Wednesday, June 30, 2010

BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing

The BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotech and Bioprocessing happened in Washington DC, and BiofuelsDigest filed a report. The most interesting item was news about biorefineries.
... the cross-over from chemicals to fuels and back again is – that is to say, the integrated biorefinery model — is another trend at BIO.

ZeaChem is continuing to finish out a suite of 2-carbon products including ethyl acetate, acetic acid and ethanol. LS9 is continuing down a two-pronged strategy of diesel fuels and surfactants that are the chief components in detergents. Amyris last week announced a whole slew of partnerships to exploit its ability to make low-cost fanesene for the cosmetic and other industries. Solazyme is making renewable fuels for the US Navy (among others) as well as renewable oils for the food and fragrances industries. _BiofuelsDigest
Speaking of ZeaChem, they appear to be on the verge of commercial scale production of cellulosic ethanol PLUS a whole raft of co-products, using the biorefinery model:
ZeaChem’s approach can deliver a range of chemicals and fuels within the carbon chain product groups. Imbler says that the company has started work on its C3 organism (which would produce lactic acid, rather than the acetic acid produced by its current C2 organism). The C3 product platform would include propionic acid, propanol and propylene. Moving on to C4 could produce butanol.
Through the successful production of ethanol, we’ve completed ZeaChem’s C2 carbon chain suite of products, which includes acetic acid, ethyl acetate, and ethanol. The next step is to integrate these known processes to achieve the ultimate target of commercial production of economical and sustainable biofuels and bio-based chemicals.
—Jim Imbler
ZeaChem Carbon Chain Product Groups
C2 ChainC3 ChainC4 ChainC6 Chain
Acetic Acid
Ethyl Acetate
Ethylene Glycol
Lactic Acid
Propylene Glycol
Acrylic Acid & Esters
Propionic Acid
Methacrylic Acid & Esters

Feedstock. Although the ZeaChem process is feedstock agnostic, it is initially concentrating on its farmed hybrid poplar trees. ZeaChem’s analysis has shown the use of short rotation hybrid poplars offers the lowest cost per BDT/acre/year. These short-rotation hybrids can be harvested as often as three years, and require replanting only once every five harvests.

Zeachem's microbe produces acetic acid which is then chemically transformed to ethanol -- or a number of co-product high value chemicals for other industries.

An entire industry based on biorefineries is being born. Download the World Economic Forum's PDF report for more information.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Canada Will Supply Uranium to India's Nuclear Renaissance

India expects to have 12 new reactors running by 2020, consuming an extra 1,500 tonnes of uranium per year. Other projects are expected, making India’s civilian nuclear sector worth $25-billion to $50-billion over the next 20 years. Dr. Chaitanyamoy Ganguly, the President of the small Indian division of Cameco (TSX: CCO), the world’s largest uranium miner, said Canada could soon be exporting 2,000 tonnes of uranium to India annually. Canada has some natural competitive advantages over other countries in the Indian market because many of India’s reactors are already based on Canadian CANDU technology and because Australia has refused to sell uranium until India signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has also signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with the USA, Russia, France, UK, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia. _UraniumInvestNews

The deal with Canada also includes co-operation in the fields of nuclear waste management and radiation safety.

"The Civil Nuclear Co-operation Agreement that we have signed breaks new ground in the history of our co-operation in this very important sector," Mr Singh told reporters at the signing ceremony with his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, in Toronto.

"It reflects the change in international realities and will open new doors for mutually beneficial co-operation in nuclear energy," he added.

The contribution of nuclear energy is expected to rise from a mere 3% today as India embarks on a substantial expansion of nuclear power reactors over the next few decades.

Coal still accounts for more than 50% of India's energy use.

The agreement marks a turning point for Canada, which stopped nuclear co-operation with India in 1974 after India used plutonium from a Canadian reactor to build an atomic bomb.

India's nuclear isolation ended after it signed a landmark agreement with the US in October 2008. _BBC

India is currently holding nuclear talks with Japan, with the aim of importing Japanese nuclear technology. If India's economic expansion is not to die in its infancy, it will need a lot of energy for commerce, industry, and civil infrastructure.

In that regard, much of Asia is united in seeing the need for a rapid expansion of nuclear energy.
Uranium Prices

The uranium market has continued to demonstrate limited activity over the short term with spot prices unchanged at $40.75 per pound. The demand side has been described as discretionary and lackluster at best with two transactions reported, although they had previously been negotiated. The price spread between willing buyers and willing sellers continues to narrow with only $0.50-$0.75 now separating the two and activity at a virtual stalemate.


This week presents industry stakeholders with 2 unique opportunities for a comprehensive outlook on the nuclear power market. A small modular reactor conference is scheduled for June 28 and 29 in Washington, focusing specifically on the issues related to the development and licensing in the U.S. Overlapping this conference in London will be the 5th Annual European Nuclear Power conference providing attendees with a comprehensive outlook of the European nuclear power market, highlighting opportunities and debating the challenges faced.

Fears surrounding security of supply, fossil fuel price volatility and increasingly tighter climate change goals at the international level are being manifested in a global resurgence of nuclear power. If aging infrastructure remains neglected, it is widely predicted that demand will outstrip supply long-term. The ability to create a stable and significant clean energy has firmly placed nuclear power back on the table for policy makers and utilities alike. For uranium investors these conferences should inspire actions and intentions which can have direct implications on uranium price targets and supply demand fundamentals. _UraninumInvestingNews

The absurd anti-nuclear faux environmentalist deadlock cannot continue indefinitely. When the western world finally wakens out of its suicidal daze, demand for fissile and fertile fuels will skyrocket.

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Biorefineries, the Future of Algae Roadmap, and Dutch Methanol

There are several aspects of algal biofuel production that have combined to capture the interest of researchers and entrepreneurs around the world. These include:

1) high per-acre productivity,
2) non-food based feedstock resources,
3) use of otherwise non-productive, non-arable land,
4) utilization of a wide variety of water sources (fresh, brackish, saline, marine, produced, and wastewater),
5) production of both biofuels and valuable co-products, and
6) potential recycling of CO2 and other nutrient waste streams. _USDOEAlgaeRoadmat

The US DOE is attempting to promote breakthroughs in algae to biofuels research:
The three consortia selected for [USDOE] funding are:

Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium (Mesa, Arizona): Led by Arizona State University, this consortium will focus on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-based fuels. Tasks include investigating biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products, and analyzing physical chemistry properties of algal fuels and fuel intermediates. (DOE share: up to $6 million)

Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization (San Diego, California): Led by the University of California, San Diego, this consortium will concentrate on developing algae as a robust biofuels feedstock. Tasks include investigating new approaches for algal crop protection, algal nutrient utilization and recycling, and developing genetic tools. (DOE funding: up to $9 million)

Cellana, LLC Consortium (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii): Led by Cellana, LLC, this consortium will examine large-scale production of fuels and feed from microalgae grown in seawater. Tasks include integrating new algal harvesting technologies with pilot-scale cultivation test beds, and developing marine microalgae as animal feed for the aquaculture industry. (DOE funding: up to $9 million) _GCC

Algae and other forms of biomass and biomaterials will be converted to useful chemicals, fuels, feeds, plastics, and other products via biorefineries:
...a biorefinery might produce one or several low-volume, high-value chemical products and a low-value, high-volume liquid transportation fuel while simultaneously generating electricity and process heat for its own use or, potentially, for sale. The high-value products enhance profitability, the high-volume fuel helps meet energy needs, and power production reduces costs and avoids greenhouse gas emissions, the report says.

