Archive for July, 2008

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A small story about small cars

July 31, 2008
(another post from Frank Ganje, who has been on fire.  Many thanks to Frank for picking up the slack in a week where I have been otherwise engaged)
I was looking to replace my aging Ford van with a small economy pickup, but discovered that they are becoming scarce.  Ford Motor Company may have shot themselves in the foot by announcing the closure of the Ranger production facility in St. Paul, Minnesota just as fuel prices were climbing to record levels.
I also discovered that small isn’t so small any more.  Even the venerable Datsun pickup which sold in the millions has been renamed  Nissan and resized to a not so fuel efficient hunk of steel and plastic.  However, the situation is changing as fast as fuel prices. Ford Motor Company has back-pedaled and announced a two-year reprieve to its St. Paul Ford Ranger plant.
Like many drivers shocked by fuel prices, I am seriously considering a fully electric vehicle because 95% of my driving needs could be met by one.  For the occasions when I need to travel longer distances or haul larger loads it may make more sense to rent a gas burner.  I certainly could afford to do so with my savings in fuel costs.
An electric vehicle manufactured in Fargo, North Dakota by Global Electric Motorcars which gets the equivalent of 150 mpg and two-cents a mile operation costs has certainly gotten my attention.  It has also received Chrysler Corporations attention. They purchased the company. E-Ride Industries, who build a full sized electric vehicle in Princeton, Minnesota is also getting attention.
Evolving from golf carts, a new class of automobile has been created.  Called Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV),  sales of electric vehicles are getting a boost  from  governments in 40 states who are easing licensing requirements and  removing road restrictions in response to public demand. Two years ago the Minnesota legislature legalized their use on city streets. On August first a new law takes effect, upping the allowed top speed of neighborhood electrics from 25 miles per hour, to 35 miles per hour.
Another innovating company,  A123systems is ramping up production of a new lithium-ion battery which overcomes many of the problems of rechargeable batteries and extend the range and speed of electric cars.  These batteries can be recharged up up to 2000 times and are 1/3 the weight of conventional lead-acid devices. They can be recharged in as little as 1 hour.
Demand for the batteries is strong and they are difficult to get.  Dewalt is delivering 36 volt power tools with battery packs which experimenters and innovators are buying to strip the batteries from and use to build electric bicycles with 20 mph speed and a 25 mile range. There is a thriving underground market on E-bay for these batteries.

We may eventually be grateful to OPEC for doing nothing to reduce fuel costs, and to the tree huggers who are making us aware of the true cost of polluting our environment.

(editor’s note – I would just remind everyone that the power to charge these vehicles and their batteries has to come from somewhere.  More and more EVs means more pressure on the grid.  We need more power generation now, both to replace older generation plants with more efficient newer ones as well as to add extra capacity.  That means wind, that means solar, that means nuclear, that means clean coal.)

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Blowin’ in the Wind

July 30, 2008

following is a letter from valued contributor Frank Ganje in North Dakota:

The answer is blowing in the wind

Critics of wind power rightfully point out that, while it is renewable and
non-polluting, wind cannot provide consistent and reliable power because it
is difficult to store the energy to supply power during periods when the
wind doesn’t blow.  An unusual hydroelectric power project in Southern
California might show a way to overcome this drawback to using wind power as
a source of electricity in North Dakota.

The project uses off-peak electricity and intermittent wind power to pump
water from a lower reservoir up to Lake Elsinore in Riverside County.  This
stored water feeds hydroelectric generators to provide electricity to the
California grid when demand is highest.

Such a system requires a large reservoir, such as Lake Sacacawea in central
North Dakota, and hydroelectric generators such a those located at Garrison
Dam.  Because of prolonged drought in the Missouri River system,
hydroelectric generators at Garrison dam have been operating at reduced
capacity for several years and the reservoir is near record low levels.

While the 500 MW Lake Elsinore project was costly, an under-utilized power
grid, upper reservoir, and generators for a similar system in North Dakota
are already in place.  Recognizing that a turbine is essentially a pump, and
a generator is essentially a motor, it might be possible to return Missouri
River water to the upper reservoir with modifications to existing hardware
at minimum cost.

Taking full advantage of North Dakota’s energy resources is vital to
ensuring a good economic future and a feasibility study would be worthwhile.

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Carbon Farming

July 30, 2008

Frank G. passes along this story about the National Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program, in which an estimated 2,300 farmers and ranchers in 20 states are paid to engage in agricultural practices that capture and sequester CO2 in their fields.  Some key graphs:

Farmers, ranchers and landowners can participate in the program by using no-till farming practices or growing grasses and trees to limit the release of carbon dioxide from the ground. Livestock producers also can participate in the program by installing systems to capture methane from manure.  . . .

(N)ationwide enrollments in the National Farmers Union Carbon Credit program in 2006 and 2007 captured carbon dioxide from 2.8 million acres, or the equivalent of sequestering carbon from about 320,000 cars a
year.

A good primer on “carbon farming” and how soil sequestration works can be found on the Australian Broadcasting corporation site, here.

This all comes at a time when the New Economics Foundation claims that there are just 100 months in which there is time to act to forestall catastrophic, irreversible global warming.  If the NET really believed this, then they should be embracing geo-engineering projects, not the massive re-ordering of society that is their actual goal.    To my mind, the failure to full-throatedly embrace geo-engineering solutions belies the actual intentions of such organizations.  Climate change is a real issue, but it is a technological problem with technological solutions.  For people like those of the NEF, climate change is merely the stalking horse for the age-old leftist desire for complete centralization of the economy and society.

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India pursuing CTL technology

July 25, 2008

Several companies are bidding for contracts in the Indian CTL project.

