Monday, January 31, 2011

Converting Abundant Glycerol Waste into Useful Chemicals & Fuel


A research student at U. Alabama Huntsville, is developing the capacity of cell bacterium Clostridium Pasteurianum to convert waste glycerol from biodiesel manaufacture into valuable fuels and chemicals.
A strain of bacteria found in soil is being studied for its ability to convert waste from a promising alternative fuel into several useful materials, including another alternative fuel.

A graduate student at The University of Alabama in Huntsville is developing biological tools to make products from crude glycerol -- a waste material from the production of biodiesel. The research is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

... About 100,000 gallons of glycerol is produced with every million gallons of biodiesel manufactured from animal fats or vegetable oils. (In 2009 more than 500 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in the U.S. while more than 2.75 billion gallons were produced in Europe.)

...The bacteria uses glycerol as a carbohydrate source. From that they produce three alcohol byproducts -- butanol, propanediol and ethanol -- plus acetic acid and butyric acid. Butanol is a particularly interesting byproduct.

"Butanol is a big alcohol molecule, twice as big as ethanol," Venkataramanan said. "You can use it as an industrial solvent and it can be used in cars, replacing gasoline with no modifications. It doesn't have some of the problems you have with ethanol, such as rapid evaporation. And ethanol is a two-carbon molecule, but butanol is a four-carbon molecule so its energy value is much higher. In fact, there are plans to use it for jet fuel.

...In their present form, the bacteria convert about 30 to 35 percent of their gylcerol meals into butanol and another 25 to 30 percent into a chemical used to make plastics. Venkataramanan is looking at different strategies to improve that yield. He is also studying the bacteria's genes to see if a more productive strain can be bioengineered. _Newswise_via_BiofuelsDigest

Similar approaches to microbial chemical synthesis are utilised at massive scale in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. It is more difficult to produce fuels economically, given the much lower prices for fuels by weight or volume, compared to prices for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, foods, etc.

In Europe, planners are anticipating much higher utilisations of biofuels and sustainable fuels over the next 30 years. After taking a foolish and ruinous detour into wind and solar investments, some of the more intelligent energy analysts and planners of Europe are beginning to sober up and comprehend the gravity of their situation. Others -- particularly lefty-Luddites -- will never learn.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

North American Unconventional Hydrocarbons Coming on Strong

Growth in Unconventional Hydrocarbons

North America contains a huge portion of global hydrocarbons, when unconventionals are taken into account. As the price of oil creeps ever higher over time, engineers and technologists are developing cleaner and more economical ways to utilise unconventional hydrocarbons.
Heavy Oils via Ivanhoe Energy

Canada's economic growth is being driven largely by oil sands. As the importance of this resource is slowly sinking into the thick skulls of Canadian politicians, various Canadian governments are beginning to take a more realistic view of oil sands production.
Both Canada and the US possess huge coal resources. Many different approaches are being considered, in order to use the resource more cleanly and economically, including coal-to-liquids technologies and in situ gasification technologies.
Image from Earth; an introduction to physical geology, 6th Edition, Tarbuck & Lutgens Prentice-Hall, 1999.

North America's huge oil shale resource will also be exploited eventually, along with oil shales the world over. The global oil shale market is projected to approach US$ 12 billion by 2015.

Gas-to-liquids is another unconventional liquid fuel likely to be scaled up in areas with rich conventional and unconventional gas resources -- such as North America.

OPEC nations control a huge volume of both conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons around the world. But as non-OPEC nations discover how to utilise their unconventional hydrocarbons more efficiently and cleanly, the power of OPEC and the Asian oil dictatorships to hold the world hostage to energy shortages, will diminish.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Carnival of Nuclear Energy #37 plus Other Nuke News

The 37th Carnival of Nuclear Energy can be found at Idaho Samizdat (via NextBigFuture). Excerpt:

ANS Nuclear Cafe

Ulrich Decher, Ph.D., examines the premise that 'wind-generated electricity is free' by analyzing the costs associated with installing, maintaining and operating wind turbines and turbine farms.

Since wind turbines must be paired with other generators of equivalent power to compensate for wind variations and for electricity grid stability, he also looks at economic and other factors associated with combining wind generation with natural gas, oil and hydropower.

Dr. Decher concludes that there is no economic justification for building windmills except when low-cost alternatives are not available -- and that there is no free lunch.


small reactorsSakatchewan wants small modular nuclear reactors. The sparsely populated province thinks node balancing its far flung grid would work

Brad Wall, the entrepreneurial provincial premier of Saskatchewan, knows that mining 20% of the world’s uranium supply won’t fuel the region’s economy forever. For years Wall has wanted to move up the value chain.

A few years ago he floated the idea of getting Canada into the uranium enrichment business. Now Wall, and his energy minister Bill Boyd, want to develop a plan to deploy small modular reactors (SMRs), e.g., with less than 300 MW, across the wide open spaces of Saskatchewan.

Atomic Insights

powerlines Forty-year-old nuclear plants with paid off mortgages can operate so cheaply that they could sell their output using an "all you can eat" pricing model similar to the ones used by cable television or internet service providers.

Those plants have achieved the condition that Lewis L. Strauss described 56 years ago when he waxed poetic about a world with electricity that was too cheap to meter (measure).

Unfortunately, mature nuclear plants have competitors that will do everything they can to push that low cost, clean, reliable power off of the grid.

Nuclear Green

A panel of of United Kingdom House of Commons Members recommends energy rationing in a report written by the late English Green David Fleming and his associate Shaun Chamerlin.

But the report, which argues that nuclear power does not offer a solution to British energy woes, depends of an earlier Fleming anti-nuclear Pamphlet which was harshly criticized in 400 comments on the Oil Drum.

_Much more at IS

Chile's new freedom-oriented government is very interested in nuclear energy, but Chile has its share of lefty-Luddites

Iowa officials are looking at small modular reactors as safe, reliable providers of clean, vital power

Steven Chu on video expressing his admiration for small nuclear fission reactors, despite the NRC under Obama stonewalling new reactor designs

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Is "Peak Oil" Slipping Backwards to the Year 2060 and Beyond?

3 Feb 2011 Note: Jeremy Bowden is the author of the piece quoted below. He specialises in energy issues, among other topics.
“The estimates for how much oil there is in the world continue to increase,” according to William M Colton, Exxon Mobil’s vice president for corporate strategic planning. “There’s enough oil to supply the world’s needs as far as anyone can see.” Just as prices rose sharply and peak oil concerns re-emerged, huge deep water oil fields were found off the coasts of Brazil and Africa. Higher prices also stimulated “unconventional” oil production from massive Canadian oil sands projects, which now provide North America with more oil than Saudi Arabia. In 2009, the United States increased domestic oil production for the first time in decades. The longer “life horizon” and drop in natural gas prices make it a particularly attractive choice to power producers now, given its relatively low carbon emissions and flexibility as a generating fuel. _Source
Image Source

Much of the fashionable panic surrounding "peak oil DOOM!" is reminiscent of the catastrophic circus that surrounded Y2K. While it is true that the Y2K problem required the attention and effort of thousands of professionals to solve, the same thing is obviously true for ongoing energy supplies in the face of rising global populations and expectations. Maintaining reliable energy supplies is an ongoing problem which is solvable as appropriate effort is applied. least one positive development has resulted from the sharp rise in oil prices of recent years. The influx of capital to oil companies from high prices, combined with expectations that prices are unlikely to fall very far, has boosted investment in oil exploration and production, especially in what the industry terms “frontier” areas – namely enhanced oil recovery (more oil from existing fields), the deep (or ultra-deep) water and the Arctic. Massive new reserves have been identified, proven up, and brought to production – whilst reserves previously considered impossible to reach are now no more than a horizontal drilling or steam injection technique away. All this should help ensure supply can meet global demand for far longer than was expected just a few years ago – pushing back the oft-cited “peak oil” date by decades.

