Sunday, February 28, 2010

Crude Oil Hits Ceiling as Hedgefunds Attack Euro

Guest Article:

Oil Market Summary for 02/22/2010 to 02/26/2010

Crude oil broke through the $80 a barrel ceiling repeatedly during the week but kept falling back as hedge funds placed big bets on the Euro’s decline. 
The fiscal drama in Greece held global markets hostage much of the week as worries about the impact of the Greek crisis on the euro outweighed comments from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke about continued low interest rates in the U.S., pushing the euro down against the dollar and damping crude prices. 
The euro recovered some ground on Friday amid new reports of European aid for Greece after falling to a nine-month low of $1.3440 on Thursday. Germany’s state-owned bank KfW may take part in a planned Greek bond offering next week, according to market reports.
 The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that a small group of elite hedge fund traders have concluded that the euro could be headed to parity with the dollar and their bearish bets are increasing the downward pressure on the 16-nation currency.
The Journal compared the situation to the hedge fund attack on the dollar in 2008. However, the trades are not expected to lead to a collapse of the currency as the attacks of George Soros on the British pound did in 1992, the paper said.
 Positive U.S. economic data on Friday, including a revised fourth-quarter GDP annual growth rate of 5.9%, help crude oil futures claw back some of Thursday’s losses and near the $80 threshold again. Nymex’s benchmark West Texas Intermediate settled at $79.66 on Friday, after topping $80 earlier in the week 
In spite of crude’s difficulties in staying above $80, some analysts issued bullish prognoses for energy futures. Goldman Sachs forecast a new trading range of $85 to $95, up from the $70 to $80 of the past several months, amid supply disruptions from the North Sea and Venezuela and the impact of the Total refinery strike, which was resolved earlier this week.
 Other analysts, too, looked for fundamental supply and demand considerations to reassert themselves amid the currency turmoil and lift crude oil futures into a higher trading range. Oil futures prices gained more than 9% in February but remained below January’s highs.

By  Darrell Delamaide of who focus on, Fossil Fuels Metals, Crude Oil Prices and Geopolitics To find out more visit their website at:

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Friday, February 26, 2010

NuScale Modular 40 MWe Reactors

NuScale Power is an offshoot of an Oregon State University project financed by Idaho National Labs. The company employs over 40 highly trained professionals, and is working with Kiewit Constructors to develop modular manufacturing and construction plans for NuScale's small reactors.

The NuScale reactor operates using the principles of natural circulation. No pumps are needed to circulate water through the reactor Instead, the system uses a convection process. Water is heated as it passes over the fuel or core (4).
As it is heated the water rises within the interior of the vessel. Once the heated water reaches the top of the riser (5), it is drawn downward by water that is cooled passing through the steam generators (6). The cooler water has a higher density. It is pulled by gravity back down to the bottom of the reactor where it is again drawn over the core.
Water in the reactor system and the Steam Generator system are kept separate. As the hot water in the reactor system passes over the hundreds of tubes in the Steam Generators, heat is transferred through the tube walls.
Water inside the tubes turns to steam. The steam turns turbines (7) which are attached by a single shaft to the electrical generator.
After passing through the turbines, the steam losses its energy. It is cooled back into liquid form in the condenser (9) then pumped by the feed water pump (10) back to the steam generator (6), where it begins the cycle again. __NuScale
The nuclear reactor and steam generator, also known as the Nuclear Steam Supply System (NSSS), is a self-contained assembly of reactor core and steam generator tube bundles within a single pressure vessel. Throughout the design, every effort was made to employ existing off-the-shelf technologies to minimize, and in many cases eliminate, the need for additional research and development. The primary coolant (water) is moved by natural circulation, eliminating the need for primary coolant pumps and external power. The NSSS and the passive safety heat removal systems are housed within the compact steel containment.

The reactor module, consisting of the containment and its contents, can be entirely fabricated at existing manufacturing facilities in the U.S. As a result, construction can be done on a significantly compressed schedule. Compared to a typical PWR plant, the NSSS parameters are much lower. Thermal rating of the reactor is several times smaller. Coolant pressure and steam pressure is about 50% lower than that of a typical PWR. The power generation system is greatly simplified. It implements a turbine-generator set and condensate/feedwater pump. The entire turbine-generator can be replaced with a spare unit for overhaul. Additionally, NuScale plants will use nuclear fuel assemblies similar to those in today’s commercial nuclear plants. The only difference is the length of the fuel assemblies (6 feet for a NuScale system instead of the traditional 12 feet) and the number of assemblies in the reactor. __NuScale

NuScale is caught in the same Obama Twilight Zone as the rest of the US energy sector.  Despite promises to rejuvenate the US nuclear industry, Obama has done nothing more than talking.  The necessary steps for anyone serious about reforming government energy obstructionism would involve a much needed reform of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- the greatest governmental roadblock to a safer and more abundant US nuclear energy future.

Secondarily, reforming the US tort system and regulatory system to shorten the time of construction of nuclear plants, and to make it harder for frivolous lawsuits to halt expensive projects in the middle of planning and construction.

Obama will take neither of the above steps, because he is not serious.  He is a clownish psychological neotenate, indoctrinated into a quasi-religious dogma of third-world-liberation leftism by his late mother.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bloom Energy Founder KR Sridhar Interview

Both Brian Westenhaus and Brian Wang have been reporting on the Bloom Energy fuel cell which was highlighted on the US TV show "60 Minutes" recently as an energy breakthrough. Both Brians provide useful insights into what is happening behind the headlines.

The interviewer in the video above attempts to discover from Bloom's founder, "what is so special about Bloom's fuel cells?" Sridhar answers in general terms, providing some intriguing hints. One cannot expect Sridhar to divulge trade secrets in such a competitive environment, and in advance of a public stock offering.

The Bloom fuel cells can apparently be "run backwards" to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. That was the original idea Sridhar had for NASA -- to create oxygen for Mars' atmosphere. That project was cancelled, but the idea survived and was developed.
Sridhar (in the video and earlier in the day) also explains how Bloom may enhance the fuel cell in the future for a push into the domestic market in about a decade and the enhancement represents both a step forward and a step back. Carbon dioxide and water are byproducts of the gas-to-electricity reaction. By adding some additional "plumbing" components, the fuel cell can capture the water, run it through the fuel cell later and produce hydrogen. Hydrogen could then be stored until needed to power a car or provide electricity to a home.

The water-to-hydrogen reaction will require additional electricity. Bloom suggests that solar panels can provide this power. Although the fuel cell could do this reaction now, Bloom isn't putting in the components because the market isn't ready, said Sridhar. So having a path to energy storage: a step forward.

So what is the step back? Bloom's patents discuss taking both the carbon dioxide and hydrogen, running them through the fuel cell and producing a methane-like fuel. _GreenTechMedia
If Bloom Energy has solved some of the harder problems of fuel cells -- as Sridhar claims -- we may be seeing some disruptive new technology coming from the company. Up to this point, we seem to be seeing what is in many ways a better fuel cell.

Sridhar plans to sell large units only for at least a decade. These could be used as power backup units for corporations, factories, hospitals, city disaster units, and even large power utilities. The cost of power production is still too expensive to use Bloom units as primary substitutes for coal, nuclear, or gas powered generators.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Enerkem and Waste Management: Waste to Biofuels

Waste to biofuels just got a big boost from garbage giant Waste Management, in the form of a $51 million investment to Enerkem. Enerkem's biomass and waste to liquids process -- pictured above -- uses thermochemical processes to turn potentially large volumes of waste into clean and useful fuels, and high value chemicals.
Enerkem uses a thermochemical gasification process to produce a uniform syngas, which is subsequently converted into liquid fuels, such as ethanol, as well as biochemicals. The technology is able to process diverse carbon-based feedstocks, including sorted municipal solid waste, construction and demolition wood, as well as agricultural and forest residues. Enerkem’s technology can convert one tonne of raw material (dry base) into 360 liters (95 gallons) of cellulosic ethanol.

Enerkem’s gasification technology is based on a bubbling fluidized bed reactor with a front-end feeding system that is capable of handling fluffy material with no need to pelletize it. Slurries or liquids can also be fed into the gasifier through appropriately designed injectors. The gasification is carried out using air as a partial oxidation agent or using oxygen-enriched air, with the oxygen-enrichment level tailored to the desired composition of the synthetic gas. The presence of steam at a specific partial pressure is also part of the process...

