Thursday, March 31, 2011

Obama to US: Energy Starvation is for Your Own Good!

All of the press conferences and television appearances may say, “We want cheap energy,” but actions speak louder than words. We’ve heard the words. What do their actions say? Why are they killing energy? _EnergyTrib

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu vows that the Obama administration is working hard to "take the pain out of high gasoline prices." Yet across the energy spectrum, the documented actions [not words] of the Obama group displays a broad policy of "energy starvation," or progressive energy shutdown.
Banning deep-water drilling in the Gulf is probably the most well known energy-killer. Immediately after the BP spill, Obama issued a moratorium that prevented potential oil production. The ban, originally thrown out by a US District Judge, expired November 30th, 2010, but virtually no permits have been issued since—creating a de facto ban. On February 17th, the same judge ordered the Interior Department to act quickly on offshore drilling applications—calling the inaction "increasingly inexcusable." Not only have gas prices gone up as a result, jobs have been lost and businesses have gone bankrupt.

Onshore, the administration uses land designations to block oil and gas exploration and extraction. Right now the Dunes Sage Brush Lizard is threatening the entire economy of Southeastern New Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service has nominated the oil-rich region as critical habitat for the critter. Nearly a year ago, a Department of the Interior (DOI) list of “good candidates for National Monument designation under the Antiquities Act” was made public. Of the suggested locations, roughly half had known energy resources—to which the President can unilaterally restrict access through a National Monument designation. Additionally, in December of 2010, Interior Secretary Salazar circumvented Congress’s authority by creating a new designation: “Wild Lands”—which locks up lands without US citizens having a voice through our elected officials.

The “actions” are not just about oil and gas.

In late 2009, non-elected bureaucrats in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoked a coal-mining permit in West Virginia issued to Arch Coal in 2007. Not only did the regulatory action stall the development of domestic energy, it hurts the American economy at time when we most need the jobs. The EPA is also tightening regulations that make coal-fueled electricity more expensive.

Despite Chu and Obama insisting they support nuclear power, actions suggest otherwise. While campaigning, Obama promised to shut down Yucca Mountain in Nevada—which was done in mid 2009. Without long-term storage of so-called nuclear “waste,” the administration will not allow any new nuclear power plants. Plus, the process is so prohibitive that no nuclear plant permits have been issued since Obama’s election. If nuclear power was a priority, plant construction that they say takes ten years, according to experts, could be done in half the time.

Nuclear power requires a source fuel: uranium—a mineral abundant in the US. But DOI and EPA actions bar new uranium mining in Arizona. The first new uranium mill in twenty-five years has been approved in Colorado, but construction, energy and jobs are being stalled by the EPA.

Not even renewable energy is immune. A new study reveals that 351 proposed energy projects in 49 states have been “delayed or cancelled” due to activism, permitting and “a system that allows for limitless lawsuits.” Of these, the study found that “almost half” are renewable energy projects.

Renewables, such as wind and solar, require vast quantities of metals and minerals. Yet, these, too, face regulatory barriers. A foreign company proposed to bring money into Montana’s economy by further drilling on a known deposit of tungsten—essential for steel (each wind turbine requires 335 tons of steel). The Forest Service would approve the permit if done with mules and pick axes instead of the modern equipment used there thirty-years ago.
But this is just barely scraping the surface. A deeper look into the Obama EPA, DOI, DOE, NRC etc. would reveal top level government agencies full of ideologues, dedicated to the green ideals of reducing the human footprint on the Earth by any means necessary -- including poverty-inducing energy starvation. Everything these zealots do in the name of faux environmental hysteria has the full power of the US government behind it.

Politicians always say one thing and do another. And it is not impossible that Mr. Obama truly does feel the pain of those many Americans who suffer under his rule. As he twists the cold, sharp knife of energy starvation ever deeper....

More: If the US is to start building much-needed small modular nuclear reactors by the year 2020, they cannot delay. And Obama's NRC chief Jaczko is digging in his heels in order to delay development of newer, safer reactor designs -- even more so since the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear reactor incident.

If ever there is a time to promote new, safer nuclear energy, it is now. Unless your intention has been to stall and starve energy development all along.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hydrogen has Very Low Energy Density; But H2 Still has Value

It is clear from the table of energy densities below, that the energy from a nuclear reaction such as fission far outstrips energy from chemical reactions such as combustion. But since it is neither practical nor safe to place a fission reactor in every household, every town, or every motor vehicle, there will always be a place for combustion reaction energy.

What fuels of combustion are most practicable, according to their energy density? The table gives us a few ideas. We will tend to avoid hydrogen gas for motor vehicles which require any significant range of travel, for example. For stationary applications -- such as fuel cell CHP generators and backup -- H2 can be valuable.

But an even greater value for H2 is for use in industrial processes, such as in turning low value bio-molecules into high value hydrocarbons [eg Neste], and in the refining of sour crude oil, among many other high-value processes. In other words, H2 production for the chemicals and fuel refining industries could become a lucrative enterprise.

Another common gas likely to grow in demand in the microbial fuels industry is CO2. Not dilute CO2 as in the measly 0.04% CO2 in the atmosphere. No. Clean, concentrated CO2 reagent grade, suitable to be fed to microbes and biomass crops (such as seaweed and giant king grass farms). Imagine getting rich from supplying H2 and CO2 to synth-fuels industries!
Source for the table of energy densities below
Fission of U-235
4.7x1012 Wh/l
2.5x1010 Wh/kg

38,278 Wh/l
16361 Wh/kg

JP10 (dicyclopentadiene)
10,975 Wh/l

10,942 Wh/l
13,762 Wh/kg

9,700 Wh/l
12,200 Wh/kg

$0.0814/kwh 11-2007
Black Coal solid =>CO2
9444 Wh/l
6667 Wh/kg

7,216 Wh/l
12,100 Wh/kg

Propane (liquid)
7,050 +/-450 Wh/l
13,900 Wh/kg

Black Coal Bulk =>CO2
6278 Wh/l
6667 Wh/kg

6,100 Wh/l
7,850 Wh/kg

hydrazine (Mono-propellant)
5,426 Wh/l
5,373 Wh/kg

Thermite Fe2O3(s) + 2Al(s) -> Al2O3(s) + 2Fe(s)
(mono fuel)
5,114 Wh/l
1,111 Wh/kg

4,600 Wh/l
6,400 Wh/kg

4,325 Wh/l
4,318 Wh/kg

Sodium Borohydride

Theoretical Hydrogen battery

real is about 40% efficient

7,314 Wh/l theoretical

2,925 Wh/l real

7,100 Wh/kg theoretical

2,840 Wh/kg real

Liquid H2
2,600 Wh/l
39,000† Wh/kg

Hydrogen Peroxide 100%

(mono-propellant rocket fuel)

Often used at 30% or 90% and

correspondingly less dense.

when used, not all decomposes

consider this a maximum

1,187 Wh/l
813 Wh/kg

970 Wh/l
439 Wh/kg
1000 ? method not specified..


Varies with

type of wood and

moisture content

700 +/-200 Wh/l
3154 +/-1554 Wh/kg

150 Bar H2
405 Wh/l
39,000 † Wh/kg

Secondary Lithium - ion Polymer
300 Wh/l ??
130 - 1200 Wh/kg

Secondary Lithium-Ion
300 Wh/l
110 Wh/kg

Primary Zinc-Air
240 Wh/l
1000Wh/l ??Best?
300 Wh/kg

Dry ice sublimation
248 Wh/l
159 Wh/kg

Primary Lithium Sulfur Dioxide
190 Wh/l
170 Wh/kg

Nickel Metal Hydride

(not discounted for

high discharge rates)

100 Wh/l
60 Wh/kg

Wood pellets

(pelletizing energy subtracted?)

