Sunday, May 31, 2009

Turning CO2 Into Methanol: Mitsui Plant Opens

Last summer, Brian Westenhaus reported on a Mitsui process for turning CO2 into methanol. Now a Mitsui Chemicals pilot plant for producing methanol from CO2 has begun operations.
Mitsui Chemicals (MCI) has begun operating its pilot plant for synthesizing methanol from CO2. (Earlier post.) The pilot plant will produce approximately 100 tonnes of methanol per year as a base material for plastics from the CO2 released during ethylene production at the Osaka Works petrochemical complex.....

The process relies on hydrogen obtained from water photolysis and ultra-high activity electrocatalysts consisting of zinc oxide and copper. _GCC
In truth, we do not have enough CO2 to do all the things we could be doing with it. Plants need it to grow and fruit. Single cell algae and other microbes thrive on CO2. But there is very little of it in the atmosphere -- it is only a trace gas constituting less than 0.4 % of all atmospheric gases. Mitsui chemists are tapping into industrial processes that produce CO2 as a waste product.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Peak Oil: I Would Like You to Meet Smart Gasification of Coal, Biomass, Garbage

Exxon Mobile is investing in gasification technologies for converting coal, biomass, garbage, etc. into energy and fuels.

Australian companies are developing underground in situ gasification technologies for converting coal to gas. Similar technologies are likely to work as well for shale oils and oil sands.

Waste gasification is picking up momentum in the US.
InEnTec's technology, originally developed at MIT and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in Richland, WA, uses a multiple high-temperature processes--including subjecting garbage to plasma arcs--to break down organic materials into syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Syngas can either be directly burned in gas turbines to produce electricity, or it can be converted into other fuels, including gasoline and ethanol. Metals and other inorganic materials in garbage can be isolated and recycled. The combination of high temperatures and an oxygen-poor environment that prevents the garbage from catching fire eliminates the production of dioxins and furans, two toxic chemicals produced during incineration.
In Canada, the University of Northern British Columbia is installing a biomass gasification plant for its Prince George campus.

North America and Australia are swimming in energy. The only thing pushing the Anglospheric continents toward peak oil is their governments. Keven Rudd and Brock O'Bomba are both dyed-in-the-wool true believers in the religion of carbon hysteria. They are each willing to destroy their country's economy to save the people from an imaginary catastrophe. They were elected, of course, demonstrating once again the madness of crowds in a democracy.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fighting Entropy: Garbage Into Useful Energy

Technology Review has a brief overview of the "garbage to fuel" industry in North America.

"Garbage" can be thought of as household waste (cardboard, paper, plastic, wood etc), as agricultural or forestry waste, as industrial waste, or as byproducts of food processing -- such as animal fat wastes from meat processors.

In the US alone, over 5000 USDA certified meat processing plants are in need of an economical use for waste animal fats. Each of these plants produces thousands of waste animal fat per week, which must be hauled away at significant expense. US Freedom Biofuels has developed a small fat-to-biodiesel converter that can convert 2,000 pounds of animal fat to 200 gallons of biodiesel each day.

On a larger scale, Finland's Neste Oil can convert any type of biolipid -- including animal fat -- to biodiesel using high pressure hydrogenation. Neste's new Rotterdam plant is scheduled to produce 245 million gallons of biodiesel per year -- a biodiesel which will be superior to petro-diesel in virtually every way.

Blue Fire Ethanol is converting cellulosic waste, sorted from municipal waste, into fermentable sugars for conversion into ethanol. Blue Fire Ethanol is also working with Solazyme to produce cellulosic sugars for algal fuel production without sunlight.

A more comprehensive look at garbage-to-energy


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How To Save Canada's Forestry Industry

Governments and forestry executives have been coming to grips with the knowledge that they need to make major changes if they want to save an industry that accounts for 300,000 jobs and 12 per cent of Canada's manufacturing GDP. Traditional forestry is closely tied to a limited number of other industries - when the housing market collapsed, so did logging, for example. Falling demand for newsprint has hit pulp mills.

That's why forestry companies are interested in bioenergy, which has a more diverse base of potential customers. _Bioenergy
Canada grows a lot of trees. But Canada's forestry business lost $8 billion last year, and stands to do no better in the future unless Canada is willing to try something new -- bioenergy.
Bioenergy is harnessed by converting wood waste into a gas or liquid, which is then turned into electricity or biodiesel.

It's of particular interest in Western Canada, because it's one of a limited number of commercial uses for wood infected by the pine beetle.

Technology already exists to use gasified wood biomass to power the electrical grid and heat buildings, and liquefied wood biomass could one day be used to power cars, said Weedon.

"It could be a very interesting and exciting new form of energy."
Since large numbers of trees die and are killed far away from highways and navigable waterways, portable harvesters and processors must be developed which can be moved from temporary location to temporary location in order to harvest the bounty of energy that is now going to waste.

The profits to be made from conversion of waste forestry biomass to bioenergy are less than can be made from oil sands, shale gas, heavy oils, and other Canadian energy resources. But as improved processes are developed for retrieving waste biomass, and for increasing cultivation of biomass crops (some of them genengineered), bioenergy solutions will provide economic opportunities for communities and regions that are currently without likely economic prospects.

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After Treatment, You Can't Find Even a Trace of Mercury In This Coal

Update 10 June 09: It has been difficult to verify any contact information on the company below, Coal Sack Energy. If anyone finds more information about this company please let me know.Brian Westenhaus gives us a look at a promising treatment for coal and other carbon sources, Clear Coal. This process claims to remove all mercury and almost all sulfur from the coal in the process of increasing the available energy.
The technology is claimed to make it possible to convert any type or grade of coal, including scrap coal, oil shale, tar sands, etc., into three basic by-products char, synthetic oil and gas - through one integrated process.

Greg Boyd, 47, is the more youthful leader of CoalSack Energy. Asked by Bob McCarty for a 60-second spiel to a prospect Boyd answers with some interesting numbers. “I’d say we have a patent on low-temperature carbonization which takes out 99.2 percent of the sulfur from a ton of coal,” Boyd explained. “The mercury is not even measurable. We’re raising the BTUs by upwards of 40 percent, averaging between 28 and 40 percent. With the same ton of coal, we’re producing the highest grade of light sweet crude oil which can be turned into Jet A fuel and that we’re getting about 7,000 cubic feet of gas.”

