Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Makers of Ethanol Ponder Alternative

By RUSSELL GOLD - The Wall Street Journal

Some ethanol makers, battered by unpredictable profit margins and criticism that production of the corn-based fuel drives up food prices, are being presented with a way out: making biobutanol.

Biofuels entrepreneurs are hoping to snap up idled and financially distressed ethanol plants and convert them to make biobutanol, another plant-based fuel that can be blended into gasoline or used to make plastic products such as water bottles.

Denver-based Gevo Inc., a privately held biofuels start-up, is expected to say Wednesday that it is lining up financing to acquire and retrofit as many as five ethanol plants to produce biobutanol. The company hopes to purchase or partner with plants with capacity to make at least 200 million gallons a year. At going rates for ethanol plants, the total cost of the plants could exceed $125 million, according to industry experts.

Gevo, backed by renewable-energy investors such as Khosla Ventures and the French global energy giant Total SA, says it has successfully retrofitted its first plant, a demonstration project in Missouri, to show it can quickly and cost-effectively convert existing ethanol plants.

Many ethanol makers landed in bankruptcy-court proceedings last year when corn prices rose and gasoline prices dropped.

"We provide a practical way to get into products that have a whole lot more options than ethanol," said Gevo Chief Executive Patrick Gruber.

Gevo isn't alone. Butamax, a joint venture of BP PLC and DuPont Co., is building its first biobutanol facility in Hull, England, and expects to expand production by retrofitting existing ethanol facilities in the U.S., says a BP spokesman.

Made from corn, wheat and a variety of inedible crops, biobutanol is a versatile fuel. It can be blended into gasoline at higher concentrations than the more common corn-based ethanol. It can be mixed into existing petrochemical infrastructure, unlike ethanol, which can't be moved by pipeline. Also unlike ethanol, biobutanol can be converted into a feedstock for the chemical and plastics industries and used to make flat-screen television sets or water bottles.

Adding to its allure, biobutanol is expected to qualify as an option for satisfying large federal-government biofuels mandates, creating an immediate market for the fuel.

"Think of it as a smart biorefinery," says Hans Blaschek, director of the Center for Advanced Bioenergy Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "You are able to utilize more feedstocks and make different products. It's like having a portfolio of stocks versus having a single stock."

Still, there are hurdles. Per bushel of corn, biobutanol yields are lower than ethanol, driving up costs, although Mr. Gruber says biobutanol is likely to be competitive with oil as a plastics-industry ingredient as long as the price of oil is above $45 a barrel. Crude oil closed at $66.71 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Tuesday.

But biobutanol production on an industrial scale is only now being tried, so many assumptions remain untested. "Biobutanol holds significant promise as a next-generation fuel, but at this point there isn't commercial-scale production and it remains to be seen which feedstock and which process will be economically viable," says Todd Alexander, a partner with law firm Chadbourne & Parke LLP, who has handled biofuels financing deals.

Cobalt Biofuels, a biofuels start-up based in the San Francisco Bay area, doesn't plan to buy existing ethanol facilities, which by location will likely rely on crops from nearby farms. This link to agricultural prices is what got ethanol in trouble, says Cobalt Chief Financial Officer Steven Shevick. The company is focused on turning trees and other woody biomass into biobutanol.

Write to Russell Gold at

First solar energy unit in Egypt to operate in 2010

Egypt's Minister of Electricity Hassan Younes has said that the country's first solar power station will operate at full capacity in 2010, Reuters has reported. The new station, which will have a 140 megawatts capacity, is part of a larger facility that also includes three non-solar units and is expected to generate 2,900 megawatts once it comes onstream, he said.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

China leads way for solar energy

By Andrew S. Ross

Next month, Santa Clara's Applied Materials Inc. is scheduled to open a giant solar energy R&D center. The company is investing up to $300 million in the facility. It will not be situated in California, nor in the United States, but in Xian, China. Because China's where the action is.

"If the U.S. doesn't get serious, China's going to own this industry," said Applied Materials spokesman David Miller. He points to the Manhattan Project-like push for alternative energy adopted by Chinese officials, which includes up to $60 billion annually in government investment. And here? "Here, we're way behind," said Miller. "We're still messing around with energy bills. We need to get serious, to get capital spending flowing, to get the government truly behind it, to get focused."

Miller and his company are not simply blowing smoke. In as little as two years, analysts predict, China will be the world's biggest consumer of solar energy. By 2013, its clean tech market could amount to $1 trillion annually, according to a report earlier this month from the China Greentech Initiative, a consortium of U.S. and Chinese companies that includes Cisco Systems and the Silicon Valley VC firm VantagePoint Venture Partners, which specializes in clean tech investments.

Neither is Applied Materials alone in its views. I've heard them similarly expressed by numerous Bay Area executives and investors with business ties to China. "They get that these are the industries of the 21st century," says VantagePoint managing partner Alan Salzman, whose Bay Area clean tech investments include Tesla Motors, BrightSource Energy and Solazyme. "The level of support for green tech there is breathtaking. It exceeds anything done here on a state or federal level."

As if any more wake-up calls were needed, two other VantagePoint Venture Partners' portfolio companies, Santa Clara's Miasolé, which produces advanced, thin-film solar panels, and Sunnyvale's Bridgelux, developer of energy-efficient LED lighting, are reluctantly considering locating their manufacturing facilities outside the United States.

"From a global competitiveness perspective, we're just not there," said Salzman.

Balance of article:

Monday, September 28, 2009

China's Wind Farms Come With a Catch: Coal Plants

(Editor's Note: As has often been pointed out in this blog, intermittent alternative energy sources require smart grids to manage power when the sun doesn't shine, the wind doesn't blow, and the waves go slack. The more alternative energy you utilize, the more sophisticated your grid has to be.)

SHANGHAI—China's ambition to create "green cities" powered by huge wind farms comes with a dirty little secret: Dozens of new coal-fired power plants need to be installed as well.

Part of the reason is that wind power depends on, well, the wind. To safeguard against blackouts when conditions are too calm, officials have turned to coal-fired power as a backup.

China wants renewable energy like wind to meet 15% of its energy needs by 2020, double its share in 2005, as it seeks to rein in emissions that have made its cities among the smoggiest on Earth. But experts say the country's transmission network currently can't absorb the rate of growth in renewable-energy output. Last year, as much as 30% of wind-power capacity wasn't connected to the grid. As a result, more coal is being burned in existing plants, and new thermal capacity is being built to cover this shortfall in renewable energy.

In addition, officials want enough new coal-fired capacity in reserve so that they can meet demand whenever the wind doesn't blow. This is important because wind is less reliable as an energy source than coal, which fuels two-thirds of China's electricity output. Wind energy ultimately depends on wind strength and direction, unlike coal, which can be stockpiled at generators in advance.

Further complicating matters is poor connectivity between regional transmission networks, which makes it hard for China to move surplus power in one part of the country to cover shortfalls elsewhere.

China may not be alone in having to ramp up thermal power capacity as it develops wind farms. Any country with a combination of rapidly growing energy demand, an old and inflexible grid, an existing reliance on coal for power, and ambitious renewable energy-expansion plans will likely have a similar dilemma. What marks China out as different is the amount of new coal-fired capacity that needs to be added.

The China Greentech Initiative, a group made up of more than 80 mostly large Western companies and organizations with interests in the environmental sector, said in a report earlier this month, "China's increased focus on renewable energy exerts yet greater demands on China's electric power infrastructure. Power generation based on renewable energy sources ... necessitates greater use of intermittent generation management and storage."

"China will need to add a substantial amount of coal-fired power capacity by 2020 in line with its expanding economy, and the idea is to bring some of the capacity earlier than necessary in order to facilitate the wind-power transmission," said Shi Pengfei, vice president of the Chinese Wind Power Association.

