Monday, July 27, 2009

Biological Approaches to Liquid Fuels Make Gains

Synthetic biology is making great progress in programming microbial cells for energy production. Harvard's George Church, cofounder of LS9, has developed the MAGE platform for rapid cell programming.

Joule Biotechnologies has developed its Helioculture technology for using sunlight for conversion of CO2 to fuels.

Bioscience firm Target Growth has devised a way to cause algae to produce 400% more oil.

Origin Oil has improved its method of extracting oil from algae without destroying the organism.

According to US oil giant ExxonMobil, which recently launched a $600 million research and development project on the issue, algae could yield more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year of production (7,580 litres). Approximate yields for other fuel sources are far lower, it pointed out:

* Palm — 650 gallons per acre per year (2,463 litres).
* Sugar cane — 450 gallons per acre per year (1,705 litres).
* Corn — 250 gallons per acre per year (947 litres).
* Soy — 50 gallons per acre per year (190 litres).

As a consequence, algae need much less land to grow than conventional biofuels, ending the potential for conflict with food production which comes with increased energy crop cultivation. _Bioenergy

Overview of algae's near term future

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Bioenergy Brief

Friday, July 10, 2009

Brown Coal to Oil Direct Conversion

Image Source
Low quality brown coal can not be used under the air quality and carbon emissions regulations of many advanced countries. Yet low quality coal represents a huge stockpile of energy wealth waiting to be used, from Australia to North America, to Asia. Clever engineers and technologists are devising multiple ways of getting at the energy inside low quality coal, without emitting the pollutants. The following article describes only one approach.
Ignite Energy Resources (IER), developer of a supercritical water technology, and TRUenergy have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop a commercial demonstration plant that will apply IER’s direct coal-to-oil and upgraded dry coal process to the brown coal at TRUenergy’s Yallourn mine in Australia.

IER’s proprietary supercritical water technology (SCW) transforms low-ranked coals, including lignite, directly into higher-valued oils and cleaner coal products. IER’s Hydrothermal Reactor (HTR) technology depolymerizes lignite and biomass by using SCW to cut it directly into oils and upgraded cleaner coal products—i.e., not via an indirect pathway (gasification) as in Fischer-Tropsch processes. IER claims that its process generates 60% less CO2 than the most widely available coal-to-liquids technology and can generate clean fuels from biomass that are carbon negative.

Supercritical water is water above its critical point—the temperature and pressure under which phase boundaries (between solids, liquids and gases) cease to exist. Supercritical water dissociates into OH- (base) and H+ (acid) molecules, creating a substance that is simultaneously a strong acid and a strong base. Although normally acids and bases neutralize each other, they can’t at supercritical temperatures and pressures, IER says. The strong acids and bases attack weak links in organic polymers, which are broken directly into valuable oils and solid products. _GCC
Other viable approaches for cleanly extracting energy from low quality coals involve gasification of coal and catalytic synthesis of fuels.

Gasification can be applied to almost all forms of carbon, including black liquor from paper / pulp works.

The ability to take a dirty and worthless waste product and turn it into something quite clean and valuable is the mark of a civilisation that is beginning to find its way -- at least in this narrow area of cleaning up after itself.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Algae Oil A Promising Contender

Image: Green Car Congress
Scientists at Colorado State University and the NREL have calculated the theoretical maximum oil yield of algae growing in sunlight as 38,000 gallons per acre. That is a much better yield than maize, rape, soy -- even palm.

Biofuels Digest provides an update look at various algae biofuels projects, including:

Petro Algae
Sapphire Energy
Aurora Biofuels
Solix Biofuels

and more . . .

This Chilean algae biofuel project is on schedule for commercial production of micro-algal biofuels within 5 years.

Algae and its diatomaceous cousins have the potential to take the lead in biofuels production from the bio-alcohols by 2020. By 2030, developed nations may be consuming greater amounds of biofuels than petrofuels. It is unlikely that fossil fuels will be completely replaced by biological alternatives until the end of the century, and there will never be "peak oil" in the sense of more fossil fuels having been extracted than still remain in extractable form in the rock and sand.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Choren's Freiberg BTL to Come On Line in 2010

Choren's BTL technology achieving wood chip to fuels using gasification plus Fischer Tropsch, will begin producing fuels commercially in 2010, at the Freiberg Germany location.
The plant is being built in Freiberg in south Germany by Choren Industries to produce about 15,000 tonnes of biomass-to-liquid (BTL) fuels largely using wood products and wood-based waste.

Initial output of gas could start in October this year leading to output of BTL liquid fuels in early 2010, said Michael Deutmeyer, chief executive of Choren's biomass supply subsidiary Choren Biomass.

Germany is among the first European countries building test plants to produce commercial volumes of second generation biofuels from a wide range of biomass materials ranging from wood chips and other forest products to straw, hay, grass, vegetable waste and low grade crops. _Bioenergy
Choren's plant puts together many of the next generation biofuels components, which must be thoroughly tested to pave the way for a large scale to biomass biofuels over the next few decades.

If Choren's venture is successful on its own merits -- without depending upon economically destructive carbon regulations for its profitability -- it will open the door to both its own expansion and the entry of other similar ventures worldwide.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cap n Trade? It's Gonna Cost Ya Big Time

If you believe anything the US government has told you about the costs of Obama / Pelosi's grand carbon capping scheme, you really should be reading something else other than this blog. Anyone as gullible as that should be reading Salon or Huff n Puff, or one of the Green Party publications.

