Thursday, October 29, 2009

Replacing 50% of Petroleum Content in Plastics?

California researchers at Cereplast are developing a process of transforming algae into plastic resins. The company currently uses other vegetable stock for producing bioplastics -- but algae can be harvested as often as every 2 weeks.
In California, Cereplast announced that it is developing a technology to transform algae into bioplastics and intends to launch a new family of algae-based resins. According to the company, algae-based resins could replace 50% or more of the petroleum content used in traditional plastic resins.

Currently, Cereplast is using renewable material such as starches from corn, tapioca, wheat and potatoes and Ingeo PLA. “Our algae research has shown promising results and we believe that in the months to come we should be able to launch this new family of algae-based resins,” CEO Frederic Scheer said via a statement. Cereplast said that it has initiated contact with several companies that plan to use algae to minimize the CO2 and NOX gases from polluting smoke-stack environments. _BiofuelsDigest
The impact of algae and biomass on biofuels, chemicals, and plastics, will be incremental. But it will eventually grow exponential like an avalanche. Chemists, engineers, and technologists have to learn new ways of doing things.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Skipping the Middle Man: Direct Solar Fuel

Some scientists and engineers want to skip all the intermediate nonsense of using biomass, gasifiers, chemical refineries, etc. to produce fuels. Why not go to the source, and produce fuels directly from sunlight, water, and CO2?
  • BioCee and the University of Minnesota wants to take sunlight, carbon dioxide and two organisms (cyanobacteria for sunlight capture and shewanella for metabolic transformation) to produce a liquid hydrocarbon....
  • Researchers at Penn State say they can do something similar, but instead of microbes, they mix a membrane of titanium dioxide nanotubes in with sunlight and carbon dioxide....
  • MIT-spin out Sun Catalytix, meanwhile, captures solar energy and exploits it to split water to produce hydrogen. ...
  • Stanford's James Swartz isolated a microbe that metabolizes sunlight to split hydrogen from water...
  • A few small startups in Israel and the U.S. have experimented with microbial fuel cells....
This is the most sustainable approach in the long run. Of course, there is a very real shortage of affordable, concentrated CO2 -- which complicates the process slightly.

Algal biofuels are very close to direct solar fuels. Algae need much higher CO2 levels than the atmosphere provides, to truly thrive. If Al Gore and his merry band of larcenous con artists wanted to help the planet, they would be devising ways to concentrate CO2 for making direct solar fuels. Instead, they got sidetracked on highly corrupt scams, to make their fortune. Too bad, yet clearly par for these times.

Labels: ,

BINGO! High Quality Fuels from Waste Biomass

A wide range of biomass waste can be thrown into Dynamotive Energy Systems' BINGO process to produce uniform high quality hydrocarbons. The unique process involves two steps: pyrolysis plus hydroreformation.
BINGO (Biomass INto GasOil) is a two-stage process first involving pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass to produce a primary liquid fuel, BioOil, which is then hydroreformed to a Stage 1 gas-oil equivalent liquid fuel that can either be directly utilized in blends with hydrocarbon fuels for industrial stationary power and heating applications or be further upgraded to transportation grade liquid hydrocarbon fuels (gasoline/diesel) in a Stage 2 hydrotreating process.

The products from Stage 1 of the BINGO upgrading process (Upgraded BioOil A, UBA) were similar in density, oxygen content, TAN (total acid number), molecular weight distribution, among other physico-chemical properties, to those produced from hardwoods.

Analysis of second stage upgraded BioOil samples (Upgraded BioOil B, UBB) from hardwoods previously provided to three independent refiners in Europe and in the Far East established the potential for development of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels showing gasoline, jet, gasoil and vacuum gasoil fractions.

...Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation announced that analysis completed independently by two refiners have corroborated initial results published earlier. The distillation of the samples provided showed presence of gasoline, jet, gasoil and vacuum gasoil fractions.

Demonstrating a significant upgrading of the crude BioOil to the UBB, Analysis further confirmed that the most highly refined oil, UBB, has oxygen content of less than 0.1% and it reached a level of conventional oil products. Dynamotive is continuing its research and development efforts in BioOil upgrading and has completed basic design on the development of a second pilot plant to further advance the process. _GCC
If you have not been paying attention, you would have missed several recent advances in the thermochemical production of fuels from biomass.

Cellulosic ethanol and algal fuels may be getting most of the attention, but thermochemical BTL is only a few breakthroughs away from incrementally displacing petroleum from several niches.

Gasification and pyrolysis plus other thermochemical and catalytic processes, are likely to achieve high yield biomass to liquid fuels sooner than the algal and fermentation processes.

In the long term, I suspect that the energy-from-microbe approach using sunlight as the energy source, will prove the most efficient and sustainable. But in the meantime, the thermochemical route is going to put a ceiling on petroleum prices far too quickly to suit the doomseekers of peak oil.


Monday, October 26, 2009

$1.50 a Gallon Algal Oil Using Electromagnetism

Organic Fuels Algae Technology has developed an "electromagnetic" treatment for harvesting oil from algae. Some research suggests that the new treatment is so energy efficient that it should allow for the production of algal biofuels at costs of about $1.50 a gallon.
Electromechanical forces will do the trick, said Peter Loggenberg, CEO of the joint venture of Houston-based biodiesel producer Organic Fuels and the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Electromechanics.

"The concept is around using electromagnetic forces to disrupt the [algae] cell walls," Loggenberg explained last week at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin, Texas. "When you're dealing with this micro-world, you can't use hammers and chisels."

To be more precise, using heat to dry out the algae or centrifuges to separate it from the water it grows in use up a lot of energy. Crushers that work for oil seeds don't work on microscopic algae, and using solvents to break open the cells is costly and hard to scale up.

OFAT's alternative solution involves zapping algae with electricity to disrupt the cell walls. It's a similar concept to that being proposed by Origin Oil, which has proposed using microwaves and ultrasound to break open algae cells (see Green Light post).

