Friday, December 30, 2011

Making Up for the Incompetence and Corruption of National Oil Companies

Most of the world's oil reserves fall under the control of national oil companies. Most of these national oilcos are corrupt and incompetent, with failing and underinvested infrastructures, and a chronic lack of basic upkeep and maintenance. Given this basic condition -- plus the chronic ongoing devaluation of the US dollar -- it is no wonder that global oil markets are seeing a long-term edging up of oil prices in dollars.

The more competent multi-national oilcos have often been largely excluded from the world's largest and most promising oil fields. Consequently these oilcos are forced to drill relatively risky wells many thousands of feet below the sea, and anywhere else they are allowed access by corrupt governments and national oilcos.

But recently, multiple new ways of by-passing the restrictions and treacherous double-dealing of corrupt third world governments are presenting themselves to private oil concerns:

1. Tight oil & gas
...a new oil age is emerging....Tight oil, a catch-all for oil trapped in shale, carbonate or sand formations recoverable with the type of drilling methods that revolutionized the natural-gas side of the business, is reviving the oil sector on a scale that only a couple of years ago would have been unthinkable.

“It turns out there are a lot of big piles of oil in North America,” said Denver-based John Schopp, vice-president for the North Rockies and new ventures at Encana Corp., one of the companies in a hurry to turn it into new revenue.

Calgary-based Encana, a pure natural-gas producer that is feeling the pinch of low gas prices, hopes its new oil thrust will make it a more balanced gas/oil producer.

“With shale gas it took a few years to get it to work for everybody,” Mr. Schopp said. “With oil, obviously we are in an earlier inning than we are with gas, but the rate of change is quicker because of all the tricks that we have learned.”

The full potential of tight oil is not yet known. What is known is that the sector is repositioning itself to make the most of it, encouraged by the performance of fields such as the Bakken straddling North Dakota and Saskatchewan, one of the continent’s most significant sources of oil. If new plays such as the Niobrara in Colorado, the Eagle Ford in Texas, the Cardium in Alberta or the Viking in Saskatchewan have similar encores, and if the same pattern is repeated around the world, oil could be with us for a long time yet.

“We are finding oil in a lot of places that frankly, we knew it was there, we just didn’t know how to get it out,” said John Richels, president and CEO of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. “Taking this new technology … and applying it to many of these areas is opening some new doors. In a world scene where we are producing 86 million barrels a day, it probably doesn’t have the same kind of impact as it did in the natural gas business, which was more of a North American market, but it certainly has some big potential in the right areas.” Devon, previously a natural gas focused company, directed 90% of its capital to oil and natural-gas liquids targets in 2011. _NatPost
The big multi-nationals are now trying to find ways to get in on this new technology -- and hoping to be able to transfer it to huge tight oil & gas finds in several other parts of the globe besides North America.

2. Gas to liquids (GTL)

Qatar has a head start in the coming global GTL bonanza, but it should not be long before nations with abundant tight gas supplies begin to utilise GTL technologies at all scales -- from the "shoebox" GTL microchannel approach of Oxford Catalysts, all the way up to the multi-billion dollar approach taken by Shell in Qatar and Malaysia.

3. Coal to liquids (CTL)

SRI's CTL approach is notable for its extremely low production of CO2 and very low use of water. The massive reserves of coal in North America would reasonably put that region in the best postion to take advantage of this huge potential source of liquid hydrocarbons.

4. Bitumens to liquids (oil sands and heavy oils)

Canada has a big head start in both surface mining of oil sands and in situ extraction of oil sands. But Venezuela's huge bitumen deposits will wait a long time for a more rational leadership of the nation's government, to replace the current clown regime.

5. Kerogens to liquids (PDF) (oil shales kerogen)

Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah possess significant deposits of kerogen rock. The most viable and economic approach to extraction at this point is by way of nuclear process heat in situ extraction. Several more years of development will be needed to make the appropriate on site small modular reactors available, and to perfect environmentally benign methods of extraction.

6. Methane hydrates This is the largest hydrocarbon resource in the planet's crust, and is also being constantly replenished from multiple sources -- both biogenic and abiogenic.

Considering that high quality liquid hydrocarbon can be obtained from CTL, GTL, oil sands, and (soon) oil shales at costs of around $30 to $40 a barrel, the production of such "synthetic fuels" would seem to be viable for as long as third world national oilcos remain corrupt and incompetent -- which is likely to be quite some time.

These technologies are either already here, or hot on your heels. The largest impediment to unconventional hydrocarbon production on a large scale, is governmental restriction, prohibition, regulation, and corruption -- political peak oil.

The question of EROEI in the production of unconventionals will eventually be made irrelevant by the abundant, high-value process heat from gas-cooled nuclear reactors -- particularly of the small modular type.

Without political corruption, duplicity, and incompetence, we would not be having this conversation. But since corruption, duplicity, and incompetence are such a commonplace ingredient of third world oil dictatorships such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela, etc etc, the creation of workarounds is just one of the costs of doing business.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

A World Bathed in the Glow of Bacterial Light

Scientists are becoming more clever at manipulating microbes to perform basic tasks. In this story, bacteria were taught to glow in synchrony, with the aim of creating microbial sensors to detect toxic gases. Similar technologies will soon be used to tweak microbes into producing valuable chemicals and fuels, and much more.

UCSD scientists have trained E. Coli bacteria to glow in synchrony, like a light chorus. The synchrony arises when colonies of bacteria on microfluidic chips communicate via gas channels. More:
Their achievement, detailed in this week’s advance online issue of the journal Nature, involved attaching a fluorescent protein to the biological clocks of the bacteria, synchronizing the clocks of the thousands of bacteria within a colony, then synchronizing thousands of the blinking bacterial colonies to glow on and off in unison.

...Using the same method to create the flashing signs, the researchers engineered a simple bacterial sensor capable of detecting low levels of arsenic. In this biological sensor, decreases in the frequency of the oscillations of the cells’ blinking pattern indicate the presence and amount of the arsenic poison.

Because bacteria are sensitive to many kinds of environmental pollutants and organisms, the scientists believe this approach could be also used to design low cost bacterial biosensors capable of detecting an array of heavy metal pollutants and disease-causing organisms. And because the senor is composed of living organisms, it can respond to changes in the presence or amount of the toxins over time unlike many chemical sensors.

...Hasty said he believes that within five years, a small hand-held sensor could be developed that would take readings of the oscillations from the bacteria on disposable microfluidic chips to determine the presence and concentrations of various toxic substances and disease-causing organisms in the field. _UCSD
"This development illustrates how basic, quantitative knowledge of cellular circuitry can be applied to the new discipline of synthetic biology," said James Anderson at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, in a university statement.

The new chips can be used for the production of biochemicals, tissue engineering, and biosensors that continually monitor the environment, rather than offer a one-off test that must be replaced every time new readings are needed. Besides the obvious practical uses, the sensors offer good aesthetics: The new "biopixels" come in beautiful shades of blue. _FastCoexist
Imagine if all the microbes in the world were to glow in the dark. Should that happen, humans might begin to comprehend the real inhabitants of Earth, in terms of number and mass. At that point, these slightly advanced apes might begin to understand the promise of bio-technologies.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oil Shale Kerogen Prospects in Morroco

Massive deposits of oil shale kerogens exist in the US, Jordan, Israel, and several other nations. Morocco is beginning to take a look at ways that it can capitalise on its own deposits of oil shale kerogens.
TheDominion Moroccan Oil Shale

Morocco, like Jordan and Israel, is moving towards using the most carbon intensive fuel base on earth. This move is supported by present, and projected, oil prices that make synthetic crude from oil shale profitable on a near permanent basis. Technology has become cheaper while the price of oil has gone up dramatically. Recent industry estimates indicate that oil can now be extracted from shale for approximately US$40 per barrel, while the average price at an American pump is US$94 per barrel.

With global oil demand slated to grow, Morocco is set to become an unconventional oil producer through mining oil shale and converting it to mock crude oil in a fashion similar to Canadian tar sands development, but borrowing on shale technology from Brazil. Morocco also has contracts to use Estonian technology to mine and burn oil shale directly for domestic electricity.

