Wednesday, December 31, 2008

P6. Pick points

Some half-a-dozen stories or so worth following:

The Russia:Ukraine standoff continues to get worse as chances for agreement fade.

Meanwhile China’s biggest oil field (20% of their production) is getting older, Daqing’s oil production drops 3.5%

The Business Monitor International (BMI) is looking into the future and assessing future US demand.

Plans for more US natural gas move forward as Interior approves Montana’s CBM wells

Meanwhile the search for effective alternate fuel supplies continues as airlines test fuel from jatropha

And geothermal resources become available in Utah.

Finally just when you thought you were having enough problems with the current weather, here is the first Hurricane forecast for 2009.

For a greater range of news check with either the Energy Bulletin or Drumbeat at the Oil Drum.

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5. Are Planes or Trains the only choices?

Having just spent a total of three days traveling to and from Maine, when the original plan had only been to spend two (one each way), a little comment seems appropriate. Particularly since it includes a mode of transport that has not got a lot of recognition in the discussions of our collective energy future.

We left our home and had a two-flight connection up to Maine for Christmas. When we got to Detroit, on the Sunday, there appeared, at first, to be no problem – we reached the gate for the connecting flight and were settling in for the hour wait, when we noticed that a line was forming at the desk. A quick bit of eavesdropping and it appeared the flight was cancelled. Checking around and one of the women in the line I hastily joined commented that she had already spent a day in the airport since her flight from Saturday had been oversold, and she was still trying to get on a plane. Looking at one of the departure screens I saw flight after flight into the North East being cancelled.

Long story short – we could find no chance of the carrier (Northwest Airlines) being able to put us on a plane to our original destination before, at the earliest, Wednesday. And there were no promises that we would not be spending the entire season camped out at Detroit Airport. So instead I had them put us on the last flight to Boston that night. (Boston Airport also has an efficient conga line.

We spent the night at a local hotel there, and the following morning checked for ways back up North. Planes – not a chance, trains – well there was one as far North as Portland, but it was rapidly filling up – so how about a bus?

It turned out that Concord Coach has a service that leaves Logan Airport every hour. So we toddled back over there and waited for the 11:25 bus. It came, but it was already full. So here is the difference between planes, trains and buses – the driver of the bus got on the phone and told us waiting folk that there would be a second bus along to pick us all up in 20 minutes. Yep they put on an additional bus (and maybe a second, since there were still folk waiting when we climbed on that relief coach).

There was no hassle, the seats were comfortable, as was the coach, we just got on and drove off. The terminal in Portland was clean, and the folk very friendly in dealing with the additional influx of folk, and it was a whole lot cheaper than the plane (except that we had already paid for that). Net result we got to our destination about 24 hours late – but we did make it.

On the way back today we again ran into an ongoing problem at Detroit – all our flights, and those of several other folk on the plane – have relatively short times to make the connection from the first plane to the second. Yet each time we get to Detroit we have had to wait for about 15 – 20 minutes while they find someone to attach the jetway to the plane. Luckily (Ha!) this afternoon the connecting flight was also delayed so we did make it . . . but still.

And now, only three-quarters of an hour late we are home, after a most enjoyable Holiday, hope that you had one too.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

P5. Pick Points

Well, as so often has happened in the past, conflict in the Middle East is sending up the price of oil as Oil tops $40 again.

Some sources are, however, blaming this on production cuts in the Middle East since OPEC cuts impact market.

While OPEC itself is talking about cutting another 2.2 mbd at their Meeting in Oran.

The other key player in the game is Russia, and there are questions on their ability to sustain production, with concerns over 2009 oil production
The key developments in the Russian oil industry in 2007 and 2008 were falling oil production levels demonstrated by the majority of the Russian oil majors, a surge in production and exploration drilling and a continuing decline in the efficiency of production stimulation.

. The other major Russian influence comes from natural gas production
Gazprom plans some new directions

These have led to a set of new predictions on price from various sources, for 2009.

