Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brian Wang Hosts the 63d Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

Here are some excerpts from the 63d Carnival of the Nukes:
1. Margaret Harding goes over the realities of Entergy’s bet on fuel for Vermont Yankee (VY). Neither the naysayers, nor the supporters had it right. The fuel can be moved, but not easily. The fuel can be used in another reactor, but not easily. In any case, the cost probably will outweigh the benefits and Entergy is betting they will get to operate at least one fuel cycle of Vermont Yankee (VY).

3. Atomic Power Review has Nuclear Energy in Japan: The Scandal Widens Atomic Power Review reports on the growing list of questions about Japan's nuclear regulatory body, NISA (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency - Japan's nuclear regulatory agency), and its apparent attempts to influence public opinion in less than up front ways.

4. Rod Adams at Atomic Insights has Build baby build - new nuclear power plants

CBS News aired a short piece that reminds people how vital reliable electricity is. That knowledge is reinforced when power grids are stressed and when people die due to complications associated with heat exposure. Nuclear plants have a far better chance of being available when needed than the wind turbines that were AWOL during a recent heat wave that blanketed about 1/4 of the US land mass.

When the heat domes hover, the air is still and muggy. If there was a reliable breeze we would not be so dependent on our air conditioners!

5. ANS Nuclear Café entry: Is the NRC on target with its call to redefine nuclear safety?

A report by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff task force calls for sweeping regulatory change, yet acknowledges that information about the Fukushima accident is unavailable, unreliable, or ambiguous.

What should be the response in the United States to the events in Japan? Dan Yurman asks a diverse group of nuclear energy professionals for their views on the NRC 90-day task force report.

6. Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat has Did Canada give away the store in sale of AECL?

Reactor refurbishment service will be a cash cow for SNC Lavalin with limited options for sales of new reactors. On June 29 the government of Canada finally put an end to industry uncertainty about how it would dispose of its nuclear crown corporation, Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. (AECL).

The administration of Stephen Harper signed away the company’s CANDU reactor division to SNC Lavalin as a re-branded entity, CANDU Energy, at the bargain-basement price of C$15 million in cash, plus $285 million in future royalties earned through the sale of new reactors. That final price of $300 million had been kicked around in on-and-off negotiations for nearly two years.

10. Amelia Frahm announces that Nutcracker Publishing Company is getting ready to release Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works.
It's the first children's picture book about nuclear power plants that, as Dr. Theodore Rockwell put it, "kids can learn the basic facts about nuclear energy without first being scared witless."

I had just sent the book to my illustrator when the nuclear emergency in Japan occurred. As far as I can determine, this is the first such book that is not anti-nuclear.

Check out our video of journalist, Birderson Cooper interviewing our chubby rat character, as he explains and demonstrates a fission chain reaction. Or, as the esteemed rodent put it, “What makes a nuclear power plant NU-CLE-AR.”
11. Nextbigfuture - Unit 1 at the Wolsong nuclear power plant in South Korea has been restarted following the completion of a refurbishment of the pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR). It marks the first time that a Candu-6 reactor has been successfully dismantled, retubed and restarted. The 679 MWe reactor to operate for a further 25 years. It took 839 days to refurbish (started in 2009).

AECL has completed the retubing of unit 2 and received regulatory approval on 30 June 2011 to start reloading fuel into the reactor. It is expected to be reconnected to the grid by the end of the year. Refurbishment work of unit 1 is also nearing completion and that unit is expected to be reconnected to the grid in early 2012... _NBF #63 Nuke Carnie

The Sanmen nuclear power plant in China received its first AP 1000 nuclear reactor vessel

The Turks and the Japanese are in talks regarding construction of Turkey's second nuclear power plant

Japan's government is risking its $5 trillion economy, and more, as it takes steps to abandon its nuclear power infrastructure.

Advanced nations such as Japan and Germany cannot afford to abandon nuclear power -- particularly now when their core populations are shrinking. It would make far more sense for these nations to move toward small modular reactors for the sake of safety and reduction of personnel requirements. The "energy starvation" approach to national energy agendas is an ominous trend.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Canadian OilSands: A Cleaner More Bountiful Bitumen

Canadian oilsands producers are making progress on many fronts, to produce a cleaner and more environmentally friendly product, in ever greater quantities. Brian Wang discusses the N-Solv Process, an in situ bitumen extraction process that does not require water and uses 85% less energy.
NSolv Image via NBF
In N-Solv, heated solvent vapour is injected at moderate pressures into the gravity drainage chamber. The vapour flows from the injection well to the colder perimeter of the chamber where it condenses, delivering heat and fresh solvent directly to the bitumen extraction interface. The N-Solv extraction temperature and pressure are very gentle compared to in situ steam processes. The use of solvent also preferentially extracts the valuable components in the bitumen while the problematic high molecular weight coke forming species (asphaltenes) are left behind. The condensed solvent and oil then drain by gravity to the bottom of the chamber and are recovered via the production well.

The in situ solvent deasphalting is very selective and leaves the asphaltenes evenly dispersed throughout the extracted portion of the chamber. Post extraction core analyses show that the residue contains 60 to 70% asphaltenes. By leaving the majority of the asphaltenes behind the produced oil contains less sulphur, heavy metals (zinc, vanadium, iron) and carbon residue. This partially upgrades the oil to 13-16°API from a value of approximately 8°API for the raw bitumen. The produced oil is also less viscous, thus it requires less diluent for pipeline transportation to the refinery. _NSolv_via_NBF
Another promising water-free approach to the clean extraction of oil sands bitumen, is the ionic liquid approach. This process was developed by scientists at Penn State.

Oilsands producers are also making progress in cleaning up oil sands tailings, with the formation of the Oil Sands Tailings Consortium. More information here.

Current oil sands production is roughly 1.5 mbpd, with projects online slated to ramp production up to 7.5 mbpd -- a significant contribution to global oil production.

The United States is coming to rely on the growing supply of bitumen sourced oil, although the Obama government has been trying to shut down US importation and consumption of oil sands from its earliest days in power. If Obama's regime rejects Canadian oilsands, the Chinese market is more than willing to take up the slack. Either way, the future for Canada's oil provinces appears very promising, both economically and environmentally.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Shale Oil & Gas Bonanza: The Energy Wealth Keeps on Coming

A few years ago every geologist involved in Appalachian Basin oil and gas knew about the Devonian black shale called the Marcellus. Its black color made it easy to spot in the field and its slightly radioactive signature made it a very easy pick on a geophysical well log.

However, very few of these geologists were excited about the Marcellus Shale as a major source of natural gas. Wells drilled through it produced some gas but rarely in enormous quantity. Few if any in the natural gas industry suspected that the Marcellus might soon be a major contributor to the natural gas supply of the United States - large enough to be spoken of as a "super giant" gas field. _Marcellus Shale Geology
But now, all that has changed. The Devonian black shale that could never get any respect, is now becoming a big star.
USGS Geologic Time

You can find the Devonian period in the chart above. Marcellus shale formed in the Devonian, but other shales formed in other geologic periods, at other sedimentary depths. It is important to keep the Earth's age in mind when thinking about possible hydrocarbon deposits.

Marcellus shale oil & gas have been lying in wait, waiting for humans smart enough and hungry enough to come down and get them. Some humans are willing -- and they are beginning to reap the rewards. Other humans are frightened of phantoms and their own shadows. They are drowning in debt and avoidable human misery.
The Marcellus shale formation—65 million acres running through Ohio, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and southern New York—offers one of the biggest natural gas opportunities. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, recognized that potential and set up a regulatory framework to encourage and monitor natural gas drilling, a strategy continued by Republican Tom Corbett.