US environmentalists might be able to stop, or at least slow, CTL development in the United States, but they will not stop it elsewhere.  China and India are going to convert coal to liquid, it is a fact.  And, if it can’t be sold here for that purpose, US coal mine owners will eventually realize a great profit shipping their coal overseas.  The only thing environmentalists will really stop is (a) US jobs constructing and running plants (b) US led innovation in clean coal technologies and (c) another avenue toward energy independence.

The choice is stark – you can see coal burning in nations without a well developed sense of ecological outcomes or a powerful environmental lobby, or you can see it done here, where it can be controlled and guided.

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CTL project in Medicine Bow, Wyoming

July 24, 2008

DKRW Advanced Fuels has an ongoing project to build a 15,000 to 20,000 bpd CTL plant in Medicine Bow, Wyoming.  The plant, which is located at a mine mouth (reducing transportation costs), is projected to open in 2013.  Medicine Bow is an interesting collaborative project – DKRW, mine operator Arch Coal, Davy Process Technology, Honeywell, GE and ExxonMobil are all involved.  This plant, like other contemporary CTL plants,  captures and sequesters the C02 byproduct.  DKRW also commercializes the CO2:  “CO2 can be dried, liquefied and shipped via pipeline, and plans are to sell it to the enhanced oil recovery market.”

This is not unique – the Dakota Gasification Company runs a plant in Beulah, ND and pipes its CO2 to the oil fields of Saskatchewan.  The Beulah plant’s primary output is synthetic natural gas, plus a wide array of other products.  Thanks to reader Frank G. for the tip on this plant.

If you know of a coal gasification plant, drop us a line or leave it in the comments section.  We would like to put together a map of such plants and keep a tally of the daily fuel output.

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Odds and Ends

July 23, 2008

Coal Stuff

This is an old article (January 2007) from Technology Review on GE’s development of a fuel cell stack for coal.  At the time, the estimated construction cost would have been $800 per kilowatt, it needs to get down to $500 to compete with conventional plants.  But, it is nearly half again as efficient as conventional plants, 50% efficiency vs. 35%.  If anyone has any updates on this, please e-mail me.

GE is actually developing a lot of interesting stuff.  They are on the leading edge of wind turbines and photovoltaic cells, but run through their EcoImagination site and check out all the other products they are developing, from energy saving lightbulbs to centrifugal compressors that capture CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from wells and re-injects it back into the reservoir,  which both sequesters the gasses and increases the well efficiency.

Sol Shapiro forwards this article on the construction of a new coal-to-liquid plant in Ohio.  It’s a private venture (although the state of Ohio is supporting it with tax breaks) so the taxpayers are not fully on the hook for the $6 billion construction cost.  An interesting twist is that this plant will gassify wood waste along with the coal.  Plant developers claim they will be able to capture and sequester 85% of the Co2 emissions – if you don’t count the sequestered gas (which is never actually emitted), then the fuels that are produced burn at a nearly 50% cleaner rate than traditional fuels.  At full capacity, the plant will produce about 53,000 barrels of liquid fuel per day.  We need 5 more such initiatives to get to the initial target of 300,000 bpd.  All we need is for the state governments of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana to follow Ohio’s lead and draw private investors.  They will create jobs in their states, and provide a steady customer for their states’ coal resources.

Shale Oil

Yesterday, the Bureau of Land Management issued proposed new regulations to open up the Western Shale Oil Resource for commercial development.  The BLM states that this resource could provide approximately 800 billion barrels of oil.  This is the middle estimate.  The Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming is the largest shale oil formation in the world.  The RAND corporation did a detailed investigation of the resource in 2005 (available here in pdf format).  The total reserves is estimated at between 1.5 and 1.8 trillion barrels.  Not all will be recoverable, and RAND puts the lower bound at 500 billion barrels, the upper bound at 1.1 trillion barrels.    I’m not too excited about this development, however.  It is highly unlikely that an Obama administration (which I am quite sure we will see) will support these proposed regulations.  US shale oil will remain off the table until at least January, 2013.

Inflatable Cars

Have you heard about this?  XP Vehicles has developed a lightweight, electric commuter car that gets up to 2500 miles on a single charge.  It is a durable, inflatable vehicle (think of the material used in life rafts, not the plastic pool toys your kids use) that is shipped to the customer in a flat box and assembles in two hours.  There are two power options, a hot-swap battery/fuel cell that runs for 2500 miles, then is removed and replaced, or a rechargeable battery system that gets about 300 miles per charge (I like the hot swap idea because rechargeable EVs with limited ranges are  going to result in a lot of power theft).  The legality of the XP vehicles will depend on local ordinances, but expect a lot of change in local ordinances as alternative modes of transportation become available.

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Geo-engineering news

July 22, 2008

Our friend Sol Shapiro sends along some interesting updates on geo-engineering.

First, Shell Oil is funding a new project that will seed seawater with lime as a means of sequestering CO2.    Mongabay.com describes the process:  “ Adding lime (calcium hydroxide) to seawater increases its alkalinity, thereby increasing the ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 and reducing its tendency to the greenhouse gas back into the atmosphere. The process could also help counter acid acidification, which biologists say is increasingly a threat to marine life, including coral reefs and plankton.”

There is a more detailed description of project plans and goals at Cquestrate.com (thanks again to Sol for providing the link).  Although Cquestrate is receiving funding from Shell for their project, they are operating independently, with the intention of developing an open source solution, meaning that Shell will not acquire any ownership of the process.  A lot of people will automatically discount any activity that receives funding from an oil company, but that is an act of willful blindness.  We don’t care where the solutions originate, so long as they are effective.