Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Fascinating Look at Possible Utility-Scale Thermal Storage

Efficient and economical utility-scale energy storage would provide power grids much greater stability and versatility. Here are excerpts from an intriguing look at future prospects for thermal grid storage from Intelligent Utility:
The molten-salt heat-of-fusion thermal storage initiative has potential in the nuclear power industry. Nuclear power stations operate optimally when the reactors and steam lines remain at constant temperature, with steam lines also operating at near constant pressure. To achieve such an objective, owners of nuclear power stations may sell off-peak power at bargain-basement prices or even pay outside utilities to take the excess off-peak nuclear-electric power. Such operation also enhances prospects for cost-competitive and viable energy storage.

At geographic locations where pumped hydraulic or compressed air storage is unavailable, thermal storage may become a potentially attractive option. Steam lines may carry off-peak thermal energy from nuclear reactors to molten salt-based thermal energy storage installations. The useful life expectancy of thermal energy storage technology greatly exceeds that of various chemical battery storage technologies that offer 4,500 to 5,000-deep-cycle recharges and discharges. Over the long-term, thermal energy storage may be cost-competitive against grid-scale chemical battery storage.

High Temperature Storage:

While older generation, heavy-water nuclear reactors operate at temperatures that are comparable to molten-salt heat-of-fusion stored thermal energy installations, modern light-water nuclear power station operate at higher temperature. The reactors are cooled by helium that transfers the heat to boilers at a temperature near the melting point of aluminum. At such temperatures, boilers may raise super-critical steam capable of producing power at over 40% thermal efficiency.

Instead of using molten aluminum for thermal storage, there may be scope to use molten mixtures of naturally occurring metallic oxide ores that melt near the same temperature. The mineral ore cryolite (Na3AlF6) melts at 900°C to 1000°C and may be mixed with bauxite hydrate (Al2O3.H2O) to reduce melting temperature to near that of a helium-cooled nuclear reactor. Other variations of aluminum fluoride contain potassium (NaK2AlF6) or lithium (Li3AlF6) and may used in thermal storage material.

Some naturally occurring bauxite ores such as diaspore and bhoemite contain hydrogen [AlO (OH)] while other variations contain sodium (NaAlO2) or lithium (LiAlO2). There are numerous possible mixtures of bauxites and cryolite ores that can melt at temperatures that are near the operating temperature of newer generation, light water nuclear technology. Alternative thermal energy storage systems may be based on alternative a compound between the heat of decomposition and heat of formation.

When heated, several metallic carbonates such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3) will decompose and release carbon dioxide (CO2), leaving the metallic oxide calcium oxide (CaO). Unglazed calcium oxide may be reacted under pressure with carbon dioxide to produce the metallic carbonate and release massive amounts of heat. The temperature of the heat of formation of some metallic carbonates is sufficiently high to raise super-heated steam and/or super-critical steam. At some locations, it may be possible to storage massive volumes of compressed carbon dioxide in subterranean caverns and the metallic oxides in above ground silos.

Several compounds that are hydrates release water vapor (H2O) when heated. When some dehydrated compounds encounter water and/or steam, there is either a heat of reaction or a heat of formation as a hydrate is formed. The heat of reaction/formation may occur at a sufficiently high temperature to generate steam that may drive turbines and electrical generating machinery. Banks of insulated and pressurized accumulators may hold saturated water to produce the steam needed to sustain the heat of formation operations.

During off-peak hours, special piping systems may transfer heat from the reactors to thermal storage. During peak periods, stored heat would raise steam to drive turbines and electrical machinery to meet market demand for electric power. During off-peak periods, it may be possible to flow minimal amounts of steam through the piping system to maintain constant temperature and pressure in steam lines connected to the thermal storage system. Such operation may reduce thermal stress problems caused by thermal cycling of thermodynamic components.

...There is scope to combine ultra-high-temperature thermal energy storage with compressed air energy storage. Compressed air may be super heated to over 1000°C (1800°F) and drive a multi-stage turbine engine system that include reheat capability and exhaust heat recovery, along with preheating of the incoming compressed air. The super heated compressed air may energize turbines that drive electrical machinery during peak demand periods, while diverting the power normally allocated to driving turbo-compressors to instead drive electrical generating equipment.

Depending on final exhaust temperature, there may be scope to use the exhaust heat to sustain the preheating requirements for a Rankin-cycle engine or to sustain the operation of thermal seawater desalination during peak periods. As with steam-based power systems, there may be scope during off-peak periods to flow a small amount of super heated compressed air through the piping systems, to minimize problems related to cyclic thermal stresses in the thermal components.


Future thermal energy storage would likely cover the temperature range from the sub-freezing point of water to ultra-high temperatures of some 1000°C. Heat-of-fusion technologies offer greatly extended useful service lives and cost-competitive long-term costs. While compact thermal energy storage systems are possible, most such systems would likely be built on a large scale that involve massive volume. Most future research into thermal energy storage may involve high-temperature systems that generate steam and energize air turbine engines. _IntelligentUtility
The excellent article by Harry Valentine should be read in full at the link above.

One omission from the fine overview of future thermal storage methods, is the cryogen method being developed at the University of Leeds. Such cryogenic energy storage methods extend the temperature range considerably on the low end, with concomitant potential for greater efficiencies.

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Hey Peak Oil! Gevo Makes Renewable Jet Fuel!

Scientists and engineers are learning to substitute renewable feedstocks in place of petroleum for a wide range of products. Big oil, big chemicals, and big business, along with a lot of independents, are firmly on board this substitution program, which is not likely to run out of funding or skilled human participants.
Gevo’s renewable jet.
Gevo has developed and demonstrated the technology to convert isobutanol into aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons using known chemistry and existing refinery infrastructure:

Isobutanol produced from starch or biomass is dehydrated over an acidic catalyst to produce isobutylene, which is then further reacted to product mixtures of longer chain aliphatic hydrocarbons.

A portion of this material is reacted separately to form high density aromatic compounds.

Hydrogen gas, a byproduct of the aromatization reaction, is used to remove unsaturated bonds in the aliphatic material.

The hydrocarbons then are blended in proportions that can meet all ASTM standards for fuels: isooctane is a dimer of dehydrated isobutanol and is a major component of the premium value alkylates, a key gasoline component; a trimer of the isobutylene (dehydrated isobutanol) is a jet fuel blend stock; a polymer of four and five isobutylenes can make a diesel blend stock.

Our kerosene is the same as that produced from butylenes; it’s the same old kind of kerosene, made from C4 building blocks. People have not had the paradigm of having exact drop-ins; we come along and the whole system is set up to make sure [the renewable fuel] actually works. But this is the same old kerosene.

—Patrick Gruber
Gevo’s proposition for the market is that it can cost-effectively produce and purify isobutanol to serve as the feedstock for this established process.

In April, Gevo signed an engineering and consulting agreement with Mustang Engineering, LP for the conversion of its renewable isobutanol to biojet fuel. This effort will focus on the downstream processing of isobutanol to paraffinic kerosene (jet fuel) for jet engine testing, airline suitability flights and advancing commercial deployment. _GCC
It's alright to invest some of your assets in preparation for a collapse that may never come. A waste and a misallocation, perhaps, but in many ways a sensible precaution. But try not to make doom your entire raison d'etre.

For a fascinating look at how humans substitute one resource for another, when the earlier resource is in short supply, read this free online book. It may help to free you from the grips of a religion of doom that does nothing better than waste your time and energy.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Important Article on Rossi LENR Project

Brian Wang links to an important background report at New Energy Times, which provides some important perspective on Andrea Rossi's recent LENR project.

Anyone who has been following this story should read the NET Report, in order to fill in some blanks and round out the background for the ongoing saga.

Keep in mind that even a person with a somewhat slippery past can stumble into an important and viable project. Nothing in the report above proves that Rossi's device cannot produce "excess energy." But it is likely that anyone considering investing in the Rossi LENR will be even more skeptical and cautious, once having read the report.


