Archive for May, 2010

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Ups and downs in the CCS world

May 28, 2010

On the downside, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that environmentalist Tim Flannery, formerly a booster of carbon capture and sequestration, has changed his mind about the prospects for CCS.  Flannery is on the board of Siemens and , after meeting with some of their technical people in Germany last week, has concluded that while CCS is technically possible, it is likely not economically feasible.  However, in the same article, the head of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute maintains his belief that the current barriers to CCS are not insurmountable.   I am still on the side of CCS, but I am open to being convinced that it will not be a successful strategy.   I think a key may be turning the carbon into a commercial product and utilizing, not simply storing it.  Commercial applications include pumping carbon into mature oil wells to enhance production, “carbon farming” in which farmers generate carbon credits by storing carbon in their fields, or (down the road) supercompressing carbon to create industrial grade diamonds.

Flannery is correct that, using current technologies, CCS is too expensive and inefficient (a power plant implementing CCS would have to dedicate up to 30% of its power output to capturing its own carbon), but it is the key to a secure and clean energy future.  On the positive side – at roughly the same time Flannery was expressing his doubts about CCS – researchers at Berkeley were working on a new type of material that can efficiently – and cost effectively – scrub carbon from power plant outputs.  They hope to use automated processes to enable their break through in 3 years or less. As Instapundit would say:  “Faster, please!”

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Sino/American “Strategic and Economic Dialogue” ends

May 27, 2010

The two day Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the US and China has ended with no apparent deals on any of the most pressing matters.  China will not allow its currency to float, it so far remains non-committal on North Korea and it’s support of further sanctions on Iran are best described as abstract and theoretical and reserve the right to balk at specifics.

In fact, far more important to China than these talks with the US are next month’s Council of Heads of States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tashkent.  SCO foreign ministers were meeting roughly concurrent with Sino/American talks, preparing the ground for the Heads of States meeting.  Reportedly, the expansion of the SCO will be on the agenda, with Iran itself petitioning for membership.  I doubt that Iran will be extended membership at this point, but Chinese strategic interests are definitely geared more toward keeping Iran close than mollifying a US leadership widely perceived as weak.

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George W. Bush, the Green Energy President?

May 26, 2010

Maybe not, but certainly a green energy Governor.  Bush 43 was the keynote speaker at the American Wind Energy Association Conference in Dallas yesterday, where he received “raucous applause and a standing ovation,” according to this first hand report from Bill Opalka at RenewablesBiz.com.

Although his many opponents like to paint Bush as a simplistic front man for a cabal of oil industry leaders, he was, in fact, an early leader in the drive to make Texas a dominant force in the wind power industry.  Opalka reports:

“He even repeated his warning from a State of the Union address that the U.S. was dangerously “addicted to oil,” which wasn’t the usual line from a Texas politician. Or how that was dangerous to national security, which is so common today that dissenters to that view are hard to find.

But he kept returning to the uncontested legacy in wind, which he described as rewarding his faith in technology and free markets.

As he concluded his remarks, Bush noted “We said we were going to get 2,000 megawatts in 10 years but we hand no way of knowing we would reach 10,000 megawatts in 11 years.”

And for that, he was given a hero’s send-off. It was clearly Bush’s crowd, and Bush’s day in Dallas.”

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What is Jindal waiting for?

May 25, 2010

Why is the governor of Louisiana still waiting for the federal government to act?  Why is he waiting for those “federal permits” to build the sand berms off the coast?  He should just do it.  He should order the Louisiana National Guard to appropriate the Corps of Engineer equipment and supplies – by force if necessary – and just do the job themselves.

Frankly, a constitutional crisis over such actions would do even more for Jindal’s political fortunes than the berms would do for the coastline.  If the Feds want to come in afterward and punish him for his unpermitted actions, so much the better.  If he still harbors any dreams of running for president, getting arrested by federal marshals for standing up to an unpopular president and taking action to defend his state would put him back on the presidential contender map, a place he has not been since his disastrous SOTU response last year.

Of course, the answer might be that he is just another overly cautious, hack politician – who is not really interested in leading, only in winning the next election.  Maybe he doesn’t have the guts to make such a ballsy move.

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China in Africa

May 25, 2010

Read Dr. Deborah Brautigam’s book The Dragon’s Gift:  The Real Story of Africa in China and follow her excellent blog, which builds on her book.  Brautigam’s major argument is that the depiction of China as a nascent imperial power intent on acquiring oil, mineral or other assets or  access is too narrow a view.  Although this blog is sometimes guilty of that same shorthand, I would agree.  While China is, in fact, engaged in petro-mercantilism, it is also developing and exercising its soft power dimension at the same time.   While I tend to focus on the former, the latter also has important long term strategic implications.

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China seeks foothold in the Arctic

May 24, 2010

Yes, China, that nation with no territory bordering on the frozen northern ocean.  Nonetheless, China is beefing up its strategic, economic and diplomatic presence in the Arctic region.  The Chinese own and operate the world’s largest non-nuclear ice breaking ship, and has begun construction on a second that will make its icebreaking fleet more modern than that of either Canada or the US.  The US has only three icebreakers, two of them over 30 years old and one of those only recently re-activated for service (there is a fourth icebreaker, but it is on station in and dedicated to the Great Lakes).   There is a scramble ongoing among the “Arctic Eight” for control over the (presumed) vast energy supplies beneath the ice – Russia and Norway struck an important deal last month.  China’s intentions are unclear, but every nation in the northern hemisphere would benefit from the shorter and cheaper summer shipping transit via the Northern Sea Route or Northwest Passage.

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Celebrity pleas for “the end of oil” will go unheeded

May 21, 2010

Robert Redford, Ted Turner, Thomas Friedman and others are making pleas to use the Deepwater Horizon disaster as an impetus to “get America over its addiction to oil” and, even more, to begin “the end of oil.”

They are going to be terribly disappointed.

The world is about to embark on what I call The Second Age of Oil.  Or, maybe more accurately, The Shale Age.   The ability to cheaply harvest natural gas from shale formations is the biggest energy event of the century so far, not Deepwater Horizon.  Only the increasing likelihood that we will also be able to begin producing (relatively) cheap shale oil will have a bigger impact on the world energy outlook in the first half of this century.

I fully support research and development of clean, renewable energy sources, but facts are stubborn things, and the fact is that nothing comes close to fossil fuels in terms of the Three Ps:  price, portability, and potency.

What will change is the mix.  Super cheap crude will run out soon (whether in actuality or due to political peaking), but shale oil and liquid fuels derived from coal and gas will take up the slack.  It will be more expensive, but still relatively cheap – think $6 gas.  It will also be cleaner due to mandates for and improvements in CCS technology.

And the US will be the world’s largest producer, consumer, and exporter all at the same time.