Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Science and Technology Are Making Fools of "Food vs Fuels" Debaters

Item 1: A new Planck Institute chemical method is able to turn wood directly into simple sugars such as glucose. From there, the sugars can be fermented into various alcohols, or used for other chemical processes.
The researchers in Germany have devised what they say is a more effective method of breaking down the cellulose found in plants into sugar molecules, which can then be used to produce ethanol. The method uses an ionic liquid to first break down cellulose into shorter glucose chains, and then a solid acid resin to split those shorter chains into individual sugar molecules that can then be used for biofuels. The new approach could make for plentiful biofuels that don't compete with food crops.

Even very-tough microcrystalline cellulose can be broken down into sugar molecules by using this approach, said lead researcher Ferdi Schüth of the Max Planck Institute in Mülheim. _Bioenergy
Item 2: Genomatica, a southern California company, has devised a clever way of reprogramming micro-organisms to produce valuable chemicals and/or fuels as feedstock for the chemical and energy refinery industries. The advanced biocomputational techniques developed by the company should accelerate the development of biomass to fuels/chemicals and CO2 to fuels/chemicals processes.
Genomatica’s core computational technology enables it to create a computerized model that simulates the myriad metabolic processes of a cell. It also enables Schilling’s team to determine the best series of metabolic processes—or pathway—for directing the cell to produce a particular compound....

...researchers under Mark Burk, Genomatica’s chief technology officer, succeeded earlier this year in manipulating a standard strain of E. coli to produce 1,4-butanediol, or BDO. The colorless, viscous liquid, used to make spandex clothing, skateboard wheels, car bumpers, dashboards and other resilient plastic materials, is normally toxic to E coli. But Genomatica’s engineered bugs were designed to churn the stuff out.

CEO Gann says the global petrochemical industry currently makes about 3 billion pounds of BDO a year for an estimated worldwide market of almost $3 trillion....

...The established “brute force” method puts crude oil under tremendous heat and pressure in refinery “cracking” units. In contrast, Genomatica’s bioengineered organisms produce BDO by consuming sugar, oxygen, and other nutrients in fermentation tanks that operate at temperatures that are lower than a hot tub. “We don’t need subsidies, by the way,” Gann notes dryly. The approach will be comptetitive even if the price of crude oil drops to $50 a barrel, Gann says. _Bioenergy
Genomatica's initial focus, understandably, is the high-value petrochemical substitution market. But using the same biocomputational methods to reprogram microbes to produce a wide range of fuels is just as possible, and 100% probably once Genomatica's cash flow from its microbial chemicals production stabilises.

The UN, the EU, and Pelosi and Boxer can debate food vs fuels all they want. Such a vacuous level of discourse suits them perfectly. For those who actually want to solve problems--generally persons who stay far away from politics--the promise of real world rewards and achievements beckons.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Biomass Superstar Wants to Burst Confinement

The sleeper superstar of biomass and bioenergy has been kept in confinement by absurd government rules for many decades. Humans need all the clean energy tools they can get their hands on, but government continues to be the great obstruction to human needs. Government (Pelosi, Boxer, Obama, Salazar etc): GET OUT OF THE WAY!
Although researchers have been looking at corn as a possible biofuel, hemp is much more productive and cost-effective. One acre of hemp can produce ten times as much methanol as an acre of corn, with an exponentially faster rate of growth. Capable of producing ten tons of biomass per acre in less than four months, hemp would only take six percent of the American land mass to grow enough hemp to completely eliminate our need for fossil fuels. The infrastructure change would not be a problem either, as traditional farming equipment could be used to harvest hemp.

...Perhaps one of hemp's best characteristics is its environmental friendliness. It grows faster than other crops like corn or rice and it comes with the added benefit of improving soil quality where it's grown. Similarly, it does not need cleared land to grow and is naturally pest resistant, meaning that pesticides are not necessary which would help to ultimately reduce CFCs and nutrient leeching. Furthermore, hemp even kills pests in the soil, further reducing the need for pesticides. Unlike fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide and sulfur into the air, hemp actually converts carbon dioxide back into biomass at an astounding rate. The crop itself is extremely diverse and able to grow in conditions that other biofuel crops cannot. Its drought resistance makes it an ideal crop for farmers in the Midwest and other areas that are so-called "dust bowls." _Bioenergy
A wide variety of bioenergy crops are on the table--maize, wheat, rape, sorghum, miscanthus, salicornia, jatropha, rutabaga, beets, cane, poplar, pine, switchgrass, pennycress, and so on. But the superstar waiting in the wings for government to come to its senses, is hemp.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Artificial Photosynthesis 10 Years Away?

When a scientist is asked how long it will take until a certain breakthrough becomes widely available, the answer is often "10 years." Artificial photosynthesis would allow humans to take sunlight (or any radiation) and divert the photonic energy into chemical or other forms of energy.
"We have copied nature, taking the elements and mechanisms found in plant life and re-creating one of those processes in the laboratory," Spiccia said in a statement issued by Monash. "The production of hydrogen using nothing but water and sunlight offers the possibility of an abundant, renewable, green source of energy for the future."

Artificial photosynthesis differs from photovoltaics, the method used in solar panels, which generates an electrical current that can't be stored but must be loaded onto the electrical grid.

"Sometimes it's more useful to make fuel which can be stored indefinitely and used where you make it - for example, in your house or to run your car - rather than be sent through a power grid," Mallouk said.

Practical artificial-photosynthetic systems are at least 10 years away, Mallouk said. There are many technical problems to be solved to equal the efficiency of nature's way. _PO
The oil bubble of last summer sent shock waves through the global economy that are still reverberating inside the credit crunch. Energy shortages are serious matters, whether caused by real shortages or as in this case by political stooges such as Pelosi and Boxer.

