Monday, May 31, 2010

Big Green Activists Make Big Money to Scam Humanity

Thomas B. Cochran is a lobbyist employed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, to attack nuclear power on a full time basis. As befits a Lobbyist, Cochran is well compensated. In 2006 Cochran was one of the 5 highest paid employees of the NRDC, with a total compensation package approaching $200,000. In 2006 the largest single foundation donor to the the NRDF was the Energy Foundation, an environmental funding NGO, that also funds many other anti-nuclear "environmental organizations. _NuclearGreen
Some of these big-money big-green activists attack nuclear power. Some of them attack fossil fuels. Since most advanced societies derive over 80% of their energy from fossil fuels and/or nuclear power, it is clear that the big-money greens simply want to starve human societies of their life's blood. No wonder Obama Pelosi has been so popular with most big money green groups. "Energy starvation" is the theme and motto of Obama Pelosi.

These are the biggest of the big greens:
Members of Big Green
Defenders of Wildlife
Environmental Defense Fund
Greenpeace
National Audubon Society
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Nature Conservancy
Sierra Club
The Wilderness Society
World Wildlife Fund
These big greens go through a LOT of money every year.

They know how to scam the federal government out of huge chunks of money -- not to mention how to tie up vital energy projects for years (if not indefinitely).

Green Inc.

These are some of the big money channels that are behind the creation of carbon trading schemes and scams -- which stand to make Al Gore and his cronies billions of dollars a year if Obama Pelosi can ever get the citizens of the US out of the way of the green gravy train.

When you hear someone say "please give, it's for the children", you can be sure that they are raking in illicit funds through a number of back door channels.

When we get past this green dieoff.org phase of leftist idiocy, we may have time to go back and pore through the records to find out which politicians and bureaucrats were in the pockets of the real powers behind the dioff.orgiasts. Then, if we are feeling particularly un-whimsical, we may consider our options.

More likely, by the time we put this unsavoury episode of human idiocy behind us, we will be too busy riding the wave of an unfolding future to have much time for balancing the books of the past.

For much more information on how faux environmentalists hamper the creation of a cleaner and more abundant future, see Brian Wang's 3rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

3rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy at NextBigFuture

Brian Wang presents a 10 entry edition for the 3rd Blog Carnival of Nuclear Energy.

The 3rd Carnival highlights the life and death struggle going on between nuclear power and "renewables" such as solar and wind. People who promote solar and wind often oppose nuclear energy -- and vice versa. Here are some entries from the 3rd Carnival dealing with this "cold war" of the energies:

4. Nucleargreen also had the Social Construction of Ignorance: Knowledge Pollution and Nuclear Power.

This is the third of a series of articles in which I attempt to determine if opposition to Nuclear Power is a type of "denialism." In this post I explore Kenneth Boulding's concept of Knowledge Pollution, and explore the possibility that the constructs of knowledge pollution and "denialism" can be applied to nuclear opponents.

5. Brave New Climate provides a detailed analysis of capacity factors for different energy sources

Capacity factor (CF) is the amount of energy a power station generates over time (usually a year) compared to what it could have produced if it had been running at full power for the whole period. (Please read TCASE 2, Energy Primer, for a fuller explanation). The CF for coal-fired and nuclear power stations averages 85-90%, wind farms ~20-35%, solar farms ~15-40% (the higher figure is for CSP with thermal storage). Gas or hydro can be high or low — depending…

It’s very tempting to use these percentages as though they were directly interchangable, and indeed I’ve found that most journalists and bloggers happily do this (or else ignore CF completely and cite ‘peak’ power as though it were the same thing). It turns out, however, that this is a seriously misleading practice,

6. Yes Vermont Yankee looks at renewables and the cost of conservation.

the bottom lines were: Renewables can be built and probably should be built, but they can't take over the load from Vermont Yankee.
It takes money for conservation
Conservation, like renewables, is frequently oversold as an answer to energy issues.

7. Atomic Insights notes a San Diego Union Tribune article that renewables need helping hand from gas.

The article describes how combined cycle gas turbine plants work, with gas turbine exhausts feeding steam plant bottoming systems. It talks about air cooled condensers and about the use of peakers to supply power during periods when renewable energy system outputs change rapidly

8. Atomic Insights had an article which at the end described how the BeyondNuclear.com activists operate.

Nextbigfuture answered the question of who funds BeyondNuclear.com. It is activist celebrity actors and singers.

When you combine the anti-fossil fuel fervour from carbon hysterics and the Obama - Pelosi policy of energy starvation, plus the anti-nuclear fervour from misguided wind and solar advocates, there will really be very little energy left to run an advanced tech-society's infrastructure. Political peak oil as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If these dieoff.org green for brains morons see devastation in their nightmares, just wait until they reap the horrific reality they are working so hard to bring about. The general aim for leftist dieoff.org greens is to eliminate 90% of the Earth's human population. Going the route of energy starvation is a bit indirect, but it should be an effective genocidal approach. First they kill off the parts of the advanced world that fell for the "green energy" jive talk, then they sit back and watch as the cities of the third world die off from lack of support from the first world.

Well, no, actually, "they" will have been long since dead, so they will not be sitting back and watching. But they imagine they will be.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

International Market for Wood and Wood Pulp Expanding Rapidly

In Sweden, biomass has surpassed oil to become the number one source of energy generation - now producing 32% of all energy needs. And, biomass-based energy consumption is projected to rise another 10% in 2011

A recent report by Wood Resource Quarterly notes that increased competition for logs and wood chips between the pulp industry and the energy sector has pushed wood fiber and wood chip prices to new highs. Signs of that competition are also increasing in the United States.
 __AmericanAgriculturalist

 Total energy consumption generated in biomass in the country has grown from 88TWh to 115TWh between 2000 and 2009, while the usage of imported oil-based products has declined from 142TWh to 112TWh during the same period, according to the Swedish Bioenergy Association, Svebio. Current projections are for biomass consumption to increase by a further 10 per cent in 2011. ___IFandP

Pulp mills are becoming more efficient in terms of water use and the productive use of waste heat.

GP Cellulose's multimillion-dollar overhaul of its Brunswick pulp mill has slashed the amount of water it uses and decreased pressure on the drinking water supplies for most of Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida.

The reduced strain on the Floridan Aquifer reduces the risk of environmental harm, said a federal hydrologist, who monitors groundwater levels in the Brunswick area.

..."We've put in new equipment with new technology to make production more efficient," Morris said. "More efficient production makes us competitive in the worldwide market and ensures the longtime viability of our facility, and makes it more profitable."

The mill uses the water to process into pulp the 1,000 truckloads of yellow pines it gets each day. The mill reduces the logs to chips and uses the water to cook the chips into fiber....Morris said through a recycling process, the water is used to produce about 70 percent of the mill's electricity.

"We've seen a good rate of reduction in our use of groundwater from the aquifer since we've put in the new equipment," Morris said. ___Jacksonville.com

As private wood plantations become more sophisticated and efficient, the total amount of woody biomass available for conversion to energy and fuel should increase significantly.

An increase in the growth of salt-tolerant biomass crops in arid environments, and an increase in the use of both micro-algal biomass and macro-algal biomass, will add significantly to the total available biomass for energy and fuel purpose.

