Worldchanging reports that a newly formed alignment of legal, financial, and investment interests plans to pump "trillions" of U.S. dollars over the next 10 years into evolving 'green' markets linked to climate change, clean technology and sustainable use of natural resources, according to a report being prepared for the United Nations.
"The Working Capital Report," is to be published in March 2006 by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, and is the culmination of a series of studies conducted during 2004 and 2005.
It seems that this is another clear sign that what was once considered a financial niche area is poised to become mainstream as institutions with trillions of dollars under management embed environmental, social and governance thinking into their investment approach, UNEP said in a statement released simultaneously Tuesday accross the world in major financial centers like London, Melbourne, Nairobi, New York, Paris and Tokyo.
"There is no question that 2005 will be seen as the watershed when the mainstream banking, insurance and investment worlds realized the scale of the commercial opportunities unfolding in the new carbon, clean-tech and sustainable natural resource markets and, also, the legal risks of not being a leader in this area," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.
According to WorldChanging, financial institutions working with UNEP predict that greenhouse gas emissions trading markets could reach US$2 trillion a year by 2012 and that the market providing finance for clean energy technologies could reach US$1.9 trillion by 2020. These figures are far larger than any previous estimates for these markets.
'Green investing going mainstream ... sounds like good news to me. May I suggest Alternative Energy Stocks.com for more good daily clean tech/alt energy/etc. financial news.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Over the past two months, energy companies have announced U.S. refinery expansions of almost 1 million barrels of oil per day - nearly 6 percent of the amount of gasoline produced today, according to the Christian Science Monitor (CSM). More announcements may come this spring.
If the oil companies follow through on their plans, the planned expansions would add capacity equal to half of all the expansions over the past ten years. The new capacity could help to relieve the persistent tight supplies and price run-ups at the pump, as happened this fall in the wake of damage to Gulf-coast refineries after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The companies who have announced expansions include Valero, who plan to add an additional 400,000 barrels per day, as well as Chevron and ExxonMobil, each planning to add 75,000 barrels per day. Suncor, Motiva, and Citgo also have expansion plans. The planned capacity is expected to come online within the next three to five years.
One example is the Marathon Oil refinery in Garyville, about an hour north of New Orleans. The refinery sustained little damage from Katrina. The Marathon Oil refinery is the youngest plant in the US at 29 years old which illustrates the age of the United States' refinery infrastructure and the lack of major expansions. According to CSM, late last month, Marathon said it would spend $2.2 billion to add 180,000 barrels per day - equal to 6 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, and kerosene - to its refining capacity of 245,000 barrels per day.
"When you look at our nation's current refinery capacity and see how hard the refineries are run and then add the outlook for increased petroleum demand, you see that there is clearly a need for additional refining capacity," says Gary Heminger, president of Marathon Petroleum Co. LLC, in an e-mail to CSM.
This large addition at Marathon is nearly the equivalent of an entire new refinery. According to CSM, companies generally prefer expansions - that is, adding more refining facilities - instead of building new ones on different sites because it's faster and will probably not require new zoning. Permitting issues must still be resolved and Robert Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association in Washington, cautions that while "It looks like refining investment is on the uptick, ... there are two cautions: All these additions must be permitted, and people can change their minds."
The plans for expansions come as Congress is debating legislation that some hope would encourage new refining capacity by changing environmental regulations and streamlining the permit process. The House has already passed one version that includes a provision to pay oil companies for delays caused by federal, state, or local authorities or for unforeseen litigation. A Senate bill failed to get out of committee by one vote, but it may get attached to another bill, says a staffer.
This summer's devastating hurrican season seems to have served as a wake-up call to many who now realize that the fuel problems we face in the United States are less a problem of supply (that will come soon, just wait) and more a problem of a refinery and distribution bottleneck. Refinery capacity in the U.S. has been far below demand for sometime and we currently import millions of gallons of refined oil products like gasoline and diesel from Canada and Mexico and even as far aways as Saudi Arabia. We consume over 20 million barrels of oil per day yet have capacity to refine 16.9 million barrels per day (see graphic above).
The high gas prices we saw this summer and fall and high heating fuel costs we are likely to see this summer are the result of an already overworked U.S. refinery system whose back was broken by damage from Katrina and Rita. Damaged refineries are coming back online and gas prices are returning to pre-hurrican season levels but this does not mean we are in the clear. Our refinery capacity is still far below our demand and as our demand continues to rise and our supply of imported refined products dwindles due to increased demand in the countries we import from (Canada and Mexico's demand for refined products is on the rise as well and you can bet they'll take first dibs on their refinery output when the time comes) we are likely to face an ongoing refinery bottleneck and ensuing high prices for refined products.
I am not a proponent of the measures being explored by Congress to incent refinery construction - easing environmental restrictions and then allowing oil companies to sue for lost time when we do try to enforce what little regulations remain seems like a terrible idea to me - and it seems that perhaps the measures are not needed as oil companies are planning on making additions already. Still, we do need more refinery capacity and perhaps other incentives should be explored.
The real problem is that oil companies have little incentive on their own to build new capacity as they can continue to run their existing refineries at the same costs but sell the resulting product for much higher prices due to supply constraints. This bottleneck also ensures their crude supplies don't become depleted as rapidly and they can hold off on new capital investments in both refineries and new oil exploration. Building new plants only means outlaying more capital in order to compete with their existing production capacity and drive down their profits/gallon of refined product.
All in all, it seems like we are in a real pickle. All the more reason to turn to fuel efficiency and alternative transport energy sources/fuels.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
A Simple Exercise in Fuel Economy ... or Why Drilling in ANWR Has Nothing to do with Domestic Energy Security
Here's a simple exercise in the potential of fuel economy improvements:
A little while back, the Energy Blog posted about a hydrogen-boost system that offers a 10-40% increase in fuel economy for heavy trucks and Green Car Congress reported on a similar technology for cars and light trucks that could boost fuel economy by 20-30%.
Now these are both incremental improvements, and 10% or 20% doesn't sound like a lot at first glance, but what kind of numbers are we really talking about here? What kind of potential do incremental improvements to fuel efficiency have? The answer is that they are nothing to scoff at. Let's see what happens when we run through the numbers:
According to the Transportation Energy Databook (TEDB), the U.S. consumed 13.2 million barrels of oil per day (MMbbl/d) in 2002. Cars (32.6%) and light trucks (24.0%) together account for 56.6% of that oil and when you add heavy trucks (17.6%) we are up to 74.2% or about 9.8 MMbbl/d. Lets assume that all light vehicles and heavy trucks utilized the hydrogen boost system for a 20% improvement in fuel economy accross the board, that would then save almost 1.96 MMbbl/d of oil.
Let's put this in perspective: 1.96 MMbbl/d is 14.8% of the total US oil consumption for transport. On the production side, that's over 1/4 (26.25%) of the 7.46 MMbbl/d of U.S. crude oil production. Its also over twice (2.25 times) the estimated peak production that could be achieved if we were to drill in ANWR (870,000 bbl/d). This shows you how hard it is to take seriously the arguments that drilling in ANWR is about domestic energy security; a simple incremental boost in fuel efficiency of 10% would net the same gain as drilling in ANWR without the environmental damage (in fact we'd see an environmental benefit in the form of reduced emissions) but this avenue hasn't been proposed by Bush and the gang.
