Friday, December 31, 2010

Turning Old Carpets Into Oil: Garbage to Energy

Four billion pounds of carpet enter waste streams in the U.S. each year, says CEO Ron Simonetti. Five pounds of oil go into a single pound of nylon, so annually the U.S. could curb oil exports by millions of barrels via recycling. _GTM

US companies are scrambling to find economical ways to use garbage and waste profitably. From municipal solid waste to sewage to discarded tyres and carpets to farm and forest waste, the US is endowed with plentiful waste materials. The key is devising economical processes to convert and recycle the waste to valuable products.
The key to MCR’s technology is a precipitation/distillation process it calls DynaSep. First, carpet goes to a recycler where it gets shaved. The backing, made of calcium carbonate, goes to one company and MCR takes the fibers.

MCR dissolves the fiber in formic acid to make a nylon soup. Then comes the secret precipitation process. The process occurs at room temperature, but at an elevated pressure. In the end, the process fleeces out the dirt so that the company is left with 99 percent pure nylon and a reusable tub of formic acid. _GTM

Here is a nice online directory for Waste to Energy

Other materials used in carpet-making are not as easily recycled in this way as is nylon. For them, other approaches for conversion to high value products will be necessary.

The prime shortage is the shortage of human ingenuity, inventiveness, and ambition.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

High Oil Prices Spur Oil Companies to Explore and Produce

Oil is like any other commodity: if price go up, people will produce more of it to sell. Despite the bleatings of peak oil sheep, oil companies are responding to recently elevated oil prices. Many are in fact scrambling to find and produce more oil.
From giants Saudi Aramco and Exxon Mobil Corp. to five-person wildcat outfits, the industry plans to spend nearly a half-trillion dollars next year to find and extract oil and natural gas, according to a new survey by investment bank Barclays Capital.

For the first time in several years, large Western oil companies are leading the industry's charge, increasing their budgets faster than the state-run national oil companies that have dominated spending in recent years.

"This is being driven by the appetite to find more oil, comfort that today's oil prices will be sustained and companies getting out of a hunker-down, recession mode," said James West, an energy analyst with Barclays, who co-authored the survey, which has been produced every year since 1982. _Rigzone
The key question oil executives as themselves is, "Will the high prices of oil stay high?" During the speculative runup in oil prices from 2007-2008, it was clear to most wise analysts that the high prices could not last. And indeed oil prices crashed to relatively low levels in 2009.

Oil has always been a boom and bust industry, with multiple price elevations followed inevitably by price crashes, and so on. That is one reason for the formation of OPEC -- the perceived need to maintain a stable price level for oil.

More on the investing side from Phil McPherson:
With the economy recovering, and as more people feel that the double-dip recession is not going to happen, oil prices are tending to stay stronger. However, it seems to me the tail is wagging the dog right now, with the U.S. dollar going down and the price of bonds being up, and the yield being extremely low. To me, it has more to do with the price of oil than necessarily the pure supply and demand fundamentals, because we still have excess supply of oil via OPEC. If you're bullish on oil or bullish on the economy, then you use those dips as opportunities to gain more exposure.

...But as with any business, when the demand is there and the visibility is there, entrepreneurs rise up to the challenge because they know they can make money. I think you're going to be surprised that in 2011 the likes of Halliburton Co. (NYSE:HAL) and Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE:SLB), as well as lot of other smaller companies, are going to have more crews out working. There's going to be enough demand there. It's all a function of oil prices, and as long as they are in this relative range, people are going to continue to drill these wells. I don't think margin makes as much of an impact as the NAV that you can grow with these companies via drilling these wells and growing reserves. _IBTimes
The world is floating in hydrocarbons. North American shale gas has barely gotten started, and the technology for repeating that miracle is in high demand worldwide -- from Israel to China to South America.

As long as current oil prices remain above $70 (2010 dollars), exploration and production will continue to accelerate for both oil and wet gas. Higher prices -- above US $80, will spur even greater investment and faster development.

The next time someone tells you there is no flexibility in oil production, and that demand for hydrocarbons absolutely must continue to rise exponentially, you would be wise to bid the person a good day, and seek other companionship.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Massive Shale Gas Deposits Found Off Israel's Coast

A gigantic natural gas field that could yield millions of barrels of oil was recently discovered on the maritime border between Israel, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Cyprus, and Northern Cyprus. _FastCompany

While it is one of the world's richest natural gas reserves, the Levant Basin Province is located between countries with endless amounts of mutual hatred. It straddles the sea borders of Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The largest section discovered so far, the Leviathan gas field, is believed to possibly contain, alongside natural gas, 4.2 billion barrels of oil. Leviathan straddles the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border. Israel is currently in a state of war with Lebanon and does not recognize the de-facto Hamas Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip.

... _FastCompany
More on the technical apsects of the discovery and planned exploration and production from Green Car Congress:
Texas-based Noble Energy, Inc. announced a significant natural gas discovery at the Leviathan exploration prospect offshore Israel. The results from the well confirm the pre-drill estimated resource range, with a gross mean for Leviathan of 16 trillion cubic feet (450 billion cubic meters). The Leviathan field is estimated to cover approximately 125 square miles (325 square kilometers) and, as a result of its size, will require two or more appraisal wells to further define total gas resources, according to Noble.

Leviathan-1, located in approximately 5,400 feet (1,645 meters) of water, is about 80 miles (130 kilometers) offshore of Haifa and 29 miles (47 kilometers) southwest of the Tamar discovery. Drilled in the Rachel license, the well encountered a minimum of 220 feet (67 meters) of net natural gas pay in several subsalt Miocene intervals. Apparent reservoir quality is very good, and the intervals discovered are geologically similar to those intersected at Tamar.

Drilling at Leviathan-1 will continue to a planned total depth of 23,600 feet (7,200 meters) to evaluate two additional intervals. Current well depth is 16,960 feet (5,170 meters). Results from the deeper tests, which have a low chance of success, are expected over the next couple of months.

Noble’s second contracted rig will arrive in the Eastern Mediterranean in early 2011 to spud a Leviathan appraisal well located 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of the discovery well. _GCC

The huge shale gas finds in North America -- with ever-growing reserves -- are only the beginning of the unconventional hydrocarbons revolution.

When oil prices are spuriously run up in the fashion of 2007-2008, and in the current run-up in price, the marketplace is likely to respond as soon as it can.

In the modern Obama regime atmosphere of energy starvation, and the carbon hysteric regimes of EU countries, the energy markets can be quite arthritic and slow to respond. Nevertheless, eventually things begin to move, where money can be made.

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Another 2 Trillion Barrels of Oil On the Way

Khaled Al Buraik, executive director of the government-controlled Saudi Aramco, announced that new technology could add as much as 2 trillion barrels of oil to global proved reserves.
Although the current global oil reserves in place are estimated at 14 trillion barrels, only about 1.2 trillion can be recovered, said Khaled Al Buraik, executive director of the government-controlled Saudi Aramco.

Speaking at a seminar in Riyadh, Buraik said the quantity of oil extracted so far worldwide does not exceed one trillion barrels.

"Advanced technology in hydrocarbon production could add around two trillion barrels to the existing proven crude reserves in the near future," he said in his address, published by Saudi newspapers on Monday.

"The real challenge for scientists and engineers is how to access to nearly 11.8 trillion barrels to meet the growing world needs of hydrocarbon in the future...what is needed now is more effort by scientists and specialists in this field to invent new methods and very advanced technology." _Zawya

Higher oil prices are spurring oil companies to increase their spending for exploration and production.

Brazil's rich offshore reserves keep growing larger

Brazil announces ambitious new underwater technologies to provide easier access to its vast undersea oil wealth

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is a growing component of national energy budgets from Britain to Japan, as a compensatory move against higher oil prices.

