Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Europe Turns Away from Nuclear, Asia Embraces It

Germany has panicked and is running away from nuclear power like a frightened child.

Switzerland appears to be joining Germany in its flight from the future.

Europe's reflexive reaction stands in stark contrast to Asian countries' embrace of nuclear power. By the time Europe emerges from its green narcotic trance, it will be desperate to buy Asian-made nuclear reactors and Asian-produced nuclear fuels at any price it can scratch out.

Idaho Samizdat hosts the 54th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Excerpt:
ANS Nuclear Cafe
Dr. Ulrich Decher analyzes wind, solar, and hydro in the Pacific Northwest and California and asks: What is the “good thing” of having so much wind on the Bonneville Power Administration grid? What will be the outcome of California's renewable energy portfolio goal given the intermittency of wind power?

More on Asian nuclear renaissance:
•China’s nuclear build programme is huge – has the potential to shape world nuclear industry for many decades

•Russia internal build of VVER designs will build credibility for export market

•India’s potential buy of imported LWR designs may change the competitive picture, if EPR, ESBWR, or ABWR (or all of these) get orders

•As new nuclear countries make selections, the aggregate world league table will be important

– countries will look for proven designs with real experience and low costs
– will seek a range of support from vendors (government vendors have edge)

Kee also noted that South Korea, China and India were all planning to sell reactors on the global market. Asian reactors cost less than European or American reactors with the Korean APR-1400 costing only 40% of the cost of the French EPR. _NBF
The Anglospheric nations now have a choice of whether to panic like Europe, or to pursue safer, cheaper, more scalable nuclear reactors which are less prone to risk from proliferation, nuclear wastes, or terror attack.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Synthetic Fuels from CO by Tweaking Molybdenum Nitrogenase

Nitrogenase enzymes allow living organisms to convert atmospheric N2 to organic nitrogen, for growth, development, and metabolism. But Utah State University researchers have discovered that by tweaking molybdenum nitrogenease -- substituting an alanine or glycine in place of the normal valine in a particular position -- the resulting enzyme can do a lot more than convert N2.
...when the nitrogenase MoFe protein α-70Val residue is substituted by alanine or glycine, the resulting variant proteins will catalyze the reduction and coupling of CO to form methane (CH4), ethane (C2H6), ethylene (C2H4), propene (C3H6), and propane (C3H8).

The rates and ratios of hydrocarbon production from CO can be adjusted by changing the flux of electrons through nitrogenase, by substitution of other amino acids located near FeMo-cofactor, or by changing the partial pressure of CO. Increasing the partial pressure of CO shifted the product ratio in favor of the longer chain alkanes and alkenes. _Journal of Biological Chemistry _ via _USU PDF

It is unlikely that the yields are particularly high at this point -- and organic enzymes may well prove too delicate for high volume industrial synthesis of fuels from syngas-derived CO. In that case, biomimetic nano-catalysts are likely to be crafted which can take over for the nitrogenase enzyme.

More from USU:
While studying bacterial enzymes, known as nitrogenases, used in nitrogen reduction, Utah State University biochemists Zhi-Yong Yang and Lance Seefeldt, along with colleague Dennis Dean of Virginia Tech, discovered a molybdenum nitrogenase capable of converting carbon monoxide into usable hydrocarbons. The reaction is similar, they say, to FT synthesis.

“This is pretty profound,” says Seefeldt, professor in USU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Understanding this process paves the way for developing better ways of converting carbon monoxide, a toxic waste product of combustion, into transportation fuel and precursors for plastics — without the time and energy required for conventional extraction of fossil fuels.”

The scientists’ findings appear in the article “Molybdenum Nitrogenase Catalyzes the Reduction and Coupling of CO to Form Hydrocarbons,” in the June 3, 2011 issue (and May 27 online issue) of Journal of Biological Chemistry. The paper was selected as “Paper of the Week” by the journal’s editorial board, an honor bestowed on the top one percent of more than 6,600 manuscripts reviewed annually by the publication’s editors. In the “Paper of the Week” feature, Yang, a doctoral candidate mentored by Seefeldt, is highlighted as an up-and-coming researcher. _USU

Of course if the researchers focused on creating better nitrogenases for converting atmospheric N2 to organic nitrogen, the revolutionary impact on human society would be just as great as discovering a breakthrough in synthetic fuels production.

It is likely that both breakthroughs will be made in time, built upon the crucial work being done at USU and other labs around the world. If so, better nitrogenases will contribute to abundant food AND abundant fuel.

H/T GreenCarCongress

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Comparing Different Methods for Electrical Energy Storage

Images via ESA (ht NBF)

The Electricity Storage Association provides a useful comparison for different methods for electrical energy storage (via Brian Wang). One significant omission from the list is "Cryonic Energy Storage," which may prove to be the best of the current crop of contenders for now, until "flow batteries" are perfected.
Large -scale stationary applications of electric energy storage can be divided in three major functional categories:

Power Quality. Stored energy, in these applications, is only applied for seconds or less, as needed, to assure continuity of quality power.

Bridging Power. Stored energy, in these applications, is used for seconds to minutes to assure continuity of service when switching from one source of energy generation to another.

Energy Management. Storage media, in these applications, is used to decouple the timing of generation and consumption of electric energy. A typical application is load leveling, which involves the charging of storage when energy cost is low and utilization as needed. This would also enable consumers to be grid-independent for many hours.

Although some storage technologies can function in all application ranges, most options would not be economical to be applied in all three functional categories.

... _ESA

More graphic comparisons from ESA below:

Read the entire ESA comparison sheet for more information.

Cryonic energy storage has far more potential than compressed air storage, given the phase change energies involved.

Among electric battery storage methods, flow cell batteries are most scalable and versatile in application. Newer approaches to flow cells using more viscous electrolyte media should allow the technology to be used in vehicular power storage applications.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Do We Really Want to Consume All of These Geo-Hydrocarbons?

The doomsayers of the 1970s thought we would have run out of oil by now because they compared knowledge about the state of supply then with rates of consumption then, and concluded that those available supplies would soon be exhausted. But we have consumed 40 more years’ worth of oil since then and yet find ourselves with more reserves than we believed we had in 1970.

