hydrocarbon inputs (biomass, municipal solid waste, petroleum coke, and coals with varying moisture, sulfur, and heating value content). The resulting syngas is relatively free of tars and oils and therefore requires less downstream clean-up equipment. _GCC
The syngas can then be converted to hydrocarbon fuels using various catalytic approaches, including the "Centia" process:
Centia is based on a three-step thermal, catalytic, and reforming process that has the potential to turn virtually any lipidic compound—e.g., vegetable oils, oils from animal fat and oils from algae—into 1-for-1 replacements for petroleum jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline. _GCC
Gasification is a process that should be compatible with emerging countries such as the Philippines.
Spectrum Blue Steel Corporation had launched this week the Blueprint for Zero Waste Philippines with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement with Morong, Rizal Mayor Joseph Buenaventura for the establishment of a pilot Biosphere Gasification Power Plant....The Biosphere process is a gasification which was developed by Dr. Chris McCormack. The process begins with wastes delivered to the Biosphere Chamber being converted into clean combustible gas referred to as "syngas". The syngas is used to produce electricity in a combined cycle gas/steam turbine. The heat generated by the process can be used to produce electricity, superheat steam, heat boiler feed water and distil desalinate seawater. _MarketWatch
The Philippines project above illustrates another advantage of gasification--the versatility of syngas! The gas can be burned directly in a gas turbine generating plant, or a combined cycle plant with gas and steam turbines both generating power from the combustion heat. Or alternatively, the gas can be refined catalytically into methane, methanol, ethanol, jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, etc etc.

Eventually, bioreactors will probably become more efficient in the large scale creation of bioenergy--since in gasification some of the energy must be used to sustain the gasification process. But the sheer variety of approaches to gasification should keep chemical engineers busy devising industrial scale processes for biofuels from biomass for many years.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Biofuels Progress

Biotech company LS9 Inc. projects that its microbe-to-biofuels production will be producing bio-petroleum commercially within 3-4 years.
"So these are bacteria that have been engineered to produce oil," del Cardayre said. "They started off like regular lab bacteria that didn't produce oil, but we took genes from nature, we engineered them a bit [and] put them into this organism so that we can convert sugar to oil."

The company is focusing on diesel fuel, but the microbes can be "programmed" to make gasoline or jet fuel.

The bacteria used are a harmless form of E. coli. And the feedstock, or food for the microbes, can be any type of agricultural product, from sugar cane to waste such as wheat straw and wood chips. Choosing plants with no food value sidesteps one of the biggest criticisms of another synthetic fuel, corn ethanol, because critics say that corn should be used as food, not fuel. _CNN_via_Checkbiotech
On the biomass front, the Oak Ridge National Lab has chosen biomass gasification to help power its facility.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), one of America's most important national science labs, has signed an $89 million energy savings performance contract with Johnson Controls, Inc. to apply advanced energy conservation solutions and to build a biomass gasification system with a 'super boiler' to power its campuses. Being the most competitive and reliable of all renewable energy systems, the biomass power plant will reduce the lab's fossil fuel requirements by 80% and, in combination with conservation efforts, push down energy costs dramatically.

The fact that such a major research organisation, with 4,200 staff, 3,000 guest researchers, 20 user facilities, and a budget of approximately $1.2 billion, chooses biomass as the energy source of its greener future, is highly significant. _Biopact_via_Bioenergy
Understanding plant feedstocks for bioenergy means understanding the plants down to the genomic level. Michigan State University researchers are compiling a genome data base of biofuels feedstocks, to help accelerate the discovery of the most prolific and productive biomass to energy feedstocks.
"Our biofuel genomic database portal will include information on any crop that can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol, including all the grasses such as corn, rice, maize, wheat, and other biofuel species such as poplar, willow and pine," Buell explained. "This will save researchers a lot of effort, so we expect it to be a valuable resource for scientists at MSU and around the world." _MSU_via_Checkbiotech
Bioenergy is simply solar energy with built-in storage. In the beginning, the bioenergy share of total energy used by humans will be small (other than routine woodburning for heat and cooking). The growth curve for bioenergy is likely to be much more robust than the growth curve for photovoltaics and wind energy have been over the past three decades.


Nancy Pelosi! Stop Blocking Energy Production!