It's possible to chase hydrogen for a lot longer than 10 years, but there are many more practical energy solutions much closer on.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Power Storage Solutions for Wind and Solar

Wind and Solar power are insignificant portions of the world power jigsaw puzzle. And world power needs are growing faster than wind and solar can grow--especially in the absence of utility-scale electrical storage. What kind of advances in storage technologies are necessary to change the outlook for wind and solar from total losers to potential team players?
“Having no form of storage is not a problem right now, because only (about 2) percent of our power comes from wind and solar,” says George Crabtree, senior scientist and Distinguished Fellow in Argonne National Lab.'s Materials Science Div. “But that won't work if you intend to get really serious and create 30 percent to 40 percent of your power that way. Every wind and solar source has to have a backup.”

Wind turbines generate power when and only when the wind blows; solar cells make power only when the sun is shining brightly. Like all other sources of power — coal, nuclear, hydro — the electrical current created by wind and solar is used immediately. With only a few minor exceptions, utilities don't have a way of storing that electricity for later use.

That's why “balancing resources” are so important. Without them, utility customers face the prospect of blackouts, as happened in a wind-dependent area of west Texas earlier this year when the wind died down. Or they face the opposite problem — too much generation — as occurred in New York state recently when wind turbines had to be shut down because they caused “grid congestion.”

“As we put more 'intermittency' — wind and solar — into our system we need the balancing resources for those times when they are not available,” says Arshad Mansoor, vice president of power delivery and utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Mansoor says the most common balancing resources today are gas turbines and coal plants. In other words, utilities must balance large amounts of wind and solar with the very CO2-spewing sources they are trying to eliminate..... _designnews
What are some possible solutions? Pumped water gravity storage and compressed air storage are limited and expensive small-scale solutions being utilized now. They are not even close to being sufficient.

Promising longer term solutions:

Redox Flow Cells
NaS Utility Scale Batteries
Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage
Advanced Flywheels, etc.

Of course, some good solutions being overlooked are scalable gasification combined cycle turbines, and scalable nuclear reactors for baseload. Modular nuclear makes for excellent baseload power, and scalable coal/biomass combined cycle turbine facilities allow for flexible adjustment to demand needs. If you add utility scale storage to the mix, you have a fairly well-balanced power solution.

An emphasis on wind power at this time is misguided, but expected of people such as Pickens, Pelosi, Boxer, Obama, Salazar etc. By designating CO2 as a dangerous pollutant, these unscrupulous fools are threatening to cripple the US power supply at a time when it has never been more important. Power reserves to prevent brownouts and blackouts are already dangerously low in many parts of North America. Wasting resources on immature and inefficient technologies such as wind will only reduce necessary reserves to critical levels. Obama may want to cripple the US power supply as Chavez has done to Venezuela, as the ANC has done to South Africa, or as any number of third world dictators have done in their petty fiefdoms. Socialist third world mentality is pretty much the same around the globe. The most successful dictators learn how to distract the people with pretty talk, even as the land is burning around them.

Wind and solar are miniscule contributors to total energy supply, and will remain that way until viable large-scale electrical storage solutions come onto the market. For politicians to suggest otherwise in order to push a political climate agenda, is criminal. Oynklent Green is monitoring the situation.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

$1 a Gallon Diesel From Coal Gasification: Watch the Politicians Kill It And Bring On Political Peak Oil

The world has enough low grade coal to produce plenty of clean fuels for centuries at current consumption, using Fischer-Tropsch synthesis along with gasification. What is stopping it? Politicians such as Boxer, Pelosi, Obama, and the rest of the carbon hysteria morons who are willing to destroy national and international economies for the sake of an unscientific political ideology.
A single Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-liquid-fuels gasification plant atop one of Southland’s billion-tonne lignite fields could replace all New Zealand’s diesel imports within five years if the necessary processes, including consenting under the Resource Management Act (RMA), were condensed “to the fastest possible point.”

...The technology is already mostly available, gasification of coal to liquid fuels having been developed by Germany to fuel the Luftwaffe during World War Two, _NBR
The New Zealand planners intend to sequester the CO2 produced by the process deep underground. How much smarter it would be to use the CO2 in an algal biodiesel plant alongside the gasification plant, or in a biosynthetic CO2 to fuels process as being developed by over half a dozen different teams worldwide?

It is time to take politicians who practice energy-starvation on the public, and send them to Oynklent Green for re-processing. Perhaps then, the net benefit from the morons would be positive.

Alice Finkel

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Algal Fuels, CO2 Into Fuel, etc.

A joint project between GreenFuel and Aurantia in Spain may be one of the first working commercial scale algae biofuels operations.
"We believe algae hold great promise for Spain as they can be harvested daily, rather than seasonally, use water very efficiently and do not require arable land like other crops," Rafael Naranjo, Aurantia Group's chief executive and chairman, said in a statement.

GreenFuel Technologies Corp. said it has successfully grown a variety of naturally occurring algae strains in Jerez using Holcim flue gases. The second phase of the project began with the successful inoculation and subsequent harvests of a prototype vertical thin-film algae-solar bioreactor.

The next phase involves building algae greenhouses and harvesting facilities. _Forbes
Meanwhile, California company Carbon Sciences says it has developed a viable way of producing renewable fuels "directly" from CO2.
The company says its "C02-to-Fuel" technology uses CO2 to create ethane, propane and methane, three run-of-the mill hydrocarbons used to make high-grade gasoline and other fuels. The key to the process is biocatalysis, a process where natural catalysts are used to perform chemical reactions. Biocatalysis is a more energy efficient and cost-effective way to break down CO2, making the possibility of a large-scale ramp up economically feasible.

