Monday, February 28, 2011

What Good is an Atmospheric CO2 Vacuum Cleaner?

Carbon dioxide is commonly used as a raw material for production of various chemicals; as a working material in fire extinguishing systems; for carbonation of soft drinks; for freezing of food products such as poultry, meats, vegetables and fruit; for chilling of meats prior to grinding; for refrigeration and maintenance of ideal atmospheric conditions during transportation of food products to market; for enhancement of oil recovery from oil wells; and for treatment of alkaline water. _CO2

CO2 is a valuable industrial chemical, with many valuable uses. Carbon dioxide is extracted economically from many industrial processes, for purposes of re-use. One important future use of industrial CO2 will be for algae food. Well-fed algae can be used to make chemicals, foods, fuels, and dozens of other products.

Industry is developing better means to grow and separate algae, and to extract algal oil from algae, once the algae have turned the tasty CO2 into oils:
The Diversified Technologies' PEF Pre-Treatment of Algae for Oil Extraction Process applies 10-30 kV/cm electric pulses for 2 to 20 microseconds to an algal slurry which rupture the cell walls to release biodiesel compounds such as methyl hexadecanoate. The firm estimates this low energy process of lysing algae cells would account for about $0.10/gal. of the price of algae-derived biofuel compared to $1.75/gal. for conventional drying.

In-line and fully scalable to high production volumes, the Diversified Technologies' PEF Pre-Treatment of Algae for Oil Extraction Process consists of a chamber where the algal slurry is pumped into and treated along with a rack housing a power supply and pulse modulator. The pulsed electric field process has been proven in food disinfection and wastewater processing, where it has been in commercial use for several years. _Diversified_via_BD
Of course it is more economical to vacuum CO2 out of industrial gas effluent than to extract CO2 from the atmosphere -- which is only 0.04% CO2!

Plants have been extracting CO2 from the atmosphere for hundreds of millions of years, and believe me, they like as much CO2 as they can get! Improved methods for turning plant biomass into fuels is one way humans can indirectly take advantage of atmospheric CO2 -- and re-cycle their own industrial CO2 production.

Carbon hysterics are people who panic at the thought of the least little bit of CO2 in the atmosphere. Despite the best scientific evidence pointing toward natural chaotic cycles of climate occurring for the past billions of years, carbon hysterics worry that CO2 will destroy the planet. Of course if you have become an extremist carbon hysteric -- as many employees of the new NASA have become -- you may go so far as to propose a nuclear war in order to neutralise the effect of 0.04% CO2 in the atmosphere!

A nuclear war to combat "global warming?" With all the famine, disease, death, and revolution which that would bring, perhaps that is what leftist faux environmentalists have been talking about when they discuss the great dieoff.orgy? It may be the only way that the lefty-Luddite predictions of doom can be brought to pass. And I always thought lefty faux enviros where anti-nuclear!

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41st Carnival of Nuclear Energy: Thanks, CoolHandNuke!

Cool Hand Nuke is hosting the 41st Blog Carnival of Nuclear Energy. Here are a few excerpts:
We'll begin this Carnival over at Fuel Cycle Week, where Dan Yurman asks if NNSA can deliver reliable fuel services from its $4.6 billion MOX plant?  Three utilities are interested, but production may fall short of demand.

The "when" is the schedule of reactor fuel outages for each customer. These schedules line up with the regularity, and inflexibility, of planets in their annual orbits around the sun.

Who will be accountable for reliable fuel services may turn out to be as important an issue for MOX fuel as the capability to use it in the first place.

Next Big Future

Next we stop by Next Big Future for a Three-pack of posts beginning with China and Japan's plans for thorium reactors. China is funded. Plus addressing the issue of reactor startup. China can make a fairly fast transition and startup using plutonium which is not a constraint for them.  

Then he takes up for a look at the NRC certification and licensing of reactor designs. It appears that the NRC takes 7-20+ years to certify a design and many designs never make it past pre-application. Historically there have been many other non PWR and LWR reactor designs that were in pre-application but none have made it to formal certification since 1974.   And he ends with Cameco's uranium forecast to 2015.

Nuclear Green

Now we move over to Nuclear Green where we have a two-pack of posts beginning with the recent Chinese announcement of an intent to begin development of a thorium Breeding Molten Salt Reactor, which has drawn attention to the treatment of the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) by the American Mainstream Media.  In contrast the LFTR has received recognition in the British press and in American Social Media.  

_Go to CoolHandNuke for the rest of the Carnival
Nuclear energy is a catch-phrase which covers a wide range of technologies. Taken together, these technologies represent the best hope for the development of an advanced civilisations of humans which spans the solar system in a prosperous, clean, and responsible manner.

The energy starvation policies of the US Obama government, and the carbon hysteria policies of the EU, the UN's IPCC, the US EPA, faux environmental groups such as Greenpeace, and other regressive institutions represent one of the foremost obstacles to a better future for all species of the planet.


Bill Gates Backs the Traveling Wave Reactor from TerraPower

Mr. Gates got the project rolling with seed money in the tens of millions of dollars. Venture-capital firms Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures invested $35 million last year. Nuclear-industry veteran John Gilleland is TerraPower's chief executive; a network of part-time researchers and scientists around the country offer input. _WSJ
The Traveling Wave Reactor is designed to run for decades, using depleted uranium as fuel. With such reactors, Iran would have no need for its elaborate and expensive uranium enrichment facilities -- at least if all Iran wishes to do is to produce electricity from nuclear fission power plants.

Obama's NRC is unlikely to certify such a design for many years -- if ever. The NRC as it currently exists is conservative to the point of being fanatically obstructive to newer, safer, more economical and sustainable nuclear power designs. Only big players who have established an inside political position with the Obama administration -- such as General Electric -- need apply.
The traveling-wave reactor is still virtual, existing only in software on computers at TerraPower headquarters. Mr. Myrhvold says there is a basic design, not a full blueprint. But it's enough for the next step: building a test version of the reactor. TerraPower is looking for a customer, such as an electric utility, and a country that is willing to house an experimental reactor.

The company has made pitches in France and Japan, Mr. Myrhvold says; both have big nuclear-power industries. He's also made the rounds in Russia, China and India, he says. So far, there have been no takers.

One country he is certain won't be a customer anytime soon is the U.S., which doesn't yet have a certification process for reactors like TerraPower's. It would likely be a decade or more before the reactor could be tested on U.S. soil. "I don't think the U.S. has the willpower or desire to build new kinds of nuclear reactors," Mr. Myrhvold says. "Right now there's a long, drawn-out process." _WSJ

The current US government -- at least the executive, regulatory branch -- is antagonistic toward any type of energy which is reliable and affordable. Which means that only exorbitantly expensive and unreliable wind and solar are actually favoured within the inner circle of the Obama administration.

That is an unfortunate attitude for any government to take, in the face of a potential multi-decadal global cooling spell. How much worse when such a government is the executive branch of the world's only superpower. The coming days and years may not only be cold and dark, but downright unruly.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Synthetic Biology and the Future

Synthetic biology is one of the six world-changing basic sciences chosen by an expert panel at the US Department of Defense. Other than advanced cognitive science, it is difficult to conceive of any other science or technology which could have greater impact on the human future than synthetic biology.

Jay Keasling wants to use synth-bio to create jet fuel and diesel.

Here is a brief primer on synthetic biology, and a look at the quest for a "genetic transistor."

Here is a look at another ultra-rich investor (besides Khosla) who is investing big in synthetic biology.

A quick look at one of the powerful new tools of synthetic biology.

The sophisticated genetic modification of microbes, plants, and animals is likely to lead to a number of dramatic disruptive products and technologies -- going far beyond alleviating any conceivable fuel shortage.