Largely due to its reliance on coal, China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in absolute terms. Last year, the country accounted for more than 85% of global growth in coal demand, according to BP PLC's statistical review of world energy.

Facing pressure from abroad over the pace of China's emissions growth, President Hu Jintao used a speech to the United Nations last Tuesday to stress his country's commitment to tackling climate change. He said China will lower energy intensity as the country grows, while raising output of renewable energy and nuclear power. China aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product by a "notable margin" by 2020, Mr. Hu said, without setting a concrete cap.

The city of Jiuquan, in the flat and arid northwestern province of Gansu, shows the complexities that crop up when implementing such plans. The city is meant to showcase the strides China is making in renewable energy. Wind turbines with a combined capacity of 12.7 gigawatts are due to be installed there by 2015—more than the country's present nuclear-power capacity.

But the Jiuquan government wants to build 9.2 gigawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity as well, for use when the winds aren't favorable. That's equivalent to the entire generating capacity of Hungary.

Construction of these thermal power plants is pending approval by Beijing, an official with the Energy Department under the Jiuquan Development and Reform Bureau said Tuesday.

The heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants to add to the power supply from large wind farms in order to meet minimum power demand is essential to grid safety, said Mr. Shi of the Chinese Wind Power Association.

To be sure, any kilowatt hour of wind power consumed by end users ultimately replaces a kilowatt hour of electricity generated by other, possibly dirty, sources such as coal, and the huge power supply expected from the new wind farms represents a major stride in China's clean energy push.

In addition to Jiuquan, there are plans for six other wind farms in China with a capacity of more than 10 gigawatts each, mostly in sparsely populated inland regions such as wind-swept Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

Several gigawatts of new thermal power capacity will need to be built at these sites as well, Mr. Shi said.

China has plenty of windswept plains and sun-baked deserts like the Gobi which can host turbines or solar panels, but these are often far from cities and existing infrastructure for shipping power. Sebastian Meyer, director of research and advisory services with clean-energy consultancy Azure International, says China needs a more modern and flexible grid if it wants to raise the share of renewable power in its energy mix.

So-called smart-grid technology aims to modernize the power sector by overlaying digital communications onto the grid, enabling utilities to manage supply more efficiently and compensate for any variance. But while the U.S. and many countries in Europe are lining up spending to exploit the technology, China is lagging behind.

State Grid Corp., China's monopoly power distributor in all but five provinces, says it wants to build a nationwide "strong smart grid." But while it is investing heavily in grid improvements, its immediate focus is the construction of ultrahigh-voltage lines linking China's coal production and hydropower centers in inland areas to the densely populated east.

A single such line can carry up to 6.4 gigawatts of power, which makes it even more important that generation at its starting point is stable and reliable.

—Jing Yang, The Wall Street Journal

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Politics of Energy #24 - Going green is their Maine thing, though the guests might not notice

By Hilary Nangle, Boston Globe Correspondent

Green is the latest buzzword and accommodations nationwide are rushing to cash in. That has resulted in “green washing,’’ or creating the illusion of environmental virtue without the substance. Check into one of these Maine properties to sample the real thing.

Maple Hill Farm B&B Inn and Conference Center, Hallowell This renovated 1906 farmhouse, set on 130 acres laced with trails and next to an 800-acre wildlife preserve, was green long before it became a household word.

Co-owner Scott Cowger served in the Maine Legislature and chaired the Natural Resources Committees of both its House and Senate. “It’s important to me that we leave this world a better place,’’ he says. “I put my money where my mouth is. We’ve made major investments in going green.’’

The inn, Maine’s first certified Environmental Leader green lodging, produces its own energy using 202 evacuated tube collectors, 126 photovoltaic panels, and a wind turbine. It has a combined solar hot water and electric system that generates enough power to reduce CO2 emission by more than 40,000 pounds annually. “Some days we get all of our power from solar and wind, but typically, it’s about 50 percent overall. We do get most of our domestic hot water from solar,’’ Cowger says.

Now he is tackling lighting. “We have a lot of fixtures where we can’t use compact fluorescents. We want to switch to LED, but it’s a major expense. The LED bulbs cost $50 each, but they’re very efficient and last a long time. I’m trying to convince the state to offer rebate programs.’’

Cowger sees a more enlightened consumer these days, one who inquires about green policies. “Hanging up and reusing a towel is no longer enough,’’ he says.

Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth “We started down a green path eight years ago by ripping out all the exotic plants and replacing them with indigenous ones that require less water and chemicals,’’ says spokesperson Rauni Kew. “The next thing we did was change out 850 incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents, LED, and solar lights, and then we were on our way.’’

The beachfront inn, which says it is the first in Maine to heat with biofuel and the first in New England to have dual-flush toilets, also has solar panels, and when it added a spa last year during a multimillion-dollar renovation, the green initiatives continued. During treatments, “guests are wrapped in bamboo towels, and we use natural products,’’ Kew says.

Five acres are dedicated to a wildlife habitat, including a certified butterfly way station. “We created fun and whimsical programs for kids and adults, such as how to plant for wildlife for adults, and bug’s-life summer programs for kids, in which they dress like bugs and learn about ecosystems from a bug’s viewpoint.’’
DragonFlye Inn, Brooklin Joe Moore guarantees guests that, “to the greatest practical extent, every product that is not actively reused at DragonFlye Inn will be either organically grown, manufactured with sustainable practices, or some combination of both.’’

That has resulted in some innovative ideas. He originally planned to replace the slate roof with a faux slate one made from recycled automotive tires, but the cost was nearly quadruple an asphalt roof. “That really was a disappointment,’’ Moore says. “It would have been not only good for the environment, but also aesthetically more pleasing. But to do so, we would have had to forgo other projects for economic necessity.’’

Moore has proceeded with other green initiatives. Last year, he insulated the 1874 Victorian using shredded blue jeans. “You can blow it into walls and attic space just like you would a normal blow-in insulation.’’

Now he’s constructing a solar energy system. And he has turned his green efforts into a neighborhood project. He collects plastic grocery bags from neighbors to use as trash-bin liners in guest rooms. “We’ve also built a recycling station in our parking lot for glass, plastic, and aluminum for all our neighbors. We give the glass bottles to the school for its fund-raising.’’ 

Oceanside Meadows, Prospect Harbor The property, which comprises two 19th-century farmhouses operating as bed-and-breakfasts on 200 mostly undeveloped acres on the Schoodic Peninsula, stretches from a saltwater marsh, through forests and meadows, by a brackish pond, to a rare sand beach framed by grassy dunes and craggy ledges. It’s a spectacular piece of real estate that owners Ben Walter and Sonja Sundaram aim to preserve.

Their grand plan is to preserve the land in as natural a state as possible and provide access unimpeded by development. “We want people to commune with nature,’’ Sundaram says. They’ve cut trails and created detailed guides illustrating the property’s habitats and ecosystems. All guests receive laminated copies of these to use during their stay. As one noted: “These guides are amazing; the info is real science, not pandering.’’

The inn’s renovated, 125-seat barn is home to The Innstitute for Arts and Sciences. Programs have included lectures by astronomer Alan Hale (co-discoverer of the comet Hale-Bopp) and ornithologist David Wingate, astronomy programs, and concerts ranging from Opera Maine to Paul Sullivan.

Sundaram maintains organic gardens, which she forages each morning for herbs and edible flowers to use in elaborate breakfasts hearty enough to fuel guests for a day of environmental explorations.
Three Pines Bed & Breakfast, Hancock This oceanfront organic farm and bed-and-breakfast is completely off the power grid. The 40-acre property on the east side of Hancock Point fronts on Sullivan Harbor, just below the Reversing Falls. Owners Ed and Karen Curtis have completed a conservation easement through the Frenchman Bay Conservancy to protect it from development.