There are a number of technologies that could provide such incremental boosts in fuel efficiency - just scan the headlines at Green Car Congress any day of the week and you'll see what I'm talking about. These include: hydrogen-boost systems; continuously variable transmissions; idle-stop systems; displacement on demand/variable cylinder management (VCM)/variable valve timing electronic control (VTEC); drag-reducing devices like boat tails for tractor-trailers; TIGERS (exhaust gas energy recovery system); and of course hybrid-electric systems and more. All yield incremental improvements that can have a substantial impact on our transport fuel use and therefore oil consumption.
I've said this before and I'll say it again: if we were serious about domestic oil security, we should get serious about raising the fuel efficiency of our transport fleet. Raising the fuel economy of our light vehicle and heavy truck transport fleet by 2/3rds accross the board (cars from ~20 to 36.5 MPG; light trucks from ~17.5 to 29 MPG; heavy single-unit trucks from ~7.5 to 12.5 MPG; and heavy combo trucks from ~5.4 to 9 MPG) would eliminate over half of our need for imported oil, or about 6.46 MMbbl/d (we currently import about 12.5 MMbbl/d to make up for our production-consumption deficit - this gap is widening). Given the long list of technologies above, coupled with a reduction in the number of poor fuel economy vehicles (large SUVs and light trucks) on the road, I see this goal as a realistically achievable one.
And it's not like there aren't pleny of good reasons to work towards this goal: achieving it would allow us to import the bulk of our oil from Canada and Mexico while severly reducing or eliminating our dependence on Middle Eastern oil; it would also presumably cut in half the of the approx. $360 million sent overseas every day to pay for imported oil (money practically leaking out of our economy and forming the bulk of our national trade deficit) and would severily reduce if not eliminate the between $6 and $60 billion per year spent to defend Middle Eastern oil (estimates vary, see the TEDB pg 1-11 for a summary of various studies and their estimates); finally, it would go along way towards sheltering us from the impacts of OPEC controlled oil prices - OPEC driven oil shocks have been estimated to have cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion over the past three decades (see TEDB p. 1-10), a staggering amount roughly equal to the sum total of payments on the national debt over the same period!
And all of these dollar figures aside, the environmental benefits would be impressive. We would see greatly reduced criteria pollutant emissions as well as a serious decrease in greenhouse gas emissions - transport is responsible for 1/3rd of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions or 1.8 billion metric tons (see TEDB p. 11-1) so reducing our total use of oil for transport by 6.46 MMbbl/d would be an almost 50% reduction in the amount of oil used for transport and a corresponding cut of almost 1/6th of our total U.S. GHG emissions. That alone would be a 16% decrease in GHG emissions which would go a long way towards meeting Kyoto-style targets for GHG reductions.
In summary, drilling in ANWR isn't about domestic energy security; it's about profits for Exxon et. al. Increased fuel economy standards ARE about domestic energy security, as well as economic growth, environmental benefits, national security concerns, combatting global climate change ... what more do we want?!
Thursday, November 24, 2005
It's time for another installment of our 'Energy Applications of Nanotechnology' segment over here at Watthead. Today we take a look at carbon aerogel composites. The technology has been getting a bit of press lately as GreenShift Corporation, a business development corporation that invests in emerging companies and technologies which might enable large environmental gains, has recently invested in Aerogel Composite (ACI), a development-stage company that manufactures meso-porous carbon aerogel composites.
So what are these things and what are they good for? Well, aerogels are solid-state substances similar to gels but in which the liquid phase is replaced with gas. Aerogels have a highly dendritic structure, meaning their structure has many tree-like branches [check out the graphic to get some idea what we're talking about]. This results in a very high surface area and very porous and light material. Aerogels consequentally rank among the world’s lowest density solids.
According to Green Car Congress, their microstructure and physical properties can be manipulated at the nanometer scale by selection of raw material and modification of manufacturing conditions. Aerogel materials can also be produced in a number of forms including monoliths, thin-films, powders, or micro-spheres to respond to given application requirements. According to ACI, incorporation of additives into aerogels results in materials that are called aerogel composites. The role of additives is to enhance the properties of pure aerogels or to impart additional desirable properties depending on the application.
Aerogels have a number of uses and ACI has patented a process for the preparation of aerogel composites destined for a variety of applications, including carbon aerogel-supported catalysts for fuel cells and other metal oxide aerogel-supported catalysts for catalytic converters for combustion engines.
In their use as electro-catalysts, ACI's aerogel composites achieve equivalent catalytic performance while using one half to one tenth the quantity of precious metals like platinum used in current technology. These catalysts are the primary cost drivers in all of the markets ACI is addressing. ACI’s technology directly addresses the cost of fuel cell systems by lowering the platinum cost for the membrane electrode assembly.
For example, according to Green Car Congress, ACI’s Hyrogel Carbon Aerogel Supported Platinum Catalyst reduces the platinum requirements of hydrogen-powered proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells by more than 90% from recently prevailing levels.
The platinum content of PEM fuel cell electrodes is a major hurdle to the commercialization of fuel cells. The industry has long been waiting for technologies, like ACI's aerogels or the metalic nanopowders we considered in our last installment of this segment, that can reduce the need for platinum in their electrodes. These nanotechnology applications could thus have a serious impact on the fuel cell industry.
Additionally, aerogels can be used in catalytic emissions control systems. Here ACI's aerogel-supported platform reduces precious metal loading and therefore cost. Green Car Congress reports that in 2003, the $4 billion market for emission control catalysts utilized $3.19 billion of platinum group metals. This market is expected to grow significantly due to increased regulation, stricter enforcement and rising demand for diesel automobiles in Europe and the U.S. This could therefore be a huge market area for ACI's aerogels.
Other potential applications include materials for ultracapacitor electrodes, hydrogen and energy storage, catalyst for fuel reformers, specific gas sensors, biosensors, and desalination of water.
Previous Energy Applications of Nanotechnology Installments:
Friday, November 18, 2005
Researchers at Australian National University (ANU) and the publicly traded Australian company, Geodynamics Limited are exploring the viability of hot-dry rock (HDR) geothermal power generation.
HDR geothermal power utilizes the hot temperatures (up to 570 C) of underground granite rock layers that are mildly radioactive (the heat source) and are trapped beneath insulating layers of low thermal conductivity sediments. As ANU's hot rock site explains:
Heat is extracted by pumping water through an engineered heat exchanger connecting two or more wells. This heat exchanger is a volume of hot dry rock with enhanced permeability. It is fabricated by hydraulic stimulation. This involves pumping high pressure water into the pre-existing fracture system that is present in all rocks to varying degrees. The high pressure water opens the stressed natural fractures ... The result is a million-fold permanent increase in permeability along the fracture systems and a heat exchanger that can be used to extract energy.
Water is then injected into a borehole and circulated through the "heat exchanger". The water is heated through contact with the rock and is then returned to the surface through another borehole where it is used to heat another liquid with a lower boiling point within in a closed loop system. This liquid is flashed into steam which is used to spin turbines and generate electricity. The water is then re-injected into the first borehole to be reheated and used again. The HDR plant thus involves two closed-loop systems, the subsurface water loop and the power plant loop that generally contains organic fluids such as refrigerants and iso-pentane.