Part of the problem arises in waiting while the Middle East decides to use NG in the Middle East or to sell it?

Meanwhile plans for an Australian LNG plant move forward with a land buy approved.

Turning to the domestic use of coal, more gases than CO2 were considered in the ruling.

And now folks are considering re-using coal directly at home.

Although with a more perfect insulation it might not be necessary, with no heat required in new homes.

Water is a continuing issue in the debate over the development of oil shale in Utah.

Though the problems have become, in Nepal, that the glaciers are now not melting fast enough and Nepal is not getting enough water for power generation.

Which brings us back to the debate on climate change as ABC reviews the issues.

While a Telegraph columnist talks about the opposing viewpoint

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Monday, December 29, 2008

4. A Dickensian Situation

One of the things that brought me to work with Kyle (Prof G of The Oil Drum) in forming TOD was that both of us were posting about the oil situation on our own sites of the time. One of the last pieces I wrote on the initial site, and the first on TOD was the following. It is now about four years old - but the sentiments are still as relevant, even if some of the facts from back then proved to be a little in error (the lessons of hindsight). Here it is:

When I was young I was fascinated by a small china statuette that my Grandparents had of Mr Micawber. He is a character, and a sympathetic one, in Charles Dickens's book "David Copperfield", in the course of which he goes into debt, His explanation of his financial condition can be compared to the coming world experience as we now live through Hubbert's Peak. You might, in today's phraseology, call this the Money quote:

'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and - and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!'. In this case consider that our expenses, i.e. the world use of oil, went up last year to around 83 million barrels every day (mbd). (A barrel is 42 gallons). Now as long as our supplies (income) can match this outlay then we are in happiness. This was, in relative terms, where we ended last year.

However this year our expenses are going to go up. It is a little difficult to predict exactly how much but current predictions are for this to be around 2 mbd. Let us equate this to the old English sixpence (which was back then worth about a dime. Twenty pounds being worth about $100).

If we follow the Micawber example if our income, world oil supply is equal to or greater than our expenses then we can stay happy. But here is the rub.

When world oil production is just about as high as it can be (non-OPEC countries are now producing just about as fast as they can) and OPEC spare capacity is down to around an additional 1.3 mbd. then our income this year will likely not be much above 85 mbd, if it gets there. (In a later post I will explain why it probably won't).

So we are at the point where within the next few months income and expenditures will be in balance (Micawber's twenty pounds). Except that the industry being a big one there are always things going wrong. In the latter part of last year for example we had:

the hurricanes in the Gulf that closed down about 0.5 mbd of production for several months,
oil production in Iraq, which should be around 3 mbd, but because of pipeline bombings etc dropped below 2 mbd,
there were frequent threatened strikes on the oil platforms in Nigeria,
and Russian production declined more drastically than had been anticipated.

Some of these are still with us, some have been resolved. And other problems, such as the complete employment of the world tanker fleet, have yet to make an impact. But any one can drop supply.

Yet while our supply (income) is about at a peak (twenty pounds), our expenses (demand) are still going up by this sixpence a year. So that some time this year expenses will have gone from twenty pounds to twenty pounds and sixpence. A number of economists had been predicting that there would be a reduction in the rise in demand to keep us below that figure, but it is already clear that they do not adequately recognize the considerable needs in China and India that drive this increase (and they only have to read the papers to see it).

The big question is when will we reach the point that we cross over the balance point. Right now with the Saudi Arabian government saying that they can increase production by up to 1.5 mbd one might think we could get through to just about the end of this year. Unfortunately some of us are a little cynical about that number, and I'll explain why in another post.

One final gloomy thought - production in other countries (such as the UK) is falling, and the countries that used that supply must find another source. And if we are now at the peak of production, then our income cannot increase above twenty pounds and and may indeed fall back below twenty pounds, while our expenses will continue to increase to twenty pounds and sixpence. It is not the absolute size of the market that will now drive, but the relatively small fluctuations that take us out of balance.