More than 2,000 wells have been drilled in the Keystone State since 2008, and gas production surged to 81 billion cubic feet in 2009 from five billion in 2007. A new Manhattan Institute report by University of Wyoming professor Timothy Considine estimates that a typical Marcellus well generates some $2.8 million in direct economic benefits from natural gas company purchases; $1.2 million in indirect benefits from companies engaged along the supply chain; another $1.5 million from workers spending their wages, or landowners spending their royalty payments; plus $2 million in federal, state and local taxes. Oh, and 62 jobs.

Statistics from Pennsylvania bear this out. The state Department of Labor and Industry reports that Marcellus drilling has created 72,000 jobs between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011. The average wage for jobs in core Marcellus shale industries is about $73,000, or some $27,000 more than the average for all industries.

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue says drillers have paid more than $1 billion in state taxes since 2006—and the numbers are swelling. In 2011's first quarter, 857 oil and gas companies and affiliates paid $238 million in capital stock and foreign franchise taxes, corporate income taxes, sales taxes and employer withholding. This exceeds by some $20 million the total payments in 2010.

The revenue department also identified some $214 million in personal income taxes paid since 2006 that can be attributed to Marcellus shale lease payments to individuals, royalty income and asset sales. And all of this with no evidence of significant environmental harm.


Then there's New York. The state holds as much as 20% of the estimated Marcellus shale reserves, but green activists have raised fears about the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing and convinced politicians to enact what is effectively a moratorium.

The Manhattan Institute study shows that a quick end to the moratorium would generate more than $11.4 billion in economic output from 2011 to 2020, 15,000 to 18,000 new jobs, and $1.4 billion in new state and local tax revenue. These are conservative estimates based on a limited area of drilling. If drilling were allowed in the New York City watershed—which Governor Andrew Cuomo is so far rejecting—as well as in the state's Utica shale formation, the economic gains would be five times larger. _GWPF: Pennsylvania vs New York

The State of New York is practising energy starvation on its own citizens and industry. The people will necessarily suffer as a result. The federal government of the United States is also practising energy starvation on its own citizens and industry, but on a much larger scale. More on that in another posting.

Another rich deposit of shale is the Utica formation, found at deeper levels than the Marcellus shale. The Utica is found in the Ordovician layers (see chart above).

An energy exploration company active in Ohio has declared the Utica Shale formation ''liquid rich'' in eastern Ohio, meaning the geological formation contains oil.

Utica Shale is a geological formation found several thousand feet below sea level, much deeper than the commonly discussed Marcellus Shale, a natural gas-rich formation that is now being explored in eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, Chesapeake Energy, based in Oklahoma City, released its quarterly earnings report, including in it references to this latest mineral find. Chesapeake, which holds 18 of the 24 permits to drill into Utica Shale in the state, said results of recent drilling indicate oil in eastern Ohio.

''Chesapeake is announcing the discovery of a major new liquids-rich play in the Utica Shale,'' the report said, noting that the finding was based on two years of ''proprietary geoscientific, petrophysical and engineering research.''

Chesapeake's report indicated that the discovery could be worth a $15 billion or $20 billion increase in company value.

"The company believes the Utica Shale will be characterized by a western oil phase, central wet gas phase and an eastern dry gas phase," the report said. _TribToday

New technologies for exploiting rich shale deposits have overturned conventional wisdom on North American oil & gas reserves and production capacity. Expect the same to happen around the world.

More:  EOG's Big Shale Oil Gamble Pays Off
The Bakken : Williston shale formation lies within the upper Devonian and lower Mississippian layers. See chart at top -- click for enlarged version.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Joule Unlimited Aims for 25,000 gal/acre Ethanol, 15,000 gal/acre Diesel

Bioengineering startup Joule Unlimited Technologies, utilises highly engineered photosynthetic micro-organisms to produce fuels and high value chemicals from CO2 and sunlight. Joule intends to eventually produce its fuels and chemicals without the need for biomass or biomass sugars for feedstock.
Joule Unlimited Technologies, a bioengineering startup leveraging highly engineered photosynthetic organisms to catalyze the conversion of sunlight and CO2 to fuels and chemicals, has been awarded its first two US patents covering its fundamental method for producing ethanol at volumes and efficiencies surpassing biomass-dependent processes.

...These two latest patents relate to methods for increasing the ethanol production capability of a photosynthetic microorganism. Joule’s platform microorganism is engineered to produce and secrete ethanol in a continuous process, converting more than 90% of the CO2 it consumes directly to end product, with no reliance on biomass feedstocks....

...Joule claims that these innovations, together with its advances in bioprocessing and solar capture and conversion, will help it achieve an ultimate target of 25,000 gallons per acre annually—a rate that is 10X greater than that of cellulosic ethanol and 100X greater than corn ethanol—while requiring no depletion of food crops, agricultural land or fresh water. Joule is now producing ethanol at pilot scale, and has achieved nearly 50% of its ultimate productivity target in the lab, it says.

In addition, by eliminating the need for biomass, Joule avoids the burden of fluctuating feedstock cost and supply, as well as the energy-intensive, multi-step conversion of biomass to product. At full-scale commercial production Joule expects to produce ethanol for as little as $0.60/gallon.

In an open access paper published earlier this year in the journal Photosynthesis Research, a Joule team concluded that its direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of solar hydrocarbon fuels could produce the areal equivalent of up to 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre annually. _GCC

As Al Fin industrial engineers have pointed out previously, it is easy to get high yields per "acre" if one builds photobioreactors vertically, essentially multiplying growing area while maintaining the same building footprint area. Joule has a lot of work to do if it is to achieve its production targets without utilising such tricks.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bill Gates' TerraPower On Track for 2016 Build, 2020 Startup

The radical new nuclear reactor design being financed by Bill Gates, is in the middle of intensive design changes to make the reactor easier to build. Most of the design and engineering is taking place in the US. The company will need to find a building site overseas, due to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's obstinate inability to approve new reactor builds and licenses within the United States. More from Technology Review (h/t Brian Wang)
In the new design, the reactions all take place near the reactor's center instead of starting at one end and moving to the other. To start, uranium 235 fuel rods are arranged in the center of the reactor. Surrounding these rods are ones made up of uranium 238. As the nuclear reactions proceed, the uranium 238 rods closest to the core are the first to be converted into plutonium, which is then used up in fission reactions that produce yet more plutonium in nearby fuel rods. As the innermost fuel rods are used up, they're taken out of the center using a remote-controlled mechanical device and moved to the periphery of the reactor. The remaining uranium 238 rods—including those that were close enough to the center that some of the uranium has been converted to plutonium—are then shuffled toward the center to take the place of the spent fuel.

...In this system, the heat is always generated in about the same area within the reactor core—near the center. As a result, it's easier to engineer the systems to extract and use the heat to generate electricity.

One challenge with this design is ensuring that the steel cladding that contains the fuel in the fuel rods can survive exposure to decades of radiation. Current materials aren't good enough: for one thing, they start to swell, which would close off the spaces between the fuel rods through which coolant is supposed to flow. To last 40 years, the materials would need to be made two to three times more durable, Terrapower says.

The company is using computer models to anticipate how currently available materials would change over time, and is developing reactor designs that anticipate these changes. For example, if it's known that a material would swell in the conditions inside the reactor, the spaces between the fuel rods would be designed to accommodate this swelling, says Doug Adkisson, director of operations at Terrapower.

Terrapower has also developed designs for a passive cooling system. Like many other advanced reactor designs, Terrapower's uses molten sodium metal as the coolant. Sodium takes much longer to boil than water, which gives plant operators more time to respond to accidents. It would also be possible to use natural convection and air cooling in the event of a power outage—coolant wouldn't have to be continuously pumped into the reactor, as was the case at Fukushima. One danger of using sodium, however, is that it reacts violently when it's exposed to air or water.