A new and ambitious approach to increasing the value of cheap, abundant natural gas, is being advanced by San Francisco startup Siluria Technologies.
Siluria has decided not to go after gasoline or diesel but instead to produce ethylene, a building block for plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, beverage bottles, tires and lots of other materials that are now made from oil. Ethylene can also be turned into alkanes, a class of hydrocarbons that are a component of gasoline.

A more important difference, though, could be the energy needed for conversion from the natural hydrocarbon molecule, methane, to the synthetic one, ethylene. In Siluria’s process, using a new kind of catalyst, that conversion gives off heat instead of requiring it. _NYT
I will present more information on Siluria in the future.

As you can see, new technologies will bring about both new proved oil reserves and production, AND new substitutes for crude oil in both fuels and chemical uses.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Methane plus CO2 Yields Gasoline: U of Saskatchewan

Everyone is looking for ways to convert an abundance of low-priced methane into something of higher value. The University of Saskatchewan is licensing a process to Carbon Sciences Inc. which combines CH4 and CO2 to produce syngas (CO + H2), which is catalytically transformed to liquid fuels such as gasoline.
For the past year, CSI has been developing its own catalyst for the efficient transformation of CO2 and methane gas into a synthesis gas, which is then be further catalytically processed into gasoline and other fuels. The overall reaction is:

CH4 + CO2 → (C5-10Hn) + H2O

The specific methane reforming reaction is:
CO2 + CH4 → 2CO + 2H2

The technology licensed from the UOS directly complements its own development efforts in this area, the company said.

The major challenges faced by previous industry attempts at developing a successful catalyst include coking (fouling the catalyst with carbon deposits) and continued long-time performance.

...CSI’s development was directed at solving these problems and its research team observed encouraging short-term laboratory results, the company said. However, the UOS technology developed over the past decade by Dr. Hui Wang, professor of Chemical Engineering, and colleagues has demonstrated high performance and reliability, the company noted.

The UOS catalyst achieved 92% conversion with no detectable sintering, no significant carbon deposition, and thus no catalyst deactivation. Dr. Wang’s research team has successfully tested the catalyst for 2,000 hours of continuous operation in a bench top reactor. _GCC

In other energy news, U. of Illinois, UC Berkeley, Seoul National University, and BP have combined with Lawrence Berkeley Lab to genetically engineer a strain of yeast capable of co-fermenting glucose and xylose simultaneously. This development will prove important, as cellulosic biomass conversion to alcohols moves into the marketplace.
The new yeast strain is at least 20% more efficient at converting xylose to ethanol than other strains, making it the best xylose-fermenting strain reported in any study, according to Jin.

The Energy Biosciences Institute, a BP-funded initiative, supported the research. A paper on their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

S. cerevisiae has been used for centuries in baking and brewing because it efficiently ferments sugars and in the process produces ethanol and carbon dioxide. The biofuel industry uses this yeast to convert plant sugars to bioethanol. While S. cerevisiae is very good at utilizing glucose, a building block of cellulose and the primary sugar in plants, it cannot use xylose, a secondary but significant component of the lignocellulose that makes up plant stems and leaves. Most yeast strains that are engineered to metabolize xylose do so very slowly. _GCC

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Canadian Oil Sands Going In Situ

For oil sands that are too deep for surface mining operations, some form of "in-situ" is needed to extract the oil. Most in-situ operations involve the injection of steam into the oil sands deep underground.

The steam warms the bitumen, making it more mobile, so that it can then be extracted through drilling.

Some sources say 20 per cent of this area will be mined versus 80 per cent being developed in situ. (The Alberta government disagrees, telling The Tyee the number is more like 2.5 per cent mining and 97.5 per cent in situ.) _TheTyee
... the number of in situ or thermal projects continued to multiply as foreign investors lined up to inject dollars. _CalgaryHerald
Cenovus Foster Creek

There are several approaches to mining oil sands. Not all oil sands projects are equally economical to construct. Some of the most economical approaches involve in situ extraction of bitumen from the sands.
Ten years ago, big mining projects were the only game in town - now there are choices not only between mining and in situ but sophisticated money is also seeking out the projects with the best reservoir quality.

What they are finding is that in situ technologies, through which 80 per cent of the oilsands will be accessed, are gaining an economic advantage.

Capital intensity, for example, at Imperial Oil's under-construction Kearl mine project is about $70,000 per flowing barrel - it'll cost about $8 billion for a project expected to produce 110,000 barrels of bitumen per day.

Suncor has said its oilsands mines will cost around $60,000 per barrel to build while its multiple Firebag thermal in situ projects will come in for between $30,000 and $35,000 per barrel.

"People like Cenovus are saying that, in some cases, they can add in situ capacity at about $20,000 per daily barrel," Dunbar said. _Calgary Herald
As technologies improve and become cleaner and more economical, expect Canadian oil sands production to grow exponentially. A giant new pipeline going all the way to the Gulf of Mexico should speed up the process, once completed and running.

Just as North American shale gas technology has revolutionised the energy industry, so will Canadian oil sands technology.

Other unconventional forms of hydrocarbons will also likely step in to provide liquid and gaseous fuels, as needed. There are trillions of barrels of oil equivalent in known unconventional reserves around the world, with variable accessibility. Many trillions more barrels are undoubtedly sitting around, unsuspected, waiting for better technologies of exploration and production.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Fuels from Biomass Without the Microbes? Enzymes Triumphant

Virginia Tech researchers have been developing their enzymatic approach to advanced biofuels - from - biomass for some time. They believe that enzymes - without - the - microbe can provide a more efficient and stalwart production system. Their latest:
The research will be published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology.

"Enzymes self-assemble a cell-free synthetic pathway; that is, we can put the desired biological reactions to work without the other complex interactions that take place within a cell," said Y.H. Percival Zhang, associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech.

"In microbial fermentations, glucose serves as both a growth substrate and a source of energy for generating a reduced power -- NADPH. In fact, only a small fraction of glucose is allocated to NADPH generation," he says. "The cell-free synthetic pathway process increases efficiency and reaction rate."

"By using an enzyme cocktail consisting of 12 purified enzymes and coenzymes, this work has also demonstrated that the enzyme cocktail systems can work in the presence of microorganism-toxic compounds from dilute-acid pretreated biomass, suggesting that enzyme systems do not require high-purity substrates for biotransformation," said Zhang. "In other words, after pretreatment, we can do bioconversion directly, followed by chemical catalysis," he said.

The article, "Biohydrogenation from Biomass Sugar Mediated by in vitro Synthetic Enzymatic Pathways," was written by Yiran Wang, research scientist in biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech; Weidong Huang, visiting scholar from the University of Science and Technology of China; Noppadon Sathitsuksanoh and Zhiguang Zhu; biological systems engineering Ph.D. students at Virginia Tech; and Zhang. _Physorg

Abstract from earlier article by same team comparing the thermodynamics and bioenergetics of different biofuels approaches

The trend in advanced biofuels production has always pointed toward an eventual "acellular" approach, at least for small-scale, portable applications. Microbes are self-reproducing, and fairly easily "tweaked" genomically, but they can be a bit finicky when faced with some of the noxious process chemicals in common use today. Advanced catalysts -- eventually nano-molecular catalysts that are much more hardy than peptide enzymes -- will be designed to tolerate a wide range of reactants, products, intermediates, and impurities.

The researchers at VTU assume that their hydrogen will be used in hydrogen fuel cells. That is likely to be true at some scale, but hydrogen is quite valuable in its own right for a multitude of chemical and biofuels processes. It is more likely that most of the hydrogen will be used to produce more advanced biofuels, chemicals, plastics, other materials, feeds, etc.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Gas to Liquids (GTL) Coming to Canada via South Africa

Sasol figures that the natural gas needed for a gallon of diesel, plus operating costs, comes to about $1.50 a gallon. In comparison, a gallon of diesel made from crude oil now costs more than $2, even before refining, and many forecasts are for the price of oil to go higher.