A Brief Overview of Thorium Energy

For humans to enjoy a clean and abundant energy future, they will need to move to energy from nuclear reactions -- which means nuclear fission, for now. Thorium is the main alternative to uranium as a large-scale nuclear fuel. Here are some basic facts about thorium:
Thorium is a naturally-occurring, slightly radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by a Swedish chemist, Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The silvery white metal is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils, where it is about three times more abundant than uranium. Typical garden variety soil commonly contains an average of around 6 parts per million (ppm) of thorium.

Thorium oxide, also called thoria, has one of the highest melting points of all oxides at 3300°C. When this oxide is heated in air, thorium metal turnings ignite and burn brilliantly with a white light. Because of these properties, thorium has found applications in welding electrodes, heat-resistant ceramics, light bulb elements, lantern mantles and arc-light lamps. Glass containing thorium oxide has a high refractive index and dispersion and is used in high quality lenses for cameras and scientific instruments.
Sources and geographical distribution

The most common source of thorium is the rare earth phosphate mineral, monazite, which may contain up to about 12 percent thorium phosphate; however, the average is closer to a 6-7 percent range. Monazite is found in igneous and other rocks but the richest concentrations are in placer deposits, concentrated by wave and current action with other heavy minerals. World monazite resources are estimated to be about 12 million tonnes, two-thirds of which are in heavy mineral sands deposits on the south and east coasts of India. Australia is estimated by the USGS to host approximately 24 percent of the world’s thorium reserves. A large vein deposit of thorium and rare earth metals have been discovered in the Lemhi Pass region of Idaho and Montana.
Going nuclear
Although not fissile itself, thorium has started to reemerge as a tempting prospect to employ as fuel in nuclear power reactors. Thorium 232 will absorb slow neutrons to produce uranium 233, which is fissile (and long-lived). The irradiated fuel can then be unloaded from the reactor, the uranium 233 separated from the thorium, and fed back into another reactor as part of a closed fuel cycle. Alternatively, uranium 233 can be bred from thorium in a blanket, the uranium 233 separated, and then fed into the core.
The use of thorium-based fuel cycles has been studied for about 40 years, but on a much smaller scale than uranium or uranium/plutonium cycles. Basic research and development has been conducted in Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK and the USA. China and India have been among primary catalysts in research efforts to use it. Test reactor irradiation of thorium fuel to high burn-ups has also been conducted and several test reactors have either been partially or completely loaded with thorium-based fuel.
Thorium can be used in Generation IV and other advanced nuclear fuel cycle systems.
China has been working on developing the technology for sodium cooled fast reactors which are a type of liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs). The advanced breeder concept features a molten salt as the coolant, usually a fluoride salt mixture. This is hot, but not under pressure, and does not boil below about 1400°C. Much research has focused on lithium and beryllium additions to the salt mixture. In mid-2009, AECL signed agreements with three Chinese entities to develop and demonstrate the use of thorium fuel in the Candu reactors at Qinshan in China. _UraniumInvesting
The best ongoing source for information on thorium energy is Kirk Sorensen's blog "Energy from Thorium".

Kirk is featured in the introductory video below. You can click on the YouTube icon on the video below to watch the vid at YouTube, and to find links to several related videos -- some of them well over an hour in length.

Another blog dedicated to the molten salt reactor is the Nuclear Green blog.

Here's more on thorium, from a piece in Popsci from last summer:
An abundant metal with vast energy potential could quickly wean the world off oil, if only Western political leaders would muster the will to do it, a UK newspaper says today. The Telegraph makes the case for thorium reactors as the key to a fossil-fuel-free world within five years, and puts the ball firmly in President Barack Obama's court.

Thorium, named for the Norse god of thunder, is much more abundant than uranium and has 200 times that metal's energy potential. Thorium is also a more efficient fuel source -- unlike natural uranium, which must be highly refined before it can be used in nuclear reactors, all thorium is potentially usable as fuel. _Popsci

Another basic overview on thorium

An overview of thorium by Wired magazine

More 6July11: A debate about the promise of thorium, including discussion of the topic of subcritical accelerator-driven thorium nuclear reactors


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nuclear Carnival and News

The founder of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy, Brian Wang, hosts the 58th Carnival of Nuclear Energy at NextBigFuture. Here are excerpts:
1. TVA's basis for building Bellefonte - The New York Times cites critics calling it a "salvage heap," but ignores the utility's success in completion and restart of Browns Ferry in 2007. What gets TVA in the game is that it has something no other nuclear utility planning to build will get for a long time. What it has on its hands is a 1,200 MW reactor pressure vessel. That's right, there's no waiting for years for Japan Steel Works to make one. It's right there in Alabama, right now, which is what gets TVA in the game. The NYT seems to have overlooked that fact.

2. Associated Press nukes the NRC - A national wire story, the first of two, alleges the Nuclear Regulatory Agency has undermined safety at aging reactors. Is it true? A nuclear engineer with impeccable credentials says not so fast. John Bickel, who holds a PhD in nuclear engineering, says, "I had hoped for more insight from a prestigious organization such as AP. Their article entitled: "US nuke regulators weaken safety rules" is pretty sloppy and indicative of the fact AP failed to research much of what they have written about."

3. Rod Adams at Atomic Insights - The battle for the atom is heating up again

The initial conditions of our current fight to defend and expand the safe use of atomic energy are far different from those that faced the people engaged in the earliest battles against a well organized opposition to nuclear technology development. We have a much better chance of success now than we did then – and there are several reasons why that is true.

One condition that is vastly different is the ability of nuclear professionals to have their voices heard. No longer are most people who understand nuclear energy isolated in small communities with few media outlets.

Another thing that is different about the fight over using atomic energy now, compared to the fight that happened in the late 1960s through the 1990s is that the opposition has a much less capable base of leaders.

The groups organized against nuclear energy today are no longer led by world renowned scientists, though they do have some media celebrities with spotty professional histories and puffed up resumes.

...10. Banri Kaieda, Japan minister for economy, trade and industry, has now said that for nuclear to remain one of Japan's key energy sources, "It is indispensible to obtain lessons we should learn from the accident in order to present a general image of nuclear safety measures and to put such measures into practice." He added that it is also important to "clarify the actual situation of the accident" at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco's) Fukushima Daiichi plant.

A shortage of electricity would be the greatest obstacle to economic recovery in Japan following the huge earthquake and tsunami in March, according to the country's industry minister. He said that this makes local permission for restarting Japan's nuclear power plants essential.

Twenty units, with a combined generating capacity of 17,705 MWe (or 36.2% of total nuclear capacity) were not operating as they had been shut for periodic inspection, while another two units had been shut for unplanned inspections or equipment replacement. It is not yet known when these units will be restarted.

11. If ongoing negotiations with a foreign sponsor are successfully completed then Terrapower, Traveling Wave Reactor will be developed overseas says Roger Reynolds, TerraPower's technical adviser. China, Russia, India and France have talked to TerraPower. TerraPower design employs a high-temperature, liquid metal core cooling technology suited to a breeder reactor with "fast" neutron activity, rather than today's predominant reactors whose water cooling systems slow neutrons. TerraPower wants to partner with countries that are actively pursuing fast, breeder reactor technology.
The game-changing aspect of small modular reactors (SMRs)

Is the technology of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) the "new fire?" Something of a "rah! rah!" article, but an indication that a groundswell of excitement over the unproven technology being touted by Andrea Rossi and Defkalian may be building.

An important article from this blog you may have overlooked: Can TVA save the US nuclear industry from Obama's Nuclear Regulatory Commission (eg Jazkco)

At the farther limits of physics, scientists are studying the conditions necessary for a "phase change" from ordinary matter to a "quark-gluon plasma" state. There will probably be no immediate energy technology spinoffs from this research. But then, one never knows.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Small Fusion Projects Run as Dark Horse Candidates

Small fusion startups like General Fusion, Focus Fusion, Helion, etc, may be some of the few hopes to reverse the dominant mood of energy scarcity and starvationism of our times. General Fusion is a small company near Vancouver, BC, that hopes to achieve fusion using "glorified jackhammers", with the assistance of Los Alamos National Labs.
"ITER and NIF are expensive and they take lots of energy," says Wurden. "We think there is a cheaper solution between the two."