 New woody biomass fueled power plant in Finland

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Award Winning Microchannel Fischer Tropsch BTL and GTL

A British and Portuguese biomass to liquids (BTL) demonstration plant located in Austria and using US technology, plans to gasify woodchips to syngas, then convert the syngas to liquid fuels inside a micro-channel Fischer-Tropsch reactor. As illustrated above, the same technology can turn natural gas into liquid fuels.
The gas conditioning unit which purifies the syngas coming out of the gasifier has now been fully installed and pre-commissioned—with the required checks, system adjustment, equipment and system activation necessary to prepare the facility for operation now complete.

The next stages will include tests to confirm the stability of the coupled operation of the gas conditioning unit and the FT microchannel reactor. During the final phase, which is expected to begin in the summer, the performance of the integrated gas conditioning unit and FT microchannel reactor will be evaluated under a wide range of operating conditions. This will be followed by an extended steady-state run of at least three months. _GCC
More on Oxford Catalysts technology
Microchannel process technology offers process intensification, in the form of enhanced heat and mass transfer, to a wide range of chemical reactions. This paper describes the application of microchannel technology to the exothermic Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process, which converts synthesis gas into a petroleum replacement – synthetic crude or fuels. Synthesis gas to feed the FT unit can be derived from a variety of feedstock materials, including natural gas and biomass. By greatly reducing the size and cost of chemical processing hardware, microchannel process technology enables cost effective production of synthetic fuels from smaller scale facilities, appropriate for biomass and offshore natural gas resources. _PDFVelocysTechnologyPDF
The technology is also useful for converting excess natural gas to liquid fuels.
One of the technological features of the process is the use of the Microchannel Reactor, which Velocys is currently developing in the reforming reaction of natural gas, and FT reactions. By having the exothermic reaction and endothermic reaction proceed at the same time in the adjacent two microchannels, heat transfer between the two is promoted, thereby dramatically accelerating the catalytic reaction. As a result, the foot-print area of GTL facilities may be reduced to about one-sixth the conventional surface area. This enables the facilities to be equipped on Floating Production Storage and Offloading units (FPSO), offering a new tool in the development of offshore gas fields. _toyo
In other words, offshore gas fields could easily convert the gas to liquids for much easier storage and transport.

The microchannel FT reactors discussed above recently won an "XTL" award at the 10th annual XTL summit in London.

The small size of these GTL and BTL microchannel reactors should allow for even greater decentralisation in the production of liquid fuels from biomass and natural gas, and in the production of liquids from coal (via gasification).

Think of it as a fuels refinery in a shoebox.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Catalysed Pyrolysis Yields a Faster Biofuel

Pyrolysis involves the rapid heating of a feedstock under pressure, in the absence of oxygen. When you add the proper catalysts to the right feedstocks, you can create valuable fuels and chemicals amazingly quickly.
KiOR’s President Fred Cannon described KiOR’s technology as being able to crunch into seconds the millions of years that it takes to carbonize biomass (turn it into fossil fuels) in nature.

Cannon said the company’s catalyst — a fine white powder that he showed to me in a tiny see-through vial after his talk — can turn any feedstock, including non-food cellulose, into a biocrude that has 92 percent lower carbon emissions footprint than fossil-fuel based crude. It can also act as a dr0p-in replacement for fossil-fuel based crude, said Cannon, and KiOR is already making it in volumes of 15 barrels per day at KiOR’s plant in Houston.

“We scaled over the last year from a few liters a day to a few barrels a day. Even on the more expensive feedstocks we use, we’re already competitive on oil prices at this scale,” said Cannon on a panel of execs of Khosla Ventures portfolio companies in response to a question from Tony Blair about how expensive the KiOR process is.

...KiOR was formed in 2007 as a joint venture between Khosla Ventures and Netherlands-based biofuel startup BIOeCON. While I won’t pretend to fully understand KiOR’s technology, the company calls it a “biomass catalytic cracking process” — a thermochemical process that produces biocrude from grass, wood and plant waste that can then be refined. The process was derived from the traditional oil industry, by Bioecon’s founder, Paul O’Connor, who started BIOeCON in early 2006 after developing catalysts for the petroleum industry, according to MIT’s Technology Review. _Earth2Tech

Another recent pyrolysis venture

The key to the economical production of biofuels using pyrolysis (or gasification) is to combine as many steps as possible into one step. The key to doing that, is the right catalyst.

The product of pyrolysis is typically a pyrolysis oil, black carbon char, and pyrolysis gas. The product of gasification (which involves higher heat and pressure, with low oxygen levels) is syngas -- a mixture of hydrogen, CO, CO2, and small levels of CH4 etc. The products of both processes require further processing to become useful fuels -- which can be very expensive.

But throw the right catalyst into the initial pyrolysis or gasification step, and you end up with valuable fuels or chemicals off the bat.

Realistically, thermochemical processes for making biofuels should not be competitive with microbial approaches to biofuels in the long run. But thermochemical processes should be more easily and quickly arrived at -- giving them between a 5 and 10 year headstart on microbial fuels.

Biological feedstocks are problematic in that they are not typically energy-dense, and can be expensive to gather, dry, densify, and pre-process. But cane bagasse and corn stalks may be collected as part of other processes, reducing the cost of collection. Once such a feedstock is in hand, it can be dried and densified using the waste heat energy from gasification or pyrolysis.

Robotic collection of forestry and agricultural waste will also become much more common in the future, as a means of reducing costs of densifying biomass.

In the long run, microbial biomass such as algae can provide higher yields than virtually any other form of plant.

Biofuels have a great future ahead -- particularly if they are viewed appropriately as a local and regional solution.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Wild, Wild World of Bacteria Unleashed

Bacteria were here long before we were. They can occupy a wider range of environmental niches than humans -- from deep sea hydrothermal vents to the thin cold upper atmosphere. Bacterial spores can even survive an extended transit through the cold vacuum of outer space. They live throughout the inside and the outside of our bodies. We are learning to program some bacteria to produce fuels, medicines, chemicals, foods.... They can make life easier for us -- or they can make it harder. It is our choice.
Lovley’s microbial electrosynthesis converts solar power directly into chemicals, which are then readily stored with existing infrastructure and distributed on demand, and are 90 percent efficient at turning electrons into fuel without further processing.

Lovley and colleagues published their experimental results and discuss implications in the current, May issue of mBIO, an online journal of the American Society of Microbiology, and are presenting this week at the American Society for Microbiology’s annual meeting in San Diego, which runs from May 23–27.