...A barrel of oil has historically cost one to two times as much as the equivalent amount of energy from natural gas. But right now, vast supplies of natural gas from shale formations in North America have driven prices down, so oil is triple the price of the gas equivalent.

The new ratio creates “a very attractive economic option,” said Lean Strauss, senior group executive at Sasol. _NYT_via_EnergyTribune
South Africa's SASOL learned to create synthetic diesel back during apartheid days, when the rest of the world refused to trade with South Africa. Now, SASOL intends to bring its synthetic diesel technology to Canada, to turn the "shale gas bonanza" into a veritable GTL financial gusher.

More from NYT (via EnergyTribune) and Business Daily:
Diesel and jet fuel are usually made from crude oil. But with oil prices rising even as a glut of natural gas keeps prices for that fuel extraordinarily cheap, a bit of expensive alchemy is suddenly starting to look financially appealing: turning natural gas into liquid fuels.

A South African firm, Sasol, announced Monday that it would spend just over 1 billion Canadian dollars to buy a half-interest in a Canadian shale gas field, so it can explore turning natural gas into diesel and other liquids. Sasol’s proprietary conversion technology was developed decades ago to help the apartheid government of South Africa survive an international oil embargo...

The Sasol process cooks a hydrocarbon, either coal or natural gas, into a fuel gas made of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Using a patented process that involves cobalt catalysts, it converts that gas into a mix of liquids: 80 percent diesel fuel, 15 percent naphtha and 5 percent liquid propane.

...with the huge spread between oil and gas prices, and predictions of oil topping $100 a barrel next year, the conversion technology could be a “a money-maker for whoever is a first mover in that space.” _NYT
It is a question of cheap, reliable feedstock supplies combined with an efficient industrial process and a good market for liquid fuels. At this time, SASOL has access to cheap, plentiful feedstock AND a good market for liquid fuels. They will now have to prove the industrial ability to economically convert cheap, plentiful shale gas into more valuable liquid fuels.

It is a wise move for SASOL to develop such a plant in North America, with ready access to competent engineers, technologists, and craftsmen, as well as easy access to the US energy market.
[SASOL], which announced a 50% acquisition of a stake in Canadian shale gas company Talisman Energy for R7,1bn on Monday, is also exploring for shale gas in SA’s Karoo basin, although any production is at least 10 years away. "It’s a long shot, but it could be a game-changer," Mr Haan said. Reuters _BusinessDay

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Terra to Humans: Merry Christmas w/ Gas, Use It Wisely

Arguably the biggest story in the United States energy scene, and de facto for the rest of the world, has been the development of shale gas. Natural gas production in the United States was flat from about 1995 to 2005, standing at about 2 Tcf per month. But over the last five years, production started going up (see graph) moving to around 2.3 Tcf per month. The entire increase is because of shale gas, contributing at least 17 percent of domestic production. This is remarkable, considering that shale gas accounted for an estimated 2 percent just a few years ago. _EnergyTribune

The shale gas revolution has hit US and world energy markets like a massive sledge hammer. But the impact of abundant unconventional hydrocarbons has barely registered on the "energy seismic detectors" up until now. Despite the best efforts of carbon hysterics, energy starvationists, and faux environmentalists to put the djinn back in the bottle, Terra's huge and expanding reserves of natural gas can no longer be denied -- and will not be refused.

Geoffrey Styles looks at some interesting aspects of shale gas economics, and explains why airheaded proponents of unreliable wind power are so resentful of shale gas:
Perhaps one reason the impact of cheap natural gas hasn't sunk in yet is that the main market price for gas, the futures price at the Henry Hub in Louisiana, doesn't have much relevance for the average consumer. Residential gas customers don't buy their gas in the million-BTU (MMBTU) lots in which the futures contract is denominated; we buy gas in therms--one tenth of an MMBTU--and by the time we see it on our bills all sorts of handling and distribution fees and mark-ups have been added on. But when you compare the price of traded gas in barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) to the price of West Texas Intermediate crude, the remarkable divergence of the last two years becomes obvious, as shown in the chart above. Between 2000 and 2006 gas and oil tracked each other closely, allowing for the greater seasonal volatility of the former. There were even periods when a barrel-equivalent of gas was worth more than a barrel of oil. Yet while oil and gas prices fell precipitously when the recession and financial crisis burst the various asset bubbles, they have diverged sharply since then, with oil advancing back up to today's $91/bbl and gas settling in to the $20-25/bbl range in which we were accustomed to see oil prices a decade ago. Adjust that for inflation and you're looking at an average natural gas price for 2010 equivalent to $20/bbl in 2000. _GeoffreyStyles


In early December, Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced a huge shale gas find that could supply the country’s gas needs for 50 years. A Moroccan delegation has already called upon U.S. shale expertise to help develop its resources. And, speaking at the World Shale Gas Conference in Dallas-Fort Worth in November 2010, Ukraine Government ministers proudly proclaimed their country had “the biggest shale gas deposits in the world”.

Meanwhile, China and India have been quick to spot the game-changing qualities of domestic shale gas development. China’s deposits could exceed 1000 Tcf (Wang and Economides, Paper SPE 133458, 2010.) Last year, China signed the U.S.-China Shale Gas Resource Initiative, the latter already perceiving the U.S. as the world leader in shale gas technology.

That the global energy landscape is switching in favour of gas is also confirmed by developments at the energy majors. In an interview with Fortune magazine, asked about the future strategy of Big Oil, Shell President Marvin Odum stated that by 2012 Shell would be producing more gas than oil. _EnergyTribune
Shale gas has just begun to touch the world's energy balance -- and shale gas is just the beginning of unconventional hydrocarbons.

Carbon hysterics, energy starvationists, and faux environmentalists hate shale oil and other unconventionals for what such reliable energy sources will mean for the Green crusade of lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgiasm. Even T. Boone Pickens has abandoned loony wind power in favour of unconventional gas.

Cross posted to Al Fin


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Biomass News

A paperboard packaging company in US Georgia is commencing work to install a 40 MW turbine generator to produce electric power production for in-house use.
The mill, which currently produces about 1,600 tons of paperboard each day, is expected to become fully self-sufficient regarding its electricity and steam generation, and could also export electricity to the grid.

The 40MW generating unit would produce the equivalent power to the supply for about 27,400 homes, the company said. Making use of about 400,000 tons of timber industry residuals, the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 200,000 tons a year by avoiding use of fossil fuels.

The company said about 3.3 million tons a year of wood residuals were currently available in the Macon area. _Brighterenergy

A University of Minnesota professor who has studied biomass energy for 15 years, believes that torrefaction of biomass to be co-fired with coal, may become the largest biomass market in the US.
A production economist in U of M’s extension service, Tiffany has immersed himself in renewable energy process economics, particularly those of running ethanol plants, producing biodiesel and wind energy, and using biomass to generate power.

Throughout his studies, one technology has continued to find its way into the economic equation—torrefaction....Tiffany said that during the torrefaction process, about 30 percent of the feedstock’s mass is driven off, and 10 percent of the Btus. However, the Btus become much more concentrated. “They are 130 percent more per unit of mass at the end, so we drive off the parts that don’t burn,” he said. _Biomassmag
Tiffany will make a presentation on torrefaction of biomass at the Pacific West Biomass Conference in Seattle, 10-12 January 2011.

Specialised biomass crops are being created by companies such as Ceres, Inc.
The industry, still in its infancy, involves growing plants for biomass that are trucked to a conversion facility, where plant wall cellulose is broken down for conversion to glucose sugar and then cellulosic ethanol. Biomass can also be co-fired with coal and wood to produce heat, steam, and electricity at bioenergy refineries.

Existing grain-based ethanol will continue to serve as an important farm-grown fuel in the future; additionally, there are benefits from the high quality distiller’s grain produced in the conversion process, which can be used for livestock feed. Cellulosic conversion is viewed as the next generation of liquid farm fuel technology.

