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Gertie Finds a New Home

Gertie is a camper — a “short” bus with a powerful International engine. In 2006, I drove her from Colorado to Maine while chronicling in this blog a quest for biodiesel fuel.
This week, Gertie found a new home with the Maine Earth Walk Project. Her owner, the organizer and publicist for Maine Earth Walk, reports that her engine purrs, and, but for a handful of minor repairs, she is road-worthy. Participants in the Project are walking this week from Portland to Augusta, and Gertie will be with them.
If you wish to participate in the Walk, in celebration of this amazing earth that sustains us, contact maineearthwalk@gmail. Below is a message from Maine Earth Walk Projet.

Dear Friends,

For too long we have witnessed the tragic neglect and exploitation of our Mother Earth, along with the erosion of the basic Human Rights of people everywhere. It’s an ongoing tragedy that threatens the balance of life and the very existence of all living beings on Earth.

“This we know, the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.” ~ Chief Seattle,Native American

We must address the problems we face, we must restore the balance and our spiritual relationship with our Mother Earth through mutual cooperation as Human Beings regardless of race, religion, ideology or nationality.

The MAINE EARTH WALK seeks to affirm the dignity of all Human Beings by reaffirming our Human Rights. We must exercise our Civil Rights as Citizens of Planet Earth. It is our duty to Stand Up and Speak Out! To Petition our Governments for Peace!! It is also our responsibility to Preserve and Protect our Planet Earth! We proclaim ‘Earth Day, Every Day !’, encouraging continuous stewardship of our environment. In this way each of us helps to protect, preserve, and restore the delicate balance of Nature that sustains Life on our Planet Earth.

The MAINE EARTH WALK, in solidarity with Occupy Movements both nationally and globally, is a movement by the People and for the People. We invite all the People of Maine to join our cause. To work together for rebuilding our communities for a Sustainable Way of Life.

The MAINE EARTH WALK is a nine day, seventy six mile walk and camping trip from Portland to Augusta, for sharing our ecological and Human Rights messages with all. Everyone is invited to join the walk as a volunteer, whether for just a segment or for the entire journey. We will begin the Walk from Portland’s Lincoln Park at 10AM on Monday, April 23rd, follow Route 1 to Brunswick and then Route 24 to Augusta with an average daily walk of ten miles.

The Walk will culminate on May Day, May 1st. 3 mile Maine Earth Walk from Hallowell to Augusta via River Rail Trail, 12noon Gathering at Capital Park, for our May Day Rally!

Bring signs, banners and messages that help raise Earth awareness and/or consciousness of related causes. Bring your songs and stories, poetry and positive spirit for our Mother Earth. Families, friends, and people from all walks of life are all welcome to Demonstrate our Unity.

There are many ways to participate in MAINE EARTH WALK. We are seeking letters of support; from civic leaders, business owners, and concerned citizens, to be shared with the general public and eachother. Join us along the way, and for our Town Hall Meetups.
We are seeking campsite hosts along the walk route. All support will help ensure the success of this Project ! Food and donations are appreciated for the Maine Earth Walk Project.
The MAINE EARTH WALK thanks you for your support. We are a grass-roots social movement.

If you wish to walk with us, Please contact us ~ maineearthwalk@gmail

As a prayer for Peace on Earth, Justice for All, and a better World for Future Generations!

Stand Up! Walk with Us! Speak Out!

Sincerely,
Maine Earth Walkers

Biofuel Beatdown

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled “U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty”, which presented a blistering across-the-board slam on biofuels. Perhaps more interesting than the WSJ article itself was an email reaction I received from a prominent energy tech venture capitalist with keen visibility into the transportation fuel space (whom I will keep anonymous), who said:

“The article makes the common mistake of using the broad term ‘biofuel’ when they should be focusing down to ‘biodiesel’ and ‘corn-based ethanol’….Renewable diesel and ‘green’ gasoline are still alive and attracting big VC dollars. Engineered microbes, bacteria and algae work to produce drop-in fuels are still going.”