“My husband had taken an interest in solar in the late 1970s, and when we were ready to make a change from our engineer lives, he wanted to put that interest into practice,’’ Karen says.

Ed did all the planning to make the house as energy efficient as possible. The design is passive solar; photovoltaics provide electricity; appliances are primarily propane-powered; satellite technology operates the TV and Internet systems; a masonry heater provides warmth in winter.

For the Curtises, it’s not just about being green, but also about sustainable living. They raise rare breed sheep for wool and chickens for eggs; grow organic vegetables, berries, and grapes; maintain a 40-tree orchard; and recently began keeping bees. They also make cheese, yogurt, soap, cider, jams and jellies, and maple syrup.

“We get people drawn to various aspects of our project here,’’ Karen says. “Some have no idea we’re off the grid, they’re coming strictly for location. Some are very interested in the farming aspects. Some come because we’re vegetarians. Some people never even know we’re off the grid, if the subject doesn’t come up. Unless they happen to ask, it’s completely transparent.’’

Maine Huts and Trails, Carrabassett Valley This system is the ultimate in green. Getting to the full-service, bordering-on-hiker-luxury huts, requires hiking or mountain biking in summer, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in winter.

Two huts, one at Poplar Stream Falls and the other on the shores of Flagstaff Lake, have been completed. Fund-raising is underway for the third, which will be sited on the north shore of the Dead River, about a mile below Grand Falls. Although off the power grid, they have electricity and heat, and the restrooms have hot showers, motion-sensor-operated lighting, and composting toilets.

Power is produced by means of hydro, a wood boiler, solar panels, and a woodstove. It’s a sophisticated system backed up by a propane generator. At times during the year, the Poplar Falls hut actually produces as much as 55 percent more power than it can use, says Alex Frankel, a seasonal worker. “We have to dump it, because there’s no way of storing it.’’

Hilary Nangle can be reached at

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Five-year-mission solar stratocruiser prototype is a go

$155m 'Vulture II' robosunbird gets off drawing board

By Lewis Page - Posted in Science - The Register

The famous Pentagon tech wildcards at DARPA have announced plans to move forward with a flying, full-size prototype "Vulture" strato-wingship able to cruise the upper atmosphere for 5 years without landing.
The Vulture programme got underway last year with three competing industry teams carrying out development work on their different concepts. In essence all the designs offered vast, feather-light - yet strong - electrically propelled aircraft able to charge up onboard energy-storage systems using solar power. During the hours of darkness, the ships would rely entirely on stored juice to hold station regardless of powerful stratospheric winds, and to power their payload systems - probably military comms/surveillance kit.

The original phase one effort was intended to deliver nothing more than design studies. Now, however, DARPA has issued a statement saying that it expects to proceed with "Vulture II" next month. This is to involve "manufacturing and flight test of a full scale platform to demonstrate... critical function and capability of all elements of the Vulture II program."

The tech-head agency expects this to be done within a budget of "$155m total". The winning contractor will almost certainly be one of the three consortia which worked on the initial Vulture I design studies.

We here on the Reg stratocruiser desk will be cheering for the innovative "Z-wing" triad ship from Aurora Flight Sciences, BAE Systems and partners. This would see three wing sections take off independently and dock together 17 miles up. The resulting Z-wing would be able to cunningly tilt parts of itself in flight so as to align its solar cells with a sun low on the horizon, as it would be much of the time when flying at high northern or southern latitudes in winter.

Frankly though, any day a $155m deal is awarded for someone to build a five-year upper-atmos wingship is a pretty good day for the stratocruiser desk, so we won't complain whoever gets the job.

But it'll be a big job. At the moment the sunbird flight record is just two nights, held by the Qinetiq "Zephyr", and even that was achieved with the midsummer sun passing almost directly overhead the flight test area. Still, if the Vulture II doesn't work, perhaps DARPA's $400m solar-powered blimp - flight demonstrator now building - will do better.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Politics of Energy #23 - Oxy oil discovery could spark new interest in California's energy potential

The biggest find in the state in 35 years, somewhere in Kern County, could herald new exploration in California and the U.S., experts say. But some worry it could lead to a false sense of security.

(Editor's Note: California still ranks fourth in the nation behind the combined federal offshore drilling sites and Texas and Alaska. But you have to ask the question, "What oil company would want to do business in California?")
By Ronald D. White

A few years ago, Occidental Petroleum Corp. executive Stephen I. Chazen sounded like a cryptologist out of a Dan Brown novel as he told investors that an oil bonanza awaited any outfit that could "crack the code" of California's seismically fractured underground.

Occidental's engineers may have done it.

The Westwood company revealed in July that it had found the equivalent of 150 million to 250 million barrels of oil and natural gas in an undisclosed part of Kern County using techniques that the oil company's executives would rather not talk about. It was California's biggest find in 35 years.

Some experts say it could herald a period of new exploration in California and the U.S.

"Certainly this kind of success will send other people back to California to rethink the geology and rethink the theories of the area," said Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the oil industry "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power."

Joe Hahn knows firsthand the significance of finding that much crude in California.

A former oil reservoir engineer for Arco, now owned by oil giant BP, Hahn said that exploration in the state has been rife with failures and false leads.
"We had considerable acreage that turned out to be good as goat pasture," said Hahn, now a professor at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. "It's very rare to have a find of this size" this late in California's oil-production history.

Despite steady declines in petroleum output to about 214.5 million barrels last year from about 394 million barrels at the 1985 peak, California still ranks fourth in the nation behind the combined federal offshore drilling sites and Texas and Alaska.

Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said there has been renewed interest in many old oil regions long believed to have given up most or all of their crude.

"We're seeing quite a bit of activity," Bullock said. "A: They think they can find more oil; B: They think they can get it out of the ground."

Over the last decade, Occidental has been actively acquiring leases and drilling rights in California as most other big oil companies have been selling out. But Occidental executives weren't the only people who thought that California might have a surprising amount of oil left to exploit.

The U.S. Geological Survey travels the country to assess petroleum reserves and the potential for new discoveries. In 2003 and again in 2007, its geologists said that it was likely that an additional 4 billion barrels "may be added to reserves in existing oil fields."

As Occidental's Chazen put it, "We had a small amount of production in California, historically, but we made a commitment to explore in the state. Even so, it has taken us the better part of 10 years to get where we are now."

Occidental executives have kept secret both the location of the discovery and the methods used to find the new oil and natural gas field.

"The way we found it is obviously proprietary," said Chazen, the company president, who was a vice president when he tantalized investors about code cracking in 2001. "Other people might own acreage nearby that we will want to acquire."

Chazen wasn't above dropping hints about the holdings, which were painstakingly amassed over several years.

"Most of the land was not held by individuals. Most was held by some kind of corporation or institution, some by the federal government. This wasn't a redwood forest. If you had the water for it, you might be raising cotton, at best, on it. Some of it we owned. We have the oil rights to 1 million acres there," Chazen said.

In the company's latest earnings call with analysts and investors, Chazen said that the oil find "is most similar to deep-water discovery," later adding, "There is no good analogy that we can come up with that looks like this field anywhere in the Lower 48" states.

As soon as the discovery was announced, the race was on to figure out the location of Occidental's find. A few real estate agents turned into amateur sleuths, worried about the possibility that the oil might be next to some new client's home.

Residents were asked whether they had seen or heard any unusual activity. Analysts pored over geologist reports for what was formerly known as the Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve and another naval preserve east of that site. Every drilling permit Occidental obtained since 2008 was reviewed. Taft City Council officials were even surprised to find people reading the minutes of their meetings, because the town (population 7,626) sits in an area virtually surrounded by established oil fields.