Estonia is one of a few countries in the world that has ongoing oil shale currently in operation. The Tangier deposit of oil shale in the north of Morocco is likely to see Eesti Energy-owned Enefit of Estonia work to mine this shale directly for domestic electricity generation, which would treat the kerogen shale more like a cousin of coal rather than an ancestor of oil.

Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, has developed a technique of extracting oil as well as gas from oil shale, and has been involved in this process commercially since the early 1980s. A partnership between Petrobras and TOTAL energy of France has been developing towards shale-to-oil mining at the Timahdit deposit, a deposit much larger than Tangier, approximately 240 kilometres southeast of Rabat, Morocco’s capital. Petrobras would be the main operator of the Timahdit mine, but both world energy majors will share the costs and profits. _ExtremeExtraction

The above article goes on to point out a few of the environmental problems with a large scale development of shale oil extraction in Morroco. The world kerogen resource is not yet ready for modern development -- at least not in ways that would satisfy modern environmental lobbies -- particularly in the US.

And yet if environmental lobbies continue trying to block and prohibit the development of all forms of reliable large-scale energy and fuels, eventually they are likely to be lined up against a wall and shot. The reason for this is that civilisation cannot exist without energy, and if the only forms of large-scale reliable energy happen to be objectionable to the big money environmental lobbies, popular opinion will eventually swing violently against these special interests -- which too often only pretend to be concerned about the environment, being in reality more often concerned with their own power, wealth, and influence.

Here is a broader look at some of the replacements for crude oil, including kerogens:
Shale is a type of sedimentary rock rich in organic matter. Deposits of shale often contain kerogen, a set of organic compounds from which petroleum (oil and natural gas) can be extracted through a series of chemical processes. Extraction of oil from shale had been the standard way of extracting oil for centuries, with British patents granted for extraction of oil in this way going back as far as the 16th century. Oil from shale came to an abrupt end when liquid oil started gushing from wells in the continental United States. Rising demand for petroleum products and significant deposits of oil and natural gas in shale has led oil companies the world over, from the US to India, to start investing in technologies to make possible its extraction. So much so, that shale gas is slated to form a major portion of the natural gas produced in the US. In India too, companies such as Reliance, Reliance Natural Resources and ONGC are preparing to invest in shale gas exploration in a big way, with large deposits found in the Cambay Basin in Gujarat, the Gondwana Basin in Central India and the Assam-Arakan basin in eastern India.

...Technically, bitumen is a highly viscous form of petroleum. Rising prices of oil in the international market have made bitumen an unlikely, yet promising, source. So much so that even within this most conventional of energy sources, extraction of petroleum from bitumen is termed as unconventional oil.

Canada and Venezuela are especially well endowed with large reserves of oil sands. Located beneath boreal forests, the Canadian deposits are the world’s most extensive and are supposed to contain a potential 170 billion barrels of oil, larger than the total reserves of Saudi Arabia.

... _Drilling for Dummies by a Dummy
Shale gas to liquids and coal to liquids are yet two more large-scale sources for crude oil replacements for the future. All of these approaches to peak oil substitution are made more viable by the use of process heat from gas-cooled gen III nuclear reactors.

One sign of hope that some of the environmental special interests may be developing a small bit of pragmatism, is the growing number of self-labeled environmentalists who are publicly coming out for new, safe, advanced, nuclear power. While their backing of nuclear power may be caused by a delusional carbon hysteria, it is welcome all the same.

If only more of the whining obstructionists would learn to solve problems, rather than creating or exaggerating them, they might be taken more seriously by the people who actively prop up the infrastructure of civilisation.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Energy Density of Automotive Fuels: Electricity Trails Badly

Exxon Mobil via New Energy and Fuel

The most striking thing about the graphic above is the poor performance by today's automotive electrical storage devices. Liquid fuels far outperform electrical storage in terms of energy density -- range of travel between refuelings. Until better electrical storage devices are developed and delivered -- which may take decades -- liquid fuels will be demanded by discriminating drivers.
...contrast the 300 to 400 miles that a gasoline vehicle can take you with what it would take to do the same in an electric vehicle. Electric vehicle batteries have just a fraction of the energy density of gasoline, meaning they would have to be charged multiple times during a 400-mile trip. There’s currently no major infrastructure for charging electric vehicles on the road, and it can take hours for an electric vehicle battery to charge.

Consumers at times may take for granted the convenience and time-savings offered by the existing fuel station network. The technological processes that recover crude oil from the earth, transport it to refineries, refine it into gasoline and diesel, transport it to fuel stations and store it over time are so incredibly advanced that consumers can fill up with gasoline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in as many quantities as necessary. That’s a convenience that does not currently exist with other transportation fuels.

...One of our top scientists uses the analogy of backpacking when talking about the importance of energy density: You want to buy the lightest, most easily carried food for backpacking, but it also needs to contain a lot of energy to keep you going. Likewise, gasoline and diesel are the lightest and most energy-dense fuels to carry for transportation. A typical car’s gasoline tank contains less than 100 pounds of gasoline but can power a 3,000 pound car for 400 miles at 60 miles per hour. This performance sets a high standard, and there are few transportation fuels currently on the market that are as light, energy dense and portable as gasoline or diesel. _EMblog via Brian Westenhaus

In the future, the development of lightweight advanced fuel cells running on liquid fuels will shift the equation toward the use of electric motors. But liquid fuels will still be valued for their high energy density, compared to electrical storage.

Super-hybrid vehicles utilising fuel cells, supercapacitors, and chemical storage batteries are likely to play a part in the future vehicular mix. All of those components will be necessary just to match the performance of the internal combustion engine running on liquid fuels.

But with far fewer moving mechanical parts, once such systems are perfected they should have fewer maintenance problems, and may have longer useful lifetimes.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Did Santa Forget to Bring Peak Oil for Christmas Yet Again?

But didn’t world oil production peak in 2006, as the International Energy Agency concluded probably occurred? Doesn’t this condemn the world to fighting more future wars over dwindling petroleum resources? No....“experts” have been repeatedly predicting the depletion of the world’s oil reserves since the late 1800s, but it never seems to happen. New technologies and periodic higher prices make previously uneconomic deposits viable—such as the tar sands and shale oil that have recently become economic—thus sustaining world production. _EurasiaReview
In fact, global oil reserves continue to rise, year on year. This is largely from improvements in oil extraction technologies, which are reviving "tired old oil wells," convincing them to produce the remaining 70% to 80% of their oil which has remained underground. But giant new oil fields have been discovered -- mostly under the seas. And as oil prices edge upwards due to largely political factors, a massive deluge of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels from CTL and GTL grow ever more affordable.

Peak oil grifters and con-men have been predicting the onset of peak oil and the collapse of global civilisation for roughly a century now. More astoundingly, peak oil drones are claiming that "peak oil actually happened in 2005 (!)", although civilisation failed to collapse -- in a most unobliging fashion.

But don't give up, faithful disciples and cultists of peak oil doom. Eventually, either civilisation will collapse -- and you can claim it was from peak oil -- or you will be able to lay down this burden of trust and move on to the non-corporeal level.

A quick glance at popular doomer sites will confirm that doomers are unwilling (or unable) to let go of their pet doom -- even for Christmas! Peak oil doom shared the Christmas table of every true-blue doomer worth his salt, and that calls for another round of libation.

Speaking of libation, we should always remind ourselves that ethanol is for consumption by humans, not by engines. Butanol is a far superior fuel for ICEs. If you must use ethanol for energy production, consider fuel cells.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

JBEI Berkeley Develops Master Controls for Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is an emerging scientific field in which novel biological devices, such as molecules, genetic circuits or cells, are designed and constructed, or existing biological systems, such as microbes, are re-designed and engineered. A major goal is to produce valuable chemical products from simple, inexpensive and renewable starting materials in a sustainable manner. As with other engineering disciplines, CAD tools for simulating and designing global functions based upon local component behaviors are essential for constructing complex biological devices and systems. However, until this work, CAD-type models and simulation tools for biology have been very limited...

