Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rapid Thermal Processing of Biomass

Rapid thermal processing (RTP) of biomass allows for the local and regional conversion of biomass and waste to electric power, fuel oil substitute (pyrolysis oil that could be converted to transportation fuels), and biochar for soil enhancement and carbon sequestration. UOP is one company at the forefront of RTP in the US and Canada. Brian Westenhaus has a story on some new deals between UOP (a Honeywell subsidiary) and Ensyn.
The Ensyn expertise is built on a very slick and sophisticated pyrolysis unit made by UOP. The RTP process is a fast thermal process where biomass is rapidly heated in the absence of oxygen. The biomass is vaporized and then rapidly cooled to generate high yields of pyrolysis oil. The process utilizes a circulating transported fluidized bed reactor system similar to that used in the UOP Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) technology from the petroleum industry. The process typically yields between 65wt% to 75wt% pyrolysis oil from dried woody biomass that can be utilized as fuel for industrial heat and electrical power generation.

...Almost quietly, pyrolysis has been gaining technological prowess. And much to the customer’s interest is that the technology can be at large scale for recurring feedstock supplies and can be modularized for compact, small footprints that, while not suggested yet, might be semi or fully portable. That would seize a lot of attention where land for food production isn’t practical making new income earning a fresh possibility. _NewEnergyandFuel
RTP would not only provide scalable baseload electric power, it would also convert bulky biomass into a denser form of energy that could be more economically shipped or piped to a more central thermochemical processing plant for conversion to transportation fuels or other valuable chemicals.

RTP fits well with the concept of local and regional power generation and fuels production. It is an economically empowering technology for rural areas that may have few other commercial industries or opportunities.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Blockbuster Breakthrough in Algae Oil!

Image Source
Brian Westenhaus presents news of a potentially huge breakthrough in biofuels, reducing the cost of the critical step of harvesting and de-watering to under $0.20 per gallon of oil !
Ross Youngs, CEO of Univenture, the parent corporation of AlgaeVenture Systems said, “For nearly 40 years, it has been widely accepted that if the cost of removing, harvesting and dewatering algae could be reduced to $50 a ton, algae could become a significant source of fuel. Today we have demonstrated a truly disruptive technology that reduces that cost by more than 99 percent – from $875 per ton to $1.92 per ton. We believe that this breakthrough moves algae back into the spotlight as an economically viable, plentiful source of fuel in the future.”

If this works, scales up and is low cost to buy and install, “disruptive” might be a vast understatement. As the following chart form AlgaeVentures shows, and its loaded to their favor but not by far, the cost to gather, separate out the water and dry down algae so the oil can be harvested is a huge capital and ongoing expense. _NewEnergyandFuel
We are talking cheap fuels, cheap chemicals, cheap animal feed, cheap wastewater treatment, and cheap CO2 recycling.

If you combine the technique to produce 100,000 gallons of algae oil per acre with this cheap technique of pre-processing algae for oil extraction, you might begin to boot peak oil doomers back to the asylums where they rightly belong.

Taken from a post at Al Fin

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Coal to Liquids: A Very Good Idea

Coal to liquids, or CTL, is an idea that goes back to the 1800s. Coal gas -- or syngas -- was widely used to power street lamps before electricity and natural gas came into wide use. And it is only a few short catalytic steps from syngas to liquid fuel, courtesy of Mssrs Fischer and Tropsch.

Along with biomass to liquid (BTL), CTL promises to provide a price ceiling for liquid hydrocarbons that will infuriate the oil tyrants of Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and the Arab muslim oil tyrannies. Who else doesn't like CTL? The dieoff.org faux environmental movement -- the anti human elitists such as Gore, Romm, Holdren, Ehrlich, Pianka, Green Pieces and the rest. Those idiots want to starve the Earth of energy so as to get the planet's population below 100 million persons. They are assuming that they will be among the 100 million. Bad assumption.

But about CTL:
One key advantage of gasification is that, in addition to generating power, the intermediate product -- synthesis gas, or syngas -- can be used to produce power, liquid fuels or valuable chemicals. This allows this type of power plant to "diversify" its product line and supply high-value peak power and switch to synfuels or chemical production when power demand is low. Perhaps this type of plant would be a useful complement when power from renewables is interrupted.

Additionally, the reactor produces about 75% diesel fuel, which trades at a premium due to its higher energy content. The coal-to-liquids (CTL) process is well established with Sasol (ticker: SSL) in South Africa, where it is responsible for 30% of that country's liquid fuel supply; hence we feel the technology will survive the downturn in the economy. We feel this tried-and-tested alternative source of fuels is a reliable backstop, should the early promise of some of the newer energy sources not be delivered.

Economies of scale in CTL have required large, expensive plants. Sasol has focused on plants capable of producing 50,000 barrels per day of product, which are expensive and, after the credit crisis, difficult to finance. However, Rentech (RTK) is looking at much smaller biomass-to-liquids projects which could be economic on smaller scale, assuming financial support for new environmentally friendly technologies. _Barrons
The Obama administration is infested with dieoff.org elitists who want to choke the world's population down via energy starvation -- beginning with the US and Europe and going on from there. They are so stupid, that they don't understand that once the US and Europe are gone, none of the rest of the world believes in the fantasy global warming catastrophe religion. So all their work will be for nothing, as the rest of the world simply fires up their coal, oil, gas, peat, shale, bitumen, or whatever other fuel may be handy to stave off the cold and cook their food.

