Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Engineering Tobacco Plants for Fuel

Researchers at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University, have tweaked two genes in the tobacco plant, causing the tobacco leaves to produce over twice the amount of oil normally produced.
According to Vyacheslav Andrianov, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, tobacco can generate biofuel more efficiently than other agricultural crops. However, most of the oil is typically found in the seeds � tobacco seeds are composed of about 40 percent oil per dry weight.

Although the seed oil has been tested for use as fuel for diesel engines, tobacco plants yield a modest amount of seeds, at only about 600 kg of seeds per acre. Dr. Andrianov and his colleagues sought to find ways to engineer tobacco plants, so that their leaves expressed the oil.

"Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren't used in food production," Dr. Andrianov said. "We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves."

Typical tobacco plant leaves contain 1.7 percent to 4 percent of oil per dry weight. The plants were engineered to overexpress one of two genes: the diacyglycerol acytransferase (DGAT) gene or the LEAFY COTYLEDON 2 (LEC2) gene. The DGAT gene modification led to about 5.8 percent of oil per dry weight in the leaves, which about two-fold the amount of oil produced normally. The LEC2 gene modification led to 6.8 percent of oil per dry weight. _Eurekalert
An interesting fallacy in the above report: Andrianov claims that using plants not used in food production for biofuels is somehow "better" than using food plants for biofuels. In actuality, if one wants to maximise food production, one must make sure that he produces his biofuels plants on land that is unsuitable for food crop production, AND utilises only equipment, personnel, fertiliser, water, and any other production materials that could not have otherwise been used for food production.

But since the US has long produced significant excess food, and since less than half the arable land in the US is being used for food production, and since the productivity of food farming (per land used) seems to improve virtually every year, allowing for weather fluctuations -- the food vs. fuels controversy has always been more than a little bit over-hyped.

When humans starve, it is virtually always due to political factors. Warring factions that deny their opponents access to food aid -- generally shipped at great expense in massive amounts. Without such unscrupulous practises by warlords and dictators, starvation would be virtually unknown.

As for the cost of commodities, the 2007 to 2008 spike in oil prices had far more to do with high costs of grain than did biofuels production. Food production in the US expands according to demand, which helps to regulate price. When more maize is used for multiple purposes, more maize is grown.

Al Fin has always preferred 2nd and 3rd generation (non-food) biofuels to biofuels from food. That is because the feedstock for 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels can be more plentifully and cheaply grown on more marginal soils, often using brackish or even salt water. The hysteria over "food for fuels" is greatly misplaced.


Personal Nuclear Energy on a Nano Scale

Bringing nuclear energy to the personal level may take a decade or two. Bringing nuclear energy to the nano-scale may take even longer. Brian Wang brings us a discussion on nuclear powered nano-bots to be implanted into your body, to produce the ATP energy molecule -- so you won't have to eat! Or perhaps more realistically, so you can eat anything you want without suffering for it.
Here’s how these would work: the only reason people eat is to replace the energy they expend walking around, breathing, living life, etc. Like all creatures, we take energy stored in plant or animal matter. Freitas points out that the isotope gadolinium-148 could provide much of the fuel the body needs. But a person can’t just eat a radioactive chemical and hope to be healthy, instead he or she would ingest the gadolinium in the form of nanorobots. The gadolinium-powered robots would make sure that the person’s body was absorbing the energy safely and consistently. Freitas says the person might still have to take some vitamin or protein supplements but because gadolinium has a half life of 75 years, the person might be able to go for a century or longer without a square meal.

...“Nutribots” floating through the bloodstream would allow people to eat virtually anything, a big fatty steak for instance, and experience very limited weight or cholesterol gain. The nutribots would take the fat, excess iron, and anything else that the eater in question did not want absorbed into his or her body and hold onto it. The body would pass the nurtibots, and the excess fat, normally out of the body in the restroom. _NextBigFuture

Implantable nanobots could theoretically perform any number of vital functions for humans. To learn more see here (via Brian Wang), or follow other links you can find at the NBF article linked above.

Of course by the time we reach this level of nanotechnology, we will probably not be worrying very much about food scarcity, peak energy, peak resources, overpopulation, carbon catastrophe, or any other "crisis du jour" that occupies popular attention these days.

If we can make our own nanobots at home that can provide us with the goods and services of the most affluent society -- at virtually no cost to ourselves -- it will be safe to say that the age of scarcity is over.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Biomass Substitutes for Coal

Several US coal-fired power plants are learning to co-fire biomass with the coal. The long-term goal is to substitute biomass for coal altogether. One Ohio project intends to retrofit a coal plant to run on 100% biomass.

The biggest problem with the plan is that it is not designed to capture waste heat. In other words, for every "tree's worth of energy" the plant recovers in electricity, 3 or 4 trees are being wasted, producing heat that is not recovered or used. That is a pathetic waste of resources, regardless of how economic it may seem in the short term -- considering government incentives, mandates, and carbon rules. Combined heat and power (CHP) provides both electricity and useful heat. Designers must learn to integrate the more efficient approach into their plans.
Converting a coal-fired power plant into one that uses biomass is precisely what First Energy plans to do. Last April the utility announced plans to repower its coal-fired R.E. Burger Plant Units 4 and 5 using biomass. Ultimately, the plan is for the 312 MW plant to be powered by up to 100 percent biomass. However, the plant also is being designed with co-firing up to 20 percent coal.

...When complete, the Burger plant will be among the largest biomass power plants in the U.S. Since a project of this size hasn’t been done in the United States, challenges do exist, said Durbin. While the company already has in place equipment and systems to monitor particulates and nitrogen oxide emissions, it will need to solve a number of problems before getting the project off the ground. One problem is storage.

“Coal can get wet, get snowed on,” said Durbin. By contrast, biomass needs to stay dry. Durbin said the company plans to source biomass much in the same way it sources coal: from the best supplier. That may involve using wood chips and/or waste wood and processing it in a manner similar to the way coal is processed, or it may involve sourcing pellets. It’s also possible the company would use organic material such as switchgrass. “We are still working through the logistics,” said Durbin.

...For now, First Energy Generation plans to use the biomass to produce electricity alone and not harvest waste heat for cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP). And that’s a problem, according to Dan Richter, professor of soils and forest ecology at Duke University.

“If we burn wood for electricity only, about three to four logs need to be burned to recover the energy contained in one. If heat and electricity are recovered with advanced wood combustion (AWC) technology, we can capture three to four times the energy that is recovered when burning wood solely for electricity,” he said.

