Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gasification of Biomass, Coal, Waste

I admire a fine piece of machinery when I see it. The ceramic heat exchanger / gasification device can take any organic matter and turn it into syngas to run the gas turbine.
When fired up in August, it will be the world's first biomass-powered turbine engine designed to produce electricity. And the research, design and manufacture of the system will be provided by Heat Transfer International, a Kentwood company formed three years ago, based on 30 years of experience. _Source
Ze-gen is another company specialising in gasification of waste streams.
Ze-gen, Inc. is a renewable energy company that is emerging as a leader in the development of advanced gasification technology for converting wood debris and other solid waste streams into a synthesis gas (syngas) mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas. This syngas is a renewable fuel which can be used to offset consumption of fossil fuels in conventional power and industrial facilities. Ze-gen recently secured $20 million in Series B financing, and is poised to be the market leader in the environmentally friendly re-purposing of waste streams into renewable energy. For more information and to watch a Ze-gen feature on the Science Channel, visit _BW
Several companies are working on gasification technologies for coal, since that is the best way of capturing CO2 for compliance with costly new Milli Vanilli energy regulations. But coal gasification (as IGCC) is worthwhile in its own right, with or without CO2 capture. Particularly when combining IGCC (for example) with CHP, coal gasification makes perfect sense for a clean energy bridge toward a sustainable energy future in the US. Now, another clean coal technology is making claims for superiority over IGCC. Is it true?
Based on high pressure oxy-fuel chemistry, TIPS combines the combustion of carbonaceous fuels, including coal, oil, natural gas, municipal waste and biomass, into energy with near-zero air emissions and no smoke stack. In addition, it effectively captures carbon dioxide ("CO2") in clean, pressurized liquid form ready for sequestration or beneficial reuse, such as enhanced oil recovery. The TIPS technology promises to achieve greater fossil-fuel power plant thermal efficiency due to its novel and patented process design. Coupled with the recovery of pipeline quality liquid CO2, TIPS is expected to have an economic and environmental edge over competing carbon capture technologies. _Source
TIPS is referred to as a combustion process, but it takes place under pressure with recovery of CO2 as a liquid under pressure. Until I see more substantial information, TIPS looks a bit too much like an overhyped gimmick resting firmly upon carbon hysteria and global climate scam. IGCC is a proven technology, and can be used with or without CO2 capture. Wait and see.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let There Be Light In the Dark Algal Bloom

Algae can grow very quickly in a high nutrient environment, and shut out most light penetration to any depth. This restricts the rapid growth areas to near the surface. Some algal biofuels researchers are experimenting with ways to penetrate the murk, bringing light to deeper layers so that a thicker bloom of algae may grow. Bionavitas is the latest algal biofuels company to take this approach. algae grow, they become so dense they block the light needed for continued growth.

This “self-shading” phenomenon results in a layer that limits the amount of algae per acre that can be grown and harvested. The Light Immersion Technology developed by Bionavitas fundamentally changes this equation by enabling the algae growth layer in open ponds to be up to a meter deep. This represents a 10 to 12 time increase in yield over previous methods that produced only 3-5 centimeters of growth.

... At the core of Light Immersion Technology is an innovative approach at bringing light to the algae culture in both open ponds and closed bioreactors through a system of light rods which extend deep into the algae culture. By distributing light below the surface “shade” layer and releasing the light in controlled locations, algae cultures can grow denser. In external canal systems, the rods distribute light from the sun into the culture. This abundant and free energy source is ideal for generating large amounts of algae for use as biofuels.

In closed bioreactors, the rods evenly distribute more readily absorbed red and blue spectrum light from high efficiency LEDs. While the LEDs increase the cost of production, algae grown in these systems are used for higher value markets such as nutraceuticals. _BusWire

In other news, Genomatica has developed a process of producing methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) from biomaterials. This new process may allow several previously closed bio-ethanol plants to re-start, producing the more highly lucrative MEK using the same industrial equipment previously used to produce maize ethanol.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Who Says Biodiesel Doesn't Work in the Cold?

