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Monday, June 26, 2006

News From My Backyard: Oregon Formally Adopts California Emission Vehicle Standards

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) last week unanimously approved the permanent rules to adopt California’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) Standards, including mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

This brings to 11 the number of states that have adopted California's pioneering emissions standards, which include standards for carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse gas. These states now include: California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey [see map below]. Oregon’s adoption of LEV rules also brings the rules to Washington, which adopted the standards contingent on Oregon adopting them.

[Image: States that have adopted the California Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) rules]

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states can opt either for federal emission standards (EPA) or adopt the emission standards developed by California. Federal law requires states that adopt California emission standards to do so identically, thereby preventing the need for manufacturers to produce a “third vehicle” to meet the new standard. However, states do have flexibility to customize implementation of the standards.

Oregon’s implementation of LEV rules will take effect with the 2009 model year—the same year greenhouse gas reductions will take effect in several other states.

California LEV standards have two main components. The first is the reduction of traditional criteria pollutants such as NOx and non-methane organic gases. The other is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions with progressively restrictive emission limits from 2009 through 2016, at which time new vehicles must emit an average of 30% less CO2 equivalent.

The targeted results are expected to be achieved using existing technologies or alternative fuels.

Oregon’s implementation of the LEV has some of the following differences from California LEV:

  • Delaying the deadline for manufacturers to provide Type III ZEVs (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) in Oregon. The delay allows DEQ and the EQC to monitor the development of a hydrogen-refueling infrastructure as one key trigger for the requirement. Other vehicles used to meet the ZEV requirements—including battery-electric vehicles, partial zero emission vehicles (PZEV) and advanced technology partial zero emission vehicles (ATPZEV)—are required in 2009 under this rulemaking as specified in the California program.

  • Oregon’s implementation does not require manufacturers to provide low-emission PZEVs and ATPZEVs with a 15-year or 150,000 mile warranty on all emission-related components, as do the california LEV rules. However, to ensure that Oregon does not receive less durable vehicles, it does require that PZEVs include the same quality components as those vehicles supplied to states that require the warranty.

  • The Oregon LEV rule incorporates NMOG fleet-average phase-in provisions adopted in Washington, which require manufacturers to meet the NMOG fleet average emission limit at the end of a three-year transitional period. During the phase-in period, manufacturers may earn emission credits in each of the three years, and may drop up to two years of emission debits. The balance of the three-year transitional period is then carried forward.

  • Resources:

  • DEQ Staff Report on Oregon LEV

  • Oregon Governor’s Vehicle Emissions Workgroup Report

  • Well, Kulongoski finally got this one down. I can now think of one thing he has actually accomplished during his term in office. Excuse my sarcasm, but my dissapointment in Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski's ability to actually implement the strong environmental programs he talks about has been mounting for some time now. The actual implementation of this significant piece of regulation comes as a major relief.

    This move by Oregon's DEQ now creates a zone spanning the entire West Coast of the US that follows the stricter emissions standards, including (crucially!) CO2 emissions standards. The entire Northeast, minus New Hampshire, also follows these standards, meaning that much of the U.S. population is now subject to the stricter emissions standards pioneered by California.

    Now, the last step is to win the suit filed by the U.S. auto industry to crush the California standards. Detroit claims that the California LEV standards are legislating fuel economy standards, something (for some silly reason) only the Fed is allowed to do. While this argument seems rediculous to me - the standards are for CO2 emissions, not fuel economy, with increasing fuel economy being only one way to reduce CO2 emissions - given the pro-business slant of many federal judges (especially those appointed by President Bush), who knows how far this case will go.

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress and Oregon Public Broadcasting]

    Read more!

    News From My Backyard: SmartWay Partnership Targets Fuel Efficiency and Emissions Reduction Upgrades for West Coast Trucks

    Small-to-medium trucking firms in Oregon, California, and Washington have a new way to become more environmentally friendly while saving money. According to an EPA press release, a new, innovative partnership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aims to upgrade 400 trucks traveling along the West Coast's I-5 Corridor with fuel-saving and pollution-reduction technologies.

    The SmartWay Transport Partnership is a voluntary collaboration between U.S. EPA and the freight industry designed to increase energy efficiency while significantly reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution.

    The partnership's members, including the US EPA, the US Department of Transportation, Oregon’s Departments of Transportation and Energy, and Cascade Sierra Solutions have announced a plan to upgrade 400 long-haul trucks from small-to-medium trucking firms in Oregon, California, and Washington with SmartWay upgrade kits.

    The kits package together a variety of fuel and emissions-saving technologies and typically consist of engine idle reduction technology, low rolling-resistance tires, improved aerodynamics and exhaust after-treatment devices.

    According to the press release, SmartWay Upgrade Kits can reduce fuel consumption, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 20%. When the kit includes an exhaust after-treatment device, particulate matter emissions are reduced by 25% to 90%, depending upon the type of technology.

    Because of the fuel savings, upfront capital costs of SmartWay kits are generally paid back within one to three years, the EPA reports. In addition to the short payback period, if a loan is needed to purchase an upgrade kit, the monthly fuel savings exceed the monthly loan payments, thus increasing profits from the first day companies use the kits.

    "The freight industry drives America's economy, and through EPA's SmartWay program, truckers are keeping more money in their pockets while helping us all breathe a little easier," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

    By 2012, the SmartWay program, with full participation, estimates nationwide annual fuel savings of 3.3 to 6.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, eliminating 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and up to 200,000 tons of NOx emissions.

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress and Oregon Public Broadcasting]

    Read more!

    Friday, June 23, 2006

    Cape Wind Update: "Poison Pill" Language Removed from Coast Guard Bill

    Congressional language described as a "poison pill" by supporters of the Cape Wind offshore wind project will be extracted from a broader legislative package in a new compromise reached by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, (REA) reports.

    According to REA, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici and Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman said they reached an agreement with Senators Ted Kennedy and Ted Stevens on changes to a provision inserted at conference into H.R. 889, the Coast Guard appropriations bill, related to the controversial 420-megawatt (MW) offshore wind project proposed for Nantucket Sound.

    The news was revealed by a jubilant Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates, speaking at this week's Renewable Energy Finance Form, held in New York.

    The REA article continues:

    The four senators have agreed to a concurrent resolution that will replace Section 414 of the conference report, which would have given the Coast Guard and the governor of Massachusetts final approval over the siting of the Nantucket Sound wind farm.

    The concurrent resolution drops any reference to the governor of Massachusetts and gives the commandant of the Coast Guard only the authority to spell out the terms and conditions for the wind project that are necessary for navigational safety. Before this change, the legislation would have granted the Massachusetts governor veto power over Cape Wind and future offshore wind projects. Gov. Romney has publicly stated he is against the Cape Wind project, largely due to its location. He was widely expected to veto the project, should that right have been granted to him.

    "In this instance, the governor veto is gone and the Coast Guard is only allowed to address navigational safety concerns," said Chairman Domenici. "For all future projects, we will use the siting model we created in the energy bill. That's a sound model. It gives the Coast Guard and other federal agencies a voice; it gives local and state governments a voice; but it prevents local special interests from torpedoing a reasonable and much-needed energy project in federal waters."