Around a dozen additional chemicals apart from syngas and fuels may currently be produced per refinery but, ultimately, the local market value for the final products will determine which products will be produced. The production of chemicals will be an important part of the economics of a biorefinery (flexibility to adapt to timely market needs), as the composition of plant material allows easy derivation of primary chemicals, quite different to those derived from oil. Consequently, a bio-based chemical industry will be built on a different selection of “platform” chemicals than those in the petrochemical industry.

—“The Future of Industrial Biorefineries” _GCC

Such a world class biorefinery will be built in Indonesia in a partnership between Elevance Renewable Sciences and Wilmar International -- a large global agribusiness group.
The joint venture will use Elevance’s proprietary biorefinery technology to produce high-value performance chemicals, advanced biofuels and oleochemicals. Large existing and rapidly emerging new demand exists for these products in surfactants, antimicrobials, lubricants, renewable biodiesel and green jet fuels.

The commercial-scale manufacturing facility will begin with a capacity of 180kMT (approximately 400 million pounds) with the ability to expand up to 360kMT (approximately 800 million pounds) of products. The facility will be located within Wilmar’s new integrated manufacturing complex now under construction in Surabaya, Indonesia. _BiofuelsDigest
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, BioMCN is building a methanol-from-waste-glycerin plant with a capacity of 250 million litres. (via BiofuelsDigest) Methanol is an excellent fuel for fuel cells and as a combustion additive, and can be used for many other processes.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

100 MW Factory Made Small Modular Reactor from ARC

Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) is a firm based in Reston, Virginia. ARC intends to factory-build a 100 MW sodium cooled fast reactor which has already been proven at the Argonne National Lab West in Idaho. More from Idaho Samizdat Nuke Notes (from an entry in the 7th Carnival of Nuclear Energy):
Getting power out of the reactor

The inlet temperature, according to a specification sheet, is 355 degrees C. The outlet temperature is 510 degrees C. The outlet temperature is what is made available to the balance of plant. The reactor immersed in ambient pressure liquid sodium. The intermediate loop is also liquid sodium.

Transfer of heat to a turbine is being developed to use to Brayton Cycle which uses liquid CO2 yielding an expected 40% efficiency rate for heat transfer. However, Ali said the company is also working with turbine manufacturers to develop steam applications.

Answer on nonproliferation issues

In an answer to critics of nuclear energy who worry about bomb makers, Ali points out the fuel for the ARC-100 is sealed in the reactor, used for 20 years, and then returned to the factor, or a regional fuel center, for reprocessing. The customer doesn’t touch the fuel, stores any on-site, or manages the used materials.

“The customer never has access to the fuel.” Ali said.

According to the first phase design information provided by the company, the “fuel cartridge” is inserted in an underground portion of the reactor. There are no safety-related systems in the balance of plant. The reactor vessel installed underground and is 15 meters high with a diameter of about 7 meters. See conceptual image left.

The fuel itself is enriched to an average of 14% depending on customer requirements. The specifications for the fuel are found in a database developed for the EBR-II reactor which means extensive first-of-a-kind fuel testing required for some of the other fast reactor SMRs won’t be needed for the ARC-100.

“It is a proven metal-alloy fuel,” Ali said.

On the reprocessing side of the fuel cycle, creating new fuel for the ARC-100 does not involve separating pure plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons. Instead, it keeps the plutonium mixed with other long-lived radioisotopes so that it cannot be used in making bombs.

Next steps

Ali said the company is now holding “pre-application discussions” with the NRC ahead of formally submitting the reactor for design certification. Ali did not indicate a date when the firm would formally submit a package to the NRC. _ISNN

White paper on ARC-100 at Google Docs

A pre-loaded nuclear fuel cartridge that provides reliable power for 20 years between cartridge changes goes a long way toward providing optimal safety and confidence in a power source.

This article from Idaho Samizdat was featured in the 7th Carnival of Nuclear Energy. Another article featured in the same carnival which is a very useful expansion of the above Idaho Samizdat article can be found at Capacity Factor. The Capacity Factor article also looks at competing designs for liquid metal fast reactors.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

7th Carnival of Nuclear Energy at Nuclear Green

Charles Barton hosts another Carnival of Nuclear Energy (7th).  Here are some excerpts:

Kirk Sorenson is one of the Senior Nuclear Bloggers on the internet and an authority on LFTR/MSR technology. Kirk is both an Aero-space and a Nuclear Engineer, and he usually lays out the facts, but he is hip enough to have been featured in a story on Wired Magazine. Kirk has offered us a couple of interesting posts on fission products and spent nuclear fuel this week. The first is titled, What’s in Spent Nuclear Fuel? (after 20 yrs), and features a discussion of various actinides and fission products produced by the nuclear process. in Picture of Neutron Poisons Kirk introduces a hall of mirrors in which neutron poison xenon-135 whose wide neutron cross section gave fits to the designers of first generation reactors is revealed for the first time to be the enormously bloated neutron grabber it really is.

The second EC debate was triggered by a post by Dan Yurman, How to open running room for small reactors. Dan discusses regulatory changes that will facilitate the development of small reactors. Michael Keller casts a skeptical eye on the small reactor concept, and irrpresible nuclear critic Stephen Gloor piles on.

Dan also offers us us an account of the ARC-100 small reactor project. The ARC-100 is actually a Generation IV sodium cooled fast reactor. The ARC-100 is based on decades old EBR-II reactor technology, which increases its likelihood of success.

Over at NEI Nuclear Notes, Mark Flanagan highlights an important political race for nuclear energy in Nevada. Will Senator Harry Reid be able to hold on to his position, thereby making sure Yucca Mountain never happens? Or will Sharron Angle be able to defeat the long-time incumbent and disrupt the Senate leadership? Too early to tell but make sure to stop to see the discussion.

Nuclear Fusion is either touted the next big thing in energy, or as living somewhere on an ever reseeding horizon that is 50 years in the future. One thing is certain, if nuclear fusion ever becomes a practical option, Brian Wang will be the first to tell us about it. Brian recently described for us a patent granted Tri-Alpha Energy for a field reversed configuration system.

Brian also discussed prospects for a near term increase in uranium production. Kazakhstan is likely to see an increase in uranium production, but a 40% increase in taxes on mine profits, is likely to block a proposed expantion of Australia's huge Olympic Dam Uranium mine. FinallyBrian reports on a proposed 16 GW buildout of nuclear power in Vietnam by 2030.

These carnivals are particularly good for people who are unable to follow the nuclear blogs on a regular basis. Thanks to all the hard work that goes into putting them together.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

More Big Money Pours Into Algae, High Value Co-Products

Toyota’s research and development group, Hitachi Ltd, has joined more than 40 Japanese companies and organisations in investigating the potential to turn algae into biofuel to power its vehicles. _CarAdvice

Craig Venter, the man who mapped the human gene, is all over algae. Exxon Mobil entered into a partnership with Venter’s Synthetic Genomics (SGI) in mid-2009 to apply SGI expertise in genetic engineering to create algae that can produce biofuels on a large, economical scale. Exxon Mobil had committed to invest more than $600-million in this effort – which is peanuts for the world’s largest oil company but a lot of money for a scientist.