A recent renewable diesel demonstration in Alberta shows that biodiesel blends can function quite well in cold weather climates. The form of biodiesel that performs the closest to petro-diesel is HDRD -- hydrogenated derived renewable diesel.

Finland's Neste Oil has pioneered the HDRD process (NExBTL) and refined it to the point that in the Helsinki area, 100% Neste biodiesel is used widely in city buses. Neste utilises both vegetable oils and animal fats in the production of its NExBTL hydrogenated biodiesel product, which provides for mor flexible feedstock supply.

More links on the Neste NExBTL process here.

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Big Oil In Bed With Biofuels: The Future is Near

Most biofuels naysayers haven't taken the trouble to look at all the different ways that biological organisms can create energy and energy feedstocks. Brian Wang discussed Sandia National Lab's recent study predicting the production of 90 billion gallons a year of biofuels in the not-so-distant-future. Now Brian Westenhaus takes a good look at the involvement of big petroleum in the research and development of biofuels.
Big Oil is helping the biofuel industry move past the persistent perception that cellulosic-based fuel is five years from reality. “That would have been accurate five years ago,” Riva said. “It’s not accurate today.”

Meanwhile Exxon Mobil is in the media openly talking about its interest in biofuels. With an industry reputation of strong research and high powered engineering skills, Exxon Mobil getting into the business would mark a turning point for biofuels and for the long term viability of oil being an economy dominating club for the market manipulators.

...the news is that BP is in the biofuels business. Big Oil, with all the baggage the industry has to cope with in people’s perceptions has more incentive, capital, skill and management than any other segment of the economy. What the press and media overlook is that for over one hundred years the oil industry drove to lower fuel prices, expanded markets and a higher standard of living. Check your history till 1972 when the first embargo from OPEC began the market distortions. The oil industry had been a boom and bust business before OPEC, even more so since. No one craves a low priced, high volume, steadily profitable business more than Big Oil. Nearly two generations of oil industry people have endured a torrent of troubles. _NewEnergyandFuel
British Petroleum, Shell, Exxon, Valero, Chevron, and other big oil companies are researching, developing, and / or investing in production of biofuels. All of this at a time when oil prices are stuck in the doldrums. This tells you that at least most of these companies can see a time when producing biofuels will be competitive with producing petro-fuels. Sometime very soon.

Most people expect oil prices to rise sharply as soon as the global economic situation begins to revive. But as biofuels production becomes more economical, and scales upward in volume, petro-fuels will have a strong competitor. And competition generally helps constrain prices. I supppose the oil companies wanted to get in on the ground floor.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nissan's Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Runs on Gasoline and Light Oil, Not Hydrogen

The new doughnut shaped SOFC developed by Nissan for the automobile, will run on hydrocarbons rather than hydrogen. This is an advantage, due to available infrastructure for those fuels. Modifications to allow using variable length alcohols should be relatively easy, if required.
Unlike an SOFC for cogeneration, the new SOFC does not recover waste heat. Still, high-temperature steam generated from the fuel cell is used for reforming.

The SOFC itself has an efficiency of 65 to 70%, and the efficiency as a charger is 50%, including other energy losses. Considering that the efficiency of the EV is 80%, the total efficiency is 40%.

When compared with gasoline vehicles, a 1t EV and 2t EV will have 1.8 and 2.5 times higher fuel economies, respectively, under the JC08 test mode. These are much higher than the fuel economies that can be realized by PEFCs.

Therefore, the SOFC, which has problems starting up, is more suited for commercial vehicles that run for a long time without interruption. _techon
As SOFC's evolve, faster starting times and a wider range of fuels should give this type of power supply much wider use. SOFCs that run on biomass carbon, for example, would allow persons to travel far off the beaten path while still being able to locate fuel fairly easily.

The key to wider acceptance of fuel cell vehicles has always been the ability of the FCs to use available liquid fuels, as well as natural gas and propane / butane. As bio - alcohols and bio - hydrocarbons become more widely available, biofuel powered fuel cells will provide a strong boost to renewable energy's proportion of total energy supply.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Revolutionary Home Fuel Cell Efficiencies Claimed by Melbourne Company

Managing Director Brendan Dow said, “We have now achieved 60% efficiency in a fully integrated fuel cell and heating system, while exporting 1.5 kilowatts of electricity to the grid. This is not a laboratory test but a unit that has all the functions of a commercial unit for homes. Our company’s products will be located in the home, so 60% efficiency is at the power point, with no transmission or electricity distribution losses.”