The Clown President Obama (and his corrupt retinue) is fixated on carbon dioxide -- a harmless plant food. In order to reduce the levels of CO2, Obama's minions are willing to go to any lengths including driving the US into a depression beyond recovery, at least for generations. They are committed to what they see as a righteous cause, but which is actually a fool's delusion.

But they won, they won. The zombies elected a leader and expect the world to change as a result. And it will. But not in a good way.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Energy Links

Paradox: Oil prices have risen lately, while demand for oil has declined

Research into using frozen methane clathrates continues

Interesting hybrid power plant for automobile combines fuel cell and internal combustion engine

Biotechnologists continue developing better biofuel producing microbes

Obama's assault against the US economy will make it much harder for all sectors -- including bioenergy and biotech -- to recover from the downturn. Unfortunately, a lot of people have not picked up on the president's essential vacuity -- which means that a lot of people continue to pay attention to what Obama says, rather than to the far more important things that he does (or fails to do).


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Large Scale Wind Power Is a Nightmare! How to Manage the Green Disaster

Wind energy is fine for small, off-grid applications or for small grid - intertie. But on a large scale, wind power is an unpredictable whipsaw of a disaster -- almost impossible for a power utility to manage.
"It's a war zone, trying to keep the lights on," said Philip LeGoy, senior consultant, Electricity Supply Board International (ESB), in Dublin, Ireland. "We are reacting out of panic. I feel like a member of a platoon, not an engineering group."

Speaking at the Renewable Energy World Conference & Expo. held March 10 to 12 in Las Vegas, Nev., LeGoy was not talking about a battle with guns and explosives. He was explaining how difficult it is to balance the Irish grid now that wind power generates 25 percent of its power. The wind availability in Ireland is typically around 30 percent, while traditional thermal plant has generation availability of about 85 percent.

Peak demand on the island of Ireland is about 6.5 GW. The system itself is practically an isolated island, with just a small 400 MW interconnector between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Before 2000, there was practically no wind generation. Today, more than 800 MW of wind is connected to the system with variability that runs from practically zero to more than 700 MW—and the government has set targets of 3,000 MW of wind generation and 500 MW of ocean energy generation by 2020.

"It's a shock to the grid," said LeGoy, "and what Ireland is going through is a good example of what's to come for others." _PowerEngineering
One possible solution for both wind and solar energy on the utility scale, is the use of a new technology called reversible fuel cells. When the wind or solar arrays are producing excess power, the reversible fuel cell will be in electrolyser mode: producing hydrogen. When the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, the fuel cells will switch to fuel cell power generation mode. As a load leveling method for wind and solar, such reversible fuel cells -- if scalable -- hold the potential to open these technologies up to the larger world. Without such utility scale regenerative power storage systems, large wind and solar will remain overpriced disasters.

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The Quest for Bioenergy Enzymes: Novozymes

Danish company Novozymes is investing $200 million in a Nebraska enzyme plant. That is a significant investment for the company -- particularly in an economic downturn. But the best way to be ready for higher prices for a commodity like oil is to be first in line with an economical substitute.
...Novozymes is the world's biggest enzyme maker, and its products account for about 60 percent of the market in the biofuel industry.

Enzymes are strings of protein that can serve as catalysts in many natural and manmade processes. Those include breaking down starch in corn - a vital step in ethanol production.

Novozymes is also a player in the emerging cellulosic ethanol business, and it is working with the nation's largest ethanol company, Poet LLC, on a pilot cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, that is expected to begin operating in 2011.

Cellulose is the woody material in branches and stems that makes plants hard, and the ethanol industry is developing ways to produce fuel from cellulose economically. Once the costs of cellulosic ethanol are similar to corn-based ethanol, companies will be able to produce ethanol from straw, corn stalks, wood pulp and other inedible agricultural leftovers.

Hansen said Novozymes has 150 researchers working to improve the enzymes it produces to break down cellulose and reduce their cost. Novozymes has reduced the cost of cellulosic ethanol enzymes to about $1 per gallon, and the company expects to cut that cost to about 50 cents per gallon next year.

Hansen predicted the technology will be ready to produce cellulosic ethanol by the end of 2010... _Bioeneryg
Enzymes can turn cellulose into more than just ethanol. But since the US government is currently backing ethanol as a gasoline additive, it makes sense to invest in EtOH -- for a start. Long term, butanol and other fuels and valuable chemicals makes more sense.

What is the advantage of the enzyme approach over the gasification / pyrolysis / torrefaction approach? Potentially higher efficiencies and profits. It is always about efficiency and profit.