...“Because biological systems exhibit functional complexity at multiple scales, a big question has been whether effective design tools can be created to increase the sizes and complexities of the microbial systems we engineer to meet specific needs,” says Jay Keasling, director of JBEI and a world authority on synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. “Our work establishes a foundation for developing CAD platforms to engineer complex RNA-based control systems that can process cellular information and program the expression of very large numbers of genes. Perhaps even more importantly, we have provided a framework for studying RNA functions and demonstrated the potential of using biochemical and biophysical modeling to develop rigorous design-driven engineering strategies for biology.”

Keasling, who also holds appointments with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkley, is the corresponding author of a paper in the journal Science that describes this work. The paper is titled “Model-driven engineering of RNA devices to quantitatively-program gene expression.” Other co-authors are James Carothers, Jonathan Goler and Darmawi Juminaga. _LawrenceBerkeleyLab_via_GCC
The art of dealing with complexity will separate those societies which succeed from those which fail. Some levels of complexity cannot be totally mastered, yet they can be "accomodated" or dealt with.

Learning to fine-program biological organisms to produce substances of use to humans in useful form and quantity, would allow a passage through a threshold separating one type of society from earlier types. This has always been the promise of synthetic biology, but the specific tools to be used have been either lacking, or far too crude. This is changing.
“We needed to formulate models that would be sophisticated enough to capture the details required for simulating system functions, but simple enough to be framed in terms of measurable and tunable component characteristics or design variables,” Carothers says. “We think of design variables as the parts of the system that can be predictably modified, in the same way that a chemical engineer might tune the operation of a chemical plant by turning knobs that control fluid flow through valves. In our case, knob-turns are represented by specific kinetic terms for RNA folding and ribozyme catalysis, and our models are needed to tell us how a combination of these knob-turns will affect overall system function.”

JBEI researchers are now using their RNA CAD-type models and simulations as well as the ribozyme and aptazyme devices they constructed to help them engineer metabolic pathways that will increase microbial fuel production. JBEI is one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers established by DOE’s Office of Science to advance the technology for the commercial production of clean, green and renewable biofuels. A key to JBEI’s success will be the engineering of microbes that can digest lignocellulosic biomass and synthesize from the sugars transportation fuels that can replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuels in today’s engines.

“In addition to advanced biofuels, we’re also looking into engineering microbes to produce chemicals from renewable feedstocks that are difficult to produce cheaply and in high yield using traditional organic chemistry technology,” Carothers says. _LBL

Brian Wang provides additional information and materials

Green Car Congress coverage of this story

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gas Cooled Small Nuclear Reactors -- The Slayer of EROEI, The Death of Peak Oil


DOE ORNL Small Modular Reactors PDF

In an earlier article, we detailed several incredible energy breakthroughs which would be made possible by abundant, cheap, high temperature process heat from nuclear reactors. We demonstrated how the concept of EROEI would be made obsolete and how peak oil could be turned into a distant sour memory.

Industry is doing its part to develop scalable generators of heat and power (PDF via Brian Wang), at increasingly affordable prices. It is the US government -- in particular Obama's NRC under Jaczko -- which is gumming up the works. By delaying the licensing of safe, advanced, world-changing nuclear technologies, the Obama administration is adding to its damnable record of overall energy starvation.
Short List of SMRs from World-Nuclear

It is impossible to overstate the importance of cheap and abundant process heat for the transition to a more abundant society -- in terms of energy, fuels, food, chemicals, materials, and more.
With plentiful process heat provided at temperatures between 700 C and 950 C, a person could kill peak oil and have plenty of energy left to power industry and a broad spectrum of industrial processes.   Specifically, one could:
  1. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in oil sands (PDF)
  2. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in coal to liquids and gas to liquids (PDF)
  3. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in shale oil kerogens 
  4. Provide abundant industrial process heat for production of fertilisers, refining fuels, making plastics, etc 
  5. Split CO2 into CO to use as a hydrogen carrier 
  6. Overturn conventional fears of EROEI and Peak Oil 
Those things, and many more, will be accomplished by next generation gas-cooled high temperature nuclear reactors. Helium gas coolant will run gas turbine generators at high temperatures, which provides electrical power at higher efficiencies than older steam cycle generation systems. And as mentioned above, the higher temperature process heat will find a wide range of practical uses in industrial processes and energy production. _Source
With combined heat and power, versatile, portable gas-cooled SMRs can go to where the resource is in a timely fashion. Instead of requiring ten years to build and implement -- like conventional nuclear reactors -- the smaller, cheaper, safer, and more versatile SMRs can be built and installed in under 2 years.

With all of these advantages, one has to wonder why any benevolent government would stonewall the development of this technology.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Peak Oil: Meet SRI's Cheap, Clean New Coal to Liquids Process

Research from SRI International has identified a promising new way to produce liquid transportation fuels from coal without consuming water or generating carbon dioxide. Based on data from bench-scale tests, SRI engineers estimate that the capital cost for a full-scale plant using SRI's process would be less than half that of a conventional coal-to-liquids (CTL) plant that uses a process called Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (FTS). _Marketwatch
Given the vast reserves of coal residing in the nations of the Anglosphere, a cheap and clean coal-to-liquids (CTL) process sounds like a dream. Interestingly, SRI's new cheap & clean CTL process also relies on another plentiful hydrocarbon: natural gas, or methane.
SRI's new process uses natural gas to provide the hydrogen needed to convert coal to syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen). Syngas is first converted into methanol, which can then be efficiently processed to make transportation fuels.

Using natural gas eliminates the need to add water as a source of hydrogen, reduces the need to add energy to drive the gasification reaction, and results in the use of a smaller gasifier. In conventional CTL approaches, energy is supplied by burning a portion of the coal feed, which then produces carbon dioxide. SRI's approach makes it economical to use carbon neutral electricity, such as nuclear, hydro, or solar as a source of additional energy.

"The implications of this research are expansive, including enhancing US energy security through the use of domestic carbon sources," said Robert Wilson, Ph.D., director, Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, SRI International. "The process can also dramatically reduce the environmental footprint associated with alternative transportation fuels."

...The SRI process was recently presented at the 28th Annual International Pittsburgh Coal Conference in a presentation titled, "Coal Gasification with Methane Reforming: A Novel Environmentally Benign CTL Process" by Ripudaman Malhotra, associate director of SRI's Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory. _Marketwatch
Of course, we cannot expect the US Obama administration to support this vast, cheap, clean new source of liquid fuels and chemicals. Not in the same way it has supported crony enterprises in big solar and big wind energy. CTL is a reliable form of energy and fuels, after all. Obama only likes and invests in unreliable forms of energy -- particularly if the firms are likely to go bankrupt.
Regardless, this type of alternative form of liquid hydrocarbon production is likely to emerge, once the energy starvationists are chased out of positions of power and influence. Advanced CTL will take its place alongside advanced and scalable forms of gas-to-liquids (GTL) as viable alternatives to crude oil, for transportation fuels, chemical feedstocks, and as precursors to a wide range of important materials.

More from GreenCarCongress:
SRI estimates the efficiency of its CTL plant at 67%—significantly higher then traditional CTL plants predominately because it is converting 100% of the carbon feed into product and it utilizes electricity generated off-site. Accounting for the heat rate of generating that electricity from a traditional coal plant would result in a plant efficiency of 47%.
The implications of this research are expansive, including enhancing US energy security through the use of domestic carbon sources. The process can also dramatically reduce the environmental footprint associated with alternative transportation fuels.

—Robert Wilson, Ph.D., director, Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, SRI International
SRI performed a series of analyses to examine the environmental impact of the technology under several scenarios. Based on these analyses, if diesel were produced using biogas as the source of methane, the resulting product would qualify as an alternative fuel under the revised Renewable Fuels Standard of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The Act requires alternative fuels to meet a standard of 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to other fuels.