100 †† Wh/l

4,700 Wh/kg

210 Wh/l
120 Wh/kg

Ice to water
92.6 Wh/l
92.6 Wh/kg

Liquid N2
68 Wh/l
55 Wh/kg

Lead Acid Battery
40 Wh/l
25 Wh/kg

Propane (Gas - 1 bar)
28.1 Wh/l
13,900 Wh/kg

Compressed Air
17 Wh/l
34 Wh/kg

2.7 Wh/l
39,000 † Wh/kg

Boost cap
1.72 Wh/l
2.98 Wh/kg

Table Source

University of Washington scientists are devising ways to rev up H2 production using photosynthetic microbes.

As discussed previously, artificial photosynthesis methods (artificial leaves) also split water to produce H2 (and O2).

University of Minnesota researchers are using microbes to produce fuels with sunlight and CO2. In this case the microbes are splitting water to produce hydrogen, and fixing carbon from CO2 to build biomass and specific product. But the pathetically small amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will simply not do. They will need to buy lots and lots of pure CO2 -- perhaps from you?

BARD of Morrisville, PA, intends to hit the algal fuels market in a big and fast way! Assuming BARD spokespersons are honest in their claims, they will need a HUGE amount of CO2 to produce their algal fuels. Where will they get it? How much are they willing to pay?

Innovative Energy Inc. from the St. Louis, MO, neighborhood, manufactures gasifiers capable of taking any carbonaceous material and turning it into syngas -- to generate power and process heat. Of course, one of the components of syngas is H2. Tweaking the gasifier and feedstock can alter the composition of your syngas according to desired product -- for immediate combustion or for later use in catalytic synthesis of fuels and chemicals.

University of Connecticut researchers have developed continuous process reactors to quickly and efficiently separate glycerine from biodiesel in biodiesel processing plants. But of course a better way of making biodiesel (besides esterification) is via the use of hydrotreating with H2 -- if you have the H2!

Highmark Renewables Research of Canada is developing an anaerobic digester to be used in conjunction with multiple other bio-reactors for producing multiple bio-fuels. Of course, this is the way of the future in biofuels and bioreactor companies -- combine and conquer.

While you may not see the same company owning the full cluster of diverse and complementary bioreactors, you will begin to see more co-location of various types of bioreactors and feedstock pre-processing, processing, refining, and more sophisticated catalytic synthesis.

And always, you will find H2 and CO2 to be in high demand. Remember in the California gold rush, when the people who made the most money were those who provided the miners with both the dry goods and the wet goods which the miners needed and craved? Most of the miners themselves went bankrupt.

Let that be a lesson to you. ;-)

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More on the Follies of the Green Energy Economy

  1. First, green energy is diffuse, and it takes a tremendous amount of land and material to harness even a little bit of energy. Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment and senior research associate at Rockefeller University, calculates, for instance, that the entire state of Connecticut (that is, if Connecticut were as windy as the southeastern Colorado plains) would need to be devoted to wind turbines to power the city of New York.

  2. Second, it is extremely costly. In 2016 President Obama's own Energy Information Administration estimates that onshore wind (the least expensive of these green energies) will be 80% more expensive than combined cycle, gas-fired electricity. And that doesn't account for the costs associated with the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of new transmission systems that would be necessary to get wind and solar energy--which is generally produced far from where consumers happen to live--to ratepayers.

  3. Third, it is unreliable. The wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine when the energy is needed. We account for that today by having a lot of coal and natural gas generation on "standby" to fire-up when renewables can't produce. Incidentally, the cost of maintaining this backup generation is likewise never fully accounted for in the cost estimates associated with green energy. But in a world where fossil fuels are a thing of the past, we would be forced--like the peasants of the Dark Age--to rely upon the vagaries of the weather.

  4. Fourth, it is scarce. While wind and sunlight are obviously not scarce, the real estate where those energies are reliably continuous and in economic proximity to ratepayers is scarce.

  5. Finally, once the electricity is produced by the sun or wind, it cannot be stored because battery technology is not currently up to the task. Hence, we must immediately "use it or lose it."
This is rather basic and superficial logic, just scratching the surface layer of problems with big wind and big solar. It is quite easy to dig just a little deeper, exposing more fatal flaws in the "green economy" than even an energy undertaker could appreciate.

Wind turbines are fine and expensive machines. But placing these fine machines out in the elements (even out in the turbulent and corrosive salt seas) is a quick road to machine hell and destruction. Expensive gearboxes tend to breakdown in a matter of years, rather than decades, and blades are prone to develop cracks and fail catastrophically -- endangering anything and anyone within an alarming large radius.

The noise and vibration of these giant turbines in motion makes them unsuitable for installation anywhere near residences. Ice collects on the turbine blades, presenting further hazards. A vast and enormously expensive webbed mass of copper conductors have to be strung or laid to transport this dilute and unreliable energy to more central substations. And in the coldest of weather, you cannot count on wind turbines to keep you warm -- since the wind often stops at just that time of greatest need.

And on it goes. Big solar is even worse than big wind.

Consult Ted Rockwell, David Mackay, John Droz, Carbon Sense, etc. for many more reasons why the green energy economy is suited for dummies and the coming Idiocracy.


Microwave Pyrolysis for a Wide Range of Feedstocks

Used crankcase oil from internal combustion engines can be turned into valuable fuels, using microwave pyrolysis.
That dirty motor oil that comes out of your car or truck engine during oil changes could end up in your fuel tank, according to a report presented here today at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It described development of a new process for recycling waste crankcase oil into gasoline-like fuel — the first, they said, that uses microwaves and has “excellent potential” for going into commercial use.

“Transforming used motor oil into gasoline can help solve two problems at once,” said study leader Howard Chase, Professor of Biochemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. “It provides a new use for a waste material that’s too-often disposed of improperly, with harm to the environment. In addition, it provides a supplemental fuel source for an energy-hungry world.” _ACS
Worldwide, the potential amount of used motor oil feedstock is estimated to be about 8 billion gallons.

Microwave pyrolysis of waste rubber tyres

Microwave pyrolysis of waste plastics (PDF) to fuels and chemicals

Microwave pyrolysis of wood pellets (abs)

Microwave pyrolysis of sewage sludge (abs)

Microwave pyrolysis of corn stover (PDF)

Microwave pyrolysis of kerogen oil shale

And so on. Microwave pyrolysis can also be used on meat packing animal waste and other organic materials. Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] has developed a method of using microwave pyrolysis to convert corrupt politicians to useful fuel and energy. There is seemingly no end to the potential feedstocks for these processes!


"Artificial Leaf" Hype

Scientists today claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy — development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking here at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy. _ACS
The problem with this announcement at the 241st ACS national meet is that the basic technology is decades old. An MIT scientist, Daniel Nocera, has apparently devised a new mix of catalysts -- including nickel and cobalt -- to facilitate the photonic separation of H2 and O2 from water. The device has run continuously for 45 hours without loss of output. Great things are expected...yada, yada, yada....
Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it. _ACS
Nocera suggests that his device might allow third world villages in Africa etc. to produce their own electricity. And yet the requirement for fuel cells -- still exorbitantly expensive -- will prevent all but the wealthiest villages from even thinking about taking that approach. How fortunate that Case Western Reserve researchers are using nano-tubes to reduce the cost of fuel cells by perhaps a factor of half.

It will be nice to achieve the cheap photonic splitting of water -- and further, the cheap splitting of CO2. Nature achieves both as starting points and no one issues a press release or makes announcements at national meetings.

