Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Butanol Makers Gobble Up Belly Up Ethanol Plants

A number of maize ethanol plants went bankrupt last year in the midst of the energy and commodities pricing turmoil. Butanol makers such as Gevo and Butamax (BP, DuPont, PLC) intend to buy up the defunct ethanol plants and convert them to butanol plants. Butanol blends better with gasoline, and is far more valuable as a chemical feedstock than ethanol.
Denver-based Gevo Inc., a privately held biofuels start-up, is expected to say Wednesday that it is lining up financing to acquire and retrofit as many as five ethanol plants to produce biobutanol. The company hopes to purchase or partner with plants with capacity to make at least 200 million gallons a year. At going rates for ethanol plants, the total cost of the plants could exceed $125 million, according to industry experts.

...Gevo isn't alone. Butamax, a joint venture of BP PLC and DuPont Co., is building its first biobutanol facility in Hull, England, and expects to expand production by retrofitting existing ethanol facilities in the U.S., says a BP spokesman.

Made from corn, wheat and a variety of inedible crops, biobutanol is a versatile fuel. It can be blended into gasoline at higher concentrations than the more common corn-based ethanol. It can be mixed into existing petrochemical infrastructure, unlike ethanol, which can't be moved by pipeline. Also unlike ethanol, biobutanol can be converted into a feedstock for the chemical and plastics industries and used to make flat-screen television sets or water bottles. _Bioenergy
As long as oil prices are above $45 a barrel, butanol makers believe their product will be economically competitive with oil as a chemical feedstock in the production of plastics and other high value chemicals.

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Muon Beam Catalysed Nuclear Fusion

(1) A beam of negatively charged muons is produced and injected into a mixed fuel of deuterium and tritium, (2) resulting in the creation of many muonic tritium atoms (tµ). As muons are 207 times heavier than electrons, the muon orbits the nucleus at a much closer distance to the nucleus than electrons. Thus, tµ atoms are extremely small. (3) As the tµ atoms have no electric charge, they readily collide with deuterium atoms without being affected by repulsive electrical force. These collisions produce dtµ molecules, which consist of a muon, a deuterium nucleus and a tritium nucleus. (4) Similar to tµ atoms, dtµ molecules are extremely small. When d–t nuclear fusion occurs in these small molecules, large amounts of energy are released, accompanied by the production of α particles (helium nuclei) and neutrons. (5) The muon is freed and recycled in subsequent nuclear fusion reactions. (6) About 1% of the liberated muons, however, become stuck to helium nuclei.
Image from NextBigFuture
Researchers in Japan are developing a form of Deuterium - Tritium fusion that is catalysed by the injection of a stream of muons. Brian Wang has the details:
Muon-based nuclear fusion is conducted using negative muons. A mixed gas of deuterium and tritium is cooled to temperatures below around −250°C, causing the gas to form a liquid or solid. The injection of a beam of muons (µ) into the medium then generates muonic tritium atoms (tµ), which are similar to hydrogen atoms. As muons are 207 times heavier than electrons, the muon orbits the nucleus at a distance much shorter than that for electrons. Thus, tµ atoms are extremely small, and because the tµ atoms have no charge, they collide with deuterium atoms without being affected by repulsive electrical force. This process produces muonic deuterium–tritium molecules (dtµ), which are also similar to hydrogen atoms, and which have a nucleus consisting of a muon, a deuterium nucleus and a tritium nucleus. Similar to the tµ atom, the dtµ molecule is extremely small, which allows the deuterium and tritium nuclei to come into very close proximity, thus inducing d–t nuclear fusion.

After the occurrence of d–t nuclear fusion, the muon in the dt molecule is liberated and becomes available for the creation of a new dtµ molecule. Thus a chain of nuclear fusions occurs. This reaction is called 'muon-catalyzed nuclear fusion' because the muons act like a catalyst that drives nuclear fusion. _NextBigFuture

More links and information at NextBigFuture.

Cross-posted at Al Fin


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

China Pioneers Commercial IGCC Coal to Gas

While the Obama administration and the Pelosi Congress are doing everything possible to prevent viable new baseload energy production in the US, China is developing technology originally invented in the US and the west. With IGCC, even the dirtiest forms of coal can be used cleanly. Given China's record of coal pollution, we can only hope they hurry to install IGCC in all of their coal power plants.
Southern and KBR's gasification design can use dirty coal because, compared to other gasification reactors, it uses a relatively slow, low-temperature process. Conventional gasifiers, such as General Electric's and Shell's, rely on temperatures around 1,500 ºC to turn finely ground coal into a combustible mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as syngas. Unfortunately, such temperatures melt ash and other mineral contaminants in the coal, forming a glassy slag that eventually eats through the ceramic tiles that protect the reactors' steel walls. Even reactors using high-quality coal have to be taken out of service for installation of new tiles at least every three years. They are thus ill-adapted for lower-quality coals that would produce several times more slag.

Dongguan's gasifier will sidestep those issues by operating at just 925 ºC to 980 ºC, below the contaminant melting temperature, explains Randall Rush, Southern Company's general manager for gasification systems. Coal nevertheless gasifies completely at these lower temperatures because it spends twice as long in Southern and KBR's process.

The technology is an adaptation of the fluidized catalytic cracking employed in refineries since the 1940s, which processes petroleum by "transporting" it around a loop along with solid catalyst particles. In the gasification reactor, the incoming feed of fresh coal is transported with a looping flow of solid coal contaminants, primarily ash. The hot mass drives off most of the coal's energy content as syngas. The solids left over simply join the flow. __TechnologyReview
Al Fin engineers have long recommended the use of IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) plus CHP (combined heat and power) for using coal. The fact that even the lowest quality coal can be consumed cleanly using this highly efficient technology, greatly expands the useful coal reserves worldwide.

Extra!!!: Here is a fascinating look into the much ballyhooed wind energy movement in China. More wind means more coal. As simple as that. Denmark's experience should have been enough to prove to die-hard airheads that utility scale wind power is much more expensive than virtually any other form of energy, due to the need for constant backup power. Utility scale storage would help, but would not totally solve the problem. Think baseload.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Nuclear Power Blooms Even in Recession

French nuclear power company Areva has more than doubled in size over the past economically turbulent three years. Areva is scrambling to locate and hire qualified workers to meet exploding demand for new nuclear power stations.
Despite the recession, Areva, which is 91 per cent-owned by the French State, has more than doubled in size in three years as France seeks to cement its position as a supplier of nuclear equipment and capitalise on a renewed focus on the technology as countries try to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

Over the next decade, the world is expected to build 180 nuclear power plants, up from only 39 since 1999, and Areva, the world's largest builder of reactors, has ambitions to build one third of them.

It intends to recruit 10,000-12,000 staff globally this year and a similar number in 2010. “Financial crisis or not, this action plan is going ahead,” Mr Oursel said. “We see more and more countries coming to us.”

The bulk of recruits will join Areva’s workforce of 75,000 in France, China, the Middle East and the United States. _Times
Bureaucratic obstructionism and Obama's energy starvation tactics in the United States have stalled new nuclear power construction. But in more energy-realistic climates, nuclear energy is rightly seen as the best foundation for solid industrial and economic growth.

Al Fin engineers favour the new factory built modular reactors, in terms of quality control, lower costs, and the greater range of options for scalability and decentralisation / redundancy. But the huge nuclear power concerns such as Areva, Westinghouse, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and GE-Hitachi, can also provide excellent value in terms of long-lasting large scale reliable baseload energy.

There will be a shortage of qualified workers, as activity in the nuclear power sector expands. Likewise there will be shortages of specialised materials and parts. New uranium mines will need to be discovered and opened, old mines will need to be re-opened and expanded. Ultimately, either ocean water uranium or outer space uranium resources will need to be developed and exploited.

