The week in sustainable energy stocks….

By Mark Henwood

Neal says “keep going”. So let’s start with the big picture.

Stocks were down – S&P, EAFA, emerging markets. Commodities advanced. The broad based ETN tracking the DJ AIG commodity index (DJP) increased 3.1% for the week. This was the week of oil history. Our sustainable energy indices were mixed with one, our biggest, declining and three advancing.

The Solar index suffered another large decline dropping 5.2% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –38.9%. Solarfun Power Holdings Co. Ltd (SOLF) -16% and JA Solar Holdings Co (JASO) -13.9% led the decline after an analyst downgrade prompted by declining margins and weaker demand. With 25 stocks declining versus 8 advances, these concerns must be widely held.

In Biofuels our index advanced 1.8% led by an impressive 52.7% increase, in US dollars, for Basil Ecodiesel (ECOD3.SA). Despite Basil Ecodiesel being the largest biodiesel producer in Brazil, none of our usual news sources reported any developments to explain the sharp increase. Aventine (AVR) continued downward off another 7.3% in the wake of its liquidity issues, despite S&P leaving Aventine’s rating unchanged.

In the Renewable Electricity sector our index advanced 1.8% with 12 stocks advancing and 7 declining. Our scan of the news showed a series of normal announcements typical of an industry with some traction. The index results this week, moving counter to broad markets, are not surprising given the index’s 100 day beta of only .3.

Fuel Cells had a strong week with the index increasing 7.8%. The increase was due in large part to the 44.6% gain for Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd. (CFU.L) Ceramic reported it was constructing a manufacturing plant in Heinsberg, Germany and a substantial order for 50,000 2 kW micro CHP units from NUON. If these units are able operate reliability at a reasonable cost this could be an important breakthrough in a significant market targeted by a number of fuel cell companies.

What did I learn this week? Market developments reinforced the highly “leveraged” nature of solar stock prices. High growth expectations result in high volatility. I also realized I need better information sources for some of the lesser developed markets like Brazil. These are important investment centers and I’ll be looking for improved resources. We also saw investors are carefully looking for the key breakthrough. Ceramic is now center stage.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, a information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks.

Up in the Air With Biofuels

by Richard T. Stuebi

Over the weekend, Virgin Atlantic Airways flew a passenger-less Boeing 747-400 partially fueled by a biofuel mixture of coconut oil and babassu oil from London’s Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. (Read USA Today story.)

The test flight, performed to evaluate comparative engine performance and emissions rates with standard jet fuel and biofuel mixtures, was conducted by Virgin along with partners Boeing (NYSE: BA), the engine-maker General Electric (NYSE: GE), and the biofuel company Imperium Renewables.

No matter how the results of the experiment pan out, and no matter your personal view on the fundmental utility of biofuels, this is yet another example of how a passionate entrepreneur — albeit one with billions of dollars on his personal balance sheet like Richard Branson — is exploring the cleantech frontiers of what is possible, what is economical, what is environmentally-beneficial.

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.

The week in sustainable energy stocks….

Neal asked me if I would comment on the markets for sustainable energy stocks in the last week. It’s an area I follow closely so he hopes I will occasionally stumble across some nuggets.

Let me start by saying I believe there is potential for good returns in sustainable energy stocks over time. In the short term though, it was a tough week. Sustainable energy stocks in all four of Camino’s sectors declined. In contrast, broader indicators such as the S&P, EAFA, and emerging markets were all positive for the week.

The Solar index, comprised of 33 companies, suffered the largest decline with a 5.3% drop bringing the YTD decline for the sector to -35.5%. Suntech (NYSE:STP) was hardest hit with a 20.3% price decline after it reported earnings and revenue below expectations, driven in part by silicon supply issues. If other producers report similar problems I would expect to see further declines in the sector as prices adjust to lower growth expectations.

In Biofuels Aventine (NYSE:AVR) was off 17.4% after it reported Thursday it had liquidity issues stemming from its $211.5 million invested in auction-rate securities. This issue may delay plant development. I expect analysts are reviewing the balance sheets of other sustainable energy companies to see if they have “cash equivalents” that aren’t exactly equivalent to cash. If you don’t understand what you’re investing in don’t invest in it.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Solar Millenium (FRA:S2M) declined 10.1% . The company announced a rights issue on Feb 19 that may have triggered concerns about dilution. Overall 8 stocks advanced and 11 declined resulting in relatively modest decline of 1.1% in the index.

