Archive for May, 2013

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EGP On Hiatus

May 23, 2013

out of the country on vacation for the rest of the month; will resume daily blogging on June 3.

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Department of Energy demonstration project doubles oilfield output

May 22, 2013

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) have long been topics of interest here at EnerGeoPolitics.  The Department of Energy is interested in combining the two into Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS).  The idea is to capture carbon, pump it into aging oil wells to boost production (the utilization stage) and then seal the carbon underground (the storage stage).  There is a large demonstration project underway in Port Arthur, Texas  that has been able to capture and store more than 1 million cubic feet of CO2 while doubling oil field production from 1.6 million to 3.1 million barrels annually.

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Qatar, not Turkey or Iran, is the power broker in Syria

May 21, 2013

Great report from the Financial Times on how Qatar has come to dominate the Syrian uprising.  Qatar has rapidly become a major power broker across the MENA (Middle East/North Africa) region.  Meanwhile, the FT also reports that the massive Qatari sovereign wealth fund is engaged in a new round of buying stakes in global banks – this time purchasing shares of Germany’s largest and Russia’s second largest banks.  Since the beginning of the global financial crisis in 2008, Qatar has purchased large stakes in British, Swiss, Brazilian and Chinese banks, as well.  This is the third post I have had that mentions Qatar’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy – one last fall and one last winter.

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China trains it sights on Okinawa

May 20, 2013

A Chinese general has set off alarms in both Japan and the United States over his claim that Japanese-controlled Okinawa is in fact traditionally within the Chinese sphere of influence.  Major General Luo Yuan did not claim Chinese sovereignty over Okinawa and the rest of the Ryukyu Islands, but he did refute Japanese sovereignty over them, claiming that the islands “paid tribute” to China for half a millenium, while the Japanese only took control in the late 19th century.

Okinawa is the site of several key United States military installations and would be an absolute lynchpin in the developing Asian Pivot strategy, controlling the southern approaches to Japan and South Korea (and, by extension, to the Aleutian Islands and Alaska).

npacific map

China’s counter strategy to the Pivot is to dominate the First Island Chain.  Prying Okinawa away from Japan would isolate Japan and Korea and drive a wedge in the India/Australia/Japan triumvirate for which the US would provide off shore balancing power.

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Generating energy by burning food

May 16, 2013

In an era when a large number of Americans suffer from “food insecurity,” the title of this post sounds perverse.  However, there is a Catch 22 in the US food production and consumption pipeline:  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (link opens a pdf), as much as 40% of US food production is wasted before it can be eaten or donated.  The fact of the matter is that produce, milk and meat have short shelf lives that, once passed, make them inedible.  Such wastage is a problem everywhere, but is especially pronounced in the US because our agricultural sector is so productive.

One large supermarket chain has come up with something of a solution:  Kroger has built a large plant in Southern California that uses a closed-loop anaerobic digester system which reclaims its waste food to produce water, fertilizer and enough energy to provide 20% of its distribution center’s needs.  A long article in the LA Times describes the process:

Several chest-high trash bins containing a feast of limp waffles, wilting flowers, bruised mangoes and plastic-wrapped steak sat in an airy space laced with piping. Stores send food unable to be donated or sold to the facility, where it is dumped into a massive grinder — cardboard and plastic packaging included.

After being pulverized, the mass is sent to a pulping machine, which filters out inorganic materials such as glass and metal and mixes in hot wastewater from a nearby dairy creamery to create a sludgy substance.

Mike Vriens, Ralphs vice president of industrial engineering, describes the goop as a “juicy milkshake” of trash.

From there, the mulch is piped into a 250,000-gallon staging tank before being steadily fed into a 2-million-gallon silo. The contraption essentially functions as a multi-story stomach.

Inside, devoid of oxygen, bacteria munch away on the liquid refuse, naturally converting it into methane gas. The gas, which floats to the top of the tank, is siphoned out to power three on-site turbine engines.

