Thursday, April 30, 2009

Local and Regional Bio-Energy in Wisconsin

If the payoff and decision-making process stay in the community, locals may rally more support toward community renewable energy products, they said. “It’s not just about natural resources and infrastructure,” Turnquist said. “It’s also about people and communities.”

Opportunities also exist for small-scale projects to partner with larger-scale operations, according to the authors. They cite as an example Xcel Energy’s 2008 proposal to add a biomass-to-energy burner to their existing plant in Ashland, which already uses woody biomass. _Bioenergy
One of the main themes of "Al Fin Energy" blog is the need to build local and regional infrastructures for the full range of bioenergy resources that are available. Each locale has its own climate and soil conditions, and its own distinct local economy. National and international media focus on the global and national scale -- at the expense of the local and regional. Young people can easily grow to adulthood without becoming aware of the unique opportunities existing under their noses.

Wisconsin is one part of North America with an abundance of bioenergy resources.
Wisconsin has almost 15 million tons of potential biomass, the paper states, and if smaller local operations use that feedstock, it could increase energy production opportunities and increase returns for rural communities. It’s not just the scale of biomass potential that makes distributed energy a powerful tool in Wisconsin, but also its diversity, Turnquist said. “The single biggest benefit is that we have the capacity to do it right now,” he said.

Small-scale operations are starting to pop up around the state, according to Radloff, mostly at rural schools. Starting small and building out might be a way to build the biomass-to-energy infrastructure in the state, he added. Some larger projects also are in the works such as Governor Jim Doyle’s order for four university campuses in the state to “come off the grid” and switch to biomass, Radloff said. _Bioenergy


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Peak Oil Loses Credibility

Brian Westenhaus reports some good energy news from the natural gas front. It involves a method of enhancing natural gas wells called "fraccing", or fracturing rock layers to provide better gas access. North America has abundant natural gas resources -- particularly if you include the methane hydrates of the far North.
...oil and gas service businesses have invented a rock fracturing technique for deep below the surface. Called fracing for short, the technique quite simply uses raw power to force water, sand and specialized chemical solvents, binders and lubricants into the wells so they open and fill cracks that can allow the natural gas to flow out.

...[Along] with methane hydrates and new biomass sources, natural gas has a bright future. There is an existing infrastructure for moving gas; a huge installed base of users and it’s the least contentious fossil carbon fuel. Its pretty good stuff, and the cost to use it isn’t threatened by anyone but the U.S. Congress with its Cap and Trade suicide pact.

There are careers here that will last for decades. Of all the fossil carbon sources natural gas is the least risky for U.S. production of fuels. Oil and particularly coal are in danger with grave consequences in store for consumers as the hysteria over global warming from CO2 continues to drive politics, muckraking ands profiteering by its promoters. Even if Congress abandons the common welfare for the perceptions and subversions of special interests, natural gas will be the least affected. _NewEnergyandFuel
Brian Wang also reports some encouraging energy news: a new technique of oil recovery promises 400 billion more barrels of Alberta oil at a cost of $26 per barrel!
ET Energy's Electro Thermal technology could be used to pump out 600 billion barrels of Alberta's oil sands bitumen. That's more than triple the Alberta government's best guess at what's currently recoverable from the oil sands, and enough to satisfy total global demand for twenty years.

Saudi Arabia has 260 billion barrels of oil reserves, so the additional 421 billion barrels would be close to double the oil in Saudi Arabia.
Cross posted to Al Fin

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Smart Biofuels, Jatropha Advances, Electric Minis

Oil company Total is investing in advanced biofuels company Gevo, to develop high value fuel and chemical products from bio-butanol. Gevo acquired the rights to a unique E. Coli based method of producing bio-butanol from glucose in 2007. Since then, Gevo has developed a method for retro-fitting existing commercial ethanol facilities to produce bio-butanol and its higher-value chemical derivatives. Economically, this approach shows much promise.

The non-edible oilseed shrub Jatropha curcas produces excellent quality oil for fuel, with much higher oil yields than soy, rape, or maize. But jatropha only grows in tropical and semi-tropical regions, leaving most of the US out in the cold. But California-based Sirona Fuels has formed a unique partnership to plant jatropha plantations on the impoverished island nation of Haiti. Some of the profits from the venture will help to support orphaned children of Haiti, via a relief fund. The crop will be grown and harvested at the community level, with training and equipment provided by Sirona via the partnership.

Speaking of jatropha, SG Biofuels (San Diego) has opened a genetic resource center to speed the development of high yield jatropha species which are more tolerant to cold, drought, and insect species.

The Illinois Institute of Technology is teaming with Allborg University in Denmark to develop a combination electric battery and supercapacitor drive for small electric vehicles. The battery supplies the bulk of the energy while the supercapacitors provide necessary power boosts for extra exertion. The description of the drive sounds reasonable. It should be easy to add a methanol fuel cell as the project scales up to larger vehicles.

Is oil-from-algae as close as ten years? Here is a brief overview.

The desert rubber plant, guayule, can produce latex, bio-alcohols from bagasse, and protects wood from termites. It grows on hot dry soils, with very little fertiliser.

Don't let anyone tell you there is no such thing as clean coal. The technology is improving all the time, and compared to coal as it is burned in China, virtually all other coal is clean. This big new clean coal plant is a step in the right direction.


Monday, April 27, 2009

I Can Have Rum and Tequila Both? Que Bueno!

“In Queensland the sugar mills run six months of the year,” Professor Ashwath said. “The remaining six months they sit idle, doing nothing.

