Monthly Archives: March 2007

Oil at $15 a barrel? Well, it’s not exaclty “oil”

Garry Anselmo is completely serious when he says that his company, Silverado Green Fuel, can produce a liquid fuel for industrial boilers that will cost about the same as oil, if oil sold for $15 a barrel

For cars, he says the company’s processes can be used to produce barrels of “oil” for car fuel that will cost about half of what conventional oil costs today, which is around $50. What’s the secret? Coal, a word that makes most people’s flesh crawl. Silverado takes low-grade coal, pulverizes it and cooks it under pressure with water until it develops a waxy coating. The waxy coal particles are then reunited with carbon-infused water removed at an earlier part of the process to make a liquid fuel. So think of it as a coal latte.

One barrel of GreenFuel costs about $6, but it takes about 2.5 barrels to provide the same energy equivalent as a barrel of oil. Hence, the $15 a barrel figure.

More at the links below:



“If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels”

George Monbiot, author of HEAT, has penned a new piece in the UK paper The Guardian, advocating a 5 year freeze on biofuel production:

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless. In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow – it is released again when the fuel is burned. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be “decarbonising” our transport networks.

First and foremost, Monibot warns, that biofuels will set up a “competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose.” Royal Dutch Shell agrees with such sentiments. An executive of theirs recently stated at a conference, “We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy, we use food and turn it into fuel. This is not what we would like to see.” Monbiot points to the recent events in Mexico as proof that such fears are indeed well founded:

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that “if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year”. According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol

Monbiot also rails against biodiesel, specifically from palm oil:

But it gets worse. As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

Monbiot fails, however, to address biodiesel from other feedstocks, which are far more sustainable, such as agricultural crops like soy and canola. By only speaking to what is widely known as the most unsustainable form of biodiesel production, one must wonder whether Monbiot is really trying to provide a balanced and objective assessment of biofuels. In fact, a recent study by the USDA and DOE shows that biodiesel production is quite better than fossil fuels, “Biodiesel yields around 3.2 units of fuel product for every unit of fossil energy consumed in the lifecycle. By contrast, petroleum diesel’s life cycle yields only 0.83 units of fuel product per unit of fossil energy consumed.” (DOE/USDA “Biodiesel Lifecycle Inventory Study”)

He goes on to address deforestation in Brazil. But again, he fails to state why policies cannot be enacted to ensure sustainable biofuels production, instead arguing for the most extreme option. Moreover, as carbon trading schemes continue to emerge, forests may be worth credits (as they consume CO2), creating economic incentives to combat deforestation.

Suffice it to say, we’re not convinced a moratorium is needed. Sorry George.
Read the article for yourself:


-BiofuelsWatch (UK)

“Emissions soar from UK generators”

A new report shows that between 1999 and 2006, emissions from the power-generating sector have risen 30% in the UK. This is due in part to the fact that power companies have been increasingly using coal as oil prices have risen more dramatically. More on the WWF report at the link below:

“This is a disgrace for Britain, and shows that for the past decade the government has talked a good game on climate change while failing dismally to tackle emissions from this highly polluting sector,” said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF UK.

“If the government is serious about climate change, the power sector has to be brought to heel, either through incentives or legislation, so that coal burn is dramatically reduced.”

In the early 1990s, the opening up of North Sea reserves prompted a move to gas, which saw coal-fired power stations close and cleaner gas-fired plants spring up in their place.

Since 2002, coal prices have risen by about one-third and gas prices by two-thirds, with gas showing a lot more volatility.


Mercury in energy-saving bulbs worries scientists

Well after buying CFL’s for every lamp in my home, I awake to see this article.  Saving energy is great, but what’s the cost? 

Mercury, known for its adverse effects on the nervous system, as well as liver and kidney damage – or even death – it turns out is a necessary part of compact fluorescent light bulbs.  The bulbs are so energy-efficient that California, Australia, and the EU have all spoken of mandating their use and banning traditional incandescent bulbs.

With an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006 and with Wal-Mart alone hoping to sell 100 million this year, some scientists and environmentalists are worried that most are ending up in garbage dumps.