...Waste Management, based in Houston, Texas, is the leading provider of comprehensive waste management services in North America. The investment in Enerkem complements Waste Management’s comprehensive waste services in the areas of recycling, landfill, waste-to-energy and landfill gas-to-energy. _GCC
This Biofuels Digest story provides a projection of the near-term growth in biofuels production across an array of approaches. Includes an interesting graph.

Clearly ethanol has a head start. But biomass to liquids and microbial fuels -- such as algal fuels -- are on the front burner and ready to take off.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Traveling Wave Reactor Works Well -- In Models

Recent developments in supercomputing have enabled the TerraPower scientists to simulate the traveling wave concept and establish its feasibility, they say.

Machiels agrees. "The modeling capability that John Gilleland's team has achieved has allowed a lot of progress. They have fantastic computing capabilities," he said. The team's supercomputer cluster has more than 1,000 times the computational strength of a desktop computer, TerraPower says.

The team draws on support from MIT, DOE's Argonne National Laboratory and other scientific centers, and future testing will require more DOE support. But at this point, the project is a private research venture.

It recalls the famous Tuxedo Park laboratory established by the millionaire investor and amateur scientist Alfred Lee Loomis at his mansion outside New York City in 1926. Its scientists went on to provide critical research in the development of radar and the atomic bomb in World War II.

"This is a type of work that requires a deep, deep pocket," said Machiels. "The fact that this is being funded now by a private firm is good, but very unusual." TerraPower is backed by Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's former chief technology officer, who now is CEO of Intellectual Ventures. _NYT
Ultra-sophisticated computer modeling supports the theory behind TerraPower's traveling wave reactor approach to use nuclear waste as fuel. Of course, TerraPower's main backer -- Nathan Myhrvold -- was formerly the chief technology officer for Microsoft, so he should know something about computers and computer modeling.  It is good to remember that computer modeling has been an extremely potent tool for many areas of science and engineering.  We should not allow the perversion of modeling by alarmist climatologists to taint the entire enterprise.
This reactor (pdf) works something like a cigarette. A chain reaction is launched in one end of a closed cylinder of spent uranium fuel, creating a slow-moving "deflagration," a wave of nuclear fission reactions that keeps breeding neutrons as it makes way through the container, keeping the self-sustaining reaction going.

And it goes and goes, perhaps for 100 years, said former Bechtel Corp. physicist John Gilleland. He heads TerraPower LLC, a private research team based outside Seattle that is pursuing the traveling wave reactor design.

"We believe we've developed a new type of nuclear reactor that can represent a nearly infinite supply of low-cost energy, carbon-free energy for the world," Gilleland said in a presentation.

...In the traveling wave reactor, the fuel, initially, is likely to be the vast U.S. stores of depleted uranium, which don't themselves pose a proliferation risk. Plutonium is formed in the reaction process but undergoes transmutation into other elements and is essentially consumed. Depleted uranium is a heavy, lead-like residue from making or enriching uranium fuel. Lacking the volatile isotope U-235 that is used in conventional nuclear power plant fuel and nuclear weapons, depleted uranium is currently used for conventional anti-tank ammunition and in the keels of sailboats. _NYT
When computer modeling works, it is because the researchers involved are honest enough to test the models against physical observations -- rather than the other way around, as in the climate science of carbon hysteria.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Promising Reactions of Gasification: Adding More CO2

Enterprising researchers at Columbia University and ATK are increasing gasification efficiency by adding CO2 to gasifier mixtures at varying concentrations (between 25% and 40%). The supplemental CO2 also allows them to fine tune the resulting syngas mix. Use the graphic above to help you understand what the researchers are doing.
Castaldi and Butterman used a range of carbon dioxide (0 percent to 100 percent) and steam mixtures on about 50 different kinds of biomass, finding that between 25 percent and 40 percent carbon dioxide seemed optimal, depending on the process and desired end product. “Adding much more than 40 percent carbon dioxide in that process is only adding a diluent,” he says. Feedstocks such as beach grass, pine needles, poplar wood and municipal solid waste, along with coal, were gasified at temperatures of 25 to 1,000 degrees Celsius (77 to 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit) at rates of 1 to 100 degrees Celsius per minute in the range of carbon dioxide/steam mixtures, according to the study.

The increased efficiency occurs for two reasons. The first is because of carbon dioxide’s reactivity. “If it’s not reactive enough, like the steam, you form a residual that is very, very low in surface area, that’s nonporous,” Castaldi says. “And what happens is, as it reacts, it becomes more and more difficult to react.” He compares the reaction to a sponge, saying it’s crucial to absorb the reactive medium all the way through, not just on the surface. Steam reacts mostly on the surface, densifying the biomass and preventing it from absorbing more steam. But the carbon dioxide reacts at the right amount to not only continuously react with the biomass, but to keep pores open or even open them further, he says. The carbon dioxide enables the biomass to keep its sponge-like quality, or porosity, while steam collapses those pores, he says.

Another reason that carbon dioxide increases biomass gasification efficiency is the increased occurrence of the water-gas shift reaction: water and carbon monoxide reacting to form hydrogen and carbon dioxide. It works like this: as the mixture of steam and carbon dioxide goes over the biomass and gasifies it, the carbon dioxide reacts more than the steam, which means there is steam present that is not reacting with solid biomass, Castaldi explains. It’s left in the gas phase and as the carbon dioxide gasifies the biomass and makes carbon monoxide, that carbon monoxide goes into the gas phase and reacts with water via the water-gas shift reaction. The reaction is exothermic, meaning it releases heat, and the steam the carbon dioxide leaves behind increases that heat release, thereby increasing occurrence of the entire reaction, he says. “A system using carbon dioxide needs less energy because there’s an exothermic reaction that’s a little more engaged,” he says. The process does not use all carbon dioxide, Castaldi says, but about 30 percent. “It turns out that the energy needed to create syngas from steam and biomass is nearly equal to making syngas using all carbon dioxide and biomass,” he says of the reaction. But the difference is in the heat release.

In addition, some of the carbon dioxide input—between 20 percent and 50 percent of that 30 percent—is actually converted into carbon monoxide, Castaldi says. “So now I’m introducing a sufficient quantity of carbon dioxide that causes the process to actually utilize a good portion of it,” he says.

In this process, the input of carbon dioxide determines the ratio of hydrogen to carbon monoxide in the syngas. With more carbon dioxide, the ratio goes down, increasing carbon monoxide and decreasing hydrogen. Tweaking input can make desirable syngas compositions for different processes, such as turbine combustion, special chemicals production, Fischer-Tropsch for diesel fuels, and others, Castaldi says. _BiomassMag
Image Source

Basic information on gasification

Using concentrated CO2 is not free. Carbon dioxide makes up only 0.04% of the Earth's atmospheric gases. It takes work to concentrate such a dilute gas. It is becoming clearer that carbon sequestration from coal IGCC / CHP plants will double the cost of the eletricity produced. If industrial engineers can find a use for the CO2 which would return enough compensation to pay for the sequestration, then carbon sequestration would begin to make sense. But that is unlikely.

It is only political inertia and corruption that is driving the carbon hysteria of the worldwide "catastrophic anthropogenic global warming" bandwagon and carbon credit con and crusade. The science is slowly but inevitably turning away from the alarmist aspects of carbon hysteria. It is time for the people to put the government back in its place.

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General Atomics Launches Trailerable EM2 Fission Reactor Capable of Burning Nuclear Waste

Yet another large industrial corporation has announced its intention of developing and selling a small nuclear reactor, with the capacity to consume nuclear waste as fuel. General Atomics is announcing the EM2, or "Energy Multiplier Module."
The General Atomics reactor, which is dubbed EM2 for Energy Multiplier Module, would be about one-quarter the size of a conventional reactor and have unusual features, including the ability to burn used fuel, which still contains more than 90% of its original energy. Such reuse would reduce the volume and toxicity of the waste that remained. General Atomics calculates there is so much U.S. nuclear waste that it could fuel 3,000 of the proposed reactors, far more than it anticipates building...