How cheap is OFAT's method? Loggenberg wouldn't get into specifics, but this paper from UT describing the technology claims it can produce algae oil for about $1.50 a gallon. That algae oil would then need to be turned into biodiesel, of course, but that would still be quite a breakthrough in costs (see Coming Soon: $2 a Gallon Diesel From Algae?). _GTM
It will take more time to get the algal concentrations high enough for optimal efficiency for the process, and to scale the process up to pilot -- then commercial -- scales.

Nevertheless, every incremental step toward making ever-prolific algal organisms more efficient producers of fuel, will speed the coming of genuine "peak oil." Peak oil due to lack of demand.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Toshiba Wants to Market 10 MW Mini-Reactor to US Market

Toshiba has developed a safe mini-reactor design producing 10 MW suitable for powering military bases and isolated towns. It is designed to operate with minimal supervision safely. Large corporations such as Toshiba may be the only ones who can afford the exorbitant application fees for new reactor licensing in the US.
Toshiba Corp. is developing an ultra-compact reactor with an output of about 10,000 kilowatts and has started procedures for approval in the United States, the Nikkei business daily said.

The new reactor, the Toshiba 4S, is designed to minimise the need for monitoring and maintenance, with an automatic shutdown function to ensure safety in case of problems, the newspaper said.

Toshiba plans to market the reactor first in the United States, while foreseeing demand from emerging countries in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe as well as in Africa, it said. _AFP
Mitsubishi and Hitachi are also planning to market new designs for smaller than standard sized reactors.

If the US NRC ever gets its act together, nuclear expansion in the US market may anchor a larger worldwide growth of newer, safer generations of reliable baseload nuclear power.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thinking Long Term, In Increments

Algae is so productive—compared to any other known biofuel—that you could use just 1 percent of the U.S. landmass to grow enough algae to create enough fuel to displace 100 percent of U.S. petroleum needs. _GOOD
It is easy to lose interest in a fuel that will take at least 10 years to impact the liquid fuels industry. But when that same fuel promises to displace a big portion (15% to 25%) of petroleum fuels within 20 years, smart people will pay attention.

And they are paying attention. In India, in China, in west Texas, and elsewhere, smart people are gambling their time, resources, and resourcefulness on the bet that algal fuels will become the next big oil. Even the US Navy is planning a massive shift from petroleum fuels to algal fuels -- for ships and planes.

But it is expensive to make biodiesel from algae -- between $20 and $80 per gallon, depending upon who you ask. No one can predict when algal diesel and algal gasoline will be competitive with petroleum, because no one can predict the future prices of petroleum with any accuracy.

Before algal oil displaces petroleum oil, it is likely to create an economic impact as animal feed, and as feedstock for chemical and fertilizer production. Ethanol may be the first fuel produced economically from algae __AFP

The popular short attention span, instant gratification way of looking at the near term, is a loser. The skank media, skank culture, and skank politicians try to keep our attention narrowly focused on the parts of the present they want us to see. That keeps a population blind to almost everything that is happening and that is likely to happen.

Then when unanticipated things happen -- both good and bad -- the entire society is stuck in reaction mode.

Scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and others cannot afford to let themselves get stuck in the narrow impoverished present that our culture holds out to us. Fortunately, alternative media provides the information arterials to allow alternative cultures to grow and thrive. That means alternative economies.

When the strangulating political correctness of modern government chokes the mainstream economy, alternatives will emerge.

These alternative economies will need lots of energy.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nuclear Power Costs Up Front

In 2005, a few would-be [nuclear] reactor builders said they could construct a facility generating 1.2 to 1.6 gigawatts for $2,000 per kilowatt of capacity. Now, they put the cost at $4,000 per kilowatt....

...The Electric Power Research Institute, a utility consortium based in Palo Alto, CA, recently put the capital cost of a new coal plant at under $3,000 per kilowatt and that of a natural-gas plant at $800 per kilowatt. _TechnologyReview
There are the costs of installing a power plant, in dollars per kilowatt, and the costs of generating electricity from a power plant, given in [fractions of] dollars per kilowatt-hour. Both must be taken into account when planning a sound energy strategy. In the above chart, nuclear would fall between coal and gas, and wind would fall between oil and solar.

A nuclear plant may cost $4,000 per kw to install compared to a solar plant at $10,000 per kw and a large wind plant at $4,000 per kw. A coal plant is cheap at $3,000 per kw and a gas plant is a steal at $800 per kw.

Wind generators, necessarily exposed to the elements, begin to break down after 10 years compared to a projected 60 year life for a nuclear plant. Large solar plants are likewise unproven for endurance over the long haul.

Wind and solar are non-baseload, non-dispatchable power sources -- unreliable. They must be backed up by more reliable forms of power. This increases the expense of power management immensely. It is these long-term costs that pile up over time and make one wish he had built a nuclear plant instead.

Nuclear plants -- like hydroelectric plants -- are very expensive to build, but can provide many decades of reliable service if maintained properly.

Of course the economics shifts when the small, modular reactors come onto the scene. These new factory-built reactors will be cheaper to build, install, and operate. They can be scaled to fit the demand, and used for a wide variety of purposes. They will be baseload power available anywhere on Earth, the oceans, or in space.

Wind energy advocates are fighting a losing battle against time and technology. Wind power is only suitable for particular places and particular niches, at small to intermediate scales.

Solar power has wider application -- particularly considering the eventual placement of solar power off-planet.

Fossil fuel power is doomed by the limited locations and amounts of fossil fuels. Perhaps a century more before almost complete replacement.

Only nuclear (including fusion), off-planet solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and bioenergy can provide the kind of on-demand dispatchable power that future human societies will require.


Monday, October 19, 2009

It's All In the Texture: Methanol Fuel Cell Catalysis

MIT, JIST, and BNL researchers have combined to advance the cause of methanol fuel cells by devising a textured platinum fuel cell electrode.
A team of researchers from MIT, the Japan Institute of Science and Technology, and Brookhaven National Laboratory have found that changing the surface texture of platinum used in a methanol fuel cell electrode—specifically, creating nano surface steps instead of using a smooth surface—can significantly increase the catalytic activity.

