Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prolific Biomass to Fuels: What I've Been Talking About

Too many people who look at algal fuels are only looking at algal biodiesel from algal oils. But that is not the quickest route to profitable algal fuels. As Al Fin has been saying for years, it is the prolific biomass production of algae which is the strength to be exploited. It may take as long as ten years to solve the problems of getting profitable algal oil biodiesel -- but algal biomass can be profitable much sooner.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed and demonstrated the feasibility of a two-step hydrolysis-solvolysis process to produce biodiesel directly from wet algal biomass. Their process eliminates the need for biomass drying, organic solvent extraction, and catalysts, and provides a mechanism for nutrient (e.g., N, P, and glycerol) recycling. A paper on the process was published 30 August in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

Levine et al. reported that a cursory investigation of the influence of some key process variables resulted in crude biodiesel and FAEE (fatty acid ethyl esters) yields as high as 100 and 66%, respectively, on the basis of lipids within the hydrolysis solids. Considering that about 80-90% of lipids in the original algal biomass were retained in the solids recovered after hydrolysis, the authors noted, the total process yield was somewhat lower.

...The team used the alga Chlorella vulgaris as the lipid-rich feedstock (53.3% lipids as FAEE). In the first step of the process, the wet algal biomass (ca. 80% moisture) reacts in subcritical water to hydrolyze intracellular lipids, conglomerate cells into an easily filterable solid that retains the lipids, and produce a sterile, nutrient-rich aqueous phase.

In the second step, the wet fatty acid-rich solids undergo supercritical in situ transesterification (SC-IST/E) with ethanol to produce biodiesel in the form of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs).

Longer time, higher temperature, and greater ethanol loading tended to increase crude biodiesel and FAEE yields, which ranged from about 56-100% and 34-66%, respectively, on the basis of lipid in the hydrolysis solids. _GCC

The idea is to go with the strengths of your feedstock rather than to focus on processes which will take years or decades to become profitable. The UMich process is intriguing, and appears to avoid some of the most difficult and challenging problems of mainstream algal biodiesel production. But it is not necessarily the most likely process to reach profitability the soonest.

The strains of algae which produce the highest levels of lipids are not necessarily the strains which provide the highest biomass yields. Many newer processes of converting biomass to fuels do not require the expensive de-watering step. Most of them do not depend upon high-lipid feedstocks.

The UMich project is a worthy one, and we wish them good luck. But they are certainly not the only similar type of fish in the sea, so to speak. These are exciting times for prolific biomass -- both marine and terrestrial.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Coal Gasification Safe and Affordable Energy for Future

Gasification, as opposed to combustion, is the most thermally efficient and cleanest way to convert the energy content of coal into electricity, hydrogen, clean fuels, and value-added chemicals. The product of gasification the syngasis a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Sulfur, however, has to be removed from the mixture in the form of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and carbonyl sulfide (COS) to protect process equipment and meet environmental regulations.

The T-2749 Fluidized-bed Desulfurization Sorbent, developed by Santosh Gangwal, Raghubir Gupta, and Brian Turk of RTI International, Research Triangle Park, N.C., is a regenerable desulfurization sorbent used inside a transport reactor that allows sulfur to be removed to equilibrium levels in temperatures between 500 and 1000°F. Due to its improvements of the gasification process, the T-2749 allows for the gasification process to be environmentally safe and affordable. _R&DMag
More about RTI's syngas cleaning technologies:
Gasification is a process through which carbon-based materials such as coal, petroleum coke, and biomass are converted into syngas that can be used to efficiently produce clean electricity, transportation fuels, and chemicals using domestic fuel resources. Cost-effective syngas clean-up technology is a key to achieving near-zero emissions from gasification-based power generation and chemical plants. Additionally, gasification-based systems provide the lowest cost option for capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide from coal use.

The project includes the pre-front-end-engineering-design phase, during which Shaw will conduct a study for a 50-megawatt commercial demonstration unit to be built at Tampa Electric Company's 250-megawatt integrated gasification combined cycle power plant in Florida.
"This 50 megawatt scale-up will mitigate the remaining technical risks before full commercial deployment," said David Myers, vice president of the Engineering and Technology Unit at RTI. "Beyond application in the power industry, the technology also holds tremendous potential to reduce the cost of producing hydrogen, chemicals such as methanol and ammonia, and fuels through gasification of coal or other low-value carbonaceous feedstocks, while enabling carbon capture through conventional or advanced CO2 removal technologies."

Traditional methods require warm syngas to be cooled before the gas cleanup process begins. The new technology, which eliminates the need for syngas cooling and expensive heat recovery systems, is expected to significantly reduce the capital and operating costs of an integrated gasification combined cycle power plant. _RTISyngasCleaning

Carbon hysteria is perhaps the most dangerous mental disorder haunting the minds of persons in government, academia, media, and faux environmental organisations such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club, WWF, etc. Coal is perhaps the most hated repository of energy in the world, perhaps even including uranium and plutonium. This coal-phobia will prove extremely hazardous to the future of humanity, if the energy starvation policies of US and European governments continue to dominate the political stage of the advanced world.

Energy starvation is but one step in a progressive program to reduce the human population of the planet. (see Dieoff.orgy and Voluntary Human Extinction Mooment;-) You don't need to be intelligent to destroy the planet while claiming to be saving it. You only need to be in a position of power and have the sympathies of 95% of global media, academia, and media oriented special interests.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Algae Tec Multi-product Algae & KiOR Catalytic Pyrolysis

Australian company Algae Tec utilises the McConchie-Stroud closed algal bioreactor system to produce multiple algal products -- including oils-to-biodiesel, carbohydrates-to-ethanol, proteins-to-animal-feed, and biomass-to-jet-fuel.
The photo-bioreactors which are at the heart of the McConchie-Stroud algae production technology are designed to generate four revenue streams:

oils which can be refined into biodiesel;
carbohydrates (sugars) that can be used in the production of ethanol;
proteins that can be used as feedstock for farm animals; and
protein and carbohydrate biomass that can be combined to produce jet fuel.
Algae.Tec is currently undertaking an Initial Public Offering by way of a prospectus dated 16 July 2010 with the intention to list on the ASX by the end of September 2010. The Company’s ASX code will be AEB.

The McConchie-Stroud System consists of a modular bioreactor and related infrastructure used for harvesting algae and refining into algae products. As commercial plants will ideally be built on the site of large scale CO2 emitting companies, such as coal-fired power stations, the number of modules on each site will be dependent upon the CO2 available. Sites of more than 1,000 modules may be feasible as the modules may be stacked 4 high, the company says in its offering prospectus.

Light for growing the microalgae is supplied through a novel solar collector located adjacent to or in close proximity to the process. Research and development to date has shown that high yields of algae can potentially be produced by the McConchie-Stroud System, and converted into various products (although at this stage, only on a small scale research basis). _GCC

KiOR is a Houston based developer of a catalytic pyrolysis process which claims to be able to turn wood into a "near-perfect" match for petroleum.
KiOR plans to take biomass—in this case wood chips from local timber that can be made into energy—and add a catalyst to chemically turn the chips into a near-perfect match to crude oil in a matter of seconds. The product, the company says, can go through existing crude refineries and be used to make standard gasoline or diesel fuel.

KiOR will get no subsidies or state support until it has formed a partnership with a major oil company to refine it. The first site will be built in Columbus, Mississippi and could open by the end of 2011.

In 2008, Petrobras, through its research center (Cenpes), signed a cooperation agreement with KiOR to use its Biomass Catalytic Cracking (BCC) process to produce second-generation biofuels from sugarcane waste. _GCC

It should be obvious that profitability for biomass-based processes depends almost entirely upon the ability to concentrate and densify the biomass close to the source of acquisition or harvesting, in an efficient and economic fashion -- due to the natural low energy density of native biomass.