While the bulk of energy journalists, pundits, and economists seem to be whining and obsessing over a temporary political peak oil accompanying political unrest in third world MENA countries, smarter people are looking past the insignificant speed bumpts toward longer term goals and technologies.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nuclear News and Views

South Korea is entering the small modular reactor (SMR) field with its new SMART line of mini-reactors. (via Energy Tribune)

Russia is driving ahead with its Gen-IV fast neutron reactors (FNRs). The FNRs are designed to burn fertile U238, which is available in nature in much higher quantities than naturally fissile U235.

Thorium cycle nuclear reactors are another unconventional approach to fission which hold a lot of promise. Thorium232 is fertile, and is converted to fissile U233 by neutron bombardment by a starter fuel, or perhaps eventually by a spallation neutron source -- in a sub-critical reactor.

Time magazine looks at Obama's NRC and the logjam it is putting in front of innovative nuclear companies such as Hyperion.

More on Obama's NRC bottleneck here

Brian Wang looks at several new developments in nuclear energy.

Japan's Chubu Electric Power Co. is planning a new 3 to 4 GW nuclear plant

French nuclear companies to collaborate in development of new SMRs

Advanced nuclear fission holds the promise for clean, sustainable power for many thousands of years. If humans cannot perfect unlimited fusion power over that time span, then it is clear that the destiny of humans was always to swing from trees like the monkeys.


Friday, February 25, 2011

"Gasland" Is a Fraud; The Promise of Shale Gas is Real

In the US, unconventional gas is providing a much needed energy boost. Over the next 20 years, shale gas is destined to grow from 15% of US gas production to roughly 50% of production.

Contrary to the blatant falsehoods (PDF) displayed in the Oscar-nominated "documentary" Gasland, production of shale gas is as clean or cleaner than production of any other type of non-nuclear energy or fuel.
Extent of Marcellus Shale Resource

Several nations in Europe are growing more interested in their own shale oil resource, and are beginning to drill test wells.
In countries like Britain, Germany and Poland, exploratory drilling is under way, or about to begin, as engineers try to determine how much shale gas is present and how easy it will be to retrieve. New technologies for extracting natural gas from stone have raised worries about contamination of drinking water while also driving a huge drilling expansion in the United States, helping push prices down by two thirds since 2008 and reducing dependence on imports.

Shale gas production accounted for 14 percent of U.S. natural gas production in 2009 and is expected to reach 45 percent by 2035, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates.

“It was an amazing story in the U.S., this very rapid increase in the availability of shale gas,” said Paul Stevens, senior research fellow for energy at Chatham House, a London research institute. European exploration has big potential too, he added... _NYT

More on Marcellus Shale -- just one of several huge US gas deposits, now available for production thanks to improved drilling technologies.

Faux environmentalists inside and outside of the Obama regime have sworn to shut down US energy production -- including shale gas -- no matter what it takes. The Obama agenda of "energy starvation" shines through in the regime's offshore oil de facto drilling moratorium, in the shutting down of coal mines and coal power plants, in the attempts to shut down Canadian oil sands imports, in behind-the-scenes moves to shut down US shale gas, and in the Obama Nuclear Regulatory Commission's blatant dragging of its feet on new nuclear designs and plants. The EPA's decision to regulate CO2 -- a keystone to the chain of life on Earth -- as a "dangerous pollutant" is a clear indication that Obama's interests are not dictated by the welfare of humans in the US or anywhere on Earth.

More: From Master Resource, here are some maps for the three main types of unconventional gas resource for the US.

More from Master Resource here and here. Methane is a compound found on other planets and moons in significant quantities in the outer solar system. It has also been found to be generated in Earth's mantle abiotically. Vast quantities of methane clathrates exist beneath seafloors and in arctic regions. It is unlikely that humans will ever come close to running out of methane -- particularly when it is so easily produced via anaerobic digestion of waste biomass.

We must have fossil fuel resources such as oil, gas, coal, oil sands, etc. in order to give us time to move to more sustainable energy sources such as advanced fission, fusion, enhanced geothermal, advanced biofuels and bioenergy, orbital solar, and perhaps low energy nuclear reaction reactors.

From an earlier Al Fin article

It is clear that the faux environmentalist lefty-Luddite greens of the dieoff.orgy persuasion, will do whatever they can to shut down viable energy resources. They are incapable of modifying or altering their own internal dreams of global doom and dieoff. Persons so deeply steeped in doom are unlikely to grow beyond their programmed indoctrination. But the rest of us can move on -- as long as we take the necessary precautions.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ratio of Oil Price to Natural Gas Price Skyrockets

Image via Bespoke

Whenever the price of oil diverges from the price of natural gas, opportunities for profit emerge.
With the price of natural gas remaining below $4 even as NYMEX crude is rising above $100 per barrel, the ratio of the price of oil to natural gas is currently right near record highs. Prior to the last five years, large spikes in this ratio were usually a sign that the price of oil had gotten ahead of itself. However, in recent years the historical relationship has become unhinged due to large discoveries of natural gas reserves in the United States. Given the fact that natural gas is harder to transport, there is less of a market for US supplies outside of the country.

The big question with the ever increasing ratio between oil and natural gas is why more hasn't been done to exploit the discrepancy. It's now been nearly three years to the day since oil first spiked above $100 per barrel. Since then we have heard incessant talk and catchphrases about how the US needed to become more energy independent and create alternative domestic sources of energy. What's been missing in all this talk, however, is meaningful action on the part of policy makers, corporations or automakers to create alternative uses for all this excess fuel, which is practically burning a hole in the nation's pocket. _SeekingAlpha
The smart approach would be to push gas-to-liquids technologies and liquefied natural gas export terminals. But the Obama regime is instead working on ways to shut down the unconventional gas wealth of the US. How stupid is that?

International oil prices are being buffeted by political unrest across MENA (middle east and north africa). This is best viewed as a temporary phenomenon, just one of many possible manifestations of "political peak oil." In other words, it is one type of price bubble. Many opportunists of questionable ethics are using this bubble to drum up business. Sensationalising the situation, they attempt to create a virtual catastrophe in the minds of the public.

But more intelligent people can see through the flack to the truth beyond: the oil is still there, the gas is still there, the coal is still there, the uranium is still there, geothermal resources are still there. The only problem of any consequence is the political obstructionism, corruption, and incompetence which impedes the clean, cheap, and abundant use of energy resources.

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Off-Grid Local Power Generation Using Wastewater & Other Waste

Pilus Energy is converging digester, fermenter, scrubber, and other time-proven technologies into a single solution we call an electrogenic bioreactor (EBR). This transformative technology is the basis of the Pilus Cell™. The EBR harnesses genetically enhanced bacteria and harvests the direct current (DC) electricity, economically important biogases like hydrogen, isoprene, and methane from bacterial metabolism (cellular respiration) of organic molecules. _Pilus

Pilus Energy of Ohio is partnering with Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies of Singapore to provide a sustainable self-contained waste-to-electric power generation platform.
Ohio-based Pilus Energy has announced a strategic relationship with Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies in Singapore, to combine Horizon hydrogen fuel cells with Pilus Energy’s renewable hydrogen production platform.

The partnership will integrate Horizon’s PEM fuel cells with Pilus Energy's platform for renewable hydrogen production, to provide a unique turnkey, end-to-end solution to generate clean power at low cost.

Distributed or localized production of hydrogen can reduce reliance on external hydrogen supplies, and opens up the opportunity for self-sustainable power systems in remote, off-grid locations. Using waste or wastewater as feedstock for distributed bio-hydrogen production also offers a carbon-free solution for both urban and remote environments. _RenewableEnergyFocus

This combination of microbial hydrogen-from-waste plus fuel cell power generation, should allow for sustained power generation without need for relying on an outside source of fuel.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amyris Scale-Up of Farnesene from Cane Fermentation Proceeding

25Feb2011 More: This is a good example of a high-value chemical use for the following technology, providing early profits to finance development of more high volume products such as biofuels:
Amyris Inc. made an agreement with Swiss company Givaudan to develop an ingredient for perfumes.

