Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keystone XL Pipeline Fights Faux Environmentalist Energy Starvation

The Keystone XL pipeline is meant to carry oil sands crude all the way from Canada to the US Gulf of Mexico coast refineries and terminals. This pipeline will provide deepwater access to Canada's oilsands, as it ramps up in production.

The US State Department has issued a final environmental impact statement, finding no significant environmental impacts from the pipeline. The bureaucratic process for approval of the pipeline is far from exhausted, however. The Obama agenda of energy starvation has barely begun to sink its fangs into Canada's oilsands, US coal, US offshore oil, US kerogens, US nuclear etc. -- despite the risk to the US economy of shutting down virtually all reliable forms of energy.

As for the Keystone XL and other oilsands pipelines -- Most analysts believe that it is the price differential (about $25) between North American oil prices and global oil prices which is driving various pipeline routes to the sea.
Will the pipeline connection to the Gulf Coast simply be a conduit for Canadian oil to be trans-shipped to foreign markets and capture more favorable world pricing? If so, how does that help America?

Or will the flow of 500,000 to 900,000 barrels a day through the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast be sufficient to bring down bulging inventories of stranded, land-locked oil in Cushing, Oklahoma and eliminate, or at least substantially reduce the huge price spread between Brent and West Texas Intermediate?

If it doesn’t, and the over $25-per-barrel spread between U.S. domestic oil prices and world oil prices persists, new pipelines will be built in Canada to provide a more direct connection to global oil markets.

One way or another, it is oil price differentials, not James Hansen’s concerns, which will ultimately determine the flow and direction of oil from Canada’s tar sands. _Globe&Mail

Faux environmentalism is little more than a primal desire to return to a pre-industrial global state. Since such a return would inevitably result in the dieoff of several billion human beings, faux environmentalism is a thinly veiled yearning for a massive reduction of the human population to less than 10% of current levels.

Energy starvation of the developed world is the quickest route to this dieoff. By shifting from reliable forms of energy such as nuclear, coal, gas, etc. in favour of unreliable forms of energy such as big solar and big wind, faux environmentalism is apparently trying to bring about massive poverty, hunger, hardship, disease, and death. Think of that the next time you are solicited by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, or World Wildlife Fund.

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Coal to Syngas; Syngas to Methanol; Methanol to Gasoline

Synthetic fuels from coal, natural gas, biomass etc. will compose a larger share of the transportation fuels market over the next few decades. This will come about due to more economical processes for coal to liquids (CTL), gas to liquids (GTL), biomass to liquids (BTL), etc. combined with a long term trend of rising oil prices.
Ambre Coal to Liquids

The methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) process is the prime competitor to the Fischer Tropsch (FT) process, in the conversion of carbonaceous mass to liquid fuels. Ambre Energy of Australia is involved in the clean conversion of low quality coal to high quality liquid fuels, using the Exxon-Mobil methanol-to-gasoline process (PDF).
Methanol is usually synthesised from syngas, a mixture of H2, CO, CO2, methane, etc. Syngas can be produced via gasification of coal, natural gas, biomass, or any other carbonaceous material.

Methanol is used as a feedstock to produce fuels or other chemicals. Methanol can also be used as a fuel itself, or as a fuel additive. Methanol is also finding greater use in methanol fuel cells -- a market that is expected to grow very rapidly over the next several years.

Ambre CTL process
PDF description of Ambre CTL
Ambre is involved in a technical study agreement with Synthesis Energy Systems to develop an improved coal to liquids project which will produce both synthetic gasoline and LPG from methanol.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Better Nuclear Fuels; Better Biomass to Fuels Approach

Conventional nuclear power plants are able to burn only a small fraction of nuclear fuel. They are then forced to store the lion's share of this expensive fuel indefinitely, as "nuclear waste." Far from being waste, most of this unused material is incredibly valuable. How could nuclear reactors burn fuel more efficiently? Two candidates suggest themselves: thorium and depleted uranium, burned in safe, advanced breeder reactors.

Los Alamos National Labs has devised a new approach for refining thorium for nuclear fuel, which shaves almost 99.5% of the cost of processing -- reducing the cost from $5000 a kg to only $30 per kg. This LANL breakthrough is just one of several which will be necessary, before thorium can become the dominant nuclear fuel.

NextBigFuture presents an exclusive interview with Robert Petroski -- engineer for the Terrapower "traveling wave reactor" approach being spurred by Bill Gates and other Microsoft luminaries. Petroski discusses how abundant depleted uranium -- U238 -- can be used efficiently in advanced nuclear reactors, to replace the more rare and expensive fuels which rely on highly refined U235.

These breeder reactor approaches use much cheaper and safer fuels than are used in conventional reactors, and burn them almost completely, with far less waste left over. If all the money being thrown down the rat hole by governments for programs of carbon hysteria -- big wind, big solar, climate hysteria bureaucracies, etc -- were devoted to more rational energy strategies, these advanced nuclear approaches could stave off global energy shortages for many centuries or longer.

More: The Integral Fast Reactor has much in common with the evolving Terrapower approach. It is another approach to burning almost 100% of nuclear fuel -- primarily depleted uranium.

And for those who would like to believe in biofuels, but who cannot separate the idea of biofuels from the wasteful green agendas of the Obamas, Merkels, etc. -- there is the up and coming IH2 technology from CRI Catalyst. IH2 is "integrated hydropyrolysis and hydroconversion," an advanced biomass-to-liquid fuels approach which has been covered favourably at Al Fin Energy in the past.

Now New Zealand algae company Aquaflow is working with CRI Catalyst of Texas, to efficiently convert algal biomass to liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Prolific species of algae are far more easily grown for their biomass -- at very high rates. Contrast such cheap and dirty high-yield algal biomass production with the more expensive, finicky, and complex process of trying to grow algae for oil production. All that was missing was a practical way of converting prolific algal biomass into valuable liquid fuels -- and IH2 appears to be a promising approach.

Advanced pyrolysis and hydro-treatment of biomass is not as sexy as breeder reactors, of course, but far more practical for decentralised production almost anywhere on Earth -- at a far cheaper price than nuclear reactors would cost.

It is good to know that science and engineering are working on several different fronts to provide the abundant energy that the future will demand.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Who Will Ride the Gas-to-Oil Price Differential to Riches?

There is always big money to be made in substituting a lower cost feedstock or commodity for a higher priced one. The obvious big money substitution opportunity in the energy field, is the substitution of low cost natural gas for high priced oil. Natural gas is difficult to transport globally, unless it is transformed into a denser liquid form, such as LPG or GTL. The more economical the transformation process to liquids, the more money that can be made.

Shell's gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology is producing high value hydrocarbon fuel and chemicals in Qatar and in Malaysia. But it is very expensive to build large scale GTL plants based on this technology, which limits entry into the field. As the technology proves itself in the market, other big players are likely to step in.

Sasol and PetroSA have GTL plants in South Africa, where rich shale gas fields are coming under development. Shell is moving into those gas fields, and may be thinking about opening its own GTL plant in South Africa, if it can deal with the government corruption.
applications of excess product. Primarily, natural gas is used as feedstock for the Gas To Liquid process. The GTL process converts natural gas to synthetic fuels. This has proven to be far more profitable product for oil/energy and exploration companies to supply into the energy markets. There are currently only two plants in SA capable of refining natural gas to liquid petroleum products. Sasol has its GTL plant located in Secunda and PetroSA has its plant in Mosselbay. _CBN

Australian companies are looking at building GTL plants to take advantage of large gas deposits there, but are somewhat daunted by the high cost of entry. The uncertainty of long term oil prices also causes planners to hesitate.
"Higher oil prices provide the incentive to look at ways and means of producing synthetic fuels, other than simply refining crude oil," Mr Wendt told AAP.