The bench-scale technology, funded by a $1 million DOE grant, is based on the discovery that some bacteria can feed on electrons delivered by electrodes. These microbes live on the electrodes and use electrons released from them as their food source. “This is basically a new form of photosynthesis, in which carbon dioxide and water are combined to produce organic compounds, and oxygen is released as a byproduct,” Lovley explains. Solar energy powers the microbes to “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “exhale” fuels and chemicals. The main product is acetate or acetyl-Co A, from which many fuels and other chemicals can be easily produced, notably butanol, _BiofuelsDigest_more_here

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have identified a key gene in the bacterium Zymomomas mobilis—an anaerobic ethanologen—that, when overexpressed in a new Z. mobilis strain, delivers increased tolerance to acetic acid, a common inhibitor produced in biomass pretreatment. Increased tolerance can yield more cost-competitive cellulosic ethanol. An open access paper on their work was published online 19 May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

...Currently, biomass materials like corn stover and switchgrass must undergo a series of pretreatments to loosen the cellular structure enough to extract the sugar from cellulose. Steven Brown, staff microbiologist in the Biosciences Division and one of the inventors of the improved Z. mobilis strain, said these treatments add new challenges because, although they are necessary, they create a range of inhibitors that stall or stop microorganisms like Z. mobilis from performing the fermentation.

There are two ways to combat recalcitrance, or the difficulty created by the inhibitors. One way is to remove the inhibitors, but this method is very expensive and would not help biofuels become cost-competitive with gasoline. The second way is what we do, which is to develop microorganisms that are more tolerant of the inhibitors.

—Steven Brown _GCC
Now we are learning that some bacteria may even help us learn and think better:
Studies have shown time spent in nature does us all good. Specifically a recent study done with 1,200 people, published in the journal Environmental Health and Technology found that even just five minutes in a leafy park can significantly boost our mood. Well it might be because we inhaled some bacteria among the leaves and grass.

It’s called mycobacterium vaccae and research presented today at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology found that it might also increase an ability to learn. _SciAm
More here.

Bacteria can be tweaked to better help clean up the environment.

Some bacteria may help to affect the weather.

Bacteria love to munch on oil -- which is why oil spills do not leave permanent traces.

Normal bacteria in our foods can help us digest food better, and provide us with vitamins and nutrients that our body cannot produce for themselves.

Now that we are tweaking so many different kinds of bacteria to do our work for us, we had better know how to control strains of bacteria that may try to run out of control.

It is not desirable to try to eliminate all bacteria from our environment. We have co-evolved with bacteria for millions of years. We need them. And as we are learning to control them to make more of the products we need and desire, we should always keep in mind that they were here first. They have had a lot of time to develop nasty surprises for high-flying monkeys wearing suits.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Future of Biofuels

HeatingOil

Actually, synthetic biology represents the future of a lot of things that make human life interesting, enjoyable, and productive. But we will focus on fuels.
In addition to its potential applications to manufacturing vaccines, cell synthesis technology can and will be used by Dr. Venter’s company, Synthetic Genomics, to improve biofuel production from algae. From the Times:

Synthetic Genomics has a contract from Exxon to generate biofuels from algae. Exxon is prepared to spend up to $600 million if all its milestones are met. Dr. Venter said he would try to build “an entire algae genome so we can vary the 50 to 60 different parameters for algae growth to make superproductive organisms.”

...Synthetic Genomics’ partnership with Exxon began just a few months ago, and was characterized as “an aggressive program” by an Exxon executive. With the huge economic resources of Exxon behind it, the biofuel applications of the synthetic cell technology will likely receive all the support needed to produce commercially viable algae-based biocrude in just a few years. _HeatingOil
Algae-based biocrude in just a few years? If it is indeed commercially viable, that will be an impressive achievement. Venter tends to deliver what he promises, so we will want to keep an eye on progress.

The more conservative timeline projects early competitive commercial-scale fuels from algae within 10 years, with a very significant impact on markets in 20 years. But if microbial fuels can provide marketable fuels in half that time, bring it on.

If the Obama Pelosi regime's energy starvation policy allows it, of course.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

2nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy at Nuclear Green

Nuclear Green is hosting the 2nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy. Charles Barton provides 16 entries from some of the best nuclear blogs on the web, for the second ever edition of this much-needed blog carnival.

Nuclear Street looks at prospects for the new generation of nuclear reactors:
Modern nuclear power plants are no longer as prone to operator and process flaws their older manifestations were but nuclear detractors hold to past perceptions. Technical failings that allowed for design short-comings, as in the Chernobyl accident, and for process and operator errors, as in the Three Mile Island case, have been corrected and modern control technology have improved significantly over the years, giving rise to more robust and cost-effective nuclear reactors. For a start, the old Soviet (WWII, Fermi) design of the Chernobyl reactor without a containment dome has been replaced with better engineered plants. Passive core systems that rely on natural forces to achieve reactor cooling are further supplemented with active components to prevent a fatal chain of human intervention that led to fuel core overheating and ultimate steam releases at the two accident sites. State-of-the-art light water reactor systems available on the market today are designed to run for 60 years and can extract more energy content out of uranium with 15% less waste. Small modular reactors, with its advanced technology and added safety features, are suitable for use in areas with land constraints where it is physically impossible to provide for the large space buffer zone that traditional nuclear power plants require.

Hyperion intends to go to market with a "Mini Power Reactor" (MPR), which is even smaller than its Small Modular Reactor (SMR).

The US Department of Energy is getting frustrated with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's dragging its feet on licensing new designs and plants. The DOE is hosting a Small Modular Reactor Workshop on 28 and 29 June, 2010. Perhaps some of the smarter persons at the DOE can light a fire under the NRC?

Brian Wang notes that China is adding 12 new AP 1000 reactors to its plans, and is joining with Russia, Japan, and France to discuss new designs for 4th Gen reactors. China may be thinking that the US under the Obama - Pelosi regime is too deeply invested into "energy starvation" to have any good ideas about 4G reactors?

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Can D-Drive Infinitely Variable Transmission Save Wind Energy?

NewEnergyAndFuel

The applications for an efficient, slip-free infinitely variable power transmission would be numerous, but I single out wind energy because it appears to be the "great white hope" of the environmental dieoff.left in western countries. Gearbox failure is a massively expensive scandal throughout the wind industry, and to this point none of the highly touted substitutes for gearboxes -- direct drives and continuously variable transmissions -- have proven themselves to be efficient, durable, and affordable in the field, on a large scale.

The world desperately needs a reliable, efficient, and affordable infinitely variable transmission. So what about the D-Drive? Brian Westenhaus takes a look:
To grasp what’s happening one has to understand planetary and orbital gear sets. In planetary sets there is a large outer (ring) gear with teeth on the inside. The inside teeth mate to a set of 2, 3, 4 or more little ‘planet’ gears (planet set) whose axles are tied together (by a carrier frame) such that they as a set mesh with the large outer gears inside teeth – and – with an inner gear’s (sun gear) outside teeth.

In an orbital gear set the inner gear drives an eccentric orbiting gear from the inside while the outside eccentric gear’s teeth drives to an outer ring.
Keep in mind that the large outer ring gear can turn or be locked, the planet gears must rotate on the carrier frame and the carrier that holds them can rotate or be locked. The inner sun gear too can rotate or be locked as well. The combinations make for some interesting speed ratios across the possible lock or rotate choices. Torque multiplication and over drive ratios can be made available. Planetary gear sets can be made extremely strong and simple and are relatively lightweight and robust.

What Durnin has done is stack two doubled planetary sets in a row behind an eccentric orbital set with the innovation of not locking one of the three axles, but to control the speed of rotation. Well, its not exactly that simple . . .