...The EM2 would operate at temperatures as high as 850 degrees Centigrade, which is about twice as hot as a conventional water-cooled reactor. The very high temperatures would make the reactor especially well suited to industrial uses that go beyond electricity production, such as extracting oil from tar sands, desalinating water and refining petroleum to make fuel and chemicals. _WSJ
The project is expected to be hung up by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's huge and growing backlog for certifying safer, cheaper, more reliable nuclear reactors.

Since it has been 30 years since the last reactor was built in the US, one might wonder what the NRC has been doing with its time and budgeted funds the last three decades. But that is government for you -- if you depend on government for anything important, prepare to be disappointed.

Hyperion has already announced its intention of building its small scale modular reactors in the UK, to avoid the US NRC bottleneck. Expect more such announcements in the future, as an already slow and bloated NRC becomes even slower and more bloated under the Obama - Pelosi reich.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Biofuels Progress Incremental on All Fronts

More efficient ways of producing biodiesel from plant oils will allow for a steady, year by year replacement of petro-diesel by sustainable diesel fuels.  These newer biodiesels will have better cold weather tolerance as well.

Aijaz Baig and Flora Ng developed a single-step solid acid-catalyzed process for the production of biodiesel from high FFA feedstocks. The solid acid catalyst based on a supported heteropolyacid catalyst (PSA) was evaluated for the production of biodiesel from soybean oil (SBO) containing up to 25 wt% palmitic acid (PA). This solid acid catalyst catalyzed simultaneously esterification (the reaction of fatty acids with methanol in the presence of an acid catalyst and water to produce biodiesel) and transesterification (the reaction of triglycerides with methanol in the presence of a catalyst to produce biodiesel).

The palmitic acid was converted to biodiesel with 95% conversion using the solid acid catalyst (PSA), and the soybean oil was successfully transesterified with 99% CBG (chemically bound glycerin) conversion.

The solid acid catalyst was used for simultaneous esterification and transesterification of soybean oil containing 10% PA, achieving more than 95% conversion of palmitic acid and 99% conversion of soybean oil. Analysis based on the ASTM D 974, ASTM D 6584, and EN 14103 standards confirmed the production of high-purity biodiesel from feedstock with high FFA content. _GCC

The conversion of biomass cellulose to fermentable sugars (for ethanol and butanol production) is another extremely active area of research.

Genencor, a division of Danisco A/S, introduced Accellerase DUET at the Renewable Fuels Association’s 15th Annual National Ethanol Conference last week in Orlando, Fla. This product is the latest generation in the company’s line of enzymes used to convert biomass into sugars, for subsequent production into cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels.

With improved overall hemicellulase activity, Accellerase DUET builds on the advances in beta-glucosidase and cellulase activity previously made by Accellerase 1500. These additional improvements allow Accellerase DUET to achieve higher sugar and biofuel yields, often at 3-fold lower dosing, and to be feedstock- and pretreatment- flexible. _GCC
This news follows an earlier announcement by Novozymes regarding a new generation of cellulose converting enzymes.

Bio-butanol is a much better fuel than ethanol -- with higher energy content, much less affinity for water, a better substitute for gasoline in modern engines, less corrosive than ethanol, and also able to be added to diesel and burned in diesel engines.

In the UK, Green Biologics has updated the Digest on its efforts to develop as an industrial biotechnology company producing advanced fermentation technologies converting waste and by-products (eg molasses from sugar refineries) into renewable fuels and chemicals. GBL focuses on the production of bio-butanol. The technology is based on advanced microbes together with novel butanol fermentation and high efficiency separation processes.

GBL recently expanded its business in China, where it is working with two biobutanol producers to provide step change improvements in their process economics; GBL is introducing improved microbial and process technology to existing plant facilities radically reducing the cost of biobutanol production; converting them from corn feedstock to molasses and eventually to bio-waste cellulosic feedstocks readily available in China. _BiofuelsDigest

Biofuels and bioenergy will be hugely important in future energy calculations. But it takes time to develop the most efficient and scalable processes to produce the most capable fuels. Writing off biofuels would be a tremendous mistake for any analyst, investor, or policy maker.


Carbon Sequestration is Overpriced and Unnecessary

Producing electricity using the gasification of coal, combined heat and power, and combined cycle power extraction, is a clean and viable method of using coal. But faux-environmentalists and dunderheaded politicians too often add inefficient and expensive carbon sequestration -- to no good purpose. Such incompetence only adds costs that are passed on to customers -- depressing the general economy.
What should our New York State and local leaders do? First, we could embrace clean coal technology. We make this too expensive by requiring carbon sequestration, a process by which carbon dioxide is recaptured and piped many miles away and stored underground. The green bent of our government mandates this incredibly expensive process in spite of all the controversy with global warming or in its newest guise, climate change.

The Marcellus Shale discovery is one of the most significant natural gas discoveries ever. Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia share this bounty with New York State. While those states enjoy the benefits of this discovery, we have our Department of Environmental Conservation figuring out how we can responsibly harvest this natural gas. Couldn’t we duplicate what’s being done in our neighboring states?

Lastly, we’re within 30 miles of one of the most successful hydroelectric plants in the world, the Niagara Power Project. Commercial customers such as One HSBC Center are legislatively excluded from accessing this very clean and cheap source of power. Instead we’re looking to invest a portion of the almost $300 million of annual profits from the Niagara Power Project in alternative energy sources. The plan is to place scads of windmills in lakes Erie and Ontario. If a static Peace Bridge design can be foiled by a bird, good luck winning over environmentalists and recreational boaters with this one!

There is no logical explanation why our electricity should cost 50 percent to 70 percent more than the national average. Regional assets like abundant hydropower and natural gas are denied us by our legislators and governor. The cost of electricity should be significantly less, not increasing.

Unfortunately for the writer of the editorial, there is indeed a logical explanation why electricity in New York State and in other regions gored by green politics. Logically, green political activists wish to suppress economic growth. They believe that by doing so, they will take pressure off the environment.

But greens are far too stupid to understand that the worst economic devastation occurs in the areas of greatest poverty. Eastern Europe under the USSR was both impoverished and environmentally devastated. Rural and industrial areas of China are the world's most devastated areas -- and the vast masses of people are living in poverty. Impoverished third world people across the planet are deforesting their lands for firewood for cooking fires. Rivers become sewers and vacant lots become landfills. Poverty leads to environmental devastation.

Greens promote economic depression and poverty in a misguided attempt to help the planet --- but they are killing it instead. Widespread affluence leads to an appreciation of the environment, and a desire to preserve natural settings by using more economical substitutes for fuels and energy.

If you want

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Better Recovery of Energy from Waste Heat

A research team from Australia, India, and the US has created working thermocells capable of harvesting electrical energy from waste heat below 130 C, using carbon multi-walled nanotube electrodes.
These electrodes provide high electrochemically accessible surface areas and fast redox-mediated electron transfer, which significantly enhances thermocell current generation capacity and overall efficiency. The team showed efficiency of thermocells with MWNT electrodes to be as high as 1.4% of Carnot efficiency—3-fold higher than for previously demonstrated thermocells.

Research on utilizing low-grade heat from sources such as industrial waste streams, geothermal activity, and solar heating has focused on using solid-state thermoelectrics and Stirling engines to harvest low-grade waste heat as electrical energy. However, the researchers note, despite much progress over the past decades, current thermoelectric energy conversion technology is not very cost-effective and is constrained by physical and material limitations, while Stirling engine technology is disadvantaged by high initial cost and problems with long-term reliability.

...Hu et al. developed carbon nanotube (CNT)-based thermocells that utilize the ferri/ferrocyanide redox couple and electrodes made from carbon-multiwalled nanotubes (MWNT) buckypaper and vertically aligned MWNT arrays. The buckypaper is made by a filtration process that is analogous to that used for making ordinary paper.

They found that the performance of MWNTs as thermocell electrodes supersedes that of conventional electrode materials, including platinum foil and graphite sheet. With a hot-side temperature of 65 °C and a temperature difference of 60 °C, they achieved a maximum output power of 1.8 W/m2 in a stagnant cell, corresponding to an efficiency relative to the Carnot cycle efficiency of 1.4%. _GCC

In other news, Raytheon has awarded a second-phase work order to Cyclone Power Technologies:
Pursuant to the work order, Cyclone will be developing preliminary designs, specifications and test parameters on a compact 10 hp (7.5 kW) external combustion engine for use in various power applications.