Doug Leggate, an oil analyst with investment firm Howard Weil Inc., thinks he may have figured it out.

Occidental has mainly been drilling in Elk Hills, where it owns an 80% stake, and two nearby oil fields -- Asphalto and Buena Vista -- where it had acquired drilling rights, Leggate said. The most intriguing possibility, he said, was that Occidental found a rare instance in which seismic activity had shoved oil-rich strata a mile or two deeper than in nearby fields, which hid the oil from previous drillers.

"In our view, Oxy's declared discovery may only scratch the surface of the ultimate potential of its acreage in the San Joaquin basin," Leggate said. "We suggest the resource potential could reasonably exceed 1 billion barrels."

In 1998, the company paid nearly $3.7 billion for its stake in the Elk Hills field, a patch of low and dusty hills that gently rise above the surrounding farmland. The only things keeping the oil pumps company are scrubby plants, anthills and the occasional tarantula and rattlesnake. The consensus among analysts was that Occidental had spent a huge sum for a field past its prime.

"We analysts were laughing at them, and right after they bought it, oil prices crashed," recalled Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst for Oppenheimer & Co. But Occidental wound up increasing output. "That oil field is printing money for Occidental," he said. Not everyone sees Occidental's discovery as positive.

Some worry that the find and a more recent discovery by BP of a giant oil field deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico will provide a false sense of security. Christopher Steiner, author of the book "$20 per Gallon," said that complacency set in after the Alaskan and North Sea discoveries flooded the market with oil, slowing the momentum toward better fuel efficiency and alternative energy development.

Others view Occidental's discovery as a sign that the U.S. is far from running out of new sources of oil. Every time people start to think that things are over," Yergin said, "technology opens up new horizons and new ways of understanding what is underground."

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thirsty? The Moon is Humanity's Canteen. We'll Need It

Andrea Thompson
Senior Writer -

Since man first touched the moon and brought pieces of it back to Earth, scientists have thought that the lunar surface was bone dry. But new observations from three different spacecraft have put this notion to rest with what has been called "unambiguous evidence" of water across the surface of the moon.

The new findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, come in the wake of further evidence of lunar polar water ice by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and just weeks before the planned lunar impact of NASA's LCROSS satellite, which will hit one of the permanently shadowed craters at the moon's south pole in hope of churning up evidence of water ice deposits in the debris field.

The moon remains drier than any desert on Earth, but the water is said to exist on the moon in very small quantities. One ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would hold about 32 ounces of water, researchers said.

"If the water molecules are as mobile as we think they are — even a fraction of them — they provide a mechanism for getting water to those permanently shadowed craters," said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the three studies in Science on the lunar find, in a statement. "This opens a whole new avenue [of lunar research], but we have to understand the physics of it to utilize it."

Finding water on the moon would be a boon to possible future lunar bases, acting as a potential source of drinking water and fuel.

Apollo turns up dry

When Apollo astronauts returned from the moon 40 years ago, they brought back several samples of lunar rocks.

The moon rocks were analyzed for signs of water bound to minerals present in the rocks; while trace amounts of water were detected, these were assumed to be contamination from Earth, because the containers the rocks came back in had leaked.

"The isotopes of oxygen that exist on the moon are the same as those that exist on Earth, so it was difficult if not impossible to tell the difference between water from the moon and water from Earth," said Larry Taylor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who is a member of one of the NASA-built instrument teams for India's Chandrayaan-1 satellite and has studied the moon since the Apollo missions.

While scientists continued to suspect that water ice deposits could be found in the coldest spots of south pole craters that never saw sunlight, the consensus became that the rest of the moon was bone dry.

But new observations of the lunar surface made with Chandrayaan-1, NASA's Cassini spacecraft, and NASA's Deep Impact probe, are calling that consensus into question, with multiple detections of the spectral signal of either water or the hydroxyl group (an oxygen and hydrogen chemically bonded).

Three spacecraft

Chandrayaan-1, India's first-ever moon probe, was aimed at mapping the lunar surface and determining its mineral composition (the orbiter's mission ended 14 months prematurely in August after an abrupt malfunction). While the probe was still active, its NASA-built Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) detected wavelengths of light reflected off the surface that indicated the chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen — the telltale sign of either water or hydroxyl.

Because M3 can only penetrate the top few millimeters of lunar regolith, the newly observed water seems to be at or near the lunar surface. M3's observations also showed that the water signal got stronger toward the polar regions. Pieters is the lead investigator for the M3 instrument on Chandrayaan-1.

Cassini, which passed by the moon in 1999 on its way to Saturn, provides confirmation of this signal with its own slightly stronger detection of the water/hydroxyl signal. The water would have to be absorbed or trapped in the glass and minerals at the lunar surface, wrote Roger Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey in the study detailing Cassini's findings.

The Cassini data shows a global distribution of the water signal, though it also appears stronger near the poles (and low in the lunar maria).

Finally, the Deep Impact spacecraft, as part of its extended EPOXI mission and at the request of the M3 team, made infrared detections of water and hydroxyl as part of a calibration exercise during several close approaches of the Earth-Moon system en route to its planned flyby of comet 103P/Hartley 2 in November 2010.

Deep Impact detected the signal at all latitudes above 10 degrees N, though once again, the poles showed the strongest signals. With its multiple passes, Deep Impact was able to observe the same regions at different times of the lunar day. At noon, when the sun's rays were strongest, the water feature was lowest, while in the morning, the feature was stronger.

"The Deep Impact observations of the Moon not only unequivocally confirm the presence of [water/hydroxyl] on the lunar surface, but also reveal that the entire lunar surface is hydrated during at least some portion of the lunar day," the authors wrote in their study.

The findings of all three spacecraft "provide unambiguous evidence for the presence of hydroxyl or water," said Paul Lacey of the University of Hawaii in an opinion essay accompanying the three studies. Lacey was not involved in any of the missions. The new data "prompt a critical reexamination of the notion that the moon is dry. It is not," Lacey wrote.

Where the water comes from

Combined, the findings show that not only is the moon hydrated, the process that makes it so is a dynamic one that is driven by the daily changes in solar radiation hitting any given spot on the surface.The sun might also have something to do with how the water got there.

There are potentially two types of water on the moon: that brought from outside sources, such as water-bearing comets striking the surface, or that that originates on the moon.

This second, endogenic, source is thought to possibly come from the interaction of the solar wind with moon rocks and soils.

The rocks and regolith that make up the lunar surface are about 45 percent oxygen (combined with other elements as mostly silicate minerals). The solar wind — the constant stream of charged particles emitted by the sun — are mostly protons, or positively charged hydrogen atoms.

If the charged hydrogens, which are traveling at one-third the speed of light, hit the lunar surface with enough force, they break apart oxygen bonds in soil materials, Taylor, the M3 team member suspects. Where free oxygen and hydrogen exist, there is a high chance that trace amounts of water will form.

The various study researchers also suggest that the daily dehydration and rehydration of the trace water across the surface could lead to the migration of hydroxyl and hydrogen towards the poles where it can accumulate in the cold traps of the permanently shadowed regions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boing! Elastic Energy-Storage Systems Could Challenge Li-ion Batteries

By Mike Spinelli - Popular Science

MIT Researchers say carbon nanotubes could provide a more durable, reliable energy-storage alternative to traditional batteries. And best of all, no leakage to speak of.