The approach uses a low energy biocatalytic hydrolysis process that splits water molecules into hydrogen atoms and hydroxide ions, says Dr. Naveed Aslam, the company's chief technology officer and inventor of the process. The hydrogen is used to create hydrocarbons, while the free electrons in the hydroxide are used to fuel the biocatalytic process, he says. The process "is based on natural organic chemistry processes that occur in all living organisms where carbon atoms, extracted from CO2, and hydrogen atoms extracted from H2O, are combined to create hydrocarbon molecules using biocatalysts and small amounts of energy."

As for collecting the CO2, Carbon Sciences won't just erect a big filter in the sky and hope for the best. The idea is to set up shop alongside oil refineries and and coal plants and capture the CO2 such facilities generate.

Carbon Sciences isn't the only outfit seeking viable ways to recycle carbon dioxide. Scientists at Sandia National Laboratory have developed a way to use sunlight to convert CO2 into fuel. Newcastle University researchers can use CO2 to create chemical compounds called cyclic carbonates. The compounds are used in many solvents and also could be used as an additive to make gasoline burn more efficiently. _Wired
And be sure to check out yesterday's post at New Energy and Fuel, about the Italian Gasification project that may open the door to more efficient synfuel from gasification. A very nice elaboration by Brian Westenhaus.

I suspect that Mr. Fin would not think much of either of these new ventures. He would say, "wait and see what happens."

While I don't have the broad range of training and experience of a Mr. Al Fin, I do read very widely and have superior intelligence. I suspect that these ventures might be able to produce small amounts of fuel at a price several times higher than you would pay at the fuel pump. It is the idea they are peddling. Promises are easy, delivering the goods is hard.

That's the difference between a market economy and a political system. Politicians can promise anything the people want, and as long as voters believe the promises long enough to elect the politico, the politician is happy, for a while. Politics is the art of deceiving the voters. Those who survive the game for long periods of time have learned to maintain the deception, or have coopted public information sources to prostitute themselves for special favors.

In a market economy, a company must supply a product in a timely fashion and at a cost the customers are willing to pay.

Alice Finkel

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Plasma Gasification, Promise?

Lou Circeo at the Georgia Tech Research Institute says that the promise of plasma gasification will soon be realized. Circeo says that it is already profitable to turn municipal garbage into energy via plasma gasification. Now the challenge is to achieve profitability using agricultural and forestry waste, and dedicated biomass crops such as miscanthus and poplar.
As with any new technology, navigating through complicated permitting hurdles is a part of the process when developing a new project of this nature. Other factors, such as assessing the type of MSW produced in a specific location, are equally important, according to Surma.

“One of the things we’ve chosen to do is to keep our technology at a scale that meets the needs of local communities,” he says. “The nice thing about keeping it on a smaller scale, say 250 to 500 tons per day, is that you’re dealing with just locally generated material. What has historically been the real issue in getting any of these large waste processing facilities permitted wherever you choose to build it, is that you’re bringing in waste from 20 miles away to fill up that plant and the host community doesn’t particularly like having everyone else’s waste dumped on them.”

In addition to InEnTec, there are two other projects being developed in the United States. The first plasma-based waste disposal system in the country is scheduled to be operational in St. Lucie County, Fla. Developed by Geoplasma Inc., the plant is expected tovaporize 200 to 400 tons of waste per day and is scheduled to come on line in 2009.

The city of Tallahassee, Fla., has signed the largest plasma arc waste-to-energy contract to date with Jacksonville, Fla.-based Green Power Systems LLC to process 1,000 tons of MSW per day using plasma torches designed by Westinghouse Plasma. The Harris Group Inc. is serving as the architect and engineer for the project.

According to Richard Basford, vice president of project development for GPS, completion of the project is scheduled for October 2010. GPS will also deliver 35 net megawatts of electricity to the city of Tallahassee’s electricity provider as part of a 30-year power purchase agreement. _Bioenergy
Financing for large waste-to-energy plants will be more difficult to obtain temporarily, until financial institutions and venture capitalists recover from the current credit crunch. One of society's highest priorities is dealing with waste, however, so any process for doing that which not only saves money but also generates energy, should be promoted by most honest political and economic interests.

The big question mark for the future of energy and economics in the US, is how corrupt Obama's political regime will be. If Obama's past is prelude for his future, it can be extremely corrupt. The US has a long way to fall to become another Zimbabwe, but then Rhodesia fell a long way to become Zimbabwe. Come to think of it a lot of countries that adopted socialist policies have fallen greater distances than that. So cross your fingers.

Alice Finkel

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Centuries of Energy From Coal Gasification, If the New Government Allows Energy Use

Italian researchers have developed more efficient coal gasification methods that would provide cleaner and more abundant energy from coal.
It is shown that, if compared with a conventional CTL plant, the mass yield of liquid synthetic fuel is increased by 39.4%, the CO2 emissions per unit of liquid fuel are decreased by 31.9% and energy efficiency increases by 71.1%. _ACS
More from Physorg:
World coal reserves, they note, are 25 percent greater than crude oil and the United States alone has enough coal to supply its own energy needs for centuries....Based on laboratory simulations and comparisons with conventional coal gasification, their system was 70 percent more energy efficient, yielded 40 percent more fuel and released 32 per cent less carbon dioxide. "The new process configuration can represent a valuable alternative route to obtain syngas both for electric power generation and for synthetic fuel production," the report states.
As noted in the study, the coal gasification method would allow for more efficient and cleaner production of electricity from coal, or alternatively, a higher yield of liquid fuels via coal gasification and F-T synthesis.