    Senator Bingaman said last year's federal energy bill gave the Secretary of the Interior the authority to issue permits for alternative energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf, but that it did not diminish the Coast Guard's authority over navigational safety, and it expressly required the Interior Department to consult with the Coast Guard before granting leases for projects like Cape Wind.

    "The new language for Sec. 414 confirms the Coast Guard's role for ensuring the navigational safety of the Cape Wind project," Sen. Bingaman said. "This is an appropriate clarification to make and it ensures that Cape Wind's proposal will receive a fair and unbiased consideration on the merits."

    Well, that's one more hurdle crossed for Cape Wind. I'm still not sure it will ever be built. Given the significant opposition it has recieved (however selfish, irrational or NIMBY it is), and considering the fallout that has begun to hit the rest of the wind industry due to measures proposed by Cape Wind, I'm sad to say that perhaps we ought to let Cape Wind die and focus our attention on less controversial measures.

    Part of me says, bollox to that and wants to forge ahead just to spite the selfish opposition to the wind farm, but the strategic part of me wonders if that is really what is best for the development of wind power in the United States.

    What do you think? Should we fight it to the end and make sure Cape Wind is built, or should we refocus our energies elsewhere?

    Read more!

    Nanosolar Announces 430 MW Manufacturing Facility

    Talk about coming out of the gate strong! (REA) relays news that solar photovoltaic (PV) startup Nanosolar has announced that it has started executing on its plan to build a volume cell-production factory with a total annual cell output of 430 megawatt (MW) once fully built, or approximately 200 million cells per year, and an advanced panel assembly factory designed to produce more than one million solar panels per year.

    Presently in pilot production in its Palo Alto, California, facility, Nanosolar, who you may remember from a 2005 National Geographic article on alternative energy options, announced that it has started ordering volume production equipment for what it says could be the world's largest solar cell manufacturing factory.

    According to REA, Nanosolar also announced that its first cell fabrication facility will be located in the San Francisco Bay area and that its first panel fab - for a broad array of novel product form factors using advanced processes - is expected to be located in Berlin, Germany.

    The REA article continues:

    Seed-financed by the founders of Google, the company's team started pursuing its mission of making solar electricity more affordable in 2002. After four years of commercial research and development, including two years of manufacturing process development and engineering, the company says it is now delivering on its ambition to produce a less expensive, mass-manufacturable solar cell.

    "Thin-film printing overcomes the complexity, high cost, and yield and scalability limitations associated with vacuum-based processes. Nanosolar's technology enables low-cost, high-yield production previously unattainable," said Chris Eberspacher, Nanosolar's head of technology. "This allows us to produce cells very inexpensively and assemble them into panels that are comparable in efficiency to that of high-volume silicon-based PV panels."

    Werner Dumanski, Nanosolar's head of manufacturing and a storage-disk industry manufacturing veteran, said that with Nanosolar's printing process, the fully loaded cell cost -- including materials, consumables, energy, labor, facility and capital -- is less than the depreciation expense alone that vacuum thin-film companies must pay for the equipment that produces their cells.

    He added that a factory of this capacity would cost more than one billion dollars to build if one used conventional solar technology.

    "Given the distinctly superior capital efficiency of our unique process technology, we can achieve this scale with a lot less capital and as a startup company," Dumanski said.

    Right on schedule!

    Nanosolar has been on the vanguard of the thin film PV movement and it's fitting that they are moving to large scale (and 430 MW/year is definitely large scale!) production soon.

    Now it's time to watch and see how cheap their PV panels are when they come out. I have a feeling that, like rooftop solar concentrators being commercialized now (I'm thinking of Green and Gold Energy's SunCube in particutlar), Nanosolar's thin film PVs will break the incentive system in many states (especially California) - people will be able to install their PV arrays (either solar concentrators or thin film PVs) for basically nothing after rebates and incentives...

    Read more!

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    News From My Backyard: Oregon and West Coast Should Brace for More Intense Storms Due to Global Climate Change

    The Oregonian ran a front page, above-the-fold headline story in the most recent Sunday edition warning Oregonians and others living on the Pacific coast to brace for more intense storms in the near future due to global climate change and warming seas.

    This article is a perfect example of how climate change will hit all of us ... in different ways for sure (we don't need to fear hurricanes like those in the Gulf Coast ... but we will all be effected nevertheless. That article, by Michael Milstein and Richard L. Hill appears below:

    Early on Feb. 4, waves rose off the Oregon coast. And kept rising.

    A cyclone churning from northeast of Hawaii whipped the sea into a frenzy. At 4 a.m., a yellow buoy bobbing 20 miles off Astoria measured waves averaging 33 feet high.

    An hour later, the waves reached 34 feet, and at 6 a.m., a towering 45 feet -- the highest seas in the 22 years the buoy has been there.

    The very biggest of the big waves, however, were monsters -- about as tall as a six-story building.

    They slammed a massive jetty protecting the south entrance to the Columbia River, brushing away 20-ton boulders like pebbles and deepening a 50-foot gap. Winds blasted to 75 mph in Lincoln City, and water flooded streets and trashed homes in Washington. Coastal towns and 32,000 homes in the Willamette Valley lost power, bridges shut down, and falling trees closed roads and killed a Washington woman.

    Oregonians should brace for more storms of such magnitude battering their scenic, rapidly developing coast as the sea rises higher than ever recorded and packs a more destructive punch.

    As greenhouse gases trap more heat in the oceans and skies, fierce storms probably will increase, research predicts. They will whirl across seas brimming with water from melting ice caps, driving waves high enough to eat away beaches, highways and homes.

    Storms have already strengthened, evidence shows, although the precise causes hide within an ever-changing web of weather. The state has started handing out a video to Oregon coastal home buyers warning of rising sea levels and mounting waves.

    A rising sea, by itself, is not new. The ocean is up 400 feet since the most recent ice age began giving way to warming 20,000 years ago. Coastal campsites where some of the earliest Oregonians lived 10,000 years ago now lie a mile or two offshore, entombed underwater.

    But as temperatures rise today, ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland are melting more rapidly than anticipated. And the rate of melt accelerates further, pushing the ocean upward.

    Five years ago, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected sea levels could rise by as much as 3 feet by the end of the 21st century. But new research shows that estimate to be too low, and scientists say they probably will increase the figures when the panel releases its report next year.

    Satellite measurements have found oceans rising by about a foot a decade over the past dozen years -- twice as fast as the rate recorded by tide gauges for the past 50 to 100 years.

    But the Northwest coast has peculiarities. A geological shoving match between Earth's plates off Oregon and Washington now raises parts of the shoreline, keeping some places ahead of rising seas. A major earthquake could reverse that, however, by dropping the shoreline by as much as 6 feet to where it was 300 years ago, instantly raising sea level.

    Tsunami zones at risk

    The U.S. Geological Survey predicts the same low-lying areas at risk from tsunamis would be most threatened by changes in sea level and mounting storm waves. Those areas include all or parts of Rockaway Beach, Cannon Beach, Newport, Charleston, Coos Bay, Bandon, Pacific City, Waldport, Seaside, Tillamook, Salishan Spit and the Long Beach Peninsula.