...After transmission and distribution losses, the average electrical efficiency of conventional power stations in the European Union is less than 35%. A 2007 study of other microgeneration technologies by the UK Carbon Trust, based on a trial of 70 units (including Stirling engines and internal combustion engine) found average electrical efficiencies to be less than 10%. A Japanese Government-sponsored trial of Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell home units showed average electrical efficiency of about 30%. _FuelCellToday
If these 60% efficiency results from the Melbourne company Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd. hold up, home based fuel cells will likely receive a huge boost. Home fuel cells can supply a home's power and heating / hot water needs independent of the power grid. If they can also export (sell) power back to the utility, they should pay for themselves over a reasonable time period.
Ceramic Fuel Cells’ technology uses fuel cells made from ceramic materials to generate highly efficient and low emission electricity and heat from natural gas and renewable fuels. The technology began at CSIRO in 1992 and has cost $220 million to develop. Today the company employs 100 people in Melbourne, including 60 scientists and engineers.

Ceramic Fuel Cells’ units also recover heat from the electricity production process and use it to heat home hot water, increasing the units’ efficiency to 85%. “We are able to trap the heat from our units and use it to heat a household’s water, taking our efficiency to 85%”, said Mr Dow. “Compare this to average efficiency of the current power grid in Victoria of less than 30% and it represents a huge advantage.” _FuelCellWorks


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Converting CO2 to Methane With Nanotubes

Penn State U. researchers have devised arrays of titania nanotubes to convert atmospheric CO2 to CH4 and other hydrocarbons using sunlight.
The rate of carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion using this method is 20 times higher than that of previously published research. The work is described in the January 27, 2009, online edition of Nano Letters.

....This type of solar-based conversion process only works if a photocatalyst—a material that reacts with light—is used to convert the CO2 into hydrocarbons. A photocatalyst that utilizes the most solar energy possible is the best option.

One popular photocatalyst candidate for the job has been titanium dioxide, also called titania, because it can powerfully react with oxygen. But so far, researchers haven't been able to make titania perform adequately despite experimenting with a variety of forms, such as nanoparticles, pellets, and multi-layer films.

Grimes and his colleagues used arrays of titania nanotubes. They created the nanotubes using a technique that incorporates nitrogen into the nanotubes' structures, which the researchers initially thought would help increase the conversion rate (this turned out to be true only in a very limited capacity).

The process also yields a high total surface area compared to other forms of the material, a property that aids in the conversion. To further boost the process, the group scattered an ultra-thin layer of platinum and/or copper "cocatalyst" nanoparticles on the surface of the array. _PO
Not only will this method produce useful hydrocarbon fuels, but if the global climate cools much further, such nano-arrays could be distributed across the globe to boost atmospheric methane levels -- to trap more of the suns heat, and stave off excessive global cooling. We would need to be careful not to allow methane concentrations to reach explosive levels, however. ;-)

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Milli Vanilli Energy Planning Wreaks Havoc

The US gets 48% of its electricity from coal, and less than 3% from wind and solar. So naturally, President "Milli-Vanilli" Obama, wants to put coal mines and coal power plants out of business, and force the country to rely on wind and solar. Makes sense. When all a man knows how to do is to fake it, it is all he can do.Not only are wind and solar very unreliable forms of power, but they are also quite expensive. Even in the best of times, scaling up these intermittent forms of power generation to replace reliable, baseload coal power would be problematic. In a recession-cum-neofascist-revolution, fugidaboudit.

In 20 years, enhanced geothermal and bioenergy will probably provide well over 10% of the US electrical supply. But unless a combination strategy of advanced nuclear plus clean coal (IGCC) is also pursued, times in the neofascist USA will be very difficult.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hydrogen Argues for A Role In Future Energy

Hydrogen is the simplest and most prevalent element in the universe. The chemical combination of hydrogen with oxygen yields energy and water. But on Earth, free hydrogen is rare and must be manufactured, which costs energy, time, and money.