Notwithstanding the bad recent press — a virtually-forecastable reaction to the excessive biofuels hype of the 2005-2007 era — reasonable potential for biofuels still remains. To wit, a new report from the United Nations entitled “Towards Sustainable Production and Use of Resources: Biofuels” makes clear that certain biofuel feedstocks and production approaches are much more environmentally-friendly than others. And, as more of these biofuel production schemes turn away from inputs subject to the vagaries of food market dynamics, the financial volatility facing producers should substantially decline (though price fluctuations in the output fuel markets will always remain).

Biofuels have fallen prone to oversimplification. Because corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel are both environmentally marginally beneficial and economically unattractive at current prices for feedstocks and fuels, many immediately leap to the conclusion that all biofuel technologies are inherently and forever unattractive. Don’t fall prey to that mistake. It’s just not true.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

Biofuel Innovators with Alternatives to Oil

By John Addison (5/14/08). Oil soars to $125 per barrel and economies around the world sputter or fall into recession. Enough is enough. Many biofuels can be blended with gasoline and diesel refined from oil, then pumped into our existing vehicles. Even making our fuels with ten percent biofuel and ninety percent refined oil is enough to drop demand for oil and send the price south.

At the moment, this approach has major drawbacks. Food prices are soaring as more ethanol is made from corn, and biodiesel from soy and palm oil. Rain forests are being slashed and burned to increase production of soy and palm oil. Next generation biofuels, however, promise to minimize these downsides while ending our dependency on oil.

“Once viewed as an environmentally-friendly, silver bullet alternative to fossil fuels, biofuels have recently become “public enemy number one” in regard to rising food prices. But what role does the growing biofuels market really play in the current food crisis?” Asks James Greenwood, President and CEO, Biotechnology Industry Organization, who goes on to answer the question.

“There are a number of factors contributing to rising food costs. Poor harvests over the past year in Australia, Canada, South America and Eastern Europe. Protectionist tariff policies affecting the rice-producing nations of South Asia. A weak dollar is driving up the demand for U.S. exports of grains, a dynamic exacerbated by hedge fund and pension fund managers who are pouring unprecedented levels of investment in grain commodities. Growing incomes and meat-eating preferences of an emerging middle class in countries like India and China are increasing global demand for animal feed and the fuel required for production and transport. But the most significant factors driving up food prices are ever-rising energy and transportation costs.

“In coming years, biotechnology will allow us to create biofuels from non-food crops, crops that yield more per acre, require less fertilizer and are more tolerant of drought and other adverse conditions. These scientific breakthroughs will only enhance the world’s ability to feed and fuel itself in a responsible and sustainable way. As biofuels production transitions to these second and third generation biofuels, biotechnology will play an essential role in providing the world with cleaner fuel and more affordable food.”

The U.S. Agriculture Department projects that the combination of a shrinking corn crop and the swelling appetite for corn ethanol will keep the price of the nation’s largest crop in record territory into 2009. USDA economists expect U.S. farmers to produce 12.1 billion bushels of corn, down 7.3% from the record 13.1 billion bushels they harvested in 2007, as farmers grow more soy.

In the U.S., ethanol is currently in far greater demand than biodiesel. By law, 36 billion gallons of ethanol must be in use by 2020 in the USA. This ethanol will primarily be blended with gasoline. E10, a blend of ten percent ethanol and ninety percent petroleum refined gasoline will be common. By contrast, in the U.S. most diesel fuel is consumed by heavy vehicles with expensive engines that must run for years. Warranties can be voided and maintenance cost increase unless the diesel fuel meets exacting standards.

Biofuel innovators were discussed and presented at the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, which I attended. With improved biofuels we will achieve increased energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This article examines short-term and longer-term biofuel solutions.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Khosla Ventures is funding innovative solutions for clean transportation and other major global problems. Brilliant innovators such as Vinod Khosla and Samir Kaul are involved in a number of companies creating cleaner fuels with cellulosic ethanol, biomass gasification, and synthetic biology.
Platt conference keynote speaker Vinod Khosla predicts that within five years fuel from food will no longer be competitive with cellulosic ethanol. He also predicts, “In five years, oil will be uncompetitive with biofuel, even at $50 per barrel, though oil will take longer to decline in price.”

