Monday, October 31, 2011

Rossi Claims to Have Sold More Than 2 E-Cat LENR 1 MW Plants

Important Note: This posting originally referred to a "100 MW E-Cat plant." As was pointed out by a commenter, Rossi has not gone beyond the 1 MW size for his E-Cat. Al Fin energy analysts are accustomed to dealing with much larger sizes of power plant than the E-Cat, and subconsciously substituted the larger number. But it should be understood that the 1 MW powerplant -- if it can be made to work reliably in mass production -- will fit a very important niche market.

Stephen Krivits is accusing Andrea Rossi of committing intentional fraud, with regard to the E-Cat energy catalyzer. But other observers are saying that there is a 99% chance that Rossi's enterprise is legitimate.

Meanwhile, Andrea Rossi is claiming to have sold more than 2 of his 1 MW E-Cat LENR steam plants, and seems to be bursting with readiness to transform the world's energy scene.

Czech physicist Lubos Motl has been sceptical of Rossi all along. This article on Watts Up With That contains some interesting back and forth in both the article and in comments.

It is fascinating that so many people want to put themselves on record on either one side or the other, when the obvious rational thing for most people -- most outsiders -- to do is to wait for more information. Unless you have money or reputation on the line here, there is no need to declare a strong opinion one way or the other -- if you have no inside knowledge.

This is also the problem with other topics which grow into bandwagons and quasi-religious crusades, such as carbon hysteria and peak-oil-doom. While there is certainly insufficient evidence in support of belief in doom from anthropogenic carbon or resource scarcity, there is also insufficient evidence for complacency -- in terms of preparedness for serious fuel shortages or sudden climate shifts, from whatever cause.

Belief is over-rated. Preparedness and dynamic versatility are under-rated.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

CO2 to Methanol via Cascade Triple Catalysis


U. Michigan researchers have published a paper in the ACS Journal demonstrating the production of methanol from carbon dioxide using three catalysts operating in a single vessel -- "cascade catalysis."
Huff and Sanford targeted a cascade catalysis sequence involving:

hydrogenation of CO2 to formic acid
esterification to generate a formate ester
hydrogenation of the ester to release methanol
They used three different homogeneous catalysts—(PMe3 )4Ru- (Cl)(OAc); Sc(OTf)3; and (PNN)Ru(CO)(H)—operating in sequence in different combinations and under different conditions.

They found that a combination of the three operating at 135 °C demonstrated the viability of cascade catalysis, producing 2.5 turnovers of methanol—i.e., a proof of principle. However, they noted, the methanol yield was significantly lower than expected.

They found that the major problem for cascade catalysis was the deactivation of one catalyst by another. As a “low-tech” solution, they physically separated the cross-reactive catalysts within the high-pressure vessel. Two catalysts were placed in a vial in the center of the vessel, while the third was placed in the outer well of the reactor. This resulted in 21 turnovers of CH3OH from CO2 under an initial temperature of 75 °C, with a ramp to 135°C.

This communication has demonstrated the viability of cascade catalysis for the reduction of CO2 with H2. This approach offers the distinct advantage that it provides opportunities for detailed analysis of the molecular basis of catalyst incompatibilities, the modes of catalyst decomposition, and the slow step of the sequence. As such, we anticipate that it will enable rational tuning of each of the individual catalysts (A–C) in order to improve the turnover numbers and turnover frequencies for this process. Efforts in all these areas are currently underway in our group and will be reported in due course.

—Huff and Sanford

We have been talking about "The Methanol Economy" for several years. Research groups from Europe to North America to Japan have been successful in devising ways of converting CO2 to methanol by various methods. But none of them are particularly economical -- nor are they likely to be any time soon.

Converting methane to methanol is another story, and we are likely to see a lot more of that particular conversion quite soon. Particularly since there are economical ways of converting methanol to gasoline (via the Exxon Mobil MTG process) as well as to a number of high value chemicals such as ethylene. Methanol is also used in the production of biodiesel, can be blended with gasoline or petro-diesel as a fuel extender, and can be used as a fuel in its own right. Methanol fuel cells are likely to become widely used at scales from power supplies for small consumer electronics, up to household and industrial sizes.

The idea of converting CO2 into fuels is something of a romantic idea -- a chemical version of "poetic justice," but it isn't practical in the modern economic climate. If you want to do something constructive with CO2, feed it to algae farms and green house plants.

Otherwise, feed it to the atmosphere. The Earth's atmosphere has dealt with far higher levels of CO2 than humans can conceivably produce, for billions of years.


Friday, October 28, 2011

An Infinite Supply of Hydrocarbons: Coal and Kerogen Beyond the Stars

Relatively complex, carbon-containing molecules are found in comets and on nearby planets, thought to have been made elsewhere in our Solar System.

But a report in Nature suggests even larger molecules may be forged near young stars and flung outwards. _BBC
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong observed stars at different evolutionary phases and found that they are able to produce complex organic compounds and eject them into space, filling the regions between stars. The compounds are so complex that their chemical structures resemble the makeup of coal and petroleum, the study's lead author Sun Kwok, of the University of Hong Kong, said.

..."Coal and kerogen are products of life and it took a long time for them to form," Kwok said. "How do stars make such complicated organics under seemingly unfavorable conditions and [do] it so rapidly?" _CBS
If scientists can detect the signatures of complex hydrocarbons within the clouds of interstellar dust, then it is clear that the quantities of such materials in the universe must be truly immense.

There is reason to believe that a significant amount of hydrocarbon was incorporated into the deep planetary structures of the Earth in the earliest stages of planetary formation. Theorists such as Thomas Gold, and Sergey and Alexey Marakushev have maintained that much of the oil & gas that is produced commercially, came from this pre-biotic hydrocarbon.

Other bodies in our solar system, such as Titan, possess oceans of hydrocarbon -- clearly not of biological origin. In fact, as we are discovering, complex hydrocarbons appear to be ubiquitous wherever one looks in the universe.

The Deep Carbon Observatory of the Carnegie Institution for Science is engaged in the study of the deep Earth carbon cycle, and hopes to learn more about the different forms of carbon which cycle through the deep planet and up into the crust.
The true story of the origin and extent of our world's hydrocarbons has not yet been written -- much less understood. It is far too early for humans to claim to know the limits of their planet's resources.

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New University of Maine Thermal Deoxygenation Process Biocrude

A University of Maine chemical engineer and his research team have developed a new process—thermal deoxygenation (TDO)—to transform biomass, including forest residues, municipal solid waste, grasses, and construction wastes, into a hydrocarbon fuel oil. The process requires no catalysts or hydrogen, and is “a spin on chemistry used to make acetone back in the 1800s”, said M. Clayton Wheeler, a UMaine associate professor of chemical and biological engineering. _GCC
The biocrude can be used as a substitute for heating oil, but for use as transportation fuel it would require further processing. Here are more details on the process:
The TDO process starts with the conversion of cellulose to organic acids. The acids are then combined with calcium hydroxide to form a calcium salt. That salt is heated to 450 °C (842 °F) in a reactor, which constantly stirs the salt. This produces a reaction resulting in a dark amber-colored oil.

The reaction removes nearly all of the oxygen from the oil as both carbon dioxide and water, and without the need for any outside source of hydrogen to remove the oxygen. Therefore, most of the energy in the original cellulose source is contained in the new oil.

Biomass has a lot of oxygen in it. All of that oxygen is dead weight and doesn’t provide any energy when you go to use that as a fuel. If you’re going to make a hydrocarbon fuel, one of the things you have to do is remove oxygen from biomass. You can do it by using hydrogen, which is expensive and also decreases the energy efficiency of your process. So if there’s a way to remove the oxygen from the biomass chemically, then you’ve densified it significantly. Our oil has less than 1 percent oxygenates. No one else has done anything like this.