Australia contains a significant HDR resource. According to Geodynamics, "One cubic kilometre of hot granite at 250 degrees centigrade has the stored energy equivalent of 40 million barrels of oil." The image below shows the estimated temperature at a depth of 5km across Australia. Blue hues indicate relatively low temperatures at this depth while reds represent areas where the temperature is estimated to be particularly high. Notice that the old crust of regions in Western Australia is relatively cool whereas parts of Central Australia are predicted to be >300 C at 5km depth (temperatures suitable for HDR geothermal).
Two HDR pilot sites are being explored in Australia. The first, in an area south of Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales is, a joint project between ANU and Pacific Power and research at this site began back in 1999. The results of the project stimulated commercial interest in Australia’s hot dry rock resources to such an extent that a new company, Geodynamics Limited, was successfully floated on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2002. This company has now acquired the Hunter Valley geothermal tenement from Pacific Power in addition to an adjoining site and two sites in the Cooper Basin in north-east South Australia. The Cooper Basin site is the second pilot site. Australian National University (and its Department of Geology) has been a major shareholder in Geodynamics since its first seed capital raising in early 2001 and is still involved in research into HDR's potential.
Geodynamics estimates that the total potential thermal HDR resource at their Cooper Basin tenaments "are equivalent to 50 billion barrels of oil. This consists of a 1 kilometre thick slab of granite covering 1000 square kilometres, all above 5km depth, and with an average temperature of 270 C." For comparison, Australia's current total oil reserves are 2.9 billion barrels, and the US oil reserves are 20 billion barrels.
However, Geodymanics recognizes that:
several challenges have to be overcome to realise this potential. First of all, the development of an underground heat exchanger poses several local challenges. It has to be established whether horizontal underground heat exchangers will develop as predicted by the known tectonic stress conditions. Once a horizontal heat exchanger has been developed successfully, the flow rate through the underground heat exchangers also has to meet certain criteria. The energy required to pump the water through the underground heat exchangers also needs to be low enough for the project to be sustainable.
Geodymanics is making significant progress though. They report that Stage One of the their Business Plan is now in full progress and that the Habanero #1 well in the Cooper Basin was spudded on 15 February 2003. When it is completed, it will be the deepest well onshore Australia. Geodynamics has raised a further AUD$4 million in May 2003, the purpose of which was to enable the deepening of the Habanero 1 and 2 wells from 4,400m to 4,900m. Gross funds for the Stage One program are therefore now AUD$20.5 million.
Additionally, Geodymanics has developed relationships with HDR experts in other countries worldwide and they estimate that these relationships have brought the company access to the equivalent of US$500 million of HDR R&D results generated internationally.
I couldn't pass up blogging about this development out of ANU where I studied last year. I had heard about HDR's potential before but didn't realize that ANU had its hands in it. As THE major Australian research university, I'm not surprised.
HDR geothermal seems to have some serious potential, at least in Australia. It would be interesting to see what kind of potential their is for this technologies development in the US. North America is a much younger continent, geologically speaking than Australia and so may lack the necessary radiogenic granite deposits. This is still a technology in development but it seems that the technical kinks should be worked out in time. They technologies it uses are largely well developed technologies already used in the oil and gas exploration and traditional geothermal fields. Regardless, this is a power generation technology worth watching.
[A hat tip to Treehugger]
Thursday, November 17, 2005
The US Department of Energy announced Tuesday DOE co-funded Weyburn Project has successfully sequestered five million tons of CO2 into the Weyburn Oilfield in Saskatchewan, Canada, while doubling the field’s oil recovery rate. The CO2 used in the project is piped from the Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, ND, and is a byproduct of the plant’s coal gasification process.
According to the press release, if this Carbon Sequestration-Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2-EOR) methodology were used "on a worldwide scale, one-third to one-half of CO2 emissions could be eliminated in the next 100 years and billions of barrels of oil could be recovered." The International Energy Agency has estimated that wide-spread deployment the CO2-EOR methodology used in the Weyburn Project has the potential to eventually store 130 billion metric tons of CO2 worldwide.
According to DOE Secratary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman:
The success of the Weyburn Project could have incredible implications for reducing CO2 emissions and increasing America’s oil production. Just by applying this technique to the oil fields of Western Canada we would see billions of additional barrels of oil and a reduction in CO2 emissions equivalent to pulling more than 200 million cars off the road for a year. The Weyburn Project will provide policymakers, the energy industry, and the general public with reliable information about industrial carbon sequestration and enhanced oil recovery.
[For more on the specifics of CO2-EOR, check out the Green Car Congress post or the Energy Blog post on this news.]
Now, it's good to see news about succesful CO2 sequestration coming from the DOE or other mainstream sources. However, this really isn't anything new. As the press release itself admits, "Before the Weyburn Project, much of the CO2 used in similar U.S. EOR projects has been taken at considerable expense from naturally occurring reservoirs." CO2 sequestration for enhanced oil recovery is not a new or untested technology. It has been succesfully used by the oil industry for over a decade. The only thing new about the Weyburn project is that the CO2 is sourced from industrial emissions and actually does something to combat climate change as well.
For that matter, coal gasification isn't some radically new and untried technology either. Just scan the headlines at Green Car Congress any day of the week for a news item about a new coal-to-liquids plant being built somewhere. They all utilize gasification that allows for the easy seperation of CO2 from the emissions stream. There's nothing new here. All this Weyburn project does is put the two together.
We should have been doing this a long time ago. If this PR helps convince the mainstream that gasification coupled with CO2-EOR is a tried and true technology, then great. But it already has been for some time. The Weyburn project hasn't truly contributed anything that we didn't already know.
What we really need to kick-start CO2 sequestration and coal gasification is some kind of market based incentive - be it a carbon tax or a carbon trading scheme or whatever - that actually encourages industry to take a second look at their co2 emissions. Until that point, CO2 sequestration and IGCC plants will only be used in specific applications and will not see the kind of widespread use that I hope to see from them.
According to a press release from the National Biodiesel Board estimates that US production of biodiesel will triple this year to 75 million gallons in 2005, up from the 25 million gallons produced in 2004. There are currently 45 active biodiesel plants in the United States, with an average output of about 6.5 million gallons per year, although there are a few larger plants in the 30 million gallon range that have also recently opened. Currently, at least 54 more plants are planned [see accompanying graphic].
According to Green Car Congress, more than 600 major fleets use biodiesel nationwide, including the National Park Service, state departments of transportation and the military. Nationally, more than 600 retail filling stations make biodiesel blends available to the public.
However, even at 75 million gallons, biodiesel remains a very small portion of our overall diesel use, let alone total petroleum consumption. According to the US Energy Information Administration, US on-highway use consumed 37.1 billion gallons of diesel in 2003. At that level of consumption, the biodiesel production in 2005 represents a meagre 0.2% of supply. Widespread concern also abounds as to the maximum potential for that biodiesel to contribute significant portions of our petroleum use without impacting our food production.
Green Car Congress reported yesterday that the bipartisan groups in both the U.S. House and Senate introduced their own versions of 'Fuel Choices for American Security' Act. The bills are designed to reduce the consumption of oil through the promotion of fuel-efficient vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, and alternative fuels, primarily ethanol.
The Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, introduced by Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), mandates a reduction in oil consumption of 2.5 million barrels per day by 2016, 7 million barrels per day by 2026 and 10 million barrels per day by 2031. [I'm surprised not to see Senator Barak Obama (D-IL) on this list of sponsors] The legislation is reportedly based on the energy security blueprint proposed by the Set America Free Coalition.
The Senate version of the bill sets targets for manufacturers to produce flexible fuel vehicles (FFV), alternative fueled vehicles, hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, - and yes! finally! - plug-in hybrids, or other qualified vehicles that meet a performance standard of 175% of average fleet fuel economy—starting at 10% in 2012 and rising to 50% in 2016. After 2016 at least 10% of the 50% requirement must be met by hybrids, advanced diesels, plug-in hybrids and other non-FFV vehicles.
According to Green Car Congress, the bill also requires the Secretary of Energy to issue regulations for federal and state fleets covered by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to reduce petroleum consumption by 30% from a 1999 baseline by Fiscal Year 2016. It requires 30% of federal fleet requirement (22.5%-25% of the total fleet requirement) to be met by advanced diesels, hybrids or plug-in hybrids in 2016. The bill also allows electric drive technology vehicles (hybrids) to qualify under the Federal Fleet requirements.
To support the development of more fuel efficient vehicles include, the Senate version of the Bill:
In order to promote the efficient use of fuels and promote the use of alternative fuels, the bill:
The bill also includes some funding for public education.
The House version of the bill, dubbed the 'Fuel Choices for American Security' Act, is being introduced by Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Jack Kingston (R-GA). It includes a slightly different timetable on oil reduction, seeking a 2.5 million barrel per day drop by 2015 and 5 million barrels per day by 2025. [Check Green Car Congress soon for further detail on the House bill]
A team of Japanese researchers have devised a low-cost and ecologically friendly solid catalyst for the production of biodiesel. The new catalyst can be produced from sugar, starch or cellulose and is designed to replace the common but more costly and wasteful use of a liquid acid catalyst in the refining of biodiesel.
The research team, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and the University of Tokyo reported their findings in the November 10th issue of Nature this week.
According to the Nature report, the production of biodiesel through the esterification of higher fatty acids requires an efficient catalyst. The esterification of is typically performed "by liquid acid catalysts such as sulphuric acid (H2SO4) ... but it involves high consumption of energy and the separation of the catalysts from the homogeneous reaction mixtures is costly and chemically wasteful. Recyclable solid acids, such as Nafion, make better catalysts, although they are also expensive and their activity is less than that of liquid acids."
The researchers took a new approach and devised a mechanism that "overcome[s] these problems by sulphonating incompletely carbonized natural organic material to prepare a more robust solid catalyst." According to the researchers, "Incomplete carbonization of natural products such as sugar, starch or cellulose results in a rigid carbon." This process is "expected to generate a stable solid with a high density of active sites, enabling a high-performance catalyst to be prepared cheaply from naturally occurring molecules." The researchers found that the activity of their solid sulphonated carbon catalyst is more than half that of a liquid sulphuric acid catalyst, and much higher than that achieved by conventional solid acid catalysts.
Although their initial report focuses on sugar, they have also successfully prepared catalysts identical in function from carbonized starch and cellulose.
The researchers also claim that "in addition to biodiesel production, such environmentally benign alternative catalysts should find application in a wide range of other acid-catalyzed reactions.
Finally, according to the report, the new catalyst materials are recyclable and "fully ecologically friendly."
[A hat tip to Green Car Congress]
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
All eyes have been on China in recent years as the world anxiously watches the country's rapid development. China has been experiencing double digit economic growth and now stands poised to emerge as an economic and political world-power. Judging from a slough of recent news items, it seems they may stand to become world leaders in another area as well: green technologies and sustainable development.
China's number one priority over the last couple decades has been simple: growth. They have been succeeding, but this growth has not been without it's consequences. The Asian nation's surging double-digit economic growth has been characterized by high inputs and high consumption but low yeilds. According to ChinaWatch, China generated only 4 percent of the gross world product but has been eating up vast quantities of resources - China consumed 40% of the world's cement, one third of its steal, one quarter of its copper and 40% of the world's coal in 2004. This unprecedented economic expansion has also brought with it massive environmental damage and horrific pollution. China's waterways are polluted, acid rain is becoming a big problem, and, as Thomas Freidman corroborates, on some (not to uncommon) days in Beijing and other major Chinese cities, the air quality is so poor and the smog so thick that you can't make out buildings a mere six blocks away.
This is the bad news, but its also the cause of a growing awareness among Chinese political and business leaders: China's growth has to be environmentally sustainable or it won't be economically sustainable. At some point, the environmental and health damages of unchecked growth will outweight the quality of living improvements that growth is ment to bring. Many have been skeptical about the 'green rhetoric' coming from China's leaders in past years. Previous Five Year Plans have included language hinting at some ambiguous 'commitment to sustainable development' but little concrete developments ... until now.
The past few months have seen a number of concrete steps towards sustainability coming out of China. These are just the beginning of what will have to be a long and consistently fought effort to forge a path into China's future that includes both economic growth and a healthy and sustainable environment for its citizens. However, the shear number of these steps points to a growing attempt to make a 'Red China' go Green.
The 11th Five Year Plan
ChinaWatch reports that the Chinese government has included a goal of building an energy-efficient, less resource-intensive and more sustainable society in a new proposal that will be part of the 11th Five-Year Plan for 2006-2010. The proposal was adopted by the Communist Party Central Committee in October and the Plan will be the central guiding document for China's development over the next five years. It includes several key initiatives in energy efficient building, transportation fuel economy and others that will be discussed below.
Michael Totten's column in this months issue of Solar Today [the column is not online, I apologize] points out that China's economy requires 50 percent more energy per unit of output than the global average, five times more than the United States and 10 time more than Japan. They obviously have a long way to go or a lot of room to work with depending on how you look at this. So what is China doing to start make this energy efficient and sustainable society a reality?
Building a Greener China
Acheiving a transition to an energy efficient society will require takling a key energy consumption sector. The Chinese Ministry of Construction reports that buildings and construction account for roughly half of all domestic energy use. Ninety-five percent of China's buildings are highly inefficient with Residential buidings in Beijing, for example, requiring three times as much energy as a similar one in northern Germany even though their climates are similar. Worse, according to Totten, the 510 biggest government buildings and office blocks in Beijing use as much electricity as all of the capital city's residential buildings.
To address this sector of their society, the Chinese government has set an ambitious goal of transforming all existing buildings into energy-saving buildings by 2020. Premeir Wen Jiabao and the Vice Minister of Construction, Qiu Baoxing, called earlier this year for the establishment of national green building standards. Additionally, the premier's order requires that all buildings built after 2005 are at least 50% more energy efficient than existing buildings and that any new buildings in Beijing meet the stricter standard of a 65% improvement over existing buildings.
As Vice Minster Qiu says, "The cost of green buildings, saving 60 percent of the energy per unit, is only five to seven percent higher than the ordinary buildings, but it will greatly reduce energy consumption and environment pollution." This is clearly an important sector to address and, as Qiu recognizes, "It is urgent for China to promote energy-efficiency and green buildings since the fast pace of China's industrialization and urbanization has posed great pressure on the supply of energy and resources."