...most of this newly-discovered potential avoids the above-ground risks and cartel policies that constrain oil production in most of the world’s largest proven deposits – the bulk of which lie in Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), or are controlled by national oil companies in central Asia and Russia. It is the technical expertise and project management skills of the most dynamic multinational and independent oil companies that hold the key to these new hard-to-get-at reserves, rather than the whims of Arab dictators or the level of OPEC budget deficits. A similar, but even more dramatic change has taken place with gas, where new techniques mean huge “tight” gas deposits present in many rocks are now recoverable. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently estimated that natural gas reserves could last twice as long as previously expected – up to 250 years.

...Some experts claim enhanced oil recovery (EOR) could potentially double the amount of oil that can be extracted globally. Most fields only recover just over a half of the original oil in place and sometimes less than a third. With modern techniques field development should be able to extract a far higher proportion of the oil, while more and more oil can be made recoverable from existing wells.

The three main types of EOR are gas injection, steam (both cyclic stimulation and flooding), and chemical injection. They have been around for a long time, but are increasingly viable economically and nimble technologically....Natural gas injection is also an improving technique used to maintain reservoir pressures, especially where it is difficult to bring the gas to market, and where gas is produced alongside oil. Other gases, such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide, can also be used.

...The newest of the major EOR techniques involves inoculating reservoirs with microbes that will make the oil flow more freely. Such developing techniques may create a new jump in recoverable reserve estimates for many fields in the near future. Above all, EOR extends the life of oil fields – many North Sea fields were expected to have run dry by now, but continue to produce often in the hands of specialist oil producers that focus on enhanced recovery.

...Faced with falling reserves and barred from acquiring fresh production in areas such as the Middle East, international oil majors began to search for new large deposits in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the 1990s – on the back of a proven drilling record in shallower Gulf areas, and in the North Sea. Exploration and drilling below 10,000ft of water and through miles of hard rock, thick salt and tightly-packed sands required the development of supercomputers and three-dimensional imaging techniques as well as equipment that could withstand the heat and pressures common at such depths, not to mention submarine robots to make repairs.

That technology is now available to drill in other areas such as the Arctic and elsewhere...Similar advances in technology have opened up huge unconventional oil shale resources in Canada. This is moving to the US, where the Bakken shale field is now the country’s fastest-growing major oil field. Production has reached about 350,000bpd, from 100,000bpd a decade ago. In a recent report, consultancy firm PFC Energy projected production would climb to 450,000bpd by 2013. _Industrial Fuels and Power

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil forecasts that by 2030, gas will surpass coal as an energy source.

Many analysts are expecting a lot of new oil supplies from multiple locations around the globe.

Clever technologists are finding ways to make every barrel of oil go that much further. This is true in many ways, not just in terms of improved efficiency at the consumer level.

The concept of "peak oil" is heavily dependent upon unknown factors which could change at any time. Only a fool would maintain a posture of predictive certainty in that atmosphere of uncertainy and rapid change.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Nuclear Energy Debate at TED and Elsewhere

A TED Talks debate between the grand old man of true environmentalism -- Stewart Brand -- and a young but ditzy-green Stanford professor -- Mark Jacobson. An interesting look at how a TED audience reacts to the basic ideas in the debate. Make up your own mind.

A comparison of two countries who took different paths toward the goal of cleaner energy. Remember: When you come to the fork in the road, take it.

Anyone who has read Ted Rockwell's PDF on nuclear energy, John Droz' Wind Energy Facts, and Without Hot Air by David MacKay, is ready to make the decision between the "feel-good" trendy renewables -- wind and solar -- and the no-nonsense, thousands of years sustainable at full capacity -- nuclear energy.

In my experience, Mark Jacobson -- although a professor at a prestigious US west-coast university and a prolific publisher of papers -- is not a trustworthy source on this topic. Time will reveal his hidden motives -- which may be nothing more than naive wishful thinking -- just as time will reveal the IPCC for its hidden motives of obfuscation.

Cross-posted at Al Fin


Terrabon Announces 70 gal / ton bio-gasoline from Waste

Through an advanced bio-refining technology, MixAlco® converts materials such as municipal solid waste (MSW), sewage sludge, forest product residues such as wood chips, wood molasses and other wood waste, and non-edible energy crops such as sweet sorghum into a wide array of chemicals and secondary alcohols that can be further refined through separate, well-established processes to produce renewable gasoline, jet fuel or diesel. The gasoline produced through the MixAlco® technology is not ethanol. In fact, it has a higher energy value than ethanol and can be blended directly with gasoline produced from hydrocarbons. _Terrabon
Houston based Terrabon creates advanced gasoline-like biofuel from mixed waste biomass, including sewage and solid waste. The company utilises a non-sterile anaerobic digestion for this versatile feedstock mix.
Terrabon’s MixAlco process is described by Luce as a linkage of biological fermentation and chemical processes. It begins by treating the feedstock with lime to enhance its digestibility, and then fermenting the biomass using a mixed-culture of microorganisms to produce a mixture of carboxylic acids. Calcium carbonate is added to the fermentation to neutralize the acids to form corresponding carboxylate salts, which are then dewatered, concentrated, dried and thermally converted to ketones. The ketones are then hydrogenated to alcohols that can be refined into renewable gasoline, diesel or jet fuel blendstocks.

“When we have those ketones, we use parts of the zeolite and hydrogenation catalysts,” Luce said. “Once we get through the organic acids, we actually create a whole series of secondary alcohols and then we use the same zeolite catalyst structure. The research with CRI that we’ve done is making sure the catalyst structure is set up in a way to optimize through the mix of ketones that we create.”

Terrabon’s cellulosic gasoline product, according to Luce, is a viable drop-in renewable gasoline blendstock that looks similar to cracked gasoline that comes off the fluid catalytic cracking conversion process, a pathway commonly used by today’s petroleum refiners.

“It ends up being a subcomponent of RBOB, which then ethanol can be put on top of to fulfill the RFS2 mandate,” Luce said. “What we’re hoping is that as we begin scaling it up that we can take on the next generation of catalysts to actually make it into a finished product, blend it with ethanol and make E85 straight to the retail station. But, that’s probably version three or four in our vision of what we’re trying to do. First, we want to show we can economically make a drop-in biofuel and use existing infrastructure and satisfy some of this RFS2 mandate.”

Terrabon’s work isn’t satisfied at stopping at this milestone. The company is in the process of engineering scale-up strategies in hopes of bringing its first commercial production plant online. “We’re looking at two regions of the country—one in Texas and another in the Pacific Northwest—to figure out where the best economic position is to put our first commercial facility,” Luce said, adding that the company is targeting an annual production output ranging between 5 MMgy and 25 MMgy. “We’re hoping if we stay on track with what we’re trying to do, then by the end of this year we’ll be breaking ground on either of those two sites for our first commercial facility.” _CheckBiotech

Houston—Terrabon, Inc., announced today that it has been successful in the production of an economical cellulosic gasoline fuel blend stock by leveraging CRI/Criterion’s renewable fuel catalyst technologies.

The use of catalysts are necessary to efficiently convert inedible feedstocks like garbage, sorghum, corn stover or woodchips into renewable cellulosic gasoline, diesel and jet fuel using Terrabon’s patented acid fermentation technology, MixAlco®.

These catalysts have enabled Terrabon to capture yield improvements from the MixAlco® acid fermentation process at its Bryan, Texas demonstration plant, known as Energy Independence I.