When we finally do get cheap sources of H2, it is likely that we will use it in industrial processes, for the production of chemicals and fuels to substitute for petroleum and other fossil hydrocarbons. The "hydrogen economy" jive is another source of endless hype that has been oversold since at least the 1960s.

If Nocera and his academic kin truly wish to help the villagers of the third world, the best place to start would be in providing them ways to live more independently of bloody tyrants and dictators, and give them more property rights to their personal production. A permanent "smart drug" like NZT -- except longer lasting -- would also help the third world enormously, given the clear regional discrepancies in measured intelligence and intellectual achievement.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Green Luddites: Fighting Delusions with Delusions

On one side, green Luddites treasure delusions of carbon catastrophe and energy resource depletion doom. On the other side, they intend to utilise "green energy" such as big wind and big solar, to combat the prior twin delusions of doom. Unfortunately, green energy -- big wind and big solar -- is one of the biggest delusions of them all, certainly nowhere near ready for prime time.
If you define grid parity as "delivering electricity whenever you want, in whatever volumes you want," says David Victor, the director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California, San Diego, then today's new renewables aren't even close.

...we are probably not just a few breakthroughs away from deploying cheaper, cleaner energy sources on a massive scale. Though few question the value of developing new energy technologies, scaling them up will be so difficult and expensive that many policy experts say such advances alone, without the help of continuing government subsidies and other incentives, will make little impact on our energy mix. Regardless of technological advances, these experts are skeptical that renewables are close to achieving grid parity, or that batteries are close to allowing an electric vehicle to compete with gas-powered cars on price and range.
...Although some alternative energy technologies might eventually achieve grid parity, few, if any, can survive without subsidies now, as they improve their cost and efficiency. Even with subsidies, including tax incentives and cash grants, most are struggling to narrow the cost gap with fossil fuels....Deploying energy alternatives will be far more expensive and, in some ways, far more difficult than inventing new ones. Given today's political climate and the lack of a coherent energy policy around the world, it might truly take a miracle. _TechnologyReview

It is not very difficult to believe in miracles, if you are delusional enough. And we know that lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgy greens are plenty delusional in a multi-faceted way.

So even though the obsession with green energy by government, media, academia, foundations, philanthropists, and the faux environmental movement is costing you a lot of money and wasting a lot of today's resources which will be sorely missed tomorrow, you may as well sit back and enjoy it for the entertainment value. If Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Jackie Chan, and other slapstick comedians can entertain us -- why not relax and allow the loony delusions of the green establishment do the same?

For more information on the follies of wind energy, see John Droz, or Ted Rockwell. You will never again look at big wind energy in the same way.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Antidote to Nuclear Hysteria: Carnival of Nukes #45

Idaho Samizdat provides the 45th installment on the series of Nuclear Blog Carnivals. This edition is dominated by Japan's nuclear reactor crisis at the Fukushima plant, along with some global ramifications of the local crisis. Here are some excerpts:
Margaret Harding – Four Factor Consulting
Fukushima is not a disaster movie

Events at the power plants in Japan, have been unfolding for ten days and counting and so far, no member of the public has died, or even been hurt. In our modern, fast paced age, we want our events to happen in quick sound bites, not long novels. When things take more than that requisite few hours, we turn it into a disaster movie.
The Optimist’s conundrum

An optimist and a pessimist both look at a situation. The pessimist says: “It is going to fail. A terrible tragedy. People will die.” The optimist says: “It’s OK, it will work. No one will die.” Events unfold. Things neither one predicted happen. The situation resolves and all can see the result.

Pop Atomic Studios
Coming Together in Light of Fukushima

Suzy Hobbs writes I want to challenge everyone in the nuclear industry to take special interest in working together and cooperating in creative ways. I have been deeply inspired both by the Japanese citizens effected by Fukushima, and a small hand full of nuclear professionals who have taken time off work and stood up at a time when the rest of the industry was silent. _IS

Small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) are often designed with fail-safe shutdown mode, allowing them to safely shut down automatically in a natural disaster.

Nothing better brings out the stupidity of a dumbed-down public than to ask it a simple question about nuclear power.

The Rossi Focardi reactor continues developing behind the scenes.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

US Has Massive Energy Resources: #1 In the World


A new report from the Congressional Research Service points out that in terms of total hydrocarbon resource, the US possesses the largest inventory of any nation on Earth. But under the Obama regime, an unstated but unrelenting program of "energy starvation" is being carried out -- from the DOE to the Department of Interior to the EPA, even including the NRC. It is one thing to be energy-poor because you lack the resources. It is quite another to intentionally cripple your own economy using half-baked policies of carbon hysteria, nuclear fear, and faux environmental crisis fabrication.
America’s combined energy resources are, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CSR), the largest on earth. They eclipse Saudi Arabia (3rd), China (4th) and Canada (6th) combined – and that’s without including America’s shale oil deposits and, in the future, the potentially astronomic impact of methane hydrates.

...if the White House is in any way serious about impacting the economic Black Hole that is the burgeoning national debt, reinvigorating business big-time, creating real jobs and restoring ebbing national wealth, the best shot by a distance if you’re American ... well, you’re standing on it, or rather above it.

...While the US is often depicted as having only a tiny minority of the world’s oil reserves at around 28 billion barrels (based on the somewhat misleading figure of ‘proven reserves’) according to the CRS in reality it has around 163 billion barrels. As Inhofe’s EPW press release comments, “That’s enough oil to maintain America’s current rates of production and replace imports from the Persian Gulf for more than 50 years”. Next up, there’s coal. The CRS report reveals America’s reserves of coal are unsurpassed, accounting for over 28 percent of the world’s coal. Much of it is high quality too. The CRS estimates US recoverable coal reserves at around 262 billion tons (not including further massive, difficult to access, Alaskan reserves). Given the US consumes around 1.2 billion tons a year, that’s a couple of centuries of coal use, at least.

...In 2009 the CRS upped its 2006 estimate of America’s enormous natural gas deposits by 25 percent to around 2,047 trillion cubic feet, a conservative figure given the expanding shale gas revolution. At current rates of use that’s enough for around 100 years. Then there is still the, as yet largely publicly untold, story of methane hydrates to consider, a resource which the CRS reports alludes to as “immense...possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels.” According to the Inhofe’s EPW, “For perspective, if just 3 percent of this resource can be commercialized ... at current rates of consumption, that level of supply would be enough to provide America’s natural gas for more than 400 years.”

...With 85 percent of global energy set to come from fossil fuels till at least 2035 no matter what wishful thinkers may prefer, current US energy policy – much like European – is pure political pantomime. _EnergyTribune


Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Roads to Fuels, Thanks to Over-Hyped Crude Oil Prices

For the US, the huge and growing alternative to crude oil is Canada's oil sands. New mines and refineries are being installed in Canada, and new pipelines are being built to deliver the product to US refineries and customers. Many of the environmental concerns over oil sands development are being answered by evolving new technologies.

More: Suncor and Total are teaming up to accelerate oil sands development

Another promising approach to liquid fuels is gas-to-liquids (GTL). The new Pearl GTL plant in Qatar is beginning preliminary operation.
Making syngas. In the gasifier at around 2,200-2,650°F (1,400-1,600°C) methane and oxygen from an air separation plant are converted into a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as synthesis gas, or syngas. The reaction produces heat, which is recovered to produce steam for power.

Making liquid waxy hydrocarbons. The synthesis gas enters one of 24 reactors. Each reactor holds a large number of tubes containing a Shell proprietary cobalt synthesis catalyst. The catalyst serves to speed up the chemical reaction in which the synthesis gas is converted into long-chained waxy hydrocarbons and water.