...Using a low temperature carbonization process, we are able to carefully control internal temperature ranges inside a roasting unit called a Coal Carbonization Module or CCM™ to vaporize the contaminate elements contained within coal. These vaporized elements are then transported to tanks using steam, whereupon they are condensed into their natural, uncontaminated forms. We are able to produce the nearly contaminate-free char, synthetic oil, and synthetic gasses that are sold to industrial markets, such as refined into Coke for steel production, used for electricity production, or refined into liquid fuels like gasoline, diesel, and Jet A. The carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide production is also converted into liquid fuel, and injected into the product stream where it is sold as a value-added product.

Those four products are interesting. The char is a clean burning smokeless boiler fuel, which can be used for electricity and heat production. The char may also be used in the production of steel and activated charcoal products including filters and carbon fiber. Char has a higher BTU range than coal, 12MBTU/lb – 14MBTU/lb, making it more valuable per ton. Utilities using char as a fuel source become carbon creditors, and could eliminate expensive flue gas scrubbing units. _NewEnergyandFuel
This is an intriguing promise. The process purportedly removes pollutants, incorporates all carbon -- including CO and CO2 -- into useful fuel, and turns low grade "junk coal" into high grade fuels and fuels precursors.

I would like to see how it works on bitumens and kerogens, as well as dried compacted biomass.

Despite what you may have heard from your peak oil punk ass friends, the energy game is just getting started. Only an incompetent political reich can thrust civilisation into abject energy scarcity.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Plasma Gasification: Hotter Than the Sun

Plasma Gasification - Funny home videos are a click away
Gasification of coal and biomass to liquid fuels is one emphatic answer to the peak oil hysteria that afflicts so many otherwise intelligent humans. This video presents the gasification process in easy to understand terms.

Coal gasification is a cleaner way of using coal, and allows for carbon sequestration -- or preferably diverting of CO2 to algae bioreactors or controlled atmosphere greenhouses.

Biomass gasification allows for a sustained renewable form of solar energy that can provide either liquid fuels, high value chemicals, or clean baseload electricity.

Previously published at Al Fin Potpourri

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Biomass: A Time to Plant

It is time for biomass producers to plant their crops, so that feedstock supply will be ready when the energy plants are ready to go. Many bioenergy skeptics have expressed doubts whether there will be enough biomass to support a meaningful bioenergy industry -- at whatever scale.

These skeptics are clearly unaware of the potential of switchgrass.
A number of studies assume yields as low as two to four tons per acre for switchgrass, and rather than incorporating yield increases from breeding, many of these studies hold yields virtually flat into the future.

More recently, a highly regarded biofuel study co-authored by Sandia National Labs used a conservative six tons of biomass per acre for energy grasses - similar to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

.....Proprietary varieties sold under the company's Blade Energy Crops brand were consistently the highest yielding varieties across multiple trial locations, with average yields reaching nearly 10 tons.

The highest yield was reported in California, where a Ceres experimental variety produced 19 tons per acre. Ceres switchgrass product manager Cory Christensen, Ph.D., said that "this result demonstrates the genetic potential of switchgrass grown under favorable conditions." _BiofuelDaily
Biotechnology has barely started to work at increasing yields of biomass crops. All the tired assumptions of academics and bureaucrats will be fodder for jocularity, when the true scope of bio-potential is realised.

The are already planting miscanthus in Kentucky, deliberately scaling up planted acreage in preparation for near-term bioenergy projects.

In Pennsylvania they are planting a poplar-cottonwood hybrid that can grow 6 to 12 feet a year. All of that on marginal lands not fit for crops.

Plantations of fast growing willow trees are being planted in northern New York state, for a biomass plant scheduled to begin production in 5 to 7 years.

Biomass can be used alone or can be co-fired with fossil fuels in conventional power plants. Most of North America is fit for growing significant biomass for bioenergy. The idea is to plan now for a bioenergy future. Biological organisms can be taught to produce much more biomass and bioenergy than currently possible.

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Biomass to Energy Two Different Ways

Cellulosic biomass to ethanol, Ecostrat Biorefinery project in Missouri:
Jordon Solomon of Ecostrat explains how the critically important supply of biomass for the Marshall, Missouri biorefinery will be obtained initially and then maintained for the long haul.
The intake of biomass for ethanol production is expected to be 450,000 tons yearly. The annual intake for power production is expected to be 200,000 tons.

"The initial woody biomass needs to come from quite far away. There just isn't 650,000 tons within 100 miles of your town available sustainably," said Solomon.

About 10 percent of the biomass taken in by the facility will be waste, said Solomon, and he mentioned Galveston, Texas, where "almost half a million tons of hurricane debris (is) sitting there, rotting, emitting its carbon into the atmosphere, and shouldn't that be coming here and being made into ethanol?"

The remaining 90 percent of biomass will be "more traditional biomass," he said.

"When you're putting up a large-scale production like this, the most important element is reliable biofuel supply."

During the first three years of the complex's operation, woody biomass provided by Ecostrat will be used. Between years four and six, the refinery will transition to an energy crop. After seven years, the transition will have been completed, and the complex will operate only on the energy crop.

The energy crop Ecostrat has identified is called Miscanthus giganteus, a perennial sterile grass that can grow to more than 13 feet tall. It grows in the spring and will return for 10 or more years after rhizomes are planted. It requires no fertilizer besides leftover leaves, requires no pesticides and can be grown on less-than-fertile land that Solomon called "class three land," meaning it has high clay or sand content. _Bioenergy
If a bioenergy plant cannot get its biomass feedstock, it may as well be a lump of iron sitting in the rain for all the good it will do. The Ecostrat cellulosic ethanol plant intends to start at near full capacity, without having built up its local biomass supply in advance. There is some risk involved in that approach. Better would be a scaled up, modular approach to match growing local supplies of feedstock that are locked in. Whether miscanthus, switchgrass, poplar, or willow, the underlying cellulose source simply has to be available.
The second bioamass-to-energy approach is gasification. In particular, we will look at plasma gasification (at up to 20,000 degrees F). The high temperatures achievable via plasma gasification provide an ultra-clean syngas product.
In plasma gasification, biomass is fed into a closed chamber and superheated to temperatures of up to 20,000 degrees fahrenheit. The intense heat transforms biomass into syngas, which is then reformulated using into ethanol and green diesel, hydrogen, methanol or methane. A secondary process can convert the base materials into other industrial chemicals.