75% of the earth's surface is covered by oceans so it is no surprise that as onshore oil and gas reserves are depleted that exploration and production has extended into offshore basins that fringe the world's continents. Today ~ 60% of the world's petroleum production comes from offshore operations in waters of more than half the coastal nations on earth, including Canada.

To meet energy demand operations are moving into ever deeper waters and today oil and gas is produced off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico in over 8,000 feet of water.

A description of 126 ongoing offshore projects around the world can be found at
If humans are to transition from a fossil fuel economy to an electric and renewable economy, they will absolutely have to maintain the flow of energy in all available forms--that means offshore oil, arctic oil, shale oil, coal to liquids, etc. If we allow energy supplies to drop enough to destroy our economies, the ability to develop alternatives will slip through our fingers. Why does Obama pretend not to realise this?
Contemporary 4-D surveying adds the dimension of time. Satellites help find and quantify sub sea deposits, track their flows, and predict their next steps. Some 70 percent of 4-D wells hit oil.

Obama's Don't Ask, Don't Drill policy spurns these marvels and embraces outdated information gathered with obsolete instruments. This is the audacity of ignorance.

Adults should not make decisions in willful oblivion. Democrats like Obama prefer not to know what riches rest off America's coasts. They resemble kindergartners who cover their ears and hum loudly to muffle their parents' unwelcome words.

Meanwhile, Americans struggle to fuel planes, trains, and automobiles. Despite this national nightmare, congressional Democrats fled on a five-week summer vacation, rather than vote on Republican amendments to extend offshore drilling. Democrats chose suntan oil over oil production.

Instead of voting on Republican energy proposals, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., dispatched her colleagues to build sandcastles. Nevertheless, GOP representatives unofficially are pleading their case to tourists inside the House chamber. _Source
Obama, Pelosi, Boxer, Reid, and the rest of the Luddites apparently want to destroy the current economy--in hopes that a grand and glorious utopian energy economy will rise from the ashes, by magic. Al Fin has devoted a lot of effort to promote biomass, biofuels, solar energy of all forms, nuclear energy, and a number of other alternatives to fossil fuels--as well as some innovative ways to exploit unconventional fossil fuels. We have to have all of these forms of energy in order to make the transition!
By 2006, after major advances in seismic technology and deepwater drilling techniques, the MMS resource estimate for that area had ballooned to 45 billion barrels. In short, there could be much more oil under the sea than previously known. The demand for energy is going up, not down. And for a long time, even as alternative sources of energy are developed, more oil will be needed. _WaPo
Congressional Democrats are living in a fantasy world, believing that they can mould reality to fit their distorted beliefs and impressions. The entire country suffers as a result of their mismanagement. If congressional Democrats can get one of their own into the White House, the Obamanation of magical utopianism will unfold. Let me know how you like it.

Taken from a post at Al Fin

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Small Scale Biomass Gasification from Denmark: Combined Cycle 45% Efficient

Denmark's Babcock and Wilcox Volund (B&WV) produces a 4 MWe conbined cycle (gas and steam turbine) that achieves 45% electrical efficiency. The company recently signed a contract worth US $156 million with Italian company Advanced Renewable Energy Ltd.
Each of the power plants, to be built in Italy, will be designed to produce 4 MW of electricity using wood chip biomass to produce gas fuel for engines that will drive electric generators.

Heat in the flue gas produced during the combustion process will be recovered in a heat recovery boiler, producing steam to drive a steam turbine/generator and allowing the plant to operate at an electrical efficiency of approximately 45 per cent. This is nearly double the electrical efficiency of a traditional, small biomass plant in Europe. _Source
The small scale of the combined cycle plants allows more versatility in planning power supplies for small towns, large campuses, or large industrial plants. Such small plants should also allow for combined wind/solar and biomass installations.

According to the US DOE, 30% of current US petroleum could be replaced by biomass biofuels. Using biomass gasification plants as above, a large proportion of natural gas used for electric power could be diverted to other uses--such as natural gas powered motor vehicles.

Upcoming on October 14-16 2008, the Energy from Biomass and Waste (EBW) exposition at Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center will look at an array of biomass energy approaches. The exposition is geared toward those in the energy or agricultural fields who are interested in new income or marketing opportunities.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Bio-Energy Bites

Grain prices are dropping, and apparently "The Great 2008 Food Crisis" has been called off, for now. This makes maize, soy, rape, and wheat bio-fuels more profitable for producers. Even so, the race to develop alternative feedstocks continues.

