Clean Tech Goes Mainstream

EnergyBiz Insider says:

“Clean technology is in vogue. Solar panels and wind turbines are hotter now than ever before. Green energy investments throughout North America climbed to $1.6 billion in 2005, 43 percent more than the year before.

Such venture capital is on the rise because of high energy prices, the concern for air quality and technological advancements. But the major catalyst that will ignite future development will be the Energy Policy Act of 2005 enacted last fall. Seed money has been holed up since the 2001 recession. But, now with a good economic prognosis and some lucrative tax incentives, capital is flowing into the green arena.” read more

Seven Participants Complete Negotiations for International Fusion Reactor

The research ministers of the seven international parties engaged in the $10 billion ITER fusion project have met in Brussels to confirm the agreements negotiated over the past year, following the selection of the construction and operation site at Cadarache in southern France (see Superconductor Week, Vol 20, No. 12).  Since the decision last June to locate the project at Cadarache, the seven parties (the EU, Russia, Japan, China, India, South Korea and the U.S.) have been working on agreements that would bring to an end a complex — and at times acrimonious — three year long negotiation process.  Now each partner in the project must confirm the adoption of the agreement according to laws and practices of their respective governments.

For the EU, the host and largest financial contributor to ITER, this means that the Council of Ministers will be asked to adopt a decision endorsing the agreement.  The EU is represented by the EURATOM Community.  ITER’s Director General, Kaname Ikeda, hopes all parties will have completed the process by the end of 2006, which, in tandem with the completion of the process of gaining all necessary construction permits at the site, will mean actual construction can start in 2007.

“This is a truly crucial moment, for the ITER project and for global scientific co-operation in general,” said European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik, who hosted the meeting. “Together we are forging a new model for large-scale global scientific and technical cooperation.”

EU will provide 40% of the 5 billion euro ($6.4 billion) construction costs for ITER, with the other partners paying approximately 10% each.  The EU is also paying 26 percent of the 5 billion euro operating costs.

In other news in the fusion effort, and paralleling the international progress in pursuit of the world’s largest fusion project, the Institute of Plasma Physics at Hefei, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), has successfully completed the first tests of the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) fusion experiment.  The final assembly of the device is complete, and it is now undergoing vacuumizing, cooling, and galvanizing experiments.  The first plasma discharge is scheduled for July or August.

EAST started overall assembly in 2003, and was developed as an upgrade from HT-7, China’s first superconducting tokamak completed in 1990.  The budget for the device was just 300 million yuan ($37 million) — a small fraction of the cost of the multi hundred million dollar price tag of similar devices being developed elsewhere.  

If the device succeeds, China will become the first country to build and successfully demonstrate a superconducting tokamak fusion device.  The goals for EAST include exploring and demonstrating steady-state operation of a tokamak and generating plasma currents of 1MA.  With a capability for pulse times as long as 1,000 seconds, the device will also be used to investigate particle and heat flux handling on a time scale much longer than the wall equilibration time.

“The EAST project research results will be significant for the International Thermonuclear Experiment Reactor, or ITER, in terms of basic research both in engineering technology and physics,” said Wan Yuanxi, General Manager of EAST. “The technology developed for EAST will allow fabrication of ITER parts in China.”

India, the most recent addition to the ITER partnership, has been awarded the critical role of building the cryostat (refrigeration enclosures for the superconducting magnets used in the devices) for the massive device.  China is moving ahead with large-scale fusion research projects on a number of fronts.  Fusion may or may not prove to be a technologically feasible source of virtually endless energy, but I am continually amazed at the energy and sacrifice that poorer nations are capable of in pursuit of alternative ways to fuel their growth, environmental stability, and energy security.

Mark Bitterman, Executive Editor, Superconductor Week

“Marketing Markets”

Wednesday, June 21st

I had an insightful conversation with Bob Gower, the head of marketing at EPRIDA, a start-up in San Francisco. But I’m not, just yet, prepared to divulge in detail. On the tip of it, Gower is addressing the tough questions of segmentation and message. He’s redesigning the website (it’s third iteration), and he’s about to head to EPRIDA’s first trade show. In the guts of it, he and his team are building an organization. We touched on the roles of technicians, scientists and engineers in relationship to marketing and corporate communications. We talked about raising capital from investors versus selling product to consumers. It’s all in the life of a start-up marketer. I’ll come back to Gower soon.

An article by Gary Gardner in the May/June 2006 issue of World Watch magazine may pique your interest. Called “Marketing Markets,” it breaks down the iconographic “market.”

