Thursday, August 11, 2011

Serious energy work being done

Modern life is all about energy.  Many, if not most, of the economic problems facing USA can be traced to the failure to take seriously the ramifications of national Peak Oil in 1970.  Instead of coming up with meaningful solutions, we chose instead to make up the shortfall with imported oil--most coming from some the most troubled spots on the planet.  And because we really didn't have an export business that would pay for all those oil imports, we chose to sell off our national assets and go into debt.  So here we are, forty years later with few assets left to sell and the global economy crashing because everyone has run out room to borrow.

So while the efforts to address our oil shortage are at best pathetic, we simply must celebrate those who ARE taking the problem seriously.  We start with a grumpy German CEO who gives us insight into what someone who understands energy really sounds like.

ThyssenKrupp CEO on Germany's Energy Revolution
'An Effort Comparable to Reunification'
08/03/2011 
In a SPIEGEL interview, ThyssenKrup CEO Heinrich Hiesinger discusses his plans to radically restructure the steelmaking firm. He says the traditional German company is deeply concerned about the European debt and currency crisis as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel's expensive plans for an energy revolution.

[snip]

SPIEGEL: ThyssenKrupp isn't just dependent on functioning steel mills, but also on natural resources, the prices of which have skyrocketed . Iron ore now costs about three times as much as it did two years ago, and the increases are even more extreme for nickel. How is the company dealing with this?

Hiesinger: It isn't just the price increases that have us worried, but also the tremendous short-term price fluctuations, especially for metals like nickel. In recent years, prices have ranged between €7,000 and €55,000 per ton. This makes it very difficult for us and our customers to estimate costs.

SPIEGEL: Who is responsible for this?

Hiesinger: Nickel prices hardly have anything to do with the real business anymore. Instead, they are based primarily on financial speculation. Traders on the London Metal Exchange are already trading about 30 times more nickel than is actually used. It even happens that demand declines while the price rises -- and the other way around. The business has become less predictable.

SPIEGEL: The price of iron ore is still subject, for the most part, to agreements between mining companies and steel companies. What happens if speculators target iron ore?

Hiesinger: We have to prevent that at all costs. We are in talks with regulators, because we need appropriate regulation of such financial instruments. It has to ensure that supply and demand remain the key variables.

SPIEGEL: Higher costs are also a threat elsewhere: The energy revolution in Germany in the wake of Fukushima, which will see the phase-out of all nuclear power plants in the country, is expected to make electricity and CO2 certificates more expensive. Do you accept the notion that the nuclear phase-out has its price?

Hiesinger: It is clear that after the accident in Fukushima, we cannot simply continue as if nothing had happened. If society demands the energy revolution and politicians enact it, industry will have to accept the challenge. But the way things are heading at the moment, our ability to compete with foreign competitors will suffer considerably. The whole world praises Germany for its strength and its competitive industrial base, but when the energy turnaround occurs, this competitiveness will not be safeguarded. I find this completely incomprehensible.

SPIEGEL: The complaints about rising energy prices are not new. Why should we suddenly be facing collapse?

Hiesinger: The industry isn't just complaining. On the contrary, we are trying to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions even further and shape the energy turnaround. But that sort of thing takes time. We already pay the highest energy prices in Europe today. There are limits, and they are now being exceeded. We must safeguard our competitiveness.  more
I have NO idea if algae-based biofuels will solve the shortage of liquid fuels but I am certainly glad someone is working on it.
Oozing Biofuel
Algae Could Solve World's Fuel Crisis
Von Philip Bethge  
Dan Robertson is working on algae that can produce biofuel. 
Genetically modified blue and green algae could be the answer to the world's fuel problems. Bioengineers have already developed algae that produce ethanol, oil and even diesel -- and the only things the organisms need are sunlight, CO2 and seawater.