Carbon Nanotube Springs Could Provide Reliable, Long-Term Energy Storage, MIT Researchers Say : Powering an electric SUV of the future? MIT researchers say carbon nanotubes, tube-shaped molecules of pure carbon, could one day provide reliable, robust long-term energy storage. As much energy storage, pound for pound, as a lithium-ion battery, only with little chance of leaking energy and a potentially infinite charge-recharge cycle. MIT

It's one of the simplest energy-storage devices known to man: The spring. Think of how a jack-in-the-box keeps hold of the mechanical energy it takes to compress that clown into the box, releasing it only when the weasel song reaches its climax. And that energy storage is a long-term proposition. The clown could likely sit, poised in that box in grandma's attic for 100 years, until some joker comes along, cranks the handle and, POP! Now imagine millions of carbon nanotubes -- tube-shaped molecules of pure carbon -- all storing as much energy, pound-for-pound as a comparable lithium-ion battery, then releasing that energy to give power to a lunar rover, a silent leaf blower or even a car.

That's the subject of two papers on the findings of Carol Livermore, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. As part of the research, Livermore presents a theoretical electric power source, which stores energy in a carbon nanotube spring, to study the potential for generating electricity from the stored mechanical energy.

Such springs can deliver the stored energy as an intense, quick burst, or slowly and steadily over a long period — imagine a mousetrap vs. a windup clock, for example. And unlike batteries, stored energy in such springs wouldn't leak off over time. Also, Livermore says, they should be able to charge and recharge many times without a loss of performance, though more testing is still needed to make sure. Of course, converting mechanical energy to electricity will cause some of the energy to dissipate through friction and other processes that produce heat. Such is physics.

Of course, many hurdles to a usable CNT energy system still need to be vaulted, like the ability to produce highly concentrated bundles of nanotubes. So don't expect to pick up the dry cleaning in a nanotube-powered SUV for many, many years to come.

MIT Article

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Swedish King opens 2009 World Bioenergy Clean Vehicles and Fuels conference

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, patron of World Bioenergy opened this year's Bioenergy Clean Vehicles and Fuels conference in Stockholm on Wednesday.

The Swedish king is personally a great promoter of bioenergy in Sweden and he said that bioenergy will play a very important role in sustainable development in the world in his opening remarks.

Maud Olofsson, Swedish Deputy Prime Minister and President of EU Energy Ministers Council said during the opening plenary session that to achieve 2 degree target in climate issue, bioenergy will play a leading role.

"Bioenergy is a good example of achieving sustainable energy supply, creating jobs and improve competitiveness as we are developing eco-efficient economy. We have no choice, we must take action now. And I ask you the business people to put pressure on politicians to come to an agreement in Copenhagen," said Olofsson.

Olofsson stressed that free and fair trade is a precondition for eco-efficient economy. She is against any kind of protectionism.

Matthew Barzun, US Ambassador to Sweden talked about new US bioenergy incentives. But he also warned clouds and bubbles in the industry.

"I came from the internet background and I still remember the 1997 and later on problems in the IT industry. Therefore, I like to make a cautious note that we should avoid the big cloud and think of the small solid steps to move forward." He gave a vivid description about his warning and proposed for a step by step and down to earth method in developing the bioenergy sector.

During the three conference various seminars relating to the biofuels and clean vehicles will be held. On Wednesday, topics from policy and renewable energy directive, Bio refineries, co-production of fuels, social economic drivers, criteria for sustainable biofuels to clean technology state of art and zero emissions of vehicles were presented and discussed.

Professor Liu Dehua from Qinghua University presented the world most advanced technology in biodiesel production in China. He has shown participants that by using enzymes numerous times, the cost of biodiesel can be substantially reduced so that the biodiesel price can be compatible with the normal diesel price. Resources such as water and energy can also be saved.

He said the state of art technology is now in application in Hunan province, central China.

Irene Bohn from Skåne, South Sweden presented how they deal with the household waste by co-producing biogas and bio-fertilizer.

In the afternoon, strategies and efforts for zero emission vehicles and financing and investment in green growth were discussed.

Toyota and many other car companies from about 50 countries also came to the conference and exhibition. They present their clean car technologies while bio-fuel companies mostly from Sweden participated in the conference.

Dr. Klaus Bonhoff from Germany said it is wrong to think transport and bioenergy as separate sectors, they should be considered together by the policy makers. He talked about hydrogen and fuel cells for transport in Germany which is leading in this sector in Europe.

By Xuefei Chen, People's Daily Online, Stockholm

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Politics of Energy #22 - Live by the Sword...

Texans say a climate-change bill in Congress would take too big a toll on their state

(Editor's Note: Interesting how the climate change bill hits the biggest Red state the hardest. If  the bill were about results it would measure carbon emissions according to production efficiencies. But the bill is about huge new taxes, which makes it a political document aimed at parties with the least clout under a Democratic congress.)


A bill in Congress to curb global warming has a lot of Texans boiling.

The bill proposes to make some companies pay for the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases they emit, gases that scientists believe are contributing to rising temperatures. And that puts the Lone Star State, which produces more emissions than any other state and even some big industrialized countries like Canada, squarely in the cross-hairs.

If the climate-change bill becomes law, it will have a severe impact on the Texas economy, local officials say. A study commissioned by the state comptroller says 135,000 to 277,000 jobs could be lost in 2012, the year the legislation would take effect. Roughly 312,000 people work in the oil and gas industries in the state, home to a quarter of the nation's refining capacity and to oil giants Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

'A Monster'

"This is a monster for the state, given the fact that so much of our revenue comes from [the energy] sector," says Comptroller Susan Combs in an interview. "It's going to hit us disproportionately."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has said he thinks the bill would "devastate" some of the industries that have helped his state weather the recession better than other regions. "To throttle that one bright spot is a little bit puzzling," Mr. Perry said at a June roundtable held in Austin to discuss possible effects of the legislation. Also, a national campaign against the bill, sponsored by the oil industry and other opponents, made its debut in Houston in August.

Battle lines in the national debate over the bill highlight a growing split between mostly Republican states heavily invested in oil and gas production and Democratic-leaning coastal states that have invested in alternative sources of energy and rely on service industries. Joining Texas are the Oklahoma Legislature, which in May issued a statement against the bill, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who lambasted the proposal in a Washington Post op-ed column, calling it "an enormous threat."

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), won narrow approval in the House in June, but it is expected to face more heated debate in the Senate in coming months. Indeed, signs point to an uphill fight for the Obama administration as it tries to steer the country toward more expensive but cleaner sources of energy.

"Cheap energy has been a cornerstone of American policy," says Robert Stein, a political-science professor at Rice University in Houston.

Hearts of Texas

And perhaps nowhere are the stakes as high as in Texas. A study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based industry group that opposes the bill, projects that the measure would result in a loss of 1.95 million jobs by 2020—about 14% of which would be in Texas. In the same year, the study says, the legislation would cost the state's average household about $1,600 in lost purchasing power—58% greater than the predicted national average.

Texas emits about three times as much carbon dioxide per dollar of economic output as California or New York, the study says. Texas also far surpasses California, a more populous state with a bigger economy, in total emissions, due to its penchant for big trucks, its hot, sprawling cities, and its slate of energy-intensive industries like aluminum and petrochemicals.

Another reason Texas may take a bigger hit than other states: Refiners as a group would get less of a break than coal-powered generation facilities under the terms of the bill. The legislation proposes to give each polluter a certain allowance of emissions for which they don't initially have to pay. Companies would then have to buy permits for emissions that exceed their allowance.

The bill would require refiners to account not only for the carbon they emit when processing fuel, but also for the tailpipe emissions generated by the gasoline and diesel they sell. Even so, they would receive only 2.25% of allowances allocated under the bill, even though they account for 44% of total CO2 emissions subject to the bill, while coal-based electricity producers' allowances would be much closer to their actual emissions, says Bill Durbin, a Houston-based consultant with Wood Mackenzie, a global energy consultancy. "That will be a significant upfront cost for refiners," he says.