...“Petroleum is algae that’s been processed by the earth’s crust for hundreds of thousands of years,” says Haig, “although everyone thinks it’s dinosaurs. But there is now the prospect to skip the earth’s crust’s work and go direct from algae. Algae is up to 50 per cent by weight lipids – fats. That’s perfect for biodiesel.” _Globe&Mail

Liao used genetically modified E. coli bacteria and cyanobacteria to streamline the photosynthesis process used by other algae-to-fuel processes. His “one-pot bioprocessing” approach enables the microorganisms to directly convert carbon dioxide into higher alcohols with between three and eight carbon atoms. Those alcohols can then be further processed to produce green fuels.

...“The first practical application will probably be to hook up to power plants and recycle some of the CO2 and make it into fuel,” Liao said. While the technology has the potential for multiple uses, he said, “the first goal is to use it as a gasoline replacement.” _Greenbang
Liao predicts his award-winning process will take between 5 to 10 years to achieve commercial success via the startup "Easel."

But before microbial fuels begin to displace petro-fuels, we will see the commercial success of bio-based high value chemicals and other co-products. The success of these early co-products will help finance the development of competitive processes to produce biofuels.

For example, Iowa State University researchers are developing enzymes for the production of the valuable chemical Iso-Butene. Isobutene is "a gas that is currently used in the production of a variety of chemicals and in the manufacture of other fuel additives, adhesive, plastics and synthetic rubber. Isobutene can be converted to isooctane, used in gasoline." _GCC.

Synthetic biology company Amyris has agreed with Proctor & Gamble to produce high value chemical products for use in P&G's many commercial products. Such collaborations provide small companies with early cash flow and solid contracts to show to investors and lenders, to facilitate expansions.

If entrepreneurs and managers associated with small biofuel startups are intelligent, they will aim for small but solid niches in order to secure an early revenue stream. Further expansion and/or specialisation can be leveraged upon early successes.

Bio-energy theorists need to reject the "all or nothing" mentality which is the curse of academia, the media, think tanks, and politics, and think more along the lines of developing strategic toe-holds -- no matter how small, in the beginning. As long as the long-term logic is sound, the early successes can be built upon.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Asia: Where the Nuclear Renaissance is Happening

Due to faux environmental concerns, the nuclear renaissance appears to be passing most of Europe and the Anglosphere by. Asian countries, on the other hand, are concerned about the future of their populations, and their civilisations. That concern for the real future apparently sets Asian cultures apart from their contemporary western counterparts.
Asia has the potential to dwarf U.S. nuclear power activity. Across the continent, there are 112 nuclear reactors in operation, 37 under construction, 84 more planned and proposals for more waiting in the wings, according to the World Nuclear Association

China alone has 11 units operating, 22 under construction and 35 planned, another 120 proposed, as well as 13 research reactors. Electricity demand in China is growing at 8 percent annually.

Japan, which has 54 reactors in operation with two under construction and 12 more planned, last weekend hosted an energy conference of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Much of the talk was about the BP Gulf oil spill and moves to cleaner energy, including nuclear.

South Korea has 20 reactors, with six under construction and six more planned. It gets 35 percent of its power from nuclear. In December, a South Korean consortium trumped French and U.S. interests to win a $20.4 billion order for four new reactors in the United Arab Emirates.

India has 19 power reactors with four more being built. Taiwan has six reactors with two under construction.

And it’s not just the Asian heavyweights who are pursuing nuclear power. Vietnam is planning for 30 reactors by 2030. Other Southeast Asian nations now contemplating nuclear power include Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.

Both China and South Korea are pursuing nuclear cooperation agreements in the region. Recent headlines heralded South Korea’s efforts to negotiate civil nuclear pacts with India and Turkey. In May China confirmed that it had signed a controversial agreement to provide Pakistan with two commercial reactors.

China also recently acquired a small stake in the U.S. Enrichment Corp., (USEC). A Hong Kong firm owned in part by the Chinese government, the reports state, bought a 5.1 percent stake in USEC, the lone U.S.-owned provider of enriched uranium for reactors globally. USEC currently supplies reactors in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Asian nuclear expansion is fueled by the mix of economies, large and small, that are recovering from the 2008 global economic meltdown with a quiet efficiency not yet seen the West. _NuclearTownhall
Australia had sense enough to dispose of Kevin Rudd and his Luddite regime. Americans need to do the same with Obama Pelosi. The future does not tolerate fools such as Obama Pelosi or Rudd. Their malignant destruction-by-neglect regimes will not be remembered well by history.


Brasil Drills Deep and Often For Rich Offshore Oil Deposits: Tupi

Petrobras’s drilling of a seventh well in the Tupi area (earlier post) confirmed the light oil potential in the pre-salt reservoirs, located in ultra-deep Santos Basin waters. The new well, called 3-BRSA-821-RJS (3-RJS-674) and informally known as Tupi Alto, is located in the Tupi Evaluation Plan area, at a depth of 2,111 meters (6,926 feet) below the water line, nearly 275 km off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, and 12 km northeast of discovery well 1-RJS-628 (1-BRSA-369).

The well was drilled in a higher structural position than the other wells in Tupi, and proved the discovery of light oil via a cable test. The sample obtained in the test presented lighter oil (about 30 degrees API) than the average of the oils found in the other Tupi wells (about 28 degrees API).

Light crude oil—i.e., with a high proportion of light hydrocarbon fractions—is valued more highly than heavier crudes because it can yield a higher percentage of gasoline and diesel fuel when refined. _GCC

Brasil's offshore drilling efforts are being financed by George Soros, with the help of US President Obama and $2 billion in US loans. If may seem odd that Mr. Obama is supporting deep offshore drilling off the coast of Brasil, while attempting to stop all offshore drilling off the coast of the US. The inconsistency may have to do with Obama's friendship with Mr. Soros, or it may be a bid for future financial and political connections with Brasilian factions. The contradiction allows Mr. Obama to proceed with plans for energy starvation in the US, while doing nothing to obstruct the overall magnitude of offshore oil drilling worldwide.

In fact, Mr. Obama's moratorium of oil drilling -- if upheld by a more activist federal court -- will help George Soros to pull expensive and difficult to schedule drilling rigs from the Gulf of Mexico down to Brazil and other sites of interest to Mr. Soros. This small complication in Obama's "feel good" attempt to insure the safety of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will have to be eradicated from the popular media. We must move on, by all means.

Offshore oil drilling will take place -- even if the US chooses to forego its own rich deposits of offshore oil. Spills will take place -- and most national oil companies will care a lot less about the ecological impact of oil spills than the US population cares about its own shores.

Mr. Obama's apparent "payback" to a wealthy campaign contributor makes it clear what is important to the man. Himself and his destiny. Nothing else exists.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Looking at Jesse Ausubel's Nuclear Future

Jesse Ausubel is the director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York City. He shares some imaginative visions of a future where nuclear energy is the dominant form of power.
Simultaneously a technology-loving futurist and an ardent naturalist, Ausubel points out that a wind farm delivering the same energy as a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant would cover 308 square miles; a solar plant, 58. Even organic farming, he suggests, is justifiable in the context of landscape preservation only if the per-acre yields equal those of conventional farming...