In fact, Terrabon actually exceeded the target yield threshold of 70 gallons of green gasoline per dry ton of garbage that it received from the cafeteria dumpsters and paper shredders at Texas A&M University.

Normally, this garbage would have been shipped to a landfill for disposal. _BiofuelsJournal

Seaweed is being viewed more widely as a valuable feedstock for biofuels production. Seaweed has many advantages over terrestrial biofuels crops -- including prolific growth rates, low lignin levels, and the ability to grow in salty and brackish water over most of the Earth's survace -- land and sea.

Japan is pushing ahead with 100% biomass-fired power plants. Torrefied biomass can be crushed and fired like coal. Gasification plants are preferable due the minimal waste resulting. Torrefied biomass -- either woody or grass -- can also be co-fired with coal with modifications to combustors. Biomass can also be co-fired with natural gas via gasification or pyrolysis -- using specially designed mixing chambers or nozzles and combustors.

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Vinod Khosla on Affordable Biomass, Feedstocks, More

For the regressives who project fixed land use and biomass production capacity based on yesterday’s technology, un-optimized yields and practices, I just beg to differ. Many people simply refuse to accept that the future can be different from the past and yet extrapolating an unsustainable present is a bankrupt strategy by which to reach a sustainable future. Much research remains to be done but the potential clearly exists for significant jumps in our biomass capacity. With proof of this biomass as a source of liquid fuel, this research will accelerate. _GTM
Greentech Media continues its Khosla series with a look at biofuels feedstocks and how they compare:
There is a surprising amount of forest waste available; a good example would be hardwood waste, which can reach up to 30 percent or more of the harvest: southeast timber has roughly 18 to 22 percent waste by mass, whereas the Northeast and Alaska have as much as 30 percent. Ultimately, scaling fuels will depend upon exploiting these near-term available non-food feedstocks. In the mid-term (5 to 10 years) winter cover crops (where appropriate) and energy crops planted in crop rotations or on marginal land (over one billion acres of marginal land worldwide has been put out of production due to degradation)[1].

The appropriate perennial, polyculture biomass production approaches, (which can restore degraded lands) will come into play in addition to continued wood, agricultural waste and bagasse use. Long term (10 to 15 years), dramatically improved energy crops, new cropping practices and new chemical fertilizer reduction strategies (such as polycultures) could yield well over a billion tons of biomass in the United States alone, if not substantially more, without significant land impact.

...Use of bark, waste and mixed feedstocks will lower costs and be a significant competitive advantage for any process. Accepting mixed feedstocks will be a major advantage for any conversion process. Such technologies, in my estimation, should yield more than 2000 gallons of fuel per acre (ethanol equivalent) in the long term (versus 400 to 500 gallons per acre today with corn ethanol) to provide material biomass fuels scalability without significant land use impact.

At a high level, at 2000 gallons per acre, to reach 36 billion gallons, we need 18 million acres of land (which need not be farmland), compared to 309 million acres of cropland currently in production (of 406 million acres of total cropland). If one displaces corn ethanol and recovers that land, the numbers for land usage could be substantially lower to meet our 36 billion gallon goal (though corn does co-produce animal feed). In the last 10 years alone, more than 30 million acres went out of production due to degradation, crop yield improvements and conservation.[2] The issue is further complicated by the recovery of land that takes place (covered in more detail in my previous papers) as diets shift from red meat (beef) to white meats (chicken), which take less than 5% of the land beef requires for corn cultivation for animal feed. _Greentechmedia
Khosla then moves from biomass feedstocks to oils:
, technologies that focus on specialty oils like jatropha, rape seed (used extensively in Europe for biodiesel), palm oil and the similar are less attractive because their gallon per acre yields are far lower (40 to 50 gallons per acre for jatropha, up to 600 gallons per acre with palm oil), and we don’t expect these oil yields to increase substantially over the next decade. Not only that, jatropha in particular is toxic to animals. Additionally, used restaurant grease, oil from old tires and animal waste, are largely irrelevant as feedstocks at the global scale, though they can be used to produce cost effective fuels where available. As a result, we are not considering them here in detail because in my view, they are not likely to achieve relevant scale, regardless of profitability. _GTM
Khosla similarly discards algal feedstocks as being too expensive for near term utilisation. He feels that 2,000 gallons per acre yield will be the minimum which can possibly impact global fuel needs. As a result, Khosla feels that both maize and sugar cane ethanol will be superceded by more prolific biomass crops.
...A few years ago, I forecast that as processes mature, one ton of cellulosic biomass will yield 110 gallons of ethanol equivalent, approaching our target of 2000 gallons of ethanol equivalent per acre as yields approach 18 to 20 dry tons per acre. If Kior, for example, is able to reach 2 barrels per ton of production (equivalent to 140 gallon ethanol equivalent per ton) in the next five years, then it will only take 14 tons per acre to reach this 2000 gallon per acre goal; such adjustments to estimates will continue to happen. If these process improvements prove out, we will need smaller yield improvements than I forecast only a few years ago. Encouragingly, Ceres and Mendel, two energy crop companies, forecast biomass crop yields at roughly 15 to 20 tons per acre, depending upon the region, rain and soil.

Again, for comparison, though corn is currently one of the most efficiently grown agricultural products in the world, it only produces 400 to 500 gallons of ethanol from an acre of corn (though animal feed byproducts do increase the effective yield equivalent per acre), with an additional ~300 gallons of ethanol equivalent cellulosic biofuel theoretically possible from the stover. Corn requires prime crop land, which stokes “food versus fuel” politics (perception is important), requires fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides,...

...The beauty of cellulosic processes is the flexibility of biomass feedstock, which allows the use of short and long rotations (up to 10 year rotations), agroforestry (interplanted rows of trees and row crops), and polycultures. Technologies that can use mixed feedstocks will have much lower long-term costs and less price volatility. By using feedstock flexible technologies we have an opportunity to increase biodiversity and symbiotic production of nutrients, which improves soil quality and yields, while not adversely affecting fuel output. Technologies like enzymatic hydrolysis, besides higher early costs, will likely be more feedstock specific and feel less likely to succeed in my opinion.

One option I have previously proposed is the usage of a 10 year x 10 year energy and row crop rotation. As row crops are grown in the usual corn/soy rotation, lands lose topsoil and get degraded, need increased fertilizer and water inputs and decline in biodiversity. By growing no-till, deep rooted perennial energy crops (like miscanthus or switchgrass - see below) for ten years following a ten year row crop (i.e. - corn/soy) cycle, the carbon content of the soil and its biodiversity can be improved and the needs for inputs like fertilizer decreased. _GTM
Biomass crops can even be engineered specifically to add value to the topsoil over time.
Perennial polycultures, drought and salt tolerant plants (a huge upside for humanity), long term crop rotations, winter cover crops and innovative low input (water and fertilizer) techniques are very powerful tools in improving agronomy, environmental impact, yields and biodiversity while potentially recovering even non-arable land. Meanwhile, some companies are aiming at dramatically reducing fertilizer and pesticide demand, by developing creative new approaches and technologies. These techniques will shape the ultimate level of impact. In many scenarios, a little imagination, a lot of research and a continued focus on biofuels could actually increase available land by creating incentives to recover degraded lands.

...At least half a dozen technologies will be competitive with oil, with some more profitable than others. The critical point is that for the next 10 years at least, there will be an unbounded demand for biofuels, the quantities required by the current mandates both in the US and in many other countries will be an achievable stretch with all the technological innovation. US and worldwide demand of oil will be such that biofuels will not compete with each other, they all compete far more with oil. Each technology is suited to particular local conditions, and with the expected demand, there is lots of room for all these and even more technologies. Within a decade after beginning to scale (2012?), advanced biofuels will become material in the oil supply equation, and will be a significant market force within twenty years. I firmly believe that in 30 years, the price of oil will be more dependent on the marginal cost of land than anything to do with exploration, drilling, OPEC, or Middle East instability.