However, he says a major barrier is the high price of setting up a processing plant to make a product that is a commercial alternative to oil-based fuels.

It would cost $1 billion or $2 billion to build a plant that produces synthetic diesel at $40 or $50 a barrel.

But if the price of oil drops dramatically, people won't buy the synthetic product, leaving the owner of the plant unable to get a return on the investment, Mr Wendt said. _ninemsn

There is also debate in Alaska about turning North Slope gas into more lucrative liquid fuels. One of the problems is deciding on the best chemical approach to the transformation of gas to liquid fuel.
For a number of years there has been discussion of the potential to convert North Slope gas to diesel fuel on the North Slope using a process called gas to liquids, or GTL, and then shipping the diesel fuel down the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The core of the GTL process is the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, a chemical process first used in Germany in 1936 to produce synthetic liquid fuel. However, a study of the relative costs of the Fischer-Tropsch process and MTG has indicated that it is significantly cheaper to produce a given volume of fuels with MTG than with Fischer-Tropsch, while the gasoline produced from MTG has a higher value and quality than the diesel from GTL, Van Wijk said. _PetroleumNews

The Oxford Catalyst microchannel Fischer Tropsch GTL approach is just getting started, commercially, but is already receiving "buy" recommendations from Charles Stanley -- assuming the investor possesses abundant intestinal fortitude and staying power.

One of the largest driving forces behind the drop in natural gas prices -- and the opportunity to take advantage of the gas-oil price differential -- is the recent advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking technologies. Gas and oil trapped within shale has existed for eons, only waiting for a species intelligent enough to go in and get it.
The image above provides a modest comparison of the relative quantities of energy which are potentially available from conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons. Note the gas to liquids, coal to liquids, and kerogen to liquids potential. It is all about finding the best and most economical ways to liberate the hydrocarbons in high-value form.

Summary of gas-to-liquids technologies

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Biofuels News

Huber-Wyman Aqueous Phase Hydrodeoxygenation

The simple process pictured above comes from researchers at UM Amherst and UC Riverside. It is an example of a relatively economical thermochemical approach to producing fuels from cellulosic biomass. Yields need improving, but give them time.

Meanwhile, Tulane U. researchers have discovered a mysterious bacterium they have dubbed "TU-103", which can produce butanol directly from newspaper biomass. The designation is apt for some type of secret weapon, and if the bacterium can provide economical yields, it may very well turn out to be just that. More here

Meanwhile, University of Wisconsin researchers have developed a process for producing potentially high-value furan derivatives from biomass. They are using a new type of solvent -- alkylphenols -- to help accomplish the sugar extraction phase.

US government investment into biofuels is ramping up, as is some private sector financing. Even the private sectors of Europe and North America are financing advanced biofuels research -- despite an ongoing global financial downturn.

There is abundant waste biomass in advanced nations -- from municipal waste, agricultural waste, forestry waste, etc. But for advanced biofuels to take an appreciable proportion of the fuels and chemicals markets away from petroleum, dedicated biomass crops must be available at economical costs and in plentiful supplies.

The most prolific type of biomass -- and the only type of biomass that can grow in abundance over at least 80% of the Earth's surface -- is algae (micro and macro). While the focus has long been placed on algal oils, it is algal biomass which offers the earliest promise for reduced cost / high yield advanced biofuels. Eventually it will be economical to utilise both algal oils and algal biomass for advanced biofuels.

The point of Al Fin Energy's biofuels coverage is to point out that the research and the infrastructure-building have barely begun to get started. Just as one cannot judge the potential of a human being's life work while he is still in the womb, one cannot judge the ultimate impact of advanced biofuels at this early stage.

Too many analysts confuse biofuels with wind and solar, and put them all into the same category of delusional green fantasies. That is a mistake, a rookie mistake. Try not to fall into that trap.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Potholes on the Road to Peak Oil

What did Hubbert and Simmons miss?
Hubbert came out with the whole concept and Matt Simmons really popularized it five to six years ago. What’s important to understand is it didn’t take into account the unconventional potential and the improvements in technology. Unconventional oil and gas projects like the oil sands in Canada and the shale projects in the US are all now major sources of oil and gas, whereas 20 years ago they were concepts or in early-stage development. Five years ago, no one thought that there would be unconventional shale production in Europe. Well, it’s starting now and that’s going to change the energy dependence of European countries on Russian natural gas.

What’s important to understand is that there is new technology coming on board that ten years ago wasn’t even conceptualized yet; now they’re producing, and in 20 years who knows what there will be. An investor must be aware of the changes, but also be careful not to get caught investing in someone’s science project. _Marin Katusa _ on _ HoweStreet
Al Fin energy analysts say that the biggest problem with the idea of peak oil, is that no one can agree on its definition. That makes it quite difficult to discuss intelligently, since it has become such a vapourous circular tug.

Which is in control: Supply or Demand?
This reality of "peak oil is already here" is presently not a supply-side phenomenon, but is demand driven...

..."Stranded" gas and unconventional gas are abundant. These are the two rational fossil energy great hopes. Oil will stay expensive, in all probability, but gas will certainly get cheaper. New gas resources and supply are given massive coverage by the IEA - and the EIA has no ideological problems with this particular IEA policy stance !

The real world shows no hint of looming peak gas. Supplies have gone through the roof, only since 2008, due to increasing development of massive "stranded" or gas-only fields such as Russia's Shtokman field and Iran's Pars field, and particularly because of new technology for releasing gas trapped in tight shale formations. Shale-based gas production, usually from resources located more than a mile underground, uses hydro fracturing to release the gas - to be sure with relatively frequent but controllable waterbody pollution of "frac job" chemicals and wastes.

Due to at least 40 percent of world oil being used only in transport (and most of this in land and ocean transport), gas substitution is the clearest, simplest, most rational energy policy change that is needed. _MarketOracle
The author of the Market Oracle piece doesn't discuss gas-to-liquids (GTL), but new technologies of GTL (plus CTL, BTL, KTL etc) are likely to tear up the peak oil highway with a vengeance.

Peak manpower: the sobering reality of limitations of conventional energy supplies.
...large accumulations of oil are getting harder and harder to find. They are in more remote locations, more challenging areas. That is also requiring more sophisticated technologies and more and more intellectual power to be invested in being able to identify where those resources are. When discoveries are made, these challenges only get bigger. It becomes a question of how to ultimately get these resources to market to feed the world's energy demand. So the peak is really a combination of one, making those new large discoveries (is more difficult), requiring more investment, more technology, more human intellectual capacity to find that oil, and two, rise in prices as a consequence. If it takes more capital, more people, more time, to produce the hydrocarbons the world needs then the ultimate impact of the peak will be higher prices in order to maintain the balance between supply and demand. Prices will have to go up to attract the financial capital, attract the technology investment and the people to define, develop and deliver the energy needs. _Brad Lingo Interview at OilVoice
The manpower shortage is not just about growing shortages of skilled oil field workers, engineers, geologists, and managers. It is about the growing shortages of skilled workers, engineers, and managers in all of the many fields which support and supply the oil industry. This growing crucial shortage is a reflection of a global demographic crisis, which is covered frequently at the Al Fin blog.

Have the Peak Oil theories all been proven wrong?
As far as the problem of drilling oil and gas at economic rates is concerned, technology has come handy. With the help of horizontal drilling and other innovations, shale gas production in the United States has skyrocketed from virtually nothing to 20% of the US natural gas supply in less than a decade. By 2040, it could account for more than half of it. Further when it comes to onshore oil production, the peak oil theories have all been proven wrong. _EquityMaster
Unfortunately, peak oil theories are harder to pin down than the HIV AIDS virus. Slippery and amorphous, as labile as a borderline personality crack whore. There is no definition of peak oil that can stand on its own, although every peak oil believer thinks that he understands what he spends so much time and emotion arguing about. And the more definitions which are piled on, the more amorphous the conceptual structure becomes.