Additionally, as WorldChanging reports, the Chinese government has contracted with design firm Arup to build four more eco-friendly developments in major Chinese cities. These four will be in addition to Arup's Shanghai expansion, Dongtan, which is already underway. The first phase, a 630-hectare development intended to house a 50,000-person community, is set to be completed by 2010. According to the Guardian, the Dongtan development, which is situated on an island in the mouth of the Yangtze river near Shanghai, aims to eventually build a city three-quarters the size of Manhattan by 2040. The Guardian reports that "the eco-cities are intended to be self-sufficient in energy, water and most food products, with the aim of zero emissions of greenhouse gases in transport systems." The locations of the four additional developments have not been decided.
On the Road to Clean Air
China has been pushing the rapid expansion of car ownership amongst its citizens. Totten reports that China's vehicle production has been doubling every two years and vehicle ownership is projected to soar from 20 million in 2002 to 50 million in 2010 and a 100 million by 2020. If China is not careful, this rapid build up in automobile use could be disasterous to their environment and eventually their economy.
This is why part of the new Five Year Plan involves the adoption of stricter vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. The standards are not as strict as the semi-voluntary standards that the auto industry has adopted in Europe but are higher than those in the United States (much to our embarrasment). According to an analysis by the US PIRG, "China’s new fuel economy standards require 32 different car and truck weight-based classes to achieve between 19 and 38 mpg by 2005, and between 21 and 43 mpg by 2008." Unlike the US standards which mandate that an average of automobiles produced in a particular weight class meet the targets, China's standards present a minimum fuel economy that all cars produced in that class must meet. According to the US PIRG, "In China, if the automobiles do not meet the prescribed standards, they simply cannot be sold."
These new standards will thus be significantly stricter than those in the US. They are expected to displace more than 210 million barrels of oil, the equivalent of annual fuel use of 25 million cars.
Within months of the adoption of these new fuel standards, Toyota announced that it will be open a production plant with its partner FAW to begin construction of hybrid vehicles for sale to the Chinese market. Furthermore, in early September of this year, Volkswagen announced that it would develop, assemble, and sell a gasoline-electric hybrid minivan, which it hopes to market during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
In addition to the efficiency standards, China has impemented a new Vehicle Tax Policy which imposes a levee of 1 percent on smaller-engine vehicles, but up to 20 percent on larger-engine vehicles, to discourage their use. Meanwhile, in the 11th Five-Year Plan, the government states that China will step up efforts to research and develop advanced vehicle technologies, such as hybrid electric and fuel cells as well as cleaner burning fuels and engines. Just today, for example, Green Car Congress reports that China’s First independent engine test facility is opening and will focus on developing future fuels for the Chinese market and customized additives to improve fuel quality and significantly prolong engine life.
Recognizing the vast potential of energy efficiency, Chinese utility experts have been inventorying opportunities such as high-efficiency commercial lighting that could be brought 'online' much faster and at a lower cost than building new power plants. According to Totten, with the help of a $197 million loan from the Asian Development Bank, China is implementing the first of multiple planned "Efficiency Power Plants" (EPPs) - a set of demand side management programs to be repaid by consumers through electricity prices and savings to the electricity system. The first such 'negawatt plant' will be the equivalent of a 465 MW power plant and will come online in the next two years. [See "The "Efficiency Power Plant": A Rapid, Low-Cost Path for Energy-Saving Investments in Jiangsu and Shanghai"here]
As efficiency measures, EPPs have very high peak demand coincidence and hihg reliability. They will offer an estimated lifetime delivered cost of about 1 cent per kilowatt-hour saved, significantly better than a real power plant of any kind. An additional 530 MW EPP will be brought online within 36 months and another 712 MW within 48 months.
Renewable Energy - New Targets and Untapped Potentials
As I've posted recently, China has also recently announced a stronger commitment to renewable energy that includes a doubling of China's current use of renewable energy to 15 percent of the rapidly developing nation's energy mix by the year 2020. This supply side focus on renewables is crucial to a sustainable energy future for China and will be coupled with the various demand side measure discussed above.
Additionally, China's renewable energy potential is enormous. As I discussed in a recent post, China has vast untapped wind potential. A new report released by the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA) and sponsored by Greenpeace and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) has shown that China could at easily double its current wind energy target for 2020 and that the country's vast wind potential could be enough to meet all of its current energy needs. With just 43 wind power stations, China had an installed capacity of only 760,000 kilowatts by the end of 2004. However, experts within the Chinese industry believe that 40 GW can be delivered within 15 years; rising to ten times this by 2050.
This is only their wind resource. China is already the world leader in the use of solar hot water and programs like the Shanghai's 100,000 Solar Roofs Initiative will boost China's use of solar power as well. China has already been on an agressive campaign to develop its hydro resources - a fact that not all environmentalists are thrilled about - and likely has other untapped renewable resources that can and ought to be incorporated into their energy supply mix if they hope to develop a sustainable society.
Green GDP and Environmental Expenditures
Finally, the environmental harm of China's economic development has not been lost on its leaders. In the recent past, the Chinese government's single-minded focus on growth led them to evaluate regional leaders - once simply held accountable for party loyalty - on their ability to deliver rapid increases in GDP, leading inexorably to environmental disaster.
However, according to WorldChanging, in early 2004, President Hu Jintao suggested that a more "scientific concept of development" would be a good idea; beginning in early 2005, ten regions, including Beijing, began a test program to measure the environmental costs of GDP growth. The program is now about to rolled out nation-wide.
The leadership decided on a process that calculates the "Green GDP" by subtracting the costs of natural resources and pollution from the standard GDP value. The greater the waste of resources or production of pollution, the worse the result -- for the GDP and for the regional leaders. It seems that China's leadership has finally recognized the economic costs of environmental and health damages their rampant growth has caused in the past. Factoring these costs into their calculations of GDP - however difficult this task may be - will certainly help guide China towards a more sustainable and healthy future.
Additionally, in an effort to address some of the harms caused by their economic development, China has committed just this Tuesday to investing over $156.6 billion in environmental protection between 2006 and 2010. This amounts to more than 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP over this period. This investment is almost double that of the previous five years. This sizable investment indicates that China's leadership is clearly aware of the severity of their environmental problems and is committed to pouring significant investments into repairing their environment and preventing or mitigating future damage.
While China has a monumental task in front of them if they hope to transform their previously unchecked growth into a sustainable and managle economic development that can coexist with a healthy environment, I think that the sheer number of initiatives and programs I've discussed above indicates that they are beginning to undertake this task. China's development over the next few decades will be a grand experiment. The world will continue to watch as China continues its growth and tries to wrestle with and mitigate the repurcussions of that growth. It is clear that China cannot continue the unchecked growth it has experienced in the past decade; such growth is neither economically feasible in our resource constrained world - if China were to attempt to reach the average oil consumption of the United States, for example, the nation would need to use 90 million barrels daily, 11 million more than the entire world produced each day in 2001 - nor environmentally sustainable (clearly), nor even truly economically sustainable as the health costs, losses in productivity due to quality of life degredations, political unrest, etc. caused by rampant and unsustainable growth will continue to eat away at larger and larger portions of China's GDP.
As the gang at WorldChanging aptly put it, "As China goes, so goes the future." Let us fervently hope that this is truly the beginning of a green path for China.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Green Car Congress reported this week that New York has become the second state to follow California's lead in restricing the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from vehicles. Vermont had previously adopted the standards under which new motor vehicles would be required to emit approximately 30% fewer GHGs by 2016 than without the regulation.