    Storm intensity and wave height are driven by changes in the climate, researchers say. It's impossible to pin it all on global warming, since storms like February's do not prove a trend on their own any more than a single rain shower proves a wet year. But it matches what sophisticated models of Earth's climate suggest will happen as the burning of fossil fuels drives up greenhouse gas levels.

    "The one thing that's going to be noticed is larger, more intense storms," said Steven Lambert, a research scientist at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria, B.C. He has examined the question for 10 years and just published a study of storm intensity that found the greater the greenhouse gases, the more intense the storms that spin off the ocean.

    "It may not be massive or sudden, and some people may not even realize it," he said.

    Dan Cox, head of Oregon State University's wave laboratory, puts it another way: "We definitely should consider what's happening as much as we consider any natural disaster."

    Three main forces shape the Oregon coast, says Paul Komar, an Oregon State professor who has studied the coast for decades: storms and weather patterns such as El Nino; waves; and sea level.

    But global warming stands to reshape all three, which are connected to rising ocean temperatures.

    The ocean is good at soaking up heat, which is why your hand plunged into cold water quickly turns numb. Millions of measurements around the world show that the oceans have taken up about 85 percent of the globe's excess heat in the past five decades -- roughly enough energy to power the United States for 1,400 years.

    Only greenhouse gases caused by people burning fossil fuels can explain so much heat buildup, scientists say, making the rising ocean temperatures the "smoking gun" verifying a human contribution to global warming.

    "We're seeing things that are unprecedented start to happen," said Sydney Levitus, director of the Ocean Climate Laboratory, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The Pacific Ocean has absorbed about a quarter of the heat. Trade winds blowing west hold heat in the tropics around Indonesia. But new research shows those winds have weakened slightly in the past century and will ebb further as greenhouse gases rise. When ocean warmth escapes the winds, it surges toward the Americas in a phenomenon known as El Nino.

    That raises sea levels along Oregon a foot or more and can invigorate storms that drive high winds and waves.

    More El Ninos ahead

    Scientists suspect global warming will make the Pacific more El Nino-like overall as it tries to shed its heat, said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

    "Riding on the warmer background state, even a minor El Nino of the future might seem strong by today's standards," said Andrew Wittenberg, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

    Warmth, meanwhile, pushes up sea levels for two key reasons: Water expands as it absorbs more heat in a process called thermal expansion, and there is more water from the thawing of ice.

    The result is that the Northwest may see a greater increase in sea level than in other parts of the world. A Canadian climate model that looked at only thermal expansion, not melting ice sheets, projects that the ocean off Oregon could rise by about 2 feet by 2100. By comparison, the northwest Atlantic would rise by a little more than 1 foot.

    Places now only a foot or two above sea level will go under in the next few decades, said Peter Clark, a geosciences professor at Oregon State University. But the most-felt impact will be increased coastal erosion during winter storms.

    Warming also injects the atmosphere with more moisture, a vital fuel for raging storms. The sky holds about 4 percent more water vapor now than in 1970, Trenberth said.

    Hurricanes build from warm seas, but winter storms that strike Oregon are different. They swirl into being as polar cold clashes with tropical warmth. That clash probably will weaken as the poles warm faster than the tropics.

    Oddly enough, that means fewer storms may start. But those that do may be more potent, leading climate models suggest. That's because winter storms, like hurricanes, feed off moisture in the air -- vacuuming up distant vapor as fuel. More moisture makes them rev up faster, spit more wind and rain and last longer, said Lambert, the climate research scientist from Victoria.

    Studies as early as a decade ago spotted a trend of stronger storms in the Pacific after 1970. Scientists, a cautious bunch, warn that ocean cycles with no connection to global warming may be driving it. Records do not go back far enough to prove such upsurges haven't come and gone before.

    "All the trends we've seen globally -- they all pretty much say (waves are) going up," said Val Swail, a wave expert with Canada's climate research agency. "The question is: Is this just part of a cycle, or is this a long-term trend?"

    Climate models related to those that feed daily weather forecasts are good at predicting storms, Lambert says, although some scientists question whether they are detailed enough to capture a true picture of the future. Lambert suspects global warming is partly behind the rising storms, although there's no way to say how big a part.

    Bigger, damaging waves

    Some storms may never reach shore. But their winds can still whip up waves that do.

    Northwest wave records through 1996 suggested that the most damaging waves in big storms should top 33 feet only once a century. In the next five years, however, they went higher than that at least five times -- severely eroding the Oregon and Washington coasts.

    "We were rather taken aback," said Komar, the Oregon State professor. "Something was changing."

    He and Jonathan Allan, a coastal geomorphologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, crunched records from buoys off the Oregon and Washington coasts. They found roughly an 8-foot upsurge in the larger winter waves hitting a buoy about 300 miles west of Astoria over the past 25 years -- giving the waves about 65 percent more force.

    Allan and Komar have since revised the once-a-century wave height upward to about 52 feet.

    The trend appears tied to escalating wind speeds and more powerful storms socking Oregon, they found. Their work has been backed up by other studies, including a Russian analysis of thousands of reports from ships dating to 1950.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has watched rising waves batter jetties guarding the entrance to the Columbia River.

    Repair work in the 1960s was designed for waves about 16 to 18 feet high, said Rod Moritz, a hydraulic engineer with the corps. He estimates waves hitting the same point on the jetty now approach 22 feet high.

    "We're just seeing more of the extremes," he said.

    The corps is spending $17 million on Band-Aid repairs to the south jetty this year and is considering broader repairs likely to cost much more. One catch: It's hard to find rocks big enough to withstand the higher waves, and to move them into place.

    Erosion has always been a force on the Oregon coast. But the rising waves have reworked some shorelines so fast it's hard to keep up. At Cape Lookout State Park, one of the most popular playgrounds on the Oregon coast, waves have cut away 7 to 10 feet of some shorelines each year, exposing 1,400-year-old logs.

    "What we're seeing is a new regime of conditions where the ocean processes have taken over," said Allan, who monitors the erosion.

    The high waves may be driven by routine shifts of winds and currents, not greenhouse warming, scientists say. Escalating waves detected in the Atlantic tapered off and now appear unrelated to global warming. But new studies by the Canadian Climate Research Branch predict that higher waves will grow more common, especially on the West Coast, as greenhouse gases increase.

    "We're beginning to get a picture that says, 'Yes, this is real. Things are changing,' " said Don Resio, a physical oceanographer and wave expert with the Army Corps of Engineers. "The whole global cycle is changing, and waves are part of that."

    Oregon, meanwhile, is hardly ready for a rise in sea level.

    "I don't think it's on anyone's radar screens," said Onno Husing, director of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association. "It's easy to get lulled into a false sense of security because of small increases in sea level, but those can lead to big impacts. So it's something everyone needs to start thinking about."

    Read more!