The simple truisms that: 1. The world has only a finite supply of mineral resources, and 2. Oil fields begin to deplete as soon as production begins, appear to be the subconscious foundations of peak oil belief. But are these trite and obvious axioms solid enough to support the alarmism and rampant doomism which rolls along with the peak oil convoys?

You have to decide that for yourself.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brazil Not Wasting Time Developing Huge Offshore Resources

Image Source

While the US Obama administration carries on a de facto offshore oil moratorium, Brazil is rushing to develop its own vast offshore petroleum resources. Brazil is spending over $220 billion in an attempt to almost triple its offshore production from over 2 million bpd to over 6 million bpd in 2020. Brazil's oil industry faces tremendous challenges, working far offshore and deep under the surface.
...the technical and logistical challenges involved in tapping this oil are immense – the oil is under a layer of salt as far below the waves as commercial jetliners cruise above them. As a result, Petrobras, the Brazilian oil giant with a 30% stake in all sub-salt concessions, predicts that between 2011-2015, it will make $224.7 billion in investments – $127.5 billion of which is for exploration and production.

The fruits of those investments are already visible in the floating frontier towns.

“It is really impressive what is out here, 100km off the shore,” said Willem Van Beek, a Dutch “mud engineer” who drills the wells, from an oil platform at Espiríto Santos Basin recently. “It’s like a complete offshore city. You see thousands and thousands of lights.”

With reserves this big, Brazil is experiencing an oil boom: 50,000 people were at the Brazil Offshore bi-annual conference in the oil town of Macaé, in June this year. “Brazil is the biggest new front for oil in the world,” said Petrobras CEO José Gabrielli.

...Brazil’s platforms and rigs sit above 2,000 meters of water. The oil is anywhere between 2,000-7,000 meters below the sea bed and to get to it, engineers must drill through clay, then a variety of geographical formations like shale or calcium carbonate, before they hit a thick later of salt that can be thousands of meters thick.

“You have to develop new technology,” says Norman Gall, Executive Director of the Fernand Braudel Institute of World Economy (Instituto Fernand Braudel de Economia Mundial) in São Paulo, and a sub-salt expert. “You have to deal with processing the oil at these depths. You have all of these problems. That’s why it’s so expensive.” depths like these, the water is close to freezing. “The temperature changes the viscosity of the drilling fluid,” says Van Beek. This, in turn, affects the oil, which is “very thick, like a syrup. The way to make it more fluid is by heating it up. They do injection wells. When you produce oil you produce gas. The gas is on top of the oil, so you pump it back in at the bottom of the reservoir and it forces the oil up.”

...The goal now is to move this processing under the sea. At its research centers like the giant CENPES, at the Federal University of Rio, Petrobras is developing technology to separate oil from water, gas and water on the seabed as part of a move to completely automate processing. Carlos Fraga, CENPES executive manager, told Brazil’s Valor Econômico newspaper that he would like to eliminate the need production platforms within a decade.

FMC Technologies plans to start operating a sub-sea separation unit for Petrobras in the Marlim Field, in the Campos Basin, later this year. “This is new technology, and these systems are supposed to run for 20 years, which is the life of an oil field,” says Gall. _Txchnologist
And still, Petrobras continues its intensive exploration for new resources

The ramp-up in production of Brazil's offshore parallels increased production slated for Canada's oil sands. Between the two developments, an increase of almost 10 million bpd is expected by close to 2020. If Venezuela could get rid of Hugo Chavez and allow international oilcos to develop its heavy oil deposits, another 5 million boepd could conceivably be added, if they started right away. And if the US could get rid of President Obama and his Department of the Interior Secretary Salazar, they could add another 5 million bpd by 2020 without too much trouble, using all available resources -- including kerogens, CTL, GTL, and offshore oil.

Combining these increases would yield an extra 20 million bpd in an energy climate where many analysts believed that oil production had peaked at around 85 million bpd in 2008. Realistically, of course, the western hemisphere will be lucky to add 10 million bpd to current production, due to political, manpower, technological, and logistical limitations. Particularly if the incompetents, Chavez and Obama, continue in office for several more years.

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USGS: Massive Upgrading Of Marcellus Shale Gas Reserves

Marcellus via GCC

It is to be expected that as better technology and better data about oil & gas reservoir fields comes available, that large new fields will be found, and existing fields will prove to have greater capacity than at first conservatively believed. That is the case, according to the USGS, with the Marcellus Shale formation pictured above.
The Marcellus Shale contains about 84.198 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 3.379 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids, according to a new geology-based assessment by the US Geological Survey (USGS). Technically recoverable oil and gas resources are those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations.

These gas estimates are significantly higher than the last USGS assessment of the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin in 2002, which estimated a mean of about 2 trillion cubic feet of gas (TCF) and 0.01 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

The increase in undiscovered, technically recoverable resource is due to new geologic information and engineering data, as technological developments in producing unconventional resources (e.g., the fracking boom) have been significant in the last decade, USGS says. _Marcellus Shale Gas Upgrade

Life has been present on planet Earth for almost 4 billion years. Given the plots of historical rises in O2 and drops in CO2, it should be clear that most of the bio-petroleum formation occurred long before the eras of the geologic basins which are being tapped for oil & gas currently. This means that the greatest amount of the world's hydrocarbon resource, by a wide margin, remains undiscovered.

Here's to improved geologic data.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Explosive News: Waterless In Situ Extraction of Oil Shale Kerogens

Eco-Shale Technology
The EcoShale™ In-Capsule Technology involves heating mined shale in a closed surface impoundment, or capsule. The process relies on conventional mining and construction methods and produces a bottomless oil product that requires no coking. The process produces a shale oil with a much higher concentration of middle distillate than West Texas intermediate crude. Two synthetic shale oil products are produced: (1) prompt oil of approximately 29 API gravity; (2) condensate oil of approximately 39 API gravity. The oil and condensate produced with this process have no fines and have very low acid numbers.

The technology requires no process water, protects groundwater and vegetation, uses low temperatures for heating and allows for rapid site reclamation.

The resultant product is a high quality feedstock with an average 34 API and no fines. The process also results in synthetic natural gas production allowing for energy self-sufficiency. _EcoShale
...the Uinta Basin is the site of the massive Eocene Green River Shale formation – potentially the largest reservoir of unconventional petroleum in the world. With total reserves estimated at up to 1.3 trillion barrels, and ultimately recoverable reserves of 800 billion barrels or more , this formation holds three times or more the amount of Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves. Unlocking this formation would change the energy outlook of the nation – and of the world – for a century or more.

Today, TomCo has announced that it has awarded contacts toward the development of this resource. _Source
World Oil

Reserves of oil shale kerogens in the western US states is massive -- far larger than the huge proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. Now a technology exists which can liberate these vast trapped energy reserves without using water or contaminating groundwater. Using this waterless in situ approach, the scenic appearance of these majestic western drylands will be unaffected, and the environmental quality of the region will be preserved.

The use of nuclear process heat from gas-cooled reactors is yet another waterless in situ approach to the environmentally sound liberation of oil shale kerogens. Raytheon's microwave approach -- powered by nuclear generated electricity -- is yet another viable approach to the valuable resource.

It is almost impossible for most persons to envision the economic impact of the introduction of these vast energy resources into world energy markets. Far more resources are devoted by the Obama administration to shutting down the liberation of North America's vast energy stores, than to making the production of energy cleaner and more economical.