The common, everyday beet is beginning to compete for ethanol feedstock. Beet is a hardy plant that grows well in different climates and types of soil.

This may surprise you: the cattail is being explored as an ethanol crop. Cattail has 60% starch, as opposed to 70% for maize. And they don't need planting, watering, or fertilisation.

Ocean kelp is another unconventional feedstock that should do well for ethanol production.
...kelp can be used to make alcohol near the ocean. Kelp could be grown on floating platforms in the ocean and harvested weekly. It grows an average of 10 inches a day. _Bioenergy
In Australia, University of Queensland researchers are placing their hopes on the Pongamia Pinnata, and other energy species.
A hectare of the trees can produce 5500 litres of biodiesel a year – enough to run 100 cars for a year.

All of Queensland's fuel needs could be met by about 1.5 million hectares of the trees – an area about 10 times the size of Brisbane.

The potential for large-scale commercial production is "super high" says Professor Peter Gresshoff, an expert in plant biotechnology and biofuel at the University of Queensland. _Bioeneryg
India is certainly expecting a major payback from its biofuels research. They are probably right to have high expectations, given the large number of bio-energy plants that can thrive in the diverse climates of the sub-continent.

To make sure that long-term bioenergy projects can be placed on a sound economic and scientific footing, researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are exploring the most fundamental processes involved in converting biomass to energy.
"Cellulose and hemicellulose are recalcitrant," Goldberg says. "They don't want to break down. It takes a long time for wood to rot. It even takes termites a long time to break wood down, and they're pretty good at it. Ethanol producers face the same problem. Because of the way these molecules are arranged, it's difficult to get access to the reactive centers in wood and other biomass. What we have done is to study some of the most basic reactions associated with the breakdown of these materials."

With enzymes to speed the reactions, the team used calorimetry and chromatography to measure the thermodynamic property values of several reactions associated with the breakdown of cellulosic and hemicellulosic substances. Because process design and bioengineering benefit from the availability of these values, the data obtained in this investigation represent a "small but significant step toward maximizing the efficiency of biomass utilization," Tewari says. _Bioenergy
This basic but crucial information should assist researchers around the world to select the most efficient approaches to getting energy from biomass.

The race is on for the best way to produce an abundant supply of biofuels. The size of the biofuels infrastructure will necessarily grow rapidly, along with improved processes and economies of scale. Substituting a plentiful commodity for one that is more scarce, is simple economics.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Promise of Algae vs. Peak Oil Doom

Algae doesn't think in terms of limits. A single-celled algae, gazing out across the Pacific Ocean, has only one thought: "That looks like a good place to spread out and grow!" In fact, algae thinks exactly the same thing about a wastewater pond, a brackish estuary, or a large freshwater lake. Algae was meant to grow fast, needing only sunlight, CO2, and a few nutrients from water--wastewater will do. Algae has never believed in peak anything.
• Algae can thrive in fresh, brackish, or seawater — and very little of that is required.

• There is no need for any soil, much less good soil, as algae grow hydroponically.

• With more than 20,000 known varieties of algae, species can be chosen for high lipid content (e.g., for diesel fuel) or high sugar content for distillation purposes.

• In desert climes it can be harvested on a day-by-day basis because it grows so quickly.

All it takes is sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to provide the energy for arguably the most complex process we see in nature: photosynthesis. _Source
What about cellulosic biofuels? Is there a conflict between cellulosic fuels and algae biofuels?
.....the market for transportation fuels is big enough for cellulose and algae; they compete with petroleum, not with each other......extraction of fuel from algae depended on flat land, abundant water, sun and injections of CO2. _EcoWorld
At this time, algae biodiesel costs between $15 and $20 a gallon to produce. Dozens of research efforts are aimed at bringing the cost of production for algal biodiesel into the competitive range. The University of Virginia, University of Arkansas, Cal Poly, and other research institutions are rushing to make breakthroughs in the economic production of algal fuels. One particularly innovative approach to algal fuels is the use of algae as part of a three-pronged bio-energy-food eco-industry, combining a fish farm, algae production, and feed production.
Instead of having a waste stream [from the fish farm] that contaminates the environment or needs costly disposal, combining the Aqua-Sphere with algae production creates a second income stream by producing feedstock for biodiesel. Papadoyianis also sees benefits to the biodiesel industry as aquaculturists move into algae production. “The way I see it, buying a piece of land and constructing an algae facility and having a whole staff just to produce the algae will make your cost of production go way up,” he says. “We are looking at this as a secondary crop that doesn’t take a huge secondary investment. For a medium-sized operation you can basically use the same staff as you have for the fish operation.