The Energy Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, predicts the bill could add between 35 cents and $1.28 to the price of a gallon of gasoline by 2030—a premium that could erode fuel demand, and the health of a sector that represents about 15% of Texas' gross state product.

Supporters, Too

But not all of Texas is opposed to carbon caps. Robert A. Webb, president of the Austin-based Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, argues that the state's economy can become stronger as a result of the climate bill. Not only does Texas have a lot of renewable-energy potential, but much of its oil-industry labor can be redirected toward making carbon-emitting facilities more efficient, Mr. Webb says.

"While we will have a temporary disruption, Texas is strong," he says. "Moreover, a lot of Texas industries can benefit." Mr. Webb is general counsel for Biofuels Power Corp., a power provider based in The Woodlands, Texas, that generates electricity from biofuels.

Some state Democratic proponents of the climate bill also say it could help nudge the state toward a more diversified, environmentally friendly economy. Indeed, Texas leads the U.S. not only in oil refining and natural-gas production, but also in wind-power capacity.

"As we move into renewables, Texas stands to gain more than other states," says U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D., Texas), who sits on the House committee that moved the initial version of the bill.

But Ms. Combs, the state comptroller, says the wind industry has created only 500 to 800 permanent jobs in the state, a small fraction of the jobs that she believes will be lost. "I don't know where the new jobs are going to come from," Ms. Combs says. "They're not going to come from wind." Landing a green job in Texas, she adds, could be akin to finding a "unicorn—a sort of mythical beast."..

Mr. González is the bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires in Houston. He can be reached at

Saturday, September 19, 2009

German Cabinet Approves Massive Expansion of Offshore Wind Farms

Germany's coastline may soon be bristling with wind turbines. A new plan involves 2,500 turbines, 30,000 new jobs and enough power for over 8 million households. Still, some worry that environmental regulations, financing difficulties and even security issues might hurt the ambitious plan.

The plan involves setting aside zones between 12 and 200 kilometers (seven and 124 miles) off its northern shores. Of the 40 wind farms, 30 would be in the North Sea and 10 in the Baltic Sea. Of these, 25 have already received approval -- 22 in the North Sea and three in the Baltic Sea.

In total, the plan envisions German offshore wind parks holding up to 2,500 wind turbines. German Federal Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee also said that the plan could create about 30,000 jobs.

According to ministry statements, the wind farms should generate around 12,000 megawatts by 2030. In strong winds, this would be equivalent to the energy generated by 12 medium-sized nuclear plants. "From our planned farms in the North Sea alone, we could provide 6.8 million additional homes with electricity," Tiefensee told reporters, adding that the farms in the Baltic Sea could provide energy for 1.5 million more households.

The plan is meant to double the current amount of energy supplied by wind in Germany to 12 percent by 2020. The country's national climate protection targets envision it satisfying 30 percent of its energy needs using renewable resources by 2030.

Reviving A Neglected Issue

While many in Germany are happy about the decision, others think that the government has been too slow to act on this issue. Critics point out that plans to boost Germany's offshore power production have actually been in the works since the beginning of the decade. In 2002, the coalition led by then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder -- made up of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party -- passed the German government's strategy on offshore wind energy development.

Felix Matthes, coordinator for energy and climate protection at the Institute for Applied Ecology in Berlin, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the current grand coalition -- made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats, which have been in power since 2005 -- has done "too little, too late to advance things decisively now."

Whether the plan can ever be achieved is another question altogether. There are strict environmental regulations that need to be considered. Likewise, many of the farms will be built very far out at sea. Since waves are stronger here and the water sometimes even 40 meters (130 feet) deep, construction and maintenance costs will be high. "The construction of a wind farm will easily consume between €500 million and €1 billion ($735 million to $1.47 billion)," Hermann Albers, the president of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Connection & Financing Issues

Likewise, it can be hard for investors to commit to these projects because, as Albers explains, there have been problems connecting the wind energy back up to the power grid on land. Before the power companies will lay cables out at sea to connect the wind farm with their grids, they want a guarantee that the project has financing. But before the banks will finance a wind farm, they want a guarantee that the power companies are going to be able to connect the wind farm to their grid.

There is a clause in German infrastructure legislation related to this that says power companies must provide a connection. But, Albers says, "up until now, at best, that has been a friendly statement of intent."

But this is part of the reason why only Germany's energy giants -- such as E.on, Vattenfall or General Electric Deutschland -- are investing in wind energy. According to Albers, so far, around 70 percent of investment in the 25 approved wind farms comes from these large companies.

This development is also causing some concern in the Federal Environemt Ministry. The worry is that progress will be slow if only the large energy companies invest in wind power. This is simply because wind remains a risky investment for them, especially when compared to their more profitable ventures with nuclear or coal-fired energy.

"I really doubt Merkel's business know-how on this issue," says Hans-Josef Fell, the energy spokesman for the Green Party. "If these gigantic wind farms start up out at sea while German nuclear reactors are still working, then we will have a huge excess of energy. Power prices will collapse -- and the bottom line is that wind power will be less profitable than it should be."

Security Issues

Yet another reason for investors in wind energy to worry has emerged. In a recent interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Albers said that investments were being blocked because of security issues raised by the Bundeswehr, Germany's military. Wind farms can reportedly disturb the Bundeswehr's radar facilities. The moving rotor blades on the closely packed wind turbines cause a sort of radar shadow that conceals airplanes from detection. Albers noted that this problem had blocked a deal worth €400 million in the state of Lower Saxony, and he said that another in Schleswig-Holstein was also in danger of being cancelled.

A spokesperson for the Bundeswehr said that, while it was looking for a solution to this problem, "the monitoring of German air space was one of the German military's basic duties and could not just be suspended arbitrarily."

So Albers remains worried. He says the Bundeswehr should be updating its radar technology to deal with this issue and that the military is preventing "investment and environmental protection."

cis -- with wires
Spiegel Online

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Energy 'Sprawl' and the Green Economy

We're about to destroy the

environment in the name of saving it.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced plans to cover 1,000 square miles of land in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with solar collectors to generate electricity. He's also talking about generating 20% of our electricity from wind. This would require building about 186,000 50-story wind turbines that would cover an area the size of West Virginia not to mention 19,000 new miles of high-voltage transmission lines.
Is the federal government showing any concern about this massive intrusion into the natural landscape? Not at all. I fear we are going to destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment.
The House of Representatives has passed climate legislation that started out as an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. It has morphed into an engine for raising revenues by selling carbon dioxide emission allowances and promoting "renewable" energy.
The bill requires electric utilities to get 20% of their power mostly from wind and solar by 2020. These renewable energy sources are receiving huge subsidies all to supposedly create jobs and hurry us down the road to an America running on wind and sunshine described in President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address.

Yet all this assumes renewable energy is a free lunch a benign, "sustainable" way of running the country with minimal impact on the environment. That assumption experienced a rude awakening on Aug. 26, when The Nature Conservancy published a paper titled "Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America." The report by this venerable environmental organization posed a simple question: How much land is required for the different energy sources that power the country? The answers deserve far greater public attention.
By far nuclear energy is the least land-intensive; it requires only one square mile to produce one million megawatt-hours per year, enough electricity for about 90,000 homes. Geothermal energy, which taps the natural heat of the earth, requires three square miles. The most landscape-consuming are biofuels ethanol and biodiesel which require up to 500 square miles to produce the same amount of energy.

Coal, on the other hand, requires four square miles, mainly for mining and extraction. Solar thermal heating a fluid with large arrays of mirrors and using it to power a turbine takes six. Natural gas needs eight and petroleum needs 18. Wind farms require over 30 square miles.