Givaudan is based in Vernier, Switzerland. It will use Amyris’ product “Biofene” (farnesene) for perfume products that could be created as early as 2012. _bizjournals
Amyris' farnesene can be channeled into dozens of different product lines.
“The ability to modify microbes [means] we can be the Microsoft of fuels and chemicals, where we are in effect writing the software that goes into the fermentation tank,” he says. “That, to me, was game changing.” Melo directed the company to work on diesel, the world’s most widely used transportation fuel and one that is often in short supply. Producing the right type of molecule proved surprisingly easy. Within six weeks, the scientists had switched a single enzyme in their artemisinin producing bugs and begun producing farnesene, the oil they had identified as a potential precursor to diesel.

“They look like very different projects—one is a medicine and one is a fuel—but the metabolic route is similar,” Collier says. “That was the big advance of Amyris.” Farnesene is a pleasantsmelling oil that accounts in part for the odor of apple skins. By performing one additional chemical step, hydrogenation, Amyris can turn the yeast-produced farnesene into farnesane, a highly combustible fuel with properties similar to those of diesel. _TechnologyReview
Through different finishing steps, we can turn farnesene into a renewable diesel, a surfactant used in soaps and shampoos, a cream used in lotions, a number of lubricants, or a variety of other useful chemicals. _Amyris

Amyris Biotech is an Emeryville, California, synthetic biology company founded by Berkeley's Jay Keasling. The company was founded with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce synthetic artemisinin -- a powerful drug used to treat malaria and other deadly diseases.

Amyris scientists discovered that they could also ferment farnesene -- a synthetic diesel precursor -- with minimal changes to the yeast fermentation platform. Farnesene has many uses in multiple industries, besides being easily converted to a synthetic diesel.

Amyris has close ties to the Brazilian sugar cane industry, and is proceeding on schedule to scale-up its farnesene fermentation process in order to reach commercial scales and economies of production. The latest news from Amyris is that it has achieved multiple successful fermentation runs of its farnesene-producing yeast, in fermentors of both 100,000 and 200,000 litre sizes.
Amyris, Inc., a renewable hydrocarbons company, announced that it has completed multiple runs of its fermentation process using its engineered yeast to produce Biofene, Amyris renewable farnesene, in 100,000 and 200,000 liter capacity fermentors. These runs were completed through contract manufacturing operations in North America and Europe. The results of these fermentation runs, including yields, were consistent with previous runs at smaller scale.

...Amyris expects to commence commercial production of Biofene in the second quarter of 2011 and ramp production through manufacturing arrangements with entities including Biomin and Tate & Lyle. In addition, Amyris and Grupo São Martinho, a leading sugar and ethanol producer in Brazil, have commenced site preparation on their joint venture production facility at Usina São Martinho. All of these facilities will utilize fermentors with capacities ranging between 100,000 and 600,000 liters. _GCC
More on the Amyris project:
Nine years ago, Amyris’s technology was still a bench project in Keasling’s Berkeley laboratory. Researchers had been looking at ways to coax microörganisms to produce commercially useful products. By adding DNA from plants and bacteria, Keasling’s lab eventually designed new bacteria and yeast cells that could make large quantities of sopentenyl pyrophosphate. With its five carbon atoms, the chemical is a sort of Lego block of the natural world; from it, plants and animals build isoprenoids, members of a large class of molecules that includes the anticancer drug taxol, vitamin E, and scents such as those of grapefruit and the pheromones of female cockroaches.

Keasling knew the invention was valuable, and in 2001 he filed the first patent application of his career. “We wanted to apply the tools to a real problem,” he says. The chance came in 2004, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to donate $42.6 million to a project that would manufacture the antimalaria drug artemisinin with the aid of Keasling’s made-to-order microbes.

Artemisinin is currently derived from the sweet wormwood plant, grown mostly in Africa and Asia. Supply of the drug is unsteady, and prices swing wildly; they reached $1,100 a kilogram in 2006. By using genetically modified yeast to produce it from sugar, Keasling’s approach promised to solve the supply problem and dramatically cut the price. With its chance of saving thousands—perhaps millions—of people who might otherwise die of malaria, the project has become a symbol of synthetic biology’s potential to change the world for the better. The Gates money paid for the rapid expansion of Amyris, which Keasling and three of his postdocs founded to carry out the malaria project. By late 2005, says Amyris’s chief technical officer, Neil Renninger, some at the company were spending “nights and weekends” thinking about what other problems their technology could solve.

Amyris estimates that the isoprenoid family includes some 50,000 different types of molecules, so it was far from clear where to focus next. “When we began pitching the VCs, we said there are some drugs we think are interesting, and nutraceuticals, and even fuels—what do you think?” recalls Renninger. But it was hard to find a project as meaningful to Amyris’s scientists as malaria. “This was really a culture of people that want to save lives and not make a lot of money,” he says. “So when you throw making grapefruit flavor in front of them—well, it’s not too interesting.” _TechnologyReview
Our intention is to create a new “fene economy,” in which farnesene serves as the base chemical building block for a wide range of renewable products to replace existing products that are derived from petroleum, plant or animal sources and that may be of lower quality or higher price. We have entered into an agreement and non-binding letters of intent with Brazilian sugar and ethanol producers which provide us with access to approximately 12 million tons of sugarcane crush capacity annually. As of the first quarter of 2010, this capacity represented approximately 10% of the total crush capacity of these sugar and ethanol producers. We believe that if we are successful in converting these arrangements into operating bolt-on production facilities and if we continue to execute successfully on our research and development and commercialization programs, we will have the development capability and production and distribution relationships necessary to achieve approximately 600 million liters of farnesene production and high value product sales annually. However, achieving this volume of production and sales will require us to achieve a substantially higher level of production process efficiencies than we have to date. _Source
The only news being reported here, is that Amyris continues to progress in its scaleup of farnesene fermentation production. The larger picture clearly demonstrates that there are many paths to biofuels -- beyond ethanol from maize or cane.

Sooner or later, cellulosic sugars will become more affordable than sugars from food crops. When that happens, entire food and agricultural enterprises may well be overturned. Try to keep an eye on this development if you are invested in food or agriculture -- or biofuels.

Before you blame biofuels for high costs of food, it might be better to keep in mind the multitude of other factors which go into the pricing of food, besides one sliver of demand for a few crops. Crop poduction is flexible -- weather permitting -- but oil prices and capricious government policies in both emerging and advanced countries can important factors. Of course, a more proximate cause of food shortages in third world countries is the actual governments of those same third world countries, and their generally corrupt and counter-productive policies.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Nuclear Fuel Was Meant to be Recycled: What's Wrong With the NRC?


Failure to pursue a program for recycling spent nuclear fuel has put the U.S. far behind other countries. It represents a missed opportunity to enhance the nation's energy security and influence other countries.

These themes are the heart of a talk by Dale Klein, Ph.D., (left) the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) given Sunday, Feb 20 at a session of the AAAS annual meeting being held in Washington, DC.

Dale Klein, who is now Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Texas System, said largely unfounded concerns and "long-held myths" about the reprocessing of spent fuel have prevented the U.S. from tapping into an extremely valuable resource.

Spent nuclear fuel, which includes some plutonium, often is inaccurately referred to as waste, Klein said.

"It is not waste," he said. "The waste is in our failure to tap into this valuable and abundant domestic source of clean energy in a systematic way. That's something we can ill-afford to do." _More at EnergyCollective

The US NRC is basically slow about everything it does. Consequently, the US is thrown to the back of the pack, in terms of new nuclear development. For that to change, the entire political makeup of the US NRC must be overthrown.
...a lengthy trial and approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is required before MOX [Mixed Oxide Fuel] can be used as routine in a commercial US reactor. _WorldNuclearNews
More on nuclear fuel recycling:
The first step in recycling fuel is separating the plutonium from the remaining uranium (about 96% of the spent fuel) and the fission products with other wastes (together about 3%). Then the plutonium needs to be separated from most or all of the uranium. All this is undertaken at a reprocessing plant.