A move to Thorium reactors and non-enriched uranium reactors may help take some of the pressure off of supply chains.

Ultimately, fission power using uranium and thorium will only be bridges to longer term energy solutions -- particularly fusion, but also including enhanced geothermal, space-based solar, and advanced bioenergy.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Xerox PARC Focuses its Magic on Algal Fuels

You may not be aware of all the technological innovations that have come from the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). "PARC has been responsible for such well known and important developments as laser printing, the Ethernet, the modern personal computer graphical user interface (GUI), ubiquitous computing, and advancing very-large-scale-integration (VLSI)." __ Wikipedia

Now PARC wants to do for energy what it has done for computing and microprocessors. It wants to make algal biofuels cheap and abundant.
A set of spirals – essentially channels that get water to swirl in a way that mimics how it flows down drains, discharge flumes and log rides – can potentially be used to separate algae from water with very little external energy. Much of the energy, in fact, comes from the force of the moving water itself.

"We are able to recover 95 percent of the algae with very little energy," said Meng Lean, the principal scientist on the project.

...If it works on a large scale, scientifically calibrated swirling could become one of the more notable advances in algae in the past few years. Separating the algae from water sounds easy, but it's time-consuming and energy intensive. A liter of algae-infused water can be bright green, but it might only contain one to three grams of usable algae. To separate algae now, companies employ drying (which can gobble up 2 percent to 10 percent of the cost of producing fuel) centrifuges (4 percent to 14 percent) or filtration membranes (which get fouled).

"De-watering is a huge challenge. It is probably the single biggest challenge remaining in terms of economics," said Michael Melnick, a visiting scholar at UC San Diego and the CEO of Biolight Harvesting, an algae fuel company in a separate interview recently. _GreentechMedia


When the US Government Forgets Who It Works For

A Finnish electric car company that is backed by Al Gore, is receiving a $500 million stimulus check from Obama's DOE, while American companies are languishing. This half billion will go with the billions of stimulus Obama is sending to Brasil to help them with their offshore oil drilling. Like Mr. Obama says: "either you pass my stimulus plan, or unemployment in the US will go over 8%!" Memo to Mr. Obama: US unemployment was at 9.7% at latest tally. But then, with all the emphasis shifting to saving Obamacabre, Cap 'n Trade, and ACORN, those early "vital" stimulus plans seem to have dropped under the radar.
The US Government offered $529 million loan to an Al Gore-backed company making $89,000 all-electric sports car in Finland, while US projects for US jobs go unfunded.

...The DOE denied that politics played a role in the decision, saying that a “detailed technical review” took place, and that the bulk of loan proceeds for the Silicon Valley-based Fisker will go towards development of a $40,000 family sedan.

There’s only one catch. According to the Journal, the family sedan has not yet been designed. _BiofuelsDigest
This little stimulus grant to Finland has "political payoff" written all over it -- like almost everything else the Obama / Pelosi reich has done during its short time in power. Chicago payoffs and paybacks at home. Neville Chamberlain and Jimmy Carter appeasement abroad. Sounds like a quick road to utter collapse.

Cross-posted to Al Fin


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Synthetic Biology LS9: Chevron Joins Khosla et al

Big oil companies are heavily investing in biofuels. Chevron has joined an investment group that includes Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed Ventures, investing in synthetic microbe biofuels maker LS9.
LS9's goal is to be able to show that it could produce synthetic diesel for $45 to $50 a barrel by mid-2011. That's capable of being produced. The fuel won't come out commercially, barring unforeseen difficulties or a lack of financing, until 2013. The company now has a fermenter with a 1,000 liter capacity and will open a much larger demo plant next year.

LS9 combines traditional microbiology with synthetic biology, says Haywood. The company's scientists have engineered a strain of e coli with a genome that can convert sugars into a fatty acid methyl ester which is chemically equivalent to California Clean diesel. The traditional part of the equation is to convert sugar into other materials via fermentation; the synthetic part is having a designer strain of E. coli that commits unnatural acts. Added bonus: LS9 does not have to kill its microbes to get the oil. They secrete it naturally and then can live to feed, digest and excrete more dollops of oil. It's not out of guilt: re-using a microbe instead of cultivating a new generation cuts time and costs.

The basic science, says Haywood, is done. "We are now working on the yield and scaling factors," he said.

The company also has a similar microbe that can make fatty alcohols. In May, the company announced an alliance with Proctor and Gamble to try to turn these byproducts into green versions of the surfactants P&G consumes now. _BiofuelsDigest
Other oil companies invested in biofuels include Exxon, Shell, BP, Total, and more.

Everything you have been told about the limits of biofuels is false. Most of the surface of Earth is suitable for the growth of biomass of one type or another. Even the oceans are capable of growing large quantities of algae biomass, and other micro and macro plant life. Arid deserts can be irrigated with salty and brackish water to grow algae and other salt-tolerant plants. Marginal lands can grow prolific grasses and fast growing trees. In temperate areas, winter crops can alternate with spring and summer crops to increase yields.

As we develop better ways of replenishing soils, and taking advantage of plant and microbe species that thrive in harsh conditions, "the limits of biomass" begins to sound like an oxymoron.

Now that we know that even the surface of the moon is covered with a thin layer of water, and we know that we can boost large quantities of water into space (and to the moon) reasonably cheaply using electromagnetic launch, the limits to biology and biomass are disappearing before our eyes.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poop Power: From Waste Pollutant to Power Source

Livestock manure from dairy farms, feedlots, poultry farms etc. has a tendency to leach into groundwater and overflow into streams and rivers. By capturing the manure and turning it into methane and other forms of energy, farmers and ranchers can eliminate the pollution and generate profits.
It takes slightly more than three gallons of liquid cow manure to create one kilowatt-hour of electricity.

A lot of poop. A small amount of electricity. A big environmental boost to a dairy farmer.

A fledgling anaerobic manure digester is now running at roughly 80 percent capacity near Rexville in southwestern Skagit County. The plant produced its first power on Aug. 30 and will host Gov. Chris Gregoire at a ceremony next Monday.

The digester accepts the liquid manure in a big holding tank, where it gives off methane gas that is then burned to produce electricity....

Washington already has three conventional poop-to-methane-to-power digesters near Lynden, Monroe and Sunnyside. However, they essentially accept manure from one dairy farm each. The Rexville operation -- built and run by Farm Power -- is different in a couple ways.

It is set up to accept manure from two or more dairy farms -- enabling smaller operations to participate.

And it is designed to accept and extract methane from icky, slop-like wastes from seafood and chicken processing -- as well as other food wastes. Farm Power had to get a bill passed in the Legislature this past spring to make combining the food and cattle wastes easier from a regulatory aspect.

Dairy farms produce huge amounts of manure that can ooze into groundwater and eventually into streams and rivers to cause pollution problems.

Farmers take many measures to deal with this problem, but digesters are a more cost-efficient way to tackle the matter, said Daryl Maas, one of two brothers behind the Rexville operation. _Bioenergy
It takes time for people to learn to think in terms of solving problems profitably and productively. If people spend too much time attending to the mainstream (skank) media, they are more likely to run screaming from problems, in full panic. The same panic mentality applies to many psychological neotenates and academically lobotomised products of government education.