Mr. Obama's approach has always been one of energy starvation, rather than energy facilitation. That is just one of the several nearly insurmountable obstacles to prosperity which the US economy currently faces, and for which Mr. Obama can take direct credit -- if only he would.

Cross-posted and adapted from an article posted to Al Fin

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Virent Biogasoline Passes Euro-Fleet Test, Phase 1

The Virent BioForming premium gasoline blendstock has a molecular composition identical to fuel made at a petroleum refinery. The sugars can be sourced from conventional biofuel feedstocks such as sugar beets, corn and sugar cane, or as proven recently, from cellulosic biomass like corn stover and pine residuals. _GCC

Virent via GCC

Virent is working with investor Royal Dutch Shell to develop a top quality biologically derived drop-in substitute for gasoline. The catalytic process takes place at relatively low temperatures. The product is apparently doing well in European fleet testing so far.
Virent’s BioForming platform (earlier post) is a catalytic, low-temperature (180°–260° C) process that can produce drop-in hydrocarbon fuels from plant-based sugars. BioForming combines Virent’s Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR) technology...with conventional catalytic processing technologies such as catalytic hydrotreating and catalytic condensation processes, including ZSM-5 acid condensation, base catalyzed condensation, acid catalyzed dehydration, and alkylation.

Similar to a conventional petroleum refinery, each of these process steps in the BioForming platform can be optimized and modified to produce a particular slate of desired hydrocarbon products. For example, a biogasoline product can be produced using a zeolite (ZSM-5) based process, jet fuel and diesel can be produced using a base catalyzed condensation route, and a high octane fuel can be produced using a dehydration/oligomerization route. _GCC

The economic viability of the process will depend upon feedstock prices and on catalytic efficiencies and yield.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Obama Uses EPA to Shut Down More Energy and Jobs

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, announced last month, will affect coal-fired electric plants in at least 27 midwestern and eastern states. Set to take effect next year, the rule could shutter up to a fifth of the nation’s generating capacity. _NYP
New EPA rules define carbon dioxide as a pollutant. This erroneous definition allows the US government agency to adopt drastic and economically damaging new emission rules. The destructive new rules are driven by high-level carbon hysteria -- the fear of carbon dioxide. They are also driven by the antipathy of Mr. Obama and his administration toward coal, and toward large scale energy consumption of US society in general.

Mr. Obama has always intended to bankrupt coal plants and coal mines, forcing them to shut down and fire workers. The short video above is from a campaign appearance in San Francisco, appealing for funding from wealthy backers with faux environmentalist tnedencies.

If these regulations were actually about coal-caused pollution, many of the plants which are due to be shut down could be converted to burning torrefied biomass -- as opposed to conventional biomass -- at minimal or no cost of conversion.
“If you have a 500-MW plant, to retrofit it to also use wood pellets would cost about $300 million,” Morihara says. “If you use torrefied biomass, there is no retrofitting cost. For its Btu content, torrefied biomass may cost 20 percent more, but it has 20 percent more energy so the cost is actually very similar.” _Biomass
A large number of coal plants in Europe are beginning to use torrefied biomass, as well as cofiring conventional biomass with coal. US plants are ramping up experience to do the same. But the impetuous plant closings by the EPA, with the consequent energy shortages, price increases, and economic slowdowns which will result, will make it more difficult to transition to biomass and torrefied biomass. How much easier if the EPA had cooperated with industry to facilitate a smooth transition?

In other words, if the EPA rules and regulations were about cleaning the environment and reducing coal burning, the EPA could have scheduled the rules to allow the biomass and torrefaction industries to scale up to displace coal consumption.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Global Oil Prices Likely to Drop for Multiple Reasons

Restoration of Libyan oil production likely to put downward pressure on overinflated Brent prices

Italian oilco Eni appears to be the first player likely to profit from a regime change in Tripoli

Ongoing problems in the European economy likely to reduce Euro oil demand even further

Economic problems of Europe and the US likely to impact BRICS adversely

Corrupt oil dictatorships such as Venezuela, Iran, Russia, etc. likely to suffer disproportionately due to overdependence on energy exports. Russia's problems go even deeper, into the core population's inability to sustain its own numbers

The global economy is increasingly an unstable house of cards, threatened by both debt and demography across the advanced world. Bad national leadership -- from the US to Russia to the EU -- is preventing the global economy from instituting crucial political and economic reforms.

The oil markets are particularly untrustworthy at this point in time, subject to powerful undertows and manipulations from powerful players, politicians, and investors. Do not bet your shirt on a belief in the monotonic increase in oil prices over time.

As long as oil prices remain close to $80 a barrel or higher, there will be a strong incentive for more oil production from multiple sources -- including unconventionals such as CTL, GTL, BTL, and KTL (kerogens to liquids). Despite the politically correct protests against the Canada oil sands pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico, Keystone XL, the pipeline is likely to be built. If the Obama regime rejects the pipeline in keeping with its "energy starvation" agenda, the administration that replaces Obama in 2013 will certainly approve the project.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Obama's Energy Starvation Agenda: Still Killing Jobs

... the most activist Department of the Interior in our nation's history is trying to change the rules and seize from Exxon Mobil one of the largest oil finds ever in the Gulf of Mexico. I thought that we were a better country than that. The Department of the Interior under the Obama administration has cost this country hundreds of thousands of jobs with their regulatory overreach. Not only has their ban on offshore drilling cost us thousands of jobs, it now appears that they are trying to take back leases from Exxon Mobil on a never before used technicality that will steal billions of dollars of profits from this US corporation that has acted in good faith. _FXStreet
Mr. Obama's agenda of national energy starvation continues to generate an economic recession without end. The Obama regime's relentless attacks against coal, oil sands, shale gas and oil, offshore oil, nuclear, oil shale kerogens, and every conceivable form of energy which is reliable and affordable are helping to destroy the US economy, bit by bit.

The ongoing battle between the Obama - Salazar US Department of the Interior, and Exxon Mobile, over billions of barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico Julia field, is a prime example:
ExxonMobil, and its Norwegian partner Statoil made the biggest discovery of all — a field worth a billion barrels of oil — 7,000 feet below sea level in its "Julia" field in 2007.

Exxon tried to keep its discovery secret to keep marauders away. Sadly, the pirates in this instance are U.S. regulators — and their aim is to stop them.

That's right: Instead of marvel at the continuing treasures of the New World, or hail the human ingenuity that made retrieval of so much oil possible, or simply quantify how this discovery will boost U.S. energy security, Interior Department bureaucrats moved instead to snatch Exxon's permits and shut the whole thing down. the Obama era, which demonizes oil production in American waters by American companies, the bureaucrats came up with this permit technicality to effectively expropriate the entire operation.

Exxon is now fighting the permit action in a federal court in Lake Charles, La., calling it "arbitrary," "capricious" and "an abuse of law." It's also a textbook case of the anti-business climate fostered by the Obama administration which should be bending over backward to help Exxon create jobs and profits. _IBD
Obama should be helping Exxon to create new, lucrative US jobs, to help boost the depressed Gulf of Mexico and national economies. Instead, the regime is pursuing -- energy starvation.

Exxon has been keeping this huge oil find a secret, and is only coming out in the open due to the need to sue the Obama regime in court, in order to maintain its right to develop the Julia field.
... the fact that Exxon had made perhaps the largest discovery ever in the Gulf, and one of the largest in the company’s century-long history, wasn’t revealed until it sued the Interior Department in a Lake Charles, La., federal court last week over leases for the oil.

The find was made in 2007, and Exxon and Statoil did disclose it in January 2008, calling it significant. But the possibility of one billion barrels wasn’t spelled out.