Under an Obama administration, all uses of coal, oil sands, oil shale, and heavy oils would be doubtful, due to the classification of carbon dioxide as a "dangerous pollutant," under an Obama EPA. In other words, energy starvation with resulting economic devastation. Just like Al Fin suggested previously, before he mysteriously disappeared.


Alice Finkel
Assistant Administrator
Al Fin Blogs Syndicate

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Over 500 Gallons per Acre of Oil from Rutabagas?

Rutabagas yield approximately 20 tons per acre, 80 percent of which is water weight. On a dry-matter basis, an acre yields approximately four tons, half being starch. So, if two tons of starch per acre are converted to oils, this equates to roughly 525 gallons of oil per acre compared with 160 gallons of oil yield per acre from canola. “If this thing works, it could be the end of canola because everything we could do with canola, we could do better with rutabagas,” he said.
Rutabagas produce a huge root ball of starch. Michigan State University researcher Christoph Benning thinks he can alter the metabolism of rutabagas to produce oil instead of starch.
Unmodified rutabagas produce oil in seeds during a short period of the plants’ life cycles. “If you look at a root crop - sugar beets or rutabagas - they photosynthate into biomass during the entire growing season,” Benning said, so the idea is to genetically modify rutabagas to produce oil instead of starch in green and root tissues. This would produce more oil throughout the whole life cycle of the plant instead of just during seed development. “I was looking for a plant that was a close relative of the arabidopsis - one that had a big, starchy storage organ,” he said. The arabidopsis plant was the first flowering plant to have its entire genetic code sequenced. This led him to the rutabaga, which is the same species as canola and rapeseed. _Bioenergy
Biodiesel Magazine presents a fascinating look at the fat rendering business, which every year renders 60 billion pounds of perishable fats into useful and valuable commercial product--including biodiesel fuel. Less than 10% of this rendering is done by slaughterhouses and meat packers themselves, so more than 90% of this useful activity is done by independents.

Under a free market economy, such "niche-finding" activity is common, and waste is often transformed into useful product. Unfortunately, with the growth of government interference in the economic system, the costs of doing business are growing exponentially. Should Obama be elected, skyrocketing tax rates on businesses will drive many independents out of the market, with the loss of millions of jobs.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Welcome to Barak's Brave New Energyless World

Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Barack Obama will classify carbon dioxide as a dangerous pollutant that can be regulated should he win the presidential election on Nov. 4, opening the way for new rules on greenhouse gas emissions. _Bloomberg_via_Wattsupwiththat
Obama in his wisdom is preparing to put the finishing touches to the demise of the US (and thus the world) economy. The implications of this incredibly foolish proposal go to the heart of Obama's judgment and personal competence.
In my opinion, this is lunacy - Obama’s thinking is completely off the rails now. He cites a new energy plan in August, then cripples it from the start with this sort of thinking. _WattsUpWithThat
Lunacy is proposing to give every citizen $50,000 a year just for existing. Lunacy is being willing to sit down with enemies of your country without preconditions. Lunacy is destroying the educational system of Chicago and planning to do the same to the entire US. But this????!! This goes far beyond lunacy into the criminally insane category.

Already, much needed power plants are being cancelled due to misplaced concerns over CO2 emissions. Under Obama's grand regime, plans for new uses of coal, oil sands, heavy oils, shale oil, and other carbon producing energy methods would be placed in suspension indefinitely, as existing plants are shut down, and the already dangerous energy and electrical generation reserves will be reduced below critical levels.

Want to know a secret that only you and a few other people will know? The current worldwide market fiasco and credit crunch happened not just because of Carter and Clinton's misguided forays into "home mortgages for all" using the CRA and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac. The crash is not just because the federal government pushed banks into dangerous loans, and provided incentives for the wild trading in credit default swaps in national and international markets. It was not just that ACORN, Maxine Waters, Barney Franks, Chris Dodd, and the other usual suspects prevented Bush and McCain from reforming Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the growing mortgage dysfunction. Not even a growing dread among investors over a possible Obama presidency fully explains the sinking financials.

The tipping of the edifice occurred when the headlong flight into commodities (including oil) by hedge funds, pension funds, long-only funds of investment banks, etc. ran into a brick wall. The funds, banks, and investment houses were already up to their necks in unsound derivatives. But when the commodity markets took a dive--which anyone with a brain knew they would--the camel's back was broken. Now you know. A delusional belief in "Peak Oil" was one of the fibres in the straw that broke the financial camel's back.

Now, Obama wishes to use another popular delusion--climate catastrophe or CAGW--to finish the job. Is he that stupid? Does he believe the American people are stupid enough not to connect the dots? Or are both questions to be answered in the affirmative?

Previously published at Al Fin

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Agricultural and Forestry Residue alone Might Provide Between 15% and 20% of Fuel

A Purdue University study suggests that using biomass residue alone in a gasification process might provide as much as 20% of US liquid transportation fuel. If you add dedicated biomass crops and oilseed crops it would be possible to approach 50% of fuels. If you add ocean-grown and coastal saline based crops, 100% is easily conceivable. The constraint on production appears to be a mental block caused by the delusional "food vs. fuels" debate being indulged in by the pseudo-intelligentsia.

More details on the Purdue study:
In addition to concluding that liquids derived from an FCTL process could replace 15-20% of transportation fuel in the US, the study suggests that:


The cost of the derived fuels is in the range of $1.50-$2.00/gallon gasoline equivalent—i.e., competitive with other biofuels;

Lifecycle water withdrawal and land use of fuels derived from FCTL process are less than other biofuels;

A FCTL plant may generate local but intensive water supply and water quality challenges and the development of integrated water management strategies within the plant is critical;

A FCTL system is more resilient against external disturbances—e.g. feedstock supply shocks and market demand changes than other biofuel technologies.