That is possible because the supply of oil isn’t only what is in the earth’s crust. Supply is also determined by the application of human intelligence to the problem of finding the oil we need. Today’s extra reserves are not due chiefly to discoveries of new deposits, but from wringing more supply from already known reserves through enhanced recovery techniques.

...We are nowhere near to running out of natural resources. Human creativity and financial resources together will ensure a continued supply of all the resources we need. The exact form those resources will take cannot be known today, however. It relies on future innovations, which are, by their nature, unpredictable because they will be the fruit of our imagination and curiosity. That is why the human mind is the greatest natural resource of all. _FP
IEA 2008 Taken from CSIRO 2011 (PDF)

It is only a matter of time before fuels produced from agricultural, forestry, municipal waste, marine biomass, and microbial production become cost competitive with geo-hydrocarbons. Since such renewable fuels can be produced virtually anywhere on the inhabited parts of the planet, once the infrastructure is in place to produce economically competitive renewable liquid fuels, the need for geo-hydrocarbons is likely to shrink steadily, for all parts of the world except for those regions capable of very cheap production of geo-hydrocarbons.
From Data in Rogner 1997 (PDF) via GWPF
Likewise, for electricity production, the development of advanced fission reactors which are safer, cleaner, cheaper, more scalable in production, less prone to proliferation and storage hazards, and capable of burning fuel much more thoroughly -- these newer reactors will make the use of coal, gas, and oil for power production virtually obsolete except for areas rich in geo-hydrocarbons which are unable to afford or operate nuclear reactors. If scalable fusion and LENR reactors become workable, the obsolescence of hydrocarbons for production of heat and power should be that much more complete.

The quantities of geo-hydrocarbon pictured in the graphs above are almost certainly gross underestimates -- and it is likely that to some extent "wet gas" is produced on a quasi-renewable basis deep in the crust or in the upper mantle of the planet. Some of that gas may even migrate to upper levels to become economically recoverable. And some of those "renewable" short-chain geo-hycrocarbons may be converted by bacteria into a crude oil, deep in the crust. If so, estimates of Earth's geo-hydrocarbon complement are hugely underestimated by virtually every published source.
CSIRO_2011 (PDF)

We can find clean and affordable ways to use most of these geo-hydrocarbons, certainly. But the plain truth is that we should not have to. We are developing enough alternatives so that we will not require these resources, most of which should remain in place for the time should humans ever go back to a more primitive, more Luddist age.

Substituting renewable synthetic liquid fuels for conventional transportation fuels, and nuclear powered electricity and heat for power from coal and gas, will allow for a relatively smooth transition from geo-hydrocarbons to fuels and energy that will take us at least to the next millenium.

And if we ever do need the geo-hydrocarbons? There will be more in place then, than there were 200 years ago.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fueling Aviation with Biomass and Other Renewable Feedstocks

More: A 100 page PDF roadmap to aviation biofuels from CSIRO for Australia & New Zealand

A new report from Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest touts the ability of the US Northwest region to supply significant quantities of feedstock for sustainable aviation fuels -- via multiple methods of synthesis. PDF Executive Summary of Report
Noting that no single feedstock or technology pathway is likely to provide sustainable aviation fuel at the scale or speed needed to achieve industry goals, the report focuses on a portfolio of options, including different conversion technologies and sources of potentially sustainable biomass, including oilseeds, forest residues, solid waste, and algae.

...SAFN focused on two primary conversion technologies for use with the four feedstocks:

Hydroprocessing. Established hydroprocessing technologies to produce aviation fuels from natural oils. ASTM approval for an aviation fuel using up to a 50% biofuel blend is anticipated later this year. This provides a near-term opportunity to create Northwest supply chains for sustainable aviation fuels utilizing oils from oilseed crops such as camelina, as well as algae and biomass.

Lignocellulosic biomass processing. Emerging technologies that use heat, chemicals and microorganisms to process woody biomass and cellulose into fuels and chemicals. This opens the way to using forest and agricultural residue streams, as well as significant portions of municipal and industrial solid waste. One technology has received ASTM approval and others are in cue. A report chapter provides an overview of emerging technologies and ways to site demonstration facilities in the Northwest.

Full SAFN PDF report download 3.7 MB

While the above report focuses on the US Pacific Northwest, in reality other parts of the world are even more prolific producers of biomass, algae, oilseeds, or solid wastes. The tropics are a particularly promising area for feedstock production given the year-round growing climate and abundant sunlight.

As biomass to fuels technology improves and becomes more economical, expect to see and increasing number of wealthy temperate zone nations investing in bioplantations in the tropical zone. As for the politically correct connotations of "neocolonialism" which may accompany such investment in more primitive and impoverished third world nations -- it is best to get away from such blockheaded and reactionary obstacles to clear thinking.

Biofuels feedstock production may be the best fit for a sustainable and appropriate industry that the tropical third world has ever known.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Intelligent Design for Rational Nuclear Evolution

Charles S. Holden founder of Thorenco LLC working with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory physicists has proposed a small transportable 50-megawatt-thermal Thorium converter reactor for multiple uses: producing electricity (15 megawatts), burning up high-level actinides from spent fuel, and producing low-cost, high-temperature steam (or process industrial heat). This high-temperature steam can be used for extraction of oil from tar sands, or desalinating, purifying, and cracking water. The reactor’s fuel matrix can be “tuned” to provide the right output for each particular work process.