The total surface area of the microscopic holes in the catalyst granules is more than eighteen times the surface area of Qatar. Placed end-to-end the tubes would stretch from Qatar to Japan. The synthesis process generates heat, which is also used to produce steam that in turn powers the GTL plant via steam turbines. All water in the GTL process is purified and reused in the utilities system of the plant to generate steam.

Shell’s catalyst company, CRI/Criterion, spent around four years using dedicated facilities in Europe in full-time production to provide the thousands of tonnes of catalysts needed for the start of production at Pearl GTL.

Making GTL (gas to liquids) products. Using another Shell proprietary catalyst, the long hydrocarbon molecules from the GTL reactor are contacted with hydrogen and cut (cracked) into a range of smaller molecules of different length and shape. Distillation separates out the products with different boiling points. _GCC

Other emerging alternatives to crude oil made more economically viable by artificially boosted oil prices also includes the coming wave of advanced biofuels: both cellulosic and algal. The cellulosic-derived fuels will require large volumes of biomass, such as designed tree farms or advanced grasses and seaweeds might deliver. Although the energy density of biomass is less than that of oil, gas, or coal, nature just keeps producing year after year. Many locations which are ideal for growing biomass do not have readily available fossil fuels.

Other alternatives include the processing of kerogens to liquids -- oil shale refining, coal to liquids, and waste to liquids. The technology for all of those approaches is improving thanks to investment spurred by high oil prices.

Continue to look into these possibilities, if you want to understand why -- at least on the supply side -- all the glib predictions of $200 a barrel oil in 2011 might have been self-serving. As for the demand side, things are bleak in the US under Obama, and conditions in Europe and China are not much better. Japan has a lot of re-building to do and will need more hydrocarbons to replace the loss of power production from nuclear plants, at least in the short to intermediate term. But Japan's population is shrinking rapidly, and long term demand from Japan can only decline.

Don't get so caught up in peak oil hysteria (and carbon hysteria) that you forget to breathe.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dyadic Lays Siege to Sugar Market: Sugars from Biomass

The worldwide market for sugars (cane, beets, maize) may exceed $100 billion annually, perhaps half used for food and half used for fuel. But recent achievements by Dyadic International Inc. may change the calculus of the world sugar market in ways impossible to anticipate. Here is more information on Dyadic's new product:
Dyadic International, Inc., a global biotechnology company focused on the discovery, development, manufacture and sale of enzyme and protein products for the bioenergy, industrial enzyme and biopharmaceutical industries, has introduced its most advanced biofuels enzyme, AlternaFuel CMAX. Dyadic says that AlternaFuel CMAX has proven to be effective in converting multiple forms of biomass into fermentable sugars.

Dyadic has developed an integrated technology platform to rapidly discover and express genes of both eukaryotic and prokaryotic origin, then efficiently and inexpensively manufacturing the products of those genes. The company uses a number of proprietary fungal strains to produce enzymes and other biomaterials, principally focused on a system for protein production based on the patented Chrysosporium lucknowense fungus, known as C1. Dyadic has recently completed its scale-up of AlternaFuel CMAX which was derived from Dyadic’s C1 platform technology. _GCC
There is no way of knowing whether Dyadic is "the guy" who will transform world sugar production by making the valuable substances cheaply out of agricultural and forestry waste. Someone will do it, sooner or later. When that happens, the entire economics of cane, beets, and maize will be transformed.

Even if the biomass sugars are not useful for food, the fermentable fuels market is quite likely to explode once the sugar feedstock achieves a relatively low and stable price point. When fed ample sugars of the proper type, microbes will work tirelessly -- producing valuable by-product 24 hours a day while multiplying exponentially.

There is no telling what cheap sugars will do to world markets. But those who continue to waste time (their own and others') fretting about "food vs fuels" will clearly be living in the past long before they are aware of the fact.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cutting the Cost of Fuel Cell Catalysts by a Factor of 650?

Platinum, which represents at least a quarter of the cost of fuel cells, currently sells for about $65,000 per kilogram. These researchers say their activated carbon nanotubes cost about $100 per kilogram. _Physorg
That sounds like a significant reduction in the costs of fuel cells if the new catalysts work as advertised. Engineers from Case Western Reserve University have got a lot of tricks up their sleeve, which may change the face of the global fuel cell market.
In testing, the fuel cell produced as much power as an identical cell using a platinum catalyst.

But the activated nanotubes last longer and are more stable, the researchers said. Unlike platinum, the carbon-based catalyst: doesn't lose catalytic activity and, therefore, efficiency, over time; isn't fouled by carbon monooxide poising; and is free from the crossover effect with methanol. Methanol, a liquid fuel that's easier to store and transport than hydrogen, reduces activity of a platinum catalyst when the fuel crosses over from the anode to the cathode in a fuel cell. _Physorg
The engineer-researchers have plans that may actually increase efficiency of the nanotube catalysts over that of platinum. That would be quite an accomplishment -- but actually just a trifle of an early hint of the possibilities for the new age of nano. Catalysis is a particularly promising area for nanotechnology, but there are quite a few other radical changes which are certainly on the way.

Buckle up.

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Gasification of Coal and Biomass: Oil is Just the Beginning

Expanding Reserves of Oil
Although world oil reserves continue to grow, it is crucial to explore a wide range of new sources for energy and fuels. The use of syngas from the gasification of coal and / or biomass will take advantage of new technologies, to provide electric power, process heat, and syngas for chemical synthesis and fermentation -- for hundreds of years into the future.

A "polygen" plant in Texas will use coal gasification to produce electric power, steam, CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), and multiple chemicals -- including sulfur, urea, and argon -- for sale in global markets. It will be an IGCC plant with carbon capture.

Saskatchewan is waking up to coal gasification as a clean alternative to nuclear power.

British Columbia's Nexterra Systems Corp. is installing a biomass gasification system at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. The plentiful woody biomass resource will provide abundant feedstock for the gasification facility, primarily meant to provide heating to the school, but can also provide reliable electric power.

A unique biomass gasification plant in Florida will provide electric power, process heat, and syngas feedstock for the fermentation of ethanol fuels -- and perhaps eventually other, higher value fuels and chemicals.

Gasification facilities are ideal for providing clean combined heat and power (CHP). The advantage of biomass gasification plants is that if the biomass feedstock is locally produced, it is unlikely to suffer interruptions due to transportation breakdown, for whatever reason.

Peak oil is a sad excuse for a belief system, but even a doomer should be able to open his mind to a wide range of other sources for fuels and energy. Always prepare for possible disasters and extended emergencies. But don't base your hopes or plans on them.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Israeli Oil Shale: 250 Billion Barrel Oil Equivalent Bonanza?

Dr. Harold Vinegar of Israeli Energy Initiatives is very optimistic about turning tiny Israel into a world giant of fuels. Estimates place Israel's reserves of oil shale kerogens second only to those of the US.

Dr. Vinegar has developed a new, deep in situ process of extracting oil from oil shale, which are not supposed to use excessive amounts of either water or energy. In fact, Vinegar claims that it will cost no more to produce oil from Israeli oil shale, than it costs Brazil to produce its offshore oil.
According to Dr Vinegar, Israel has the second-biggest oil shale deposits in the world, outside the US: "We estimate that there is the equivalent of 250 billion barrels of oil here. To put that in context, there are proven reserves of 260 billion barrels of oil in Saudi Arabia."