The plutonium, as an oxide, is then mixed with depleted uranium left over from an enrichment plant to form fresh mixed oxide fuel (MOX, which is UO2+PuO2). MOX fuel, consisting of about 7-9% plutonium mixed with depleted uranium, is equivalent to uranium oxide fuel enriched to about 4.5% 235U, assuming that the plutonium has about two-thirds fissile isotopes. If weapons-grade plutonium were used (>90% 239Pu), only about 5% plutonium would be needed in the mix.

Plutonium from reprocessed UO2 fuel is usually fabricated into MOX as soon as possible to avoid problems with the decay of short-lived plutonium isotopes. In particular, 241Pu (half-life 14 years) decays to americium-241 (241Am), a strong gamma ray emitter, giving rise to a potential occupational health hazard if separated plutonium over five years old is used in a normal MOX plant. The 241Am level in stored plutonium increases about 0.5% per year, with corresponding decrease in fissile value of the plutonium. 238Pu (half-life 88 years) is increased in high-burnup fuel. It is a strong alpha ray emitter and a source of spontaneous neutrons. 239Pu, 240Pu and 242Pu are long-lived and hence little-changed with prolonged storage. (see also paper on plutonium)

Reprocessing of 850 tonnes of French used fuel per year (about 15 years after discharge) produces 8.5 tonnes of plutonium (immediately recycled as 100 tonnes of MOX) and 810 tonnes of reprocessed uranium (RepU). Of this about two thirds is converted into stable oxide form for storage. One third of the RepU is re-enriched and EdF has demonstrated its use in 900 MWe power reactors.

Fast neutron reactors allow multiple recyclings of plutonium, since all transuranic isotopes there are fissionable, but in thermal reactors isotopic degradation limits the plutonium recycling potential and most spent MOX fuel is stored pending the deployment of more effective fast reactors. The plutonium isotopic composition of used MOX fuel at 45 GWd/tU burnup is about 37% 239Pu, 32% 240Pu, 16% 241Pu, 12% 242Pu and 4% 238Pu.

In 2007 EdF said that the plutonium stored at La Hague from reprocessing could provide the start-up fuel for seven Generation IV fast reactors, with 15 tonnes for each (the French inventory of separated plutonium at the end of 2006 was 49 tonnes, Russia had 41 tonnes). _EOEarth
France, Russia, and the UK are storing fuel in preparation for newer Gen-IV reactors which can utilise it.

Another problem spot for the US NRC is its inability to study safer, cheaper, more reliable reactor designs without charging companies exorbitantly extortionate fees for the service. It looks as if even tiny Jamaica may approve and utilise new small modular reactors (SMRs) before the US gets around to it.
SMRs operating costs (O&M+fuel) are estimated at around US 2¢/kWh and the capacity factor is more than 90 per cent. Estimated total project costs (TPC) is expected to vary between US$3,000/kW and US$6,000/kW (about US 11¢/kWh and US 15¢/kWh). The electricity production from SMRs would qualify for carbon credits, varying between US 2¢/kWh and 5¢/kWh (assuming the carbon tax/trading at US$16 to US$36 per tonne).

The SMRs have opened up real options for the SIDS to generate cheaper electric power over the medium to longer term and should be considered Jamaica's long-term energy security. However, before proceeding with the selection of nuclear technology, there is a long list of issues from IAEA that must be addressed. It is likely that Jamaica can commission its first nuclear plant in the 2020s. The recommendations from the minister's Task Force on Nuclear Energy (which was chaired by Professor Lalor) should be considered by the Cabinet to include nuclear energy into Jamaica's long-term energy-supply mix. _ Jamaica Gleaner
Of course the current Obama regime policy of "energy starvation" will last years beyond the exit of Obama from the White House. That is the way of bureaucratic inertia and an innate Luddism within large bureaucracies. So by the time all the Obama-Green detritus and leavings are cleaned out and sanitised it may be decades before SMRs are widely adopted in the US.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Partial List of Approaches to Advanced Biofuels

Race to the Pump ACS

Therecent ACS story, Race to the Pump, was linked here earlier in passing, but it deserves a longer look. The story features many of the most prominent scientists and investors in the advanced biofuels race, providing some interesting perspectives.
“Because the energy industry is so large, there is room for everybody to play, as long as you can meet the economics,” says Jay D. Keasling, a synthetic biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is the great thing about this problem. Chemical technologies can be engineered to happen more quickly. It does take a long time to engineer the biology. But the beauty of biology is that it can work under dirtier conditions, and you can get the specific molecule you want under a range of conditions.”

...“Chemical approaches offer plenty of advantages,” says Mark Mascal, a chemistry professor at UC Davis whose group is working on several biofuel projects. “Generally, if you have an inexpensive catalyst and a fast method, a chemical approach can be more cost-effective and doesn’t take a few days or a week the way most fermentation processes do,” he notes. “A consistent feedstock isn’t needed as is the case with microbes in sugar fermentation—you can use anything as long as it has sugar or cellulose in it.”

...Another primary chemical pathway to biofuels is pyrolysis. On this front, George W. Huber and his group at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have developed a continuous catalytic pyrolysis method that directly converts raw biomass such as wood chips into gasoline-range compounds. Huber is a former graduate student of Dumesic’s at Wisconsin and part of the team that developed some of Virent’s technology.

...A handful of companies are already zeroing in on commercial biofuels produced by microbes. For example, Gevo, based in Englewood, Colo., uses an engineered microbe to produce 2-methylpropanol, known in the industry as isobutanol, which can be used as a gasoline blend stock or dehydrated to isobutylene and then converted into octane, aromatics, and other gasoline ingredients. The technology is based on research by James C. Liao and coworkers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

...As biofuel technologies proliferate, start-ups and investors must decide which ones are technically and economically feasible on a commercial scale. Decision making typically has focused on how to convert the biomass, but it should be refocused on which raw material should be used, argues Bruce E. Dale, a chemical engineer at Michigan State University and a lead scientist at DOE’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, one of JBEI’s two sister centers.

...Another factor in decision making is the logistics of biomass availability, transport, and storage. To be commercially viable, a gasification plant would require up to about 15,000 tons of biomass per day, Dale says, whereas a fermentation facility would need about 5,000 tons per day and a pyrolysis facility would need about 2,000 tons per day. To win, companies must work out a long-term, reliable feedstock supply, as well as a partner who will take their fuel, Dale says.

...Khosla thinks that biofuels are one of the most interesting areas in the energy marketplace. That’s because, unlike electric cars, biofuels will be affordable most everywhere. Still, perhaps only half a dozen or so biofuel approaches will win, he said.

For example, biodiesel from palm oil might be a good idea, Khosla noted. But it may well disappoint investors because it’s just an incremental improvement and unlikely to come out on top. “Other people are trying to make magic work where it hasn’t worked before, such as using algae to make fuel,” he added. “I’ve looked at two dozen business plans, and I haven’t found one where the economics will work.”

Khosla instead has his bets on Gevo, LS9, and Amyris. That’s because all three companies have innovative biofuel technologies that they can also use to make high-margin chemical products, thereby reducing risk.

...UMass’s Huber thinks pyrolysis will be a big winner, with different technologies for making gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel. Acid hydrolysis or enzymatic methods will be too expensive on a large scale, Huber believes. “The enzymes cost too much, and fermentation is very slow. If you use acids, then you have to pay to dispose of the acid or you have to try to recycle the acid.”

...“When the smoke clears, I think there will be a few technologies left standing,” Mascal agrees. “They will be the ones that can be done cheaply and in which feedstock supplies and their transportation aren’t an issue, capital and operating expenses aren’t prohibitive, and you get a product with a ready or emerging market. The more esoteric methods will be history in the literature.

“But scientists and engineers, or the federal government for that matter, don’t need to pick winners or losers,” Mascal continues. “The market does that itself, and science does that itself. We recognize when one method is much better than another; that’s a type of natural selection.”