Designed by specialists, the reactor core is a squat cylinder, about 140 centimeters in diameter and 50 centimeters tall. Its size makes it portable, so that it can be brought to remote locations to work site and supply heat and electricity there without dependence on long-distance transmission lines. Its small size also allows it to be factory-built and transported to its destination, “plugged in” in a deep underground containment structure, and put to work quickly. The core can be shipped back to the factory when the fuel needs to be changed. _Thorenco
The modern world is in desperate need of a compact, scalable, portable source of reliable power. Several startups and established companies are designing small modular reactors to meet that need, but in nuclear and industrial design there is always room for improvement. The new Thorenco LLC 50 MW thermal thorium reactor answers most of the concerns which critics of nuclear power have expressed:
• Neutrons convert Fertile Thorium-232 to
fissile Uranium-233
• No Plutonium Produced
• No melt downs
• No fuel rods
• No cooling ponds
• No 10,000+ year spent fuel storage _Thorenco Presentation PDFvia NBF
More from NextBigFuture:
•10 years at 40 megawatts
•141 Kg. U-233 “burned” during decade
•More than 100 Kg. of fissile produced
•1600 kilograms of U-233 fissile load
•9000 kilograms of Th-232 fertile load
•23 Grams U-232 produced in fuel over the decade of operations
•Hexagonal Prism 160 Cm. Width and Height
•Fuel Volume 2330 Liters
•Fuel 11.65 Metric Tonnes; 1-2 Metric Tonnes Fissile in Fuel
•Coolant 93,200 Liters; 450 Tonnes
•Reflector Volume 1420 Liters 16.65 Metric Tonnes

Thorenco’s ceramic fuel is dispersed in an inert metal matrix covered by Holden’s Patent Cooperation Treaty application. This solid state metal alloy is composed of four materials. The thorium and uranium fuel particles are embedded in the alloy, which both slows and moderates the fissioning process. There are moderating materials dispersed in the alloy along with the actinide particles. Using the metallic alloys as moderators (instead of the water used in other Thorium reactor designs) allows Thorenco’s reactor to operate in a more energetic neutron spectrum so that its core can have a long life.

The self-regulating reactor is expected to operate for 10 years without needing refueling. _NBF

Not only does the small thorium reactor avoid the production of plutonium, it burns nuclear waste from conventional nuclear reactors -- without producing 10,000 years of radioactive waste products. Besides greater safety in terms of proliferation and waste products -- and in making productive use of nuclear waste from mainstream reactors -- these small modular thorium reactors can be installed in remote locations for dedicated use in mining and industrial CHP applications.

Economically, modular reactors allow much greater versatility for both utility planners and for off-grid applications. Rather than being forced to connect to the grid -- or to overdesign a grid to match large reactor outputs -- economic entities can fit the power source to the actual need.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Energy from Heat: A Variety of Options

Nuclear energy from the heat of fission: Carnival of Nuclear Energy #53 Cool Hand Nuke...Check out the latest carnival of nuclear blog news and views.

New developments in nanoantennas to harvest solar infrared radiative heat...NewEnergyandFuel

Siemens combined cycle turbine technology achieves 60% efficiency...NextBigFuture Combining gas turbines with steam turbines allows the extraction of a larger amount of the heat energy potential contained in coal, gas, biomass . . . . and even nuclear fuels in advanced high temperature gas-cooled reactor designs.

If you add thermal electric technology to combined cycle technology -- to harvest as much waste heat as possible -- you could increase overall efficiency of energy from heat.

Most contemporary energy and power comes from the use of heat energy -- either energy of combustion or energy from nuclear fission. This will be the case for many decades more -- even with the growth of fuel cells, photovoltaics, and other alternative methods of power generation. Advanced biofuels and enhanced geothermal power will continue to utilise heat power and heat engines.

As technology improves, it is crucial for society to make the best use of any energy assets which may be available, rather than to follow the Obama energy starvation approach. Energy is the life's blood of advanced societies. Any persons or groups that are dedicated to the strangulation of energy sources, are enemies of the people who are part of those societies. This is true whether the society derives most of its power from heat, or whether it uses power from matter - antimatter reactors.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Biomass on Commodity Markets? More Biomass to Chemicals

Wood fuel, one of the oldest energy sources on the planet, could become the newest commodity market if it can overcome supply limits and green concerns as demand grows for renewable energy.

...utilities are burning biomass in ever greater amounts and now want price certainty and derivatives to manage their cost exposure in forward power sales, although European policymakers are mulling limits on subsidies for burning wood fuel given concerns about deforestation.

“It’s coming very fast,” said John Bingham, a director at consultants Hawkins Wright, referring to the development of an open market, and citing Eurostat data showing EU imports of wood pellets up 42% last year.

He saw increasing evidence of a larger scale market including big producers of wood pellets in Europe and North America and big intermediaries, such as Cargill and Gazprom, to balance large utility buyers. _FP
The article quoted above is looking only at wood pellet fuels for heat and power production. But wood is not the only biomass that can be pelletised. In order for all the various types of biomass pellets, tablets, briquettes, torrefaction products etc. to be featured on commodities markets, their quality characteristics will have to be well defined and standardised.

While converting biomass into combustion fuels is relatively uncomplicated, it is not the most economical or efficient use of the biomass. Converting biomass into high value chemicals returns a higher profit, and converting biomass into transportation fuels provides access to a wider marketplace. Here is one example of how biomass-derived sugars can be converted to chemicals and fuels:
(H2PO4)2 solid acid catalyst in an isobutanol-water (1.6:1/V:V) two-phase system to convert glucose to 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF), an important green platform chemical with wide applications in the production of fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics and liquid alkanes.

Although fructose can be converted to 5-HMF with high yield via acid-catalyzed dehydration, fructose is costly.

With its low cost and wide supply, the conversion of glucose to HMF has attracted the interests of researchers. For gaining a high 5-HMF yield, the choice of catalysts is very important.
—Zhuang et al.
As better methods of converting biomass to sugars come along, the cost of sugars will drop rapidly. At that point, industrial applications for the conversion of sugars into chemicals, fuels, plastics, and more... will expand in number very quickly.
ZeaChem, Inc., has signed a long-term binding term sheet with GreenWood Tree Farm Fund (GTFF), managed by GreenWood Resources (GWR), to supply hybrid poplar woody biomass for its first commercial cellulosic biorefinery.

The combination of GTFF’s existing tree farms in close proximity to the biorefinery, GWR’s world leadership in development and management of tree plantations, and ZeaChem’s highly efficient biorefinery technology will enable the supply of low-cost fermentable sugars used in the production of advanced biofuels and bio-based chemicals for years to come, it said. _BrighterEnergy

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can 60% of India's Transport Gasoline Come from Waste Biomass?