—Clay Wheeler
The TDO process does not require an uncontaminated cellulose source; researchers in Wheeler’s lab at UMaine recently used unpurified, mixed carboxylates which were produced from grocery store waste such as banana peels, cardboard boxes and shelving to successfully make a batch of the fuel. _GCC
It is one thing to make biocrude from biomass. But to do it economically, at low cost, is another story. The economic viability of the U. Maine process above apparently depends upon being able to obtain waste biomass feedstock cheaply.

Here is the bottom line: Conversion of biomass to liquid fuels (BTL) must compete with gas-to-liquids (GTL) and coal-to-liquids (CTL), as well as conventional petrofuels, in the marketplace. For areas which are "biomass rich" and "gas and coal poor," BTL may have an advantage over GTL and CTL, as long as the feedstock can be obtained cheaply. If the new U. Maine process allows for cheap decentralised TDO processing close to the source of the biomass feedstock, it could shift the balance of costs in the favour of BTL -- for specific locations.

See earlier report on this line of research, which specifically mentions a sulfuric acid bath as one method for converting cellulose to organic sugars.

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Breathless in Bologna: Waiting for E-Cat

Final Update 2100 EDT: This "after-test" report contains a lot of details about the events surrounding today's test, including videos. File download of test report from Rossi Another report on the happenings in Bologna today from Mats Lewan. The customer was running the test, according to Rossi, but now everyone understandably wants to know who the customer is. In other words, until we know who the customer is there will be more questions than answers, just like after the previous tests. It is still too early to celebrate.

Update 1500 EDT: A cryptic Twitter from Peswiki claims that the customer is satisfied with the test and is shutting down the reactor. Results: 470 kW in self-sustain over several hours. H/T Brian Wang Nextbigfuture

Update: Very little information is coming out of the test, other than that it is proceeding, in the presence of multiple observers, including an AP press observer and various scientific observers. The test itself is being carried out by a secretive US industrial concern, which is not allowing any photographs of its engineers who are carrying out the test...

A final report on the test is expected sometime tonight or tomorrow, but occasional updates may trickle down the pipe on one or another of the update links below.

In a matter of hours, Andrea Rossi's 1 MW LENR E-Cat reactor will be tested by "a large industrial entity" which has contracted with Rossi to buy the device if it meets specifications. Rossi has communicated that he is ready for the test.

Meanwhile, professor Sergio Focardi has affirmed on video that the E-Cat device will revolutionise the entire world of energy over the next 150 years. Here is further information about the work of James Patterson, the inventor of a parallel LENR system with some similarities to Rossi's device.

Here are some speculations from Mark Gibbs on how a working E-Cat -- and similar devices -- might change the world:
1. Where today you use petroleum products for motive energy (for example, to propel cars, trucks, and planes) you will be using steam engines or Stirling engines. In theory you’ll be able to drive across the country for cents. What will that do to the trucking industry? The shipping industry? Aviation?
2. With the demand for gasoline falling overnight and petroleum becoming needed primarily as feedstock for plastics, the US would immediately become self-sufficient in crude oil. What will happen in the Middle East without the huge flow of cash from the Western hemisphere? How will world politics be changed?
3. An E-Cat system could power your house or office making the existing grid obsolete. What would it mean to make your personal and corporate electricity and gas bills nearly zero?
4. The cost of manufacturing would fall very quickly with energy removed from the equation. If you are in manufacturing of any kind, this will affect you enormously. How fast could and how would you rework your corporate strategy to become competitive in a market where prices suddenly plummeted (note that the suddenly reduced cash flows would play havoc with the finance structures of many corporations). _Mark Gibbs

Here is an interesting video discussion by Edmund Storms on the potential of certain biological micro-organisms to catalyse the isotopic transmutation of radioactive isotopes to non-radioactive isotopes. If such LENR transmutation reactions take place within micro-organisms, then such microbes would have to be considered the smallest self-contained nuclear reactors on the planet.

There is a distinct "Alice in Wonderland" flavour to this entire episode, which will grow even stranger and more surreal should Rossi's 1 MW E-Cat actually pass its test. Since the test is being administered by a skeptical customer who is contractually obligated to hand over a large amount of cash if the reactor lives up to its advance billing, a passing grade on this test will mean something.

Al Fin energy analysts have remained skeptical throughout these proceedings, and yet up to this point, Mr. Rossi has basically done everything he said he was going to do. Wait and see.

Updates on E-Cat test
More updates at this link. Also check at, eCat Economics and Governance, or E-Cat World.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Fossil Fuel Age Is Being Extended Another 60 Years

“The fossil fuel age will be extended for decades,” said Ivan Sandrea, president of the Energy Intelligence Group, a research publisher. “Unconventional oil and gas are at the beginning of a technological cycle that can last 60 years. They are really in their infancy.” _NYT
Unconventional energy resources are putting the lie to peak oil doomers and global scarcity enthusiasts. New technologies for drilling oil & gas deep offshore, high in the arctic, and horizontally into tight shale and rock, are creating another global oil & gas boom cycle that will last decades. Throw in all the oil sands, heavy oils, and oil shale kerogens, and you are talking about real energy resources.
Now add all the methane hydrates, all the coal, all the new biomass resources, and the potential of a nuclear renaissance in modular reactors, molten salt reactors, fast integral reactors, LENR, and small scale fusion -- and we are talking about a lot of very versatile energy.

Large numbers of leftists and greens have become addicted to a philosophy of global scarcity, doom, and collapse. The doomers of peak oil and the carbon hysterics of climate doom have taken over the media, the academy, and many of the world's governments and inter-governmental institutions. Hundreds of billions of dollars are squandered yearly on this philosophy of doom -- to the point that it threatens to become self-fulfilling. Pessimism becomes a habit, an addiction. The doomers, the greens, the dieoff.orgiasts have invested themselves so deeply in doom, that they are unable to pull themselves out of the quagmire. And so they are trying to pull all the rest of us in with them.

There are a number of solutions to this problem of contagious top-down indoctrination into doom philosophy. But if the Obama economic depression goes on for much longer, many people around the world will began to grow desperate and call for scapegoat sacrifices. Should that process begin, it will signal the beginning of a rush to societal suicide. At that point, you would need to be located within a zone of relative sanity and safety.

On the other hand, all of the powerfully placed doomers, energy starvationists, and dieoff.orgiasts may be pushed aside by a wave of prosperity so powerful that they cannot hold it back. That would mean that Barack Obama is no longer in the White House, and that the global economic powerhouse was being unleashed once again, freed from self-destructive, suicidal policies of the lefty-Luddites.

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Ancient Oil and Mass Extinctions: Can We Connect the Dots?

Expansion to Extinction Over Last 540 Million Years

Mass extinctions have played an important role in the evolution of Terrestrial life. With each mass extinction, the way is cleared for the spread and adaptation of surviving species, and for the emergence of new species. But that is not what we will talk about today.