“If we can grow the agave and supply that to the sugar mills, then we can maximise the use of the existing infrastructure at the same time as we produce alternative products.” _ImpactLab
Sugar cane is a good feedstock for producing bio-ethanol (and rum), but Agave tequilana (source of tequila) may be even better. Agave has the potential to yield 16,000 litres of ethanol per hectare, as compared to only 10,000 litres of ethanol per hectare for cane. Agave also has much lower requirements for water.
Unlike other sources of ethanol, such as corn, agave would not deplete existing food production or push up world food prices, he said.

Professor Ashwath said it would take about three years to prove the concept, but he was confident of its future, depending on fuel price movements. _IL

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pyrolysis Oil to Renewable Diesel in 3 Easy Steps

The BINGO (Biomass INto GasOil) process involves pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass to produce a primary liquid fuel, BioOil, which is then hydroreformed to a Stage 1 gas-oil equivalent liquid fuel that can either be directly utilized in blends with hydrocarbon fuels for industrial stationary power and heating applications or be further upgraded to transportation grade liquid hydrocarbon fuels (gasoline/diesel) in a Stage 2 hydrotreating process. _GCC
Biomass is converted to pyrolysis oil using heat (above 300 C) in the absence of oxygen. Bio-char is a byproduct of the process, which can be used to fertilise weak soils. The problem with pyrolysis oil has been its corrosive nature, and resistance to blending with petroleum for co-firing. Dynamotive has solved both problems with two additional hydro-reforming steps beyond the pyrolysis step.
The first stage of hydro-reforming, carried out at 330 °C and ~1,800 psi (12.4 MPa), of the biooil stabilizes the liquid; renders it miscible with hydrocarbon liquids; causes phase separation of the water in the biooil; lowers its viscosity and corrosivity; and drops the oxygen content from ~50% in the raw biooil to around 10%.

...The two stage process also allows for the opportunity to further upgrade the stage 1 renewable gasoil into diesel and gasoline fuels at a centralized facility or the development of a fully integrated plant if production logistics and economics merit it. This provides for flexibility in development and application.

Given the plant scale, the investment required is comparatively low. Approximately $33 million will deliver a 15-year production capacity of approximately 67 million gallons of renewable transportation grade hydrocarbon fuels.

Dynamotive’s pyrolysis platform is available today, with plants of 130 Mt and 200 Mt per day completed. The upgrading process uses conventional hydrotreatment equipment and process conditions allowing for rapid implementation at pilot and commercial scale. Dynamotive plans to build an upgrading pilot plant later this year. _GCC
Biomass to energy is simply a way of using stored solar energy. The sun provides less than 6 hours of usable energy on average, and practical electrical storage is still many years in the future. Bio-storage of solar energy, with conversion to electricity, liquid fuels, useful heat, etc. provides the missing pieces to the solar energy jig saw puzzle.

Robotic harvesting, drying, and compacting machinery, for compacting and drying agricultural, forestry, and municipal waste biomass, will be an important breakthrough in the scaling up of bioenergy. Pyrolysis is an excellent means for compacting biomass for transport. Mobile robotic pyrolysis systems will feed naturally into the scaling up of biomass to biofuels.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Next Year, Biomass Energy!

“We’re not talking about something that’s going to happen in five years, in 10 years – it’s going to happen next year,” said Joe Skurla, the joint venture’s chief executive officer. _Bioenergy
Skurla is referring to a new partnership between Dupont / Genencor and the University of Tennessee. The venture aims to start bringing energy from biomass to the market in 2010 using switchgrass and non-food plant waste left over from maize.

Another focus for bringing biomass energy to market in 2010 is in the state of Oregon. The Oregon approach uses state tax credits to assist local and regional bioenergy efforts.

South Korea is pursuing a large-scale "bioenergy from forest biomass" project with a twist -- the "forests" involved are forests of seaweed off the Korean coast.
The plan calls for 35 000 hectares of seaweed forest to be created in waters in the east and south coasts and near Jeju Island that can produce up to 1.56bn liters of ethanol per year by 2020...The total is equivalent to 13.7 per cent of the country's predicted gasoline supply in the cited year, which could reach 11.4bn litres. _PowerEngineering
A new biomass gasification plant in Iowa aims to produce ammonia for the fertiliser market.
The process involves a pressurized oxygen-blown biomass gasifier operating in an expanding bed fluidized mode. The company’s patent-pending HarvestGas system gasifies biomass into a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and is optimized to minimize the formation of methane. After the gas stream is cleaned, the carbon monoxide portion is shifted to maximize hydrogen. The hydrogen is purified and catalytically reacted with nitrogen to make ammonia. The plant includes an air separation system to provide oxygen for the gasifier and pure nitrogen for ammonia synthesis. _Biomass
Gasification of biomass can be used to produce a wide array of high-value chemicals. By turning crop stubble into fertiliser to grow more crops, the Iowa project aims at sustainability in food production. Expect more such clever uses of biomass in the future.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spotlight on Origin Oil, Inc. Algal Biofuels

Origin Oil, Inc., aims to achieve breakthroughs in algal growth, harvesting, and separation of oils from biomass. Their scalable growth system is pictured above.The colorgul image above shows Origin's helix bioreactor which allows the uniform penetration of light throughout the algae culture.Origin's "cascading production" system allows continuous harvesting from the bioreactor for continuous oil production.Origin's "Quantum Fracturing" process involves the introduction of tiny pores through the algal membranes, to allow the extraction of oil from the algal biomass. The oils float to the top of solution and the biomass sinks to the bottom, for easy separation.
A dramatic time-lapse video posted today at begins with a batch of algae that has just gone through OriginOil’s process. In less than an hour, the oil, water and biomass separate by gravity alone. Unlike conventional systems, no chemicals or heavy machinery are used in this single-step process, and no initial dewatering is required.