Transforming agricultural waste into biofuel in India could meet up to 59% of the country’s demand for transport gasoline while creating up to one million jobs, according to a new study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, commissioned by enzyme company Novozymes. _GCC

It is important that societies do not push new forms of energy beyond their economic ability to support themselves. Too many mandates, rebates, taxes, regulations, punitive fees, and other top-heavy government incentives can be the "kiss of death" for any technology which is not economically ready for prime time.
India is the world’s 6th largest consumer of energy with current consumption of 17.3 billion liters (4.57 billion gallons US) per year of gasoline. Demand is expected to grow 8.5% every year till 2020. Assuming a barrel of crude oil costs US$100, India will spend US$19.4 billion on importing gasoline by 2020.

The Bloomberg study “Next-generation Ethanol: What’s in it for India’s commissioned by Novozymes was presented at event organized under the aegis of the Danish Embassy in India in cooperation with India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. According to the report, biofuels from agricultural residues are an important existing alternative to liquid fuel which is environmentally sustainable and should be pursued aggressively.

By converting agricultural residues into fuel ethanol, India has the potential to reduce its dependence on imported petroleum. What’s more interesting is that this can be achieved without changing today’s agricultural land-use patterns or cultivating new energy crops. In addition, we already have the technology ready for deployment.

—Thomas Nagy, Executive Vice President, Novozymes
While the potential is high, the report states that issues like lack of policy implementation, absence of any incentive for collection of agriculture residue (only 25% of the waste is recovered from the fields) and requisite infrastructure need to be addressed for the optimum development of India’s advanced biofuel potential. _GCC
What would it take to obtain 25% or more of a society's transport fuel from biomass? It would take a lot of biomass, for starters. More than can be obtained merely from agricultural, forestry, or municipal waste. Dedicated terrestrial and marine biomass farms growing highly prolific biomass species would be necessary.

Better methods for harvesting, drying, and concentrating the biomass near the point of growth are mandatory. In other words, integrated infrastructures for local, regional, and central processing and distribution must be constructed at significant cost -- but in a scalable and modular manner, as markets grow.

Significantly better efficiencies for converting densified biomass to refined chemicals and proto-fuels would be required. Synthetic biological entities along with advanced nano-catalytics will likely be involved in lower temperature conversion to high energy fuels.

In the intermediate processes between today's thermochemical approaches (pyrolysis, gasification, torrefaction, etc.) and tomorrow's advanced low temperature synthesis of fuels, much better management of process and waste heat will be necessary, to conserve as much energy as possible.

More efficient ways of extracting hydrogen from biomass for hydrotreatment of proto-biofuels will be useful.

Don't forget fuel cells which can use biomass and biomass by-products -- such as sugars derived from biomass -- as fuels. Such non-combustion means of utilising biomass may well improve overall efficiency of biomass use on a large scale.

Whether a society derives 10% of its transport fuels from biomass or 80%, will depend upon its land and sea resources for biomass production, as well as its innate hydrocarbon resources and its ability to pay for imported hydrocarbon fuels.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Bio-Energy Continues to Take a Backseat to Hydrocarbons

Society will require crucial transportation fuels for several more decades. Over that time period, synthetic fuels produced from renewable biomass will become more and more competitive with fuels derived from fossil fuel hydrocarbons. But for now, the infrastructure for biomass feedstock production and fuel processing is virtually nonexistent. And the economic justification for building and scaling that biomass fuels/chemicals infrastructure will require time to fall into place.
Researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology, BASF Catalyst and Golden BioMass Fuels Corporation report on their investigation of an energy balance, in broad outline, for the production of a high-quality synthetic diesel from residual crop biomass via a Fischer-Tropsch route in a paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.
The particular process explored in the paper consists of:
harvesting surplus biomass (such as crop residue);
locally pyrolyzing the biomass into pyrolysis oil (PO), char, and noncondensable gas (NCG);
transporting the PO to a remote central processing facility;
converting the PO at this facility by autothermal reforming (ATR) into synthesis gas (CO and H2); and
Fischer–Tropsch (FT) synthesis of the syngas into diesel fuel.
...The team found that the process considered, in which a portion of the char and noncondensable gas are used to supply heat to the drying and pyrolysis steps and under the assumptions made, has an energy efficiency to liquid fuel on the order of 40%—i.e., 40% of the initial energy in the biomass will be found in the final liquid fuel after subtracting out external energy supplied for complete processing, including transportation as well as material losses.

...Using the process modelled, replacing ~15% of current petroleum consumption in the United States would require the gathering of biomass from a substantial portion of the land area of the major crop-producing states...
ACS Abstract of biomass FT study

Due to the relatively low energy density of biomass, a large growing area must be devoted to producing biomass feedstock for whichever energy densification and refining process is chosen.

The study above is based upon a reasonable process, and probably represents nearly the state of the art for biomass to diesel conversion at this time. Local pyrolytic densification of biomass allows for more efficient shipping to a central gasification and F-T catalytic refinery. It would not be a bad method of producing diesel except for one thing: It is much more economical at this time to use either crude oil using conventional refineries -- or even coal or natural gas, using F-T approaches.

Fischer-Tropsch technologies are improving for the use of either gas or coal as gasification feedstocks. Here are a few items from recent F-T news stories:

Altona Energy has inked a cooperation agreement for application of Rentech's technologies in gasification of coal and biomass at its Arckaringa project located in South Australia. [Keep in mind that the biomass component would not be included except for reasons of governmental mandate, rebate, or other top-down incentive. The biomass component is not yet economic when compared to coal.]

Jacobs to Collaborate on Commercialisation of BP/Davy Fischer Tropsch

Completed semi-commercial demonstration of the low temperature Fischer-Tropsch technology at Mossel Bay gas-to-liquids plant

Oxford Catalysts Moving Toward Commercial Launch

And so on... Fischer Tropsch is an old technology which is being improved and adapted for a wide range of feedstocks and syngas mixtures. Using biomass with F-T and other thermochemical processes is necessarily a second choice, after hydrocarbons, due to the energy density factor. If governmental incentives, regulations, taxes, mandates, rebates, etc. become so topheavy as to shift the economics toward biomass, a wide range of societal and economic repercussions would necessrily follow -- not all of them ultimately for the better.