Terrapower's next steps include finalizing the design and finding partners to build the plants. It's been in talks with organizations in China, Russia, and India. Gilleland says the company expects to have an announcement about partners within the next few months. _TechnologyReview
After all the work and investment done in the US, the company will be forced to go to China, Russia, or India to build an actual demonstration plant. Just one of many signs that the US government is bloated and sclerosed almost beyond repair, unless drastic changes are made.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brief Energy News

The Weizman Institute announced a new synthesis route for the production of methanol from carbon dioxide. More details from Chemical & Engineering News

East SF Bay biotech company Amyris is opening another plant to produce renewable farnesene.
[Farnesene] may be sold directly into industrial applications or put through simple chemical finishing steps to form a broad range of renewable products including squalane, base oil and finished lubricants and diesel.
Global Bioenergie and Synthos are partnering to produce bio-butadiene -- a $30 billion annual market, as noted briefly earlier. Such biological substitutes for petroleum feedstocks will eventually reduce the demand for petroleum and other mined hydrocarbons in the chemicals, plastics, fiber, dye, lubricants and other vital industries.

Brookhaven National Lab scientists are using computer modeling in an attempt to increase the production of seed oil in rapeseed -- an important crop in biodiesel production.

Ethanol acccounts for nearly 10% of the US "gasoline fuel supply."

Nuclear power cannot be written off -- it is here for the long haul

South Korea and India are collaborating to expand civilian nuclear technology

China has connected a new generation 20 MW "fast breeder reactor" to the electrical grid. Most news reports skate around the issue of plutonium proliferation associated with the uranium to plutonium breeder. Most current western approaches to breeder reactors are looking at the thorium to uranium 233 breeding, which has far less weapons proliferation risk.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Converting Waste Petcoke from Oilsands Production to Methanol

The bitumen upgraders in the Fort McMurray area of Alberta and the refineries in the Edmonton area are large producers of petroleum coke (petcoke), which, historically, has had essentially zero market value in Alberta.

Petcoke, however, can be converted to methanol, which can be used as a gasoline blending component or marketed as chemical-grade material. _OGJ
Once you have converted waste petcoke and low grade sub-bituminous coal to methanol, what should you do with it? That depends upon the economic factors at that moment in time. Methanol can be used on its own as fuel or in fuel cells. Methanol can be converted to gasoline via F-T. Methanol can be blended with gasoline or used in the production of biodiesel. Etc.
The potential conversion of methanol to gasoline (MTG) deserves a few words. The first commercial MTG unit was licensed by Mobil Oil in New Zealand in 1985.1

The anticipated yield from 50,000 b/d of methanol could be 20,500 b/d gasoline (rvp 9 psia, before ethanol blending; 0.73 sp gr; RON 92, benzene 0.3 vol %). And it produces about 5,500 b/d of C3-C4 LPG.

On this basis, it is difficult to see any rationale in converting methanol to gasoline if the option of methanol-gasoline blending is available. According to information from the US Environmental Protection Agency, methanol blending into gasoline is not banned in the US.

Given the investment in MTG facilities and the shrinkage in energy content (8-9%), and energy consumed by the MTG plant, the cost of the MTG gasoline would be significantly above the cost of energy in the methanol.

In this context, it is worth adding that conversion of syngas to hydrocarbon liquids by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is technically proven and produces high-quality diesel.2 At the same time the coproduced naphtha is very paraffinic, with an octane value of perhaps 35 to 40 and is essentially nonreformable for octane elevation. Further, no steam cracker for ethylene production in Alberta is adaptable for liquid naphtha feed. _OGJ

The infrastructure for proper treatment of wastes from Canadian oilsands production is not entirely in place. But the longer that oil prices remain relatively high, the greater the motivation for development of infrastructure such as ethylene crackers, F-T catalytic synthesis plants, and fermentation (of syngas) bioreactors for advanced chemicals and fuels. Algal and microbial bioreactors for conversion of the massive CO2 effluent to biomass, fuels, and high value chemicals should eventually come into the mix.

The CO2 produced may be used for many other purposes including EOR.

Here is a comparison of cost per gallon for various fuel liquids:
Notice the high octane value and low cost of methanol -- helpful for blending with gasoline.


Chinese Company Cathay Jumps Into Growing Bio-Butanol Game

Images from GCC

Butanol is valued as a solvent, a fuel, a fuel additive for gasoline or diesel, and a feedstock for chemical synthesis. Cathay's fermentation approach to biobutanol from Clostridium bacteria, also produces co-products including acetone, ethanol, and methane. The company currently uses corn starch as feedstock, and is continuously working on lowering production costs and raising efficiencies.
The biobutanol production facility in Jilin Province has an annual production capacity of 100,000 metric tons of biobutanol and co-products, including 65,000 metric tons (21 million gallons), of biobutanol and utilizes multiple continuous fermentation bioreactors, designed and constructed by its in-house team, at a scale of 1.8 million liters (475,000 gallon), per bioreactor.

In the F-1, Cathay said that in 2010 it sold more than 18,500 metric tons of biobutanol (6 million gallons) in China. As it continues to lower the production cost of biobutanol, it expect to first expand its market usage as a basic chemical building block and subsequently to sell it as a drop-in gasoline blendstock.

The company will begin pilot stage testing of its proprietary cellulosic biobutanol bioprocess technology by the end of 2011. It also plans to begin construction of a cellulosic biomass processing facility adjacent to the current biobutanol production facility to commercialize biobutanol from cellulosic biomass.

Cathay says it plans to expand the annual production capacity at the biobutanol production facility to 200,000 metric tons of biobutanol and co-products, including 130,000 metric tons, or 42 million gallons, of biobutanol, in the future. Cathay believes that using cellulosic biomass feedstock will significantly lower its production cost for biobutanol.

Cathay’s industrial biotechnology platform integrates strain development, fermentation scale-up and purification. Cathay licensed more than 200 strains of Clostridia previously used in commercial biobutanol production. It used its mutagenesis and screening techniques to develop a proprietary commercial strain capable of converting corn starch instead of dry milled whole corn to biobutanol. Use of corn starch instead of whole corn allows it simultaneously to capture all co- and by-products produced during the bioprocess including co-products bioacetone and bioethanol, and corn and biogas by-products, thereby reducing production costs and capturing additional revenues.

For the cellulosic biobutanol program, Cathay has developed a proprietary inhibitor-tolerant strain that is able to use crude biomass hydrolysate as feedstock, eliminating a key purification step while demonstrating comparable yields close to its commercial starch strain, the company says. _GCC

The microbial infrastructure for fermentation of ethanol (yeast and moulds etc) is much more efficient than the infrastructure for fermentation of butanol (clostridia etc). But the payoff for more efficient butanol production is significant, and the better microbes and processes will be pursued on multiple continents.

Just one more way that crafty scientists and technologists are engineering alternatives to petroleum from perpetually renewable feedstocks. Do not expect one magic bullet to replace petroleum. There will be thousands of magic bullets over the years, all competing against petroleum and against each other.

When humans do finally turn away from petroleum it will be because so many economical substitutes are available. In the meantime, humans need to use what oil, gas, bitumens, coal, kerogens, thorium, and other energy bearing materials that are available to them.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Plastics from Bio-Feedstocks Should Dampen Peak Oil Frenzy

Update: Technology Review has an article discussing this project. The claim is made in the article that production costs for polyethylene from sugar cane are comparable to costs for production from petroleum. As economical substitutes for petroleum come on line for most of the uses for petroleum, peak oil panic increasingly appears to be a pathology.
At a conference in Berlin, Germany in October organized by the European Bioplastics trade group, and attended by Modern Plastics, Rui Chemmes, director of Braskem’s PE operations, said the ethanol-based polyethylene has exactly the same characteristics as PE derived from petroleum. Plus, he added, it is nine times as efficient to derive ethanol from sugarcane as from corn, and four-and-a-half times as efficient compared to ethanol derived from sugar beets. “Sugarcane is a 4m-high plant” that grows quickly and with little assistance, he explained. Other environmental benefits include its work as “a real vacuum cleaner of carbon dioxide.” One pound of petroleum-based PE releases 2.5 kg of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, he said, whereas the same amount of sugarcane-based PE captures that same amount of the gas. _PlasticsToday
If modern industry continues learning to produce high value chemicals, plastics, and other materials from biomass and other biologically derived feedstocks such as bio-sugars, the move from petroleum to bio-based materials will become easier. One of the many biological substitutions being made for petroleum is in making polyethylene from bio-ethanol. Dow Chemical and Matsui are partnering for such a project in Brazil, using cane sugar as feedstock.
Dow Chemical is joining forces with Japanese trading powerhouse Mitsui to build the largest integrated bioplastics production plant in the world.