Recent findings in geochemistry have called into doubt some of the pet theories of climate scientologists scientists concerning acid oceans and mass ocean extinctions. Here is the abstract from the paper in PNAS:
Periods of oceanic anoxia have had a major influence on the evolutionary history of Earth and are often contemporaneous with mass extinction events. Changes in global (as opposed to local) redox conditions can be potentially evaluated using U system proxies. The intensity and timing of oceanic redox changes associated with the end-Permian extinction horizon (EH) were assessed from variations in 238U/235U (δ238U) and Th/U ratios in a carbonate section at Dawen in southern China. The EH is characterized by shifts toward lower δ238U values (from -0.37‰ to -0.65‰), indicative of an expansion of oceanic anoxia, and higher Th/U ratios (from 0.06 to 0.42), indicative of drawdown of U concentrations in seawater. Using a mass balance model, we estimate that this isotopic shift represents a sixfold increase in the flux of U to anoxic facies, implying a corresponding increase in the extent of oceanic anoxia. The intensification of oceanic anoxia coincided with, or slightly preceded, the EH and persisted for an interval of at least 40,000 to 50,000 y following the EH. These findings challenge previous hypotheses of an extended period of whole-ocean anoxia prior to the end-Permian extinction. _PNAS

More information on the study

The suggestion is that the ocean anoxia was secondary to the main extinction event, rather than being the cause. More study will be necessary to validate the isotopic techniques utilised. But this finding cannot but be a disappointment to the politically correct denizens of deep climate scientology science.

But what interests Al Fin know-it-all-o-tologists about this information, is how it may relate to the topic of the production and sequestration of ancient oil. Deep ocean anoxia is not only related to mass extinction events, it is also a component of oil formation in the deep seabed.

Sea bottom anoxia occurs routinely at the mouths of large rivers, where massive sediment routinely buries dead sealife that is constantly deposited on the seafloor. That is why rich oil fields are often found offshore of large river deltas -- either where the deltas are now, or where they were hundreds of millions of years ago.

An ancient oil sleuth must be able to backward-trace the movements of continents and great river valleys, in order to know where to look for such sediment-buried deposits.

Another cause of mass sediment burial of seafloor organic material, is massive volcanic activity. This would be particularly important to an ancient oil sleuth when a group of volcanoes might stay active for millions of years, in the same general vicinity upwind of river deltas or rich upwelling currents.

But in cases of mass extinctions, the large scale deep ocean anoxia occurring at the same time as massive deposition of organic material onto the seafloor, might be a particularly rich time for the initiation of large scale oil production.

When this process occurs over continental crust, the oil can be preserved for a very long time. If it occurs over oceanic crust, the oil may be subducted with the crust into the mantle, where it will likely be converted into short chain hydrocarbons, CO2, CO, and other forms of carbon. The short chain hydrocarbons may return to the crust, and may eventually be recovered economically. Diamond and graphite may also return to depths which allows humans to recover them economically.

Regardless, it is the ancient oil we are interested in. The challenge is to connect the extinction events, the ocean anoxia, and the ancient geographic patterns together, to provide the best guess for the locations of giant oil deposits which might conceivably still exist in an undiscovered, but ultimately recoverable state.

Humans have become accustomed to utilising the easy oil, and are just now getting good at recovering oil from the harsh, deep ocean environments. That is a good thing, because the Earth is 70% ocean-covered.

Still, some the planet which was once covered by oceans is now dry land, and such places -- if they fit the criteria above -- might be some of the first locations to check out.

First published at Al Fin, the Next Level
Postings from Al Fin blog on "Oil from ancient seas"

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Situ Oil Sands Extraction Taking Off

Bitumen Steam Extraction via Technology Review

Canadian oil sands producers are gradually moving away from the open mining of oil sands. Instead, they are increasingly utilising in situ production methods which leave the land surface features unaltered, and allow access to deeper deposits of bitumen which are not accessible from the surface.
Natural Gas Steam Generators for Bitumen Extraction

...the mines give way to tidier industrial sites amid boggy greenish-brown muskeg and stands of white spruce, jack pine, and aspen. These forest-ringed facilities have traded shovels and enormous trucks for an extraction process that drills down hundreds of meters into solid ribbons of bitumen and, using vast quantities of steam, melts the tarry petroleum in place. Liquefied bitumen then oozes out through a system of parallel pipes. Such "in situ" extraction operations now account for nearly half the current output of northern Alberta's oil business, and that figure will only increase. Alberta's 1.8 trillion barrels of bitumen may be the world's largest single accumulation of hydrocarbons, but four-fifths of this resource lies deeper than strip-mining can reach.

In situ extraction is expensive—on average, it's not profitable if world oil prices are below $60 per barrel. But with today's prices consistently well above that, the practice is booming. The oil sands will generate over 1.5 million barrels of oil per day this year, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a Calgary-based group. That accounts for more than half the oil that Canada pipes to the United States (Canada is its neighbor's single biggest source of imported oil). By 2025, oil-sands production is projected to more than double, to 3.7 million barrels per day, and in situ operations will deliver nearly two-thirds of that boost.

...the Canadian economy, particularly in Alberta, has become heavily dependent on the growth of the oil-sands industry. Investments from Canadian firms and global oil giants totaled $13 billion in 2010 and grew to $16 billion this year. The oil sands have made Alberta the hottest place in Canada for jobs, investment, and growth, helping the country avoid many of the economic woes afflicting the United States and much of Europe.

The oil sands mean hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and royalties, and job creation from Newfoundland to Vancouver. So many Newfoundlanders have come to Alberta to work in Fort McMurray that it amounts to "Newfoundland's third-largest city," says Murray Smith, a former Alberta energy minister. Such economic heft makes it a given that Canada is going to keep exploiting this resource, he says: "We're next door to a customer that has 250 million vehicles driving three trillion miles a year. You can be sure that as long as that demand is there, there will be product to sell. We'll produce the oil sands." _TechnologyReview_via_Brian Wang
Faux environmentalists, carbon hysterics, and lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgiast greens, will lament the rapid, progressive buildup of oil sands development in Canada. But then, if they could think clearly, they would focus on solving problems rather than whining about their imaginary nightmares.
A recent report from Calgary investment bank Peters & Co. crowns Cenovus’ Christina Lake operations as the most energy efficient in August by steam-oil ratio — the number of barrels of steam required to produce one barrel of bitumen.

It produced 18,900 barrels per day, five per cent over rated capacity, at an SOR of 2.3, closely followed by Cenovus’ Foster Creek, which churned an estimated 111,200 bpd, 93 per cent of capacity, at an SOR of 2.4.

Suncor Foster Creek was third at 2.5 as it produced 29,100 bpd or 88 per cent of capacity and MEG was fourth with an SOR of 2.6 and production of 26,400, six per cent over rated capacity. _CalgaryHerald


Japan and the US Team to Explore North Slope Methane Hydrates

Methane hydrate is methane that is locked in ice. Huge amounts of methane are available for economical production via gas hydrates as soon as humans learn to produce them economically and cleanly. The Japanese have been particularly active in researching ways to produce methane from hydrates cleanly and efficiently.
Japan has been looking to diversify its energy resources since the powerful March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant northeast of Tokyo.

Resource-poor Japan relies heavily on energy imports from the Middle East and until recently met one third of its electricity needs with nuclear power...Discover

Methane hydrates are widely present around the globe, particularly under the deep seafloor, but also in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The US DOE is now partnering with Conoco Phillips and the Japan Oil Gas and Metals National Corporation to test technologies for producing methane hydrates on Alaska's North Slope.
The collaborative testing will take place under the auspices of a Statement of Intent for Cooperation in Methane Hydrates signed in 2008 and extended in 2011 by DOE and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The production tests are the next step in both US and Japanese national efforts to evaluate the response of gas hydrate reservoirs to alternative gas hydrate production concepts. The tests will provide information to inform potential future extended-duration tests.

The tests will utilize the “Iġnik Sikumi” (Iñupiaq for “fire in the ice”) gas hydrate field trial well, a fully instrumented borehole that was installed in the Prudhoe Bay region by ConocoPhillips and the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory earlier this year.