Khosla Ventures identifies several sources of cellulosic ethanol. “There are four principal sources of biomass and biofuels we consider (1) energy crops on agricultural land and timberlands using crop rotation schemes that improve traditional row crop agriculture AND recover previously degraded lands (2) winter cover crops grown on current annual crop lands using the land during the winter season (or summer, in the case of winter wheat) when it is generally dormant (while improving land ecology) (3) excess non-merchantable forest material that is currently unused (about 226 million tons according to the US Department of Energy), and (4) organic municipal waste, industrial waste and municipal sewage.” Khosla Papers and Presentations

Sugarcane is the currently the most efficient feedstock for larger scale ethanol production. While corn ethanol delivers little more energy output than the total energy necessary to grow, process, and transport it; sugarcane ethanol delivers eight times the energy output as lifecycle energy input. Also, sugarcane typically produces twice as much fuel per acre as corn.

Brazil produces almost as much sugarcane ethanol as the United States produces corn ethanol, but at a fraction of the energy cost. Sugarcane is also grown in the southern U.S., from Florida to Louisiana to California.

Brazil is free from needing foreign oil. Flex-fuel vehicles there get much better mileage than in the U.S. If you drive into any of Brazil’s 31,000 fueling stations looking for gasoline, you will find that the gasoline has a blend of at least 20% ethanol, as required by law. 29,000 of the fueling stations also offer 100% ethanol. Ethanol in the U.S. is normally delivered on trucks, increasing its cost and lifecycle emissions. Brazil’s largest sugar and ethanol group, Cosan SA announced the creation of a company to construct and operate an ethanol pipeline.

Most sugarcane is grown in the southern state of Sao Paulo. Economics do not favor its growth in rain forests, although those who favor blocking its import make that claim. It is cattle, soy, palm oil, logging, and climate change that most threaten the rain forests. Some environmentalists are concerned that a significant percentage of Brazil’s sugarcane is grown in the cerrado, which is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. The cerrado is rich with birds, butterflies, and thousands of unique plant species. Others argue that without sugarcane ethanol, more oil will come from strip mining Canadian tar sands and from a new “gold rush” for oil in the melting artic.

“In addition, the residue of sugarcane ethanol, bagasse, can be used for further energy production. While this may likely be used for generating carbon-neutral electricity, it could also be used in cellulosic biofuel production, potentially generating an additional 400-700 gallons per acre.” (CA LCFS Technical Analysis p 87-88)

Sugarcane growers are planning the development of varieties that can produce a larger quantity of biomass per hectare per year. These varieties are being called “energy cane” and may produce 1,200 to 3,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, contrasting with 300 to potentially 500 gallons of ethanol from an acre of corn.
Although sugarcane ethanol is currently the low-cost winner, long-term economics are likely to favor cellulosic sources.

In his keynote speech, Vinod Khosla sited promising sources such as paper waste, wood waste, forest waste, miscanthus, sorghum, hybrid poplar trees, winter cover crops, and perennial crops have deep roots and sequester carbon. Cellulosic ethanol could potentially yield 2,500 gallons per acre.

Large-scale reliance on ethanol fuel will require new conversion technologies and new feedstock. Much attention has been focused on enzymes that convert plant cellulose into ethanol. Because cellulose derived ethanol is made from the non-food portions of plants, it greatly expands the potential fuel supply without cutting our precious food supplies.

Pilot plants are now convert wood waste into ethanol. Over the next few years, much larger plants are likely to come online and start becoming a meaningful part of the energy mix. In Japan, Osaka Project, Verenium utilizes demolition wood waste as a feedstock in producing up to 1.3 million liters of cellulosic ethanol annually. A second phase, planned for completion in 2008, will increase production to 4 million liters per year. Verenium Ethanol Projects

Norampac is the largest manufacturer of containerboard in Canada. Next generation ethanol producer TRI is not only producing fuel, its processes allow the plant to produce 20% more paper. Prior to installing the TRI spent-liquor gasification system the mill had no chemical and energy recovery process. With the TRI system, the plant is a zero effluent operation, and more profitable.