“Throughout the world, algae production is becoming a fact, but it still has to be harvested efficiently,” said Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of OriginOil. “Our breakthrough technology accomplishes key parts of the harvesting process in a single, cost-effective step. We are planning to make our new technology available to our fast-growing industry.” _OriginPressRelease
For algal biofuels to become economical, the problems of efficient growth, harvesting, separation of oils, and refinement to fuels, all must be solved with orders of magnitude improvement in costs. Origin Oil is just one of the companies and labs working on the problem.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Report on Algae Economic Viability

The lines on the graph depict what are called “zero net present value (NPV)” curves. These lines represent what a project would need to achieve in total installed and O&M costs to be economically viable from a commercial market perspective. Based on the economic assumptions shown in the lower right box, projects that can achieve costs on or below these NPV lines will be capable of providing the required returns to the equity and debt providers – which will ultimately be the financing mechanism for funding such projects. _Diversified Energy
Diversified Energy has recently released a report on the economic viability of algal biofuels. The image above is a summary of the findings.
The solid green NPV line may represent a more reasonable case for algae biomass systems focused on biofuels production. In this case it was assumed that the algae being grown contain 25% total lipid content, of which 80% is extractable and of the desired characteristics (i.e., nonpolar lipids) for biofuels production. 25% total lipid content represents a reasonable and substantiated claim for an algae strain that can be grown sustainably, at large scale, in outdoor systems. In this scenario, for every ton of algae produced 400 pounds of oils for biofuels and 1600 pounds of biomass for animal/fish feed would then be available. Assuming $2/gallon for the oils sold out of the algae project, and $0.10/lb for the remaining biomass, this equates to roughly $266/ton for the algae produced. Based on the earlier discussion of O&M costs, one can quickly see that even at $266/ton the economics appear very challenging given the state of the industry today and for the near-term future.

On the other hand, NPV lines such as the solid blue or dashed green line begin to show an entirely different and much ore plausible story for the potential of algae biofuels. The blue line represents achieving almost twice the $/ton sales price of algae biomass discussed previously. How is this possible? Using the same assumptions as earlier, algal oil would have to be sold for prices in excess of $6/gallon – which could be possible should corresponding petroleum prices reach these levels. Alternatively, this could be achieved by focusing on strains and production architectures that extract other, higher-value components from the algae such as nutraceutical products. The dashed green curve represents the same assumptions as the solid green line, but in this case assumes achieving productivity numbers twice that deemed reasonable today (i.e., 50 grams/m2-day).

Quite possibly the eventual answer will be a combination of greater productivities coupled with a focus on co-generation of higher value products from algae. In addition, emphasis needs to be placed on reducing O&M costs across all elements of the algae production value chain. By assessing the viability of algae projects from a true market perspective, it is clearly apparent that total installed costs and O&M costs will be a major hurdle to future commercialization.

Technologies must be developed to reduce costs and increase yields. This can be accomplished only through a focused, comprehensive, and well-funded R&D program. In parallel, the industry should consider business models that not only look at the bioenergy potential of algae through the transportation fuels market, but also consider other higher-value products in order to make the economics achievable. And this is ever so important in the early phases of this promising, yet challenging industry. _Report_via_GCC
In other words, we are not yet close to large scale economical algal oil production. Realistically, it will take 5 years to solve most of the problems of species selection and modification, continuous growth and harvesting technologies, efficient separation methods, the best means of oil to fuel conversion, and the best uses of algal biomass and byproducts.

The report recommends an early emphasis on the production of high value chemicals that can be priced economically, and produced on smaller scales -- as opposed to production of fuels. Fuels are a "depressed market" currently, and there are no current economic methods of scaling up algal production to the levels that are needed, to impact fuel supplies.

Investment toward achieving all the needed breakthroughs in algal biofuels is necessarily slower in a depression than it would be in an economic boom. But the fact that investment and research continues even during the current economic downturn and oil glut, suggests that the breakthroughs to economic algal biofuels will indeed occur.

This story was also coverd at Next Big Future


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Never Bet Against Biology

Microbe matchmakers create "bug buddy" mixed cultures of micro-organisms that turn each others' waste products into fuel.

Synthetic biology can create new types of microbes and microbe communities for biofuel production (instead of "match-making" among existing types of microbes)

New method to screen microbes more quickly for biofuel synthesis potential

New Oregon "waste to biobutanol" initiative (Diesel Brewing)

Promise of economic expansion from intensive enzymatic "cellulosic biomass to ethanol" conversion in China

Compared to the huge expenditures in oil, gas, coal, and nuclear energy, next generation biofuels and bioenergy is still small potatoes. But every multi-billion dollar industry had to start somewhere.

This planet is special for its ability to produce massive amounts of new biomass every year. But biomass is not a zero-sum game. As long as we have enough sunlight and CO2, we can expand our biomass production as much as we want. There is no shortage of land -- microbes and algae can grow in the desert, along the seashore, on seastead floating bioreactors, and on high-rise microbe / algal "farms."

Never bet against biology. It is almost certain to have the last laugh.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Oz Algae Could Supply All Its Diesel Needs

Dr Beer said theoretically all of Australia's diesel supplies could be produced from ponds covering just 10,000 hectares. The study found 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. WeeklyTimes
Less densely populated advanced countries such as Australia, New Zealand, or Canada could quickly and easily supply all of their own diesel needs using algal oils -- once the processes are scaled up. More densely populated areas such as the US and Europe could begin chipping away at their foreign oil requirements fairly quickly. Advances in the growth, harvesting, separation, and refinement of algae to fuels, suggests that Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada could free themselves from the need for petrol diesel in as little as ten years.
The advantage of algae is its superior efficiency in turning CO2 and sunlight into oil. It's up to 100 times more efficient in terms of the land required than crops. Yields of up to 120,000 litres of biodiesel a hectare a year are possible compared to 1000 litres from canola.