... Exxon had kept mum on two 2009 and 2010 discoveries in the Hadrian prospect until it could resume drilling in the area after the end of a months-long exploration moratorium. Last June, after it found a third prospect that confirmed the area contained 700 million barrels of recoverable oil and gas, it announced the finds with great fanfare.

But Exxon’s reluctance to talk openly about the huge 2007 find, known as the Julia field, was also a result of circumstances. The oilthat Exxon found there is in a deeply buried layer of rock known as the Lower Tertiary, which is far from shore and requires large investments in pipelines and remote platforms. So Exxon may not have known for a while how much oil it could get out of the ground, or whether it had the technology to do so, say analysts who have talked with the company _GCaptain
The Julia field likely holds the potential to produce far more than 1 billion barrels, due to the conservative nature of oil geologists when quantifying reserves, and due to the "long tail" phenomenon of oil field production over time.

There are undoubtedly many more "billion barrel fields" sitting around, waiting to be found by competent, ambitious, and "hungry" oil explorers and prospectors. Some of them will be far offshore, such as Julia. Others will be in shallower waters or on land, but perhaps lying deeper beneath the surface.

Over the next 20 years, proven global oil reserves are likely to continue growing. Most of this growth in proved reserves will come from improved drilling and recovery technologies, in previously discovered fields. But as oil exploration technologies continue to develop and improve, expect large new oil field discovery to ramp up once again.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Process Heat from Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors Changes Everything

With plentiful process heat provided at temperatures between 700 C and 950 C, a person could kill peak oil and have plenty of energy left to power industry and a broad spectrum of industrial processes.   Specifically, one could:
  1. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in oil sands (PDF)
  2. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in coal to liquids and gas to liquids (PDF)
  3. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in shale oil kerogens 
  4. Provide abundant industrial process heat for production of fertilisers, refining fuels, making plastics, etc 
  5. Split CO2 into CO to use as a hydrogen carrier 
  6. Overturn conventional fears of EROEI and Peak Oil 
Those things, and many more, will be accomplished by next generation gas-cooled high temperature nuclear reactors. Helium gas coolant will run gas turbine generators at high temperatures, which provides electrical power at higher efficiencies than older steam cycle generation systems. And as mentioned above, the higher temperature process heat will find a wide range of practical uses in industrial processes and energy production.

Conventional fears about EROEI and peak oil will be overturned since the energy used to produce hydrocarbon fuels, fertilisers, plastics, and other products of industry and energy, will come from the high temperature heat effluent of nuclear reactions -- of which there is no conceivable near term shortage.

These promising prospects are all vulnerable to political misbehaviour, stupidity, and incompetence. The forces of faux environmentalist lefty-Luddism are strong in governments of the developed world. Energy starvation and carbon hysteria are powerful influences among governmental and inter-governmental policymakers. If industry and commerce are starved of energy -- whether by political design or by political incompetence -- continued economic decline is likely.

Choose wisely at the ballot box.

Adapted from an earlier article on Al Fin, The Next Level, and cross-posted to Al Fin

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Biofuels Infrastructure: Berkeley's New Lab for Demonstration of Advanced Biomass to Biofuels Technologies and Processes

When it comes to the best way of making advanced biofuels, scientists, engineers, and industrialists are still working their way up the learning curve. The entire enterprise may have received a big boost recently, when Lawrence Berkely National Labs opened its shiny new Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU). The ABPDU will let researchers try a large number of different approaches to making advanced biofuels from biomass -- and at a large enough scale to test the fuels in different engines and powerplants.
Berkeley Lab’s ABPDU will feature pre-treatment of biomass capabilities and bioreactors for the production of microbial or fungal enzymes that can break down biomass into fermentable sugars. The facility will also have substantial capabilities for fermentation or further conversion of sugars into advanced biofuels, along with the capacity to purify these fuels.

...Jay Keasling, Berkeley Lab’s Associate Director for Biosciences, noted that the design capacity of the ABPDU is 45-to-90 kilograms/day for biomass pretreatment and 11-to-20 liters per day for biofuels production. These quantities are sufficient for engine testing.
Scaling the production of advanced biofuels from liter quantities to tens of liters can be a huge challenge. The ABPDU will help us meet that challenge.
—Jay Keasling
Major use of the ABPDU is expected to be made by researchers with DOE’s three Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs). _GCC

The East Bay area is rapidly becoming a highly active center for advanced biomass to fuels and biomass to chemicals development and production. It is becoming a "Cellulose Valley" of sorts, to compete with Silicon Valley located to the southwest across the bay.

The revolutionary potential of biomass is vastly underestimated on a daily basis by mainstream energy and industrial analysts. That is how it usually works with incrementally disruptive technologies which hide in plain site.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Advanced Biomass Pyrolysis vs. Advanced Bacterial Fermentation

Biomass to liquid fuels (BTL) conversions will assume increasing importance as the technologies achieve greater yields and economies. Both thermochemical and fermentation approaches are capable of producing high quality substitute fuels and chemical feedstocks. And both technological approaches are receiving a lot of attention as the race for substitute fuels heats up.

UCSB researchers have developed an advanced pyrolytic method of biomass to fuels conversion, using methanol as a super-critical reaction medium.
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) have developed a one-pot process for the catalytic conversions of wood and cellulosic solids to liquid and gaseous products in a reactor operating at 300–320 °C and 160-220 bar. Little or no char is formed during this process.

The reaction medium is supercritical methanol (sc-MeOH) and the catalyst—a copper-doped porous metal oxide—is composed of earth-abundant materials, they report in a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The major liquid product is a mixture of C2–C6 aliphatic alcohols and methylated derivatives thereof that are, in principle, suitable for applications as liquid fuels.

There have been two types of approaches conventionally considered for the conversion of woody biomass to liquid fuels, Matson et al. note: (a) acid pretreatment and separation followed by fermentation or liquid phase processing, or (b) high temperature conversion such as gasification or pyrolysis to bio-oils. Each of these process has problems related to their efficiency. _GCC
Meanwhile, dozens of research centers around the world are tweaking the genomes of microbes in the attempt to create self-reproducing factories for the production of high value chemicals and fuels from cheap biomass feedstock.
A new microbe engineering trick could potentially make butanol, a promising biofuel, so cheaply that it could compete with ethanol. By tapping into a highly efficient metabolic pathway, scientists at Rice University engineered E. coli to convert sugars to butanol 10 times more efficiently than any other organism.

...Cobalt Biofuels, a biobutanol startup based in Mountainview, California, uses Clostridium bacteria to break down plant matter and convert the resulting sugars into a mix of butanol, acetone, and ethanol. Gevo, a company based in Englewood, Colorado is working with E. coli that are altered to divert some of their metabolites, which would otherwise be involved in synthesizing amino acids, toward alcohol production. And Butamax, a joint venture between Dupont and BP, is using genetically modified yeast.

...Gonzalez and his colleagues [Rice U.] outlined their new approach in a paper published online in the journal Nature. The researchers tapped into a pathway that microbes use to break down fatty acids, which are hydrocarbon molecules, to generate energy. They modified about a dozen genes in E. coli to reverse this beta-oxidation pathway so that the microbes build fatty acids.

The method is more efficient than others because it adds two carbon atoms at a time, rather than one, to the hydrocarbon molecules being formed. "What makes it really efficient is that the mechanism by which those two carbon atoms are added to the chain doesn't require [energy]," Gonzalez says.