The paper calls for the development an integrated process simulation model of a FCTL plant and a complete life cycle assessment in order to achieve a better picture of the economic and environmental performance of such a process. _GCC
As noted, low quality coal would be used as a backup feedstock in the gasifier to liquid process. It is important to have backup feedstocks to maintain continuity of production, to minimise fluctuations in supply and price.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

General Motors Timeline for Alternative Fuels

We have seen that huge international companies such as Exxon, BP, Shell, Dupont, and others are developing biofuels and bioenergy projects. General Motors has also been involved--financing cellulosic ethanol companies Coskata and Mascoma for example. Here is GM's short, medium, and long range approach to transitioning away from fossil fuels to both biofuels and the electric vehicle. Ultimately, GM aims to run its fleet on hydrogen fuel cells, according to the plan.
Beyond the ethanol activity, GM is also evaluating and considering the potential for higher alcohols such as biobutanol, as well as algae-derived biofuels and ultimately the direct synthesis of bio-hydrocarbon fuels, Dr. Wheeler said.

The key point on biofuels is that they are the most significant near-term solution to offset rising energy demand. Our focus is on next-generation biofuels. These are fast approaching, with cellulosic ethanol nearing commercialization in the 2010-2011 timeframe.

Sustainable biofuels made from non-grain sources could offset up to 35% of future vehicle energy demand by 2030, but the infrastructure needs to be in place for commercialization to be realized.

One of the great strengths [of cellulosic fuels] is to use locally grown biomass. Use what you have in the region, then convert it into fuel. You don’t have to send it far away—use it locally. There is real potential for using the fuels in the area in which we actually make them.

—Candace Wheeler

... _GCC
As the realisation that bioenergy solutions can fit well at the local and regional levels, more entrepreneurs and investors will combine with engineers and technologists to create the infrastructure at those levels. When the bioenergy infrastructure pairs up with agricultural, forestry, and waste management industries in the same locales and regions, the revolution will begin.

The main thing that is holding back the energies of the Anglosphere and most European countries, is the excess of government regulations, taxation, interference, bureaucratic meddling, and debilitating "assistance." Similarly, much of India and East Asia would see far more sustainable economic activity if more local and regional solutions were available for basic infrastructural necessities.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Nuclear Attack! All Power is Out! Electronics Have Been Blown by EMP What Do You Do?

A one-megaton nuclear bomb detonated 250 miles over Kansas could cripple many modern electronic devices and systems in the continental U.S. and take out the power grid for a long time.
The modern world is vulnerable to having its technology lifeline crippled by simple attacks. Without communication and power, modern civilisation grinds to a hault.
"A rogue state or terrorist organization could easily acquire nuclear material for a smaller weapon for $20 million," says Charles Manto, president of Instant Access Networks LLC (IAN). "That weapon could be fitted onto a Scud missile for as little as $100,000, fired and detonated 80 miles into the air and affect the entire U.S. east coast, causing up to $10 trillion in damage before you spend a nickel to fix anything."

...IAN staff and Frostburg State University physics and engineering professor Hilkat Soysal are teaming -- through a $165,000 project recently approved by the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program -- to create renewable energy-powered, electromagnetic pulse (EMP)-protected microgrids that could provide electricity for critical infrastructure facilities in the event of a disaster.... IAN has developed a patent-pending shielding technology that encloses a room or similar structure and protects it from EMP events. IAN's shielding, which includes electrically isolated layers of steel and aluminum, is up to 70 percent lighter than materials traditionally used by the military and other sources for EMP protection. This enables EMP-safe rooms to be portable.

IAN's shielded rooms can protect mission-critical fiber optic network nodes and data or communication centers. They can also house generators, which, when several are connected, create a micro power grid, or microgrid, that can provide power to a campus or entire communities. _Source
These are contingencies that have to be considered. Biological, nuclear, and chemical weapons are all within the reach of state-sponsored and state-proxy terrorist organisation. Putin of Russia and Ahmedinejad of Iran are two leaders capable of instigating such proxy attacks. China's CCP still holds its pet pit bull N. Korea on its leash, for proxy attacks if needed.

Communities that choose not to prepare for all likely contingencies, are communities that will see untold suffering when the excrement contacts the rapidly rotating blades. New Orleans is not the only city led by corrupt and inept local government. Even state and city governments that are not corrupted to Chicago levels are unlikely to be placing their budget priorities with likely futures in mind. Functionaries see no further ahead than the next election, or the next inspection.

Update: This idea for managing power grids with living neural networks of rat cells offers a certain amount of EMP resistance. Networks of living nerves are far more resistant to EMP than conventional electronics. If such living massively parallel networks can learn to optimally manage power grids in real time, in the face of most recognised hazards including EMP, they may represent a significant step forward.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Algae Blooms at CSU and in the Netherlands

Colorado State University and Solix Biofuels Inc. researchers claim to have working algae biofuels technology that is competitive with petro-oil at $150 a barrel--today! They project that in less than 3 years, they should be competitive with $70 to $100 a barrel oil and producing in commercial quantities.
Colorado State University's Engines and Energy Conversion lab and Solix Biofuels Inc. are now much closer to large scale production of the fuel source derived from some of the fastest-growing organisms on the planet.