Biochemist Dan Robertson's living gas stations have the dark-green shimmer of oak leaves and are as tiny as E. coli bacteria. Their genetic material has been fine-tuned by human hands. When light passes through their outer layer, they excrete droplets of fuel.

"We had to fool the organism into doing what I wanted it to do," says Robertson, the head of research at the US biotech firm Joule Unlimited. He proudly waves a test tube filled with a green liquid. The businesslike biochemist works in a plain, functional building on Life Sciences Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

His laboratory is sparsely furnished and the ceiling is crumbling. Nevertheless, something miraculous is happening in the lab, where Robertson and his colleagues are working on nothing less than solving the world's energy problem. They have already created blue algae that produce diesel fuel. 
Scientists rave about a new, green revolution. Using genetic engineering and sophisticated breeding and selection methods, biochemists, mainly working in the United States, are transforming blue and green algae into tiny factories for oil, ethanol and diesel. 
Betting Millions on Algae 
A green algae liquid sloshes back and forth in culture vats and circulates through shiny bioreactors and bulging plastic tubes. The first tests of algae-based fuels are already being conducted in automobiles, ships and aircraft. Investors like the Rockefeller family and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are betting millions on the power of the green soup. "Commercial production of crude oil from algae is the most obvious and most economical possible way to substitute petroleum," says Jason Pyle of the California-based firm Sapphire Energy, which is already using algae to produce crude oil. 
The established oil industry is also getting into the business. "Oils from algae hold significant potential as economically viable, low-emission transportation fuels and could become a critical new energy source," says Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at Exxon Mobil. The oil company is investing $600 million (€420 million) in genetic entrepreneur Craig Venter's firm Synthetic Genomics. 
The technology holds considerable promise. Indeed, whoever manages to be the first to sell ecologically sustainable and climate-neutral biofuel at competitive prices will not only rake in billions, but will also write history. 
Do-it-yourself diesel barons launched the biofuel industry decades ago when they used old French-fry grease to fuel modest agricultural machines. Today, hundreds of thousands of cars run on ethanol derived from grain. In the United States, for example, more than 40 percent of gasoline contains ethanol additive. The fuel is produced in huge fermenters the size of blimps, by fermenting a mash of corn or rye with yeast.

But ethanol as a biofuel has a bad reputation. One hectare (2.47 acres) of corn produces less than 4,000 liters of ethanol a year, and 8,000 liters of water are required to produce a liter of ethanol. Besides, crops grown for ethanol take away valuable farmland for food production. The last growing season marked the first time US farmers harvested more corn for ethanol production than for use as animal feed. One of the adverse consequences of the biofuel boom is that it is driving up food prices. more
And of course, the BIG problem to be solved with solar power is storage.
Nanoscale Pillars Could Have a Big Role in Future Batteries
A new fabrication technique lets batteries use tin electrodes, and store more energy. 
TUESDAY, AUGUST 2, 2011
BY KATHERINE BOURZAC

Tin, silicon, and a few other elements have long been languishing on chemists' list of electrode materials that could, in theory, help lithium-ion batteries hold more energy. A new way of structuring these materials could at last allow them to be used in this way. 
Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made tin electrodes by using layers of graphene to protect the normally fragile tin. These first tin electrodes are a sign that materials scientists have made a great deal of progress in using nanoscale structures to improve batteries. 
Making battery electrodes from tin or silicon can boost the battery's overall energy storage. That's because such materials can take in more lithium during charging and recharging than carbon, which is normally used. But silicon and tin tend to be unstable as electrodes. Tin takes up so much lithium that it expands in volume by a factor of two to three during charging. "This forms cracks, and the tin leaks into the electrolyte and is lost," says Yuegang Zhang, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley. 
Zhang's clever solution is to layer the tin between sheets of graphene, single-atom-thick sheets of carbon mesh. Graphene is highly conductive, and while it's flexible, it's also the strongest material ever tested.