The process could be diversified even further as the company develops a third product, an insect-based fish food it calls Ento-Protein. The product would replace food currently made from fish meal, which has more than doubled in price since 2006, and is made from insects grown on agricultural waste and industrial coproducts, including distillers dried grains from ethanol plants. Papadoyianis foresees using the algae cake remaining after the oil is extracted as another feedstock for the Ento-Protein operation. _Biodiesel
A two day conference dealing with algae as "the new oil" is coming up October 23-24 at the Woodlands, in Texas. More from the National Algae Association

Previously published at Al Fin

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Synthetic Fuel Plant: Jet Fuel from Garbage

Rentech has begun producing synthetic jet fuel from carbon sources at its new synthetic fuel Product Demonstration Unit (PDU) in Commerce City, Colorado. Once the gasification unit is installed, Rentech will be able to produce synthetic fuels from garbage, biomass, agricultural and forestry waste, or any other carbon source.
The Rentech Process is a patented and proprietary technology that converts synthesis gas from carbon-bearing resources into hydrocarbons that can be processed and upgraded into ultra clean synthetic jet and diesel fuels. Rentech’s Colorado facility provides a platform for the production of these products from a wide variety of resources, including waste materials, into fuels that could have a potentially carbon neutral or even carbon negative footprint. These fuels are also cleaner burning and more efficient than petroleum-derived fuels. The PDU is currently producing synthetic fuels from natural gas, and once gasification is added, it will also be capable of producing fuels from biomass and other fossil resources.

Rentech believes the design of the PDU will verify the engineering parameters for scale-up to commercial operations. In addition, the PDU provides the Company with valuable engineering, design and process knowledge that will be transferred to the planning and construction of its commercial scale facilities.

Achieving production at the PDU is the result of the successful operation and integration of all processes at the facility, including the steam methane reformer for the production of synthesis gas; the conversion of the synthesis gas in the Rentech reactor into clean hydrocarbons; the separation of the Rentech catalyst from the wax produced from the reactor; and the processing and upgrading of the hydrocarbons into ultra-clean synthetic fuels using UOP hydrocracking and hydrotreating technologies. Rentech and UOP maintain an alliance which provides a one-stop solution to developers of commercial synthetic fuels facilities worldwide for synthesis gas conversion and product upgrading.

With the PDU successfully operating, the Company will focus on confirming and refining the design parameters of the Rentech Process during longer-term production runs as well as the effect of various operating parameters on product yields and composition. _Source_via_NEN
Initial production uses natural gas as feedstock for conversion to jet fuels. Installation of the gasification unit will allow the use of any carbon source including garbage, for feedstock.

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$7 B Coal to Liquids Plant to be Built on Crow Land

The legislature for the Crow American Indian tribe has ratified a contract to build a $7 billion plant for coal to liquids (CTL) production. The American Indian tribe stands to earn 50% of profits after investor payoffs.
The Many Stars coal-to-liquids plant initially would produce 50,000 barrels a day of diesel and other fuels. Construction would begin in several years and coal for the project would come from a mine yet to be developed by the tribe on the reservation, Crow leaders said.

The tribe's chairman, Carl Venne, said the coal-to-liquids project offered an unprecedented chance at improving the lives of the tribe's 12,000 members. The agreement calls for the Crow to receive up to 50 percent of profits from the plant after investors in the project recoup their costs.

"It means we will become self sufficient as a tribe," Venne said. "I won't need no more federal dollars. I won't need no more state dollars."

Total proceeds to the tribe could eventually top $1 billion annually — a breathtaking sum that dwarfs the Crow's current annual budget of about $26 million....

...The Crow reservation sits atop some of the nation's largest coal reserves — an estimated 9 billion tons of recoverable resources. Yet only limited mining has occurred, and the tribe's economy remains hobbled by high rates of poverty and unemployment. _AP
The Crow tribe is clearly more forward looking in its approach to energy resources than Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and the rest of the pathetic Luddites in a "let them eat cake" congress.