The result is misery, and we are for ever floored.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pick Points

Russia suggests payments other than money to Ukraine
"We are looking for ways to [avoid a supply cut], including prepayment for transit," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Echo Moskvy radio station. "I hope we will be able to [negotiate a settlement] in the remaining days."

Ukraine previously declined to accept the proposal. Russia currently pays Ukraine $1.70 to transit 1,000 cubic meters for 100 kilometers.

Kupriyanov said another option for Ukraine to pay its debt would be to hand back gas it had stockpiled in underground gas storages to help it survive the winter in the event Gazprom turns off the gas taps.

Ukraine's state firm Naftogaz says it has 17 billion cubic meters in storage, 22 percent of Ukraine's annual consumption

Apparently the price of the gas will also rise above the current $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters that Ukraine is currently paying.
Gasprom warns European customers
Russian energy giant Gazprom warned European clients yesterday that its gas conflict with Ukraine, conduit for European-bound gas from Russia, could affect deliveries to Europe. 
The warning came in a letter from Gazprom chief Alexei Miller to the company's European clients. 
"Gazprom is doing everything possible to avoid any disruption of gas deliveries to Europe," said Miller in the letter cited by Interfax news agency. 
"However, if events develop along an unfavourable scenario, the problem of Ukrainian transit will be a common problem for Russia and Europe," Miller said.

While there is this threat to gas supplies, supplied by conventional means, Russia is working on alternatives.

Russia prepares for LNG
Gazprom will start loading Russia's first cargo of liquefied natural gas in two months, as it seeks to supply consumers beyond the reach of the pipeline network. LNG is gas that has been cooled to a liquid to allow transportation by tanker.

Loading will begin Feb. 19 at Gazprom's Sakhalin-2 project north of Japan, Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said Dec. 19. The process will take several weeks, he said.

Meanwhile the steps to stabilize oil prices continue.

UAE promises oil supply reductions of 10-15%
The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the main producer in the UAE, said it would cut supplies, which will be delivered in February, from some of its major fields by between 10 and 15 per cent, higher than had been expected.
Demand and supply are still trying to find that common blalance point from which prices can stabilize.

There is apparently some problem with the moose population in Minnesota.

Moose numbers drop rapidly
Officially, the moose is not endangered in the United States. But it is in danger of disappearing from the Midwest, which is the far southern fringe of its range. Roughly 7,700 moose reside in Minnesota, nearly all in the northeast section of the state. That's a drop of almost 50 percent in the last 20 years

The headline however focuses on the North woods and states that the population has dropped from around 4,000 to several hundred over the past 20 years.

The cold weather is giving problems, not just in Canada and the lower 48.

Alaska faces cold spell
The last time Fairbanks had a cold snap in which the low temperature hit 40 below or colder for 10 days in a row was in January 1989, one of the coldest winters on record at the National Weather Service, Fischer said. That cold snap lasted 14 days.
"Some of the worst cold waves on record have gone on for three weeks," Fischer noted. "This could turn into one of those."
And up there when they say cold they mean it.

I am not sure how many power outages the President-elect has seen, but I doubt he was expecting one in Hawaii.

Massive power failure in Oahu
More than two-thirds of Oahu had power restored as of noon today, 18 hours after a blackout left the entire island without electricity, forced the Honolulu airport to cancel flights, closed shopping malls and left motorists crawling through streets with no lights.
Apparently the President-elect was offered back-up generators, but chose instead to go to bed.

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3. Having a Home Energy Audit

Energy Conservation is likely to become one of the more significant areas of emphasis as the new Administration moves to change the way in which the United States uses energy. One way to lower overall energy consumption is to look at how we each use energy in the course of a day, and then change those habits. Apart from changing transportation habits, one of the more significant impacts is to reduce the amount of energy that we use in heating and cooling our homes. But to find out a) how much we are using and b) how to lower the amount of energy used, we need first of all to do some form of an Energy Audit. Since the lads just had one carried out at their house, I will take a little information from that to describe what might be involved.

