March 14, 2010

10 Truths About Big Oil

Bill Georgevich

The fossil fuel economy is literally a dinosaur that should have ended soon after World War II. For decades, Big Oil and Gas have enjoyed a massively successful global hegemony over this planet's energy. More than world domination in the marketplace, the Oil and Gas industry has succeeded in convincing mankind that fossil fuel is still the cheapest, most viable source of energy. This has simply not been true since the mid 1970's.

Here are some astonishing facts:
  • The first hydrogen powered fuel cell battery was invented before the Civil War.

  • Electric cars were the preferred method of transportation for the very rich in the U.S. until 1925.

  • After making 1200 all-electric cars to comply with a California zero-emissions mandate, General Motors repossessed those cars from their owners and crushed them, even though movie stars offered the car maker millions of dollars not to.

  • There can be no 'energy crisis' in a universe where the most plentiful element is hydrogen, the preferred fuel for NASA spacecraft.

  • There is a enough sunlight in the U.S .Southwest to provide electricity for one half of the country.

  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's hydrogen car initiative includes hydrogen fueling stations, whose hydrogen is made and provided by Shell Oil -- despite the fact that hydrogen can be made at home with ordinary tap water.

  • The first hydrogen fuel cell passenger car is not the (unavailable) 2008 Chevy Equinox, but was a 1966 van that GM secretly and successfully tested.

  • The Oil and Gas industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year in public relations efforts to convince the public and law makers they should remain unregulated, while at the same time encouraging consumer conservation so that less and less gasoline can be sold for more and more money.

  • Major car makers the world over don't want you to own an electric or hydrogen fuel cell car as there is virtually no mechanical maintenance compared to an internal combustion engine, eliminating tremendous profits from the sale of parts and services.

  • Every U.S. president for the last 100 years has been an "Oil President" as there has been no major government initiative to remove us from the fossil fuel economy -- unlike France, which has been 85% fossil fuel independent since 1985.


February 10, 2010

Making Waves in California

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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Last December, California's largest utility company PG&E committed to the development of an Offshore Wave Energy Power Plant on the shores of Humboldt County. The Canadian company Finavera Renewables has cut a deal with California to build an ocean wave energy plant 2.5 miles off the coast that will service PG&E's customers throughout northern and central California.

The plant is expected to offset greenhouse gas emissions by displacing an estimated 245 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. The plant is expected to begin delivering clean, renewable electricity to northern Californians in 2012 -- granted it passes an extensive regulatory analysis.

Before any construction is started on the project, this two to three year regulatory "permitting process" will be undertaken, involving several tiers of regulators and community stakeholders, and extensive, if not exhaustive, impact studies by a variety of organizations. This regulatory process is not only slow and painstaking, it is particularly difficult for non-existing energy technologies, which is to say, the clean technologies.

The regulatory process that any renewable energy company must face today was designed over half a century ago and thus does not allow for the multitudinous aspects of today's technologies. This slows an disrupts the approval time for clean energy power projects. "And so," says tidal power developer Trey Taylor, " already underworked, understaffed resource agencies like FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] would just as soon as have these new technologies go away."

Indeed, outdated regulations are what's holding the renewable energy industry back in the U.S., according to Roger Bedard of EPRI, an electric power research institute in Palo Alto.

Despite the hurdles and delays of the permit process, Finavera is obviously very excited about wave energy. From an entrepreneurial perspective, Finavera is quite clearly enthused about the short and long term potential of wave energy. "Propelled by the worldwide demand for renewable energy, ocean wave energy has the potential to become commercially viable quicker than other renewable technologies, achieving the fastest growth rate of all energy sources and generating significant wealth."

While I would never go as far as to agree that "greed is good", in the case of renewable energy technology, a balanced amount of profit motive is essential, at least until our government gets off its duff, stops subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and begins funding clean energy projects, as we all know it should. In lieu of that, venture capital funding will be the life blood of renewable energy research, development and implementation.


December 15, 2009

Can Green Algae Help Save the World?

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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Corn and sugar cane, move over. Several US companies are harvesting an algae that can be converted to oil and refined into biodiesel. Amazingly, the algae can grow in waste water, where it feeds on carbon dioxide. This means the algae offers a double benefit: it eats up excess CO2 while it matures into a non-polluting fuel source.

