Friday, May 30, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

MIT's Energy Initiative (MITEI)

Described simply:

Doubling energy use, tripling electricity demand, political instability surrounding oil sources in the Middle East, and detrimental effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment: For MIT, these are the next problems to solve.

I saw a presentation last week on their efforts and its really exciting. Its worth looking at. Hopefully I'll have time to do a better post on it.


Biodiesel's Inception: A Very Brief Histroy

I cut and pasted this directly from: the Biodiesel Expansion blog. This blog having a good deal of basic information about biodiesel and the process. I found it pretty enjoyable to read and learned a little bit while there.

From a post titled: Basic History of Biodiesel Fuel

Biodiesel fuel has been around since 1853. However, it was not fully used commercially until the early millennium. It is credited to E. Duffy and J. Patrick and it was recorded that the very first diesel-propelled machine ran on August 10 of 1893. Thus, the same day was aptly named International Biodiesel Day.

There is this German man named Rudolf Diesel who made an engine that was propelled by peanut oil. This was his experiment on biofuel for machine usage. Although peanut oil is not qualified as a biodiesel fuel because it did not undergo the actual process of making biodiesel fuel, it was viewed as the future of the power of natural feed stock to be used as an alternative to fuel based on petroleum. However, Rudolf was successful in running an engine using this type of biofuel.

Another person who should take the credit for biodiesel is G. Chavanne. It was in 1937 when he received a patent for a process called transesterification. This is the process used for converting feed stock to biodiesel. The blends of biodiesel fuels are marked on the percentage of blends. A 20% blend is called B20. A 30% blend is called B30. The B stands for blend.

Basically, biodiesel is made from animal and plant fats that are then mixed with methyl or ethanol. Glycerol is also used. Called fatty acid methyl or FAME, biodiesel has gains popularity of its practically year in and year out. The number of countries that have heavily invested in this have grown since the 1970s.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Renault announces Electric Vehicle destined for US Market

Saw it over at Renault, like many other auto manufacturers is rolling out an EV. According to the article destined for US markets within a few years. Renault jockeying for a global leadership position on the EV side of the auto manufacturing universe.

This is interesting to say the least. That auto manufacturers are developing innovative technologies as fuel prices rise. More so the fact that when you read about many of these technologies their is one over riding motivation. More market share in large consumer markets such as China or the US.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Speculating on Oil Prices

There is an interesting story about the pricing expectations of a barrel of oil up on the Biobased news. Its a news wire piece on a recent KPMG poll of petroleum executives. The poll will be discussed at an upcoming KPMG Global Energy Institute conference.

Long story short. Over half of oil execs believe a barrel of oil will close below $100. See below:

In this year's KPMG survey, which polled 372 financial executives from oil and gas companies in April 2008, 55 percent of the respondents think that the price-per-barrel of crude oil will drop below $100 by the end of the year. Twenty-one percent think that the price will close between $101 and $110; 15 percent think between $111 and $120; and nine percent believe it will close at above $120. And, while 44 percent felt that prices would peak by the end of the year, a further 39 percent thought that they would not peak until after 2010.

Fair enough. Past as pretext for any speculation you would assume that the historical high would flatten out and trend lower. I would understand why that would be the majority consensus. What I don't follow is why 39% (not exactly a small contingent) thought oil wasn't going to peak until after 2010. I think this is evidence that there is some other factor effecting price currently and that this dynamic has yet to run its course.

Other interesting findings of the poll. The underlying cause for the increasing prices.

Indeed, a significant majority, or 63 percent, of oil and gas executives believe that growing demand due to accelerated demand in emerging markets is the major contributor to the high price of oil. The second highest contributor, according to 15 percent of the respondents, was the lack of access to new oil resources, and rising exploration and development costs. Ten percent attributed current pricing to growing demand in developed markets.

That supply was not readily available even with highs never before expected or seen. These same execs also mentioned a much bigger role for natural gas, see wind being a growth sector, and biofuels being a credible mass producible energy source within ten years.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Thoughts on Sustainability

Today on the Biofuels4Oregon listserve their has been a vigorous debate brewing about what constitutes sustainable biofuels. A good email on the subject came from Brent Searle from the Oregon Department of Agriculture which actually inspired me to contribute to the exchage. Below is Brent's thoughts and then my response.