Robert Zubrin, promoter of outer space development and clean energy, has a few thoughts on the topic:
The United States emits about 9 billion tons of CO2 per year. Therefore, at a rate of $15/ton fee for emission indulgences, the bill would impose a tax of $135 billion per year on the nation. Divided by the U.S. population of 300 million, that works out to a cost of $450 per year levied on every American man, woman or child, or $1,800 for a family of four. While for wealthy individuals like Al Gore such an impost might represent a mere pittance, for working families struggling hard to make ends meet it would be a very significant burden.

But that is not even the worst part of it. As a result of the markup of carbon costs, a lot of those working families will be out of work and unable to pay their existing bills, let alone new ones. Consider: Burning one ton of coal produces about three tons of CO2. So a tax of $15 per ton of CO2 emitted is equivalent to a tax of $45/ton on coal. The price of Eastern anthracite coal runs in the neighborhood of $45/ton, so under the proposed system, such coal would be taxed at a rate of about 100 percent. The price of Western bituminous coal is currently about $12/ton. This coal would therefore be taxed at a rate of almost 400 percent. Coal provides half of America’s electricity, so such extraordinary imposts could easily double the electric bills paid by consumers and businesses across half the nation. In addition, many businesses, such as the metals and chemical industries, use a great deal of coal directly. By doubling or potentially even quadrupling the cost of their most basic feedstock, the cap-and-trade system’s indulgence fees could make many such businesses uncompetitive and ultimately throw millions of working men and women onto the unemployment lines.

A gallon of petroleum-derived liquid fuel produces about 20 pounds, or 1 percent of a ton, of CO2 when burned. But it takes about 1.5 gallons of oil to produce one gallon of refined liquid fuel. So a $15/ton tax on CO2 emissions will also cause an increase in the price of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel on the order of $0.22/gallon. This will not only hit consumers’ pockets, but increase transport costs throughout the economy, thereby disabling businesses and increasing unemployment levels still more. While harming the economy, such a gas tax will do nothing material toward the truly essential goal of decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Indeed, the bill’s dramatic hikes in electricity costs will have the opposite effect, since only 3 percent of America’s electricity is derived from oil, and by forcefully increasing electric power costs, the bill will actually discourage adoption of electric means of transport, including mass-transit systems today and potentially plug-in hybrid cars in the future. America’s dependence on foreign oil could be substantially relieved by legislation requiring that new cars sold in the United States be flex-fueled and thus able to run equally well on alcohol fuels derived from a multitude of nonpetroleum sources, but the bill’s provisions in this area are so weak as to be worthless.

But all these bad aspects of the Waxman-Markey bill pale before its potential impact on the world’s food supply. America’s agricultural sector is one of the greatest success stories in human history. In 1930, hunger still stalked the entire globe. Not just in Africa, India and China, but even in Europe and America, the struggle to simply get enough food to live on still preoccupied billions of people. Since 1930, the world population has tripled. But instead of going hungrier, people nearly everywhere are now eating much better. This miracle is the work of American farmers, who have not only produced huge surpluses to feed the world, but used the income gained from such good work to pioneer ever more advanced techniques that have enabled farmers everywhere to grow more. This progress is still continuing. In 2007, Iowa alone produced more corn than the entire United States did in 1947, and the 300,000 American corn growers as a whole produced 784 billion pounds of corn, an amount sufficient to supply 130 pounds of corn per year to every person on the planet. But this miracle depends upon the availability of cheap fertilizer and pesticides, which in turn require carbon-based process energy to produce. If you tax carbon, you tax fertilizer and pesticides. If you tax these things, you tax food, and by no small amount. A $15/ton CO2 tax would increase fertilizer production costs directly by about $60/ton, with the cap-and-trade bill’s increased transport costs inflating the burden still more. That’s enough to make many farmers use less fertilizer, and less fertilizer means less food.

To get a sense of what it would mean for farmers to abandon fertilizer, it is only necessary to go to the supermarket and compare the price of the “organic” produce, grown without chemical fertilizer, to the regular produce, which, while just as nutritious, typically costs less than half as much. It is one thing for wealthy organic food buffs to voluntarily pay such high prices for their food — that is their right. But to impose such costs for basic groceries on everyone else, and particularly the poor, as part of a largely symbolic effort to try to change the weather, is self-indulgent in the extreme. _RollCall
Zubrin is being kind to Obama, the Congress, and the EPA. If he were honest, he would advocate for throwing the bums into a dungeon until Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] has time to sort them out. The US must have access to coal, shale oil, oil sands, shale gas, offshore oils, methane clathrates, and every other fossil fuel it can get to bridge the next few decades.

The big joke: China, India, and the other emerging countries whose CO2 output is beginning to dwarf that of the developed word, are in control of human CO2 generation now. Fiddling with the US output -- and devastating the US economy in the process -- is something that a person dedicated to symbolic gestures would do.

We are in for a lot of unnecessary hardship, thanks to our naked emperor and his free-spending, delusional court. Because if the US economy goes down, not one other country or any group of countries is ready to carry the weight that the US has been carrying economically, militarily, scientifically, or in virtually any other way.

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