Power comes in to the inner gear of orbital set, which turns the eccentric ring and idles the outer gear. The ring gear is connected to planetary set #1 at the planet set. Stop. This planetary set isn’t your usual planetary set.

The second and third planetary sets have a double wide outer ring with the carrier planet and the sun – this is the D-Drive innovation. _Read much more at NewEnergyandFuel
We will have to wait and see whether the D-Drive can succeed in the wide number of niches to which it might reasonably be tried. As for wind energy, it is unlikely that anything can save large-scale wind farm styles of wind power. But off-grid wind has always had potential, and any transmission that can eliminate a significance weakness -- such as failure-prone gearboxes -- should be helpful.

The real holy grail of wind and solar is not direct drive, nor is it superconducting generators, nor is it offshore or high-altitude winds. The holy grail of intermittent renewable energies is cheap, reliable, large-scale power storage.

Even then, wind cannot possibly be competitive with clean nuclear, coal, gas, or enhanced geothermal (when perfected). The mathematics of wind energy precludes true competitiveness. But if you are psychologically addicted to something about large-scale wind energy, you should pray to whatever gods you believe in for a very cheap, very reliable, very durable, very scalable, power storage device.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Palo Verde Nuclear Plant Prepares for 50 More Years


The largest nuclear plant in the US -- Palo Verde in Arizona -- is getting a makeover, to prepare it for another 50 years of power generation.
As many as 16 checkpoints employing both man and machine size up a visitor's potential threat to the plant or to gauge radioactive contamination, including the extensive screening that it takes just to be allowed on the property. Plus, visitors always have to be shadowed by a plant employee, whose side they can never leave.

"It's the safest place in the world," said Michael Sexton, a Palo Verde videographer and communications consultant, repeating the phrase like a mantra. "If something ever goes wrong, there's no place I'd rather be." _Marketwatch
Besides the refurbishment at Palo Verde, the first brand new nuclear plant in the US in decades, is almost ready to be constructed in Georgia. Other existing nuclear plants around the country are doing what they can to qualify for re-certification well into the 21st century.

The Obama Pelosi Nuclear Regulatory Commission is most expert at sitting on its ass and not accomplishing anything except grow its budget, but as the US energy system grows ever more strained by a failure to build new plants -- and by the Obama Pelosi energy starvation policy -- the NRC may have to re-think its decades-long policy of spend-and-stall. The huge new NRC building is testimony to the ability of the NRC to spend, and the failure to certify a new nuclear design for several decades is testimony to its ability to stall. Typical government bureaucracy. And if this wanking government agency does not change its ways, the entire country will suffer.

More from Marketwatch on the nuclear renaissance

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Biodiesel from Sewage Sludge "Very Close" to Economical

Municipal sewage sludge is a "pre-processed" feedstock for biofuels production. It is relatively concentrated, compared to forestry and agricultural leavings and waste. Sewage is non-edible for most non-politicians and non-attorneys. It would seem to be an ideal feedstock for biofuels -- if only there were not so much oil and other fossil fuels waiting to be used!


Existing technology can produce biodiesel fuel from municipal sewage sludge that is within a few cents a gallon of being competitive with conventional diesel refined from petroleum, according to Dr. David Kargbo, with the US EPA’s Office of Innovation, Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division in Philadelphia, PA. His analysis was published online in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels. Sludge is the solid material left behind from the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants.

...Municipal sewage sludge is gaining traction in the US and around the world as a lipid feedstock for biodiesel production. First, municipal sewage sludge contains significant concentrations of lipids derived from the direct adsorption of lipids onto the sludge. These energy-containing lipids include triglycerides, diglycerides, monoglycerides, phospholipids, and free fatty acids contained in the oils and fats. In addition, microorganisms used in the wastewater treatment process utilize organic and inorganic compounds in the wastewater as a source of energy, carbon, and nutrients. The cell membrane of these microorganisms is a major component of sewage sludge and is composed primarily of phospholipids. It is estimated at 24% to 25% of dry mass of the cell and yields about 7% oil from the dried secondary sludge. Other studies have demonstrated that up to 36.8 wt % of the dry sludge is comprised of fatty acids and steroids. With the fatty acids from sludge predominantly in the range of C10 to C18, these are excellent for the production of biodiesel.

—Kargbo 2010
Other potential benefits of using sludge as a feedstock are:

It’s plentiful. In the US alone, approximately 6.2 million dry metric tons of sludge is produced annually by wastewater treatment facilities.
Sludge management is a formidable environmental challenge. Biodiesel production from sludge as a viable alternative to land disposal could help to solve both energy and environmental problems.
Capacity. Studies show that integrating lipid extraction processes in 50% of all existing municipal wastewater treatment plants in the US and transesterification of the extracted lipids could produce approximately 1.8 billion gallons of biodiesel, which is roughly 0.5% of the yearly national petroleum diesel demand.
However, he notes, sludge biodiesel also faces significant challenges, including:
  • Collecting the sludge.
  • Maintaining product quality.
  • Soap formation and product separation.
  • Bioreactor design.
  • Pharmaceutical chemicals in sludge.
  • Regulatory concerns.
  • Economics of biodiesel production.
  • Determining how best to collect the different fractions (primary and secondary) and treat them for maximum lipids extraction is a major challenge. To accelerate biodiesel production, cosolvents and high shear mixing have been proposed, he notes, but there is very little information on the cost-effective means of increasing lipid solubility.GCC
The global economy is quite sensitive to any kind of shock. Low economic activity leads to low demand for transportation fuels, leading to low oil prices.

The fact that the Earth is floating in methane of several types, and other fossil fuels, does not help the economic equation -- in terms of making biofuels economical. And yet there may be many special niches where the feedstock for particular biofuel processes can actually lead to economical biofuels production -- fully competitive with existing petro-fuels.

Should that be the case, we should see a growing downward resistance to increases in oil and fossil fuels prices, as technology for making biofuels steadily improves.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alberta Oil Sands Provide Largest Share of US Oil Imports

Oil demand in the U.S. peaked in 2005, but it will remain the world's largest consumer over the next two decades, the report notes. That in turn will allow oilsands to assume a larger portion of the country's energy mix.

The oilsands would offset reduced supplies from traditional suppliers like Venezuela, Mexico and Saudi Arabia._VancouverSun
Canadian oil sands are tremendously important to the near and intermediate term energy futures of the US. If Obama Pelosi follows through on its threats to cut off imports of Canadian oil sands, the US would suffer an immediate and devastating energy shock.
If the oilsands were a country, they would be the largest source of crude oil to the United States, according to a new report by a leading American energy think-tank.

Canada has long been a top oil supplier to its southern neighbour, but 2010 will mark the first time oilsands production will account for the lion's share of U.S. imports of petroleum and refined products, according to the report prepared by Massachusettsbased Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Oilsands could eventually account for 20 to 36 per cent of U.S. supply by 2030, the report notes.

"The fact that oilsands by themselves -- were they a country -- are set to become the largest single source of U.S. crude oil imports this year, emphasizes the importance they have attained as a supply source for the United States," Daniel Yergin, IHS CERA chairman and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Prize, said in a news release. "It also shows how integrated Canada and the United States are in terms of energy, as in their overall economies."