In Fuel Cells all of our companies reported price declines with Fuel Cell Energy (NASDAQ:FCEL) falling the most at -6.3%. The company presented at the PiperJaffray conference on February 20, 2008 and didn’t highlight any items of concern that I noted.

What did I learn this week? Apparently growth constraints are still a factor in the high growth solar sector. I also relearned that unexpected risks occur when broader markets are having problems. Are there more surprises from the credit markets waiting to be revealed in sustainable energy companies?

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, a information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks.

Blogroll Review: Biocrude, Alaska, & Policy

by Frank Ling

Waste to Oil

Think you need special enzymes to convert plant materials into fuel? It looks like science is getting closer to eliminating that step. Pretty soon we might be able to directly convert crop residues, waste paper, and pretty much anything organic into bio-crude, which is essentially oil.

The secret ingredient? Heat. It turns out that raising the temperature breaks the bonds of organic materials (in fact heat pretty much breaks any bond at a high enough temperature) through a process known as pyrolysis.

Jim Fraser, in a recent article at the Energy Blog, explains how this works:

Fast pyrolysis is a process in which the organic materials are rapidly heated to 450 – 600 °C at atmospheric pressure in the absence of air. Under these conditions, organic vapours, pyrolysis gases and charcoal are produced. The vapours are condensed to bio-oil. Typically, 70-75 wt.% of the feedstock is converted into oil.

The product can be used not only to replace gasoline and diesel, it can be used as feedstock for the chemical industry.

Steamed Alaska

Geothermal power is coming to a resort near you. At least the ones in Alaska.

At the Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska engineers have created a breakthrough hydrothermal system that generates power using “low-temperature” reservoir water at 165 F, in contrast to conventional systems that required at least 300 F.

Jack Moins writes in EcoGeek:

The plant cost a mere $2.2 million to build as it uses all off the shelf parts. It produces 200 kw at a cost of 5 cents per kwh, compared to the former costs of 30 cents per kwh when using diesel. The design is projected to pay for itself within four to five years. Hydrothermal power is very promising, as it is estimated that the water beneath the Earth’s surface holds 50,000 times the amount of energy in the remaining gas and coal resources

Among its innovations, the system uses a three-pressure system and ammonia-water cycles, which limits the use of toxic coolants. With this early success, the entire town of Chena is adopting hydrothermal for its buildings and a greenhouse for food production

U.S. Climate Legislation

All the major US presidential candidates are making global warming a part of the their platform. Whoever wins, policy for energy, environment, and even agriculture are bound to change significantly.

But democracy is not always a fast process. Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives for and former U.S. assistant energy secretary, says that the next president will indeed push for change but any regulations will take time to phase in.

Rachel Barron, in Green Tech Media, writes:

2009 could bring a dramatic increase in support from Congress for R&D and more favorable approaches to clean-energy incentives.

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.

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.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

Bob Metcalfe is a friendly, handsome, easy-going sort, and he sported a bit of Saturday stubble when we spoke over a Thai lunch in Boston a few weeks back. Bob, an MIT grad who wears the school ring, is also the founder of 3-Com and the interim CEO of a biofuel startup, GreenFuel. Over lunch I did not learn much more about GreenFuel than is available on the company’s website, nor more than is available on has been goading the company, and back in July 2007 published Bob’s five-point plan to rejuvenate it and the technology.

Which is fascinating: high yield algae farms recycle carbon dioxide from flue gases to produce biofuels and feed. Algae’s ’bout as green as it gets, and the GreenFuel process has biomimicry going for it: “Why expensively sequester CO2 when it can be profitably recycled?” However, growing algae, the kind needed for GreenFuel, isn’t as easy as it would seem, thus the five-point fix-it plan.

I wanted to ask Bob, “you’re a wealthy guy; you don’t need the money; so why do you invest in this greentech stuff?” … but instead peeled back a suggestion of an answer from the table banter. He invests in non-cleantech ventures as well as cleantech, would love to get into nuclear…and he is impressed with McCain and Romney, presidential candidates with same-old-oil-and-coal-box energy ideas that nod to cap-and-trade. What I surmised chatting with Bob is that his world view is one of business and technology and finance; solutions to problems aren’t found in government, and GreenFuel is a business venture.