A country such as Iceland, with abundant hydroelectric and geothermal energy resources, might devote a portion of its electrical power to the electrolytic production of hydrogen from water. The hydrogen can then be used as gaseous fuel for fishing boats and long-haul ground vehicles. Such an approach may work for Iceland, since Iceland has abundant natural potential to generate electricity.

Other nations may have less natural electrical generation potential, but more biomass. The generation of hydrogen from biomass recently received a boost by a team from Virginia Tech, U. Georgia, and Oak Ridge.
Researchers at Virginia Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the University of Georgia have produced hydrogen gas pure enough to power a fuel cell by mixing 14 enzymes, one coenzyme, cellulosic materials from nonfood sources, and water heated to about 90 degrees (32 C).

The group announced three advances from their "one pot" process: 1) a novel combination of enzymes, 2) an increased hydrogen generation rate--to as fast as natural hydrogen fermentation, and 3) a chemical energy output greater than the chemical energy stored in sugars--the highest hydrogen yield reported from cellulosic materials. _SB
Hydrogen can also be produced from biomass by the production of syngas via biomass gasification. Gasification requires large amounts of energy, however. If the catalytic process above is a more energy-efficient way of producing hydrogen, it is worth pursuing.

Efficiency is at the heart of the decision. There is always an efficiency loss whenever energy is converted from one form to another. Using electricity to produce hydrogen which is later used to produce electricity involves inevitable energy losses with each conversion. Even the most efficient method of converting biomass to electricity will involve energy losses as well. Is hydrogen worth the trouble?

Hydrogen advocates point to the clean effluent of hydrogen fuel cells or hydrogen combustion: steam. What could be cleaner? But if you burn coal to produce the hydrogen in the first place, you are leaving out a big part of the picture.

Al Fin has advocated the use of solar energy to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells for when the sun is not shining, for off-the-grid 24 hour loads. But then, if electricity is what you want, better battery storage makes more sense. Another thing: it takes a lot of energy to produce photovoltaic cells, batteries, fuel cells, and other solar to electricity conversion equipment. Much of that energy will come from fossil fuels. So nothing is completely clean.

Nuclear energy could produce abundant hydrogen. But hydrogen is not the easiest material to store and transport safely. Rather than using hydrogen as the fuel, it might be smarter to use the hydrogen as a chemical reactant for manufacturing other fuels that store and travel more safely, and contain better energy densities than hydrogen. Which is what will probably happen long-term, once the giddy "hydrogen euphoria" wears off and the realities of safety, economics, and energy efficiencies begin to dawn on policy makers.


Friday, February 13, 2009

How About Another 3 Billion Tons of Coal?

Roughly 3 billion tons of ultrafine coal sits unused and unusable in both abandoned and active tailing ponds around the US. Finding a way to use those ultrafines would be almost the equivalent to creating 3 billion tons of coal from thin air.
The success of the hyperbaric centrifuge is significant in that the high moisture content of fine coal waste forces coal producers to discard the waste in storage areas called waste impoundments. Estimates indicate that these impoundments nationwide hold about 2 billion tons of fine coal in abandoned ponds and an additional 500 million to 800 million tons in active ponds.

Removing moisture from very fine coal particles left over from the coal preparation process has been difficult in the past. Conventional methods such as thermal dryers or mechanical dewatering have either been too costly or have been unable to dewater ultrafine coal particles (0.1 millimeters or less). The hyperbaric centrifuge addresses those issues.

Yoon and Luttrell have also received $1 million in funding from the US Department of State to also help the Indian coal industry produce a cleaner product. And the Virginia Tech researchers anticipate another project to be funded by Coal India Limited (CIL), the largest coal company in India, with the same a similar objective. The US Department of Energy has been negotiating with CIL for this project on behalf of Virginia Tech. _GCC
Current low costs of coal, oil, and gas may delay this technology for a while. But it is important to develop the ability to use energy resources that are currently unusable. Eventually, energy costs will again rise, and parts of the world will likely experience transient energy shortages. It is best to maintain access to the largest array of energy technologies
that we can.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bioenergy Momentum

Although the cost of oil is currently low, it will eventually rise again. It is important to develop bioenergy sources such as ligno-cellulosic fuels and algal fuels before oil rises again into the "demand destruction" levels of summer 2008. Fortunately, research into several forms of bioenergy continues due to momentum built over the past few years.