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Gang of 15 Fungal Cellulases Open the Bio-Gate

The bio-gateway to abundant energy and wealth was just opened a crack. Cellulose is one of nature's favourite ways of storing solar energy. But human machines and power systems do not run well on cellulose. Naturally, a conversion from cellulose to high density liquid, solid, and gaseous forms of energy storage is vital. But, how to do it? Using clever and efficient enzymes can be a good way, but single enzymes lack the power and versatility to do everything necessary. Hence, the "gang of 15 enzymes" working together.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) led by Frances H. Arnold, the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry at Caltech, and gene-synthesis company DNA2.0 have developed a new group of 15 highly stable fungal enzyme catalysts that efficiently break down cellulose into sugars at high temperatures for conversion into a variety of renewable fuels and chemicals.

Previously, fewer than 10 such fungal cellobiohydrolase II (CBH II) enzymes were known. In addition to their remarkable stabilities, Arnold’s enzymes degrade cellulose over a wide range of conditions. A paper on the work was published 23 March in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is a really nice demonstration of the power of synthetic biology. You can rapidly generate novel, interesting biological materials in the laboratory, and you don’t have to rely on what you find in nature. We just emailed DNA2.0 sequences based on what we pulled out of a database and our recombination design, and they synthesized the DNA. We never had to go to any organism to get them. We never touched a fungus.
—Dr. Frances Arnold

...Arnold and Caltech postdoctoral scholar Pete Heinzelman created the 15 new enzymes using a process called structure-guided recombination. Using a computer program to design where the genes recombine, the Caltech researchers mated the sequences of three known fungal cellulases to make more than 6,000 progeny sequences that were different from any of the parents, yet encoded proteins with the same structure and cellulose-degradation ability.

By analyzing the enzymes encoded by a small subset of those sequences, the Caltech and DNA2.0 researchers were able to predict which of the more than 6,000 possible new enzymes would be the most stable, especially under higher temperatures (a characteristic called thermostability). _GCC
Very clever. And this is just the beginning.

We are living in a biological world. When we start working with biology to get more of the things we want, we can begin building a veritable cornucopia of riches.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

To US BioEnergy, Humans Must Be Smarter

The Earth has the biological potential to produce far more energy than humans can ever use, as well as far more food than humans could ever eat. But humans need to be smarter to utilise bioenergy. Right now the most efficient forms of energy are coal, oil, and gas. We need to change that to make bioenergy the most efficient, along with solar and enhanced geothermal.
An unbiased 2008 market analysis by the University of Georgia's Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development estimates that there may be more than 13 million tons of biomass in Georgia that could be converted to electricity each year. If the entire mass were used, the center estimates it would meet 8.6 percent of the state's annual electricity consumption.

...When the industry takes off, Bransby says, "This technology will beat petroleum down to $12 a barrel." _Bioenergy
The bioenergy revolution is just beginning. Given the destructive effect that government generally exerts upon the productive economy, I expect to see a great deal of "energy bootlegging" taking place across large parts of the US and the world. That is, bioenergy production in spite of government rather than because of government. Gasification (IGCC with CHP), pyrolysis, torrefaction, pelletisation, co-firing with coal, liquid fuels, cellulosic electricity, etc. Forget CO2 sequestration! -- energy is the thing. A biological planet can take all the CO2 that humans can produce and much more.

In the US, basic lighting takes up 20% of electrical output. Breakthroughs in new energy efficient lighting can cut that load by over half.

While perfecting improvements in bioenergy, solar, geothermal, electrical storage, and electrical efficiency and conversion, we will need all the oil, gas, coal, oil shale, oil sands, and nuclear energy we have. Interestingly, nanotechnology offers several ways to meet our energy needs. Here is one -- processing nuclear fuels.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Direct Carbon Fuel Cells More Efficient Use For Waste Biomass?

Current productive uses for waste biomass include gasification for power generation and liquid fuels, co-firing with coal for power generation, or fermentation to bio-gas for power generation. Now scientists at the University of St. Andrews in the UK are claiming that using waste biomass in direct carbon fuel cells (DCFCs) will yield twice as much power per tonne of waste. Specifically, they have tested waste medium density fibreboard (MDF) from furniture manufacturers.
Irvine's team first treat shredded MDF with 500 ºC heat in a nitrogen atmosphere to drive off water and volatile gases. This is a cost-effective process that leaves the material in an energy-dense and lighter form that is easier to move to where it's needed, says Irvine.

The treated MDF is then powdered and mixed with lithium and potassium carbonates, which are the electrolytes in the fuel cell. At temperatures between 500 and 800 ºC, these act as chaperones that encourage the carbon in the MDF to combine with the oxygen flowing into the cell to produce carbon dioxide and free up the electrons that provide electrical current.

The finished cell has a power density of around 100 milliwatts per square centimetre at a current density of 200 milliamps per square centimetre, meaning a square cell 10 centimetres on each side could generate 2 volts at a current of 20 amps. This is comparable to other prototype direct carbon fuel cells that could one day be used in large-scale power generation.

Identifying new feedstocks to power DCFCs is vital for the technology's success, says Dian-Xue Cao at Harbin Engineering University in China, who welcomes the team's studies into unconventional energy sources. _NS
Other waste biomass such as agricultural and forestry waste could be similarly treated for use in DCFCs. If electricity is the primary desired product, the overall efficiency of direct carbon fuel cells may well be greater than using biomass gasification, torrefaction with co-firing, or pyrolysis plus gasification.