U.S. regulators, manufacturers and environmentalists note that, because CFLs require less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs, they reduce overall mercury in the atmosphere by cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants.

But some of the mercury emitted from landfills is in the form of vaporous methyl-mercury, which can get into the food chain more readily than inorganic elemental mercury released directly from a broken bulb or even coal-fired power plants


At 11MW, Portugal’s new solar power plant is one of the world’s largest

There are now 52,000 photovoltaic panels spread across the Portuguese hillside in the town of Serpa, one of Europe’s sunniest areas, about 200km southeast of Lisbon. A joint project between GE Energy Financial Services, PowerLight (SunPower Corporation), and Catavento, the 11 MW power plant is the size of 80 football fields. The project will save more than 30,000 tons a year in greenhouse gas emissions compared to equivalent fossil fuel generation.

Portugal is known for having some of the most advanced incentives for renewable energy in the world. These policies have been implemented in part as a response to the country’s rising CO2 emissions which have increased 34% since 1990, among the fastest rates in the world. The Serpa project was made possible through a special government tariff.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates has said he wants 45% of Portugal’s power consumption to come from renewable energy by 2010.


Portgual Renewable Energy Factsheet, European Commission

Canary Island to be powered solely by renewables

The Spanish government has announced that El Hierro, one of the smallest of Spain’s Canary Islands, “will be the first island in the world totally supplied by renewable energy.”  The island of 10,500 residents will rely on a combination of hydroelectric and wind power.

“Using this system, we can transform a intermittent energy source into a controlled and constant supply of electricity,” the ministry said of the 54.3 million euro (65 million dollar) scheme which is designed to cut the island’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 18,700 tonnes.

The island’s wind farm will generate electricity for the pumping station that will pump water to the two reservoirs that feed the hydroelectric stations, which will provide the bulk of El Hierro’s power.  Excess wind energy will be used to power two desalination plants.  An existing diesel-powered plant on the island will be maintained for emergencies if water and wind supplies run short.

Interior Minister Joan Clos Tuesday said the government would be adopting a range of incentive measures to encourage windfarms.  Spain, where the energy market was deregulated in 1998, is second only to Germany in Europe in terms of installed wind power capacity, at 8,155 MW in December 2004, compared with 14,000 MW for Germany.


Related: Spain’s Navarra region embraces green energy

Uranium Ignites ‘Gold Rush’ in the West

Given its connotations, Pandora is an oddly inappropriate name for an uranium mine.

A 25 year drought in Uranium prices is finally coming to an end. In 2004 only 104 new claims were made for uranium development. This year, 2,700 new claims have been filed in just Colorado. Obviously there are some people excited about this, including hedge fund managers and claims filers hoping to get rich. And of course, there are those worried about the effects of a jump in uranium mining and production such as the Navajo Nation and other people in the area worried about the local environment and their health.

Globally, 180 million pounds of processed uranium are consumed each year by nuclear power plants. Production worldwide from mines amounts to only 100 million pounds. Roughly 75 million pounds come out of utility company stockpiles. What is actually traded in the spot market is only about 35 million

The revival of uranium mining in the West, though, has less to do with the renewed interest in nuclear power as an alternative to greenhouse-gas-belching coal plants than to the convoluted economics and intense speculation surrounding the metal that has pushed up the price of uranium to levels not seen since the heyday of the industry in the mid-1970s.

“There’s a lot of staking going on,” said Mike Shumway, a 53-year-old Vietnam veteran who owns the contracting business that is working the Pandora mine. “It’s like the gold rush.”

[NY Times]

BP’s Bet on Butanol

Most people know ethanol is far from perfect.  It can’t be transported in pipelines and it delivers far less energy than gasoline on a gallon-for-gallon basis.

Ethanol is a good start. But ethanol was not designed to be a fuel. No one sat down and said, “Let’s create a biomolecule that will operate in engines.” What happened was, people said ethanol can work in engines. As a lot of people are becoming aware, it’s good, but it has some drawbacks. Butanol is, we think, an innovation that overcomes many of the drawbacks.