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    XsunX Update: Thin-film Solar Start-up's Manufacturing Facility on Track

    Last fall, I reported on a California-based thin-film solar start-up, XsunX, who were developing a line of glass-integrated transparent glass-like thin-film solar panels. This post has since recieved quite a lot of hits, and given readerss apparent interest in XsunX, here's an update, courtesy of (REA):

    REA reports this week that XsunX is heading toward commercialization of its products through progress on an initial manufacturing line. Over the past few years, the Aliso Viejo, California-based company has been moving toward commercializing its glass-integrated thin-film photovoltaic (PV) product.

    XsunX is apparently now ready to begin commercial manufacturing of its product.

    The company has announced plans to begin assembly and installation of its hybrid manufacturing system at a facility in Golden, Colorado, along with laser and ancillary production and product development equipment, in the first week of July. Tom Djokovich, XsunX CEO, said the initial production line will have an output of below 1 MW per year but will be important in validating the company's technology to the public, solar industry and prospective licensees.

    See this previous post for more on XunX's Power Glass transparent PV product.

    Read more!

    Successful Switchgrass Burn Test Completed

    Switchgrass is often cited as one of the most promising energy crops that could be grown in the U.S. for a variety of biomass processes, including direct combustion or use as a feedstock for a cellulosic-ethanol processing project. However, for all its hype, there are currently few actual examples of its use. This week, however, (REA) brings us news of a successful and promising application of switchgrass crops co-fired with coal.

    REA reports that the Chariton Valley Biomass Project, which is managed by Chariton Valley Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Inc. and co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alliant Energy, and other project partners, just ended a three-month test burn of switchgrass with coal at the Ottumwa Generating Station in Chillicothe, Iowa.

    By the end of the test burn on May 12, 2006, the Chariton Valley Biomass Project team, led by Chariton Valley RC&D Inc., Alliant Energy (and its subsidiary, Interstate Power and Light Company) and assisted by numerous Iowa-based team members and others spanning from Portland, Oregon to Denmark, said they accomplished the following during the three-month test burn:

  • Delivered, processed, and burned 31,568 bales of locally grown switchgrass totaling 15,647 tons as renewable fuel for generating electricity at Ottumwa Generating Station (OGS).

  • Generated 19,607,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity from the renewable switchgrass fuel. That is enough electricity to provide 100% of the electricity needs for an entire year for more than 1,874 average Iowa homes. This is a world record for electricity generation from switchgrass.

  • Processed and burned switchgrass as fuel at OGS for more than 1,675 hours since mid-February 2006. Processing hours per day have improved significantly since the beginning of the test burn, with the facility operating without downtime nearly continuously throughout the past month of the test burn.

  • Reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from OGS by about 62 tons due to the extremely low sulfur content in switchgrass. The coal used as fuel at OGS is low-sulfur coal, but not as low in sulfur as the switchgrass, which contains only about 0.1% sulfur (by weight).

  • Reduced emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas, by a total estimated amount over 50,800 tons through reductions at the power plant, and because the switchgrass absorbs carbon dioxide from the air during its growth cycle and stores a portion of the absorbed carbon in its deep root system -- this also improves the soil conditions on the fields where the switchgrass is grown.

  • Generated about 626 tons of fly ash, which has been approved for sale from the power plant for use in concrete and other valuable byproducts. The ash is what is left over from the switchgrass after it is burned in the boiler. This ash is collected at the power plant along with ash produced from the coal.

  • Demonstrated that the processing system designed, installed and operated by the project team throughout the test burn can be operated reliably at and above its designed process rate of 12.5 tons per hour, especially if the switchgrass delivered to the facility contains moisture contents of 12% and under. The average moisture content of switchgrass burned throughout the test burn has been about 13%.

  • Replaced about 12,060 tons of coal purchased from Wyoming with renewable switchgrass that was planted, grown, harvested, stored, delivered and processed by local Iowa farmers.

  • Generated an estimated 19,600 Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that have received independent third-party certification under Environmental Resource Trust's EcoPower program. This program certifies the amount of power generated during the test burn that resulted from a renewable energy source, and allows the project team to market the RECs to companies, government organizations, and/or residential consumers who are willing to pay a small premium to ensure that a portion of their energy purchases go to a renewable power generator. Purchasing these RECs can help companies and government organizations meet their environmental goals.

  • The project team believes the processing system demonstrated for this project would also be well suited for application in facilities that would create ethanol and/or other co-products from switchgrass.

    It's good to see this kind of actual demonstration project being completed for switchgrass applications. Co-firing itself is not particularly new or untested with many coal-fired power plants in the United States already co-firing with agricultural and forestry residues. Use of dedicated energy crops, like switchgrass, is not too different but probably has a few subtle differences that ought to be ironed out in projects like this.

    In my honest opinion, we need to be aggressively pursueing the development of a sizable cellulosic biomass industry in the United States to grow, harvest and/or recover sizable quantities of biomass from both dedicated energy crops and from agricultural, forestry and urban residues. The biomass could either provide feedstock for co-firing for electricity generation, for cellulosic ethanol production, or for syngas production via gasification (this produces quite a bit of electricity as well and the resulting syngas could be put to a variety of uses including conversion to synthetic liquid fuels, conversion to ethanol, and additional electricity generation or some combination thereof).

    As the DOE and USDA have determined, over a billion dry tons of biomass could be sustainably harvested each year (see this report) and we ought to be putting some or all of that to good use...

    [BTW, the graphic accompanying this post is a picture of the a "D-Stringer" machine which automatically pulls apart switchgrass bales to be fed into the Ottumwa power plant's burner unit.]

    Read more!

    Unintended Consequences: Opposition to Cape Wind Likely Results in Widespread Impact on U.S. Wind Power Development

    Last week news hit the blogosphere of the latest hiccup facing the development of wind power in the United States - a sudden concern over how wind power projects may affect military radar installations. This week, (REA) reports that an interesting back-story is starting to emerge, leading to accusations that politics have played at least some part in bringing as many as 15 wind power installations in the Midwest to a temporary halt. And the ripples being felt in the farm belt may have originated over a thousand miles away in the waters off Massachusetts...

    According to REA, the current radar issue stems from The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, signed into law January 6, 2006 (PL 109-163). That act contained a last-minute amendment inserted by Senator John Warner (R-VA) that required the Department of Defense (DOD) to study and report on the effects of wind projects on military readiness.

    By all accounts, the original Congressional language was aimed at one project, Cape Wind, a 420 MW offshore wind project proposed off the coast of Massachusetts [see previous post on the Cape Wind controversy]. However, DOD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have apparently decided to expand upon the original study directive and apply it to all proposed wind power installations in the United States.

    REA reporsts that Warner has been associated previously with legislation that would be harmful to wind power - particularly the Cape Wind project.

    The REA article continues:

    "Senator Warner says he's for wind power, but his actions betray that," said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit group that promotes renewable energy in the state. Wisconsin is among the Midwest states where the radar issue has put some projects on hold.

    "It's not just a military matter, that's what's really bothering us," said Vickerman, who reflects an opinion bubbling up in wind power circles that radar issues have been used to put the brakes on wind power development.