Richter said AWC technology is widely deployed in Europe with plants achieving up to 90 percent efficiencies from burning biomass. Interestingly, four of the five plants that First Energy Generation engineers visited in Europe are combined heat and power (CHP) plants, even though the Ohio plant will generate electricity only.

Richter and a consortium of experts in the forestry and energy industry believe that burning wood solely for electricity wastes sizeable amounts of thermal energy.

“When we do calculations on how much wood is available in the nation and we look at potential supplies for energy we find that there’s just not enough of it to waste,” he said. “But if we can use it efficiently — capturing 70, 80, 90 percent [of the embodied energy in wood] — then wood does become a pretty interesting source of renewable energy that the country isn’t really aware of yet.” _Bioenergy
There is nothing wrong with co-firing coal and biomass. Using gasification technologies -- such as integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) -- you can utilise even dirty coal, without producing significant pollution in the exhaust.

The biggest hangups to using new technology, are government rules, regulations, mandates, and incentives -- most of which lead away from economic efficiencies altogether.

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Piezoelectric Tree Harvests Breeze Power

Imagine all the energy moving through the leaves of a large oak or pine. Have you ever tried to devise a way to tap into the power of a breeze using the leaves of a tree? Cornell researchers have devised a "piezo tree", an artificial tree-like structure with piezoelectric "leaves." But don't expect to power your house from just one tree.
Researchers at Cornell University have created an energy harvesting "piezo-tree" based on the fluttering of leaves where synthetic leaves are connected to a piezoelectric stem. The device is able to convert the energy in wind into electric power whilst remaining light, low-cost, and easily scaled.

In the prototype, the flexible plate and film are driven to oscillate just as a flag or leaf might flap in the wind. The flapping motion is attributed to instability of the aero-elastic system. When creating the piezo-tree, researches used the flexible piezoelectric material Polyvinylidene Fluoride (PVDF) as the basic component, as it could withstand unpredictable wind strength. The basic design is to clamp one edge of PVDF element to a cylinder bluff body and leave the other edge free. When the wind crosses this bluff body, it will lead to a vortex shedding and the periodic pressure difference will drive the piezo-leaf to bend in the downstream of the air wake, synchronously. AC signal is collected from the flapping piezo-leaf, which is working on a periodic bending model, and the electrical energy is stored in a capacitor after rectifying it with a full-wave bridge. _EnergyHarvestingJournal_via_Ecofriend
The project is at the level of 100 pico watt, but has come up with multiple ideas to increase the output by orders of magnitude.

Of course, if you want an artificial tree that is truly functional, why not design it to concentrate CO2 (and turn it into fuel), condense and accumulate pure water for use (and tap into aquifers as well), harvest energy from wind AND sun, and provide multi-functional communications infrastructure (omni-antenna transceiver) -- plus a built-in docking station for robotic groundskeepers and maintenance robots.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

How Refineries Can Save Between 6% and 48% Energy Cost

Oil refineries can save between 6% and 48% of their energy costs of refining, suggests new research from Purdue. The researchers studied the sequence of distillation processes, and discovered 70 sequences (out of a total of 6,000) that were more energy efficient than the current sequences used by industry. This represents a significant cost savings, and a potential competitive advantage for refiners who can adapt these findings to the industrial scale.
"Separations are a huge part of what chemical plants do," Agrawal said. "Improving efficiency by only a few percentage points translates into major savings. For every 100 barrels of oil distilled, nearly two barrels go into supplying energy for distillation. That's a lot of oil."

Crude petroleum is fed into the system, heated and vaporized. Vapor rises up the first column, and the product is collected in a condenser at the top. The process is repeated in additional columns, with the number of columns depending on how many components are to be separated.

But the distillation is more energy efficient depending on the order in which the columns are operated.

"There are many ways to arrange the columns," Agrawal said.

Shah created a computer algorithm that identifies all of the possible sequences and then determines which require the least heat and energy. The Purdue researchers used their new technique to determine there are nearly 6,000 possible sequences for the four columns used in petroleum distillation.

"Once we know all of the possible ways they can be arranged, then we can tell you which ones have the potential to be the most energy efficient," Agrawal said.

Petroleum refineries have been using the same sequence for about 75 years, and it is the most energy efficient of the sequences known to industry, the Purdue researchers confirmed using their new method.

The researchers also determined, however, that 70 of the new sequences identified have potential to consume less energy than the sequence now used by industry. Those 70 sequences range from being 6 percent to 48 percent more energy efficient than the method currently in use. _SD


Choren, Air Liquide Team Up for French BTL

An ambitious new French BTL (biomass to liquids) project will be pushing the envelope of full-chain BTL production:
The Bure Saudron pilot will demonstrate a complete BTL production chain: gathering and conditioning of the biomass, gasification, gas processing, and conversion to synthetic fuel via the Fischer-Tropsch process. It is intended provide the experience necessary for the establishment of a BTL sector, both for process integration techniques and for the definition of a regional economic model. This will be the first production unit of its kind in France.

The pilot plant will use some 75,000 tonnes per year of forest and local agricultural residue to produce about 23,000 tonnes/year of second-generation biofuel (diesel, kerosene and naptha).

Currently, a limitation of BTL processing is the mass yield of the end products. The Bure Saudron project will experiment with a novel solution to increase process efficiency—the ratio of hydrogen to carbon monoxide generated during the synthesis stage of the fuel will be greatly enhanced by the external input of hydrogen. This innovation will be a world first, according to CEA.

This first phase involves the detailed design studies and is under contract with the CNIM group (Constructions Industrielles de la Méditerranée) as prime contractor, and in partnership with Air Liquide, Choren, SNC Lavalin, Foster Wheeler-France and MSW Energy.

Air Liquide will coordinate some of the technical engineering operations and process steps downstream, from gasification through final biofuel upgrading. Air Liquide will also provide oxygen and hydrogen. Oxygen is a required component of the gasification process, and the hydrogen will be used to enhance the quantity and quality of the synthetic fuel produced. Choren is providing the gasification technology. _GCC

The French BTL project intends to grow its own biomass and perform its own gasification and chemical synthesis. Other BTL projects aim to buy biomass from contracted providers or off the open market. It will take several years for the biomass market to develop and mature in terms of quality control and guaranteed delivery. Any carbonaceous mass will do -- as Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] very well knows. ;-)

Hydrogen is likely to prove useful in many ways to the biofuels enterprise. Hydrogen gas is intelligently used by Neste in making its advanced biodiesel product. Adding hydrogen gas to a biomass gasification process to increase yield is another use. The French will use excess nuclear capacity during off hours to produce the hydrogen for use in the above project.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Iraq Blooms, Venezuela Crashes

Iraq plans to quadruple oil production, throwing OPEC into a frenzy.