...According to Dr Vinegar, IEI, which is owned by the American telecoms group IDT Corp, hopes to begin production on a commercial basis by the end of the decade, with a view to producing 50,000 barrels per day at the outset. This would be a fraction of the 270,000bpd consumed daily by Israel, but would be a significant step towards making the country energy-independent. _Australian
The Israeli oil shale project is still in early development, but the massive global reserves of oil shales suggest that eventually someone will develop a cheap and clean way of developing this resource.

One possible direction to look is the new "ionic liquid" approach which is being developed for use with Canadian oil sands. Ionic liquids are an area of exciting research for energy and industrial use.
• Laboratory studies show ILs [Ionic Liquids, ed.] have potential for application in a number of energy-related areas:
1. Liquefaction, gasification and chemical modification of solid fuels (coal, oil shale, kerogen), biomass at temperatures below 400°C. (e.g., Patell 1993, Keol et al. 2001)
a. Reduction of viscosity, molecular weight of components in heavy oil (Johnson 2002)
b. Coals can be dissolved in chloroaluminate(III) IL, reacted (acylated) for liquifaction and desulfurization (Boesmann et al. 2001)
c. Acidification of petroleum wells (Fu and Card, US Patent 6,350,721)
2. Sweetening of sour gas (replacement for amine scrubbing)
a. Absorption of H2S and CO2 (Brennecke & Maginn US patent 6,579,343)
b. Mercaptan removal (O’Rear et al. Patent WO2002034863)
3. Optimization for high-octane fuel additives – Use of nickel catalyst solvated in IL in formation of 2,3-dimethylbutenes from propene (e.g., Chauvin and Olivier-Bourbigou 1995)
4. Environmental removal of contaminants from waste streams. ... Adsorption of CO2 and other compounds from gas streams (Brennecke and
Maginn 2003)... _Chemicalvision2020 PDF

Neoteric Solvents in Oil Shales PDF

Reversible Ionic Liquids for Energy Applications PDF

The possibilities seem endless for the application of these solvents, for separating and purifying a wide range of substances, as well as for catalysis of a number of processes. Their use in oil sands and oil shale are likely to be among the least important uses for this class of substance.

The main thing to remember is that these new chemical and industrial tools can reduce the need for water and energy in the extraction and processing of unconventional fuels -- and a whole lot more.

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The Seeker Blog provides a good overview of recent updates on the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation. Excerpt below includes links and a useful image:

In the associated WNN report, is the following IAEA graph of unit 5, 6 fuel pond temperatures.

At units 1 and 2, external power has been restored. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said it would restore functions in the central control room shared by the units so that accurate readings could again be taken from the reactor system. Next, workers will check the condition of the water supply systems to the reactor and the used fuel pond. With luck these will be able to go back into operation as they had been immediately after the earthquake on 11 March.

External power for units 3 and 4 should be in place ‘in a few days’ time’, said Tepco.

(…) Despite contradictory comments by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to US politicians and media, most observers in nuclear industry and regulation consider the measures taken by Japanese authorities to be prudent and appropriate.

At the MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering site, the 20 March status update is encouraging. Included in the report was a note on the actual tsunami heights at the reactor sites:

The Fukushima power plants were required by regulators to withstand a certain height of tsunami. At the Daiichi plant the design basis was 5.7 metres and at Daini this was 5.2 metres.

Tepco has now released tentative assessments of the scale of the tsunami putting it at over 10 metres at Daiichi and over 12 metres at Dainii.

Offsite grid power has been brought to the Daiichi site, and is in the process of connection to each reactors equipment.

Restoration of Grid

Progress has been achieved in restoring external power to the nuclear power plant, although it remains uncertain when full power will be available to all reactors. Off-site electrical power has been connected to an auxiliary transformer and distribution panels at Unit 2. Work continues toward energizing specific equipment within Unit 2.

Here’s an excerpt on radiation measurements:

Radiation levels near Fukushima Daiichi and beyond have elevated since the reactor damage began. However, dose rates in Tokyo and other areas outside the 30-kilometre zone remain below levels which would require any protective action. In other words they are not dangerous to human health.


21 March 2011 update from Brave New Climate blog

IAEA 20 March update on Japan Earthquake

Status report from FEPC of Japan (English)

Carnival of Nuclear Energy #44 at CoolHandNuke deals with Fukushima (via BrianWang)

Nuclear Town Hall Updates

The situation in Japan points out the need for improvement in backup systems and power supplies for nuclear power plants in the face of overwhelming natural disasters. At the same time, it highlights the relative safety of even 30-year-old reactor designs.

Now if only Obama's NRC would get off its pompous, lazy, ideological bureaucratic ass and help the US (and the world) move into a newer, safer age of nuclear power by certifying newer, safer reactor designs.

Cross-posted from Al Fin

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Friday, March 18, 2011

New Efficient Oil Sands Separation Method Uses Less Water

...oil sands represent approximately two-thirds of the world’s estimated oil reserves. Canada is the world’s major producer of unconventional petroleum from sands, and the U.S. imports more than one million barrels of oil per day from Canada, about twice as much as from Saudi Arabia. Much of this oil is produced from the Alberta tar sands. _Newswise

Penn State researchers have developed a cleaner, more economical, and more water-efficient method of separating the bitumen component from oil sands.
Paul Painter, professor of polymer science in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State, and his group have spent the past 18 months developing a technique that uses ionic liquids (salt in a liquid state) to facilitate separation. The separation takes place at room temperature without the generation of waste process water. “Essentially, all of the bitumen is recovered in a very clean form, without any contamination from the ionic liquids,” Painter explained. Because the bitumen, solvents and sand/clay mixture separate into three distinct phases, each can be removed separately and the solvent can be reused.

The process can also be used to extract oil and tar from beach sand after oil spills, such as the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents. Unlike other methods of cleanup, the Penn State process completely removes the hydrocarbons, and the cleaned sand can be returned to the beach instead of being sent to landfills. In an experiment using sand polluted by the BP oil spill, the team was able to separate hydrocarbons from the sand within seconds. A small amount of water was used to clean the remaining ionic liquids from the sand, but that water was also recoverable. “It was so clean you could toss it back on the beach. _Newswise_
Also see Green Car Congress

Cleaner and more efficient methods for producing oil from abundant oil sands should make a lot of people happier and less frantic about the future of global energy supplies. Unfortunately, for too many "doomers", the only joy they get in life is from contemplating the total breakdown of global civilisation. For such as those, good news is bad news.

For the rest of us, we will do the best we can and move on from there.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Fukushima reactor disaster resulted from a power outage to backup reactor cooling systems at the nuclear plant. Heroic emergency volunteer crews have been using police water cannons to pump seawater over the reactors, but what they really need is to restore power to emergency backup systems. To that end, power crews have been working steadily to install a new power line to the plant, and are getting closer to achieving that goal.
The operator of Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear plant says it has almost completed a new power line that could restore electricity to the complex and solve the crisis that has threatened a meltdown.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said early Thursday the power line to Fukushima Daiichi is almost complete. Officials plan to try it “as soon as possible” but he could not say when. _Globe&Mail


Here is more information on the levels of radiation which are present in and around the Fushima nuclear plant:
The status report from the The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) is given below:
• Radiation Levels
o At 10:22AM (JST) on March 15, a radiation level of 400 milli sievert per hour was recorded outside secondary containment building of the Unit 3 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
o At 3:30PM on March 15, a radiation level of 596 micro sievert per hour was recorded at the main gate of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
o At 4:30PM on March 15, a radiation level of 489 micro sievert per hour was recorded on the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
o For comparison, a human receives 2400 micro sievert per year from natural radiation in the form of sunlight, radon, and other sources. One chest CT scan generates 6900 micro sievert per scan.
• Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 reactor
o As of 10:00PM on March 14, the pressure inside the reactor core was measured at 0.05 MPa. The water level inside the reactor was measured at 1.7 meters below the top of the fuel rods.
• Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 reactor
o At 6:14AM on March 15, an explosion was heard in the secondary containment building. TEPCO assumes that the suppression chamber, which holds water and stream released from the reactor core, was damaged.
o At 1:00PM on March 15, the pressure inside the reactor core was measured at 0.608 MPa. The water level inside the reactor was measured at 1.7 meters below the top of the fuel rods.
• Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 reactor
o At 6:14AM on March 15, smoke was discovered emanating from the damaged secondary containment building.
• Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 reactor
o At 9:38AM on March 15, a fire was discovered on the third floor of the secondary containment building.
o At 12:29PM on March 15, TEPCO confirmed extinguishing of the fire.
• Fukushima Daini Units 1 to 4 reactors: all now in cold shutdown, TEPCO continues to cool each reactor core.