In a paper published online 13 October in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, they show a linear relationship between the intrinsic activity and the amounts of surface steps. Increasing surface steps on Pt nanoparticles of ~2 nm led to enhanced intrinsic activity up to 200% (current normalized to Pt surface area) for electro-oxidation of methanol.

The researchers believe that further development of these surface structures could end up producing far greater increases, yielding more electric current for a given amount of platinum. _GCC
Such an approach may seem intuitively obvious to those who understand the relationship between surface area and catalytic activity, but I suppose highly specialised researchers take more time to realise the obvious.

Regardless, methanol fuel cells are potentially one of the most important advances in the race to develop alternatives to fossil fuel transportation and electricity. The sooner they are perfected the better.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Co-Production of High Value Chemicals from Maize

Maize bio-ethanol production is growing ever more sophisticated by the year. Not only are maize ethanol producers producing more ethanol using less water and less fossil fuels, they are also producing side products that improve the financial bottom line significantly. Most readers know about dry distillers grain (DDG) which is what remains of the grain after distillation and drying. DDGs are sold to livestock producers as high value feed. But a newer, more expensive by-product of maize ethanol production has been developed by POET.
A new ethanol co-product could replace more petroleum products such plastics, film and coatings.

POET has announced the new product, called “Inviz,” which the company says could be used to make a variety of petroleum-based ingredients in household products ranging from pill coatings to plastic packaging. _DomesticFuel
More information directly from POET via Domestic Fuel.

As the market for plastics and chemicals from biomass grows, the financial viability of the biomass industry will be improved.

The greatest weakness of biomass in the long run is the low energy density of most biomass feedstocks. Investment into technologies that convert biomass into liquid and gaseous fuels is booming. But a great deal of money will be made by local and regional entrepreneurs, farmers, bankers, and technologists who can find ways of efficiently harvesting, densifying, and pre-processing biomass for further refinement and processing at more central locations.

The big companies such as ADM will try to grab up as much of this local and regional production as they can -- just as they have consolidated farm production. But as in any new industry, there is plenty of room on the ground floor.

Labels: ,

Coskata's New 50,000 gpy Demo BTE Plant

Coskata's novel biomass waste to ethanol demo plant is finally opening. Coskata will use plasma gasification to convert waste biomass to syngas. Syngas will then be fermented to ethanol, using micro-organisms.
Coskata first takes the garbage and turns it into a synthetic vapor courtesy of a Westinghouse plasma generator. Once the syngas is produced, it is fed to microbes that convert it to liquid fuels. The microbes live in large colonies that collect on membranes. Part of the company's intellectual property revolves around coming up with a way to let the microbes live as colonies and form slimes. Coskata has largely been concentrating its efforts on a few microbe species.

In the end, the fuel emits 96 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gas and the company only uses half of the water in the manufacturing process. Although Coskata currently builds its own plants, in the long run it has talked about licensing the process, leaving the massive scaling-up job to the people who are already in the fuel business. Make fuel or license – it's a big debate in the biofuels industry. If anything, the cost of building ethanol plants has recently declined because many early companies are trying to sell mothballed plants. Valero, the big gas distributor, recently bought seven plants. _Greentechmedia
Coskata was once famous for promising $1 per gallon ethanol from biomass waste. It will take some remarkable innovation and scaling for the company to ever meet that goal -- particularly at the rate the US dollar is shrinking in value.

Nevertheless, by proving its concept at larger scales, Coskata has demonstrated the ability to do more than simply make promises. The US political class could learn a great deal from that example.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Isobutene from Biomass: Synthetic Bio Solutions

A French synthetic biology company has devised a means for producing isobutene from sugars. Isobutene is a valuable and important feedstock for many industrial processes. This new synthesis opens another important door for biomass to fuels, biomass to chemicals, biomass to plastics, biomass to rubber, etc etc
The overall equation for the isobutene production process developed by Global Bioenergies is:

C6H12O6 → C4H8 + 2 CO2 + 2 H2O

The process is designed to be used downstream from three sugar production pathways: sugar, starch and cellulose. The process can thus be used with cellulosic biomass, following pretreatment and hydrolysis. _GCC
Isobutene is used in the production of rubber for the tire industry as well as in manufacturing processes for plastics, antioxidants, and fine chemicals. Additionally, isobutene is the source material of polyisobutene, which is a precursor material for lubricant and fuel additives as well as adhesives and sealants. _Source
First, perfect your processes for high value, lower volume chemicals. By that means you can pay for the perfecting of your processes for much higher volume fuels. Although fuels give lower profit margins than high value chemicals, it is the high volume of fuels that provides the much higher overall gross profits.

Later on, after ground transportation has largely shifted to electric transport, and sea transportation has shifted to small nukes, you can fall back to high value feedstock production as your liquid fuels market shrinks away.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Connecting the "3 US Grids" With HVDC Superconductor

Image via Domestic Fuel

The following is excerpted from a detailed article in GreenTechMedia:

The United States' electricity transmission "grid" is actually made up of three grids – one in the East, one in the West and one in Texas – that aren't connected to each other.

Tres Amigas LLC wants to build a massive triangle of high-voltage, superconducting direct current cables in Clovis, N.M. to connect them. [see this PDF for details] That could allow the three grid systems to buy and sell power – particularly power from big wind farms and solar power plants – from one another.

The company led by Phil Harris, formerly the chief executive of big Mid-Atlantic transmission entity PJM Interconnection, envisions making money by serving as "a renewable energy trading hub" between the nation's three distinct, unconnected networks of transmission grids.

...Superconducting cables can carry far more electricity than their traditional transmission cable counterparts, though they need to be cooled with liquid nitrogen to do so. Despite their high cost, superconducting direct-current (DC) cables are seen as a viable alternative for certain high-voltage transmission applications (see Superconductors For the Grid).