Algae may one day be the preferred feedstock for biofuels. Because it's not grown in soil and isn't edible, algae doesn't compete with food. One of the great biofuel scams going on right now is the use of corn, soy, and sugar to produce ethanol, which are being blamed in part for higher food prices and deforestation around the world. The AP just reported that:

Corn prices have shot up nearly 30 percent this year amid dwindling stockpiles and surging demand for the grain used to feed livestock and make alternative fuels including ethanol. Prices are poised to go even higher after the U.S. government this week predicted that American farmers -- the world's biggest corn producers -- will plant sharply less of the crop in 2008 compared to last year.

Algae has a high energy density and can produce 15 times more oil per hectare than other biofuel crops currently being harvested (rape, palm soya, and jatropha plants). The algae matures in 24 hours, converting 50 percent of their weight into usable fuel! Growing ponds can be built and operated on a massive commercial scale, creating the opportunity to produce a cost effective alternative to traditional oil supplies.

Where are we at with biofuel algae? The Florida-based company PetroAlgae plans to have an operational initial production facility this year and hopes to test a commercial system as early as next year. Fuels giant Royal Dutch Shell and HR Biopetroleum recently announced the creation of a joint venture called Cellana to make biodiesel from algae in Hawaii.

Here are a few companies currently pursuing algae as a fuel source:
Live Fuels Inc.
Green Fuel Technologies


April 15, 2009

Exxon Stops Drilling

Exxon record profits
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Exxon halts drilling

Bill Georgevich reporting

After posting the largest corporate profit in the recorded history of mankind, Exxon has decided to halt drilling and development of existing oil leases - despite Sarah Palin's campaign to the contrary. In a move to make the perfect storm for another oil crisis, this decision to use profits to buy back Exxon stock, rather than "Drill Baby Drill", proves that the world’s largest corporation is continuing to control the world’s economy to suit themselves.

Some folks may think that high oil and gas prices will hasten the renewable green economy. And to some extent that is true. But why not have both during this time of world recession?

Lower gas prices translate into a savings of about $200/month for the average American family of 4. That's essentially a $2400/year cash injection stimulus check!

Why not embrace the Obama and Gore green initiatives and require the oil companies to keep prices down by keeping supply up? The oil lobby begged Bush for more areas to drill in 2008 during the oil crisis they completely made up, and now they aren't drilling on the leases they already have?

This ranks along with AIG as one of the greatest scandals of the 21st century. We need low fuel prices to sustain a recovery and buy us the time to convert our energy economy to a renewable world.

April 1, 2009

General Motors Kills 2 Electric Cars

Bill Georgevich reporting

General Motors bankrupt
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Electric car killer General Motors, after showcasing their new electric car, the Chevy Volt, shut down the plant producing it in January 09, despite showcasing the hybrid with much fanfare at the Detroit Auto Show after receiving billions from taxpayers. The car company that sued California rather than produce a zero-emission vehicle now find itself in the cross-hairs of President Obama and just 60 days from bankruptcy.

We thought that flying to Washington in separate corporate jets asking for bailout money was the height of chutzpah and hubris. But this takes the cake: after finally receiving their federal billions, they shut down production of the only 100 mpg vehicle they had in development -- 4 days after showcasing the car with a flurry of press and ballyhoo at the January 09 Detroit Auto show.

Experts agree that the high cost of petrol in the summer of 08 caught the Big 3 by surprise when consumers were looking for gas sippers. Yet the next big closure GM announced in January was their Saturn plant, the one that makes small GM cars with mpg's of more than 30. Both The Volt and the Saturn plants closed because management deemed them "unprofitable". Tell that to Toyota, who makes the Prius Hybrid.

March 18, 2009

Out of the Red and Into the Green

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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Last September, as our banks were failing, the always brilliant Thomas Friedman suggested that "we don't just need a bailout, we need a build up." Specifically, a build up of energy technology, taken on with the same brazen urgency as NASA's Apollo mission. President Obama seems to agree. His ambitious stimulus plan seeks to double our renewable energy output over the next few years. Friedman has been on the talk circuit for months now, recommending no less than "an overwhelming force" to green the economy: an energy tech revolution that will not only green our grids but grow our shriveled manufacturing base, which means new jobs.

In his Sept 28 2008 column, Friedman wrote:
[W]e don’t just need a bailout. We need a buildup. We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an underregulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement….