...The current test plans call for roughly 100 days of continuous operations from January to March 2012. Tests will include the initial field trial of a technology that involves injecting carbon dioxide into methane-hydrate-bearing sandstone formations, resulting in the swapping of CO2 molecules for methane molecules in the solid-water hydrate lattice, the release of methane gas, and the permanent storage of CO2 in the formation. This field experiment will be an extension of earlier successful tests of the technology conducted by ConocoPhillips and their research partners in a laboratory setting.

Following the exchange tests, the team will conduct a 1-month evaluation of an alternative methane-production method called depressurization. This process involves pumping fluids out of the borehole to reduce pressure in the well, which results in dissociation of methane hydrate into methane gas and liquid water. The method was successfully demonstrated during a 1-week test conducted by Japan and Canada in northwestern Canada in 2008.  _GCC
You can see from the resource chart below, that methane hydrates may well represent the largest source for hydrocarbons in the accessible areas of the planet. With clean and economic access to this huge resource -- a mother lode of energy -- humans are not likely to run low on fuels for hundreds of years.
Although some research has been carried out in the past, little is known about the location, formation, decomposition, or actual quantities of methane hydrates. However, national and international research and exploration over the last 20 years by various governmental and industrial entities have resulted in general agreement that methane hydrates should be evaluated as a potential primary energy source for the future. _ORNL
Should Alaskan North Slope methane hydrates prove amenable to clean and economical production, expect significant investment in gas-to-liquids (GTL) production on the North Slope.

Original story

Methane hydrates will form where methane and water are present under the right temperature and pressure conditions, making the Gulf of Mexico a likely location for large amounts of the resource said Arthur Johnson, a petroleum geologist and consultant for Hydrate Energy International in Kenner, La.

“It is an absolutely enormous resource potential, but of course you have to be able to extract it safely, and the other thing is economics,” Johnson said. “If you have to put more energy into it than you’re getting out, it’s not a resource.”

Johnson said estimates suggest tens of thousands of trillion cubic feet of natural gas are tied up in hydrate reservoirs beneath the floor of the ocean and in the permafrost in Arctic regions. One cubic foot of methane hydrate yields about 164 cubic feet of gas.

What it comes down to is economics, said Davy Kong, spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips.

“Many experts believe that methane hydrates hold significant potential to supply this clean fossil fuel,” Kong said. “At present, the technology does not exist to produce methane economically from hydrates. This trial is an important first step in analyzing a production technology with potential both to produce this resource and to sequester carbon dioxide in the process.” _Politico_via_GWPF
As the article above points out, having multiple large sources of energy provides us with redundancy, in case any one energy source is victimised by irrational government : green policies.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

"This Is the Fifth Time the World Has Run Out of Oil,": Daniel Yergin

...Whenever markets are tight and prices are high, you get this fear that the end is near. There's a picture in "The Quest" of Woodrow Wilson walking to church and he said I'll have to walk to church because we'll have gasoline-less Sundays in the United States, because we didn't have enough oil. In the 1970s, it was thought that we were going to run out of oil and, of course, it turned out that there is a lot of oil. The theory today is that we're about halfway through the global endowment. Our view is that we're probably more like 20 percent, based on what we know today. _StLToday

It is possible that Daniel Yergin is correct, and we have used 20% of the global endowment of oil. But not likely. The real figure is almost undoubtedly less than 10%, probably much less.
Around 2007 was probably the high point of oil demand in the United States, and it's going to go down because our cars are going to get a lot more efficient, there's more biofuels, and the other is the demographic change. We have an aging population that drives less. So all of those things add up.

You can see Detroit has kind of changed its mind just in terms of how they're selling cars, and the emphasis on efficiency. Everybody has in the back of their mind that gasoline prices could go up again and that affects people's decisions. I think all of that means our oil demand is kind of on a glide path downward, though there may be a bump when we come out of the downturn.

... The output of the oil sands is now equivalent to the Libyan exports before the civil war. It's a big number. It could double by the next decade. It's next door to us. It doesn't have to come here by tankers. It's part of a larger trading relationship. And I think it really contributes to energy security.

I think the real controversy isn't about the [Keystone XL] pipeline itself, because we have lots of oil pipelines in the United States. The real opposition is to the oil sands themselves. And it's an argument about carbon. It is a tough issue for the administration because environmentalists are part of their base. But it may be the biggest shovel-ready project in the country if you take direct and indirect jobs. It's hard in an environment with 9 percent unemployment to say no to it. _StLToday

Yergin is a believer in climate alarmist orthodoxy, and yet he favours the construction of the oilsands pipeline, Keystone XL, and the further development of the oilsands. This reveals Yergin's underlying pragmatism -- something that too many orthodox carbon hysterics lack.
Back to the question of how much of the world's hydrocarbon complement has been used:
It is the opinion of Al Fin energy analysts that the chart above understates the overall global hydrocarbon complement -- particularly in terms of crude oil and natural gas. But that should become clear over the next few decades, as the technologies required to find and produce these underestimated hydrocarbons become available.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fusion Researcher Dr. George Miley Appears to Support Rossi's LENR Approach

Video streaming by Ustream
Cold Fusion video via Boots and Oil

Dr. George Miley, cold fusion researcher and affiliate professor at the University of Illinois, is one of the participants in the ACS conference symposium on cold fusion video above. Dr. Miley is one of the latest scientists to suggest that Andrea Rossi may be on the right track with his E-Cat LENR device.

Miley gave a presentation at a recent Green Energy Symposium in Philadelphia on cold fusion. The ecatsite blog is featuring Dr. Miley's slideshow and slideset, which provides some documentation of his own research with a similar Ni - H2O setup as Rossi is using. Here is a small subset of Miley's slides (via ecatsite). The full set is available at ecatsite.

As you can see from the last slide, the isotope concentrations before and after running the cold fusion device are significantly different, suggesting that a transmutation process has occurred. More information on Dr. Miley's experimental setup for detecting and measuring isotopes

PDF Survey of observed excess energy in LANR reactions. The author, Mitchell Swartz, presents an interesting mechanism for production of this excess heat. Notice that author Swartz of the PDF survey prefers the term "Lattice Assisted Nuclear Reactions" (LANR) over the term "Low Energy Nuclear Reactions" (LENR), although he seems to be referring to the same phenomenon.

Brian Wang has also been covering these developments in LENR and E-Cat
BW has more news about Rossi's near and intermediate-term plans for selling 1 MW LENR devices and eventually progressing to selling home - scale devices for individual households.

No one actually knows what nuclear reaction is taking place, if any, to explain the excess heat which has been so widely observed by a very broad range of experimental scientists. Some scientists suggest that more than one type of reaction may be involved, depending upon the experimental setup.

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Is Algae Getting In Bed With Ethanol? Odd Bedfellows in Iowa

Green Plains is the US' 4th largest ethanol producer. CEO Todd Becker explains why this ethanol producer is getting into the algae business: quick initial profits, with an eye toward longer term profits of much higher magnitude.
"We initially got into this thinking the fuel markets were where we want to go," Becker said in an interview at the Shenandoah plant. "We were going to make the algae, get the oil out of the algae and make fuel out of it."

But Becker said the profits are in algae-based feeds for fish farms and livestock and algae-derived Omega-3 fatty acids for food and dietary supplements. The venture's algae last week passed a key test for poultry feed, and Becker said customers will be in place when commercial production begins next year.

In two to three years, Becker said, Green Plains hopes to be running BioProcess Algae's "Grower Harvester" technology at all nine of its ethanol plants, including its northernmost one in Fergus Falls, Minn. The greenhouse-based system relies on sunlight, continuously harvested ponds and brush-like filaments on which algae grow. _StarTribune

Up to 30% of the carbon in maize ends up as CO2. Algae simply love CO2, and will take as much of it as you will give them, converting it into algal biomass.
In Iowa, the strategy of Green Plains and BioProcess Algae is to make money at each step up in production.