    Since the proposed Cape Wind project falls within local radar view, it too may be put on hold at least until the DOD study is complete. But if political motivations were behind Warner's amendment, this entire issue may prove to be a case of unintended consequences because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) actions stalling wind projects have mostly occurred in the Midwest.

    In light of the required study, regional FAA officials issued notices of "Perceived Hazard" to approximately 15 wind projects, putting the brakes on, at least temporarily, to well over 1000 MW of wind power. Vickerman says the stalled projects include 950 MW in Illinois, 570 MW in Wisconsin, and 200 MW each in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

    Why FAA officials in regional offices in the Midwest, not the Northeast, have been putting the most projects on hold is being chalked up to a simple lack of consistent interpretation of the law by these FAA offices.

    Some wind power developers like Dave Luck, head of business development for EnXco, can see how people in the wind power industry came to the conclusion that politics have played a role in the radar issue.

    "It's hard to dismiss that, given one of the sponsors of the bill," said Luck, referring to Warner. But Luck admits it would be impossible to prove the move was politically motivated. Furthermore, he doubts the FAA actions in the Midwest had anything to do with local, or NIMBY (not in my backyard) opposition because wind power faces relatively less local opposition in the Midwest than in the Northeast and coastal communities.

    "I just don't see the rationale for this being a cloaked NIMBY issue," said Luck, in an interview at a recent wind power conference. "If that was the case, you'd have farmers up in arms. There would literally be a backlash."

    Luck says farmers have been some of wind power's greatest supporters. Wind power, he said, is a curious new form of rural development that's being welcomed with open arms in much of America's heartland.

    When asked if Luck would expand his operations into offshore wind power, where attitudes in the U.S. have been downright caustic, his face visibly changed as he said, "I'm not going to fight that battle, it's not worth it."

    Someone who has been fighting that battle is Mark Rodgers, Communications Director for Cape Wind. He recently circulated some gumshoe reporting from a local Cape Cod publication, the Cape Cod Voice, that he says offers documentary substantiation on the political point many in the wind power business have been making with respect to the origins and motivations behind Warner's radar study amendment.

    The article (link provided below) reports that a registered lobbyist for the organization that formed to oppose Cape Wind, The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, basically claimed credit for the Warner Amendment of last year on air navigation.

    "It is truly unfortunate that Cape Wind opponents are having such a harmful effect on the entire wind industry," Rodgers said in an e-mail.

    But while many in the wind power industry are busy trying to uncover, and prove, if any political motivations are behind radar concerns stalling wind power, politicians themselves are starting to feel the pressure from their local constituents.

    Most recently, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), representing one of the states where the FAA notices has put projects on hold, succeeded in getting the Bush Administration to remove the hold on a North Dakota Project. Dorgan said many projects, including those that are unlikely to interfere with air navigation, have received the FAA notices.

    At a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Dorgan called on the Administration to work with wind turbine developers to address concerns in the future, saying he would offer legislation to fix the problem if officials continue to "needlessly delay" important renewable energy projects.

    Read more!

    No Quick Fixes

    The following is an op-ed piece written by Jim DiPeso, REP America Policy Director, and published online at

    Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for quick fix solutions that will cure all our energy ills. We'll suspend the federal gas tax. We can plant oil wells in the Arctic wilderness and off our coasts, assuring us years of worry-free guzzling. Did we mention the $100 rebate? Like a traveling medicine show, members of Congress are scurrying from press conference to press conference to show the folks back home that they're doing something about high gasoline prices, and by gum, they really mean it this time.

    What a farce. The time that lawmakers spend promoting showy gimmicks is time that should be used on a long-range strategy for moving our country off its dangerous addiction to oil.

    Time is not in our favor. Rising gasoline prices are not a transitory market hiccup but an ominous sign that the energy system on which we depend is dangerously unstable.

    Our economy and security are at risk. If nothing is done, warns House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, the New York Republican, "We are going to lurch from oil crisis to oil crisis, and each one is going to get worse."

    This should not come as a surprise. The risks of betting our future on endless supplies of cheap oil have been known for decades. Every day of denial and delay brought the reckoning closer, like a balloon payment on a cut-rate mortgage.

    Why now? It boils down to supply and demand in the oil market, which is global. Supplies are tight and demand is rising, which has made the market twitchy and prone to price spikes.

    Any disruption anywhere that spooks the market sends prices upward. Last year, it was hurricanes. This year, it's been civil unrest in Nigeria, violence in Iraq and tension around Iran's nuclear dabbling.

    Tomorrow, it could be worse. Earlier this year, security forces thwarted terrorists attempting to bomb an oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer. Had the bombers succeeded, the result would have been economic calamity. As terrorists like to say, they only have to be lucky once.

    Even if every oil-producing region were as stable as Sweden, however, oil is a finite commodity. Experts disagree on the timing, but global oil production will peak in the near future and begin an inexorable decline.

    The biggest gorilla in the closet is climate change. Continuing with an energy system based on inefficient use of carbon-based fuels is a crapshoot with dangerous odds.

    Meanwhile, fuel demand keeps rising. American demand alone consumes 25 percent of global production. China, India, and other big developing nations that want the high-energy lifestyle are using more oil.

    Add more oil supply, some politicians insist. Drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Drill off the coasts. Drill the Rocky Mountains. Just drill, damn it.

    We're chasing our tails if we try to drill our way out of this mess.

    American wells already supply 8 percent of world oil production. Since America holds only 2 percent of world oil reserves, we are, in effect, draining domestic oil reserves four times faster than the rest of the world.

    Once the domestic barrel is depleted, we'd be worse off - still addicted to oil, still vulnerable to dangerous forces beyond our control.

    What we can control is demand. Greater fuel efficiency is the essential first step that will buy time to phase in oil substitutes, put some air into the oil market, and loosen dependence on petro-regimes. Fuel efficiency is the American weapon that overseas oil barons fear most.

    Raising fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon would save more than 4 million barrels per day by 2020 - far more than anything an Arctic refuge oil field could ever produce.

    The most promising mid-term oil alternative is biofuels produced from farm residues, urban wastes, and fast-growing crops such as switchgrass. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles running on a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline could achieve 500 miles per gallon of gas.

    Changing our unhealthy energy ways will take time and investment. Our focus must not be on quick fixes, but on speeding up a transition to clean and renewable fuels and energy technologies.

    We must start now, to assure our country of a clean, safe and prosperous 21st century.

    This op-ed was first published in the Albuquerque Tribune on May 9, 2006.

    About the Author...

    Jim DiPeso is the policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP America), a grass-roots organization that seeks to restore the Republican conservation tradition.

    Normally, when posting (or reposting) an op-ed like this, I'd say something like, "the views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily represent the views of the propreiter(s) of this website" ... but in this case, I find little in Mr DiPeso's editorial that I disagree with.

    It's time to expect more from our politicians than quick-fix schemes. Its time to start demanding that they implement long-term solutions that will set this country back on course towards a viable (and sustainable) energy future!