Still, there is hope. No one knows what the end result of new information sources will be, for global societies. People may learn to ignore the petty tyrants of local politics and education, and set their own course.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Symbiotic Industries: Chevron and Mascoma

Lignin is the sticky, gunky material that holds the cellulose and hemicellulose of plant stalks together. Mascoma wants the cellulose for making ethanol, but the lignin is just an annoying waste product. But now, Chevron is developing a process for turning the lignin into liquid transportation fuel. So Chevron and Mascoma have a deal, where Chevron provides biomass feedstock to Mascoma, and Mascoma returns the discarded lignin byproduct back to Chevron. Mascoma makes ethanol from the cellulose. Chevron makes hydrocarbon fuels from the ligning. Win - win.
* Lignin is introduced into a hydroprocessor. Hydroprocessing includes hydrocracking and hydrotreating—cracking the larger lignin molecules into smaller molecules—using a reductant and a catalyst at high temperature and pressure. Examples of hydroprocessing catalysts include molybdenum, cobalt, nickel, tungsten, iron and/or platinum on an amorphous or crystalline oxide matrix. Optionally a hydrocarbon solvent can also be added as a slurry for the catalyst.
* After the introduction of the lignin and the catalyst into the hydroprocessor, the reductant is pressurized into the hydroprocessor. One example of a reductant for the hydroprocessor is hydrogen, which can be obtained from the same source providing hydrogen for other refinery processes. In addition, the reductant for the hydroprocessor could also be syngas. The presence of carbon monoxide in the syngas can assist with the conversion of lignin, and the observed effect is similar to that seen for coal hydroprocessing with syngas compared to hydrogen alone.
* Unlike coal or heavy crude oil hydroprocessing, significant amounts of water are produced as a result of lignin hydroprocessing, due to the fact that lignin is oxygenated to a much greater degree than coal or heavy crude oil. Chevron says tests have shown that this produced water does not inhibit the lignin conversion. At the end of the reaction the water will condense and phase separate from the biofuels feedstock. The water extracts any residual salts that may be present in the lignin thereby preventing fouling or deactivation of the catalyst. After the separation from the water the biofuels feedstock will also be separated and filtered to remove the catalyst for recycling.
* In an exemplary embodiment cited in the patent application, the hydroprocessing comprises activated slurry hydrocracking with a molybdenum sulfide heterogeneous catalyst at approximately 2000 psi with hydrogen for about six hours.
* At the end of the reaction, the product is introduced into the refinery processes to produce a biofuel. The particular location of the introduction of the biofuels feedstock within the refinery processes will depend on the composition of the biofuels feedstock. The biofuels feedstock will be primarily a diesel-like stream.
If this relationship works out, Mascoma will be relieved of the headache of constantly searching for biomass feedstock, and Chevron will be spared the work and expense of discarding the cellulose from biomass to get at the lignin.

It all comes down to economics. Biomass is not very dense, energy-wise. It must be compressed and densified before transport and processing. This need opens up a huge niche for companies capable of gathering and pre-processing biomass for transport and refinement.

At this point in time, the downstream demand for pre-processed biomass is insufficient to support the farmers, loggers, and pre-processors who will eventually make a very good living providing biomass to the soon-to-be kingpins of bioenergy. But the demand will grow -- because liquid fuels are not going away for a while. And as the huge megacorporations discover ways to make biofuels competitive with petrofuels, an interlocking set of industries will grow up where now there is nothing.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Near Term Future of Nuclear Reactors

Newer nuclear reactors are designed to be safer, last longer, produce less waste, and be less likely to abet nuclear weapons proliferation. The following is excerpted from an earier Wall Street Journal article. AF
The current generation of nuclear plants requires a complex maze of redundant motors, pumps, valves and control systems to deal with emergency conditions. Generation III plants cut down on some of that infrastructure and rely more heavily on passive systems that don't need human intervention to keep the reactor in a safe condition reducing the chance of an accident caused by operator error or equipment failure.

For example, the Westinghouse AP1000 boasts half as many safety-related valves, one-third fewer pumps and only one-fifth as much safety-related piping as earlier plants from Westinghouse, majority owned by Toshiba Corp. In an emergency, the reactor, which has been selected for use at Southern Co.'s Vogtle site in Georgia and at six other U.S. locations, is designed to shut down automatically and stay within a safe temperature range.

The reactor's passive designs take advantage of laws of nature, such as the pull of gravity. So, for example, emergency coolant is kept at a higher elevation than the reactor pressure vessel. If sensors detect a dangerously low level of coolant in the reactor core, valves open and coolant floods the reactor core. In older reactors, emergency flooding comes from a network of pumps which require redundant systems and backup sources of power and may also require operator action....

...Further out, Gen IV reactors, which use different fuels and coolants than Generation II and Generation III reactors, are designed to absorb excess heat better through greater coolant volume, better circulation and bigger containment structures. Advanced research into metal alloys that are resistant to cracking and corrosion should result in more suitable materials being used in plants, too, and giving them longer useful lives....

...Some researchers see the answer to the safety problem in revolutionary reactor designs that promise to be more "inherently safe" physically incapable of suffering a catastrophic meltdown. One such design, at least in theory, is the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, being developed in China and South Africa. It's powered with balls of uranium-filled graphite rather than the typical fuel rods. If the cooling system were to fail, the reactor temperature stays well below the balls' melting point and then automatically cools down....

... Makers of Generation III models are addressing the cost issue in a number of ways. For one, they claim the reactors will remain in service more years, so construction costs will be spread over a longer operating life. Today's plants are being designed to last at least 60 years longer than any other plants except hydroelectric dams. Existing nuclear plants were expected to be retired after 40 years, though roughly half have gotten 20-year license extensions.

The new plants are also designed to be much simpler and quicker to build, reducing financing costs by potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. For instance, there's the ABWR reactor, which has been built in Japan by GE-Hitachi and which NRG Energy Inc. hopes to build with Toshiba's help in South Texas. The reactor is built in modules, vastly speeding construction time. GE-Hitachi, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Hitachi Ltd., says it has built the plant in 42 months in Japan, which is more than twice as fast as the Generation II reactors it built in the 1980s. The company compares construction methods to putting up a modular home versus constructing a stick-built house....

...Babcock & Wilcox, a unit of McDermott International, has designed a small 125-megawatt reactor that would be built at its U.S. factories and then delivered to power-plant sites by rail or barge. This would eliminate a bottleneck and the associated higher costs for ultra-heavy forgings that are required for large reactors. Small reactors could be built at a number of domestic heavy-manufacturing sites. The Lynchburg, Va., company has been building small reactors and other key components for Navy ships for decades, at plants in Indiana and Ohio.

Another plus of small reactors: They're designed to be refueled less frequently, reducing the number of refueling outages. Instead of every 18 months to two years, they could go four or five years, reaping a saving from having less down time. Another feature of some reactors is the ability to do more maintenance while plants are running, again reducing idle time....

...Some Generation IV reactors, known as fast reactors, may offer a breakthrough in the future because they're designed to burn previously used fuel.

GE-Hitachi, for example, is developing a fast reactor called Prism that would take spent fuel or weapons waste, sitting in storage today, and use nearly all of it as fuel, leaving little waste. What's left would also be less radioactive than current waste, and would need to be stored for hundreds of years instead of thousands of years, scientists say. Fast reactors are able to unlock energy in waste because they can burn plutonium, neptunium and other materials that Generation II and Generation III reactors leave behind.

GE-Hitachi estimates there's enough energy sitting in nuclear storage sites in the U.S. to completely meet the nation's energy needs for 70 years, if fast reactors were used to convert waste into electricity...

Excerpted from a Wall Street Journal story

In addition to these designs, several other small, modular reactors are being built by scientists formerly at Los Alamos, Sandia, Microsoft, and other reputable firms and labs. Thorium cycle reactors and reactors that run on depleted and non-enriched uranium are also on the way.

All in all, the issues of safety, waste, and proliferation are being answered admirably by designers, engineers, and technologists. Now it is time for the governments of the world to facilitate the best form of baseload large scale power generation currently in existence (along with promoting further research into bioenergy, clean CTL, GTL, BTL, oil shales, oil sands, enhanced geothermal, etc).