The list of current and potential biomass crops include the grasses switchgrass and miscanthus, plus high biomass sorghum, energycane (high biomass sugarcane), alfalfa, and other crops. These can offer farmers the opportunity to diversify their cropping systems and boost their income stream. _WesternFarmPress
Biomass farmers are just beginning to learn how to best fit biomass crops into their rotations, and how to establish the best markets for their product.

Besides terrestrial biomass crops, a growing number of brackish water and saltwater biomass crops are being developed, to make use of a much larger area of Earth's surface. Such a rapid expansion of growing area for biomass crops outside of traditional food and feed crop areas, should put an end to the nonsensical "food vs. fuels" debate.


Canada as Energy Superpower?

Canada Energy 2006

Oil, coal, gas, unconventional hydrocarbons -- you name it, Canada has it. In addition, Canada has rich mineral resources, including uranium. Canada even has a large hydropower resource to call upon to supply between 15% and 20% of its energy. For the next 20 years, at least, Canada will be in a comfortable position in terms of energy economics. Just don't let the carbon hysterics botch it all up.
As Peter Boag, president of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, noted recently in his presentation to the Senate standing committee on energy, environment and natural resources that gasoline and diesel -- fossil fuels -- will still be needed and make up the lion's share of how Canadians transport themselves and their goods for the foreseeable future. The same applies to the rest of the world. That's due to simple physics: "They store large amounts of energy in a relatively small space and are therefore ideally suited for transportation use," said Boag in his presentation.

...Even the International Energy Agency, in its recent forecast looking ahead to worldwide energy use 25 years from now, forecasts that even for its most radical carbon replacement plan and most hopeful energy efficiency plans, many of the technologies needed are not yet available and that many others require substantial refinement and cost reductions.

So by 2035, traditional sources of energy will still make up the vast bulk of energy usage -- and this despite the IEA's urging for governments to spend trillions over the next decades on alternative energies and hoped-for technological breakthroughs. _Sun

The US Obama regime has been working behind the scenes to shut off imports of Canadian oil sands to the US -- using the carbon hysteric's rationale. But reality has already over-ruled the Obama regime on more than one occasion, and is likely to do the same on this particular point.
Giant oil sands pipeline in the works

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

LS9 Synthetic Biology Receives Another Round of Funding

LS9 EColi

LS9 has held onto its previous group of investors and added BlackRock, for a $30 million venture funding round.
LS9 uses a one-step fermentation process to convert renewable plant-based materials into a diverse portfolio of fuel and chemical products. The company has successfully operated its pilot plant in South San Francisco, California for more than two years and announced the acquisition of a larger-scale production facility in Okeechobee, Florida in January 2010. In June 2010, LS9 won the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. _GCC

More on the underlying LS9 approach:
Pushing the frontiers of synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology, LS9 has perfected an elegant 1-step fermentation process that uses patent-pending DesignerMicrobes™ to efficiently convert renewable feedstocks to a portfolio of "drop in compatible" UltraClean™ fuels and sustainable chemicals. LS9's unique technology provides a means to genetically control the structure and function of its fuels and chemicals, enabling a product portfolio that meets the diverse demands of the petroleum economy.

LS9 has developed a new means of efficiently converting fatty acid intermediates into petroleum replacement products via fermentation of renewable sugars. LS9 has also discovered and engineered a new class of enzymes and their associated genes to efficiently convert fatty acids into hydrocarbons. LS9 believes this pathway is the most cost, resource, and energy-efficient way to produce petroleum-replacement products and industrial chemicals. This translates into efficient land and feedstock use and directly addresses tensions between food versus fuel and chemical production. _LS9

As long as one does not expect immediate profits from companies such as LS9, investing in such technology is a rational part of an overall energy portfolio. It is a long-term prospect, like its many well-financed cousins in the advanced biofuels research field.

The underlying science is sound, although problems of conversion to profitable commercial scale may take a decade to solve, and another decade to achieve scaleup. In the meantime, supply and demand questions are likely to drive energy & fuel prices like a whipsaw. But once advanced synthetic fuels achieve profitable scale-up (~20 years... AFE), they are likely to put a price ceiling on crude oil of around $60 a barrel in 2010 USD, according to Al Fin energy analysts.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Austrian Microchannel BTL Plant to be Upgraded to Pilot Plant


The "microchannel" approach to Fischer-Tropsch BTL developed by the Oxford Catalysts Group and Velocys, will be upgraded from a demonstration plant to a new pilot plant in Gussing, Austria. The same technology can be used in small operations such as offshore oil rigs, for GTL conversion -- to enhance the economic value of natural gas production.
The pilot plant, designed for the small scale distributed production of biofuels via the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) reaction, will be operated jointly by SGCE and Velocys, Inc., the US-based member of the Oxford Catalysts Group.

PDF White Paper on microchannel F-T

The existing demonstration plant—which is jointly operated by the Oxford Catalysts Group and SGCE—incorporates an FT microchannel reactor comprising more than 900 full-length microchannels. This reactor has been performing effectively at Güssing since July 2010. The demonstration plant produces more than 0.75 kg of high quality synthetic FT liquids per liter of catalyst per hour and exhibits productivities 4 to 8 times greater than conventional systems. _GCC
Earlier AFE article providing more links and images

Biomass to liquids (BTL) is an extremely promising technology for remote locations, due to the ability to grow biomass virtually anywhere on land or at sea. Even on lunar or Martian colonies, biomass can be grown for production of chemicals, plastics, and other valuable products.

For larger scale synthetic fuels production on-planet, natural gas to liquids (GTL) and coal to liquids (CTL) is more economically productive than BTL.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shale Gas Reserves Grow to Compensate for Obama Energy Starvation

Update 22Dec2010: I intended to link to the Geoffrey Styles article: Natural Gas and the Gulf Hiatus as a part of this article, but was distracted in the middle of writing and forgot to include the link. The information in the Styles article provides important information about the adverse impact of the Obama Gulf Moratorium on US production of both oil and gas.
The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) is reporting in its Annual Energy Outlook report that shale gas reserves are growing to compensate for losses of offshore gas brought about by Obama's de facto moratorium on new deepwater production in the Gulf.
The technically recoverable unproved shale gas resource is 827 trillion cubic feet (as of 1 January 2009) in the AEO2011 Reference case, 474 trillion cubic feet larger than in the AEO2010 Reference case, reflecting additional information that has become available with more drilling activity in new and existing shale plays. This larger resource leads to about double the shale gas production and more than 20% higher total lower-48 natural gas production in 2035, with lower natural gas prices, than was projected in the AEO2010 Reference case.
Our Reference case projection shows the growing importance of natural gas from domestic shale gas resources in meeting US energy demand and lowering natural gas prices. Energy efficiency improvements and the increased use of renewables are other key factors that moderate the projected growth in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
—EIA Administrator Richard Newell

This news will be greeted with dismay from lefty-Luddites, faux environmentalists, peak energy doomers, and others who feel ill will toward the US and the US economy. Those who acknowledge and accept the vital role of energy for the well-being of a society, on the other hand, will welcome the growing resource.

The Obama administration has shut down significant US coal production, has shut down most new or planned offshore oil & gas production, is working on stopping the importation of Canadian oil sands, and has plans to limit shale oil & gas production -- or stop it entirely. New safer, cleaner, less expensive nuclear energy reactors are dead in the water under Obama's foot-dragging NRC. Mr. Obama always intended to institute a comprehensive plan of energy starvation over the US economy, but he had not counted on the recent explosion in unconventional energy resources.

The WikiLeaks scandal helped to reveal how deeply the Obama regime is tied up with the carbon hysteria movement -- and how far they are willing to go to force carbon hysteria on the entire world, if possible. But right under their noses, shale gas has come along and thrown their plans off schedule.