To those who accuse me of believing because I’ve invested in these technologies; I continue to invest because I continue to believe. _GTM

In an attempt to prove Khosla wrong in his negative attitude toward algal fuels, Origin Oil is cooperating with an Australian company to prove its extraction technology.

SG Biofuels is attempting to prove its approach to fuels from the oilseed tree jatropha -- in tropical Brazil.

Most analysts predict liquid fuels to continue to rule over the highway for at least 20 more years.

Biofuels will be competing not only with conventional crude oil, but with unconventionals such as Canada's new in situ oil sands technologies, GTL, CTL, and in situ coal gasification to liquid fuels.

As long as oil prices stay above $70 a barrel, investment into advanced biofuels, unconventionals, and other alternative liquid fuels will continue.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bio-DiMethylEther from Black Liquor in Sweden: More On the Way

The European Union has approved the SEK 500 million (€55 million, $75 million) R&D grant awarded by the Swedish Energy Agency towards the industrial scale demonstration biofuels plant based on Chemrec’s gasification technology at the Domsjö Fabriker biorefinery in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. The plant will produce the renewable and environmentally compatible biofuels biomethanol or bioDME using forest harvest residues as energy feedstock.

...Chemrec AB and our partner the Domsjö Fabriker biorefinery were awarded the R&D support in September 2009 by the Swedish Energy Agency. The plant will be based on the Chemrec black liquor gasification technology combined with advanced technology for fuels production. The project investment cost is estimated at approximately SEK 3 billion for a production capacity of 140 000 ton biomethanol or 100 000 ton bioDME per year in a dual product plant. _Chemrec_via_BiofuelsDigest
Chemrec Domsjo Biorefinery

Sweden possesses vast forests which are harvested for timber, specialty cellulose, and paper/pulp. A by-product of the paper/pulp industry is black liquor, which can be converted to useful biofuels via gasification.
Biofuels produced using our gasification technology reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 95% compared to gasoline or diesel and replace imported fossil fuels with renewable fuels. The global potential of the technology is equivalent to replacement of approximately 30 million tons of diesel oil. The Domsjö plant will have the capacity equivalent to the fuel demand of over 2000 heavy trucks. _Chemrec Press Release

The bio-DME and bio-methanol produced by these plants will replace significant amounts of diesel fuel, and other petroleum products. But the process is but a niche application -- an add-on to a pre-existing industry which is itself an add-on (or offshoot) to the lumber industry.

That is one way in which market capitalism works -- by locating waste products of pre-existing enterprises which can be converted to valuable feedstocks and end-products.

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Nuclear News Bits

Brian Wang reports on new nuclear developments from India, Mongolia, Belarus, Canada, Japan, and Australia

Rod Adams at Atomic Insights discovers that some nuclear power is indeed "too cheap to meter."

A new nuclear blog, Nuclear Britain, is on the web

Turkey is working with Russia and Japan in its move to construct nuclear power plants

Cold fusion may find new life in India -- Upcoming International Conference

If you haven't read Ted Rockwell's PDF Nuclear Energy Facts Report yet, you need to do so at your earliest convenience. Ted's Learning About Energy website is where updated versions of the report will appear when available.

With new, smart, clean, nuclear reactors, using re-cycled fuels, the energy to power advanced human societies many thousands of years is in our grasp. Long before that time is up, clean fusion and other advanced forms of energy will be perfected and ready for use.

The future is currently stymied by greens, energy starvationists, and carbon hysterics -- all yearning for the great human dieoff.orgy and a 90% or more reduction of the human population. Unfortunately, once the left-Luddite instigated human dieoff begins, it becomes a wildfire that cannot be controlled. The Earth and its ecosystems and biodiversity are likely to be left far more vulnerable by left-Luddite interference than at present.

The recent direction of advanced societies has been toward bioremediation and greater biodiversity and preservation of habitat. That trend will only accelerate as humans achieve cleaner and more sustainable energy sources such as advanced nuclear power.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Underground Coal Gasification Moving Ahead in Alaska

Underground coal gasification (UCG) is the in-situ gasification of coal in the seam. It is achieved by injecting oxidants, gasifying the coal and bringing the product gas to surface through boreholes drilled from the surface. The gas is used for power generation, industrial heating or as chemical feedstock.UCG Engineering Ltd has recently undertaken reviews of the technilogy and provided designs of underground configurations for demnonstration and commercial applications. _UCG EngineeringLTD
Queensland-based LINC Energy has won new exploration licenses for development of underground coal gasification in Alaska.
January 27, 2011

Linc Energy is one step closer to becoming a significant part of the USA domestic energy market after winning further underground coal gasification (UCG) exploration licences in Alaska.

The Queensland-based company announced today it has been successful in its tender to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority for the grant of 181,414 acres of UCG licences.

The decision follows more than six months work in UCG geological assessment and competitive tender submissions from a unit spanning the Linc Energy Australian and United States offices.

Linc CEO Peter Bond says the outcome greatly advances the company’s strategic goal to bring commercial UCG development to Alaska.

“We have known for a long time that Alaska, the Cook Inlet Basin in particular, holds significant coal deposits,” Bond says.

“Importantly, the decision confirms that we were successful in obtaining 100 percent of the exploration areas we applied for in the competitive tender process,” he says.
Another likely site for commercial development of underground coal gasification (besides China) is Canada.
...Mr. Fallows says the only rational response for the U.S. is to use China as “a huge laboratory for deploying technology.” He cites the potentially game-changing technology known as underground coal gasification as an example of what a Sino-American technology partnership could achieve.

With this technology, jets of pure oxygen would be blasted, deep underground, into seams of coal. Under intense pressure, a controlled burn would take place. The heat would boil the saline water that occurs naturally far below groundwater. The resulting steam would set off the chemical reactions that turn coal into gas – which would be used (such as “natural” gas) to fuel “coal-fired power plants.” Yet no coal would ever be “mined.” The residual char and ash would remain put, along with the sulphur and nitrogen associated with dirty coal. Above ground, the C02 would be separated from the synthetic gas and recycled for use in the enhanced recovery of crude oil.

This is all marvellous science, but Mr. Fallows errs in thinking that China offers the only laboratory, or the best laboratory, to test it. The technology he describes in futuristic terms is already well advanced in the Swan Hills Synfuels development in Alberta – the largest coal gasification project in North America and the deepest underground coal-to-gas operation in the world. Beginning in 2015, Swan Hills will deliver synthetic gas from 1,400 metres underground – and, quite possibly, lead the entire world in clean coal technology. _GlobeandMail
Alaska, China, Alberta, and likely Australia. Four locations where underground coal seam gasification is likely to be developed, perfected, and commercially developed.
By eliminating the need for mining, UCG offers some benefits to the environment over traditional coal mining and coal gasification methods. Immediate benefits include the elimination of solid waste discharge and reduction in sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). In traditional coal mining, large quantities of coal ash, oxides, waste rock and radioactive waste are common discharges. In the case of UCG, this waste is either avoided or contained underground. Due to the absence of coal mining, Appalachian mountaintops are not stripped bare and remain largely preserved, hence there is no need for tailing and ash dams. For comparison, the ash content of UCG syngas is estimated to be approximately 10 mg/m³ compared to smoke from burning where ash content may be up to 70 mg/m³. _Sourcewatch

More information:
UCG Association
UCG Engineering LTD


Do Fungal Fuels Foretell Endophytic Future?