“In February, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed suggestions that a gasoline tax could help cure America’s addiction to oil. ‘The president and I…are big believers in the market,’ Cheney declared, offering his preferred solution to the problem. Cheney’s input invoked one of the most powerful icons in modern politics: “the market” has achieved mythic status as a larger-than-life, quasi-magical, all-knowing force that can cure most any economic, environmental, or social ill. But this view emerges from an exaggerated or oversimplified understanding of its central features. Misrepresented and oversold, “the market” is pressured by political and business leaders to promise more than it can deliver—in the process obscuring its true value to modern societies.”

Gardner dissects a few of Cheney’s sentences around the magical market; he plays out “the reality behind the rhetoric,” and writes:

“One of the strongest selling points for free markets is that they offer consumers extensive choice. The argument is seductive because human beings nearly everywhere seem to value freedom deeply. But look closer: markets today arguably offer a wide range of choice where it least matters, and little choice where consumption is more consequential.”*

Gardner concludes:

“There is no question that markets offer real benefits, and few clamor today for a return to command-and-control economies. But the wisest use of markets seems to be to allow their allocative magic and efficiency to operate within a set of political goals set by democratic societies. Pulling political gloves over invisible hands could direct those hands to operate within boundaries established by the public—and in the process, reclaim a key economic tool for serving human needs.”

Energy is (quite) consequential and political gloves (do) guide the invisible hands of the energy market. They just don’t guide them toward a level playing field for new entrants. No, we don’t have a free market, or even a true market, when it comes to energy. Nonetheless, Cheney believes “the market” will solve our addition to oil.

* A study on consumers found that for some consumer segments (those without higher education), freedom is freedom from having to choose. For that segment, choice is burdensome, not freeing. On shopping days when I am presented with three shelves of kitty litter (clumping, non-clumping, fresh-scented, non-scented) from which to choose, I feel burdened, too.

Goings on this week:

  • The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert took a spin on GM’s $1.99/gallon gasoline promotion in his “The Word” segment on June 20th. Reference to a Thomas Friedman column kicked it off. (By the by…GM is a sponsor.)
  • Chevron’s post cards by The New Yorker cartoonists. Pull ‘em out and mail ‘em!
  • Big Coal: The Dirty Secrets Behind America’s Energy Future and author Jeff Goodell in The New York Times, American Prospect, Plenty, Treehugger, Sustainablog, Natural History magazine. (No, no Wall Street Journal coverage.)

Ten Ways to Save Gasoline and Diesel

Ten Ways to Save Gasoline and Diesel

Everyone can make a difference in achieving energy independence and a more healthy future. Consider these ten technologies the next time you select a vehicle for your fleet or personal use. All ten are important to clean transportation.

  1. Light

The less weight that you carry the better the miles per gallon. If you use a big SUV like the GM Envoy XL 2WD, your official EPA mileage is 15/19. Your mileage may vary (as in less distance, more bucks). If you use a much lighter GM Chevrolet Cobalt M-5, your EPA mileage is an improved 25/34. Less weight requires a smaller engine which burns less fuel. In their book Winning the Oil Endgame, Lovins, Datta, et al. report: “A panel of the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) found that…applying traditional, modest, incremental improvements, including only minor reductions in weight and drag, mpg gains of 14 to 53% would raise prices by $168 to 217/mpg.” At today’s prices, the payback for a vehicle buyer is less than three years.

  1. Aerodynamic

The Toyota Prius is more aerodynamic than a Chevrolet Corvette. Both have less wind resistance than a square box car or SUV. Wal-Mart, which is famous for saving money, has committed to double the fuel-efficiency of its fleet trucks. One way that they will do it is to make their trucks more aerodynamic. Wind skirts will be used under the trailer to significantly reduce wind resistance and reduce airflow around the trailer. Their future truck tractors will be required to be more aerodynamic and not necessarily lowest in initial capital cost.


EPA Smartway

  1. Tires With Low Resistance

One reason that I get great gas mileage with my Toyota Prius is that it uses low rolling resistance tires. There tires also work surprisingly well when we go skiing in Tahoe, driving (carefully) on snow and ice. You can improve mileage with your current vehicle by keeping the tires fully inflated, thereby lowering rolling resistance and increasing mileage.