The new emissions standards were approved by the New York State Environmental Board after being proposed earlier this year by Governor Pataki. New York has adhered to the California Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) program since the early 1990s, and has continued to follow the cleaner LEV program as it has evolved.
The Federal Clean Air Act allows states to either adopt the more stringent California LEV program or adhere to Federal standards. California's revision of the LEV program to include GHG emissions standards thus forced states like Vermont and New York who had previously adhered to the program to either adopt the new standards, or fall back to the weaker Federal standards. Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island also adhere to the California standards and are also faced with the same decision. They are currently considering adopting the new California standards. Washington State has also passed legislation to adopt the California standards, but the implementation of the legistlation is contingent upon Oregon adopting the standards as well. Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has been pushing to enact the standards and has said he would bypass the legislature (who have not been receptive of his plan) and find a way for the state adminstration to enact the California standards. [As of this point, I have yet to hear anything about an actual implementation of the standards in Oregon. I suppose we ought to stay tuned, but I haven't heard any news on this since the summer]
The approval of the regulations last is the latest in the series of changes necessary for New York to maintain adherence to the California LEV program. The new regulations will take effect for the 2009 model year. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that the regulations will reduce New York State’s light and medium-duty vehicle GHG emissions by an estimated 14,855,500 CO2 equivalent tons per year in 2020 and by 26,280,000 CO2 equivalent tons per year in 2030.
In today's installment of our irregularly continuing focus on energy applications of nanotechnologies, we turn to metalic nanopowders. The Energy Blog posted yesterday about QuantumSphere, a Costa Mesa, CA based nanotech company who's product line includes nickel-cobalt alloy nanopowders that behave like platinum yet cost 80% less than the precious metal. Platinum, a common catalyst in electrodes, currently costs around $75.00/gram in bulk and accounts for up to 40% of the cost of small batteries and fuel cell. The use of the metal has been a major obstacle to lowering the price of fuel cells to competitive levels.
QuantumSphere's alloy, which now sells for only $15.00/gram, could greatly reduce the cost of small batteries or fuel cells for laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and hearing aids and if their technology can be appropriately scaled, could help larger fuel cells for stationary or transport applications break through cost barriers associated with the use of platinum.
According to the Energy Blog, most of QuantumSphere's 11 employees are scientists. So far, the company has grown without venture capital and has started selling its products this year. The company could possibly break even in 2006. QuantumSphere was recently selected for a 2005 Technology Innovation of the Year award by research organization Frost & Sullivan.
The company claims they are the leading manufacturer of metallic nanopowders for markets demanding exacting material quality and performance. In their words:
"Our exclusive manufacturing process provides consistent and narrow particle size distribution, low levels of agglomeration and impurities, a custom-tailored oxide shell thickness, and the highest purity metallic nanopowders on the market that are easier to transport and handle. The company accomplishes this without compromising its commitment to the environment and the community. No other company offers these performance advantages."
According to QuantumSphere, their technologies applications include:
QuantumSphere now has three process reactors in operation and a fourth one scheduled to come on line in December of this year. The first two are small units that are dedicated to research and development and the third is capable of producing a few pounds per day. The new system will be a full production operation capable of producing between two and four hundred pounds per month depending on the material being produced.
According to the Energy Blog, the process itself is an adaptation of the gas phase condensation method combined with proprietary trade secrets and intellectual property. Gas phase condensation, one of the original nano- particle technologies, has been developed into a continuous, fully automated manufacturing process. Metal wire is fed into the vacuum chamber and melted on inter-metallic composite boats heated by electricity to a very high temperature. [See graphic below:]
For more on QuanutmSphere's nanopowder production process, check out the Energy Blog's post or visit QuantumSphere's website.
One critical roadblock to mass deployment of fuel cells has been the reliance of platinum as a catlyst in low-temperature operating fuel cells as well as electrolyzers to make the hydrogen fuel. QuantumSphere's Ni/Co allow nanopowder catalyst is five times cheaper than platinum which could translate to a substantial reduction in the total cost of devices previously dependent on the precious metal. This technology could therefore dramatically accelerate the commercialization and deployment of fuel cells and bateries which currently utilize a platinum catalyst. If the process can be adequately scaled - it seems like their current applications will be in micro-devices, not larger devices such as PEM fuel cells for transport, etc. - this could help fuel cells achieve the mass deployment all the hype seems to assume they will. Without solving the platinum problem, we will never see fuel cells in wide spread use.
Previous Energy Applications of Nanotechnology Installments:
Thursday, November 10, 2005
House Republicans decided late yesterday to drop the provision that would open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for drilling from the budget bill. According to the Anchroage Daily News, fears that they would be unable to pass the crucial budget bill prompted House Republicans to remove the provision from the bill as it was being marked up by the House Rules Committee in preperation for a vote on the House floor today.
"There will be no drilling in ANWR," said New Hampshire Rep. Charles Bass, one of the Republican moderates who led the effort to strip ANWR from the bill. More than 20 House Republicans had told the Republican leadership that they would oppose the budget bill if it contained the ANWR provision. These moderate Republicans also sought assurances that the ANWR provision would not be readded to the bill during the final Senate-House compromise process. According to the Anchorage Daily News, it would take 14 of them voting no to kill the bill, assuming the Democrats are united in rejecting it. So far the Democrats have remained opposed.
This is not the end of the line, however and ANWR is still not safe. Because ANWR development was in the budget bill the Senate passed last week, it's still possible for it to become law. If the House passes its version of the budget package today, members of the House and Senate would then be appointed to hash out the differences between the two bills. The final version would have to go before the House and Senate for a vote. There is therefore still a long process ahead during which the ANWR provision could be readded at any point.
The House also dropped the provision that would open previously closed offshore areas for drilling, another victory of environmentalists who have opposed this measure along with the ANWR provision.
Well, I wasn't expecting this bit of good news today. I assumed that if the provision passed the generally more moderate Senate, it would easily get through the House. It seems I was wrong.
Considering this additional loss of support for the provision, as well as the narrow margin it passed in the Senate (only two votes going the other way would have struck the ANWR provision from the Senate bill, see my previous post), it seems like there is still a good chance that the provision won't make it into the final budget bill. I think the Republican leadership is beginning to recognize that this issue could cripple their chances to pass the budget bill at all. Their confidence was also likely weakend by the significant election losses they suffered in various elections held across the country this Tuesday. With plenty of attention being paid to the upcoming and sure to be hotly contested 2006 mid-term elections, I imagine Republicans, moderates in particular, are a bit worried about the promised retaliation from environmental groups if they don't oppose drilling in ANWR.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
RenewableEnergyAccess.com reported yesterday that a new report released by the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA) and sponsored by Greenpeace and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) shows that China could at easily double its current wind energy target for 2020 and that the country's vast wind potential could be enough to meet all of its current energy needs.
"The development of renewable energy plays a crucial strategic role in the power supply of China," said Energy Bureau Director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Xu Dingming. "Wind energy growth in China is now on a fast track and globally we believe that wind power will become the primary alternative energy in the future."
According to the CREIA report, entitled 'Wind Force 12 in China', China's current wind energy plan is to reach 20 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 [see recent post on China's renewable energy commitment]. Is a comparison, Germany, the world wind energy leader today, has just under 17 GW of wind power installed.