The proposed Cyclone engine would be designed to run on both traditional fuels and a monopropellant called Moden Fuel, which can combust in the absence of oxygen. (Moden Fuel was originally developed by James R. Moden, Inc. to power US Navy torpedoes.)_GCC
The US defense department is also looking into using the Cyclone engine to power autonomous robots that would be capable of powering themselves from biomass and other waste carbons.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Coal to Gas, Coal to Hydrogen

Coal represents a massive energy resource to allow a smooth transition from a petroleum economy to a sustainable energy economy. Cleaner and more efficient means of using coal (and other unconventionals like oil sands, oil shale, heavy oil) will be necessary, as unconventional fossil fuels displace light, sweet crude in transportation and other energy uses. The clean gasification of coal is an important process for eliminating much of the pollution from coal combustion that is rampant in China and India at this time.
By adding a catalyst to the coal gasification system, GreatPoint Energy is able to reduce the operating temperature in the gasifier, while directly promoting the reactions that yield methane, (CH4). Under these mild catalytic conditions, less expensive reactor components are required, pipeline grade methane is produced, and very low cost carbon sources (such as lignites, sub-bituminous coals, tar sands, petroleum coke and petroleum resid) can be used as feedstocks.

Because hydromethanation is a catalytic process that does not rely on combustion, it does not produce the nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur oxide (SOx) and particulate emissions typically associated with the burning of carbon feedstock. Instead, the process captures nearly all of the impurities found in coal, petroleum coke and biomass and converts them into valuable chemical-grade byproducts.

The first step in the hydromethanation process is to combine the catalyst with the feedstock in such a way as to ensure that the catalyst disperses throughout the matrix of the feedstock for effective reactivity. The catalyst/feedstock material is then loaded into the hydromethanation reactor.

Inside the reactor, pressurized steam is injected to “fluidize” the mixture and ensure constant contact between the catalyst and the carbon particles. In this environment, the catalyst facilitates multiple chemical reactions between the carbon and the steam on the surface of the coal or biomass.

Compared to more conventional approaches to gasification and SNG production, the bluegas process eliminates the need for an external water gas shift reactor, a methanation reactor, and air separation plant.

The hydrogen will be used for industrial applications or combusted to generate near-zero carbon electricity. The SNG can be transported in the existing pipeline infrastructure and used as fuel in home heating, power plants or industrial processes. _GCC
Although hydrogen is an inferior fuel, it is quite useful in chemical processes of various types -- including the production of superior fuels using biomass, coal, and other carbon sources.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Make Progress

The Babcock and Wilcox subsidiary, McDermott International Inc., has  entered into agreement with three customers: TVA, First Energy Corp., and Oglethorpe Power Corporation to get B & W's small modular reactor approved with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Small reactors which are smaller than a rail car and cost one tenth the cost of a big plant, could attract more investors as many see the massive investments in a nuclear reactor as a hindrance to enter into the business as the risk is too high if the project fails or gets delayed. Also, the fact that these small reactors have in-house waste storage capability for their lifetime i.e. a period of 60 years, and that they do not need to be near water sources as they could also be air-cooled, make them attractive for customers. Experts also believe that these small reactors should be safer than the larger ones as they are simpler and have fewer moving parts that can fail. _ Source 
While President Obama is making loud noises about government backed loans for building a new nuclear plant, he is -- as usual -- barking up the wrong tree.  If Obama were serious about developing new nuclear energy sources in the US, he would immediately set about to streamline the onerous regulatory process which makes it almost impossible to license newer, safer, more economical nuclear reactor designs.

Small modular reactors would provide for a much more robust and secure US power grid.  Big government solutions to local and regional problems are invariably more costly than beneficial.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another Spent Nuclear Fuel Burning Reactor: GE's PRISM

Besides the traveling-wave reactor, another nuclear reactor especially designed for burning spent nuclear fuel is the GE Hitachi PRISM reactor.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, one of the world's biggest providers of nuclear reactors, says it has an alternative to burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the proposed waste repository that the Obama administration has said is now "off the table." Based in Wilmington, NC, GE Hitachi wants to use nuclear waste as a fuel for advanced nuclear power plants, significantly reducing the volume of waste and the length of time that most of the waste needs to be stored.

National labs in the United States and GE have been developing the technology over the course of a few decades, but in recent years the company "put it on the shelf" because of a lack of U.S. interest in reusing nuclear waste, says Eric Loewen, chief consulting engineer for advanced plants at GE Hitachi. The technology involves separating nuclear waste into different types of useable fuel, some of which can power conventional nuclear power plants, and some of which require advanced "fast neutron" reactors, which are being used in power plants elsewhere but not in the United States. _TechnologyReview

More information:

PRISM PDF Advanced Fuel Cycle Technologies PDF

For an excellent tutorial on the state of electrical power generation, and why nuclear power is necessary, see Coal2Nuclear.

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3 Approaches to Nano-Photovoltaics

Using arrays of long, thin silicon wires embedded in a polymer substrate, a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has created a new type of flexible solar cell that enhances the absorption of sunlight and efficiently converts its photons into electrons. The solar cell does all this using only a fraction of the expensive semiconductor materials required by conventional solar cells. _ScienceDaily
The Caltech scientists have reportedly exceeded the conventional light-trapping limit of absorptive materials.

Professor Dawn Bonnell the director of the Nano/Bio Interface Center at the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues have demonstrated the transduction of optical radiation to electrical current in a molecular circuit. The system uses an array of nano-sized molecules of gold that respond to electromagnetic waves by creating surface plasmons to induce and project electrical current across molecules, similar to that of photovoltaic solar cells. _NewEnergyandFuel
This approach is unique in that the hardware acts as an electromagnetic "antenna" for photons. It is worth reading Brian's article in full to understand how this approach is different from traditional photovoltaics. The authors suggest that their approach may eventually lead to a significant price breakthrough in solar electricity.
The cells designed by Solasta are built on a substrate forested with long, thin, vertically arrayed nanopillars. The pillars are coated first with metal, then with a thin layer of semiconducting material such as amorphous silicon, and then with a layer of transparent conductive oxide. Though the silicon layer is thin, a photon still has a relatively long path to travel down the length of the nanopillars, and a good chance of transferring its energy to an electron. Freed electrons then travel perpendicularly over a very short path to the metal at the core of each pillar, and shimmy down this electrical pole off the cell. "Electrons never have to travel through the photovoltaic material," says Zhifeng Ren, professor of physics at Boston College. "As soon as they're generated, they go into the metal." Ren founded Solasta with professors Michael Naughton and Krzysztof Kempa. _TechnologyReview
This approach is traditional photovoltaics, but in 3 dimensions. Increasing the surface area allows for more incident photon absorption.

Al Fin solar specialists prefer solar energy to wind energy, since solar energy is more predictable over huge geographic areas than wind. The energy storage problem is still a significant issue. Even with extremely inexpensive (free) solar cells, the short useful daily time frame for solar energy production will limit applications until large scale, inexpensive energy storage is available.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Russian Energy Avalanche, and More

Russia is a corrupt, exhausted, dying nation.  But Russia is full of valuable energy and mineral assets -- enough to make any oil sheikh envious.  For a number of reasons, Russia's energy assets have remained largely undeveloped up until now.  But with enormous discoveries of unconventional natural gas in North America, and with increasing development of Canada's oil sands, Russia is beginning to understand that if it doesn't develop and sell its energy assets now -- it may never have the chance.

As young ethnic Russians disappear from the planet, the ability of Russia to defend its vast mineral wealth is shrinking daily.  And as unconventional fossil fuel use, plus nuclear energy infrastructure, plus bioenergy  development all expand, the world's need for Russia's product is beginning to shrink.  The lesson to Russia: use it or lose it.
Gazprom started coal-bed methane production in Russia after U.S. success in developing unconventional fuel reserves spurred global interest.

Gazprom plans to produce 1.5 billion cubic meters of the gas a year in 2012 at the Taldinskoye field in Siberia’s coal-rich Kuzbass area, the Kremlin press service said Friday in a statement distributed to reporters during President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the region.

Successful extraction of shale gas, another unconventional fuel, has led to what International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol called “a silent revolution” in the United States. The world’s biggest energy consumer, the United States may become self-sufficient in gas through its shale-gas developments. Unconventional fuels had been too complex to develop until new technologies made extraction feasible.