    The time of cheap oil is over and we have to start transitioning towards a sustainable energy future, especially in the transportation sector. As my thesis research concluded (keep your eye out for my thesis, to be posted soon), and Mr. DiPeso called attention to, the options are available:

    fuel-efficient technologies are available that could help us double the average fleet fuel economy to over 40 mpg (simply banning large SUVs would go a long way towards this goal) while ethanol from switchgrass, miscanthus, hybrid poplars, urban, agricultural and forestry wastes could contribute a large portion of the remaining oil demand. Plug-in hybrid vehicles could further slash oil demand in the transport sector while creating economies of scale and research incentives for high capacity batteries that could enable all-electric vehicles in the not-to-distant future.

    The options are waiting ... we now need to chart the road ahead and put ourselves on the path towards a sustainable energy future (both environmentally and economically).

    So 'just say no' to snake oil and empty quick fix promises!

    Read more!

    I Graduated!

    Well, I did it. I graduated from the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon this past weekend with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer and Information Science and Philosophy (magna cum laude).

    In order to earn my honors degree from the honors college, I completed a hefty Masters-level thesis entitled On the Road to Replacing Oil: A Well-to-Wheels Study Exploring Alternative Transportation Fuels and Vehicle Systems. I will post it to this blog soon (I have to format it as a pdf and split it up into some smaller sections).

    I will be starting work at the Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, OR after the Fourth of July. I will also be doing research and developing web-accessible computer simulations for energy and climate change-related subjects for Prof. Greg Bothun at the University of Oregon.

    Until work starts, I'm enjoying a couple weeks of much needed vacation...

    Read more!

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    U.S. Ethanol Consumption Now Consumes Over 1/5th of Total Corn Production

    Slightly more than 20% of the forecasted 10.55 billion bushels of corn to be produced in the US this year (about 2.15 billion bushels) will go toward the production of fuel ethanol, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s most recent World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE). The use of corn for ethanol production is growing quickly with the 2006 forecasts representing a 34% increase over the previous year.

    At 2.15 billion bushels, corn use for ethanol now matches for the first time projected exports of corn from the U.S., also forecast to be approximately 2.15 billion bushels in 2006, a 6% increase over 2005.

    The USDA corn crop forecast of 10.55 billion bushels is 5% lower than last year’s production, Green Car Congress reports. Total corn supply, at 12.8 billion bushels, is down 3% as the smaller corn crop is only partially offset by higher beginning stocks.

    Projected 2006/07 corn use is forcasted to expand 6% to a record 11.6 billion bushels. The increase in exports is due, according to the USDA, to reduced foreign competition and lower global feed-quality wheat supplies:

    The 2006/07 global coarse grains outlook includes slightly lower production, increased consumption, and lower ending stocks. Smaller coarse grain crops in the United States more than offset higher foreign production. Production increases are significant for Argentina and EU-25. Global coarse grain trade is up slightly while consumption is up 2.7 percent. China’s corn stocks continue to fall; global corn ending stocks drop 29 percent to 92 million tons, the lowest in more than 20 years.

    We seem to be nearing the maximum point for ethanol production from corn. I'm not a market economist, nor an agricultural expert (and feel free to comment if you are), but it doesn't seem like ethanol productionc an consume too much more of our corn crop. Maybe the share of corn used for ethanol will climb upwards of 40-50%, but even then, with the glut of new ethanol production plants in the pipeline, it won't take long before that happens. How much of our corn are we willing to divert to ethanol production?
    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

    Read more!

    Biofuel Boom Leads Some to Caution: "Let Investors Beware"

    [The following is an interview with Thee Rivers Biofuels CEO Forrest "Bud" Stacy with a word of caution on the current biofuels boom posted at EnergyPulse. The interviewer happens to be my uncle, Alan Jenkins...]

    With every boom market comes the potential for excess, and the current biofuels market is no exception -- to paraphrase an old adage: “Let the investor beware!”

    What follows is an interview with Forrest “Bud” Stacy, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Three Rivers Biofuels LLC, a company that is currently developing a 30 million gallon per year biodiesel production plant in Northeast Mississippi. Mr. Stacy was previously President and Chief Executive Officer of Oglethorpe Power Corporation, a Fortune Top 50 Utility with annual revenues of $1 billion. He also has experience developing merchant power plants and biomass electric generation.

    What is your appraisal of the current biofuels market?

    As I think everyone is aware, the biofuels market, including ethanol, biodiesel, and biomass conversion, is red hot. Every day it seems we have one or two new announcements of projects.

    Do you have any concern with this booming market?

    Yes, it reminds me of the market a few years back for new natural gas-fired electric generation plants. While a legitimate market opportunity existed that attracted significant investment, as the dollars flowed in so did developers with more general sales experience than electric generation experience.

    What was the end result?

    As may be expected from such a frothy market, too many plants were built. The increased demand caused natural gas prices to soar and many gas-fired generation projects were no longer economically viable. Investors were left high and dry.

    So you think the same might occur in the biofuels market?

    Unfortunately, yes and unwary investors may again get caught. Significant government credits and soaring energy prices have provided a wonderful opportunity to develop sound biofuels projects. However, many of the proposed projects that I see advertised in press releases are little more than hopes of projects with little substance. The developers have not yet even applied for the permits that are necessary to construct and operate the plants. This has led state permitting officials to be wary of potential developers that try to secure tax incentives from state agencies without having a project ready to go. Nevertheless, investors are pouring hard-earned dollars into these potential projects.

    Do you have any examples?

    Yes, without naming names, I saw just last week a large, publicly traded company announce a huge ethanol production facility just days after releasing disappointing earnings. The project announcement drove the stock price back up, but we understand the proposed project has not applied for or secured any of the necessary permits. Therefore, I wonder if it will ever be built. We have also seen developers coming into rural areas and raising funds from local farmers and other members of the community for biofuels projects. Unfortunately, some investors have been emptying their 401Ks to invest in projects where the only thing that is guaranteed is the upfront development payment to the developers. In my mind, these are very troubling developments.

    I understand one of the companies you are involved with is developing a biodiesel project. Is that project any different from the others you have cited?

    First of all, I don’t mean to imply that all current investment opportunities in the biofuels market are fly-by-night. That’s simply not true. There are many very sound projects out there and sound investment opportunities. I think the recent strong earnings report of Archer Daniels Midland based largely on its biofuels feedstock business is only one such example. That being said, there are a lot of projects out there in name only. Three Rivers Biofuels LLC is currently developing a 30 million gallon per day biodiesel project in Northeast Mississippi for which we expect to achieve financial closing in June 2006.

    Has Three Rivers issued any press releases for this project?

    No. We have focused on securing our environmental permits, negotiating our project development and finance documents, and getting all our ducks in a row before we get anyone’s hopes up by issuing press releases and the like.

    How is Three Rivers financing this project?

    We are currently finalizing the project and finance documents necessary for bond financing whereby project revenues and assets secure and are pledged to cover bonds that will be issued to finance the costs of acquiring, constructing, and operating the facility. Our project site is located on one of the inland waterways that connects to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico through Mobile. As such, transportation costs for the feedstock material and biodiesel produced will be greatly reduced.

    Do you have any other future development plans?

    Yes. We are considering additional projects in a number of locations but will be cautious about the project sites we select and the potential investors and project partners that may be involved.