...General Fusion aims to achieve net gain fusion experimentally in 2012. By 2018, it plans to complete a power plant prototype that would generate 100 megawatts, enough to power about 100,000 homes.

"We would like to be in a commercial stage of being able to take orders and build power plants by the end of the decade," said Michael Delage, General Fusion VP of business development. _CNN

General Fusion's founder, Michel Laberge, invented the oddball fusion concept 10 years ago, when he quit his day job to try to change the world.
A decade ago, it was Laberge's self-described mid-life crisis that brought him to a career crossroads. Despite success designing technology for printing direct mail materials, he remained unsatisfied. "I was cutting the forest and burying you under junk mail," he remembers. "I said, 'What am I doing here?'"
Laberge took a chance and left Creo to chase his longtime fascination with fusion.

"I had fusion on the brain," he recalls. "I sat at home on my couch for about six months, to the great despair of my wife, calculating all sorts of fusion schemes." Eventually, Laberge had his "aha" moment: a precision controlled piston that hammers giant shock waves into a magnetized sphere -- slamming atoms together hard enough to fuse and create energy.

The idea triggered investments in Laberge's young company, first from family and friends, then from venture capitalists including founder Jeff Bezos. So far, funding has totaled $32.5 million. _CNN
$32.5 million is not much compared to the many billions already spent on ITER, NIF, and other big fusion schemes. But more and more, it seems that the big schemes are meant more for milking large amounts of funds from the world's governments for as long as possible, rather than the actual creation of a beneficial technology.

That is unfortunate. Since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Europe has backed away, and China has backed away, from planned nuclear expansion, and both seem to have embarked on a futile quest for more wind and solar power.

Around the world, government energy planners are at a loss when seeking replacement energies for fossil fuels -- should those fuels' supplies begin to run short. And no wonder, since it is the alarmism and obstructionism of other agencies of government, non-governmental agencies, and inter-governmental agencies, which is preventing the large scale development of abundant sources of energy.

As more and more forms of abundant and reliable energy are blocked by institutions of government, inter-government, and non-government (big lobbies and interest groups), science is forced to the extremes of research and development in a quest to find forms of energy which the extremists in power cannot possibly shut down. Good luck with that.

But small-scale fusion and small modular fission reactors are two approaches to abundant energy which could conceivably be built in emerging nations outside the reach of the government - faux environmental coalition of corruption. Once these approaches are proven and put into mass production, the energy starvationists of the world will be literally on the run.

A description of the General Fusion approach (see image above):
The outside of the spherical tank will be studded with approximately 200 pneumatic pistons. These pistons will impact the tank, inducing a spherical acoustic compression wave in the liquid metal that will travel to the centre of the sphere. As the acoustic wave travels through the lead and focuses towards the centre, it will become stronger and evolve into an intense shock wave. When the shock wave arrives in the centre, it will rapidly collapse the vortex cavity and the plasma confined within it, creating thermonuclear conditions in the process.

The pneumatic pistons will be controlled by a system that times their impacts precisely to create a symmetrical compression shockwave in the cavity. The control system will adjust the timing of individual piston impacts to control the shape of the cavity as it collapses; compensate for physical and thermal effects and variations within the generator; and, adjust for changes over time as equipment wears and parameters vary. _General Fusion


Friday, June 24, 2011

Terrapower, Other Small Nuclear Reactors Forced to Move Overseas

"Right now, the regulatory environment here in the U.S. means that it would take decades just to certify the design," he said at a U.S.-China energy summit last year. "By partnering with the Chinese, they can move ahead and commercialize the technology around the world when it is proven," Huntsman said. _NYT
The nuclear licensing process for new reactors in the United States has grown so cumbersome and expensive -- and the US NRC under Obama has become so obstructionist toward new nuclear power -- that some of the newest and most promising new, scalable reactor startups are looking overseas for development and manufacture.

Last year Hyperion Power announced plans to manufacture its small modular reactor (SMR) in the UK, and now Terrapower -- backed by Bill Gates -- is negotiating with potential partners in France, India, China, and Russia, to build its cutting edge breeder reactor technology.
"We've had conversations with the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians, the French," Reynolds said in an interview. "We have an aggressive schedule where we think it is important to get something built and accumulate data so that we can eventually build them in the U.S. Breaking ground in 2015, with a startup in 2020, is more aggressive than our current [U.S.] regulatory structure can support."

In addition to its unique fuel cycle, the TerraPower design employs a high-temperature, liquid metal core cooling technology suited to a breeder reactor with "fast" neutron activity, rather than today's predominant reactors whose water cooling systems slow neutrons. TerraPower wants to partner with countries that are actively pursuing fast, breeder reactor technology. "That isn't here right now," he said, referring to the United States. _NYT_via_NBF
A number of different approaches to scalable nuclear fission have been proposed by US companies, but under President Obama the regulatory climate toward all forms of reliable energy production is extremely bleak. Hence the interest in building the revolutionary, safe, new, scalable designs overseas in an energy-friendly climate.

More on SMRs:
No bigger than a double-wide trailer and built in a factory for a fraction of the cost of a large nuclear plant, the small modular reactor (SMR) is an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to help meet growing demand for electricity.

SMRs have the potential to replace older coal plants and to provide a hedge against volatility in natural gas prices. And while solar and wind are attractive energy sources, both produce power only intermittently and require back-up power in the event the weather is not cooperating.

Established nuclear-energy companies engaged in the development of SMRs include Westinghouse, General Electric, General Atomics and Charlotte-based Babcock & Wilcox. But the field also includes some smaller start-ups such as NuScale Power in Oregon, Hyperion Power Generation in New Mexico and TerraPower, based on the outskirts of Seattle and established with support from Bill Gates.

...In contrast to a conventional nuclear plant, SMRs could be added one at a time in a cluster of modules, as the need for electricity rises. The cluster's costs would be paid for over time, softening the financial impact. The modules could be factory assembled and be delivered by rail to an existing nuclear plant site. In such a configuration, one SMR could be taken out of service for maintenance or repair without affecting operation of the other units.

Most SMRs would be situated beneath the ground to provide better security. Typically they would operate for many years - possibly decades - without refueling and produce far less waste than conventional reactors.

Significantly, almost all of the SMR development is being done with private financing. Companies are using their own resources to develop the small reactors, without government support from mandates or subsidies of the sort that renewable energy sources now require. An SMR designed by Babcock & Wilcox would generate 125 megawatts, using conventional light-water reactor technology. The Tennessee Valley Authority is considering deploying six of the Babcock & Wilcox modules at its Clinch River site near the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Another SMR on the drawing board would be an advanced, sodium-cooled "fast" reactor producing just 25 megawatts - enough electricity to power a rural community or a military installation. Hyperion Power Generation has formed a partnership with the Savannah River National Laboratory to build a sodium-cooled reactor as part of a clean energy park near Aiken, S.C. _Newsobserver

Eventually the energy starvationists who have entrenched themselves in Washington DC will be forced out, and their current premises fumigated and disinfected with fresh, rational, and optimistic thinking regarding an abundant energy future.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Neste's NExBTL Synthetic Diesel Looks to Algae by 2020


Neste Oil's NExBTL process produces one of the best synthetic diesel products available worldwide. It is based upon the hydro-treating of fats and oils from a wide range of animals and plants. Now Neste is looking at algal oils as feedstock -- hoping to spur economic production of high yield algal oil by the year 2020.
The five-year AlgaePARC project, launched on 17 June in the Netherlands, is being coordinated by Wageningen University and Research Centre and will involve 18 corporate partners. The focus will be on developing technologies and processes for growing microalgae on an industrial scale as a raw material for use in fuel, food, and chemical production.

A similar project, Solar Bio-Fuels Consortium, will be launched this summer in Australia. Coordinated by the University of Queensland, this will bring together seven companies and research institutions working in the field of algae-related research. The three-year project will study various techniques for growing algae and optimizing conditions to achieve high oil yields.