Russia, which holds the largest gas reserves, may have as much as 87 trillion cubic meters of coal-bed methane, according to Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller.

“It’s two Gazproms,” Medvedev said in Omsk, where he met with businesses to discuss innovation in the energy industry, which he said accounts for as much as one third of the country’s gross domestic product.

Coal-bed methane, shale gas and tight gas are the most common unconventional sources of the fuel and currently account for about half of U.S. production, said Valery Nesterov, an analyst with Troika Dialog. Unconventional gas won’t make up more than 0.5 percent of output in Russia in the long term, he said.

“It is more about technology, so as not to fall behind" as we did with liquefied natural gas, he said.

Russia last year started liquefying gas, more than a decade after Qatar, the world’s biggest LNG producer.

The world may see an “acute glut” of gas because unconventional fuel output worldwide is set to rise 71 percent between 2007 and 2030, the IEA said in November.

Unconventional gas competes with coal in thermal power generation and will be displacing the commodity from global markets, Vekselberg said.

Russia may produce as much as 21 billion cubic meters a year of coal-bed methane at Kuzbass, Gazprom said Friday.

“We have made an important step on the path toward a new subindustry in Russia’s fuel and energy complex,” Gazprom’s Miller said in an e-mailed statement.

The company plans to drill 30 wells at Taldinskoye this year, and 28 a year starting in 2011, the Kremlin said.

Russian coal-bed methane resources make up one-third of the country’s potential gas resources, Gazprom said in an e-mailed statement. The Kuzbass area of the Kemerovo region may hold 13 trillion cubic meters of the unconventional gas, the Kremlin said.

The United State’s success in extracting gas from shale has spurred global interest, while also displacing some LNG supplies and lowering spot prices in Europe.

Europe and China are playing catch-up, which could increase competition for LNG, Mark Greenwood, a Sydney-based analyst with JPMorgan Chase, said in a Feb. 9 note.

“U.S. shale gas could grow by 2015 to a similar scale as the entire global LNG market currently,” Greenwood said. “A land-grab has occurred in Europe over the last two years” as international companies such as Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp. and Statoil seek resources. _MoscowTimes
The rush for development of Gazprom's unconventional gas follows recent Gazprom claims that "shale gas production may be environmentally hazardous." Hint hint, wink wink to US environmental organisations. In other words, Gazprom wants US shale gas to be shut down, and it wants to use US environmental groups as its cats' paws. Nothing new there. In the past it was the KGB doing similar things. The names of organisations change, but the people stay the same.

If the world's fossil fuel resources were freely developed, the resulting glut of energy would take a thousand years or longer to be exhausted. But thanks to a manufactured crisis of climate hysteria, and myriad faux environmental restrictions, we have Political Peak Oil -- man-made energy starvation. Top-down economic devastation, courtesy of the Obama - Pelosi gang.

Russia and the other oil dictatorships have profited from the artificial constraints that western nations have burdened themselves with. But even with all the constraints, private western companies are finding ways to provide the west with energy -- much to Russia's and Obama's chagrin.

Russia will not be able to defend its vast territories in 50 years. It had best wake up, update its technology, and start turning its minerals into more fungible wealth as fast as it can. Before the world no longer needs fossil fuels. It had better hurry.

Above was previously published at Al Fin

The coming energy avalanche described above did not even mention methane hydrates -- a resource that is abundant throughout the arctic. It is likely that by the time Russia develops efficient means to mine methane hydrate, that either the world will no longer need methane at the prices Russia would demand, or Russia as a country will no longer exist. Time changes things before sluggish minds are prepared for the changes.

In Alaska, an underground in situ coal gasification project has raised excitement levels across the arctic and sub-arctic. If the project is successful, it will open the door to the development of massive new coal deposits, whose development has been suppressed by environmental and faux environmental concerns.

New biomass gasification projects are looking at the possibility of producing hydrogen gas from biomass. Syngas is a combination of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, carbon dioxide, and short chain hydrocarbons. Al Fin chemical engineers say that it is absurd to focus on hydrogen, when other potential products of gasification are far more energy-rich. But hydrogen is the hobby horse of huge numbers of energy hicks. Better that than to have them selling crack on the street.

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Traveling Wave Nuclear Reactor Video Lecture

Wave of the future: Unlike today’s reactors, a traveling-wave reactor requires very little enriched uranium, reducing the risk of weapons proliferation. The reactor uses depleted-uranium fuel packed inside hundreds of hexagonal pillars (shown in black and green). In a “wave” that moves through the core at only a centimeter per year, this fuel is transformed (or bred) into plutonium, which then undergoes fission. The reaction requires a small amount of enriched uranium (not shown) to get started and could run for decades without refueling. The reactor uses liquid sodium as a coolant; core temperatures are extremely hot--about 550 ºC, versus the 330 ºC typical of conventional reactors. TechReview

This 1 hour lecture to the nuclear engineering faculty at Berkeley, is delivered by John Gilleland of Intellectual Ventures. Bill Gates is a principal investor in the Nuclear Project, which aims to provide society with a clean, safe, environmentally benign form of nuclear energy.

The following is excerpted from a Technology Review article:
Enriching the uranium for reactor fuel and opening the reactor periodically to refuel it are among the most cumbersome and expensive steps in running a nuclear plant. And after spent fuel is removed from the reactor, reprocessing it to recover usable materials has the same drawbacks, plus two more: the risks of nuclear-weapons proliferation and environmental pollution.

These problems are mostly accepted as a given, but not by a group of researcher s at Intellectual Ventures, an invention and investment company in Bellevue, WA. The scientists there have come up with a preliminary design for a reactor that requires only a small amount of enriched fuel--that is, the kind whose atoms can easily be split in a chain reaction. It's called a traveling -wave reactor. And while government researchers intermittently bring out new reactor designs, the traveling-wave reactor is noteworthy for having come from something that barely exists in the nuclear industry: a privately funded research company.

As it runs, the core in a traveling- wave reactor gradually converts nonfissile material into the fuel it needs. Nuclear reactors based on such designs "theoretically could run for a couple of hundred years" without refueling, says John G­illeland, manager of nuclear programs at Intellectual Ventures.

Gilleland's aim is to run a nuclear reactor on what is now waste. Conventional reactors use uranium-235, which splits easily to carry on a chain reaction but is scarce and expensive; it must be separated from the more common, nonfissile uranium-238 in special enrichment plants. Every 18 to 24 months, the reactor must be opened, hundreds of fuel bundles removed, hundreds added, and the remainder reshuffled to supply all the fissile uranium needed for the next run. This raises proliferation concerns, since an enrichment plant designed to make low-enriched uranium for a power reactor differs trivially from one that makes highly enriched material for a bomb.

But the traveling-wave reactor needs only a thin layer of enriched U-235. Most of the core is U-238, millions of pounds of which are stockpiled around the world as leftovers from natural uranium after the U-235 has been scavenged. The design provides "the simplest possible fuel cycle," says Charles W. Forsberg, executive director of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project at MIT, "and it requires only one uranium enrichment plant per planet." _TR


Obama & the Radical Greens: Killing US Economy

Obama and his radical friends could not do a better job destroying US jobs and the US economy if they had planned it out in advance.  Refusing to allow the US to develop its domestic oil is costing the US economy over $2.4 trillion.  By scorning Canada's oil sands, Obama and his friends hold the door open for China's energy-serious government to move into Albertan and Saskatchewan.  Preventing the use of domestic coal, oil shale, and other energy assets is costing the economy many trillions more in lost enterprise and employment.

A wise voter would have understood the stakes in the November 08 elections.  But US schools and universities have been dumbed down, and devoted to indoctrination instead of education, for so long that wise voters are an increasingly rare commodity in the US.   Instead, voters reject logic and reason in favour of emotion, when marking the ballot.

As a result, the US is stuck in a quagmire of long-term unemployment and suppression of new business and industry formation.  As China devours the resources of the world to build a giant dual-use infrastructure, and plants its influence across dozens of nations in both old and new worlds, the US is in stasis -- busy only in building more government.

The foolishness of the Obama, Pelosi, Boxer government should be obvious now, to anyone with more than two connecting neurons.  But what is to be done?