That requirement for economy and efficiency of energy densification at the point of harvest and acquisition points to an obvious need for automated, robotic equipment of a portable, mobile nature, to both harvest and densify biomass on-site, for economical shipment for further pre-processing, processing, and refining.

In other words, the pivot point for profitability exists at the local level, and to a lesser degree at the regional level.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Idaho Samizdat Hosts Nuclear Carnival #16

Here is an excerpt from the 16th Carnival of Nuclear Energy at Idaho Samizdat Nuke Notes:
At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus reflects on modern urban life without electricity following a thunderstorm in the Washington, DC, area that took it out. She asks people to remember where the juice comes from the next time they flip the switch. Will it be there if you rely on windmills?
Nucler renaissanceAt Areva’s North American Next Energy blog, Jarret Adams casts a skeptical eye on an essay by Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club, on Huffington Post. Pope says nukes don’t add up.
Adams asks how Pope can think that when nuclear energy’s revival already is well under waywith more than 50 new plants under construction worldwide. More than 20 of these new reactors are being built in China alone.
Steve Hedges writing at Nuclear Town Hall agrees. He notes that financial analysts at Standard & Poors published this note:
“In other countries, new nuclear construction is in full swing. Many have adopted nuclear generation as an integral energy source option; about 60 nuclear plants with various reactor technologies are currently under construction around the world, and many more are in the advanced development and planning stages.”
He also reports that S&P even has positive words for Europe where “a steady stream of new reactors in Europe and Asia has established a relatively cheap supply chain and a skilled labor force there.”
In the U.S. TVA has just committed $248 million for 2011 to continue the re-start of construction of its Bellefonte reactor in Scottsboro, Ala. Read all about it at CoolHandNuke. TVA has successfully re-started a reactor at Browns Ferry and will complete work on one at Watts Bar in 2012.

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman writes that taxes and liability issues tie nukes in knots in Germany and India. If these two countries want nuclear energy, they have a strange way of showing it. India’s parliament finally passed the liability measure after protracted debate. It will open Indian markets to U.S. firms. Germany’s nuclear utilities now want to issue government backed bonds to pay for investment in alternative technologies instead of paying a tax on fuel rods. Stay tuned.

The faux environmental movement is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, with strong tentacles extended deeply into all western governments and into inter-governmental agencies such as the UN and its IPCC. Besides blocking nuclear energy and all other workable forms of big energy and power, the faux environmental movement wants to reduce the human population of Earth by at least 90% -- see dieoff.org and the voluntary human extinction movement, for the barest hint of the deeper and unstated plans of the faux environmentalist industrial - political - economic complex. There are plenty of other websites where one can get a more explicit and intentional portrayal of the true aims of the movement, if one is willing to do a bit of digging.

With most of the world's large governments and governmental lobbies -- except Russia and China -- infested by the faux environmental movement, it is no wonder that Germany, India, and the US are unable to get a rational nuclear power construction program going.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tres Amigas Superconducting DC Super-Hub Under Study

Tres Amigas claims its super hub and storage facility would be able to move substantial amounts of power among the three systems. The facility will use Xtreme Power’s grid storage and management technology in an attempt to decrease brown-outs by offering more reliability and stability across the U.S., and enable renewable-energy sources like wind and solar to be better utilized.

Tres Amigas CEO Phil Harris said in part from his statement, “The role of the SuperStation is multi-faceted, but one of the most critical aspects will be ensuring that the input from renewable energy sources is incorporated smoothly into the span of the three grids, while providing reliable, flexible storage.” Harris is the former head of PJM Interconnection, one of the largest grid operators in the U.S. _BrianWestenhaus
The three super-sections of the US power grid will be interconnected by the Tres Amigas' superstation interconnect, as pictured above. The interconnect will utilise 5GW superconducting DC cables and high voltage DC power electronics, which will help prevent cascading failures from passing between the separate super-sections of the national grid.
Tres Amigas got approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in March of 2010 to offer transmission services at negotiated rates across the three main arteries of the U.S. electrical grid. The agency is now considering allowing it to build and connect the mega-hub based in Clovis, N.M. With the approval for services in hand, the likelihood that physically offering the service is quite high. For many, there is a sense of relief and for others alarm as one company has the handle on the rationalization of the grid. But the company isn’t named Enron.

...The major new technology going to work is using American Superconductor’s direct current superconductor power cables buried underground that will be powered by the company’s high-temperature superconductor wire and high-powered voltage-source AC/DC power converters. American Superconductor has said, obviously, that using underground superconductor cables greatly reduces the loss of energy during transmission compared to existing overhead power lines. Somewhere the calculation of the energy loss from resistance is more than the power needed to run the superconductor system.

The new station will answer some of the issues of using wind power from the Midwest and solar in the southwest. Having a fully interconnected national grid can bring much of the renewable energy potential into more complete utilization. The lowest cost producers get to stay up much longer because the grid covers all four time zones. Those four hours are a huge opportunity. Early in the day the low cost west excess power can go east and late in the day low cost east production can flow west. More complete base utilization should take some pressure off consumers if the savings pass through without being pocketed along the way. _NewEnergyandFuel

The high voltage DC super-hub will act as a central filter for significant power fluctuations or dirty power, which can cause problems throughout the network if not cleaned up. That is in addition to its role as a giant load leveler across the four time zones of the national grid, as described in Brian's article above.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Graphic Images of US Power Sources and Usage

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Charlotte in Late October: Nuclear Construction Summit

The Nuclear Construction Summit will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, on October 25 and 26, 2010.

Ah yes, I once knew a girl named Charlotte. She was quite fine in late October, as I recall. If Charlotte, NC, is anywhere near so fine that time of year, it would be worth the trip. Rod Adams has more:
The second annual Nuclear Construction Summit will be held in Charlotte, NC on October 25-26, 2010. The meeting will include talks from leading figures associated with designing, licensing and building new nuclear power plants. The tentative speaker line up includes Ellen Ruff of Duke Energy, David Matthews of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Jeff Merrifield of Shaw Power Group, Jim Moody of General Dynamics Electric Boat, Michael McGough of Unistar, Mark Campagna of Hyperion Power Generation, Cheri Diane Collins of Southern Company, Tom Sanders of the American Nuclear Society, Ashok Bhatnagar of Tennessee Valley Authority and many more.

Click here for the provisional meeting agenda.

The organizers at Nuclear Energy Insider are predicting that there will be more than 300 executives and senior managers associated with building new nuclear plants at the meeting. If you register by Friday, August 27, 2010, you will be eligible for a $400 Super Early Bird discount.

Atomic Insights is planning to cover the meeting and to participate as a media partner. I hope to see you there. I am looking forward to a trip to Charlotte, a place that is shaping up to be a hub of activity for nuclear power plant engineering, design and businessheadquarters.

Update: (Posted on August 23, 2010 at 1106) Thanks to a prompt suggestion from a commenter, Nuclear Energy Insider has agreed to extend a special conference discount to people who sign up based on reading about the meeting here at Atomic Insights. When you register, please use the code ATOMIC200. 

There is a great deal of optimism on the topic of nuclear construction, in some circles. But is the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Department of Energy, and other agencies of the US government doing enough to justify that optimism?

The Obama Pelosi regime is a rat's nest of regressive dieoff.orgy green lefty-Luddites, who would like nothing more than to bring on energy starvation and an appreciable reduction of the planet's human population. No, I am not saying that dieoff is official O-P policy -- only that a large number of insiders within O-P would like to see dieoff happen, and would be willing to promote a policy of "energy starvation" to help bring it about.

The energy surrounding a Nuclear Construction Summit is exactly opposite to the darker, more ominous and destructive energies circulating through the US executive, legislative, and to a large degree, judicial branches.

The private sector of the US has always been the more positive, creative, and productive sector of society, and in healthy times the private sector always outgrew the public sector. Currently, the US is suffering through an extreme reversal of that balance, and there is some question of whether the US will be able to survive this imbalance over the long term without extreme re-structuring.