With just 43 wind power stations, China had an installed capacity of only 760,000 kilowatts by the end of 2004. However, experts within the Chinese industry believe that 40 GW can be delivered within 15 years; rising to ten times this by 2050. This scale of wind power would need 20,000 typical modern wind turbines by 2020 and the investment generated could be worth USD $40 billion, putting China on track to become the world's biggest wind energy market by 2020.
"According to the China Meteorological Administration there is enough viable wind resource in China to power the whole country completely," said Li Junfeng, Director of CREIA and the report's lead author. "The capacity of wind potential in viable windy locations in China could match current total national capacity of all China's existing power stations combined, four times over."
The report was co-sponsored by Greenpeace and the EWEA, and was produced by CREIA. The three groups were inspired by the renewable energy vision laid out in European reports like the original Wind Force 12. Both Greenpeace and EWEA have been involved in consultations on China's first Renewable Energy Law, which comes into force on January 1 and is widely expected to mark the takeoff of the Chinese wind industry [again see recent post].
"Our collective future depends upon us helping China develop wind power and other clean energy technologies faster than 'business as usual'," said Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace. "Climate change and energy security demand it. We will only avoid dangerous climate change if the rich countries get their own energy house in order and reduce emissions dramatically while at the same time assisting not only China, but the whole of the developing world to meet their energy needs sustainably. It's time for the world to support China and put Chinese wind power on an even faster track."
According to RenewableEnergyAccess.com, a welcoming event was staged by Chinese Greenpeace volunteers at Beijing's Capital University of Economics and Business to mark the launch of the report and celebrate the arrival of the Beijing International Renewable Energy Conference. One hundred volunteers lay on the ground to form the shape of a giant Chinese character 'feng' meaning 'wind'. In front of the human wind symbol were banners in English and Chinese calling for 'Clean Energy Now'. The event follows several weeks of campus advocacy calling young people in China to support renewable energy via the multilingual website www.surewind.org.
"This first comprehensive Chinese industry report shows a better path is possible for China's energy future," said Prof. Arthouros Zervos, EWEA President. "Wind power is already delivering the goods for millions of people worldwide; China is rapidly becoming one the world's most important wind energy market, there is major potential here for growth."
Needless to say, China apparently has vast untapped wind potential. If we seriously want to fight global climate change, this is a strong area to leverage. Developed countries in North America and Europe ought to work with China to strongly encourage the development of this vast clean and renewable resource. China is growing at a rapid rate and it's economy will demand significantly more energy. If it doesn't come from renewable sources, it will come from coal (mostly) and to a lesser extent natural gas (if they can secure a large enough supply for import, likely from Russia). We ought to do everything we can to make sure that as much of this increased demand is met by anything but coal, and most preferably clean renewables like wind. This Wind Force 12 in China report demonstrates that the resources are there and that it is possible. Not it only remains to make sure the resource is developed.
[Note, this is the worldwide Wind Force 12 report published by the EWEA. This is not the China specific report mentioned above. I was unfortunately unable to find the Wind Force 12 in China report anywhere online. If anyone finds it, please post a comment with the link. Cheers...]
Renewable Energy Access.com reported yesterday that Chinese officials, speaking at the Beijing International Renewable Energy Conference (BIREC), announced a stronger commitment to renewable energy that includes a doubling of China's current use of renewable energy to 15 percent of the rapidly developing nation's energy mix by the year 2020.
China's new national renewable energy law comes into effect January 1st, 2006 and sets tariffs in place to foster renewable energy use. The Chinese government had originally stated a goal of reaching 10 percent renewable energy use by 2020. This new 15 percent commitment raises a renewable energy standard that had already been lauded around the world as a crucial step for a nation with limited and largely coal-based energy resources and a rapidly growing economy.
According to China Daily, this goal will likely involve investments of up to 1.5 trillion yuan (USD$ 184 billion). China is already the world leader in the use of solar thermal hot water systems and these new commitments could make it a major player with the other renewable energy technologies like solar photovoltaics, wind power, and biofuels.
The China Daily reports that Zhang Guobao, vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, has said that the business sector, instead of Government, will play a leading role in the investment and that international cooperation would be essential for China to meet its goals.
The government planned to specifically step up efforts to make renewable energy electricity available to the country's approximately 30 million people who do not have access to grid electricity. This mean there will be many stand-alone and distributed-generation renewable energy opportunities developed in the near future.
A 15 percent renewable energy commitment will mean a lot of renewable energy but the unfortunate reality is that the bulk of this commitment will be in large hydropower.
According to a report from Reuters, Zhang Guobao also said that hydro would generate 290 gigawatts (GW) by the year 2020, while biomass energy capacity would hit 20 GW, wind 30 GW and solar 2 GW.
The UK-based Guardian Unlimited newspaper reports that environmentalists have characterized Beijing's new renewable energy target as a good first step but "still not ambitious enough to offset the climatic damage caused by its spectacular economic growth, which will continue to be predominantly fuelled by coal."
"Environmentalists concerned about the impact of dams, which are ruining some of the world's most beautiful rivers, will be alarmed that hydropower is considered the main alternative to coal and oil," the Guardian stated.
Additionally, despite what may appear as a good first step effort, an inescapable reality for China is that the country's ongoing commitment to renewables -- whether largely through hydropower or not -- will do little to lesson the country's use of coal as the primary means for electrical production. The country currently uses coal for 70 percent of electricity in China and speakers at BIREC admitted that figure was not expected to change anytime soon.
This is good news, but like the article said, the bulk of this power will come from hydro, not wind and solar. Furthermore, while renewables will make up a growing portion of the pie by 2020, the pie itself will have grown much larger and this will most certainly mean significantly more coal consumption as well as natural gas (if China can get it; it will likely come from Russia).
This is a good first step, but China's rampant growth means that it's emissions, both of greenhouse gasses and criteria pollutants, will continue to rise, presenting a significant problem for Chinese health standards as well as the world (i.e. global climate change concerns, smog/acid rain forming emissions crossing national boundaries etc.). The developed world needs to work very closely with China (as well as India and other developing countries) to avoid such a scenario and continue to push for the development of cleaner burning and renewable energy generation to meet China's growing demand. It seems to me that one of the best things we could do would be to openly share Internal Gasification Combined Cycle coal-fired generation technology with China. If they have to use their coal, we should at least make sure it is used as cleanly as possible (with or w/out carbon sequestration, IGCC plants are significantly cleaner, and more efficient, than coal-fired steam plants).
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Green Car Congress reports this week that the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) voted unanimously to approve the environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed 700 high speed rail network that would link Sacramento and the San Fransisco Bay Area with Los Angales and San Diego in the south. This moves one of the nations most ambitious transportation projects one step closer to being built.
The Authority’s studies show that the full system, which will cost more than $33 billion to construct, will serve 30 stations, attracting 42 to 68 million passengers per year in 2020, and will operate at a surplus.
The rail system will use high-speed trains capable of speeds of up to 220 mph (320 km/h) that will be similar to those in service today in Europe and Asia. The system will be built mostly within or alongside existing transportation corridors [see accompanying graphic] and will be entirely grade-separated from parallel and crossing roads, providing the same extremely safe environment enjoyed in other countries.