S4 Energy Solutions’ initial focus will be to process medical and other segregated commercial and industrial waste streams. The company’s future commercialization plans may also include the processing of municipal solid waste once the technology has been demonstrated to be economical and scalable for such use. The S4 technology is designed with unique advances in plasma technology that increase the lifespan of high-cost elements such as the refractories.

Tests of the unit have shown that there is no creation of dangerous dioxins, and the process produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide in a 1:1 ratio, while recovering 50-70 percent of the BTUs in the waste. _BiofuelsDigest
Part of the syngas is used to power gas turbines for electricity, to power the plasma itself. Excess electricity is sold to the utility. Excess syngas not used for electricity production can be used for multiple purposes including liquid fuels production and high value chemicals production.

Heat can be recovered from the process and used to power a steam cycle turbine for additional electricity, and to provide process heat -- or to produce environmental heat for commercial or residential use.

Municipal waste is a good feedstock for such a process, since the final product is purified so thoroughly by the 20,000 degree F temperatures. But should many of these plants be built, there will not be enough municipal waste to power them all, and they will need to contract with biomass suppliers in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

Biomass has the advantage of containing built-in solar energy storage. But it is not nearly as energy-dense as fossil fuels. Humans need to use a bit of ingenuity to find efficient ways of densifying biomass. Pyrolysis, gasification, torrefaction, etc. accomplish densification as an intermediate step.

Prior to those processes one needs to harvest, collect, dry, and often compress the biomass close to the source, before moving to intermediate processing above. As long as the biomass is produced locally and regionally for local and regional processing, transportation costs are kept to a minimum.

Producers of bioenergy need to be planting now, in order to have ample supplies of biomass available in a few years when they are ready to produce power and fuels.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Abundant Energy from Water and CO2?

Northwestern University scientists aim to go where no scientist or engineer has gone before. They plan to use H20 and CO2 to create syngas and subsequent hydrocarbons, with the final end product being H20 and CO2!
Researchers at Northwestern University are proposing, and have begun experimental validation of, a renewable liquid-fuel energy storage cycle based on the co-electrolysis of H2O and CO2 using a solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) powered by renewable electricity to produce syngas. The syngas is then in turn converted into liquid fuels (e.g., methanol or synthetic hydrocarbons) which could be used in a direct fuel cell.

The direct fuel cell produces electricity, with water and CO2 as byproducts of the oxidation of the liquid fuel in the fuel cell. These would be captured and recycled back into the co-electrolysis process. _GCC
As you can see from the diagram, O2 is removed from the CO2 and H20 mix in the electrolyser to yield CO + H2 -- syngas! Syngas can be converted to liquid fuels, which when reacted in a fuel cell will yield CO2 and H20. These products can then be used as reactants in the electrolyser once again.

There is a bit more involved, of course. There will be a great deal of fancy catalysis going on at all stages. More at link above and here.

Most approaches for using CO2 to create energy that do not involve a biological intermediate, are PR stunts and gimmicks. But biology achieves its magic via biochemical catalysis, which can be reproduced and mimicked by scientists in the lab and by chemical engineers in the processing plant. My main concern is that humans may use so much CO2 for energy that the biosphere of the world will go starving for its vital food gas. ;-)

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bioenergy News Update

Bioenergy has progressed far beyond ethanol from maize. A lot of money is being invested to develop the most economical ways of extracting useful energy from biological organisms, from micro-organisms to macro-organisms.

Procter and Gamble is teaming with microbe specialists LS9 to develop important chemicals from biomass, which P&G will use in production of proprietary products. Such high-value chemicals are likely to become profitable before LS9 microbe-produced biofuels.
LS9 has engineered a proprietary microbe to produce UltraClean™ diesel in a one-step process. They have discovered a way to exploit the pathway that microbes use to make energy-rich fatty acids for the synthesis of cell membranes and energy storage compounds, and divert them for their own purposes. Inside the fermentor, the microbes and feedstock sit in water, so the oil-like fuel compounds rise to the surface and can be easily collected, much more efficiently than the energy rich distillation process necessary to produce ethanol.

Schirmer says they are currently using sugar cane as a cost-effective option and estimates an 80 percent reduction in carbon footprint compared to petroleum-based fuels.

"It is a bridge feedstock. Once second generation feedstocks come online we will be able to convert production over to them quickly and achieve even greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," says Schirmer. _Bioenergy
In addition to microbial approaches, chemists are becoming much more sophisticated in the transformation of biomass to high energy fuels.
The petrochemical industry makes a wide variety of products from fossil resources such as fuels, plastics and commodity chemicals. Biomass could theoretically be used to make the same or similar products, however the high oxygen content of biomass-derived raw materials prevents their direct use as fuels or chemicals.

Robert Bergman, Jonathan Ellman and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a selective one-pot, formic acid-mediated deoxygenation technique for converting polyhdroxy compounds, such as biomass-derived carbohydrates, to alkenes in high yields.

An efficient 1,2-deoxygenation method, involving an unexpected mechanism, was found for simple diols and for biomass-derived polyols _Bioenergy
Such approaches to deoxygenation of biomass have the potential to replace geo-petroleum in the production of hycrocarbon chemicals -- and eventually in the mass production of fuels.

Both the microbial approaches and the pure chemical approaches will need to find high value chemical product niches as soon as possible, in order to help attract investors and to help finance ongoing research into scaling processes for high volume production of liquid fuels.

Meanwhile back in the tropics, jatropha curcas plantations are being planted in the Philippines, South Asia, across Africa, in the Caribbean, and in Latin America. Jatropha has the potential to be far more ecologically friendly than palm oil as a plantation crop. Jatropha grows on more marginal soils, with less water and less cultivation than palm. Jatropha can also be inter-cropped with a large variety of other plant species -- including food crops. Since jatropha oil is inedible, biodiesel produced from it should not be seen as a food vs. fuel struggle.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baseload Trumps Intermittency

Intermittent energy production from wind and solar is a headache for utility managers and grid managers. The sheer unpredictability of these "green" power sources is driving energy managers from Denmark to Ireland to Texas to distraction. Despite anything that Obama claims, you cannot replace baseload power with intermittent power and expect good results. That is why interest in bioenergy continues to grow.
World biofuel production will track increases in demand as most countries seek to foster domestic biofuel industries, both to reduce reliance upon imported oil, and to foster domestic economic development. This will continue to favor the development of cereal-based (maize and wheat) bioethanol capacity in North America and Western Europe, as well as sugarcane-based bioethanol production in Latin America. Likewise, biodiesel production will center on soy oil in the Americas, rapeseed oil in Europe, and palm (and increasingly jatropha) in the Asia/Pacific. Third-generation cellulosic bioethanol and algae biodiesel technologies will remain an increasingly significant part of any sustainable energy plans. _Bioenergy
Big money investors are beginning to involve themselves in bioenergy. Chevron Oil and Weyerhauser have teamed to create Catchlight Energy. Catchlight plans to utilise "intercropping" of switchgrass and rapidly growing trees to provide for maximum biomass production per acre.
To grow sufficient biomass, Catchlight is going back to an old but proven sustainable agricultural model, moving away from monoculture to growing several crops on the same site. Burnside framed Catchlight’s land husbandry breakthrough, called intercropping, as a new concept.