Of course if you want both power and process heat, nothing beats IGCC plus CHP at this time. Specific applications will supply unique constraints.

Overall, the principle of matching local and regional feedstocks with local and regional needs and technologies makes the most sense -- just as smart builders tend to look for local materials that suit the regional climate and specific demands of the plant.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Better Batteries Needed

Battery systems that fit in cars don't hold enough energy for driving distances, yet take hours to recharge and don't give much power for acceleration. Renewable sources like solar and wind deliver significant power only part time, but devices to store their energy are expensive and too inefficient to deliver enough power for surge demand.

...Electrical energy storage devices fall into three categories. Batteries, particularly lithium ion, store large amounts of energy but cannot provide high power or fast recharge. Electrochemical capacitors (ECCs), also relying on electrochemical phenomena, offer higher power at the price of relatively lower energy density. In contrast, electrostatic capacitors (ESCs) operate by purely physical means, storing charge on the surfaces of two conductors. This makes them capable of high power and fast recharge, but at the price of lower energy density. _Source

The molten electrode battery pictured above may change the rules of the game. They should be scalable, and when ganged together may offer utility scale storage -- which is badly needed.Nanocapacitor arrays developed at the University of Maryland offer another alternative for electronics devices.
From the Universities of Miami, Tokyo, and Tuhoku, comes the completely new concept for energy storage pictured above. It derives voltages from large numbers of spinning nano-magnets.

And then there is the MIT developed electrode for the lithium ion battery that allows much more rapid charge and discharge speeds.

The need for better batteries ranges from the small -- cellphones -- to the medium -- electric cars -- to the very large -- utility scale storage. For merely large scale power storage -- apartment complexes, hospitals, commercial buildings -- the need is also significant.

No single technology will suit all needs. But the race is on, and the stakes are high.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nice 100 KW Solar + Modular Gas Turbine Plant

This is a very cool, very practical, very scalable, and very baseload approach to solar power. Israeli firm Aora has taken Al Fin's advice and built a gas turbine solar thermal plant with the ability to run off of either solar heat or combustible gas. This allows the plant to run night and day as necessary. At 100 KW it takes up very little space, and is modular, thus scalable.
Both PV and regular solar thermal power need vast tracts of land to accommodate all the mirrors or heliostats they require. Aora's new model requires just half an acre of land to produce 100 KW, enough to power 50 homes. By solar standards, that's not a great deal of electricity. Yet there are several advantages to Aora's system, COO Yuval Susskind told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition at the beginning of February.

"Aora's model has four advantages. It's modular, it's hybrid, it can run on alternative fuels and it offers all of those options in one base package," he explained. What's the secret behind the new technology? Pairing a proprietary solar concentrator with a micro-gas turbine instead of a steam turbine. Conventional solar thermal power, such as that produced by Brightsource/Luz II or Soleil, relies on heated water turning into steam which is then used to power a turbine. However, steam turbines are only efficient when producing many megawatts (MW), which also requires a great deal of land. Aora uses a micro-gas turbine which is effective at less than one MW and requires far fewer heliostats (30) to produce 100 KWs.

"A small, modular base unit which doesn't take up very much space means that you can plug it straight into the nearest electricity line. You don't need to run new lines or install new components to handle the flow. In addition, you can link several units together around a village, say, to produce enough power," the South African-raised Susskind said. Each base unit is comprised of one 30 meter high tower housing the concentrator, micro-gas turbine and 30 heliostats. _JerusalemPost
There are a lot of things to like about this design, not least of which is the ability to gang the units on widely separated lots. That aspect allows for much greater flexibility in land use planning for solar power plants.

While Al Fin prefers combined cycle power plant designs, he will settle for a gas turbine that can run on multiple fuels, including sunlight.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

High Flow Battery Allows Quick In and Quick Out Flow of Electrons via Bypass Channels

MIT's Gerbrand Ceder has developed a new electrode for Lithium Ion batteries that should allow very rapid charging for cell phones and automotive batteries, for example, and very rapid discharging for laser weapons and race cars.
This level of power output would put these batteries on par with ultracapacitors, gadgets that can rapidly discharge power but can't carry much energy for their size, says John Miller, a vice president for systems and applications at Maxwell Technologies, a manufacturer of ultracapacitors, who wasn't involved in the research. The new batteries would store nearly 10 times as much energy as an ultracapacitor of the same size. The combination of small size and extreme power could make the batteries particularly useful for race cars, he says. (Starting this year, new Formula One racing rules will allow race cars to store energy from braking to deliver very brief jolts of acceleration.)

To improve the batteries, the researchers modified an electrode material called lithium iron phosphate to allow electrons and ions to move in and out of it much more quickly. The advance is based on computer models that Ceder developed in 2004. The models suggested a way to improve conductivity by directing lithium ions toward particular faces of crystals within the material.

To exploit this, Ceder included extra lithium and phosphorus. This helps form a layer of lithium diphosphate, a material known for its high lithium-ion conductivity. He says that ions encountering the material are quickly shuttled to faces that can pull them in, allowing for very fast discharging.