Over time, alternative means of producing scalable volumes of advanced liquid fuels from biomass are being devised. Some of these methods are likely to achieve economic competitiveness with hydrocarbons, as the incentives landscape shifts and alters. In the long run, F-T is unlikely to survive as a viable process except for production of certain high value chemicals which are difficult to produce bio-synthetically (or bio/nano-synthetically) at lower temperatures and higher efficiencies.

Liquid fuels will be important to society for some decades, and high value industrial scale chemicals will be important for much longer.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

A. Niger Is an Industrial Slave and Workhorse, Other Microbes


Aspergillus Niger (A. Niger) is a fungus that contains industrial-strength enzymes capable of transforming much of modern industry. Global markets for potential products from A. Niger are priced well into the $billions. Improved capacity for breaking down polysaccharides into simple sugars alone -- for fermentation fuels and feedstock for sugar fuel cells -- can transform much of the world economy. Microbes have been around for over 3 billion years. They are hard workers with a lot of useful tools in their toolboxes.
A. niger is an industrial workhorse, with different strains efficient in producing polysaccharide-degrading enzymes (particularly amylases, pectinases, and xylanases) or organic acids (mainly citric acid) in high amounts. (As of 2007, the global market for citric acid was estimated to be approximately $1.2 billion with more than 500,000 tons produced annually by fermentation.) The production process involving A. niger is thus a well understood fungal fermentation process. _GCC

Japanese researchers aim to use synthetic biology to re-engineer protists, fungi, algae, and more, to overturn the established energy and industrial order. These scientists at the RIKEN Institute in Japan aim to give the Venter Institute a run for its money.

Most industrial uses of microbes utilise "pure cultures" of specific strains of microbe to avoid "contamination." But symbiotic groupings of microbes in the same reactor -- as well as "staged relays" of microbes using specific sequences of feedstock treatment -- may prove to be far more productive and economic than bioreactors built around isolated, pure strains.

Interestingly, symbiotic "microbial mats" may have been the prototypes for more complexed multi-cellular animals and plants which utilise specialised tissue types. Any industrial engineers contemplating the use of microbes in his industrial processes, would do well to consider the phenomenon of microbial symbiosis.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nuclear News and Oddities

Nuclear News of note can be found at:

The 52nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy at ANS Nuclear Cafe

Brian Wang's Next Big Future Nuclear Update

Nuclear Street Nuclear Portal

Nuclear Town Hall

An interesting nuclear oddity popped up on the radar screen: An unconventional fusion researcher, Bodgan Maglich (inventor of Migma Fusion Cells), has re-emerged in connection with the recently announced Exyder Cell -- a 10" fusion neutron breeder which creates fissile Uranium 233 from fertile Thorium 232.
”India has 360,000 tons of thorium against only 45,000 tons of natural uranium… Installing one or two exyder type mini breeders to serve each nuclear power plant operating on Thorium/U-233 cycle would eventually render the power station self sufficient…” Computer simulation indicated that one Exyder module could economically produce 100grams/day, 35 kg/year of U-233, at electric energy cost of $50/Kg vs. $300/Kg for U-238. CANDU type reactor of 235 megawatt burns 10 Kg of U-233/year. “Even sub-engineering’ energy breakeven fusion systems which consume a net amount of electric energy to generate fissile U-233, can play a critical role in cutting the production cost.” _Businesswire
This use of fusion -- to create neutrons for use in breeding fissile fuel from fertile fuel -- may find common use in the future, if it is found to facilitate a more economical, safe, and sustainable nuclear fuel cycle.

Another potential approach to a safe "breeder-reactor" is the sub-critical reactor which is powered by a nuclear accelerator, and spallation neutrons. Both of these approaches (fusion-powered breeders and accelerator-powered breeders) may well also represent solutions to the nuclear storage problem and some potential proliferation problems (via re-cycling).

Thorium is more common globally than Uranium, and is distributed somewhat differently. This means that nations and regions which do not have abundant Uranium supplies, may well have plenty of thorium to fuel fission plants for hundreds of years.

Another approach to a Thorium cycle reactor, is the Molten Salt Reactor. Charles Barton at Nuclear Green covers the molten salt reactor regularly.

It is crucial to understand the energy density advantage of nuclear fuels and nuclear reactions. When one also understands the central role of abundant energy to the advancement of humans as a species and as a cosmic enterprise, one's short, intermediate, and long-term energy goals should be much clearer.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heat from Nuclear Fission and Decay: Using it More Wisely

SpaceflightNow via Brian Wang

Most electrical power is generated from heat: either combustion heat or the heat of nuclear fission and decay. I was disappointed many years ago when I first learned that nuclear power plants generate their huge production of power using primitive heat -- just like coal and gas plants. But as long as we are using heat, we may as well use it more efficiently and more ingeniously.

US NASA is proposing an advanced sterling radioisitope generator (ASRG) for powering space missions -- because the sterling engine provides greater efficiency for the limited amount of fuel allowed on weight-sensitive space missions.
...each ASRG creates between 130 and 140 watts of electricity with 1 kilogram, or about 2.2 pounds, of plutonium-238. More than four times more plutonium would be required to generate the same power in an existing RTG, according to the Energy Department.

Officials want to complete extensive ground testing and a low-cost flight demonstration before flying ASRGs on a multi-billion dollar flagship mission. _SpaceFlightNow_via_BrianWang

The same principle could be used for low power generators powered by "nuclear batteries" of various types, for remote location applications. Arctic and antarctic locations in particular cry out for low power nuclear battery applications, as would deep undersea locations.