Salazar, Holdren, Obama, Boxer, and the other usual suspects have been caught flat-footed by these new energy supplies, and are working extremely hard behind-the-scenes to shut them down by any means or technicality possible. Watch them closely.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Abundant Hydrocarbons Buried Underground: Out of Sight Out of Mind


Bit Tooth Energy blog takes a fascinating look at petroleum creation and deposition at various depth, using the Eagle Ford shale play as an example.
As a rough rule of thumb down to 15,000 ft the hydrocarbon is more likely to be oil, (which is thus referred to as the Oil Window) and below that it is more likely to be gas. That is only a rough rule of thumb, and one must remember that over time there has been a lot of uplifting and eroding, so that 15,000 ft isn’t necessarily what it used to be.

And the Eagle Ford shale is a fairly good example of this. If we use the EIA map of the play you can see that in the North, where the reservoir is about 6,000 ft deep the hydrocarbon is oil, while further South, where the deposit is down at around 14,000 ft then the hydrocarbon is dry gas. And in between it is what is known as a wet gas.

...You may note that the condensate from the wells in the wet gas zone have produced around 2.3 million barrels, while there has only been about 1.6 million barrels of crude produced. It is also worth noting that while the natural gas coming from the formation has been twice the equivalent volume of oil, the market for natural gas, at the moment is still down at around $4.6 per kcf, which using the Apache conversion, would give it a price of around $27.60 a barrel of oil equivalent. On the other hand the condensate is a light high quality product, and West Texas Intermediate crude is running at the moment at around $88.30 a barrel. _BitToothEnergy

The Bit Tooth article above talks about petroleum as coming from 500 million years of algal deposition in sediment, and conversion at depth -- heat and pressure -- to petroleum. The deeper the sediment, the more likely to be converted to gas, according to the source.
Now, if you look at the timelines provided above, you should note that photosynthetic organisms have been converting massive quantities of CO2 into organic carbon for over 3 billion years. The graphic below provides the mirror image of that process -- the production of atmospheric O2 juxtaposed by the evolutionary time of origin for various photosynthetic organisms.
Oxygen is a waste product of photosynthesis, and organic carbon is the main product. Rapid production of oxygen should correspond to a rapid production of organic carbon -- which was then buried in sediments. Whether this organic carbon became coal, kerogen, bitumen, petroleum, or other hydrocarbon resource, would depend upon where it ended up in the Earth's crust, or perhaps, mantle.
Recent science suggests that short chain hydrocarbons in the mantle are capable of surviving for significant periods of time at high pressure and temperature, perhaps later to migrate into the crust. These mantle hydrocarbons may have been subducted into the mantle via oceanic crust, or may be generated abiotically within the mantle itself.

The important thing to understand, is that massive quantities of organic carbons have been buried in the Earth for over 3 billion years. They no doubt exist in a wide variety of forms, from minimally altered to partially transformed to fully transformed, etc. Some of this carbon was no doubt oxidised to CO2 in the mantle and released into the atmosphere for recycling. Some of it no doubt seeped into the biosphere and was metabolised by microbes.

It is highly unlikely that humans have even begun to account for most of this missing organic carbon. Most of it will not be economically recoverable in any form. But we will not actually know that until we look for it, and find it.

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Biomass to Jet Fuel Using Microbial Lipid Fermentation


The US military's DARPA has awarded Logos Technology with a $17.5 million phase 2 award to produce jet fuel from biomass, using microbial lipid fermentation.
This contract is to demonstrate an end-to-end Lipid Fermentation Process (LFP) at scale for the commercially viable production, from cellulosic biomass, of Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ) spec jet fuel—a near term surrogate for JP-8 that can be readily commercialized.

HRJ is produced from renewable oils (lipids) by methods common in petroleum refining. Fatty acids and triglycerides are hydrotreated to remove oxygen, and the resulting paraffinic hydrocarbons are processed to yield a mixture of straight-chain, branched-chain, and cyclic paraffinic hydrocarbons with collective properties that are similar to those of conventional jet fuel.

Oleaginous yeast can produce lipids from the sugars resulting from the pretreatment and hydrolysis of biomass; certain fungi can also produce lipids, either via solid-state fermentation of biomass or from the biomass hydrolyzate.

This primary program effort is to consist of optimized process development and engineering along with regionally specific economic modeling to produce fuel, demonstrate process energy efficiency and support commercialization.

...This phase of the BioJET program requires the delivery of larger quantities of jet fuel with a projected cost of production of JP-8 at commercial scale implementation (50Mgal/yr) at less than $3.00 per gallon. _GCC
Al Fin bio-synthesists believe that the greatest value of current advanced biofuels research is to put a rough ceiling on future prices of hydrocarbon fuels. Peak oil doomsayers claim that liquid fuels will have no price ceilings when "peak oil" truly hits the fan.

But that claim has already been falsified by the fact that shale gas cost per BTU is well less than half the cost of crude oil per BTU. As efficiencies of conversion from gas to liquids improve, we will see the "price ceiling" effect of shale gas begin to affect markets. Something similar will begin to happen in about ten years, as more efficient biomass to liquids processes begin to scale up.

Like everything associated with energy these days, oil futures markets are heavily politicised, and infiltrated by persons whose behaviour is -- shall we say -- somewhat less than ethical. The fluctuations of oil markets are highly profitable to those who know how to put their fingers on the scale in a reasonably surreptitious manner. But the conversion of alternative and unconventional fuels to liquid hydrocarbons: GTL, CTL, BTL, kerogensTL, BitumensTL, etc etc, provides a multiple bypass to the oil commodities markets. Such alternative routes to fuel makes the work of the energy mafias and faux environmentalists much harder -- unless they can use bribed politicians to stop the alternatives and unconventionals.

Cross-posted to Al Fin

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Energy Bits and Pieces

University of Illinois researchers have altered the genome of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast in order for it to more efficiently ferment galactose as well as glucose. This allows for much higher yields of biofuel from the fermentation of highly prolific seaweed.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have isolated Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains possessing genes altered to make the yeast more tolerant of higher levels of alcohol. Such yeast will allow fermentation to proceed to higher alcohol concentrations, which can be more efficiently and economically separated from aqueous solution.

Amyris and Cosan are collaborating to produce base oils -- using modified yeasts capable of producing hydrocarbons from plant sugars. These base oils will be used to make high value lubricants for a wide range of industrial machinery and equipment.

Better methods of pyrolysis are being perfected to make profitable use of household plastic waste. Valuable products of such waste pyrolysis include fuels, plastics, lubricants, and char.

Pyrolytic recycling of old automobile tyres is becoming more popular. Valuable oils, gases, fuels, steel, and char products can be sold for a profit, rather than having the tyres buried in landfills or incinerated as waste.

The use of seaweed (and other halophytes) for fuels illustrates a significant expansion of productive surface area of Earth for biofuels production -- without using cropland or competing with food production. The use of waste materials to produce valuable fuels and materials illustrates the conceptual expansion of what is considered useful raw materials for profitable industries.

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Plasma Arc Gasification and Other Unconventional Energies


The images here are reproduced from an article in Waste Management World. They illustrate the revenues, efficiencies, and product choices for various methods of incineration and gasification.  The image above is a basic schematic for plasma arc gasification of municipal solid waste for purposes of power generation.

The graphic above illustrates net energy production of various technologies in kWh per ton and kWh per tonne, of municipal solid waste.
This graph compares net revenues before taxes for various technologies, illustrating the advantages of gasification technologies.
Finally we see the various Syngas options -- power production, chemical production, and bio-chemical production.

It should be noted that plasma arc gasification is shown to be superior to the other technologies shown, in terms of efficiencies and revenues. The end products are likewise far easier to dispose of, with very little if any toxicity compared to waste products of other methods. More at original article.

Despite all of the advantages of plasma arc gasification, loudly vocal lefty-Luddite groups have united in opposing all forms of reliable and abundant energy production -- including arc gasification methods.

It certainly seems as if all faux environmentalists who complain about overpopulation, wail about resource scarcity, and also promote a reduction in human energy use and a reduction in human population -- it seems as if these persons should take the proactive step of self-immolation.