The fast-discharging materials may also recharge quickly, raising the possibility of cell phones that charge in seconds, Ceder says, but this would require expensive chargers. Ric Fulop, vice president of business development at A123 Systems, a battery maker based in Watertown, MA, that has licensed Ceder's new material, says that it could be useful for hybrids or for delivering the power needed for laser weapons. (Fulop notes that A123 is not developing batteries for the latter application.) _TechReview
Very interesting, if it pans out anywhere close to the numbers given in the article above. The new battery would provide much greater power density -- surge current -- but perhaps not significantly more energy density -- total energy storage.

In other words, this development will prove useful for many applications, but it does not seem to be the magic breakthrough that suddenly makes all-electric cars feasible for the masses. Of course, one cannot reliably predict when a breakthrough will happen. If a scientist five years from now discovers a battery that provides ten times the energy density of the best competing batteries, at one tenth the cost, Al Fin's predictions about the future of all-electric cars might have to be modified.

What is needed, is a fast-charging, high energy capacity, compact, lightweight, flexible, inexpensive storage battery, and we need it yesterday. In the real world, we work with what we have. Fast charging batteries for cars will make distributed charging stations far more practical, extending the effective range of electric vehicles. What we want, is batteries that can take you 1,000 miles between quick, cheap charges.

We will have to wait for that, but just knowing that scientists such as Ceder are working on the problem makes me feel better, somehow.


Gasification Power Plants Suit Campus Size

More Universities and other campuses are discovering that biomass gasification can be a good fit for the energy and heating needs of a campus - sized operation.
At the University of Minnesota, Morris, a new biomass gasification facility is being tested that will use corn stover and other local agricultural waste to replace as much as 80 percent of the campus’s heating and cooling needs now generated by fossil fuels, mainly natural gas.

“We can find enough biomass within 20 miles to easily supply our needs,” says Joel Tallaksen, the biomass project coordinator at Minnesota-Morris. “In our area there’s just not enough wood” to burn wood chips or pellets, he says. But there is a plentiful supply of corn stalks, wheat straw, and soybean residue. The university will need about 4,000 to 5,000 acres of material per year, and the surrounding county has about 150,000 acres of corn crop alone, he says.

...The wood-gasification process differs somewhat from the workings of a wood or wood-pellet stove. The chips are delivered by conveyor belt to a giant box, where they are “roasted,” driving off combustible gases. The gases are sent into another combustion chamber, where they are burned at temperatures up to 2,000 degrees F.

The college’s administration and governing board were very receptive to the idea of building a renewable-energy heating plant, says Tom McGinn, project manager at Middlebury, and liked the idea of cutting the need for imported oil. By using local wood, he says, you don’t end up with oil from Venezuela or the Middle East, but with fuel from some local “guy with a chain saw.” _Source
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory campus is also in the process of building a biomass gasification plant to provide power for the facility. In Iraq, portable gasification facilities on US military bases provide power while eliminating the steady flow of garbage and waste from the base.

Gasification plants can be built to power anything from a small farm or ranch up to a large industrial plant, or municipality, and anything in between. As the method picks up steam, the economies of scale will improve from the feedstock end to the power and heat distribution ends.

Canada has a head start in many areas of the gasification supply chain and technology structures. The US, unfortunately, is stuck in a political quagmire of carbon hysteria and denial of impending demand and importance of electrical power and liquid fuels. Reality will be a harsh taskmaster for the ignorant and incompetent Luddites who currently control the US government.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mobile Wood Torrefiers for Carolina Bio - Coal

North Carolina doesn't have significant coal deposits. But it does have large amounts of forest, with massive concomitant wood waste. This wood waste can be converted into "Bio-coal" using mobile wood torrefiers that can be transported to processing points within the forest itself. Torrefied wood weighs only 1/3 the full weight of wood waste, but still contains 80% of the energy. This densification of biomass energy allows for less expensive transport to coal-firing power plants, where the torrefied wood can be co-fired along with coal to provide vital electric power and heat energies.
Woodchips are abundant in North Carolina while coal is all imported from other states. More importantly, woodchips are a carbon neutral source of energy. For a state that spends more than $4 billion a year importing coal, use of torrefied wood could result in an economic windfall.

Hopkins explains that nearly half of the state's forests are not adequately thinned because landowners lack a market for small diameter trees, rotten or unusable trees and logging residue. That land could be producing more valuable wood products if it was managed more effectively, he says.

If woodchips were collected and sold to help fire North Carolina's energy generating plants, the state's tax base could be increased by nearly $400 million a year, Hopkins estimates. Since the torrefier machine is small enough to transport, it could be set up close to forest-clearing operations, making the process even more efficient. _NCSUNews
The same economics applies to any region that contains appreciable forest area. Massive quantities of wood ends up rotting in forests around the world, releasing large amounts of carbon without providing any useful service. By densifying and transporting waste biomass to power plants -- preferably IGCC plants with CHP -- the inevitable release of carbon will be accompanied by significant productive use, and displacement of the use of more polluting coal.