......the technology [is] relatively simple, [although] more research was needed, Dr Beer said....The next step was to build a pilot plant to see if the concept was commercial and viable and at what prices.

Like any crop, more work was also needed to identify the best species of algae to use and the conditions required for maximum yield. One challenge was to work out how to prevent other less productive algae taking over a pond, Dr Beer said.

Melbourne biofuel company BioMax is...well advanced in developing an algal biodiesel plant.

BioMax managing director Mile Soda told the 2007 Victorian parliamentary inquiry into biofuels that their process showed great promise and could be used by coal fired power stations as a way to reduce their carbon emissions....Algae plants could be set up next to power stations and injected with large volumes of CO2 and nitrogen, extracted from the flues, he said. _WeeklyTimes
Despite the worldwide economic slowdown, academic and industrial research into the important aspects of algal fuels production is holding its own, if not accelerating. In academia, often research is merely an excuse for obtaining funding. Research into biofuels has gone far beyond the typical academic "running in place" tactic.

Update: Midwest Research Institute is a good example of the ambitious algal research programs that are pushing the envelope. By intensively studying both open and closed loop bio-reactor approaches, MRI is positioning itself to be among the first to break through into the economical high yield production of algal fuels.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

More on the U. of Witswatersrand Breakthrough for Getting More Energy from Coal

"The whole combustion process is very inefficient and when electrical engineers and mechanical engineers talk about inefficiency they are talking about efficiency of the power plant, but actually there are much more inefficiencies in the chemical side of the combustion, which hasn't been looked at properly yet," Glassser indicates.

"Taking coal, and turning it into electricity in a power station is incredibly inefficient. There is a large amount of chemical potential energy in coal, which you lose by burning, and so we are looking at ways of trying to improve that," he adds. _Source
Most journalistic coverage of the development from Witswatersrand has focused upon the lower CO2 emissions involved -- since they are using CO2 plus H2 from a modified gasifier to produce liquid fuels via a modified F-T synthesis. That process removes the CO2 as part of the synthesis. I haven't read the original article in Science yet, so I cannot comment more on the total energy balances involved.
"Our research has enabled us to develop new techniques for analysing how processes work and what causes emissions, and methods to design processes with reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Having understood these, it is relatively simple to eliminate unnecessary emissions and minimise the contributions from other sources," explains Prof. David Glasser, one of the scientists from Wits involved in the research.

He tells Engineering News that, traditionally, chemical engineers have looked at mass and energy to design plants - "we have added a third concept of ‘work' - and ‘work' is essentially the potential energy of the system and how you use it".

He further explains that similar to when you have a big heavy ball at the top of the hill, you can either kick it down and let it run to the bottom, and get no work from it, or alternatively, you could use it to drive a motor as it falls, in which case you get work from the object.

The research has added work to the analysis. "And using that, you suddenly get powerful methods of stating what the potential is for a chemical plant. If you haven't used that potential, you may have lost it forever. In which case, you have got an inefficient plant and the end result of that is that you emit more carbon dioxide".

In an article published in the international journal Science, co-authored by Glasser, Prof. Diane Hildebrandt, Dr Brendon Hausberger and Bilal Patel from the Centre of Material and Process Synthesis at Wits University, and Benjamin Glasser from Rutgers University in the US, an example of the technique highlights process changes that reduce emissions. _engineeringnews
Coal, nuclear, geothermal, solar thermal, space based solar, and biomass / bioenergy. All will be needed to tide us over until we can develop limitless and cheap energy from fusion and other currently unknown physical processes. The more efficient the better, and the cleaner the better. Economics has the final say.

As mentioned previously, Brian Westenhaus has more.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Peak Oil is for Idiots (Global Warming Too)

Methanol is an interesting fuel -- more energy-dense than the densest form of hydrogen, usable in combustion engines, in direct methanol fuel cells, and in "indirect" methanol fuel cells that use steam reforming to produce protons. Methanol can also be used in the production of biodiesel from vegetable oils. Methanol may even become the basis for a methanol economy, as a primary mobile energy source for transportation (instead of petroleum, ethanol, or hydrogen).

So isn't it fascinating that scientists in Singapore have discovered a relatively easy and efficient way of making methanol from CO2?
In the international chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, the IBN researchers report that by using organocatalysts, they activated carbon dioxide in a mild and non-toxic process to produce methanol, a widely used industrial feedstock and clean-burning biofuel...

....The scientists made carbon dioxide react by using N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs), a novel organocatalyst. In contrast to heavy metal catalysts that contain toxic and unstable components, NHCs are stable, even in the presence of oxygen. Hence, the reaction with NHCs and carbon dioxide can take place under mild conditions in dry air.

The IBN scientists showed that only a small amount of NHC is required to induce carbon dioxide activity in a reaction...Hydrosilane, a combination of silica and hydrogen, is added to the NHC-activated carbon dioxide, and the product of this reaction is transformed into methanol by adding water through hydrolysis. _SciLive
You might even call it a CO2 economy, since the methanol will come from CO2. And how idiotic is it to worry about CO2 when it is becoming the very basis of your energy infrastructure? Don't forget that oil-producing algae thrive on very high levels of CO2. And how pathetic is it to worry about "peak oil" when no one will be using oil anyway? When everyone is using bioenergy, enhanced geothermal, space solar, and advanced nuclear energy instead of petrol?

Well, sure, you can make methanol from biomass quite easily as well, via either fermentation or thermochemical methods. Methane, methanol, ethanol, butanol, etc etc etc There is no reason ever to run out. In fact, as the technology improves, supplies will keep growing as long as there is demand.