Weyerhaeuser intends to grow a native American prairie grass call switchgrass between the trees planted on its southern U.S. lands. The grass grows fast and can be harvested every year, roughly doubling the biomass grown per hectare.

Weyerhaeuser provides a ready source of biomass but it’s up to Chevron to develop the key to making a fuel that can go straight into a car, truck or jet airliner.

This next-generation biofuel is based on chemical conversion technologies similar to those found in the petrochemical industry. The advantage is that they can directly replace fossil fuels using existing infrastructure. Green hydrocarbon fuels, according to the National Science Foundation of the United States, are essentially the same as those currently derived from petroleum except that they are made from biomass. _Bioenergy
Paradoxically, success in bioenergy may allow for successful incremental expansion of wind and solar. Wind and solar require reliable backup, which bioenergy can provide. New solar thermal plants are beginning to use biomass firing and co-firing with coal to provide backup energy and 24 hour energy.

The key is to match local and regional needs with local and regional resources. The idea that one particular energy source is the magic bullet to supply everyone with everything they need is absurd.


Monday, May 18, 2009

New Air Battery to Provide 10X the Energy?

Scientists at St. Andrews are developing an air fueled battery that already provides 3X the energy density of a lithium cobalt oxide cell. They are aiming for 10X the energy sometime in the next 4 to 5 years.
Improved capacity is thanks to the addition of a component that uses oxygen drawn from the air during discharge, replacing one chemical constituent used in rechargeable batteries today. Not having to carry the chemicals around in the battery offers more energy for the same size battery. Reducing the size and weight of batteries with the necessary charge capacity has been a long-running battle for developers of electric cars.

The STAIR (St Andrews Air) cell should be cheaper than today’s rechargeables too. The new component is made of porous carbon, which is far less expensive than the lithium cobalt oxide it replaces.

This four-year research project, which reaches its halfway mark in July, builds on the discovery at the university that the carbon component’s interaction with air can be repeated, creating a cycle of charge and discharge. Subsequent work has more than tripled the capacity to store charge in the STAIR cell. _ImpactLab
Air has proven to be a useful reactant for many human purposes. Zinc-air and aluminium-air fuel cells use a similar chemical trick as the air-carbon batteries. Of course all combustion engines that operate in Earth's atmosphere utilise air as a reactant. New hybrid rocket engines are an attempt to save on rocket fuel by using air as a reactant on the upward passage through the atmosphere. And so on.

Now if they could only devise battery that consumed CO2 from the air in the charge cycle. But that might not be as good as you think -- most plants evolved in a much denser CO2 atmosphere. They are already starving for CO2 as it is. And don't get me started on how chronically hungry the oceans are for more CO2. The oceans simply cannot get enough -- like most terrestrial plants.

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5 to 25% More AC Efficiency from PV Panels?

Enphase Energy, a startup in the north bay community of Petaluma, CA, has developed a micro-inverter for conversion of DC power to AC power. By bolting a single micro-inverter to each panel, Enphase claims an improvement of AC efficiency of anywhere between 5% and 25% over the conventional macro-inverter approach.
Micro-inverters optimize the voltage-current levels at each panel individually. This squeezes the most power from each panel and then adds it together, increasing the system's efficiency. "Any impact on a module is limited to that module alone," Lee says. In addition, the equipment cost for micro-inverters is about 15 percent less than the cost for a traditional system, she says, because expensive DC components, such as signal combiners and disconnects, can be replaced with off-the-shelf AC parts.

The concept of small inverters has been around for more than a decade, but there have been technical challenges to making practical devices. "One of the biggest stumbling blocks to micro-inverter technologies in the past has been conversion efficiency," says Marv Dargatz, Enphase's senior director for systems. Enphase converted many analog parts in the circuits to digital to make the inverter smaller without sacrificing efficiency. The conversion efficiency of an individual micro-inverter is 95.5 percent, on par with efficiencies of traditional large inverters, which range from 94 to 96 percent.

Daniel Kammen, a professor of public policy specializing in energy at the University of California, Berkeley, says that the solar industry has held on to the convention of connecting solar panels in a string since the 1960s, when inverters were expensive. "It's sort of crazy that we still hook solar panels together in series," Kammen says. "You take what's now the most expensive part of the system, the solar panels, and just by the way you string them together you cut down their output."

Micro-inverters maximize the power output, but they also make the system very flexible, Kammen says. You can simply plug in more panels to your array if you need more power--"You can't do that with a traditional system," he says. "If you add more panels than the inverter can take, you'd have to go replace the second most expensive part of the system: the inverter." _TechnologyReview
If you are going off-grid with your PV array, you will probably want to stick to the macro-inverter approach, since you will be inserting storage batteries into your system -- which require DC input. But if you are like the majority of next-gen small PV homeowners, you will be grid-intertied and battery-less. In that case, the AC is the only type of power you will need, so you may as well convert to AC as closely to the source as efficiency and affordability allows.

Photovoltaic power and wind power both have important niches on the small scale. For residents of the tropics who enjoy a laid back tropical lifestyle, PV may be all the power they will need.

But Obama's opium dreams of wind and solar substituting for fossil fuels and nuclear energy are simply fit for zombies, and nothing else. Wind and solar are unreliable, intermittent, and hell on a power grid manager. They are not ready -- nowhere near ready -- to substitute for bona fide baseload power sources.


Real Energy Numbers For a Change

Here are a few basic energy numbers from David MacKay. As the importance of moving away from dictator-controlled energy grows more apparent, we will need to pay more attention to the underlying numerical comparisons between various energy loads and energy supplies. We will need to become more literate in the mathematics of energy.
One kilowatt-hour (kWh) is the energy used by leaving a 40-watt bulb on for 24 hours. The chemical energy in the food we eat to stay alive amounts to about 3 kWh per day. Taking one hot bath uses about 5 kWh of heat. Driving an average European car 100 kilometers (roughly 62 miles) uses 80 kWh of fuel....