By selectively manipulating genes, the researchers can program the microbes to synthesize many different fuels and chemicals. In addition to butanol, the bacteria can produce various useful fatty acids that existing processes derive from plant and animal oils. _TechnologyReview

Microbial fermentation produces chemicals and fuels at lower temperatures, saving energy. But living organisms are somewhat fragile compared to inorganic catalysts and methods. None of the approaches are ready to compete head to head with the petroleum industry just yet. But things are looking very promising for breakthroughs within the next 5 to 10 years in thermochemical fuels, and the next 10 to 15 years for advanced microbial fermentation, according to Al Fin analysts.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Can Oil Production in the Americas be Boosted by 16 mmbd?

By the 2020s, the capital of energy will likely have shifted back to the Western Hemisphere, where it was prior to the ascendancy of Middle Eastern megasuppliers such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the 1960s. The reasons for this shift are partly technological and partly political. Geologists have long known that the Americas are home to plentiful hydrocarbons trapped in hard-to-reach offshore deposits, on-land shale rock, oil sands, and heavy oil formations. The U.S. endowment of unconventional oil is more than 2 trillion barrels, with another 2.4 trillion in Canada and 2 trillion-plus in South America -- compared with conventional Middle Eastern and North African oil resources of 1.2 trillion. The problem was always how to unlock them economically.

But since the early 2000s, the energy industry has largely solved that problem. With the help of horizontal drilling and other innovations, shale gas production in the United States has skyrocketed from virtually nothing to 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply in less than a decade. By 2040, it could account for more than half of it. _FP
Brian Wang links to a story in Foreign Policy which suggests that oil production in the Americas could be boosted by up to 16 million barrels per day! Such a large daily production boost would involve multiple sources, including shale oils, heavy oils, oil sands, oil shale kerogens, and offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico and off of the Brazilian coast. Examples:
...analysts are predicting production of as much as 1.5 million barrels a day in the next few years from resources beneath the Great Plains and Texas alone...

...Brazil is believed to have the capacity to pump 2 million barrels a day from "pre-salt" deepwater resources, deposits of crude found more than a mile below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean that until the last couple of years were technologically inaccessible. Similar gains are to be had in Canadian oil sands, where petroleum is extracted from tarry sediment in open pits. And production of perhaps 3 million to 7 million barrels a day more is possible if U.S. in situ heavy oil, or kerogen, can be produced commercially... _FP

US President Obama's ongoing de facto drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico, US Arctic, etc. is costing the US roughly one quarter of a million jobs or more, and a huge amount of daily oil production.

Petrobras is showing strong profits, and has ambitious plans for offshore production.

Energy companies are rushing to Ohio to develop large shale oil deposits

Texas is riding high on new oil discoveries and technologies

Development of the huge bitumen and heavy oil deposits in Canada and Venezuela, and oil shale kerogens in the US, will be a challenge. But if the market demand for liquid hydrocarbons expands as has been predicted, new technologies to develop these resources in an environmentally responsible manner will be developed.

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Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and Environment Looks at Algae

Algae-derived biodiesel could significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and deliver a high financial return, whilst also providing a sustainable and realistic alternative to conventional oil according to new analysis from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment.

Microalgae can grow in waste water or sea water, and therefore does not have the land use and food security impacts of other biofuels. _Smith School _via_GCC


If algae-derived biodiesel were to replace the annual global production of 1.1bn tons of conventional diesel, a land mass of 57.3 million hectares would be required. This compares highly favourable to other biofuels.

The production process is the current barrier to large scale production. It is currently 2.5 times as energy intensive as conventional diesel, which restricts the current financial and environmental feasibility of algae production.

Investment in genetic and metabolic engineering will optimise the economics of producing microalgae, which, coupled with the decarbonisation of the production chain, will realise the inherent environmental advantages of GHG emissions reduction. _SmithSchool

Article abstract

The authors recommend various economic uses for co-products of algal oil production, such as using the residual oilcake to produce process heat and power, and the glycerol byproduct as animal feed. Even in the best case, however, using algae as an oil source for biodiesel production is not nearly competitive with production of diesel from conventional sources. And with the growth in gas-to-liquids technologies and coal-to-liquids technologies, algal biodiesel will find it hard to compete in the near to intermediate term.

If algae is used as a biomass crop, however, rather than an oil source, any of the thermochemical or fermentation technologies for biomass-to-liquids conversion would work quite well with algal biomass. Even anaerobic production of methane could utilise prolific algal biomass -- although Al Fin energy analysts are not recommending anaerobic digestion as a primary energy production approach, given the current low prices for methane. Anaerobic digestion for purposes of waste disposal, with methane as a useful by - product, might be economical for specific commercial and agricultural entities.

The bottom line: Most algal analysts are still looking at algae as an oil crop, when it will likely take between 10 - 15 years before algae can compete with other sources of liquid hydrocarbons on that basis. But if algae is looked at as a prolific biomass crop -- which can be grown in wastewater, saltwater, brackish water, etc. over 80% of the world's surface (including oceans) -- it should be possible to work up some proposals for nearer-term money making projects at small and medium scales.

The bioenergy infrastructure is still in its nascent stages. Over the next 20 years, this infrastructure is likely to grow impressively, along with market conditions which are likely to become more favourable to non geological approaches to energy production.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nuclear Fusion On a Scale People Can Appreciate

Small scale nuclear fusion startups are approaching the problem of fusion energy from several different directions. This glorious lack of consensus allows human ingenuity to test many promising technologies at a relatively low cost. New Scientist offers a small look at 3 small fusion startups (free registration is required to read the article at NS):
The Redmond device, dubbed the Fusion Engine, is the brainchild of a company called Helion Energy, and relies on a very different method of establishing and confining plasmas known as a field-reversed configuration. Discovered at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC in 1960, this process involves accelerating two small, compact balls of plasma into one another at a speed of hundreds of kilometres a second. The conditions created by the collision should, in theory, be sufficient to force the nuclei together, heat them and ignite fusion.

...In a peer-reviewed paper published in April this year, Helion researchers show how they used the technique to smash two plasmas together and achieve a temperature of 25 million degrees. That's still well below what is needed to ignite fusion, but the team also published calculations showing that ignition - and even break-even - should be possible in a device just three times the size of their prototype (Nuclear Fusion, vol 51, p 053008).

...Also pursuing the dream is the Canadian firm General Fusion based in Burnaby, British Columbia, using a method called magnetised plasma fusion. This set-up also emerged from the US Naval Research Laboratory, this time in the late 1970s. It involves igniting fusion in a plasma violently compressed within a cavity created in a spinning sphere of liquid metal.

...Tri Alpha Energy, a secretive California-based company, is believed to have raised $90 million for its variant of the field-reversed technique; among its investors is Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. In a rare public communication a year ago, Tri Alpha researchers showed how they had collided two plasma balls at a temperature over 5 million degrees and held them together for up to 2 milliseconds (Physical Review Letters, vol 105, p 045003). Tri Alpha says it will produce a working commercial reactor some time between 2015 and 2020 - possibly before ITER fires up for the first time.... _Much more information and background at NS

Brian Wang also takes a look at the NS article

Special Encore:
A Gallery of Small Fusion Startups

Bussard IEC Fusion

Bussard inertial electrostatic confinement fusion (EMC2 Fusion) involves an electrostatic plasma confinement to achieve fusion. The history and development of the concept is explained in a video reached via the link above. The Bussard IEC has been financed almost entirely by the US Navy. EMC2 is based near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Dense Plasma Focus Fusion

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is based in New Jersey. The dense plasma focus approach uses a special pulsing "spark plug" to ionise a gas, and to form a plasmoid "pinch," with the emission of high energy photons, ions, and fusion neutrons.

Hyper V Technologies utilises a spherical array of mini railguns to accelerate plasma beams into a central target of deuterium or deuterium-tritium, to achieve fusion (hopefully).