The work was supported by DARPA under Contract No. HR0011-10-0049.

DARPA solicitation. The DARPA solicitation set goals for a coal-to-liquids process for JP-8 of:
Process scalable to 100,000 bbl/day
Production cost of JP8 less than $3.00/gallon
No CO2 emissions during process
Water consumption less than 235 kg/barrel
Capital cost less than $15,000/daily barrel
(The availability of CO2-free electricity was assumed.)
_GCC
Images via GCC

A small modular nuclear reactor paired with such a plant would allow a company to locate the CTL plant near the fossil fuel resource, to minimise transport costs, and maximise operating efficiency to near 67%.

More: Be sure to check out coverage of this story by Brian Westenhaus and Brian Wang

This story reminds us that with huge piles of coal, kerogens, bitumens, and methane lying around, clever people will find ways to deal with the threats of political peak oil coming from OPEC, Russia, and the Obama White House.

PS: Don't forget all that offshore and Arctic oil that Mr. Obama has put off limits, and the abundant and replenishing supply of methane hydrates just waiting for a clever person to discover how to safely and cleanly extract and utilise them.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hazards of Peak Oil Prognostication: A Cautionary Tale

When people make predictions, they need to be held accountable when such predictions fail. Foss predicted in no uncertain terms that the stock market would top out at 10,000 points in the Fall of 2009 and then decline precipitously. Her comrade-in-alarm, known on the Internet only as “ilargi,” predicted that as a result of this “Depression” oil prices would “crash” into the thirties.

They are now off by 2,000 points, two years, and seventy dollars, respectively. And yet Foss continues to pack auditoriums preaching an “overall message” that remain[s] unchanged,” according to Spofford.

In spite of Foss's failures — along with the failed predictions of every public peak oil alarmist including the late Maine resident Matthew Simmons — Spofford uses terms such as “truthful picture” and “realistic view” to describe Foss's persistent forecasting follies. _PortlandDailySun
To many people with nothing important to do, doom is sexy, and draws them like a magnet, or like a moth to the flame. Doom gives them a cause, something greater than themselves of which they can become a part. Apocalypse is sex to the sex-starved, food to the hungry, water to the parched. It gives meaning to their lives, and a sense of being in the know.
As described in the book “Don't Believe Everything You Think,” Thomas Kida reviews decades of studies that show “economists can't even predict the major turning points in our economy.” Stock price predictions have never performed any better than would be predicted by chance.

These studies show furthermore, and shockingly, that “the amount of knowledge we have in a certain area will not help us predict what will happen,” because what will happen is “inherently unpredictable.”

This never stops showboats like Foss from perpetuating her “hardcore doom,” as Spofford calls it, nor people from lapping up such useless prognosticating.

This does not mean that I think a “deflationary depression” will not happen; I would need my own crystal ball to come to such a conclusion. I simply do not know. Nor does it mean that I don't think peak oil is a serious issue for the future.

What I do think it means is that peak oil as a reputable concept is ruined by people like Foss who persist in holding onto discredited positions, and by fans like Spofford who refuse to apply a statute of limitations to predictions that might cause public panic. _PDS
People who get caught up in grand causes such as peak oil doom, never seem to look at the other sides of the issue. Once they get hooked, and have sold themselves to the movement, they begin looking for answers to objections instead of honestly analysing potential weaknesses in their own position.

The hucksters of peak oil doom are in it for the money, of course. They could not care less about the people they are scamming. Particularly when the marks are falling over each other to get in on the secret knowledge and the philosopher's stone.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Weasels of Peak Oil Cults Scramble to Explain Absence of Doom

When the prophecies of doom cults fail to come true, some of the doomers wise up and drop out. Others tend to rationalise the absence of doom with increasingly far-fetched explanations. Eventually, they are apt to resort to suicide or the asylum for the terminally deluded.

A case in point is the peak oil cult, which predicted the onset of peak oil in 2005. Peak oil was supposed to be followed rapidly by a total collapse of civilisation, and a massive human dieoff.org. But as the New Year's Eve parties come and go, and doom continues to fail to meet its appointment, these slippery weasels of the peak oil doom cult are forced to contrive the oddest explanations:
The point that has to be grasped just now, it seems to me, is that this is what peak oil looks like. Get past the fantasies of sudden collapse on the one hand, and the fantasies of limitless progress on the other, and what you get is what we're getting - a long ragged slope of rising energy prices, economic contraction, and political failure, punctuated with a crisis here, a local or regional catastrophe there, a war somewhere else - all against a backdrop of disintegrating infrastructure, declining living standards, decreasing access to health care and similar services, and the like, which of course has been happening here in the United States for some years already. ... those of us who still have jobs will be struggling to hang onto them, those who have lost their jobs will be struggling to stay fed and clothed and housed, and those crises and catastrophes and wars, not to mention the human cost of the broader background of decline, will throw enough smoke in the air to make a clear view of the situation uncommonly difficult to obtain. _Doom Is Normal Quoted in Dagblog.com
Got that? The global recession has nothing to do with chronic debt, demographic decline, a dumbed down educational system, or incredibly bad governance. No, everything bad is due to peak oil -- and should now be called doom.

Sure, cults typically attract a high-strung, excitable type of person. But the peak oil cultists seem particularly narcissistic -- as if it is all about them and their cult.

Remember in the summer of 2008, as oil prices inexorably rose against all odds? Peak oil cultists were ecstatic, certain that their doom was on its way to redeem them from laughingstock status. But no, commodity prices collapsed -- as they have through numerous prior boom-bust cycles -- and economies tried to find their way back into growth territory.

But even as prices were dropping, some clever cultists began weaving an argument that the global recession was centered on peak oil. This chorus is being sung more widely and loudly as the recession drags on, and general economic conditions in Europe, the US, and many other nations, have failed to fully recover. Cultists claim that it is all about peak oil, and therefore dub it doom.

The central theme of the argument revolves around "high oil prices" and the demand destruction and generally depressive effect that "high oil prices" have on an economy. This substitution of "high oil prices" for disappearing oil supplies, was done quite deftly. And the substitution of "doom is normal" for a total collapse of civilisation, is also very cleverly done. Especially if it keeps the rubes on the reservation.

There is something about "doom" which is irreplaceable in a doom cult. But doom is also quite useful for other causes and enterprises.
"The apocalypse," wrote the German poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 1978, "is aphrodisiac, nightmare, a commodity like any other ... warning finger and scientific forecast ... rallying cry ... superstition ... a joke ... an incessant production of our fantasy ... one of the oldest ideas of the human species. Its periodic ebb and flow ... has accompanied utopian thought like a shadow."

...In July, the word "apocalypse" appeared 60 times in British national newspapers. In August, 70 times. In September, 92 times. In November, 100 times.

...Enzensberger mocked the doom-mongers for their paranoia. "The apocalyptic metaphor promises relief from analytical thought," he wrote in 1978. "Everything is conceived of as a hidden sign ... of catastrophe." In previous eras, he wrote, people had imagined armageddon coming "as a bolt from the blue" – an act of God – but to the pessimists of the 70s, the end of the world "seems only to be a matter of time". Such foreboding also suggested a kind of vanity. "We all [like to] believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species," argued Michael Moyer, editor of Scientific American, in a special apocalypse-themed issue of the magazine last year. "Imagining the end of the world is nigh makes us feel special" – a last generation, rather than one of many to come. _Guardian
Indeed. If you are someone sharp enough to join the one true cult of doom, then you must be quite special. Pay no attention to the fact that your cult's prophecies have an unfortunate tendency to fail every time. Instead, focus on the workarounds and revisions of the prophecies, that allow you to continue believing.

Peak oil now has dozens of definitions, suitable for any type of economic occasion or event. It has become the chameleon of cults, the disguise-master of dooms. An unfalsifiable tautology now, there is no way to prove it wrong. So it must be right, right? The stronger you believe, the more correct it must be.