The spent-liquor gasifier is designed to processes 115 Metric tons per day of black liquor solids. The chemicals are recovered and sent to the mill for pulping; the energy is recovered as steam which offsets the production of steam using purchased natural gas. All thermal energy in the plant is now renewable.
Producing cellulosic ethanol over the next few years is unlikely to be cost competitive with oil refining, unless other benefits accrue such as Norampac’s improved plant efficiency, savings in energy, heat, steam, reduction of plant waste, and/or production of multiple products from the plant. In the longer term, 100 million gallon per year cellulosic plants may be profitable without byproduct benefits.

Another Khosla Ventures portfolio company is Range Fuels which sees fuel potential from timber harvesting residues, corn stover (stalks that remain after the corn has been harvested), sawdust, paper pulp, hog manure, and municipal garbage that can be converted into cellulosic ethanol. In the labs, Range Fuels has successfully converted almost 30 types of biomass into ethanol. While competitors are focused on developing new enzymes to convert cellulose to sugar, Range Fuels’ technology eliminates enzymes which have been an expensive component of cellulosic ethanol production. Range Fuels’ thermo-chemical conversion process uses a two step process to convert the biomass to synthesis gas, and then converts the gas to ethanol.

The U.S. Department of Energy is negotiating with Range Fuels research funding of up to $76 million.
Range Fuels was awarded a construction permit from the state of Georgia to build the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Ground breaking will take place this summer for a 100-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will use wood waste from Georgia’s forests as its feedstock. Phase 1 of the plant is scheduled to complete construction in 2009 with a production capacity of 20 million gallons a year.

Abengoa Bioenergy, also announced the finalization of a $38-million collaboration agreement signed with the DOE for the design and development of the Hugoton, Kansas cellulosic ethanol plant which will process over 11 million gallons of ethanol per year with renewable energy as a byproduct. The biomass plant will be situated next to a conventional grain-to-ethanol plant with combined capacity of 100 million gallons, using scale to make cellulosic ethanol more cost-competitive. Abengoa Bioenergy will invest more than $500 million in the next five years in their production of biomass into ethanol in the U.S., Brazil, and Europe.
Poet, the nation’s largest ethanol maker with 22 plants now turning out 1.2 billion gallons a year, plans to open a 25-million-gallon cellulosic facility in 2009 alongside its expanded grain ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Corn cobs from local fields will supply it. Ethanol 2.0

Ethanol is not the only bio-game in town. Many European cars and most U.S. heavy vehicles use diesel not gasoline. New generations of biodiesel, biobutanol, and synthetic fuels are being developed that could be blended with diesel or replace it. Some of these fuels could also be blended with gasoline and jet fuel. BP and DuPont have teamed to produce biobutanol which has a higher energy density than ethanol, can be delivered in existing pipelines, and can be blended with a wider range of fuels.

Amyris will use synthetic biology to develop microorganisms that produce biofuels. LS9 Inc. is in the early stage of using synthetic biology to engineer bacteria that can make hydrocarbons for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Algae have the potential to be an efficient producer of oil for biodiesel with byproducts of including hydrogen and carbohydrates which could be converted into ethanol. Biodiesel from algae can be done today. The challenge is to make production large scale and cost effective. Ideal forms of algae need to be developed. Oil must be “brewed” with the right solution, light, mixing and stirring. Cost-effective photobioreactors must be developed.

“If we were to replace all of the diesel that we use in the United States” with an algae derivative, says Solix CEO Douglas Henston, “we could do it on an area of land that’s about one-half of 1 percent of the current farm land that we use now.”

Mike Janes, Sandia National Labs, is even more optimistic, “Recent studies using a species of algae show that only 0.3 percent of the land area of the U.S. could be utilized to produce enough biodiesel to replace all transportation fuel the country currently utilizes….In addition, barren desert land, which receives high solar radiation, could effectively grow the algae, and the algae could utilize farm waste….With an oil-per-acre production rate 250 times the amount of soybeans, algae offers the highest yield feedstock for biodiesel.”

At the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, most algae experts, from scientists to CEOs of algael fuel companies, see challenging years ahead before cost-effective commercial scale production of biofuel from algae will be possible. As one expert quipped, “The greatest progress to scale is being done by Photoshop.”
A number of companies are actively exploring the potential for fuel from algae. “Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint,” said Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and CO2. Shell is investing in using algae to produce fuel.

