Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Microbial Energy: Waiting for Q?

Massachusetts company Qteros has patented the Q Microbe System, based upon the "Q organism" (Clostridium phytofermentans). This anaerobic organism is capable of hydrolysing cellulose AND fermenting the resulting simple sugars into alcohol -- in one step. If Qteros can achieve high yields with the Q Microbe System, they should have a leg up on competitors.
Specific advantages of this patented technology include, the natural production of all enzymes required to digest biomass into its component sugars, the ability to ferment polymeric forms of sugar resulting in decreased pretreatment costs and more efficient ethanol production, the highly efficient fermentation of all major sugars present in biomass, and the production of ethanol as the primary product of the microorganism’s metabolism.

Qteros’ CBP system not only enables the production of fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol in a uniquely streamlined production process, it also results in higher ethanol yields from a given amount of biomass material compared to other methods. To date, the Q Microbe™ has performed efficiently across a broad range of feedstocks that include, wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, energy crops such as switchgrass, and agricultural residues such as corn stover, cob, and fibre.

All of these advantages improve the economics of ethanol production by reducing capital and operating costs, making this microorganism ideally suited for large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol from a wide variety of non-food plant materials.

Additionally, Qteros scientists and engineers continue to improve the performance of the microorganism through genetic modification and process optimization. _Bioenergy

In other microbial energy news: Multiple reasons why we are unlikely to see price-competitive algal fuels much before 2020.

Algal fuels companies are not suffering from a lack of investment or a shortage of intelligent and creative researchers. What they may be suffering from is a lack of coherent vision. The enterprise is definitely suffering from at least one faulty premise: the idea that reducing carbon dioxide output is a top justification for development of microbial fuels.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Genetic Tweaking of Microbes Boosts Oil Production

Microbes ooze oil for renewable energy from Biodesign Institute on Vimeo.

Cyanobacteria species Synechocystis is getting a genetic makeover. The bacteria has learned to release its oil without dying -- which may boost oil production significantly.
The researchers had earlier modified these microbes to self-destruct and release their lipid contents. In the group’s latest effort however, the energy-rich fatty acids were extracted without killing the cells in the process. Lead author Xinyao Liu hypothesized that if cyanobacteria could overproduce fatty acids, the accumulation within the cells would eventually cause these fatty acids to leak out through the cell membrane. To accomplish this, Liu introduced genes for the expression of the enzyme thioesterase into the cyanobacteria.

Thioesterase clips the bonds associating the fatty acids with more complex molecules. This use of modified thioesterases to cause secretion of fatty acids was first described for Escherichia coli by John Cronan of the University of Illinois more than a decade ago.

A second series of modifications enhances the secretion process, by genetically deleting or modifying two key layers of the cellular envelop—the S and peptidoglycan layers—allowing fatty acids to more easily escape outside the cell, where their low water solubility causes them to precipitate out of solution, forming a whitish residue on the surface. Study results showed a 3-fold increase in fatty acid yield, after genetic modification of the two membrane layers.

To improve the fatty acid production even further, the group added genes to cause overproduction of fatty acid precursors and removed some cellular pathways that were non-essential to the survival of cyanobacteria. Such modifications ensure that the microbe’s resources are devoted to basic survival and lipid production.

Liu et al. made five successive generations of genetic modifications into the photosynthetic microbe. The mutant strains were able to overproduce fatty acids and secrete them into the medium at an efficiency of up to 133 ± 12 mg/L of culture per day at a cell density of 1.5 × 108 cells/mL (0.23 g of dry weight/liter). _GCC

In other bioenergy news, Michigan State University researchers have concluded that corn stover is the most profitable cellulosic biomass crop in the US. This would be true for the same reasons that sugar cane bagasse would be the most profitable cellulosic biomass crop in Brazil and the tropics. Because it is already there.

Tobacco is increasingly being seen as a potentially profitable crop for bio-oils, bio-sugars, and bio-mass.

A look at biomass feedstocks, and the effect of genetic modification.

It is impossible to adequately cover all the work that is being done worldwide in the development of bioenergy. But it is highly likely that within 10 years, bioenergy will begin to make a strong impression on energy markets. It is quite possible that the positive benefits of biomass bioenergy will help the local and regional economies before they begin to rock the global energy economy.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Governments That Subsidise Wind Turbines Should Be.....

....removed from power.  Here is why:
With an oversupply of wind turbines, why are governments subsidizing new manufacturing plants?

In recent years, China has ramped up its efforts to become a world leader in manufacturing and installation of wind turbines.

But the other side of the story is that China has also idled 40 percent of its industrial wind turbine manufacturing capacity as a result of oversupply and plummeting prices.

In Europe, the world’s largest turbine manufacturer, Vestas, announced a bond issue of 600 million euros ($807 million). This is the first bond issue in the company’s history and it was due to slow growth.

Even with an oversupply of manufacturing capacity, and falling prices for wind turbines, taxpayer-funded investment in wind turbine manufacturing by foreign companies in North America has been moving ahead with great fanfare.

In Canada, Ontario signed a $7 billion dollar deal with South Korea’s Samsung to manufacture industrial wind turbines and develop wind energy projects in the province — creating 4,000 jobs.

A Chinese and American business consortium announced plans to develop 1,000 jobs with the support of $450 million in taxpayer stimulus funds as part of recovery spending.

Vestas took the unusual step of announcing that it would consider building a manufacturing facility to build turbines for Ontario Trillium Power – a wind farm proponent without the necessary approvals to install turbines, or sell power into the grid.

Last year Vestas cited an oversupply of industrial wind turbines as justification for laying off 1,900 European wind turbine-manufacturing workers.

China idling 40 percent of their wind turbine manufacturing capacity demonstrates the oversupply is severely impacting even the most competitive manufacturing market in the world.

...North American jurisdictions seeking “green” manufacturing jobs are selling the idea to voters as a means of developing a green manufacturing sector as part of an economic recovery.

The reality, as evidenced around the world, is that these jobs aren’t permanent and could not exist without extensive ongoing government subsidization and therefore involvement in the business decisions of this industry.

Until the industry addresses the oversupply and governments address ever growing subsidization rates, real turbine prices will continue to fall, oversupply will continue to grow and subsidization rates will move this industry even further from market principles other sectors follow.

The impact will be felt by jurisdictions that have embraced and financially supported the technology.

They will surely feel the pressure higher electricity prices place on traditional manufacturing sectors, and the eventual loss of these temporary jobs when the wind turbine manufacturer pulls out.

There are too many reasons why big wind power cannot compete with nuclear or coal to provide the backbone of electric power. View this presentation if you are not up to speed. Check out this PDF report if you need yet more convincing.

Still we continue to see enthusiastic zealots in government service using taxpayer money (and borrowed money) to subsidise the building and installation of large numbers of hugely expensive and unreliable -- downright destructive in fact -- giant wind turbines. Someone is making a lot of money on this high level government scam, but it is not the typical taxpayer or electric power rate payer.

Governments that subsidise the building and installation of large numbers of huge wind turbines should be removed from office. Further penalties should then be administered to guilty individuals on a case by case basis. There will be a reckoning.


Gasification and Pyrolysis: Hot and Getting Hotter

Uhde's PRENFLO highly efficient gasification process is illustrated above. It will be utilised for the French Bio T fuel project. The gasifier operates above 2,000 degrees C and above 40 bar pressure (580 psi).
The PRENFLO Direct Quench (PDQ) process is an optimized design of Uhde’s PRENFLO PSG gasification process (steam generation) for chemical applications (e.g. ammonia, methanol, hydrogen, synthetic fuel) and IGCC plants with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), where hydrogen-rich syngases are required. It combines the technologically advanced dry feed system, multiple burners and membrane wall of the PRENFLO PSG process with a proprietary water quench system which saturates the raw syngas with water for subsequent gas treatment.

Capital-intensive systems, such as the waste heat boiler system, the dry fly ash removal system and the quench gas compressor, are therefore no longer required.