American Superconductor is already making superconducting wire for Korea's LS Cable to install in that nation's electricity grid (see Green Light post).

Whether Tres Amigas can raise funding will likely hinge on how the proposal is treated by FERC. Wellinghoff wants Congress to give FERC more authority to fast-track new interstate transmission lines that could help the country meet its goal of getting a much larger share of its power from renewable sources.

That will be particularly important in connecting new wind and solar farms in regions with rich renewable resources – like the windy Great Plains, or the hot and sunny Southwest – to cities on the East and West coasts that need the power.

But making that beefed-up nationwide transmission system a reality will require hundreds of billions of dollars in new investments, according to studies (see Wind Growth Could Cost Eastern U.S. $80B in Transmission Lines).
The Tres Amigas project will cost over $1 billion -- but the benefits from such a secure, high throughput connection would be immense. A huge nationwide overhaul of the entire grid would cost much more -- over $100 billion. But you have to start someplace.

Consider the case of a post-EMF recovery. Some parts of the grid would be up and reliable much sooner than others. If the reliable sub-grids were able to connect safely -- despite being considerable distances apart -- they could support each other through various load and supply shifts, expected and unexpected.

Superconducting power lines have only just begun to demonstrate their potential. The same applies for HVDC backbones in the US. Combining the two blockbuster technologies to make the grid safer, more reliable, and more versatile, sounds like an excellent idea, for $1 billion.

In the Obama age, anything less than a $trillion is just not real money.


Monday, October 12, 2009

We Regret to Inform that Your Regularly Scheduled Peak Oil Catastrophe Has Been Cancelled

News media understands that fear is the great motivator for the modern connected individual. Everything becomes a crisis and a catastrophe, overhyped. Although North America contains over 5 trillion barrels of oil equivalent in the form of oil sands and shale oil, it also has a huge reserve of oil equivalent in the form of shale gas.
Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive, said proven natural gas reserves around the world have risen to 1.2 trillion barrels of oil equivalent, enough for 60 years' supply – and rising fast.

"There has been a revolution in the gas fields of North America. Reserve estimates are rising sharply as technology unlocks unconventional resources," he said.

This is almost unknown to the public, despite the efforts of Nick Grealy at "No Hot Air" who has been arguing for some time that Britain's shale reserves could replace declining North Sea output.

...The breakthrough has been to combine 3-D seismic imaging with new technologies to free "tight gas" by smashing rocks, known as hydro-fracturing or "fracking" in the trade.

The US is leading the charge. Operations in Pennsylvania and Texas have already been sufficient to cut US imports of liquefied natural gas (LGN) from Trinidad and Qatar to almost nil, with knock-on effects for the global gas market – and crude oil. It is one reason why spot prices for some LNG deliveries have dropped to 50pc of pipeline contracts.

Energy bulls gambling that the world economy will soon resume its bubble trajectory need to remember two facts: industrial production over the last year is still down 19pc in Japan, 18pc in Italy, 17pc in Germany, 15pc in Canada, 13pc in France and Russia. 11pc in the US and the UK and 10pc in Brazil. A 12pc rise in China does not offset this.

OPEC states are cheating on quota cuts. Non-compliance has fallen to 62pc from 82pc in March. Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela et al face a budget crunch. Why comply when non-OPEC Russia is pumping at breakneck speed?

The US Energy Department expects shale to meet half of US gas demand within 20 years, if not earlier. Projects are cranking up in eastern France and Poland. Exploration is under way in Australia, India and China. _Telegraph
Those who predict peak oil catastrophe anytime within the next century are blowing out the methane pipes for low brow consumption.

Peak oil is likely to occur within the next few decades however. Peak demand, followed by loss of interest in petroleum.

Political peak oil will be in effect, of course, until Obama, Pelosi, Boxer, Salazar, etc etc etc are removed from the public scene.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pacific Rim Bioenergy Summit Honolulu: Nov 8-11

Honolulu will host the upcoming 2009 Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy from Nov 8-11. One of the most important topics of discussion will be algal biofuels, with detailed reports on algal R&D progress from producers.
Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section, said, “Algae is seen as a promising source of raw material for biofuels, but it also could become a workhorse for producing ethanol, chemical, protein and food ingredients. As companies work to achieve the full potential of algae for fuels and chemicals, they’ll face the same challenges and opportunities as other biotechnology companies. The Pacific Rim Summit provides an opportunity for startup companies to present the state of their research and development, share their experiences and network with one another and with other biotechnology companies.” _EarthTimes
With a world oil market trade amounting to trillions of dollars yearly, algal biofuels companies have a long way to go to compete with the well established liquid fuels industry. The challenge is immense, but worth rising to.

The promise of ultimately replacing a large proportion of petroleum fuels with algal biofuels is seen as a threat by certain economic interests. Any corporation that is heavily invested in biodiesel from soy, maize, rape, palm, or other conventional oil crop must feel significant threat from the long term promise of microbial energy -- including algal fuels. Promoters of electric vehicles are likewise worried that an abundant liquid fuel seen as "clean and green" would slow the momentum toward an "all electric" highway fleet.

Last of all, promoters of environmental doom -- the dieoff.orgiast believers in catastrophic climate doom and peak oil doom -- must feel enormous threat from any source of energy that might allow modern societies to continue a life of prosperous consumption.

Still, the economic argument of a potential multi-trillion dollar market is inescapable. Enemies of algal fuels will use every trick in the book to stop the perceived threat. After they lose the fight, they will be forgotten.

Previously published at Al Fin


Friday, October 09, 2009

Algae X Prize of $10 Million and More

A new "Algae Fuel X Prize" of $10 million has been announced in San Diego. The prize is meant to stimulate research and development of a commercially viable biofuel from algae.
The Algae Fuel Prize's rules specify that the winner must produce 3,000 net gallons of diesel fuel per acre at a cost of no more than $3 per gallon. The net quantity is obtained by subtracting the gallons of fuel used in producing the algae from the yield. Prize Capital will also work to arrange buyers for the fuel.