Serious-minded persons understand that modern humans must use fossil fuels in order to bridge into a more sustainable energy future. But the sooner we can begin shifting the burden onto biomass and other renewables, the sooner our energy future can be placed on a firmer foundation.

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Jatropha Aims to be King of Biodiesel

The future of biodiesel may belong to algae, but the present belongs to palm oil. Palm has the highest yield for all oilseeds, but unfortunately palm requires intensive cultivation and leads to the destruction of rainforest habitat.

Jatropha is a shrub native to Central America that grows in dry harsh conditions, and requires very little cultivation. It thrives across the entire tropical swath of the planet, requiring only generally warm conditions to prosper. The Mexican government is beginning to promote jatropha for small farmers, perhaps hoping to eventually balance shortfalls in petroleum production with growth in bio-"crude".
Now it turns out the weed, jatropha, could be used to fuel jet planes and the Mexican government wants farmers to grow entire fields of it to turn into biodiesel.

Known locally as "pinon," jatropha is a hearty shrub that grows with no special care. Its oil-rich seeds are being eyed as an attractive feed stock for biofuel since the poisonous plant does not compete with food crops.

...Jatropha is native to Mexico and Central America but was likely transported to India and Africa in the 1500s by Portuguese sailors convinced it had medicinal uses.

Now India is planting the bush en masse, converting it into a green energy source used to power trains and buses with less pollution than crude oil. Mexico hopes to follow suit.

President Felipe Calderon signed an agreement with the president of Colombia in January to build a 14.5 million peso ($936,000) experimental biodiesel plant in southern Mexico with a production capacity of 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of biofuel a day.

Mexico passed a law last year to push developing biofuels that don't threaten food security and the agriculture ministry has since identified some 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land with a high potential to produce jatropha. _Bioenergy
Both jatropha and pongamia have a lot of potential to replace palm oil, thereby saving a large portion of rainforest habitat. Eventually desert-grown algae may well replace the oilseed plants for biofuel production. That will take at least 30 years. In the meantime, jatropha is a very good bet for the tropics.


All Electric Cars? Not a Good Bet

Electric storage batteries cannot store enough energy to transport an electric powered automobile very far. This is a serious drawback, and one of the reasons that some people are predicting that it may be more than 50 years before electric cars are taken seriously by most of the buying public.

Brian Westenhaus takes a look at new competition for EESTOR, the maker of a mysterious hybrid battery : supercapacitor. He discusses a "Reticle Carbon", a new electrode material for ultracapacitors that may give electric cars a big boost. As described by Brian, the technology looks fascinating. They may have to wait for financing, however, in this extreme economic slowdown of 2009.

One California startup plans to boost the range of electric cars by placing charging machines at convenient locations. They call them "vending machines for charging electric cars." An important development for California, where daily commutes can be far and long.

For those wondering, Elon Musk's Tesla electric car is still out there working, planning to make a big splash soon.

Hybrids are a necessary link in the development chain, combining internal combustion engines with electric motors. Here is an interesting look at the hybric car, going back to the 1800s.

Some electric car enthusiasts are promoting a "battery swapping" approach to extending range, but executives at Mercedes are giving that idea a thumbs down. Mercedes is promoting permanent lithium ion batteries with a driving range of just over 100 miles.

The bottom line is that traditional internal combustion engine automobiles are in no immediate danger of being replaced by all-electric cars. So far, hybrids have not lived up to their promise, and are more expensive in both short and long term calculations, when taking into account battery replacement.

Al Fin's prediction? Fuel cells that run on all types of hydrocarbon including ethanol and methanol will begin to replace the ICE within 10 years. The new power plants may very well also incorporate newer, lighter hybrid ultracapacitor : battery storage packs for extended boosting power when passing or accelerating onto a turnpike. Fuel cells are on a rapid developmental trajectory, as are ultracapacitors and batteries. But all electric autos are an impractical solution looking for a cause. Only carbon hysteria delusions underlie the persistent demands for all-electric cars.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Genetic Re-Shuffling For Abundant Energy

Codexis develops novel industrial biocatalysts, including enzymes and microbes, for use in the energy and pharmaceutical industries. The Codexis directed evolution platform (“MolecularBreeding”) uses DNA shuffling to generate a library of novel genes or genomes via recombination of selected starting or parental genes or genomes.

Codexis then screens the encoded library of novel enzymes or strains for those possessing desirable and improved properties and repeats the process until the resulting enzymes or strains meet or exceed the desired efficiency benchmark. _GCC
Royal Dutch Shell is working with Codexis and Iogen Energy Corporation to move beyond mere cellulosic ethanol to cellulosic hydrocarbons such as diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline. New catalysts hold the potential to greatly reduce the energy costs of such processing -- thus improving profitability and viability in tough economic times. More at the link above.

Iowa State University is taking the thermochemical route to cellulosic ethanol, concentrating on a new burner and new catalysts:
The burner....Gasifying biomass releases the fixed nitrogen as ammonia in the generated gases. Improperly burning gases containing ammonia could produce nitrogen oxide emissions. Kong’s goal is to develop a burner that will minimize the emission of such pollutants while maximizing combustion efficiency.