The high speed trains will run on electric power drawn from overhead wires connected to the commercial power grid. They will also utilize regenerative breaking to send electricity back to the grid, thereby conserving power and reducing costs.
It is estimated that express trains will take one hour and fifteen minutes between San Diego and Los Angeles, and a little more than two and one-half hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a distance of 389 miles with a normal estimated driving time of 7-8 hours.
According to the EIR, the proposed high speed rail system offers to following potetnial air quality and energy benefits:
This is a very ambitious project. However, it is has great potential. The ability to hop on a train in San Fransisco and get to LA in two and a half hours is a significant gain over driving and will likely draw plenty of passangers, thus cutting down on the number of car trips up and down the Interstate 5 corridor. The same goes for other routes. An express trip on this train would be only slightly slower than taking a plane and considering airport delays etc., might even be faster. I know I would opt for a trip on this train over flying or driving, and anyone who has driven the heinously boring I5 stretch from Sacramento to LA will likely be with me on this one.
The fact that these trains will be electric and run on grid-power, plus to addition of regenerative breaking to 'recharge' the grid means they will likely be significantly more energy efficient per passanger than either driving or planes.
I would love to see high speed rail networks like this linking major cities across the United States but this is a start. Again, California is bold enough to stride ahead of the pack again.
Friday, November 04, 2005
According to an Associate Press article, the state of Vermont joined California on Wednesday in regulating greenhouse emissions from vehicles. The changes by the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee means that all 2009 and later model cars sold in Vermont will be required to meet higher fuel efficiency standards to reduce emissions such as carbon dioxide.
Vermont's move leads five other Northeastern states who are considering adopting the tighter standards, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island. All five states, as well as Vermont had previously adopted California's emissions standards for criteria pollutants (CO, NOx, SO2, Particulate Matter, etc.) which are stricter than the federal requirements.
When California beefed up its rules to take aim at carbon dioxide, the six Northeastern states that had followed its previous rules were faced with the decision to either make the same changes or fall back to the federal standard. The federal Clean Air Act requires that all states either follow the federal standards or meet an approved stricter standard. Currently, California's standard is the only such approved option.
According to Green Car Congress, under the new standards, one set of greenhouse gas emission standards will be established for passenger cars, small light-duty trucks, and small SUVs, and another set for large light-duty trucks (up to 8,500 lbs. GVWR) and large SUVS (less than 10,000 lbs. GVWR). Both sets of GHG standards would be gradually phased in between model-years 2009 and 2016. When fully implemented during model-year 2016, new motor vehicles subject to the regulation would be required to emit approximately 30% fewer GHGs than without the regulation.
Vermont’s analysis is that implementing the GHG regulations will cut total fleet emissions in the state from the 2002 baseline by 18% in 2020 (1,488.1 tons of CO2 equivalent) and by 27% in 2030 (2,630.5 tons of CO2 equivalent). Green Car Congress reports that motor vehicle emissions account for approximately 25% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions in the Northeast. Motor vehicle miles traveled are predicted to increase, representing the fastest growing portion of the region’s overall GHG inventory.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, backed by US automakers Ford and General Motors, have already moved to block the California standards in court, complaining about the costs of developing cars that comply with the stricter standards. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers claims that changes will add about $3,000 to the cost of a car.
Environmentalists counter that the increased costs are more like $1,000 per car, an amount easily offset by lower fuel costs. They also note that a number of car models on the road today meet the new standards.
Some have also argued that the standards amount to a backdoor attempt by the states to legislate tighter fuel economy standards, a right previously reserved for the federal government.
To this, I say, "So what!" If the feds wont do what the people want, they're gonna do it themselves!
Green Car Congress reports today that the Norwegian energy and aluminum company, Hydro, is working to develop floating wind turbines for use in offshore power generation. The company, which has experience in offshore oil rigs, will base the design on the same type of floating concrete structure technology applied in the North Sea oil industry for offshore rigs. The floating turbines, dubbed the Hywind system, are designed to work in sea depths of 200–700 meters (656–2,297 feet).
Hydros system entails mounting a regular offshore wind turbine on top of a 120 meter high floating concrete cylinder with ballast that will be fastened to the sea floor with three sturdy anchor lines [see accompanying graphic]. The electric power generated by the turbines will be transported to shore by buried power lines or, according ot Hydro, possibly to offshore oil platforms.
According to Hydro, who has measured wind speeds in the North Sea for more than 30 years, the average wind speeds at sea are higher than on land, and they expect the offshore Hywind to be exceptionally energy efficient. The Hywind system will potentially allow deployment of offshore wind farms in depths deeper than traditional offshore wind farms or perhaps will offer a lower cost alternative to such traditional farms who's towers must be sunk into the sea bed.
The Hywind system is currently undergoing model testing is at the Norwegian R&D institute Sintef Marintek’s ocean basin laboratory in Trondheim. According to Alexandra Bech Gjørv, Hydro’s director of new energy forms,
Hywind is a future-oriented project combining our offshore oil industry experiences with our knowledge of wind power to take advantage of wind resources where it blows most: at sea. If we succeed, this can become an important part of our future energy supply.
Hydro is planning a demonstration project based on 3 megawatt wind turbines scheduled to commence in 2007. The turbines will have hub heights 80 meters above the sea’s surface and will have a rotor diameter of about 90 meters [see accompanying graphic].
The company eventually plans to develop wind turbines with a power capacity of 5 MW and a rotor diameter of approximately 120 meters. They plan to be building these turbines in 10-15 years. Again, Hydro's Alexandra Bech Gjørv:
The future goal is to have large-scale offshore wind parks with up to 200 turbines capable of producing up to 4 terawatt hours (TWh) per year and delivering renewable electricity to both offshore and onshore activities. This goal is far in the future, but if we’re to succeed in 10-15 years, we have to start the work today.
Hydro has already invested some NOK 20 million (US$3 million) into developing the Hywind concept over the past three years and further realization of research as well as the demonstration project will require at least another NOK 150 million (US$22.8 million). According to Hydro, for the concept to work, the turbines must be light which will require further technological developments.
The Energy Blog reported Thursday that Thomas Lee has also invented a floating wind-hydrogen platform. This version consists of several wind turbines are mounted on a floating platform, much like an oil rig, and makes use of battery storage. By storing the energy in batteries it is available continuously or in response to peaks. His proprietary hydrogen production system does not employ electrolysis, but involves batteries. Not all platforms would necessarily produce hydrogen. [What the heck does this mean? How can you make hydrogen out of batteries? Anyone?]. The navigable unmanned platform would be controlled remotely and by pulling up its anchors could be navigated out of the way of approaching storms. Lee's company, Stanbury Resources Inc., has approached U.S. companies for licensing agreements, but has not found much interest. A large Asian conglomerate and an European group both would like exclusive agreements.
The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has aparently also conducted a feasibility study on floating turbine farms and found that they could be built using existing technology and provide electricity at approximately $0.05/kWh.
An innovative idea. It seems like these turbines would likely have less of an environmental impact than turbines who's towers are sunk into the seabed. However, the teathers may be harder to sense and avoid for aquatic animals. I guess we'll have to wait for an environmental impact study.
Regardless, these turbines offer the potential to open up larger areas of offshore wind resources for development. Each of these technologies may also allow the deployment of wind farms far enough off shore to avoid NIMBY criticisms about the turbines spoiling oceanfront views.