These innovators will only make a difference if they receive funding and distribution. Some of the energy giants are helping. Shell is recognized as the largest biofuel distributor among the “oil majors.” Shell has invested heavily in Choren biomass-to-liquids (BTL) in Europe. Shell has invested in Iogen, a maker of cellulosic ethanol catalysts and technology.

Biofuels have the potential to provide solutions for energy security and transportation with a much smaller carbon footprint. Other solutions include reduction in solo driving due to urban density and corporate programs, public transit, more fuel efficient vehicles, and the shift to electric vehicles that require no fossil fuel or biofuel. The new biofuels have the potential to encourage sustainable reforesting and soil enrichment. Biofuel 2.0 provides a path to fuel from wood and waste, not food and haste.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He owns a modest number of shares of Abengoa.

Green Ratings

Food prices have rocketed 83% in the past three years. The World Bank just released the figures. If you are trying to raise a family in much of the world, you are already painfully aware of the crisis. There are a number of causes that are likely to be linked to a climate crisis caused by increased greenhouse gases: draught, groundwater scarcity, eroded soil, disease, and food being used to make biofuel.

People ask if I could provide guidelines on green ratings. There are a number of wonderful organizations with helpful guides to reduce our emissions, often saving money in the process. The following are excellent:

Carbon Calculator & Going Carbon Neutral

www.carbonfund.org

Green Guides

http://www.treehugger.com/gogreen.php

Energy Efficient Homes, Appliances, Lights

http://www.energystar.gov/

Buildings and Communities

http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=222

Fuel Efficient Cars and Transportation

www.Fueleconomy.gov

www.cleanfleetreport.com

Consumer Products

http://www.greenerchoices.org/

Food and Water

http://www.localharvest.org/

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/12/how_to_green_your_water.php

http://edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=1521

Corporations

http://www.innovestgroup.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=169&Itemid=61

http://www.cleanedge.com/

U.S. Cities

http://www.sustainlane.com/us-city-rankings/

Enjoy Earth Day,

John Addison

Heavy-Duty Vehicle Trends for 2008

By John Addison (2/8/08). Most oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are not from passenger vehicles; they are from the heavy-duty vehicles, ships, and planes that move all our goods, serve public transit, and provide the infrastructure that keeps cities running. Heavy-duty operators have often been years ahead of passenger vehicle owners in using advanced technology to do more with less fuel.

Hybrids. Wal-Mart operates 7,000 trucks that in 2005 drove 872 million miles to make 900,000 deliveries to its 6,600 stores. Wal-Mart has set a goal of doubling the fuel efficiency of its new heavy-duty trucks from 6.5 to 13 miles per gallon by 2015. 26 billion pounds less of carbon dioxide would be emitted over 15 years as a result. Demand for oil is also reduced with over one billion less gallons of diesel required over that 15 year period.

Wal-Mart is defying the conventional wisdom that hybrid technology is of little help for large trucks that already have efficient diesel engines. Wal-Mart delivers goods from regional warehouses on an optimized route to its stores. Routes often involve heavy stop-go city driving. With hybrid technology, every touch of the brakes causes energy to be captured. Where trucks previously idled with engines running, hybrids can run all auxiliary power with the engine off, using large battery stacks for the electricity.

Wal-Mart has more than 100 hybrid light-duty vehicles. Now Wal-Mart sees bigger potential savings in heavy-duty Class 8 trucks. Wal-Mart plans to replace Peterbilt 386 big-rigs with hybrid versions of the same truck by 2009. Wal-Mart Clean Fleet Report

Plug-in Hybrids. PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart‘s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions. Fleet customers for Eaton hybrid power have included FedEx Express, UPS, Coca-Cola Enterprises, The Pepsi Bottling Group, and the 14 public utility fleets into which were placed 24 hybrid-powered repair trucks.

Idle-off. In many heavy-duty fleets, engines idle 40% of the time at stops for many auxiliary needs including air conditioning, heating, running electronics inside the cab and more. These auxiliary functions can now be powered with the batteries in hybrid powertrains, with auxiliary power units such as fuel cells, and with truck-stop electrification. Heavy-vehicles can now be programmed to automatically idle-off after a prescribed amount of stop time, such as California’s five-minute law. Idle-off is possible by GPS location, such as specific bus stops. Wal-Mart alone estimates savings of $25 million with idle-off and APUs for its 7,000 trucks. Transit operators save millions of gallons of fuel and keep passengers happy with electronic air conditioning without diesel fumes.

