Monday, March 31, 2008

Ron Pernick: "The Future Ain't What it Used to Be"

Check out "The Future Ain't What it Used to Be" a great article by Ron Pernick. I found it at Renewable Energy World which itself is a good information site for energy geeks and commercially motivated types alike.

Little factoids from his article worth sharing:

According to the 2008 annual Clean Energy Trends report the "clean-energy markets" grew by 40 percent from $55 billion in 2006 to $77.3 billion in 2007.

Ron predicts these same technologies will reach $254.5 billion by 2017.

The EU has added 47,000 megawatts of new wind energy since 2000.

The EU has also added 9,600 MW of coal and 1,200 MW of Nuke.

The US has more than 50 new coal plants on hold because of CO2 worries and the anticipation of a federal carbon emissions cap under the next presidential administration.

The upfront cost comparison of Nuke versus Other:

1-gigawatt brand new Nuclear plant is between $2 billion and $6 billion.

1 - gigawatt of geothermal or wind is less than $2 billion.

1 - gigawatt of solar is between $5 billion and $10 billion.

And best of all - Ron quotes Oil Luminary T.Boone Pickens who has announced he will build the world's largest wind farm at 4,000 MW.

"I have the same feelings about wind as I had about the best oil field I ever found."
- T. Boone Pickens

NOTE: Ron Pernick is author of the Clean Tech Revolution, which I consider the best book available on the emerging new market for outside the box energy concepts. He also maintains a website and currently teaches at Portland State University. Go Stumptown!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Solar Excitement

Solar power done easy. Called "Solar-Thermal Electric" technology. I've heard more talk about this than about any other solar concept ever. People are really excited about a large utility scale solar project.

A mirror, some heat exchangers, and a whole lotta electricity. I have a few people mention this over the last few weeks. Simple, efficient, and totally scalable. Exciting stuff to glimpse - the future looks great when it so close you can taste it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

University of Maryland and Cellulosic Ethanol

The Energy Blog has a great post up about a cellulosic ethanol breakthrough.

The University of Maryland claims to have hit the perpetually five year out solution to braking cellulose into a working food for yeast. In short they claim they've sourced a bacteria plucked out of Chesapeke Bay have tooled it to break cellulose into sugar.

Lets see how far this goes. If its real it will be everywhere soon enough.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Automobile X-Prize Update

Wired online has a great update of the Auto X-Prize.

It went from 12 to 66 entrants.

Entrants origins number 9 countries.

There are two classes of vehicles :

Mainstream Class - with 4 wheel/4 passenger/and standard options expected in a modern vehicle.

Alternative Class - with an open allowance which includes the sexy Tesla roadster (shown right).

The vehicles will prove their mettle in a series of long distance races (nothing makes product development fun like a competition).

Its long but worth the read. Take a look at the future of design. You just know the large auto manufacturers are looking over their shoulders. Not so much because of the threat but just to see what outsiders can do.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Awesome Diesel Technical Document

I've got a great PDF if anyone has a question about diesel technology or refining. I came across this great book at the Chevron Diesel website. They also have a great Diesel FAQ page as well.

It is an amazing document that covers the whole gamut on diesel fuel.

This PDF is essentially a free text book which is about as easy as you can make this material. I found it a really good piece of work and even learned a little bit while reading it.

From refining, to ASTM specification, biodiesel (from the perspective of a petroleum company that is), diesel additives, performance of the fuel, and diesel technology. If you are in academia it would be a good place to pull information if you need to talk about diesel technology.

I've also put together a presentation pulling pretty heavily from this as well as some other sources. As diesel prices have climbed there has been a steady stream of customer inquiries on why diesel is more expensive than gasoline. If anyone wants a presentation that goes with the book I can forward that to you as well.

It's always great to find really good sources of information in free PDF form.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Renewable Energy Group Pulls Back from IPO

Wow, looks like the biodiesel sector isn't going to do so hot in the eyes of Wall Street. Renewable Energy Group (normally referred to as REG in the industry) is a little skittish about the black and white future of biodiesel producers in an Annual Report. That's the second IPO implosion in the last few months (first Imperium backed away and swapped management and now this).

My source was OPIS which offers a news email service which I'm on right now. I've pasted the news piece below.


Iowa biodiesel marketer and producer Renewable Energy Group (REG) withdrew its plan to file an initial public offering (IPO), it told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this morning.

Eight months after announcing plans to raise up to $150 million in common stock, REG said it withdrew the filing "on the grounds that current market conditions do not support a public offering ... at this time."

No further information was provided in the SEC filing. Credit Suisse, Goldman, Sachs & Co, Banc of America Securities and Thomas Weisel Partners had been listed as underwriters on the IPO. A handful of biofuel companies have announced plans to halt or stop production, until high feedstock costs are reduced.