You shouldn’t view butanol as being a competitor to ethanol. An ethanol plant can evolve into a butanol plant. And you can mix ethanol and butanol together, and it can actually help you use more ethanol.

BP thinks it has the answer: butanol.  Like ethanol, the fuel can be made from corn starch, sugar cane, or sugar beets, but it can be shipped in pipelines and has a higher energy content than its better known biofuel counterpart.  Butanol made its way into headlines last year after BP and DUPont announced a partnership to develop new technology to bring the fuel to market.  Last month, BP also announced a new 10-year, $500 million project with UC Berkely on biofuels like bio-butanol.

The key way is higher energy density. Whereas ethanol is around about two-thirds the energy density [of gasoline], with butanol we’re in the high eighties [in terms of percent].

It’s less volatile [than ethanol]. It isn’t as corrosive, so we don’t have issues with it at higher concentrations beginning to eat at aluminum or polymer components in fuel systems and dispensing systems. And it’s not as hydroscopic–it doesn’t pick up water, which is what ethanol can do if you put it in relatively low concentrations. So we can put it through pipelines.


Related: Biobutanol – the overlooked biofuel

ECOtality’s On-Board Hydrogen Generation System

Why worry about transporting hydrogen when you could just produced it on-demand in your vehicle? That’s the idea of ECOtality‘s Hydratus technology. The system operates in conjunction with a hydrogen fuel cell, and produces hydrogen from a reaction between magnesium and water. Other companies are working on similar concepts, using boron, and aluminum. The company plans to implement the Hydratus system on fuel cell buses like the one pictured above. The Hydratus buses should have a $200,000 premium over their conventional counterparts, which sell for about $300,000. The half-million dollar vehicles will have a range of about 155miles, or 15 hours of travel, between refuelings.

“Hydrogen on-demand is going to be what catapults hydrogen from being a great concept to a great reality.”

Working together on the project, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and ECOtality are now reporting that they have doubled the mileage over their pervious version, but at the same weight and volume.

The Hydratus system overcomes many of the issues hydrogen faces today, namely transportation and storage, which are not needed with the on-demand H2 system:

“Compressed hydrogen is the least likely to be the prevailing system when the shakeout is done and over with. It’s expensive to produce, transport and store, and it’s inefficient in form to produce and store”

The only byproduct of the process other than hydrogen and water is a powdered form of magnesium oxide, which stays in the system until removed. Filling stations for the Hydratus vehicles would use a special pump than pumps in new magnesium pellets and water and pumps out the spent magnesium oxide. The entire re-fueling process should take three to five minutes.

Interestingly, the spent magnesium oxide powder is recyclable and can be made into usable magnesium pellets for the filling stations,

“Magnesium is the fourth most-common mineral in the world and could be extracted from the sea. It’s common and available in almost all countries. The magnesium, once it’s put into the system, is a contained system. So there is no need to continue mining”

Unsurprisingly, the technology isn’t cheap. The cost for fuel is about $4.80 per liter (about $17.50 per gallon), or $2.80 per liter if the filling station recycles its own spent magnesium.


100-Year Forecast: New Climate Zones Humans Have Never Seen

If global warming continues unabated, many of the world’s climate zones may disappear by 2100, leaving new ones in their place unlike any that exist today, according to a new study.

“If [the climate of] Memphis moves to Chicago, we have a Memphis there to say what Chicago will look like,” he says. “For an area where we don’t have a modern analogue, there’s really nothing to look at to say, this is what the environment will look like.”

Researches found that climate change would create entirely new patterns of temperature and precipitation for 12-39% of the planet. An additional 10-48% of land would see its climate zones replaced by patterns of temperature and precipitation now occurring elsewhere, such as rain forest becoming savanna or evergreen forest becoming deciduous.

New climates would be most dramatic in the rain forests of the Amazon and Indonesia, according to the researches, but would occur elsewhere as well:

Climate disappearance would occur in tropical mountains and near the poles, including regions such as the Andes, the African highlands, Indonesia and the Philippines, parts of the Himalayas and near the Arctic. With nowhere to go, species in these regions might become extinct…