Sandia National Lab researchers are zeroing in on production of fuels by endophytic fungi. According to Sandia scientists, the fungi in their lab can break down cellulose directly, and turn it into hydrocarbons.
The fungi grow on cellulose and digest it, forming fuel-type hydrocarbons as a by-product of their metabolic processes. Through genetic manipulation, the Sandia team hopes first to identify these pathways, and then to improve the yield and tailor the molecular structure of the hydrocarbons it produces.

Sandia’s bioscience team is using genetic sequencing to catalog the pathways and other molecular biology techniques to understand how changes in feedstock determine the type and amount of hydrocarbons the fungi make, with a long-term goal of engineering greater quantities of the desirable fuel species.

Meanwhile, Craig Taatjes and John Dec, both engine combustion researchers at Sandia, are experimenting with the main compounds produced by the fungi and are giving feedback to their bioresearch counterparts on the compounds’ ignition chemistry and engine performance. The ideal outcome, Dec said, is to “dial in” the right feedstocks combined with the right set of genes to produce the preferred blend of compounds to go into an engine.

The first step has been to learn what kinds of compounds the fungus makes naturally on its own. “We just don’t know much about some of the compounds, so we need to do research on their ignition chemistry and how they behave in an engine,” Taatjes said. The team, he says, is working with Professor William H. Green at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop an ignition chemistry model that can predict the performance of the classes of compounds made by the fungus.

Hadi and his colleagues are contributing to building up the understanding of the distribution of molecules produced by the various fungi, at which point they can genetically tailor them to produce more of the optimal compounds to suit the needs of engine combustion. _GCC
The scientists and engineers are still working with very small quantities of product, and it will take some time before they will know if the project can be scaled to commercial levels.

Nevertheless, as a research project to expand the boundaries of basic science knowledge of what engineered endophytic fungi can achieve, the approach has potential to seed further projects and perhaps successful industrial ventures.

Endophytes can be injected directly into crops which themselves have been engineered to accept them and provide maximum surface area and biomass for conversion to hydrocarbon -- or any other high value chemical or substance the endophyte's enzymes can produce.

As plants are engineered to grow on marginal soils and to provide higher levels of more convertible biomass, they will provide yet one more piece of the larger interlocking puzzle. For microbial fuels it will take about ten years to proof of feasibility and proof of scalability. Ten more years to scale large enough to capture roughly 10% of the liquid fuels markets -- to microbial fuels alone (not counting alcohols).


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Torrefaction Plant for Salt Lake City? Comments on Khosla

Torrefaction is the controlled "roasting" of biomass to remove moisture, increase the energy density, and to induce superior burning, transport, and long-term storage properties. Radian Bioenergy is based in Salt Lake City, and has engineered a torrefaction system which it believes will work -- at least for woody feedstock.
Salt Lake City-based Radian BioEnergy has completed preliminary engineering on a commercial-scale proprietary torrefaction system, which can convert wood and other biomass feedstocks into biochar or “green coal.”

“It’s a top-fed system where the wood enters the top and warm inert flue gases are used to do the torrefaction,” said Radian BioEnergy CEO Ben Phillips.

The technology leverages Radian’s existing biomass gasification reactor configuration. “It basically readies us to be able to supply this type and scale of torrefaction system to perspective commercial buyers.” Phillips said the company would either license the technology to potential buyers or sign a contract to sell the equipment and then have it manufactured.

“The development of our torrefaction technology will further enhance our product offerings in the biomass energy sector, enabling us to supply major equipment or turn‐key solutions to customers seeking a solution for biomass upgrading,” Phillips said.

The Radian torrefaction system will produce approximately 200 tons per day of biochar, ranging in energy content from 9,000 to 11,000 Btu per pound depending on operating conditions and product yield goals. The biochar burns similar to coal so that it can be integrated into coal‐fired power plants. Phillips said the initial design was based on wood, and additional biomass types will be evaluated in the future. _CheckBiotech
As torrefaction technologies become more efficient, portable, and closer-to-the-source of feedstock, the ability to make economic use of more forestry waste, agricultural waste, and other cellulosic feedstock will grow.

The primary problem with biomass energy schemes is the low energy density of the biomass. As better means of densifying biomass are created and made inexpensive enough to bring to the local site of biomass production, the costs of biomass energy will drop.

Vinod Khosla's table of biofuels technologies (via Greentechmedia) is an extremely useful shorthand reference to the expected timescales to production and viability of production for a wide array of approaches to biofuels. In general, Al Fin energy analysts, engineers, and technologists are in agreement with Khosla's basic thoughts.

One particular area of disagreement involves the gasification of biomass and F-T catalytic synthesis of fuels and chemicals. Khosla asserts that such an approach will probably not work economically. But with the arrival of technologies such as the Velocys microchannel F-T reactors, plus the improvement of on-site densification of biomass and scalable plasma gasifiers, it is possible that we will see small to medium scale gasification plus F-T fuels within 5 years -- according to Al Fin analysts.

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Extreme Crude: Oil's Impossible Places

Brazil's quest for extreme oil may cost as much as US$ 1 trillion. That is a lot of money to invest in a such a risky proposition -- to retrieve oil that is miles deep underwater. But oil prospectors and producers around the world are on the prowl for extreme crude -- found in places that previous generations would not have dreamed of going.
The hunt for extreme oil proceeds apace in the ultradeep waters off the coasts of Ghana and Nigeria, in the sulfur-laden depths of the Black Sea, under the polar ice caps, and in the gummy tar sands of Venezuela’s Orinoco Basin and Canada’s McMurray Formation (see the related DISCOVER story, "The End of Easy Oil"). The Gulf debacle has shaken national governments, but it has hardly deterred them. Mexico is taking advantage of the fallout from the disaster next door—and the suspension of cross-border prospecting—to buy time for its national oil company, Pemex, which plans to beef up its own deepwater capabilities. A month after Deepwater Horizon exploded, the Australian government reaffirmed its commitment to ocean drilling, putting 31 offshore blocks up for bidding, 17 of them in deep waters. While pundits and regulators issue encomiums to safety, the most noticeable shifts in the “post BP” oil industry are a fat discount on rental rates for offshore platforms no longer needed in the Gulf and the exodus of idled rigs heading to other waters.

...What keeps Petrobras going is the size of the prize. Just the proven reserves in three different Brazilian pre-salt exploration areas total 10 billion to 16 billion barrels, the largest oil discovery in the Western Hemisphere in three decades. And that may be only the beginning. After drilling 13 more test wells, the experts now reckon that the pre-salt reserves sprawl over an oblong slab of more than 57,000 square miles of ocean—Brazilians call it “the blue beefsteak.” And the petroleum there is not the heavy, low-grade stuff that Brazil currently fetches from existing offshore wells, but light, sweet crude, the prize of hydrocarbons, preferred for jet fuel. _Discover

The microbes which created the oil in the Gulf of Mexico were fed ages ago by the land effluent of the Mississippi River basin Not so long ago -- in geologic terms -- Africa and South America were at hailing distance from one another. With a broad continental shelf between them, and with the Amazon feeding from the west and the Congo and other rivers feeding from the east, photosynthetic and other microbes between the continents fed very well indeed.

Those vast fields are relatively recent in origin, as the Earth thinks of time. It will take some good detective work to track down older, more ancient shelfs and feedwaters. But that is what the spirit of extreme crude is all about. That and going ever deeper, and after ever-tougher game.
Geophysicists have known for decades that plenty of oil and gas is hidden away below the oceans, but they were unable to see it clearly with traditional seismic techniques. Because salt is much less dense than rock, the sound waves surveyors use to scour the depths race through it at nearly three miles per second, twice as fast as it traverses the surrounding rock and sand. When sound waves pass from compact rock in the seabed to the pliant salt below, they kick into overdrive, scattering and distorting the seismic waves. The result is a blurry image that geophysicists compare to a snowy television picture, making it almost impossible to define the true size and position of the salt cap.