TriAlpha is an Irvine, California venture, which has been fairly successful in the venture capital game. TriAlpha is a bit secretive with non-investors, but you can read their patent for yourselves. The concept seems to involve the highly sophisticated evolution from an earlier colliding beam fusion approach.
General Fusion

General Fusion is a small startup headquartered near Vancouver, BC. The compression of plasma to achieve fusion is accomplished by a coordinated spherical plasma compression, using pneumatics and advanced switching.

Helion Energy is located in Redmond, Washington. It is based on a principle of "colliding plasmas," and like all the rest of the small fusion approaches, it is a long shot.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Russia's Arctic Oil Rush May Run Into Asia's Coming Econ-Crash

Within the next year, the Kremlin is expected to make its claim to the United Nations in a bold move to annex about 380,000 square miles of the internationally owned Arctic to Russian control. At stake is an estimated one-quarter of all the world's untapped hydrocarbon reserves, abundant fisheries, and a freshly opened route that will cut nearly a third off the shipping time from Asia to Europe.

The global Arctic scramble kicked off in 2007 when Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov planted his country's flag beneath the North Pole. "The Arctic is Russian," he said. "Now we must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian landmass."

In July, the Russian ship Akademik Fyodorov set off, accompanied by the giant nuclear-powered icebreaker, to complete undersea mapping to show that the Siberian continental shelf connects to underwater Arctic ridges, making Russia eligible to stake a claim. Around the same time, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced the creation of an Arctic military force tasked with backing up Moscow's bid. _CSMonitor
Russia certainly sounds serious about this Arctic seafloor grab. But will there be enough global demand for oil remaining -- once these expensive arctic wells come in -- to pay back the huge investment which will be required to hold and develop this territory?

The future of the great Chindian economic boom may not be as exalted as conventional forecasters have thought. North American and European economies have been cutting back on oil demand, and a lot of analysts are beginning to think that the emerging economies may follow suit -- at least until they can work out the troubling bugs in their systems.
There is bleaker demand outlook for next year, according to recent reports by Opec and the International Energy Association, the organisation based in Paris that represents 28 major consuming nations.

Some fear oil prices could to sink as far as during the 2008 downturn, when Brent, the European benchmark, dipped to $36 a barrel from a high of $147.

"The prices could very easily go into free fall," says Jason Schenker, the president of Prestige Economics in Texas. "A lot of oil producers are going to feel a lot of pain." _thenational
If conventional oil producers are due to feel a lot of pain in the not-so-distant-future, imagine the pain which Russia will feel -- if it overextends itself by trying to develop the deep energy resources of an ice-bound Arctic? Russia already needs oil prices of $125 a barrel just to balance the budget. If the nation goes all-out to seize and develop Arctic energy resources, the budgetary requirement for oil price could go up to $200 a barrel.

Russia is a sick and dying nation, with sky-high rates of suicide, alcoholism, HIV, Tuberculosis, depression, crime, poverty, child abuse etc. and quite low birthrates among the core Russian population. The core Russian population is shrinking and being slowly replaced by outsiders with no loyalty to the Russian nation.

Russia will not be able to hold onto Siberia for many more decades. How much less will Russia be able to keep Arctic developments profitable and keep Arctic shipping lanes open -- in the face of a coming global cooling?

Putin is playing a fool's game, a Potemkin game of one - upmanship. As long as he is playing against Obama, his bluffs are likely to succeed. But if he ever plays against a real opponent, Russia and Russians will suffer badly.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Oil & Gas Briefs and Links

Proved oil reserves continue to grow larger every year, despite ongoing levels of global oil consumption. The reason for this growth is mainly due to better methods of recovery from existing oil fields more than from discovery of new fields. But it would be a mistake to think that oil discovery days are over -- far from it. When it comes to oil discovery, the best is yet to come.

Brian Wang looks at operations in North Dakota's Bakken play with graphics and projections
Oil Production by state in 2011

Top six oil producing states in 2011

1. In January 2011, crude oil production in Texas averaged 962,338 barrels a day.
2. Alaska is the second-largest oil producer of crude oil with average daily production of 670,553 barrels in February 2011 (includes natural gas liquids).
3. In December 2010, California reported average daily production of 536,800 barrels of oil from both onshore and offshore areas. This doesn't include offshore production from the Outer Continental Shelf that is regulated by the federal government, which typically averages about 35,000 barrels per day.

The state's largest oil field is the Midway Sunset field which averaged production of 85,100 barrels per day in December 2010.

4. North Dakota is producing 384,676 barrels of oil per day in June, 2011
5. New Mexico is the fifth-largest domestic oil producer with average daily production of 177,815 barrels per day in 2010.
6. Oklahoma comes in sixth in oil production, with average daily production of 147,341 barrels per day in 2010 (through November) _NBF

A busy exploration season on Alaska's North Slope

Permits for exploratory drilling in Texas' Permian Basis for August 7-14 suggest heavy drilling

New oil discoveries in New Zealand

New Norwegian Statoil discovery "high impact"

New discovery in Iraqi Kurdistan

Global oil & gas summary

Unconventional oil equivalent resources are huge, and more likely to be discovered

Time for Obama's rules for energy starvation to be revoked

Some US Federal Judges may finally be waking up

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Direct Biomass to Alcohol: Boosting Yields from Clostridium Thermocellum

The discovery of the gene controlling ethanol production in a microorganism known as “Clostridium thermocellum” will mean that scientists can now experiment with genetically altering biomass plants to produce more ethanol. Current methods to make ethanol from a type of biomass found in switchgrass and agricultural waste require the addition of expensive enzymes to break down the plant’s barriers that guard energy-rich sugars. Scientists, including those at BESC, have been working to develop a more streamlined approach in which tailor-made microorganisms produce their own enzymes that unlock the plant’s sugars and ferment them into ethanol in a single step. Identifying this gene is a key step towards making the first tailor-made microorganism that produces more ethanol. _Energy.gov_via_GCC
Clostridium thermocellum is a promising bacterium capable of direct biomass to alcohol transformation. Oak Ridge National Labs scientists are learning how to make C. thermocellum more tolerant of higher ethanol concentrations, so that it can produce higher concentrations of ethanol. Such improved yields should reduce the overall costs of ethanol, and eventually the same approach will be used to achieve higher yields of other chemicals from biomass.
Ethanol intolerance is an important metric in terms of process economics, and tolerance has often been described as a complex and likely multigenic trait for which complex gene interactions come into play. Here, we resequence the genome of an ethanol-tolerant mutant, show that the tolerant phenotype is primarily due to a mutated bifunctional acetaldehyde-CoA/alcohol dehydrogenase gene (adhE), hypothesize based on structural analysis that cofactor specificity may be affected, and confirm this hypothesis using enzyme assays.