...Ausubel has spent most of his career modeling a future that assumes a population of about 10 billion—what many experts believe the world will bear over the next century—and reasoning backward from there to explain how such a world could be powered and fed, and how much land could be spared for nature.... instead of using policy to change how people will behave in the future, Ausubel prefers exploring technological responses to what he believes people are going to do regardless. His favorite defense of this laissez-faire approach is to explain that, absent any policy dictating that it should happen, energy consumption over the past 100 years has steadily “decarbonized.” That is, humankind has moved to fuel sources with progressively better ratios of carbon atoms to hydrogen atoms—wood at 10:1, coal at 2:1, oil at 1:2, natural gas at 1:4 and, eventually (in the future Ausubel envisions) 100 percent hydrogen.

...ENERGY: Within a few decades, after methane plants have replaced coal plants, according to Ausubel’s decarbonization model, the move is on to full nuclear. His plants would produce electricity during peak daytime hours and be used to dissociate water to make hydrogen by night. “With the nuclear industry making two products instead of just one,” he says, “the economics become more attractive.”

Where to get all the uranium for the hundreds of new nuclear plants that Ausubel’s world would require? Extracting it from oceans, he believes, could supply enough energy for 10,000 years or more. The low concentrations in seawater—about 3.3 parts per billion—make the extraction process difficult, but Japanese researchers have successfully mined uranium from ocean currents, although not yet at costs that would be economically feasible.

NUCLEAR WASTE: Ausubel cites Russian and British research into “self-sinking balls” of nuclear waste with shells most likely made of tungsten and heated by their radioactive contents to the point where, once disposed of in deep holes in the Earth’s crust, they would melt the surrounding lithosphere and bury themselves several miles deep. “Nuclear waste is hot and heavy,” he says. “The idea of self-sinking capsules takes the heat and gravity as positive attributes. The idea is quite straightforward.”

.... _Popsci

In reality, of course, most "nuclear waste" will have intrinsic value in important processes -- including helping to fuel newer generations of fission reactors. But there will be a small percentage of spent fuel which will need to be safely and reliably disposed of. Burying such waste deep in the Earth's interior would ultimately lead to long term dilution -- which is all that you really need to obtain to make it safe.


The "Waste" in Spent Nuclear Fuel Isn't Really Waste?


As you can see from the graph, there’s not ALL that many significant (from a perspective of mass) fission products in the spent fuel. There’s xenon (#54) and neodymium (#60). Then there’s zirconium (#40) and molybdenum (#42) and ruthenium (#44). Cesium (#55), barium (#56), lanthanum (#57), cerium (#58), and praseodymium (#59) all figure in at varying levels of importance. And there’s samarium (#62) in there to make things difficult.
But it’s a smaller list than I would have thought, and the xenon, neodymium, molybdenum, and lanthanum are all recoverable at this stage. Something to think about–even the fission products of spent nuclear fuel probably aren’t really “waste” either. _More graphs at EnergyfromThorium

Commenters at the link above remarked at some of the high value metals and rare earths contained within nuclear "waste."

Of course when Generation III and Generation IV reactors begin to work in tandem, many of the troublesome ingredients of nuclear "waste" will suddenly become important feedstocks and co-products.

Nuclear reactors are safe, and getting safer. Future generations of reactors should provide much greater safety at a much lower price -- in terms of expense of construction and manpower supervision. The Thorium cycle should offer even fewer things to worry about. Like everything of value, these things must be taken seriously, or they can exact a tremendous price from the unwary.

Taken from an earlier posting at Al Fin

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Offshore Algal Farms that Purify Wastewater, Grow Fuel

Algae Systems hopes to produce fuel from algae with the OMEGA method pioneered by NASA. OMEGA, which stands for Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae, involves growing algae in large bags measuring up to a quarter-acre in size that are tethered in the ocean. Instead of being fed carbon dioxide from smokestacks or sugars, the algae would grow by feeding off of wastewater.

Besides producing algae that could be used for fuel, the process would convert the wastewater into fresh water. Source __ GreenTechMedia
The idea as pictured will not work, since the violent ocean will rip the big plastic bags to shreds within a fortnight. But oceans are a logical location for big algal farms. Combining algae's appetite for waste of all types with its ability to grow rapidly to occupy a large space suggests a significant potential for rapid production of algal biomass -- and perhaps oils for fuel.

But the ability to grow lots and lots of biomass will be sufficient, until we learn how to more efficiently milk the little green critters for their oil. We can gasify and/or pyrolyse the biomass, and convert the products into useful fuels, chemicals, plastics, and feeds.

The point is not to suggest that this particular company will succeed. The point is that the planet has a lot of space that can be exploited for growing biomass. Humans know how to cultivate and grow huge masses of biological organisms beyond what nature alone would grow. That fact throws off all the calculations of academics, and opens the door to an entire new world of biological possibilities.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wind Farms Cannot Produce Electricity On Demand

Short excerpt from Energy Facts Report PDF:

Typical availability [for wind farm power] is 20-40%, compared with 60-80% for coal and over 90% for nuclear. Such unpredictable electricity is hard to sell. In addition, note that each windmill contributes only a tiny amount of electricity to the grid, yet it is a major structure. Windmills kill a significant number of bats and birds, some of which are on the endangered species list. This has created concern, at both the local and the federal level, over potential increase in mosquito-borne diseases caused by bats and birds killed by wind-turbines.6

Since thrown blades can kill people nearly a mile away, and windmills must be spaced so as not to interfere with each other’s wind, they must be surrounded by considerable land area. To generate (at peak power) as much electricity as a single 1000-megawatt nuclear plant, a wind-farm would occupy 200 to 300 square miles. (A nuclear power station might have two or more such plants and occupy only about one square mile.) Each two-megawatt wind-turbine is one-third taller than the Statue of Liberty from the ground to the torch-tip. To make these windmills: “Coal-fired cement plants would be needed to make millions of cubic yards of concrete for the bases. Rocks might have to be blasted away, or trees cut down to make room for the bases, towers, and the wind itself.”7 Per kilowatt-hour generated, wind farms require considerably more steel and concrete than a nuclear plant.8 And this cost can be amortized over only the short—typically 15 years—life of wind-turbines. By comparison, nuclear power plants will run for 60 or more years.

If you’d prefer all this be done off-shore, you’ll need monopole towers about nineteen feet in diameter sunk deep into the seabed. Cravens notes that “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to test a monopole installation and has announced that four species of endangered turtles, four species of endangered whales, two species of endangered seabirds, and a threatened beach plant may be affected by such an experiment. Warning lights for aircraft and boats would light up the wind-park at night, and foghorns would bellow as needed. An underwater cable would connect the turbines to the grid.” (Curiously, environmentalists don’t appear to mind that cable—just the one across Long Island Sound.)

The above discussion is just to document the fact that the wind-turbines used in connection with “wind power” plants are not at all like the simple, small windmills commonly seen on farms before the electric power grid made them obsolete.

As the magnitude of the intrusion such wind-turbines would make on any neighborhood became apparent, public opposition of the NIMBY type (Not In My Back Yard), reminiscent of early anti-nuclear rallies have sprung up, and given rise to national and international anti-wind-power organizations.9 The bases for objection were many. The Audubon Society was horrified at the bird- and bat-slaughtering capability of these “avian cuisinarts” (their words). The Industrial Wind Action Group opened one of its newsletters with the words: “Building turbines in some of the best places to harvest wind in Ohio could put millions of birds and bats—some protected by state and federal law—at risk.”