Iraq aims for 12 million barrels a day -- Iran is concerned.

The world is already over-producing oil, in terms of current low demand. If Iraq carries through on its promise to increase production to 10 million barrels a day or higher, other oil-producing countries will be faced with reduced prices on the world market for their products.

Venezuela is already faced with a default on its sovereign debt of $90 billion. In fact, Venezuela is the nation most likely to go deadbeat on its debts. That may be surprising to those who have noticed how Hugo Chavez has attempted to use his nation's vast oil resources as a political weapon.

A default may make it more difficult for Chavez to pay for his expensive new military he wants to acquire from Russia and China. His plans to rule all of Latin America by placing friendly dictators as heads of state in Central and South America may also be delayed.

Implications for "Peak Oil": Iraq's rush to increase production will call into question the claims of several Peak Oil marketing scammers, who say that world oil peaked in 2005. Of course, almost everything in the real world calls those claims into question. Fortunately, Peak Oil true believers live in their own virtual world, which reflects inward upon itself recursively.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oil Dropping to $30 a Barrel? Stranger Things . . . .

Fossil fuel prices are just about to nose dive. Massive new supplies of energy are coming on stream worldwide. Shale gas has flipped the United States from gas importer to gas surplus. Liquid natural gas (LNG) supplies from Qatar, Algeria and Russia are flooding European and Asian markets. Ethanol production in the US is outstripping demands.

Huge new oil fields in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Ghana will cause an intermediate-term surge in crude oil production. Iraq alone will be producing 5 million more barrels of oil per day within just five years; Brazil will become an oil exporting nation. _ Report_via_BiofuelsDigest
The price of oil can rise or fall for many reasons. The above report discusses falling oil prices based upon rising supplies. The discussion below also highlights the value of the US dollar as an important mover of oil prices.
First, we are seeing signs all over the world of a tightening in monetary policy. From Chinese real estate loan restrictions to actual rate rises in Norway and Australia, and even in the US there is now talk of reining in the stimulus as the economy recovers.
Faking growth?

Secondly, there are increasing question marks over the real strength of emerging market economies. Have they just been faking it for 2009? Stagnant petrol sales in China, for example, hardly square with the reported rip-roaring growth rates.

And certainly much of the government money pumped into China, India and Brazil has gone into inflating stock market and property bubbles of dangerous proportions. Take away the new liquidity and this will implode taking the real economy with it, ask Dubai.

Third, the US dollar appears to have bottomed out and now seems to be on an uptrend (see this article). All commodities are priced in dollars, so when the dollar strengthens then commodity prices fall.

And perhaps a fourth reason to think oil prices might be lower in 2010 is that global demand is still very weak as a result of the impact of the recession on GDP which will now take several years to recover to former levels, even assuming the recession does not turn out to be a double-dipper. _SeekingAlpha
The situation is extremely fluid, and vulnerable to any number of unanticipated events that may occur in an unstable geopolitical environment.

A lot of people stand to profit from "political peak oil" -- the artificial scarcity of fossil fuels due to the actions of political entities such as the Obama - Pelosi reich of the US. Every action the US reich has taken regarding energy has resulted in the decreased availability of fossil fuels -- particularly domestic fuels. Carbon hysteria is one of the main arms of political peak oil. The reich's EPA has acted to impose extortionate penalties on the use and development of fossil fuel resources. Obama's desperate lunge for legacy at Copenhagen reveals his grim intent to hamstring US energy resources and industrial power.

Deflation can turn to inflation of a killing kind, with just the right turns of the screw. Artificial resources scarcity -- as in political peak oil -- can play a pivotal role in a long term economic depression. That can only lead to greater global instability and bloodshed.

Only a change of government -- a return to constitutional safeguards and checks on government power -- can bring the US and the rest of the world up out of this deepening quagmire.


Friday, December 18, 2009

How Long Does it Take to Build a Nuclear Reactor?

According a spokesman at the Nuclear Energy Institute, it takes ten years to build a new nuclear reactor in the US.
A single nuclear power plant takes at least 10 years to build in the U.S., says Paul Genoa, director of policy development for the Nuclear Energy Institute. _SciAm
But Mr. Genoa is referring to a standard double reactor design of about 1 GW each, constructed on site. What about small modular reactors that can be constructed in a factory, and shipped to your site -- whether on land, underground, on a floating platform or ship, or in a remote polar or mountain location?

The Hyperion nuclear reactor is one example of such small reactors which can be factory-built.
“We have customer commitments for over a hundred units already. We’re going to be very busy! In fact, we’re now scheduling deliveries out to 2018-2020 even though we expect to go to market in the 2013-2014 timeframe.”

Hyperion plans to build three manufacturing facilities: one in the USA to support the North and Latin America markets, and a third in Asia, probably Japan. Although the firm hasn’t made a decision on where its UK plant will be located, it’s likely to be near existing nuclear facilities, which are clustered around the Sellafield site in Cumbria, northeast England.
It would take a matter of months to build such a reactor in-factory, and a matter of weeks to construct the rudimentary infrastructure required at the final plant site. Once government regulators get up to speed on the new, small factory-built reactors, approval should be speeded up appreciably.

Brian Wang's NextBigFuture is one of the best places to stay informed on issues of nuclear energy -- both fission and fusion.


Notable Energy Briefs

Switchgrass is twice as efficient as maize for producing biofuels
Switchgrass can yield 1,000 gallons of fuel per acre planted, while miscanthus (elephant grass) is projected to yield 1,250 gallons per acre. By comparison, corn yield only 400 gallons of ethanol per acre, and even sugarcane only 650. Oil palms produce 610 gallons of biodiesel per acre planted, while coconut yields only 276 gallons per acre. (Figures for ethanol come from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, for biodiesel from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.)

Residential fuel cells for producing home electricity, heat, and hot water, are coming to Japan. Initial models will run on natural gas. Methanol fuel cells will come later.

Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. has agreed to develop its novel biomass-burning external combustion engines for China.