Peak oil and global warming: two obsessions fit for assholes. The K-Y jelly will cost extra.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bioenergy Still a Hot Topic Despite Plentiful Oil, with Prices Seemingly Stuck on Low Setting

Oil prices remain low compared to the last few years, with oil supplies plentiful into the near term at least. And yet interest in bioenergy continues to heat up. This is a good sign, and indicates that when the next artificial oil shock hits, humans may have an alternative option to the traditional "peak oil death chant."

Brian Westenhaus looks at a promising new method of combining Fischer Tropsch and gasification, which will consume CO2 rather than produce it.

A warning to Obama from Oregon environmental expert

Will straw become the new coal, oil, and gas?

A joint Scots - Irish venture aims to produce energy from seaweed.

Algae to fuel focus of intense interest at the National Renewable Energy Lab

Michigan expects to occupy a fine place at the biofuels table

Biofuels News Roundup from New Energy Focus


Back to 1968 and Orbital Solar Power

Back in 1968 Peter Glaser detailed an ambitious plan for energy independence, using solar power from orbiting photovoltaic arrays. The technology for large-scale solar panel manufacture wasn't ready for anthing that ambitious back then, although heavy space launch infrastructure was in much better shape. Regardless, the idea is being resurrected by a startup company:
Now Solaren Corporation, a startup based in Manhattan Beach, CA, is trying to get the idea off the ground. It's working with the California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which intends to enter into a power-purchase agreement with the company. If the agreement is approved by regulators, starting in 2016, the utility will purchase 200 megawatts of power from Solaren at an undisclosed price--that is, if the startup can get a system into space and working by then. The company has already selected a site in California for the receiving station; it hasn't said exactly where, but it will be close to a PG&E substation and won't require long-distance transmission lines.

Solaren hasn't released many details about the system. CEO Gary Spirnak says that it's conceptually the same as communications satellite technology: it uses solar panels to generate electricity, which gets sent to Earth in the form of radio waves, which are received by antennas on Earth. In a Q & A published by PG&E, he said that the design is "a significant departure from past efforts," so it will be economically feasible. The first system will reportedly be able to generate 1,000 megawatts--about the size of many conventional power plants. The company will need to raise billions of dollars to construct the plant. Right now, it only has 10 employees. _TechReview
More information at Next Big Future, and at New Energy and Fuel


Monday, April 13, 2009

Robots for Agriculture, Forestry, and Bioenergy

The six-legged robotic logger featured in the above video is just the beginning of the infiltration of robots into logging and farming. Maintaining healthy forests and healthy crops is a lot of work. Physically demanding and often menial, these chores are almost perfectly designed for a robot's strengths.
The successful development of [agricultural] robots could potentially bring a two-fold advantage to modern agricultural techniques. Firstly, the specificity with which robots work – the ability to deliver nutrients directly to the plant on an as-need basis – could greatly reduce the amount of resources and money spent on crop maintenance. Second, the ability to harvest specialty crops could significantly lower the amount of time and back-breaking labor associated with picking fruits and vegetables

“Agriculture contributes a lot of damage to the land, the soil, the water and environment,” Rus explained. “So if we can figure out a way of using robots and automation to deliver nutrients to plants – pesticides, fertilizers, water when it’s needed – instead of sort of mass spreading them, then we hope we would have an impact on the environment.” _RedOrbit

This development is inevitable, particularly with the coming of biofuels from agricultural and forestry waste. Robots can be perfectly equipped to gather, compress, and otherwise densify agricultural and forestry waste biomass. After preliminary on-site densification, waste biomass can be economically transported to local and regional pre-processing and processing plants for conversion into various forms of portable energy such as torrefied biomass, pyrolysis oils, syngas, biomass cubes and pellets, etc. Or the compacted biomass may be co-fired with coal to produce electricity.

Eveything depends upon the economical collection and densification of the waste biomass on-site. Robots -- perhaps solar-powered robots -- are potentially perfect for the task.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Nature Has Had Billions of Years to Do Energy

“At this point in time, it really has to be a liquid, and we don’t have the battery power to really bottle solar or other kinds of energy for transportation fuels,” Krauskopf said. “Also, bioenergy is local, as a good alternative to gasoline.” _Bioenergy
Kauskopf makes an excellent point: a rapid transition to sustainable transportation fleets will require liquid biofuels, because liquids fit perfectly into our current infrastructure consisting of trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure. Anyone who has trillions of dollars of spare change lying around who wants to replace present infrastructure in one fell swoop is welcome to do so -- but not welcome to charge high multiples of current prices. Nature has had billions of years to work on the problem.
The researchers are collecting material for the legions of six-legged silent crawlers residing at the Currie lab, leaf-cutter ants the university, state and nation have staked some hope in.

Tucked away in a sealed room off the main lab, the ants live in more than a dozen plastic boxes, stacked neatly on the shelves.

University of Wisconsin researcher Cameron Currie and his colleagues have been studying them all year, trying to understand their system of natural farming, whereby they cultivate fungus to eat, grown on the infamous leaf shreds they harvest.

Currie and others hope these tiny bugs and their fungus will help unlock answers to fight a major challenge for the United States: energy.

...“The ants have been doing bioenergy for tens of millions of years, and so we’re studying the system to understand the breakdown of plant biomass in natural systems,” Currie said.

While scientists have long known how to make ethanol from other kinds of plant matter, the process is long and inefficient. That’s where the ants march in.

“They’ve evolved to be very efficient in many different aspects of their biology, and so it’s very likely that they’ve also evolved to be more efficient in breaking down cellulose, so that’s what we’re studying,” Currie said.
In fact, scientists are looking everywhere in nature from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains -- and in the atmosphere -- to find any possible energy secrets that nature may be trying to hide. From specially evolved species of microbes, to growth-boosting plant hormones, to highly efficient enzymes -- nature has evolved countless ways of solving energy problems.