To sharpen the picture, Petrobras upgraded its toolbox with 3-D imaging. Traditionally, geophysicists take readings by sending sound waves straight down and straight back, creating two-dimensional pictures of slices of the earth that can be “read” like individual pages. But since salt can blur any given seismic image, exploration crews fired their seismic probe from various angles and then put all the images together to produce a three-dimensional view of the salt block. The technology helped them zero in on an intriguing section of seafloor in the little-known Santos Basin, off the coast of southern Brazil. To confirm the findings, Petrobras’s computer engineers have spent years developing software to correct for distortions—both sound wave reflections and seismic noise—that salt introduces in the readings. After multiple 3-D probes, they had a sense that something big was buried under the salt.

BP pioneered the exploration of oil and gas sealed beneath salt domes under the Gulf of Mexico, and potential pre-salt oil reserves of untold dimensions are currently being mapped along the west coast of Africa in the waters of Gabon, Angola, and Ghana. That area is a geologic mirror image of South America’s eastern flank, the two continents having separated when the supercontinent of Gondwana broke apart some 160 million years ago.

But Brazil may be sitting on the largest pre-salt resources of all, meaning that Tupi may represent both the pinnacle and the end point of this type of exploration. Finding and retrieving all this oil (and the associated natural gas) weighs heavily on the balance sheet. The first pre-salt test well took 14 months and cost $240 million, although more recent Petrobras pre-salt offshore wells have cost about $66 million each. Just operating a rig to drill in the pre-salt can cost up to $1 million a day. Industry insiders estimate that retrieval costs for Brazil’s proven pre-salt reserves could run as high as $1 trillion. _Discover
As geologists get better at finding oil and gas that require newer horizontal drilling approaches, engineers will develop yet newer approaches to finding and producing from even tougher deposits. It is a progression that is demanded by modern day economic and political factors which dominate the price of oil -- rather than by any meaningful or impending shortage of liquid fuels.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Vinod Khosla Summarizes Vast Field of Biofuel Companies

Vinod Khosla is an important venturist godfather of the biofuels industry. In a recent Greentechmedia article, Khosla summarizes the field, and looks at some particular advantages and disadvantages. The table below comes from the GTM article.

Table 1: Major Biofuel Technology Pathways





FCU (minimum size cash flow positive facility)[1]

Liquid fermentation to higher alcohols, hydrocarbons and esters

Examples: LS9, Gevo, Amyris, Solazyme

Sugars (e.g., corn, sugar cane, hydrolysis  sugars from cellulosic feedstocks)

Highly controlled, single chemical output, pathway dependent (e.g., iso-butanol, FAME, Esters, lipids, Farnesene) fuels are less likely to be economic if they need significant post-processing. Direct production of fuel blends like butanol or FAME may allow for earlier entry into fuels.  Costs are less critical for chemicals.

Suitable for specialty chemicals and specialty fuels (e.g., jet). Starting to build first commercial units: target 2012 to 2013. Need to reach commercial yields at demo, and test 2,000-gallon-tank scale to prove economics or 100K gallon/year facility scale to have reliable data; many do; various chemical outputs give them options.

Retrofits/bolt-ons costing $40M to $100M to cash flow facility. Varies widely, but small $ allows low-risk bootup. Companies that require new facilities will have difficulty booting up unless facility is very low cost.

Liquid fermentation of cellulosic feedstocks to ethanol

Examples: Mascoma, Verenium, Qteros, (Novozymes, Danisco)

Sugars via hydrolysis of cellulosic material (described below)


Enzymatic processes such as Novozymes are unlikely to be competitive. Cheap cellulosic sugars may help enable these pathways. In Mascoma’s case, use of CBP (consolidated bioprocessing) helps alleviate the high cost of enzymes and may have lowest cost in this class, but none are economic yet.

$175M to $300M

Gas fermentation

Examples: Lanzatech, Coskata, Ineos

Steel/coal waste gas; syngas from biomass or coal

Highly controlled, single or multi chemical output (e.g., ethanol,  2,3-Butanediol, & other specialty chemicals)

High capex for biomass, but low opex; low capex  & opex for waste gases; suitable for ethanol, more upside in chemicals; FCU in 2012 to 2013

$400M to $500M for commercial plant with biomass gasification including fermentation; $50M to $100M for backend waste gas conversion

Catalyzed thermo-chemical cracking

Example: KiOR

Lignocellulosic biomass, all types, from wood whole logs, ag & wood wastes, algae  etc.

Relatively easy “drop-in” renewable crude oil. With hydrotreating, can produce fuel blendstock

Scalable process, familiar to oil industry. Similar supply chain and uses, FCU operational in 2011 to 12; likely to be competitive unsubsidized near term at $80 oil; high-value distillates

$75M to $125M

Solar fuels

Examples: Sapphire, Cellana, Aurora Algae, General Atomics, Petro algae

Waste water,  CO2 + sunlight 

Lipids that can be converted to biodiesel (FAME, green diesel, jet fuel or other), or nutraceuticals

No clear near term path to economic viability. High theoretical yields per acre (>4,000 gal/acre), but not proven. Pilot and demonstration scale.  We are skeptical of economics in this category; larger environmental risk for GMO open pond organisms

Hundreds of millions(?)

Natural oil hydro-treatment to produce hydrocarbons

Example: Dynamic Fuels

Natural oils and fats (palm, vegetable, animal fat, etc.)

Hydrocarbon fuels

Limited scalability due to feedstock

~$100M to $150M

Pyrolysis oil hydro-treatment to produce hydrocarbons


UOP/Ensyn, Neste

Wood chips and wood waste

Hydrocarbon fuels

Significant hydro-treating required due to high oxygen content to produce hydrocarbons

~$100M to $200M(?)

Transesterification of vegetable oils, animal fats

Natural oils and fats (palm, vegetable, animal, etc.)


Limited scalability. Often food-based and likely less economic. Land use concerns due to low yield.


Gasification with thermochemical conversion to ethanol, methanol and hydrocarbons

Examples: Choren, Rentech, Range

Cellulose/ hemicellulose/lignin

Syngas for fermentation, or for chemical catalysis conversion to ethanol, methanol, or Fischer Tropsch to hydrocarbons

Chemical catalysis for ethanol and Fischer Tropsch likely uneconomic. High capex, high opex.

Hundreds of millions

Liquid Catalytic conversion of sugars to hydrocarbons

Example: Virent

Sugars (e.g., corn, sugar cane, hydrolysis  sugars from cellulosic feedstocks)

Hydrocarbon fuels

Limited information available, clean sugars and hydrogen appear required for good  outputs. I am somewhat skeptical but have to admit less than full knowledge of details.


The vast field of biofuels companies cannot be adequately followed by oneself. It requires many analysts working simultaneously, painstakingly compiling information in an attempt to keep up with advances, and possible shenannigans.