“We spent decades getting petroleum-based fuels up to the volumes that we are producing now,” Keasling notes. “With new biofuel technologies, we can’t expect that to happen overnight. But in the next couple of years, we are going to see some of these advanced fuels on the market. From there it will continue to grow. But we’ve got to give it time.” _ACS
There is much more at the article above. As a quick executive summary, this ACS article is probably the best starting point for understanding where advanced biofuels currently stand, generally.

Professor James Clark of the University of York, is taking an interesting approach to extracting high value products from biomass. He is using super-critical CO2 to extract high value waxy products from the biomass, then proceeding to use microwave pyrolysis to produce pyrolysis gas, liquids, and solids.

We are approaching prime maple syrup time in North America, and it is good to remember all the different ways that nature has evolved to produce high energy chemicals -- including sugars. With the help of humans, nature is just getting started in the quest to ever higher energy crops.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

ANS Nuclear Cafe Hosts Carnival of Nuclear Energy # 40

The Carnival of Nuclear Energy has now reached the 40 edition point. ANS Nuclear Cafe has the latest. Here are some excerpts:

Thorium fueled reactors generate interest

Nuclear Green – Rising interest in thorium fueled reactors

Full-size thorium fuel assembly for a 1000 MWe Russian VVER-1000 nuclear power plant

Now that China has announced interest in developing innovative thorium fueled reactor designs, a lot of people are paying attention.

Despite [the Chinese announcement of LFTR development plans] not making a ripple in the wider press, there’s a chance this development could be very significant. If the advocates of LFTRs are proved correct – and their arguments are certainly very compelling – then the Chinese could be taking one of the first substantial steps in a new type of nuclear race.

And the stakes are high: as [Kirk] Sorensen reports, the project “aims not only to develop the technology but to secure intellectual property rights to its implementation”. It will be very interesting to see what happens next.

Oil company business model v. nuclear energy

Atomic Insights – embargo oil business model

The Atomic Insights blog has been covering the business competition between oil, gas, and nuclear energy.  This week it takes on the oil company business model exploring reasons why it is low on innovation and yet high on profits.

ANS launches India Section

Reprocessing spent fuel

Recovering uranium and plutonium from spent fuel can power a nation’s factories and cities.  We recycle aluminum, glass, and paper so why not spent fuel. The logic appears to escape some in the U.K. and elsewhere

Canadian Energy Issues

Get ready for a righteous fight over plutonium in the UK. The coalition government has launched consultations on the question of whether to recycle it in power reactors, or entrain the stuff permanently in glass logs and dispose of it, or just keep it in long term storage.

Expect the professional environmental lobby—with the full support of the professional anti-proliferation lobby—to oppose recycling, and to back up that opposition with reasoning that is either weak or outright contradictory.

Brave New Climate – Safeguarding the nuclear fuel cycle

The purpose of this post is to compare the safeguards challenges presented by two nuclear recycle approaches, relative to the current U. S. approach of a once-through fuel cycle.  If these nuclear fuel cycles are evaluated solely on the basis of the safeguards needed, one finds the following:

PUREX recycle offers no safeguarding advantage over the once-through fuel cycle.  Beyond that, this approach presents a significant concern over handling of separated plutonium in the power plant environment.  Since chemically pure Pu is inherent in the PUREX process, safeguards inspections must be highly intrusive.

Adding recycling fast reactors with pyroprocessing (“PYRO”) to an existing fleet of LWRs absorbs all of the plutonium produced by LWRs.  There will be no inventories of plutonium other than what is in active use. PYRO is a new class of facility requiring safeguards, but batch-process inventory controls, coupled with a simple mechanical layout, will make the inspectors’ job more straightforward than for a PUREX facility.

The facility for recovering usable material from used LWR fuel may require safeguards similar in approach to those in PUREX facilities, but no separated plutonium will be involved.  If plutonium were to be diverted from a PYRO facility or from the LWR recovery facility, it would be useless (for weapons use) without further processing in an otherwise unneeded PUREX type of facility.

Realistically, a full transition to recycling fast reactors is a process that will take decades.  However, if all the LWRs were retired and replaced with recycling fast reactors, in addition to the above advantages, there would be no further need for uranium enrichment.

Get your full gourmet meal of nuclear energy news at ANS Nuclear Cafe's 40th Carnival of Nuclear Energy, including pointed criticism of Obama's NRC, and the battle over public opinion regarding nuclear power.

Despite the many potential advantages of small modular reactors, some utilities want to stick with what they know -- coal. Unfortunately, as we learned from the recent Texas experience, power plants which rely upon day to day supply of fuel from the outside, may get frozen out.

Some scientists are predicting that low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) devices will achieve commercial success within 10 years.

The UK's Tokamak Solutions' attempt to achieve success with a spherical tokamak fusion reactor, is covered here and here.

The US government is stuck on an "energy starvation" setting for now. As long as the Obama regime chooses stagnation and stasis, it will be up to the rest of the world to take their own ideas and technologies -- plus ideas and technologies originating inside the US -- and move them forward to commercial success.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Joule Tries to Push the Photosynthetic Limit on Microbial Fuels

The graph above illustrates some of the limiting factors for production of biofuels and biomass using photosynthesis. The paper linked here provides more in-depth thinking on this topic. To achieve higher yields, it is necessary to feed much higher levels of CO2 to the bioreactors than is available in the atmosphere. Modifying the microbes to channel most of their effort toward biofuels production is required. And photon input must be maximised to provide high input energies.
Several emerging technologies are aiming to.....provide viable alternatives to fossil fuels. Direct conversion of solar energy into fungible liquid fuel is a particularly attractive option, though conversion of that energy on an industrial scale depends on the efficiency of its capture and conversion. Large-scale programs have been undertaken in the recent past that used solar energy to grow innately oil-producing algae for biomass processing to biodiesel fuel. These efforts were ultimately deemed to be uneconomical because the costs of culturing, harvesting, and processing of algal biomass were not balanced by the process efficiencies for solar photon capture and conversion. This analysis addresses solar capture and conversion efficiencies and introduces a unique systems approach, enabled by advances in strain engineering, photobioreactor design, and a process that contradicts prejudicial opinions about the viability of industrial photosynthesis. We calculate efficiencies for this direct, continuous solar process based on common boundary conditions, empirical measurements and validated assumptions wherein genetically engineered cyanobacteria convert industrially sourced, high-concentration CO2 into secreted, fungible hydrocarbon products in a continuous process. These innovations are projected to operate at areal productivities far exceeding those based on accumulation and refining of plant or algal biomass or on prior assumptions of photosynthetic productivity. This concept, currently enabled for production of ethanol and alkane diesel fuel molecules, and operating at pilot scale, establishes a new paradigm for high productivity manufacturing of nonfossil-derived fuels and chemicals. _Robertson, Jacobson et al
ImageSource Springerlink
Joule claims the ability to produce up to 15,000 gallons of advanced biofuel per acre, using its modified cyanobacteria in "Helioculture" bioreactors. The research paper describing the researchers' thinking, published in Photosynthesis Research.
The approach described in the paper linked above and below allows for a more comprehensive look at the requirements for a high-yield system of production of biofuels using photosynthetic organisms.
Not all photons that enter a reactor are available for conversion. For instance, it may be too costly to maintain the reactor in a condition in which it can convert every photon, such as early in the morning and late in the day when solar radiation is very diffuse. Likewise, depending on how the reactor temperature is maintained, the organisms may not be at optimal production temperature early in the morning. In addition, at very high intensity levels, the organisms may not be able to convert all of the photons. Based on models that integrate solar and meteorological data with a thermal and production model, we estimate that about 15% of the incoming photons will not be available for conversion for the direct case. We assign a comparable loss to the algal open pond.