Humans are still fairly new at conscious energy biomimetics, but with the explosion of knowledge in biotech, nanotech, microelectronics, and information / communications tech, it seems as if a widely coordinated reconnaissance of natural bioenergy schemes should provide a large payoff. Humans need to copy the ants' persistence and patience, combined with higher level cognitive ingenuity and insight.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Nuclear Energy Update

In the U.S. market, the appetite for electricity continues to soar. And that’s just here. While electricity demand will “only” increase by 50% in the United States between now and 2030, demand will increase 400% in China and six-fold in India.

Overall, across the planet, electricity consumption is expected to double by 2030, increasing by 17 trillion kilowatt hours. _NukesComingBack
Nuclear fission is one of the best "bridge" energy technologies that can connect a modern world to its more sustainable clean energy future. The US, China, Russia, India, MENA (Middle East, North Africa), and many other nations are counting on nuclear fission to help carry them through to plentiful advanced solar, bioenergy, geothermal, and nuclear fusion energy.
...just maintaining nuclear energy’s current 20% share of generation would require building three reactors every two years - starting in 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy has said.

...China and South Africa are working on so-called “pebble-bed reactors,” one version of which is filled with 100,000 billiard-ball-sized spheres of coated uranium that are cooled by helium. That eliminates the need for enormous pressurized water-cooling systems and million-dollar containment domes, making them virtually meltdown-proof. _NuclearEnergyComeback
In MENA, Algeria, Iran, and Egypt want to go full speed ahead for nuclear power. Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other oil rich countries have also expressed interest in fission power.
ALGERIA: -- Algeria aims to build its first commercial nuclear power station by around 2020 and to build another every five years after that, energy minister Chakib Khelil said in February.

* EGYPT: -- Egypt said in October 2007 it would build several civilian nuclear power stations to meet its growing energy needs.

-- In December 2008 Egypt chose Bechtel Power Corp as contractor to design and consult on the country's first nuclear power plant. Bechtel offered to do the work for around 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($180 million) over a 10-year period, it said.

* IRAN: -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated its first nuclear fuel production plant on Thursday. He said the plant would produce fuel for Iran's Arak heavy water reactor.-- Iran plans to start up its first atomic power plant in mid-2009... _Reuters
Some analysts have expressed concern as to whether the world will have enough uranium supplies to support a strong world-wide upsurge in nuclear power. Scientist at California's National Ignition Facility say, "not to worry."
...scientists at the NIF have a crafty solution. Rather than creating a pure fusion reaction, they plan to combine their technology with a traditional nuclear fission reactor, which would require the laser to fire at a far lower frequency.

"Using the laser to trigger nuclear fusion and drive a fission reaction means we can deliver the benefits of fusion to the utility companies far sooner," says Ed Moses, director of the NIF. "We will be getting energy from both the fission reaction and the fusion reaction, so for each kilo of fuel used in a traditional fission reaction, we will get about 20 times more energy." _BrisbaneTimes
In this way, the NIF will be able to utilise "nuclear waste" as a valuable fuel, thus killing two radioactive birds with one NIF-ing stone. Another popular proposed solution to the "shortage of uranium" is the usage of Thorium in molten fuel thorium cycle reactors. Update: Via Brian Westenhaus, a story in Scitizen provides a relatively mainstream view of the prospects for Thorium Energy. But at least it illustrates that the mainstream is looking into the possiblity.

I suspect that nuclear energy will become one of the foremost sources of energy for this century. It will take almost the entire century to perfect orbital solar power, enhanced geothermal, and nuclear fusion energy. So rather than trying to fight new energy, a more intelligent, wise, and sane approach would be to help make sure the energy is safe and abundant.

But then, sanity and wisdom are not generally on display among contemporary Obama zombie environmentalists and dieoff.orgiasts. Some amount of conflict does appear inevitable.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Tiny Milking Machines Harvest Oil From Algae

Scientists at Ames Lab and Iowa State University have invented tiny "nano-milkers" that extract the oil from algae without harming the microbes. Presumably the algae live to be milked again and again, in a process that may help reduce the cost of biofuel production from agal oil.
The so-called "nanofarming" technology uses sponge-like mesoporous nanoparticles to extract oil from the algae. The process doesn't harm the algae like other methods being developed, which helps reduce both production costs and the production cycle. Once the algal oil is extracted, a separate and proven solid catalyst from Catilin will be used to produce ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and EN certified biodiesel.

The potential of algae for fuel is tremendous as up to 10,000 gallons of oil may be produced on a single acre of land. The DOE estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require only 15,000 square miles, which is a few thousand square miles larger than Maryland. This is less than one-seventh the area devoted to corn production in the United States in 2000. _GenNews
15,000 square miles is 1 1/2 times the area of San Bernardino County in California. In other words, since algae will grow in the desert using wastewater as a growth medium, efficient use of algal biofuels could free up virtually all farmland in the US for other purposes such as growing food.

The best oil seed crops are tropical in nature, putting the US at a disadvantage. But algae is potentially better than any oilseed -- including tropical oilseeds such as Palm and Jatropha. As soon as the technologies of efficient growth, harvest, oil separation, and fuel processing of algae are "perfected" (or made just good enough), the US will be in a position to out-produce virtually any country in the world, in terms of fuels.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Duckweed: 6 Times More Starch Than Maize

A tiny aquatic plant named "duckweed" can produce more than 6 tames the starch per acre as maize! That should shift the economics of bio-ethanol just a tad.
Researchers at North Carolina State University have found that a tiny aquatic plant can be used to clean up animal waste at industrial hog farms and potentially be part of the answer for the global energy crisis. Their research shows that growing duckweed on hog wastewater can produce five to six times more starch per acre than corn, according to researcher Dr. Jay Cheng. This means that ethanol production using duckweed could be "faster and cheaper than from corn," says fellow researcher Dr. Anne-Marie Stomp.