It’s a world view with its own language, and it reminds me of heady days in 1980s-New York, dating investment bankers whose European and Asian compatriots oriented to the oppulence of Hotel Plaza Athenee — an airy space floating out of touch with the masses, delivered by private car with driver. I heard the language and the world view again on E&E TV as Monica Trauzzi interviewed Michael Liebreich, CEO and founder of New Energy Finance, a London-based company that specializes in research of clean energy and carbon markets. He was talking about game theory in negotiations around climate change: nice, retaliating, forgiving, clear. The Liebreich interview is a fun, intellectual ride, but within it, like conversations I have with engineers and financiers, some critical link to success is missing…people and their own motivations to buy what engineers and financiers are selling.

Bob Metcalfe and I first met on the plaza outside of the Christian Science Mother Church, so it was curious when a September 2006 issue of the Church’s publication, Sentinel, Exploring the World of Spirituality and Healing, recently crossed my desk. In an article, “Love Enough to Change the Climate,” the editors wrote:

“[There isn’t] much doubt that the primary cause of climate change is rooted in human behavior, and especially in the world’s accelerating deforestation and the consumption of fossil fuels.” Asking how to respond and adjust, the editors wrote, “We don’t know how to ‘engineer’ attitudinal and social change. But we do know something about change at the level of individual experience–at the mental, moral, and spiritual levels. The one thing we are sure of is that lasting and universally beneficial change comes through spiritual transformation. We know, too, the importance of understanding what it is that actually needs changing, what produces the alterative effect, and how change for the better can come about in a systematic and dependable way. All of these steps are essentials in healing spiritually. And ultimately, the solution to every challenge is spiritual–it lies in the human mentality yielding to divine intelligence and thereby being reborn, or re-formed…Transformation of human character and behavior does not happen solely by national leaders signing treaties, by legislatures passing laws, by government agencies making policy or regulatory enforcement changes. Public attitudes change one heart at a time…Just as our bodily health mirrors the quality and tendencies of our thoughts, our states of collective social well-being and environmental health reflect humanity’s mental state.”

The article delves really deep into CS-speak which I find hard to comprehend, and ends: “Cannot we, as a global family, love enough to change the mental climate for the better? Can’t we love Earth and those living on it it enough to commit to a Year of Thinking Differently. God’s gift is the space to do just that.”

This past week, I heard Elton John on the radio for the hundredth time, but the words of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” meant something for the first time. With the launch of Focus the Nation, a national student teach-in on global warming solutions for America, I reflected on the need to heal the planet, but in the context of markets and the global financiers, the venturers and the angels, the rounds and flights, as money in Silicon Valley and New York rushes to cleantech:

Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light

I can’t help but wonder, can Focus the Nation transform the consciousness of the sons of bankers and the sons of lawyers? Will global financiers respond to a transformed and healing world view or are these world views forever disconnected?

One day, I’ll ask Bob a clearer question: for you, as an individual, what is the connection between markets, your companies and healing the planet?

Heather Rae, a contributor to, is a consultant in cleantech market management and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Policy Progress in the Midwest

by Richard T. Stuebi

When it comes to clean energy, it’s no secret that the Midwest U.S. far lags beyond the East and West Coasts. This is because, on the coasts, public policy far more aggressively promotes advanced energy. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the Northeast and the Western Climate Initiative in the West are regional emission-reduction compacts that will drive significant adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Correspondingly, much of the future advanced energy industry is emerging on the coasts, getting established to serve local markets, while the Midwestern industrial base largely hollows out and stagnates.

A few weeks ago, the Midwestern Governors Association (MGA) began to take steps to close the gaps. The Governors of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, along with the Premier of the Canadian province of Manitoba, met to discuss shared energy challenges. The result: two pacts that start to lay the groundwork for regional collaboration and commitment to energy/emissions reductions.

The Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform sets significant goals in four areas:

  1. Energy efficiency: electricity demand reduced by 2% by 2015, 2% per year thereafter
  2. Biofuels: 1/2 of regional transportation satisfied by biofuels and other low carbon fuels by 2025
  3. Renewable energy: 30% of regional electricity supply from renewables by 2030
  4. Coal with carbon sequestration: all new coal plants with sequestration by 2020, all plants in fleet by 2050

The Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform also proposes six areas of regional collaboration:

  1. Carbon management infrastructure: for transporting and storing CO2 in a coordinated fashion
  2. Bioproduct procurement: to establish a common marketing/sales framework for bioproducts
  3. Electricity transmission: to expand transmission to accomodate greater amounts of renewables (especially wind)
  4. Renewable fuels infrastructure: for transporting biofuels and other low carbon fuels
  5. Bioenergy permitting: to avoid duplicating or conflicting efforts in various jurisdictions and arrive at common standards
  6. Low carbon energy integration: to demonstrate the potential to harness multiple forms of advanced energy synergistically

Lastly, some of the Midwestern governors signed the Greenhouse Gas Accord, which commits the signatories to establishing targets and timeframes for greenhouse gas reductions on the order of 60-80% reductions by 2050, along with a cap-and-trade mechanism for reaching these targets.

Note that only some of the Midwestern governors got on board with the Greenhouse Gas Accord. Signatories were Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Manitoba. Indiana, Ohio and South Dakota only opted for “observer” status — whatever that really means.

A spokesman for Ohio Governor Strickland was quoted by Gongwer in saying that “the governor supports the Midwest states’ effort to move forward in the way outlined in the agenda, but Ohio is not in a position today to participate actively in [the Greenhouse Gas Accord].” I am compelled to ask: what exactly about Ohio’s current energy situation is materially different than, say, Michigan (which signed the Greenhouse Gas Accord)?

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: Beer, Homes, and Geo

by Frank Ling

This Kirin’s For You!

Even beer manufacturers are now getting on board the bio-ethanol train. In Japan, the Ministry of Agriculture has selected Mitsubishi Corporation and Kirin Brewery Co. to build a bioethanol production plant for a “fuel-grade bioethanol production project” in the Tokachi District of Hokkaido.

In the latest article featured in Japan for Sustainability:

“A bioethanol plant with an annual production capacity of 15,000 kiloliters and using sugar beets and wheat as raw materials will be built on the premises of Hokuren’s sugar refinery in Shimizu Town, Kamikawa County, Hokkaido.”

Green Home Boom

Just when you thought the real estate market might be slowing down, the market for green homes is about to grow.

Jeff Stevens at EcoGeek writes that:

“According to the recently released Green Homeowner SmartMarket™ Report produced by McGraw-Hill Construction, the market for ‘true green homes’ is expected to rise from $2 billion to $20 billion over the next five years.”

And I thought all you needed was green paint to make your home green! :)

Piping Hot Geo

Geothermal power has been around a long time. Although geographically limited to regions that are accessible, utilities have recently gained interest in develop geothermal for baseload power.

Tom Konrad at AltEnergy Stocks writes:

“In fact, geothermal plants often have capacity factors 86-95%, well above traditional base load generation such as coal. So geothermal power is a premium electricity because of its reliability. Until a recent fire (not caused by the geothermal facility) the plant installed last year at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, was running at 99.4% availability.”

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.

Bio-fuel Cells

by Richard T. Stuebi

Earlier this month, here in Ohio, the fuel cell developer Technology Management Inc. issued a press release that it had succesfully operated its 1 kw solid oxide fuel cell stack on vegetable oil from soybeans. As reported on the Internet, it is claimed that this is the first instance of a solid oxide fuel cell running on vegetable oil, and that this development could break open the market for fuel cells in the developing world.

This does seem to be an innovation of merit. I have no reason to doubt the assertion, but I’m curious if any of our readers know of other examples of biofuels in fuel cells.

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.

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: Flash, Reforestation, ED

by Frank Ling

Memory Revolution

Here’s another example of nanotechnology contributing to energy efficiency. Through improved ability to manufacture memory, flash is starting to replace traditional hard drive applications.

Hank Green at EcoGeek writes:

“There’s a lot of reasons to herald the dawn of flash-based hard drives. They’re faster, smaller, silent and, of course, tremendously more energy efficient. The difference between a traditional hard drive and a flash drive is roughly the difference between an incandescent light and a compact fluorescent light.”

Still, isn’t the brain the most energy efficient means of storing information or is it DNA?

Forest Better than Biofuels?

Just as biofuels are becoming accepted, more evidence is coming in that their overall effects on emissions and the environment is negative. One recent study shows that reforestation is much more effective at offsetting CO2 than biofuel production.