A conventional gas burner now at the Iowa Energy Center’s Biomass Energy Conversion Facility in Nevada will provide baseline data to develop computer models of the burner’s performance. Those models will test new designs that optimize the combustion of producer gas from biomass, and lead to the construction and testing of a prototype.

The catalyst. Victor Lin, a professor of chemistry, director of Iowa State’s Center for Catalysis, director of Chemical and Biological Sciences for the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and founder of Catilin Inc., an Ames-based company that produces catalysts for biodiesel production is leading the development of a new catalyst for ethanol production. Lin says it may be possible to efficiently produce liquid fuel directly from synthesis gas.

The key will be carbon-based nanoparticles just a few billionths of a meter wide. The particles are made from graphite and carry a transition metal that produces a chemical reaction. That reaction converts synthesis gas to ethanol.

Lin said there is an existing chemical catalyst that can convert synthesis gas to ethanol. But that catalyst has a very low yield of ethanol, produces greenhouse gases such as methane, needs heat up to 540 °F (282 ° C) and requires high pressures.

Lin said the new catalyst should work at lower temperatures and pressures while delivering a higher yield of ethanol. _GCC
These are just two of the many dozen well-financed approaches to producing cellulosic fuels. If you add in the efforts to develop biomass fuel cells, biomass gasification (IGCC, CHP) power plants, boost the growth of biomass, and synthesise high value chemicals from biomass, you begin to see that this is not your grandfather's botany or chemistry. To say nothing of DNA shuffling.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

More on Explosive Biomass Energy Report

Brian Westenhaus first pointed to this story last week. Now Green Car Congress is taking a look at this important review of 14 biomass energy technologies (PDF).
The RBAEF involves experts from 12 institutions, and is jointly led by Dartmouth College and the Natural Resources Defense Council and sponsored by the US Department of Energy, the Energy Foundation and the National Commission on Energy Policy.

Professor Lynd, from Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering, and a co-founder of Mascoma Corp., a company commercializing a cellulosic ethanol production process, is co-author of five of the eight papers in the special issue. Three of these papers are open access, including a paper in which Mark Laser and his colleagues carry out the comparative analysis.

...The researchers also found that the mature cellulosic biofuel technologies analysed:


Have the potential to realize efficiencies on par with petroleum-based fuels.

Require modest volumes of process water.

Achieve production costs consistent with gasoline when oil prices are at about $30 a barrel. _GCC
More excerpts and links at the GCC link above.

Remember, the free download of the report will be available only until 31May09.

This report (PDF) is must reading for anyone who wonders where the liquid fuels of the future are going to come from.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Biomass Energy Report Promising

From New Energy and Fuel comes a link to this free download PDF report on comparative efficiencies of 14 biomass bioenergy approaches.

This valuable study provides an excellent starting point for evaluating the important approaches to biomass energy, and it is a free download until May 31, 2009. The report is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the current and near future trends of bioenergy. Excerpt:
...the best performing scenarios involve both biological and thermochemical processing such that the carbohydrate fraction is converted biologically, and the lignin-rich residue converted thermochemically. Th is integrated confi guration enables waste heat from the thermochemical process to
power the biological process, resulting in higher overall process effi ciencies than would otherwise be realized. Standalone thermochemical processing should also not be
dismissed. Although the focus of this study has been on conversion of large-scale cellulosic energy crops, such as switchgrass, thermochemical processing holds a unique advantage in handling carbonaceous feedstocks that cannot be easily converted biologically. Examples include low-carbohydrate materials, such as sewage or slaughterhouse waste, mixed materials like municipal garbage, and exceptionally recalcitrant feedstocks such as certain soft - woods. _Comparative Biomass Bioenergy PDF
This report is full of excellent summary graphics and charts. Anyone navigating the treacherous financial waters of energy investment without understanding the potential of bioenergy, is sailing blind.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Algal Fuel Research and Development Continues

Algae can potentially produce ten times more oil per acre than any of the common oil seed crops such as soy, rape, maize, or sunflower. And it will be able to do that in the desert, using salt water, municipal wastewater, and/or agricultural wastewater as its growth medium. Energy will come from the sun, and fertiliser from CO2 -- sometimes sequestered CO2 pumped directly from fossil fuel power plants.
“Making biodiesel from algae removes the issue of competing land use because the facilities would not be established on land that might otherwise be used to grow food and the algal farm has a very low environmental impact in comparison to crops that are grown for biodiesel,” Dr Beer said.

“Our study also found that the establishment of a 500 hectare algal biodiesel plant in a rural area might create up to 45 jobs and provide opportunities to diversify in the agricultural sector.” _ScienceAlert.au
Local and regional algal biofuels facilities can produce fuels at the local level for local use, and provide employment in the growth, harvesting, extraction, and refining of the oils. Solid high-protein residue can be used as part of an integrated fish farming operation for further employment and local revenues -- as well as food production.
Aurora Biofuels is using a combination of biotechnology and engineering techniques to bring the cost down, said Walsh.

Although it is not genetically modifying algae, it is breeding salt water algae strains optimized for yielding large amounts of oil. It has also developed a method, derived from the waste water treatment industry, for harvesting the algae without having to fully dry it out, a method that is more energy efficient, Walsh said.