The assessment was carried out by a certified analyst who came with a blower door, fitted with a fan that sucked air from the house and vented it outside. This had the effect of pulling air into the house through all the leaks in the walls, etc, so that as time went on, the areas with the greatest leaks became cooler. The first thing that the report mentioned was the amount of air that the fan was removing, this was some 4,120 cfm (cubic feet per minute), and about five times as high as the minimum flow of air recommended for that size building.

The next step in the process was then to find where all the leaks were occurring. The major leak turned out to be in the basement, with the leakage rate dropping by 620 cfm when the door into to basement was shut. This meant that there were significant losses in the basement itself, and a variety of recommendations were made, including 6 mill plastic and foam insulation of the walls, to cut these down to an acceptable level. The house being an old one (in the Historic District) use of these two tools could significantly seal or isolate areas of existing heat loss. As the report noted the rule of thumb is that every square inch of seal emplaced will save the equivalent of 0.5 to 1.2 gallons of oil per year. Foam installation costs were estimated at around $1.00 to $1.50 per board foot (a volume that is 1 ft by 1 ft by 1 inch thick).

Individual leaks around windows and doors were then identified using the thermal imaging camera to show where areas of cold pointed to inadequate sealing. A couple of really high leakage points were found around a couple of the windows, and, depending on size, either caulking or heavier weather stripping was recommended. In cases where the doors did not seal adequately they suggested that the striker plate on the door be adjusted. This should be set so that the door does not move after being closed.

Some of the room images also showed the hot paths of pipes under the floor, which pointed to the relative inefficiency of the under floor insulation, as well as poor lagging on the pipes.

Moving around the house to identify further losses, the report noted that there were a lot of lights that could be made more efficient by changing to compact fluorescents, at about 1/3 of the wattage currently used. They noted that the current refrigerator used between 670 and 737 kWh per year, and the most efficient new ones on the market operate at around 400 kWh. If you assume that the local cost of electricity is around $0.10 per kWh this is an annual saving of around $30 a year. Actual use and savings would, however, depend on the amount of use the different appliances used, and recommended getting a kill-o-watt type device at a cost of around $30, to see whether it would be cost effective to change any of them. They did, however, recommend vacuuming the dryer and refrigerator vents.

Alan Drake, who writes at the Oil Drum under the title AlanfromBigEasy, has, in the past referred to the success that Austin Energy has had in creating incentives to improve home energy use efficiencies. The program talks of rebates of up to $650 for installing recommended equipment types and weatherization. It has been very successful, the utility currently has a peak demand of 2,515 MW. It considers itself on target, however, to conserve some 700 MW of demand, by 2020, through improvements in energy efficiency of use.

However other programs, such as some of those carried out in Florida , have been either less successful, or the money saved has been spent inappropriately.
Florida Power & Light (FPL) hired eco-utility provider Green Mountain to market the Sunshine Energy Program to create demand for more than 1.2 million megawatt hours of renewable energy and over 450 kilowatts of new solar projects in Florida. Under the program, some 39,000 customers agreed to pay an extra $9.75 per month for renewable energy projects, but when a recent audit showed that three quarters of the $11.4 million collected from FPL customers since 2004 went to administrative, marketing and management expenses, customers started to complain. The problems escalated when FPL customers found out about an eight percent rate hike this summer, and another eight percent increase planned for January to cover costs associated with solar projects.

Sunshine Energy customers were promised renewable energy credits and solar development, and according to Green Mountain the costs for sales and marketing were $5.8 million, which resulted in 38,000 new customers in four years. So where did all that money go? Since 2004, Green Mountain made 56,000 hours of telemarketing calls, mailed 3.6 million pieces of direct mail, delivered 38 million enrollment forms on customer bills and sent 7.6 million bill inserts to market the program to FPL customers.