Our goal is to expand the range of raw materials we use for producing NExBTL renewable diesel, and algae represent one of the most promising materials here because of their excellent potential oil yields. The key practical challenge lies in scaling up output to industrial volumes, and we hope that these two new projects will result in new ways of overcoming this challenge.
—Markku Patajoki, the Head of Neste Oil’s Biotechnology Group

Studies have shown that algae species that produce and store lipids represent a potential source of raw material for NExBTL renewable diesel. Algae grow rapidly and one hectare of cultivated algae could yield as much as 30 t/a of oil. Algae oil is also an excellent alternative in terms of sustainability, as it does not compete with food production for supplies of potable water or land. The suitability of algae oil for use in the NExBTL process has already been confirmed.

The straightforward nature and flexibility of the NExBTL process gives us a definite advantage in terms of algae research, as we know precisely the type of properties that we need. Research on new raw materials such as algae is a long-term effort, however, and you cannot expect to get results overnight.
—Pauliina Uronen, Algae Research Project Manager at Neste Oil

Neste's approach to BTL depends upon a ready and cheap lipid feedstock which can be hydrotreated to produce synthetic hydrocarbon. It is more straightforward than Choren's BTL process which utilises gasification of biomass and catalytic synthesis from syngas. But without cheap lipid feedstocks, Neste can be priced out of future BTL markets. That is why Neste is pushing high-yield algal oil development: Because micro-algae can be grown over roughly 80% of the planetary surface, using salt water, waste water, and brackish water. And micro-algae can yield from 10,000 gallons per acre of oils and up, using land or water surface not suitable for growing food crops.

The target date of 2020 is realistic, although it will likely be closer to 2030 before high-yield algal production is ready to displace a significant amount of petro-diesel and petro-gasoline.

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Defkalion to Build Factory in Northern Greece

Brian Wang brings more news about Defkalion -- the Cyprus based Greek company meant to build Andrea Rossi's E-Cat LENR devices and auxiliary power production apparatus for a 1 MW Athens plant.
Defkalion Green Technologies has taken the Andrea Rossi E-Cat and created its products around it. Our products produce heat only – not electricity. Our current product line ranges from kW units (5 - 30kW) to MW units (1.15 - 3.45 MW). The actual E-Cat forms only the kernel of our products; it is the black-box so to speak. Building around the ECat, we have developed a complex unity of machinery and electronics that comprise the overall product, which we have named Hyperion.

Area A is the E-Cat and consists of:
• Metal tube(s) charged with Nickel and catalysts where the reaction with
hydrogen occurs inside to produce heat ranging from 5 up to 30KWh/h.
• A thermally closed circuit (typically glycol) to drive the produced heat out of the
module which cools the tube. This is integrated with a cooling liquid circulatorpump
(inverted- controlled by unit’s electronics) in area C.
• A sealed (isolated thermal and led) internal box
• An electric radiator to heat the tube which starts the reaction consuming less
than 0,5kW/h _NBF
Images and more details at NBF link above.

PDF from Defkalion contains broadest inforamation available so far regarding the company's plans.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Andrea Rossi Explains His E-Cat Reactor System

Video h/t PESN
In the video above, Andrea Rossi provides a video tour of his E-Cat reactor system. Rossi explains his system step by step, with a relatively clear video display of each step. Excerpts from a transcript of the video are included below:
Let's start from the very beginning. We have here the plug that is taking power from the grid. You can say that we are consuming or drawing 3.4 amperes. 3.4 amperes with voltage of 220 volts which is the normal voltage in Italy. So, we are taking 3.4 times 220 is 748 watt hours per hour. This is the energy that we are taking out. Later we will see how much energy we are producing with the E-Cat.

Now you will see the E-Cats. These are the E-Cats. At the moment we are making a test with one E-Cat which is this one. This is the thermal couple that measures the temperature in the chimney of the reactor. The reactor is this, in this area. This is the insulation the black one, and this is the chimney. And from the chimney exits the steam and through this black hose that goes to the sink. Here is the sink and the steam goes through there. And we also have another thermal couple which is this one. This thermal couple measures the temperature of the water that goes inside the reactor. This is a pump that pumps from this reservoir to the reactor. So you can see this pipe pumping water from the reservoir, and sends the water through this blue hose to the inlet of the E-Cat which is this. Here we have a double wall jacket between the two walls we have a flow of water. The water cools down the reactor and turns to steam. The energy will be calculated considering the amount of water that we consume every hour, that we consume by weighing, by measuring the weight by the water we consume. And the delta T,: the difference of temperature between the two thermal couples.

...We have room pressure, as everyone knows at 100 C degrees that water boils and becomes steam. These are where you can see this. The blue bottom line is the water inlet. The red line is the room temperature and the yellow line is the temperature of the steam. Now this is the control panel. Here happen all the regulations of the system. All of what happens inside the rector is regulated through this. Also temperature, suppression, etc etc. And here... oh sure.. .inside the cover I can open the cover just to let you see there is no exotic.. you can just see that here inside we do not have any batteries or any stupidity like that. This is just electronic stuff.

And here you see another very important thing which is the measurement of the gamma rays. This is the measurement of the gamma rays. Now we are measuring .15 microseiversts per hour in the enviroment outside of the reactor. This is a standard gauge to measure the gamma radiation. This is a "gamma scout." In this moment, it is giving us data .13 micros eiverts per hour, which means we are pretty safe, because of course the reactor is shielded and the gamma rays are thermalized. The low energy gamma rays which we produced are thermalized inside of the reactor, and it is for this reason that we have energy production.

...Here inside we have a double jacket. Between the two jackets there is the cooling water, which is the water that we steam up to collect the energy. The water comes here this is the chimney. At this point the water is operated, because here we are at 99.9 degrees Celsius which is the upper limit of liquid state of water. Here we have pressure, room pressure, this is important to specify because the boiling point is a function of the pressure. This is the thermal couple that measures the temperature of the water in the chimney. Then the steam flows through this pipe. This pipe is of course is about 100 C degrees Celsius so you cannot take your hand above, and this goes to the sink where the steam is going, that is right there. Some steam is going out because... Much of what goes out. Yes, we have some condensation. But there is small condensation because this (hose) is very short and the maximum part is steam that goes out.

Just a moment. Put it. Got it. Steam. This is steam. And of course it is not that visible because it is very hot. Being very hot, it has less density. And so it is not very visible. But you can see the steam. On white you cannot see it well. With black you can see. But it is not very visible because it is very hot. Steam you can see well at low temperatures like fog, but when it is hot it is very dispersant.

At this moment we are making seven kilograms of water. Seven kilograms that we know perfectly because we weight the water that we put inside. Every time that we recharge, we weight the water and so we know exactly what is the weight of the water that we are passing through the reactor in one hour. The temperature is 101 degrees. This is a special rubber for high temperature. This is a rubber that resists up to 180 degrees Celsius. _PESN
And so on. The output is either hot water or steam, depending upon what is required.

Greek company Defkalion will hold a news conference tomorrow, presumably with details of its business plans.
Defkalion Green Technologies Inc. (that has acquired world wide rights to the technology except in the Americas) will be holding a press conference about the technology on June 23, 2011 (Story). I expect the press conference to be a very important event because the technology offers a way for Greece to re-build their economy. With this technology, Greece could transform from being near bankrupt, to an economic force in Europe. _PESN


Will Fusion be Most Useful for Burning Waste from Fission?

Using Sandia National Laboratories data, Helion calculates 50 fusion engines could incinerate the entire U.S. stockpile of nuclear waste in 20 years.

Helion Colliding Plasmas

Many billions of dollars have been spent on large scale fusion efforts such as the National Ignition Facility in Livermore or ITER in France. But if the best use of fusion in the intermediate term is to burn up non-recyclable nuclear waste from fission reactors, perhaps the smaller-scale, cheaper approaches might be better? Small efforts such as Bussard IEC fusion, Focus Fusion, General Fusion, Tri Alpha etc. are the sentimental favourites, because they are the work of relatively small groups with low budgets. Their reactors would be small enough to mass produce in factories. And maybe they could even provide the heart of a deep space fusion rocket propulsion system one day.