UW Madison researchers have developed an interesting two-step process to produce furans from lignocellulose.
The key to the new process is the first step, in which a novel solvent system converts cellulose into the renewable platform chemical 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), from which a variety of valuable commodity chemicals and fuels can be made. A paper describing the process was published in the 11 Feb issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Professor Ronald Raines and graduate student Joseph Binder, a doctoral candidate in the chemistry department, developed the unique solvent system—N,N-dimethylacetamide (DMA) containing lithium chloride (LiCl)—that enables the single-step synthesis of HMF with “unprecedented yield” from untreated lignocellulosic biomass, as well as from purified cellulose, glucose, and fructose.

...In step two, Raines and Binder convert HMF into DMF. Starting by applying the solvent to corn stover, the team then removed the chloride ions from the resulting crude HMF by ion-exclusion chromatography in water. This separation step prevented the chloride from poisoning the copper hydrogenolysis catalyst. They then subjected the crude HMF from corn stover to hydrogenolysis in 1-butanol with a carbon-supported copper-ruthenium catalyst and obtained a 49% molar yield of DMF, similar to that obtained by Dumesic and his colleagues using HMF that contained trace chloride. _GCC
Until now, cellulose has been resistant to breaking down into its constituent sugars. This quick one step method for cellulose to HMF, then the quick second step from HMF to DMF -- a potentially useful biofuel -- may bring about an important shift in the treatment of cellulosic waste from forests, cities, and farms.

The process of converting the "black liquor" waste product from pulp/paper works into useful energy is being expedited by a Swedish company with a US subsidiary.
Chemrec’s black liquor gasification (BLG) technology converts the black liquor waste stream from the paper pulping process into synthesis gas. The synthesis gas can then be processed into a variety of fuels—likely dimethyl ether (DME) and methanol (MeOH), although fuels such as Fischer-Tropsch diesel (FTD), Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), or hydrogen are also possible. _GCC
And don't forget the promise of algal biofuels. Plans to incorporate algal bioreactors into the overall energy scheme of Scottish distilleries may give algal fuels the push they need to break through into the mainstream.
The bioreactors are glass panels that contain water and algae. When carbon dioxide is percolated through the panels, the algae strips out the carbon atoms, which are made into biodiesel.

The process also produces proteins that could be used to enrich spent grain from the distillery so that it is suitable for sale to fish farmers. _Bioenergy
Notice that the distillers are trying to maximise the utility of byproducts of the main processes. Combining spent distillers grains with the protein from spent algae would make a more valuable fish and animal feed. Even more elaboration in the use of waste byproducts is coming, to increase efficiencies and profits.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fuel Cells Grow Appetite for More Fuels Than H2

Most people think of H2 fuel cells, if they think of fuel cells at all. Hydrogen-centric thinking is one reason fuel cells have been so slow to take off. We are learning that fuel cells can be taught to eat methanol, ethanol, natural gas, syngas from municipal waste, carbon, and more.

Another reason fuel cells have been slow to emerge is the high cost of catalysts. Recent research in finding inexpensive replacement catalysts for fuel cells should help to broaden the application outlook for fuel cells.

Fuel cells can play a big role in dealing with the "landfill crisis" more efficiently.
...with improved energy conversion efficiency, fuel-cell power plants can sell more electricity converted from each ton of waste, Waste2Tricity says. As municipal refuse becomes valuable for waste-to-energy processes, less waste will be sent to landfills. AFC and Waste2Tricity also say the fuel-cell powered plants would receive Renewable Obligation Certificates, the UK's renewable energy trading credit.

“It has the potential to play a major role in the reduction of waste going to landfill, reduction in CO2 emissions, provide local authorities with a revenue stream, as well as being a commercially viable proposition,” said Peter Jones of the Waste2Tricity board in a news release. _CT
Fuel cells have been used as backup power plants for several years in industry. Homes in Japan will pioneer the use of fuel cells for primary power and heat provision (CHP). If the experiment is successful, expect the trend to spread to North America, Europe, and A/NZ.