...Future determination of compounds resisted by these strains may reveal the selective pressures that led to evolution of altered cofactor specificity of AdhE and suggest further paths for metabolic engineering of this organism for industrial biofuel production. Finally, the ability to identify and characterize sets of biological components linked to desired phenotypes, such as the mutated AdhE gene in this study, or overexpression of endogenous genes offers the prospect for improved rational design of systems in the future that will be best suited to particular feedstocks and desired processes. _GCC

Another study on the metabolic analysis of C. thermocellum for improved bioethanol production

As mentioned many times here at AFE, the race is on between different approaches to produce high yields of biofuels and high yield chemicals directly from biomass and wastes.
  • The above approach involves exhaustive genomic studies of promising organisms, with focused alterations of the genome.
  • Another approach involves the attempt to "pack the genome" of a particular microbe with all the enzyme-genes it will need to carry out all the necessary reactions to produce the fuel or chemical from the inexpensive feedstock.
  • Yet another approach involves the use of multiple micro-organisms working as a team, either in batch form, in stages, or separated by membranes which are permeable to the chemicals of interest.
  • Still another approach will utilise biological enzymes packaged inside protective spheres which allow them to catalyse specific reactions but protect them from potentially harmful compounds in the broth.
  • Finally, the use of nanotechnological catalysts, mimics of biological enzymes, is likely to be the ultimate winner of this contest -- given the greater hardiness of non-organic materials to potentially toxic alcohols and chemicals.
Al Fin has often joked about developing a strain of yeast which will let him brew 100 proof beer with a simple homebrew kit. While such an achievement may have to wait a while, if scientists can jazz up a microbe to achieve fermentation yields of 20% or more alcohol from cheap biomass or waste, the cost of biofuels is likely to take a nosedive.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Clever Reversal of Natural Cycle Yields Rapid Synthesis

"Rather than going with the process nature uses to build fatty acids, we reversed the process that it uses to break them apart," Gonzalez said. "It's definitely unconventional, but it makes sense because the routes nature has selected to build fatty acids are very inefficient compared with the reversal of the route it uses to break them apart."

The beta oxidation process is one of biology's most fundamental, Gonzalez said. Species ranging from single-celled bacteria to human beings use beta oxidation to break down fatty acids and generate energy.

In the Nature study, Gonzalez's team reversed the beta oxidation cycle by selectively manipulating about a dozen genes in the bacteria Escherichia coli. They also showed that selective manipulations of particular genes could be used to produce fatty acids of particular lengths, including long-chain molecules like stearic acid and palmitic acid, which have chains of more than a dozen carbon atoms.

"This is not a one-trick pony," Gonzalez said. "We can make many kinds of specialized molecules for many different markets. We can also do this in any organism. Some producers prefer to use industrial organisms other than E. coli, like algae or yeast. _Physorg
Nature abstract Reversed B Oxidation Cycle

Researchers at Rice University have engineered E. Coli bacteria to synthesise bio-butanol using a clever reversal of the natural beta oxidation cycle for fatty acids. By running oxidation enzymes in the reverse direction, the researchers achieved a far more rapid synthesis than was achievable from the normal fatty acid synthesis pathway.
In a biotechnological tour de force, Rice University engineering researchers this week unveiled a new method for rapidly converting simple glucose into biofuels and petrochemical substitutes. In a paper published online in Nature, Rice's team described how it reversed one of the most efficient of all metabolic pathways -- the beta oxidation cycle -- to engineer bacteria that produce biofuel at a breakneck pace.

...Just how fast are Rice's single-celled chemical factories? On a cell-per-cell basis, the bacteria produced the butanol, a biofuel that can be substituted for gasoline in most engines, about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism.

"That's really not even a fair comparison because the other organisms used an expensive, enriched feedstock, and we used the cheapest thing you can imagine, just glucose and mineral salts," said Ramon Gonzalez, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice and lead co-author of the Nature study. _Physorg
Abstract from Nature

In other bioenergy news, the US DOE has released an updated Billion Ton report on biomass production for fuels. The updated report reaffirms the potential to replace up to 30% (or more) of the US petroleum consumption, using energy and fuels from biomass. The report also describes the best environmental approaches to biomass energy production, which could result in environmental benefits overall.

Once a bioenergy infrastructure has been built, it will be possible for the machinery of bioenergy to run on its own produced energy and fuels.

Microbes such as E. Coli tend to continue dividing as long as conditions allow them to do so. If you think of microbes as reproducing factories of high value products, you may begin to realise that as long as you feed them, provide the proper environment, and carry away their waste -- high value chemicals and fuels -- these little factories will keep producing.

Biomass itself will soon be the cheapest source for sugars, to feed the microbial factories. Other biomass will be used to produce chemicals and fuels via thermochemical methods. Some will be torrefied and mixed with coal, or gasified and the syngas burned with natural gas or by itself -- to produce combined heat and power.

The bottom line is that no scientist, engineer, or agriculturalist has any idea how much biomass the Earth can produce, when given the chance. Micro and macro algae appear to be the highest yielding crops -- capable of growing on over 80% of the planet's surface. But high yielding terrestrial biomass crops are being cooked up every day, along with the means of turning the biomass into sugars. And the microbes -- the microbes are getting a lot more sophisticated in terms of synthesis speed and yields.

As long as we understand that all of these converging efforts are in the pipeline, and should not be expected to replace petroleum right away, things will come together in time.

In the meantime we are floating in hydrocarbons. Time to get away from the dieoff.orgiasts and the carbon hysterics and set to work building a civilisation that feels at home in the larger universe.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dynamic Fuels Plant Produces 5.4 Million Gallons of Synthetic Fuel in July 2011

Dynamic Fuels LLC is a 50/50 joint venture of Syntroleum and Tyson. Unlike the ethanol and biodiesel industries, which use food ingredients such as corn and soybean oil to produce fuel, Dynamic Fuels uses non-food-grade animal fats and greases.

...To date, the Geismar plant has manufactured renewable diesel with a cloud point as low as minus-26 degrees Fahrenheit and cetane as high as 88, more than twice that of the ASTM petroleum diesel specification. The facility’s renewable diesel fuel product meets all ASTM D975 specifications for diesel fuel.

Gary Roth, chief executive officer of Syntroleum, said, “Our U.S. plant is producing some of the highest quality diesel fuel in the world, and best of all, it is renewable with a carbon footprint 75 percent below that of petroleum diesel. We can also make renewable, high value specialty distillate products that can be used in a wide variety of applications such as dry cleaning, ink cartridges and drilling fluids, and we are actively pursuing these markets.” _ReliablePlant

Turkey king Tyson Foods is helping to turn tonnes of waste chicken, beef, pork, and turkey fat into a better diesel than most oil refineries produce. 5.4 million gallons of high quality synthetic fuels were produced last month, with the potential to produce roughly 7.5 million barrels a month from the one plant.
Syntroleum Corporation reported that the Dynamic Fuels plant in Geismar—its 50/50 joint venture with Tyson Foods (earlier post)—produced 5.4 million gallons (20.4 million liters) of drop-in synthetic fuel in July, a production level representing 87% of the plant’s design capacity.

The 5.4 million level implies an annual run rate of 65 million gallons per year, Syntroleum noted. The Geismar Plant was designed to produce 75 million gallons per year and the plant has demonstrated production rates of 120% of its design basis.

We have focused 100% of our energy since last October on bringing our first of a kind advanced biofuels plant up to commercial production rates. Now that we have accomplished this, we intend to focus our efforts on optimizing the plant’s performance enabling us to produce more and more of the drop-in renewable fuels needed to meet the growing demand for biofuels.
—Gary Roth, CEO

...Syntroleum Corporation owns the Syntroleum Process for Fischer-Tropsch (FT) conversion of synthesis gas derived from biomass, coal, natural gas and other carbon-based feedstocks into liquid hydrocarbons, the Synfining Process for upgrading FT liquid hydrocarbons into middle distillate products such as synthetic diesel and jet fuels, and the Bio-Synfining technology for converting animal fat and vegetable oil feedstocks into middle distillate products such as renewable diesel and jet fuel using inedible fats and greases as feedstock. _GCC
The venture has lost money during the ramping up phase, of course. But as production approaches 100% -- and perhaps 120% -- of designed capacity for the one plant in Geismar, Louisiana, the profit picture should improve. Tyson is also hoping for more government subsidies such as the renewable diesel tax credit which expired in December, 2009. But if Tyson cannot make a profit without government handouts, perhaps it should stick to its core business and let others take over the synthetic fuels line.

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