Regardless, the teams of scientists and engineers are out there giving it their best. Here is a quick look at Helion Energy's fusion project, based in Redmond, Washington:
Helion is among a handful of fusion startups, such as Tri Alpha Energy in Foothill Ranch, Calif., and General Fusion in Vancouver, British Columbia, all striving for the same grand goal as their outsize government counterparts: remaking the global energy landscape by proving that fusion power is feasible. A few forward-looking venture-capital firms have provided funding to get them off the ground; Tri Alpha, for instance, has attracted more than $50 million from a variety of prominent firms, including Goldman Sachs and Vulcan Capital.

Helion's technology was developed for about $5 million by MSNW, a company owned by University of Washington research associate professor John Slough. To see a full-scale component of the reactor, which Slough calls a fusion engine, I meet him at an industrial building a few minutes' drive from Helion's headquarters and walk past a conference table to a room filled with giant metal parts.

Inside the 26-foot-long prototype, two plasmas—clouds of hot ionized gas containing hydrogen isotopes—hurtle toward each other. The clouds collide inside a burn chamber, merging into a single entity. An electromagnet surrounding the chamber squeezes the plasma tighter and tighter, creating the high temperature and pressure conditions needed for fusion—a milestone MSNW first passed in 2008. "The idea," says Slough, who has the white hair and slightly disheveled appearance of a modern-day Einstein, "is to have the energy that comes out of the plasma exceed the energy that goes into it for a brief period of time."

...With its pulsed magnetic field design, the Helion team claims it has found the elusive sweet spot in the fusion landscape: a reliable, cheap reactor that doesn't require fine-tuned optics or complicated plasma confinement. In Helion's reactor, electric currents flowing inside the plasma reverse the direction of a magnetic field that's applied from the outside; the new, closed field that results effectively confines the plasma. "Compared to the tokamak and NIF, Helion's reactor is relatively compact and low-cost," says Richard Milroy, a physicist at the University of Washington who isn't affiliated with Helion. "Utilities don't need to invest billions for the first test reactor to see if things will work out." Plus, he says, the plasma-formation area is separate from the burn chamber in Helion's reactor, so its expensive components may last longer.

...While Helion's reactor is much simpler than those of ITER or NIF, it's also not yet powerful enough to be useful to a utility. Slough says his team will need to increase the size of the reactor's magnetic confinement field and boost the acceleration rate so that the plasmas will be traveling about twice as fast by the time they crash into each other. Those refinements will require at least $15 million to $20 million in development costs, money Helion does not currently have. Even if the funds materialize, there's no guarantee the reactor will work as projected when scaled up, or function consistently over long periods of time.

...fusion might be most useful—at least in the near term—as a means of destroying waste from nuclear fission. University of Texas physicist Swadesh Mahajan and his colleagues are developing a hybrid fusion–fission reactor that shunts neutrons produced during fusion to a fission blanket that burns nuclear waste as fuel. "Producing energy by fusion is at best a very long-term project," Mahajan says, "but through this intermediary, we can become useful to the energy sector."

NIF's projected LIFE power plant will be designed to burn waste, too, and Helion is considering adapting its reactor to do the same in order to provide revenue from utilities sooner. It's easier from a technical standpoint than using fusion to produce energy, because achieving break-even is not necessary—and it could potentially help solve a long-standing problem. Using Sandia National Laboratories data, Helion calculates 50 fusion engines could incinerate the entire U.S. stockpile of nuclear waste in 20 years. _PM

The R&D work and expense would be worth it, just to be able to safely dispose of non-recyclable nuclear waste (and any other toxic waste). But if any of the small-scale fusion projects actually succeeds in producing large scale electric power safely and sustainably from fusion, the world will have changed overnight.

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A Technique from Spain et France to Convert Methane to Longer Chain Hydrocarbons

If science could find a way to economically turn cheap, abundant methane into higher value, longer chain hydrocarbons, the global energy balance would be rocked back on its axis.  Scientists from Spain and France have discovered a catalyst and solvent combination which provide an early step in the conversion process.   Combining a silver complexed catalyst with super-critical CO2 as solvent, the multi-university team has achieved promising early stage results.
Researchers from the Universities of Valencia, Huelva and Toulouse, led by Professors Gregorio Asensio, Pedro J. Pérez and Michel Etienne, have developed a methodology for transforming methane into more complex organic molecules. A paper on their work is published in the journal Science.

The use of methane, the simplest hydrocarbon and main component of natural gas, as a source for the production of more complex organic compounds is of great interest from both economic and environmental points of view. However, methane has the strongest C-H links in the whole series of alkanes.

Another challenge for chemically transforming methane derives from of its gaseous nature and its low solubility in common solvents. These features make it difficult for methane to come in contact with the catalysts and reagents that perform the chemical reaction and, therefore, this does not occur or it does but with great difficulty. For these reasons, very few processes are known to be effective for the functionalization of this hydrocarbon.

...The transformation involves a carbene insertion into a C-H methane bond catalyzed by silver complexes with halogenated scorpionate ligands in supercritical carbon dioxide. The described process establishes the feasibility of the insertion of carbenes into C-H methane bonds catalyzed by transition metals. The reaction leads to the creation of a C-C bond over the methane to give ethyl propanoate with a yield of 19% and opens new perspectives to the process of functionalization of methane and of hydrocarbons in general.

The research was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Regional Governments of Valencia and Andalusia, and the European Union through its ERA Chemistry program. _GCC

Abstract from Science:
Even in the context of hydrocarbons’ general resistance to selective functionalization, methane’s volatility and strong bonds pose a particular challenge. We report here that silver complexes bearing perfluorinated indazolylborate ligands catalyze the reaction of methane (CH4) with ethyl diazoacetate (N2CHCO2Et) to yield ethyl propionate (CH3CH2CO2Et). The use of supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) as the solvent is key to the reaction’s success. Although the catalyst is only sparingly soluble in CH4/CO2 mixtures, optimized conditions presently result in a 19% yield of ethyl propionate (based on starting quantity of the diazoester) at 40°C over 14 hours. _Science
This result is a beginning, which may lead to industrial processes of higher yield, with a wide range of chemical product. With improved nano-catalytic design, expect to see basic synthetic results even more startling in the future, using simple starting feedstocks such as CO, CO2, H2, CH4, H2O, and similar small molecules.

Faux environmental greens may want to power such processes using wind or solar, but that would be an absurd waste of resources. Nuclear power is a far better fit to power the wide range of new processes for creating synthetic fuels, chemicals, plastics, and other materials.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another Way Make Clean Use of the Abundant Coal Resource

The US has roughly 1 trillion barrels of oil equivalent in coal resources,or more. It has twice that amount in kerogen resources, but we are looking at coal specifically. The challenge has been to find ways to burn this massive coal resource cleanly, so as to provide abundant and inexpensive electrical power and heat to what should have been a healthy economy -- if not for a government policy of planned energy starvation.
Georgia Tech. researchers have devised self-cleaning anodes for a solid oxide fuel cell, which may provide yet another clean way of making use of the massive global coal resource.
Conventional coal-fired electric generating facilities capture just a third of the energy available in the fuel they burn. Fuel cells can convert significantly more of the energy, approximately 50 percent. If gas turbines and fuel cells could be combined into hybrid systems, researchers believe they could capture as much as 80 percent of the energy, reducing the amount of coal needed to produce a given amount of energy, potentially cutting carbon emissions.

...But that would only be possible if the fuel cells could run for long periods of time on coal gas, which now deactivates the anodes after as little as 30 minutes of operation.

The carbon removal system developed by the Georgia Tech-led team uses a vapor deposition process to apply barium oxide nanoparticles to the nickel-YSZ electrode. The particles, which range in size from 10 to 100 nanometers, form "islands" on the nickel that do not block the flow of electrons across the electrode surface.