It is unclear what will have to be done to deal with Pelosi and the other energy obstructionists intent on reducing the US economy to the status of third world hovel. But whatever is eventually done, the longer it is delayed, the less Pelosi and her band of stone age warlords and nobles will like it.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Energy Bites

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have mapped the metabolism of the Nostoc bacteria, in order to demonstrate how to use the microbes own metabolic pathways to produce energy.

Jatropha currently only produces 1/4 th the amount of oil per hectare as palm oil. But genomic scientists in Malaysia are aiming to boost jatropha's yield. Jatropha is a hardier plant than palm and grows on more marginal soils--building soil quality while protecting nearby crops from insects and animal pests.
...jatropha is renewable, does not compete with existing food stocks, works just as good as regular diesel, is less polluting and significantly cheaper.

UC Berkeley researchers have discovered a new process to directly convert cellulosics into furanics--high energy organic liquids.
The process yielded 71% CMF; 8% 2-(2-hydroxyacetyl)furan; 5% HMF; and 1% levulinic acid. Total, isolated yield of these four simple organics was thus 85%. Applied to glucose, the process delivered the same organics in yields of 71%, 7%, 8% and 3%, respectively. Applied to sucrose, it yielded 76%, 6%, 4% and 5% respectively.

While CMF itself is not a biofuel candidate, it can be combined with ethanol to give ethoxymethylfufural (EMF). CMF can also be catalytically hydrogenated to yield 5-methylfurfural (HMF). Both of these compounds are suitable as fuels. EMF has previously been investigated and found to be of interest in mixtures with diesel by Avantium Technologies, a spin-off of Shell. _GCC
The use of biofuels--such as methanol, ethanol, or methane--in fuel cells is quite promising. U. of Virginia researchers are developing Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) that convert biofuels to energy that operate at lower temperatures, making them stabler and longer-lasting.

Brain Wang provides a link to a symposium on electric aircraft. The more energy density that can be put into electric storage, the more likely that you will be seeing (but not necessarily hearing) electric powered aircraft overhead.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

2nd Generation Biofuels: The Challenge

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has issued a new report, "Future Biofuels for Australia", discussing second generation biofuels for Australia.
Two major conversion processing platforms exist:

1. enzymatic conversion - enzymes are added to pretreated plant material to depolymerise it to individual sugars which can be fermented to fuels
2. thermochemical - lignocellulose is heated to moderate or high temperatures to produce mixtures of chemicals which can be further transformed by catalysts or microorganisms, to fuels. _CSIRO
While Australia's biomass capacity may be modest next to that of North America, the tropics, or the Russian Steppe, its population is also relatively small. The objective is to meet needs, not to outdo everyone else in production.

"The European Biofuels Challenge" is a new free download discussing several aspects of the transition from 1st generation biofuels to 2nd gen fuels. It contains information on:
* First and second-generation biofuels
* Descriptions of the different types of biofuels currently in use
* Political and environmental reasons for the importance of biofuels
* Drivers and obstacles to the biofuels market
* Trends in the European market such as production heading to Eastern Europe
* The media backlash and furore over the food vs. fuel debate
* Sustainability criteria for biofuels
* Emerging new technologies
* Evidence of industry entrepreneurship
_Download PDF Report Free
The economics of various biofuels approaches are still being worked out. Lignocellulosic energy will eventually supercede fuels from 1st generation biofuel crops such as maize, soy, rape, etc. Whether lignocellulose can provide more economical yields than tropical oilseeds is yet to be determined.

Long-term, fuels from custom-designed micro-organism colonies in serial bioreactors will probably be competing with genetically engineered petroleum-trees and high-yield micro-algae.

1st generation, it is palm oil biodiesel, sugar cane ethanol, and maize ethanol that lead the pack.

2nd generation, it will be ligno-cellulosic alcohols, non-food oilseed biodiesels (along with palm), and perhaps marginally competitive algae biodiesels.

3rd generation, custom biologicals will be mass converting garbage, CO2, and biomass into custom fuels and proto-fuels, as well as even more valuable chemical products. Automobiles will be rapidly shifting to electric power.

By the 4th generation, most transportation loads will have converted to electrical sources of energy. Jet aircraft and spacecraft will be the main consumers of chemical fuels.