British Columbia company to produce Dimethyl Ether (DME) diesel substitute, from forest waste. DME can also be made from black liquor wasteproduct from paper / pulp mills, and other low quality carbonaceous waste.

Boston College researchers are investigating new "hot electron" technology for improving efficiencies of photovoltaics

China prepares to steal copy 3G nuclear technology from Westinghouse AP1000 reactors -- before the reactors are even built! Westinghouse - Toshiba won their license to build 4 AP1000 reactors in China only after they agreed to transfer the license for much of the technology to China.

Government energy projects such as Lawrence Livermore's laser fusion National Ignition Facility (and mega-project ITER) continue to devour enormous amounts of funding with projected practical payoffs receding ever into the future. Meanwhile, small projects such as IEC and Vancouver-based General Fusion, have to bow and scrape for meager funding.


Robert Rapier Stands Up for Bio-Energy

Robert Rapier is an engineer who has often expressed skepticism about various biofuels approaches and particular biofuels companies. But the logic in favour of biomass is very difficult to dispute. I am posting a brief excerpt, but you need to read Robert's entire article to get a feeling for how frustrated Robert is with the biomass-bashers. (almost as frustrated as Al Fin) is true that wood gasification plants can have lots of particulate emissions, that is not an inherent quality. You can put the same pollution controls on them that you can on coal plants. So once again a bad starting assumption leads to a sweeping, but false conclusion.

In summary, this was a very one-sided view that presented the worst extremes as more or less the status quo for biomass utilization. It is true that you can do things a right way or a wrong way. Water is healthy and I need it to live, but if I drink too much it can kill me. Taking a page from this article, I suppose I should avoid water from now on, as it has the potential to kill me.

For those quoted in the article, I hope they don't freeze to death in the dark as the biomass they are so opposed to rots and releases its CO2 anyway. As I tell people sometimes, if you are opposed to everything, then prepare to be happy with the status quo. _RSquared
Rapier is an engineer who is focused on the matter at hand -- hot to make things work efficiently. He is not a generalist and does not have a truly global view, except in the narrow areas that he specialises in. But he is honest in expressing his impressions as he sees them.

Too many intellectuals without technical training (such as the ones that Robert bashes above) have latched onto an initial impression that "biofuels are bad" and have decided that bioenergy cannot help alleviate energy shortages. Time will prove them wrong, but in the meantime, they are slowing down society's abililty to flexibly face energy supply fluctuations.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

PDFs and PPTs from October 2009 IEC Conference Online

The October 2009 conference on IEC (Bussard) Fusion has put its presentations online in either PDF or PPT form for public access. The even took place on 12-13 Oct 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin. Researchers from Japan, Australia, and the US were among the presenters.

H/T to M. Simon (other interesting items at this link)

Brian Wang has a fascinating post linking IEC fusion with an intriguing plasma space drive. Certainly if fusion reactors that small and light could be made to work -- and linked to advanced plasma drive engines -- most of the solar system would suddenly come within reach from Earth orbit.

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Sugar Cane Waste into Useful Energy etc.

Cetrel, the largest provider of environmental solutions for the manufacturing industry in Latin America, and Novozymes, the world’s leading producer of industrial enzymes, today announced a research partnership to turn sugarcane waste into green energy.

Using Cetrel’s know-how in waste-stream treatment and Novozymes’ biotech expertise, the partners aim to enable sugar and ethanol production plants in Brazil to turn bagasse, the waste from sugarcane production, into biogas using enzymes. The biogas can be used to produce electricity for production facilities, and surplus electricity can be sold to the market through the electric grid.

Turning waste cellulose into useful energy changes the economics of human energy use considerably. Growing biomass on marginal soils independent of food crops will change the economics even more. Learning to produce fuels from waste, biomass, and low quality carbon sources using custom designed microbes will turn current energy thinking on its head.
In Washington, the United States Energy Information Administration released Annual Energy Outlook 2010 with projections now extended through through 2035.

Among its findings, a “Declining Reliance on Imported Liquid Fuels: Total U.S. consumption of liquid fuels, including both fossil liquids and biofuels, grows from 19 million barrels per day in 2008 to 22 million barrels per day in 2035. Biofuels account for all of the growth, as consumption of petroleum-based liquids is essentially flat. As a result, reliance on imported oil declines significantly over the next 25 years.” _Biofuelsdigest

Current analysts and pundits appear to have absolutely no idea of the capacity of bioenergy to change things.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Peak Oil Just Shifted A Lot Further On the Horizon

Biomass could fuel 65% of world's energy consumption by 2050

12 billion gallon a year oil feedstock going uncaptured

Jatropha may not grow well in the continental US, but it can be shipped in easily enough

Dimethyl Ether from biomass:  Good prospects for replacing diesel

Brazil:  Abundant bio-gas from bagasse and polypropylene plastics from sugarcane

Japanese buying into Algae oil enterprise Origin Oil Inc

Biomass to fuels using existing oil refineries!

Over at the oil drum website Gail the Actuary is explaining to all the faithful why oil hasn't shot up to $200 a barrel yet -- 5 years after oil supposedly peaked!  If you are at all familiar with the doomseekers of peak oil, you understand how difficult it is to have so few tangible evidences of peak oil to point to.  Like believers in catastrophic carbon climate warming who wake up to find that temperatures have been going down instead of up.  It's all very hard on a true believer.

The entire EROI spiel is getting a bit threadbare, once realities of economics begin interfering with the dogma.  How pathetic, when the one thing in life that makes one special, is that deep and abiding wish for a catastrophic collapse of civilisation! 

Al Fin engineers and energy workers believe in innovation, and the economics of the market.  Heavy-handed governments -- like the Obama / Pelosi reich -- tend to clog up the works.  No drilling!  No mining!  No development of this rich energy field or that one!  No new nuclear plants.  No new refineries.  No!  No!   No!   And the fools wonder why the economic situation is so slow to recover.

Peak oil is wrong for the simple reason that production is still extremely dependent upon investment and technology.  In the oil rich countries of the Persian Gulf, Russia, Venezuela, etc, political factors of nationalisation and neglectful maintenance upkeep added to poor application of technology, have kept production artificially low.  Equipment rusts and breaks down, and production drops.  Not to mention that the dictators, kings, sheikhs, etc. can live quite well and luxuriously on relatively low production -- despite what is in the fields. The people suffer from bad leadership, but the leaders live well.