Tim Burns, CEO of BioProcess Algae, said the company got into the algae business in 2005-2006 by adapting filtration technology developed by another company he co-founded, BioProcess H2O. It manufactures filaments to help grow waste-filtering bacteria. Algae also like to grow on the filaments, Burns said.

The Iowa joint venture into algae was launched in 2008. Green Plains offered a source of carbon dioxide along with expertise in selling animal feed. The company annually produces and markets 2.5 million tons of dried distiller's grains, which are a byproduct of ethanol production.

...From the beginning, Burns said, the markets for algae-based feeds, fish food and nutraceuticals looked more promising than biofuel.

"The high-value oils will not go into the petroleum industry," said Burns. That includes algae used in Omega-3 oils, which can bring more than $3,000 per ton.

The partners haven't abandoned biofuel. Algae oils that aren't sold in more profitable markets will be sold to make biodiesel or other fuels, essentially a byproduct of algae processing.

As more algae and algae oils hit the market, prices for Omega-3s and other high-value products are expected to drop. That's why Becker and Burns see longer-term profit selling algae for animal feeds and aquaculture, which alone uses 10 million metric tons of fish food annually. Those feeds can sell for up to $2,000 per ton, and the markets pose less risk of becoming saturated. _StarTrib
This is also the strategy that Al Fin algal specialists have been recommending: Go for the high value, profitable uses of algae first. As you develop skills in the algal growing and handling process, reinvest profits into larger scale production for the lower value -- but much higher volume -- production of fuels from algae.

It is projected that in terms of algal fuels, thermochemical approaches (pyrolysis + IH2 etc) will achieve profitability roughly 5 - 10 years ahead of the synthetic biology approaches preferred by Craig Venter and Exxon Mobil.


Sugars to Fuels & Chemicals Taking on Greater Role


A research team in Singapore has developed a high yield (87%) method of converting fructose into hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a chemical intermediate of growing importance for producing a wide range of useful and high value products.
A team at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore reports in a paper in the journal ChemSusChem on an isopropyl alcohol-mediated reaction system for the production of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) from fructose that reaches a yield of up to 87%.

HMF is a promising chemical intermediate with wide applications in the production of fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics and liquid alkanes and was one of six primary areas of focus in a 2008 report from the National Science Foundation on bio-hydrocarbon fuels. (Earlier post.) The cost-effective production of HMF and its fuel and chemical derivatives from biomass is thus of ongoing research interest.

The solvent in the new process can be easily recycled by evaporation, giving the HMF product. The system avoids the use of large amounts of organic solvent, has a minimal environmental impact, and offers a new route to large-scale economically viable processes, the authors say. _GCC

Converting biomass into sugars is a very hot area of research. More.

Once biomass is converted to sugars (and other basic substances), further conversion to fuels, chemicals, plastics, feeds, and other materials can take place (PDF).

It is likely that biomass derivatives will displace petroleum from significant parts of the chemicals and plastics industries, before doing the same in the fuels industry -- due to the higher value of chemicals and materials. In fact, we can see this process already taking place with companies such as Amyris. And this is just the beginning.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Future of Energy Video Extravaganza

The following videos come from the day conference: What Will Turn Us On in 2030 (via Slate). Other videos from the event are available at the conference link above.

Why Nuclear

Why Biofuels?

Craig Venter on Synthetic Biology and the Energy Future

Everything You Heard Here Could Be Wrong

Article: Don't Count Oil Out by Robert Bryce

Opinion: Michael Lynch -- A new sense of energy security to be found in shale oil & gas?

A much discussed article going around the peak oil webosphere -- The Energy Trap. Who can find the faulty assumptions in the argument?

Craig Venter's team is moving on to a pure synthetic biology phase of its research on producing fuels from algae

The quickest way to get abundant fuels from algae is to find the wild strains which produce the most biomass the fastest, and don't bother with oil extraction. Simply pyrolyse the algal biomass and convert to fuels via IH2. Even a total dunce could beat Craig Venter and Exxon Mobil to the punch by about 10 years by taking this approach.

As to the future of energy: All of the above. But go easy on the solar, and it would be best to drop the big wind farms altogether.

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87% Yield of Diesel Hydrocarbons from Biomass-Derived Precursors

A team from Universitat Politècnica de València (Spain) reports in the journal ChemSusChem on a process that uses platform molecules derived from hexoses (5-methylfurfural) and from pentoses (2-methylfuran, or Sylvan) from lignocellulosic biomass to produce a high quality diesel. _GCC
Spanish researchers at Universitat Politècnica de València have devised a two-step process for high-yield conversion of precursors-from-lignocellulose into diesel range hydrocarbons.
The team, led by Dr. Avelino Corma, had reported earlier this year on a new simple, energy-efficient process (that also does not require any organic solvents) for the production of renewable diesel from biomass waste. (Earlier post.)

That process converts 2-methylfuran (2MF) into into diesel-range hydrocarbons through two consecutive catalytic steps that involve hydroxyalkylation/alkylation and hydrodeoxygenation, with an overall yield of 87%.

Lignocellulosic biomass contains both six-carbon (hexoses) and five-carbon (pentoses) sugars; the new process synthesizes diesel precursors from each, and then uses a catalytic hydrodeoxygenation process to produce the renewable diesel.

The resulting diesel can be blended in any ratio with commercial diesel, and has a high cetane number and good flow properties. _GCC
Of course they have to extract the precursors from the biomass first, before they can feed them into their two-step process. But in a free market environment, those lignocellulosic products would be sold on the open market as commodities, so that industrial plants at any scale could convert them into either fuels, high value chemicals, or plastics and other materials.

It is easy to see that this type of diesel product should prove superior to standard esterified biodiesels, in terms of cold weather performance and better blending with petro-diesel. The economics of this process will evolve and improve as the overall market for biomass and biomass materials develops.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

E-Cat: A Barrel of Oil's Worth of Energy for the Cost of 1 Penny?

All systems are apparently "go" for the 28 October 2011 Bologna testing of Andrea Rossi's 1 MW E-Cat LENR reactor. Rossi says that after this upcoming test, all future tests will be closed to the public.

Meanwhile, yet another analysis of Rossi's 6 October Bologna E-Cat test have been released. More information and links to data here.

At Cold Fusion Now, Ruby Carat looks at the claim that 1 gram of nickel can generate the E-Cat energy equivalent of 517 kilograms of oil. The calculations presented in this web posting concludes that one 5 cent piece has the energy equivalent of 5 barrels of oil. Assuming that the 5 cent piece is of standard weight and nickel concentration as described in the link, that would translate to the E-Cat equivalent energy of 1 barrel of oil in 1/5 of a 5 cent piece, or 1 cent.
Just 1.25 grams of nickel, the amount of nickel in one US 5 cent coin, can generate E-Cat energy equivalent to 5 barrels of oil – all without CO2 emissions and no radioactive materials.

Because the energy density from fusion is a million times greater than the chemical burning of fossil fuels, cold fusion will be able to provide energy to build a new infrastructure, this time, one based on clean, peaceful energy with access by all the world. _ColdFusionNow

Of course it seems quite whimsical -- even silly -- and will probably never work out to anything close to that level of equivalence. But it does point out the immense difference in scale between nuclear energy and chemical energy. This will be true even if the LENR phenomenon ultimately provides a somewhat lower power density than hot fusion.

Before popping the champagne corks, however, we should wait for a much better examination of the underlying phenomenon in Rossi's LENR device -- assuming it works as advertised.