These are truly unprecedented times. ;-)

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

BioBoost: One Rational Bioenergy Infrastructure

BioBoost will focus on the production of various energy-rich intermediate products from biogenous residues and on testing and evaluating them with regard to their usability in, for example, the bioliq process. In addition to the BioSynCrude generated by flash pyrolysis in the bioliq process, BioBoost will produce, optimize, and evaluate other intermediate products.


Moreover, the project will cover the analysis of economic efficiency of the complete process, optimization of logistics chains, and the investigation of environmental compatibility. The objective is to significantly improve the efficiency of the use of biomass and residues in the future.


In addition to the production of customized fuels, such as diesel, gasoline, or kerosene, scientists will also investigate the production of chemicals such as methanol, ethylene, and propylene as well as plastics. Generation of electricity and heat from the energy-rich intermediate product also is subject of BioBoost._GCC

Transitioning from an economic infrastructure that is almost wholly dependent upon fossil fuels, to a hybrid infrastructure which can utilise a wide variety of energy and power sources, will be an expensive and time-consuming process. It is a good thing that various groups -- including the BioBoost consortium in Europe -- are devoting the necessary time and due diligence toward devising a rational bioenergy infrastructure which can contribute economically to the energy and power infrastructure of the future.
BioBoost is one of two projects for the development of new energy carriers selected for funding under the 7th EU Research Framework Programme from numerous proposals. The project will have a duration of three and a half years and be funded by the EU with a total amount of nearly €5.1 million (US$6.6 million). Funding granted to KIT will amount to nearly €1 million (US$1.3 million).

...The BioBoost project concentrates on dry and wet residual biomass and wastes as feedstock for de-centralized conversion by fast pyrolysis, catalytic pyrolysis and hydrothermal carbonization to the intermediate energy carriers oil, coal or slurry. Based on straw, the energy density increases from 2 to 20-31 GJ/m3, enabling central GW-scale gasification plants for biofuel production. The catalytic pyrolysis reduces oxygenates in the oil to 13% enabling power and refinery applications.

The fast pyrolysis and HTC processes of demo-size (0.5-1 t/h) are optimized for feedstock flexibility, yield, quality and further up-scaling is part of the project.

...The complete bioliq biomass-to-liquids process consists of four stages:

Flash pyrolysis at decentralized plants to convert low-energy-density biomass waste into a petroleum-similar intermediate product of coke and oil: bioliqSyncrude.

Dry residual biomass is distributed over wide areas and has a low energy content; the resultant biosyncrude contains about 90% of the energy stored in the biomass, with an energy density more than 10 times as high as that of the feedstock. The resulting biosyncrude can be transported economically for further upgrading.

In the next stage, the energy-rich intermediate product is converted into synthesis gas, a chemically reactive mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2). In the course of this process, the bioliqSynCrude is mixed with oxygen and decomposed into the basic elements of synthesis fuels under pressure and at temperatures above 1000 °C.

Hot-gas cleaning removes impurities, such as particles, chlorine, and nitrogen compounds from the synthesis gas. KIT is using a new technology; cleaning will take place at 500 °C, as a result of which energy consumption will be reduced compared to conventional processes.

In the final process stage, the basic elements are combined specifically in tailored designer fuels. Depending on the synthesis path, either diesel or gasoline can be generated.
_GCC
Notice how this project incorporates the crucial early step of energy densification. Biomass lacks the energy density of fossil fuels, and must be densified in pre-processing stages prior to long-range transportation, or intensive refining.

Flash pyrolysis is one method of densifying biomass for transport and further refinement. If inexpensive, decentralised flash pryolysers can be mass produced, such devices could be located close to the point of biomass production.

Such an infrastructure supports a multi-tier, decentralised economic infrastructure, which could potentially revitalise biomass-rich rural areas. Multiple layers of pre-processing, processing, and refining could take place at varying locations -- depending upon the needs of the local economies.

Such a widely dispersed economic infrastructure would have a different impact upon a regional economy than the somewhat more centralised industries of oil, gas, and coal production and refining.

While biomass farmers and foresters would not enjoy the opulent lifestyle of an oil executive, they could enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in the rural setting they preferred. While local and regional bankers providing financing for small and moderate scale biomass enterprises would not receive the multi-million dollar bonuses of a Wall Street investment banker, they would live well enough, and take satisfaction in contributing to the modest prosperity of their communities.

The lower energy density of biomass does not have to prevent the profitable utilisation of the resource, as long as participants are willing to make essential tradeoffs in lifestyle and location.

And for third world nations and isolated tropical island nations, a well-crafted bioenergy infrastructure might make the difference between energy self-sufficiency and energy penury.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

You'll Never Look at Big Wind Energy The Same Way Again


The big wind power industry has the backing of governments in the US and the EU -- even the Chinese and Brazilian governments are giving lip service to big wind. But what are the facts behind the PR hype? Not very pretty.

If you like big wind power, and are not interested in learning the ugly truth behind the industry, you had best not view the slide show above. Because the truth about big wind is not just a little bit ugly -- it is monstrously ugly, as well as corrupt.

Sometimes in order to grow up, one has to let go of at least some of one's emotional - but - irrational attachments.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

North Dakota (and Planet Earth) Still Building Toward Its Peak

In September, North Dakota pumped a record 464,129 barrels a day – a 439% increase from a decade ago and right on par with Ecuador’s production. The gushing isn’t done yet, though.

Within five years, Rick Mueller, of ESAI Energy LLC, predicts that North Dakota could be producing anywhere from 700,000 barrels to one million barrels a day. _WallStreetDaily

ImageSource

Imagine: Just one US state -- North Dakota -- is ramping up production toward a remarkable goal of close to 1 million barrels per day. Better technology is making it easier and cheaper to find oil & gas which would have been impossible to find and extract not so many years ago.
Wills Eschenbach WUWT
As you can see from the chart above, proved oil reserves and oil production continue to edge upward, year after year. It is almost as if the faster the oil is extracted, the more quickly additional proved reserves take their place.
Thirty years ago, we only had 30 years of proven oil reserves left. Estimates then said we would be running out of oil about now.

Twenty-five years ago, we had about forty years left. Ten years ago we had over forty years left. Now we have over forty-five years left. I’m sure you see the pattern here.

Second, this is only what are termed “proven reserves” (Wiki). It does not include “unproven reserves”, much of which is in the form of unconventional oils such as shale oil and oil sands. Even discounting the unproven reserves, while the rate of production has increased, the proven reserves have also increased at about the same rate. So the R/P ratio, the years left at the current rate of production, has stayed over forty years for almost a quarter century.. _WUWT

The shale gas boom is driving the oil to gas price ratio to record levels -- which opens up entire new industries of substitution and transformation. One new trend in North America is the building of giant chemical plants for cracking natural gas ethane into ethylene -- for plastics and other chemical uses. Other important trends resulting from the natural gas bonanza include new gas-to-liquids (GTL) plants, and liquified natural gas exports.

When cheap and plentiful natural gas is substituted for more expensive oil, the oil that is not used today will be available to be used tomorrow. When cheap natural gas is converted into diesel oil or gasoline, global demand for crude oil is less than it would have otherwise been.

Religious believers in peak oil have been doomed-down for many decades now. They have chosen this dooming down for themselves, and would like for everyone else to be doomed down as well, just like themselves. But some of us actually have things we would like to do with our lives, and goals we would like to meet. We cannot just sit around in a circular jerkular for doomers, and while away the hours. So it is fortunate for us that the reality of global energy is quite different from what would read at the doomer sites.

Once the people of the US and Europe choose to cast off their bureaucracies of energy starvation, the full spectrum of world energy can be utilised to fuel a better and more abundant future -- an open-ended future of innovation, rather than one of dooming down.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Global Energy Markets Slow Responding to China Slump

China's problems are piling up, just when the celestial kingdom is attempting an orderly handover of power. Since China's wild grab for commodities over the past 2 years has been a powerful driver of global energy markets, it will be interesting to watch global commodities markets as the China bubble begins to deflate. In economics, "cycles are forever." But China's insular government and its massive population are unfamiliar with economic concepts such as "what goes up, must come down." Watch and learn.
Chinese stocks are flashing warning signs. The Shanghai index has fallen 30pc since May. It is off 60pc from its peak in 2008, almost as much in real terms as Wall Street from 1929 to 1933.
"Investors are massively underestimating the risk of a hard-landing in China, and indeed other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China)... a 'Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept' in my view," said Albert Edwards at Societe Generale.