Construction on the first phase of the project in Brazil -- a 190,000 metric tons-per-year ethanol mill -- is expected to begin this fall. Ethanol will be made from sugar cane grown on estates already owned by Dow in Santa Vitória, Brazil. In the first phase of the collaboration, Mitsui is buying half ownership of the sugar cane plantation at a cost of $200 million, according to Reuters. In the next phase, starting in 2012, Dow and Mitsui will build a polyethylene plant. _DN

The move from a petroleum based economy will take time, work, and resources. But the substitution process is already underway, and will become easier as the technologies are improved.

Chemicals and plastics from bio feedstocks will have to compete in the marketplace with materials made from petroleum, gas, and coal feedstocks. The economic picture will change over time, giving the advantage to one feedstock over others. The wise society will broaden its choices so as to make substitutions easier.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

High Oil Prices are Not as High as Predicted

A number of reputable analysts predicted that oil would be over $150 a barrel this year or early next, including Jim Rogers, Barrons, etc etc etc. And yet oil prices seem reluctant to go too far above $100 a barrel despite severe production cutbacks in Yemen and Libya. Perhaps someone learned a lesson from the great demand destruction of 2008?

Geoffrey Styles takes a penetrating look at the recent decision to release oil from strategic reserves. Worth a look:
The market's tepid response to the SPR release suggests that oil prices have been driven up by more than just speculators. Speculation may be playing a role, but it's more like the head on a glass of beer. [Al Fin comment: The froth on a glass of beer can occupy as much or more than 1/3 the total volume depending on how the beer is poured...] Beneath that froth lies the robust demand growth in the developing world, which has pushed global oil consumption to a record level of 89 million bbl/day this year. On the supply side, some point to incipient Peak Oil, but characterizing the crisis we're in doesn't require a grand theory. In addition to the curtailment of production from places like Libya and Yemen, and OPEC's desire to keep a lid on output to preserve their revenues, there's a fundamental mismatch between the companies that have the capital and the desire to invest in new production, and the willingness of some governments to grant access to the resources, whether in the Middle East or the US. All of this is compounded by the inherent time lags in resource development, which can range from 5-10 years, depending on the technology and permits required.

As different as the causes and symptoms of this crisis are from those of the 1970s, the broad outline of solutions remains quite similar: Reduce demand, increase supplies, and diversify our sources of energy. We have more and better options than in 1979, but still no miracle cures. _GS
Styles makes some important points in this short article. It takes from 5-10 years for the production side to respond to rapid runups in prices. The 2007-2008 runup in oil prices would have brought a much stronger response by now if the floor hadn't dropped out from under prices at the end of 2008. For a sustained response, you need a sustained price plateau.

Styles also points out that it is demand for oil which is in the price driver's seat. A lot of things can happen to alter demand for oil.

OPEC is greedy and needy, as is Russia. It is not beyond Saudi Arabia to drag its heels on expensive upgrades in production capacity, in order to enjoy higher oil prices today. Russia is certainly dragging its heels on production upgrades and oil field maintenance, but that is due as much to malignant Oblomovism and corruption as it is out of a need for higher oil prices to balance the budget.

Political corruption and greed are causing oil prices to be higher, as is political turmoil in Yemen and Libya. But lefty-Luddite Green dieoff.orgiasm in the US and Europe are likewise causing a political hike in oil and energy prices. Obama's ill-advised moratorium and slowdown of Gulf of Mexico exploration and drilling, is just one of many examples of an overall policy of energy starvation coming from the US and European governments. Anti nuclear policies are another example of the destructive influence of faux environmental politics on energy supplies.

MJPerry provides a couple of quotations which are apropos to the current situation.

The only peak oil you will likely see is political peak oil caused by government policy, greed, corruption, and war. The only true scarcity that exists in the human world is the scarcity of human intelligence, creativity, inventiveness, ingenuity, and vision.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Texas Moves Forward With Clean Coal IGCC and Much More

Pulverized coal feedstock will be introduced into the two Siemens gasifiers along with limited amounts of nearly pure O2 gas and converted into syngas comprising H2 and CO, varying amounts of CO2, nitrogen (N2), sulfur species, methane, volatilized metals, and PM. The syngas will be cooled and cleaned of PM.

Next, the syngas flows through a water-gas shift reactor, in which steam is injected in the syngas over a catalyst bed, initiating a reaction where the CO in the syngas would be converted to CO2 and the steam would be converted to additional H2 in the syngas stream. This provides a syngas stream that is concentrated in both CO2 and H2.

Subsequently, the syngas would pass through a mercury removal system and then an acid gas removal system where first the sulfur species would be removed, then the CO2, creating a clean, H2-rich concentration syngas upon exiting the acid gas removal unit.

Captured CO2 will be further cleaned and compressed, and then transported by pipeline to an existing regional CO2 pipeline or, potentially, to a nearby EOR field. A portion of the captured CO2 will also be used to produce urea. The H2-rich syngas stream will be split, with part used to produce electricity via the turbine and the other part be used to produce urea for fertilizer. _GCC

Texas is home to some of the largest producing oil and gas fields in the continental US, including the Permian Basin. Whiting Petroleum needs lots of CO2 for EOR (enhanced oil recovery) in its Permian Basin wells, and coal plants make a lot of CO2 -- so the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP) is combining a clean coal IGCC power plant with CO2 recovery for Whiting's EOR. TCEP is even throwing in a urea from H2-rich syngas production process for fertiliser, using the Haber process.

Here is how it will work, after the coal is gasified to syngas:
The H2-rich, low-CO2 syngas will be combusted in a [gas] turbine generator to produce electricity. Combustion of the H2-rich fuel gas will produce water vapor and a low-CO2 exhaust gas with significantly lower CO2 emissions than would occur if the coal itself, or the raw syngas, had been combusted.

The exhaust gas would be ducted through an HRSG (heat recovery steam generator), which would generate high-temperature, high-pressure steam. This steam would be piped into a steam turbine-generator, which would generate additional electricity. This integration of the combustion turbine-generator, HRSG, and steam turbine-generator is known as a combined-cycle power plant.

The combined power generation from the combustion turbine-generator and the steam turbine generator would be approximately 400 MW (gross) with 213 MW sent to the grid, on average, and the remainder being used to run the plant’s equipment. The electricity sold would be transmitted to the regional electrical grid by a high voltage transmission line system. Natural gas would be used to start up the polygen plant and as a backup fuel (natural gas would also be used during operations to heat drying gases, supply an auxiliary boiler, and provide burner pilot flames such as for flares).

With two Siemens gasifiers, the TCEP will produce more syngas than can be used for electricity production. The additional syngas produced will be converted to NH3 using the Haber process. In that process, the H2 in the syngas is reacted with N2 from the air separation unit, forming NH3. Downstream, the NH3 is reacted with a portion of the CO2 from a syngas cleanup system, thereby forming urea in a Bosch-Meiser process. The urea is produced as a granular product common in the fertilizer industry.