The alternative is energy starvation -- something the faux environmental dieoff.orgiasts want to see, but not something that any sane person wishes.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Making Good Use of Idle Steel Mills

The ongoing economic depression has added to the world steel doldrums. Large numbers of steel plants sit idle, their industrial capacity wasted. California based Sierra Energy wants to turn this wasted capacity into productive energy. As it happens, the high temperatures used in blast furnaces are ideal for turning mixed garbage from landfills into syngas and other useful byproducts.
Sierra wants to use furnaces that are already built.

Only a few dozen of those massive furnaces are now left in the United States, Hart said. But those could be repurposed to take in trash and pump out syngas, perhaps offering a shot at revival for communities hard-bit by the domestic steel industry's woes. Sierra is looking at a U.S. Steel mill in the iconic Rust Belt city of Gary, Ind. to test out its system, he said.

But in China, where most of the world's steel is now made, there are about 1,500 blast furnaces that could use the extra gas, he said. Sierra is talking with heavyweights Baosteel and Jian Steel in that country, Hart said. _GreenTechMedia
Whether used for stand-alone syngas production from waste, or used to provide syngas in conjunction with ongoing steel production, the overall system will have to be tested to be sure it is technically and economically feasible.

Information on North Bay (Ontario) Biomass Conference

European Bioenergy Conference in Brussels April, 2010


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Biomass Conference Announcements

Next Generations Biofuels conference will be held 28 - 30 September, 2009, in Amsterdam

Algae Biomass Summit will be held 7 - 9 October, 2009, in San Diego. Craig Venter will be a speaker.

Big money interests are swarming all over biomass and biofuels at this time. Part of the interest is due to current international emphasis on carbon neutral energy technologies, and part of the emphasis is a recognition that sooner or later fossil fuel resources will grow more expensive than alternative sources of energy.

Meanwhile, California company Tolero Energy has licensed a fast pyrolysis process from the University of Georgia.
The biomass is heated at carefully controlled high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, and are rapidly condensed into a bio-oil that can be added to biodiesel or petroleum diesel. Other pyrolysis by-products are gas and bio-char, which can be used as a soil amendment. _BiofuelsDigest
Tolero plans to utilise dead biomass from forests, including the massive pine beetle kill across millions of acres of western pine forest.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

US Biomass Poised for Near-Term Production

Biomass is poised to become a significant source for renewable energy production during the next decade with the U.S. leading the growing global commitment to biofuel use. As the leading producer and consumer of bio-based renewable energy, the U.S. is driving biomass activity levels within its military, Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). _Bioenergy
With investment coming from Exxon/Mobile, Chevron, BP, Shell, Dupont, Dow, Monsanto, ADM, Google, Bill Gates, -- and a long list of other big players and investors -- bioenergy and biomass energy in the US represents a strong departure from the concept that renewable energy is strictly small-time and non-baseload.
Biomass currently comprises 10% of total renewable energy generation in the U.S. SBI forecasts the market will claim a 12.5% share by 2014, attributing the increase in generation to accelerated efforts among bioenergy companies to generate electricity and liquid biofuels more efficiently and economically. "Global Biofuels Market: Opportunities, Emerging Technologies and Production" examines the industry components, competitors, growth and innovations through expert primary research and analysis.

"Rapid growth of organic biomass manufacturing, especially corn and non-food sources such as forestry products and tallow, will be evident through 2014," says Shelley Carr, publisher of SBI. SBI projects the $103 billion biofuels market will exceed $170 billion by 2014.... _Bioenergy
It will take about 10 years for current biomass energy technologies to scale up to significant levels. Biomass is a baseload renewable -- unlike wind and solar -- and can be produced over most of the Earth's surface, including the oceans. Using gasification, pyrolysis, torrefaction, hydrolysis, and fermentation, biomass energy density can be increased for more economical transport, storage, and utilisation.

In the meantime, microbial energy technologies -- including algal and synthetic biology approaches -- will be ready to begin scaling up production by 2020. By 2030, the newer microbial energy approaches will be making serious inroads on the petro-fuel industry.

Peak Oil a Fantasy for Losers?

Update: Neil Craig has much more

An exciting new oil & gas discovery technique has been developed by scientists at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The new technique improves the chances of hitting paydirt from 20% up to 70%. The improved odds should take some of the risk out of fossil fuel discovery, and put back some of the profit.
Together with two research colleagues, Vladimir Kutcherov has simulated the process involving pressure and heat that occurs naturally in the inner layers of the earth, the process that generates hydrocarbon, the primary component in oil and natural gas.

According to Vladimir Kutcherov, the findings are a clear indication that the oil supply is not about to end, which researchers and experts in the field have long feared....

The degree of accuracy in finding oil is enhanced dramatically – from 20 to 70 percent. Since drilling for oil and natural gas is a very expensive process, the cost picture will be radically altered for petroleum companies, and in the end probably for consumers as well.

“The savings will be in the many billions,” says Vladimir Kutcherov. _SD
The research also suggests that oil and gas can form deep in the Earth, without any fossil intermediaries from plants or animals. The process can be completely abiotic, in other words.

It is certainly a relief to learn that the oil supply is not about to end. The suggestion is that humans have not yet discovered the truly huge oil and gas fields yet. That being the case, talk of an irreversible peaking of oil production may be rather premature. Time will tell.

More information and discussion from Jennifer Marohasy

Previously published at Al Fin


Is Energy Suicide Official US Policy Now?

Without energy, an entity will die. This is true for plants, animals -- and for nations.

During the campaign, Obama promised to shut down coal fueled power plants -- and he is doing just that.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If somebody wants to build a coal-fired plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being admitted. _R&D
Under the Obama administration, offshore oil, oil shales, nuclear power, and other reliable forms of baseload power are not having much success either. Obama seems to believe that shutting down the US energy supply will make him a better leader, and the US a better country.

The Chinese are a good deal more intelligent, apparently, and understand that a nation's energy supply is the life's blood of its industry. That is why the Chinese are planning a vast new energy future for the 21st century.

Brian Wang has covered China's ambitious nuclear energy plans. China has large contracts with Areva, Mitsubishi, Westinghouse, and other nuclear power contractors, to build a large array of newer generation, safer nuclear power plants.

China is also becoming a leader in the implementation of clean coal gasification power.
Under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Shell and Shenhua, the two parties will explore opportunities to jointly develop more advanced coal gasification technology. In addition, they will discuss the possible application of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. A joint working team will be set up to implement the agreement.

Shenhua has built the world’s first million-tonne level direct coal liquefaction project in China’s Inner Mongolia, equipped with two gasifiers using Shell’s coal gasification technology to produce hydrogen from coal.

The Shell-Shenhua MoU was signed alongside government meetings between China and the Netherlands on sustainable energy cooperation. Officials from the National Energy Administration of China and the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands witnessed the signing, after their meeting concluded with a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of energy between the two government departments.

Shenhua Coal to Liquid and Chemical Co. Ltd. is a subsidiary company to Shenhua Group Corporation Limited. Shenhua Group is the world’s largest coal company. It not only builds coal-to-liquid and coal-chemical projects, but also develops CCS, hydrogen power and renewable energy technology.

Shell has been developing and commercializing coal gasification technology since the 1970s with a total of 26 licensing agreements signed worldwide. Shell has signed 19 licensing agreements with different Chinese users. Eleven plants using Shell coal gasification technology, including Shell’s joint venture with Sinopec in Yueyang of Hunan Province, have been started up.

Gasification equipment. The SCGP is a dry-feed, oxygen-blown, entrained flow coal gasification process which has the capability to convert virtually any coal or petroleum coke into a clean medium Btu synthesis gas.

In SCGP, high pressure nitrogen or recycled syngas in used to pneumatically convey dried, pulverized coal to the gasifier. The coal enters the gasifier through diametrically opposed burners where it reacts with oxygen at around 1,600 °C. The gasification temperature is maintained to ensure that the mineral matter in the coal is molten and will flow smoothly down the gasifier wall and out the slag tap. The hot syngas exiting the gasifier is quenched to below the softening point of the slag and then cooled further in the syngas cooler. _GCC
China is the world's larges coal producer, and the US has the largest coal reserves. Australia, Russia, and India also have large coal reserves.