...China's $3.2 trillion foreign reserves have been falling for three months despite the trade surplus. Hot money is flowing out of the country. "One-way capital inflow or one-way bets on a yuan rise have become history. Our foreign reserves are basically falling every day," said Li Yang, a former central bank rate-setter.

...Fitch Ratings said China is hooked on credit, but deriving ever less punch from each dose. An extra dollar in loans increased GDP by $0.77 in 2007. It is $0.44 in 2011. "The reality is that China's economy today requires significantly more financing to achieve the same level of growth as in the past," said China analyst Charlene Chu.
Ms Chu warned that there had been a "massive build-up in leverage" and fears a "fundamental, structural erosion" in the banking system that differs from past downturns. "For the first time, a large number of Chinese banks are beginning to face cash pressures. The forthcoming wave of asset quality issues has the potential to become uglier than in previous episodes".

...A fire-sale is under way in coastal cities, with Shanghai developers slashing prices 25pc in November – much to the fury of earlier buyers, who expect refunds. This is spreading. Property sales have fallen 70pc in the inland city of Changsa. Prices have reportedly dropped 70pc in the "ghost city" of Ordos in Inner Mongolia. China Real Estate Index reports that prices dropped by just 0.3pc in the top 100 cities last month, but this looks like a lagging indicator. Meanwhile, the slowdown is creeping into core industries. Steel output has buckled. _Telegraph_via_Mish
If you cannot see a direct connection between the ongoing dynamic economic phenomena in Europe and China -- and the global energy markets -- perhaps you should look a bit more closely.

Emerging markets such as the BRICs have helped prop up energy markets through both artificial and natural economic means, over the past several years. But a lot of things could happen to reverse that trend, and make an artificial propping up of energy prices much more difficult.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stop Wasting Valuable Nuclear Fuel

If reprocessing is revived in the United States, used fuel could become an important energy source. If not, it will remain in storage indefinitely as a lost opportunity._William H Miller Professor of Nuclear Science & Engineering
In spite of the doubts from skeptics, reprocessing is a game-changing technology that could turn a huge amount of used fuel left over from the production of nuclear-generated electricity into a significant energy resource. _William H Miller

Often mistaken for nuclear waste, used fuel contains large amounts of valuable plutonium and uranium that can be extracted and then chemically reprocessed into a so-called mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel that can be used in a nuclear plant to produce more electricity. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter ended reprocessing in the United States, citing proliferation risks and hoping other countries such as France and Great Britain would do likewise. They didn’t.


They have continued to reprocess used fuel — in the case of France, using recycling as part of its nuclear program to obtain 80 percent of its electricity and to sell surplus power to neighboring countries.


Reprocessing has great potential value for the United States. Using it along with breeder reactors would recover 90 percent of the original energy that remains in the fuel after one use in a reactor. And it would extend uranium resources for hundreds of years and reduce by at least 50 percent the amount of long-lived nuclear waste that would need to be stored in a deep-geologic repository. Additionally, the heat and toxicity of such waste would be reduced, enabling the United States to store all of the long-lived waste from power reactors and the weapons program in a single repository instead of having to find sites and pay for the construction of multiple repositories. _William H Miller

Users of nuclear-generated electricity already have paid $17.9 billion into the trust fund since it was established more than 30 years ago. The fund continues to grow by $800 million annually to cover the costs of nuclear waste management. Considering the uncertain future of the Yucca Mountain project, now is the time to resurrect used-fuel reprocessing. This would simplify the challenge of nuclear waste storage and disposal. _William H Miller
Used fuel

With time, the concentration of fission fragments and heavy elements formed in the same way as plutonium in the fuel will increase to the point where it is no longer practical to continue to use the fuel. So after 18-36 months the used fuel is removed from the reactor. The amount of energy that is produced from a fuel assembly varies with the type of reactor and the policy of the reactor operator.

When removed from a reactor, the fuel will be emitting both radiation, principally from the fission fragments, and heat. Used fuel is unloaded into a storage pond immediately adjacent to the reactor to allow the radiation levels to decrease. In the ponds the water shields the radiation and absorbs the heat, which is removed by circulating the water to external heat exchangers. Used fuel is held in such pools for several months to several years. It may be transferred to naturally-ventilated dry storage on site after about five years.

Depending on policies in particular countries, some used fuel may be transferred to central storage facilities. Ultimately, used fuel must either be reprocessed or prepared for permanent disposal.

Reprocessing

Used fuel is about 94% U-238 but it also contains almost 1% U-235 that has not fissioned, almost 1% plutonium and 4% fission products, which are highly radioactive, with other transuranic elements formed in the reactor. In a reprocessing facility the used fuel is separated into its three components: uranium, plutonium and waste, which contains fission products. Reprocessing enables recycling of the uranium and plutonium into fresh fuel, and produces a significantly reduced amount of waste (compared with treating all used fuel as waste). See page on Processing of Used Nuclear Fuel.

According to Areva, about eight fuel assemblies reprocessed can yield one MOX fuel assembly, two-thirds of an enriched uranium fuel assembly, and about three tonnes of depleted uranium (enrichment tails) plus about 150 kg of wastes. It avoids the need to purchase about 12 tonnes of natural uranium from a mine.

Uranium and plutonium recycling

The uranium from reprocessing, which typically contains a slightly higher concentration of U-235 than occurs in nature, can be reused as fuel after conversion and enrichment.

The plutonium can be directly made into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, in which uranium and plutonium oxides are combined. In reactors that use MOX fuel, plutonium substitutes for the U-235 in normal uranium oxide fuel (see page on Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel). _World-Nuclear

A spent fuel (recycling fuel) that was once used at a nuclear power station contains 94% of unburnt uranium (about 1% of uranium 235 and about 93% of uranium 238), and about 1% of plutonium produced by uranium 238 that absorbed neutrons. They can be used again as fuels, if they are reprocessed. In Japan as a country poor in natural resources, the “nuclear fuel cycle” that reprocesses spent fuels, recover uranium and plutonium, and repeatedly use them for power generation is the basis of nuclear energy policy.

MOX Fuel Utilization (Pluthermal Plan)

Using the fuels that are made by mixing the plutonium extracted from reprocessed spent fuels with uranium in a light-water reactor (MOX fuel) is called “pluthermal process.” Pluthermal process already has a long track record of about 40 years, and continues to be practically used in France, Germany and Switzerland, etc. Japan's electric power companies are scheduled to introduce and start pluthermal process in 16 to 18 nuclear reactors by FY2010. Tohoku EPCo plans to start pluthermal process at one unit of Onagawa Nuclear Power Station by FY2010. To realize pluthermal process, Tohoku EPCo is intended to promote the activities to win the understanding of people, taking various opportunities for this purpose. _Tohoku Epco

Nuclear power requires a complex high technological infrastructure, utilising the highest standards of safety and quality control. In a society where the average IQ is 100, efficient nuclear power with fuel recycling can be safely utilised as long as the proper training and supervision is in place.

In a society with an average IQ of 85 -- such as most of the third world -- or in societies with average IQs under 80 -- such as most of Sub Saharan Africa -- nuclear power should probably not be used, due to the inability of such societies to field sufficient numbers of qualified scientists, engineers, and technicians. One exception to that rule of thumb would be oil-rich or mineral rich nations, which were willing and able to pay for outside ongoing technical assistance. But such a commitment would need to be open-ended for the indefinite future, or at least until decommissioning of the plant and auxiliary facilities.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Fruitful Collaboration Between Industry and University in Montana

Blue Marble Agate

Blue Marble Energy (BME) moved from Seattle to Missoula, Montana, in order to be close to its collaboration with the University of Montana. Together, UM and BME are working to solve a number of mundane but important problems that occur where energy, chemistry, economics, and the environment overlap.
Two geoscience faculty members at The University of Montana (UM) have started a partnership with Blue Marble Biomaterials to produce commercial products from algal biomass.