It is outside of the oil dictatorships that technology is extracting from wells many times the original reserves -- and continue doing so. 

Conventional oil is still abundant, with much flexibility of production with more intelligent attention given to the huge oil fields remaining.

Unconvention oil is even more abundant:  oil shale, oil sands, heavy oils, coal to liquid, gas to liquid, etc.

Sometime in the next twenty years, bio-fuels will begin to have an impact which will only grow.

Nuclear energies such as modular fission, liquid fluoride thorium fission, and perhaps fusion and something like BlackLight Power, could well start to provide large quantities of electricity and production heat.

Other alternative energies may eventually work out -- if utility-scale power storage and load leveling ever become affordable.

The main shortage is the shortage of human ingenuity.  If human governments ever addressed that shortage honestly,  there might be no meaningful shortages, and no more big governments.


BlackLight Power Converts Hydrogen to Hydrino?

Darkhorse energy company BlackLight Power utilises a most unconventional mechanism to produce energy from hydrogen.   Brian Westenhaus picked up on a Brian Wang post and pursued the matter further.   Al Fin engineers have been skeptical about this unique approach ever since hearing about it, but Al Fin engineers are the curious, open-minded type.  They are always willing to take a look.

The "new information" about BlackLight comes in the form of a webcast from FBR capital markets.  Brian Westenhaus has more:
...on the fuel front Dr. Mills is offering more insight on the inputs. During the webcast he’s saying in effect that the fuel, or the media more appropriately, is combined with sodium to form sodium hydride (NaH) and other commercially available chemicals to make a solid fuel. When heated to the range of boiling water a catalyst, with the implication that the catalyst makes up part of the solid fuel, reacts forming the hydrino. This is said to release a substantial amount of energy in the form of heat. The heat in its turn then can be used as any other heat source such as making steam, space heating or industrial process use.

The loads are the operational costs that Dr. Mills suggests would be a few percent and the hydrogen formation, another two percent or so. The implication is that some 95% of the reaction’s energy can be put to work. With the base raw material just water, and not a huge amount at that, the costs to generate power are going to be on the very low side. Dr. Mills says that engineering firms are already looking into costs and construction details, and the thinking is that the plant capital costs are going to come in between the price of natural gas fired and coal fired – two of the very lowest capital investment choices utilities can make.

The waste material is hydrinos. Just how much of that humanity chooses to allow into the atmosphere for getting swept off into space is yet to be asked. Dr. Mills offers that hydrinos themselves will have economic use and barely implies that the hydrino state can be reversed. Those two points need considered. The effects of hydrinos in the air are not addressed at all, and the waste stream if problem free and allowed to be an atmospheric effluent would soon be swept away by the solar wind. The process would over a long time “de mass” the planet. It seems a shame to think the free hydrogen that’s being used to become a hydrino has no value. The effluent premise can’t last for long. _NewEnergyandFuel
A fascinating approach, if it works. So far, environmentalists have not taken up the question of hydrino safety. If the EPA considers CO2 to be a toxic pollutant, what do you think it will have to say about hydrinos? Oh, bother!

But seriously, if the reaction works efficiently, and if hydrinos could serve an even more important purpose than the original hydrogen, without causing harm, we may see a proliferation of BlackLight Power devices sometime over the next 20 years.

A lot of questions. But if BLP is not the huge scam that most people would assume initially, it may give fusion a long-term run for its money.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brian Wang Discusses Helion Fusion Projects

Helion Energy is the developer of fusion / fission hybrid engines, and ultimately a pure fusion engine. The Helion engine when used as a neutron source can transmute used nuclear fuel -- eliminating harmful and long-lasting isotopes to make nuclear waste harmless. Supposedly, the entire nuclear waste stockpile of all US reactors could be rendered harmless in 20 years time, using only 50 Helion Energy fusion engines. Go to Brian Wang's article for more details and many links to original sources.

The fusion engine neutron source could be used to transmute nuclear waste (to "burn it up") or to produce U 235 from lesser isotopes of Uranium, for producing new nuclear fuel.

The long-term goal is the production of pure fusion energy, but in the meantime some very lucrative uses for the Helion fusion neutron sources could be found. If so, Helion could conceivably finance much of its long-term fusion research via these alternative uses of its fusion engine. Helion would also likely see a number of competitors springing up suddenly, should its novel approach be financially workable.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What's Happening With Iraq's Oil?

Guest Article by Fawzia Sheikh

As multinational military forces have left Iraq, international petroleum companies have eagerly descended - seduced by the long-term potential of vast oil reserves off-limits to foreigners for decades. Yet lingering violence, legal questions and political uncertainty make doing business in this country a gamble.

In the first international oil auction held last June, widely seen as a failure, the Iraqi government awarded a firm contract to only a consortium of British Petroleum and the China National Petroleum Co. to further develop the Rumaila field over 20 years. Iraq recently forged an initial agreement with a group comprising Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell to develop the West Qurna field, and one with an ENI-led consortium of Occidental Petroleum and Korea Gas for the Zubair oil field.

Under ratified deals, firms stand to gain a mere $2 profit on each barrel added to production because the Iraqi government wants to convey “they're not going to let the oil companies take over,” said Robert Ebel, a senior adviser in the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank.

The operator of each 20-year service contract, which may be extended for five years, “will still make a rate of return in the double digits,” said Ruba Husari, founder and editor of the Web site, via e-mail from Baghdad. The country’s proven oil reserves were last estimated at 115 billion barrels. These massive reservoirs, and the low costs linked to such an uncomplicated operation, essentially make it “easy oil” for firms, Husari said.

Iraq will boast some six million to 10 million barrels a day over the next several years, analysts tell This scenario illustrates why oil companies perhaps are now more willing than last summer to gain an initial foothold in the industry on the government’s strict terms and thus build a long-lasting relationship that may lead to a production-sharing contract “for some discovered-but-yet-undeveloped oil field,” Ebel said. “It’s a hopeful assumption; I don’t know how realistic it is.”

Yet as companies salivate over Iraq’s potential, legal and political issues are still problematic to doing business. The war-ravaged country's “weak and ill-defined legal structures,” and uncertain moves by the next government slated to be elected in January, may result in canceled service contracts, warned David Bender, an analyst in the Middle East practice of the Eurasia Group’s Washington office.

Through conversations with oil firms, Bender has gleaned that Iraq is probably not “quite at the point in which legal details are the most important aspect” and is focused instead on the larger political process. As a result, he said, members of a newly elected government, influenced by their own interest groups and “power politics,” may annul contracts despite the associated penalties.