Another way of using the heat of nuclear decay more efficiently is by making better use of waste heat from conventional nuclear power.
Nuclear desalination uses the excess heat from a nuclear power plant to evaporate sea water and to condense the pure water. Writing in the appropriately named International Journal of Nuclear Desalination, a team from India and Italy argue that despite public concerns, the low energy costs and convenience of this latter process make it the preferred option. _SD
Waste heat from many industrial sources is seriously underutilised. For nuclear power plants located along salt water estuaries and coastlines, the combination of power-production and nuclear desalination should have been implemented long ago.

Other uses for the waste heat of nuclear reactors include the production of more electrical power by a wide range of means, process heat for industry, and comfort space heating in winter.

Western societies are being squeezed into energy starvation by their well-meaning but stupid politicians, academics, and media personalities. Greater efficiencies from currently existing plants will be one way to survive this designed energy starvation. Many other inventions and workarounds will be required if humans are not to be herded like lemmings off the cliffs, by their lefty-Luddite green dieoff.orgiasts in charge.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More On the Rossi - Focardi LENR Device and Fallout

4700 watts of power from a small reactor of 50 cubic centimeters, may sound like a scam or a miracle energy. Yet this is exactly what happens in the device developed by engineer and physicist Andrea Rossi Sergio Focardi : the process is not yet clear, but the device works and produces clean energy at low cost. The reactor is now in its third iteration, but this time it was referred to the committee of the Swedish Skeptics Society where two scientists - the head of the Energy Committee of the Swedish Academy and the founder of the royal commission itself - were authorized to examine the entire apparatus, except the reactor containment. In their report states that "it is possible to identify any chemical reaction that produces 25kwh for combustion of any fuel in a container of 50 cubic cm, but not in this case: the only explanation is that something even stranger happens to your device, perhaps a new type of nuclear reaction. "

Rossi said that more than one hundred reactors from 4.4 kW are already in operation in four countries, and are in the hands of the experts are inspecting them in confidence. The same inventor has revealed that it is in the process of designing a much larger reactor (which will be operational as of October) made up of hundreds of smaller reactors, connected in series and in parallel. The installation will provide 1 MW of power to vaporize water that set in motion a turbine, just like in a nuclear reactor, only less expensive and much safer. The extraordinary thing is that the generator will not be bigger than a box of three x 2 x 3 meters, the nano-powder of nickel must be replenished every six months: _ildemocratico_via_Google translation to English
ildemocratico Rossi

The Rossi - Focardi device may be producing economic and political fallout far beyond the U. Bologna labs where the LENR experiments and demos were performed. Greece will be the first location for a large-scale (1 MW) demonstration plant using the LENR E-Cat devices. If the large-scale experiment works, Greece may decide to use its inside status with Rossi to get into the world-scale energy business -- and leave the European Union.
Whatever the veracity of the report by Der Speigel Online that Greece would like to “exit’ from the Euro Zone, if a factory in Greece has the rights to manufacture the biggest breakthrough energy technology since the burning of wood, and the government has confidence that it’s ready to be commercialized, these events would influence any decision to leave the Euro behind, and speculate on perhaps creating their own currency backed by profits of ECat manufacturing and licensing, estimated in the hundreds of trillions of dollars? [5]

Separated from the European Central Bank, the people of Greece could be able to keep this wealth derived from energy, close to its shores. Where over two-thousand years ago, the roots of modern science, math, and democracy first emerged, we may now see a next-generation energy technology that will extend globally, for the first time in history, the opportunity for all humans to be equally self-sufficient.

The reality is that once the technology is spread, the opportunity for a change in living arrangements will be immediate, and a boon to the entire planet. New and better devices will be developed with applications we cannot think of today; an entirely new service environment with new roles for humans to play. _ColdFusionNow
Rossi has to prove that his catalytic technology actually produces nuclear-scale energy. If he can do that, the global repercussions will be immense.


Dieoff Energy Starvation vs. "Solving the Energy Problem"

An important difference in philosophy toward energy divides future oriented persons from faux environmentalist lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgiasts:
"If this machine [EMC2 Bussard IEC fusion device] works as we hope it will work, it will probably establish a firm technical foundation," he said. "People may say, 'It's a big jump and you shouldn't be doing this.' But every year that the energy problem doesn't get solved ... costs tens of billions of dollars. Sometimes waiting too long is not a good thing. If you look at the solutions, you might say, 'Can we afford to wait?'" _CosmicLog

The energy starvation approach taken by Obama, lefty-Luddite faux environmentalists, and the European greens, aims to drastically reduce human agriculture and industry -- and consequently, the human population. But rational, forward-thinking groups and persons are working hard to "solve the energy problem." Such rational, future-oriented persons are the enemies of everything the modern political and environmental left is dedicated to.
Although fusion is the process behind the power of the sun and an exploding H-bomb, physicists have never been able to achieve a net energy gain in a controlled fusion reaction. But based on the experiments so far, Park thinks there's a chance that it could be done in a sufficiently large Wiffleball reactor, costing on the order of $100 million to $200 million. That sounds like a pretty good deal, especially in comparison with the $3.5 billion that's been spent so far on fusion research at the National Ignition Facility and the $20 billion expected to be spent on the international ITER fusion project.

...Don't expect weekly updates about EMC2's progress. "Currently all our funding comes from the Navy," Park said. "That's our customer. Our customer desired that we keep most of our progress confidential. ... They're somewhat concerned about making too much hype without delivering an actual product."

But if WB-8 and the follow-up studies are successful, the Navy won't stand in EMC2's way.

"Our understanding is they want us to be successful," Park said. "They want us to provide something for our sponsors. They also want us to do well commercially as well, as long as we remain US-owned and control the technology."_CosmicLog

Canada's BC-based General Fusion recently received a capital boost from Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Mainstream fusion approaches have been ongoing since World War II, but in practise have been bulky, overpriced, overstaffed, impractical, and probably never actually meant to accomplish more than milking research funds out of government coffers.

China is planning to mine Helium-3 from the surface of the moon to use as fuel in future nuclear fusion devices.

M. Simon's IEC Fusion Technology blog, and Brian Wang's NextBigFuture blog do a good job of following progress in IEC fusion and other alternative fusion technologies.