Will the mid-term US elections of November 2010 help to turn things around -- to justify the optimism of the Nuclear Construction Summit? Probably not nearly enough.

But you need optimists and resourceful planners who are prepared to grasp whatever opportunities may present themselves.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Peak Oil: Meet Joule Unlimited's Genengineered Phototrophic Bio-factories

A variety of microorganisms are known to encode light-activated proton translocation systems. In the present invention, one or more forms of light-activated proton pumps are functionally expressed in E. coli or other host cells to generate a proton gradient that is converted into ATP via an endogenous or exogenous ATPase.

The production and isolation of products from synthetophototrophic organisms can be enhanced by employing specific fermentation techniques. An essential element to maximizing production while reducing costs is increasing the percentage of the carbon source that is converted to such products.... _BD
Joule Unlimited (formerly Joule Biotechnologies) has emerged from hiding to unveil a startling and comprehensive approach to energy-from-sun-CO2-and-brackish water. Joule skips the middle man -- biomass -- and goes directly to production of high value hydrocarbons. Cleverly gene engineered E. Coli cyanobacteria have been given the capability to synthesise fuels and high-value chemicals from sunlight, waste CO2 from industrial plants, and saltwater or brackish water. If things work out as claimed, Joule may move up the timeline for microbial fuels significantly.
... in using a bio-based organism as the base for synthesizing fuels from sunlight, CO2 and water, Joule is very much making a biofuel. But it is a wholly different type of biofuel. For the photosynthetic properties of the organism are not being used to make biomass — and otherwise serve the energy and life needs of the organism — they are being directed to making fuel.

...It’s not new life, but its pretty close. Some plant-enhancing strategies, which knock out or overexpress certain genes to enhance, shut down, or insert some new property into an organism. Joule does all that, too....“Commencing with e.coli, they have used that well-studied bacteria as a base for layering on a series of genetic-based skills - a skill for fixing carbon dioxide, a skill for grabbing water molecules, a skill for fixing photons – and a skill for converting those inputs – in a series of chemical transformations known as a metabolic pathway – into a hydrocarbon which can be used as a fuel. All while using e.coli’s system for preserving its own life and regulating its own systems.

...We also heard the same 100,000 gallons per acre as everyone else, and we understand why people say what they say about 15,000 gallons per acre. But we already at 10,000 gallons per acre and that is 4 times what biomass can achieve using the old approaches. _BiofuelsDigest
So Joule is claiming 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbon per acre to be possible, using its engineered, continuous process E. Coli cyanobacteria bioreactors. Claims are easy to make, of course. Proving their claim at commercial scale will be more difficult.

The general timeline expectation for microbial and algal fuels is for commercial production to begin scaling up to competitive levels around the year 2020. Craig Venter is aiming to cut that 10 year development time in half. Joule Unlimited may have similar expectations. Al Fin is skeptical, and continues to see 2020 as the likeliest intersection point of price points for microbial fuels (in volume) with petroleum fuels.

It is best not to become too invested in any one approach toward bio-energy. There will probably not be any one "magic bullet." If you look at the multi-$trillion petroleum industry, you should begin to realise that there is plenty of market room to go around.

The promise of bio-energy is the promise of fuel (and other forms of energy, feed, chemicals etc) as a predictably priced commodity, produced and available virtually anywhere on the planet. And while the oil dictators of Russia, Iran, Venezuela, etc. may not be able to eat their oil after 2020, they will be able to offer it on the market in competition with a wide variety of other fuels more readily available -- and considered cleaner. We hope the oil dictators can adjust their lifestyles downward accordingly without too much hardship.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

15th Carnival of Nuclear Energy at NextBigFuture

Brian Wang has been the driving force behind the Nuclear Energy Carnival. Brian hosts the 15th Carnival of Nuclear Energy at his home blog. Here is an excerpt:
2. From Dan Yurma (Idaho Samizdat) NEI seeks consensus on licensing small reactors

Nuclear industry group leads efforts to overcome regulatory barriers to commercial success. In an exclusive interview with this blog, Paul Genoa, Director of Policy Development at NEI, emphasized the serious nature of the work.

"This isn't a forum for people to trade marketing slides," he said. "We are looking for ways to meet the NRC's requirements, but in new or innovative ways that don't impose unnecessary costs on small reactors."

What NEI hopes to do, according to Genoa, "is to create a new regulatory paradigm for small reactors," and to do it in the next 18 months.
6. Power industry Trend has nuclear computers systems are complex but complex computer systems have been done before.Summary: NRC and other regulators are concerned about the complexity and independence of computer systems for new reactor designs. Such concern is not unexpected. It seems that the NRC and the nuclear industry is facing some of the same computer system issues encountered by the FDA and regulated Biotech and Pharmaceutical manufacturing.

7. Nuclear Green's Charles Barton has NUCLEAR ENERGY: A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE

It was written by three Oak Ridge scientists, including my father, 33 years ago. It looks at the health and safety consequences of choosing coal rather than nuclear power as an energy source. They write, "great concern has been expressed by scientists that the projected release of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion may lead to severe changes in global climate by the end of this century or shortly thereafter. On the other hand, the nuclear fuel cycle may release significant quantities of radioactive gases to the atmosphere and radioactive liquids to the hydrosphere. However, technology is available to contain most of these gases if it becomes necessary, and the potential effects of these radioactive gases and liquids are minimal in comparison to the biological harm associated with emissions from burning coal (variously estimated to be 3 to 125 excess deaths per year from a 1000-MWe coal burning plant)." If anything they underestimated the problems they foresaw.

8. Charles Barton and nucleargreen also wrote a two part post about Australian climate scientist and pro, nuclear blogger, Barry Brook:Barry Brook Charts the Path to the Future


Barry Brook has Reason to Celebrate

Barry who became a convert to the nuclear solution less than 2 years ago, and has become a major voice for nuclear power.

9. From Nextbigfuture, China plans to bring the capital cost CPR-1000 reactors to $1225 per KW by getting the cost of the 50th unit down by 30% from todays cost and meanwhile the USA has projects for nuclear fusion and 4th generation reactors which partial funding and commitment that might result in breakthroughs that are still more expensive in 20 years

Plus: Are billionaires feeling a strange attraction to nuclear power?

The nuclear renaissance will involve a rush to new mineral resources -- including uranium and thorium, and the auxiliary materials necessary for the new reactor designs. New mines, new factories, new transportation infrastructure will all be needed. Opportunities for investing will explode if Obama's NRC provides the slightest opening to nuclear enterprise -- particularly new, safe, cheap, small, scalable, factory-built, modular nuclear reactors.


Friday, August 20, 2010

DOE Powers Up Research on Coal/Biomass Syngas

A wide range of carbonaceous substances -- from solid municipal waste to wood to grass to coal -- can be gasified to syngas. Syngas can be turned into a wide range of valuable products, from fuel to high value chemicals to plastics to electrical power, and so on. The US DOE is investing in 8 projects for the development of better methods of gasifying coal/biomass mixtures for production of power, hydrogen, fuels, chemicals, etc.
The selected projects, which will be managed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s (FE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), are:

Area 1: Pre-Processing and Conditioning of Coal/Biomass Mixtures for Simultaneous Co-Feeding Systems. Projects in this area will focus on the development and characterization of multiple coal-biomass mixtures and types that are transportable, storable, and accommodate direct co-feeding into gasification systems.