The 13 million kilowatt-hours of electricity they produce per year could power more than 2,000 California homes over the period, according to Kroger.

Excess water from the digester is pumped out, purified and sent into the industrial sewer. Leftover sludge becomes nutrient-rich organic fertilizer, enough to nourish 8,000 acres of soil.

The so-called closed-loop system was developed by Boston start-up Feed Resource Recovery and offsets more than 20% of the distribution center’s energy demands — all without producing any pungent odors.

The program helps Kroger reduce its waste by 150 tons a day. The trash otherwise would have been sent to Bakersfield to be composted, hauled away six times a day by diesel trucks traveling 500,000 miles a year.

Trash cogenerationshould be a much greater part of our national energy mix – it is a renewable resource.  The Germans have shown that it can be done cleanly and efficiently and even increase the amount and value of recycling.   Unfortunately, trash burning plants from the 70s and earlier were dirty and inefficient, and environmental policies and attitudes that were set in place 40 and 50 years ago remain entrenched today, even though they should have been superseded by technological progress.  The good news is that private companies are leading the way where governments are unable; let’s hope that some day our political “leaders” can follow them.

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Australia places itself in the center of things

May 15, 2013

The new Australian Defence White Paper has been noted for its conciliatory language toward China, leading some observers to wonder whether the Aussies are beginning to stray from the long-time US alliance.  That language, though, is not that much different from what you hear emanating from Tokyo, New Delhi or Washington, DC.   All of these powers speak of peaceful co-dominion with rising China, but at the same time all are preparing for containment of or outright conflict with her.

Indeed, the Australian defence planners have placed themselves in the center of the maritime encirclement of The Dragon.  Whereas the Aussies previously spoke of their primary strategic interest in the Asian-Pacific region, the new White Paper introduces the new term “Indo-Pacific” region.  The Indo-Pacific strategic arc begins in India, traces across the Indonesian Archipelago and up to Japan.

Indo Pacific Arc large

Australia has a tricky relationship with China:  On the one hand, China is Australia’s largest trade partner, but on the other hand the aggressive territorial claims and ambitions of China has the Aussies (like every other nation in the region) worried.   Also, the large trading relationship with China is dwarfed by the even larger collective relationship with nations often at odds with her (see graphic below).

Aussie trade partners

Some in Australia fret that they have to “choose” between their relationships with China and the US.   Some – including former Prime Minister and noted friend to the US John Howard – call such a debate “infantile.”  I don’t think it is infantile – it is simply a choice that does not need to be made today.  For now, Australia has managed to cut the baby in half – maintaining its lucrative trade ties with China while also being a lynchpin in the US-led virtual maritime containment of the same.  With any luck – and skillful diplomacy by all involved – the choice will never have to be made.  But, if that day comes, Australia’s defense planners are quite clear that they will be in the middle of things.

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Origins Project advocates for atmospheric CO2 extraction

May 14, 2013

The Origins Project is a multi-disciplinary effort at Arizona State University designed to “explore the questions of who we are and where we are from.”  The Project has long been interested in the topic of  climate change, and a team of 15 Project-affiliated scientists has published a paper advocating research into large scale extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere (something the British have already successfully demonstrated).  In an introduction to this position published in Slate, Project Director Lawrence Krauss denies that this is a geo-engineering project (although he really just carefully defines geo-engineering to exclude this idea).

Extraction of CO2 from the environment may indeed become a viable option, but it will probably follow on from existing and ongoing efforts to extract CO2 at production sites, turning it into useful methanol.   Nobel prize winning chemist George Olah has long advocated this capture and utilization of CO2 and has envisioned the eventual extraction of atmospheric CO2, but Olah’s vision is one that would be supported by market economies.  The great advantage of Olah’s approach is that it will allow us to continue using our vast supplies of fossil fuels in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner.  There is a role for governmental action in this scheme, but it would be more in creating the regulatory environment needed to foster a methanol economy than in direct financial support for research.