Paradoxically, the longer the Luddite US Congress waits to allow development of US oil, coal, nuclear, and unconventionals, the longer it will take to transition to the advanced 3rd and 4th generation biofuels.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

More Pulp and Paper Plants Adding Biofuels and Energy Production to Facilities

Considering that there are 200 or more similar chemical pulp mills in the U.S., and at least an additional 100 in Canada, basic arithmetic shows this barrelage capacity for Fischer-Tropsch synthetic crude oil could total somewhere upwards of 420 million barrels per year, or between 15 and 20 billion gallons per year for the entire North American pulp and paper industry. _RenewableEnergy
We have previously mentioned how ideally suited pulp and paper mills are for producing biomass energy and fuels. Already in the process of manipulating biomass using thermochemical and heavy industrial processes, the addition of a few key processes to pre-existing plants will give pulp mills a huge head start in the biomass energy and fuels industry.
Pulp mills are ideal sites for integrated biorefinery operations for four basic reasons. First, they are already set up to receive and process massive amounts of delivered roundwood and woods chips, served in this capacity by rail, truck and some also by barge operations. In the U.S. alone, pulp mills use more than 120 million dry tons of wood per year, and they have access to at least an equal amount of forest residuals and even a greater amount of agricultural wastes and energy crops if needed.

Second, these mills have basically the same existing infrastructures for warehousing and shipping out finished products around the country. Third, they have a well-established in-place administrative infrastructure and related human resources that can be extended to serve a biorefinery business without incurring significant new costs. Fourth, pulp mills have operating utility support systems for process water, electricity, steam and waste/environmental treatment that can easily be umbrella'd to support biorefinery operations without major new investments.

And possibly as a strong fifth reason, chemical pulp mills already operate as biorefineries of sorts, producing fiber used to make paper and paperboard as well as some specialized dissolving pulps used to make viscose types of "bio-plastics" and rayon materials. Bio-byproducts made from sulfate (or kraft) spent cooking liquors (black liquor) include ingredients used in making coatings, adhesives, detergents, paint, varnish, ink, lubricants, waxes, polishes, gasoline additives, agricultural products, etc. Turpentine is obtained by condensing exhaust vapors during the pulping of softwoods with the kraft process. There also is a spectrum of lignin-based byproducts produced from refinement of black liquors...

...Rather than burning these high volumes of spent cooking liquors directly in recovery boilers, integrated biorefineries can process them into an array of value-added cellulosic biofuels, including ethanol, various synthetic gases (syngas), synthetic crude oil and biodiesel. These fuels could be used to offset petroleum-based fuels being burned in the mill and/or to sell as transportation/motor fuels.

There are as many as 12 clearly defined pathways into integrated biofuel/bioproduct production at pulp and paper mills. These include the thermochemical approaches that generally involve gasification of either biomass and/or spent cooking liquor streams alone or in combination with advanced gas-to-liquid technologies such as Fischer-Tropsch-based systems, and various pyrolysis techniques involving fluidized bed boilers. _Much More at Source
It is not a matter of trying to replace all energy sources with one magical bioenergy elixir. Rather, the challenge is to put together a viable mosaic of approaches to clean, safe, and renewable energies that can, over time, take over for oil, gas, coal, and unconventional fossil fuels.


Bioenergy Bites

University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute is prospecting for thermophilic bacteria inside hot springs, to find better ways to convert lignocellulosic biomass to simple sugars for fermentation to biofuels.

The US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Project is cloning several likely plant varieties in an attempt to produce hardier, faster growing biomass.

Indonesia and Malaysia are stepping up biodiesel-from-palm oil production in order to make use of growing stockpiles of palm oil, that the countries stupidly stockpiled in the recent "food crisis" hysteria.

Neste Oil of Finland is investing in New Zealand algae oil research.

Researchers at Texas A&M University, University of Arizona, USDA's Agriculture Research Service in Maricopa, Ariz., and Peoria, Ill., and Terresolve Technologies Ltd. are looking at a wild mustard plant native to the southwestern part of North America, as a biofuel feedstock.
Lesquerella provides an agricultural alternative to petroleum that can grow successfully in less productive environments and support rural economies. This project may yield new industrial products from renewable raw materials and expand on market opportunities for farmers and rural communities.