Oynklent Green is, as always, standing by.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Fast Pyrolysis Wood-to-Oil

Pyrolysis is the heating (usually above 800 F) of organic materials in the absence of oxygen.   Final products include pyrolysis gases, pyrolysis oils, and bio-char.  Fast pyrolysis to maximise the quantity of useful pyrolysis oils is an area of frantic and competitive research worldwide.  Wood is a good feedstock for converting to pyrolysis oils, and a similar worldwide search is on for the best means of providing woody feedstocks to pyrolysis and gasification plants for conversion to fuels and energy.
A major objective: an end-to-end system, based on fast pyrolysis, that would produce 1/3 renewable gasoline, 1/3 renewable diesel and 1/3 renewable jet fuel from Mississippi’s trees and waste forest biomass.
Working with an named early-stage renewable fuels developer based in Mississippi, the SERC group is now commencing development of a 10,000 square foot pilot facility that will test out the process they have been perfecting in the lab. Development of the facility, under a team led by SERC professor Phil Steele, could be finished within a year. Along with Envergent — a joint venture of UOP and Ensyn — and Dynamotive, the SERC project is at the forefront of a remarkable resurgence of pyrolysis over the past few years as an advanced biofuels processing technology aimed at drop-in renewable fuels. SERC’s advantages — high yield and an end-to-end process for creating biooil from forest products via pyrolysis, then upgrading bio-oil to drop-in renewable fuels via hydroprocessing to add more hydrogen.__BiofuelsDigest
In fact, improved methods of creating fuels and energy from wood may be the salvation of forestry industries across North America.

Pyrolysis and gasification are the two foundational thermal kick-starters for making biofuels from biomass. Both approaches are improving with innovation and experimentation around the world, at universities, within industry, and in personal workshops and on the village commons.

Microbial biofuels will eventually overtake and surpass thermal methods -- given the improved efficiencies of well-catalysed low temperature chemical processes.  But if you want an approach to advanced biofuels that works now, and will get better quickly, look to the thermal approaches.  They have the potential to be extremely scalable to meet local and regional needs.

Note to readers:  Some readers may wonder why we promote biofuels at the same time as we call for cleaner and freer uses for fossil fuels -- particularly the unconventionals such as oil shales, oil sands, heavy oils, coal to liquids, and gas to liquids.  The answer is simple.  Biofuels feedstocks can be grown over almost the entire surface of the Earth and oceans, whereas fossil fuels are found only in specific locations and must often be transported long distances for processing and use.  Although plentiful, fossil fuels are finite, whereas biomass will be grown until the sun dims or we run out of CO2.   Acquiring fossil fuels often involves huge expense, great danger, and damage to land that must be repaired.  Growing biomass is what the world evolved to do.  It can always be done with minimal damage to the Earth, if done with deliberation and forethought.

We have to have both to maximise energy versatility and choice.  For electricity, advanced nuclear reactors are the clear choice.  Migrating from coal plants to advanced nuclear should be done as soon as it can be done economically and safely.  There are better uses for coal than to do something that brute-force fission can do more cleanly.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why is Bill Gates Supporting Traveling Wave Nukes?

Gates said he is backing development of "terrapower" reactors that could be fueled by nuclear waste from disposal facilities or generated by today's power plants.
He broke down variables in a carbon-dioxide-culprit formula, homing in on a conclusion that the answer to the problem is a source of energy that produces no carbon.
...Gates touted terrapower as more reliable than wind or solar, cleaner than burning coal or natural gas, and safer than current nuclear plants.
"With the right materials approach it could work," Gates said. "Because you burn 99 percent of the waste, it is kind of like a candle."
Nuclear waste fed into a terrapower reactor would potentially burn for decades before being exhausted.
"Today we are always refueling the reactor so lot of controls and lots of things that can go wrong," Gates said. "That is not good. With this, you have a piece of fuel, think of it like a log, that burns for 60 years and it is done."
Researching and testing terrapower will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, with the building of a test reactor likely to cost in the billions. Once the technology is proven, market forces will drive down costs, Gates predicted.
Work on terrapower [has] been done in France and Japan, and there has been interest in India, Russia, China and the United States, according to the famed philanthropist.
Gates said that if he were allowed a single wish in the coming 50 years, it would be a global "zero carbon" culture.
"If I could pick a president or a vaccine, which I love, this is the wish I would pick," he said.
"We need energy miracles. The microprocessor and Internet are miracles. This is a case where we have to drive and get the miracle in a short time-line."
Better nuclear reactors are quite important.  Fourth generation reactors such as Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactors and fifth generation reactors such as "traveling wave reactors" will be safer than the current generation of reactors.
As it runs, the core in a traveling-wave reactor gradually converts nonfissile material into the fuel it needs. Nuclear reactors based on such designs "theoretically could run for a couple of hundred years" without refueling, says John G­illeland, manager of nuclear programs at Intellectual Ventures.
Gilleland's aim is to run a nuclear reactor on what is now waste. Conventional reactors use uranium-235, which splits easily to carry on a chain reaction but is scarce and expensive; it must be separated from the more common, nonfissile uranium-238 in special enrichment plants. Every 18 to 24 months, the reactor must be opened, hundreds of fuel bundles removed, hundreds added, and the remainder reshuffled to supply all the fissile uranium needed for the next run. This raises proliferation concerns, since an enrichment plant designed to make low-enriched uranium for a power reactor differs trivially from one that makes highly enriched material for a bomb.
But the traveling-wave reactor needs only a thin layer of enriched U-235. Most of the core is U-238, millions of pounds of which are stockpiled around the world as leftovers from natural uranium after the U-235 has been scavenged. The design provides "the simplest possible fuel cycle," says Charles W. Forsberg, executive director of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project at MIT, "and it requires only one uranium enrichment plant per planet."_ TechnologyReview
Okay, whether or not Gates truly believes in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, or whether he is just saying all the right words to pacify the vacuous academics, journalists, pundits, and politicians who would make his life miserable if he adopted a more rational view -- at least he is pushing for a safe and rational abundant energy policy.
That sets him apart from the crowd that dominates the Obama administration and the vast swarms of high-cost environmental lobbyists swarming around Washington DC, NYC, and the capitals of Europe and Australia.
Climate change hysteria has its uses, if only to put the sheep of global warming back to sleep while the real people get to work solving problems. 



Friday, February 12, 2010

Energy Wherever You Look, and More

Underground in situ coal gasification is just one approach to getting energy residing in hard-to-get-to places.

Farmers cannot grow sugar cane in North Dakota for producing ethanol, but they can certainly grow sugar beets! Using sugar beets, all manner of fuels can be brewed.

New Mexico plant to incorporate solar gasification of biomass to synfuels.

Biobutanol is a rising star of biofuels. Wise investors should take a look at biobutanol, and consider how it might act in synergy with bioethanol.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have posted their entry into the solar powered hydrogen race. They used gold and platinum for the electrodes. They just had a lot of gold and platinum sitting around in the lab, you see. ;-) Seriously, titanium dioxide has been used (with platinum) for this purpose since 1975. TiO2 is cheaper than gold. Substitutes for platinum cannot be that hard to find in the age of nanotechnology.

An environmentalist's look at the comeback of nuclear power

As long as we allow our energy future to be held hostage by the likes of Rajendra Pachauri, Greenpeace, and the WWF, we may as well jump into a deep well and drown.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Peak Oil Doom Gains Market Share as Climate Catastrophe Doom Loses Support

Climate catastrophe doom has lost credibility over the past several weeks, as rapid-fire revelations of misconduct and blatant deception at the IPCC, the UEA's CRU, NASA GISS, and other climate institutions, have come to light. But people need some kind of doom to cling to, so Peak Oil DOOM! appears to be taking up some of the slack. But is Peak Oil DOOM! any more credible than carbon hysteria doom?

Brian Wang points out that Canadian oil sands are on a steep upward trajectory. He also points to substantial new production from Iraq, Brazil, and the US -- if the price of oil remains above $70 a barrel.

Here we find documentation for substantial new production from Iraq, Brazil, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Africa's west coast (excluding Nigeria) amounting to 18 million barrels / day in new production by 2020. That projection also assumes that the price of oil will stay above $70 a barrel. In fact, if the price of oil rises even more, you can expect greater supplies to appear "as if by magic", or some invisible hand.