Indeed, when this bailout is over, we need the next president — this one is wasted — to launch an E.T., energy technology, revolution with the same urgency as this bailout. Otherwise, all we will have done is bought ourselves a respite, but not a future. The exciting thing about the energy technology revolution is that it spans the whole economy — from green-collar construction jobs to high-tech solar panel designing jobs. It could lift so many boats.

In a green economy, we would rely less on credit from foreigners “and more on creativity from Americans,” argued Van Jones, president of Green for All, and author of the forthcoming “The Green Collar Economy.” “It’s time to stop borrowing and start building. America’s No. 1 resource is not oil or mortgages. Our No. 1 resource is our people. Let’s put people back to work — retrofitting and repowering America. ... You can’t base a national economy on credit cards. But you can base it on solar panels, wind turbines, smart biofuels and a massive program to weatherize every building and home in America.”

The Bush team says that if this bailout is done right, it should make the government money. Great. Let’s hope so, and let’s commit right now that any bailout profits will be invested in infrastructure — smart transmission grids or mass transit — for a green revolution. Let’s “green the bailout,” as Jones says, and help ensure that the American Dream doesn’t ever shrink back to just that — a dream.

Friedman is one of the freshest pragmatic visionaries to emerge from punditry in a long dry time. If I could whisper in the President's ear, I'd say three words: Friedman, Energy Czar. Check out his new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America.

Here he speaks with Fareed Zakaria:

On Feb 5 2009, President Obama made these remarks during a visit to the Department of Energy:

After decades of dragging our feet, this plan will finally spark the creation of a clean energy industry that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells for example, and millions more after that. These jobs and these investments will double our capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years.

We’ll fund a better, smarter electricity grid and train workers to build it – a grid that will help us ship wind and solar power from one end of this country to another. Think about it. The grid that powers the tools of modern life – computers, appliances, even blackberries - looks largely the same as it did half a century ago. Just these first steps toward modernizing the way we distribute electricity could reduce consumption by 2 to 4 percent.

We’ll also lead a revolution in energy efficiency, modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the efficiency of more than 2 million American homes. This will not only create jobs, it will cut the federal energy bill by a third and save taxpayers $2 billion each year and save Americans billions of dollars more on their utility bills.

In fact, as part of this effort, today I've signed a presidential memorandum requesting that the Department of Energy set new efficiency standards for common household appliances. This will save consumers money. This will spur innovation. And this will conserve tremendous amounts energy. We’ll save through these simple steps over the next thirty years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America.

And through investments in our mass transit systems to boost capacity, in our roads to reduce congestion, and in technologies that will accelerate the development of innovations like plug-in hybrid vehicles, we’ll be making a significant down payment on a cleaner and more independent energy future.

February 25, 2009

Clean Coal Stays in Obama's Stimulus Package

Bill Georgevich reporting

clean coal obama
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Obama talked about it along with John McCain in the presidential campaign. And despite environmentally-friendly cabinet members, clean coal got 3.4 billion dollars in the US 2009 stimulus bill under the line item - Fossil Energy and Carbon Capture. All that money despite the fact that there is no electricity made through clean coal technology and right now that technology doesn't even exist.

A lot of people don't realize that clean coal is a concept not a fact. The sequestration or hiding of carbon in abandoned oil wells is a great idea to relax folks worried about the single greatest producer of greenhouses gases in industrial countries. But the one zero-emission coal test facility operated by the DOE was abandoned after many years for lack of productivity after over 1 billion dollars were spent.

The clean coal concept is very important to the coal industry but it is also very important to countries like the US and China that have very high energy needs and lots of cheap coal. If you could set up a smoke screen that clean coal is coming, you could justify building more coal plants now and promise to retrofit them later when the technology for clean coal is invented and tested. This gives first world nations decades to continue to pollute, something climate change envrionmentalists say we don't have.

Some of this research money in the stimulus bill will go into coal gassification, a method of producing gasoline developed by the Nazis during World War II when they were converting coal into much needed gasoline for their war effort. Billions of gallons of gasoline could be produced from US coal reserves, a process seriously considered during the first oil crisis of the mid 1970's. There are still 2 remaining problems with that technology. It is an extremely inefficient way of making gasoline therefore it would make it very expensive and this technology is a terrible greenhouse gas polluter.

All this points away from coal and towards the refinement of all renewables. Why was the 3 billion+ placed in the new stimulus budget? Obviously the new administration doesn't think this country's energy policy can survive without coal.