...Report author Jackie Forrest, CERA's director of global oil, said subsequent studies will look at the impact of government policies on oilsands. Likewise, subsequent research will attempt to quantify the environmental impacts of oilsands against other supply sources like the deepwater, where a blowout is currently pumping 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

However, she said oilsands production compares favour-ably on an economic and environmental basis to other costly supply sources such as deepwater and even coal-to-liquids technology that produces fuel from coal seams._VancouverSun
There have been rumbling undercurrents and threats from the Obama - Pelosi government about cutting off Canadian oil sands imports for well over a year. It is difficult to believe that any government -- even Obama Pelosi -- could be so stupidly suicidal, but we will have to watch as the developing train wreck develops.

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Seven New Algae Ventures Line Up at the Gate

You may have thought that big investors like Dow, Exxon, Valero, Bill Gates, Chevron, BP, Indian Oil . . . have managed to control research and development in algal fuels. But you would be wrong. Here are 7 new algal ventures attempting to prove their worth:


In Kentucky, Alltech announced that it will establish the world’s second largest algae farm in Kentucky, and will announce the location in August. Alltech, primarily known as a nutritional supplements maker, said that the deal for land is still under negotiation, but said that the company believed that its algae operations could realize up to 5,000 gallons per acre.
In Texas, Photon8 CEO Brad Bartilson said that his company’s “Traveling Wave Tube” photobioreactor technology can boost algal growth production rates by 500 percent, has slashed production costs associated with other PBR technologies, and has been genetically modifying its algae to double lipid production. Photon8 is presented at the Algae World Summit earlier this week in San Diego.
In Illinois, students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed an algae biofuels photobioreactor, using a collection of parts including an old Apple G4 CPU tower, an Apple iMac CRT, PVC pipes, a Dell Latitude CPX laptop, acrylic panels, and foam. The project’s goal? Bringing algae biofuel production down to the household level, with the project team estimating that a deployment of the BioGrow technology in around 7 million homes would produce enough biodiesel to replace petroleum as a diesel feedstock. The developers say that their algae can be harvested every three days, and can sell for up to a dollar per gallon – with a proposed central collection system that would transport the algae to a biorefinery for oil extraction and conversion to fuel.
In Wales, Merlin Biodevelopments said that it is using anaerobic digestion to harness electric energy from cow slurry and food waste, to bring down the cost of producing protein-laden algae for food consumption, using a closed PBR system. The company has developed a bench-level project at the Moelyci Environmental Centre in Tregarth. The company said it is capturing waste CO2 from waste, as well, and characterized its operation as a means of producing high-value protenin from low-value land.
In Pennsylvania, Berks County state Representative David Kessler has driven through a $175,000 award for a feasibility study for algal biofuels production — and said that he has been collaborating with Colorado-based Algae at Work as well as two unnamed “multi-billion dollar” companies in Houston and DC on the prospects for biofuels in the Keystone State. The feasibility study is due within five months.
In California, Jose Olivares updated Xconomy’s Bruce Bigelow on progress at the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB). Olivares said that the consortium of more than 20 companies and universities is primarily focused on increasing algae production rates to more than 20 grams per square meter per day, and developing cost-effective water and oil extraction systems. By contrast, a typical US soy farm develops an average of 1 gram of soybeans per square meter per day. The consortium has a three-year budget of $69 million from the DOE and cost-shares from the institutions.
In Missouri, Phycal announced that it is moving out of the lab and into the BioResearch and Development Growth Park at the Danforth Plant Science Center, with a 2800 square foot facility. Phycal, which was co-founded by Dr. Richard Sayre, Director of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Plant Science Center; Chief Scientist of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB); and Director of the Center for Advanced Biofuels Systems (CABS). The company is based in Ohio, where it is part of the Logos Energy Group, and is building a pilot project in Hawaii that will open this year.
_BiofuelsDigest
Current lower oil prices might dampen some of the interest in bio-energy startups, but most people understand that "political peak oil" is likely to strike the US and Europe due to incompetent and corrupt government policies relating to carbon hysteria. Oil prices will rise and fall -- creating demand destruction in a cyclic pattern.

Algae (and other microbes) represent a qualitatively new form of biomass -- a much denser and more prolific form of biomass than most analysts have accounted for in their long term energy projections. Algae biomass will be a game changer. Later, as the production of oil-from-algae improves, algal oils will be a game changer. But biomass first.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Clean Conversion of Coal to Jet Fuel

Many persons in places of power are growing concerned that there will not be enough liquid fuels in the near future to supply the large fleets of military and civilian aircraft. But a Houston company, Accelergy, claims to have come up with an ideal solution: the clean conversion of plentiful coal, to jet fuel.
The company will initially try to sell fuel to the U.S. military -- the Air Force has already begun initial testing -- and has also started to field inquiries from China and some commercial aircraft and engine manufacturers. Biomass can also be substituted for coal, or at least part of it, in the recipe, depending on the desired characteristics of the final fuel.

The Department of Defense will likely set its standards for synthetic jet fuels in 2013, and CEO Tim Vail claims that Accelergy's fuel will be able to meet those standards.

The key is a process fine-tuned at ExxonMobil in the mid-1990s that turns coal or plant matter directly into a liquid, according to Vail. Unlike the often-criticized Fischer-Tropsch process devised in the 1920s, Accelergy's process does not convert coal into a synthetic gas before transforming it into a liquid. Eliminating gasification greatly reduces carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the total amount of coal (or biomass) consumed to produce liquids, he said. And it's cost-effective.

...The aviation biofuel tests conducted thus far have involved blends where biofuel represents 50 percent of the fuel at best.

"We are the only one that can go 100 percent jet. Everything else has to be blended 50/50," he said. "Think of a predator drone. You can have more energy in the same amount of weight. "

Another potential bonus: Accelergy's fuel can be made economically in modular plants. A 10,000-barrels-a-year facility will be feasible, he said.

Here is roughly how it works: A slurry of pulverized coal is mixed with hydrogen and a proprietary catalyst and is then subjected to high temperatures and pressures. The combination of the catalyst, hydrogen and heat break down the elaborate carbon/hydrogen molecules that make up coal into a petroleum distillate that can then be spun into a synthetic jet fuel or other liquid fuels.

The hydrogen comes from cracking methane found in coal seams and the catalyst, he added, gets consumed in the chemical reactions. Sludge that comes out the other end can be converted to asphalt
. _GTM
The company claims that its process can be profitable with oil in the $50 to $60 a barrel range, but they need to scale up the process before they can prove their claims. To do that, they will need investment, lost of investment. It is only natural that they look to the military for financing, given the currently depleted state of private sector financing.

If the Accelergy process is as much superior to gasification + Fischer Tropsch as the company claims (economically), their approach has tremendous potential for the future.
The graph above (taken from Robert Rapier) suggests that world liquid fuel production will peak in 2012, and that alarming deficits in production of liquid fuels will accumulate very rapidly thereafter. The graph comes from the US DOE EIA report Annual Energy Outlook 2010.

As in any projection into the future, a large number of assumptions were made by the US government agency. But in reality, in order to see such a dropoff in liquid fuels production, one would have to assume a very aggressive geo-political shutdown of liquid fuels -- as in widespread war, or suicidal energy regulations motivated by climate hysteria.