CoalTek, Inc. (Tucker, Ga.) CoalTek, teaming with the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research in Lexington, Ky., Duke University in Durham, N.C., and the University of North Dakota Energy and Environment Research Center in Grand Forks, N.D., will blend coal and biomass to develop a feedstock for co-gasification. Microwave energy will be used to dry and soften high-moisture coals and form the dried coal into a durable briquetted fuel.
(DOE share: $999,472; Recipient share: $249,868; Duration: 36 months)

Gas Technology Institute (Des Plaines, Ill.) GTI, in partnership with Desert Research Institute and the University of Nevada, both in Reno, Nev.; Clean Coal Briquette Inc. in Lakewood, Colo.; and Parker Towing Company in Mulga, Ala., will produce quantities of Loblolly pine blended with ground coal and coal fines and formed into robust, weather-resistant pellets and briquettes. GTI will demonstrate how the pellets/briquettes are rugged enough to withstand transportation and piling and show how the pellets/briquettes can be processed into a crushed or pulverized product suitable for use in a commercial coal gasifier.
(DOE share: $1,000,465; Recipient share: $250,174; Duration: 36 months)

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Va.)—Partnering with the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.; GreenFields Coal Company in Beckley, W.Va.; Alpha Natural Resources in Abingdon, Va.; and Dominion Energy in Richmond, Va., VPI will develop optimally engineered systems for manufacturing coal-biomass briquettes/pellets that are ideally suited for transportation, storage, and co-feeding fixed- and fluidized-bed gasifiers.
(DOE share: $999,061; Recipient share: $251,756; Duration: 24 months)

Area 2: Reactive Properties of Coal/Biomass Mixed Fuels. Research in this topic area will focus on definition and measurements of key reactive properties of several mixed coal-biomass fuels through the use of small-scale laboratory experiments and/or science-based computational models.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.) Georgia Tech will team with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to obtain experimental reactor data and develop kinetic rate expressions for pyrolysis and char gasification for coal-biomass blends using lignite coal and switch grass; develop an understanding of the effect of pyrolysis conditions on the porous char structure; and build mathematical models for predicting gasification behavior for a broad range of pressures and temperatures.
(DOE share: $1,101,814; Recipient share: $463,585; Duration: 36 months)

Leland Stanford Junior University (Stanford, Calif.) Leland Stanford Junior University will combine char mass loss measurements in selected environments containing CO2, CO, H2O, and H2 with specific surface area and temperature programmed desorption measurements to determine char reactivity as a function of temperature, pressure, and gas composition. The data will be used to develop a reaction mechanism and associated kinetic parameters that accurately describe the rate-limiting reaction pathways during conversion of the char to syngas. This will be done for each coal/biomass mixture examined.
(DOE share: $457,583; Recipient share: $114,396; Duration: 36 months)

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Va.)—VPI, teaming with the University of Delaware Energy Institute in Newark, Del., and Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., will perform experiments to determine the gas composition of sub-bituminous coal and biomass feedstocks (poplar wood, switch grass, and corn stover); model detailed reaction kinetics and product formation to provide an understanding of the major pathways involved; and simulate and predict the coal-biomass gasification mixtures.
(DOE share: $999,888; Recipient share: $252,504; Duration: 36 months)

Area 3: Design Concepts for Co-Production of Power, Fuels and Chemicals. Projects in this area will focus on the development of preliminary conceptual designs and techno-economic analyses that predict plant efficiency, cost of produced products, and environmental impacts.

Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.) Princeton will design, simulate, and analyze 20 process configurations to enable meaningful cross-configuration comparisons and insights into the potential impacts of advanced technologies. Each plant Princeton designs will produce a separate co-product: synthetic gasoline, light olefins, hydrogen, or ammonia.
(DOE Share: $442,121; Recipient share: $110,570; Duration: 12 months)

University of California Irvine (Irvine, Calif.) The University of California, Irvine, will develop design concepts incorporating advanced technologies in areas such as oxygen production, feed systems, gas cleanup, component separations, and gas turbines for gasification facilities equipped with carbon capture and storage for coproduction of power along with hydrogen, fuels, a petrochemical, and with an agricultural chemical. Three different plant types for three different coals consisting of a bituminous (Illinois No.6) coal, sub-bituminous (Powder River Basin) coal, and lignite co-fed with corn stover will be developed.
(DOE Share: $446,895; Recipient share: $111,725; Duration: 12 months) _GCC

As discussed here previously, it is cheaper to gasify coal and other hydrocarbons than to gasify biomass. The reason the DOE is financing research into coal/biomass mixtures is almost certainly out of "carbon emissions" concerns. But in the long run, the issues of availability and sustainability are far more important than "carbon emissions" -- given the flimsy science behind the hypothesis of anthropogenic carbon doom. In other words, you can grow or scavenge some type of biomass almost anywhere, but you cannot mine coal or other hydrocarbons -- or even geothermal heat, abundant sun, or wind -- just anywhere.

By learning to mix coal, oil, and natural gas with various forms of biomass-derived products, we will be extending our supplies of carbon-based fuels much farther into the future, and providing a more robust, renewable, and versatile feedstock.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Much Power Does it Take to Run a Wind Turbine?

Most people wonder how much power a wind turbine can produce, and never stop to wonder how much power a wind turbine requires to operate. Mechanical engineer Jerry Graf believes that it is long past time for people to ask that question:
Big turbines often incorporate rechargeable batteries or ultracapacitors to power their own electrical systems. When those get depleted, the power must come from the grid. This power goes into running equipment such as yaw mechanisms that keep the blades turned into the wind; blade-pitch controls that meter the spinning rotor; aircraft lights and data-collection electronics; oil heaters, pumps, and coolers for the multi-ton gearbox; and hydraulic brakes for locking blades down in high winds.

Turbines in northern climes also need blade heaters to prevent icing. Reports I’ve seen say these heaters can consume up to 20% of a turbine’s rated power output. Many big turbines also need dehumidifiers and heaters in their nacelles. And until recently, large turbines employed doubly-fed induction generators that bleed power from the grid to create their magnetic fields. (It should be said, though, that designs now on the drawing boards use permanent magnets instead.)

Instances of low or no wind pose another problem. Large turbines may need to use their generators as motors to help get the blades turning. And some wind skeptics have posed a question about the direct-drive turbines now emerging from the labs: Large ships frequently must expend energy to slowly turn their heavy driveshafts when at port to prevent them from sagging. Could the same be said of these superlarge wind turbines?

Wind-farm operators don’t say much about turbine-power demands. Typically, turbine-power consumption is one of the factors that gets lumped into a wind-farm’s operation and maintenance costs. I’ve never found either a wind-farm operator or a wind-turbine maker willing to discuss these costs. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say the wind industry treats such information as a state secret. _MachineDesign
There are too many aspects to the operation of big wind farms which are treated as state secrets. No wonder the O-P reich promotes wind power so heavily. Politicians are no doubt attracted to the "all image and no substance" aspects of big wind power.

More bad news about big wind


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Important Article at Idaho Samizdat: NEI Seeks Consensus on Licensing SMRs

The Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes blog has posted an extremely important article on the struggle to get small modular reactors licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The struggle is being enjoined by the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry group, and it faces a very difficult uphill battle. Why? Here's an excerpt:
In an exclusive interview with this blog, Paul Genoa, Director of Policy Development at NEI, (right) emphasized the serious nature of the work.

"This isn't a forum for people to trade marketing slides," he said. "We are looking for ways to meet the NRC's requirements, but in new or innovative ways that don't impose unnecessary costs on small reactors."

What NEI hopes to do, according to Genoa, "is to create a new regulatory paradigm for small reactors," and to do it in the next 18 months.

NEI's priorities are laid out in remarks Genoa made to the SMR conference last February. In this interview, he ticks off the items at the top of the list including annual fees, decommissioning costs, emergency response, and modularity, e.g., how to manage multiple small reactors at a single site.

Other issues include design certification, the licensing application process, and Price-Anderson liability issues. The last one will be tough, Genoa said.

"It is hard any time you have to make a statutory change."