Peak Oil Doom and Collapse is a Bad Bet

In the 2008 collapse of commodities prices, many true believers in peak oil doom lost a lot of money -- for themselves or for other people who had entrusted the doomers with their hard-earned money. Is the same thing about to happen again, and again?
...we are led to believe that the world's fossil fuel resources are finite and known, and that the peak of production has either been already met or will come soon. Gas, it is assumed, will follow oil. Put simply, we are going to run out of fossil fuels, and they will therefore get (much) more expensive. For the peak oil advocates, the convenient truth is that de-carbonisation via renewables and nuclear is not only good for the climate, but sound economics too. Almost all of this is nonsense – and some of it is dangerous nonsense. There is enough oil and gas (and coal too) to fry the planet several times over. The problem is there may be too much fossil fuel, not too little, and that fossil fuel prices might be too low, not too high. _Guardian
One cannot exploit a finite resource indefinitely. Eventually one will reach the end of economical exploitation, and if one has not prepared for that eventuality, things can become "touch and go."
It’s intuitively obvious that exploiting a finite resource to exhaustion with rising population and wealth will lead to a production peak followed by a decline and rising prices, so when people scoff at “Peak Oil”, it isn’t the principle they dismiss, rather, the simplistic, doom-laden, outcomes campaigners infer from it and spin for their causes.

We really don’t know how difficult “Peak Oil” will be or when it will occur since there’s plenty of oil, the issue is cost and we can only guess where technology will take us in the next 50, never mind 500 years. Too often, we imagine technology will stand still; for example, just as coal replaced wood during the Industrial Revolution, oil demand may be replaced by, say, gas or nuclear energy; on the other hand, we will discover how to produce oil more cheaply and use it more efficiently. _ShetlandTimes
As the more intelligent peak oil monkeys are beginning to realise, oil pricing today is not mainly about geological supply, rather it is mainly about demand economics and political choices. Unfortunately, they are going too far, and blaming all the world's economic problems on oil prices -- mistaking causes for effects and effects for causes. But what can one expect when they are so emotionally dependent upon the imminent occurence of global doom and collapse?

The oil is there, and the price that must be paid for it is determined by sheikhs, presidents, and revolutionaries -- as well as renegade traders and corrupt and delinquent national oil companies.

Those who bet on monotonically increasing prices for oil will lose every time. Just when they are sure that "this time it is different," something will happen to bring prices crashing down. If they only lose their own money, one might consider it poetic justice. But when they lose the money of trusting investors, there is little justice involved.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Quick Wood-to-Fuel Technique That May Help Revive the Forestry Industry

A University of Maine chemical engineering professor has devised a quick 2-step method of converting wood to fuel. While it is not economically competitive with petro-fuels production at today's prices, it offers a tantalising glimpse at one of many ways in which innovative humans can cut through peak oil like a hot knife through butter.
"It's unique and it's simple," said Clay Wheeler, the University of Maine chemical engineering professor who discovered the process last year with two undergraduates. "This is important because the more complex the technology, the more expensive it's going to be."

In heavily wooded Maine, logging produces a lot of scrap tree stumps, tops and branches that are unusable for making lumber or paper.

While additional research is needed, if Wheeler's process is ultimately able to be commercially developed, it could help forest-rich states generate their own fuel from that scrap.

...In the first step of Wheeler's process, wood is bathed in sulfuric acid, isolating the sugars in cellulose and producing an energy-intense organic acid mixture.

That mixture is then heated with calcium hydroxide in a reactor to 450 degrees Celsius (840 Fahrenheit), a step that removes oxygen.

What drips out is a hydrocarbon liquid that chemically mimics crude oil.

For every ton of cellulose processed, Wheeler is able to make about 1.25 barrels of oil equivalent, a unit of energy comparable to the amount of energy produced by burning one barrel of crude oil.

The acids and calcium hydroxide are recycled at the end of the process, cutting costs, he said.

The most expensive part is the wood itself, Wheeler said. At current wood biomass prices, he acknowledged his process is not economically competitive with traditional crude oil refining.

"But we anticipate that the value of the fuel will continue to increase as petroleum becomes more scarce," he said. _Link
The technique is simple, and in a world without oil, it would offer a quick route to highly useful liquid fuels.

With a few tweaks, such techniques might soon produce high value chemicals in an economical manner.

The direction of future fuels production will be highly dependent upon the future costs of natural gas, oil, coal, and other carbonaceous materials. Besides developing better means of exploration and production of contemporary fuels, we need to be innovating a significant number of alternative approaches to new fuels and energies.

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Profits from Canadian Oil Sands Paying for Next-Gen Fusion Research

It is only fitting that old wealth pay for the transformative technologies which will make society better, and create new wealth at the same time. That is what seems to be happening in the advanced biofuels sector -- where old wealth chemical and oil companies are paying for the amazing new technologies of renewable fuels. And it also seems to be happening in the next-generation fusion sector, where wealth being made in Canadian oilsands is supporting avant-garde energy research by General Fusion Inc., of Burnaby, B.C.
General Fusion Inc. of Burnaby, B.C., may look like a sophisticated nuclear research company. It’s also the manifestation of a mid-life crisis. A decade ago, physicist Michel Laberge and engineer-executive Doug Richardson were working together at another B.C. firm making software for print designers. When Laberge turned 40 he came to a realization, says Richardson: “[Michel] didn’t want to help cut down forests anymore.”

Today Laberge is the president and chief technology officer—with Richardson as CEO—of a small company that hopes to become the first to get more energy out of a man-made experimental nuclear fusion reaction than it puts in. General Fusion has raised more than $33 million to date from a mix of government eco-research programs and private investors, including CEO-founder Jeff Bezos.

Among the partners, one stands out as especially counterintuitive: this summer the company received funding from Calgary-based oil sands company Cenovus. In backing fusion research, Cenovus is supporting what could become an alternative to its own business, if fusion generation can ever shed its long-standing pie-in-the-sky status. “For us, the investment isn’t a large amount,” says Dave Hassan, who oversees the Cenovus eco- fund. “For a small research company with cash requirements it’s big.” Fusion is a long shot, Hassan concedes, “but it’s a game changer if it works—carbon-free energy, essentially, forever.” __Macleans
The smarter people among the "old money" are risking at least some of that wealth on the long-shot gambles that threaten to change everything. Of course, these days, the "old money" doesn't have to be very old. Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Peter Thiel, for example, are generally considered to be "old money" these days. And each of them is pushing world-changing technologies which could change everything.

But even older money -- such as Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, Monsanto, etc -- are investing inways to push the envelope of technology in order to invent and innovate ways out of current and near-term quagmires. That is the way markets and capital are supposed to work, as long as greedy governments and layabout special interests do not destroy the normal mechanisms of capital markets.

If any institution is threatening to destroy the future, it would be big statism in conjunction with its many enablers. If any protest movement actually wanted to make a difference, in terms of making the world better, that would be the place to start.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

One Gas-to-Liquids Plant to Yield $6 Billion Profit Per Year

Shell's Pearl GTL Plant in Qatar
The new gas to liquids plant in Qatar is the equivalent of a new giant oil field, in terms of production. But rather than producing crude oil, its main products are finished diesel and kerosene (jet fuel). It cost about $18 billion to build, and along with a smaller associated lng plant, will yield $6 billion a year in profits on a projected cost of $70 per barrel oil. It will produce over one quarter of a million barrels of fuel per day when fully operational.
At a cost of at least US$18 billion (Dh66.11bn), Shell is putting the finishing touches to a gigantic gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant. Once it is fully operational, which is expected to be by early next year, the Pearl GTL project will produce a total of 260,000 barrels per day (bpd) of marketable output, much of which will be products such as gasoil, a form of diesel, and kerosene, to be used as aviation fuel. Pearl is by far the biggest industrial hydrocarbons project to date. Over the life of the plant, it will process 3 billion barrels of oil equivalent of gas.