Fortunately, Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] has developed just the technology for such as those, which coincidentally enough, consists of a thermochemical approach to the production of fuels and energy. Follow the Oynklent Green label for more information.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Clean Energy Experts" Waste C$33 Million "Studying IGCC"

Faux environmentalists and so-called "clean energy experts" are happy to take endless amounts of money to study energy solutions. They will not actually help you to solve your energy problems, but they will study your problems for a price, and tell you why they cannot be solved economically.
"It's a very expensive proposition from our perspective," said Dave Butler, executive director of the Canadian Clean Power Coalition, an association of leading electricity producers that has mandate to research, develop and advance commercially viable technologies that lower power plant emissions.

Butler's association, in conjunction with Edmonton,-based Capital Power Corporation, spent C$33 million over the past couple years studying goal gasification technologies.

"With the technologies we've looked at, it's pretty much cost prohibitive," Butler said.

In 2007, Capital Power Corporation proposed developing North America's first IGCC coal gasification and carbon capture plant in Alberta. The company, in partnership with Butler's association, conducted a front-end engineering and design (FEED) study for the proposed Genesee IGCC Project, which wrapped up last spring. _Source
Do you see the problem? The association was not actually looking at IGCC as such, but was rather looking at IGCC when loaded down with unnecessary and wasteful carbon capture. Anyone could tell you without spending C$33 million that carbon capture is a waste of money. But "clean energy experts" have a lot of expenses, and must be funded at high levels.

In reality, coal IGCC without carbon capture is quite clean and economical in comparison with most forms of energy except for NGCC (natural gas combined cycle). Let's look at a couple of US IGCC power generation plants and compare their costs with what a Canadian IGCC plant would cost when saddled with carbon capture.
Tampa Electric Company's Polk Power Plant, located near Mulberry, Florida, was America's first commercial IGCC plant. Completed in 1996 at a cost of roughly $303 million, the plant is capable of generating 313 megawatts of electricity.

...the Wabash River Coal Gasification Repowering Project in West Terre Haute, Indiana, came online in 1994. The full-size commercial IGCC plant cost $417 million and can produce 296 megawatts of electricity.

...Based on the Canadian Clean Power Coalition's research, a 450-megawatt coal gasification plant with carbon capture facilities would cost about $5 billion to build. _Source
A nuclear fission plant producing about 1,000 megawatts of power would cost between $2 billion and $4 billion to build, according to various estimates. So you can see that the IGCC coal power plant without carbon capture is much cheaper than either a nuclear plant or an IGCC plant with carbon capture.

The nuclear plant saves money in operations due to lower fuel costs, however. And if one is soft-headed enough to fall for carbon hysteria, nuclear power is carbon-free without expensive carbon scrubbers or carbon capture.

So if you are thinking about paying "clean energy experts" to study plans for IGCC, save your money. As good "carbon hysterics", they will be looking at the most expensive and irrational possible choices.

You will come out ahead in the long run by educating the public to elect officials who are not carbon hysterics or members of the politicised quasi-religion and pseudo-science of CAGW.


Fusion Propulsion, FRC Fusion, Fusion:MSR Fission Co-location

Brian Wang presents a trio of fusion-related articles recently:

Pulsed Field-Reversed Configuration Thrusters

Fusion Plasmoid Space Propulsion

Quasi-Steady Fusion Reactor Based on the Pulsed High Density FRC

From the last link above:
By co-locating a molten salt reactor with FRC QSFRs, a waste mitigating closed nuclear cycle is achieved that is highly proliferation resistant. Only non-fissile material enters the plant in the form of thorium. All fuel for the reactor is produced on-site by the FRC QSFR. Only a relatively small fusion power source is required (~ 7% of the fission reactor output) as it is leveraged by the much larger energy yield from the fissile fuel enriched thorium reactor. The fissile fuel doubling time can be as short as 5 years, and essentially all the thorium can be consumed in fission reactions, thus extending the energy reserves from thorium to several thousand years, limited only by the lithium reserves required for DT fusion. Waste from the thorium cycle is orders of magnitude smaller than that of a current PWR, and decays to background levels in less than 500 years – only slightly longer than that from fusion neutron activation. By using the FRC QSFR to enable a thorium based energy cycle, nuclear power can finally deliver what the current uranium based fission can not: abundant, safe, and clean energy. Most importantly, it can be done in a timeframe to allow fusion to play a role in the effort to move from a carbon based energy economy. _NBF

Brian also points to the Advanced Space Propulsion Workshop by Centauri Dreams, which covered the topics above and more. It would be great if the workshop made videos available of the talks.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sugar Beets Grow Where Sugar Cane Never Could

...focusing on beet ethanol makes sense for a number of reasons. Green Vision’s figures show that beets produce twice as much ethanol per acre as corn and require about 40 percent less water per gallon of ethanol produced. Using beets instead of corn also sidesteps the controversy associated with using a food product for fuel.

“This is probably the most efficient use for an acre of land for biofuel as there is,” Helgaas said. _CheckBiotech
In the higher latitudes where air temperatures dip far below sugar cane growing levels, sugar beets thrive. Fargo, North Dakota's, Green Vision Group aims to turn sugar beets into fuel, starting small at first -- 3.5 mgy by 2012. Later, they plan to build a dozen more plants at 20 mgy each. That is for one small group in one small US state.
A North Dakota group said Monday it plans to open a test plant that would turn dry land sugar beets into ethanol, with hopes of building a dozen processing facilities throughout the state.

Officials with Fargo-based Green Vision Group said the demonstration facility would produce 3.5 million gallons of ethanol a year using technology developed by an Iowa company. The plant is scheduled to open in 2012.

"I worked at a corn ethanol plant for 28 years. I realized early in the game that corn was not the prefect way to make ethanol," said Rick Whittaker, president of Heartland Renewable Energy of Muscatine, Iowa. "It was clear to us that the best bang for your buck was with beets."

The biofuel would be produced from so-called energy beets, which are different from beets grown for human consumption. Energy beets are genetically bred specifically for the making of renewable fuels. Researchers involved in the project said the beets can produce twice the amount of ethanol as compared to corn.

Unlike corn used for ethanol, energy beets would compete against the petroleum market, not the food market, Whittaker said.

"You won't have the food controversy like you have with corn," he said.

...The process separates sugar from the beets in the form of juice, which is then fermented and distilled into alcohol. The waste material from the fermentation process is then converted into a powder that's used as fuel to help power the plant. The leftover ash could be used as fertilizer.

"This reduces the plant's waste stream to almost nothing," Whittaker said.

Water costs are cheaper than corn processing because energy beets contain 70 percent water, Whittaker said. It would take 1.5 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of ethanol for beets, as opposed to 2.5 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol for corn, he said.

Energy [beets] were grown successfully over the summer at test plots in Carrington, Hannaford, Oakes, Turtle Lake and Williston, said Cole Gustafson, professor of agribusiness at North Dakota State University.

Researchers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado also are testing energy beets, project officials said.

"There's absolutely no reason this won't work in Iowa," Whittaker said. "We just have to convince them that corn isn't king." _DailyRepublic_via_Biofuelsdigest
Energy beets are also being grown in Maine and New York state. As biomass and bioenergy crops are adapted and modified for a wide range of climates and growing conditions, it helps to remember that nature has been doing this for hundreds of millions of years.

Sugar beets modified to grow on cold saltwater would extend croplands considerably.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cellulose to Sugars Using Engineered Stealth Enzymes


A new enzyme engineering technology promises to provide abundant, cheap sugars in temperate climates, for conversion to fuels, chemicals, plastics, and feeds. Agrivida Inc. and Syngenta Ventures are collaborating on a plant cell wall engineering technology which promises to provide abundant sugars from biomass. The engineered biomass will come from altered maize, sorghum, miscanthus, switchgrass, and other forms of grass. The enzymes which will hydrolyse cellulose to sugars, will be built into the plants themselves, and only activated under specific, carefully controlled conditions.
In July, Agrivida announced breakthroughs in its development of sugar production from enzyme-expressing crops at the annual BIO industry conference, which followed recent awards from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) (earlier post) and Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E) (earlier post) to further develop its proprietary technology platforms in sorghum and switchgrass.