  1. Powertrain Efficiency

Manufactures have been improving engines and transmissions for over 100 years. Engines are now made with many improvements including improved timing, fuel mix, less resistance, and variable value timing. They continue to improve mileage with new engines that can shut-off valves when not needed. For example, the Honda Accord Hybrid’s V6 engine features a Variable Cylinder Management system (VCM) that can deactivate three of the engine’s six cylinders during cruising and deceleration. Also used is the continuously variable transmission (CVT) which closely matches the transmission ratios with the optimum rpm range of the engine for better fuel efficiency. Look for vehicles with better miles-per-gallon due to use of advanced powertrains.

  1. Hybrid

Hybrids store braking, downhill, and extra energy in advanced batteries and then supply the energy to an efficient electric motor. As a result, a smaller internal combustion engine (ICE) or fuel cell is used and run less often. The result is a big savings in fuel and far less emissions. An added pay-off of many hybrids is that they are computer programmed to turn-off the engine when it idles too long, and then automatically restart it when needed. Auto Express reports that Toyota insiders have admitted to a new 100 mpg hybrid with lean-burn 1.8-litre turbo engine and efficient lithium ion batteries.

How Hybrids Work

  1. Plug-in Hybrid

At a recent conference, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe spoke about his dream of building a car that could cross the United States on a single tank of gasoline. He spoke of the future potential of plug-in hybrids, without formally committing Toyota to build these as commercial vehicles. He did state that Toyota is increasing its research and development in plug-ins. My wife and I share two cars. On a given day, one of us never drives over 40 miles alone. With plug-in hybrids, one of us would travel all day on electricity from the grid that is stored in batteries. When we occasionally need range, a plug-in hybrid would automatically engage the engine if the batteries got low.

  1. Ethanol

When you fill your current vehicles, the odds are good that part of the fuel mix is from plants rather than oil. Energy independence is moving forward. Most California gasoline runs cleaner because it includes 5.6% ethanol. Most new gasoline engines can support 10% ethanol without modification. GM and Ford are selling hundreds of thousands of vehicles which can support E85, a blend of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol. Soon, most cars in Brazil will run on ethanol, reducing its dependency on oil and adding jobs to its sugarcane industry.

  1. Biodiesel

Diesel engines are the standard for heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses. Biodiesel is a blend of diesel, which is processed from oil, and fuel from biological sources such as soy or food waste. Blends of 5, 10, and 20% biofuel are popular because they run in most current diesel engines. Look for wide use of B20 in heavy vehicles.

  1. CNG

Natural gas helps achieve energy independence because it is not refined from oil. CNG burns cleaner than gasoline, ethanol and biodiesel. CNG is popular with cities and other fleets with low-emission programs. The next time you take a taxi at an airport, it may well be running on CNG. These vehicles get priority at airports. CNG is CH4. It is mainly hydrogen. In fact, most early adapters of hydrogen vehicles are CNG fleet owners.

  1. Hydrogen

Over 2,500 people daily ride hydrogen vehicles in California, using 8 hydrogen buses and over 130 hydrogen vehicles. Next time you are in the Bay Area or Palm Springs, ride on a hydrogen bus in-service at AC Transit, Santa Clara VTA, or Sunline. Hydrogen is used in fuel cells with the only emission being water vapor. It runs at near zero-emissions in advanced engines. Hydrogen fleets are cleaner than the vehicles they replaced. The 30-plus hydrogen fleets in California get their hydrogen from several sources including solar power electrolysis of water, delivered hydrogen from steam reformation of natural gas and onsite reformation. In the future, they will also get hydrogen from pipelines, waste hydrogen, biologically processed, and from wind.

California Hydrogen Report

Hopefully, at least one of these technologies will help you save fuel and emissions. Many other technologies also help. Some of the biggest early wins in saving fuel involve more time riding together and riding less. These will be explored in future articles.

John Addison publishes the California Hydrogen Report and is writing his next book, Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Marketing EPRIDA’s Terra Preta*

Wednesday, June 14

I’ve been writing on this blog – directly or indirectly – about climate change (too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) and agriculture (too little carbon and richness in the topsoil that’s left) – and energy.

After numerous references to Natural Capitalism, I picked up the book Natural Capitalism for a re-read and re-discovered a chapter, “Food for Life” that addresses climate change, agriculture, energy and solutions:

climate change: “Farming, as presently practiced, contributes about one-fourth of the risk of altering the earth’s climate.”
agriculture: “A more subtle decline than physical soil loss, but no less dangerous, is the invisible loss of the soil’s organic richness.”
energy: “The food sector uses about 10-15 percent of all energy in the industrialized countries, and somewhat more in the United States. Despite improving efficiencies, about two-fifths of energy goes to food processing, packaging, and distribution, and another two-fifths to refrigeration and cooking by final users. Only one-fifth is actually used on the farm – half of that in the form of chemicals applied to the land.”
solutions: “Agriculture based on more natural models would feature reduced land clearance, tillage, and fertilization, higher energy efficiency, and greater reliance on renewable energy.”