More information is available at
NSF funding genomic research on algae. The $2 million grant to North Carolina State University is meant to assist in the genetic modification of natural algae into modified algae better suited to biofuels production.

The ambitious algal fuel plans of Sapphire Energy Inc. Chief Executive Jason Pyle. With such highly determined executives behind the algal fuels movement, never count them out.

Some people are foolish enough to believe that algae is all about "climate change" and reducing CO2 footprints. No. Algae is about producing liquid fuels cheaply, plentifully, and sustainably into the indefinite future. False fantasies of carbon catastrophe have always been an expensive distraction from the real problems we face.

Mother Jones wants you to disregard algal fuels. She wants that very badly. Of course, she has never really been a good mother, so it is doubtful that she has your best interests at heart.

Big oil, big chemistry, and big-big are all investing in algal fuels. What do they know that the skanks at Mother Jones don't?
Investments in algae-based biofuels, on the other hand, are booming. Corporations like ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical are partnering with biofuel companies on algae projects, and one company, Solazyme, will soon begin producing commercial quantities of algal fuel for the U.S. Navy. Algae’s photosynthetic cells produce an oily goo, including various oils and ethanol, that can be converted into advanced biofuels…. Algae have several key traits that make them a desirable energy source. They can be grown on non-agricultural land in a fraction of the area required by conventional oil crops such as maize (corn), soybean and palm. In addition, algae capture carbon dioxide and can thrive in domestic waste water or salt water [Nature News]. The big hurdle companies now face is scaling up their operations, and finding out whether processes that work in the lab also function on massive, commercial level. _Discover
Cross posted at Al Fin


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Underground Coal Gasification Growing Up

Gasification begins with combustion of the coal between endpoints. As a cavity forms and the coal is emptied out, the gasification front is pulled progressively back toward the vertical wells. Friedmann says that the technique made UCG a more reliable process... _TechnologyReview
Engineering safer and cleaner methods for gasifying coal underground, in situ, is taking a higher priority in Australia, China, and South Africa. Underground coal gasification, UGC, is a promising source of syngas -- particularly for nations that are less endowed with natural gas than the US.
UCG got started in the former Soviet Union and reached commercial scale by the 1950s. One such plant in Angren, Uzbekistan, continues to generate up to 18 billion cubic feet of syngas per year. But Soviet production peaked in the 1960s as production of cheaper natural gas ramped up. The U.S. conducted 33 UCG pilot projects in the 15 years following the first Arab oil embargo.

The U.S. work demonstrated an improved method that enhanced the quality of the syngas developed by Lawrence Livermore in the 1980s. Whereas earlier UCG efforts used one horizontal well to connect distant air injection and syngas removal wells, the improved method uses parallel injection and syngas removal wells 20 to 30 meters apart that descend vertically to the seam and then horizontally through the seam for several hundred meters to several kilometers.

...Following a 100-day run this spring at Bloodwood Creek test site in Queensland, Australian UCG developer Carbon Energy estimated that it could generate syngas for A$1.25 (US$1.10) per gigajoule of energy, at a time when Australian natural gas was fetching A$3.50 to A$7 per gigajoule. Those economics enabled Carbon Energy to raise A$32 million in June, which the firm is using to install a small five-megawatt generator this winter and engineer a 20-megawatt power plant for late 2010. Ultimately it plans to build a 300-megawatt power plant at the site. _TechnologyReview
Similar approaches to harvesting energy from inaccessible oil sands deposits and oil shale deposits may well turn modern Peak Oil Doomers to more productive pursuits.

Labels: ,

UAE Emirs Pursue Bio-Energy via Halophytes

* True halophytes are plants that thrive when given water having greater than 0.5% NaCl. A small number of plant lineages have evolved structural, phenological, physiological, and biochemical mechanisms for salt resistance, and true halophytes have evolved convergently in numerous, related families.
* Xerohalophytes are the desert species of halophytes. Desert and coastal halophytes possess the same mechanisms for dealing with salt toxicity and salt stress. Species living in both saline habitats commonly belong to the same phylogenetic lineages.
* There are marine phanerogams (seed-bearing plants) that live completely submerged in seawater. _UCLABotany
Most people have the wrong idea about biofuels and bioenergy. Biofuels do not have to be produced from food, and there are essentially no limits to the surface area that can be devoted to growing biomass for fuels. Biofuels are not a threat to food supplies nor will they encroach upon rich, vital croplands. Biomass can be grown in the desert using salt water for irrigation -- they can even be grown in the ocean itself!
Today, Boeing and UOP announced an initiative, with the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group consortium and the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, to examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of biofuels made from salicornia bigelovii and saltwater mangroves – plants known as halophytes.

The halophyte study will evaluate aquaculture management and practices, land use and energy requirements and identify any potential adverse ecological or social impacts associated with using halophytes for energy development, specifically for aviation biofuel development. _BiofuelsDigest
The UAE appear to be taking a long-term view of energy needs in the Gulf area. While the UAE is quickly ratcheting up plans to build a fleet of nuclear reactors, they are also looking a other alternatives to dependency on oil -- such as solar and biofuels. Biofuels in a desert, you ask? Why, yes.

The growing of crops, plants, and biomass depends upon water, of course. Part of the UAE biofuels effort will utilise desalinated fresh water. But another large part will be oriented toward halophytes and algae. Salt water and brackish water are much cheaper than desalinated fresh water.

I am not surprised to see Boeing involved in the venture, since there are very few alternatives to liquid hydrocarbon fuels for large airliners and other aircraft of similar size. In the quest for energy from biology, Boeing joins Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, Statoil, Dow, DuPont, Petrobras, Bill Gates, and a score of big corporations and investors.

The Persian Gulf area has much more oil yet to be discovered. The region has not been explored for oil nearly to the extent that North America has been explored. But there will come a time when even "easy oil" will find it difficult to compete with alternative forms of energy. That is when Peak Oil will finally occur in a meaningful sense. Peak Oil due to lack of demand.