The Department of Energy is evaluating lesquerella oil products as bio-diesel additives. In addition, studies show that the high level of hydroxy fatty acids in lesquerella increases oil lubricity as compared to other vegetable oils. A private company, Technology Crops International, plans to market lesquerella oil, which could result in a huge market for growers in the Southwest.
It would have been nice if all of this research into better biofuel feedstocks had taken place after the first oil shocks in the 1970s. Of course it would have been better if the US had pursued oil shale production starting ten or twenty years ago, so as not to be held up today by Luddite Senators Salazar and Boxer, and Speaker Pelosi.

Human governments and bureaucracies are not known for their tendency to plan ahead.


Harvesting Salicornia Oil From Coastal Deserts

Salicornia, or sea asparagus, can be grown in saltwater along dry desert seacoasts--on land where almost nothing else will grow. It is possible to retrieve approximately 100 gallons of proto-biodiesel from each acre of briny desert. Not a bad return considering the ground being used.
On two plantations on the Gulf of California in the state of Sonora, Mexico, Global Seawater Inc. is using coastal land and seawater to grow what it sees as an important biodiesel feedstock that will help solve the world’s energy needs. At farms in Bahia Kino and Tastiota, Mexico, Global Seawater is growing salicornia, a salt-loving halophyte plant that thrives in the heat and poor soil...

....Approximately 30 percent of salicornia seed per weight is oil and the remaining 70 percent of the oilseed biomass can be used as a protein feed for livestock, McCoy said, adding that the oil is very similar in quality to safflower oil. The company has used the oil as a feedstock to produce biodiesel which meets the BQ-9000 biodiesel accreditation standard, McCoy said, adding that between 225 and 250 gallons of biodiesel can be produce per hectare (approximately 2.5 acres) of salicornia...

...McCoy said salicornia can be farmed using traditional equipment. “This is very much like traditional farming,” he said. “But what is unique and revolutionary about it is that we're using these coastal desert regions that are essentially unused and completely devoid of any life and seawater.” He said the company is developing specialized equipment to increase productivity and the capture rate of the salicornia seed. The company is also testing use of the salicornia crop residue as feedstock for energy production. _BiodieselMag
By using desert land and seawater, farmers can create a viable cash crop out of virtually nothing. As humans learn to use more deserts and barren seacoasts to provide necessary fuel, energy, and food, the "limits to growth" that so haunted the unimaginative doomsters of the '70s and '80s will fade.

Peak oil, climate catastrophe, Y2K, overpopulation doom, catastrophic deforestation, a pollution-choked Earth, etc. and more dooms than you can imagine--coming and going. Humans need a good doomsday to give purpose to their lives, apparently.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Bioenergy Bites

What do you get when you cross elephant grass with sugar cane? Something called Tjiong grass, which contains over 71% carbohydrate, mostly simple sugars--ideal for fermenting into ethanol. The grass is estimated to produce almost 3,000 gallons of ethanol per acre every year (2 harvests). H/T BiofuelsDigest

Hundreds of millions of hectares of good farmland has been abandoned in Russia over the past 20 years, due to mismanagement and poor agricultural practises. Russia intends to produce biomass on that land equivalent to over 7 million barrels per day of oil production.

The Brazilian diesel tree is being cloned in an attempt to move its diesel-producing genes into other, hardier plants. The diesel tree only grows in tropical environments, and is a bit fastidious in its requirements. Researchers hope they can give hardier plants the ability to produce the same diesel equivalent, across a broad array of croplands and growing conditions.

Caribbean nations are beginning to examine their prospects for cashing in in the growing biofuels boom. The high price of oil takes a heavy toll on island nations which have to ship in all of their fuel--both for transportation and for generating electricity. Alternative fuels are desperately needed, and tropical islands are particularly well suited for a number of bioenergy crops--including sugar cane, palm, jatropha, coconut, moringa, pongamia, and diesel tree, among others.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Next Level Biofuels: Beyond Ethanol and Methanol

Four next level biofuels companies are featured in the current issue of Biomass Mag:
  1. LS9
  2. Gevo
  3. Amyris Biotech
  4. Synthetic Genomics
Fatty acids are molecularly similar to hydrocarbons, which are the building blocks of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, Pal says. By re-engineering the genetic coding of e.coli and yeast, LS9 creates a miniature assembly line (metabolic pathway) to synthesize the biofuel.