To supply 42 kWh per day per person from solar power requires roughly 80 square meters per person of solar panels.

To deliver 42 kWh per day per person from wind for everyone in the United States would require wind farms with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.

To get 42 kWh per day per person from nuclear power would require 525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today's levels....

Most prototype hydrogen-powered vehicles use more energy than the fossil-fuel vehicles they replace. The BMW Hydrogen 7, for example, uses 254 kWh per 100 km, but the average fossil car in Europe uses 80 kWh per 100 km.

.....The problem with hydrogen is that both the creation and the use of hydrogen are energy-inefficient steps. Adopting hydrogen as a transport fuel would increase our energy demand. And, as I hope the numbers above have shown, supplying energy to match our demand is not going to be easy. _CNN
H/T Ron Rupper

For a genuine education in the numbers of energy, go to David MacKay's website.


Liquid Biofuels vs. Cellulosic Electricity

Brian Westenhaus takes a good look at the "bioelectricity vs. biofuels" debate and has some insightful comments well worth reading.

I discussed the issue most recently here, but reading Brian's article reminded me that the May 7 Science study that everyone is talking about based much of its findings on the differences in efficiency between internal combustion engines and electric motors.

Such a comparison, while valid, is extremely simplistic and not at all useful in determining "government policy." Field, Campbell, and Lobell want to save the world from carbon catastrophe, and they wish to work through an all-powerful government to do so. "If only the government were enlightened enough to listen to us, we could save the world," they are saying in so many words.

But the real world doesn't work like that, in a neat top-down manner. The real world is messy and dirty, and involves trillions of small, medium, and large details that often get in the way of the majestic, grand plans of activist academicians.

The high minded trio of academics wants to replace trillions of dollars of transportation infrastructure by government fiat. They moan about the evil internal combustion engine, brag about the efficiencies of electric motors. But they don't explain how long it will take to provide electric batteries that can affordably provide the vehicular range that is so important to American drivers. They don't provide a good enough discussion of liquid fuel powered fuel cells whose efficiencies are so much better than an internal combustion engine's. They focus on maize ethanol without looking at the potential of algal biofuels, thermochemical biofuels, microbial fuels, etc. They ignore the importance of regional and local development of biomass biofuels and how that would impact the overall equation.

In short, by narrow-mindedly focusing on carbon catastrophe and the glories of the all-electric vehicle, they ignore over 90% of the critical issues that impact the problem they purport to be trying to solve, in their own academically grandiose manner.

These academics want government to mandate the future, to overturn the established order and create a carbon utopia. More research and more grant applications to follow, to follow, to follow ..... Meanwhile in the real world, geopolitical excrement is flying toward the fan. That will rather force the issue, what?

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

More on Obama's Disastrous Energy Policies

With the appointment of extremists like climate czar Carol Browner and science adviser John Holdren, Obama has placed his administration's environmental policy in the hands of radicals. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposes replacing oil and coal with windmills. Yet Barron's recently reported that America would need to build 500,000 giant offshore windmills and transmission lines to produce Salazar's specified 1,900 gigawatts of electricity. In contrast, oil and gas drilling could provide hundreds of thousands of solid, well-paying blue-collar jobs. Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson explains this in "The Bias Against Oil & Gas," describing how alternative energy job creation is miniscule compared to what an expansion of oil production would create. Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) have proposed legislation giving legal standing to allow Americans to sue any company that produces "greenhouse" gasses. _Reason
What are some of the problems with Obama's clown troupe of incompetents ideas?
Forbes recently detailed the problems with windmills. First, they depend upon a two-cent-per-kilowatt taxpayer subsidy to remain competitive. They also require backup gas generators (in case the wind isn't blowing when needed) and new transmission lines running from windy places to population centers. And while new technologies to store wind-generated electricity are in the works, they have so far proven uneconomical. Nor does this even begin to consider the years of legal delays that would likely result from litigious neighbors opposed to new transmission towers. Solar power is even more expensive and would also require additional billions for backup generators and new transmission lines. Compare those unseen costs to the clear benefits of coal and gas plants where transmission lines are already built.

New oil and gas technologies could also help the U.S. from importing so much oil. But the Obama administration is stalling and trying to stop the offshore drilling approved by the previous Congress. The White House has also shut down previously permitted onshore drilling and burdened drillers with costly new restrictions. Meanwhile, $80 billion in stimulus spending has been earmarked for "renewable" energy. The plan is to give a 30 percent tax credit for the associated costs.
JB Utley, author of the Reason article above, presents links to several supporting articles that are worth looking at. Utley's main problem is that he doesn't understand biology and what biology can offer to the energy picture -- first at the local and regional level, and later scaled for larger impact.

The US is truly in the hands of incompetent clowns from top to bottom. The few competent government employees in mid and upper level positions are experiencing increasing pressures to conform to the dominant idiocy of the clown regime. And this regime intends to grow large enough to envelop all of the private sector, if it has time.

All of which tells you that if you want to get anything done, learn to bypass the government.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

3 Dead Birds From Algal Stone and More

U. of Minnesota researchers plan to use one algal stone to kill three birds: wastewater purification, production of biomass, and production of fertilisers.
A pilot project for growing algae in a wastewater treatment plant in St. Paul, Minn., will serve two functions: removing nitrogen and phosphorus from the water before it’s flushed into the Mississippi River and flows into the Gulf of Mexico; and producing algal biomass for future use in the manufacturing of biofuels. In addition, the extracted nitrogen and phosphorus will be used to produce fertilizers. _Biomass
Algae will eventually find many purposes to fulfill, so that it may kill as many as 6 or 10 birds with one stone, so to speak.

Also interesting, scientists in Munich are perfecting the "one step" conversion of pyrolysis oil to alkane hydrocarbons using catalysts in a single reaction vessel.
Bio-oil is an aqueous, acidic, highly oxidized mixture. However, its high oxygen content and instability turn out to have a negative impact: bio-oil cannot be used directly as a liquid fuel. It would, however, be highly interesting as a source of basic raw materials if it were possible to convert it to alkanes. Alkanes, which are also commonly called paraffins, are saturated hydrocarbons; they are among the most important raw materials for chemical industry, and in particular as starting materials for the production of plastics. Furthermore, they are among the primary fuels in the world’s economy.