The tin-graphene electrode consists of two layers of tin nanopillars sandwiched between three sheets of graphene. The pillars help the electrode remain stable: instead of fracturing, the tin expands and contracts during charging without breaking. The space between the pillars means there's plenty of room for the battery's electrolyte to move around, which ensures fast charging speeds. more

Energy Storage for Solar Power
Startup BrightSource announces a new system that could allow future solar plants to run at night. 
TUESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2011
BY KEVIN BULLIS

BrightSource Energy has become the latest solar thermal power company to develop a system for generating power when the sun isn't shining. The company says the technology can lower the cost of solar power and make it more reliable, helping it compete with conventional sources of electricity. 
The company, based in Oakland, California, is building one of the world's largest solar thermal power plants. The 392-megawatt solar plant in Ivanpah, California, however, will not include the storage technology. Instead, BrightSource is working with utilities to determine which future projects could best benefit from storage. 
Solar thermal systems use mirrors to focus sunlight, generating temperatures high enough to produce steam to drive a turbine. One of the advantages of the solar thermal approach, versus conventional photovoltaics that convert sunlight directly into electricity, is that heat can be stored cheaply and used when needed to generate electricity. In all solar thermal plants, some heat is stored in the fluids circulating through the system. This evens out any short fluctuations in sunlight and lets the plant generate electricity for some time after the sun goes down. But adding storage systems would let the plant ride out longer periods of cloud cover and generate power well into, or even throughout, the night. Such long-term storage could be needed if solar is to provide a large share of the total power supply. 
BrightSource is using a variation on an approach to storage that's a decade old: heating up a molten salt—typically, a combination of sodium and potassium nitride—and then storing it in a tank. To generate electricity, the molten salt is pumped through a heat exchanger to generate steam. BrightSource CEO John Woolard says one big factor in making this technology economically attractive is the use of power towers—in which mirrors focus sunlight on a central tower—that generate higher temperatures than other solar thermal designs. That higher temperature makes it possible to store more energy using a smaller amount of molten salt. "It's a much more efficient system and much more cost effective, overall," he says. more
Leave it to a farm state like Iowa to reach a 20% level of installed renewables.  Go Hawkeyes!
Iowa hits 20 percent wind threshold
4:14 AM, Aug 5, 2011 | by Dan Piller

The American Wind Energy Association reports that during the second quarter Iowa’s wind generating capacity reached 20 percent of the state’s total electricity network.

A major boost came from MidAmerican Energy’s new 594 megawatt wind farm near Adair, the first of three major wind projects the Des Moines utility plans for this year.

MidAmerican alreaedy had 1,330 megawatts of wind generation capacity on its system. The utility’s peak loads this summer have totaled about 4,700 megawatts.

The second largest wind generator in Iowa is Florida-based NextEra, which has about 800 megawatts of wind farm capacity mostly in central and northern Iowa.

The American Wind Energy Association said 7,354 megawatts of new capacity was under construction nationally by July 1, more than at any time since the third quarter of 2008.

In addition to Iowa’s project, other additions include 845 MW in Oregon; 802 MW in California; 769 MW in Oklahoma; 611 MW in Illinois; 501 MW in Colorado; and 492 MW in Texas.

“Most regions across the U.S. have more under construction activity today than installed in all of 2010,” said Elizabeth Salerno, AWEA’s Chief Economist and Director of Industry Data Analysis.

The AWEA warned that the future of wind energy is closely tied to extension of the production tax credits given builders of wind projects.

“Project activity and orders for 2013 and beyond are scant because of the lack of a predictable business environment, causing layoffs and even bankruptcies in American manufacturing plants and the supply chain,” said AWEA in a statement.

“These struggles for U.S. wind manufacturers will only worsen if Congress were to allow the tax credit to expire.”

Iowa is the nation’s second largest wind capacity market, with more than 4,000 MW installed. Texas, with almost 9,000 MW, is the largest wind generator in the U.S. more

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