An Energy Audit is not inexpensive, but in these times, particularly with older homes, it can easily pay for itself, over time, in lower energy bills.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pick Points

One of the underlying concerns over the next few years will be the over the permitting and construction of new coal-fired power stations. With over 100 at some stage in the process, the ongoing changing rules in regard to permits, and the change in attitude in Washington to their construction, is likely to make this a long-played out drama.

Concerns over the Looming Power Crisis
Over the past few months, officials from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association have met with representatives from the 900 cooperative electric utilities that supply power to 40 million people in 47 states. A common theme has emerged: Our political leaders must develop a national energy policy that funds development of new technologies to keep electricity affordable while meeting climate change goals. Otherwise, a growing number of Americans won't be able to pay for power, and many will be at risk of rolling blackouts and brownouts.

One of the primary issues over the permitting of power stations arises with their generation of carbon dioxide, considered to be a greenhouse gas. On Saturdays I thought it would be interesting to see what some of the sites that discuss some of the aspects of this have been saying over the past week.

One begins with Watts up with that . One of the issues with the monitoring of potential global warming relates to the increased population and thus increased urbanization of the world, as monitoring continues. Anthony Watt runs a blog that, among other things, looks at the condition of the weather stations that feed data into the United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN). This is the basic set of records from which the historical data on temperature change has been compiled. (And where you can see how your neighborhood has or has not warmed over the past decades – go look, you might be surprised).

In the past week the site has noted that more American die in cold months than warm , on average about 800 more. It has also discussed the growth of sea ice, includes a politically incorrect version of the twelve days of global warming, and a comment on how much of the country is covered with snow (with consequent increased albedo – surface reflectivity). The last post covers two of the sites where the temperature sensors for the weather stations are too close to buildings (as in right next to) and thus are going to be influenced by the building itself.

The site most often quoted as being authoritative on the climate is RealClimate which is, as it says, climate science from climate scientists. It has, in the past discussed the problem of the Urban Heat Island effect, which is somewhat akin to the building effect. Their conclusion is that it is not a significant factor. Within the past week the site has been relatively quiet, with only one post and that provides a Book List of new publications this past year that they consider interesting or noteworthy.

The most often cited antagonist to those at RealClimate are the writers who post at Climate Audit , a site founded by Steve McIntyre, one of whose claims to fame has been a strong questioning of the Mann “hockey stick” paper and the underlying data and statistical procedures used in generating that plot. During the past week the site has been examining the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI in Dutch) model data, and provides a procedure and code for downloading temperature data from that site. There is also a small story about Al Gore who brought Toronto the heaviest snow fall since 1883, by visiting the city three times this year.

One of the stronger sites that challenges those that challenge the global warming hypothesis can be found at Gristmill . This site has mutiple authors and many posts, so I will confine the review to the last 20 posts, of which some of the more interesting are their identifying a coal front group , in the “battle of the ads” over the “cleanliness of coal;” (the debate on clean coal ads extends through into later posts); a post that notes that since 1995 the U.S. has installed 200 MW of solar PV; 10,000 MW of wind: and 200,000 MW of natural gas (about half of which was combined cycle), but no new coal or nuclear generated power; a later post notes that out of 1,522 coal-fired generating units nearly 10% were built in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s, predating which is the power plant in the shade of the Capitol , which was completed in 1910.

There is a post that notes Dave Rutledge’s opinion that coal reserves are less plentiful that assumed (a point I have argued with him before and no doubt will again). There is also a post that takes one to a site predicting a warm future for Southern California . Again this is likely something that I will myself post on before too long. There is a horror story of Amtrak passenger experiences, and another story on coal exports to China. The most recent dealt with the worst climate change writing of 2008.