A technology development company, EPRIDA, has a solution in carbon capture, carbon utilization for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. Biomimicking an organic, closed-loop process, EPRIDA aims to take carbon from the air and put it in topsoil. One byproduct of the solution is called ECOSS (a fertilizer). Another is hydrogen (energy).

EPRIDA (“Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns”) stands for: Earth People Research Innovation Development Acknowledgement. The company was founded “to provide a commercial vehicle for exploring innovative solutions to global challenges.”

Typical for technology development companies, EPRIDA has myriad product ideas, myriad potential markets and myriad value propositions. EPRIDA chooses to sell energy and fertilizer and carbon credits. Thus, it’s a solution. It’s not a widget; it’s not a product, like a can of soda.

I called Bob Gower, EPRIDA’s marketing director. I wanted to know what goes into marketing a cleantech solution. Bob is an MBA candidate at Presidio College in San Francisco and brings to EPRIDA a traditional corporate marketing background. How different is traditional marketing for a large established brand and marketing for a cleantech startup? I’ll fill you in next week. Until then, check out the “EPRIDA cycle” flash presentation…in Mandarin!

* Terra Preta is healthy, dark soil. On a sustainable farm, biomass is left on the ground to rot, or composted in, adding nutrients to the soil, a process that requires no energy input other than that from the sun and the work of bacteria, fungi, protoctists, and creatures of all sorts.

Other goings on this week:
Deloitte’s Senior Advisor, Joseph Stanislaw, on E&ETV: U.S. must take lead in shaping international energy policy (June 14)

Green Energy Virtual Stock Challenge- Are you the Ultimate Green Technology Investor?

Just a quick note to let everyone know that and has announced its first virtual investor contest.

The contest starts investors with $200,000 in virtual dollars to invest in green companies of choice from a list provided by The current stock list includes a cross section of public companies trading on OTC, AMEX, NASDAQ, NYSE as well as TSX.

Current sponsors and prizes include a ZAP® (NYSE Arca:ZP) Electric Car, and Electric Scooter, plus prizes from MicrocapTrade and Energy Hedge Fund Center LLC.

For more details check out:

Big Green

In the past few weeks, a couple of the world’s largest corporations have released some noteworthy environmental announcements.

Two weeks ago, GE released their first Ecomagination Report. According to this report, GE is now producing over $10 billion annual revenues from environmentally-friendly or sustainable products. I’m sure there’s room for debate on some of those line items, but at least at an approximate level, there’s now a $10 billion company in the environmental space — and its name is GE. Impressive, and because GE tries to dominate wherever and however it competes, their stance is bound to have accelerating impact in the business-to-business community.

Perhaps even more encouraging are the actions of the world’s largest consumer retailer, Wal-Mart — heretofore not well-known as an environmental leader. But, that may be changing. Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott addressed the annual shareholder meeting on June 2, and reinforced last year’s announcment of emphasizing sustainability in Wal-Mart’s operations. Clearly, Wal-Mart sees using less energy and creating less waste as a way to boost profits substantially. According to a few sources, however, it seems that Lee Scott sees the environment as a moral imperative, and wants his tenure at Wal-Mart to leave a legacy of impressive environmental stewardship. Let’s all hope so and wish him well. If Wal-Mart puts the environment at the top of its agenda, its force in the marketplace can be awesome.

I wish that ExxonMobil and some of the bigger electric utilities would start seeing the world in the way that GE, Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs and others are.

California Air Resources Board to Lease HICE Vehicles

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has posted a notice of intent to award contracts for the lease of six vehicles that will lower the cost of using hydrogen. Hydrogen will be used in conventional engines, not fuel cells. This will expand to 37 the total number of hydrogen internal combustion engine (HICE) vehicles in California.

Four of the hydrogen vehicles will be Toyota Priuses modified by Quantum Technologies to run on gaseous hydrogen. Other fleets that each uses five of these Quantum Priuses include the cities of Riverside, Burbank, Santa Ana, and Ontario. AQMD in Diamond Bar also uses five Quantum Priuses. This June 15, Santa Monica will start using five.