Nuclear energy (fusion, advanced fission, and other forms of nuclear energy not yet well-defined or developed) is the best approach to large scale reliable energy into the distant future. As the technology becomes more portable, humans will be able to carry their powerplants and "artificial suns" with them wherever they go.

But if you are like the greens who populate the Obama administration and governments/intergovernments of the western world, you want humans to slash energy production to the bare bone. The end result of such a reactionary lefty-Luddite policy would be a slow but accelerating return to a "dark ages" of science and technology, with an inevitable mass die-off of individuals at the margins. Not coincidentally, most current inhabitants of Earth are living at the margins.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Obama, Putin, and Greens Aim to Kill Shale Gas Promise

US President Obama's gang of energy starvationists has been looking for an excuse to shut down the US shale gas revolution for years now. US shale gas has already foiled Russia's plans for the energy blackmail of Europe, and has opened the possibility for a vast new wealth of valuable hydrocarbons from South America, to the Levant, to China, to Europe. But the same gang of anti-energy thugs who engineered an ongoing de facto moratorium on US offshore drilling, now wants to shut down the technology which has kept US industry and the US economy's head barely above water. More on the world shale gas revolution:
The abundance of shale gas and other forms of unconventional gas discovered and extracted in the United States has prompted a new American energy boom and a global shale rush. It has also caused a dramatic drop in gas prices. Could the same happen in Europe?

At the European Union's energy summit in February, no other item on the agenda was as controversial as the impact of shale exploration. Despite protests from the green lobby, EU energy ministers agreed that the potentially game-changing nature of shale would be carefully considered in the next few months.

Unconventional gas is embedded in shale rock formations deep below the earth's surface. These geological strata hold vast deposits of shale gas. To exploit these resources, energy companies drill several kilometres deep into the rock and then horizontally in several directions. According to estimates of the International Energy Agency, supplies of unconventional gas could provide humankind with cheap and relatively clean energy for more than 250 years. _GWPF Benny Peiser
But the lefty-Luddite greens are not ready to call of their great energy starvation and human dieoff.orgy just yet. They have some solid connections within the research community, and people whom they can always call on for a bit of questionable research findings / loose associations. And we all know how easily the news media can confuse loose associations with true causation -- and create an instant crisis of world-ending proportions!
Since April, the findings of a shale gas study by Robert Howarth’s team at Cornell University, widely debunked for its “assumptions and inaccuracies” and, even though its authors admit it is based on “lousy” data, have been covered by eagerly awaiting media. The BBC’s “Shale gas ‘worse than coal’ for climate” is a classic example. The same cannot be said for The Shale Gas Shock report written by Dr Matt Ridley on behalf of the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) which attracted a mere handful of journalists to its publication on May 4. While Howarth and co’s scientific ineptitude, as we shall see, makes fear-mongering headlines, the GWPF finding – at the opposite pole – finds shale gas to be “ubiquitous, cheap and environmentally benign”.

The Shale Gas Shock

For Ridley’s GWPF study, shale gas is not only proving to be “a revolution in the world energy industry”, but it promises to transform “world trade, geopolitics and climate policy”. Setting out an erudite history of shale gas and how it offers the world several more centuries of natural gas, point 22 of the report gets to the crux of the matter. “The key question about shale gas is not therefore whether it exists in huge quantities” (it demonstrably does), it is “whether it can be exploited on a large scale at a reasonable price”.

Ridley continues by scotching Bergman’s opinion that only around 10 percent of each shale gas field will prove recoverable, and that the current excitement merely amounts to another “speculative bubble”. Bergman concludes that US shale gas, for instance, may thus only last for seven years and not the 100 years+ widely projected. Ridley points out that Bergman’s audience “is investors, not consumers” and while he concedes Bergman may have a point that some investors in shale gas firms may get their fingers burnt, this will largely be because “their very success drives gas prices down” and/or because “volumes of gas are high”. In other words, the highs and lows of shale gas production would mirror that of any other extraction industry.

While we can expect “a shale gas boom in China”, with Russia being an “impediment” to development and not welcoming competition from shale gas, Ridley identifies Europe as particularly susceptible to exploitation opposition from “entrenched and powerful interests in the environmental pressure groups”. In the end however, “it will be a matter of whether over-borrowed European governments, businesses and people will be able to resist such a hefty source of new revenue and a clean energy source requiring no subsidy”. _A Tale of Two Studies
The informative shale gas report from Matt Ridley is available as a PDF download

A study from Duke University recently published in PNAS links "high" methane concentrations in water wells with oil shale fracking taking place very close nearby. And just like a Jack-in-the-box, US President Obama pops up with a somber expression to say that he may be forced to further energy-starve the American public, the American economy, and American industry -- but only for their own good!

The Duke study did not find toxic chemicals from the fracking process in the well water, and only those water wells which were extremely close to the gas wells were affected. No one knows whether there are any adverse health effects from the levels detected, and it is not known whether this association is widespread.

As long as Obama and the energy strangulationists can be held back from instituting devastating regulations and executive orders, it is likely that improved wellhead casings will put an end to what is a local phenomenon of questionable significance. But if the politicians and their hunchbacked fiends of dieoff.orgiasts are allowed to cut the throat of America's new energy cornucopia, the economic fallout will likely go on for decades.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Sugar Fuel Cells, and Other Responses to Inflated Oil Costs


Energy prices have been over-inflated since oil passed the $80 a barrel level, triggering a world-wide rush to develop alternative fuels and energy sources. One of the interesting ideas for new energy is the sugar fuel cell, where cheap sugars from biomass sources would power fuel cells of all sizes for a wide range of applications from hand-held consumer products to utility-scale power backup and load leveling.

Here we suggest an out-of-the-box solution - use of renewable biomass carbohydrates as a high-density hydrogen carrier. This new solution can efficiently address the above challenges for the transportation sector. Here we present the recent advances in cell-free synthetic pathway biotransformation (SyPaB), the roadmap of SyPaB from high-end to low-end applications, and its potential impacts.