    Do you have anything further to add?

    Yes. I would really caution investors to do their homework. As I said before, there are many legitimate investment opportunities in this market, and there is money to be made. However, I get heartsick when I see good-hearted investors taking unnecessary risks based simply on the untested promises of project developers. Unfortunately, there are several people around the country inviting prospective investors to an investment dinner and making a presentation that sounds like there is no way the proposed project can lose money. In many of the cases, however, no independent market study, independent technical review, or independent economic analysis has been performed, and the feasibility study was done by the equipment manufacturers - who have an obvious bias - or by a less than qualified party. As mentioned above, all too often, no permits have been received and so all the risk is on the investor. The presentations are usually closed with a statement disclaiming what was said during the meeting and the investor must rely only on the Offering Statement. Of course, most of the people present at such an investment dinner are not qualified to understand the complexity of an Offering Statement.

    My advice then to any potential investor is to proceed with great care if the developer does not have in hand the above information. In today’s biofuels market, I certainly think the adage “let the buyer beware” is appropriate.

    Read more!

    Sunday, June 04, 2006

    Two Ag Giants Differ on Agriculture's Priorities and Priority of Biofuels

    Agricultural giants, Archer Daniels Midland, Co. (ADM) and Cargill Inc. have different philosophies on the proper priorities for the United States' agricultural land, according to a recent Associated Press article in the Central Illinois newspaper, the Pantagraph. ADM is reportedly enthusiastic about using farmland to produce fuel, the article reports, while Cargill says growing food should be the top priority for those fields.

    ADM is by far the country’s largest ethanol producer and has taken an aggressive approach to biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel. In contrast, Cargill has been more restrained, though it’s hardly sitting on the sidelines of the biofuels game.

    The article discusses recent comments by the chairmen of both companies that mirror a larger debate taking place on how large a contribution ethanol can make toward reducing America’s need for oil imports, as well as the 'consumption-versus-combustion' debate - or whether using more corn to make more fuel will lead to higher food prices.

    Minnetonka-based Cargill reportedly raised the food-versus-fuel issue earlier this month. As he laid out a broad vision of Cargill’s business on a changing global playing field, Warren Staley, the company's chairman and CEO, told a gathering of business writers in Minneapolis that he saw producing food as the most important task for agriculture, AP reports. Noting that a number of countries are looking at ethanol and biodiesel to lessen their dependence on Mideast oil, Staley said, "We have to look at the hierarchy of value for agricultural land use: food first, then feed and last fuel."

    Staley reporteldy questioned whether subsidies for using land to produce fuel were good long-term policy and questioned the idea that ethanol could put a big dent in America’s dependence on foreign oil. Even if the entire U.S. corn crop were used for ethanol, it would replace only about 20 percent of domestic gasoline consumption, he said.

    The next day, the chairman of ADM, G. Allen Andreas, responded by insisting the world has plenty of capacity to grow food. "There is no consumption versus combustion debate, except for those who really don’t recognize the realities of the way this business functions," he said in a conference call with analysts. Malnutrition and hunger, he said, come from "a lack of infrastructure and a lack of capital" around the world, not from diverting some food to fuel uses.

    The article, by Steve Karnowski of the Associated Press, continues:

    Neither company made their executives available to elaborate on the comments. Bill Brady, a Cargill spokesman, said one of Staley’s main points is that the company sees itself first as a food company.

    ADM has seen a sharp run-up in its stock price, partly due to investors looking for ways to get in on the ethanol boom. In his speech, Staley said Cargill’s sales revenues have increased from $48 billion in 2001 to $71 billion in 2005 and will rise again in the fiscal year that ends Wednesday, but did not break out how much of that growth came from ethanol.

    Ethanol plays a much bigger role for Decatur-based ADM, which claims about one-fourth of U.S. ethanol capacity. About 5 percent of its revenue comes from ethanol, and it’s aiming to boost annual production to 1.5 billion gallons, up from its current 1 billion.

    And in what’s been widely seen as a sign of the importance of ethanol in ADM’s future, ADM went to the oil industry for its newest leader. Last month it hired Patricia Woertz, a former executive vice president at Chevron Corp., as its CEO and president.

    Steve Suppan, director of research for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a Minneapolis-based think-tank, said ADM has reaped big dividends from lobbying the government over ethanol subsidies and mandates for its increased use in gasoline.

    Since Cargill is larger and more diversified, it doesn’t need to place as big of a bet on ethanol as ADM, Suppan said. Cargill’s non-food businesses include marketing electricity, making and trading steel, and offering financial risk-management products to companies.

    "ADM is famous for their willingness to spend lots of money on lobbying," agreed Hank Williams, vice president for fuels with Jim Jordan & Associates, a Houston-based consulting company. "... They may very well have plans to further those efforts and help themselves to larger markets in the future."

    But Cargill, despite Staley’s comments, is making its own substantial investments in biofuels — $1 billion worth.

    Currently No. 4 in U.S. ethanol production, it plans new plants that would push its annual capacity to 230 million gallons, which would put it close to the No. 2 spot.

    And it has a joint venture with Monsanto Co. that’s developing new production technologies. Both Cargill and ADM also have significant biodiesel expansions under way, mostly in Europe.

    One reason for Cargill’s relative restraint is that it generally views subsidized industries with caution because subsidies can change over time, Brady said.

    Congress passed the Energy Policy Act last July that mandates doubling the use of ethanol in gasoline to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012, and President Bush gave the industry a strong endorsement in his State of the Union speech in January.

    The United States now has 97 ethanol plants with an annual capacity of nearly 4.5 billion gallons, according to the

    Renewable Fuels Association. About 39 percent of that capacity is farmer-owned. Another 35 plants and nine expansions with a combined capacity of more than 2.2 billion gallons are under construction, the trade group says.

    Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, said the food-versus-fuel debate is "a big red herring" because the U.S. "by any measure is an overproducer of food."

    "A richer farm sector is going to make us more secure, it’s going to make more food available," Kammen said.

    But Williams, the consultant, said concerns about food versus fuel are valid. About 15 percent of the U.S. corn crop is currently used for ethanol, and new and expanded plants easily could raise that to 45 to 50 percent, he said.

    "Which is probably not sustainable," he added. "We have people to feed, animals to feed, and exports of corn that need to be made."

    It's interesting to see how the 'food-versus-fuel' debate plays out at the level of these two ag giants. Cargill and ADM both must know that corn ethanol can only contribute a small portion of total U.S. transportation fuel - Cargill's CEO cites 20% but I find that a bit optimistic and that number is assuming 100% of corn produciton going to ethanol, a figure that will never be reached.

    But despite this fundamental limitation to the scale of the ethanol industry, ADM has been keen to take as large a share of the ethanol market as they can. While Cargill may be less enthusiastic about ethanol's future prospects, both companies know that there is plenty of money to be made in this industry and are investing accordingly.

    Finally, this article makes it clear that the corn ethanol business is overwhelmingly dominated by a select few agricultural corportations. While ramping up ethanol production may lessen the power of Big Oil (slightly!), it does so by handing that power to Big Corn or Big Ag.