Project leaders say algae is the fuel crop of the future. It can produce 100 times more oil than crops like soybeans....Prof. Bryan Willson showed CBS4 an algae generator at the lab that runs on sunlight and carbon dioxide (a photo-bioreactor system).

"You can see the bubbles. We're bubbling a mixture of air and carbon dioxide," he said. "It's a system we put together to grow algae at very high rates under the conditions we need to accumulate significant amounts of oil." Eventually the algae ends up as a concentrated green paste. Once the water is removed it is roughly about 1/3 oil.

The idea is to build acres of algae generators close to a carbon dioxide source like a power plant or brewery. _CBT
In the Netherlands, Algae-Link has devised a system that is continually harvesting the algae 24 hours a day.
"It's actually like growing tomatoes; the algae need similar things," he says.

This crop uses the warmth, light and a steady feed of carbon dioxide and nutrients to reproduce faster than any other plant on earth.

The amount of algae in these tubes can double daily. And that is both the attraction and the problem with algae as a commercial crop.

What Algae-Link's system claims to crack, possibly for the first time, is the problem of clogging. A patented internal cleaning system keeps the set-up harvesting twenty-four hours a day.

Once the cells of the algae are split into their constituent parts (an established science with all biofuel crops but a more secretive part of the process in this case), the green mass can be sold as feed for fish and oyster farms and the vegetable oil can be processed into engine fuel. _CBT
Algae consumes up to 3 times its own weight in CO2. For most efficient growth, algae blooms must be fed higher concentrations of CO2 than the extremely low levels present in the atmosphere. This suggests locating algal farms close to CO2 producers such as combusion plants, industrial plants, concrete manufacturers, etc.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

More on Gasification, Plus Biofuels vs Foods Illusion

As mentioned previously, Exxon is pairing with Pratt & Whitney / Rocketdyne to develop efficient gasification technologies for clean coal technology and producing hydrocarbon chemicals and fuels from biomass.
"Gasification technology has the potential to help with many of our most pressing energy challenges and we are pleased to be involved in this important project, said Rich Pisarczyk, president of ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

"Turning coal and similar energy sources into synthesis gas would allow these sources to be converted into a range of products, including chemicals, transportation fuels and power plant feedstock. Gasification also helps enable the adoption of carbon capture and storage and therefore reduces emissions from the use of coal and other heavy feedstocks.

Work has begun on pilot plants to test the technology at the Gas Technologies Institute in Des Plaines, Illinois, and the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota. ExxonMobil is also cooperating with Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne to assist in identifying potential interested parties for demonstration.

The collaboration takes advantage of ExxonMobil's technology leadership in the energy sector and Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne's experience in rocket-engine development, with the goal of making real progress in gasification technology. _energy-daily
Meanwhile, the tired old debate of biofuels vs. foods continues among UN officials and other uninformed, self-important functionaries.
As a society’s wealth increases, its energy consumption rises far more quickly than its food consumption - in fact, food consumption eventually plateaus because people can only fit so much into their stomachs. This very fact is leading to a revolution — the result of which will be that, in the future, we will view fuel as a more important outcome from growing crops than food.

So, if biofuels are here to stay, how can the global community prevent millions of people from falling into famine due to competition of food land with biofuel land when biofuel land turns out to be more profitable? _gas2org
It is truly a debate for those who have nothing important to do with their time. People like college professors, government bureaucrats, political activists, and similar pseudo intellectual lightweights who get paid a lot of money for eating, drinking, and excreting.

In the real world, one does not think about feeding 9 billion or 10 billion people--now or in the future. In the real world, one sets about developing local and regional solutions for all parts of the world. Solutions which the people themselves can implement and operate, if possible. Trying to solve all problems for all people with one policy is the mark of an idiot.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More on Hyperion's Small Nuclear Reactor

Brian Wang has done a good job providing updates on the Hyperion small reactor. His most recent post on the Hyperion provides a nice comparison of different reactors based upon energy output per weight of materials, along with information about other small reactors.
The 15-20 ton 27-30 MWe Hyperion nuclear reactor will be factory mass produced starting in about 2013. It uses ten to twenty times less material and less uranium fuel as current reactors which will allow society to scale this up a lot more. Goal of 12 month from order to finished factory product. Goal is to make hundreds to thousands each year.

....The reactor core of an S6G (26MWe) submarine nuclear power plant (just the vessel that holds the fuel and the fuel itself) weighs about 110 +/-3 tons. It needs 20000 gallons (80 tons) of water for coolant. After you add in the rest of its systems you are looking at at least 1000 tons of machinery. The reactor fits in a space about 10m long, 10m wide, and 12m tall. Two hundred times more space than the Hyperion Reactor. The S6G is rated at about 130 megawatts thermal power. The electric output is 26 megawatts.

The Hyperion reactor portion is 9-13 times lighter than the submarine core and water coolant. The Hyperion reactor does not have water coolant.

...The Hyperion Power Generation reactor is four to five times smaller than one of four coolant pumps in an AP-1000 nuclear reactor.
Truth be told, solar energy is actually nuclear energy--nuclear fusion. Geothermal energy is also nuclear energy, powered by radioactive decay and fission pocket reactions deep within the planet's interior.

Expect small fission reactors to proliferate as Hyperion scales up, and as the advantages of nuclear reactors for remote locations becomes much clearer.


Bioenergy Forges On Despite Credit Crunch

Many areas of business are being hurt by the international credit crunch, but the bioenergy industry holds so much clear promise that both wise governments and wise investors continue to support it.

Consider algal biodiesel. Although the technology is years away from productivity, the promise of abundant hydrocarbon fuels from algae that consume garbage, sewage, and other refuse, is too great to pass up.