The drop in oil prices--now below $50 a barrel--has also made it more difficult for biofuels. Walsh said that the company expects that it can produce a commercially viable product with the price of oil at $50 a barrel and some regulations that put a price on carbon dioxide pollution. _cnet
Lower oil prices have discouraged the more timid investors away from the bioenergy field, but smarter investors understand that when energy prices begin to rise again that it is those who are pre-positioned to take advantage who will be able to grab market share the quickest.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Nanotubes Riding to the Rescue

Nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes are set to replace costly platinum in fuel cell applications.

Carbon nanotubes are also destined to play a strong role in the next generation of supercapacitors and superbatteries.

Nitrogen-doped titania nanotubes are slated to convert large quantities of CO2 captured from fossil fuels power plants into methane and other useful fuels and chemicals.

Carbon, silicon, and titanium nanotubes figure to drive the next generation of photovoltaics and production of hydrogen using solar radiation. More efficient electronics, faster computers with much larger memories, and self-cleaning, bulletproof clothing are other coming applications using nanotubes.

Nanotubes will likely help form scaffolding for human tissue and lab-grown organ replacements, and will play a large role in the coming age of brain-machine interfacing. Nanotubes will probably aid in healing from brain injury and disease, and figure prominently in brain augmentation procedures in the not-too-distant future.

When combined with information technology and biotechnology, nanotechnology will certainly transform our world. Unless the age of zombies brought on by the new US Dear Leader tears it down so much that the vast momentum of current research is depleted, and cannot be re-started. That would be a pity.

Update: Brian Wang highlights the use of carbon nanotubes as "nano-stitching" for sewing layers of advanced composites together in the construction of aircraft skins and other high-tech applications.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Synthetic Fuel Receives Commitment from USAF

The United States Airforce has committed itself to certify its entire fleet of aircraft for synthetic fuels by 2011. It intends to use synthetic jet fuel for at least one half its jet fuel consumption by 2016. Synthetic fuel is made from biomass, oils from plants or animals, and from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.
"We have completely certified the B-52 and B-1" bombers and C-17 cargo planes to fly on synthetic fuel, Strasburg said. In addition, the Air Force has flown F-22 and F-16 fighters, B-2 bombers, KC-135 refueling tankers, C-5 cargo planes and T-38 trainers using a 50-50 mixture of synthetic fuel and standard JP8 military jet fuel.

For testing and certification purposes, the Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center has been buying synthetic fuel from South African synfuel producer Sasol.

Ultimately, though, the Air Force wants domestic sources, Strasburg said. The intent is to boost national security by reducing dependence on imported oil.

...In January, the Air Force began buying fuel from Rentech, a Los Angeles-based synfuel company that claims to have the only working Fischer-Tropsch fuel plant in the United States.

For now, Rentech turns natural gas into jet fuel at a rate of 10 barrels - 420 gallons - a day at a plant in Colorado. But the company plans to build a plant in Mississippi that will eventually produce 30,000 barrels of synfuel a day from coal, petroleum coke and biomass. Rentech also plans to produce jet fuel from purely renewable feedstocks.

Rentech makes synfuel using the Fischer-Tropsch process. That involves heating the feedstock - coal, petroleum coke, wood, corn stalks or other biomass - to about 1600 degrees Fahrenheit until it turns to gas.

Various unwanted products in the gas, such as mercury, sulfur and others, are removed, leaving carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The [carbon monoxide (CO)] and hydrogen are fed into a reactor where a catalyst of iron particles suspended in liquid wax converts them into a form of synthetic fuel called wax.

The synthetic wax is then refined into jet fuel, diesel fuel and similar products using essentially the same process used for turning petroleum into those products. _DefenseNews
Notice that the process depends upon gasification of carbon sources to syngas (H2, CO, etc), then catalytic conversion of syngas to wax, then to jet fuel. The CO2 byproduct can be captured for productive uses such as oil well recovery and algal biofuels production.

Using biomass as the gasification feedstock results in a more "carbon neutral" process, although as the science and technology improve, the production of CO2 will be seen as a valuable by-product.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Molten Fuel Thorium Reactors

The human brain is a pattern recognition engine. And thanks to evolution, humans are made to recognise problems and to find ways to solve them. The prosperity of human society depends upon their ability to creatively and skilfully use energy in large amounts. The summer of 2008 was a clear example of the blow to human economies when energy is priced too high, creating artificial energy scarcity. Unfortunately, the governments of Europe, Australia, and the United States are united in the scheme to make energy permanently scarce. This philosophy is unsustainable -- incompatible with a prosperous human future or any concept of a singularity.

Brian Westenhaus has posted an excellent treatment of the molten fuel thorium reactor, and its many safety features. The video above comes from Brian's article, as are many useful pointers to more information. Go check it out.

Speaking of nuclear energy, be sure and visit Brian Wang's website to learn more about affordable nuclear space launch. If we can live through the age of the Obama zombie, we may just make it to the age of limitless possibilities on the other side.

Cross-posted to Al Fin

Update 6 March 09: Brian Wang has a recent posting on the movement to mass produce liquid fuel thorium reactors that is worth a look

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