It is best to read both advocates and skeptics of this commercial movement, just like with any other trend which promises (or threatens) to overturn the current order.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Brief Look at Coal

The energy we get from coal today comes from the energy that plants absorbed from the sun millions of years ago. All living plants store solar energy through a process known as photosynthesis. When plants die, this energy is usually released as the plants decay. Under conditions favourable to coal formation, the decaying process is interrupted, preventing the release of the stored solar energy. The energy is locked into the coal.
Coal formation began during the Carboniferous Period - known as the first coal age - which spanned 360 million to 290 million years ago. The build-up of silt and other sediments, together with movements in the earth's crust - known as tectonic movements - buried swamps and peat bogs, often to great depths. With burial, the plant material was subjected to high temperatures and pressures. This caused physical and chemical changes in the vegetation, transforming it into peat and then into coal.
Images from World Coal Org
Proven coal reserves are sufficient to meet world demand at current levels for about 120 years. But proven coal reserves are only a fraction of the total coal resource. Proven reserves are apt to expand significantly should the need ever arise.
ResourceThe amount of coal that may be present in a deposit or coalfield. This does not take into account the feasibility of mining the coal economically. Not all resources are recoverable using current technology.
ReservesReserves can be defined in terms of proved (or measured) reserves and probable (or indicated) reserves. Probable results have been estimated with a lower degree of confidence than proved reserves.
Proved ReservesReserves that are not only considered to be recoverable but can also be recovered economically. This means they take into account what current mining technology can achieve and the economics of recovery. Proved reserves will therefore change according to the price of coal; if the price of coal is low proved reserves will decrease.
The chart above displays global reserves of coal, gas, and oil by region. As with coal, gas and oil reserves are ranked as proved or not proved. Proved reserves are apt to increase as economic conditions and technological sophistication changes. A good example of that is the huge expansion of shale energy resulting from improvements in horizontal drilling and fraccing technologies.

US coal deposits as currently understood are pictured above. The US has the largest coal resource of any single nation. In addition, the US has the largest overall hydrocarbon resource, when kerogens are included. Canada and Russia belong in the same category of top ranked overall hydrocarbon resource nations. Persian Gulf nations are in the "enviable" position of having more easily accessible, economically valuable, and readily usable hydrocarbon resources.
Coal varies in quality, depending upon its life history during formation. An important thing to remember is that even the cheapest and dirtiest coal can be utilised cleanly with gasification technologies. Cheap dirty coal can be cleanly utilised via IGCC with CHP, or via coal to liquids technologies with also utilise gasification.

Another means of utilising dirty and/or hard to get to coal, is via in situ gasification. That approach is being explored in Alaska, Canada, and China -- and has been tested in Europe and New Zealand.

It is believed that the coal resource is the largest hydrocarbon resource of all. But that is unlikely to be true, given the little-known mechanisms of hydrocarbon production and transformation inside the Earth's mantle -- which feeds hydrocarbon of unknown quantity (mostly wet gas) back into the crust. Much of that mantle-originated gas is likely to end up as methane clathrates beneath sea sediments -- the bulk of which has almost certainly been recycled many times via plate tectonics.

The planet's carbon cycle is far more vast and deep than most analysts understand, involving organic and non-organic carbons. Photosynthetic microbes and plants are key to the global cycling of carbon -- as are unimaginably powerful geologic processes. The Earth is floating in hydrocarbons.

If humans are smart, they will move beyond their dependency on hydrocarbons as fuels within the next several decades. At that point, the total cumulative human consumption of the global hydrocarbon resource will have been a tiny drop in a very big bucket.

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Low Energy Nuclear Reactions vs Blacklight Power

"Cold fusion" and Blacklight Power have been two of the less reputable approaches to generating energy. Cloaked in mystery and proprietary methods and materials, to outsiders both approaches seem custom-made for investment scamming. And yet neither approach seems likely to go away soon. In fact, a whole new upswell of interest in unconventional energy sources has been pouring out of Italy over the past week.

First of all, "cold fusion" is not a good description for what Rossi and Focardi seem to be doing.
Whatever the LENRs that are responsible for the device’s heat output, nickel-hydrogen reactions are not fusion, so this has nothing to do with the idea of “cold fusion.”

Researcher Jacques Dufour, retired from Shell and now a contractor with the French Laboratoire Des Sciences Nucléaires (CNAM), has speculated on neutron or proton capture on nickel to explain the mechanism. Unfortunately, proton capture requires astronomical forces to overcome the Coulomb barrier and is effectively invoking “cold fusion.”

Neutron capture, on the other hand, is different and theoretically feasible. In his conclusion, Dufour has cited the Widom-Larsen theory, published in the mainstream press by the European Physics Journal C, Pramana, and the American Chemical Society. The theory has also been cited by NASA, Johns Hopkins University and the Institute of Science in Society. (See New Energy Times Widom-Larsen Theory Portal for papers and references.)

“Strong nuclear signatures are expected from the Rossi energy amplifier,” Dufour writes. “It is of interest to note that in [Widom Larsen 'Theoretical Standard Model Rates of Proton to Neutron Conversions Near Metallic Hydride Surfaces'] a mechanism is proposed that strongly suppresses the gamma emission during the run (it is the same mechanism that creates very low energy neutrons, subsequently captured by the nickel).” _NewEnergyTimes
Neutron capture would describe a form of "transmutation." Rossi and Focardi are claiming that their energy-generating device involves the transmutation of nickel to copper. They are not claiming any form of fusion.

Still, a lot of people don't want to let go of the "cold fusion" idea, but if the mechanism is proven to generate as much excess heat as is claimed -- an energy gain of over 20 to 1 -- successful developers should be allowed to call it whatever they wish. More:
...while mainstream science spurns cold fusion vehemently, a maverick minority has been pursuing it with just as much passion; holding international conferences, publishing papers in their margin journals, and comparing notes.

And they don't like calling it "cold fusion," both because of the stigma attached to that phrase, as well as the inaccuracy of the name from a strict interpretation point of view. It's most often called a "Low Energy Nuclear Reaction" or LENR.

With Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi announcing in a press conference and demonstration last Friday that they had a device that produces 10 kilowatts of energy (enough to power five homes), and that they were now going into production with the patented technology; you can imagine that the LENR community has been abuzz with interest about this amazing disclosure. Though there has been plenty of skepticism, the general tone seems to be increasingly positive, as can be seen in the excerpts below.

Three of the premier media sources in that arena are Jed Rothwell's, Steven Krivit's New Energy Times, and Infinite Energy. A sampling of they're take on this is represented here. There are other players in the cold fusion journalistic world as well, including those that cater to non-English-speaking audiences. _Pure Energy Systems News
Speculations about possible similarities between Rossi/Focardi and Blacklight Power:
Rossi received a patent, but he says that it does not contain proprietary information on the catalysts used in the device and the special processes utilized to prepare the powdered nickel. Speculation on the internet continues as to what these catalysts may be and what special processes may be utilized. One possibility that has been suggested is that sodium hydride (NaH) may be mixed in with the nano sized nickel powder. The hypothesis is that the NaH when heated would release hydrogen that would interact with the nickel powder. After this occurs the cell would be allowed to cool slightly (perhaps the need for a controllable input) to regenerate the NaH which would absorb hydrogen. Then the cycle would begin once again.

Such a cycle would be similar to some of the experiments performed by Black Light Power. Additional ideas include special methods to "clean" the nickel powder of impurities, a method that embeds the nickel powder in a ceramic that may act like a catalyst, and other methods.

It has been suggested on some internet forums that due to the fact that his patent is absent of such important information, it may not be enforceable and this may partially explain his need for total secrecy about these special processes and methods.

These emerging bits of information, technical details, interviews, and accounts of the demonstration are making the argument in favor of this technology being legitimate more compelling. As the days progress we urge you to follow this story closely. _PESN
Rossi's work supposedly involves a low energy nuclear reaction -- perhaps a transmutation via neutron addition. Blacklight Power, on the other hand, claims to be dealing with the energy states of the electron in a hydrogen atom. But even if some kind of excess heat energy is being generated, there is no guarantee that the claimed theory is an accurate description of what is happening.

Brian Wang has been following this story closely
Extensive (148 pp) PDF description of low energy nuclear reactions (h/t NextBigFuture)

When confronted with claims such as come from Blacklight Power or Focardi/Rossi, one must remain skeptical. And yet it is important to attempt to follow research progress and commentary as provided by objective-but-interested persons familiar with the basic theories involved.