...Argon and H2SO4 are by-products of the gasification process and would be made available for commercial sale. Inert slag, another by-product of the gasification process, would be sold for manufacturing and construction uses or disposed of off-site. _GCC
The plant could also utilise heat recovery processes to increase overall efficiency further.

This rather comprehensive approach to clean coal is capital intensive in terms of equipment required, design, and construction. Bureaucratic red tape adds a great deal more to overall costs. But once built, such a plant is far more reliable than wind or solar, and will last much longer if maintained properly.

This is not an approach that would be conceived by the lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgiasts who occupy government offices or by those regressive Greens who have so much clout with the Obama administration and EU governments.

But such an approach is a bona fide bridge to a cleaner energy future which will make good use of the abundant coal resource which exists. With only slight modification, "green coal" (torrified biomass) can be substituted for a portion of the coal to extend the resource even further.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thermochemical Conversion Conference, Chicago, 28-30 September


Thermochemical conversion of biomass to fuels, chemicals, power, and process heat, is on the fast track for creating advanced biofuels. The international conference on thermochemical conversions of biomass, TCBiomass2011, will be held in Chicago 28-30 September 2011 (via Renewable Energy World) .
Top 5 reasons to attend tcbiomass 2011:
  1. Gain insights from leading experts during 25 peer-selected scientific presentations and 50 posters
  2. Hear dynamic keynotes on the current vision of biomass energy development and applications
  3. Gain benefits by attending special receptions, lunches, and a dinner event
  4. Network with colleagues from around the world
  5. Participate in a special technical tour

Who attends:
  • In 2009, tcbiomass brought together leading researchers from 22 countries and 130 organizations.

  • Senior experts

  • Technology developers

  • Investors in emerging technology

  • Engineering companies

  • Feedstock suppliers

  • Government policymakers

  • Professors and students in academia

Three new Pyrolysis plants to convert waste wood to pyrolysis oil and bio-char in Oregon.

Pyrolysis (no oxygen) and gasification (limited oxygen) allow the conversion of biomass and any type of carbonaceous mass (including waste tyres, municipal waste, waste plastics, etc) to either pyrolysis gas, pyrolysis oil, and syngas -- which can be converted to high value chemicals, fuels, lubricants, plastics, etc. The bio-char by-product from pyrolysis can be used as a soil additive. These thermochemical conversion technologies will allow for massive coal to liquids (CTL), gas to liquids (GTL), biomass to liquids (BTL), and the conversion of materials previously considered waste, to high value products.

The basic technologies have existed for centuries, but with the somewhat contrived boost in crude oil prices, a much greater impetus for their development currently exists.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Malthusian Illiteracy and Peak Oil

Global economy optimists however say that "Malthusian illiteracy" lurks behind remaining adherents of Peak Oil theory - which basically says conventional oil production will stagnate and fall but demand will go on growing. _MarketOracle
As knowledgeable analysts come to understand that oil demand, rather than oil supply, is currently in the driver's seat, some of the impetus behind the peak oil panic has subsided. And yet the "Malthusian Impulse" continues to drive many observers, against their more rational proclivities. Still, global hydrocarban reserves continue to grow, year after year, and oil demand is slated to decrease in time.

New sources for transport fuels are likely to come from many directions, including new gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies. Oxford Catalyst's microchannel GTL technology is very much in demand, as are other new varieties of GTL technologies. The market for GTL fuels may be more than 20 million barrels per day! Imagine the impact of that huge new supply on the global oil market. (Note that approximately between 5 and 10 million barrels per day could be produced via GTL from currently flared gas alone. Stranded gas could double that number.) More information at this PDF white paper download from Velocys, creator of the Oxford Catalysts microchannel technology.

A more conventional source for GTL transport fuels is the large scale technology championed by Shell.
In 2011, Shell began shipments from its Pearl GTL project in Qatar...The project is able to produce 140,000 b/d of fuel and 120,000 b/d of ethane and condensates... _Petroleum Economist

And that is just the beginning. As long as the huge price spread between the cost of natural gas and the cost of crude oil remains, more and more projects will kick in to take advantage of this "easy money."

Second and third generation biofuels from biomass technologies are beginning to come on line, slowly. Advanced biofuels and microbial fuels technologies are not likely to take an appreciable bite out of crude oil demand for another 5 or 10 years. As long as natural gas prices stay low, only the most efficient biofuels projects will be able to compete in the liquid fuels markets without government subsidies. But by the year 2030 if the technology continues to develop, the writing will be on the wall. This is a biological world, after all.

Advanced nuclear power technologies are likely to aid the development of new fuels technologies of all kinds, supplying safe and abundant power and heat for a multitude of energy development projects from oil sands to oil shales to biomass and aquaculture projects in cold climates, irrigation and desalination of saltwater in arid climates etc etc.

Other factors leading to a decreased demand for crude oil includes the increasing use of both natural gas and biomass as feedstock for the vast chemicals industry -- an industrial sector previously dependent upon petroleum for feedstock. (see Al Fin Energy blog for much more)

The ongoing global economic downturn and demand destruction extends from Europe to Japan to the US, and is beginning to put stress on the Chinese and Indian economies -- despite all the rah! rah! hype about the coming age of the Chindian global economy. Many nations which have maintained hefty consumer subsidies for transport fuels are being forced to reduce the subisidies. More downward pressure on demand.

Malthusian theories are appealing in their simplicity, and for their false sense of predictive power. And yet the never-ending and never-fulfilled Malthusian predictions of doom ignore the most salient and disruptive human technology of all -- the goal-oriented innovativeness of the human mind.

Despite the best efforts of energy-starvationists in the Obama administration, in the EU bureaucracy, in national bureaucracies of EU nations and advanced nations around the globe -- the prospects for abundant energy and fuels in the future are quite good, as long as the clowns in power do not destroy the economies they oversee.

If you have abundant clean energy and fuels, everything else is doable.

Cross-posted from Al Fin blog

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Small Energy News

Oxford Catalysts is working on its third commercial order for its microchannel F-T GTL reactors.
The order comprises two full scale FT reactors (with a nominal capacity of more than 50 bpd) that form the first installment of reactors towards a commercial synthetic fuels plant expected to start operations in 2012. The customer intends to roll out additional plants following successful completion and operation of this first US commercial facility. The two reactors ordered will be delivered by the fourth quarter of 2011.

This is the Group’s third sale of FT reactors and catalyst, following separate orders for FT units by SGC Energia, SGPS, SA in December 2010 and April 2011. (Earlier post.)

Oxford Catalysts is focused on the emerging market for distributed smaller scale production of synthetic oil via FT synthesis—a market that has the potential of producing as much as 25 million barrels of fuel a day, the company says. _GCC
25 million barrels of synthetic crude per day??? That might put a dent in the dieoff.orgiast's hopes for energy starvation and mass dieoff. Not to mention dashing the desires for doom of all the peak oil doomers singing the echo choir of circular jerkular canons and rounds.

Global Bioenergies and Synthos are partnering to produce bio-butadiene.
Synthos SA, a European leader in the manufacturing of rubber, and Global Bioenergies SA, an industrial biology company developing sustainable routes to light olefins, signed a partnership agreement to develop a new process for the conversion of renewable resources into butadiene, involving research funding, multi-million euro development fees, royalty payments, repartition of exploitation rights, and a €1.4-million (US$2-million) equity investment in Global Bioenergies, representing a 3.6% stake.

Butadiene is one of the major building blocks of the petrochemical industry and is presently exclusively produced from oil. About 10 million tonnes are produced each year, of which two thirds are used to manufacture synthetic rubber. The last third is used to produce nylon, latices, ABS plastics and other polymers. The spot price of butadiene has recently rose to over $3/kg, and as such the global butadiene market is estimated at $30 billion. _GCC

Synthetic biology company LS9 is working with HCL Cleantech to develop a process of biomass to sugars to fuels. They are working under a $9 million DOE grant which covers the entire process from biomass to fuels, using genetically modified organisms.