By entering a production sharing agreement with the state-owned Qatar Petroleum, Shell is funding the entire project but will be able to recover the investment costs as well as receive a share of the profits.

The company estimates that at an oil price of $70 a barrel, the project, together with a $2bn liquefied natural gas plant also operated by Shell, will yield it a profit of $6bn a year.

Yet by fronting the entire amount itself, Shell took a big gamble on Pearl. GTL technology had so far been used commercially only by two companies, on a much smaller scale: South Africa's Sasol, who pioneered the technology during the sanctions under the apartheid era; and Shell itself, which is running a 14,700 bpd plant in Bintulu, Malaysia. _National
If the cost of oil is much higher than $70 a barrel, the plant will earn profits of much more than $6 billion per year.

Peak oil gurus have been predicting that oil prices of $200 to $500 per barrel will happen "any day now." At those prices, such large gas-to-liquids plants could pay for themselves in one year or less. Imagine being able to build a plant that outputs finished fuels in volumes of a giant oil field. Under those circumstances, you only need to find a lot of gas -- which is quite a bit easier than finding large oil fields.

I am not saying that natural gas -- and later, methane hydrates -- will replace oil. But gas to liquids will provide an extremely useful supplementary source for diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline (via the MTG process).

It will not be necessary to build such giant plants, either. Oxford Catalysts' microchannel F-T reactors are scalable, and can be used on offshore rigs to utilise otherwise flared, and can turn stranded gas fields into highly profitable liquid fuel producers.

This approach (GTL via F-T and MTG) is only one way in which humans plan to compensate for the various political and market reasons that oil is currently overpriced.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Peak Human Resourcefulness vs. Peak Manpower Skills

It was not until the late 1990s that the oilsands finally began to prove themselves as a large-scale commercial resource, facilitated by a crucial tax reform and lessrigid government intervention, and by major advances in technology.

The mining process was modernized, expanded in scale, and made more flexible. Fixed conveyer belts were replaced with huge trucks with the biggest tires in the world, and with giant shovels that gather up oilsands and carry them to upgraders that separate out the bitumen. Refining processes then upgrade the bitumen into higher-quality synthetic crude oil, akin to light, sweet crude oil, which can be processed in a conventional refinery into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and all the other normal products. _CalgaryHerald
There has always been a shortage of human ingenuity. In situations where human societies are short on inventiveness and competent tech and trade skills, the fate of that society is usually quite dire. When people talk about "peak oil" or "peak resources," they do not usually understand that what they are talking about is peak ingenuity along with peak manpower skills. Many times in history, the difference between the total collapse of a society and the prospering of the same society, is a simple innovation combined with sufficient manpower skills to take advantage of the innovation.

Consider this question in the light of Canadian oil sands:
...a breakthrough introduced an alternative way of producing oilsands - not with mining but rather in situ (Latin for "in place"); that is, with the crucial link in the production chain done in place - underground. This was very significant for many reasons, including the fact that 80 per cent of the oilsands resource is too deep for surface mining.

The in situ process uses natural gas to create superhot steam that is injected to heat the bitumen underground. The resulting liquid - a combination of bitumen and hot water - is fluid enough to flow into a well and to the surface. The best-known process is SAGD - for steam-assisted gravity drainage, and pronounced as "sag-dee." It has been described by oilsands historian Paul Chastko as "the single most important development in oilsands technology" in a half century.

Altogether, since 1997, over $120 billion of investment has flowed into Alberta's oilsands, now defined as a "mega-resource."

Oilsands production more than doubled from 600,000 barrels per day in 2000 to almost 1.5 million barrels per day in 2010. By 2020 it could double again to 3 mbd - an output that would be higher than the current oil production of either Venezuela or Kuwait. Adding in its conventional output, Canada could reach almost 4 mbd by 2020. _CalgaryHerald
Canadian oilsands do not solve the world's problems of energy scarcity. But they do temporarily abate the problem for certain parts of the world. And the impact of Canadian oilsands on global oil prices -- once high-throughput pipelines to the coast are built -- will grow significantly.
The technologies for producing oilsands continue to evolve, and increasing ingenuity is being applied to shrinking the environmental footprint and reducing the CO2 emissions in the production process. As the industry grows in scale, it will require wider collaboration on the R& D challenges not only among companies and the province of Alberta but also with Canada's federal government.

Yet the very scale of the resource, and its reliability, puts a premium on its continued evolution of this particular industry. Oilsands are, after all, an enormous resource. For the 175 billion barrels of recoverable oilsands is only 10 percent of the estimated 1.8 trillion barrels of oilsands "in place." The development of the other 90 per cent requires further technological progress. _CalgaryHerald
It usually seems as if human innovators are "running in place," running as fast as they can just to keep from falling behind. Thomas Malthus put his finger on one key issue -- human societies without appreciable ingenuity or manpower skills will out-reproduce the ability of the land to support them. But Julian Simon presents the flip side of the coin -- for societies that possess innovators and skilled manpower.

Miracle of Oil from Sand by Ronald Bailey, in Reason Magazine

There is never an end to scarcity, because there is never an end to human desire and ambition -- which are essentially limitless.

Lefty-Luddites of the green dieoff.orgy persuasion, want to do away with humans -- or 90% of them at least -- in order to do away with "scarcity." By eliminating most human beings, you are eliminating most human desire and ambition, or so they think. But that is not really how it works. Perhaps they will find out the hard way.

Or perhaps pockets of civilisation will learn how to instill innovativeness and competencies into their offspring, so that the dieoff dreams of the greens will never come to reality. Competent innovating societies that were wise, would look to the possibilities that exist in the universe at large.

Earth is a fine birthplace and cradle. It should be preserved in good condition over the indefinite future. In the meantime, the ultimate future for creatures that are resourceful and competent, is the larger universe.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

This is Not Your Crippled Toothless Grandmother's Peak Oil

For "peak oil" to be worth thinking about, it should guarantee doom, catastrophe, destruction, and collapse. Without those things, peak oil is just a wanker's circle jerk, fit for the denizens of sites for doomers -- you know the ones. Weathering peak oil should come as easily as weathering Y2K, perhaps easier.
Above you can see but one of many reasons that doing without oil does not have to mean doom and collapse, unless you are a total worthless shite-for-brains. And the graphic does not even consider the potential of micro- and macro-algae, which are the most prolific biomass crops, and can be grown in saltwater without requiring cropland or soil.

Biomass-to-pyrolysis is a quick route to a crude biofuel which can be burned "as is" by industrial burners for heat. Finland is utilising that approach to help meet its "38% energy from renewables" mandate.

But we want more from our "quick pyrolysis biofuels," don't we, my precious? Oh yes, we want high quality transportation fuels that let us laugh at peak oil doomers shivering in the dark, from our greater, brighter heights. And that is why we utilise IH2 with our pyrolysis (PDF).
That way, we can make a wide array of fuels and high-value chemicals from waste ligno-cellulosic offal.

We can even pave our roads and bike trails using pyrolysis. It is a matter of choosing ingenuity over hysteria. Something peak oil doomers might consider doing, if they ever get tired of wanking around.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Re-inventing Oil: The Unstoppable Coming World of Synthetic Biology

If petroleum didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Nothing else comes close to oil when it comes to energy density, ease of handling, flexibility, convenience, cost, or scale...