Bio-oil contains a phenolic fraction consisting of compounds with the main framework being an aromatic ring made of six carbon atoms with some hydroxy (-OH) groups attached. With the new process, the phenolic components of bio-oil can be converted with high selectivity to cycloalkanes (ring-shaped alkanes) and methanol. The researchers were able to demonstrate this with various model substances. As catalyst, they used palladium metal on a carbon support, with phosphoric acid as the proton source for the reaction. _Bioenergy

Obama is Not Smart On Energy

When a powerful nation elects a complete clown as its leader, there are bound to be unfortunate repercussions -- immediately, and for a long time to come. While the new US president is quite incompetent on the economy, he is a complete nincompoop on the issue of energy. Obama's fixation on carbon dioxide obscures his view of the critical issues of energy, and causes him to obsess on forms of energy that will never be able to deliver the growing levels of reliable baseload energy the country desperately needs.
--President Obama wants to hit the oil and gas industry with an additional $26 billion in taxes. He calls tax breaks for the industry "unjustifiable loopholes," though he has no problem with massive taxpayer-funded subsidies for unfeasible wind and solar power.

--The president's "cap-and-trade" plan to force massive cuts in carbon dioxide emissions would slap huge new costs on coal-fired power plants by making them buy allowances to emit more than they are permitted. Those costs -- in effect, an energy tax -- would be passed on to consumers.

--He has declared that Yucca Mountain -- an isolated area in Nevada which U.S. taxpayers have paid $14 billion to prepare to receive nuclear waste -- should not be allowed to store waste after all. That will complicate plans to expand nuclear energy production.

--He has proposed slashing a program that helps utilities plan and certify new nuclear power plants. If Mr. Obama wants to end subsidies, that's fine. But should he not start with the most impractical subsidies -- the ones going to unproven energy sources that cannot meet our energy needs? And why not dump the requirement that corn-based ethanol be added to our fuel supply? The 43-cent federal subsidy for every gallon of ethanol produced has raised food prices, and the fuel harms small engines and reduces mileage. _EnergyCurrent
Unfortunately, devastating the nation's energy supply in the middle of a depression is one of the worst possible things a leader could do. It is only what we expected of him, however.

An incompetent president would be manageable, if he were alone in his incompetence. Unfortunately, Obama is surrounded by incompetence of all varieties -- from the incompetence of inexperience to the incompetence of destructive ideological mind-binding.

Humans who care about the future will have to work through parallel channels to safeguard resources for the future, and to develop effective technologies for the day when a freer and more rational society can evolve.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rentech Chooses Rialto for Silva Gas Plant

Image from GreenCarCongress
The Rialto, California plant will take waste biomass from municipal waste streams and convert it to electricity and diesel -- via syngas. The process will utilise Fischer Tropsch synthesis for conversion of syngas to diesel.
The Rialto Renewable Energy Center (Rialto Project) is designed to produce approximately 600 barrels per day of renewable synthetic fuels and export approximately 35 MW of renewable electric power. The carbon footprint of the plant is designed to be near zero as the fuels and power would be produced only from renewable feedstocks.

RenDiesel, the renewable synthetic diesel to be produced at the facility, meets all applicable fuels standards, is compatible with existing engines and pipelines and burns cleanly, with emissions of particulates and other regulated pollutants significantly lower than the emissions from the combustion of CARB ultra-low sulfur diesel. The low carbon footprint of RenDiesel would help the transportation sector meet targets established by the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

The power generated by the Rialto Project is expected to qualify under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program, which requires utilities to increase the amount of electric power they sell from qualified renewable-energy resources. The plant will be capable of providing enough electricity for approximately 30,000 homes. _GreenCarCongress
Rentech is better known for its coal to liquids (CTL) process, but biomass to liquid (BTL) will have much wider application for local and regional waste to energy applications. Dedicated biomass crops such as switchgrass, salicornia, and fast growing poplar strains should also make BTL more widely profitable, once the infrastructure is more mature. Notice that cellulosic electricity (along with combined cycle heat recovery) is a natural fellow traveler with BTL.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Methane to Liquid Fuels for Efficient Transport

Methane is a relatively clean fuel, but is often less practical to transport longer distances than liquid fuels, such as methanol. The University of Virginia is to develop a new center to develop technologies for converting methane gas and other hydrocarbon and fossil resources into methanol and other readily transportable and higher-value liquid fuels. Methanol figures to become important due to its multifunctionality in various types of fuel cells, combustion engines, and in flex-fuel engines.
Natural gas, which is largely made up of methane, is an extremely abundant energy resource in the world, but many of the largest fields are located in remote areas, such as Alaska's North Slope, making access extremely difficult and expensive. The only feasible way to transport this energy resource would be to convert it from a gas to a liquid, thereby condensing the energy into transportable units. Transporting methane as a gas would require a substantial build-up of infrastructure and cost tens of billions of dollars for new pipelines.

"If we can find new technologies that will allow the large-scale utilization of methane, particularly in the transportation sector, the U.S. could very quickly supplant our use of petroleum and greatly reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum," Gunnoe said.

Methanol, if produced in massive quantities, could be mixed with gasoline like current ethanol/gasoline formulas, and therefore would not require changes to the way motor vehicle engines are designed. And current "flex fuel" engines that run on 85 percent ethanol with 15 percent gasoline still could run on an 85/15 mix of methanol/gasoline. _biofueldaily

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cellulosic Ethanol Progress from Mascoma

Mascoma presented new information on its "one-step process" for producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass at the 31st Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals in San Francisco recently. Mascoma saves on enzyme costs by using engineered organisms, Clostridium thermocellum, that produce their own cellulase enzymes for breaking down cellulose.
Pre-treatment opens up the structure of the biomass by disrupting the lignin seal and exposing cellulosic plant cell wall components. This gives the CBP microorganisms—which generate the enzymes to hydrolyze cellulose into fermentable sugars and also ferment the sugars to ethanol—access to the cellulosic constituents.

This one-step conversion process lowers costs by limiting additives and enzymes used in other biochemical processes.

Mascoma is combining naturally occurring metabolic activities in single microorganisms by modifying the fermentative pathways of the most efficient processors of cellulose, including the thermophilic anaerobic bacterium Clostridium thermocellum, to produce high yields of ethanol from hardwoods and other biomass. _GCC
The ethanol can be continuously siphoned off, and fresh biomass and organisms can be continuously added to the bioreactors as needed. Waste products -- both liquid and solid -- can be passed on to further processes or sold as feedstock for gasification, pyrolysis, torrefaction, pelletisation, anaerobic fermentation to methane, etc etc etc.