Fuel cell powered automobiles should start appearing within 5 years, as costs are reduced, and fuel demands are made less stringent. Hydrogen gas is not a good fuel for mobile fuel cell applications. Liquid fuels are superior in terms of handling ease, energy density, and safety.

To replace an internal combustion engine (ICE) in automobiles, one needs a powerplant that provides high energy density and high power density. Fuel cells provide a high energy density. The addition of super-ultracapacitors provides high power density for necessary power surges. Intermediate chemical cell batteries may also be used to provide a smooth, steady cruising current.

The exact architecture of the ICE-less hybrid automobile remains to be worked out. Fuel cells are more efficient than ICEs, so a fuel cell serial hybrid might allow the use of less expensive and sophisticated fuel cells, with the load matching provided largely by batteries and capacitors. (perhaps a hybrid battery-capacitor)


Friday, February 06, 2009

Green Energy Gets the Blues

Many people have had high hopes for "green energy" technologies such as wind and solar power. But honestly, when all the PV energy in the world amounts to only 1/200th (5 MW) of what a single nuclear reactor or coal power plant might produce with a much higher capacity factor, what kind of person puts his hopes in such over-hyped, under-substantiated technologies?
Because of their need for space to accommodate giant wind turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project’s costs. For example, JPMorgan Chase, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the firm’s managing director for energy investments.

In the solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25 percent in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10 percent by midsummer. _NYT
The wind does not blow everywhere, nor all the time. The sun only provides perhaps 6 hours of useful energy a day, at best. The capacity factors of these technologies is abysmal. That is why for baseline energy you get far more bang for the buck from geothermal, nuclear, coal, oil sands, gas, and soon from biomass and biofuels.

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Doing More With Less in Fuel Cells

The replacement of expensive and relatively rare materials with cheap and common materials, is the hallmark of "doing more with less." That was the motto of Buchminster Fuller, and other modern revolutionaries such as Julian Simon and Herman Kahn. In the field of fuel cells, the idea is being proven using doped carbon nanotubes as replacement for expensive platinum, for catalysts.
Researchers in the US have developed a novel catalyst based on carbon nanotubes for the electrochemical reduction of oxygen. The new material, they say, could be an effective and cheaper substitute for platinum in certain types of fuel cell.

The team, led by Liming Dai of the University of Dayton, created tightly packed, vertically aligned carbon nanotubes that were doped with nitrogen atoms. When these nanotube arrays were used as cathodes in highly alkaline solution, they were able to catalyse the reduction of oxygen more efficiently than platinum.

The researchers suggest that the nanotubes could be useful in alkaline fuel cells, which were developed decades ago but for a number of reasons have remained commercially unviable. One reason, Dai suggests, is the high cost of platinum which is used as a catalyst in the fuel cells' electrodes. _RSC
This is just one example of the materials revolution that is being enabled by new nanotech methods. And it is only the beginning. Fuel cells have been the promise of the future for far too long. With the help of the materials revolution, fuel cells will soon occupy a prominent place on the energy Acropolis.

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Farther Reaches of Energy

I have always seen "hydrino energy" and "zero point energy" as being highly imaginative scams to bilk investors of their money. But both Brian Westenhaus and Brian Wang have posted multiple times on these topics, and are beginning to introduce small seeds of doubt in my naturally skeptical mind.
The concept of a hydrino, a hydrogen atom with a reduced orbiting electron is something that Randell Mills at Blacklight Power has managed to engineer such that researchers and customers are beginning to quietly line up especially now that Rowan University has confirmed that the device yields energy output.