This "sprawl" has been missing from our energy discussions. In my home state of Tennessee, we just celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yet there are serious proposals by energy developers to cover mountains all along the Appalachian chain, from Maine to Georgia, with 50-story wind turbines because the wind blows strongest across mountaintops.

Let's put this into perspective: We could line 300 miles of mountaintops from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Bristol, Va., with wind turbines and still produce only one-quarter the electricity we get from one reactor on one square mile at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.
The 1,000 square-mile solar project proposed by Mr. Salazar would generate, on a continuous basis, 35,000 megawatts of electricity. You could get the same output from 30 new nuclear reactors that would fit comfortably onto existing nuclear sites. And this doesn't count the thousands of miles of transmission lines that will be needed to carry the newly generated solar power to population centers.
There's one more consideration. Solar collectors must be washed down once a month or they collect too much dirt to be effective. They also need to be cooled by water. Where amid the desert and scrub land will we find all that water? No wonder the Wildlife Conservancy and other environmentalists are already opposing solar projects on Western lands.
Renewable energy is not a free lunch. It is an unprecedented assault on the American landscape. Before we find ourselves engulfed in energy sprawl, it's imperative we take a closer look at nuclear power.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Power surge: Britain turns on undersea 'windmill'

World first: An artist's impression of the 122ft SeaGen turbine (AFP)

The world's first commercial-scale tidal power turbine has supplied the British grid with its first surge of tidal electricity, Marine Current Turbines (MCT) said overnight.

The tidal current turbine, known as SeaGen, briefly generated 150 kilowatts of power off the coast of Northern Ireland as part of testing ahead of full commercial operations in a few weeks, the company behind the project said.

SeaGen works like an underwater windmill, with the rotors driven by the power of the tidal currents rather than wind.

Strangford Lough, where the turbine has been rooted, has among the strongest tidal currents in UK and Irish waters.

"This is an important milestone for the company and indeed the development of the marine renewable energy sector as a whole," MCT's managing director Martin Wright.

Once fully operational, SeaGen will be able to generate up to 1.2 megawatts, which is enough carbon-free electricity to supply about 1,000 homes.

Tides are created by the moon and sun's gravitational pulls on the oceans, combined with the centrifugal force of the earth's rotation.

Lying in the North Atlantic, the British Isles have some of the strongest tidal currents in the world, together with some of the strongest and most reliable winds to drive offshore wind turbines.

The British Government is hoping to exploit these natural advantages to help it reach tough European Union renewable energy targets but planning and grid connection problems have frustrated the rapid growth of wind power so far.

MCT has plans for a 10.5-megawatt project off the coast of Anglesey, north Wales, which it expects to commission by 2012.

ABC News - Reuters

Monday, September 14, 2009

Global warming wars: water will become more precious than oil

It has been predicted that droughts from global warming will make water more precious than oil and regional wars will most likely be fought over water rights.

All life is dependent upon water. It is the single most vital resource on the planet today and it has been treated as an unlimited source for far too long. It is the reason why NASA has spent billions of dollars sending probes to Mars in search of an extraterrestrial water source, with an eye toward possible human colonization in the distant future. Water is connected to all aspects of human survival, including agriculture to grow our food, environmental impacts of climate change, wetland ecosystems, wildlife migration, human health, and the sustainability of our planet.

It is for this reason that water will become more valuable than oil in just a few decades and water scarcity will likely replace oil as the commodity future wars will be fought over. There are already areas of the United States, particularly California, that are experiencing record droughts and water shortages for crops and agriculture.

In 2005, Governor Christine Gregoire declared a state of emergency in Washington, which is famous for its rainy climate, due to a drought that resulted from a record low snow pack and depleted water in creeks and rivers.

Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, sees droughts, food shortages, and water scarcity happening on a global level by the mid-2020s.

“U.S. intelligence agencies accepted the consensual scientific view of global warming” said Fingar, “including the conclusion that it is too late to avert significant disruption over the next two decades. The conclusions are in line with an intelligence assessment produced this summer that characterized global warming as a serious security threat for the coming years.”

Over the next few decades, it is anticipated that floods and droughts will set off mass migrations and political dissention in many parts of the developing world.

Significantly, the UK government’s chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, warned in a speech to the government’s Sustainable Development UK conference in Westminster, that by 2030, a “perfect storm” of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from violence and poverty stricken regions.

Water shortages are already evident in many areas of the world. The Yellow River in China and the Nile River in Egypt, no longer reach the ocean most of the year, as water is drawn off upstream for agriculture and consumption. Water shortages result in food shortages. Especially the staples: rice, grains, and corn.

Balance of article:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Politics of Energy #21 - Schwarzenegger to veto renewable energy bills


SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Saturday that he would veto legislation requiring a third of California's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, choosing instead to mandate the change through an executive order.

The Democratic bills that passed the state Legislature just before the end of the legislative session Friday would have set up the most aggressive renewable energy standards in the nation.

But they also sought to limit the amount of energy from sources such as wind, solar and geothermal that could come from out-of-state. Schwarzenegger and some energy producers said the legislation would set up too many regulatory hurdles.

"The poorly drafted, overly complex bills passed by the Legislature are protectionist schemes that will kill the solar industry in California and drive prices up like the failed energy deregulation of the late 1990s," Schwarzenegger's communications director, Matt David, said in a statement Saturday.

The governor's office didn't immediately explain how Schwarzenegger would implement the goals of the legislation through the executive order.

The Independent Energy Producers, which represents companies that provide 80 percent of California's renewable energy, opposed the legislation, despite having sought a higher standard.

Jan Smutny-Jones, the association's executive director, said some of the language in the bills would have limited the placement of solar plants in some areas of the state, threatening projects that are already underway and others that are expecting to get funding through the federal stimulus package.

Consumer advocates and environmental groups sought the limits on out-of-state power because they wanted the bulk of California's renewable energy to be generated within the state. They said it would help promote job growth.

The legislation would have allowed utilities to import renewable energy generated outside California as long as the power came from a plant that connects to California's electricity grid.

Utilities also could buy a limited number of credits from out-of-state producers of alternative energy as a way to promote the development of clean power, even though that power would not reach California markets.

Republicans said the restrictions could drive up energy costs.

Daily Record

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Precious Water - Dean Kamen Perfects Slingshot

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- If you listen to inventor Dean Kamen, the biggest health problem facing the world today is not AIDS, obesity or malnutrition. It's a shortage of water.

Water is the most abundant resource on the planet, yet less than one percent of the Earth's freshwater supply is readily available to drink, according to the World Health Organization. Lack of accessible or clean drinking water, exacerbated by drought, is crippling communities in many developing countries.

"In your lifetime, my lifetime, we will see water be a really scarce, valuable commodity," Kamen says.

Those are scary words from the man whose creations include the Segway personal motorized scooter and the Luke (as in Skywalker) prosthetic arm. But the forward-thinking inventor and his team at DEKA Research in Manchester, New Hampshire, aren't sitting around waiting for the world's wells to dry up.

They've been working on an invention they say can tap into 97 percent of the world's undrinkable water.

It's called the Slingshot, and it's a portable, low energy machine that is designed to purify water in remote villages where there's not a Wal-Mart in sight. The device takes its name from a well-known story.

"We believe the world needs a slingshot to take care of its Goliath of a problem in water," Kamen says. "So we decided to build a small machine and give it to the little Davids."

Perhaps you've heard about the Slingshot, which Kamen has been working on for more than 10 years. Over that time it has turned dirty river water, ocean water and even raw sewage into pure drinking water. Kamen says it can turn anything that looks wet, or has water in it, into the "stuff of life."