The infrastructure for bioenergy will take time to develop, just as the infrastructure for coal, natural gas, and liquid petroleum products developed over time. The key concept is "local and regional." No magic bullets. Just local and regional solutions.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Biomass for Fuel, Power, Heat, and Chemicals

Academics and policy wonks may argue about whether biomass energy works better via fuels or via electricity, but that is just another "angels on the head of a pin" argument. Academics and policy wankers get paid for wrangling, regardless of the outcome. For them, the argument itself is the point -- the bread and butter.

For those of us who live in the real world, who must get results for our work, the question is not an either-or issue. Biomass works quite well for fuels (liquid and gaseous) and for electricity. Biomass will also work for high-value chemicals, for plastics, for heating, and other uses.

Bioelectricity will find increasing use as better methods of farming and cultivating land, ocean, and microbial biomass take root. Torrefied biomass can be co-fired with coal for integrated gasification combined cycle CHP applications, pyrolysis oil can be fired in oil-burners for heat, power, and CHP, and synthesis gas can be fired in place of natural gas for industrial and utility purposes.

What all of the highly paid policy wanks, consultants, and academicians appear to be missing is that for the foreseeable future, biomass will be a solution to local and regional problems -- not a global solution. These academically lobotomised psychological neotenates are well programmed to think in terms of the "magic bullet" compleat solution.

That is not what the world needs at all. The world is a hodge-podge of needs and requirements, badly in need of local and regional economic, industrial, energy, and social solutions. Biomass -- whether grown on land, in the sea, or in tanks -- can be made to fit the needs of a particular climate and terrain. Transport expenses should be minimal because only the absolute excess not needed locally will be transported.

Growing, harvesting, pre-processing, processing, and refining of biomass to fuels, electricity, chemicals, materials, heat, etc. will be scaled up or down according to available growing area and regional needs.

Thinking on the appropriate scale answers most of the questions being thrown about by self-important analysts and policy-makers.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gasifying Algae to Synthetic Natural Gas: Treating Algae Like Any Other Biomass

Most algae-to-fuels projects aim to extract large quantities of oil from algae for biodiesel production. But algae is even more prolific at producing biomass than it is at producing oil. A biomass gasification process developed by the Pacific Northwest National Lab is able to quickly turn algae into synthetic natural gas (SNL) -- 400 times faster than anaerobic digestion!
More than 99% of the biomass is gasified to yield both a product gas and steam, which contains the carbon dioxide produced during gasification. After condensation, the water enriched with dissolved carbon dioxide is recycled to the growth ponds to accelerate growth of the next generation of biomass while reducing emissions to nearly zero.

The PNNL gasifier runs at relatively low temperatures—350 °C compared with 700 °C or more for other systems—in a small stainless steel reactor. Compared with other methods of gasifying biomass, such as anaerobic digestion, PNNL’s process works 400 times faster and gives higher yields.

According to Doug Elliott, the PNNL scientist who invented the gasification process, “It is simple—we put wet biomass like algae in the gasifier, where it is catalytically converted, and we collect fuel gas and byproducts. It’s serendipity that our system creates carbon dioxide as a byproduct that Genifuel needs naturally to grow the algae. It’s a completely green process.”

The technology behind the gasification process has been under development for a number of years. PNNL scientists have achieved significant advances in the chemistry of catalysts and the selection of the optimum temperatures and pressures for the process, as well as improving the systems to protect the catalyst from impurities in the biomass.

Genifuel grows aquatic biomass, such as algae, in shallow ponds or troughs, then harvests and processes the biomass for conversion using the PNNL technology. Water used in the growth ponds doesn’t have to be high-quality fresh water, and can be treated wastewater, brackish or alkaline water, or even salt water, Oyler said. Non-crop land can be used, so the process doesn’t compete with food production. _GCC
Although this process yields gaseous fuel rather than liquid, it could easily be modified to produce a wide range of high-value chemicals from algae biomass.

Another important point: Even most algae to biodiesel processes need to do something with the biomass residue. This gasification process may very well fit into more broad-spectrum algae production facilities to provide a wider range of production.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rockefellers Invest in Algal Oil

Long before Bill Gates came along, there was John D. Rockefeller -- billionaire oil king. Now, the descendants of Rockefeller have joined Bill Gates in financing the production of algal oil for biofuels, by Sapphire Energy. And Sapphire Energy is promising to produce 1 billion gallons of algal biofuels per year (by 2025).
“Fuel from algae is not just a laboratory experiment or something to speculate on for years to come,” Dr Brian Goodall, a Sapphire vice president, told the New York Times. “We’ve worked tirelessly, and the technology is ready now.”

Two airlines have already made test flights using Sapphire’s algal fuel. In January, Continental airlines flew a 737-800 for two hours using a blend of 50-percent biofuel in one engine. The flight included a full-power takeoff and climb, cruise at 37,000 feet, descent, approach and landing and was considered a success. The second test took place on a Japan Airlines 747 powered by Pratt & Whitney engines, with a biofuel blend of camelina, jatropha, and algae.

...Sapphire isn’t the only company with big algae projects in the works. Blue Marble Energy creates fuel using algae found in polluted waters while a startup called Live Fuels is attempting to develop a green crude that can be fed directly into the US’s existing refinery system. San Francisco-based Solazyme has signed a big deal with Chevron. _Bioenergy


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Nuclear News, Battery Advances, Biotech Symposium, More

First, Brian Wang has a nice partial summary of the state of the art in nuclear power technology for fission and fusion. From pebble bed reactors to liquid fuel thorium reactors to several fusion contenders, this article looks at the cutting edge of nuclear.

Next, Brian Westenhaus has a very nice look at the mysterious EEStor battery / capacitor technology slated to power electric vehicles of the future. Humans are on the verge of understanding energy storage -- just give them time.

The 31st Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals runs for 3 days in San Francisco. It started yesterday and ends tomorrow.
Among the papers presented in one of the twin opening oral presentation sessions were several describing potential new engineered genetic pathways to produce biobutanol.