Using gasification, it is possible to turn any type of coal or carbonaceous material, into clean synthesis gas. Syngas can be fired like natural gas, or turned into more complex fuels, chemicals, or polymers.

China's system of government and economy once suffered under tremendous disadvantages with respect to the government and economy of the US. As the government of the US continues to eviscerate the US economy, any advantages the US enjoyed are beginning to slip away.

Even under a global regime of poverty, someone will be on top. At the rate the Obama administration is going, the one on top will be China.

Cross-posted to Al Fin


Monday, September 14, 2009

IEC Polywell Fusion Project Gets New Funding

Update: Brian Westenhaus has a new post with additional information on IEC fusion

For those of you who thought that human controlled nuclear fusion was 50 or 100 years away, M. Simon reports a new $8 million contract awarded to EMC2 to extend their research on the Bussard Polywell IEC fusion approach. (via Brian Wang)
From the descriptions it is clear that the IEC fusion devices are far simpler than the ITER tokomak fusion devices. It is also simpler than nuclear fission reactors. So success would mean faster transformation, but it would still take five to ten years for big infrastructure impact to the point that oil would start to be significantly displaced. Plus it would first hit coal for electricity. Unlike current fission reactors which take 4-6 years to build, these IEC fusion reactors might be buildable in 1-3 years. There is still the issue of licensing and regulatory approvals. It is not clear what that licensing/regulatory process would be but it should be shorter than nuclear fission licensing as the IEC fusion is easier to shutoff and does not have nuclear fuel or waste.

The full scale IEC fusion reactors would be about 4 meters in radius and weigh about 14 tons and generate 1GW and 8 meters for about 128GW. Power will be 5-20 times cheaper. _NextBigFuture
This is small science at its best, where individuals can make a difference for the better.

More links from IEC Fusion Technology Blog:
An Introduction to Fusion Energy for Students of Science and Engineering

Bussard's IEC Fusion Technology (Polywell Fusion) Explained

Basics of fusion from American Thinker

The Google Talk from Bussard himself, explaining to Google techs and engineers the history of IEC and his own hopes for the technology:

Previously published at Al Fin


Interesting Online Calculator to Compare Long Term Costs of Hybrids and Conventional Vehicles

What costs less? The $26,000 Nissan Leaf or the $24,000 Chevy Impala?

The Leaf actually runs about $17,000 less, when you include the total fuel costs over a 10-year period, estimate that gas will cost $3.61 a gallon and include the $7,500 federal tax credit for all-electric cars, according to a cost calculator created by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Over the 10-year period, the Leaf will cost its owner $25,680 while the Impala will run $42,680.

The calculator, part of RMI's "Project Get Ready" initiative to acclimate policy makers, consumers and manufacturers to the coming changes to transportation, exists to provide somewhat close and realistic cost estimates for hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electrics, according to Tripp Hyde, the RMI analyst who came up with the application. _GTM
Comparing the long term costs of a pluggable hybrid with a conventional vehicle can be interesting. Go to for a helpful online calculator, which will assist you in determining whether the higher priced hybrid is worth the extra money.

Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. You also have to take into accounts whatever rebates, incentives, and tax breaks that may be applicable.

If you are shopping for a vehicle, or simply curious about whether the current crop of PHEVs are worth the extra cost, give it a try.

H/T GreentechMedia


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Los Alamos Acoustic Focus Technology Combines Separation and Concentration Steps for Algal Biofuels

An award-winning technology from the Los Alamos Labs is finding application in the increasingly important quest for algal biofuels. Solix Biofuels is adopting Los Alamos' acoustic focus technology to both separate and concentrate the algal oil. This method is said to reduce energy requirements by a factor of 100 or more.
In order to turn algae into transportation fuel, the tiny plant-like organisms first must be separated from their watery home and the growth medium used to sustain them. Current methods rely on giant centrifuges to separate liquids from algae solids. Centrifuges take a lot of power to operate, raising production costs and increasing the process’ overall carbon use. Moreover, standard fuel-conversion methods extract lipids from the algae using solvents that are potentially hazardous to humans and the environment, and costly to dispose of.

Thanks to use of Los Alamos’s acoustic-focusing technology, the algae-water-growth-medium mixture is subjected to ultrasonic fields that concentrate the algal cells into a dense sludge. This combined separation and concentration method uses hundreds of times less power than centrifuges. The Lab’s lipid extraction and fractionation technique also avoids the need for costly, hazardous solvents.

.... _RenewableEnergy
Some improvements in the efficiency of producing algal fuels will be incremental. Some improvements may well be revolutionary. Either way, some of the largest economic entities and governments of the world are committed to developing algal fuels technology to the point of profitability in a head to head competition with fossil fuels.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Update on Terrabon's Multi-Organism Biofuel Approach

Most microbe producers of biofuels utilise only one micro-organism in their processes. But Terrabon uses a "community" of symbiotic organisms which together provide multiple catalytic processes in the path to biofuels production. Terrabon is already producing gasoline precursors with its process, and has recently partnered with the giant corporation Waste Management, to assure plentiful feedstock and other technical expertise.
Most biofuels companies fall into one of two categories. Some use enzymes to break down biomass into simple sugars and a single organism to convert sugars into fuel, such as yeast. Others use high temperatures and pressure to break biomass down into basic chemical building blocks--carbon monoxide and hydrogen--which are then chemically processed into fuels. Terrabon has developed a process that combines the two. It uses a naturally occurring mixture of organisms to convert biomass, not into fuels, but into carboxylic acids. These can be converted into fuel and other chemicals using well-known chemical processes. Gary Luce, the company's CEO, says Terrabon's fuels can compete with petroleum-based fuels if prices are above $75 a barrel. (The price of oil is currently about $70 a barrel.)

The approach has an advantage over single-organism-based methods because the mixture of organisms used, collected from salt marshes, are adapted to survive in the wild. They don't require the special sterile environments needed to prevent single-organism cultures from being contaminated, which brings down the cost of equipment.

These organisms naturally break down biomass into carboxylic acids, such as acetic acid, the key component of vinegar. These acids can serve as chemical precursors for a wide variety of chemicals and fuels, including gasoline and diesel, via processing steps that convert the acids into ketones and alcohols. The acids can be made without the expensive equipment required for high-pressure and -temperature processes. They can also then be processed into fuels using equipment at existing refineries, helping keep costs down....

Terrabon's composting centers, where biomass is converted into acids, can be located near sources of biomass--such as municipal landfills or farms. The acids--or solid salts made from these acids--would then be shipped to a refinery for conversion to biofuels. Terrabon also has a partnership with Valero, the major oil refiner based in San Antonio, which will help in this stage of the process....

McMillan says the success of the company will depend in part on the costs and energy required for transporting raw materials and converting acids into fuels. He also says the carbon-dioxide emissions from the chemical process could be higher than with other advanced biofuels. One step in particular, hydrogenation, requires hydrogen, which is typically derived from fossil fuels. Depending on the source of the hydrogen, and the energy required in other steps, it may be difficult for Terrabon's fuels to qualify as advanced biofuels and so qualify for key federal incentives.

Terrabon, which has been operating a pilot-scale plant in Bryan, TX, plans to begin building a 55-ton-per-day facility in Port Arthur, TX, starting early next year. With the help of Valero's Port Arthur refinery, that facility is expected to produce about 1.3 million gallons of biofuel a year when finished in 2011. _TechnologyReview

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20 KW Gas Fired CHP Furnace in Your Basement?