Potential products include organic fertilizers, natural pigments, food flavorings, fatty acids for biofuels, cholesterol-reducing compounds for food additives, and natural anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer drugs. Natural inputs and nontoxic production methods will give potential products a competitive advantage over similar products produced from petroleum and other nonrenewable sources.

...Stephens says UM’s favorable attitude toward industry partnerships was one factor in the decision to move the company from Seattle to Missoula in 2010.
Partnering with UM is key to our research and development program. Innovation happens at the nexus of science and market opportunity. This partnership combines Blue Marble’s expertise in chemistry, microbiology and industrial manufacturing with the University’s excellence in research methodology, geoscience and biology. By combining these strengths, we are able to take advantage of an existing market opportunity.

—James Stephens
Blank notes that such industry partnerships also offer educational opportunities for UM students. Since 2010 Blue Marble has hired six UM graduates, including four students from the College of Technology. Currently, Blue Marble hosts five interns from UM who gain broad experience in biology, chemistry, engineering and business operations. _GCC
Earlier article on BME
Blue Marble Energy’s AGATE (Acid, Gas, and Ammonia Targeted Extraction) technology utilizes modified anaerobic fermentation (like brewing beer) and non-GMO bacterial consortia to produce biochemicals, biomethane, biohydrogen, and nitrogen compounds. BME scientists encourage bacterial conjugation between select strains that specialize in the breakdown of different feedstocks. The conditioning of these consortia creates flexible and resilient bacterial cultures that perform well in high nitrogen environments and can withstand shocks to the system (such as changes in pH, temperature, and feedstock). This allows AGATE to process nearly any organic biomass: food waste, yard waste, spent brewery grain, algae, milfoil, corn silage, etc. AGATE can handle both fresh and wet feedstock, and can be adjusted to meet changing economic opportunities and market needs. _BME

This symbiotic multi-microbial approach would seem to be a more versatile way to deal with the conversion of biomass to useful materials and energy, and it reflects on a microbial level the symbiotic collaboration between BME and UM on the macro level.

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Refurbished Former Paper Mill in Maine to Send 500,000 Tons of Torrefied Biomass to Europe Each Year

Over the next 10 months, the team at Thermogen will engineer the plans for the mill to house the necessary infrastructure for five to six Rotowave units, each of which can process 100,000 tons of woody biomass per year. The torrefied product will then be shipped to Europe, Cyr said. _Biomass
Torrefaction of wood creates a type of "bio-coal" which is more energy dense, water resistant, and more easily co-fired with coal, than ordinary wood pellets or briquettes. The Rotowave technology used in the Maine torrefaction plant

The technology, created by U.K. firm Rotowave Ltd., uses a series of simultaneous electromagnetic frequencies in combination with a ceramic drum to maximize heat transfer throughout every biomass particle in the unit, making the process of pyrolysis used to turn woody biomass into a biocoal product more efficient. Richard Cyr, senior vice president for Cate Street Capital, said the licensing agreement between Rotowave and Thermogen happened after years of extensive research and planning, and by November 2012, Thermogen hopes to have roughly six Rotowave torrefaction units up and running at a biomass facility in Maine.

...While the goal of the company is to export its biocoal product by the end of 2012, Cyr also said the Rotowave technology has never been scaled up and the facility in Maine will act as a testing ground for the microwave technology. Cyr, however, isn’t at all concerned about the uncertainty surrounding a commercial version of the technology that, according to Rotowave, creates a product that has a bulk density of 750 kilograms per cubic meter, energy density of 18 gigajoules per cubic meter, and an electrical output of 6.67 megawatt hours per ton.

...The Rotowave process can reduce moisture content to less than 4 percent by weight and increase the energy content in the biomass by 30 percent, according to the company. The process is referred to as a Targeted Intelligent Energy System, and overcomes the inhibiting effect of thermal conductivity in biomass by using the microwaves to interact with the bimoass’ molecular structure. So, the company explains, “the size of the particle has no influence on the reaction time or on the degree of pyrolysis which is aimed exclusively at attaining the necessary increase in calorific value of the solid.” _Biomass
NewBiomass

The above chart illustrates the superior energy characteristics of torrefied wood when compared to ordinary wood pellets. Another way of looking at torrefied biomass is as a clean and renewable type of coal, which can be produced anywhere that biomass can grow.

More about torrefied wood:
Grinds Similar to Coal. Torrefied material grinds similar to coal. It can be ground in many existing facilities, easing its integration into existing coal facilities. By comparison, wood pellets are difficult to grind, effectively preventing their use in most existing coal plants without the addition of specially designed grinding and handling equipment.


Burns Similar to Coal. While torrefied wood is a renewable, carbon neutral resource, it burns similar to coal. Certain volatiles and other compounds (hemi-cellulose material contained in wood) are largely eliminated in the torrefaction process, making torrefied materials easier to co-fire in power plants originally designed to use only coal. The change in the chemical composition of wood during torrefaction not only increases the energy density, but also improves the manner in which the wood burns in a coal gasifier, permitting more of the energy to be converted into electricity. This makes the energy content of torrefied wood more valuable. By comparison, wood pellets contain volatile organic compounds that release smoke when burned. These volatiles can create slag or ash in existing coal power plants and restrict the use of wood pellets in such plants. _NewBiomass

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Scotland Celebrates Green Utopia in Winter

Scotland is bracing for more severe winter storms like the recent one that left thousands of Scots without electric power. Scottish ski resorts are in full swing, and thriving in an atmosphere of global cooling warming. Meanwhile, Scottish "greens" are congratulating themselves over the ongoing replacement of nuclear and coal energy by clean green big wind energy.
NewScientist

Giant wind turbines have a tendency to break down in expensive and often dangerous ways. The machines themselves require enormous resources to build, install, and connect to the power grid. And that is just the beginning of the problems. Above, you can see a recent wind turbine exploding in high Scottish winds, much to the chagrine of the sheep grazing below.
This striking image of a wind turbine in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, Scotland as it exploded in high winds has made headline news. The turbine was destroyed yesterday as the region was battered by winds of up to 260km/h when a ferocious Atlantic storm powered into northern parts of the UK. But what caused the explosion?

An amateur video shows the turbine head spinning on its axis and one turbine blade apparently losing its carbon composite skin before the fire starts.

It's not yet clear what happened, but attention is likely to focus on the turbine's ability to shut itself down in high wind. A wind turbine normally shuts down when winds reach 55 mph - but something clearly went awry in Ardrossan, perhaps causing excess current in the generator windings, which may have led to the fire. _NewScientist
Meanwhile, in the US, big utilities are just now discovering what a huge headache integrating big wind power into their power schemes will be in the years ahead.
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), among the largest of US federal power agencies, which operates massive hydro resources of the Columbia River Basin, could have spilled water over the reservoirs, but due to environmental restrictions could not do so. It shut down all its own fossil-fueled plants and even reduced the output of the region's sole nuclear plant by 78% – but there was still too much power and not enough demand.

Some 2,000 MW of newly installed wind turbines, twice the load of city of Seattle, were spinning in strong gusts, just as their owners had hoped. At the height of the crisis, the entire BPA system was virtually running on renewable generation, hydro and wind. It was not a pretty picture as any experienced system operator would tell you.

BPA resorted to giving power away for free to whoever would take it, but due to transmission constraints, there was only so much that could be exported out of the region. As a last resort, BPA was forced to shut down fossil and wind generators feeding the network, offering to provide them with free electricity for what they would have generated in the absence of the crisis. _energy.aol
Wind is poorly predictable, and often blows most strongly when it is not needed by the grid. Wind power capacity is available less than 10% of the time it is needed -- during peak demand. So when wind farms dump excess power onto the grid -- which governments force utilities to accept even when not needed -- grid managers must dodge bullets from all directions to keep the grid up, running, and profitable.