    I imagine the cellulosic ethanol industry will begin explode in three to five years - i.e. when corn ethanol starts to reach its max and cellulosic ethanol production techniques get refined and commercialized. This may offer a chance to further diversify the companies involved in the fuel industry as the companies developing cellulosic ethanol - i.e., Iogen, BRI, and others - are (currently, at least) outside the Big Ag and Big Oil complexes. What remains to be seen is if these companies get bought out and incorporated within either of these two established industries or if they are able to successfuly remain independent and grown a whole new fuel industry.

    Whatever the outcome, cellulosic ethanol has far greater potential than corn ethanol and can ultimately make a significant (maybe up to 50%) impact on our oil use. In contrast, corn ethanol, I'm sad to say, will never be much more than a fuel additive...

    [A tip o' the hat to]

    Read more!

    Thursday, June 01, 2006

    Thinking Big: Pan-European Wind Energy 'Supergrid' Proposed

    As more wind energy projects go online in Europe, concerns remain that additional wind generation will require backup generation from other electricity production to balance out times when the wind isn't blowing. RenewableEnergyAccess reports that one of the world's leading wind energy developers is thinking big and thinks it has a solution to avoid concerns over backing-up intermittent wind power while also offering a more efficient, dynamic electric grid.

    Ireland-based Airtricity unveiled plans in May to create a pan-European energy grid, or so-called 'Supergrid.' Much of this Supergrid would be undersea linking the growing number of European offshore wind farms and would link a series of wind farms from as far ranging locations as the Mediterranean, up to the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic and all the way up to the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

    "The scale of this undertaking means that when fully operational Europe will have access to wind energy at all times because the wind will always be blowing somewhere on the grid," said Airtricity's Chief Executive, Eddie O'Connor.

    The company will formally introduce the ambitious plan at a Parliamentary reception for MPs in Westminster today. In conjunction, the wind energy developer will also outline a proposal to build a Euro 22 billion, 10 gigawatt (GW) offshore wind energy project that would cover a wind expanse in the North Sea between the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. [Clearly, these guys are thinking big!]

    The company's Supergrid concept will play an important complementary role for the project that would greatly eclipse by size any current wind project, offshore or on. As many as eight million European homes could be powered by a project this size. Obviously, in the absense of something like the Supergrid, a wind project that large would require sizable amount of backup generating capacity for times when the giant wind farm is becalmed.

    The Swedish transnational company ABB Ltd. will be the project partner on the transmission side of the Supergrid. ABB is the world's leader in the development of high voltage direct current transmission lines. Trevor Gregory, Managing Director of ABB said they have established an advanced transmission technology called 'HVDC Light' which, among a number of applications, is used for demanding offshore applications. HVDC Light not only feeds electricity to platforms but it also connects and supports the integration of electrical networks. [This sounds just like a normal HVDC system to me, so I'm not sure what is so special about 'HVDC Light', but oh well...]

    Since the project will require the approval of the EU, and involves multiple countries across almost the entire span of the European continent, Airtricity pitched the plan as an energy proposal for the wider European Union, not to specific nations.

    "The Supergrid offers a unique opportunity to Member States to improve their security of energy supply," said the company, in a statement. "The power generated will be a common European rather than a national asset. Wind energy is a continental resource and thanks to the Supergrid it will be the common property of all the Member States.

    Airtricity has plenty of wind energy experience, operating, among others, the Arklow Bank wind farm, the first real-world test of GE Energy's large 3.6 MW offshore wind turbines. The company is currently expanding operations into Scotland, England, and parts of the U.S. It currently has several thousands of megawatts of capacity in the planning and construction stages.

    Well, clearly someone at least has the capacity to think big! If Europe can succesfully execute a project on this magnitude, I think it would go a long way towards changing the way we think about energy projects.

    There are a variety of renewable energy megaprojects that could be constructued in the U.S. that would rival Airtricity's plan in scale: I'm thinking here in particular of a series of gigawatt-scale wind farms in the Dakotas with electricity transmitted via HVDC or hydrogen pipeline to demand centers like Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, etc. [if this idea intriuges you, I'd check out these two reports here and here]. Other potential renewable megaprojects that would require the vision and national (or transnation) committment that Aitricity's plans would take include:

  • large-scale solar farms in the Desert Southwest;

  • gigawatt-scale offshore wind farms in the north-south axis of Lake Michigan and the east-west axis of Lake Superior;

  • similar scale wind projects (and maybe wave farms) off the west coast of southern Oregon and northern California;

  • massive wind farms in the Aleutian Island chain (probably the windiest spot on earth with Class 7 winds over much of the archepelego) making hydrogen for shipment to the continental U.S. via pipeline or LH2 tankers

  • ocean current turbines teathered in the middle of the Gulf Stream [basically a massive undersea river of seawater]

  • Those are the kind of megaprojects that immediately come to mind. Each one could provide a major contribution to the national energy mix and could even come to dominate regional energy mixes. They would all however require varying degrees of 'think big' vision that hasn't been demonstrated in recent memory.

    However, lest you think such megaprojects are impossible, we need only look in our history books for the counterproof: the massive federal hydropower projects constructed beginning during the Great Depression/WPA era and extending on through the 1950s and 60s.

    If we dare to think big, big things can happen!

    Read more!

    The World Bank Pushing for Renewable Energy Development

    For the past year, the World Bank has been researching what it would take for the world to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, according to World Bank Energy Economist Gary Stuggins.

    According to a report, the World Bank's analysis is finding that renewable energy technology may be able to take the place of fossil fuels more quickly than previously believed as higher energy prices make these technologies more attractive.

    The research was requested by G-8 leaders after the Gleneagles Summit last July and has primarily focused on the potential to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants in China, India. To a lesser extent, the World Bank has also explored the potential for energy efficiency potential in Russia. These three countries were reportedly selected because they are among the world's major producers of carbon dioxide emissions [I guess they figured the U.S. has no excuse for not cutting emissions!].

    Already some renewable technologies, such as wind power, are economically viable, Stuggins said. "We feel that there are enough technologies already available, so that if there's the political will to do it, we can make substantial differences." [Aye, and therein lies the rub, Mr. Stuggins ... "if there's the political will to do it." Now if only we could find some of that political will lying about...]

    The World Bank is apparently one of the biggest promoters of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in the world, financing about $9 billion in these projects since 1990, according to RenewableEnergyAccess. Hydropower is still the biggest component of Bank's renewable energy portfolio, Stuggins said, but support for other renewable energy projects has accelerated since 2000.

    The Bank's energy portfolio in China includes the China Renewable Energy Development Project, which is intended to "set the tone" for future renewable energy projects in the country, he added. The project provides grants to companies that produce photovoltaic (PV) solar cells. The companies market, sell and maintain their products in rural areas that do not have access to an electricity grid. Grants cover an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 PV systems in households and institutions to power lights, radios and TVs in isolated communities in Qinghai, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Xizang and Sichuan.

    In an effort to revive research and development in renewables, the Bank has also proposed a venture capital fund be set up to fund R&D for low carbon energy technologies.

    Read more!