The Obama Pelosi regime has been dedicated to energy starvation (in terms of shutting down fossil fuels) all along. The US DOE is now full of disciples of the energy starvation religion, which no doubt influenced the assumptions made in creating the report and the graph above.

But you, as an intelligent and thoughtful reader, need to challenge the assumptions of such projections. Because such fictions are only the prelude to further intrusions of oppressive government into the private sector -- meaning every single aspect of your life.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Nuclear Notes, Monday 17 May 2010

Toshiba intends to apply for federal approval to test its 4S nuclear reactor in Galena, Alaska.
The Japanese company is planning reactors known as “4S,” meaing “super-safe, small and simple,” with hopes of starting construction in 2014.

“We aim to get 4S orders in remote areas where it is more cost-efficient to generate power on a local basis than use power grids,” spokesman Keisuke Ohmori told Business Week. “A great many people are interested.”

Toshiba and TerraPower, a company controlled by Bill Gates, have been in talks about engineering and research issues related to what is known as a “traveling wave reactor” that would use depleted uranium.

“Toshiba expects that about 80 percent of the technologies used in the 4S reactor can be applied” to the traveling wave reactor, Reuters said in a March article. _NewsMiner
Toshiba's 4S is said to provide 10 MW power for 30 years on initial fuel load.

Bloomberg/Newsweek took a look at "Fridge-Sized Nuclear Reactors..." today:
The chief executive officer of Hyperion Power Generation Inc. is developing miniature atomic-energy plants that would supply a small factory or town too remote for connection to a traditional utility transmission grid.
The Santa Fe, New Mexico-based company and Japan’s Toshiba Corp. are vying for a head start over reactor makers General Electric Co. and Areva SA in downsizing nuclear technology and aim to submit license applications in the next year to U.S. regulators. They’re seeking to tap a market that has generated about $135 billion in pending orders for large nuclear plants.

...While utility-scale reactors cost about $2.3 billion apiece and produce 1.2 gigawatts of power, Hyperion’s price tag is $50 million for a 25-megawatt reactor more comparable to a diesel generators or wind farms.

...Transportable by truck, the units would come in a sealed box and work around the clock, requiring less maintenance than a fossil fuel plant, the developers say. They’d cost 15 percent less per megawatt of capacity than the average full-scale atomic reactors now in on the drawing board, according to World Nuclear Association data.
“A 25-megawatt plant would put electricity into 20,000 homes, and it would fit inside this room,” James Kohlhaas, vice president at a Lockheed Martin Corp. unit that builds power systems for remote military bases, said in an interview. “It’s a pretty elegant micro-grid solution.” _Bloomberg/Newsweekvia_RodAdams
Faux environmentalists inside and outside of the Obama - Pelosi regime intend to stonewall all new reactor designs and new reactor construction for as long as possible -- consistent with the O - P regime's unspoken policy of "energy starvation" for US industry and the US economy. In fact 8 Nuclear Regulatory Commission executives are receiving presidential awards -- presumably for foot-dragging and budget-inflating.

Meanwhile in Europe, the "nuclear renaissance" on the sub-continent is enjoying a rocky start, with political obstacles cropping up in Germany and the UK, and some uncertainty in Italy regarding prior plans for nuclear expansion. Only Turkey appears to be going ahead -- with a new deal with Russia for construction of 4 new reactors by Russian contractors.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

What Do You Do with Non-Biodegradable Plastics?

If you are smart, you will turn the plastics into useful fuel.
Northeastern University student researchers have come up with an apparatus to convert plastic waste into clean energy without releasing harmful emissions.

...Self-sustainability is the key to the double-tank combustor design. Plastic waste is first processed in an upper tank through pyrolysis, which converts solid plastic into gas. Next, the gas flows to a lower tank, where it is burned with oxidants to generate heat and steam. The heat sustains the combustor while the steam can be used to generate electric power.

"The prototype can be scaled up to drive a large power plant, which could connect to a plastic recycling center for a constant flow of fuel," said David Laskowski, an undergraduate student working on the team.evendis, who has pursued research on the combustion of plastics and other post-consumer wastes for the past 20 years, is currently focusing on the concept of vaporizing solid plastic waste, which would reduce levels of harmful emissions during the combustion process.
_OneIndia

Waste plastics are too valuable to be thrown into a landfill. A resourceful society would have hundreds of valid and economic uses for every type of garbage, but modern societies are not particularly resourceful.

Gasification is another approach to converting garbage or waste to energy and fuel. Oil rich Norway is promoting new gasification technology for wood, as it looks beyond its current fossil fuel dependency.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Canada, US, Each Has 100 Years of Gas Reserves

Canada Has 100 Years Worth of Natural Gas:
Canada has enough natural gas in place to maintain current production for nearly a century, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The Canadian Society for Unconventional Gas estimates there are between 700 trillion and 1,300 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas reserves in conventional and unconventional plays such as shale, tight sands and coal-bed methane... _EconomicTimes_via_EnergyTribune


US has 100 years worth of shale gas
...the United States possesses a total resource base of 1,836 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). This is the highest resource evaluation in the Committee’s 44-year history. Most of the increase from the previous assessment arose from reevaluation of shale-gas plays in the Appalachian basin and in the Mid-Continent, Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain areas.

“The PGC’s year-end 2008 assessment reaffirms the Committee’s conviction that abundant, recoverable natural gas resources exist within our borders, both onshore and offshore, in all types of reservoirs,” said Dr. John B. Curtis, Professor of Geology and Geological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines and Director of the Potential Gas Agency there, which provides guidance and technical assistance to the Potential Gas Committee. _mines.edu

Exploration for shale gas and other unconventional forms of natural gas has just begun, globally. As Europe, China, India, and other countries and regions begin to develop their respective unconventional gas and other fossil fuel reserves, the oil dictatorships in the Persian Gulf, South America, and Russia, will lose significant income.

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Novel Electrochemical Cell Produces Electricity AND H2

GCC


Scientists from the Energy Technology Research Institute, AIST in Tsukuba, Japan, have developed a lithium-water electrochemical cell for the controlled generation of hydrogen and electricity. The researchers, headed by Haoshen Zhou, foresee the use of this process in fuel cells for mobile applications. A paper on their work was published in the journal ChemSusChem.

Although direct chemical reactions between water and certain metals—alkali metals including lithium, sodium and others—can produce a large amount of hydrogen in a short time, these reactions are too intense to be controlled.

...Only lithium ions can pass across the LISICON film. The rate of both half reactions within the lithium–water electrochemical cell can be controlled by the current, indicating a controllable hydrogen generation.