Cross-posted to Al Fin

Extra -- More on Biomass:
Biomass – or, according to one definition, "organic matter that was living recently" which could be anything from "wood to sewage sludge, animal slurries and crops grown for energy purposes" – is still only just taking off in the UK. However, over the past 15 years, such systems have been widely adopted in Austria, Germany, Denmark and elsewhere. In fact, Austria takes a staggering 40% of its heating from renewable energy sources – by contrast, the UK has been slow to pick up the biomass baton and takes less than 1%.

...In its UK Renewable Energy Strategy white paper, published this July, the government spells out a big role for biomass in helping meet a renewable energy target of up to 14% of the UK's heating needs by 2020. In fact, using biomass makes remarkable sense – carbon is first taken out of the atmosphere by plants during growth and then put back through burning. Net carbon emissions are minimal. "Biomass technology in its early stages," says Allen. "There are very few people in the UK doing this. It is an early adopters' technology market." _Bioenergy
While faux environmentalists whine about "mountains of garbage", real men and women -- and real environmentalists -- are setting in motion the process to turn those mountains of garbage into mountains of energy.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 05, 2009

Are UAE Emirs More Serious about Energy than Obama?

It seems that the sand age Emirs of the UAE take the need for reliable energy more seriously than the President of the United States does. The UAE is going full speed ahead for a fleet of nuclear reactors in the tiny Persian Gulf conglomeration of emirates.
2012 - plans to begin construction of first nuclear reactor.

2017 - first reactor due to start supplying power to the national grid.

Beyond 2017 - new reactors come on line every 18 months until fleet complete. UAE may order more reactors, as power demand dictates. _Forbes
The emirs may understand that with proper re-cycling, fissile uranium can provide fuel to last over 10,000 years at current supplies. They cannot count on their oil to be profitable indefinitely, and will need long-term reliable energy sources, to power the futuristic cities of modern conveniences in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile back in the US, President Obama is putting the US energy industry on the altar of sacrifice to the gods of catastrophic warming. That means that almost all of US industry is up for the sacrifice. For Obama, this is the least he feels he can do to placate the angry deities of climate. For US citizens, it is proof that elections have consequences.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 04, 2009

NASA Plans Moonbase Nukes for Lunar Explorers

Combining a small nuclear reactor with a Stirling engine power converter would provide lunar explorers with energy throughout the long lunar nights.
"The recent tests bear out that Fission surface power system could be an important source of energy for exploration on the moon and Mars," said Mike Houts, project manager for nuclear systems at Marshall. "This power system could provide an abundant source of reliable, cost-effective energy and may be used anywhere on the lunar surface."

For this particular test series, the Marshall reactor simulator was linked to a Stirling engine, developed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Stirling engine, named for 19th-century industrialist and inventor Robert Stirling, converts heat into electricity.

The Marshall reactor simulator included a specialized pump, provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, and a coolant loop filled with a mixture of sodium and potassium. The coolant loop provided heat to the Stirling engine at conditions very similar to an actual fission-based surface power system. The joint testing helped resolve potential integration issues and provided information and experience needed to reduce technology risks associated with this system concept.

The testing of the Stirling engine with the Marshall reactor simulator may well be a key factor in demonstrating the readiness of fission surface power technology, and could provide NASA with an efficient and robust system to produce power in the harsh environment on the moon and Mars. __SD
Of course when the sun is shining on the lunar surface, solar thermal energy (and potentially solar PV energy) is plentiful. Solar thermal energy can drive a Stirling engine as well as heat from a nuclear reactor. But lunar nights are 14 days long, making solar energy unreliable for baseload power on luna without massive amounts of storage.

Not that NASA is likely to take part in much lunar exploration or siting of moonbases. (NASA is too busy promoting catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.) But future moon residents may well be happy that NASA did all of this work in advance for them.


Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Logical Niche for Wind Energy

In the tiny village of Masitala, in Malawi, teenager William Kamkwamba decided to build a windmill one day. He had seen a photograph of a wind generator in an American textbook, and his imagination was sparked. Using information from two library books -- Explaining Physics and Using Energy -- William taught himself to generate electricity from the wind, and how to design basic electrical circuits to utilise the electricity.

He has now built 3 wind generators for his home and village, which provide power for pumping clean water for villagers, for electric lighting, and to recharge cellphones and power radios.

In the rural third world, the requirement is not so much for baseload power. Rather the need is for any useful power at all. For a small village, the combination of a simple wind generator and a basic battery bank, would allow for the basic needs of simple lighting, clean water, and entertainment / communication. With a large enough battery bank, the luxuries of refrigeration and ice making could also be provided.

William has plans to study at a US university, after having acquired sponsorship from attendees at a 2007 TED Global conference in Tanzania.

William's story has been captured in the new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by Bryan Mealer. The story is remarkable on many levels, but particularly because the events occurred in a tiny rural village in Africa.

The problem with the importation of technology to many third world villages, is that routine maintenance will not be done, and the machines will rust and decay into uselessness. But if the technology is local -- and closely tied to essential needs of the community -- it is more likely that a place will be made for maintenance of the technology within the social structure of the village.

Maintenance of simple machines can be taught to individuals with IQs between 90 and 100. It is the design and improvisation process that is more difficult. Yet it is on the point of maintenance that so many third world technology projects fail.

In SubSaharan Africa, the average population IQ is under 80. That distribution provides a fair percentage of persons with the requisite intelligence for basic machine maintenance, if the motivation is there. If the technology occupies a central place in the well-being of the community, the prestige associated with being able to keep the technology in operation should provide the necessary motivation.

In developed nations, large wind farms are proposed to displace coal power plants from the grid. But that is illogical, since wind is not baseload power -- meaning that a large amount of gas or coal power must be placed on stand-by to compensate for the unreliability of the wind. Denmark is already paying a high price for that type of energy psychology.