Biobutanol continues to attract interest based on its properties compared to ethanol such as its higher energy content, the ability to be transported in existing pipelines, and the ability to blend at higher ratios without impacting engine performance. At least one company, Gevo, is also looking at butanol as an intermediate to renewable hydrocarbon fuels. _More here
Finally, Forbes recently did a mediocre piece on the great biofuels battle between chemistry and biology. The Forbes piece illustrates what happens when a journalist relies on one relatively poor primary source for an article, without doing the necessary footwork to get the inside scoop. The result is overly generalised, simplistic pablum.

Yes, Virginia, they really do pay journalists in the old media to go through the motions of providing the news. If you ever get tired of being served re-heated, pre-digested newsroom gossip, step on over to the wild side, dear. ;-)

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Monday, May 04, 2009

In Situ Oil Shale Gasification and More

General Synfuels International (GSI) is planning to test a method of oil shale recovery in Wyoming and Colorado called in situ gasification.
The process begins by drilling into the body of oil shale and locating a processing inlet conduit within the hole. An effluent conduit is anchored around the opening of the hole at the ground surface. Pressurized air is introduced to an above-ground combustor, superheated and directed underground into the oil shale through the inlet conduit.

As the superheated air (SHA) travels down a borehole, it interacts with the kerogen in the oil shale and brings hydrocarbons to the surface in the form of hot gases. The gases are then condensed to yield light hydrocarbon liquids and gases. The process achieves a controlled and relatively quick production of product.

Heat from the SHA creates a radiant heat process throughout the length of the processing gas inlet conduit, causing a non-burning thermal energy front in the oil shale surrounding the hole in a predictable radius. The high temperatures and correct pressures cause the oil bearing material to gasify. The porosity of the marlstone allows the gaseous hydrocarbon products to be withdrawn as an effluent gas into the effluent gas conduit.

This resulting gas is transferred from the effluent gas conduit into a condenser where it is allowed to expand and cool and produce liquid and gas hydrocarbon products. A portion of the gas produced is recycled to the combustor to blend with other recycled feedstocks and provide combustible material for continuous fueling within the combustor. This self-perpetuating feedstock feature reduces the cost of product substantially. _GCC
In other news from GreenCarCongress, both Ford and BMW are investigating heat recovery from automobile engines -- in a quest to increase overall automobile fuel efficiency. Ford is investigating a thermoelectric approach. BMW is looking at both thermoelectrics and a rankine cycle recovery system.

Metabolic engineering and genetic engineering companies are teaming up to create the "poifect" micro-factory for biofuels. Well, pernaps not the perfect fuel factory, but one that stands to make bio-ethanol production almost 10% more efficient than currently. This is, after all, a biological planet. May as well make the best of it.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Still A Lot More Oil Where That Came From

.....nearly two-thirds of crude still gets left in the ground. So oil companies are raising the ante, investing billions of dollars in cutting-edge technology to increase the amount of crude they can tap.

The potential rewards are huge: Raising the average recovery rate world-wide to 50% from 35% would boost the world's recoverable oil by about 1.2 trillion barrels -- equal to the whole of today's proven reserves, the International Energy Agency says. _WSJ
For more on how the oil companies plan to go back time and again to retrieve yet more oil from old wells, read the whole article above. Since the oil dictatorships of MENA, Russia, Africa, South America, etc. have shut out the large multinational oil companies, the companies have decided to get what they can where they can. Certainly after having your assets nationalised by creeps such as Chavez, Putin, and Morales, oil companies can be forgiven for being shy around the bloody dictators of the world.

Third world oil sheikhs and dictators are unwilling to invest in advanced technologies of oil exploration, drilling, and recovery. They will try to induce western and Chinese companies to re-invest in their dilapidated infrastructure, but how many times will the high tech companies allow themselves to be fooled?

Regardless, sometime within the next 10 to 20 years, alternative supplies of fuels will come online that will start to price most petroleum products out of the fuel markets. All that we are asking of current oil, gas, bitumen, kerogen, and coal fields is that they bridge us over the next 20 years or so.

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Algae and Wastewater: A Love that Will Not Die

As long as humans continue to pursue large scale industry, agriculture, and continue to live in cities, there will be wastewater. But because humans like clean water, they are always looking for better ways to turn wastewater back into clean water. As it happens, algae will thrive on all types of wastewater -- municipal wastewater, agricultural runoff, industrial wastewater, and so on. This love affair between algae and wastewater might lead more clever humans to find ways to kill three or four birds with one stone.
Every day, the oil and gas industries produce millions of barrels of process water during the refining process. This stream, which usually ends up being injected back underneath the ground, is considered waste. The Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management (CEHMM) in Carlsbad, N.M., however, has found that the characteristics of this “produce” water are excellent for the cultivation of oil-making algae. “This is a nearly inexhaustible resource that nobody wants,” said Douglas Lynn, executive director for CEHMM.

...using waste water from either the oil and gas industries or the unutilized sources from underground reservoirs put no pressure on domestic water supplies. This allows the process to avoid the criticisms which claim that biofuels add pressure to natural resources instead of alleviating it. _Bioenergy
Even NASA is getting into the wastewater algae game, with a proposal to grow algae in large plastic bags offshore:
We're going to deploy a large plastic bag in the ocean, and fill it with sewage. The algae use sewage to grow, and in the process of growing they clean up the sewage," said Trent.

It is a simple, but elegant concept. The bag will be made of semi-permeable membranes that allow fresh water to flow out into the ocean, while retaining the algae and nutrients. The membranes are called “forward-osmosis membranes.” NASA is testing these membranes for recycling dirty water on future long-duration space missions. They are normal membranes that allow the water to run one way. With salt water on the outside and fresh water on the inside, the membrane prevents the salt from diluting the fresh water. It’s a natural process, where large amounts of fresh water flow into the sea.

Floating on the ocean's surface, the inexpensive plastic bags will be collecting solar energy as the algae inside produce oxygen by photosynthesis. The algae will feed on the nutrients in the sewage, growing rich, fatty cells. Through osmosis, the bag will absorb carbon dioxide from the air, and release oxygen and fresh water. The temperature will be controlled by the heat capacity of the ocean, and the ocean's waves will keep the system mixed and active. _Wastewater
Of the four main pillars of algal fuels,
  1. robust growth of desired species
  2. harvesting of crop
  3. separation of oil
  4. refining of oil to fuel
considerable research is going into each one in the effort to cut costs and increase yields. Eventually, microbial fuels will be one of the factors to drive demand for petroleum down to almost nothing. Algal fuels will be a big part of overall microbial fuels production.


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