When water vapor introduced into the coal gas stream contacts the barium oxide, it is adsorbed and dissociates into protons and hydroxide (OH) ions. The hydroxide ions move to the nickel surface, where they combine with the carbon atoms being deposited there, forming the intermediate COH. The COH then dissociates into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which are oxidized to power the fuel cell, ultimately producing carbon dioxide and water. About half of the carbon dioxide is then recirculated back to gasify the coal to coal gas to continue the process.

"We can continuously operate the fuel cell without the problem of carbon deposition," said Liu, who is also co-director of Georgia Tech's Center for Innovative Fuel Cell and Battery Technologies.

The researchers also evaluated the use of propane to power solid oxide fuel cells using the new anode system. Because oxidation of the hydrogen in the propane produces water, no additional water vapor had to be added, and the system operated successfully for a period of time similar to the coal gas system.

Solid oxide fuel cells operate most efficiently at temperatures above 850 degrees Celsius, and much less carbon is deposited at higher temperatures. However, those operating temperatures require fabrication from special materials that are expensive – and prevent solid oxide fuel cells from being cost-effective for many applications.

Reducing the operating temperatures is a research goal, because dropping temperatures to 700 or 750 degrees Celsius would allow the use of much less expensive components for interconnects and other important components. However, until development of the self-cleaning process, reducing the operating temperature meant worsening the coking problem.

"Reducing the operating temperature significantly by eliminating the problem of carbon deposition could make these solid oxide fuel cells economically competitive," Liu said.

Fuel cells powered by coal gas still produce carbon dioxide, but in a much purer form than the stack gases leaving traditional coal-fired power plants. That would make capturing the carbon dioxide for sequestration less expensive by eliminating large-scale separation and purification steps, Liu noted.

The researchers have so far tested their process for a hundred hours, and saw no evidence of carbon build-up. _PO

The problem with making the removal of CO2 a priority, is that it destroys whatever profitability exists within the coal energy sector. But destroying coal energy production has always been one of President Obama's long-term goals, as he confessed to supporters in San Francisco before being elected in 2008. When so much of the government of the world's only superpower is dedicated to the destruction of reliable forms of energy such as coal, nuclear, oil sands, unconventional gas, offshore oil, etc etc, it becomes difficult for industry and commerce to survive. Since the prosperity and power of the world's only superpower is based upon its industrial and commercial might, it appears that the Obama administration is committing democide and a grand scale, via its broad policies of energy starvation.

Fortunately for this government, the lickspittle media -- including comic lickspittles such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert -- are firmly on board the bandwagon of destruction and decline. It is up to more productive groups and persons to find within themselves the fortitude to outlast their dysfunctional overseers in government.

Images transplanted from an earlier posting at AFE 

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Monday, June 20, 2011

North American Shale Oil Bonanza Attracts GTL Technologies

...a major exploration and production company is seriously considering the possibility of incorporating microchannel FT reactors into a planned 5,000 -15,000 barrel per day (bpd) GTL facility onshore in North America designed to convert shale gas into finished synthetic fuels...The shortlisted technologies will be subjected to further evaluation as part of a major high-budget engineering study that will last for several months. The results of the study will be used to select the project’s technology providers. _Engineer

Oxford Catalyst's microchannel F-T technology for converting gas-to-liquids (GTL) is one of the frontrunners to be intensively studied for shale gas to liquids operations onshore in North America.

The technology is already being adopted for offshore applications in Brazil.

PDF presentation on Velocys / Oxford Catalyst's microchannel F-T technology
Microchannel FT reactors developed by Velocys and using a new highly active FT catalysts developed by Oxford Catalysts exhibit conversion efficiencies in the range of 70% per pass, according to Jeff McDaniel, Oxford Catalysts director of commercialisation.

“The high efficiency and modular nature of our microchannel FT reactors makes them particularly useful for this type of application because capacity can be easily increased by simply ’numbering up’ or linking together additional FT reactor modules,” said McDaniel. _Engineer

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Can US Energy Giant TVA Save US Nuclear Power from its NRC?

Giant US energy provider TVA has signed a letter of intent for the construction of 6 125 MW small modular reactors (SMRs) from Babcock and Wilcox, a solid company with a long record of building small reliable reactors for the US military.

TVA is also looking at reviving a half-built reactor located in Alabama, in an effort to jump-start the process of building new nuclear reactors which has been stymied by the obstructionist US bureaucracy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Because the plant already has a precious construction license, albeit from 1974, and because of the authority’s independent status, it faces far fewer obstacles than most other reactor builders.

The T.V.A. does not answer to state regulators. It has no shareholders to worry. As a federally chartered corporation established in 1933 as part of the New Deal, it is overseen by nine directors who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Today it supplies electricity across parts of seven states, serving roughly nine million people.

It also enjoys financial advantages that most public utilities lack, borrowing money at rates similar to those paid by the United States Treasury, which is critical for building hugely expensive reactors.

That makes it one of the very few American builders that could pull off a nuclear power comeback in this climate. With the exception of Watts Bar 1, another T.V.A. plant that was mothballed for a time but was finished in 1996, no new reactor construction has been started since the early 1990s. _NYT

Meanwhile in Russia, 8 massive new floating nuclear reactors are being readied for service in the Arctic -- to assist in development of massive hydrocarbon resources there. Russia's economy is dependent on its energy exports, and Russia is not reluctant to utilise its nuclear technology to benefit its economy -- unlike the government bureaucrats in the US [TVA excepted _ed.].

While Russia's vast energy resources are keeping the nation's economy afloat -- barely -- corruption in high places of Russian government place ever greater demands on Russia's rusting energy industry.

Perhaps Russia should also look into selling nuclear power to lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgy governments in western Europe, such as Germany. Several nations in Europe appear determined to commit energy suicide by rejecting nuclear and embracing unreliable and exorbitantly expensive wind and solar. Russia is in an excellent position to take advantage of that irrational streak in modern European governments.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Big Oil and Big Chemistry See Salvation in Bio-Feedstocks

The Earth is floating in hydrocarbons, yet the easy oil is in the hands of dictators, kleptocrats, and corrupt national oil companies. Oil is not only used for fuels, it is also used for feedstock in the chemicals, fabrics, plastics, and lubricants industries. When big international oil companies and big international chemical companies are being held hostage by corrupt tin-pot national oil companies, what do they do? They look for alternative sources and feedstocks. The most promising alternative feedstocks come from biology -- biomass and bio-oils from micro- and macro-organisms.

Many new companies and industries are sprouting up to exploit the potentially huge and profitable economic opportunities. Hundreds of $billions are at stake in chemicals, and $trillions are at stake in the fuels trade. But these fledgling biomass, biofuels, and bio-chemicals companies need financial backing, and much of their backing is coming from big oil and big chemicals.
Advancing next-generation biofuels technology from proof-of-concept to commercial reality will require major investment, a need that is being filled in part by oil giants and other industrial players. At the same time, these corporate powerhouses are staking their claims in this emerging area knowing that dwindling fossil fuel reserves will limit their existing businesses, according to Burrill & Company's annual report on the biotech industry.

"Big Oil is to biofuels companies what Big Pharma has been to biotech drugmakers," says G. Steven Burrill, CEO of the San Francisco-based merchant banking firm Burrill & Company. "It's a symbiotic relationship. Biofuels developers need Big Oil's deep pockets, global presence, and engineering expertise. At the same time, Big Oil needs a strategy beyond fossil fuels if they are to have long-term financial health."

...It's not just large oil companies, such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and BP that are making strategic investments in emerging biorenewables. Large chemical concerns such as DuPont and Dow Chemical are also positioning themselves to become major players in the field.

"Because of the cost and complexity of scaling biofuels to a point where they could compete with conventional fossil fuels, the early opportunities for these biofuel companies will be in the area of high-value specialty chemicals," Mr. Burrill says.