Speaking of genetically modified organisms and synthetic biology, three names are coming up more often than others: Craig Venter, Jay Keasling, and George Church. George Church has made news with a paper in Science describing a dramatic new synthetic biology tool able to replace specific codons in a multiplex fashion wherever they are found in the micro-organism. This is only big news if you understand what it means. Although this particular incarnation of the tool is aimed at "stop codons," it is still theoretically capable of creating organisms that can synthesise unique proteins as therapeutic products.

The synthetic biologists are mainly concerned with the micro-organisms they can create, and the commercial products these microbes will be able to produce.

Eventually, the idea is to be able to simultaneously modify the genetic coding of a eukaryotic organism (such as a human) across the entire genome, with its complex multi-chromosome arrangement. That will not be so easy.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

LENR: Low Energy Nuclear Revolution? Cold Fusion Documentary

A video documentary looking at cold fusion and the Rossi/Focardi experiments, via

A video documentary looking at Andrea Rossi's venture, presenting some historical perspective on one of Rossi's previous unsuccessful ventures, interviews with scientists who have observed the E-Cat in operation, and with a look at the Greek company Defkalion.

More information on LENR:

New Energy Times

Cold Fusion Now

Andrea Rossi's "Journal of Nuclear Physics"

Check in regularly at for ongoing news on LENRs and other unconventional energy sources

So many scientists have reported excess heat from similar types of experiments, that it seems quite possible that some unexplained process is involved -- most likely of a nuclear nature, but possibly involving subatomic particle energy states of a non-nuclear nature.

If excess energy production is proven above and beyond conventional chemical processes, then two questions arise: 1. Is the process of commercial interest? and 2. Exactly what is happening at the atomic level?

Entities such as Brillouin, Defkalion, Blacklight Power, etc. each have different explanations for why they believe their products produce excess heat, but the explanations are incompatible with each other, and are typically in conflict with generally acknowledged physics.

Al Fin energy analysts have not been able to test these devices, and have not expressed opinions on the possible scientific or commercial promise, other than natural scepticism.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Energy News Briefs

Gas Techno Mini-GTL

Gas Techno is offering to "mini gas-to-liquids (GTL)" plant packages using its technology of natural gas to methanol conversion, for between $1.5 million and $2 million. The packages can fit inside a standard 40 foot shipping container. Instead of converting natural gas to syngas, Gas Techno's process converts the gas to methanol, with formalin as a side product.
Biomass to Wheel Comparison

A Virginia Tech U. professor has devised a simple "biomass to wheels" method of calculating comparative efficiencies between different biomass methods for powering automobiles. A preliminary comparison is pictured above, with the basic approach outlined below.

Rentech's 55 MW biomass powerplant in Port St. Joe, Florida, received its final and unappealable air permit. The plant uses biomass gasification and gas turbine generation technology. Such a plant is ideal for CHP -- combined heat and power -- and for auxiliary production of fuels and renewable chemicals.

Also in Florida, GreenEnviroTech is building two plants for converting used vehicle tyres to oil. (via Biofuelsdigest)

Brazil's massive offshore oil reserves comparable in size to those of the North Sea

Positive news on small modular fission reactors (SMRs) from Dan Yurman and US Senator Lamar Alexander.

The Al Fin Energy blog does not focus upon any particular source of energy, because human civilisation is going to need most available forms of energy to get to the next level. The energy starvationists who currently control most governments of the advanced world are steering civilisation directly toward the Idiocracy.

Since civilisations cannot survive without relatively abundant energy, and since so many forms of energy are being prohibited and over-regulated, over-taxed, and over-priced by governmental agencies and international cartels, virtually all forms of energy must remain on the table for those remaining who wish civilisation to succeed. It is up to us that these forms of energy be utilised in as clean and sustainable a manner as possible.

Bonus! via NextBigFuture, Kirk Sorensen's information-packed TED Talk:

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Japan Turns to Fusion Power Corporation's Heavy Ion Fusion

Images via FusionPowerCorporation

After the Fukushima nuclear crisis -- triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami -- Japan has been strongly divided on nuclear power. Many Japanese will only consider a nuclear future for Japan if the technology is proven to be free of threats of radioactive contamination and runaway chain reaction meltdowns. Nuclear fusion offers the promise of nuclear power without melt-downs or widespread contamination -- even after the worst natural disasters. And so International Professional Networks (IPN) of Japan has turned to Fusion Power Corporation (FPC) to investigate the use of FPC's heavy ion fusion (HIF) for Japan.
With the loss of nuclear facilities at Fukushima, Japan is in need of an alternative set of energy production facilities. As a result of that loss, Japan's prime minister, Naoto Kan recently announced that: “… the country will abandon plans to build more nuclear reactors” and has encouraged Japan to explore other forms of energy production. “Fusion power production using the techniques incorporated in the Fusion Power Corporation HIF design should be one of the systems under consideration,” said Mr. Saruta.

Dr. Charles Helsley, President of Fusion Power Corporation, is very confident that FPC's fusion power system is a good fit for Japan's needed power development. It is carbon free and generates no radioactive problems while producing hydrogen for synthetic fuels and ample electricity using known technologies. Dr. Helsley said, “FPC's HIF process can provide many benefits to the world. It is an inherently safe system and cannot 'run away' nor ‘melt down'. It can stabilize the cost of energy to industry while meeting the need for liquid fuels and electricity in a clean, green and safe way.” And he further said, “I am very pleased with FPC's association with IPN and look forward to assisting in Japan's development of safe fusion power as a replacement for the problem laden fission power generation systems.” Mr. Saruta added, “It will be one of the best alternatives for the solution of Japan's current energy problem and should be part of Japan's long term plan.”

FPC is a California Corporation established to create a new 'clean green … and safe' power system using Heavy Ion Fusion energy to supply the energy needs of the US and the world _Benzinga
FPC utilises a deuterium - tritium cycle, with the tritium being generated by neutron - lithium reaction.
More information on Fusion Power Corporation's HIF technology
The isotopes of hydrogen have specific names, unlike the isotopes of other elements, namely deuterium and tritium. Deuterium(2H) is naturally present in all water and thus seawater is our primary source of fuel. Tritium(3H), the other component of fuel in a fusion power source, is of very low abundance in nature. This is in consequence of tritium being an unstable isotope with a relatively short half-life, 12.3 years. Tritium to start-up the first of our fusion systems will come from stores extracted from fission power plants, where it serves no useful purpose and is unwanted. Containment of tritium is virtually the sole radiological safety issue for fusion power. The difficulty of achieving zero release of tritium in fission power plants comes from having water both in contact with the core and to drive steam turbines. Fusion does not have this challenge, and zero release is a practical goal.

Although an external source of tritium is needed to start our operations, we will produce it for long-term operations via a feature of the D-T reaction. Like all D-T fusion systems, we will use the neutron from the fusion reaction to produce tritium from neutron-lithium reactions. Lithium is consumed in the D-T fuel cycle. As discussed in the last section (below), the lithium needed to start-up the first fusion system will come from conventional, land-based sources. However, the oceans contain large quantities of lithium, and FPC’s overall system includes extraction of lithium from seawater to produce the energy the world needs. Thus resources for our two long term fuel needs for deuterium and lithium are found in the oceans. We will extract our fuel in processes that are sensitive environmentally, and these resources are enough to last millions of years.