Clean and abundant resources of energy will be discovered and commercially developed, in time. But modern western societies are in the unfortunate position of having their energy supplies unnecessarily constricted by political leaders, for ideological reasons masquerading as science. The effect of such policies include economic stagnation and a generalised "societal malaise" and an absence of a positive sense of future. These problems tend to feed upon each other and escalate in severity over time -- particularly when political leaders are corrupt and waste vast public resources -- both present and future -- merely to remain in power.

The bottom line is that when claims sound exaggerated, they usually are. It is best not to get one's hopes up prematurely. Be skeptical, but check in on progress from time to time, just in case something important is actually happening.

PESWiki page on Focardi/Rossi

New Energy Times blog

Low Energy Nuclear Reactions News

"Journal of Nuclear Physics" blog a "peer reviewed blog" run by Rossi dealing with Rossi's work

Blacklight Power technical papers

None of the sources listed above represent the physics mainstream, but if you read through the 148 pp PDF introduction on low energy nuclear reactions from New Energy Times, you should have an idea what questions to ask, what to look for, and what may be going on.

Al Fin energy analysts recommend not counting on this development to provide appreciable power supplies for a number of decades at least. But they admit they are slowly becoming addicted to speculating on such unconventional physical mechanisms as a diversion.

Adapted from an article at Al Fin

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Carnival of the Nukes #36 at ANS Nuclear Cafe

The 36th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy is hosted at ANS Nuclear Cafe. Here are some excerpts.

Mike Blake of Nuclear News talks about the growing support for nuclear energy in the United States. He ties this support to dramatic changes in nuclear power management and regulation over the past 30 years and discusses the Top 5 improvements in the U.S. nuclear energy industry.

Nuke Power Talk

Many people in the nuclear industry are looking to the new Congress and hoping for action in some key areas to help jump-start the nuclear industry. Having lived and worked inside the Beltway for more years than I care to admit to any more, I’d like to caution everyone that the Washington scene is extraordinarily complicated.


Alvin Weinberg - photo Oak Ridge National Laboratory

In “Rediscovering Weinberg’s Vision,” Charles Barton recounts how Alvin Weinberg’s death lead him to recover Weinberg’s vision of the role of energy in society. Charles notes his own childhood relationship with the Weinberg family, and his year as “a glorified Intern” with the ORNL-NSF Environmental Studies program.  In contrast to Amory Lovins whose predictions were almost never correct, many of Alvin Weinberg’s predictions about energy have proven correct.

In his post, “Alvin Weinberg and the Molten Salt Reactor,” Charles Barton recounts how his rediscovery of Alvin Weinberg’s vision lead him to look anew at the Molten Salt Reactor. Charles found a number of Weinberg’s papers on Molten Salt Reactors on Kirk Sorensen’s Blog, Energy from Thorium. An account of Weinberg’s management style is included as well as an extensive quote from a Weinberg essay on the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor.

Atomic Insights

For Sale – Nuclear Power Plant for less than $1,500 per kilowatt that can be running in about 5 years.

Based on a number of private conversations, I have learned that Exelon would be willing to sell the Zion Nuclear Station if a qualified buyer made a reasonable offer. For about $3 billion and a few years of challenging work, the buyer would have a refurbished, 2100 MWe nuclear plant with a fresh, 20 year operating license. A reasonable estimate is that the plant could be producing revenue by 2016.

_Much more at NukeCarnival36

Areva is developing a 100 MW SMR, one version of which may evolve into an underwater nuclear reactor!
Areva has already begun developing a small modular reactor, or SMR, of about 100 MW, based on the experience of its Technicatome unit in building reactor plants for submarines and France's nuclear-power aircraft carrier, the Charles De Gaulle. Such a reactor could be embarked in a FlexBlue power plant, Boissier said.

Boissier said the market for SMRs is estimated at about 200 units worldwide over the next 20 years. "Flexblue could take a significant share" of that market, he said, but declined to define what he meant by significant.

He said the study will determine how much a FlexBlue plant would cost and what would be the price of electricity it produced, but added "preliminary studies show that we should be compatible with the cost of renewable energies, and better than solar power." _Platts

SMR developer NuScale is forced to suspend operations for the time being due to problems with an investor

The dual "fission-fusion" nuclear reactor being developed at the U. of Texas promises to eliminate future problems with nuclear waste or weapons proliferation.

Brian Wang provides links to all editions of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy


Joule Unlimited Scores Loads of Free Publicity!

A synthetic biofuels company from Massachusetts called "Joule Unlimited" has managed to score tons of free publicity in newspapers, blogs, and news services -- without doing much at all! This is public relations at its finest, and the PR people at Joule have to be congratulated.

Joule is involved in the synthetic genomics of cyanobacteria -- having obtained patents to engineer the production of hydrocarbon fuels from bacteria using CO2 and sunlight. But in the news business, most journalists are always asking a potential news focus: "What have you done for me lately?" And in the case of Joule, the answer is "Not much at all."

It all started when the Globe & Mail had a story on Joule a few days ago which erroneously claimed that Joule's miracle bacterium was E. Coli -- after several people notified the paper of their error, they finally corrected it. But not before scores of blogs and other news sources repeated the G&M mistake verbatim. But the Globe & Mail story was about something that happened -- a patent approval -- in September 2010. So why did it take off in January 2011?

A respectable fusion energy forum -- Talk Polywell -- picked the story up, and it then spread. Respected blogger and engineer M. Simon picked up the story from Talk Polywell. Then Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds picked up the story from M. Simon. And from there the story spreads across the blogosphere...

But what has Joule Unlimited actually done lately to merit this new publicity?

Well, they elected John Podesta to their board of directors.

They somehow got dufus Senator John Kerry to call Joule's technology "a game changer."

Then, way back in September 2010 Joule is awarded a patent on its technology

Al Fin analysts can be heard muttering: "Not much progress for all of that free publicity."

Microbial bioenergy is indeed a game changer. But Joule Unlimited is only one of many fine companies with very fine research and development staffs who are working hard to bring large scale microbial fuels to reality. How did Joule's PR department trigger this isolated inflationary bubble of "news?"

Al Fin Energy Institute researchers are not complaining, mind you. Microbial fuels are set to be ready to start scaling up in roughly 10 years. In 20 years, microbial fuels will score at least 10% of the liquid fuels markets in advanced western countries. In 30 years, petroleum companies will be pushed to the wall to keep their costs down low enough to compete.

But premature ejaculations of gee whiz futurism can lead to wide-scale cynicism. In the case of microbial fuels, neither gee-whiz! optimism nor cynical pessimism are warranted. Synthetic genomics is pretty spectacular -- but it takes time to get results. Give it time.

Joule Unlimited patent applications

Proviso: In a fast-changing environment such as industrial synthetic genomics and synthetic fuels, breakthroughs can occur at any time. It is not always in a company's interest to reveal the state of its R&D progress. But all breakthroughs require time to develop into industrial processes, and much more time to scale up to actual commercial and industrial supply systems. As time goes on, we will hear about a lot of breakthroughs. Most of these newsreleases deserve to be taken with a tablespoon of magnesium sulfate and two glasses of water.

Update: Now Brian Wang has picked up the story at NextBigFuture. Brian featured the correct bacterial species in his posting and features some original material from the company's website -- proving once again that Brian's is the best of the technology blogs.

Watching this story getting picked up from site to site provides a dynamic portrait of blogospheric connections. In this case the Globe & Mail writer -- Neil Reynolds, who is one of my favourite mainstream press energy writers -- reported on a company that is no doubt doing some excellent work. But Reynolds was not actually reporting on recent news, he was merely highlighting ongoing work of one particular microbial fuels company. Just one out of many fine companies working on microbial fuels.

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