Cal Tech’s Bernard Haisch and Colorado University’s Garret Moddel are in receipt of a U.S. Patent for another device that is said to extract (Zero Point) energy. In this design the patent states in effect that disruption of the balance between Larmor radiation vs. absorption of radiative energy from the electromagnetic quantum vacuum will yield a release of energy. _NewEnergyFuel
Mr. Westenhaus goes on to describe the patented device. Brian's post was inspired by an earlier post by Brian Wang:
A system is disclosed for converting energy from the electromagnetic quantum vacuum available at any point in the universe to usable energy in the form of heat, electricity, mechanical energy or other forms of power. By suppressing electromagnetic quantum vacuum energy at appropriate frequencies a change may be effected in the electron energy levels which will result in the emission or release of energy. _NextBigFutre
Both Brian's have earlier posts dealing with hydrino energy, with links to more meaty information. When faced with an apparent scam that simply refuses to go away no matter what is thrown at it, one might spare at least a few moments.

The mark of a successful investor is knowing when to doubt and knowing when to act on a doubt. Belief has little to do with successful investing, just as it has little to do with science. Rather, it is useful to replace belief with "expectation," understanding that expectations must be supported by subsequent events, or will be discarded.

So it is my "expectations" of these "outer limits" approaches to energy that have shifted slightly. Belief has got nothing to do with it, pal.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Nuclear Energy for Many Thousands of Years from Depleted Uranium, Thorium, More

Brian Westenhaus describes a new approach to long-term nuclear reactor fueling, using depleted and unenriched uranium.
The idea is that with un-enriched fuel, the reactors could be loaded up with fuel and sealed for 30 to 60 years primarily because the stockpile of uranium would go further. Not using enriched fuel reduces the risks associated with nuclear proliferation and transportation as well as reducing the amount of radioactive nuclear waste. Depleted uranium is also a waste product in the enrichment process. But TerraPower’s reactor needs some enriched uranium, at the beginning to initiate the reaction.

Intellectual Ventures thinks the switch could also mean that the available supplies of uranium could be exploited to provide power for centuries or even thousands of years, far longer than the projections using enriched uranium. _More at NewEnergyandFuel
Brian Wang has an update on Thorium reactor plans, and other ways of extending nuclear fuel.
From Resource Investor: I am personally aware of the fact that, even as I write, major American, Canadian, French and British nuclear engineering companies are forming strategic alliances to seek funding under Hatch-Reid to go forward with the development of thorium-based nuclear power reactors for the production of electricity for civilian use. _Much More at NextBigFuture
Brian further describes a laser uranium enrichment plant being considered for North Carolina. The process is reportedly up to 10 times more efficient than other enrichment methods.

Many clever ways of extending nuclear power into the future are being developed. Sometime, between 10 and 1000 years from now, humans will perfect nuclear fusion as an energy source and hopefully also as a space propulsion method. Until then, we will need to use the energy sources that are available.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Gas to Liquids to Tap into Huge Gas Reserves

It is estimated that 3,000 tcf, approximately half of all worldwide natural gas resources, are considered remote or stranded in so called abandoned wells or wells with reserves that are not economically accessible to markets by either pipelines or LNG. Energix believes that much of this gas could be utilized if there were an economical or easily moveable GTL production facility such as the one it is currently developing. NanoNow
Natural gas, primarily methane, is both a fossil fuel and a sustainable biofuel. While the production of fossil fuel methane is a relatively slow process, the production of bio-methane is beginning to bloom. By utilising agricultural, forestry, and municipal wastes, biogas production can be ramped up without affecting cropland productivity. The gas can then be converted into liquid fuels, electricity, or used in conventional combustors.

Converting gas in abandoned gas fields into liquid fuels to be piped out, allows access to large quantities of gas otherwise essentially inaccessible.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Algae vs. Yeast vs. Jatropha vs. Biomass

Algae biodiesel costs about $10 a gallon to produce, at best. So algae isn't ready for prime time. But given time, algae will be the most productive producer of biodiesel currently known.