The main fractional loss in photosynthetic conversion results from energy-driven metabolism. Because the photosynthetic process is ultimately exothermic, the available energy contained in the product formed by metabolism is a fraction of that contained in the incoming photons. The remaining energy is dissipated as heat into the culture. For the production of alkane, we calculated that ~12 photons are required to reduce each molecule of CO2. Assuming an average PAR photon energy of 226 kJ/mol and a heating value of 47.2 MJ/kg for alkane, the photosynthetic conversion efficiency is about 25% (equivalent to a loss of 74.8%). For the simpler triglyceride, we assume only eight photons are required to reduce each molecule of CO2, but that the product consists of half triglyceride (heating value ≈37 kJ/kg) and half simple biomass (heating value ≈15.6 kJ/kg), resulting in a photosynthetic conversion efficiency of about 29.8%. This value for algal open ponds is considered to be very conservative, with the actual value likely a few percent lower. Finally, for the theoretical maximum, we use the value computed in Zhu et al. (2008) for a maximum photosynthetic efficiency of 29.1% (obtained by combining the loss for photochemical inefficiency and carbohydrate synthesis). _Source
Brian Wang also looks at this paper.

There is no easy way to produce high yield advanced biofuels -- else it would have been accomplished decades ago. The density of sunlight and available CO2 -- as well as selfish microbes who only think about themselves -- present significant obstacles. And yet the prize for success is so great, that billions of US$ are being funneled into the attempt, and dozens of top notch research teams are devoting their time toward the goal.

Forget about peak oil. If you want to see peak energy for Earth, look at the sun and the planetary core, and at the nuclear energy of the atom. Better yet, expand your horizon to take in the enetire solar system. If you're smart, you are only at the beginning.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Failure of Wind Power


Wind power in northern New Brunswick has been shut down for weeks due to freezing cold. Just when the people of the province most need the power from the expensive turbines, they are frozen solid!
FREDERICTON — A $200-million wind farm in northern New Brunswick is frozen solid, cutting off a potential supply of renewable energy for NB Power.

The 25-kilometre stretch of wind turbines, located 70 kilometres northwest of Bathurst, N.B. has been completely shutdown for several weeks due to heavy ice covering the blades...GDF SUEZ Energy, the company that owns and operates the site, is working to return the windmills to working order, a spokeswoman says.

...Wintery conditions also temporarily shutdown the site last winter, just months after its completion. Some or all of the turbines were offline for several days, with "particularly severe icing" blamed.

The accumulated ice alters the aerodynamics of the blades, rendering them ineffective as airfoils. The added weight further immobilizes the structures.

Vitek says workers are trying to find a way to prevent ice buildup from occurring again in the future. The shutdown has not had any effect on employment at the site, which provides 12 permanent jobs. _GlobalMontreal.com_via_WUWT
Obama's regime -- and faux environmentalists around the globe -- have been gung ho over big wind power farms for years now. And every time anyone takes a close look at the economics and the details of wind energy, they come back to the same fact -- wind doesn't work.
The operating characteristics of turbine and generator mean that only a small part of wind energy can be captured.

Wind power is also intermittent, unreliable and hard to predict. Therefore large backup or storage systems are required. This adds to the capital and operating costs and increases the instability of the network. Wind farms are uniformly hated by neighbours and will not be willingly accepted without heavy compensation payments. Their noise, flicker, fire risk and disturbing effect on domestic and wild animals are well documented.

The wind is free but wind power is far from it. Its cost is far above all conventional methods of generating electricity. Either taxpayers or consumers will pay this bill.

...Electric generators achieve maximum efficiency at their design capacity. This is planned to suit the "average" wind speed, and the generator produces maximum safe output at this speed. If the wind drops, so does the power generated. If the wind rises, the energy generated is limited to the design capacity of the generator (by varying the pitch of the blades) and at some point the generator is shut down to prevent burnout. So the generator cuts off all the high-energy infrequent wind, in order to capture the maximum energy from the winds expected by the turbine designers at that location. These unavoidable operating characteristics of the turbine also reduce the power generated.

...Wind energy promoters usually quote the maximum attainable output as the capacity of the wind farm. This is the maximum power that could be produced if ideal winds blew all the time at all turbines (the 100% level in the figure above). However, this needs to be multiplied by the "capacity factor" to get the actual power likely to be generated. Because of the variable winds and the energy unable to be captured by the generator, the capacity factor lies in the range 25% - 35%. However it can be much lower. UK offshore wind rarely exceeds 20%.

In summary, wind power is very dilute and it takes a huge area of land to collect significant quantities of energy. Then vagaries of the wind mean that only a small proportion of the wind energy can be captured by the blades. Then only a proportion of this energy is converted by the electrical generator into electrical energy.

...In the recent frigid snap in Britain end 2011, when power demand was at a record high, the average power generation from Britain’s wind developments – the majority of which are in Scotland – was just about 11% of the total possible of 2,430 MW. On 30 Dec 2010 UK's 3,000 operational wind turbines produced only 0.04% of the country’s power. There were days when the contribution from Scotland's forests of wind turbines was precisely nothing. At times it was even worse than that. As the temperature fell to record lows, the wind turbines had to be heated to prevent them seizing up. So, at a time when all Britain needed every bit of power, the wind industry was using more electricity than it generated.

...Depending on the vagaries of the weather, wind power produces anything from zero to 100% of design capacity. This change can come in a short time and affect large areas of land. Therefore, to maintain grid stability and the ability to supply customer demand for continuous electricity, every wind farm has to have a backup generating facility for 100% of the wind capacity, and this backup must be able to swing into production immediately.

It is even worse than that. Suppose a wind farm is producing an average of 50 MW, but varying from zero to 100 MW. The backup has to be able to handle both changes, namely a drop of 50 MW and an increase of 50 MW. So basically, you have to have 100 MW capacity on spinning reserve, but running at 50% so that you can increase or decrease power by 50 MW. So the backup facility has to have TWICE the real rated capacity of the wind farm. Imagine what this does to the capital, operating and maintenance costs if the power company is forced to include wind power in its inventory.

Only hydro power and gas have the ability to sit idle until needed and then swing into production swiftly. Coal and nuclear could do it but at great cost – all fired up, idling, using fuel, but not producing saleable electricity. Even for gas or hydro, a backup facility incurs the full additional capital cost which has to be recovered from a lower output of electricity. Any sensible person would say "If we have to spend all that capital to build a gas/hydro power plant, why not use the reliable plant full time and forget about the costly, intermittent and un-predictable power from wind towers?"

The unreliable Danish wind farms only survive because they call on hydro power from Norway and Sweden to step in at short notice when wind fails. Then they sell excess wind power produced at times of low demand back into the Scandinavian grid.

...A wind tower is a massive industrial plant. Each turbine requires a foundation of almost 1,500 tonnes of concrete and a base of about 5 acres. Each structure stands nearly 200 metres tall and they could be as close as 140 metres apart. UK has a plan to generate 30% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. For wind power to do this would require about 15,700 wind towers. At 140 metres apart, they would stretch from the north of Scotland to the south of Spain.

...And it is unsafe anywhere near them. Lumps of ice, burning embers, and broken blades get slung off and towers collapse. In one case, a broken blade was flung through the window of a house over 5 km away.

...Danish electricity consumers pay higher prices than any other Europeans. And well before they could repay the initial capital, the wind towers are reaching the end of their life and will need to be replaced. Not one coal power plant has been replaced by wind power. It is doubtful if all this community pain and suffering has reduced carbon dioxide emissions. It has certainly caused no measurable improvement to global climate and has brought great environmental damage and human worry. The sorry story of wind power in Denmark is mirrored in Spain, Hawaii and California.

... _Why Wind Won't Work PDF_ via_ WattsupWithThat?!?!

If you want to understand the modern clusterfuck of big wind power, read the PDF document linked above, together with John Droz' presentation on wind power, Ted Rockwell's Energy Facts PDF, and David MacKay's Without Hot Air.

Such documents changed the minds of Al Fin energy analysts about big wind, as you will see if you go back far enough in the archives. Al Fin engineers particularly hate the idea of placing fine machines out in the elements to be tortured and destroyed long before their time. This has been particularly true of offshore wind installations, where fine turbines and gearboxes are exposed to salty spray, wind, and the constant inertial stresses of wind, wave, and storm.