Finalizing a long-awaited hydrocarbon law governing the oil industry will be a top priority of the next government, said Mishkat al-Moumin, an adjunct scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute and Iraq’s environment minister from 2004 to 2005. Ideally, the legislation will outline investing in new oil fields, establishing a council to manage petroleum issues and offering a mechanism allocating oil revenues, she added.

The absence of an agreement to share oil revenues with the northern Kurdistan Regional Government continues to plague Baghdad, which never recognized as legal the Kurds’ independent oil deals with smaller companies. “If you get an oil law in place, will the Kurds accept that oil law or will they say . . . ‘You’re not giving us enough share of the income that you get from our oil,” questioned Ebel, the CSIS analyst.

Although it is too early to measure the internal impact of opening up the oil industry, in five years oil money will likely flow down to ordinary Iraqis, al-Moumin predicted. The Iraqi government is now debating whether to distribute checks to citizens allocating their fair share or to broadly invest in infrastructure and services, she said.

As the central government and international companies gear up for a second oil field auction pegged for Dec. 11 to 12, Eurasia Group’s Bender expects firms this time to be undeterred by initially meager profits, and increasingly tempted by what may become “the most lucrative, exciting oil market in the world.”

This article was written by Fawzia Sheikh of who focus on Fossil Fuels, Alternative Energy, Metals, Oil Prices and Geopolitics. To find out more visit their website at:


Monday, December 07, 2009

Can This New Wind Turbine Design Save Big Wind?

A new Canadian wind turbine design may actually help make big wind at least semi-feasible. The key is doing away with the gearbox and replacing it with a flywheel and multiple "friction roller" power take-offs.
The gearbox is the heaviest piece of equipment in a wind turbine's "nacelle" (the section at the top of the turbine tower). It's also a piece that's among the most vulnerable to failure. Sudden wind gusts put the gearbox under tremendous mechanical stress. Over time this can wear down or break the teeth off its metal gears.

CWind's design does away with the gearbox completely. Instead, the drive shaft is connected directly to a large metal flywheel. Hugging the outside of the flywheel are eight smaller secondary shafts, each connected to a 250-kilowatt generator and each lined with several specially designed tires that grip the surface of the flywheel. As the flywheel spins, it engages the generators by turning these tire-lined shafts. "We're using friction. It's not mechanically hard-coupled," says Na'al Nayef, a CWind engineer and co-inventor of the system.

Nayef says the system uses software to control the eight secondary shafts. The tires are also designed to temporarily slip if a wind gust causes the flywheel to suddenly speed up. This feature eases the impact on the generators. Each secondary shaft can also be disengaged from the flywheel if the wind slows down, in effect reducing friction and allowing shafts that are still connected to keep their generators operating at high capacity. Likewise, connecting more shafts, thus adding more friction when the wind increases, will engage idle generators. "We can operate the generators at optimal speed all the time," says Nayef, adding that tests on the smaller, 65-kilowatt prototype show efficiency gains over standard wind turbines of up to 5 percent.

...the tires used are designed to last for three years, and replacing all the tires used on a two-megawatt wind turbine is expected to cost $30,000--or nearly $200,000 over 20 years. By contrast, gearboxes have an average life of six years and cost about $600,000 to replace, or nearly $2 million over 20 years. "We're going to be competitively priced with conventional gearbox wind turbines, yet we have the advantages of high availability, high efficiency, and all of the advantages that come with serviceability." _Technology Review
Huge, expensive gearboxes set out in the elements? What moron "engineer" dreamed up that idea? And they even want to put these delicate gearboxes offshore, in a salty water vapour environment? How stupid is that?

The new friction based transmissions make a lot more sense. Whether they can tip the balance enough to make big wind profitable or not is another question. Until utility-scale power storage comes along to provide scalable load-leveling, it is a big question mark.

Either way, nuclear baseload power makes far more sense for large power needs in most parts of the world.


Friday, December 04, 2009

The Great Geopolitical Battle Over Energy Transit Routes

Guest article by Philip de Leon

As we all live in the present, it is very hard to fully assess the future implications of decisions supported or made by political and business leaders. An extraordinary game of geo-strategy is under way to lock in long-term agreements, notably in the energy sector. At a global level, the transit routes of future oil & gas pipelines become the object of a power struggle involving not only the suppliers and end-users but also the transit countries. Intensive courtships are under way where a ménage à trois, or more, may be the best option to prevent any country from being in a dominating position to rule a region and exercise political or economic pressure.

Let’s take a practical example and look at some of the dynamics behind the Nabucco pipeline and at the different interests involved.

Nabucco and the competing projects

Nabucco is a 3,300 km natural gas pipeline going East to West, with a capacity of 31 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year that would reduce Europe’s dependency on gas supplied by Russia. It will go from Turkey to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. That project would be in direct competition with the Russian-endorsed South Stream pipeline, with a capacity of 63 bcm per year, that would start from Russia and end in Austria but with two prongs: one via Bulgaria, Greece, and Italy, and one via Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia. Nabucco’s estimated cost is about €8 billion with a completion date of 2014 while south Stream’s estimated cost is from €19 to €24 billion with a completion date of 2015. South Stream was launched in 2007 when Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev was then Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom, Russia's largest company and the world's largest gas producer.

Nabucco and the supplier countries

Formidable battles have been taking place between the Nabucco and South Stream backers to sign supply agreements, not only to guarantee that the much needed gas will be made available - as underutilizing the pipelines is not a viable option - but also to secure a political and financial will for the projects. Gazprom is engaged in a battle to preempt gas supplies and to keep European countries from what it considers as a Russian natural chasse guardée such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, though both countries have pledged to supply Nabucco as they understand their vulnerability by not having several export routes.

The courtship is ongoing and in October 2009, Alexey Miller, Chairman of Gazprom, personally went to Baku, Azerbaijan to sign a long-term natural gas purchase and sale contract with the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR). Following the signature, Miller made a statement, which gives a good insight on what is at stake: ”Russia and Azerbaijan have a common border and have already been connected by the unified infrastructure. This enabled Gazprom to propose the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic the most attractive commercial terms and conditions of gas purchase. Our partnership is logically consistent and fully meets our mutual interests. I am confident that in the coming years the volume of Azerbaijani gas supplied to Russia will increase.”