We may be "running into oil" rather than running out of oil.
In 1971, the demand for oil was at 49.4 billion barrels per year [??AF: million barrels per day?] and world reserves were estimated to hold 521 billion barrels, according to the US department of energy. According to the theories of the oil pessimists, this would mean that the world would be out of oil in a little more than a decade. Instead of facing doom in the 1980s as the depletionists predicted, the amount of oil in reserves increased to approximately 700 billion barrels as demand increased. Since 1971, when reserves held 521 billion barrels, the world has consumed 900 billion barrels of oil, and today, reserves are currently at an estimated 1.36 trillion barrels.

As the petroleum geologist Peter R Odell put it, “if anything, the world is running into oil”. Just look at last week’s discovery of oil in Dubai. Estimating that only 1.5 per cent of the Earth’s total physical resource base has been used since 1860, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared that since fossil fuels are in abundance, they would not impose limits on carbon emissions during the 21st century.

Doomers tend to underestimate the flexibility on both the supply side and the demand side for oil. This betrays a basic ignorance of economics. "How can this be?", you may ask, "since some peak oil celebrities are economists themselves?" It is quite easy. Economics is a very broad discipline, and different economists tend to specialise in narrow fields. In addition, different "schools" of economics (similar to different schools of philosophy or any other speculative field) tend to include and exclude various basic common-sense economic ideas that any market stall proprietor would understand instinctively.

Hotelling's law of substitution, and the inherent flexibility of supply and demand -- for everything except breathing air, drinking water, and food -- are basic concepts that are often forgotten by persons considering themselves more sophisticated.

Oil is not necessary for high tech civilisation -- energy is. Julian Simon taught the doomsters of the last century not to bet on scarcity. But each new generation of doomers must be taught the lesson again.

We will always have war -- and along with war comes famine, pestilence, and all manner of suffering. But in the larger world -- as long as a benign hegemony exists such as we have had since 1945 -- technological progress will continue to unfold. It is that technological progress that allows air to grow cleaner (outside of India and China), water to grow cleaner (outside of India, China, and the third world), and forests to grow larger and lusher (outside of the third world).

Should China become the world hegemon, expect Chinese values of environmental protection to be administered worldwide. Those values are even worse than the devastation seen under the USSR across Russia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. Under Russian or Chinese hegemony, environmental doom would be a given. But that is not what we have now.

Choose your dooms carefully, because they determine how you will spend your time and resources. Try not to waste them.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ivanhoe Energy: Fast Heavy Oil / Bitumen to Light Oils

HTL is based on the time-tested concept of thermal cracking and carbon rejection. The key innovation is speed - HTL incorporates ultra short processing times compared with significantly longer times for conventional technologies such as delayed coking. HTL has the added advantage over coking technologies in that it converts by-product coke to on-site energy, instead of incurring the costs of accumulating and managing large stockpiles of low value coke. HTL upgrading does not require catalysts, hydrogen or significant pressure. The net result is relatively small scale, low cost facilities that can be field located where energy and other heat integration benefits are maximized. _Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe Energy Company

Heavy oils and bitumens represent a huge worldwide resource of petroleum fuels. Ivanhoe Energy Company has developed a fast, high temperature, low energy demand cracking method for turning heavy oils and bitumen into light oils -- so that the oils can be easily piped to refineries. Its commercial demonstration plant in California proved the technology which is not being put in place in Canada, Ecuador, China, and Mongolia.

The video explains how hot sand is used to separate coke byproduct from the light oil, and how the coke byproduct is then used to fuel the ongoing heating of the recirculated sand. It is a low-water process which essentially fuels itself.
The HTL process represents the application of a commercially-proven technology to a new feedstock. The technology initially was developed in the 1980s by a predecessor company of a private, Ottawa-based company called Ensyn Corporation. Ensyn has been applying its RTP technology (the biomass equivalent of HTL) on a commercial basis since 1989. Seven commercial Ensyn biomass processing facilities are in operation in the United States and Canada.

...In late-2004, Ensyn commissioned the 1,000-barrel-per-day Commercial Demonstration Facility (CDF) in the Belridge heavy-oil field in Southern California. The purpose of the CDF was to confirm product quality and yields in a significantly scaled-up facility. Numerous successful runs were carried out in the period beginning in 2005 and through mid-2007, culminating in the successful processing of Athabasca bitumen in mid-2007.

In 2005, Ivanhoe completed a merger with Ensyn Group Inc. and now has full control of the patented, proprietary upgrading technology for the development of heavy oil. Ensyn Corporation retains the rights to biomass applications.

Ivanhoe now is working with AMEC, its tier one contractor, on the design and engineering of full-scale HTL facilities related to the commercial initiatives under way.

The world still has plenty of crude oil. But the quantity of extractable crude oil is eclipsed by the quantity of heavy oils, bitumens, kerogens, coal, and natural gas (including methane hydrates). Better means of extracting and converting these alternatives to light oils and liquid fuels are inevitable, as political peak oil continues to set in.

Political peak oil is primarily a consequence of most of the world's oil falling into the hands of oil dictators and corrupt national oil companies -- who enjoy consuming the profits from their oil fields, but do not wish to put the proper investment into personnel, maintenance and new technologies that optimal oil field management requires. Thus oil that should be extractable becomes non-extractable, and equipment that should last 50 years, rusts into disrepair in 10 to 20 years.

Political peak oil is secondarily a consequence of misguided climate and faux environmental policies of more advanced nations, which makes development of abundant oil, gas, coal, kerogen, bitumen, and heavy oil resources much more expensive and difficult than it should be.

Human innovation is necessary to bypass as many of the obstacles put in place by political peak oil as possible.

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Moving from Food Crop Fuels to Fuels from Waste

Big Oil may actually win the fight to stop using food crops with low-yields per acre, and help the transition to high-yield low carbon emission sources. The industry has invested over a billion dollars in advanced biofuels, algal fuel, and biotech ventures. _SeekingAlpha
When big oil companies invest $billions in biofuels, they are not doing it to waste money. Big oil doesn't want to see the big agriculture companies like ADM steal fuel profits with ethanol from corn. So, the newer biofuels will not be made from corn or food crops, but from waste and biomass.
Exxon Mobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson famously referred to ethanol as “moonshine.” Now Exxon is investing $300 million in Craig Ventor’s Synthetic Genomics with plans to produce fuel from algae. BP Biofuels was voted 2009 Biofuels Corporation of the Year by the World Refining Association at its 4th annual Biofuels Conference. BP has poured hundreds of millions into basic biofuel research and into a variety of partnerships including biobutanol with DuPont (DD) and Virgin Fuels, and energy cane in the U.S. with Verenium (VRNM) . Shell (RDS.A) has established a $12 billion sugarcane ethanol joint venture with Brazil’s Cosan (CZZ).

In the future, if biotech can deliver low-cost liquid hydrocarbons from biomass that can be profitably blended at the refinery, then Big Oil may partner with industrial agriculture. Valero (VLO), the largest refiner in the U.S., bought a number of ethanol plants at deep discounts from bankrupt VeraSun.

For now, both the petroleum producers and industrial agriculture want to control EPA regulation, federal tax breaks, and billions of federal funds. They also want greenhouse gas emissions measured their way. If growing more corn for ethanol and soy for biodiesel leads to rainforests being destroyed, then Big Oil favors that being included in biofuel emission lifecycle analysis. Big Ag is against such land-use analysis. See: Argonne Lifecycle Presentation, California Lifecycle with Land-use Studies, Renewable Fuels Standard. _SeekingAlpha

Bioenergy is to become an economic giant as long as the geopolitical climate of the planet stays on its current course. New bioenergy projects are started almost every day. Big oil, big agriculture, big chemicals, big forestry, big paper, big utilities, and even big nuclear (Areva) are all attempting to stake claims in the exploding bioenergy sector.

New cheap solar cells from IBM may help to jump-start a sluggish solar economy. If photovoltaic cells become cheap enough, clever designers will start incorporating them into the very landscape. When that happens, the need for utility-scale power storage should spur some breakthroughs.