That doesn't mean it will be easier to change the regulatory requirements to adapt them to SMRs. The NRC has a mature view of reactor safety issues especially for LWRs. Genoa said the NRC "is doing a good job to encourage the industry to organize itself to address the issues." Despite this assessment, the industry still has to make its case with the agency.

Part of it is what the NRC calls a “chicken and egg” issue. The agency wants to see customers showing interest in SMRs before it commits itself to diving deep into the regulatory issues for them. _IdahoSamizdat

The US federal government is largely composed of overpaid ass-kissers who exist to work their way up the civil service ladder to the ultimate golden pension, and take great pains not to stand out from the crowd more than can be avoided. Expecting the NRC or any other US governmental agency to adopt rational and progressive changes in a regulatory framework in order to free up the private sector to innovate and produce, is the height of naivety. That is why the NEI's effort to achieve a breakthrough within 18 months is so monumental.

This is a campaign that will be worth following. Thanks to Idaho Samizdat for their coverage.

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Wood to Syngas to Methanol, Plus Seaweed Ethanol

In Soperton, Georgia (USA), Range Fuels has instituted a multi-phase plan to produce methanol from wood and grass, which can then be used to produce biodiesel.
The first phase of the Soperton Plant operations employs Range Fuels’ two-step thermochemical process, which first gasifies non-food biomass such as woody biomass and grasses into syngas. In the second step, the syngas is passed over a proprietary catalyst to produce methanol, which can then be converted in an additional reactor to ethanol.

The Soperton Plant will initially use woody biomass from nearby timber operations, but plans to experiment with other types of renewable biomass as feedstock for the conversion process, including herbaceous feedstocks like miscanthus and switchgrass.

Range Fuels plans to expand the capacity of the plant to 60 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels annually with construction to begin next summer. The Soperton Plant is permitted to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol and methanol each year.

...During phase two of the project, currently slated for mid-2012, Range plans to expand production at the Soperton plant and transition from a methanol to a mixed alcohol catalyst, according to the EPA report. _GCC
As better catalysts to produce butanol from syngas are developed, the higher-value alcohol should come into more common use as a fuel additive for both gasoline and diesel.

Seaweed -- or macro-algae -- can be harvested up to 6 times a year, which makes it a very prolific form of biomass. It can be grown in salt-water ponds virtually anywhere the sun shines.
Scientists from Tohoku University and Tohoku Electric Power Co. have developed a technology to efficiently generate ethanol from seaweed such as sea tangle and sea grape, group members said Saturday.

The technology uses natural yeast discovered by the group as well as a new fermentation method, according to the group led by Minoru Sato, professor of marine biochemistry at Tohoku University _JapanTimes
Since seaweed is considered a pest weed in many areas, its use as a cash crop should spur economic development among a wide range of the socioeconomic strata. Japan is not the only country looking at seaweed as a biomass crop:
The idea of using seaweed for ethanol is also being researched in Korea and the Philippines, as well as in Chile. One of the benefits to using seaweed as an ethanol feedstock are that it grows quickly and allows for as much as six harvests per year. Also, since seaweeds do not have lignin, pretreatment is not necessary before converting them to fuels, making it potentially less expensive than other cellulosic sources._DomesticFuel
Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, and a number of other maritime nations and island nations are also looking closely at the use of macro-algae for fuels, chemicals, plastics, feeds, and other products.

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Visualising a Biomass Network

Compare the hierarchical network on the left with the widely distributed flat network on the right.  It should be obvious that the flat network is more resilient to the loss of any particular node than is the hierarchical network -- which can be rendered disconnected by the removal of the one central node!  Consider the vulnerability of the US petroleum industry created by its central focus on Gulf of Mexico ports and refineries.  Every year during hurricane season, the nation holds its breath, hoping its petro-refinery infrastructure will not be damaged.

A national biomass network should resemble the widely distributed flat network on the right, more than the hierarchical network. Biomass can be grown almost everywhere, and can be densified by fast pyrolysis units, which are simple and inexpensive enough to be located close to where the biomass is aggregated. Pyrolysis oils can be cheaply shipped to the central nodes -- gasifiers and refineries (F-T etc) -- which will become inexpensive enough to be located near both medium and large population centers.

Biomass crops with ever-larger yields are being developed each year. Crops such as Giant King Grass can be harvested up to 4 times a year with yields up to 50 dry metric tons per acre.   The baled grass can then be transported a very short distance to the local pyrolysis plant where it is converted to pyrolysis oil. Pyrolysis oil has far higher energy density than raw biomass, and can be shipped via tanker (or pipeline) to regional gasification plants of various size. Some of these gasification plants will generate both heat and electricity (CHP) for towns, cities, or special campuses. Other gasification plants will be connected to bio-reactors and refineries to produce advanced liquid fuels or high value chemicals.

Gasifiers and gasification plants can be built to a wide range of capacities, to scale to different industrial and population needs.   The larger the underlying biomass network, the more reliable the flow of bio-energy between the nodes and at terminal ends.

A national network of this type will not arise overnight.   Other types of nodes will be added, such as torrefaction facilities, plants for producing biomass pellets and briquettes, and probably a number of other ways of increasing the energy density of biomass very close to the source.  Since solid (or liquid) biomass can be co-fired with coal, and bio-syngas can be fired in gas turbine generators, it is likely that the new bioenergy networks will overlap with pre-existing energy infrastructure, at least initially.

It is important that farmers, entrepreneurs, bankers, and planners at all levels of industry and government be aware of the types of bio-energy networks that are likely to grow up -- seemingly out of nothing.  The economic feedback within and between communities will be immense.

As has been stated before on this blog, bioenergy is not the same type of "get rich quick" energy scheme as fossil fuels have been.  But when integrated into robust networks of economic activity, bioenergy can be a huge and sustained boost to economies from rural to semi-urban to urban scales.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Planet Earth Was Made for Biomass


Brian Westenhaus brings us up to date on the US national discussion of biomass potential. It is best to think of bio-energy as an incremental substitute for conventional liquids, gas, and solid fuels (such as coal). If you look at it that way, you will not try to replace all other energies with biomass in one fell swoop -- that would be futile.

There are forms of biomass which are more prolific than others. Giant King grass, for example. Or various forms of micro- and macro- algae.

We will also see some amazing technologies for converting carbon resources (including biomass) into useful fuels. The name of the game is efficiencies and useful yields. Expect significant improvements in both over the next few years.

Gasification, fast pyrolysis, and torrefaction are all competitive now -- and getting better fast.

And while most people are looking toward cellulosic ethanol, and waiting for higher yields of saccharides from cellulose and hemicellulose, clever people are performing an "end-around" the cellulosic bottleneck. Looking beyond ethanol will be best for the long run, in any event.

Biomass can be grown at will, almost anywhere on Earth. The profits from bioenergy will be distributed far more widely than those for fossil fuels, so that while fewer people will grow super-rich, far more people will be able to enjoy productive and comfortable lives from the proceeds.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Carnival of Nuclear Energy #14 at NEI Nuclear Notes

The 14th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy is hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes blog. Here is an excerpt:

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat has the news about US agreements with Vietnam to share enrichment technology. Some members of Congress aren’t quite happy about the agreement and it has China keeping a close eye. As well, be sure to check out some of Dan’s nuclear videos posted Monday, the third one about Diet Coke and Mentos is quite entertaining.
Kirk Sorensen at Energy From Thorium wrote a dense three part piecetitled: Enrichment, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the SWU. It’s always good to work out your brain with some calculations every once in awhile.
Barry Brook at Brave New Climate shared a pamphlet that his sister created for him highlighting the good features of nuclear.
Stephen Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues discussed an option with dealing with CO2 once it’s been captured from fossil plants. He doesn’t think sequestration will work but instead we should use the captured CO2 to create a liquid hydrocarbon for fuel similar to gasoline and diesel.
With all of the number of reactor designs out there, is there one that’s the best? Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk has been on the search and found a good article that compared the positives and negatives of the different designs.