Another attractive aspect of this technology is that lithium metal can be produced from salt solutions (e.g., sea water) by using sunlight. In other words, energy from the sun can be “stored” in the metal, and then be used on demand by reacting the lithium in the fuel cell. Recharging the battery would be a matter of replacing the lithium metal cell. _GCC
The device is in its early stages, and inefficient. But a controllable hydrogen generator -- once perfected -- could be useful in several ways.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Power Density Primer from Master Resource Blog

MasterResource


Power SourcePower Density (W/m2)
Low
High
Natural Gas
200
2000
Coal
100
1000
Solar (PV)
4
9
Solar (CSP)
4
10
Wind
0.5
1.5
Biomass
0.5
0.6
_MR


Part I – Definitions
Part II – Coal- and Wood-Fired Electricity Generation
Part III – Natural Gas-Fired Electricity Generation
Part IV – New Renewables Electricity Generation

H/T Tom Nelson

Attempting to displace fossil fuels by renewable energy technologies will be a virtually impossible task, in the near future. Besides the problem of low power and energy densities, technologies such as solar and wind are neither baseload nor load-following technologies. Current large wind turbines are unreliable and prone to frequent breakdown -- and are only fairly efficient within a narrow range of wind velocities.

Biomass certainly has low power density at this time -- ignoring the game-changing potential of algal biomass. But humans are accustomed to the use of large areas of land for growing trees and crops of all kinds. The growth of energy crops will not generally represent a radical transformation of the countryside. And biomass energy can be baseload and load-following, and can be utilised in present energy infrastructure, with subtle modification.

In order to utilise a huge infrastructure based upon the burning of hydrocarbons, biomass and biofuels make the most sense, as long as they can be grown and used economically within the pertinent economic scale and jurisdiction. As microbial conversion of biomass to fuels becomes more efficient, there should be fewer and fewer objections to biofuels.

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Brian Wang's Carnival of Nuclear Energy

Brian Wang's NextBigFuture blog has posted the first edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy.

Brian features 14 entries, dealing with fission, fusion, nuclear produced process heat for industry, nuclear terrorism issues, some global plans for new nuclear plants, and a video dialogue between (pro-nuke) Rod Adams and (anti-nuke) John Horgan.

Brian's new carnival is a timely addition to the blog carnival scene. There is a good deal of nuclear expertise available online via various blogs and websites. A nuclear energy carnival will increase the exposure of notable blog articles and inform general readers about important nuclear issues as they come up -- and provide a general education to nuclear energy topics.

Here is the informative Rod Adams -- John Horgan dialogue (63 minutes), which looks at the relationship between nuclear weapons and civilian nuclear power.

From Nuclear Fissionary via NextBigFuture

Be sure to check out the first Carnival of Nuclear Energy

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Robert Bryce on The Physics of Energy

The author of Power Hungry, the Myths of Green Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future recently published a piece in Forbes on the physics of energy -- specifically the power density of different energy approaches.
.... let's consider the power density of wind energy, which is about 1.2 W/m2, and solar photovoltaic, which can produce about 6.7 W/m2. [Wind and solar] are incurably intermittent, which makes them of marginal value in a world that demands always-available power. Nor can they compare to the power density of sources like natural gas, oil and nuclear. For instance, a marginal natural gas well, producing 60,000 cubic feet per day, has a power density of about 28 W/m2. An oil well, producing 10 barrels per day, has a power density of about 27 W/m2. Meanwhile, a nuclear power plant like the South Texas Project--even if you include the entire 19 square-mile tract upon which the project is sited--produces about 56 W/m2.

Simple math shows that a marginal gas or oil well has a power density at least 22 times that of a wind turbine while a nuclear power plant has a power density that is more than 8 times that of a solar photovoltaic facility. Those numbers explain why power density matters so much: if you start with a source that has low power density, you have to compensate for that low density by utilizing more resources such as land, steel, and ultra-long transmission lines. Those additional inputs then reduce the project's economic viability and its ability to scale.

That can be understood by comparing the land use needs of a nuclear plant with those of a wind energy project or a corn ethanol operation. The two reactors at the South Texas Project produce 2,700 megawatts of power. The plant covers about 19 square miles, an area slightly smaller than the island of Manhattan. To match that output using wind energy, you'd need a land area nearly the size of Rhode Island. Matching that power output with corn ethanol would require intensive farming on more than 21,000 square miles, an area nearly the size of West Virginia.

Environmental groups and many politicians in Washington insist that the U.S. must lead the effort to develop renewable energy sources, with wind, solar and biomass being the lead components. But doing so will mean replacing high-power-density sources that are reliable and low cost with low-power-density sources that are highly variable and high cost. _Forbes

Low power density is a strike against wind, but the intermittency and unpredictability of wind power is a devastating drawback of that approach to big power. The tendency for expensive wind turbines to break down and require extravagantly expensive maintenance and replacement parts, is a killer. The need for pricey natural gas turbine backup for wind power should make any serious investor alarmed over wind's long term prospects.

Of course, the Obama Pelosi regime loves wind energy, and will pay investors to install huge wind farms -- even if they never generate power! This is the government that is shutting down US coal, offshore and arctic oil, and oil shale projects. This is the government threatening to shut down importation of oil from Canadian oil sands, and threatening to shut down US unconventional natural gas resources on trumped-up faux environmental concerns. This is the government that takes a "go-slow" approach to new nuclear power designs and projects, to placate its fringe dieoff.left core political base.

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Rapid Growth of Biomass is the Key

The coming shift toward more sustainable liquid fuels and away from petro-fuels, depends upon the ability to grow massive amounts of biomass in a relatively compact area. Long-term hopes for such massive biomass growth focus on algal growing schemes. But various terrestrial and marine plants also possess rapid-growth properties. Many species of eucalyptus trees grow quite rapidly, but can be susceptible to damage from frost. New frost-resistant strains of eucalyptus hybrid are being readied by ArborGen for planting in seven US southeastern states. The USDA recently granted a permit to the company for field testing of the hybrid trees.
The tree being considered under the permit is a Eucalyptus variety that has been grown for many years sustainably in Brazil, but which has an introduced trait that enables it to withstand the type of freezing conditions experienced in portions of the Southeast of the United States.

The purpose of the release is to continue research on the efficacy of genetic constructs intended to confer cold tolerance, alter lignin biosynthesis and alter fertility. After assessing the application, reviewing pertinent scientific information, and considering comments provided by the public, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) concluded that “these field releases are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk, nor are they likely to have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment.”

ArborGen is hoping that the fast-growing varietal will provide a sustainable, high yield hardwood crop in the Southeast to meet growing needs for biomass and spur economic development in rural, timber-dependent communities. _GCC
Ligno-cellulosic biomass will provide the feedstock for a wide range of biofuels projects. Several thermochemical approaches to biofuels can utilise ligno-cellulosic biomass. Likewise, a number of microbial and moderate temperature catalytic approaches to biofuels will utilise organic biomass as feedstock.

The relatively low energy density of most biomass -- compared to coal, oil, and natural gas -- has led many analysts to assume that the energy costs of collection, concentration, and densification of biomass energy would always remain too high for biomass to ever compete with more concentrated forms of energy.

That shortcoming of biomass energy is the reason for the recent drive to develop high-yield biomass crops. Another likely trend will be the development of highly efficient semi-autonomous robotic equipment for the cultivation, harvesting, and pre-processing of energy crops.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Plastic from Algae Biomass: Roads to Algal Profitability

PopMech

Algae are used to produce a wide range of high value products: nutraceuticals, cosmetics, animal feed, etc. Now algal biomass can be turned into plastics -- substituting for petro-feedstocks. Growing algae for biomass should be easier than growing algae to produce bio-oils, therefore a quicker road to profits for algal growers.
By year's end, an Indiana company says it will be making plastic from algae, substituting up to half of the material normally derived from fossil fuels with biomass from the aquatic plants, and selling the product to manufacturers.