...The important fact about wind-turbines is that electric power output varies as the cube of the wind speed. Thus, when wind speed doubles, the power output from the wind-turbine increases eight-fold. A variation from 10 to 12.6 mph doubles the output. And conversely, dropping from the rated speed by a third (from 31 to 21 mph) decreases the power generation by more than two-thirds. This presents a serious problem for the electric power grid, because there is no place to store any significant amounts of electricity. The National Electrical Reliability Council estimates that for safe grid operation, voltage can vary no more than 5% without potential damage to electrical equipment. Information storage and handling systems are even more vulnerable—blips as brief as a sixtieth a second can be damaging.

So, an electric power grid is a continuous delicate balancing act, having to match up each new demand for more electricity by increasing generation accordingly, and matching each turned-off light switch by correspondingly decreasing output from one of its power stations. The grid accomplishes this balancing by maintaining a good-sized “spinning reserve” of some reliable energy source, such as coal or gas. Of course, this is all done automatically, under the coordinated watchful eye of various human operators. But in that situation, having an energy source, such as a wind-farm, that on its own initiative doubles its output or cuts it in half from time to time, is seen as pure mischief. As evidence of this, note that it usually requires 24 hours or more to restabilize the grid after a blackout. If we had never heard of unpredictable energy sources, and we observed unpredictable surges into and out of the grid, we might reasonably suspect sabotage. It is easier to harm the system by scrambling the demand than by blowing up transmission towers.

Not only is a wind-farm’s output unpredictable, but what pattern there is, is often counter-productive. In much of the U.S., the wind is apt to be higher speed and steadier at night, when the demand is lowest. And the gusts are strongest in the spring and fall, when neither heating nor air-conditioning demand is in full swing. But such conditions are local, and some are favorable.

Europe now has enough wind energy to pose serious grid problems. Utilities would not buy wind-power by choice, so they are required to do so by government mandate. One suggested remedy is to disperse the wind turbines over a wide area, to smooth out some of the wind bursts. But this requires that more of the energy travel over greater distances, and even at 500,000 volts (to minimize losses), a significant part of the energy being transmitted is lost as heat on the way. Even within a few tens of miles, as much as 9% is lost. Getting approval to place high-voltage power lines is even harder than for nuclear power plants. _FactsReportPDF

The full report at the link above documents the significant superiority of nuclear energy over unreliable wind and solar.

Charles Barton offers an excellent argument for the sustainability of nuclear power

Nuclear Fusion is an energy dark horse that promises to overturn the established energy order -- if we can find the right approach.

Brian Wang has much more on nuclear fusion

The pursuit of big wind power will guarantee energy obsolescence and starvation for anyone foolish enough to attempt it. Just because the current batch of US politicians advocates for energy starvation is no reason to accept such suicidal policies as appropriate.

Vote them out!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Nuclear Power is Safe, and Is Getting Safer

Charles Barton writes about nuclear safety, making some good points.
The challenges confronting nuclear power are:
* assured nuclear safety
* An assured nuclear fuel supply throuh the efficient use of nuclear fuel
* the recycling of fission products into industrial use
* making energy produced through nuclear power available at a low cost
* developing the technology that will makes meeting the first four goals possible
* Achieving the first five goals rapidly, and deploying the technology world wide as quickly as possible
* Severing potential links between massive use of civilian power reactors and the spread of nuclear weapons.

...Despite powerful evidence of the safety of the previous generation of nuclear technology. reactor manufactures have continued to develop even safer reactor designs. The probability of a casualty producing nuclear accident occurring with Generation III+ reactors approaches once during the life of the universe. To expect greater safety, is to take an excursion into the realm of the absurd. The high levels of nuclear safety achieved by current reactor designs, comes at a high cost. Extremely safe Light Water Reactors are expensive to build. The challenge for future nuclear safety developments is to continue providing the current high level of nuclear safety, while dramatically lowering nuclear construction costs.

...Mass produced, factory manufactured features can in most cases be low priced. Thus from the Gat and Dodds perspective LFTRs can be more safe at trivial costs than LWRs can be with the massive expenditure of money on safety features. This leads us to consider drastic, cost lowering changes in the way reactors are built.

Even the worst sort of reactor disaster, say an aircraft attack on a reactor, would not cause a massive release of radioisotopes, because the nuclear fuel would be continuously cleaned of radioisotopes. Since an attack on a reactor no longer poses great danger for a civilian population, the reactor holds little value as a target for terrorist. Furthermore, Moir and Teller suggest the underground siting of Molten Salt Reactors. This underground reactor could not be damaged by aircraft attacks or even massive truck bombs.

It would appear then if Molten Salt Reactors could be brought to market, there would appear to be little doubt about its safety. The Molten Salt Reactor is capable of producing power at a safety level that will satisfy any rational person. _NuclearGreen
Charles concludes that molten salt reactors -- including liquid fluoride thorium reactors -- would be the safest possible nuclear reactors, particularly if factory-built to incorporate the optimal safety features in the least expensive manner.

Modern nuclear reactors are safe, but they rely upon considerable manpower to maintain overall plant safety. In an age of ever-reduced manpower in western nations, we can no longer rely upon a steady supply of well trained, intelligent, and resourceful techs and engineers.

We must design our infrastructure of the future around the reality of a steady decrease in skilled manpower. That is why Charles' suggestions are so important. And it is why we need to convert to factory built, next-gen reactors -- beginning now.

There is no more time for NRC foot-dragging or Obama Pelosi designed energy starvation and power company bankrupting. Massive hardship waits around the corner unless the leadership of today shifts gears -- and begins to behave as leaders should.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

When Bacteria Share Enzymes -- Road to Microbial Fuels

Harry Beller, an environmental microbiologist who directs the Biofuels Pathways department for JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division, led a study in which a three-gene cluster from the bacterium Micrococcus luteus was introduced into the bacterium Escherichia coli. The enzymes produced by this trio of genes enabled the E. coli to synthesize from glucose long-chain alkene hydrocarbons, predominantly 27:3 and 29:3 (no. carbon atoms: no. C=C bonds). _GCC
Learning to mix and match genes from different species of bacteria (and other life forms) will allow humans to custom manufacture a wide range of high value chemicals, plastics, fuels, feeds, and most other things that people need for daily living. But don't tell anyone in the government -- they'll find a way to outlaw the practise. No doubt at the instigation of their faux environmentalist comrades.
These long-chain alkenes can then be cracked—reduced in size—to obtain shorter hydrocarbons that are compatible with today’s engines and favored for the production of advanced lignocellulosic biofuels.
In order to engineer microorganisms to make biofuels efficiently, we need to know the applicable gene sequences and specific metabolic steps involved in the biosynthesis pathway. We have now identified three genes encoding enzymes that are essential for the bacterial synthesis of alkenes. With this information we were able to convert an E. coli strain that normally cannot make long-chain alkenes into an alkene producer.
—Harry Beller
It has long been known that certain types of bacteria are able to synthesize aliphatic hydrocarbons, which makes them promising sources of the enzymes needed to convert lignocellulose into advanced biofuels. However, until recently, little was known about the bacterial biosynthesis of non-isoprenoid hydrocarbons beyond a hypothesis that fatty acids are precursors.
We chose to work with M. luteus because a close bacterial relative was well-documented to synthesize alkenes and because a draft genome sequence of M. luteus was available. The first thing we did was to confirm that M. luteus also produces alkenes.
—Harry Beller
Beller and his colleagues worked from a hypothesis that known enzymes capable of catalyzing both decarboxylation and condensation should be good models for the kind of enzymes that might catalyze alkene synthesis from fatty acids. Using condensing enzymes as models, the scientists identified several candidate genes inM. luteus, including Mlut_13230. When expressed in E. coli together with the two adjacent genes —Mlut_13240 and 13250—this trio of enzymes catalyzed the synthesis of alkenes from glucose. Observations were made both in vivo and in vitro.
This group of enzymes can be used to make aliphatic hydrocarbons in an appropriate microbial host but the resulting alkenes are too long to be used directly as liquid fuels. However, these long-chain alkenes can be cracked—a technique routinely used in oil refineries—to create hydrocarbons of an appropriate length for diesel fuel.
—Harry Beller
The next step in the research is to learn more about how these three enzymes work, particularly Mlut_13230 (also called OleA), which catalyzes the key step in the alkene biosynthesis pathway—the condensation of fatty acids.
We’re also studying other pathways that can produce aliphatic hydrocarbons of an appropriate length for diesel fuels without the need for cracking. Nature has devised a number of biocatalysts to produce hydrocarbons, and our goal is to learn more about them for the production of green transportation fuels.
—Harry Beller