Natural Gas. There are about five million natural gas vehicles in operation globally. These vehicles consume 238 million gasoline gallon equivalents. That amount has doubled in only five years. CNG vehicles are popular in fleets that carry lots of people: buses, shuttles and taxis. Natural gas fleets are likely to double again in the next five years. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LAMTA) serves over ten million people with the nation’s largest natural gas fleet, comprised of over 2,000 CNG buses. A growing number of riders enjoy higher-speed service with LAMTA’s bus rapid transit.

To help clear Southern California air, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach established a $1.6 billion Clean Truck Superfund to purchase 5,300 alt-fuel trucks by 2010 out of a total fleet of 16,800 Class 8 trucks. All are likely to be Westport LNG systems installed in Kenworth T800 trucks.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Many passenger cars have the potential to meet all driver needs by plugging in for a nightly recharge of batteries in electric vehicles. Buses running 16 hours daily and climbing 12% grades can also be electric, but most need the added electricity provided by hydrogen fuel cells. Over 3,000,000 people have ridden these vehicles in Europe and the U.S.

Energy Security. The Army’s NAC is pursuing hybrid truck technology to significantly reduce the Army’s fuel consumption and logistics needs, to provide field-generation of power and to provide quiet, stealth operations. The U.S. Army has a fleet of over 246,000 vehicles with a goal to reduce fuel consumption by 75% by 2010.

Green Supply Chains. ConAgra has contracted with Nova Biosource Fuels to convert food processing waste into biofuel, greatly helping with waste regulations. This provides Nova Biosource Fuels with a low-cost feedstock for high-quality biodiesel. ConAgra has guaranteed the purchase of 130 million gallons per year. California-based State Logistics, has grown its business by providing more-sustainable shipping options for companies like Clif Bar. Prologis will only build USGBC LEED certified distribution centers.

On February 20, fleet managers, vehicle technology leaders, government leaders, other experts and stakeholders will gather in San Diego to discuss their success in all of these areas at the Clean Heavy-Duty Vehicle Conference 2008.

“Clean Heavy Duty Vehicle 2008 highlights the vehicles and fuels that will actually cut our greenhouse gases and reduce our dependence on oil,” said John Boesel, President and CEO of WestStart-CALSTART, a leader in spurring green tech in transportation. “The conference brings together the key business and political leaders helping bridge the technological and financial gaps to bring clean transportation solutions to market.”

Stay tuned for more exciting progress in 2008.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Triple-Digit Oil Prices Ahead?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, as reported on Yahoo!, the chief economist of the investment bank CIBC went on record that “We’re in a world of triple digit oil prices for the foreseeable future,” beginning by the end of 2008.

Increasingly, I’ve been hearing through the grapevine prognostications of $100/barrel oil. I put a lot more weight on CIBC’s view than on Hugo Chavez’s. Why? Based in Canada, CIBC prides itself on being a banker of note to the huge Canadian oil and natural resources industry. Besides, Canadians in general seem less prone to hyperbole than we Americans (or Venezuelans). As a result, I expect that a firm such as CIBC doesn’t put out such statements very lightly.

What does $100 oil mean? By my calculations, each additional $10/barrel increase in oil prices, translates to about $0.40/gallon in gasoline prices — assuming no changes in oil transportation costs, oil refinery economics and oil taxation. So, if we’re seeing gasoline close to $3.00/gallon today with oil at $80/barrel, I would expect almost $4.00/gallon at $100 oil.

Higher prices for motor fuels should provide further support for the emergence of biofuels markets (both ethanol and biodiesel). Although biofuels continues to receive lots of public sector push and mass-market discussion, the economics of biofuels have suffered recently, as feedstock prices (for corn and soybeans, respectively) have been bid up by surging demand for biofuel production. The price spreads between feedstock and fuel have become so narrow that biofuels producers now have little opportunity for profit. With higher prices in motor fuels markets, there is more prospect for investments in new biofuel production to be profitable, and for existing biofuel producers to return to reasonable profitability.