Recent proclamations of a "doubling of capacity" of solar and wind installations, are a waste of time. Capacity for renewable energy means very little. It is the actual production and utilisation that count. Until the storage problem is solved, the idea of a large scale contribution from wind and solar is almost useless.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Look at Oil Prices by Dian Chu

Among the many determinants of risk bonds, the price of oil is a key factor as it plays a significant role in economic growth, inflation, production costs, trade balances and currency. Nine of the ten economic recessions in the United States since the end of World War II were preceded by a dramatic increase in the price of oil. _DianChu
Oil prices are extremely volatile, as Chu points out. Swings in oil prices have consequences for oil producers and oil consumers. Nations that are both oil consumers and producers -- such as the US, Canada, Brazil, and China -- can benefit from swings in either direction. Unfortunately for Venezuela, Iran, Russia, and the other oil tyrannies, they lose a great deal with each downward swing.
In addition to the United States, GDP growth in Brazil, China and India could get a boost from the softening and stabilizing of oil prices and should increase their competitiveness. Brazil and Chindia are all oil producers with aggressive state-sponsored exploration and production efforts and strong economic growth prospects. Brazil, with a new and improved investment grade credit rating, is now largely self-sufficient and has insulated its economy from oil price shock on net basis.

The economic impact of oil prices on oil-importing, developing countries such as China and India could be more pronounced primarily because Chindia are more energy-intensive due to its strong growth rate, and less energy efficient. From that perspective, Chindia, though good prospects, could be more of a roller-coaster ride for investors.

Among the emerging economies, lower crude oil prices will be a big dampener for the Russian economy. Russia's two oil wealth funds declined by a total $1.54 billion over the last month, as more funds were transferred to aid federal budget shortfalls. The Reserve Fund, one of Russia’s two oil wealth funds, is expected to run out by the end of 2010. _DianChu
Russia is hoping for big upward swings in oil prices -- that may be the only thing that can save the corrupt kleptocracy [redundancy alert!]. All of the oil dictatorships are desperate for higher oil prices -- by any means necessary. Well, almost. Iran wouldn't approve its own destruction, even though that would certainly drive oil prices higher.

It is vital for observors to distinguish between peak oil and upward swings in oil prices. Peak oil is about an irreversible doom from energy starvation. Upward swings in oil prices are inevitable and within the cyclic nature of quasi-capitalist economies.

Peak demand for oil will get here soon enough. We merely need to ride the waves of an untidy geopolitical picture and a wild and ill kept economy until then.

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Peak Oil: When You've Got Nothing Important to Do

The original concept of "Peak Oil" relates to a mountain peak. You climb and climb until you reach the peak, then it's downhill all the way. That was the idea behind the pre-Hubbert peak theories and remains the idea in the back of people's minds post-Hubbert. Oil production increases until it can't go up anymore, then it falls and falls and falls -- and then the global economy will crash.

That is the simple, original, and largely sub-conscious version of peak oil. A more "sophisticated" version of peak oil claims that oil will never run out and may not even actually peak, but that the world will run out of "cheap oil", and the more expensive oil will grow too expensive for anyone to use -- and then the global economy will crash.

There is another even more "sophisticated" theory of peak oil that states that there is enough oil sands, oil shale, heavy oils, and potential coal to liquids and gas to liquids to replace all petroleum -- except that it will take too long to tool up for the transition, and petroleum supplies will shrink too quickly -- and then the global economy will crash.

You did catch the punchline for all three theories (and several others quite similar)? The global economy crashes. That seems to be a requirement for any peak oil theory that hopes to get a person's blood pumping hard enough for him to be interested in buying books, tapes, seminar tickets, newsletter subscriptions, and whatever else the peak oil proponent happens to be selling at the time.

Any peak oil theory that fails to include a crashing economy and plenty of blood in the streets almost seems too trivial and superfluous to discuss -- much less argue about. So why is their so much argument about "peak oil" when anyone with a brain should understand that the technology and energy feedstocks are there, if the market absolutely has to turn to them (read carefully)?

An interesting concept of "peak demand" has been circulating recently -- and it has a great deal of logic backing it up. In fact "peak demand" has more logic behind it than even Tony Hayward understands.

The demographics of advanced countries in Europe, East Asia, North America, and Oceania is definitely of an imploding nature. Women are having too few babies to maintain populations -- and with populations depleting faster than energy supplies, demand for fuels will fall across the board. Except perhaps for nuclear, coal, and gas for electric and thermal power plants. It is a question of timing.

Along with falling populations, the advanced nations will begin substituting alternative fuels for petroleum -- slowly at first, then at a dizzyingly accelerating rate sometime near the end of the current decade.

The delusional pseudo-scientific theory of anthropogenic global warming catastrophe has held European, North American, and Australian politicians in thrall for over a decade now, but its props are being kicked out from under it by a resurgence of genuine apolitical climate science. With a release from the absurd quasi-totalitarian restrictions on energy use -- with the repeal of "political peak oil" -- modern economies can phase out their petroleum use in a measured and controlled manner.

Believers in Peak Oil DOOM! have no idea how dependent their theories are on the false theories of carbon catastrophe theory. And they probably never will. Because persons who are drawn to peak oil doom are not really looking for solutions to problems. They are looking for exactly what they have found in their books, newsletters, seminars, tapes, and forums: doom. Any doom will do, but a doom from energy starvation is particularly juicy and bound to cause blood to flow.

Why do so many fall for it, besides having nothing important to do?
...when looking ahead more than four years, almost all oil price forecasts over the past 40 years have been wrong, according to Dr Ole Gunnar Austvik, the head of research at Lillehammer University College in Norway.

As it turns out, the flawed forecasts all predicted upwards price trends, whereas inflation-adjusted oil prices actually fell for two decades from the early 1980s.

It was only over the past decade that a seven-year price rally challenged that. A related question, now that oil prices have crashed and partially rebounded, is whether some of the old forecasts are about to be vindicated, or whether the current period of price volatility will run its course, eventually leaving crude lower.

The perennial popularity of forecasts projecting crude prices rising indefinitely reflects the intuitive appeal of the “Peak Oil” theory, which predicts that global oil production will reach a maximum rate and then inexorably decline.

Everyone can grasp the seductively simple hypothesis, which encapsulates deep-rooted insecurities over energy supply. Surely everyone must understand that oil is a geologically scarce resource that must one day run out. _National
Yes, it is a simple idea, easy to grasp, easy to hold ... and hold ... and hold .... in fact, some people have been holding on for forty or fifty years now and show no sign of tiring. Any day now, you'll see, it's all going to fall apart . . . .

Problem solvers look for ways to solve problems. But doomseekers don't want their doom parties spoiled by anyone or anything. Doom is the one thing giving their lives meaning. Don't dare take that away.

Oil pricing is subject to a wide range of forces. But politics should be placed near the top of every list. We all know where Obama, Pelosi, Boxer, Salazar, etc. fall on the politics of energy. "Let them eat cake!" In other words, we'll make it impossible to burn coal, to drill for domestic oil, to use oil shales or oil sands, or any fossil fuel for that matter. If they can't get by on wind and solar, then too bad. Let them eat cake.

Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] has some interesting ideas for turning a bad political situation into a net energy plus. You may want to look into investing in OYNK.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

1.38 BILLION GALLONS of Advanced Biofuels by 2013?

An ambitious goal to be sure: almost a 1,000 times increase between 2009 and 2013. Will it happen?
Planned capacity is expected to increase to 199.17 million gallons in 2011, primarily from the launch of 75 Mgy Dynamic Fuels project in Louisiana, the 20 Mgy Range Fuels demonstration in georgia, and the 10 Mgy cellulosic ethanol component of the AE Biofuels project in California, which transforms the old Cilion facility. Capacity increases to 217.10 million gallons in 2011, and 785 million gallons in 2012. In total, 52 companies have pilots, demos or commercial facilities open during the 2010-13 period, as tracked in the Digest database.

Note: Top executives representing 77 percent of global planned capacity (in 2009 as well as 2012) will be attending the Digest’s Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference, April 27-29, 2010, in Washington DC. More on the conference here. _BiofuelsDigest
The projections are for capacity, not production. The two are not always the same thing -- as we have learned from the failures of the wind and solar industries.

Robert Rapier is an interested observor of the biomass to biofuels approach, and he provides a somewhat dissenting voice of caution.

One of Rapier's commenters pointed out the experience of industrial microbiolists in the pharmaceutical industry as an example of ways in which bio-industrial production of high value chemicals can be scaled up. Al Fin microbiologists agree that industrial microbiology will be pivotal in the transition to home-grown liquid fuels.


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