The PRENFLO PDQ gasifier operates at pressures of 40 bar (4 MPa, 580 psi) and higher and at temperatures above 2,000 °C. Gas temperature at the outlet of the gasifier/quench is 200-250 °C. Carbon conversion is greater than 99%, and typical composition of the raw syngas is more than 85 vol.% CO + H2, 6-8 vol.% CO2 and less than 0.1 vol.% CH4.

The PRENFLO PDQ process was selected for its suitability in processing a variety of feedstocks and in generating hydrogen-rich synthesis gases, such as for Fischer-Tropsch synthesis applications, by which diesel and kerosene can be produced. _GCC

On the pyrolysis front, a startup from U Mass, Amherst, Anellotech, aims to convert biomass into 5 hydrocarbon components of gasoline -- using "catalytic pyrolysis."
Anellotech's reactors perform a process called "catalytic pyrolysis," which converts three of the structural molecules found in plants--two forms of cellulose and the woody molecule lignin--into fuels. Ground-up biomass is fed into a high-temperature reactor and blended with a catalyst. The heat causes the cellulose, lignin, and other molecules in the biomass to chemically decompose through a process called pyrolysis; a catalyst helps control the chemical reactions, turning cellulose and lignin into a mix of carbon-ring-based molecules: benzene, toluene, and xylenes.

...Pyrolysis is also different from gasification, another process for using whole biomass. Gasification results in a mixture of carbon and hydrogen called syngas, which can then be used to make fuel. Pyrolysis, by contrast, turns biomass into liquid fuels in a single step. And while gasification can only be done economically at a very large scale, says Regalbuto, catalytic pyrolysis could be done at smaller refineries distributed near the supply of biomass. _TechnologyReview

It is the one-step promise of catalytic pyrolysis which may lead to an economic advantage for pyrolysis-based biomass-to-liquids processes over gasification.

In gasification, biomass is exposed to high heat, high pressure, and limited oxygen. The result is "syngas": a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and traces of larger hydrocarbons. This gas can then be refined to liquid fuels in a separate catalytic process.

Pyrolysis processes generally involve lower heat, less pressure, and no oxygen. The result is a liquid that can be refined to fuel, plus a solid carbon "biochar" (useful as a soil treatment) , and a small amount of gas. Again, in U Mass spinoff Anellotech's approach, the catalytic refining is combined with the pyrolytic transformation in "one step."

So there you have it: gasification vs. pyrolysis. Both are vying to be the first BTL approach to hit the big time. There will be plenty of biomass available for both or either, depending upon how the race ends.

Realistically: As long as cheap coal and cheap gas is available, either fossil fuel can be converted to liquid fuels more economically than biomass. Government mandates, tax breaks, and other incentives and regulations will have a lot to do with the near and intermediate term feedstocks for pyrolysis and gasification processes.

The advantage of BTL over CTL and GTL, is that you can grow biomass anywhere on Earth. Rich deposits of fossil fuels are not readily available everywhere on Earth. That fact may affect the pattern of BTL adoption across the third world.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jive Castles In the Air

President Obama promises to save us from carbon climate doom, using the wind. Should you trust this man's promises?
A recent detailed analysis (focusing mainly on Spain) finds that for every job created by state-funded support of renewables, particularly wind energy, 2.2 jobs are lost. Each wind industry job created cost almost $2-million in subsidies. _FP
Of course Mr. Obama may feel that with the aid of the mighty printing press, he can create as much cash for subsidised green jobs as he wishes.

In an earlier Al Fin post, I alluded to the high cost of maintenance for wind turbines. We are not supposed to notice or talk about such things as maintenance -- even though such mundane matters are often the ruin of great and ambitious undertakings. But wind turbines are expensive, precision made machines that are exposed to the elements, and subject to prolonged and violent motion. They break down -- expensively and often.
The wind energy industry has experienced high gearbox failure rates from its inception [1]. Early wind turbine designs were fraught with fundamental gearbox design errors compounded by consistent under-estimation of the operating loads. The industry has learned from these problems over the past two decades with wind turbine manufacturers, gear designers, bearing manufacturers, consultants, and lubrication engineers all working together to improve load prediction, design, fabrication, and operation. This collaboration has resulted in internationally recognized gearbox wind turbine design standards [2]. Despite reasonable adherence to these accepted design practices, wind turbine gearboxes have yet to achieve their design life goals of twenty years, with most systems requiring significant repair or overhaul well before the intended life is reached [3,4,5]. Since gearboxes are one of the most expensive components of the wind turbine system, the higherthan-
expected failure rates are adding to the cost of wind energy. In addition, the future uncertainty of gearbox life expectancy is contributing to wind turbine price escalation. Turbine manufacturers add large contingencies to the sales price to cover the warranty risk due to the possibility of premature gearbox failures. In addition, owners and operators build contingency funds into the project financing and income expectations for problems that may show up after the warranty expires. PDF
Gearboxes for large turbines will cost many millions of dollars to replace. And think of all the downtime for all those turbines sitting out in the weather, waiting to be restored to action.
The multiple wheels and bearings in a wind turbine gearbox suffer tremendous stress because of wind turbulence, and a small defect in any one component can bring the turbine to a halt. This makes the gearbox the most high-maintenance part of a turbine. Gearboxes in offshore turbines, which face higher wind speeds, are even more vulnerable than those in onshore turbines. _TechReview
Part of the problem is the constant need for expensive human labour and upkeep -- an expense which many operators of wind farms are reluctant to undergo.
Many wind farm operations and maintenance teams are so resource constrained that they are barely able to keep up with unscheduled maintenance repairs. Even regularly scheduled preventative maintenance such as gearbox lubrication and oil changes are falling behind. It has also been reported that some wind farm operators do not want third-party companies to do the work for them as they want to keep control of the maintenance.

Gearbox failures account for the largest amount of downtime, maintenance and loss of power production for wind farm operators. Failures can total between 15%-20% of the price of the turbine itself. _GearboxMaintenance
Living anywhere within 5 miles of a wind farm can be an unbearable torture as well as a hazard to life and property when blades break and go flying.

These huge wind turbine behemoths are exquisitely susceptible to metal fatigue and mechanical failure. Placed out in wind, rain, ice, and sun, these expensive space-age materials begin to break down the moment they are put in place.

It is not uncommon to pass by a large wind farm on a windy day and see only a relatively small number of turbines actually driven by the wind. In fact, wind energy has become more symbol than substance. Both Warren Buffet and Boone Pickens understand that the tax breaks and other government incentives alone are enough to justify a quick investment in big wind -- whether or not these giant hunks of steel ever produce meaningful power for electrical customers.

Take several minutes to look over this slideshare presentation on wind energy facts. Then ask yourself whether it is worthwhile to build Obama's jive castles in the air, knowing what you know.

Cross-posted to Al Fin


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Advanced Materials for Safer Nuclear Reactor Vessels

The sciences of materials and nanotechnology are growing more useful and powerful. Scientists at Los Alamos have discovered a molecular mechanism that could create self-healing nanocrystalline materials for incorporating into nuclear reactor vessels, for better safety and longer life.
In a paper appearing March 26 in the journal Science, Los Alamos researchers report a surprising mechanism that allows nanocrystalline materials to heal themselves after suffering radiation-induced damage. Nanocrystalline materials are those created from nanosized particles, in this case copper particles. A single nanosized particle -- called a grain -- is the size of a virus or even smaller. Nanocrystalline materials consist of a mixture of grains and the interface between those grains, called grain boundaries.

When designing nuclear reactors or the materials that go into them, one of the key challenges is finding materials that can withstand an outrageously extreme environment. In addition to constant bombardment by radiation, reactor materials may be subjected to extremes in temperature, physical stress, and corrosive conditions. Exposure to high radiation alone produces significant damage at the nanoscale.

Radiation can cause individual atoms or groups of atoms to be jarred out of place. Each vagrant atom becomes known as an interstitial. The empty space left behind by the displaced atom is known as a vacancy. Consequently, every interstitial created also creates one vacancy. As these defects -- the interstitials and vacancies -- build up over time in a material, effects such as swelling, hardening or embrittlement can manifest in the material and lead to catastrophic failure.