Clearly President Obama and former Vice President Albert Gore are both world class dunces, besides both having won the Nobel Peace Prize. They are also corrupt, team-playing dunces who will end up personally benefiting in the hundreds of millions of US$, at the least, for their destructive influence on economies, energy supplies, and R&D budgets.

Portions of the above article was published earlier at Al Fin


JBEI and Amyris Take Biotica's Polyketides and Run With Them

Cambridge, UK based Biotica is a medical therapeutics development company specialising in novel polyketide therapeutics. Coincidentally, some of the same processes which Biotica uses to develop powerful new drugs against serious diseases, can also be used to produce advanced biofuels. Emeryville, California's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), along with JBEI's East Bay neighbor Amyris Inc., are very interested in developing workable methods for the bio-engineering of polyketides into abundant and economical advanced biofuels.

Here is a look at what JBEI is trying to do with polyketides:
environmentally friendly alternatives, a diversity of advanced biofuels, feedstocks, and methods for producing them must be studied and optimized. To this end, Jay Keasling, Leonard Katz, and colleagues at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) are using synthetic biology to engineer polyketide synthases (PKSs) that can be used to produce carboxylic acids and lactones for biofuel production. (Carboxylic acids can easily be converted to an ester biofuel.) Other laboratories have modified the same type of enzymes for the manufacture of pharmaceutical and agricultural products but the JBEI team is the first to design PKSs to synthesize biofuels or their immediate precursors.

Some of the longer-chain esters that can be produced by the JBEI PKSs could be used in biodiesel blends. The shorter chain esters and the lactones could be used as petroleum additives or in non-hydrophilic, advanced biofuel blends that are compatible with the current fuel infrastructure. Because the JBEI process allows controlled engineering, ester linkages can be placed so that combustion properties of the resulting biofuel are enhanced.

DNA that encodes the engineered enzymes can be introduced into a variety of host organisms capable of fermenting sugars derived from the deconstruction of biomass. The JBEI PKSs can produce the carboxylic acids or lactones in cells or in a cell extract where all the necessary starting materials are present.
Amyris obtained the license from Biotica, and given its location adjacent to JBEI, the two organisations will be conveniently placed to collaborate on this project.

In other news, Chromatim's hybrid sorghums compares well to other sorghums in terms of yield, sugar content, and overall energy content.

Illinois researchers predict that in order to produce a billion metric tons a year of biomass in 2030, the price for the biomass will need to be around US$140 a ton, in 2007 dollars. The prediction is connected to the goal of replacing 30% of petroleum liquid fuels by the year 2030, and is based on the expectation that high-yield grasses such as miscanthus will be widely grown by that time.

What the Illinois researchers fail to realise is that by the year 2030, biomass productivity will be much higher than is currently envisioned. Even so, at the rate that the Obama dollar is inflating, the prices predicted may prove accurate using 2012 dollars.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Race to Make Biomass More Productive and Useful

Brian Westenhaus looks at the economics of biomass-to-fuels, and finds that current yields per acre for available biomass crops is not high enough to motivate farmers to sign on. Even with the simple genetic tricks which are coming along now, it's very tough to squeeze enough biomass out of an acre to make it profitable for farmers.

A lot of projects are attempting to improve the productivity picture, including Chromatin's sorghum project, the Giant King Grass enterprise, the Shell and Codexis collaboration, the long line of Ceres grass products, and more.

With so much riding on the biological end run around liquid fossil fuels, researchers and technologists understand that they need to get it right. In the case of biofuels, there are many interlocking things which must be gotten right.
“We all know how to get from the beginning to the end and make biofuels—we’ve all done it,” says James A. Dumesic, a chemical engineer at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “What you would like to do is put raw biomass in one end and get a ready-to-use fuel out the other end, using as few steps and engineering unit operations as possible. Now, we are to try to get the costs down so it can be affordable. The winning processes, whatever they will be, will need to be as light as possible on the capital investment in order to be practical. Everyone is looking to develop processes that can compete without subsidies.”

“Because the energy industry is so large, there is room for everybody to play, as long as you can meet the economics,” says Jay D. Keasling, a synthetic biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is the great thing about this problem. Chemical technologies can be engineered to happen more quickly. It does take a long time to engineer the biology. But the beauty of biology is that it can work under dirtier conditions, and you can get the specific molecule you want under a range of conditions.”

Synthetic biology seemed to have the early edge in the race to the pump. But despite success in ethanol production, synthetic biology’s limitations—the primary products are alcohols, not alkanes typical of transportation fuels, and fermentation processes are slow—have stalled progress. That has created an opening for chemical technologies.

“Chemical approaches offer plenty of advantages,” says Mark Mascal, a chemistry professor at UC Davis whose group is working on several biofuel projects. “Generally, if you have an inexpensive catalyst and a fast method, a chemical approach can be more cost-effective and doesn’t take a few days or a week the way most fermentation processes do,” he notes. “A consistent feedstock isn’t needed as is the case with microbes in sugar fermentation—you can use anything as long as it has sugar or cellulose in it.” _ACS
This is what Al Fin energy analysts have been saying for years now. In the long run, genetic engineering along with microbial fuels will carry the day. But in the short and medium terms, thermochemical approaches can pick up the ball and run, as long as they've got plenty of reliable sources for the biomass.

The advantage of gasification and pyrolysis is that the entire plant is used -- not just an oil seed or a grain, as in maize or soy. With low-lignin biomass, more of the plant can be converted into sugars and fermented.

The economic potential for cellulosic sugars -- above and beyond biofuels -- has barely been considered by most analysts. But a few smart operators are beginning to anticipate what is happening there.

The potential for converting biomass into fuels, chemical feedstocks, high value chemicals and feeds, etc. is exciting. There will be many opportunities for the growth of large new enterprises at all levels and most global locations.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Westinghouse Joins the Small Modular Reactor Chase

Westinghouse is introducing a 200MWe pressurised water reactor based on the AP1000 reactor design. The entry of Westinghouse into the SMR race should spice things up a bit.
The Westinghouse SMR is a 200 MWe class, integral pressurized water reactor with all primary components located inside the reactor vessel. Passive safety systems and proven components – realized in the industry-leading AP1000® reactor design – are incorporated throughout to achieve the highest levels of safety and to reduce the number of components required. The Westinghouse SMR is fueled by an adaptation of our Westinghouse fuel design, the industry’s most proven and widely-used fuel design. It also leverages the latest U.S.
NRC-licensed safety and security features.

Small-scale nuclear reactors offer alternatives for providing affordable, secure sources of emissions-free generation to the world’s rapidly changing and diverse markets. _Westinghouse
It is clever of Westinghouse to utilise components from its larger reactor which is already NRC approved.

It has not escaped notice that Obama's Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is not treating all reactors and companies the same. General Electric, with its close ties to top levels of the Obama administration, is being treated particularly well by Obama's NRC, for example.

As far as SMRs go, the Obama administration is trying to have things both ways. By pretending to support SMRs, but in in his actions (not his words) helping to provide support to enemies of all reliable power sources -- including nuclear power. Obama's NRC is not helping the situation with its foot-dragging.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Dutch have suffered a rare stroke of enhanced awareness of reality, by turning away from the wind/solar rat-hole, toward a more reliable nuclear power future.

Finally, if nuclear fission is to make best use of available fuel, countries will need to develop useful fuel re-processing facilities. Wise fuel design & re-processing, plus rational reactor design, could easily provide many thousands of years of abundant power and heat to the planet.


US Potential for Geothermal Power 32 Million Times Higher than Present!

USGS estimates 500,000 MWe of EGS geothermal resource potential lies beneath the western United States. This is approximately half of the current installed electric power generating capacity in the United States.
EERE PDF Enhanced Geo Basics

The US could be producing 32 million times more geothermal electrical power than it does at present.
The U.S. produces more than 100,000 gigawatt-hours per year of geothermal electricity already, but it could produce as much as 3.2 trillion gigawatt-hours.