Go to NEI NuclearNotes for full carnival content
Nuclear engineering student Amber Smart discusses advantages of nuclear energy for North Carolina:
Nuclear power plants can operate around the clock and today provide about 34 percent of North Carolina's electricity. Nuclear plants provide a more steady and reliable power source than any other type of generation. It's been estimated that a 1,000-megawatt reactor operating at 90 percent reliability in one year can provide enough generation to supply electricity for roughly 740,000 households. The equivalent amount of energy generated from oil would require approximately 13 million barrels.

...Fuel supply is also an important consideration in evaluating energy options, whether wind, solar, coal, gas or nuclear. Uranium fuels nuclear plants and is available worldwide. Other countries already recycle used nuclear fuel. When nuclear fuel leaves the reactor, only 1 percent of its potential has been utilized. Today, used fuel is stored safely and securely on plant sites in our country, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined this fuel could be stored on site for at least 120 years. On-site storage was never meant to be a permanent solution, which is why both recycling and centralized storage are under evaluation in the U.S.

Nuclear is a long-term energy resource, not a quick fix. While it does have higher construction costs than some other types of generation, overall operating costs are lower. If the United States is serious about energy security and maintaining our environmental stewardship, we need to welcome new nuclear stations. _CharlotteObserver

For those of you interested in "the singularity", Brian Wang is liveblogging the Singularity Summit in San Francisco this weekend.

In order to reach the optimistic vision of the singularitarians, we must fight through the various dooms which the doomseekers are trying to force on modern societies. Energy starvation -- or peak energy doom, carbon hysteria doom, overpopulation doom, and so on. All of the political follies which can easily turn into self-fulfilling prophecies of doom.

We must choose between the Idiocracy and the Singularity -- or something very much like it. Take care how you choose.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Life After Peak Oil: Petro-Resources 40 X Larger

If the sinking value of the US dollar is taken into account, oil prices have been dropping rather than rising, as peak oilers claim. OPEC is maintaining production -- against all peak oil predictions, and despite a building glut of oil in middle eastern floating storage. Large new reserves are opening and being discovered off Brazil's coast, in several regions of Africa, in the far east -- and much more would be discovered if Mr. Obama would let up on his domestic policy of energy starvation and oil moratoriums. And of course, the vast potential energy resources in unconventional fossil fuels puts the entire religion of "peak oil DOOM" in a new light.
...extraction techniques, such as from shale rock and the Fisher-Tropsch process – where coal is turned into oil – that could increase potential oil reserves substantially.

"The resource is an estimated 30 – 40 times larger than the oil resource we have exploited to date,"... _Source

But it is the hysteria of doom that sells newspapers and gets candidates elected. Consider the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. According to Mr. Obama and the media-political complex, the oil spill amounted to nothing less than the end of the world.
There was a broad-based failure on the part of the media, the science establishment, and the federal bureaucracy. With the nation and its leaders looking for facts, we got instead a massive plume of apocalyptic mythology and threats of Armageddon. In the Gulf, this misinformation has cost jobs, lowered property values, and devastated tourism, and its effects on national policy could be deep and far-reaching. _NRO
It is the institutionalised industry of doom which is the threat here, whether it is shrieking up "climate doom", "peak oil doom", "oil spill doom", or whatever doom du jour may be in fashion.
Visit the Gulf of Mexico today and you’d hardly recognize it as the scene of what President Barack Obama called “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” It’s as if scientists had conducted an insane experiment -- dumping about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the water -- and discovered its effect was in certain ways negligible. _Bloomberg
The DOOM INDUSTRY brings out the very worst in people and institutions. It takes a rare and intelligent person of immaculate judgment to resist the pull of doom which surrounds and reaches out to him from every dark corner of academic, political, and media mindlessness.

The hysteria of doom is how the congealed ruling class attempts to control the behaviour of the great unwashed masses -- commoners. But it is the excesses of the ruling class which need to be controlled before they destroy the basis for modern life in the great, seemingly engineered dieoff.


Coal Is So Misunderstood: Coal to Olefins Plant in China

Peak oil apostles claim that as oil resources dry up, the ability to maintain agriculture, plastics, and petrochemicals industries will be destroyed. But the human mind can find ways of substituting cheap and abundant resources in place of resources which may grow scarce and expensive (even if only temporarily).
Olefins, also called alkenes, are unsaturated organic compounds that contain at least one carbon-to-carbon double bond. They can be used in many reactions which occur by opening up the double bond.

Olefins are used as building block chemicals for making other petrochemicals and polymers. The commercially most important olefins are ethylene, propylene and butadiene. Other olefins used in the production of petrochemicals and polymers include butene, isobutene (or isobutylene), hexene and octene. _ICIS
Coal can be a clean and vital part of Earth's energy and resource future -- if we can keep fanatical die-off green lefty-Luddites from shutting down the crucial asset. Coal to gas and coal to liquids technology are well known, but coal to chemicals technology is just beginning to take off.
The gasification unit at one of the world’s largest coal-to-olefins projects successfully started up at the China Shenhua Coal to Liquid and Chemical Co. Ltd.’s project in Baotou, Inner Mongolia (Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project). The gasification unit uses advanced coal gasification technology provided by GE (NYSE:GE).

The gasification technology converts coal into a synthesis gas (or syngas). Syngas can then be used to produce methanol, which will be transformed into olefins, a building block for producing polyethylene and polypropylene. At full production—scheduled for fourth quarter of 2010—the Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project will produce nearly 1.8 million tons of methanol for approximately 600,000 tons of polyethylene and polypropylene per year.

With five gasifiers and two spare units, the Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project is one of the largest coal to olefins plants in the world. The plant underscores the importance that the Chinese government is placing on using the country’s large coal reserves to reduce its heavy dependence on imported olefins (polyethylene and polypropylene-based plastics) and drive further economic growth.

“The size and scope of this project is possible because of strong government interest in the development of larger coal-to-olefins plants,” said Jason Crew, director of gasification products—Asia for GE Power & Water. “The Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project is one of three large-scale, coal-to-olefins demonstration projects funded by the Chinese government and is the first one to start up. We are proud that GE gasification technology is part of this successful industrial scale project.”

Gasification technology is critical for the expansion of the Chinese economy, allowing a wide variety of industrial products and fuels to be created from low-cost and abundant coal resources. GE’s gasification technology is one of the most widely applied technologies of its kind in China, with more than 40 licensed facilities. As gasification projects in China get larger and more complex, advanced technologies such as GE’s larger scale quench gasifier and higher pressure gasification technology will have a significant role in reducing overall project cost. _Manufacturing

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gas from Depleted Mines and Wells: More than the US Consumes!


Rich resources of coal and oil lie unutilised in "depleted" mines and wells, just waiting for a clever technology to come and get them. Luca Technologies is one company in possession of a technology which it feels is ready to "go where men dare not go", to retrieve these significant "left behind" energy resources. The Luca approach uses anaerobic bacteria which convert the in situ hydrocarbons into methane gas, which can be easily retrieved.
Once Luca identifies a depleting area or well as a natural gas farming candidate, it withdraws water from the well transfers it to a mobile nutrient module to replenish essential vitamins and nutrients vital to sustaining microbial community health. The water is then recycled back into the well through existing infrastructure and the mobile nutrient module is moved to other wells to provide nourishment to new subsurface habitats. For a complete list of materials and concentrations in Luca's nutrient mix, click here.

Luca then temporarily shuts in the well for an average of one month to allow natural microbial populations to flourish. During this "dwell" period, activated microbes begin producing significant amounts of natural gas. Luca harvests the natural gas using the existing infrastructure. This cycle of restoration and harvesting enables Luca to produce natural gas from depleting wells for decades. _LucaTechnologies_via_BrianWestenhaus

Unlike the oil and gas industry’s extraction methods in which production peaks then steeply declines as stored hydrocarbons are depleted, Luca “gas farms” can reliably produce low-cost clean energy for decades and reuse existing wells and infrastructure to create, extract and transport the natural gas.