This statement and contract are interesting because the agreement provides for a supply of 500 million cubic meters starting in January 2010, with potential increases depending on Azerbaijan’s export potential. This comes at a time when Gazprom has interrupted its deliveries of gas from Turkmenistan since April 2009, arguing a lesser demand from Europe. A few days after being in Azerbaijan, Miller was meeting with the President of Turkmenistan but no decision was reached regarding resumption of gas imports from Turkmenistan.

Who is holding whom by the tail?

The dynamics around Nabucco when looked at closely highlights a web of sweet deals corresponding to a complex reality of entangled needs.

Russia has very aggressively pursued locked-in supply agreements for extensive periods of time. The initial idea is that getting a deal in first could work towards keeping other players out. That approach did not end up creating exclusive relationships as countries such Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan appear to have enough supplies to satisfy multiple parties. Pricing agreements were also locked in for specified periods of time but the tumble in world energy prices put Gazprom in a dire situation: Gazprom is reported to have been paying $375.50 per thousand cubic meters (tcm) for Turkmen gas while only paying $217/tcm for Kazakhstani gas and $210/tcm for Uzbek gas. An “unfortunate” explosion in April 2009 that the Turkmens blame on Russia hit the pipeline connecting the two countries and deliveries have stopped. Gazprom stated it had not intention to resume purchasing Turkmen gas in 2009. Turkmenistan is said to be losing $1 billion/month over this issue. With Turkmenistan, Gazprom has a 25-year sale and purchase agreement Turkmenneftegaz signed in 2003. Prices were locked below world market prices, at less than half the price Europe was paying for its gas. Subsequent price increases were negotiated but in exchange for the promise of higher delivery volumes with 60 bcm of gas in 2007, 60-70 bcm in 2008 and subsequently export up to 80 bcm annually through 2028.

Needless to say that Turkmenistan’s announcement in July 2009 of its willingness to provide gas to Nabucco does not come as a surprise in this context. Similarly the completion in October 2009 of $400 million 188-km section in Turkmenistan of a 7,000 km natural gas pipeline that will reach China is an important step towards diversification. The Turkmen government stated: “Getting gas supplies to China will mark another important milestone in the successful implementation of Turkmenistan's strategy of diversifying energy export routes to world markets.”

Turkmenistan has been assiduously courted because of it immense gas reserves. In 2008 the oil advisory firm Gaffney Cline & Associates (GCA) conducted a study on the South Yolotan-Osman field and determined that that field alone was the fifth largest in the world, with an estimated 4 trillion to 14 trillion cubic meters of gas. That good new was tampered in October 2009 when reports surfaced that GCA may have been misled (see article: “Turmen Gas – Caveat Emptor” In any event, the potential of Turkmenistan should not be underestimated.

Nabucco and the transit countries

Several Eastern European countries have been turning their back to Russia and have joined the European Union, espousing the EU’s energy security objectives to reduce its dependency on Russia gas. The January 2009 showdown between Russia and Ukraine, which resulted on the gas supply to be cut to most of Europe in the midst of winter, could only serve as a wake-up call for the need to diversify energy routes. Bulgaria - which has the ambition to become an international gas hub and that is a party to both the Nabucco and South Stream projects - will benefit from that situation, notably by increasing its bargaining position to negotiate better energy agreements with Russia. It could, among other things, threaten to raise transit fees. Ukraine is using this threat against Russia and in September 2009, Gazprom expected Ukraine to increase gas transit fees by up to 58% in 2010. The stakes are high as transit fees represent a bonanza. While visiting Bulgaria in 2007, Vladimir Putin estimated that Bulgaria could earn up to $2.5 billion per year in transit fees alone.

Russia: just another shrewd player but…

One may think that Russia pockets the difference from rates below market prices, but the reality is that Russia uses the discounted gas for its own domestic needs. It also has been using it to supply Ukraine under very favorable terms, and Ukraine has been very vocal in resisting Russia’s attempts to raise prices. Note must be made that Ukraine imports the bulk of its natural gas from Turkmenistan via Russia. Countries like Russia and Ukraine have been resisting passing on price increases to end-users to avoid social unrest and have been struggling to keep non-competitive industries afloat. One way of doing so is by keeping the cost of energy low. The adverse effect is that Ukraine is one of the most energy inefficient countries in Europe.

A point must be made that Russia should not just be perceived as a natural bully but more as a wounded bear. Russia, like any country, is looking after its own interests and is not always subtle about it, even more so as it feels that everyone is ganging against her, rightfully or not. Russia is also confronted with its own economic reality, most notably the over reliance of its economy and state budget on oil & gas revenues. Efforts to diversify the economy have failed to generate visible results. It is therefore essential for Russia to secure a guaranteed income flow from the sale of it oil and gas, and from the oil and gas of its neighbors, that it buys to resale at a profit or that it routes through its extensive pipeline network for a fee. But things change: sourcing oil and gas from or routing it via Russia is no longer the only option.

… a new transportation mode is emerging

As the gas pipeline battles are under way, a new trend is emerging which is the transition towards Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). That transportation mode of natural gas through seaborne tankers will open new markets, alleviate the dependency of some countries on existing pipeline routes, and reduce the number of players able to impact proper delivery and pricing.

This article was written by Philip H. de Leon for - Who offer free information and analysis on Energy and Commodities. The site has sections devoted to Fossil Fuels, Alternative Energy, Metals, Oil prices and Geopolitics. To find out more visit their website at:


Fusion Takes Baby Steps

Two articles: this one from Brian Wang, and this from Alan Boyle, look at some recent developments in and around controlled nuclear fusion research.

Brian's article looks at DARPA research development of a chip-scale proton accelerator, "laser-pumped proton beams", that might eventually lead to a hand-held fusion device. Particle accelerators at that scale are nothing to sneeze about. Hand-held fusion devices might conceivably bring about a few insignificant societal changes as well.

Boyle's article looks at recent progress in IEC Bussard Polywell fusion, Lawrence Livermore's laser inertial fusion, and the ITER magnetic confinement tokamak project. Boyle also links to a few lesser known fusion projects.

Essentially, the large scale fusion projects are geared to eating up large sums of research grant funds. The smaller scale projects such as IEC Bussard are squeaking by with a few million here and a few million there -- showing just enough positive results to keep the trickle of funds flowing. Who should you bet on -- small or large project? Al Fin oddsmakers say potential payoffs per dollar invested suggest going with the small scale.