This indicates a peak radiation level of 400 mSv/hr, which has come down to about 0.5 mSv/hr by the afternoon. This ‘spot’ radiation level was measured at a location between Unit 3 and 4. It was attributted to a hydrogen explosion in the spent fuel pool of Unit 4 — but this is still under debate. The radiation level at the site boundary is expected to have been much lower and, to date, there is no risk to the general public. _BraveNewClimate
Much more useful information at the site linked above.

As many as 25,000 Japanese may have died from the combined earthquake and tsunami. It is possible that more people will die from the ongoing lack of electrical power, resulting from the quake and tsunami. Electrical power is crucial to modern life -- but there is no totally risk-free way of generating power. Imagine, for example, if a huge hydroelectric plant had been located near the epicenter of a 9.0 quake. How many people would have died downstream? And so on.

It is likely that the danger to the general public from radiation fallout will be minimal to none. Some danger to the emergency crews who are on-site at the power plant is unavoidable, yet by all accounts the crews were doggedly determined to do whatever they could despite the risks.

That is what is expected from volunteer emergency crews in modern nations such as Japan. They train for such emergencies, and it would be extremely difficult to keep most of these men away from the site of danger at such a time.

What does this tell us about the safety of nuclear power? Clearly the double whammy of a 9.0 earthquake plus a monster tsunami should not be expected to hit most nuclear sites. And yet, there is a clear need to re-think some of the assumptions about backup power and backup cooling systems.

Newer designs with passive "failsafe" backups are assumed to be safer. Certainly if the Obama NRC would certify some of the newer, safer designs, and if the faux environmentalists and dieoff.orgy enthusiasts would get out of the way, the world could become an even safer place.

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Cobalt Technologies Targets $7 Billion n-Butanol Market, More

Another advanced biofuels company that is targeting the high-value chemicals market for a revenue "jump-start," is Cobalt Technologies. CEO Rick Wilson looks at the different markets for his company's possible products and co-products:
“The markets, for us, are the $7 billion n-butanol market, for acetates, acrylates, and glycerol esters, where the current pricing is $2300 per metric ton. Compare that to diesel or gasoline, both under $1000 per ton. Also, we have the OXO derivatives, such as butyric acid or 2-ethyl hexanol. That’s a $9 billion market trading at $2600 per ton. There are also the butene derivatives, such as isobutene, a $17 billion markt trading at between $1200 and $1500 per metric ton. There are paints, solvents, plasticizers, paint dyes, stabilizers, preservatives and more in those markets.

“The markets are very small, compared to the fuels marekts, where you have $250 billion in jet fuel, $980 billion for gasoline and $1040 for diesel. Those are a great story, but its hard to make money, and the first goal of any company should be to make money.

...“Some of you know that there is normal butanol and isobutanol. Isobutanol, which is made by companies like Butamax and Gevo, has a higher octane rating and generally makes a better fuel blendstock. The advantage of normal butanol is that you can take normal and isomerize it, but you can take an isomer and mornalize it. So, with n-butanol you have advantages as a platform for a wider variety of chemicals.

“For us, we like wood, bagasse and glycerol as feedstocks. We see costs there in the $60 per ton for wood biomass, $40 for bagasse and $20 for glycerol. Those change, but there’s a significant enduring advantage compared to the cost of sugarcane or corn, which are well over $200 per ton. That’s lower than the cost of crude oil, but when you take into account the amount of energy you can access in corn or cane, the cost advantage can be minimal unless you have very high oil prices sustained for a very long time. _BiofuelsDigest
In other words, for Cobalt and other advanced biofuels makers to compete head-to-head with petroleum, the cost of oil must be sustained at a very high level. As long as oil markets continue to fluctuate up and down with political instability and speculative fevers, it is much safer for these companies to tarket high value chemicals which provide a higher profit margin, and early revenues.

In the long-term, oil will become more expensive until microbial fuels and chemicals make petroleum obsolete. The name of the game for high-powered advanced biofuels companies is to survive and improve efficiencies until they can hit the "sweet spot" that gives them the long term economic advantage over oil.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Leapfrogging High Value Chemicals to Reach Advanced Biofuels

More advanced biofuels companies are resorting to short-term production of high value chemicals to help finance their long-term advanced biofuels R&D and scale-up operations.

Genomatica is partnering with Tate & Lyle to build a demonstration scale productin facility in Decatur, IL, to produce 1,4 butanediol (BDO) from renewable biomass. The yearly market for the product is roughly $4 billion, currently made from petroleum-derived feedstocks. If Genomatica's renewable feedstocks allow for more economical production -- given high oil costs currently -- the BDO market could provide the company with a much-needed revenue stream.

Bio-Amber produces succinic acid and derivatives (including adipic acid) from renewable feedstocks. Bio-Amber is partnering with CELEXION to develop high volume production of renewable feedstock adipic acid. The yearly market for adipic acid is roughly $8 billion, currently using non-renewable feedstocks.

Phytonix Corporation is licensing a bacterial technology for producing bio-butanol from "sun, CO2, and water.".... Butanol has many uses in the foods, textiles, chemicals, and other industries -- besides its potential use as a gasoline or diesel supplement.

We earlier looked at Amyris' renewable production of farnesene for the perfume industry, and at the pursuit of polyketide synthases by JBEI and Amyris for a variety of purposes.

There is a great deal of money to be made by substituting renewable feedstocks for petroleum, in the production of a wide array of high value chemicals and products. Money up into the hundreds of $billions.

Of course, the fuels market ranges well up into the $trillions, so the ultimate goal would be to break into that market if possible. But that will take from 10 to 20 years to accomplish at medium to large scales, for advanced biofuels. In the meantime, these high-powered companies will be on the prowl for low hanging fruit, to produce early and intermediate term revenue.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Rossi Risks 500,000 Euros On Development of Modular LENRs

Italian engineer Andrea Rossi is using the last of his personal savings to finance the construction of 100 LENRs of 10 kWt (kilowatt thermal) each and for advanced R&D on the device at the University of Bologna. When combined into one unit, the project is slated to supply Athens, Greece company Defkalian with 1 MW of heat energy. Rossi is unusual among inventors in insisting on using his own money to prove that his device works at industrial scale.
“I get paid (by Defkalion) only when the installation is delivered and if it works. I do not want people to spend any money until I have started and tested my one-megawatt plant,” said Rossi.

So far he says he has invested 500,000 Euros in developing and building 100 reactors, of ten kilowatts each, that comprise the Athens plant. He also claims that more than a thousand reactors have been built and destroyed during the development.