Working with Beller on this study were Ee-Been Goh and Jay Keasling. The three were the co-authors of a paper that appeared earlier this year in the journalApplied and Environmental Microbiology, titled “Genes Involved in Long-Chain Alkene Biosynthesis in Micrococcus luteus.”

The faux environmentalists are attacking nuclear power, biomass, coal, oil sands, oil shales, bio-ethanol, shale gas, and any other form of potentially clean and abundant energy.

These faux environmentalists promote dead-end wind and solar, huge rat holes of resource waste that will leave us gasping for energy and dying from lack of industrial, transportation, agricultural infrastructure.

The zombie apocalypse is on, and a large portion of the zombies currently reside in Washington DC -- living it up on the taxpayer's dime. Destroying the future, and writing IOU's that even your great-great-great-great grandchildren will not be able to pay.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Algae Is Already Big Business

Products from Algae PDF

Algae is big business. But for algae to become the "fuel of the future," algal growers will need to find ways of making it 10 times cheaper to grow, harvest, dry, and process. Amazingly enough, if algae can be made cheap enough to become the "fuel of the future," it is also likely to become the "food of the future."
The drive for cheap biofuel will make algae the food of the future.

To become the “food of the future”, and compete with conventional human foods and animal feeds, algae production costs must be ten times lower.

Lower costs will deliver healthy algae omega 3 oils and protein food and feed products, rebalancing our diets. We’ll see algae based resins, biopolymers, bioplastics and a range of specialty chemicals replacing today’s fossil fuel chemical products.

The big algae energy investment underway may take a decade to reach commercial biofuels. Algae food and bio-plastic products are likely to arrive earlier, since fuel is one of the least valuable end products. To deliver competitive algae biofuel, companies will need to crush costs to $1/kg or less!

How will algae production costs come down? Biomimicry.

Numerous ventures have now successfully raised a combined billion dollars for algae biofuel R&D and production. Innovations and technological breakthroughs will dramatically change the way algae has been produced over the past 30 years. How?

Discover better performing algae cultures. Thirty years ago, scientists used available natural strains such as spirulina and chlorella. Today, backed by R&D budgets, scientists screen, identify and engineer strains of algae with superior and enhanced properties, faster growth rates, and abilities to grow in conditions such as low light and temperature and high saline, brackish or ocean water.

Develop simpler, less costly design and technology. Rethink, redesign and reengineer the entire growing system, harvesting, processing and drying sequence to reduce capital costs for equipment, operating costs and power consumption.

Use marginal land and water just like nature. To grow algae on the large scale needed to produce biofuels, growers should not use valuable fertile agricultural land and scarce fresh water. Rather, find remnant flat land and ocean, saline, brackish or waste water located near nutrient resources.

Use waste nutrients just like nature. To lower costs, future algae growing systems will have to follow principals of biomimicry. Recycle waste CO2 effluent, animal and plant wastes, which are costly problems today. Ferment agricultural, animal, industrial and waste streams into carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace nutrients to feed the algae. Or grow algae by cleaning up municipal waste.

Use all the algae biomass just like nature. Sell ALL of the algae. Start with the end product and work backwards. What are the products that can be sold, and for how much, and how will markets be developed for those products?

Create multiple revenue streams to offset costs. Environmental services may include CO2 and pollution mitigation, wastewater treatment, biomass and waste heat for generating electricity and even carbon offsets.

Non-fuel algae products may represent the 70% of the algae biomass. Potential revenue streams include algae oil and lipid supplementation in animal and human feed, like healthy omega 3 oils, animal feedstocks and supplements, biofertilizers, fine chemicals and bio-plastics, extracts for pigments nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and medicinals. Get big. Scale up to thousands of hectares. Large algae farms will allow economies of scale. Along the way, demonstration farms to prove out technologies _PDF Productsfrom Algae PDF

Co-Products of Algae

Animal Feed

Both micro-algae and macro-algae can be made much less expensive. As the price curve of production drops, it will meet the price curve of market demand -- for one new algal product after another. Plastics, high value chemicals, animal feeds, biomass for various uses, etc. Until eventually, algae production becomes efficient enough for algal fuels and alga-based human food to compete with petro-fuels and regular human food crops.

The trend has been in play for decades now. But as more resources are devoted toward the goal, the tipping point will arrive sooner.

Al Fin continues to predict 2020 as the approximate date for price parity for algal/microbial and petro fuels. From that point it will require another 10 years for appreciable scaling of production -- and ultimately significant displacement of petrofuels by microbial fuels.

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Obama Pelosi Cannot Stop Nuclear Renaissance


The 6th blog carnival of nuclear energy is up at NEI Nuclear Notes (via Brian Wang).

Despite what some may like you to believe, the nuclear renaissance is upon us. Don’t let anyone get away with telling you otherwise — they are badly misleading you.
How about this for some supporting statistics29 new reactors, totalling 26 gigawatts of electricity output (operating at high capacity factors without the need for energy storage/backup), will start operation in 13 different countries in the 2010 — 2012 period – that’s within the next 3 years (average reactor size is 880 MWe).
In a debate between Stewart Brand (pro-nuclear) and Mark Jacobson (anti-nuclear), Mark Jacobson tries to make the case that we can generate all of the energy that we need without nuclear power (and without fossil fuels) … one of Jacobson's main distortions is that nuclear power is slower to develop than solar and wind.
I am all in favor of building more solar and wind, but it is wrong to say that building a lot of it is faster than building nuclear power. Nuclear power increased by 300% since the 1980s in the United States. Since 1987 the US alone has added 345 TWH of nuclear which is more than the entire OECD has now for solar, wind and geothermal.
The nuclear renaissance is on -- but not in Obama Pelosi's US. The reich is focused upon energy starvation for the US, and nuclear power just provides too much energy and is too sustainable for too long -- particularly when Gen III and Gen IV reactors are combined in complementary fuel and power generation.

The only hope for the US to break out of the Obama depression and energy starvation is to erase the regime and start again with a clean slate of more rational actors.

Go to the Carnival of Nuclear Energy #6 for more ideas and links.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Q Microbe vs. Super-Yeast: Battle of the Micro-Titans

...The industry needs to reach $1 per gallon to be competitive at large commercial scale, and we are not there yet. And we have about 12-24 months... _BiofuelsDigest
The Q Microbe is a strain of Clostridia Phytofermentans, a soil-dwelling bacterium isolated from forest soil in Massachussetts.
The microbe is also unusual in its ability to consume such a wide variety of plant material. It breaks down cellulose with ease, the notoriously tough molecule that’s the primary component of plant biomass. So Leschine’s team surveyed the bacterium’s dietary preferences, feeding it everything from wood pulp waste to sugar cane bagasse, the plant matter that’s left over once sugar cane is crushed. Pectin, starch, xylan and other plant polymers that can be difficult to digest were no problem for the microbe.