So when can we expect honest to goodness fusion power to the grid? Anytime between 2015 and 2115. That gives you a 100 year window to aim for.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Few New Technologies for Oil Production

The following excerpt is taken from an article at The article discusses some fairly new technologies for exploration, drilling, and re-drilling wells (iteratively and recursively). 3D seismic technology finds and better characterizes more wells. New drilling technologies allow for more precise tapping of complex deposits, and for deeper offshore wells.
...state of the art, “reflective seismic technology” allows us to easily find oil pools, with pin-point sniper accuracy, that we could never had previously guessed might exist, even a mere 2 years ago. These increasingly more accurate and clear images help us to complete a complete picture of the “subsurface circumstance” that greatly enhance our ability to discover, extract and maintain optimum control of every possible aspect of oil reserves never available to us until now!

...“through-tube rotary drilling” method is designed to allow oil companies to drill a new well through the “production tubing” of an older well. This way, the original well’s tubing doesn't have to be pulled out of the ground by the drilling rig, before setting up to drill the new well. This new technique will save lots of time and money, potentially saving as much as “One Million Dollars” per well...

...Another new method brought to us by the ever expansive science of oil drilling what is now commonly referred to as “Multilateral Wells.” This, similar to a “side-track,” is a new well that is drilled off from another, currently existing well. However, in this case, both wells are simultaneously producing, while in the case of a “side-track well,” the older, original well is cemented and closed off...

...The science of physics postulates that in most cases, the deeper the water, usually the thinner crust beneath and therefore the better chance of pushing all the way through to the mantle. The IODP’s latest feasibility studies have shown that a current IODP research ship could actually use RMR drilling in water with depths up to 9,000 feet with only some minor modifications.

It is further speculated that drilling at the 12,000 feet depth would be possible with the use of an underwater vehicle that could connect the drilling equipment under water and drill from its position, submerged at increasingly deeper depths.... _OilPrice
Much more at the article.

The point being made is that humans are still in the early stage of learning how to extract fossil fuels (in this case crude oil) from the Earth. The concepts underlying the Peak Oil Doom movement are very poorly thought out, in terms of changes that will occur with newer technologies.

Peak oil for conventional crude may occur by 2030, or not. Peak oil for unconventional oil-equivalents such as kerogens and bitumens may occur closer to the year 2100, or not.

More intelligent analysts understand that an economic system that is unconstrained by idiotic policies such as carbon hysteria, will be able to substitute one form of energy for another as the technology allows and the economics demands.


Scraping the Bottom on Oil?

New Scientist presents a thoughtful article entitled "Extreme Oil: Scraping the bottom of Earth's Barrel". It is worth reading and thinking about. According to the article, there are about 9 trillion barrels of unconventional oil equivalent residing in oil sands, shale oil, heavy oils, coal to liquids, and gas to liquids. That is about 9 times the amount of oil consumed to date by humans.

According to the International Energy Agency, peak oil will occur around the year 2030. Supposedly, that projection takes into account an increasing utilisation of unconventional oil resources over the next two decades.

Peak oil means many different things to different people. To some, it represents the end of the world. To others, it means that humans have used up half the world's supply of fossil fuels. An increasingly common understanding of peak oil considers it to be the point after which rising energy extraction costs begin to inexorably and irreversibly drive up the cost of energy utilisation.

Humans consume about 85 million barrels of oil per day, or over 30 billion barrels of oil yearly. To consume 9 trillion barrels of oil equivalent at that rate would take 300 years.

Clearly it will take a number of decades to gear up unconventional oil production to meet current world demand. But that is completely unnecessary. Humans will never fully substitute unconventional oil for conventional oil, since conventional oil resources are not even close to being depleted. Rather, it is a question of cost and substitution.

Capital investment in new technologies must be planned years, or decades, in advance. Several prospective energy technologies have the potential to displace significant fractions of current fossil fuel consumption within the next few decades. Microbial biofuel production is a particularly promising approach. Better nuclear fission could power the world's fleet of ground vehicles. Solar energy could contribute significantly -- given better energy storage and load leveling. Enhanced geothermal, nuclear fusion, and orbital solar satellites may be a bit further off in time, but all could power the world.

But it is the 9 trillion barrels plus of unconventional oil equivalent that will cushion the transition from the oil economy to the sustainable energies economy. If advanced nations reject these resources out of a quasi-religious carbon hysteria, the price to be paid by the world's poor will be immense.

Now would be a good time to wake up. The alternative will be quite bloody, I assure you.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Higher Yield Energy Crops Thru Polyploidy

Plants sometimes have more than one set of chromosomes -- called polyploidy. When this occurs in crops, they tend to produce higher yields per acre. Sometimes much higher. Some bio-energy scientists want to use polyploidy to create higher yielding strains of oil and biomass crops, without the stigma of genetically engineered crops.
Polyploidy occurs in the first stage of mitosis, where a cell splits into two. In a normal cell, the DNA in the cell is replicated and then spindle fibers pull the cell into two different directions until two identical, independent cells emerge. The cell multiplication process then continues until you have a full-fledged organism.

In a polyploid plant, the fibers never manage to pull the initial cell into two. That results in a single cell with twice the number of chromosomes. The diploid cell then becomes the basis for the organism. (If cell division fails again, a tetraploid results)

To recreate the polyploid process in a lab, scientists have bathed the cell in colchicine, a harsh chemical solvent. By contrast, Kaiima does not bathe its cells. It targets its solvent (which he says is gentler than colchicines) directly at the spindle fibers so that less is required. After trial and error, it manages to produce seeds that can give rise to stable crops that do not revert back to single chromosome sets.

....Kaiima, based in Israel, says it has devised a technique for multiplying the number of chromosomes in biofuel and other agricultural crops in a way that will increase harvests while at the same time skirting some of the technical and regulatory risks surrounding genetically modified organisms.

The company already sells seeds for castor plants with four sets of identical chromosomes that can produce about 4 to 7 tons of feedstock per acre, or more than double the 1.5 tons associated with naturally occurring castor. The oil can be used for biofuel or bioplastics.

"We want to get to 10," says CEO Doron Gal. In 2010, it hopes to come out with seeds for canola oil plants and follow in 2011 with high-yield wheat and rice. It is also working with partners in Mexico on a version of corn. _greentechmedia
Since these polyploid crops are not transgenic (they do not use genes from other species), they should be able to avoid many restrictions in place against genetically modified crops.


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