"We can kill two birds - biofuel production and wastewater treatment - with one stone - duckweed," Cheng says. Starch from duckweed can be readily converted into ethanol using the same facilities currently used for corn, Cheng adds. _PO
And honestly, the pigs don't mind at all! In the quest for bioenergy, there is no more patriotic animal than the pig.

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Recovering Waste Heat

One of the largest opportunities for improving energy efficiency is the recovery of waste heat for productive use and transduction to other useful forms of energy. The key is to match the recovery method with the application.
Key to making heat recuperation viable is understanding the nature of the energy involved. The temperature distribution of waste heat depends largely on the type of industry. For example, 95% of the waste heat in the electric power industry has a temperature below 150 Celsius...In contrast, 45% of the waste heat in the chemical industry can be up to 50 Celsius above this.

Plant operators usually look at thermal energy in terms of simple enthalpy - the heat content - and conclude that capturing heat of low temperature is not viable for powering other processes....Zhang and Akiyama, however, suggest that exergy - the ability of the waste heat to do useful work - should also be taken into consideration when planning an energy-saving strategy from the viewpoint of quality of energy.

They point out that high-temperature waste heat, with an adequately large exergy value exists in many manufacturing industries. For example, slag and exhaust gases from steelmaking reside at well over 1000 Celsius, representing a powerful energy source.

They explain that latent heat storage, chemical storage, and thermoelectric conversion could be used as effective ways of recovering waste heat, either individually or in combination. _energydaily
The ability to utilise marginal levels of heat -- whether industrial, solar, or geothermal -- will open up vast new worlds of energy generation. More clever transducers of heat to other forms of energy will multiply the available quantities of energy worldwide by a substantial factor.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Breakthrough Chemistry, Genengineering, and Synthetic Biology All Make Next Generation Biofuels Something of a Sure Thing

Planet Earth is the only biological world in the known universe, so far as we know. Humans need to learn to harness the vast power within biology to fuel our future evolution to the next level. At the rate our big-spender politicians are digging us into the financial hole, we will need some huge technological breakthroughs -- and some trillion dollar enterprises -- to dig us out. Bio-energy and high value bio-chemicals seem to be a very good starting place.
Researchers are focusing on three key areas - the natural world of insects and bacteria, marine algae and nonfood energy crops - to create a new generation of biofuels.

...Solazyme Inc., of South San Francisco, is among the dozens of firms hoping to capitalize on algae's potential. The firm is genetically engineering strains of algae to grow on sugar cane, wood chips and agricultural residues - without sunlight - in steel tanks.

"We've made tens of thousands of gallons of oil with this process," said Harrison Dillon, president of Solazyme. "We've been road testing our fuels, trying them on unmodified engines."

Solazyme has worked with San Ramon's Chevron Corp. to develop biodiesel made from algae. Last year, Solazyme introduced the first algal-based renewable diesel fuel. It has also developed a jet fuel made from algae.

...Oil companies have also begun to invest in biofuels research and development. The Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley, founded last year, was financed by a $500 million grant from BP, the British oil giant.

...Sean O'Hanlon, executive director of the American Biofuels Council in Miami, said several sources of biofuels have market potential.

"I can't quite call this a Manhattan project or compare it to the '60s space program, but it's rapidly approaching those points," he said. "We have to start applying this science. This is no longer a research project." _sfgate_via_smartbrief

Also check out this energy update from NextBigFuture

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Fuel Cells Are Looking Better, Closer in Time

By substituting low cost catalyst based on iron in place of precious metal Platinum -- which costs between $1,000 and $2,000 an ounce (and rising) -- researchers in Quebec have brought the broad-scale adoption of the fuel cell powerplant much closer to the present time.
The improvement, reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, is "quite surprising," says Radoslav Adzic, a senior chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY, who also develops catalysts for fuel cells. The new material meets a benchmark for hydrogen fuel cells set five years ago that "we thought nobody would ever meet," adds Hubert Gasteiger, a visiting professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "For the very first time, a nonprecious metal catalyst makes sense."

The INRS researchers' key insight was finding a way to increase the number of active catalytic sites within the material--with more sites for chemical reactions, the overall rate of the reactions in the material increases. In previous work, the researchers had shown that heating carbon black (a powdery form of carbon similar to graphite) to high temperatures in the presence of ammonia and iron acetate created gaps in the carbon that are just a few atoms wide. Nitrogen atoms bind to opposite sides of these tiny gaps, and an iron ion bridges these atoms, forming an active site for catalysis. _TechReview
Iron is cheap and plentiful, whereas platinum is more expensive than gold and mined mostly in South Africa and Russia -- two increasingly authoritarian and unstable one-party quasi dictatorships.

The future of the automobile powerplant has not been decided, but given the potentially high efficiencies of fuel cells compared to internal combustion engines (ICE), it is likely that the fuel cell will begin to displace the ICE as the center of automobile power systems within 10 years.

Fuel cells can utilise liquid fuels such as methanol and ethanol, using a reformer to extract protons. There is also the potential for use of other fuels other than hydrogen for fuel cells. Biofuels and fuel cells are likely to enjoy a very close and prosperous future.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

More Oil Where That Came From

Easy oil is probably running out because it was the first to be discovered and burned. But it wasn’t so “easy” when it was discovered. By the same token, the difficult oil of today will be tomorrow’s easy oil, thanks to the learning curve of technology expertise. Overall, “difficult oil” exploitation will be the survival and even prosperity key for many Western oil companies in a world that will be increasingly dominated by national oil companies.