The FPC system has a unique potential to breed substantially more tritium than it burns. This is an important asset to the start-up of the additional HIF power sites needed around the world for two reasons. First, because it uses the more plentiful lithium isotope (7Li) as well as 6Li (7.5% of the total), it reduces the net amount of lithium that will ultimately be consumed over time in the fusion fuel cycle. Second, the excess tritium will supply the startup needs of successive fusion plants, avoiding a potential bottleneck due to limited tritium from non-fusion sources. Most of the excess tritium will be sold for this purpose, but some may be securely stored and allowed to decay to 3He, a valuable substance with extraordinary physical properties as well as being a fusion fuel. _FPC Technology

Heavy Ion Fusion Tutorial from VNL fast ignition a separate, very sharp pulse (high peak-power and less than 1/10 the duration of the compression process) is used to ignite only the desired mass of fuel after it has been compressed. The “fast ignited” fuel sets off the rest of the fuel much like a blasting cap sets off a stick of dynamite. The great importance of this feature of FPC’s driver (also a feature of the Russian design) is that the required fuel compression has been within the state of the art for some years already....

The space in which the fusion reactions take place is called a reaction chamber. Three factors influence its design. First, the chamber needs to hold a good vacuum to enable the heavy ions from the accelerator system to reach the fuel pellet and to provide a secure containment vessel for the capture of the tritium that is generated after the reaction takes place. Second, the chamber must be able to withstand the pressure generated by the fusion reaction. And third, the reaction chamber must contain a liquid that can be heated to a high temperature as part of the energy extraction process.

...There is a fourth factor that must also be considered in the design of the reaction chamber. As stated earlier, the neutrons produced by the fusion reaction carry 80% of the reaction’s energy. The energy must be captured as thermal energy, for downstream conversion to electricity and other energy products, and the neutrons must be prevented from degrading the structural properties of the chamber materials. FPC’s chamber concept accomplishes all the required missions, and much more. The numerous advantages of the chamber’s configuration include a unique combination of long chamber life and the high temperatures in working fluid that are needed for efficient energy conversion. Ultimately, the set of advantages results in very large economic benefits. _FPCTechnology


Thursday, July 14, 2011

More About General Fusion

LINUS via General Fusion

The General Fusion (near Vancouver, BC, Canada) approach to nuclear fusion is called "magnetized target fusion," which is a hybrid of magnetic and inertial confinement fusion approaches. The original approach to magnetized target fusion comes from "LINUS" (pictured above), a creation of the US Naval Weapons Research Lab from back in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the technology of the 1970s could not support the basic approach, being unable to maintain the central plasma toroid for long enough periods of time. But research continued at Los Alamos National Lab:
Over the decades, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US has continued to work on magnetized target fusion concepts. Their approach involves injecting a plasma toroid into an aluminum tube and then discharging a large bank of capacitors into the tube. The current in the tube induces a magnetic field that implodes the tube at high speed, compressing the plasma to thermonuclear conditions in the process.

The difficulties with this approach include the amount and cost of the electrical power supplies and energy needed to implode the tube, and the fact that the tube and electrical cable connections are destroyed during each pulse. Furthermore, neutrons from the fusion reaction damage the surrounding chamber and equipment.

These difficulties notwithstanding, Los Alamos National Laboratory has a wealth of knowledge and understanding regarding magnetized target fusion, and has made significant progress with respect to plasma densities and the numerical simulation of compressed plasmas. _GeneralFusion

General Fusion is building upon research information developed at the different national labs, and attempting to create a relatively small-scale, low-cost fusion reactor using deuterium-tritium gas, magnetic confinement, and acoustic compression.
To recreate a similar reaction [ed.: as inside the sun] inside the hot fusion generator, a precision controlled piston hammers colossal shock waves into a magnetized sphere in which atoms can be forced together hard enough to fuse and create plasma. The isotopes deuterium and the tritium are used to fuel the fusion reaction, and because they are so readily available they serve as a reliable fuel source. According to the General Fusion Inc. website, other benefits are that there are no chemical combustion by-products, a minimal amount of radioactive waste (that has a maximum half-life of twelve years), no greenhouse gas emissions, no risk of meltdown or explosion, and with deuterium and lithium (used to develop tritium) being plentiful in the natural world, hot fusion energy could be a reliable source of power for the entire world for millions, if not billions of years. _GreenAnswers
General Fusion will get its deuterium from seawater, but where will it get its tritium?
Tritium can be produced as a by-product of the fusion reaction by allowing the free neutron to react with lithium (installed in a blanket around the fusion core), which then breaks into tritium and helium. The tritium can be rapidly extracted from the blanket and sent back into the fusion reaction, thereby establishing a self-generating tritium fuel supply that uses deuterium and lithium as input fuels, both of which are consumed in the process.

Lithium is an abundant, inexpensive metal that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. At a rate equivalent to today’s total global energy consumption there is enough lithium for 23,000 years of fusion energy. Lithium can also be extracted from seawater, which could fuel fusion for an additional 207 million years. _GeneralFusion

The developed world cannot afford to give up on nuclear power, despite what faux environmentalist dieoff.orgiasts (Greens) may say. If humans are to develop to the point of being competent stewards and protectors of their planet, they must move into a higher level of technological and scientific development. That will only be possible through the development of abundant, clean, sustainable energy sources, which one way or another will mean nuclear power.

Of course, in a trivial sense, both solar and geothermal power come from nuclear reactions initially, so all of our long-term power sources will come from nuclear reactions and advanced particle and/or antiparticle physical reactions, unless we choose to commit energy suicide via energy starvation. If that is our choice, then the entire planet and its biosphere is doomed billions of years before its time, by inevitable collisions from space. Neo-primitive humans (via the Green agenda) will not be able to prevent the catastrophe.

Thus the rush to develop advanced, scalable fission reactors, and scalable fusion reactors, before the Idiocracy makes such developments impossible -- and dooms to world the death by Greens.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Combining Nuclear Fission and MagnetoHydroDynamics for Space Propulsion

via NBF

In two recent blog postings, both here, and here, cutting edge science and technology blogger Brian Wang takes a look at nuclear / magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) approaches to space propulsion and electrical power generation in space.
MHD involves the acceleration of ionised plasma through a strong magnetic field to generate electric power. Such a system could provide electric power and space-based propulsion as long as plentiful fuel mass is available.

This NextBigFuture article also discusses ground based MHD systems as a clean and economic alternative for burning coal.

An interesting combination of "ground-based" and "space-based" MHD propulsion would involve the gradual ongoing hollowing out of a small asteroid, using the mining tailings as propellant fuel, and the asteroid itself as a spacecraft. Such a system could be used for either a long-range outbound space mission, or for an outer-system to and from inner-system, shuttle.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Perhaps the Best Near-Term Biomass-to-Fuels Approach for Micro-crops


For years, Al Fin engineers have been saying that the quickest approach to convert algae to fuels economically, is via pyrolysis of algal biomass, rather than via harvesting of algal oils for biodiesel. Although the technology described below is not exactly what Al Fin specialists have described, PetroAlgae is partnering with CRI Catalyst in a novel pyrolytic approach to biomass-to-fuels, which may achieve economic break even first.
IH2 is an advanced pyrolysis technology which utilizes low pressure hydrogen together with a proprietary catalyst to remove virtually all of the oxygen present in the starting biomass...The technology is highly flexible and is economical for both small- and large-scale applications, according to CRI.

...CRI is a provider of catalyst and environmental systems technology to the global petrochemical producing community. PetroAlgae’s micro-crop technology employs indigenous, aquatic micro-organisms suitable to local climates and is designed to enable its licensees to produce a high-value protein product and residual biomass which may be converted to cellulosic hydrocarbon fuels and/or blend stocks via the IH2 technology at commercial scale.

This agreement is a direct result of successful tests converting PetroAlgae’s micro-crop residue into cellulosic hydrocarbon fuels and/or blend stocks using the IH2 technology provided by CRI. The two firms have agreed to continue to optimize the combined capability of their respective biomass production and conversion processes.