Lichtblick and Volkswagen are pushing a plan to install 100,000 20KW gas fired CHP furnaces in the basements of Hamburg residents. The furnaces would provide hot water, space heat, and electricity for the homes. Any excess electricity produced would be shunted to the power grid.
Although the generators are not a new concept, the project is novel in that Lichtblick would retain control over the plants after their installation.

Households would pay around 5,000 euros (7,250 dollars) to have the generators set up along with an appropriate heating system.

But individuals would then pay a lower price for heating and receive a modest "rent" for hosting the generator, as well as a bonus at the end of the year calculated on electricity revenues that resulted from Lichtblick's sales. _PO_via_Impactlab
Perhaps a better approach would be natural gas powered fuel cells for homes, functioning as CHP devices. They would produce plenty of heat, and considerably more power than the less efficient combustion furnaces. Several Japanese companies are pursuing the home fuel cell approach.

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Wood Recycling and Waste Respresents an Enormous Resource of Untapped Energy

The economic downturn has been particularly hard on companies dealing with forestry and wood products. Already hammered by a long-term economic depression, these companies have been scrapping for every bit of business they could find. Some of them are discovering the huge untapped resource of bioenergy.
As general manager of Vancouver’s H&H Wood Recyclers, Broberg oversaw the sale of about 40 truckloads a day of hog fuel – wood chips from forest debris – to firms such as Georgia Pacific and Longview Fiber. Then the paper industry took a downturn and the companies no longer needed his wood products.

“I’m sitting there with 40 loads a day wondering what I’m going to do now,” says Broberg, who grew up in Scappoose.

But he and H&H owner Larry Olson had an idea.

Backed by Olson, Broberg started a new business, St. Helens-based Biogreen Sustainable Energy Co. He plans to open a new biomass facility in La Pine, near Bend, where the wood chips from those 40 truckloads will be burned and converted into energy.

Although biomass plants have been operating for decades, they’ve re-emerged in recent years as a sustainable way to maintain forests and provide renewable energy.

Most of Oregon’s biomass plants were built before the 1980s, and none were added from 1985 to 2005, says Mark Kendall, senior policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Energy.

However, in the past two years, four have sprung up in Oregon, Kendall says. Now Oregon hosts 64 biomass sites, 18 of them generating electricity.

“It is a low-cost, competitive energy supply,” Kendall says. “It has recently gained a claim as a renewable resource that has good ecological and good economical favor.” _Bioenergy
Cellulosic biomass from wood and wood products overflows landfills and waste dumps around the world. Much better to use this energy and eliminate waste at the same time.

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Torrefaction Strategy Will be Key for Bioenergy

Torrefaction is the process of roasting biomass to remove moisture content and increase its energy density. Torrefied mass is often referred to as "bio-coal."
Torrefied Biomass facts and properties:

- Hydrophobic nature: the material does not regain humidity in storage and therefore unlike wood and charcoal, it is stable and with well defined composition.

- Lower moisture content and higher calorific values as compared to unprocessed Biomass.

- Exhausts less emissions when ignited in end user applications and can be produced in a desired shape and form.

- Higher density and similar mechanical strength compared to the initial Biomass.

- Suitable for various applications as a fuel - in the steel industry, combustion, and gasification.

- Torrefied products can substitute charcoal in a number of applications such as fuel for domestic cooking stoves or residential heating.

- Raw material for manufacture of improved solid fuel products such as fuel pellets, compacted fireplace logs and barbecue briquettes for commercial and domestic uses. Torrefied briquettes have superior combustion characteristic as compared with ordinary briquettes.

- Fuel for industrial uses. Important advantage of Torrefied wood compared to wood is its uniformity. It is as a predictable, flexible fuel with optimum combustion and transport economies. Due to the low moisture content of Torrefied wood, the transport cost is lower and the quality as a fuel better. It is easily packaged and transported thru traditional mechanisms, and thus constitutes an efficient fuel. _Bioenergy
Torrefaction is just one of many methods of densifying biomass for more efficient transport, storage, and utilisation.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Welder Builds Own Gasifier to Power Generator

Welder Ben Peterson needed to do something with all the junk lumber left on his property, after tearing down an old farmhouse. He found some plans for a gasifier from FEMA -- the US government emergency management agency -- and figured out how to scale it down a size he could use at home.
But the FEMA device was enormous, so Peterson spent two months redesigning filters and streamlining the airflow to get it down to a more family-friendly size. “I was making these things out of garbage cans and spare pipe, and I got addicted to the design process,” he says. The result is a DIY home gasifier that can power a portable generator. Now Peterson hopes to sell his design to the masses—and his work won’t be done until we’re all filling up our gas tanks with gasified garbage. _PopMech
Peterson wants to put his design into production so that everyone can turn garbage and biomass into syngas -- and turn syngas into useful energy (heat and power).

The process is more efficient at larger scales of course. That is why many huge oil and chemical companies are looking into "biomass to liquids" processes and various cellulosic electricity schemes.

But if you live at a location with a large supply of waste biomass, you may want to consider a small gasifier to run a generator and hot water heater. It is even possible to run automobiles on syngas with little modification.

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Combining Ultracapacitors in Parallel w/ Batteries

Brian Westenhaus takes an intriguing look at an ultracapacitor kit from Ioxus for forklifts, which combines ultracapacitors in parallel with the lead acid storage batteries for superior performance and much longer battery life.
The effect is that the battery set can run 30% longer and avoids a deep discharge, an enemy to lead acid cells life expectancy. If not in a deep freeze ware house customers can reduce the total battery set size by 15% or so.

...This gets more interesting when considering a regenerative braking system. The charging effect is magnified in a fast braking effort. A lot of energy is suddenly loaded into a system – a reverse of the discharge. As readers know, the battery chemistries don’t like those fast charges and discharges. The Ioxus design does just what is needed for those fast cycles. _NewEnergyandFuel
Some very interesting speculation on how to apply this technology, and what the future may hold. Brian goes right to the core of the electric vehicle problem: how to achieve excellent power density and energy density, plus long component life and low cost.

Ultracapacitors provide high power density with rapid charge and discharge. Batteries provide high energy density for long cycling. Combined in parallel, they provide reasonable power density and energy density, plus longer life for the expensive batteries. Not as good as internal combustion engines, but getting there slowly but surely (and with better torque).

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

$200 a Barrel Oil? Not for a While, Yet

While Canadian energy analysts are predicting oil prices over $200 a barrel in the near future, and a Goldman Sachs analyst is standing behind his 2008 prediction of $200 a barrel oil in the near term, financial realities suggest that these predictions have no solid support.
..the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, now lessening somewhat in Europe and Asia, still grips the U.S.A. like a vice. Demand for refined products will remain low for at least a year and possibly longer. More importantly, when a fuel category suddenly becomes inexpensive and plentiful at the same time and if that substance can be adapted for new uses, the potential to change the primary structure of the energy market exists. Pipeline natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) both meet that requirement. Both are being thrust forward as it becomes more and more evident that electrically powered vehicles will be expensive with lengthy refueling conditions. The move to compressed natural gas as a transportation fuel is well underway in southern California and Utah and is beginning to influence the market in Oklahoma. Crude oil shows no real ability to move out of the $70/bbl range and can easily linger there for months. Further pressure on consumption of crude oil based refined products is coming from gas-condensate, the by-product of LNG. On the crude oil front, the international majors are maintaining high capital and exploratory budgets with a focus on the upstream because they see exactly the same depletion rates as Mr. Rubin. Some national oil companies, notably Saudi Aramco and Petrobras see it too. Much of the deep water Gulf of Mexico crude oil can be delivered to the intake manifold of a Gulf Coast refinery at between $25-35/bbl. Production from the Orinoco Tar belt, while expensive, is not nearly as as expensive as Canadian oil sand oil. Crude oil from much of the Permian basin can go to refinery at about $30/bbl all in. Crude oil from the San Joaquin appears to be a little cheaper. Major crude oil redevelopment projects in the Middle East can put oil into refinery at $20/bbl. Taken all together, while no one doubts that crude oil will steadily dwindle with a consequent rise in price, the powerful pressure of pipeline gas and LNG cannot be waved away. And as always, much hinges on how fast world economies recover from the body blows of 2008. Some think they have already recovered as much as they are going to - at least for a decade. Inflation alone can (and will) easily drive the price of crude oil above $200/bbl but that also is not just around the corner. _GLGroup
Yes, inflation and lower value for the US dollar will eventually push the price of oil above $200 a barrel. But that is very weak support indeed for current predictions.