The magic behind the Slingshot is a "vapor compression distiller" that stands between what looks like two empty fish tanks connected by a couple of hoses. One tank contains the contaminated liquid, the other is for the newly clean water.

The Slingshot boils, distills and vaporizes the polluted source, in turn delivering nothing but clean water to the other side. And it does it all on less electricity than it takes to run a hair dryer.

In summer 2006, Kamen delivered two Slingshots to the small community of Lerida in Honduras. They were used for a month and Kamen says everything ran as planned.

"The machine worked very well down there, taking virtually any water that the people from that village brought to us," he says. "All the water that we got from the machine was absolutely pure water."

But there's a problem. Kamen says each Slingshot costs his company several hundred thousand dollars to build. He's looking to partner with companies and organizations to distribute Slingshots around the world, but says a little more engineering work needs to be done in order to lower the production costs.

Kamen says the company would like to get the price down to about $2,000 per machine.

"The biggest challenge right now between this being a dream and a reality is getting committed people that really care about the state of the world's health to get involved," Kamen says.

The world's population is quickly approaching 7 billion, making access to clean water that much more important. According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, more than 3.5 million people die every year from water-related diseases and almost 900 million don't have access to a safe water supply.

Kamen says people in developing regions of the world need the Slingshot as soon as possible. He also thinks the problem with polluted water will spread beyond small villages.

He says one Slingshot machine can supply about 250 gallons of water a day, which is enough for 100 people. That's a lot of Davids.

"It is literally like turning lead into gold," he says. "But I believe it's more important, because you can't drink lead or gold."CNN

The Emerging Global LNG Market

Gorgon's Fate Takes Shape
LNG Supply Deals Move Chevron Closer to Gas-Field Decision

(Editor's Note:  With the development of huge natural gas finds such as Gorgon, an efficient world market for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) will finally emerge, presenting an energy alternative to oil.)


A huge project to tap natural-gas reserves in a remote corner of Australia promises to cement the nation's status as a major energy producer and underscore Asia's emergence as the key growth market for the oil-and-gas industry.

Chevron Corp. and its partners, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, will announce within days that they have given final approval to the project after years of delays, people in the industry say. The project will produce gas from fields off the Australian coast, super-cool it to convert it to a liquid, and ship it to customers around the world.

The decision to go ahead with the project, known as Gorgon after the offshore field where the gas will be produced, highlights how energy companies are counting on rebounding demand from Asia to lift their fortunes as the recession has cooled the global thirst for oil and gas.

Even by the standards of Big Oil, Gorgon is huge. The project will tap into 40 trillion cubic feet of gas, the equivalent of 6.7 billion barrels of oil. The companies have declined to discuss the price of the project, but government and independent experts have estimated the total cost to bring the project into production could amount to more than $40 billion, making it one of the world's most expensive energy projects.

Gorgon is expected to deliver its first gas shipment in 2014, more than 30 years after the field was discovered.

The new supplies from Gorgon and other projects in Australia could lead to a fundamental shift in the way gas is priced throughout the world. As more natural gas travels by free-ranging ships rather than immovable pipelines, traditional regional price differences could begin to erode as big buyers such as China gain more power to negotiate prices by playing competing suppliers against each other.

"We're seeing the first stages of what will ultimately be a more global natural gas market," said Mark Gilman, an analyst with Benchmark Capital in New York.

Blanace f article: The Wall Street Journal

Friday, September 11, 2009

Google invests for cheaper solar power

(Editor's Note: If you want something done right, do it yourself.)

Google is disappointed with the lack of breakthrough investment ideas in the green technology sector but the company is working to develop its own new mirror technology that could reduce the cost of building solar thermal plants by a quarter or more.

"We've been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on," the company's green energy czar Bill Weihl told Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco.

Google, known for its internet search engine, in late 2007 said it would invest in companies and do research of its own to produce affordable renewable energy within a few years.

The company's engineers have been focused on solar thermal technology, in which the sun's energy is used to heat up a substance that produces steam to turn a turbine. Mirrors focus the sun's rays on the heated substance.

Weihl said Google is looking to cut the cost of making heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, by at least a factor of two, "ideally a factor of three or four."

"Typically what we're seeing is US$2.50 to US$4 a watt (for) capital cost," Weihl said. "So a 250 megawatt installation would be US$600 million to a US$1 billion. It's a lot of money."

That works out to 12 to 18 cents a kilowatt hour.

Google hopes to have a viable technology to show internally in a couple of months, Weihl said. It will need to do accelerated testing to show the impact of decades of wear on the new mirrors in desert conditions.

"We're not there yet," he said. "I'm very hopeful we will have mirrors that are cheaper than what companies in the space are using. . ."

Another technology that Google is working on is gas turbines that would run on solar power rather than natural gas, an idea that has the potential of further cutting the cost of electricity, Weihl said.

"In two to three years we could be demonstrating a significant scale pilot system that would generate a lot of power and would be clearly mass manufacturable at a cost that would give us a levelized cost of electricity that would be in the 5 cents or sub 5 cents a kilowatt hour range," Weihl said.

Google is invested in two solar thermal companies, eSolar and BrightSolar but is not working with these companies in developing the cheaper mirrors or turbines.

In wide-ranging remarks, Weihl also said the United States needs to raise government-backed research significantly, particularly in the very initial stages to encourage breakthrough ideas in the sector.

The company has pushed ahead in addressing climate change issues as a philanthropic effort through its arm.

Weihl said there is a lack of companies that have ideas that would be considered breakthroughs in the green technology sector. After announcing its plans to create renewable energy at a price lower than power from coal, it has invested less than US$50 million in other companies.

Weihl said Google had not intended to invest much more in early years, but that there was little to buy.

"I would say it's reasonable to be a little bit discouraged there and from my point of view, it's not right to be seriously discouraged," he said. "There isn't enough investment going into the early stages of investment pipeline before the venture funds come into the play."

The US government needs to provide more funds to develop ideas at the laboratory stage, he said.

"I'd like to see US$20 billion or US$30 billion for 10 yrs (for the sector)," Weihl said. "That would be fabulous. It's pretty clear what we have seen isn't enough." - Reuters

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Politics of Energy #20 - France's Sarkozy urges carbon tax

AP Business Writer

PARIS -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tax carbon dioxide emissions by households and businesses, a measure aimed at helping France slash its output greenhouse gases over the coming decades - but viewed with skepticism by many.

In a highly anticipated speech on the subject, Sarkozy sought to convince his compatriots of the need for the carbon tax, which surveys show around two-thirds of the French oppose. France would be the largest economy to impose one so far.

Sarkozy said that faced with threats to the climate and the need to reduce its dependence on oil, "it is time for France to profoundly adapt its taxation system and create real ecological taxation."

The tax would be initially based on the market price for carbon dioxide emissions permits, which is now euro17 ($24.74) per ton of carbon dioxide, Sarkozy said. At that level, the government expects to raise euro3 billion, which will be entirely returned to households and businesses through a reduction in other taxes or repaid via a so-called "Green Check," Sarkozy said.

The result would be a shift of the tax burden from other revenue sources to energy derived from fossil fuels in an effort to discourage their use.

Gasoline, diesel fuel, coal and natual gas will be subject to the tax, but not electricity, Sarkozy said. France generates most of its electricity via nuclear power, which doesn't emit greenhouse gases.

The tax would add 4.5 euro cents to each liter of diesel, 4 cents to each liter of gasoline and 0.4 cents for each KWh of natural gas consumed, Sarkozy said. The tax is intended to rise gradually from this level, Sarkozy said.

The plan, dubbed a "carbon tax" by most observers despite the government's effort to brand it as a "climate-energy contribution," has stirred passionate debate in France, where surveys say most voters oppose the idea.

Balance of article: Miami Herald