Commercial collaboration has already begun and is expected to result in a joint marketing agreement between the two firms in which PetroAlgae and its licensees will hold exclusive rights to IH2 technology for conversion of lemna (duckweed) biomass. _GCC
Using duckweed as feedstock is an interesting choice, since duckweed is a high-yield plant crop that grows on the surface of ponds much like algae.

But algae is a more prolific biomass crop than even duckweed, and I would not be surprised if Petro-Algae begins to use the IH2 technology -- or something very much like it -- for converting algal biomass to fuel.

Eventually algae growers will develop strains of algae which produce abundant oil which is easily and economically harvested. At that point algal biodiesel will hit the markets like gangbusters. Producers will then separate the oil for fuels, and use the biomass for secondary products such as feed, food, fertilizer, etc.

But for now, the most salient aspect of micro-algae is the prolific nature of its biomass production. That, and the ability to grow fast-growing algae in saltwater, brackish water, wastewater, etc. Why not take advantage of that characteristic now, while others are developing high-oil strains and cheap oil-extraction methods?

Growers can aim for high biomass yields in dirt-cheap open ponds, using non-potable water, and without worrying about maintaining monocultures. With reasonably cheap harvesting and drying methods, pyrolysis methods such as Petro-Algae and CRI's IH2 should produce a fuel with many uses.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Avantium Moving Ahead w/ Furanics, More Renewable Chemistry


Avantium has recently partnered with Solvay, and with the Pacific Northwest National Labs, to help advance its production of renewable building blocks (furanics) for production of plastics and other renewable materials and fuels.

In other renewable chemistry news: Arizona State U. engineers have modified an E. Coli strain to produce styrene from glucose. Genes from yeast, plants, and bacteria were combined to facilitate the biosynthesis.
Engineers at Arizona State University have engineered E. coli to produce the commodity petrochemical styrene—a synthetic chemical derived from petroleum and natural gas products that is used worldwide in the manufacture of products such as rubber, plastic, insulation, fiberglass, pipes, automobile parts, food containers, and carpet backing—from glucose. The styrene biosynthesis pathway was constructed using genes from plants, yeast, and bacteria.

...The US styrene industry is a diversified approximately $28-billion industry comprising hundreds of companies with thousands of facilities, according to the Styrene Information & Research Center (SIRC). SIRC is a non-profit organization comprising voting member companies involved in the manufacturing or processing of styrene, and associate member companies that fabricate styrene-based products. _GCC
This kind of sophisticated gene engineering -- combining genes from different organisms and classes of organisms to create a novel biosynthesis pathway -- is still in the earliest stages. As the tools of metagenomics and synthetic biology take off, we are likely to see some genuinely startling products rolling off the renewable chemicals lines.

In the long run, more robust biomimetic nanotechnological catalysts will be substituted for biological enzymes, for high volume production under relatively harsh conditions.

The bottom line is that renewable feedstocks will be substituted for petro-feedstocks as the economic factors allow.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

U. Minnesota Researchers Merge Fungal and Bacterial Enzymes in E. Coli for Synthesis of Commodity Chemical Isobutyric Acid

Researchers at the University of Minnesota led by Prof. Kechun Zhang have engineered a synthetic metabolic pathway using fungal and bacterial enzymes in E. coli to enable the direct biosynthesis of isobutyric acid from glucose. _GCC
Combining enzymes from multiple microbes gives researchers and engineers a far wider range of reactions to work with, for synthesis of high value chemicals from biomass sugars. They can either combine the enzymes in a single organism using gene insertion techniques, or they can design bioreactors which contain multiple organisms which act on the substrate either in sequence or simultaneously.

U. Minnesota researchers designed a special E.Coli which contains both fungal and bacterial enzymes. This allows the complete synthesis of isobutyric acid to take place using only one type of organism -- a simpler arrangement in many ways.
Isobutyric acid is a high-volume commodity chemical used in the production of fibers, resins, plastics, and dyestuffs, and is used as an intermediate in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food additives. Isobutyric acid also can be further converted to methacrylate (i.e., methacrylic acid - MAA) and methyl methacrylate (MMA) which are commodity chemicals used in the production of plexiglass (polymethyl methacrylate plastics), adhesives, ion exchange resins, textile size, leather treatment chemicals, lubrication additives and crosslinking agents.

Making methacrylate via traditional chemical synthesis techniques usually begins with either natural gas or crude oil as the feedstock. The biological pathway uses renewable sugar feedstock instead of petroleum based feedstock.

The researchers have filed for a patent on the technology, and the University of Minnesota is seeking commercialization partners. _GCC

Although cheap natural gas prices will retard the commercial implementation of such processes, this is the proper time to perfect the technologies. As natural gas prices inexorably rise due to increasing conversion of methane to liquid fuels for transportation and fuel cell use, alternative feedstocks for chemical and plastics production will then already be available to substitute economically for natural gas and petroleum.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Brillouin Approach to LENR: Working With Los Alamos Labs

1 Aug 2011 Caution to Readers: LENR technology is unproven, let alone the underlying science. If it is eventually found that a commercially useful amount of excess heat is generated by LENR devices, there will still be a significant "shaking out" period of time before it is clear which developers of the technology will be successful in the long run. Before investing in any of the ventures claiming to produce significant amounts of excess heat via LENRs, be sure to evaluate the companies and the technologies thoroughly. The blog postings at Al Fin Energy dealing with approaches such as LENR, Blacklight Power, etc. are not meant as investment advisories.
The newest device began operating in October of last year and is a pressurized nickel-hydrogen system that has allowed superior calorimetry measurements. According to the Early Phase 2 Data Report, this cell generated excess heat output greater than 100% in February of this year.

... Brillouin Energy is fielding calls from new investors and will now be working with Los Alamos National Lab LANL to replicate Brillouin’s work. First, a confirmation report from a nationally recognized lab, and then the funds. _CFN_via_NBF
Brillouin Energy

Robert Godes of Brillouin Energy discusses his company's LENR technology, and the ways in which it is superior to the Rossi/Focardi approach which is being commercialised by Defkalion in Greece.
CFN You are also using nickel-hydrogen system for your reactor. How does your design and process differ from Andrea Rossi’s?

REG The IP [Intellectual Property] I filed in 1995 includes some aspects of what Rossi is doing, but there are problems in trying to move the technology he is developing into production. He may have trouble meeting his deadline for the 1MW reactor as it could be difficult transferring the technology to other licensees for production.

He had a smiler problem with a potentially great technology doing direct thermal to electrical conversion. The manpower needed to produce and tweak Rossi units will limit profit margins. He would have a much easier time doing small units consisting of single devices for consumers, but insurance companies will not allow home use due to safety issues. The safety issues with the Rossi device will not likely have to do with radiation. Brillouin Energy Corp. (BEC) technology will be more reliable making it the market winner. Safety issue #1: we use the hydrogen out of ordinary water (H2O) in the form of water.

The technology BEC is developing will be easier to manufacture and transfer to licensees for market penetration and get approval for commercial and consumer use. I have significant experience in moving products from engineering to production with involvement in some products being produced at more than 100K units / year.

We only started working with the pressurized unit in Q2 2010. However we have already identified a large number of the variables that need to be controlled and how to control them. When we start production I expect it will be a much smoother ramp up than what Rossi is facing right now. _ColdFusion_via_NBF

Godes suggests that Andrea Rossi's device is successful at producing excess heat via LENR's (low energy nuclear reactions), but he feels that the Rossi / Focardi approach is technologically inferior to the Brillouin approach, and is unlikely to be ultimately successful in the marketplace -- when forced to compete against more efficient and reliable alternative LENR devices.

Once Brillouin's technology is confirmed by Los Alamos labs, Godes should have no trouble acquiring investors for the company.

Brillouin Energy Power Point Overview download


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