Jeremy Elton Jacquot writes in Treehuggger:

“Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust and Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds estim that the initial cutting down of forests to plant more food crops, like corn and sugarcane, would release as much as 100 – 200 tons of carbon per hectare. “

Endocrine Disruption

Back when I was a chemist, I used to play around with exotic compounds like phthalates, which are used in plastics and cosmetics. Though touted as safe in commercial products, they are also recognized as being absorbed into humans, causing endocrine disruptions.

In this week’s Gristmill, Theo Colborn writes:

“Endocrine disruption should be right at the top of the list of most critical technological disasters facing the world today, up with climate change. With little notice, vast volumes and combinations of synthetic chemicals have settled in every environment in the world, including the womb environment.”

No more sniffing chemicals for me! :)

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.

Blogroll Review: Sinks, Oranges, Woz

by Frank Ling

Power Bathroom

For many years, the Japanese have recycled sink water for their toilets. Now an American company is taking it further.

WaterSaver Technologies from Kentucky has developed the AQUS system, which Philip Proefrock at EcoGeek says:

“…collects the water from a bathroom sink and filters and disinfects it before it gets re-used as flush water for an adjacent toilet. (There is nothing that would prevent this from being used in a large-scale LEED project either.)”

The toilet can save up to 7300 gallons of water each year.

According to the Word Water Council, that’s enough water to produce 2 kg of beef. :)


Apparently you can get more out of oranges than just orange juice. Some guys have figured out how to convert the citrus peel into ethanol.

Jim Fraser at the EnergyBlog says:

“FPL Energy said that ethanol from citrus peel could result in a new Florida industry producing over 60 million gallons of fuel per year, which could replace about one percent of Florida’s annual gasoline.”

If only they had a way to make Pine-sol smell orangy….oh wait, I guess they already have. :)

Green Woz

Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cameron Diaz are all out there pushing for a greener future. But it doesn’t hurt to have more celebrities out there to garner support.

Steve Jobs (from his own blog!) quotes his old buddy Steve Wozniak as saying he wants to reduce his emissions:

“I have a long dream to build my own house in a very energy-efficient approach. That’s going to be very soon. It uses the right kind of wood that serves as a heater and as an air conditioner.”

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.

Blogroll Review: Bottles, Biobutanol, Bagasse

by Frank Ling

DIY Solar Water Heater

The Chinese have done it again. In a country that puts waste to good use, they have found another use for beer bottles: solar water heating.

Matt James writes about a Chinese farmer who made his own solar heater in the EcoGeek blog:

“…we get the story of a man who made his family a solar hot water heater from 66 recycled beer bottles. He should have called, I could have helped him empty the bottles.”

In this setup, 66 bottles were linked by hose to collect solar energy from the sun to heat up water. The farmer says this is enough to provide water for all 3 members of his family.

Bottoms up or as the Chinese say “ganpei.”

Biobutanol Bust?

While ethanol received more attention than any other alcohol out there, it’s time to rectify situation. Methanol, which causes blindness, has a bad rap. Propanol is best known as a disinfectant.

But butanol with four carbons could be the next alcohol rock star. Scientists say it is superior fuel to ethanol.

However, it may be years until we see biobutanol pumps along the highways. Robert Rapier at R-squared Energy Blog argues that biobutanol’s time has not come yet. He says:

“Sad to say, but I believe biobutanol is dead. While research will (and should) continue, the process is currently at least 10 years from any sort of commercial feasibility. And I would point out that ‘never’ falls under the umbrella of ‘at least 10 years.'”

One of the problems with biobutanol is the energy intensive process needed to remove water from the product. Nevertheless, companies like DuPont and BP are investing heavily to develop butanol from biological processes.

Bagasse Hope

At the end of the day, ethanol still holds the spotlight. Brazil has now shown how to make ethanol even more competitive. Toward realizing energy returns from the cellulosic components from sugar cane, Dedini SA has developed a process to convert bagasse or leftover can stalk into ethanol.

Jim Fraser at the Energy Blog explains:

“The technology uses two pretreatment steps to convert bagasse, the lignocellulose-rich byproduct from cane processing, into ethanol: (1) pretreatment of the biomass with organic solvents, and (2) dilute acid hydrolysis. The innovation consists of adding a first stage pretreatment step which allows the diluted acids to do their work much faster and more efficiently. The liquid hydrolyzates are then easily fermented and distilled into ethanol.”

Now if there was only a way to convert Spam into fuel. :)

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.