Fungal fuel, or fuel from yeast, has a long history -- and will only get longer. Genetically altered yeast are now capable of producing complex hydrocarbons. Researchers are tweaking the genes of these yeast to make ever more valuable carbon based chemicals and fuels.
The company performed scores of genetic manipulations, inserting genes from land plants into yeast cells and targeting a dozen or so steps in the Acetyl CoA glycolitic pathway to polymerize hydrocarbons into chains of optimal lengths for fuels. Then, about two years ago, Amyris scientists peered into their first test tube filled with yeast-produced diesel. FungalFuel

So it looks like algae holds the greatest promise for biodiesel, but fungal fuels have a better start and may beat algae to the finish line. What about Jatropha? It takes longer to tweak the genetics of plants than for micro-organisms, but Jatropha produces high quality oil on marginal land at yields well above soy, rape, and maize. Unlike algae, Jatropha is already a player in the marketplace.
Jatropha curcas is a non-edible shrub that is native to Central America. Its seeds contain high amounts of oil that can be used for a variety of bio-based materials including biodiesel and feedstock substitutes for the petrochemical and aviation fuel industries. It can be effectively grown on abandoned lands that are unsuitable for other crops.

Jatropha oil produced by SG Biofuels has been independently evaluated for its biodiesel qualities and verified to be a clean, stable source of fuel for biodiesel that meets or exceeds European specifications. The company’s Latin American Jatropha recently outperformed palm, soy and Jatropha from India on two differentiating criteria: low temperature performance and long-term storage stability. _GCC

Biomass is another "ready for the market" energy technology that can only get better with time. Growing biomass on marginal soils, on saline soils along coasts, and in salt water, greatly expands the planet's capacity to produce human-useful energy. The limits for growth of biomass will not be reached before humans begin colonising the outer solar system and beyond. Biomass will benefit from the blooming biotechnology industry, with tweakable genetics. And while biomass is currently less energy-dense than fossil fuels, it is sustainable into the distant future. It can be made into electricity, liquid and gaseous fuels, plastics, industrial chemicals, structural material, and -- once nanotechnology comes of age -- we will truly begin to learn what biomass can create.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Bioliq Biofuels

Biofuels cannot replace fossil fuels currently. But as the infrastructure for biomass and bioenergy grows, and the economics of bioenergy improves, biofuels will gradually displace fossil fuels. One promising approach comes from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, called bioliq, described previously at AFE. Bioliq involves pyrolysis of biomass, then gasification to syngas, then synthesis of fuels from syngas.
Bioliq is now taking its first steps towards commercialisation. In conjunction with the German process engineering company Lurgi, KIT is starting to construct a pilot plant based on the bioliq technology, which should be fully completed in 2012. Providing the technology works at this scale, the question then will be how best to implement bioliq at a larger scale, so that it can effectively compete with fossil fuels.....

.....Dahmen and his colleagues quickly realised that incorporating both the pyrolysis and gasification steps at this central plant wouldn't work, because of the problems and expense involved in transporting sufficient quantities of bulky straw and wood to the plant. They estimated that if sufficient plant material was transported on trucks, it would quickly bring the road network around the plant to a halt.

So they came up with an alternative set-up. "Biomass is pre-treated in around 50 regionally distributed pyrolysis plants to produce the biosyncrude," explains Dahmen. "This can then be transported economically over long distances to supply a central fuel production plant with a high capacity."

The advantage of this set-up is that it is much cheaper and more convenient to transport liquid biosyncrude than bulky wood and straw. This is especially the case if the biosyncrude is transported by rail, which is the most cost effective way to transport material over long distances. _Bioenergy
It is rather fascinating that the KIT researchers arrived at the same conclusions as Al Fin in regard to the integration of local/regional pyrolisis plants with more centrally located gasification/synthesis plants. It certainly makes sense to pre-process biomass near the harvest site, and compact it. Then ship compacted biomass to a nearby regional pyrolysis plant. Finally, at a more centrally located gasification/synthesis plant, the final synthetic fuels and chemicals are produced. I am pleased that tenured and well-paid scientists and engineers were able to re-create Al Fin's reasoning on this point. ;-) Perhaps they will eventually catch up on the topic of biomass torrefaction.

On the topic of feedstock, eucalyptus appears to be one promising type of tree -- besides the poplar -- that combines growth in marginal soil with rapid biomass production. Eucalyptus is more energy-dense than most woods, so the economics may work out better than for poplar, as long as growth is equivalent. I would like to see research done on the torrefaction of eucalyptus. I suspect the energy density of torrefied eucalyptus to be remarkably close to that of coal.

More information and links here.


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