Therefore, designing materials that can withstand radiation-induced damage is very important for improving the reliability, safety and lifespan of nuclear energy systems. Because nanocrystalline materials contain a large fraction of grain boundaries -- which are thought to act as sinks that absorb and remove defects -- scientists have expected that these materials should be more radiation tolerant than their larger-grain counterparts. Nevertheless, the ability to predict the performance of nanocrystalline materials in extreme environments has been severely lacking because specific details of what occurs within solids are very complex and difficult to visualize.

Recent computer simulations by the Los Alamos researchers help explain some of those details.

In the Science paper, the researchers describe the never-before-observed phenomenon of a "loading-unloading" effect at grain boundaries in nanocrystalline materials. This loading-unloading effect allows for effective self-healing of radiation-induced defects. Using three different computer simulation methods, the researchers looked at the interaction between defects and grain boundaries on time scales ranging from picoseconds to microseconds (one-trillionth of a second to one-millionth of a second). _SD

Both nuclear fission and nuclear fusion create extreme local environments that cause ordinary modern materials to break down. But nuclear reactors placed inside extreme remote outposts, onboard spacecraft, or powering distant space colonies, will all need to be much sturdier and longer lived than conventional reactors of today.

Advances in nano- and materials sciences are bringing about an age of "metamaterials", unlike anything we have seen before in terms of properties and capabilities.


Biofuels to Green Chemicals: Seeking Sustainable Profit

The technology is pretty straightforward. LS9 uses any sugar source (though initially it will use sugar cane due to the favorable economics and logistics of sugarcane compared to cellulosic sugars) and feeds genetically modified E. coli bacteria (the same kind found in our guts that helps digest sugars into energy) a combination of sugar, nutrients, methanol, and enzymes in a low-heat environment _Greentechmedia

LS9 is the south San Francisco bioenergy company that produces ASTM quality diesel from E. Coli. The company has made some progress in 2010 already that is worth looking at.

1. It closed a $25 million equity round with investor Chevron Ventures

2. It signed a memorandum of understanding with Proctor & Gamble to produce green surfactant chemicals

3. In February LS9 purchased a 10 acre demo production plant in Florida that is capable of producing  50,000 to 100,000 gallons of diesel (a year?) for a mere $2 million in a bankruptcy sale

4.  The demo plant is due to be up and running by mid 2010, and the company will be working to try to convert the plant to commercial scale by 2011, if feasible.

5.  There is a possibility that the company can scale up to a production of 10 to 12 million gallons of diesel per year by 2012, tentatively.

Source _ Greentechmedia

In summary, LS9 is hoping to reach commercial production levels within 2 years -- about 8 years sooner than Al Fin predicts that microbial fuels will begin to make an impact on energy markets.  Can  they do it?

LS9 is only one of dozens of well financed microbial fuels companies, racing to supply global fuel markets with commercial micro-biofuels.

LS9's foray into "green chemicals" may actually bring it its first real profits.  In fact, the green chemistry arena is receiving considerable interest and investment.
Genomatica, a company that scuttled biofuel ambitions in favor of full-time chemical production, has just raised $15 million in a third round of funding (PDF) to make the industrial chemical business at large more sustainable. It says this financing should be enough to build its own demonstration plant before breaking into full-scale commercial production.

Much like LS9, Synthetic Genomics, and Codexis — companies pursuing biofuel strategies in addition to chemicals — Genomatica’s core business is the microbe it engineered to convert sustainable feedstocks (corn, switchgrass, sugar cane, biomass) into fuels and chemicals. The company, which uses sugar as its primary feedstock, says its strain of e.coli has reached a level of efficiency and speed that makes production of green products cost competitive with petroleum.

Genomatica’s number one product, 1,4-butanediol (BDO), is incredibly versatile — a key ingredient in durable polymers used in clothing, cars and electronics, as well as solvents. The global BDO market, which hit 1.25 million tons last year, represents a $4 billion opportunity, the company says. Until now, all of this BDO has been produced using petroleum. It’s a ripe area for change. _GreenVentureBeat

The name of the game in business is making a profit. It you find that your first product is taking longer to get to market than you thought, try to find another product that you can get up and running sooner -- perhaps even at a greater profit than your first idea.

The Obama Pelosi regime is making the US a bad place to start a new business -- or to keep a pre-existing business running and employing people. Unless US voters start to wake up very soon, expect more of the "enterprises of the future" to begin sprouting up overseas.

Previously published at Al Fin

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Friday, March 26, 2010

$80 Barrel Oil Price Drives Oil Discovery, Production

Update March 31: More evidence here and here that large oil producers have been holding back on production until they were certain that oil prices would stay above $70 a barrel. As long as oil remains close to $80 a barrel, large OPEC and non-OPEC producers can justify the expense of new exploration and production.

Big new oil and gas discoveries by US and Mexico in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are sparking increases in national oil production for the first time in years.

New discoveries across Africa combined with $80 oil is drawing more foreign producers, including more Chinese producers.

Even countries not known for their oil, such as India and Colombia, are finding new oil thanks to new discovery efforts. In fact, Colombia may overtake its unruly neighbor Venezuela in oil production within 10 years.

New Iraqi reserves and production threaten to drop a glut of oil supply on the global markets. And Iraq has just gotten started.

Brazil is bursting with offshore oil, creating many of the internal problems that oil-rich states are famous for.

Canada is rapidly becoming one of the world's richest hydrocarbon producers, and is making new oil discoveries all the time.

Much of the new oil will cost more to produce, perhaps placing a floor of $60 a barrel under such new production. But only a total idiot expects technology to sit still while there is money to be made. Such price floors will be tested and eventually broken.

The real threat to oil supplies is political -- as in Obama Pelosi reich energy starvation. Having succeeded in beginning to break down the advanced US biomedical industry, the Obama Pelosi reich will eventually get around to every aspect of the US economy. Energy starvation has always been a long term goal of the O P reich. EPA policies declaring CO2 a dangerous pollutant are merely the bare tip of the spearhead of the OP thrust to starving US industries of fuel.

The future of advanced western technologies that could lead to a "singularity" or to "the next level" all depend upon the capacity to bridge the inevitable geopolitical turbulence that is coming. If the western nations lack the "depth" to sustain the losses that rapid and violent change is bringing to the world, they will be lost to the future. It is not a game that can be reset and started over.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bioenergy News

A Marketwatch look at algal fuels projects expanding into commercial scale

Biomass sugars to gasoline production plant in Madison, Wisconsin, from Shell and Virent

The six biofuels processes pursued by the National Advanced Biofuel Consortium

Saving the world with biomass biofuels

A route to $0.50 a gallon hydrocarbon fuels via a French invention

Scottish advances in synthetic biology could lead to new approaches to microbial bioenergy

Genetic engineering, synthetic biology, microbial tweaking, and catalytic and process breakthroughs all hold enormous process for accelerating production of significant quantities of sustainable bioenergy and biofuels.

But even without dramatic breakthroughs, the incremental improvement of biofuels processes will lead to a slow, steady replacement of fossil fuels by bioenergy. This ongoing replacement will not go unnoticed by energy traders and analysts -- particularly once the mass of biofuels advances beyond the ethanol stage.


Big Investments in Algae Ongoing

The prospects for economically viable production of fuels, foods, animal feeds, drugs, cosmetics, plastics, etc. from algae appear to be quite good, long-term. Short term, expect a lot more investment cash to be directed toward algal research. Medium term -- within ten years -- expect some commercial startups that begin to make an impact.

For years, ExxonMobil has resisted investing in any form of renewable energy, its chairman famously comparing ethanol to moonshine. ExxonMobil chose algae as its feedstock due to its potential ability to achieve the scale needed to have a major impact in the transportation fuels market. “We literally looked at every option we could think of, with several key parameters in mind,” Jacobs said in the same interview. “Scale was the first. For transportation fuels, if you can’t see whether you can scale a technology up, then you have to question whether you need to be involved at all.”