According to Rossi, the capital used on the project derives from the sale of the Italian company Eon, which he founded in 2003....Rossi is now paying the remaining 500,000 Euros to the Physics Department of Bologna University, following a new agreement under which the university will help Rossi with the continued development of the reactor and studies of its physical phenomena.

According to the agreement, the work is led by the physicist Giuseppe Levi, who was the main observer when the ‘energy catalyzer’ was demonstrated to invited scientists and media in Bologna in January 2011. Giuseppe Levi also carried out a longer test of the reactor in February, lasting 18 hours.

“The 500,000 Euros I am paying to the University of Bologna is my last money, but when I deliver the one-megawatt plant to Defkalion I get cash back. From then on, 50% will be used for expansion and 50% to treat children with cancer. I will personally look for the children whose families cannot afford their care,” said Andrea Rossi. _nyteknik

English transcript of a discussion with two eminent Swedish scientists who share their thoughts on Rossi's LENR device, including their impressions of their own interactions with Rossi himself. Both gentlemen are natural sceptics, and are withholding judgment on the ultimate fate of the device. Yet they agree that Rossi is not likely to be perpetrating a scam.

Typical scam artists will solicit as much outside investment as possible, without risking much of their own money. That is not how Rossi appears to be approaching this venture. Al Fin analysts will follow events as they become public.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Toward an Economical Production of Propane and Propylene from Biomass

Biomass can be fermented to produce butyric acid or 3-hydroxybutyrate, which can then be decarboxylated to produce propane or propylene. Here's the abstract from research done at MIT chemical engineering dept. describing their more economical process of producing propane and propylene from butyric acid :
We demonstrate a route for the production of C3 hydrocarbons from renewable biomass by the hydrothermal conversion of well-known fermentation end-products. Specifically, the major commercial C3 hydrocarbons, propane and propylene, can be obtained from butyric acid and 3-hydroxybutyrate (3HB) in substantial yields and industrially relevant productivities by hydrothermal decarboxylation. Butyric acid decarboxylates in supercritical water to give propane as the major product at 454 °C and 25 MPa. 3HB undergoes joint dehydration and decarboxylation in subcritical water to yield propylene at 371 °C and 25 MPa with yields of up to 48 mol %. Although catalysts may be found that increase yields and selectivities, these processes were demonstrated without any added heterogeneous catalysts, and have the further advantage of requiring no external H2 source. _ACS
This follows an earlier report from U. Michigan and Zhejiang U. (China) describing the synthesis of longer chain hydrocarbons by decarboxylation from fatty acids, without added hydrogen.

Propylene has many industrial uses, and propane is the third most commonly used fuel in the world. If these 3 chain hydrocarbons can be made cheaply enough from biomass, they will find a ready market.

More from GCC

Petroleum prices are currently over-hyped, but the longer they stay high, the more motivation research funders will have for funding alternative approaches to common fuels and industrial chemicals from alternative feedstocks.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Areva Blog Hosts 43rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy

Areva Blog is hosting the latest (43rd) edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy (via Brian Wang). Here is a short excerpt:

From The Nuclear Green Revolution

Many important industrial processes require the input heat produced by burning carbon based fuels. The decarbonization of society requires that the use of carbon based fossil fuels be largely eliminated as energy resources. Renewable energy resources, including solar thermal systems would seem to be poor candidates for many industrial process heat applications. A number of nuclear technologies may be offered as limited sources of industrial process heat, but a new Oak Ridge National Laboratory, reactor design project, the SmAHTR, appears to offer a high level of nuclear safety, to low cost and a promising evolutionary rout to temperas as high as 1000 C and even higher. [... read more.]

From Yes Vermont Yankee

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin celebrates that the NRC said “Yes, Vermont Yankee” by awarding a license renewal (at long last). She discusses the technology and the politics behind this decision. [... read more.]

Brian Wang is following efforts to stabilise Japan's nuclear reactors damaged by its recent horrific earthquakes and tsunami.

Japan is evacuating 50,000 people from around the most damaged reactor, and taking other preventative measures to prevent harmful radiation exposure.

Greens are predictably calling for a prohibition of nuclear power, although they would clearly save more lives by prohibiting earthquakes and tsunamis. Without energy, billions of people will die. But then, that is precisely what green lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgy enthusiasts are hoping for, isn't it?


Peak Oil Confronts Peak Idiocracy: What to Do?

Offshore Oil Installations
Political restrictions on international oil drilling by OPEC, Russia, and other national oil companies and dictatorships is driving international companies to drill in more extreme environments. Extreme offshore drilling is likely to increase for this reason, and because that is where most of the new giant oil fields are likely to be found. Such a movement into an extreme environment is becoming more difficult as the world confronts "peak manpower" -- which is the inevitable mirror image of "peak Idiocracy."

Due to differential birthrates and other global demographic change, the global average population IQ is dropping from near 90, ever closer to 85, then toward 80. In order to competently operate a high-tech infrastructure, a population needs to have an average IQ of 90 or above -- due to the nature of the IQ distribution, and the demands of high-tech jobs on a human brain. Energy operations -- particularly in extreme environments -- require competency and a minimal intelligence in order to avoid disaster. Many of the richest seafloor oil fields lie offshore of countries with some of the lowest average IQs, globally. Shipping in outside workers is the obvious answer, but there is a limit to the number of competent workers who are in the training pipeline, again due to global demographics (and horrendous political decisions).
Evolution of Offshore Platforms
Offshore rigs have gotten better over the years, but they still require extensive human manning and oversight. In difficult operations, disaster is only a breath of inattention away. The oil industry has therefore been developing robotic seafloor drilling equipment which can move much of the danger far away from rig workers. Such equipment can also reduce the numbers of highly trained, highly intelligent technicians to oversee operations.
Robotic Seafloor Oil Drilling Installation
New robotic rigs will be used for both exploratory and production purposes. Here is more information about an exploratory seafloor robot:
This new exploration rig is unlike any other. The design allows it to be operated on the ocean floor, uninhabited, enabling safer exploration of ultra-deep water and arctic regions that are both difficult and sometimes impossible to access with traditional rigs.

Seabed Rig AS has designed intelligent robots, controlled using software provided by Cambridge, Massachusetts firm Energid Technologies Corporation.

"The software was originally developed for NASA and the National Science Foundation for controlling complex robotic systems," says Neil Tardella, COO of Energid. "We are leveraging this software to build the most intelligent rig of its kind."

With an automated rig, workers are kept from immediate harm, and human error place a much less critical role in its operation -- the source of several major incidents in the past. "Robots do not get tired and make mistakes," says Roald Valen, Robotics and Control System Manager at Seabed Rig. "They do not get hurt."

For safety, the Seabed rig employs a patented encapsulated and pressure compensated design, giving an environmentally friendly solution with zero discharge to the sea. "Our aim is to make the rig both safer and more effective than any exploration rig currently in use," says Kenneth Mikalsen, CTO of Seabed Rig. _GreyGoose
Similar rigs will be used for mining of minerals and mining of oil&gas. The aim is to move the danger away from workers, while at the same time eventually reducing the necessary numbers of top level technicians -- using increasingly autonomous robots supervised by increasingly centralised and multi-tasking remote technical overseers.

It is imperative to remove oil operations far away from African populations -- where insurgencies, corruption, and dangerous petty thievery associated with pipelines and wells can leave tens of thousands of people dead every year, costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to oil company operations.

Placing operations thousands of metres under the sea -- with supervisory facilities away from insurgencies and corrupt officials -- can save lives and money. Finding better ways to route pipelines away from populated areas -- and other areas accessible to local populations -- will require careful planning and design.