How big a deal could this be? Pfeiffer explains, “Farming” natural gas from depleted wells in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana alone could produce more gas than the annual consumption in the U.S., said Pfeiffer. Microbes have converted one-hundredth of 1 percent of the coal into methane in existing wells. Luca has reached 3 percent conversion in its labs, which would not happen in actual wells but it reflects the potential of the process. _NewEnergyandFuel

Most forms of in situ coal gasification involve combustion -- or superheated air -- as in this approach to gasifying shale oil kerogen rock. But low temperature anaerobic gasification is somewhat safer and more controllable than underground combustion methods.

In situ gasification in all its many forms is likely to acquire greater prominence in the energy scheme. Engineers are developing better means for in situ gasification of oil sands, oil shales, coal, and other dense hydrocarbons. In addition -- as mentioned above -- various means of retrieving the hydrocarbons from "depleted" oil wells will include different types of in situ gasification among the mix -- after retrieving as much liquid crude as possible using more conventional methods.

Around the world, vast amounts of hydrocarbons are sitting and waiting for the best retrieval technologies that humans can devise. Rich deposits which were too expensive for yesterday's technologies are coming within reach of today's technologies. The same will be true tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Peak oil religionists are steeped in technologies of the past to the point that they are reduced to sensing the world with their gluteals, rather than their eyes.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Beacon Power Corp. Flywheels to Help New York Grid Stability

Load control strategies and concepts:
– Stability
– Frequency regulation
– Voltage regulation
– Load leveling
– Power quality

Large scale power storage can be extremely helpful for maintaining a stable power grid. One of the important load control strategies is "frequency regulation." Grid controllers can maintain the power frequency of the grid within acceptable limits by absorbing or releasing a portion of the supply energy to the grid, as needed.
To ensure a functional and reliable grid, the Independent System Operators (ISOs) that operate the various regional grids must maintain their electric frequency very close to 60 hertz (Hz), or cycles per second (50 Hz in Europe and elsewhere). When the supply of electricity exactly matches the demand (or "load"), grid frequency is held at a stable level. Grid operators, therefore, seek to continuously balance electricity supply with load to maintain the proper frequency. They do this by directing about one percent of total generation capacity to increase or decrease its power output in response to frequency deviations.

...Over the last decade, Beacon Power, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), California Energy Commission (CEC), the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and various ISOs, has developed an advanced flywheel-based energy storage technology to perform fast-response frequency regulation. _Beacon

The US DOE has finalised a $43 million loan guarantee to Beacon Power Corporation for installation of a 20 MW flywheel storage system in Stephentown, New York, for purposes of frequency regulation of the power grid.
Beacon’s Gen 4 flywheel system is specifically designed to perform frequency regulation on utility grids by absorbing and discharging energy to balance power generation and consumption on the electric grid. The technology operates by using flywheels to quickly store and release from the grid in order to follow rapid changes in grid demand.

Flywheel-based regulation is fast and efficient, ramping up or down 10 times faster than ramp rates for conventional fossil fuel generators that typically perform this service.

Beacon estimates that a 20 megawatt flywheel-based frequency regulation plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions up to 82% over its 20-year life compared to a coal, gas or pumped hydro plant. The flywheel plant also does not emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide or sulfur dioxide. _GCC
Flywheel storage has extremely low energy density, which prevents flywheels from being effective for other purposes of grid stabilisation such as significant load leveling. And in terms of emergency power backup, flywheels are only effective for a very short period of time, before backup gas generators or other backup can be brought on line.

List at top excerpted from: Load Control System Reliability presentation

This development is being touted as a means to reduce CO2 exhaust, but in reality this effect is not even a drop in a bucket. The continued improvement of high-tech flywheels is one important component of a total power grid and emergency power backup picture, however. A very small part, but an important part nonetheless.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Making a Way for Advanced Biofuels

The U.S. biofuel industry has grown dramatically in recent years, with pro-
duction expanding from 1.6 billion gallons in 2000 to 9 billion gallons in 2008.
1 This dramatic increase can be attributed to the rise in production of corn-based ethanol and associated, smaller quantities of soy-based biodiesel. The number of refneries has also increased—from 54 in 2,000 to 170 in January 2009.
2 The worldwide economic recession and lower prices for petroleum have slowed the expansion of the industry, but because of strong state and federal mandates, production is expected to grow until production capacity reaches the federally mandated 36 billion gallons of biofuel in 2022.
3 _NAP_Report_on_Advanced_Biofuels_2010_Koshel_McAllister (free PDF download)

In the short run, heavy and rapid investment in an advanced biofuels infrastructure does not make much sense. But in the long run, I suspect that the parts of the US which possess a working advanced biofuels infrastructure will be happy to have the fuels, chemicals, feeds, and other high value co-products which will be available at a more stable price than what imported petrofuels and chemicals will require. Here are a few news items dealing with advanced biofuels progress:

Gevo is retrofitting a Minnesota bio-ethanol plant for production of isobutanol -- a much more valuable product. More on the Gevo process and competing approaches from MIT's Technology Review.

New approach to advanced refining of vegetable oils to high-value chemicals and fuels

Japanese project for quick conversion of glucose to 5 HMF (high value chemical, fuel extender, and fuel precursor)

Award to Aston University for improved methods for conversion of biomass to biofuels via fast pyrolysis (heating of biomass in absence of O2) to produce pyrolysis gas, pyrolysis oil, and bio-char. Pyrolysis is also a useful method of biomass densification for transport and further processing.

Large quantities of waste biomass from forestry, ranching, and agriculture will be converted to products for providing heat, combined heat and power, co-firing with coal, and further processing to high value fuels, chemicals, etc. This article profiles one such biomass operation

Biomass has low energy density. But it is widely distributed and is renewable. Various means for improving biomass yields per acre of land (or sea) are progressing. Several methods for densifying biomass energy are likewise making progress.

The wide distribution of biomass potential provides for an extensive distribution of the economic benefits of developing biomass energy. While participants in the biomass enterprise are not likely to "get rich quick" like an oil and gas developer or investor may expect, as the biomass infrastructure builds, the economic potential will grow at all levels and in thousands of locations.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Oil Drilling in US Set to Skyrocket -- Waiting on Obama

The global salt push is just beginning, with many companies looking to duplicate the success seen in the Gulf of Mexico....where massive reserves were found beneath a "mother" salt sheet....There are decades of exploration left in the Gulf of Mexico... _NYT

US oil drilling and production is taking off, onshore. If not for Obama's insane moratorium on new offshore drilling, the numbers would be truly impressive.

Geologists are finally beginning to understand how to locate and exploit huge oil deposits hiding near the salt fields. As geologists get better at it, the rest of the industry will follow along. And that means that "peak oil" will get pushed even further back.
The global push for salt-hidden oil is only gaining steam, geologists say.

"Salt over the decades has been a difficult rock to seismically image," said Clint Moore, a vice president at ION Geophysical Corp, a seismic technology company. "And we now seem to have solved that problem. And that opens up all kinds of abilities to see the geology of the earth more clearly."

Moore, while at Anadarko Petroleum Corp., was one of the earliest geologists to probe beneath the Gulf's salt, helping discover the Mahogany oil reservoir, the region's first producing subsalt field, after burrowing through 3,825 feet of salt in the early 1990s. The productivity of these salt-based fields could prompt a re-evaluation of peak oil's arrival, he said.

"If the volumes are there, this will be a significant addition to the world's resources," he said. _NYT

Under the Obama Pelosi policy of "energy starvation", the priority has been to shut down coal mines and power plants, to drag their feet on approval of safer nuclear reactor designs, and to prohibit new oil drilling at the slightest excuse.