Valero Energy Corp. has invested in the recent $16 million financing for Colorado’s Solix Biofuels. Valero says it is “one initiative of many that we’re exploring.” Other biofuels initiatives include acquiring 10 corn ethanol facilities in an effort to own the production of the ethanol it is required to blend with its gasoline. Investing in an algae-to-fuels company gives Valero another option to meet any renewable fuels requirements, reduce exposure to possible carbon costs, and serve as a possible hedge against dwindling oil supplies.

British Petroleum and Martek Biosciences Corp. signed a joint development agreement to work on producing microbial oils for biofuels applications. “As an alternative to conventional vegetable oils, we believe sugar-to-diesel technology has the potential to deliver economic, sustainable and scaleable biodiesel supplies,” says Philip New, CEO BP Biofuels. BP has agreed to contribute up to $10 million to this initial phase of the collaboration.

Boeing has been heavily involved in algae related research and development, including participating in test flights for commercial aviation fueled in part by algae biofuels. Boeing was one of the founders of the ABO, seeing the vision for algal biomass as a long-term feedstock for jet fuel and knowing that it needed to be heavily involved in the development of this new industry.

UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell, has been participating as a key processing partner for many of the largest algae companies and projects. UOP has been involved in most of the test flights for commercial and military aviation and is a participant in both of the recent U.S. DOE algae consortium awards.

Algenol Biofuels, whose algae excrete ethanol, is working with Dow Chemical to build a demonstration plant to produce up to 100,000 gallons of ethanol per year. Dow is interested in Algenol in order to use the ethanol as an ingredient for plastics to replace the use of natural gas. Algenol also has an agreement with Sonora Fields of Mexico to build an $850 million project that will deliver 1 billion gallons of ethanol for transportation fuel use per year.

Food, Feed and the Environment

Mars Symbioscience Inc. is focused on a variety of technologies related to human and animal nutrition and health, as well as environmental initiatives related to maintaining clean water and air. Its interest in algae relates to potential uses in animal nutrition, nutraceuticals and for its ability to remove carbon, phosphorous and other nutrients from contaminated water.

Cargill Inc., one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, has worked with a number of algae enterprises, including UOP, Sandia Labs, Arizona State University, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. At a 2006 Cleantech panel, Luca Zullo, then director of bioenergy at Cargill, said that algae could help address “the 500-pound gorilla of the biofuel industry”— the moral and national security implications of developing crops for fuel, versus food. “I think we fundamentally need to look for feedstocks that can help with this issue, feedstocks that use underutilized water and underutilized land.” While Cargill has given no signs that it will enter the algae biofuels business, it seems apparent that its capabilities in logistics, commodities, energy marketing and worldwide reach mean that Cargill could be a significant player.

An example of focusing on underutilized water for algae projects is the Metropolitan Council in St. Paul, Minn., pilot project for growing algae in a wastewater treatment plant. The project is intended to test whether the system can remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater while growing algae suitable for biofuels production. Municipal wastewater treatment plants offer a promising option for algae companies as there is a ready supply of nutrients, carbon, heat and water. Algae could also help address increasingly stringent environmental regulations regarding phosphorous and nitrogen removal, saving the council significant money in the future.

Utilities are also investigating using algae for carbon capture. Great River Energy, a Midwest-based utility, has teamed with Minnesota’s Ever Cat Fuels LLC to open a pilot plant at a coal-fired power plant in western North Dakota to test how algae can be used to capture carbon and then process the algae into biodiesel using Ever Cat’s processing technology. Algae have also crossed over into the ethanol industry. Green Plains Renewable Energy, a Nebraska-based multi-plant ethanol company has teamed with BioProcessH2O, to build two pilot algae carbon capture plants to capture fermentation CO2. A number of companies have also investigated whether algae could be used as a supplementary feedstock for corn in fermentation-based ethanol production. _BBI

Anyone who still thinks that bioenergy is equivalent to moonshine is probably drunk on the past, oblivious to the present, and lost to the future.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nuclear News

News update of the Bill Gates - Toshiba collaboration to create "traveling wave" nuclear reactors (via Brian Wang).

Broad updated overview of the state of fusion energy from Cosmic Log (via Brian Wang)

The Chinese are experimenting with nuclear fuel re-use utilising a Candu reactor

South Korean nuclear reactor companies aim to take their business to global markets

As different approaches to re-using nuclear fuel are perfected, it will become clear that there is no shortage of fuels for nuclear energy. Particularly as thorium reactors are added to the mix. Several approaches to the conversion of final nuclear wastes to harmless products are also being developed and improved. Final nuclear wastes are those wastes that can no longer be used for productive purposes. They can be transmuted to harmless substances using neutron sources of various kinds.

Even with hundreds of thousands of years worth of fuel to power fission reactors, fission is best regarded as a "bridge energy process" to get us to clean sustainable fusion. And thinking long-term, fusion itself will be seen as a bridge energy process to get us to the better energy sources that wait just beyond our current competence.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Energy Miscellany

Brian Wang provides new information from Blacklight Power on its mysterious Continuous Power Generator. Blacklight Power's approach is the closest thing to science fiction to be funded at high levels.

Brian also presents recent information onCold Fusion and new speculation about the IEC Bussard Fusion approach.

Brian Westenhaus looks at a promising French approach to creating liquid fuels from biomass waste using plasmas (more on this from GCC). He also takes a look at a new acellular approach to artificial photosynthesis.

From his new desk at Consumer Energy Report, Robert Rapier presents a broad overview of his positions on energy issues.

Finally, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu advocates for small modular nuclear reactors from the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

The long range outlook for abundant, clean energy is very good. But we must be careful not to shut down our best options for near term and intermediate term energy while we are star-gazing into the future.

Delusions of doom -- catastrophic anthropogenic global warming doom, peak oil doom, overpopulation doom, resource depletion doom, and so on -- can lead us down a dead end path from which there is no route to that abundant, clean energy future we dream of.

Europe's demographic fate is set, downward to diminishing numbers of smart young Europeans, downward to ever greater dependency upon central governments and lesser self-sufficiency. It makes sense for Europe to cling to various dooms as excuses for the unwillingness to face the hard choices.

North America and Oceania do not have to follow that downward path.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Tall Native Prairie Grasses Give Good Alcohol Yields

North America is rich with open land which is neither forest nor farmland. Native grasses and other plants grow wild and lush on such lands. This growth represents a potential harvest of cellulosic ethanol crops, without any potential for affecting food yields, depleting forests, or adversely affecting soil quality.
Now a study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists indicates that plant species diversity and composition are key factors in potential energy yield per acre from biomass harvested from CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land.

...CRP grasslands with the highest number of species had the lowest potential ethanol yields per acre. But sites dominated by a small number of native tall prairie grass species, such as switchgrass, big bluestem, and indiangrass, had the highest yields.

...This extensive study also shows that CRP lands in the northeastern United States with a high proportion of tall native prairie grasses have the potential to produce more than 600 gallons of ethanol per acre. This energy can be produced while maintaining the ecological benefits of CRP grasslands. _Bioenergy

The interspersing of other native crops along with native prairie grasses can have added benefits for the soil and for biofuels yields. Take the native Cup plant, for example:
Cup plant is likely to increase biodiversity in a plant community because it attracts a variety of insects and even birds. Goldfinches drink out of the leaves, and the stems provide perch areas for grassland birds.

...Perennial grasses will always be the base for biomass production, but cup plant is a complementary species, scientists say. Increasing number of species in the mix reduces probability of plant disease and insect pests attacking one species and causing large losses in yield. _SD
Monocultures tend to attract pests which specialise in the infestation of that one particular crop. Multiple plants growing synergistically together are less prone to that problem, and will be less likely to require insecticides, herbicides, and other expensive supplementals.

The same consideration applies for cultures of microbial species, of course. Synergistic multi-species cultures of microbes are almost certain to become the long term approach to microbial energy industries. But it will take some time for the old mono-culture school of biology and agriculture to die off.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Much of a Scam is Big Wind Energy?