Two Ford E450 HICE shuttle buses will also be leased by ARB. These buses can be configured to carry 11 to 17 passengers. The E450 uses a standard Ford V10 engine designed to run on gaseous hydrogen. The Ford E450 offers a range of 150 miles. This same engine has been used in a large 40-foot hybrid hydrogen bus carrying hundreds of people daily at Sunline Transit in Thousand Palms. The range is greater on the larger bus because it uses an ISE hybrid drive system that stores braking energy in ultracapacitors.

Three public companies are competing with HICE offerings: Ford, Quantum Technologies and BMW. In the heavy vehicle space, venture capital backed ISE Corporation is also competing. A number of smaller HICE specialty integrators also have offerings.

Competition between HICE and fuel cell vehicles is lowering the cost of hydrogen vehicles. As more of these vehicles are on the road, there consumption of more fuel is lowering the cost of the fuel which in turn encourages more vehicles. One fleet at a time, the “chicken and egg” problem is being resolved. Instead we are starting to see vehicle manufacturers and hydrogen station providers engage in a race for early market leadership.

Will we see a hydrogen vehicle for under $60,000?

Complete article and links for more information:

Mount Everest and Ethics – What’s wrong with people?

Though it’s not one of my usual energy blogs, I couldn’t pass this one up.

Below is a link to a story about a climber, Daniel Mazur, a professional guide from Summit Climb, who cost himself a chance to summit Mt. Everest last week (as well as his two paying clients, apparently) when they stopped to help a climber, Lincoln Hall, down the mountain after he had somehow been left for dead by his own party, just 1,000 feet from the summit.


It’s apparently newsworthy because a few days another climber, David Sharp died at about the same altitude with dozens of people walking buy him who didn’t stop to help.


Incredible enough, Mazur stated in the article that while helping Hall two other climbers passed by, and lied about not speaking English as an excuse to avoid helping.

I don’t consider myself any more moral or ethical than the next guy, but I guess I will never understand some people’s concept of ethics.

When I was in my training program at Bankers Trust, fresh out of college, we were put through an ethics course. One of the ethics cases we discussed was almost verbatim this Mt. Everest scenario. The case was simple, our ethicist instructor asked us what we should do if we were climbing a peak, the only time we would ever have a chance to do it, on a trip that had cost us thousands of dollars, and we ran across a stranded climber. The case went on to describe that the climber could possibly have made it down himself, but there was a reasonable chance that they might die if we didn’t help. Our sole objective on this once in a lifetime trip was to make the summit, and we could either help the climber down, or make the summit. The ethicist then wanted us to discuss the pros and cons of each side of this ethical dilemma.

At the time I found this whole discussion quite astounding, and said so. I recall telling the ethicist and the class in no uncertain terms that this was a ridiculous scenario, as there was no ethical dilemma whatsoever, and that it was truly sick that we should be assuming there was. That I was from Texas (the only Texan in this New York group), and that I didn’t know how people did things where he was from, but in Texas we only saw one option here: stop, pick the guy up, and carry him down the mountain without another thought.

The ethicist did not seem to understand why I had a problem with our discussion. But there was no more debate after that, we just kind of went on to the next case.

Bottom line, am I missing something here?


“OOOhh! It’s Getting Hot In Here,” sang Energy Action before delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal this past December, “There’s too much carbon in the atmosphere.”

Speakers at a Green House Network workshop on climate change this past weekend included the youthful and energized leader of Energy Action, Billy Parish, and the beautiful, articulate–and young–Native American, Wahleah Johns, of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. (Black Mesa’s tagline is “Youth Empowerment while Building Stable Communities.” Want to break your heart? Listen to young Navajos—the five-fingered people—talk about Water and Coal on the Res.) The title of the keynote address by Eban Goodstein was “Global Warming and the Meaning of Life.” Throughout the weekend, people peppered conversations with the words ‘quality of life’–or, as a successful IT entrepreneur attending the workshop calls it, this ‘life crusade.’

Dr. Martin Hoerling of National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce) covered the science of anthropogenic contributions to climate change–about which there is no doubt. Hunter Lovins of Natural Capitalism Solutions spoke brilliantly, as she does, about the human potential to innovate in the next industrial revolution. She can meld Al Gore- and scientist-speak with corporate-speak. Her clients, corporations, understand the financial risks of carbon and the money-saving upsides of efficiencies and getting ahead of the market. There was serious thought given to solar troughs and Stirling engines, wind, coal gasification and carbon sequestration, nuclear and negawatts, population and consumption.