Perhaps more interestingly, higher oil prices will provide greater impetus — both from the government and from private sector investments — for the development of next-generation biofuel technologies (e.g., cellulosic ethanol, algae-based diesel), coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids projects, oil shale retorting approaches, and the hydrogen infrastructure. These are very capital-intensive and long-term opportunities that many parties are leery of pursuing, in the fear that oil prices will fall back to lower levels and render the efforts uncompetitive and therefore wasted.

If we are truly going to wean ourselves off of oil, we really need high oil prices for a long duration, in order to provide ongoing economic sustenance and continuing urgency for the development of these new energy technologies. The forecast of triple-digit oil prices should therefore not be something to dread, but rather something for economic opportunists to seize.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Blogroll Review: Grease, Weddings, & Ethanol

Grease Power
Looks like folks collecting used vegetable oil for their biodiesel vehicles will be getting competition from….big oil! On the Energy Blog, oil wastes and sludge can be recycled into electricity:

“Chevron Energy Solutions, a Chevron (NYSE: CVX) subsidiary, today announced that it has begun engineering and construction of a system at the City of Rialto’s (California) wastewater treatment facility that will transform wastewater sludge and kitchen grease from local restaurants into clean, renewable power.”

Do you want fries with that? :)

Green Wedding
Are you worried your wedding is bad for the planet? Fear not, Wedding TerraPass is now here (at least the beta version). Adam at Terrablog says:

“With your Wedding TerraPass comes a fancy certificate of offset for display at the reception (if so desired), including a nice frame to display it in. The frame is handmade from salvaged Douglas fir, and will continue to serve your framing needs long after the blessed event.”

Did you hear about the wedding rings made of recycled gold?

Ethanol Hyped?
Could these warnings be true? Are we getting too excited about bio-ethanol for fuels? While the debate goes on over the energy and environmental impacts of an ethanol economy, oil execs do not believe ethanol is viable for the near term. Dana Childs at Inside Greentech
writes:

While the petroleum company leaders said they’re keen to see renewable energy sources becoming a mass produced reality, 60 percent said it will not be possible by 2010. Of those that believe it will, 18 percent identified ethanol is the most viable for mass production by then, 13 percent said biodiesel and only 3 percent said cellulosic ethanol.”

Dana adds that in an interview with KPMG “forty-four percent [of the executives] identified their biggest risks as financial.”

Any risks to the beer industry? :)


Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

What’s Up with ConocoPhillips?

by Richard T. Stuebi

On the clean-tech front, ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) seems to be striving to take the lead among U.S. oil companies. In just the last two few weeks, COP has made two announcements of significance.

ConocoPhillips is not yet in the league of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and General Electric (NYSE: GE) as major players that are driving environmental improvement on a mass-scale through the aggressive pursuit of capitalism across their core businesses.

But at least COP has gotten off the dime: they aren’t denying the existence of climate change as a real issue, and are recognizing that they need to start shifting their perspective if they want to continue to be a relevant energy company in the future.

Its peers among U.S. oil majors, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX), have also begun making strides on the green-front.

The contrast between the three of them and the major U.S. automakers — General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Ford (NYSE: F) — is stark. The auto companies are stuck with tenuous competitive positions due in large part to their strategies for focusing on high profit gas guzzlers (e.g., SUVs and performance cars), and as a result they are fighting Federal pressures to tighten auto fuel efficiency standards. In general, they don’t want to hear about climate change.

The historical solidarity between the companies involved in oil supply and in oil demand seems to be breaking down.

Presumably, it’s at least partly because the oil companies are in better shape than the auto companies: with huge profits, the oil majors have more degrees of freedom to think more proactively. However, I think it’s also because the oil companies are increasingly coming to the view that reduced oil demand is unavoidable in the future — not just for environmental reasons, but simply because supplies will be challenging to obtain. COP, XOM and CVX are probably beginning to plan what they will look like as companies in a post-oil world, and that plan is consistent anyway with carbon limitations.

Interestingly, most of the independent U.S. oil producers and refiners — many of which are enormous companies in their own right — are laggards on the environmental front, alongside the U.S. automakers. What will it take for the U.S. oil independents to begin to see the light? Do they not see a future for them beyond oil?

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.