From the viewpoint of power grid managers, constantly maintaining the delicate balance between power supply and power demand, the unpredictability of big wind energy is the equivalent of sabotage.  In fact, it would be easier to deal with an eco-terrorist dynamiting a high voltage tower, than to deal with the violent fluctuations of power output from large scale wind. (Source PDF)
In America, some wind-farms are now being built solely for tax credits, and to fill renewable energy portfolios.  
Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy project calculates that it can break even after six years, without ever producing any electricity. And Boone Pickens is offering his investors a 25% return on a 4000 MW wind-farm based entirely on federal tax credits.
Energy Facts PDF

The video below illustrates the wind industry's huge dependency on fossil fuels, every step of the way.

And I am not mentioning one of the worst facts of all:  the massively expensive machines are constantly breaking down -- requiring expensive repairs amounting to millions of dollars, every few years, for each giant turbine.

For much more information, consult this slideshare presentation on Wind Energy Facts


Russian Company Akme: Backyard Reactor by 2019

New Russian startup Akme (atomic complex for small and medium energy) aims to produce nuclear power reactors small enough to fit in "an American backyard" by 2019. According to the New York Times:
The Russian company, Akme, is an acronym for atomic complex for small and medium energy and sometimes renders its name in English as Acme.

Akme’s goal is to produce a prototype of a 100-megawatt nuclear reactor small enough to fit into a typical American backyard by 2019.

The company was founded in December as a joint venture of Rosatom, the state nuclear power corporation, and a private electricity company owned by the Kremlin-connected oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska. It has $500 million in start-up capital.

A minireactor will likely cost about $100 million.

The design Akme chose is peculiar because it is cooled with a molten lead alloy, not water. In fact, the Soviet Union was the only nation to deploy liquid metal reactors at sea. Introduced in the 1970s, they packed enough power to propel submarines more than 45 miles per hour underwater. In fact, they were so powerful they compelled NATO to design an entirely new class of torpedo. _NYT

Russia's safety record when it comes to nuclear reactors is less than attractive. But if Akme can produce its molten lead-cooled reactors cheaply enough to allow expanded electrical power use inside countries of third world Asia and Africa, it may spur western regulatory agencies to speed up appraisal and approval of designs by companies such as B&W, Westinghouse, General Atomics, and other companies with established safety records.

More from an earlier announcement of Akme's SVBR-100:
The name SVBR-100 comes from the Russian 'Svintsovo-Vismutovyi Bystryi Reaktor' which means 'lead-bismuth fast reactor' and the electric generating capacity, 100 MWe.

It uses chemically inert heavy liquid metal coolant in a primary circuit entirely integrated into the reactor pressure vessel. The coolant increases from 345 °C to 495 °C on passage through the reactor core and this heat is transferred to a secondary circuit and used to drive a steam turbine. From a gross thermal power of 280 MWt the net output would be 100 MWe, although smaller models are also on the drawing board and the original submarine version produced 155 MWt.

The reactor unit would be factory assembled and shipped to site for installation inside a tank of water that would provide passive heat removal and radiation shielding. Uranium oxide enriched to 16.5% uranium-235 would be one fuelling option. Reloads would only be carried out every seven to eight years.


Significant New Oil Announcements Continue

The world's supply of oil is several multiples of so-called "proved reserves." It is sometimes in the interests of oil-producing nations and corporations to hold reliable information about likely reserves confidential. Peak oil enthusiasts interpret such prudent secrecy as evidence of a conspiracy to hide the reality of "imminent oil shortages and economic doom." Such an interpretation is indeed one way to judge corporate and national secrecy on this topic, although not the most rational. Just as households do not advertise detailed accounts of the amount of cash, precious jewels, or silver and gold bullion being kept inside a home, ever-vulnerable nations and corporations whose assets are subject to nationalisation prefer to keep rather mum regarding the exact levels of retrievable oil wealth in their fields.
Exxon (NYSE: XOM), Shell (NYSE: RDS) and BP PLC (NYSE: BP) finalized contracts with the Iraqi government to start bringing oil to market from Iraq's massive Rumaila oil fields - the world's third largest. The deal is worth a total of nearly $5 billion per year for these three companies alone.
Then on March 11 (last Thursday), British oil giant BP completed a deal that will give the company access to some of Brazil's massive offshore oil fields. These fields were discovered in 2007, and represent some 5 billion to 8 billion barrels of oil. That’s a boatload of oil. In fact, it's the biggest oil discovery in the western hemisphere since 1976. And combined with the growth in Colombia’s oil industry over the last decade, the Brazilian oil fields help to solidify Latin America as a major global player for the indefinite future.
And then just this morning, Shell announced another significant offshore oil find in the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico. It's in deep water - over 7,000 feet below the surface. Exact estimates are still forthcoming, but Shell calls it an "excellent reservoir."
These stories flew under the radar - but they're big news in an industry that's best known for being slow-moving. For instance, Exxon typically only makes big deals once a decade. But this past year has been different. They bought XTO Energy (NYSE: XTO) earlier this year for $31 billion. It was Exxon’s biggest merger since the company bought Mobil Corporation back in 1999 for $75 billion. Source
The problem is not peak oil doom. The problem is the dieoff leftist green philosophy which has taken control of governments in Europe, North America, Australia, the United Nations, and large global financial institutions and NGOs. By attempting to engineer a "no-growth" policy, these politicians and bureaucrats are creating an energy-starvation suicide of the west.

Peak oil doom, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming doom, overpopulation doom, resource depletion doom, and all the other dooms of the dieoff left, are just convenient fictions used to dupe celebrities, politicians, academics, journalists, and other pseudo-intellectuals. Leftist green want to herd everyone onto the Titanic, making sure all lifeboats have been sabotaged and made unseaworthy.

It may be time for you to make alternative plans of your own devising.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Why Do Oil Prices Go Up?

Over the past decade or two, oil prices have experienced a whip-saw of fluctuations. It is instructive to look at some of the underlying causes and non-causes for oil price whiplash.
In late 2008, equity and commodity prices crashed. Oil prices fell from $147 per barrel to a low of $32 per barrel in December 2009. Those who all along maintained that China and India were the cause of oil and commodity price inflation must have been embarrassed by this crash. Surely, they could no longer defend their view that China and India were the key determinant of oil and commodity price inflation.

If rapidly increasing demand from China and India was behind the explosion in oil and commodity prices, a student of economics would have had to infer that demand from China and India had crashed, or possibly supply had exploded. But this is not supported by the facts. Despite a fall in oil prices by 82% in less than four months, oil output and oil demand remained stable at 86 million barrels per day (mbd) during September-December 2008.

Similarly, the acceleration of oil prices from $71 per barrel from August 2007 to $147 per barrel in July 2008 would have made the same student think that oil demand had increased dramatically or oil supply had fallen dramatically. Neither event took place nor realistically could they have. Oil demand and supply remained stable at 86 mbd during August 2007-July 2008.

... Speculators are interested in profits from short-term changes in commodity and equity prices. Traders in oil futures could be commercial traders, non-commercial traders, or others. Non-commercial traders could include banks, hedge funds, commodity funds, pension funds, and a number of other institutions; brokers could trade for their own account.

Non-commercial trade may account for 60% to 80% of traded futures contracts. A seller of an oil futures contract does not need to be Exxon, British Petroleum, Shell, or any other oil company. A hedge fund that buys oil futures contracts would become a seller of a futures contract when it closes a position to reap gains or prevent losses from its futures contracts. In fact, futures contracts are settled in offset cash settlement and very rarely through actual delivery of commodities.

Why were oil prices stable during 1983-2000 at about $18-$20 per barrel? Does it mean that there were no speculators in the market during that time? Or similarly, why did the New York Exchange not crash during 1920-1929? Were there no speculators during that time? Speculators are always operating in the market.