What was new? The “L” words, a future of liability and litigation over climate change and its attendant instability and risks – and this growing youth movement. The movement is populated by kids who are growing up in a world heavy in human capital but short on natural capital–capital that has never been properly accounted and is fast degrading. (It was a bit unnerving recognizing that I, childless, could be the mother of most of the kids, college students, at this workshop. How did that happen?)

Old fogies (something I hope never to be, please!) and 20th century industrialists best not doubt the power of this brewing youthful BHAG, their Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal to stabilize global warming. Billy Parish (the other BP), who organizes students and forms wide-reaching partnerships, says the clean energy youth movement is not yet national; there’s a long way to go. But it’s getting traction…Rolling Stone, MTV, websites, perhaps a place at a LiveAID event for climate change. Rumors do fly. Energy Action and Black Mesa are perfecting their tools, including a guide on messaging and communications: U.S. in the World. They have successes and demands: “In what would be a first for the state and the nation, [the Hopi and Navajo] are asking the commission to ensure that the utility make up for a history of pollution violations by reinvesting any profits from the sale of pollution credits into clean, renewable energy projects to serve the region’s energy needs and create local jobs.”

I figure if a guy can get into Yale (and has the balls to drop out) and a girl can put her very being on the line to challenge status quo on the reservation, they have the chutzpah to lead this Quality of Life Crusade, this Big Hairy Audacious Goal, the legacy we leave to the next generation.

Monday evening several attendees from the workshop showed up at another venue for even more talk on climate change by Tim Flannery, author of “The Weather Makers.” Again, I heard the “L” words…and, not for the first time, the “M” word—moral. We were, after all, in a church…

Other going on this week:
AIG First Major U.S. Insurer With Policy on Climate Change
Market research on nuclear power (public opinion not looking good for nukes)
“Some Like it Hot” in Mother Jones (ExxonMobil’s funding of its echo chambers)

Energy: "The 21st Century’s Greatest Challenge"

This headline is not mine. It’s from Deloitte, the white-shoe professional services firm.

Deloitte recently hired Joe Stanislaw, who is a long-time guru in the energy industry, having founded Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA). Stanislaw recently authored a compelling report for Deloitte under the title, “Energy in Flux: The 21st Century’s Greatest Challenge.” It is a sobering picture, from a firm not known for hyperbole.

This is the kind of white paper that is read by senior managers — strategists and C-level executives — from the major corporations that need to hear loud and clear what we’ve been saying here for a while: that we’re in deep doo-doo with respect to energy, and that we will need to change how we produce and consume energy in fundamental ways. It’s a message that the big-wigs in corporate America need to hear, and they’re more likely to listen to respected sources like Deloitte than Greenpeace or Al Gore.

Changing the way we think about brown coal

In a post a few months back, i talked about a few clean coal technologies coming out of Australia, and a fairly broad overview of the tech areas. I recently met with Bill Stevens from Latrobe Lignite Developments (LLD) who gave me some more detailed insight into the potential of brown coal as an energy and carbon product resource.

Brown coal (Lignite) is essentially made up of around 60% water, 20% petrochemical volatiles and 20% carbon base. The high water content and low carbon content traditionally has meant that this form of coal is primarily used for steam-electricity energy production. The large amounts of water in the fuel mean that a large amount of heat is wasted in heating this water up, and loosing it into the atmosphere as water vapour.

Prior to my discussion my understanding was that the brown coal discussion essentially was that you can improve the efficiencies of burning coal to reduce CO2 emissions through removing water content, and improve the efficiency of energy generation. However this has its econimic and emission reduction problems.

Efforts to reduce the water content of lignite have been either to chemically separate it, mechanically squeeze it, or dry it through using byproduct heat or spread the material out in the sun. The challenge is all these approaches required energy, as a result any real greenhouse benefit is reduced through all the toil involved.

Also the power stations in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, Australia are designed to be as efficient as possible to burn brown coal, not dry brown coal. Hence in reality you could partially mix some dry coal into the feedstock for the generators, but probably only about 5%. Thus you need a new power station if you want to burn the new dry brown coal.

LLD has produced a technology which takes advantages of a few other factors in the economic equation around brown coal, namely carbon products and water. First the stats:

  • The prices a, la trobe valley brown coal costs about A$5 and Antracite and coking coal costs about A$50
  • New energy generation emissions limits: Brown coal must generate at most 1.2T C02 per MW, black coal power plant must generate at most 0.9T C02 per MW. In comparison a gas plant must generate at most 0.5T C02 per MW.
  • Water: for every 2000T per hour of brown coal at Loyang (Latrobe valley) power station, over 12million T of water is removed annually from the local river.