French oil giant Total has already three subsea gas/liquid separation units off the coast of Angola under 800 metres of water.
The subsea production system for Pazflor’s three Miocene reservoirs includes three subsea separation units. Each one consists of four retrievable packages: a gas-liquid separator; two hybrid pumps to boost the liquids; and a manifold to distribute the effluents to the separator and pumps. Purpose-designed for Pazflor, the hybrid pumps are another first. They combine multiphase stages, compatible with the presence of gas in the liquid, and a centrifugal stage, to improve efficiency.

Fabrication of the SSUs, completed in 2010, entailed nearly 350,000 man-hours of work.

Both systems—the standard production loop for light oil and the new subsea separation technology—will be connected to a single Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel. _GCC
The Idiocracy is coming, but the global demand for energy will continue to be high as long as high tech infrastructure in global cities and industrial nations can be maintained. This places world energy companies in a squeeze, of sorts, as qualified workers become scarce at a faster rate than demand for product falls off.

Corrupt national governments will continue to institute restrictive taxes, regulations, and ultimately nationalisation -- as the situation on the streets becomes worse.

This is not peak oil, as conventionally understood. The reserves are still there, but the competent manpower required to access the reserves is shrinking away for political and demographic reasons. There will concomitantly be a shortage of advanced materials required to access extreme resources, likewise due to peak manpower and poor national planning. Political peak oil.

It is never too early to plan for dealing with the fallout from bad government and a slipshod sociological transition. Never underestimate the stupidity of your leadership. You are responsible for yourself and your family, no matter what they tell you.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Political Payoff? Obama's NRC Awards Rare Design Approval to GE

GE is the company of Obama-insider Jeff Immelt, pictured above. GE is also the parent company of the NBC media conglomerate, which has been wrapped around Obama in a love embrace since early in Obama's presidential campaign.

GE has been paid back in several ways, for its support of Obama. The most recent payoff comes in the form of an NRC design approval for GE-Hitachi's ESBWR reactor.
... the NRC has awarded design approval to GE Hitachi’s ESBWR, giving a boost to the consortium’s international efforts....The approval puts GE Hitachi one step ahead of Westinghouse, which is still awaiting approval of its Gen III design, the AP1000 _NuclearTownHall

This favoritism is only a continuation of the cozy relationship between the two persons and their power bases. A GE power plant received a special exemption from new Obama-EPA greenhouse gas rules, for example. GE's Immelt was appointed chairman of Obama's "outside" economic advisers. This puts GE in the driver's seat as long as Obama sits on the throne. The close relationship has been going on for years, however. One hand washes the other, as they say in organised crime, labour unions, and the US Democratic Party.

It is a shame to see crucial energy policy used as a political payback tool by the dilettante in chief. But it is nothing more than expected from this political machine.

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On Going Where the Real Energy Is: Fundamental Forces

Images from Wikipedia "forces" and "quarks"
The image above portrays three "quarks", particles which when combined make up larger particles such as neutrons and protons. Quarks come in different varieties, and are bound together to form larger particles by "gluons." Gluons moderate the so-called "strong nuclear force," which may hold the answer to a limitless source of energy.
Humans get most of their energy from chemical reactions, moderated by the electromagnetic force. Such chemical energy is far less potent (less dense) than nuclear energy -- either fission, fusion, or LENRs (low energy nuclear reactions). The forces moderating nuclear reactions are far more powerful than the electromagnetic forces moderating chemical reactions -- which is why smart fission can provide humans with abundant energy for thousands of years, and fusion power is essentially limitless in human terms. But to truly take best advantage of fission, fusion, and LENRs, we need to understand the nuclear forces better.
...Despite many hundreds of well-functioning nuclear power plants, our understanding of nuclear forces is only empirical, and empirical knowledge is always imperfect.

For example, in producing nuclear energy, the decay reactions repeat many times, with the imperfections of every repetition resulting in a loss of predictive power of computations. This hampers the optimisation process, and is one of the main reasons why several large projects investigating energy production using more abundant uranium-238 or thorium (fast breeder reactors) were closed in Europe and the United States before they achieved the expected level of performance.

Another problem is the nuclear waste that emerges when energy is produced in the decay process. The waste can be substantially, or even completely, reduced if we could use an alternative form of nuclear decay that is triggered by externally accelerated particles. Here, too, however, we need more precise knowledge of the properties of nuclear processes.

The force binding atomic nuclei is a special case of the "strong force", one of the four fundamental forces in nature, and is extremely difficult to investigate, because it acts very quickly and violently. Around 50 years ago, it was proposed to study the strong forces by firing protons at each other at very high energies.

...Several large accelerator research centres were built, and the scattering of particles at high energies revealed a fascinating structure of matter. New particles, called gluons, were found to mediate the strong force. Their discovery should provide a clue to precise knowledge of the strong force.

At short distances, gluons create an attractive force that is pretty weak and well understood. But, at larger distances, comparable to the proton radius, the force becomes really strong, and a very large number of gluons is involved, forming complicated structures that are not well known today. Therefore, for some time, it was not expected that the properties of the strong force could be directly derived from the properties of gluons.

In the last few years, however, experiments at the HERA accelerator in Hamburg, Germany, have observed the strong interaction effects in slow motion, which could open a way to a precise understanding of the strong force.

...The appearance of such clear gluonic structures was unexpected; the experiments at HERA were not designed to study them. But the precision experiments required to measure the strong force can be designed and built with known technology. So two large groups of physicists - one concentrated around the Brookhaven and Jefferson National Laboratories in the United States, and the other around CERN in Geneva - are proposing to restart the investigation of electron-proton interactions.

The study of these interactions should provide a precise understanding of the strong force....A precise understanding of the strong force could be just as important, opening new ways to use nuclear-energy resources while solving the problems of safety and nuclear waste. _AlJazeera

Humans are slightly advanced monkeys, swinging from meager knowledge trees, flinging gobs of shite at each other and hooting into the night. It's going to take some time, discipline, and work to move forward.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Electricity at 1 Cent per kWh from New LENR Reactor?

Rossi is asked about the initial cost of electricity produced by his systems in terms of cents per kw-h. His respone is”1 cent per kWh”. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average residential cost of electricity is 9.74 cents per kWh (2009 figures). Rossi does not say whether his estimate is at the wholesale or retail level, but in any case, his projection shows that he is anticipating the cost of electricity production to be at a much lower rate than is currently possible. _FET
...brute force is used to cause hot fusion, while cold fusion requires a complex solid environment in which a process similar to seduction can operate. Hot fusion has been studied for more than 60 years by many and, arguably, is well understood. Cold fusion has been studied for only 18 years by a few and is hardly understood at all. Cold fusion is a clean energy source resulting in essentially no radioactivity. Hot fusion results in the generation of considerable amounts of radioactive elements. _ScienceofLowEnergyReactions PDF Storms
Several websites have devoted time to updating the status of the Rossi-Focardi low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) reactor, and "cold fusion" generally.

Brian Westenhaus provides a useful update, focusing on the reaction of American scientist Edmund Storms' reaction to the Rossi/Focardi device and the recent international cold fusion conference in Chennai, India. Some useful links are included.

The Pure Energy Systems Network site also provides a recent update on Rossi's work at the University of Bologna, providing reactions from international researchers in the field of LENR. Worth a look for the curious and the sceptical.

Even more at Cold Fusion Now, and Free Energy Times.

Humans need a clean, cheap, abundant source of energy and power. We need to keep our eyes and minds open to new possibilities. Still, it is best to follow these claims dispassionately, and cautiously.

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