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.

February 17, 2009

Oil Prices Down, Gas Prices Up

Bill Georgevich reporting

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Last year on The Renewable Minute we asked, How can oil prices plummet after being so high? The answer: SPECULATION, and the speculators were fleeing the market. Now gas prices are creeping up, even as oil prices continue to fall. How? Oil refineries are reducing the supply to increase demand and pump up the price. Guess Exxon-Mobile doesn’t want a world recession to interfere with windfall profits for 2009.

And speaking of deja vu from late 2008: Have you noticed those Exxon ads are starting to show up everywhere as they did when gas was $4 a gallon? About 2 weeks before gas prices started creeping up again, Exxon was back in my Yahoo inbox, this time with a kinder, gentler message about renewable energy research, a politically more correct position in line with the Obama-Chu-Al Gore cultural creatives who currently rule the roost.

Our next program will be dedicated to the unveiling of the renewable energy provisions Obama's Stimulus Package. We’ll be visiting the new government website, which promises total transparency, to look into a curious 3+ billion dollar line item for "fossil fuel renewable energy research." Join us next time to find out what that means.

January 28, 2009

Chinese Electrics Beat the U.S.

Bill Georgevich reporting

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With Chevrolet’s decision to power their hybrid electric car with batteries made in China, the globe’s greatest polluter may also become the world leader in zero-emission cars. At the 2009 Detroit car expo China shocked the auto industry presenting 3 different working models of electric cars that use the same battery as the Chevy Volt, which doesn’t arrive until 2010 or later.

We are not kidding. Not only does China have 3 working models that will be sold in the mainland this year, but their batteries really are going to be used by GM despite the fact that Detroit vowed that they were going to invent their own battery,

The story gets even stranger when you look at why China is building electrics. Not to save the environment and not to fight pollution although these cars will help with both. China simply has too much coal and imports most of it’s oil. So they can make a lot cheap electricity building more and more dirty coal-fired plants and feed their new middle class, hungry for transportation, by selling them electric cars.

Add that to the fact that the Chinese, as a culture, famous for their low standards of safety, will build those electrics to crash safety standards far below those established for the US. Which is why in the short term we will not see the Chinese electric cars in the US even though they will be available far ahead anything GM, Chrysler or Ford can actually put on a car lot for sale.

January 12, 2009

What's Really Behind That Changing Price of Gasoline?

Bill Georgevich reporting

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In October of 08 we reported that the Saudi’s believed the wild fluctuation in oil prices was based on commodity market speculators. This week, “60 Minutes” reports that the same investment bank that got billions in bailout money also used commodity trader techniques from Enron to hyper-inflate the price of oil last summer when supply was high and demand was actually diminishing.

And it gets worse. 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft points the finger at Morgan Stanley, claiming that the same company that needed billions in US government bail-out funds also took advantage of deregulation pushed through the Bush Administration’s first term by lobbyists from Enron. Remember Enron, the largest contributor to the Bush 2000 campaign, the oil and gas company that created artificial rolling blackouts in California to successfully raise electricity rates? It’s the same corporation that created fake companies to boost its stock price. Well, according to the CBS news story, those loopholes for oil commodities trades still exist and those techniques used by Enron in California were used to buy and sell oil contracts for a company, Morgan Stanley, that is not in the oil business.

Connect the dots and you have a scenario in which one of the greatest contributors to the global financial meltdown also made the strongest contribution to the world recession by artificially boosting oil prices during a time of increased oil supply and lagging demand.

And what does the Bush administration do? Send them to jail like Ken Lay? No, they receive a $20 billion bailout from the US government.

January 8, 2009

Clean Coal: The New Weapon of Mass Delusion?

Bill Georgevich reporting

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You heard McCain talk about it, you heard Obama support it in the presidential campaign as well. The clean burning of coal by means of capturing and sequestering its carbon exhaust. Let’s be clear. There is no tested technology existing today to produce "clean coal". Scientists don’t even know if it will work. It’s just a concept brought to you by the coal industry.

Keep in mind that coal plants supply roughly one-half of all electricity in the US! And since it is a domestic source of energy, this dinosaur of energy production has been looking real attractive to our leaders.

The clean coal concept refers to an array of technologies that sharply reduce pollutant emissions from coal-burning power plants. In the 1980s and 1990s, efforts focused on reducing emissions of sulfur, nitrogen oxides and soot — which cause acid rain, damage forests and pollute watersheds.

The latest and larger concern about burning coal is the production of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. This has presented the coal industry with an engineering challenge it has not been able to pull off.

Traditional coal combustion emits far more carbon than other fossil fuels. Thus, maintaining coal as an option for power generation (electricity), will require dramatically reducing these emissions. A breakthrough is critical to the long-term energy needs of the US, which is considered the "Saudi Arabia of coal." Coal represents some 90 percent of the nation's recoverable fossil fuels, with reserves sufficient for 200 years, at current rates of use.

Clean coal depends on being able to ‘capture’ carbon dioxide emissions and then to safely dispose of them indefinitely underground, in a process known as sequestration, capabilities not expected to be commercially deployable until 2020.

clean coal carbon sequestration

There are two leading approaches to meeting the challenge. The first is an advanced steam cycle technology, known as ultrasupercritical (USC) cycles. The other is integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology.

USC promises significant efficiency gains, which could reduce carbon emissions by about a third. The US, long a leader in advanced coal combustion technology, has 170 supercritical units in operation.

IGCC, which is still a few years from commercial deployment, promises a potential quantum leap, approaching zero-emissions. Full-deployment, however, depends on overcoming another technological challenge — not just the ability to capture carbon but also to safely dispose of it indefinitely underground, in a process known as sequestration. This is not expected to be commercially deployable until 2020.

The choice of technology is hardly academic. In planning for new base-load (constant) power plants, utility companies must choose plants with carbon capture capabilities or face steep future costs under anticipated new laws establishing a cost to carbon.

There are just four commercial-sized coal-fired IGCC plants in operation. Two are in Europe and two in the US, one each in Florida and Indiana.

There have been significant capital and engineering investments made in IGGC technology in recent years by a small number of industry leaders, including Conoco Phillips, Shell and GE.

The federal government made a significant commitment to advancing this technology through its $2 billion FutureGen project, but support was withdrawn in January 2008 because of cost overruns and concerns the technology might quickly become obsolete. The next administration is expected to revive support.

Despite the compelling need, there are precious few IGCC projects still being pursued. Known plans include one by Duke Energy and a joint project undertaken by Hydrogen Energy and Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International.

Are there other potential solutions?

Anticipation of some form of carbon controls (most likely a market-based cap & trade system) has stimulated investment in other ways to capture carbon. Most are a variation on how other pollutants have been controlled.

For instance, liquids or solids (or static electricity) are injected into the plant’s flue gas exhaust to capture particles. Carbon is currently captured by exposing flue gas to an ammonium carbonate solution, which is then heated under pressure, reversing the absorption process so pure carbon is recovered. Georgia Tech University researchers recently reported using a solid adsorbent called "hyperbranched aminosilica" to capture seven-times more carbon. The substance can be recycled and reused.

Another capture method uses chilled ammonia, with which Alstom has demonstrated (in a lab) a capture rate of more than 90 percent and at a far less cost. The company is running a pilot project at Wisconsin Energy’s Pleasant Prairie Power Plant.

Technologically-based upstart companies — as well as infrastructure firms — offer investors limited entry into this sector, which is for the most part dominated by large firms.