“Q is able to break down such a wide variety of these components—it’s a real generalist,” says Leschine. “Can you imagine the enzymes it makes?” _BiofuelReview

The new super-yeast from Purdue is said to be capable of fermenting "all five types of plant sugars."
Nancy Ho, a research professor of chemical engineering at Purdue explains, “Natural yeast can ferment three sugars: galactose, manose and glucose. The original yeast (Professor Ho developed) added xylose to that, and now the fifth, arabinose, has been added.” Adding the fungus genes allowed the yeast to create necessary enzymes to get through those steps. That about covers the sugars obtainable. _NewEnergyandFuel
But look more closely. The Q microbe breaks down cellulose from a wide range of biomass into sugars. The super-yeast ferments a wide range of sugars into ethanol. Why couldn't they just get along? They appear to be a perfect match, as long as you build a strong fence between the colonies.

In other bioenergy news, Spanish researchers have developed a profitable use for glycerine -- a byproduct of biodiesel production.

And speaking of profitable by-products of biofuels production, Biofuels Digest has started a new division dealing exclusively with the profitable production of bio-plastics, high value chemicals, and much more, from biomass.

Entire industries will spin off of the quest for biofuels -- some of them may well precede biofuels into mega-profitability.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

$80 Billion Market for 2nd Gen Biofuels by 2022

Union Bank of Switzerland foresees a significant ramping up of 2nd generation biofuels throughout the next decade.
UBS sees high potentials for companies such as Weherhaeuser, Novozyme, Danisco and Syngenta. Together, these companies represent technologies that will allow producers to use nonfood feedstock, and as such will have the benefit of allowing governments to boost their national farm sectors while reducing their dependence on foreign oil. Coauthor Alice McKeown Jasperson of Worldwatch Institute notes “ We really strongly believe in the potential of second-generation biofuels, but we also believe that there need to be tests along the way. ” _BiofuelsDigest

Even Robert Rapier is able to find some positive notes for next generation biofuels.

Here is some information from a recent conference on advanced biofuels:
The one-day Advanced Biofuels Workshop, a co-located event at BBI International’s 26th annual Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, took place June 14 in St. Louis. The conference’s first panel—Game-Changing Pathways: Exploring New Roads to Tomorrow’s Advanced Biofuels—demonstrated the wide range of products from, and process techniques for, advanced biofuels production.

Today the advanced biofuels industries are in the “let a thousand flowers bloom” mode, said Gregory Pal, senior director of corporate development with LS9 Inc. “Over time there’ll be a shake-out and others will fall by the wayside,” Pal said, referring to the questionable feasibility of some products and processes now under investigation.

LS9 has made headlines in recent months for its novel one-step approach using designer microbes to convert sugars, not lipids, into various diesel fuel substitutes. The microbes, what some have referred to as “magic bugs,” ferment sugars into either methyl ester biodiesel or a renewable hydrocarbon fuel the company trademarked UltraClean Diesel depending on the desired end product. “There are no miracles required,” Pal said.

The company is focused on diesel fuel substitutes because it rightfully recognizes that diesel is the dominant fuel outside the U.S., and in years to come diesel applications are expected to gain significant ground in the U.S.

Pal told the audience that LS9’s pilot plant has been operating in South San Francisco for nearly two years, and mentioned the demo-scale plant in Florida expected to come online next year. LS9 also recently gained U.S. EPA registration to sell its fuels into commercial markets.

While LS9 is focused on diesel fuels, Virent Energy Systems Inc. is focusing on biogasoline—and the company has big names backing it up. Cargill is invested in Virent and is helping arrange feedstock supply; Royal Dutch Shell is also deeply financially invested as its development partner while opening up market channels; and Honda is testing its fuels and providing performance feedback.

The company’s vice president of business development, Greg Keenan, said there are similarities between the pathways of LS9 and Virent. “While LS9 is going biological route, we’re using a solid state catalyst, the goal is to reduce oxygen to carbon ratio and increase the hydrogen to carbon ratio,” Keenan said.

The severity of Virent’s process, called BioForming, increases from hydrolysis at 100 degrees Celsius, followed by pyrolysis at temperatures between 400 and 700 degrees, then gasification at around 1,000 degrees. In one to two hours, Virent’s process moves from sugar in to drop-in product out.

The Btu content of Virent’s biogasoline comes in at around 120,000 Btu per gallon compared to petroleum unleaded gasoline at about 115,000 Btu, and ethanol at 76,000 Btu. The Reid Vapor Pressure of biogasoline is similar to that of fossil gasoline, Keenan said.

Keenan said the company is looking at beet and cane sugars, in addition to corn syrup, as feedstocks.

Another panelist on the Game-Changing Pathways panel at the ABW was Randal Goodfellow, senior vice president of corporate relations for Ensyn Technologies Inc., one half of the Envergent Technologies joint venture with UOP.

Envergent’s process utilizes oxygen-free fast pyrolysis in a circulating fluidized bed in which the ultra-hot sand heats bits of biomass and vaporizes them. Goodfellow joked that even though the Rapid Thermal Processing reaction takes less than one second, he tells people that it takes less than two seconds because public perception was that under a second is “too fast.” _BiodieselMag
More information at the link above.

Advanced catalysts and other breakthroughs in thermochemical processes will increase the profitability of 2nd gen biofuels. But once 3rd gen biofuels find their stride, the cost savings will allow these new fuels to fully compete with and displace both petroleum fuels and earlier biofuels.

The field is in rapid evolution, and only those companies which are capable of reading the changes and adapting to them will survive.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

5th Carnival of Nuclear Energy, S. Korea's Small Nuke

Brian Wang's NextBigFuture presented the 5th Carnival of Nuclear Energy this past weekend. It looks at a wide range of technologies, including new fission designs, focus fusion, Blacklight Power, and cold fusion.

South Korea is speeding up development of its small modular nuclear reactor, meant to be sold to developing nations to provide safe, baseload power.
SMART is a 330 MWt pressurized water reactor, designed to generate up to 100 MWe for thermal applications such as seawater desalination. It is more cost-effective and safer than the current generation of conventional reactors.

"SMART will be a reactor suitable for developing countries that do not have large-capacity transmission and distribution power grids," Seoul's Yonhap News Agency quoted a government official as saying.

...The establishment of the SMART consortium is part of the larger South Korean goal of becoming one of the top three exporters of nuclear reactors, along with the United States and France, by 2030. _TradingMarkets

The following slideshare presentation was included in the 5th Carnival of Nuclear Energy.

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"Cornucopia Biorefinery": Food, Fuel, Fertiliser from Corn

The key to early profitability for bioenergy producers is to make use of as much of the feedstock as possible to produce as many profitable products from the feedstock as possible. Here is one such approach:
The SynGest Cornucopia model takes an entire ear of corn and simultaneously produces The Three F’s: food, fertilizer and fuel. This is why we have adopted the slogan: “You can have your fuel and eat it too…”. With Cornucopia, there is no more compromise between food vs. fuel…and we get enormous amounts of nitrogen fertilizer in addition. The Cornucopia model is mainly a re-engineering or re-design of how we process an ear of corn. When we use the kernels as food, we use them whole which is not ideal for many of the animals that we feed, especially cows. When we make ethanol, we waste the valuable food and the cellulosic parts of the kernel. Also, today, we throw away the valuable cob. The goal is to use every part of the corn plant that can safely be removed from the field year after year.