A Sweet Solution to the Hydrogen Economy - Sugar as High H Carrier

Cellulosic biomass is the most abundant renewable biological resource (ca. 1 x 1011 tons/year)3. Biomass is produced locally, and is more evenly distributed than are fossil fuels. Each year, the overall chemical energy stored in biomass by terrestrial plants is approximately 6-7 times the total human energy consumption. Also, renewable carbohydrates (e.g., cellulosic materials and starch) are less expensive based on energy content than are other hydrogen carriers, such as hydrocarbons, biodiesel, methanol, ethanol, and ammonia1. The use of a small fraction of low-cost renewable biomass for producing transportation fuels (e.g., cellulosic ethanol and hydrogen) provides benefits to the environment, economy, and national security3.

Follow the link to the full article, with illustrations, links, and more detailed explanations and arguments.

On other alternative fuels and energy fronts:

Accelergy is moving ahead with construction of demonstration CBTL (coal and biomass to liquids) plant in Pittsburgh

Australian company Linc Energy is promoting its underground coal gasification and gas to liquids technology in the land down under. In situ underground coal gasification is suitable for difficult to mine coal of even the lowest quality. Syngas to liquids technologies are becoming more economical with better catalysts and process designs.

Offshore and other small-scale gas to liquids (GTL) is getting closer to feasibility, thanks to microchannel architecture reactors.

Powerful members of the US House of Representatives are beginning to push back against President Obama's policies of energy starvation. Besides promoting increase US offshore oil & gas production, congress is likely to promote coal to liquids and increased development of oil shales, heavy oils, and oil sands.

Advanced nations have multi-trillion dollar infrastructures devoted to mainly liquid fuels (and secondarily gaseous fuels). But if sugar fuel cells truly can provide a disruptive fast track technology to multi-scale, decentralised production of electrical power, then solid fuels may join the club. The more the merrier.

If Obama's Nuclear Regulatory Commission ever wakes up and realises that it has an important job to do besides preening before the mirror, nuclear power may begin to fulfill its immense promise as well.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Joule Unlimited Calculates Cost as Low as $20 a Barrel Diesel


Joule Unlimited has signed a lease agreement for a site in New Mexico, for production of its Helioculture microbial fuel. As reported here earlier, Joule reckons it can achieve photosynthetic yields sufficient to produce renewable diesel at costs as low as $20 a barrel, when taking subsidies into account. (abstract and link to full text PDF supporting Joule's yield calculations, via GCC)
Joule’s process, called Helioculture, combines an engineered cyanobacterial organism supplemented with a product pathway and secretion system to produce and secrete a fungible alkane diesel product continuously in a SolarConverter designed to efficiently and economically collect and convert photonic energy. The process is closed and uses industrial waste CO2 at concentrations 50–100 times higher than atmospheric.

The diesel process yields long-chain alkanes, the majority component of diesel fuel, as opposed to a low-percentage blendstock like biodiesel. As a result it can immediately drop in to the existing diesel infrastructure with no need for refining or chemical processing.

Joule’s production facilities will employ the next generation of the company’s novel SolarConverter system, which manages the direct, continuous process from photon capture to product synthesis and separation with efficiencies that are up to 50X greater than those of biomass-dependent processes. At full-scale production, Joule expects to deliver diesel and ethanol for as little as $20/bble and $0.60/gallon respectively, including current subsidies. _GCC

It is possible that the theory supports Joule's assertions, but theoretical yields can be different from actual yields. While microbial fuels are likely to provide fuels and high value chemicals for the intermediate to distant futures, in the more near term, biomass approaches using thermochemical and clever fermentation and catalytic processes are likely to capture the field -- in terms of renewable fuels.

Biomass-derived sugars will be far cheaper than sugars from cane or corn (maize). Thermochemical approaches (gasification, pyrolysis, etc) are relatively quick and easy, and when combined with F-T and other advanced catalytic syntheses, can produce significan volumes of high grade fuels and chemicals -- as long as sufficient supplies of biomass are assured.

Joule is one of many microbial (including micro-algae) fuels startups combining world-class research talent with substantial financial backing. But it will take years to learn to get around what are currently seen as iron-clad limitations in yield from photosynthetic approaches. Eventually, they will succeed, and the world will change as a result.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Methane to Methanol to Gasoline at Competitive Prices


Methane to methanol to gasoline for $2.85 a gallon, including a healthy $1.45 margin? That is what is being claimed for a combined "Gigamethanol" and MTG (methanol to gasoline) plant proposed for Alaska. Converting all the North Slope gas to gasoline could produce almost 500,000 barrels per day.
... a plant would produce methanol from natural gas on the North Slope using the proposed GigaMethanol technology. The resulting methanol would be blended with crude and transported via the trans-Alaska oil pipeline to Valdez, where it would be extracted from the oil and processed via Methanol-to-Gasoline technology into gasoline.

In January, ICIS reported that Eastman Chemical reached an agreement to sell a mothballed Texas methanol and ammonia plant to Pandora Methanol, a subsidiary of Janus Methanol.

The plant will have a capacity of 850,000 tonnes/year of methanol and 250,000 tonnes/year of ammonia, according to van Wijk. ...Van Wijk at the time said the new plant might consider the methanol-to-gasoline MTG process pioneered by ExxonMobil.
Eastman originally bought the plant in 2007 for a $1.6-billion coal-gasification project, but called off the project in late 2009 due to high capital requirements, the narrow difference between petroleum and natural gas prices and uncertain US energy policy....

Costs for a 63,000 barrel (of gasoline) per day system would be approximately $5.2 billion, he said. Gasoline could be delivered from Valdez at $2.65 to $2.85 per gallon, including a $1.45 margin.

In addition to providing a market for North Slope gas, the mix of methanol in the pipeline flow would help prevent problems with ice forming in the line, van Wijk, a former Methanex executive, suggested. If the entire daily output of North Slope gas (4.5 billion cubic feet, bcf) were converted to gasoline, it would produce 450,000 barrels per day, he suggested. _GCC

This is a different approach from the Oxford Catalysts and Sasol approaches. But the claims for efficiency and economic viability are difficult to beat, if true.

While the proposal is meant to take advantage of Alaskan natural gas, the same approach could conceivably be taken with shale gas or any other large gas deposits located anywhere.

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