As the bioplastics industry surges, a search for alternative feedstocks led Cereplast CEO Frederic Scheer and his colleagues to algae, which he says is close enough to the starches the company already turns into plastics—like corn, wheat and tapioca—to go commercial after just 18 months of R&D. There's just one hitch: getting enough of the green stuff to make it in quantity. Given a big enough source of algae, Scheer says, "we could have introduced this product probably last year."

Algae has long been hailed by many as the best hope for an alternative to fossil and food-based fuels, but difficulties growing and processing it cheaply have kept it just over the green horizon for decades. The myriad companies running at algal biofuels today, for example, must first find and cultivate a precise strain of algae from among thousands, harvest and dry the stuff, and then somehow extract oil from the plant on a cost-competitive basis with now very cheap crude.

But Scheer and his colleagues are betting not only that someone will soon crack algae once and for all, but that, once they do, they'll be stuck with a green mountain of biomass left over after the algae's oil has been extracted and turned into the diesel or jet fuel of tomorrow. Today, that biomass is fed to cattle, among other things. Tomorrow, Scheer hopes, it will be an integral part of the trillion-dollar industry that is plastic.

At the moment, Scheer says, his team has succeeded in displacing up to 35 percent of the petroleum in traditional plastics with algae. By product launch later this year, he's hoping that figure will be closer to 50 percent. But, like his comrades in the algae-oil business, the trouble hasn't been so much the science, but the supply of algae to his lab.

...Scheer stresses that his team's main goal is to derive a monomer—the building block of the polymers most of us call plastics—entirely from algae biomass. Such a breakthrough, combined with enough cast-aside plant matter to sustain it, and possibly some of the plant's oil, would provide for a plastic completely free of fossil fuels. If such plastics became prevalent on a large scale, they could theoretically present something of an ecological holy grail, with a gyre full of bioplastic representing something closer to fish food than deathtrap.

"Creating that monomer from the algae, we'd be able to create other polymers and end up really creating a whole chemistry around algae biomass, and this is probably the ultimate purpose of the work that we're doing here," Scheer says, estimating that such results are at least three to five years away. _PM

Some critics of algae suppose that if algal fuels cannot completely displace all fossil fuels by next week, that algae is worthless. But no one expects algal bio-oils to become competitive with fossil fuels for another ten years. Algal biomass-to-fuels may become competitive a bit sooner. Some microbial fuels besides micro-algae may actually become competitive within 5 years, but it is difficult to beat algae in terms of rapid growth under the right conditions. We'll see.

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Top Hat Dome on Seafloor, Relief Well 1 Ahead of Schedule

The second, smaller containment dome, "Top Hat" is on the seafloor, being prepared for placement over the gushing wellhead.
The "top hat," a 5-foot-tall, 4-foot-diameter structure, weighs less than 2 tons. The structure was deployed by the drill ship Enterprise.
BP built the smaller dome after a much larger, four-story containment vessel designed to cap the larger of two leaks in the well developed glitches Saturday. Ice-like hydrate crystals formed when gas combined with water and blocked the top of the dome, making it buoyant.

The new device would keep most of the water out at the beginning of the capping process and would allow engineers to pump in methanol to keep the hydrates from forming, said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production. Methanol is a simple alcohol that can be used as an antifreeze. _CNN

Meanwhile, BP engineers retrieved the "brain" of the failed blowout preventer (BOP) and performed "brain surgery" to allow them to get an accurate read on the pressure at the well head. Next, they hope to perform the "top kill" or "junk shot" operation -- shoving rubber junk and matting through the BOP in an attempt to clog it, and stop the oil flow. They would then top the plug off with cement.
“We retrieved what is called the yellow pod, this is the sort of brain on the BOP, and brought it to the surface,” Suttles said...“We are currently working to re-wire that brain. We’re going to redeploy back on the BOP and we hope that will allow us to read pressures inside of it.”

...the supermajor is still canvassing other, alternative options. One of these may well be attempting a "junk shot" through Macondo's BOP stack. Taylor said that BP is pressing ahead with junk shot plans.

"We are still deciding on the right combination of materials," he said, adding: "We are getting lower pressure readings which has encouraged us to move forward with this 'top kill' option."

A junk shot involves injecting ground-up material, such as rubber, into the bottom of the BOP in an attempt to clog it. The material would travel upwards into the BOP, blocking it. Kill fluid and cement would then be injected into the well...

...Suttles said that BP has already manufactured the equipment it would need to inject cement and fluid into the well and it is being shipped to the location.

It is understood that BP has two cement skids already on Helix’s Q4000 semi-submersible platform, which is already on site to try to place a containment dome over the oil leak.

...A third option may be to shear the lower marine riser package and stab a new BOP on top of the existing one.

“That also is a very, very complicated task and also brings risks with it,” Suttles said. _Upstream

BP CEO was interviewed by Greta van Susteren last night:
Hayward: So we are now moving to deploy over the next 72 hours, a smaller containment device, a so-called top hat, which is described like that because it looks like a top hat, put in the water, on the end of a piece of drill pipe to fit over the leak. We'll be doing that over the next 72 hours.

In parallel there are a series of other operations being planned on the blow-out preventer, most importantly the so-called top kill or junk shot whereby we would pump into the blowout preventer material to clog it up and stop the flow...The issue is the quantity of gas and seawater in the large dome. That is a difficult combination. So, by moving to a smaller dome we'll have less seawater and, hopefully, a better chance of minimizing the hydrate formation and being able to get in sort of system to work.

...So Plan C is the so-called junk shot, top kill, where we connect two flexible hoses to the top of the blowout preventer and pump material to block up the blowout preventer.

Plan D is to remove what is called the riser with which is sitting above the blowout preventer and put in place another blowout preventer. There's a Plan E and a Plan F. So we are working through a whole series of options that are being developed and engineered in parallel and deploying them in time sequence. _FN

Meanwhile, the first relief well is proceeding ahead of schedule:
... the Transocean semi-submersible drilling rig Development Driller III is drilling ahead on the first of two relief wells planned for Macondo.

BP confirmed the well had reached 9000 feet on Saturday - its target depth is about 18,000 feet - adding the drilling was ahead of schedule. It did not provide an update on drilling depth.

Spokesman Mark Salt said that the Development Driller II is now on its way to Mississippi Canyon Block 252, and should arrive on location by the middle of the week.

Should the rig arrive on Wednesday, it is possible the second relief well could spud as soon as the weekend. _Upstream
BP had conservatively estimated that it would require 3 months to drill the relief wells, but if they are lucky they may cut that time in half.

Up until now, surface relief efforts -- booms, controlled burns, dispersants, etc. -- have been effective in keeping the bulk of the heaviest slick centered around the drill site. Peripheral drifts of slick have been significantly thinned to between a light slick and a thin sheen.

More coverage of oil spill from USA Today, NOLA, and Miami Herald

Cross posted to Al Fin

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