...It is cheap liquidity that fuels speculation. When central banks generously provide very cheap liquidity, speculation is fired up. The speed at which equity, commodity, and asset prices rise would depend on the speculative euphoria and the real economic activity. Buoyant real activity would accelerate the speed at which speculative prices rise. Nonetheless, a drop in real activity would not necessarily preclude a rapid rise in prices when interest rates are very low and liquidity abundant. For instance, oil prices rose from $32 per barrel in December 2008 to $82 per barrel in March 2010 even though oil demand declined from 86 mbd in December 2008 to 85 mbd in March 2010. In 2009, major banks posted large profits from trading in commodities and equities in spite of a sluggish economy and rising unemployment.

...Commodity markets rapidly transmit the inflationary effects of US Fed and other major reserve currency central banks monetary policies. Commodity prices are very sensitive to interest rates and availability of liquidity through borrowing. Cheap money policies have operated through a number of channels, including credit channel, exchange rate channel, and commodity channel. The commodity markets channel operates faster in comparison to other channels with instantaneous impact on consumer prices. For instance, while US banks are at present awash with $1.175 trillion in excess reserves, which they could not lend profitably and with reduced risk, futures markets have been on a speculative rise as illustrated by large rebounds in gold, oil, food, and many other commodity prices.

...Who is in a position to determine whether oil prices move to $100 per barrel, $147 per barrel, or even higher? It is not the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, China or India. It is not even the speculators. Speculators are simply microstructures that are risk-averse and seek to profit from opportunities for gains; they were not able to prevent a sharp decline in oil prices from $41 per barrel in 1981 to $8 per barrel in 1986, nor were they able to push oil prices beyond $18-$22 per barrel during 1985-2000.

...Fictitious money creation by reserve currency central banks was conducive to high oil and commodity price inflation. Since the US Fed could not push oil output above 85 mbd nor could it prevent a sharp drop in sugar output, its fictitious money creation has amounted to a real redistribution of purchasing power in favor of borrowers and speculators and imposed a heavy tax on workers, pensioners, and other fixed-income groups - and a cut in real incomes for millions of consumers around the world. By paying threefold to fourfold more for basic commodities, consumers are cutting dramatically their real consumption of these goods and at the same are being taxed directly through commodity price inflation by central banks.


The authors of the above article appear to believe that central banks can cause the world economy to become locked in a continuous spiral of oil and commodity price inflation. But we saw what happened in late 2008 and early 2009, and it was not pretty.

Today's oil prices -- hugely influenced by a weak US dollar -- are toward the high end of the historical scale. That means that very little price inflation would be required to produce a dramatic demand destruction and deflationary spiral.

The apparent close connection between quasi-governmental central bankers and big investment banking houses suggests that the big financial interests of the western world are in the process of picking the bones of the established economies. They have discovered some of their limits from the circumstances of the current world recession. But that will not stop them from continuing to probe for profitable lodes of salvageable gold.

It is important to understand the cynicism of those who have clawed their way to power over the giant institutions that have so much influence over our lives. That way, when we go about doing the things that we must to make those institutions unnecessary, we will not have to feel bad about their downfall.

Previously published at abu al-fin

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Future Economic Growth Will Depend Less Upon Oil

More (March 31):  Another important trend is the shift away from petroleum for the production of materials such as plastics, and production of high value chemicals.  As cheaper biomass, coal, and gas are used for such production, demand for oil will drop.

In the past, consumption of oil has correlated directly with economic growth. But as time goes by, that close connection is weakening.
The world may soon achieve something long dreamed of by governments and policymakers: higher economic growth without using more oil.

Rising efficiency, conservation and substitution are steadily reducing the amount of oil needed to fuel an increase in the goods and services produced around the world.

Oil demand in the rich, industrialised countries of the West already appears to have peaked and the trend in developing economies is towards an ever-smaller increase in the amount of oil consumed for every extra unit of economic growth.

Global oil intensity -- oil demand growth divided by economic growth -- has fallen by about 2 per cent a year over the last decade and the decline is now accelerating, spurred by high oil prices, moves to alternative fuels and measures to curb global warming.

This does not yet mean that absolute oil consumption is falling because population growth and rising wealth in poorer parts of the world will push up oil consumption for some time. But it does mean global oil use will eventually peak and start declining -- and "oil-less growth" may not be far away.

"The rate of decline of oil intensity will accelerate," said Eduardo Lopez, oil demand analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which advises industrialised countries. "There is a structural change -- difficult to measure admittedly, but clear -- that demand for burning fuels is no longer what it used to be."

..."Our working assumption is that with fuel economy standards, fuel diversification and substitution ... oil intensity lessens by just under 2.5 per cent over the next five or six years." [David Fyfe, head of the IEA's oil industry and markets division]

This acceleration is probably partly due to prices: Crude oil hit a record high of almost $150 per barrel in 2008 and are now fairly high historically at around $80. Estimates of when global oil consumption will stop rising vary but many analysts see it happening over the next 15 years.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward said last month world oil demand would peak sometime after 2020 at between 95 million and 110 million barrels per day (bpd), compared with current oil demand of around 85 million bpd.

...Although fuel intensity in the developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has consistently been far lower than in non-OECD countries, the rate of decline has been very similar, IEA figures show.

The top energy forecasters, the IEA, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries all make different assumptions of oil demand, economic growth and the ratio between them.

The IEA says 1 per cent of global economic growth now needs about 0.47 per cent more oil, the EIA says it needs 0.51 per cent, while OPEC suggests it needs only about 0.31 per cent more oil. The lower OPEC estimate may reflect a policy bias, analysts say, since the 12-country grouping represents oil producers who take a cautious, conservative approach to demand for their oil.

A Deutsche Bank analysis of oil intensity shows over the last 30 years the annual percentage change in oil demand has equalled 0.9 per cent of global economic growth minus 2 percentage points. But all the big forecasters expect the decline in oil intensity to pick up speed over the next decade.

The trend in the biggest oil consumer, the United States, is relatively easy to assess. Mary Novak, director of energy services at Global Insight, which provides the EIA estimates for oil demand growth, says jobs and income are the key indicators.

"We have based our model on jobs ... Oil is a transport fuel (in the United States). It is not used for much more," she said. In non-OECD countries, including China, it is more difficult to estimate since detailed oil data is not available. But it is becoming clear that oil intensity is declining everywhere. "This is the market at work," said Mike Wittner, global head of oil research at Societe Generale. "The very high prices we have seen recently are driving consumers away from oil." _EconomicTimes

As nuclear energy ramps up, and as more substitutes for petroleum liquid fuels are scaled up, demand for petroleum will rocket downward.


Bringing Biorefineries Into the Commercial Mainstream

Bioenergy will require a lot of progress to become truly competitive with fossil fuels energy. But a lot of progress is being made in Asia, Europe, Oceania, and North American labs and workbenches. All of the objections to bioenergy can be met and overcome -- and will be in time.
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have developed a calculation procedure to estimate the maximum theoretical yields, as well as predictions of the conversion efficiencies in terms of mass, carbon, and energy efficiency, of selected biorefinery production chains.

Based on their calculations, they concluded that the best way to exploit all the potentials of a lignocellulosic biomass feedstock seems to be the production of ethanol from C6 polysaccharides, furfural from C5 polysaccharides, and FT-diesel from lignin. Combining the best feedstock with the most promising final products, their results show that up to 0.33 kg of bioethanol, 0.06 kg of furfural, and 0.17 kg of FT (Fischer-Tropsch)-diesel per kg of softwood can be produced and that mass, carbon, and energy conversion efficiencies of 56%, 70%, and 82%, respectively, can be achieved.

A paper on their study was published online 17 March in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels. ___GCC

We are still quite early in the game of solving the problem of replacing fossil fuels with sustainable bioenergy and other forms of plentiful and clean energy.


The Myth of Peak Oil Showing its Age

The Peak Oil myth goes back at least to the early 1900s. Peak Oil experienced strong resurgences in popularity throughout the 1900s, and has grown a particularly loud and insistent following over the past 10 years. Below, I extract from two recent articles from, a website devoted to the economics of energy.

Debunking the Myth of Peak Oil I (Dennis Eidson)
Over the past 33 years mankind has consumed more than three times the world’s known oil reserves in 1976 – and today proven oil reserves are nearly double what they were before we started. The story with natural gas is even better – here and around the world enormous amounts of natural gas have been found. More will be found. But if you had asked in 1976 what the supply of oil would be like given the demand of 2010, you would have come up with the “Peak Oil” theory then, and we would have supposedly run out of oil decades ago; an ongoing impending crisis.