Renewable chemicals represent an enormous opportunity to companies that are challenged by the scale and cost of fuel production. Although most companies say their chemicals can compete with petrochemical-based molecules when oil is selling for $60 to $80 a barrel, with the exception of ethanol and handful of other alternatives, few renewables have reached commercial scale. As these companies ramp up operations, they are turning to renewable chemicals as a substitute for petroleum-derived chemicals for use in plastics, fibers, cosmetics, and as bulk and specialty chemicals.

These findings are contained within Biotech 2011-Life Sciences: Looking Back to See Ahead, Burrill & Company's 25th annual report on the biotech industry. The book is now available in print and electronic format at _Marketwire
A good example of a savvy biotech company jumping into these waters is Amyris, in the East SF Bay area. Amyris has developed farnesene from biomass and called it Biofene. The company plans to market the chemical to the global surfactants business, to generate cash flow to finance a frantic program of ongoing research into further bio-chemicals and bio-fuels from biomass production.

Gevo is another busy startup hoping to prosper in both the bio-fuels and bio-chemicals areas. Gevo has developed a proprietary yeast for fermenting corn sugars into butanol -- instead of ethanol. Butanol is a much higher value fuel than ethanol, and a precursor to high value chemicals. Gevo is retrofitting ethanol plants in Minnesota and South Dakota for production of bio-butanol.

One problem for these high tech startups is the emergence of abundant, cheap natural gas from unconventional sources. As Shell's Qatar GTL plant proves, natural gas can be an excellent feedstock for production of liquid fuels and chemicals if the price of feedstock is low enough.

And yet, Earth is a biological planet. Biomass of one type or another grows prolifically over the greater portion of both land and seas. Hydrocarbons are not as readily available at all locations as biomass could be. As new methods of fermentation, gasification, pyrolysis, torrefaction, etc. are developed for processing all forms of biomass, expect the smart money to discover the versatility of biology and biological products.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Genomatica Ferments bio-Butanediol at Demonstration Scale

1,4-Butanediol is used industrially as a solvent and in the manufacture of some types of plastics, elastic fibers and polyurethanes. In organic chemistry, 1,4-butanediol is used for the synthesis of γ-butyrolactone (GBL). In the presence of phosphoric acid and high temperature, it dehydrates to the important solvent tetrahydrofuran.[8] At about 200 °C in the presence of soluble ruthenium catalysts, the diol undergoes dehydrogenation to form butyrolactone.[9]

World production of 1,4-butanediol is about one million metric tons per year and market price is about 2,000 USD (1,600 EUR) per ton (2005). Almost half of it is dehydrated to tetrahydrofuran to make fibers such as Spandex.[10] The largest producer is BASF.[11] _Wikipedia
Genomatica Research Goals, Publications

Using engineered micro-organisms, San Diego based Genomatica has achieved demonstration scale fermentation of over $2 billion a year chemical butanediol (BDO) from sugars. Commercial production of bio-BDO is planned for 2012, with rapid scale-up to industrial "world-scale" production by 2014. (h/t GCC)

Current feedstocks for the genomatica platform consist of refined sugars. As depicted above, the company plans to utilise cellulosic sugars from biomass as the cheaper feedstocks become available. Eventual use of syngas from bio-waste as a fermentation feedstock is planned.

As the table above illustrates, BDO is just the first product ($2 billion global production) planned for the Genomatica line. As more biotech companies move into "green chemicals" production using alternative feedstocks to petroleum, the established order in big chemicals is likely to shift considerably.

Expect to see such transformations occurring in the chemical industry before they occur in the fuels industry, due to the higher value per ton of targeted chemicals. Later, many of the same companies who perfect their processes and business models with high value chemicals, will move into much higher volume synthetic fuels production.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1st Sales from Shell's Gas to Liquids + 2 Approaches to Coals to Liquids

Unconventional hydrocarbon resources represent a huge resource as alternatives to liquid petroleum fuels. Liquids from coal and liquids from gas are potentially competitive at today's petroleum prices -- with proper development and scaling of industrial processes.

Big News from Shell's Pearl GTL Plant in Qatar:
Shell sells first gasoil from Pearl Gas-to-Liquids plant
The $19 billion Pearl gas-to-liquids plant, built in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, will reach full capacity by the middle of 2012, when it is expected to convert 1.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day into kerosene, gasoil, base oils, paraffin and naphtha, Shell said today in a statement.

Pearl would generate about $6 billion a year in profit for Shell assuming oil at $70 a barrel, Andrew Brown, the company’s executive vice president for the country, said last year. Pearl and a Qatari gas liquefaction plant that started earlier this year may account for 10 percent of the company’s output when both are fully operational.

...Gas-to-liquids plants such as Pearl produce fuels that would normally be made in an oil refinery and hence benefit when natural gas is cheaper than crude. Oil is close to four times more expensive than gas on an energy equivalent basis and was a record five times more expensive in April, based on New York futures prices.

Pearl will have the capacity to produce 140,000 barrels a day of liquid fuels normally produced in a refinery ... as well as 120,000 barrels a day of condensate and liquid petroleum gas, byproducts of natural-gas production._BW

A plasma gasification CTL plant for Morristown, Tennessee, is planning the beginning of operations by November 2012. The plant will utilise plasmas at 30,000 degrees F to create a clean syngas from coal, for catalytic diesel synthesis.

An alternative CTL approach planned for China involves the production of ethanol from coal. Chinese developers intend to sell this ethanol both within China and on the international ethanol market. They may even sell their coal ethanol to Russia and label it as vodka? ;-)

Al Fin energy analysts prefer the coal to diesel approach, given the much higher value of diesel compared to ethanol. In addition, any catalytic synthesis plant capable of producing diesel from syngas, could be modified to produce other high value chemicals, plastics, lubricants, etc.

Similarly, GTL plants using catalytic synthesis can be modified to produce a wide array of hydrocarbon based chemicals, materials, fuels, and lubricants.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Carnival of Nuclear Energy #56 Hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes

The 56th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy is being hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes. (h/t Brian Wang) Here are some excerpts:
To start, Rod Adams at Atomic Insights has a piece describing what’s happening between the NRC, the AP1000 and Friends of the Earth. According to Rod, the NRC appears to be wavering in its commitment to its own established process because some believe that receiving 14,000 emails on the AP1000 design certification indicates a high level of general public opposition. Rod notes that the emails are mainly from a single group, the FOE, who have professionally opposed nuclear energy for 40 years. The group claims credit for orchestrating nearly every one of those emails as part of a campaign against nuclear energy in general, not against the AP1000 in particular. The FOE sources who have identified the cited "technical issues" have questionable professional backgrounds, long histories of antinuclear activity, and little credibility.
Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat discusses the NRC Inspector General’s report on the NRC Chairman’s use of budget guidance on the review of the Yucca Mountain license. According to media summaries of the leaked IG’s review in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, the Chairman issued controversial budget guidance to his staff to stop the work and brushed off complaints from other commissioners about it.
Rick Maltese at Deregulate the Atom pointed out that the NRC should not get all the credit for nuclear energy's decades of safety.
The Institute for Nuclear Power Operations in the US and the World Association of Nuclear Operators deserve a lot of the credit for improvements in safety and other design improvements. They are the Nuclear Industry’s self regulating bodies. And most of the accomplishments were made within the 10 or so years after the Three Mile Island accident. I point this out to set the record straight about who and how the excellent record of safety that has come about in the nuclear industry is not at all understood.
Alan Rominger and Steve Skutnik at Neutron Economy have two posts to mention. Alan explains the connection between the recent idea for "charter cities" where small modular reactors located at the bottom of the ocean can provide sustainable, independent power for such efforts. And Steve explains why he ultimately went from being a physicist to a nuclear engineer. Steve encourages other nuclear professionals and advocates to tell their stories of how they came to be involved in nuclear energy as well (I’m reminded of this example).
Charles Barton at Nuclear Green asks: Why Is Renewable Energy So Expensive, While Molten Salt Reactors will be So Cheap? He finds that an examination of input materials for wind generation systems and solar PV generation is greater than the input materials for an Advanced High Temperature Reactor. The study he cites reveals that the AHTR, a near relative of the Molten Salt Reactor, has big advantages by the little amount of resources needed. MSRs can potentially offer the same material input advantages over renewables, and thus may generate electricity at very competitive costs.
Brian Wang at Next Big Future reports that Lawrenceville Plasma Physics’s (LPP) research team has sorted out several issues on their dense plasma focus fusion project which should enable them to substantially increase power.
_NEI Nuclear Notes
Despite the Obama administration's overarching policy of energy starvation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's blatant obstructionism, small modular reactors are being developed rapidly -- the B&W reactor being a prime example.
The concept behind mPower, and small modular reactors designed by B&W competitors, is to let electric utilities add nuclear generation in small blocks. While most reactors on the market today generate more than 1,000 megawatts of power, an mPower module would provide 125 megawatts. A utility could order just enough modules to meet its needs, Halfinger said.