And there are cellulosic liquid fuels: Getting the lignocellulosic carbon in plants to give up its energy is difficult. Right now, gasification and pyrolysis are the two frontrunners in the quest to extract energy from lignocellulose. But enzymatic conversion of cellulose to biofuels could easily be more efficient, due to the lower energies required to run the process. The US DOE is investing over $12 million in Novozyme's enzymatic approach to unlocking cellulosic energies.

Many plants that were formerly considered weeds are being considered now as bioenergy feedstocks, including milfoil.

Although the US is leading in the biofuels/bioenergy race, governments and enterprises around the world are devoting increasing levels of resources to achieving an efficient extraction of energy from biomass and sugar/oil producing plants. Israeli scientists, working in Ghana, are developing more efficient Jatropha strains for increased yield. Meanwhile in Malawi, more advanced farming methods have created vastly increased yields of crops. Elsewhere in the continent, vast plantations of oilseed crops are being planted--of both palm and jatropha.

Life sets planet Earth apart from the rest of the known universe. Energy from life, or bioenergy, is just one of the growing number of benefits humans will learn to derive from their birthright. We have not always been responsible, or clever with life. Now we need to be both. Long term benefits will be enormous.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Summary of Biomass Energy

A recent guest article at Biopact provides a very useful summary of terrestrial biomass energy, containing most of the important basic points of information about that resource.

There are many ways to generate electricity from biomass using thermo-chemical pathway. These include directly-fired or conventional steam approach, co-firing, pyrolysis and gasification.

1. Direct Fired or Conventional Steam Boiler
Most of the woody biomass-to-energy plants use direct-fired system or conventional steam boiler, whereby biomass feedstock is directly burned to produce steam leading to generation of electricity. In a direct-fired system, biomass is fed from the bottom of the boiler and air is supplied at the base. Hot combustion gases are passed through a heat exchanger in which water is boiled to create steam.

Biomass is dried, sized into smaller pieces and then pelletized or briquetted before firing. Pelletization is a process of reducing the bulk volume of biomass feedstock by mechanical means to improve handling and combustion characteristics of biomass. Wood pellets are normally produced from dry industrial wood waste, as e.g. shavings, sawdust and sander dust. Pelletization results in:
1.Concentration of energy in the biomass feedstock.
2.Easy handling, reduced transportation cost and hassle-free storage.
3.Low-moisture fuel with good burning characteristics.
4.Well-defined, good quality fuel for commercial and domestic use.
The processed biomass is added to a furnace or a boiler to generate heat which is then run through a turbine which drives an electrical generator. The heat generated by the exothermic process of combustion to power the generator can also be used to regulate temperature of the plant and other buildings, making the whole process much more efficient. Cogeneration of heat and electricity provides an economical option, particularly at sawmills or other sites where a source of biomass waste is already available. For example, wood waste is used to produce both electricity and steam at paper mills.

2. Co-firing
Co-firing is the simplest way to use biomass with energy systems based on fossil fuels. Small portions (upto 15%) of woody and herbaceous biomass such as poplar, willow and switch grass can be used as fuel in an existing coal power plant. Like coal, biomass is placed into the boilers and burned in such systems. The only cost associated with upgrading the system is incurred in buying a boiler capable of burning both the fuels, which is a more cost-effective than building a new plant.

The environmental benefits of adding biomass to coal includes decrease in nitrogen and sulphur oxides which are responsible for causing smog, acid rain and ozone pollution. In addition, relatively lower amount of carbon dioxide is released into the atmospheres. Co-firing provides a good platform for transition to more viable and sustainable renewable energy practices.

3. Pyrolysis
Pyrolysis offers a flexible and attractive way of converting solid biomass into an easily stored and transportable fuel, which can be successfully used for the production of heat, power and chemicals. In pyrolysis, biomass is subjected to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen resulting in the production of pyrolysis oil (or bio-oil), char or syngas which can then be used to generate electricity. The process transforms the biomass into high quality fuel without creating ash or energy directly.

Wood residues, forest residues and bagasse are important short term feed materials for pyrolysis being aplenty, low-cost and good energy source. Straw and agro residues are important in the longer term; however straw has high ash content which might cause problems in pyrolysis. Sewage sludge is a significant resource that requires new disposal methods and can be pyrolysed to give liquids.

Pyrolysis oil can offer major advantages over solid biomass and gasification due to the ease of handling, storage and combustion in an existing power station when special start-up procedures are not necessary.

4. Biomass gasification

Gasification processes convert biomass into combustible gases that ideally contain all the energy originally present in the biomass. In practice, conversion efficiencies ranging from 60% to 90% are achieved. Gasification processes can be either direct (using air or oxygen to generate heat through exothermic reactions) or indirect (transferring heat to the reactor from the outside). The gas can be burned to produce industrial or residential heat, to run engines for mechanical or electrical power, or to make synthetic fuels.

Biomass gasifiers are of two kinds - updraft and downdraft. In an updraft unit, biomass is fed in the top of the reactor and air is injected into the bottom of the fuel bed. The efficiency of updraft gasifiers ranges from 80 to 90 per cent on account of efficient counter-current heat exchange between the rising gases and descending solids. However, the tars produced by updraft gasifiers imply that the gas must be cooled before it can be used in internal combustion engines. Thus, in practical operation, updraft units are used for direct heat applications while downdraft ones are employed for operating internal combustion engines.