I think the key to the argument of Peak Oil, is that it not only ignores the huge amounts of oil yet to be found, but other hydrocarbon fuels as well. Even if the “theory” holds water, which I argue on its face (or in your face, as some so delightedly pointed out), we will not be out of hydrocarbons and our cars stranded on the side of the road during this century. This is the perceived “crisis” of Peak Oil that tells us that declining production and increasing demand will cause a disruption in supply.

...Now that oil is $80/bbl, it opens the door to production of different grades of oil and different kinds of oil, and new places that oil was never thought to exist.

America has developed new technologies to develop oil production from the many known shale oil fields containing a trillion barrels of oil, that has never been tapped until two years ago, because it was too expensive to extract, and the technology has not yet been improved enough to tackle it before then. But money solves a lot of problems, and $100/bbl oil would certainly do it.

Debunking the Myth of Peak Oil II (Dennis Eidson)
As of 2009, the Potential Gas Committee estimated that the United States has total future recoverable natural gas resources approximately 100 times greater than current annual consumption. These huge reserves are available now, yet largely untapped and unused, and would largely flatten the Peak Oil curve.

Natural gas is converted to barrels of oil equivalent using a ratio of 5,487 cubic feet of natural gas per one barrel of crude oil.

The new technologies in the oil and gas industry, proven just in the past two years, including horizontal drilling, new fracturing methods, and shale production, particularly the new Marcellus Shale play in the Appalachian Basin will greatly revise the above estimates by this one source and this new technology alone, and there are many other known fields waiting to be tapped that are not included in proven reserves. These technologies and methods, and producing from shale formations on a large scale, were unheard of just two or three years ago.

...We have yet to uncover the full potential of the continental shelf regions of shallow offshore production of oil and gas, let alone deepwater regions. And again, new technologies, methods and even sources like natural gas crystals on the sea floor (we are still trying to grapple/comprehend the potential of these crystals), are constantly being found/developed/utilized. New discoveries are made almost every month, yet it often takes years to develop and produce and analyze to compute proven reserves from conventional wells.

EIA estimates the Arctic could hold over 20% of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and natural gas resources.
Also, our own federal park lands and offshore prohibited drill zones contain huge amounts of reserves, and oil companies are constantly lobbying to unlock the bureaucratic access to the bigger finds in Alaska than already exist, but are known to exist; not necessarily to laymen.

...Gasification of coal and ethanol production and liquefaction and other refining methods can also supply over a century of hydrocarbon needs. British Petroleum, in its 2007 report, estimated at 2006 end, there were 909,064 million tons of proven coal reserves worldwide, or 147 years reserves-to-production ratio. This figure only includes reserves classified as "proven". The largest proven reserves are found in the USA. The 930 billion short tons of recoverable coal reserves estimated by the Energy Information Administration are equal to about 4,116 BBOE (billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Electrification of our cars holds potential to spur the decline of Peak Oil, but some other hydrocarbon must be burned to produce the electricity. There is plenty of coal and gas available, but if the gov’t would pull their head out and build more nuclear power plants this would be a cleaner alternative.

The author did not really discuss the huge potential of microbial and biomass energies -- which will begin to hit world fuel markets within ten years. Within twenty years -- unless the world is completely immersed within the Obama Dark Ages -- between 30% and 40% of liquid fuels in the developed world will come from biomass and microbial fuels.

Persons who dwell upon resource doom should probably read Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource. Better late than never.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Hidden Harvest -- The Business of Collecting Biomass

Biomass energy can create a large number of business and employment opportunities at the local and regional levels.  Since biomass can be grown virtually anywhere on the surface of Earth -- land or sea -- it is important for profitable and systematic ways of gathering and concentrating the biomass to be devised.  But if there is a profit in it, and if the government does not tax and regulate it to death, entrepreneurs will come along to provide the expertise.

"Our model is to go from the first cutting of alfalfa into pea vines, then roll into the first cutting of timothy (hay), then roll into bluegrass, then ryegrass, then bean vines, then wheat straw, and then corn stover."

"In 2007-08 we actually baled 11 months of the year, because we baled corn stover all winter long," he said.

The business is unique in that it provides farmers with revenue from crop residue they otherwise would plow under.

"I've had farmers say, 'We don't know why you pay us, because if you didn't pay us, we'd have to pay you to come do this,'" he said.

"We coined what we do as the hidden harvest," he said.

Levy delivers his product to dairies, including large operations, such as Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, Ore., and to exporters for shipment to Asia, where it is used as feed for dairy and beef cattle.

Expansion into bio-energy, he said, will allow him to scale up the number of farms and acres he serves.

Levy, 33, graduated from Oregon State University in 1999 with a business already in hand. He and a friend from the agricultural college, Jeremy Kennel, had started baling grass seed straw in Hermiston and the Willamette Valley in 1998.

"We had 8,000 tons that first year," he said.

Levy bought out Kennel five years ago and moved his operation out of the Willamette Valley, settling in Hermiston.

Pacific Ag Solutions today runs one of the largest haying fleets in the U.S. Last year, the business contracted with 50 growers and harvested 70,000 acres of crop residue and dedicated feed stock.

Levy said customers tend to stay with him: Several have been with him all 12 years he's been in business. One reason for the longevity, he believes, is he stayed focused.

"We've never vertically integrated into owning a feedlot or dairy or exporting our own product," he said. "We've always left that to others.

"I think it's been a good move because I think it has kept our focus on what we are good at," he said.

Levy characterizes his expansion into the bio-energy industry as a third leg of his business model. __ 
This small example of biomass collection illustrates the difference between an entrepreneur and a college professor or intellectual.  An entrepreneur looks for problems to solve, in order to make a profit and stay in business -- to become economically sustainable.  An entrepreneur is a man of action.  An intellectual is a man of the mind, often with no practical value or competence.  A college professor, for example, is primarily interested in tenure, and secondarily interested in grants, political status and publication.

Modern society is run by intellectuals, which is one of the main reasons it is collapsing under its own dead weight.

Things tend to even out over time.


Monday, March 15, 2010

World Biofuels Markets Amsterdam Looks at Microbe Energy

The world's big biofuels conference is meeting in Amsterdam this week.  It is focusing on microbial fuels, and micro-energy crops.
The microbes divide into three main camps _ those that are used to capture sugars and oils for extraction and fuel conversion (a.g. microalgae, lemon), catalysts such as the enzymes produced by Genencor and Novozymes, and microbes that consume a feedstock and secrete a fuel (not completely unlike the cow, who consumes hay and emits methane, but in a far more elemental and fungible way than simple rumination). LS9, Amyris, Qteros and Joule Biotechnologies are among those who have such a “magic bug,” – by far, Joule’s is the most mysterious to date – but it is the only one who can make a fuel from carbon oxide and water, rather than a simple sugar.

Let’s review the key microbes, proteins and microcrops and the latest news as World Biofuels Market convenes.


Genencor has released its Accellerase group of enzymes, while Novozymes released its Cellic line of enzymes with a focus on driving celluloisic ethanol production costs to $2 per gallon. Verenium meanwhile, released Xylathin to improve the economics of producing enzymes from cereal grains. DSM estimates that the global market for enzymes, yeast and other micro-organisms for ethanol will be $500 million in 2010, with “rapid growth thereafter” as cellulosic ethanol production takes hold.


Most recently, Amyris Biotechnologies announced that its subsidiary Amyris Brasil signed partnership LOIs with Bunge, Cosan, and Açúcar Guarani to develop renewable specialty chemicals and fuels from sugarcane. The products will be distributed by Amyris. Amyris intends to bring its renewable fuels and chemicals to market starting in 2011 through production at Boa Vista mil, where it recently purchased a 40 percent stake. Starting between the 2012 and 2013 crushing season, Amyris intends to build production through “capital-light” agreements in which Amyris provides technology and plant design and mill owners contribute capital to convert their mills to produce Amyris renewable products.