Yet Obama and his czars and zombies are intent on choking the US coal industry, and replacing coal power plants with unreliable and exorbitantly expensive wind and solar plants. Someone should tell them that this is the real world they are playing around with now, not just their bull session fantasies.


Factory-Built Safe, Cheap, Modular Reactors

Hyperion is planning to start building small cheap modular nuclear reactors in a new factory in the UK sometime within the next two years.
For the first time, the advantages of nuclear power – efficient, cheaper, non-polluting with no greenhouse gas emissions – are available for remote locations without designing and building individual, massive, and costly conventional power plants that are built to serve large areas.__NEI
The Hyperion reactor was invented at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the USA. Through the US government’s technology transfer initiative, the exclusive licence to develop and commercialise the invention was granted to New Mexico-based Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. (HPG). The company has now retained the nation’s top nuclear power design and engineering teams, including staff from US federal laboratories, to further develop the reactor. It will continue to partner with industrial leaders for the reactor’s production, operation, and maintenance.

There are four main applications for the Hyperion reactor:

• Military bases (independent, baseload power).

• Oil & gas recovery and refining, including in oil sands and shale recovery.

• Remote communities lacking accessibility to a source of electrical generation.

• Quickly installed back-up and emergency power for disaster areas. _NEI
According to material published at Next Big Future, Hyperion has customer commitments for over a hundred units, to date. The company expects to go to market in 2013 to 2014, but is already committed to deliveries as far back as 2020!

Hyperion is doing something very clever: They plan to get their design licensed in the UK, to allow UK production and international delivery. This bypasses the exorbitant US licensing fees for new reactor designs.
The key to the success of Hyperion will be its fuel – uranium hydride powder, which allows the hydrogen moderator to easily move in and out of the core. The physical characteristics of uranium hydride, a combined fuel and neutron energy moderator, are ideal for the generation of safe nuclear power. The reactor operates at an optimum temperature of 550°C, selected as the goal for the so-called Generation IV reactors by the US Department of Energy (DoE). At 550°C, the dissociation pressure for the hydrogen above the hydride is approximately eight atmospheres, which permits easy transportation of the gas without presenting significant high-pressure risk. The temperature-driven mobility of the hydrogen contained in the hydride can change the moderation, and therefore the reactor criticality, making the reactor self-regulating.

The hydrogen forced out of the core during any over-temperature excursion reduces the neutron energy moderation necessary for nuclear criticality. The Hyperion Power Module is inherently fail-safe, since any temperature increase from excess activity immediately reduces the criticality parameters and thus the power production. The consequent power reduction causes the temperature to decrease and that temperature decrease eventually reverses the process, resulting in relaxation oscillations that quickly damp out to steady-state operation. __NEI
The US Obama administration has thrown a wide ring of strangulation around US baseload energy sources and fuel supplies. Rather than fighting a battle against Obama czars and zombies, Hyperion has chosen to take its safe, inexpensive approach to abundant energy somewhere that is more likely to appreciate it.

Cross-posted at Al Fin


Friday, October 02, 2009

Water Efficiency for Ethanol Production Amazingly Good

One of the complaints against biofuels is that they are said to use excessive amounts of water. This is a curious complaint given the water efficiencies of alternatives.
The U.S. Geological Survey states on its Web site that it takes roughly 44 gallons of water to produce one gallon of crude oil. According the USGS, the average ethanol plant uses approximately four gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.

Calendine said POET's biorefineries typically use less than three gallons of water per gallon of ethanol due to improved process technology.

"A 45-million-gallon-a-year POET plant uses the same amount of water as an 18-hole golf course in a year," Calendine said.

As processes improve, the amount of water used could decline further, or at least be reused. Calendine said there are ethanol plants that are zero-discharge plants, meaning the water is recycled. _BiofuelsDigest
Of course, hydroelectric power generation uses an incredible amount of water, but then, who's counting?

As long as water is returned in clean condition to the water table or to the air as steam, it is difficult to give any credence to this type of complaint against biofuels.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Home Gasifiers On Sale Now: Don't Fear Peak Oil

Imagine not having to pay the power company for electricity, and not having to buy gasoline to drive your vehicles. Imagine getting all the heat, hot water, electric power, and vehicular fuel you need from waste wood and other biomass on your property.

A home-scale gasifier for producing clean, combustible gas from biomass, is now available for purchase at Woody Gasifier. Such a gasifier can be used to fuel an electric generator, or even to fuel an automobile.

Videos and workshops to get you up to speed on adapting these gasifiers to your needs, can be obtained at the Victory Gasworks website. In order to get the best use from your home gasifier, you will need to acquire both knowledge and practical expertise.

This PDF from the Oregon Biomass Energy Home Page will provide you with some basic principles that may help you make a more informed decision on whether gasification is appropriate for your energy situation.


Peak Oil Summit Held Recently

The foremost peak oil experts in the world assembled in Podunk for intensive discussions on dealing with the collapse of the modern world from Peak Oil. One ingenious solution was to remove the tires from their automobile. Without tires, the car could not go anywhere, and would thus not require fuel. Et, Voila! An automobile instantly immune from Peak Oil!

In a more serious vein, JD at Peak Oil Debunked points out a problem with the "back to the rural land" approach so popular with Peak Oil Believers: rural living is highly dependent on motor vehicles.
Soaring gas prices are a double-whammy for many rural residents: They often pay more than people who live in cities and suburbs because of the expense of hauling fuel to their communities, and they must drive greater distances for life's necessities: work, groceries, medical care and, of course, gas.

...During the last bout of high oil prices, there was some reporting about gas stations closing in rural regions (Fears for rural filling stations, Rural motorists running on empty as pumps close) forcing people to drive long distances for gas. As you would expect, this can turn into a nasty EROEI situation.