...Cornucopia Detail

1. “Slipstream” biomass harvesting is based on the recognition that if we want to harvest large volumes of biomass (which includes cellulose and starch) for biofuel and bioproduct production, we must leverage the enormous farming activity that already exists worldwide. In the U.S., the major crop is corn. The normal harvesting technique is to allow the corn to stand in the field till late in the fall and then use a combine to only harvest the kernels. The model that we have adopted is to simultaneously harvest the kernels and the cobs (partially broken) in the same grain bin. An inexpensive $2,000 modification to the typical combine unlocks this opportunity for the farmer.

...2. Dry fractionation is also known as dry milling. This is in fact the front end and first processing stage of the entire Cornucopia BioRefinery. The corn kernel is separated into its three main components of corn starch, germ and bran. The starch is sent to the fermenter and the germ is sent to the oil extraction facility. The corn cobs collected as noted above are also delivered and mixed with the residual bran and becomes a mixed cellulose stream for the gasifier (see below). Each component is processed using a different technology to maximize its potential.

...3. The fermentation facility which today is an ethanol plant, efficiently converts the starch into fuel. Fermentation is the most efficient way at our disposal to produce fuel from sugar and starch. The Cornucopia BioRefinery recognizes this and takes advantage of the maturity of this technology. Early rollouts of Cornucopia BioRefinery may in fact include ethanol fermentation as the fuel product. However, as soon as possible, it is recommended that ethanol nbe replaced by one of the new technologies that produces “drop-in” (fully fleet and infrastructure compatible) fuels. There are a number of offerings that are near-commercial from companies like Butamax, Gevo, Cobalt, Amyris, Optinol etc

...4. The gasification facility is the only really “new” technology in the Cornucopia BioRefinery. The SynGest gasifier, although it has some new characteristics and achieves better performance than prior biomass gasifiers, it is based on well-known and understood technologies. The goal with the SynGest system is to convert any form of biomass into clean syngas at the lowest possible cost and simplest operational approach. The ideal scenario would be to convert biomass into syngas in one step. The best way to come close to achieving that goal is to gasify the biomass using almost pure oxygen and the appropriate catalytic fluidized bed. Although our design gets very close to complete conversion in one step, we still have components of the syngas that need to be handled, such as methane, tars and BTX. In the past, the approach has been to include a “clean up” stage to remove these unwanted gas components. Not only are these clean up approaches costly, they reduce the overall conversion efficiency. The SynGest approach instead adds an autothermal catalytic reformer, also enhanced with oxygen. This second stage of the gasifier converts all of the tar and BTX into syngas and almost all of the methane as well. The net effect is that rather than having a costly clean up stage and a toxic waste issue, SynGest has substituted a low cost yield enhancement device and removed the waste problem in its entirety.

...5. Food grade oil extraction is another critical technology to achieve maximum financial and social value of the Cornucopia BioRefinery. The germ fraction is processed in a food-grade oil extraction process. Although there are other techniques in the market, and the historical approach uses hexane (a nasty carcinogen), SynGest has developed a clean and low cost alternative to pulling the oil out of the germ. We use a specific mix of two food-grade solvents (GRAS) that has a natural affinity for the corn oil. The chemical pull of this solvent mix is so powerful that greater than 96% of the oil is pulled out of the germ without the need for mechanical processing. The oil is then easily separated from the solvents which are then recycled and used again for the next batch. The residual of the germ is an already dry and de-oiled high value and high quality protein. This protein can be fed to humans but more importantly can be fed to all of the types of animals that we like to eat.

...Input. 245,000 acres of corn.

Fuel. 132 million gallons of fuel. A typical 110 million GPY ethanol plant, when retrofit to ferment starch vs. whole corn, will produce 20% more fuel per year for a total of 132 million GPY. At the same time, the cost to ferment is lower so a given capital investment will make more fuel at a better margin per gallon.

Food. 71 million Lbs of food grade corn oil and 74 thousand tons of high grade protein. A 132 million GPY plant as noted above will use approx. 245,000 acres of corn (200 bushels per acre). From that corn, 71 million Lbs of food grade corn oil will be produced and 74 thousand tons of high grade protein.

Fertilizer. 500,000 acres of corn. Of the bran and cobs, 50,000 tons of anhydrous ammonia (nitrogen fertilizer) will be produced. This will be enough for 500,000 acres of corn or twice as much fertilizer that is needed to fertilize the corn that feeds the Cornucopia BioRefinery. We will be able to fertilize the Cornucopia BioRefinery operation and an equal number of acres beyond for entirely other uses. _BiofuelsDigest
We are still in the earliest stages of learning to maximise our output and minimise our input for efficient and wide-ranging production.

The choice is not between food and fuels, but rather between food alone and food plus a wide range of other valuable products including fuels.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Boosting Biomass to Fuel Yields


Purdue University researchers discovered ways to increase the "sun to fuel" energy production efficiency up to three times higher than at present.
In the proposed H2Bioil-B process, depending on the efficiency of gasification section, 32-42% of the total biomass is gasified to produce a syngas which is sufficient to hydropyrolyze and hydrodeoxygenate the remaining fraction of the biomass that is directly fed to the hydropyrolysis zone.

The hot gas from the gasifier is directly injected in the pyrolyzer zone. If needed, the temperature of the exhaust gas prior to its injection in the pyrolyzer zone may be adjusted. Also, if required, a hot or a cold recycle stream may be injected between the gasifier and the pyrolyzer zone to provide better temperature control in the pyrolyzer section of the reactor.

The researchers found that while a process such as H2CAR [hybrid hydrogen-carbon process], based on gasification/FT chemistry, can recover nearly 100% biomass carbon, it would also need approximately 0.33 kg H2/L oil produced. On the other hand, fast hydropyrolysis/ HDO-based H2Bioil has a potential to recover ~70% biomass carbon with 0.11 kg H2/L oil.

They estimated the H2Bio-B process is estimated to be able to produce 125-146 ethanol gallon equivalents (ege)/ton of biomass of high energy density oil. The augmented version of fast-hydropyrolysis/hydrodeoxygenation, where H2 is generated from a nonbiomass energy source, is estimated to provide liquid fuel yields as high as 215 ege/ton of biomass. _GCC
This is a novel approach, combining gasification of a portion of the crop with hydropyrolysis of the remainder to apparently achieve higher energy efficiencies than with previous approaches.

Other biofuel makers such as Neste have used hydrogen to boost bioenergy content of bio-oils, and many more proposals for using hydrogen supplementation to make biofuels have been made. The final combination is apt to be different for different companies.

Certainly nuclear energy can generate hydrogen more cheaply and cleanly than virtually any other source of hydrogen. But most farmers and biofuels makers lack their own nuclear reactor for that purpose. Photovoltaics or wind could accomplish the same thing (electrolysis of water for hydrogen), far more expensively, and more intermittently.

All of these calculations from the Purdue team neglect to consider the use of seaweed for biomass -- which allows up to 6 harvests of crop per year. Eventually, marine crops have the potential to eclipse land crops for purposes of biofuels production -- given the appropriate floating infrastructure.

Bonus link: a look at leading bio-butanol producers


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