The results reported at the BIO meeting showed increased cell wall degradation by up to 100% compared to non-engineered plants, while significantly decreasing enzyme loadings, following a mild pretreatment and heat activation. The study presented at the meeting determined that embedding Agrivida’s engineered enzymes in the cell walls of the crops was an effective strategy for improving the biofuels processing characteristics of the plants and dramatically decreasing external enzyme loadings, while still protecting the plants’ development and growth the scientists said. The study compared the appearance, processing characteristics, and other parameters of the intein-modified plants with non-engineered, native plants.

Agrivida transgenic corn stover was demonstrated in this study to have a conversion of more than 60 percent of cellulose to glucose, compared to approximately 30 percent seen with the control plants. Further, the enzyme loadings used with Agrivida’s engineered plants can be reduced well over 50 percent and still provide improved performance relative to the full enzyme loadings on non-engineered plants, thereby significantly lowering external enzyme requirements. Our new data provide additional proof that Agrivida transgenic crops can facilitate cellulose degradation in a way that greatly reduces the need for hydrolytic enzymes and expensive pretreatment processes. This capability suggests that cellulosic ethanol production can be greatly expanded at lower costs and with fewer emissions, chemicals, and other downstream requirements.

—Michael Raab, Ph.D., President of Agrivida
The ability to reduce external enzyme requirements is a critical development that should help enable the growth of the cellulosic biofuels industry, Raab says. In the absence of such technology, the external enzyme production capacity build-out required to meet the US Renewable Fuels Standard would exceed a cost of $5 billion. Agrivida’s plant traits aim to eliminate those enzyme production costs for producers.

In earlier studies, Agrivida had reported that embedding CWD enzymes in plant material during the growth phase enables more efficient processing of biomass by initiating hydrolysis of plant polysaccharides from within the plant. _GCC
The requirement to add costly exogenous enzymes to cellulosic biomass, for conversion to sugars) has driven the cost of cellulosic biofuels out of the realm of profitability for years. Some companies are developing microbes capable of converting cellulose to sugars, others are developing better enzymes or solid-state forms of enzymatic conversion which helps extend the economic life of the enzymes.

The Agrivida approach requires significant genetic modification of the plants themselves, which is apt to run into faux environmental opposition along the way. Still, the economic benefits of being able to grow high yield grass crops in temperate climates -- and being able to achieve a yield of sugar comparable to the finicky water-hog sugar cane -- are significant and motivating goals.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Obama's EPA Runs Screaming Over the Cliff With Biomass Carbon Hysteria


It may take years to clear the insanity from the EPA after Obama's tenure is completed. It has gotten so bad that new EPA regulations will treat biomass power generation as equivalent to coal power generation, in terms of CO2 greenhouse gas penalties and taxes.
Although the environmental neutrality of burning biomass as a fuel has long been acknowledged by the EPA, biomass will be treated the same as fossil fuels when new greenhouse gas permitting regulations come into play in the New Year.

The new regulation provides extra incentive to U.S. biomass fuel companies planning to export biomass pellets to the United Kingdom and other European countries where biomass-fueled power production is encouraged by governments.

EnergyBoom reported Monday that high-priced coal is driving the UK to double its electricity generation from biomass in the next two years. According to a spokesperson for the owner of Western Europe's largest coal-fired power plant, switching from coal to biomass is a win for everyone: "It will remove coal from the energy mix and replace it with significant, reliable, cost-effective and dispatchable renewable power."

Power companies such as Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) , which is awaiting permitting to use biomass to displace some coal at its coal-fired Buck Steam Station in North Carolina, weigh the economics carefully before adding biomass. Greenhouse gas regulations and permitting would be a strike against using biomass, the company has said.

Another power company, The Southern Company (NYSE: SO), which is considering nuclear, biomass and natural gas to displace coal from several of its generation plants, has said the EPA’s regulation “could kill biomass in its tracks.” _RenewableEnergyWorld
So, let's see: Obama wants to bankrupt coal companies, his EPA wants to shut down shale gas and the importation of Canadian oil sands, his NRC is stonewalling licensing of safe new nuclear fission technologies, and his Interior Department has put most US oil reserves off limit for drilling.

What kind of energy is the Obama administration willing to permit? Importing oil from Venezuela and MENA is acceptable to Obama and his pack. Buying wind and solar equipment from China would be simply lovely. But, you say, wind and solar are not reliable, and buying oil from state sponsors of terror only make the world worse? True, but then no one could accuse the Obama administration of being rational now, could they?

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Fighting Political Peak Oil and Resisting Other Carbon Hysteria

The graphic below illustrates what happens when third world bureaucrats and dictators mis-manage a world-class oil field.
Image Source

Mexico's Supreme Court has given PEMEX permission to contract with private hydrocarbon development corporations, in an attempt to clean up the mess that Mexico's government has made of Cantarell and other fine fields. But just as in other oil dictatorships, Mexico's bureaucrats have destroyed a most valuable resource. It will cost dearly to even partially remedy their mistakes. Political peak oil -- from Mexico to Venezuela to Ecuador to Libya to Russia, etc etc.

Meanwhile, new oil and hydrocarbon discoveries are being made around Africa, offshore of Brasil, in Colombia, in Argentina, and elsewhere around the world. The North American technologies applied to unconventional hydrocarbons are certain to set off a tsunami of new hydrocarbons development worldwide.

Arabian nations are planning to develop their unconventional gas reserves -- which will more than double their current reserves. Russia will almost certainly follow the same plan eventually.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are taking a close look at coal resources in Wyoming. Coal is another vast hydrocarbon resource which is much underutilised -- particularly in the light of new cleaner technologies which can make good clean use of even the cheapest, lowest-quality coal.

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Another Possible Use for CO2 Produced from CTL and BTL

The best use for CO2 was evolved over eons by biological life on Earth. Humans have many uses for CO2 in chemical and beverage plants as well. With a recent concern for the CO2 generated by biomass / fossil fuel use, researchers have been looking at new uses for excess CO2 produced by human activity.

University of Illinois’ scientists Dr. Paul Kenis and graduate student Devin Whipple are developing a number of catalytic conversions of CO2 to useful chemicals. Another team on a similar quest is led by Liviu M. Mirica, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis. Turning CO2 into useful products requires a lot of concentrated CO2, a lot of energy, and the proper catalysts. The approaches taken by the two research teams above are are detailed by Brian Westenhaus at the links provided.

It is useful to look at such research, since there is a convergence of sorts developing. First, cheap, reliable, and safe nuclear power is being developed via factory-built small modular fission reactors. These can easily provide the energy needed for the reaction, and can be co-located with a variety of CO2 - producing industrial plants. Second, there is a growing societal interest in recycling waste products -- including CO2. While CO2 is not properly thought of as a "pollutant", it is certainly a waste product of industry and power production. Third, there is a need to develop the vast coal, gas, heavy oil, oil sands, and biomass resources around the world, to supplement the energy needs of emerging nations such as China, India, and California.

The graphic below looks at carbon which might be retrieved from various carbon energy and fuels production processes, using various technologies.

A detailed study by researchers from China and the US has concluded that Fischer-Tropsch synthetic liquid fuels (FTL) are typically less costly to produce when electricity is generated as a major coproduct than when the plants are designed to produce mainly liquid fuels.