“There are places in the world where they need 1,000 megawatts, (but) one size does not fit all,” he said. “A lot of places need 200 megawatts.”

The nuclear industry has been abuzz about small modular reactors. Westinghouse, NuScale Power and Holtec International also are working on modular designs.

Cross-posted from Al Fin


Complementary Uses for Waste Heat and Cryogenic Storage

Leeds Engineering

The scheme pictured above is from the University of Leeds Engineering. The process involves using low cost off-peak power to cool air to liquid cryogen. During peak load hours, the cryogen is combined with waste industrial heat to generate peak load power in a turbine.
Oregon State Engineering

The above schema comes from Oregon State University Engineering, depicting a process for turning waste heat into mechanical power for cooling. Heat-to-cooling efficiencies of up to 80% are claimed. The OSU process combines micro-channel heat exchange with an organic rankine cycle turbine to drive the refrigerant compressor. If used to generate electric power from waste heat, efficiencies of only 15% to 20% are claimed.
Leeds Engineering

The schema above is from the University of Leeds Engineering. It depicts a combined use of waste heat from power production for either cooling -- using absorption refrigeration -- or for assisting in the generation of electric power using cryogenic storage.

It is easy to see how the OSU micro-channel / organic rankine cycle process might be used in such a trigeneration scheme, substituting for the absorption cooling in the scheme above.

The purpose of combining different processes together -- as in either CHP or IGCC etc -- is to achieve higher efficiencies and more economical production.

While the above waste heat retrieval processes are more efficient than thermoelectric conversion, they are less suited for mobile uses due to their greater complexity. But for use on industrial and utility scales, such processes are likely to prove as useful for integration into total power schemes as the emerging flow cell batteries.

An advantage of the cryogenic storage approach is that whenever a relative excess of electricity persists over an extended time, the cryogen can be separated into liquid N2 and liquid O2 and sold for a profit.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Subcritical Thorium Reactor Revolution


Somewhere in Cheshire an energy revolution is brewing. Modern nuclear researchers are developing new approaches to safe subcritical reactors, using fertile thorium as fuel. The new reactor designs will be incredibly safe, proliferation resistant, and will produce only miniscule and easily stored amounts of long-lived nuclear waste.
Imagine a safe, clean nuclear reactor that used a fuel that was hugely abundant, produced only minute quantities of radioactive waste and was almost impossible to adapt to make weapons. It sounds too good to be true, but this isn’t science fiction. This is what lies in store if we harness the power of a silvery metal found in river sands, soil and granite rock the world over: thorium.

One ton of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal, and the thorium deposits that have already been identified would meet the entire world’s energy needs for at least 10,000 years. Unlike uranium, it’s easy and cheap to refine, and it’s far less toxic. Happily, it produces energy without producing any carbon dioxide: so an economy that ran on thorium power would have virtually no carbon footprint.

Better still, a thorium reactor would be incapable of having a meltdown, and would generate only 0.6 per cent of the radioactive waste of a conventional nuclear plant. It could even be adapted to ‘burn’ existing, stockpiled uranium waste in its core, thus enormously reducing its radioactive half-life and toxicity.

...The good news is that, thanks to funding from the Research Councils UK Basic Technology Programme, we’ve taken the first, critical step to making this dream a reality – constructing an incredibly hi-tech, cutting-edge machine with a surprisingly ordinary name: Emma.

Daresbury, the science park where Emma lives in a big, bare building with solid concrete walls more than two feet thick, isn’t especially scenic – it’s overlooked by a power station and stands on the boggy Cheshire flatland between Runcorn and Warrington, at the head of the Mersey estuary.

...Emma is a particle accelerator, the first of an entirely new type. Since the first such machines were built nearly 80 years ago, accelerators – devices that propel beams of electrons, protons or other particles to high speeds – have played a vital role in experimental physics, opening up fresh insights into the origins of the universe and the nature of matter. But most are big and expensive. The best known and biggest of all is the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN in Switzerland, an underground ring 17 miles in circumference, which cost billions to construct.

Emma is different. She is the world’s first ‘non- scaling, fixed-field, alternating-gradient’ (NS-FFAG) accelerator. In layman’s terms, says Bliss, this means she is a ‘pocket-sized’ machine, the prototype of a new generation that will be significantly smaller and cheaper than its predecessors.

And this is Emma’s special significance. Making particle accelerators affordable means they could be built and used in practical, everyday settings – such as thorium power stations. The key to thorium energy is likely to be the further development of ‘pocket-sized’ machines – precisely the kind of accelerator that looks and behaves like Emma.

... Thorium atoms only start to undergo fissile nuclear reactions and thus to release their energy when they’re bombarded with neutrons, and these would have to be supplied by an external source – ultimately, an accelerator.

‘This means the margin of safety is far greater than with a conventional plant,’ says Cywinski. ‘If the accelerator fails, all that will happen is that the reaction will subside. To stop the reactor, all you would have to do is switch off the accelerator.’
And if hit by an earthquake, he adds, even one as powerful as the one that wrecked Fukushima, a thorium plant would be ‘intrinsically safer’.

‘There’d be some residual radioactivity heating the core, but sustained nuclear fission would simply stop. Everything would cool much faster. You’d be left not with potential catastrophe, but just a heap of molten metal and metal oxides.’

This type of plant – dubbed the Energy Amplifier by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carlo Rubbia in 1993, when he patented the basic design – wouldn’t be simple. Because neutrons carry no electrical charge, the magnets in a particle accelerator have no effect on them.

Hence, the way to generate the neutrons necessary to trigger nuclear reactions in thorium would be to build a ‘spallation source’ in the middle of the reactor core. This is a substance – molten lead, for example – which produces neutrons when you fire a beam of protons at it. That beam, in turn, would come from a particle accelerator.

...Last year, ThorEA published a report, Towards An Alternative Nuclear Future, which concluded it should be possible to build the first 600MW power plant fuelled by thorium with three attached ‘pocket-sized’ NS-FFAG accelerators within 15 years, at a cost of about £2 billion – making it highly competitive in relation to fossil-fuel or conventional nuclear alternatives. _GWPF_from_MailOnline
Using "pocket-sized" accelerators to generate spallation neutrons to breed fissile U233 from fertile Th232 might allow for highly scalable and versatile reactor designs, which would certainly be safer than any nuclear reactors currently generating power. And nuclear is by far the safest form of power generation currently in existence.

Below, you can see researcher Rachael Buckley standing inside the EMMA device.
Thorium itself is plentiful, and will be quite cheap once the infrastructure is developed. The cost for subcritical reactor designs depends mainly on the cost of the accelerators and reactor vessels, and containment. The fuel itself is a negligible expense. And by reducing the quantity of waste to be stored and lowering the proliferation potential of the reactor dramatically, those costs would also plummet.

This technology will also be useful in the perpetual fight against cancer.
‘I’m optimistic we can build a machine that overcomes the technical challenges and would be applicable for cancer therapy straight away,’ he says. ‘I think Pamela can be built for an overall cost of £10-15 million, and would take about five years. And that would be a crucial stepping stone towards a thorium power station. It wouldn’t be cheap. But it would be highly competitive.’

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It will take time to put the pieces together, but the writing is on the wall, if modern humans will only take the time to read it and take action.

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