LLDs tech uses the above economic and emission factors to turn the traditional generation mechanism around. The tech drys the brown coal recovering the water, removes the volatile component for energy generation, and produces high quality carbon for steel production or other carbon products.

Thus a A$5 feedstock produces a A$50 value product at around $15 cost, Produces volatiles that can produce energy at 0.5T Co2 per megawatt and for every Tonne of Coal returns around 660kg of water.

By way of example an existing 1000T per hour brown coal plant that costs around A$2B to build produces 1000MW for around A$130m annual rev

A 3000T per hour LLD tech and gas power plant that can produce the same amount of power and costs less to build can return in carbon products can produce over A$1B in total revenues a year due to carbon products, and returns over 20million T of water to the local area per year.

Given that China and India are requiring coking coal for their steel industies, this can potentially provide for this, bearing in mind ideally we would like to capture the emissions from these furnaces some how.

Now if plants like this were instituted in Victoria for our power generation, the interesting thing is this could completely provide for the emission reductions that Australia needs under the Kyoto Protocol. Makes you think.

Nick Bruse is the General Manager of Clean Technology AustralAsia Pty Ltd, the organiser of the AustralAsian Cleantech Forums and Dealer Forums, and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia. Nick does a weekly blog column on Cleantechblog profiling innovative Australian cleantech, energy, water and environmental technology companies.

Traveling the Highway to a Renewable Energy Future: A Look At Innovation in Transportation

As oil consumption patterns are targeted for change, the market turns towards innovators who are getting behind the wheel to produce new energy solutions. With the growing level of support of alternative transportation technology steadily gaining momentum from a corporate, government and consumer level, innovations such as cleaner fuel sources, and energy efficient automotive technology continue to result. Working to build on the emerging clean energy opportunities in the transportation market are technology providers such as ZAP (AMEX: ZP), DynaMotive Energy Systems Corporation (OTCBB: DYMTF), Alchemy Enterprises (OTCBB: ACHM), DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX), and Honda Motor Co. Ltd (NYSE: HMC).

Reducing our dependence on foreign oil has placed the use of alternative transportation models into the limelight. In light of the current market environment, Steven Schneider, Chief Executive Officer and Director of ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) (NYSEArca: ZP) explains, “Anyone that is producing an alternative energy vehicle at this moment in time is certainly in a sweet spot. The concern over fuel prices and oil, combined with environmental issues, global warming and all types of weather conditions and climate change, including the unrest in the Middle East, has put so much focus on companies who are coming up with another solution.”

Alchemy Enterprises, Ltd. (OTCBB: ACHM) is developing a magnesium based Electric Power Cell that will be able to provide power for vehicles using reusable, renewable materials. Alchemy’s CEO Jonathan Read explains, “Our objective is a fuel system that is clean, renewable and reusable. Instead of highly pressurized and leak prone hydrogen systems, our system provides power on demand – hydrogen on demand – and is a model for sustainable affordable long-term power systems.”

Hybrid alternatives and biofuel products have moved into the spotlight as support continues for alternatives to traditional combustion engines. Nick Cappa, Manager of Advanced Technology Communications for DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX) says, “At this point there is no silver bullet for reducing our dependency on foreign oil. Hybrids will play a role but how significant a role depends on the customer. The premium for a hybrid must meet expectations.”

Speaking on how DynaMotive Energy Systems Corporation’s biofuel product, BioOil, can be applied in the future to various methods of transport, Andrew Kingston President and CEO states, “We’ve successfully converted BioOil to synthetic gas, with the objective to establish that syngas can be further reformed to synthetic diesel. Synthetic diesel can be used as transport fuel in diesel engines without modification, including automobiles, trucks and buses.”
Looking to new directions within the transportation arena, Chris Martin, spokesperson for Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) describes that progress made in the hybrid market has been, “a slow evolution over time.” With respect to the company’s natural gas Civic GX, Martin says, “the infrastructure to refuel your natural gas vehicle is already in place, because many American homes are already supplied with natural gas.”

To Read “Traveling the Highway to a Renewable Energy Future: A Look At Innovation in Transportation” In Full Click Here:

“Long-term technological transformation”

Wednesday, May 31st

A rabid dog with an old bone, Competitive Enterprise Institute won’t drop the anti-climate change science diatribe.* Instead of carbon constraints, CEI and its major backer, ExxonMobil, extol “long-term technological transformation” and “resiliency in societies by increasing wealth.”

What might that mean, precisely, when it comes to a technology like ethanol, to these purveyors of the ‘free market’?