Furthermore, coproduction systems that utilize a co-feed of biomass and coal (CBTL) and incorporate CO2 capture and storage (CCS) in the design offer attractive opportunities for decarbonizing both liquid fuels and power generation simultaneously. Such co-production systems, when considered as power generators, can provide decarbonized electricity at lower costs than is feasible with new stand-alone fossil fuel power plants under a wide range of conditions, according to the study by Liu et al. published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels. _GCC
If one's goal is to sequester CO2 from carbon (fossil fuels plus biomass) power plants as economically as possible, then Liu et al. may be onto something. Certainly if one had an economic use for the CO2 being sequestered, the entire combined process would provide a better return.

In reality, IGCC + CHP -- integrated gasification combined cycle + combined heat and power -- of coal and biomass, is more economical than IGCC plus carbon sequestration. But as the methods of making use of concentrated CO2 from power plants, cement factories, etc. become more economical, perhaps carbon sequestration will begin to make sense, economically.

The US EPA and Interior Department under President Obama, are full of carbon hysterics. The same is true for other governments of the Anglosphere and governments in the EU. As long as these fools have any influence on industrial and energy policy, carbon sequestration -- as uneconomical as it is on its own -- may well play a part in energy policy. If that is the case, one may as well develop as many technologies as possible to mitigate the economic harm that these idiot policies are certain to bring.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

North America as the New Energy Kingdom?

With rising production from shale fields, the U.S. surpassed Russia last year to become the world’s largest supplier of natural gas. Shale now accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s natural gas production – up from 2 per cent in 1990. Chesapeake’s production from its next Texas project, expected by the end of 2012, will by itself supply the energy equivalent of 500,000 barrels of oil a day. _Globe&Mail
We know that Canada is overflowing with hydrocarbons from shale oil to oil sands to coal to natural gas to methane hydrates.... But the US was supposed to be "all tapped out" ever since oil production peaked back around 1970. Is it possible that all of the peak oil and peak energy doomers who foretold the end of US oil & gas may have been a bit premature?
U.S. domestic production for the year will be 140,000 barrels a day higher than last year (which was 410,000 barrels a day higher than 2008). Although the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says U.S. production will decline next year, who knows?

...As an article last month in The New York Times observed: “Just as it seemed that the world was running on fumes, giant oil fields were discovered off the coasts of Brazil and Africa, and Canadian oil sands projects expanded so fast, they now provide North America with more oil than Saudi Arabia. In addition, the United States has increased domestic oil production for the first time in a generation.” Further still: “Another wave of natural gas drilling has taken off in shale rock fields across the United States, and more shale gas drilling is just beginning in Europe and Asia.”

...For natural gas, the U.S. has the four largest fields in the world: the Haynesville field in Louisiana (with production up by 77 per cent in 2009); the Fayetteville field in Arkansas and the Marcellus field in Pennsylvania (both with production up by 50 per cent); and the Barnett field in Texas and Oklahoma (with production up by double-digit increases). The EIA reports that proven U.S. reserves of natural gas increased last year by 11 per cent to 284 trillion cubic feet – the highest level since 1971.

Beyond shale oil and shale gas, there’s the awesome energy promise of methane hydrates, frozen crystals of water and gas that lie beneath the northern permafrost and beneath oceans floors around the world in quantities that boggle the imagination.

“Assuming 1 per cent recovery,” the U.S. Geological Survey says, “these deposits [in U.S. territory] could meet the natural gas needs of the country (at current rates of consumption) for 100 years.” _Globe&Mail
Gas producers are scurrying to find ways to export gas to cold, hungry customers in Asia and Europe. LNG -- liquified natural gas -- is one approach which is being developed for the export market. GTL -- gas to liquids -- is another approach that is likely to be developed inside the US within the next 10 years. Both approaches will allow for easier entry into the lucrative export markets. The GTL approach will also -- if economical -- allow gas to be converted into liquid fuels at a profit. That should help reduce North American dependency on overseas oil, once developed.

Cross-posted to Al Fin

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Looking for Clean, Abundant Energy


Governments of the western world appear more focused upon shutting down fossil fuels -- out of carbon hysteria -- than in providing their economies and industries with abundant and clean energy supplies. You might think that shale gas is an exception, given the graphics above, but shale gas was a natural evolutionary development of the petroleum industry.

As far as official bureaucracies are concerned, shale gas fell into the laps of the North American energy markets almost like manna from the sky. Governments cannot claim credit for it, nor can any particular research agency, university, or corporate lab. Neither official policy nor planning had anything to do with it. But governments are busily at work attempting to shut shale gas down -- particularly Obama's EPA -- out of vastly inflated faux environmental concerns. Not the attitude of a government that cares about the energy supply of its people and its industries, eh?


Brian Westenhaus points to two important viewpoints on energy here and here. The graph from the first source above, demonstrates current dysfunctional energy policies on the left, contrasted with more intelligent policies which might be instituted on the right.

The graphic below from the second source illustrates the connection between a concept called "Energy Intensity Ratio (EIR)" and the state of the economy. When the EIR drops for the dominant energy/fuel sources, economies tend to go into recession. More detail at Brian's blog and at the original source PDF.


When energy starvation becomes official government policy, a prolonged recession is virtually certain to come. Investors and venture capitalists will go where energy is not artificially constrained by faulty government policy. Banks and other lendors will be reluctant to lend funds in an environment of anti-energy, anti-market regulations and tax policy.

This is the impasse faced by much of the western world. The shale gas bonanza was totally unplanned by the higher levels of policy and planning. It has come as a disruptive force which threatens an otherwise solidly-constructed plan of energy starvation by the ruling regime. The US Interior Dept and the EPA are united with groups of useful idiots to try to shut down shale gas production -- but government forces must be subtle, and attempt to build a popular movement against shale gas to use as a shield and smokescreen.

Coal supplies are far more vast and easily accessed than popular media and official government sources are willing to admit. And clean coal is a very real possibility, quite within reach. Integrated gasification combined cycle coal plants -- without carbon sequestration -- would place vast resources of coal inside the "clean energy" category.

This makes two abundant sources of potentially clean fossil fuels which will reach at least to the mid 2100s, coal and gas. If you consider advanced fission technologies as implemented in small modular factory-built reactors as a third abundant source of clean energy, the world has three potentially abundant and clean energy sources to see it through the 21st century and beyond.

If you go further and look at microbial energy and fuels, prolific biomass (land and marine) energy and fuels, methane clathrates, enhanced geothermal, orbital solar, and eventually fusion and other advanced approaches from nuclear and particle physics -- and you should be able to see yourself clear to the 26th century at least.

The worst possible thing you could do for the planet is to cut off humanity's ascent to advanced technologies at its current primitive stage. But if current policies of carbon hysteria and energy starvation continue as at present, that is exactly what will happen.

If the faux environmentalists and neo-Luddites have their way, this planet and all of its precious ecosystems will continue to be vulnerable to a massive dieoff event from terrestrial and/or extraterrestrial agencies. Natural climate change -- ice age -- is a far greater threat to species diversity than the minimal climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases. An impact by comet or asteroid has the potential to destroy more life in one fell swoop than all of man's impacts put together -- including a massive nuclear war.

There is no perspective nor wisdom within most of the world's governments -- only hunger for power and graft. It is up to any humans capable of awakening, to make up the deficit.

Addendum: Here is a short list of "useful idiots" on the local level of the US Pacific Northwest, who are vocal in opposing a biomass CHP plant in Port Angeles, WA:
Mania and Toby Thayler, attorney for the seven environmental groups filing the appeal, argued that selling the electricity could overtake the primary use of the mill.

"Obviously they listened and carefully considered their decision," Thayler said.

"I think they are wrong, but they listened carefully."

The environmental groups -- Port Townsend AirWatchers, Olympic Forest Coalition, Olympic Environmental Council, No Biomass Burn of Seattle, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy of Spokane, the World Temperate Rainforest Network and the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club -- said the assessment was incomplete. _Source
These easily manipulated but quite vocal fools are willing to oppose whatever they are told to oppose, and loudly. The attorneys among them are sometimes quite well-paid, however. Particularly those in the higher levels of powerful faux environmental - industrial complex political lobbies such as Sierra Club.


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