...“There is one thing all energy transitions have in common: they are prolonged affairs that take decades to accomplish,” wrote Vaclav Smil in 2008....Smil, a polymath, prolific author on energy issues, and distinguished professor at the University of Manitoba, believes that while a “world without fossil fuel combustion is highly desirable … getting there will demand not only high cost but also considerable patience: coming energy transitions will unfold across decades, not years.” _The Persistence of Oil

Al Fin energy analysts agree with Vaclav Smil on both counts: Re-inventing oil is a good idea, and the transition from oil to a re-invented oil will take decades.

Synthetic biology is in the process of changing all the rules for making things. We already make life-saving medicines with some of the same tools that synthetic biologists are using. We are even making vehicular tyres using these tools. But we have just gotten started.

Khosla Ventures has started a new $1 billion fund that is specialising in synthetic biology ventures, and related technologies. The US Department of Energy is also funding synthetic biology projects with the aim of re-inventing oil creation. Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics is being funded by Exxon Mobil to the tune of roughly $500 million to accomplish the same feat.

Oil is going to be around for a long time, because it is so very good at doing the things that humans need it to do. It takes nature between 100,000 and 1,000,000 years to make oil from once-living matter. Synthetic organisms should be able to produce oil in split seconds, using cheap raw materials plus sunshine or other readily available energy supply.

Why bother with all that high tech science when we can grow abundant algal biomass, and turn it into fuel using pyrolysis and IH2 treatment? Simple economics. Pyrolysis + IH2 requires a lot of energy and hydrogen. If you design your synthetic organisms properly, they can function at low temperatures and obtain their hydrogen from water.

The only way for advanced thermochemical biofuels conversion to compete with synthetic biology, is for the thermochemical process heat and hydrogen to be supplied by nuclear reactors. That approach is indeed likely to coexist with advanced synthetic biology fuels in the future.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Engineering and Construction Giant Fluor Gets Behind NuScale's Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Project

Fluor, the largest publicly traded engineering-and-construction firm in the U.S., is expected to announce Thursday that it has purchased a majority stake in NuScale, which is based in Corvallis, Ore., for $30 million.

Fluor plans to help NuScale get regulatory approval for its reactor, which at 45 megawatts is far smaller than conventional reactors that can produce more than 1,000 megawatts of power. The Department of Energy is supporting development of small reactors as an alternative to large ones that are vastly more expensive.

Smaller reactors, which can be built in factories, are also meant to be safer than such bigger reactors as the multiunit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan...

... Fluor, which ended the second quarter with $2.2 billion of cash and an order backlog valued at $40 billion, said it is making the investment in NuScale in order to participate in a potentially important trend in the nuclear industry favoring less costly reactors.

"We're planning for the future," said John Hopkins, group executive for corporate development at Fluor, which is based in Irving, Texas.

He added that Fluor, which built about 20 large reactors in the 1970s and 1980s, wants to do more nuclear work and would probably help with engineering and construction of the NuScale units. _WSJ

With engineering and construction giant Fluor now backing NuScale, we are likely to see more giant engineering firms getting into the small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) race. The US NRC is currently reviewing 6 SMR designs: Babcock and Wilcox is pushing its mPower design. Westinghouse has its own SMR design. Toshiba and GE-Hitachi each have a design they are pushing. The Fluor-NuScale design brings us to 5, and Hyperion -- the lone tiny-Tim in the group -- rounds the number to 6. Hyperion has received some DOE funding, and the company has signed an agreement to test its reactor at the DOE Savannah River Site.

With the cost of NRC licensing exceeding $250 million, and the timescale involved measuring into the decades, these new reactors require big money backing. NuScale should benefit significantly from its association with Fluor -- which has a top-notch reputation in the industry, according to Al Fin industrial engineers.
The investment is a big deal for Oregon-based NuScale as well as the modular nuclear reactor industry. These reactors are designed to have smaller generation capacities and to allow customers to add them as they see fit over time. A big challenge, in addition to making sure the reactors can generate power safely over time, is to demonstrate that these smaller reactors can produce power cheaply (check out our list of nuclear startups).

If successful, modular nuclear reactors could be built on corporate properties to power office buildings and industrial operations. Utilities also are keenly interested in the idea of building out a centralized nuclear power plant over time, Merchon said.

NuScale’s technology initially came from Oregon State University, which licensed it to NuScale in 2007. The reactor design involves using nuclear fuel to generate thermal energy to heat water and create steam, which is then piped to a turbine generator to produce electricity. Each NuScale system is made up of a reactor, turbine-generator and other related equipment, and it has 45 megawatts of generation capacity. _GigaOm

Small modular reactors are likely to make safe, reliable nuclear power more affordable to a wide range of customers -- from military bases to large industrial parks to small cities and large towns.

Even relatively small communities in remote locations -- such as on islands, seasteads, or in the Arctic or Antarctic -- are likely to seriously consider SMRs, once they are available and prove themselves. Areva is already working on an undersea SMR reactor design, which may eventually play a role in robotic energy and mineral development in the deep sea environment.

SMRs are also likely to participate in the ongoing development of large bitumen, kerogen, and methane hydrate deposits. For that application, gas cooled reactors might be preferred due to the higher levels of heat available.

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Can Biofuels Replace Petrofuels by 2030?

A new report from Pike Research forecasts the doubling of global biofuels value to $185 billion by 2021. More at GCC Logically, since such changes typically occur exponentially, one would expect another doubling by 2026 and yet another doubling before 2030 -- to a global biofuels value of near $800 billion. While that level of production is not large enough to replace petro-fuels, it is more than large enough to destroy the dreams of peak oil doom-disciples.

But is it logical to expect that type of growth in biofuels over the next 20 years? One of the largest obstacles to that rosy picture, is the fact that it will be generally cheaper to convert coal, gas, bitumen, kerogen, and methane hydrates to liquid fuels, than it will be to convert biomass to liquid fuels. As long as those feedstocks are readily available at cheap prices, large scale biofuels will likely depend on government regulations and mandates to be profitable.

What about the food vs. fuels debate? This question is easier to answer, and has always been something of a tempest in a teapot. Better methods of food production are spreading across the globe, which as long as third world birthrates do not balloon, will ease food pressures in the hungrier parts of the planet. Biomass for biofuels will come from a variety of sources, including specially designed and adapted energy crops, energy crops that are grown in seawater and on salty or marginal soils, and perhaps even crops that are grown inside cities themselves, on integrated high rise farms. Crop growing area will not be a problem, since algae can grow on roughly 80% of the Earth's surface -- and algae are the most prolific biomass crop known. More on algal biomass

The conversion from petroleum fuels to biofuels, synthetic fuels, and other unconventional fuels, is likely to be uneven and tumultous. As economic conditions change, levels of demand for fuels will change. As technologies for different types of fuel production develop, the economic benefits and costs will shift to favour different types of production. We should not expect to see a smooth, exponential growth in the production of biofuels between now and 2030. Instead, we are likely to see a very bumpy and uneven -- but significant -- level of growth in bioenergy and advanced biofuels.

Biofuels will not replace petrofuels, because there will be no need for total replacement. Such ideas are absurd on their face, and inconsistent with how real world economies of substitution work. In the absence of government interference, biofuels will have to compete with petro-fuels and synthetic fuels from unconventional hydrocarbons. These liquid fuels will have to compete with gaseous fuels and electrical systems for heat and transport.

If a long-awaited nuclear renaissance occurs, electrical systems of heat and transport will be given a huge boost, and will begin to take market share away from liquid and gaseous fuels.

It should be pointed out that government has been the enemy of safe, abundant, reliable energy. In particular, the energy starvation agendas of green-influenced governments in the US, Germany, and other western governments are causing undue economic hardship on their citizens -- and retarding the onset of a more abundant and prosperous future. In addition, these green-influenced government policies are worsening environmental conditions, rather than improving them, out of a misguided pseudoscientific carbon hysteria.

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