Ethanol is not disruptive; it fits comfortably into the industrial system: consistent, mechanized, predictable, interchangeable and economically scalable. (It’s not threatening in the same way as the fuel-switching electric car, now the subject of the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?) In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Natural History of Four Meals, journalism professor, Michael Pollan, writes, “everything about corn meshes smoothly with the gears of this great [industrial] machine.”

Ethanol from corn is no exception…or it shouldn’t be. The American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil’s trade association, intimates in the press that ethanol can’t perform; it supports the alternative fuel, but only as an additive to petrol. To drag feet on ethanol but champion technological transformation and resilient wealth is to jabber gibberish.

Ethanol was a golden queen showered with accolades at U.S. Senator Ken Salazar’s Renewable Energy Summit this year in Denver. It is fast on the lips of Senator Lugar Richard Lugar and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. It is an old technology (the first Model-T was built to run on ethanol), and with a still from Dogwood Energy, says Dogwood, you can make ethanol at home for 75 cents per gallon. Oil refiners will accept E85 (petrol that’s 85% ethanol). The balancing act between supply (the gas station owners who must pay for retrofitting pumps for ethanol) and demand (the number of drivers seeking ethanol at the pump) has begun. Marketplace drivers are priming getting-cheaper-than-petrol (and subsidized) ethanol to compete with volatile (and heavily subsidized) petrol.

And it will help farmers, right?

Crack open Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Corn takes up the entire first chapter. Dilemma is not about bio-fuels – cellulosic or otherwise – yet it goes a long way to explain the farming system in the U.S., and why it will be large corporations who (corporations being persons under the law) will benefit from refining corn and corn stalks into ethanol.

“Beginning in the 1980s, big buyers of grain like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) took a hand in shaping the farm bills, which predictably came to reflect their interests more closely than those of the farmers…It’s not all that clear that very many American farmers know exactly what hit them, even now. The rhetoric of competitiveness and free trade persuaded many of them that cheap corn would be their salvation, and several putative farmers’ organizations have bought into the virtues of cheap corn…So the plague of cheap corn goes on, impoverishing farmers (both here and in the countries to which we export it), degrading the land, polluting the water, and bleeding the federal treasury, which now spends up to $5 billion a year subsidizing cheap corn. But though those subsidy checks go to the farmer (and represents nearly half of the net farm income today), what the Treasury is really subsidizing are the buyers of all that cheap corn. [Says Iowa farmer George Naylor], ‘Agriculture’s always going to be organized by the government; the question is, organized for whose benefit? Now it’s for Cargill and Coca-Cola. It’s certainly not for the farmer.”

And one day, certain oil companies.

First, the hard work gets done by most everyone else: grassroots early adopters retrofit “flex-fuel” vehicles and home-distill fuel; alternative fuel activists on non-profit salaries lobby politicians; mid-western governors mandate E85; millions are spent on “flex-fuel” car advertising; Team Ethanol NASCAR races cars; farmers invest in farmer-owned bio-refineries. When the risks of the technology wane and the last easy-and-cheap-access drops of oil are pumped from the ground, the champions of “technological transformation” and “resilient wealth” will come around to ethanol. They will look to the money to be made in fertilizers and ethanol processing–and perhaps owning bio-refineries outright in competition with ADM and Cargill. Perhaps they’ll buy ADM or Cargill.

Ooh, la la! This is what CEI is jabbering about. Transformation (like transforming corn into ethanol) means resilient wealth for corporations, but not necessarily for farmers. It means a ‘free market’ that drags its feet…holds out a hand for subsidies…supports import tariffs…blocks stricter CAFE standards…and drives farmers and nature to the bottom. Rising like cream on corn-based ethanol profits–after years of obstruction–the likes of ExxonMobil will, in turn, funnel funds to the likes of CEI or some other ‘free market’ chirper to advertise the wonders of unfettered consumption, transforming technologies and resilient wealth. “Hooey on global warming, hooray for America’s birthright to consume,” it will exclaim. “Look at ethanol!”

Implausible? It’s a parable for making a market for cleantech, even for a technology like ethanol that fits neatly into the industrial systems. Imagine the difficulty in making markets for cleantech that does not transform but disrupts.

* CEI’s ad campaign looks even more like the corporate chimera it is when juxtaposed with a straightforward British Petroleum print ad: “Fuel made from corn adds less CO2 to the atmosphere. That’s biofuel for thought. In 2005, BP fuels contained more than 575 million gallons of biofuels in the U.S., eliminating about one million tons of carbon dioxide. It’s a start.”