...Perhaps the worst threat of all is a vicious cycle of depopulation. High gas prices cause commuting to work/the doctor/school/shopping to be too expensive, so people leave the rural towns/counties and move to larger cities. Govt. revenues decline (people fleeing) while govt. costs rise (gas for the cops, school buses, ambulances, inspectors, garbage collection etc.) Then merchants pull out and gas stations pull out, because there isn't enough population to support them. Govt. services get erratic. More people get fed up and leave etc. etc. Next thing you know, your rural "community" isn't there anymore.
These are details that Peak Oil Believers caught up in the emotion of their circular logic, may overlook. Not particularly susceptible to deep thinking in the first place, Peak Oil Doomers tend to carry their doom with them, inside their own heads. Simply put, they are doomed, even if no one else is.

Of course, persons who are prepared for EMP or other disaster that results in the collapse of the power system and the transportation system, will have devised workarounds for the absence of fuel trucks and local fuel supplies. Many of those workarounds are discussed at Al Fin Energy.

The utter stupidity of the modern Peak Oil Orthodoxy resides in how they define Peak Oil. Rather than looking specifically at recoverable reserves, the overwhelming tendency is to look at production numbers. Only a fool would depend so heavily on production stats without doing an in depth analysis of all of the factors (besides Peak Oil) that impede production. Yet that is exactly the deficient approach Peak Oil Doomers have taken. Given that prominent deficiency in their analysis, it is impossible for them to arrive at valid conclusions or prognostications.

The claim that the Earth will eventually reach a point of negative returns from the extraction of a presumably non-renewable resource such as oil, is something of a truism. An obvious, rather pedestrian conclusion to a very short chain of logic. The devil is in the details. And detail is what Peak Oil Experts, such as those pictured above, tend to neglect (among other things).

Can readers think of any reasons why oil production happens to be considerably lower than it could be at this point in time? Go ahead. Prove you are better than Peak Oil Orthodox Doom Believers. What relatively trivial alteration in the international oil infrastructure, would almost immediately boost crude production well beyond "peak" levels?

Previously posted on Al Fin


Obama Follows Through on Promise to Kill Coal

In a time of economic crisis and impending energy starvation, Obama's EPA is freezing 79 coal mining operations in 4 different US states. This dictate will have a severe impact on Appalachian states that are already suffering from an Obama economic depression.
"Coal mining throughout Appalachia cannot reassure thousands of anxious workers and their families, and we cannot plan for the economic future of our operations absent a workable, transparent process that provides certainty," National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said in a statement.

"EPA's answer of more delay and study is at cross-purposes with our nation's need for affordable energy, investments and secure jobs."

The United Mine Workers labor union also criticized the delay.

"It is imperative that the process for approving or rejecting permits be clarified so that everyone can know what to expect," President Cecil Roberts said in a statement. "Dragging things out only adds unnecessary pressure to coal miners, their families and their communities and makes it much more difficult to meet America's energy and economic needs."....

"People all over West Virginia can't believe this is happening," West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said in a statement. "They don't understand why Washington is willing to kill-off good paying jobs when our economy is still on the ropes and the unemployment rate is still unacceptably high." _BW
Obama's energy starvation policy is being carried out by various agencies, departments, and czars of the new US administration. During Obama's presidential campaign, he promised environmental lobbyists and contributors that he would put coal plants out of business via strangulating regulations.

If Obama had any viable baseload energy alternatives to offer, his moronic attacks on fossil fuels and obstructionist delays on nuclear energy, would be more understandable. But Obama has offered no intelligent alternatives. He apparently intends for the US to starve for energy, thus shutting down broad swathes of US production and commerce.

Meanwhile in congress, the Boxer et Pelosi energy starvation campaign is in full bloom.

Labels: ,

Biomass to Liquids, Next Gen Biofuels

Biomass to liquids is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the energy field. Led by companies such as TRI, Rentech Inc., Velocys, CHOREN, Flambeau River Biofuels/Johnson Timber, AP Fuels and World GTL, BTL is also backed by huge oil and chemical companies. BTL companies have formed an organisation, the Low Carbon Synthetic Fuels Association (LCSFA) to promote the new, vitally important industry.
Specifically, the LCSFA represents the Biomass-to-Liquids (BtL) industry. One of the cleanest and most proven advanced biofuels, BtL is produced through the gasification of renewable biomass and the subsequent conversion of the gasified biomass using the Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) synthesis process. The renewable fuels produced are predominantly synthetic diesel and jet fuel, which are nearly identical to current crude oil-derived fuels, although significantly cleaner.

BtL fuels rely on an established synthesis technology (F-T) which can be brought to market quickly, unlike many other advanced biofuels, which remain in the research and development or “pre-commercial” stages. BtL fuels can be produced from abundant, non-food organic materials such as wood waste from urban recycling programs, paper mills or forestry residues, without increasing land use. Moreover, BtL fuels are fully compatible with the existing fuels infrastructure, enhance engine performance, and reduce emissions. _BusinessWire
BTL is an example of a next-gen biofuel -- biofuels not dependent upon food or prime croplands for production. Other types of next-gen biofuels include cellulosic ethanol and algal / microbial biofuels. Big companies such as DuPont, BP, Shell, Chevron, Exxon / Mobile, Dow, Eni, Petrobras, Conoco / Phillips, Neste, and others who do not wish to be left behind.
Other liquid alternative fuel developments and technologies cropping up include, among others, biobutanol, biogas, biomass-to-liquids, pyrolysis oil, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, gas-to-liquids, and hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel (HDRD).

For HDRD, US-based Valero Energy announced this month that it planned to build a 135m gallon/year renewable diesel facility using animal fats and waste grease in Louisiana through a JV with animal fats producer Darling International.

The schedule for the facility was not disclosed, but the companies said they were seeking a loan guarantee for the proposed JV from the DOE. Other oil firms involved in similar projects include US-based ConocoPhillips and Syntroleum, Finland's Neste Oil, Petrobras of Brazil, and Italy's Eni in JV with US technology firm UOP.

HDRD is usually produced by hydrocracking natural oils and fats, alone or blended with petroleum, in an oil refinery. Gasoline can be also produced using a similar refining process, according to the DOE. _ICIS

Labels: ,

Newer Posts Older Posts