To say that greens and government officials do not understand -- or particularly care about -- the dangerous dilemma which they are forcing onto the utility grids, is an understatement. Environmental activists & attorneys, and government functionaries and adjudicators, exhibit a deep antipathy toward people and institutions in the real world who must perform to exacting standards in order to keep societies' vital infrastructures running.

But the fantasy green ideology will have to play itself out, no matter how disastrously. Public institutions and activist special interest groups are like the runaway giant turbine in the photo above. They have not brakes and cannot check their own excesses. The ultimate crash and burn is inevitable.

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Suddenly An Extra 300 Billion Barrels of Crude Oil Is Available

Due to much higher prices for oil these days, an extra 300 billion barrels of conventional crude proved reserves have become available. Where can this oil be found? The same place the old oil was found -- in previously produced oil wells. As the price of oil rices, it becomes economical to return to old wells to retrieve some of the roughly 65% to 70% of the oil which was left in place, using advanced recovery techniques.
Currently when oil companies drill into an oil reserve they recover an average of 35 percent of the oil available. Shell estimates that there are many as 300 billion barrels and maybe more available by applying new techniques to old wells.

The so-called Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques play on the physics of how oil is trapped in the rocks. Often the residual oil is thick and viscous and so won't flow to reservoirs. This can be recovered by heating the ground around it to make the oil less viscous, pushing it out using gases such as CO2 or injecting chemicals such as soap. Sometimes the oil can be pushed out by injecting steam or water with reduced salinity. The water is created through desalination, nanofilteration and reverse osmosis and helps to loosen oil that is stuck to rock. It can help retrieve an additional 10-15 percent of oil.

These sorts of techniques weren't cost effective in the 1990s when the cost per barrel fell to as low as $17 (£10.90). Brock explains: "These are more expensive barrels. They could be two to three times what a conventional barrel costs to extract." Now, however, oil prices are high (over $100 (£64) per barrel) so it makes economic sense to spend more money trying to retrieve oil, especially when there is existing infrastructure. _Wired
Year to year, global proved oil reserves have continued to rise. A significant part of this increase is due to improved methods of oil recovery from existing wells.

Advanced nuclear reactors will allow even more thorough recovery of oil from old wells, using the process heat. The same source of heat will allow for cheaper and cleaner production of oil from oil sands and oil shales.

As plentiful high temperature process heat from modular nuclear reactors becomes more widely available for use in oil production and refining, the EROEI for both enhanced oil recovery and the production of unconventional liquid hydrocarbons will shoot upward into profitable territory for the long-term future.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

UK, China, Both Looking at Fast Nuclear Reactors

The British Department for Energy and Climate Change is seeking ways to deal with its 87 metric tons of legacy plutonium from its nuclear weapons and commercial power program... General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy has proposed to the British government building a new reactor using its Power Reactor Innovative Small Module design or Prism, Penn Energy reports.

The Prism reactor is a liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor – one where the fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons. It is based on the Integral Fast Reactor, invented by Idaho Falls physicist Charles Till.

The prototype reactor is on of many designs of the next generation of nuclear reactors that are smaller than current reactors. The proposed reactor would produce 622 megawatts of power compared with 1,200 megawatts but could be built half that size.

The plant would take approximately five years to build and have a 60 year operational life. Ironically, the idea is for the reactor is to reduce the amount of fuel and make money. Till’s integral fast reactor was a breeder.

It was designed not only to turn itself off and cool itself down, but also to burn much of its nuclear waste and create more fuel than it used._IdahoStatesman
China's state nuclear power company, CNNC, has held talks with Microsoft's Bill Gates about developing the TerraPower fast reactor design in China.
Terra is in the “early stages” of discussions with CNNC. Don’t believe the more sensational reports saying it’s a done deal. While that might eventually come true, Terra and China are still talking.

What makes an eventual China deal plausible is that Terra’s reactor fits a design known as “fast neutron reactor,” or FNR. China plans — there’s that planning again — to shift heavily towards FNRs by 2050, according to the WNA.

Unlike today’s conventional reactors, FNRs do not slow down, or “moderate”, the neutrons that split out of atoms and serve as the heat source that eventually drives a turbine to make electricity. FNRs can be more efficient and cost-effective. Depending on the design, they can burn both the depleted and spent uranium left over from the conventional nuclear fuel cycle. And FNRs tend to use as fuel the weapons-grade plutonium left over after burning uranium, rather than leaving the plutonium as hazardous waste as happens in today’s reactors. Terra uses an FNR design called a “traveling wave.” _SmartPlanet
Here is why US nuclear reactor designers are going overseas in search of customers and partners:
Developing nuclear technology in the United States means squeezing through the portals of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that 11-story building in Beltsville, Md., that serves as corporate headquarters and clearinghouse for all new ideas in the nuclear industry. Right now, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko is complaining he doesn’t have enough staff to conduct license-renewal applications for aging reactors such as Vermont Yankee and New York’sIndian Point (which will conveniently allow him to postpone these contentious issues until after the 2012 election, thereby protecting President Obama’s environmental flank). Getting approval from the NRC to build anything new is basically a lost cause. Eight years ago, innovative engineers at Los Alamos came up with the idea of creating Small Modular Reactors — like the kind we have put in submarines for the last half-century — and burying them deep underground so they could power a town of 20,000 with something that could fit in a church basement. Several start-up companies have been trying to commercialize small-modular reactors but so far they have barely managed to get a foot in the door at the NRC.

So where to go with your revolutionary ideas? Why, China, of course! There they don’t have a mandarinate bureaucracy or hordes of environmental lawyers waiting to oppose your every move. So Gates has taken his pet idea to China — which means, of course, that if the Travelling Wave [fast nuclear reactor] ever becomes a reality, China will be manufacturing them. _NRO

So while much of Europe is sinking into an energy starvation quagmire involving big wind and solar, and while the US Obama administration is wallowing in its own ineptly suicidal policies of energy starvation, at least a few countries are considering moving ahead to safer and cleaner forms of nuclear fission.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Multiple Viewpoints on LENR and Cold Fusion

Brian Westenhaus has an interesting look at recent developments in LENR / Cold Fusion. Brian links to two posts at Next Big Future (here and here) where one can find Brian Ahern's presentation slides on his proposed mechanism for the LENR effect. One can also find slides from NASA's look at LENR at the links, along with a number of other "links to links" which provide even more scientific research information on the LENR theory.
Wow. The Zawodny slides are a short review of the technology, an organizational chart and a short list of the engineering needed to take LENR one more step closer. The prime notation might be slide 30, pointing up the need to engineer both the composition and structure of reactor materials.

Zawodny also offers us an informative slide worthy of long term and widespread dissemination. Simply put, chemical energy release compared to fission nuclear = 1:1,900,000 ; fusion nuclear = 1:7,300,000 ; LENR = 1:8,000,000. This clears up why the non-mainstream physicists and the followers are so tenacious on staying with the technology until it becomes useful. Thank you Mr. Zawodny. _NewEnergyandFuel
So it looks like more information is being made available to the general public from the actual researchers who have looked into LENR / cold fusion. This newly public information should help fence sitters to decide one way or another, or perhaps to at least look for a better seat on the fence.

Al Fin energy analysts have felt for decades that the Cold Fusion / LENR phenomenon is an intriguing phenomenon that is waiting for a scientific explanation. But even with this new information, it is not clear that we are close to reliable commercial products.

Andrea Rossi's E-Cat presentations have been permeated in secrecy, so that no iron-clad evaluation of the technology was possible, at least according to most observers present. But we should not judge the entire LENR phenomenon by Mr. Rossi's wild and perhaps premature rush to the marketplace.

The information that is coming from Ahern, Bushnell, other NASA scientists, Miley (U. of Illinois), Piantelli, etc. seems to confirm that there is indeed something there to study. But we will not know what to expect from the phenomenon until either the basic science is explicated, or until someone like Rossi presents reliable, workable products as a fait accompli.

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