Thursday, January 21, 2010

Exxon Biofuels, Megawatt Solar Thermal, Better Nukes

Six months ago, Exxon announced a $600 biofuels research initiative. The money is already being put to use. The team is predicting comercial scale algal fuels production within 8 to 10 years.
...the assembled biologists and chemists at ExxonMobil and its partner, Synthetic Genomics, are off to a raring start.

“We’re at full speed right now,” Dr Emil Jacobs, the vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil, said this week while attending the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. “The good news is we’re no longer writing agreements. We’re doing real work.

“I think we need a very aggressive programme and to advance this as fast as we can,” he said.

Two years ago, the US genomics pioneer Craig Venter, who co-founded Synthetic Genomics, said that if oil companies did not want to invest in his biofuels technology, he would develop a solution without them. Now he is looking at taking advanced biofuels to prime time within a decade with the biggest international oil company of them all.

Commercial-scale “biomanufacturing” of biofuel from algae could begin in eight to 10 years, Dr Jacobs predicted. _Bioenergy

An Australian solar thermal company announced a plan to create a 1 MW solar heat ray, using an intricate new technological scheme for concentrating solar energy.
"The down beam is about a megawatt," said Wayne Bliesner, the inventor.

So what happens next? The heat passes into a chamber of liquid calcium simmering at 800 degrees Celsius. A stream of pressurized hydrogen is introduced and the temperature is raised to 1000 Celsius. The increased temperature turns the liquid calcium into calcium hydride, a reaction that generates a tremendous amount of heat, Bliesner said. That heat is then fed into a specialized Stirling Engine designed by Solar Fusion and then converted to electricity.
Read the story above. The entire mechanism is quite elaborate -- which introduces many opportunities for failure. Yet the system combines solar thermal plus an exothermic (but reversible) chemical reaction plus a specially-made high temperature Stirling engine. Al Fin science historians tell me that the 1 MW solar beam reminds them of Archimedes.

Brian Wang presents a summary of how new nuclear technology can lower the costs of energy. In the process, Brian becomes involved in a debate with Eric Drexler on small nuclear fusion.

Brian covers the issue of new nuclear technologies as well or better than anyone else on the web.

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