Peak oil punkadoodles must grasp onto any confirmation of their apocalyptic visions as they can, of course. Ironic, isn't it, that the world economy must recover from one economic disaster before it can collapse utterly from peak oil. Because as long as demand stays low, all that oil will simply stay in the ground. And the longer the fields are left relatively undisturbed, the better the recovery technology that will be available when the time comes to go back to those fields.

It's far too much for the one trick ponies of peak oil to keep track of.


A Quick Survey of New Nuclear Technologies

After they solve the engineering problems, new power sources are faced with government bureaucracy -- perhaps the most insurmountable problem of all. Today we'll look at emerging nuclear power sources. Later we'll consider how to escape the chokehold of bureaucratic obstructionists. The article below is excerpted from GreentechMedia.
Small Fission Reactors

Instead of building reactors capable of producing 1 to over 3 gigawatts of power, these reactors individually can generate 25 to 300 megawatts of heat and/or electricity. They work in the same manner as conventional reactors and coal plants: Nuclear fuel creates steam, which turns a turbine.

The individual reactors can be deployed to provide power to isolated communities or off-grid industrial sites like mines that are currently served by diesel generators. Alternatively, they can be chain-ganged together to provide the close to the same amount of power of a large facility.

The electricity from these small plants will cost about 6 to 9 cents a kilowatt hour over a lifetime to generate, or about the same as a conventional plant. (Nuclear plants in the U.S. can provide power for 7 to 8 cents a kilowatt hour; the price in the U.S. is around 6 to 8 cents with loan guarantees and 8 to 10 cents a kilowatt hour without.) The advantage comes in safety and more rapid construction.

Sandia National Labs.

...The Sandia reactor will be capable of putting out 100 to 300 megawatts of thermal power (large for mini-nukes) and can be sealed for several decades without refueling (curbing nuclear waste and proliferation.) The reactor core itself will sit inside an envelope of liquid sodium to cool it, which eliminates the need for pumps, pipes and other equipment that can fail. Exporting it to emerging nations is one of the goals.

Ideally, a manufacturer could make 50 of them a year at $250 million each, which translates to electricity at 5 cents a kilowatt hour. Each individual reactor might take two years to build.

NuScale Power. Funded by venture firm CMEA, NuScale essentially is developing a smaller, similar reactor: It will generate 45 megawatts of electricity and feature a passive cooling system that relies on water. By connecting 12 or 24 into an array, NuScale hopes to build power plants that will produce power for 6 to 9 cents a kilowatt hour. Although that's roughly the same price as regular nuclear plants, NuScale's advantage is that construction time could be considerably less. That ominous, complex cement dome won't be required.

Unlike Sandia's reactor, NuScale's needs to be refueled every few years.

Babcock & Wilcox

The company's mPower light water reactor will generate 125 megawatts of power. The underground reactor would be refueled every five years and last 60 years. The company will likely submit its designs to the NRC in 2011 or 2012, putting the expected date for an operation plant toward 2020. The Tennessee Valley Authority has already begun the long evaluation process.


Disposal and power all in one. TerraPower wants to create reactors that will run on depleted uranium from nuclear waste sites or, possibly, thorium. Besides reducing nuclear waste stockpiles, depleted uranium reactors could conceivably extend uranium supplies for hundreds of years.

Hyperion Power Generation. The mini-mini. Hyperion's reactor, measuring 1.5 meters in diameter and about the size of a hot tub, will generate 70 megawatts of heat or 25 megawatts of energy. Hyperion buries the reactor in a cement chamber, where it only needs to be refueled every five years. The company, which came out of Los Alamos National Lab, hopes to start delivering reactors in 2013 for a price of $25 million to $30 million. Altira Group is the main investor and more funds are being sought.

Hyperion's initial target will be military bases, tar-sands mines (where it could be used to clean gummy oils) and other isolated, off-grid communities with large power needs. CEO John Deal is one of the more visible executives in this market.

Thorium Reactors

Far more common than uranium, thorium can be mixed with a small amount of uranium, bombarded with neutrons and turned into a U-233 to produce the necessary heat. Thorium reactors do not produce weapons-grade plutonium either. While some early reactors employed thorium, though, uranium swept the industry because the reaction generates more energy. Now, it may make a comeback.

Thorium Power. D.C.-based Thorium Power was founded in 1992 to capitalize on the research of Alvin Radkowsky, who worked with Edward Teller and Hyman Rickover. The company began to collaborate with Russia's Kurchatov Institute two years later. In 2007, it inked an alliance with Red Star, a government owned nuclear plant designer.


The ultimate energy source – carbon free, virtually limitless, and no nuclear waste.

• Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the lab has devised a stadium-sized laser with 192 extremely-high powered beams. The beams can be focused onto a spot about a half a millimeter in diameter in a target chamber. If the energy can be delivered onto a fuel pellet made up hydrogen isotopes, it can conceivably cause the atoms to fuse into a form of helium, and thereby deliver more power than the lasers consume. The goal is to demo the laser in 2010 or 2011.

MIT. Among other nuclear projects, MIT last year showed how it can exploit radio waves to propel the hot hydrogen plasma (a precursor to fusion) inside a reactor without hitting the walls or causing turbulence, which can interfere with fusion reactions.

Tri-Alpha Energy. Founded in 1998 from research conducted at UC Irvine, Tri-Alpha creates a fusion reaction with hydrogen and boron. It raised $40 million in 2007 from, among others, Venrock.

General Fusion. Canada's General Fusion uses a technique called Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) model. In this scenario, an electric current is generated in a conductive cavity containing lithium and a plasma. The electric current produces a magnetic field and the cavity is collapsed, which results in a massive temperature spike.

The lithium breaks down into helium and tritium. Tritium, an unstable form of hydrogen, is separated and then mixed with deuterium, another form of hydrogen. The two fuse and make helium, a reaction that releases energy that can be harvested. (They also have a picture of a cool dinosaur on their website.)

Fission Fusion Hybrid

A supplemental form of power with Lawrence Livermore's LIFE reactor. In this scenario, the fusion core is wrapped in blankets consisting of uranium, depleted uranium, thorium, plutonium or other nuclear material. Neutrons released during the fusion process would pass through a series of plates to a layer of metallic pebbles, releasing more neutrons which turn would hit the f blanket, causing fission reactions. Ideally, the system would consume nuclear waste and generate fission power without generating chain reactions. (More on this in a subsequent article.)

Molecular Manipulation

Technically, not fission or fusion at all, but a form of exploiting the properties of various materials to release energy.

The CEA, France's Nuclear Commission, has an ambient thermoelectric generator that can release 4 milliwatts per square centimeter for every (Celsius) degree difference via the Seebeck Effect (coined by Estonian physicist Thomas Seebeck). In the Seebeck Effect, electric current can be generated by the energy differences between two materials in close proximity. The Seebeck Effect typically works because of extreme temperature variations – i.e., a hot pipe in a cold room. Potentially, new materials could create Seebeck power at normal temperatures.

In the same vein, deep-space spacecraft now employ nuclear batteries. In these, plutonium is wrapped in a thermoelectric material (like bismuth telluride) that converts heat into electricity. Nuclear batteries are far more efficient than lithium-ion batteries but are probably impractical for widespread commercial use, according to IBM's Winfried Wilcke.