Genes missing from the microbes and required to produce intermediate substances and enzymes (which produce biochemical reactions) are inserted into the organisms. Genes producing unwanted substances or diverting energy from the biofuel production process are silenced....LS9’s goal is to create fuel that is cost competitive with oil at $40 to $50 per barrel, Pal says. A small-scale pilot facility, planned for this year, will generate the performance and economic data to support investment in a large-scale commercial facility. Pal expects to have a product to market in three to four years.

Gevo, founded in 2005, initially focused on redesigning the metabolic processes of microbes to convert waste methane gas into methanol....[But] Butanol contains more energy than methanol or ethanol, it can be blended with gasoline without retrofitting engines and it can be distributed in existing pipelines. It is also used as a chemical intermediate, creating numerous market opportunities, Gruber says.

Most efforts to ferment sugars into butanol rely upon bacteria, Clostridium acetobutylicum. But even with genetic modification, the bacterium doesn’t produce enough butanol to be economically viable...Gevo’s approach is to concentrate on organisms, such as e.coli and yeasts, that serve as outstanding platforms for biofuel production, explains Matthew Peters, Gevo vice president and chief scientific officer.

The company recently licensed technology from James Liao, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Los Angeles, which re-engineers e.coli to make butanol. Liao rewired e.coli’s genetic circuitry by adding genes to convert keto acids, produced during metabolism, into butanol...Liao removed genes producing nonessential substances and enhanced the productivity of others. These modifications increased keto acid production, boosting butanol production.

Gevo’s goal is to produce fuel at an unsubsidized price that is less than gasoline, says Tom Dries, vice president of business development. To keep costs down, the company will retrofit existing ethanol plants to run its processes, at a cost of about $20 million per facility. Dries expects to produce its first product sometime in 2009.

The Amyris team is using computation tools to identify the suites of genes to assemble within an organism to produce its biofuels, along with tools to optimize the genes for use in the system. “Dozens of genes are affected, inserted and changed in the process,” Reiling says.

The company is initially focusing its efforts on commercializing its diesel product. “Diesel is growing at two to three times the rate of gasoline,” Melo says. “There is not a scaleable renewable fuel today servicing the diesel market.”...the company is working on increasing the productivity of its process to reach parity with oil at $55 to $60 per barrel.

...Amyris is forming partnerships...In April, Amyris announced a joint venture with Crystalsev, one of Brazil’s largest ethanol producers, to commercialize its diesel technology in Brazil. Crystalsev will provide 2 million tons of sugarcane crushing capacity and will convert two of its ethanol plants to produce Amyris’ renewable diesel from cane juice, Melo explains. Production is slated to begin by 2010.

At Synthetic Genomics, research efforts are also focused on creating all the genetic material for an organism (its genome) from scratch (de novo), tailored to biofuel production. “Most of these organisms have other priorities in life producing substances for their own particular needs,” explains Ari Patrinos, the company’s president. “There is a limit to how much you can tweak them to do what you want.”

“If you can design the genome de novo, you only include those processes and activities of interest to you,” Patrinos says. As a result, the biological processes will be more efficient and productive and include built in tolerances.

....“Once you have demonstrated that you can do the genome, you can add the appropriate promoters that turn on and off genes,” Patrinos says. He envisions inserting sets of genes into the genome, observing the outcomes and then optimizing the final combination of genes that produces the best product at the highest efficiencies.

Patrinos believes Synthetic Genomes will begin producing biofuels in the next few years. “I think we have a leg up on scaling up because the organisms can be tailored for the scaling process.”
Pay attention to the time targets these companies are shooting for. Within 5 years or less. If any of them succeed with large scale production of oil-equivalent under $60 a barrel, the economics of liquid fuels will be overturned overnight. Even well funded biomass to ethanol companies will be pressed to achieve significant scale production with competitive priced product in that time frame. Biomass to liquid fuels will be a huge industry, once it scales up and shakes out. And it will have a lot of two bit oil dictators to thank--for keeping oil prices artificially high long enough for the new bio-fuels to become cost-competitive.

Of course, if massive social and economic unrest occurs in the US due to artificially high oil prices, US taxpayers and Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] will know exactly who to thank closer to home. Nancy and Barbara would likely be the first to receive callers, unless Barry becomes an even greater symbol for energy luddism by that time.

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