Over the weekend, the 30-million gal/yr SoyMor biodiesel plant in Albert Lea, Minn., was the latest company to halt production. "Due to current biodiesel economics, the board of governors of SoyMor Biodiesel, LLC are suspending the production of biodiesel at this time," according to a notice posted on the company's website. "SoyMor's board of governors has reviewed all possible alternatives regarding the plant's operations and have concluded that the suspension of production is the most prudent decision to ensure long-term viability of SoyMor," the notice added.

SoyMor is one of four biodiesel plants that REG operates, but which is owned by third parties. REG bills itself as a full-service biodiesel company, including biodiesel production, management, marketing, sales and plant construction management. The REG network currently includes seven operating biodiesel plants, accounting for more than 222 million gal of annual biodiesel production, with three additional plants under construction. However, in its IPO filing, REG said it planned to use some of the net proceeds to finance half of the expected construction costs for the three new biodiesel plants. With the IPO withdrawn, it's unclear whether REG will scale back its plans for the three new facilities.

Well. When the big dogs start backing up a little its a good sign that tough times are immediately ahead. Time to batten down the hatches and get ready for the rough weather.

Happy Birthday Rudolph Diesel

Rudolph Diesel, inventor of the internal compression engine.

Born March 18th, 1858

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ethanol Fire Place

I don't know anything about these but they sure look cool. I came across these pictures at Art and Home which sells these while doing research for an ethanol presentation.

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New Oilseed Crop - Cuphea

I saw the story first at Biobased News. This is the first I've heard of this oil seed type.
A good amount about Cuphea Oil is available on Wikipedia.
As described by the Biobased News this is a break through development. Being the only tropical oil crop type that will grow in North America. Or in the exact words of the Biobased News:

Part of the research focus at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Lab in Morris is to develop new and alternative crops to diversify cropping systems in the northern Corn Belt region and offer new/improved economic and environmental benefits. Over the past seven years the Morris “Soils Lab” has been successful in developing a new oilseed crop called “cuphea” that has now become the only domestic crop-derived source of medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) seed oil (i.e., seed oil similar to that of tropical plants) in the U.S. Until recently, the only plant-derived sources of MCFAs were coconut and palm oil.
The signifigance of this crop is that it produces medium-chain fatty acids (or MCFA's). This oil type being normally found in tropical oils which are relied on for soaps and other chemicals not to mention biodiesel.
Its always interesting to see new names pop up. Now I'm curious to see if this will be one of those blockbuster interest crops or a quiet but interesting additional crop.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Chevron's Heavy Oil Refining Process

I saw it first at Wired. (Note: I have not read this in depth yet)

As oil prices rise these technologies will start popping up all over the place. You want to know a good sign of when oil prices are going to stay high for a while. When big oil refiners like Chevron start investing in major refinery technology outlays like this.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Major Automakers Back Away from Fuel Cell's

Check it out.... GM and Toyota dismiss Fuel Cell's as viable.

Yep, that's what I thought. Go hybrid powertrains, electric technology, and of course my favorite - Clean Diesel. The far off mystical new fuel is exactly what it is billed as. Far off and mystical.

NOTE: Yes I am totally biased against fuel cells as a viable on-road power train. I personally see fuel cells as a bad idea for on-road vehicles. They just don't make logical sense to me when the real technology required for fuel cells to work is a superior electric power train. I do think fuel cells hold a great deal of promise for commercial and industrial facility use.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Ethanol Debate Done Well by NPR

NPR had a great balanced piece on ethanol.

They cover both sides of the corn commodity price increase as well as the value added jobs created by ethanol's boom in rural America. This is probably the best reporting on Ethanol I've ever seen in the last year.

Its worth listening to. Its worth passing on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hey Buddy, Can you spare a rare diesel engine?

I cam across an interesting site from a diesel shop in Seattle. Last year I was researching the potential of swapping out a gasoline engine with a diesel. I instead moved on to the much easier path - buying a VW TDI instead.
Regardless, I saw this site and thought it might be worth sharing.

A whole supermarket of rare diesel vehicles, engines and parts. Build yourself a freakish diesel cross over vehicle.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Oregon Diesel Prices

On Saturday I popped up in the Oregonian talking about why diesel is more expensive than gasoline. In response to the article I got an email asking for more depth on it to which I have placed a copy below.


First I will start with a disclaimer of my knowledge. I'm in the industry and have more knowledge of what is going on than the average person. I also read alot more than the average oil company person so I tend to have more information. Regardless though I have never worked at a refinery or farther upstream in the petroleum business.