Blacklight Power says it has discovered a new form of hydrogen called a Hydrino. When ordinary hydrogen is mixed with a chemical catalyst at a relatively cool 50 degrees Celsius, hydrogen molecules turn into hydrinos, according to Blacklight. The hydrogen-to-hydrino reaction releases 200 times more energy than the amount of energy that gets released when hydrogen is burned.

"The hydrogen releases an extremely large amount of energy. There is unequivocally energy being produced," said CEO Randell Mills.

Cold Fusion

Michael McKubre from SRI International continues to determine whether one could dunk palladium into water infused with the hydrogen isotope deuterium and apply an electric current. Voilà, you'd have an electric battery. The cold fusion concept has been heaped with scorn since 1989 when two University of Utah professors published papers on it. Critics noted that other institutions weren't finding the same results. _GreentechMedia
The Bussard IEC fusion approach is another approach to small fusion that has shown some promise.

Breakthroughs do not come to order. They take time, and have to be proven out.

Unfortunately, technical feasibility and functionality is not enough in this day and age. What do do about government bureaucratic obstructionism will be the topic of a future posting.

Cross-posted at Al Fin


Saturday, September 05, 2009

New Danish Super-Critical Bio-Oil Process

CatLiq is especially well-suited for treating organic waste with high water content such as sewage slurry, waste from food production and waste products from the production of bioethanol, according to SCF Technologies.
Image Source
Yet another super-critical fluid technology has been developed -- this time in Denmark -- to produce bio-oils from organic waste and biomass.
Vattenfall and Aalborg University are partnering with Danish startup SCF Technologies in a two-year project to design a demonstration plant based on SCF’s CatLiq process—an application of the firm’s supercritical fluid technology in the catalytic production of bio-oil from organic waste.

CatLiq converts biomass and organic wastes in water at near or supercritical conditions (280-350 °C and 180-250 bar). Under these conditions water is very reactive, and converts, in the presence of homogeneous (KOH) and heterogeneous (ZrO2) catalysts, the organic fraction of the feed into smaller and more saturated molecules in the form of a bio-oil product, a water-soluble organics product and a high calorific value gas product. In addition to the bio-oil/methane products, the process can be tuned to produce hydrogen and water soluble fuels such as methanol, ethanol or acetaldehyde.

The high reactivity of water results in high conversion rates of organic matter and a high throughput. In 2008, SCF ran a series of tests of CatLiq using aqueous feed streams at the pilot plant in Herlev, Denmark. Test results showed CatLiq converted 70-90% of the energy in the feedstream into energy in the bio-oil product. It was based on those results that SCF began discussions with Danish and international companies on further commercialization of CatLiq. _GCC


Friday, September 04, 2009

Finding a New Niche for Solar Power?

Solar power is well-suited for small scale and off-grid applications. But without cheap utility-scale storage, the daily time limits on sunshine make large scale solar impractical and exorbitantly expensive. Abengoa Solar, based in Lakewood, CO, and Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest electrical utility, have come up with an idea that may get a foot in the door for larger solar utility projects: mixing solar energy with coal energy.
...a large part of the cost of a solar-thermal plant is the equipment for converting heat into electricity. The Abengoa Solar project will use existing boilers, turbines, generators, and so on, reducing this cost.

"The thing that's attractive about this is you only have to buy the solar field portion of the plant, which is 50 to 60 percent of the cost of the plant," says Hank Price, director of technology at Abengoa Solar. That could effectively make solar-thermal power about 30 to 50 percent cheaper, according to various estimates. That would equate to a range of about six to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is competitive with many conventional sources of electricity. "It's potentially the most cost-effective way to get significant solar power on the grid," he says.

In the new project, because parabolic troughs don't generate sufficiently high temperatures, the heat they produce won't be fed directly into the turbines. Instead, it will be used to preheat water that will be fed into the coal plant's boilers, where coal is burned to turn the water into steam. _TechnologyReview
Because the water going into the boilers will be pre-heated by focused solar heat, less coal will be required to produce the steam that powers the steam turbines.

Whether this approach actually saves money, will require some testing and a great deal of analysis. It is a good idea that has to be proven by hard-headed work.

The problem hanging over the energy sector, preventing a clear analysis of new technologies, is the political crusade over carbon climate catastrophe. If the economics of energy is allowed to be distorted by political crusades, we will all end up much worse off than we are today. We hope that this project, lake all energy projects, can be evaluated in a dispassionate manner.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Naperville Illinois Unveils New City Gasifier

The city of Naperville, Illinois, in partnership with Argonne National Labs and other local industries including Packer Engineering, has demonstrated a biomass gasification plant for production of syngas.
The team's 12-foot gasifier, dubbed the Stalk Stoker, uses products such as switch grass, wood chips and leftovers from crops. That bio-waste is converted into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, then undergoes a series of heat exchanges to become a mixture called syngas.

Now that they have produced syngas, the team will spend two years working on using the gasifier to create three types of environmentally friendly fuels - bioelectricity, hydrogen and ethanol - that would be used in the green fuels depot.....

The team of experts will need $7.8 million - expected to come through government grants and private funding - to create the green fuels depot.....

The current prototype is not large enough to offer the alternative fuels to the general public but the group hopes other municipalities will use the same model and its scale will be increased in the future.

In the meantime, the engineers plan to market the gasifier to farmers and small factories by mid-2010. The device produces heat and power so it can be used in both settings as an alternate source of energy.

The gasifier project received $1 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $160,000 from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and $80,000 from Growth Dimensions, an economic development group in Belvidere. _Bioenergy
As gasification technologies improve, this approach to the conversion of biomass, coal, oil shales, oil sands, etc. to syngas, power, and process heat, will only get better and more efficient.

The low energy density of biomass in the fields and forests remains a challenge. But as mobile pre-processing plants are developed which can travel into the fields and forests to densify the biomass, the problem will be solved. Remember: the promise of biomass is greatest at local and regional scales. It should not be seen as a cure for national and international energy shortages -- not at present levels of the technology.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sources of Oil Used in the US

Image Source
Thanks to the Obama administration, US oil companies are restricted from pursuing profitable offshore oil fields. Oil companies are restricted from developing rich deposits of oil shale. Nuclear plants are hamstrung by regulation, prevented from building safe new reactor designs. Coal power plants are being driven into bankruptcy, intentionally.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration plans to give many billions of dollars to Brazil to develop its offshore oil fields. This money will be borrowed from China, then forwarded to Brazil. US taxpayers will be left holding the bag, and will eventually have to pay exorbitant prices to Brazil for its new oil.

Your tax dollars at work. Your elected officials looking out for you.

We know that solar and wind are unreliable and exorbitantly expensive. Eventually -- if not blocked by environmental lobbyists -- alternatives to petroleum fuels will be affordable and available.

But until that time, only a government with a death wish for its own economy and citizens would promote the energy policies of the current US reich.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Race for Mini-Reactors

Sandia National Laboratories joined the race to license and build mini nuclear reactors -- small, modular, safe, and cheap in comparison to standard commercial reactors.
Sandia National Laboratories said it has designed a small nuclear reactor and is looking for partners to commercialize it and even sell it overseas. The reactor could provide 100 to 300 megawatts worth of heat. More importantly, the factory-built reactor could be completed in two years, far less than the seven years or more that large (3,000 megawatts), conventional reactors take.

Roughly 85 percent of the design is complete. The cost of the reactor could drop to $250 million once in production. _GreentechMedia
Already in the race are:

Hyperion Power Generation

Babcock and Wilcox

NuScale Power


TerraPower is unique in that it aims to produce fully scalable reactors that run on either natural or depleted uranium. That approach would eliminate the risk of weapons proliferation from its fuel, and would cut fuel costs significantly.


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