But in the devastated economy that has followed Obama's attempted radical overhaul of the US financial and industrial sectors, such "energy starvation" appears extremely foolish and short-sighted. Everyone is waiting on Obama. When will he arrive?


Saturday, August 07, 2010

Nuclear Carnival 13 and Other Nuclear News

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 13 can be found at NextBigFuture, with 8 entries from around the nuclear web.

The US Department of Energy predicts the number of nuclear power reactors in the US by year 2100 to be between 250 and 1200. There are currently 104 reactors producing 99,000 MW in the US. The alternative to new nuclear reactors is new coal plants -- no other power technology can substitute for coal.

Although a floating nuclear reactor is not vulnerable to earthquakes, wildfires, or other land-based hazards, International Studies "experts" have become concerned over Russia's planned floating nuclear reactor fleet. Most of their concerns center on proliferation and environmental concerns due to potential difficulties with securing nuclear material on a floating platform.

More: Canadian uranium production is growing.

More nuclear news from Idaho Samizdat Nuke Notes

Brian Wang makes passing mention of nuclear thermal space rockets in a discussion of new heavy lift rocket designs.

Nuclear blogger Charles Barton takes a break from nuclear technology blogging to examine the dangerous cult known as the "Club of Rome." Doomerism is a hazard to the future, as is any fanatical religious cult that adopts the great human dieoff as a fetish, a prayer, and a sacrament.

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The Surprising Reality of a Clean, Abundant Coal Future

Other than perhaps methane hydrates, coal seems to be the most abundant and widely dispersed fossil fuel available for human use. While there are roughly 1,000 gigatons of proven world coal reserves, it is estimated that there are roughly 3,000 gigatons of coal under the North Sea alone! It is likely that world coal reserves have been grossly underestimated.

The problem that is set out for humans is how to use the massively abundant coal resource in a clean and responsible manner.
The US DOE has given 36 month research grants to 7 US universities, to spur the development of multiple breakthroughs in achieving cleaner and more responsible coal use.
The selected projects, each 36 months in duration, include:

Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Atlanta, Ga. This project will improve the understanding of turbulent flame propagation characteristics of syngas and HHC fuels at realistic conditions and also in inhomogeneous environments, such as in premixer nozzle boundary layers and core flows—while extending existing data sets to a broader reactant class of HHC fuels, such as mixtures diluted with CO2, H2O, and N2, at realistic pressures, temperatures, and turbulence intensities and other design/operating conditions, including systems with extensive levels of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR).

This research will also develop physics-based models of turbulent burning rates in realistic flows to further assist the gas turbine industry. (DOE share: $404,404; recipient share: $101,212)

Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. This project will develop a database of turbulent burning velocities, NOx mechanism validation data (including ‘first-of-a-kind’ direct measurements of NNH to NO reaction rates), a comprehensive fuel mechanism with a validated NOx submechanism, and experimental data on the effect of contaminants on laminar flame speed and ignition kinetics.

This scientific research will enable the development of syngas/HHC-fired gas turbines to achieve very low emissions through the design of advanced modeling tools that are carefully validated. (DOE share: $501,711; recipient share: $125,500)

University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas. This project seeks to develop integrated film cooling and thermal barrier coatings (TBC) configurations that will mitigate the effects of contaminants that naturally occur when using syngas/HHC fuels. Experimental simulations of optimized cooling designs and detailed aero-thermal measurements will guide the development of improved computational models of these complex designs.
The University of Texas research will focus on film cooling crater and trench configurations on a simulated vane experiencing active deposition of contaminants. Partner Penn State University will focus research on the optimization of film cooling configurations for the contoured endwalls. An optimum cooling configuration for the endwall-vane junction will be developed based on the results of the joint studies at Penn State and University of Texas. (DOE share: $500,000; recipient share: $120,000)

University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D. This research will develop the heat transfer and deposition predictive tools and surface protective cooling technologies which allow for the reliable design of leading edge cooling schemes in a syngas environment. This research is important since it has been found that cooling the leading edge of a first stage of a modern gas turbine offers considerable challenges due to an aggressive heat transfer environment and a very modest pressure difference for cooling.

The University of North Dakota studies will be performed at three different experimental rigs to investigate: the effects of leading edge diameters on stagnation region deposition rates and heat transfer augmentation under a variety of conditions; the effectiveness levels for film cooling geometries on both smooth and rough surfaces; and new internal cooling methods which may be able to accommodate stagnation region heat loads at the aggressive inlet temperatures of modern gas turbines. (DOE share: $500,000; recipient share: $125,000)

Louisiana State University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, La. This project will develop novel molecular dynamics methods to improve the efficiency of novel TBC materials, and demonstrate the new TBC systems under IGCC environments. Because computational materials based TBC design tools are currently not available, this research offers the possibility for completely new efficient TBC computational design tool, making a step change to current advanced TBC design methodology.

In this research project, the most promising TBC compositions will be subject to high performance computing, material characterizations, and oxidation and corrosion tests, including a High Temperature/High Pressure Durability Test Rig to evaluate the durability of the coatings. (DOE share: $504,863; recipient share: $129,808)

University of California-Irvine, Irvine, Calif. This project will investigate degradation mechanisms of hot-turbine hot section component protective oxides and high-temperature TBCs unique to coal-derived syngas and HHC fuel. This research is important because preliminary testing has shown that the chemical composition and growth kinetics of protective thermally grown oxides (TGOs) are substantially altered for turbine systems operating on syngas and HHC fuels. Thus, one key objective of this new research project is to identify the root cause this anomalous oxidation behavior and develop mitigation strategies.

This project will address thermo-chemical and thermo-mechanical mechanisms by correlating results of accelerated coating degradation with the syngas/HHC environment and the impurities characteristics of coal-derived syngas and HHC fuels. This improved mechanistic understanding of the degradation of critical turbine system materials in HHC-fueled systems may also guide the development of more robust materials sets that could be important to the gas turbine industry. (DOE share: $500,000; recipient share: $125,000)

Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y. This project will explore the science and technology of advanced TBCs in IGCC turbines that use HHC fuels. Recent research data indicate that the current bill of coating materials is not directly translatable to the moisture-rich, ash-laden environment present with syngas/HHC fuels. Thus, the Stony Brook University research focuses on a multi-layer, multifunctional strategy comprising of discretely engineered coating layers to combat the various technical issues through a concerted effort integrating material science, processing science and performance studies, including recent developments in advanced in-situ thermal spray coating property measurement for full-field enhancement of coating and process reliability. _GCC

Massive new coal, gas, and oil fields are likely to be discovered -- mostly offshore, since most of the Earth's surface is covered by water. Massive deposits of methane hydrates will go largely unutilised, until safe and economic methods of retrieving such deposits are developed. From a biologic and microbial standpoint, planet Earth has a limitless potential for growing biomass and producing bio-energy -- and billions of dollars are being spent to perfect various approaches to bioenergy -- which has the advantage that it can be developed virtually anywhere on Earth, and even off-planet, given sunlight and CO2.

And still you have the molten core of Earth, producing massive quantities of usable heat. Sunlight itself is a massive, relatively unused resource which waits mainly for well-designed orbital solar power platforms for best large-scale development and exploitation.

Finally, you have the best baseload power source of all -- safe, advanced, abundant nuclear fission, with hundreds of thousands of years of fuel given responsible fuel recycling, breeding, and inter-locking fuel cycles for various fertile and fissile fuels.

In other words, peak energy is a million years away, unless people get stupid and go for the great human dieoff out of incompetence and suicidal leadership. By then, surely humans will have learned to control fusion, so that peak energy would be further offset in time by hundreds of millions of years.

Of course, if humans stay around this planet for too long, the local star will pay a visit, imparting perhaps more energy to Earth than any humans-still-around might wish. Which brings up the topic of space travel . . . . . .


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