Figure 2 (click to enlarge): Schematic of updraft and downdraft gasifiers

Large scale applications of gasifiers include comprehensive versions of the small scale updraft and downdraft technologies, and fluidized bed technologies. The superior heat and mass transfer of fluidized beds leads to relatively uniform temperatures throughout the bed, better fuel moisture utilization, and faster rate of reaction, resulting in higher throughput capabilities. _Biopact
Notice the distinction between pyrolysis and gasification: Pyrolysis involves heating of biomass in the absence of oxygen, yielding pyrolysis liquids as well as gas and solids. Gasification involves the greater heating of biomass in a controlled, or limited oxygen atmosphere. This yields mostly gas with some ash. Both processes will become quite important over time. The gases from gasification--mostly CO and H2--can be converted to fuels and chemicals via fischer-tropsch synthesis and other chemical synthesis. The gases can also be fermented via micro-organisms to fuels and chemicals. Pyrolysis liquids can be refined to fuels and liquids as well.

The entire article is useful in providing a "pocket resource" for biomass energy. It is worth a full read.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

5 Tonnes Oil per Hectare w/ Jatropha?

Selectively bred Jatropha plants may boost yield from the traditional 1.7 tonnes oil per hectare up to 5 tonnes per hectare. And on marginal lands unfit for growing food!
"From the wild jatropha seed the best you can expected is about 1.7 tonnes of oil per hectare, but because there has been hardly any plant science applied to the plant there is huge potential for improvement," he said. "There is enough genetic material to cross fertilise and selective breed to increase yields."

D1 Oils believes that some of the seeds it is working on could result in yields of 2.7 tonnes per hectare and Prince maintains that yields on a par with palm oil of about five tonnes per hectare could be feasible.

He added that the company's plantations were living up to expectations that jatropha can prove successful on marginal dry land unsuitable for agriculture. "We are encouraging farmers to plant on land not used for food crops such as marginal land or areas used for cash crops such as tobacco," he said. "It does not need to be planted on the high-quality arable land that is used for food crops."

.....The company is now seeking to rapidly scale up its plantation operations in response to soaring demand worldwide for an energy crop that promises to be both more sustainable and cheaper than more established alternatives.

Prince said that jatropha-based biofuel would cost between $800 (£453) and $900 a tonne, compared with about $1,200 for biofuel made from soya or rape seed. "Of all the energy crops being looked at for biodiesel, jatropha definitely looks the most attractive," he said. "The issue is now with supply rather than demand. We are looking to undertake more planting with an initial aim of selling into markets in Africa and Asia where the plantations are. As we scale up, we can look to build up a supply chain to import into Europe, though you need large production levels to start thinking about hiring tankers." _source
Jatropha cannot yield as much oil as palm oil, but it grows in a wider range of climates and soils. It requires much less cultivation and water than palm, as well.

Eventually algal oils will outproduce other sources of bio-oils, except perhaps for pyrolysis "oil." But for now, algal oil costs $20 a gallon to produce, which is not competitive with soy, palm, rape, jatropha, or other current sources of biodiesel.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Learning to Value Refuse

The ethos for dealing with waste has completely changed in recent years, from being a material that presents the problem of how to treat it, to being a resource that has value. _ShorehamHerald
Not long ago, "environmentalists" were wringing their hands from worrying about mountains of disposable diapers in landfills, collapsing around them and smothering them in their sleep. But now, garbage--even plastics--are turning out to be valuable materials, capable of being converted to energy, fuel, chemicals, and other useful products. One approach to the profitable use of waste plastics is gasification.
“It’s complete gasification,” Shea tells Biomass Magazine. “There’s no melting or slagging. The burner takes the granulated plastic, sized in diameter between 2 and 10 millimeters, from a solid to a liquid to a gas immediately in the combustion chamber, Shea explains. “That gas is actually producing the heat we need to transfer into the boiler system.” During the gasification of the granulated waste plastic, temperatures are so high—1,850 degrees Fahrenheit—the studies indicate emissions profiles cleaner than that of natural gas. “It’s amazing,” Shea says. “I’ve run this machine for years—demos and such—and you could stand right next to it and there’s nothing coming out of that barrel but a flame and heat.”

...While interest in combusting and gasifying plastic appears to be growing, there is another route to making practical use of all the waste plastics modern society produces. Through what it calls catalytic pyrolysis, Polymer Energy LLC, a division of Northern Technologies International Corp., has developed a system to convert waste plastics into liquid hydrocarbons, coke and gas, which can then be used as boiler fuel for power generation. “The technology uses lower temperatures than gasification—significantly lower—so it’s more energy efficient to produce,” says Kathy Radosevich, business development manager with Polymer Energy. Through “random depolymerization,” or selective breaking of carbon-to-carbon bonds, in addition to feeding in proprietary catalytic additives, the reactor melts and vaporizes waste plastic in one step at temperatures between 840 and 1,020 degrees F. The company reports that, on average, 78 percent of every pound of plastic fed into the Polymer Energy system is converted to liquid hydrocarbons, coke and gas. The resultant coke can be further processed to produce additional fuel oil.

Polymer Energy’s catalytic pyrolysis system processes polyolefins like polyethylene and polypropylene with up to 5 percent other plastic materials, plus up to 25 percent additional nonplastic waste, such as paper, glass, sand and water—making it ideal for processing municipal wastes. _biomassmag
Exxon has looked into various methods of small to medium scale gasification of biomass, coal, shale etc. with various collaborating companies--most recently Pratt and Whitney. Bioenergy and energy from waste are receiving a lot of attention from huge multinational oil companies, chemical companies, automobile companies, airlines, forestry and paper industry companies, most governments of developed and emerging countries, and a large range of entrepreneurs and startups.

More members of the public, who have been largely oblivious to bioenergy as a steadily growing replacement for fossil fuels, are waking up to the nascent bioenergies industry with the potential to become a worldwide giant source of energy.

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