In short I am reasonably educated in the subject but am not an expert. So I might be wrong but if I am it is because I was given inaccurate information and did not have the experience to know better.

I also think Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel is a great thing for the US and moves us to a whole new paradigm for energy opportunities.

This being said.


Fifteen years ago petroleum refiners would handle the refining of petroleum differently. In the process of treating the crude oil with distillation, diesel rated products would come off earlier in the process than gasoline and would be much less costly to process into an on-road diesel fuel. Then came two changes in this refining process.

A sulfur standard for on road diesel (500 parts per million sulfur which recently dropped to under 15 parts per million) and hydrocracking of the crude in refining.

The hydrocracking of the fuel changed the way in which it is refined (

In moving to cracking the molecule refineries have more say in what they can get out of a barrel of crude. They also can get more of the higher value portion of the barrel. So instead of a barrel of oil giving out so much gasoline, so much diesel, so much naphtha, etc..... Now refiners can produce what they need and want by their expectations.

From my understanding refiners have moved to a just in time inventory for fuel. They sell based on market forces, their own needs, and of course what they expect the optimum quantities they would want for a specific refineries business model (where they position themselves in the market). This is done more as a framework of their existing refinery capacity, tanks down stream, and customers tanks as well. I don't see them really manipulating markets as handling their own expectations and limits to store the product they make.

In a nutshell though diesel and gasoline cost roughly the same amount to make and the quantities produced is controlled more than it was before. This differs greatly from 1980 where there was less flexibility in the quantity of diesel or gas a refiner could get out of the barrel's they recieved.

So today if the gasoline market gets tight, diesel will as well and vice versa. The elasticity of the products crosses over more now than it did fifteen years ago as the refiner can determine how much of each it will produce from the same barrel of crude oil. So at the refinery level diesel and gasoline should trend near each other in price (NOTE: from what I undertand).

Down stream from the refinery though market forces change this radically.

Enter Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (commonly referred to as ULSD). Twenty years ago you could move fuels and petroleum products more easily. A little gas in the diesel, a little, motor oil in the diesel, etc.. no big deal. It didn't effect product specification. You could move tanks from one product to another. This went for trucks, trains, and other infrastructure pieces.

Prior to ULSD, if diesel was giving a better margin you could stash it or move it more readily than you can today. Especially at the refinery level. If you want to put diesel in a tank you need to prepare the tank, clean the tank, and then expect a timeframe for flushing product through it before you can assume its will stay within ULSD specifications.

Now with ULSD we can't mix products quite as regularly. If a transport truck held motor oil or jet fuel prior it needs to flush prior to getting ULSD. Why??? Because the small residual amount of sulfur (a few gallons of retain) in the truck could raise a 10,000 gallon load of diesel above the 15 ppm sulfur level required by law.

The same can be said of moving fuel by pipeline, barge or train. You can't risk mixing products so every step of the supply line must be cleaned and controlled. If a gallon of ULSD picks up to much sulfur it then must be downgraded to Off-Road diesel which sells for less (take a 25,000 gallon rail car x $0.05 in value difference and you just made an avoidable $1200 mistake).

The same can be said for the big terminals that handle off-road diesel, jet fuel, gasoline, and other liquid fuel products. They have way less flexibility in how they handle product for fear of throwing it off spec. This as well tightens the market for ULSD (or on-road diesel).

Six years ago the talk was "refinery capacity" was the issue for high fuel prices. This subject even made it into the presidential debates between George Bush and Al Gore. This reality faded away when Asia came on gangbusters with its own refineries which can sell refined product directly into the US (if they can find a terminal to place their product at).

Today we are hearing that terminal tank capacity and infrastructure is the issue. Our economy has grown, our capacity to supply diesel to it as gotten constrained at the same time, and therefore prices have gone up.

This in a nutshell is what the Oregonian reporter placed in a few hundred words. I think he did a good job given the complexity of the issue.

The Diesel Hybrid Cometh - Go VW!

I was blown away to see it. Now I just prey it sees the US market. Check it out at Wired Magazine's blog.

VW is bringing on a TDI electric hybrid power train to challenge Toyota's dominance. This vehicle will be seen at the Geneva Auto Show later this week so I would expect the chatter to cross over into the mainstream after the show.

Claiming a 69.9 mpg, if this vehicle delivers as promise it will be big for us B99 lovers. Its clean enough to meet both EU and California tailpipe standards so a new era might be approaching. The Toyota Prius emits 104/kg of CO2 compared to this diesel which kicks out 89/kg. This is the future of diesel we all have been expecting.

If this touches down and out performs the mileage of gasoline/electric hybrids its only a matter of time before clean diesel becomes a standard option in smaller sedans. Now lets just make sure it doesn't take a nose dive due to uneducated technology biases.