It will take time, but I dare to make a prediction. By 2030 more than 50 percent of the known oil will be recoverable. Also, by that time the amount of known oil will have grown significantly, and a larger portion of unconventional oils will be commonly produced, bringing the total amount of recoverable reserves to something between 4,500 billion to 5,000 billion barrels of oil. What’s more, a significant part of “new reserves” will not come from new discoveries, but from a new ability to better exploit what we already have. Leonardo Maugeri
Leonardo Maugeri is a top executive at ENI, and one of the world's experts on the topic of oil reserves. Here is an article by Maugeri on the rejuvenation of old oil fields -- given new life time and time again by newer and newer technologies.
Kern River Oil Field was discovered in 1899, and initially it was thought that only 10 percent of its heavy, viscous crude could be recovered. In 1942, after more than four decades of modest production, the field was estimated to still hold 54 million barrels of recoverable oil. As pointed out in 1995 by Morris Adelman, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the few remaining energy gurus, “in the next forty-four years, it produced not 54 million barrels but 736 million barrels, and it had another 970 million barrels remaining.” But even this estimate was wrong. In November 2007 U.S. oil giant Chevron announced that cumulative production had reached two billion barrels. Today, Kern River still puts out more than 80,000 barrels per day, and Chevron reckons that the remaining reserves are about 480 million barrels.

...Although wells have gone farther and deeper than ever before, technologies have evolved to get more oil out of the rock, using heat, gas injection, chemical processes and even microbes.

Steam injection, among the oldest heat-based methods, was decisive in the revival of the Kern River Oil Field back in the early 1960s. The basic principle of this technology is that the injected steam heats the overlying formation, allowing oil to move, so that it becomes recoverable. In simpler words, it is like heating crystallized honey to get it into a liquid, less viscous form.

To this day, Kern River’s steam injection represents the largest project of this kind in the world. A variant of steam-assisted recovery has been applied to tar sand deposits in Alberta that are too deep to be surface-mined.

Another heat-based process that has been field-tested is burning a fraction of the reservoir’s hydrocarbons. The fire generates heat and carbon dioxide, both of which make oil less viscous. At the same time, the fire itself breaks the larger and heavier molecules of oil, once again making it mobile.

Another technique involves the injection at high pressure of gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrogen into the reservoir. In simple terms, these gases mix with oil, reducing both its viscosity and the forces that trap oil into its prison. CO2 can also be injected simply to restore or maintain the reservoir’s pressure.

...Another method to help recovery is to use chemistry. Chemicals can mix with trapped oil and make it less viscous, so that it can flow toward the well. Although the chemistry terminology can be quite esoteric, these chemicals all work based on the same principle, which is similar to how layers of soap molecules can engulf fatty substances and help remove grease from your hands.

....Microbial enhanced oil recovery is still in its infancy, with experiments being conducted the U.S., Mexico, Norway, Venezuela and Trinidad. This technology consists of pumping considerable amounts of specialized microbes into the reservoir, together with nutrients and in some cases also oxygen. The microbes grow in the interface between the oil and the rock, helping to release the oil. The revolution underway in genetic engineering opens up the possibility of modifying bacteria and other microorganisms to make them more efficient at breaking up the heavier and more viscous oil molecules so as to make them mobile.

... _Sciam
Maugeri's book, The Age of Oil, is well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand more about oil reserves, new discovery, production, and recovery. Knowledge is a useful antidote against the prevalent misinformation propagated by wealthy and well-financed, well-connected radicals who parade under the false name "environmentalist."

The radical environmentalists who have taken over western governments and powerful inter-governmental bureaucracies are committed to starving the world of most of its energy. The long range plan is to reduce the population of Earth to roughly 100 million humans. These dieoff.orgiasts naturally assume that they themselves will survive this culling to enjoy the new, pristine planet emerging on the other side.

Unfortunately, these powerful and genocidal fools do not understand the underlying forces that they claim to be mastering "for the good of the earth." Virtually everything they think they know is wrong, and everything they attempt to do is far more likely to cause harm than good.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Improved Recovery of Underground Hydrocarbons: Trillions of Barrels of Oil

One method of improved recovery of oil involves using engineered microbes injected deep into existing wells to make oil more fluid and slippery -- easier to pump out of a well.
According to BP officials, the prize in enhancing recovery rates is enormous. A 1% improvement in recovery on BP’s original hydrocarbons equates to 2 billion barrels of additional reserves. Worldwide, a 5% increase in recovery—a conservative increase thought to be achievable—.

In May 2008, EBI announced an initial set of 49 research projects for funding during the first year of EBI’s 10-year program.

Separately in 2007, BP partnered with, and took an investment in, Synthetic Genomics....which was founded by genome pioneer J Craig Venter, Ph.D. [It] will use its expertise in environmental DNA sequencing and microbial cell culturing to produce a comprehensive genomic study of microbial populations living in these environments. _GCC
Another way of potentially recovering trillions of barrels of oil is using a new composite-ceramic high temperature heater cable to recover shale oil.
Oil shale contains an organic precursor to oil called kerogen. Kerogen cannot be pumped from a reservoir like oil; the oil shale rock must be heated to separate the liquid. Once the liquid is collected, it can be upgraded to synthetic crude oil for shipment and refining in the nation’s existing petroleum infrastructure.

CTD’s successful test of its heater cable holds promise for heating the shale oil in situ, down to a depth of 5,000 feet, thus separating the kerogen without having to go through the expensive process of mining the oil shale rock. If future underground tests of the cable prove successful, operators should be able to extract a petroleum-like liquid that is fluid enough to be pumped to the surface.

By eliminating the mining and a portion of the large-scale processing associated with oil shale recovery, CTD’s advanced cable system is estimated to cut recovery costs in half while addressing environmental issues on the surface.

The United States holds about two thirds of the world’s estimated reserves of 3.7 trillion barrels of oil shale, an amount thought to be 40% larger than remaining supplies of petroleum worldwide. _GCC

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