...the Earth's heat never stops—meaning a geothermal power plant can produce electricity as regularly as a nuclear power plant can. And it also has nearly no emissions of the greenhouse gases causing climate change. _SciAm

Geothermal power plants are currently located in areas with natural hot springs and geysers, such as this planned 15MW plant in the US state Nevada.
Enhanced geothermal will be a whole new ballgame. That is where the lion's share of geothermal power can be tapped, but it will require expensive deep drilling technology which has not yet been perfected for this purpose. It will also require new forms of ultra-deep fraccing of hot rock, to enhance deep crustal heat exchange for energy extraction.

The hazard of earthquate-triggering is routinely hyped and inflated, as is natural whenever a genuinely revolutionary energy technology is considered. But deep geothermal drilling cannot create new seismic faults where none exist, nor will the technology increase tension on pre-existing faults. Enhanced geothermal can either drill in seismically active -- or seismically inactive regions. In the inactive regions, there is no problem. For seismically active locations, the technology of enhanced geothermal is more likely to prevent large earthquakes, by facilitating smaller tension-relieving quakes.

The potential is certainly there. But the technology and the economics needs to catch up to the potential. That will take time and investment. By transferring all investment away from wasteful and ineffectual wind and solar, over to technologies with solid 24 hour / 365 day baseload potential, society would be taking a big step forward.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Is the Obama Regime in Danger of Running Out of Energy?

Is the Obama administration giving the "kiss of death" to small modular reactors (SMRs)? It looks as if the regime is pretending to support SMRs while behind the scenes it is boosting the organisations who oppose them -- and all nuclear reactors. Certainly Greg Jaczko _-- Obama's chief of the NRC -- seems to want to regulate SMRs the same way as large 1 - 1.5 GW reactors are regulated. That is total idiocy, of course, but it is the bureaucratic mindset.

Nations such as Japan issue nuclear-power permits within six years while the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission may take at least 10 years, Upton, a Michigan Republican, said today in Washington. Lawmakers will examine the time required to approve new U.S. plants, Upton said.

“If you can shorten the time, you’re going to reduce the costs perhaps in the billions of dollars per reactor,” Upton said in an interview. “That’s a good thing.”

The House committee, which has jurisdiction for energy legislation, plans to tackle individual issues such as faster nuclear-plant licensing rather than seeking to pass “1,000-page bills” that are more comprehensive, he said. _Bloomberg

On every front, US President Obama seems to oppose all forms of reliable energy production. His EPA is trying to find ways to shut down unconventional oil & gas production, his Interior Deparment has already effectively shut down new offshore oil & gas production, his administration wants to shut down coal plants and mines, and to stop importing Canadian oil sands -- all out of carbon hysteria. Perhaps worst of all, Obama's NRC has been dragging its feed on safer, more reliable, and cheaper new nuclear reactor designs. Obama wants the US to rely on unreliable forms of energy such as solar and wind -- guaranteeing future blackouts and freeze-outs which are likely to cost lives.

Texas has already suffered rolling blackouts due to over-investment in wind [and the UK has suffered power "reductions" -- also see comment by Weekend Yachtsman. AF], and under-investment in nuclear. As Obama pushes the US into fool-hardy forms of energy dependency, expect things to only get worse. The US is long overdue for a return to more reliable forms of energy.
To say the U.S. has a lot of catching up to do in the nuclear power race doesn't come close to the reality. Consider these statistics, based on Nuclear Energy Agency data: France gets 77% of its electricity from nuclear plants; Sweden, 42%; Switzerland, 39%; South Korea, 37%; and Finland, 30%. The U.S.? A mere 20%.

...If the U.S. chooses to not reprocess nuclear waste, Nevada's Yucca Mountain (or some other storage facility at an out-of-the-way site to be named later) could be pressed into use. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a proponent of green and renewable energy, has often noted the odd U.S. stance regarding nuclear power compared to our democratic cousins in France. The U.S. is too afraid to store nuclear waste in the middle of the desert at Yucca Mountain while French mayors campaign to have nuclear reactors built in their towns to create jobs.

...One out-of-date argument against nuclear power concerns its cost, but new, refined nuclear plants based on simple modular designs have eliminated that concern, The Economist magazine reported. Further, modularity allows plant builders to incrementally add power generation if electricity demand increases. Modularity, with its smaller initial construction costs, also shortens the break-even timetable for utilities. seems almost implausible -- indeed, irrational -- that technology and innovation powerhouse U.S. would pioneer a revolutionary technology like nuclear power and then walk away from it when it's refined, leaving other nations to apply it to their social, economic and environmental benefit.

France, China, and the U.K., among others, recognize that nuclear power represents a win-win on climate change and self-sufficiency grounds. It's time the U.S. realized it as well, and started making up for decades of lost time -- and energy. _DailyFinance
In reality, nuclear alone cannot prevent a new dark age. It will most definitely require clean coal, unconventional and conventional gas, offshore and unconventional oil, Canadian oil sands, Green River kerogens, plus biofuels and nuclear energy. Enhanced geothermal could provide excellent power as well.

Obama -- for all his hatred of European "imperialism" against the third world -- seems to want to ape a lot of Europe's policies. This is unfortunate, since most of the policies Obama wishes to imitate, lead only to financial and societal ruin. Go figure.

Perhaps it is time that enlightened individuals around the world began to learn how to do things for themselves -- learn to bypass corrupt governments and their autocratic, irrationally arbitrary ways of inaction in the face of critical need.

Obama is not the only president who has neglected this problem -- but his policies of "energy starvation" are particularly egregious in terms of trying to shut down and delay all reliable forms of energy, while promoting decidedly unreliable forms such as solar and wind.

Adapted from an article at Al Fin blog

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Biomass to Gasoline at Costs of $1.95 / Gallon?


The US DOE National Renewable Energy Lab is reporting that a biomass-to-gasoline process utilising gasification with methanol as an intermediate, could be as economical as current bio-ethanol production.
A new report from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) concludes that gasoline produced via the methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) route (earlier post) using syngas from a 2,000 dry metric tonne/day (2,205 US ton/day) biomass-fed facility could have a plant gate price (PGP) of $1.95/gallon US ($0.52/liter).

This is a gallon ethanol equivalent on an energy basis (gee) price of $1.39/gallon ($0.37/liter). (Gasoline has a higher energy content than ethanol.) In comparison, based on analysis work completed at NREL, the predicted PGP for ethanol produced via the thermochemical and biochemical pathways are $1.57 per gallon ($0.41 per liter) and $1.49 per gallon ($0.39 per liter), respectively.

...the results from this preliminary evaluation indicate great potential for producing gasoline from biomass via thermochemical biomass conversion to syngas and the MTG process, and thus warrant a more detailed study. Future work areas of interest include obtaining better process information on the MTG section of the plant, especially equipment and operating costs; increasing the heat integration throughout the process; scale-up of the MTG fluidized bed reactor; testing the MTG reactor and catalyst with methanol from biomass-derived syngas; testing of the MTG fluidized bed reactor at higher pressure; and evaluating the possibility of selling raw MTG gasoline and refining it in an existing refinery.

—Phillips et al.
_More at GCC with links

The reason that Al Fin Energy puts so much focus on liquid biofuels, is because renewable liquid fuels will eventually place a price ceiling on petroleum fuels. Biomass to liquids (BTL) is a renewable process which can continue as long as the sun shines and biomass is produced. The greatest threat to BTLs is a new ice age. The greatest promise for BTLs is a warming climate, with higher temperatures and CO2 levels.

It is important for forward looking individuals to understand how much profit to expect from investments in expensive fossil fuel ventures, before a dropping price ceiling makes them unprofitable. Peak oil doomer nonsense -- and associated expectations of eternal profits from petroleum and fossil fuels -- will only break your bank.

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