The letter of intent agreements with Bunge, Cosan and Guarani should cover Amyris’s planned production through 2013-2014. Combined with the Boa Vista mill, this results in a combined crushing capacity of over 12 million tons, and a potential capacity of up to 26 Mgy of renewable diesel fuel. Amyris said that it will invest up to $200 million in the project.

Amyris produces its renewable fuel by synthetically altering the metabolic pathways of microorganisms, such as yeast, to engineer “living factories” that transform sugar into products such as diesel fuel and jet fuel. Among the company’s investors are Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Khosla Ventures, The Texas Pacific Group, Votorantim, and Grupo Cornelio Brennand.


Last month, a research team including members of the Keasling lab at the DOE’s Joint BioEnergy Institute and LS9 announced a major breakthrough in their ability to make renewable diesel and other advanced biofuels directly from cellulosic biomass in a one-step process. Consolidated bio-processing — converting pretreated biomass in one step to a renewable fuel, eliminating the two-step procedure of using acids or enzymes to extract sugars, and then fermenting sugars into fuel — is considered a critical path element in driving down the costs of cellulosic biofuel towards cost parity with gasoline, and has been widely described as “the holy grail of biofuels”. The particular breakthrough here is that – to this point, the small number of companies that have developed an organism capable of CBP — most notably, Mascoma and Qteros — have been working with ethanol as a target fuel.

Last week, GlycosBio provided an update to the Digest on the latest in its commercialization efforts, confirming negotiations undergoing with “multiple” partners for its glycerine-based chemicals, including lactic and acetic acid, and ethanol. CEO Rick Cilento emphasized the company’s non-sugar based approach to producing higher value products in an environment where sugar prices have doubled globally in the past 18 months. The company draws its glycerine feedstocks from the oleochemicals industry or free fatty acids, and is currently capable of producing target chemicals at parity with the cost of petroleum-based chemicals, and maintaining a 45-55 percent gross margin on production. The company uses a series of microbes, primarily off the e.coli platform, but now expanded to include non e.coli-based organisms at this stage.

The Q microbe

In January, we reviewed the latest with Qteros, a pioneer in one-step, consolidate bioprocessing of biomass into cellulosic ethanol. The company’s signature IP is the “Q Microbe”, a species of clostridium, which is a naturally-discovered (but subsequently enhanced) consolidated bioprocessor that consumes (pre-treated) biomass, converts to simple sugars and then converts into ethanol. “What we’re really making is cheap sugars. Once you have that you have compounds that are identical to precursors for many useful products,” CTO Kevin Gray said in describing the company’s mission. The Q Microbe’s major promise: it saves 30 percent on the cost of cellulosic conversion, can realize 100 gallons of ethanol per ton of corn stalks and, according to EVP Jef Sharpe, “Qteros will not need fossil fuel inputs for fertilizer or distillation of the ethanol because the lignin portion of the plant material will be burned to generate the heat necessary to refine the ethanol. There will also be leftover green electricity created.”


Last week in Japan, Nippon Oil and Hitachi Plant Technologies announced a radical new technology to grow and harvest renewable oils from Euglena, pond-dwelling single-celled organisms, of the kingdown Excavata, that have both heterotrophic abilities to consume foods as well as photosynthesize energy using chloroplasts. The joint venture has developed a culturing system to produce Euglana at higher productivity rates than corn or sugarcane, and the project leaders say that their current goal is to reduce production costs below $3.00 per gallon ($0.80 per liter), and aims to convert the oils to renewable jet fuel. The venture partners say that they expect to produce Euglena biofuel by 2015.


In Indonesia, the national government has approved PetroAlgae protein for importation, and use as a raw material in animal feed in Indonesia, after the Ministry of Agriculture completed testing. According to a statement by PetroAlgae, “Licensees of the PetroAlgae production system will be expected to follow the Guidance and Procedures for the Registration of Animal Feed in Indonesia.” The protein is a co-product of PetroAlgae’s core bio-crude (renewable fuel feedstock) production system, using a variety of microcrops but currently commercializing a production system based on lemna. The announcement clears the way not only for PetroAlgae operations in Indonesia, but in neighboring countries which would utilize Indonesia as a secondary market for the protein co-product.


In Thailand, Digest subscriber Andrew K. Salzer writes, “we are currently producing and consuming 14 tons of Wolffia Globossa — also known as Asian watermeal — per day for duck feed. We utilize the duck manure to grow the W. Globosa as well as three kinds of carp and two kinds of tilapia, with no purchased feed for the fish and no urea for the aquatic plants. We have also seeded the ponds with a local freshwater clam to remove algea, bacteria, viruses, ammonium and phosphate. We project that 100 tons per day of W. Globosa could be harvested from our 100 hecatares of ponds.” (Editor’s note: this equates to 100 grams per square meter per day, or up to 2.5 times that achieved sustainably in previous microcrop projects, including algae.) Wolffia is a microscopic flowering plant — so small that 12 plants could “tastefully fit on the head of a pin” according to — which at one point was rumored to be among the platforms for Joule Biotechnolgies’ process. Wolffia is a member of the lemnacea family. PetroAlgae is currently licensing a process based on lemna.”


In addition to the focus on microbes, algae will continue to be very much in focus. _BiofuelsDigest

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Vast Deposits of Oil In the Deep Dark Bottoms

Most of the Earth's crude oil remains undiscovered, deep underground or under the sea. Large oil corporations are tackling deeper and deeper drilling projects -- many of them in the savage environment of the open sea.
From the window of a helicopter 1,500 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, oil platforms look like Tinkertoys in a swimming pool. Dozens dot the horizon stretching south from New Orleans and continuing out as the water deepens and turns a darker blue. Then, about 50 miles offshore, the platforms stop, and for the next hundred miles there's nothing. This is the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, where the ocean floor is 8,000 feet down and covered in a heavy layer of muck. Below that is an ancient salt bed several miles thick, and hidden under that, trapped tens of thousands of feet down, there's oil—billions and billions of barrels of it. And it's all in U.S. waters. _Newsweek

Chevron's Tahiti platform, about 190 miles offshore, first appears as a speck in open water. Even up close, its size is deceiving. A three-level structure sits above the surface, but its 555-foot hull is entirely submerged. At 714 feet tall and weighing more than 80 million pounds, Tahiti is the equivalent of a 70-story skyscraper floating in 4,000 feet of water. The first thing you notice when stepping onto its platform is a high-pitched hum: the sound of thousands of barrels of oil being pulled from the depths and pumped back to shore.

To Chevron, it's among the most beautiful sounds in the world, proof that a decade of investment in deepwater-drilling technology is beginning to pay off for big oil companies like itself, as well as BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell. After a string of hurricanes led to seven straight years of declining oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, a handful of new deepwater projects reversed the trend in 2009. This year deepwater oil is likely to power the first year-over-year increase in total U.S. domestic production since 1991. _Newsweek

The upsurge in US oil production comes in spite of a tight lid the Obama - Pelosi regime wishes to hold over US energy output. The Obama administration is attempting to prevent the utilisation of vast US resources of coal, oil shales, heavy oils, and large reserves of Arctic oil. The "go-slow" policy of the Obama Nuclear Regulatory Commission puts off construction of new nuclear plants for many years and decades. The Obama EPA is attempting to cripple US use of Canadian oil sands. Altogether, a policy of "energy starvation" and a kneecapping of US industry.
US crude oil is just a drop in the bucket compared with all the crude oil in the world. And all the crude in the world is just a drop in the bucket compared with all the unconventional fossil fuels out there. And all the fossil fuels in the world are just a drop in the bucket compared to all the potential fission energy available. And all the fission energy in the world is just a needle in a haystack compared to all the fusion energy in the world.

And then there is solar and geothermal. All of that, without even leaving the mother planet. Just think of what is out there in the vast darkness of space.

Big oil bets at sea

Chevron Tahiti to record depths

More on Chevron Tahiti

More on the big picture of Gulf of Mexico oil drilling

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