BioFuels Network

Sent: Tuesday, May 06, 2008 1:54 PM
Subject: [biofuels4oregon] Sustainability>

Here is my list of Sustainability Objectives for any fuel, keeping in
mind the question of "Can We Have it All?" There is no perfect fuel; they all have trade-offs.

Does the fuel (biofuel or any other) contribute in a positive way to:

1. The development of systems to deliver feedstock at “economically sustainable” prices to all players in the value chain over time?
2. Developing the infrastructure and capacity to consistently deliver quality fuel products in a market over time?
3. Economic development of rural communities, job creation, and local ownership models -- in the US?
4. Helping meet local, national, and world food needs?
5. Keeping ag lands in ag use?
6. Reducing carbon output, increasing sequestration, etc.?
7. Improving returns on energy and other inputs?
8. Stabilizing fuel costs?
9. National security: minimize military role/cost?
10. Energy security: diversified & resilient fuel supply?
11. Generating and enhancing environmental benefits (air, water, soil quality, wildlife, etc.).

There is no silver bullet. It will take lots of different strategies, fuels and biofuels, efficiencies and conservation, transportation shipping mode changes (more barge/rail, less truck), etc., etc.

Brent Searle
OR Dept. of Agriculture

My Additional thoughts and response to Brent's email:

I would also add to that the concept of "Does the technology/fuel/energy in question have longer term development opportunity?" I.e. - does it offer an upside potential of a long stream of value added products from initial investments.

Biofuels have a huge future for other value added products out of the same biofuel manufacturing facility. As for petroleum, the future of petroleum will likely be hydrocracking (i.e. converting) cheaper non petroleum products to the same spec as petroleum.

Developing new agricultural products or feedstocks for both ethanol and biodiesel have a huge potential for this. The leaders in these newer industries will be outside traditional energy and therefore will provide a good deal of value outside of our traditional marketplace. This is exciting stuff and rarely covered if ever.

The real story behind petroleum isn't the versatility of the input (the crude oil). Its the focus the petroleum industry has put into developing value added products from the crude. The real story of biofuels is similar - not developing the mainstream product (ethanol or biodiesel) but instead other value added products with unique niche markets.

Being that to dump any part of petroleum is noticeable and polluting. Its been the case since the very beginning of the petroleum refining industry there has been good deal of money invested to develop something from every last drip of crude oil. The major oil companies grew up niching certain products from their refining process. Everyone knows the stories of refineries in the rust-belt dumping lighter end products in rivers, flaring off natural gas, and others. We hear these stories because people in these communities were upset even in 1925 long before the Clean Air and Water acts. The early success found a way to get paid for their "waste" as a product instead of a pollution.

There is no reason why Agriculture won't follow that same development pattern as petroleum refining technology. Up until recently the main focus of US agriculture has been food grade products. The upside of biofuels is the research money is on a much wider focus of product development.If we have a floor for production to move to that can handle a diverse number of crops. This is a whole new paradigm for the US. Sustainability to me is more products from more acres with less water, fertilizer, and energy input. Sustainability to me is this trend for the next 100 years.

Anything that moves towards this trend of newer, better, cleaner technology is progress. Those green washing the same old practices are not.

Today unsustainable agriculture is a ten cylinder 57 Chevy. Something you can be sentimental about but not a breakthrough in technology for the time it was produced. Compare this 57 Chevy to the gamble represented by the 2002 Prius scale up. The Toyota Prius was cutting edge experimental technology outside the box of any market expectation. Over the next decades hybrids will become as standard as anti-lock brakes and electric windows and therefore so will our fuel economy expectations.

That's sustainable progress and therefore Sustainability.

Mark Fitz

Friday, May 2, 2008

Good News for Oregon's Trillium Fiber Fuels

From: Chris Beatty
Sent: Thursday, May 01, 2008 6:10 PM
Subject: [biofuels4oregon] Trillium FiberFuels receives DOE grant

May 1, 2008

Trillium FiberFuels receives $100,000 grant for cellulosic ethanol research

Trillium FiberFuels of Corvallis, Oregon has been selected by the US Dept. of Energy to receive a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Grant to develop a key process for cellulosic ethanol. The Trillium technology will substantially improve ethanol yield from feedstocks such as straw and forest residues. Trillium president Chris Beatty commented: “We are very pleased with this support and validation of our approach. We are excited about taking this technology to the next level.”