And finally, in my little review (which may change as the months go by) I note that over at climate skeptic there has been only one post in the time period (since the site was being migrated). This post dealt with the debate over whether some of the global warming has been caused by sunspots.

Well the subject is obviously controversial, and thus worthy of review, and so I will try and repeat this little survey at regular intervals.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

2. New Administration, old plans?

The incoming Administration has already made a strong commitment to re-orienting the economy toward using more sustainable energy, rather than the conventional major sources of oil, natural gas and coal. However it appears to have already run into a little resistance in trying to get this through Congress. Many of the folk over there, particularly the old style Democrats, have their own ideas about how best to stimulate the economy. At the same time when President-elect Obama went and talked to the State Governors he had talked to them about using a quick infusion of money to get infrastructure projects accelerated.
The governors want about $136 billion to use for what they call "ready-to-go projects," like water and sewer projects or building roads and bridges. They want another $40 billion to go toward Medicaid programs.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, says that for every $1 billion the states get from the federal government, the governors believe they can create 40,000 jobs

The jobs in the energy field associated with the transportation infrastructure (bridges etc) have also raised something of a philosophical problem:
But environmentalists and their allies view old-fashioned highway construction as encouraging longer commutes and increasing the energy-consumption crisis of the past year. "They're going to put a bunch of money through a broken system to stimulate the economy. That doesn't make sense to me," said Colin Peppard, a transportation expert for Friends of the Earth.
Of the highway funds, for example, one group found that much of the new investment would be in highways on the edges of the suburbs, thus encouraging the longer commutes from the communities hardest hit by the current financial downturn. However the more critical issue for this site will be what the new plan will be for ethanol.

The new Administration has called for an increased investment in ethanol. Forming what has been called a dream team for ethanol, the team acknowledges the strength of corn-based ethanol with the appointments of the former Governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack to head Agriculture, while the incoming Secretary of Energy, Dr. Chu, has been an advocate for cellulosic ethanol.

We are thus returning to the same major focus for sustainable energy of the current Administration. In that game plan corn-based ethanol would provide the initial supply to get the change started. But, to give the heavy lifting that will take the country from using 5 or 10% ethanol in the fuel mix, to E-85 where almost all the fuel is ethanol, the additional supply has to come from cellulosic sources. The availability of that supply is much less certain.

Robert Rapier has noted many of the problems that this transition will face.
The Renewable Fuels Standard of a year ago mandates 36 billion gallons of ethanol usage by 2022, with 16 billion gallons coming from cellulosic ethanol. As I said at the time, those numbers didn't appear to be remotely credible. The EIA report indicates that we won't have reached that level by 2030
There are more problems with the technology than just gearing up the supply. Back in 2007 DOE announced $385 million in funding for six refineries which, over the next four years would gear up to providing 130 million gallons of ethanol a year. Now while that sounds a lot, if one divides by 365 to get the amount per day, and then by 42 to bring it into barrels, then one gets 8,480 barrels a day, not so much. It would be a start, however toward the planned contribution of 20% of the gas consumption by automobiles in ten years. To get there cellulosic ethanol was expected to be cost-equivalent to gasoline by 2012. In a later post I will explain why that is not going to happen. However, since we are still building a foundation for future posts, let me just list the initial six projects:

Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas. This plant will produce 11.4 million gal/year from a daily feed of 700 tons of corn stover, wheat straw, milo stubble, switchgrass and other feedstocks.

ALICO, Inc. of LaBelle, Florida. This plant will produce 13.9 million gal/year of ethanol, 6,255 kW of power, 8.8 tons of hydrogen and 50 tons of ammonia a day. This will be produced from a feedstock of 770 tons of yard, wood and vegetative waste. The effort was discontinued in June 2008.

Bluefire Ethanol, Inc of Irvine, California. This plant will produce 125 million gal/year of ethanol, though only 25% will come from cellulosic sources. For that portion of the product, the plant will use 842 tons/day of corn fiber, cobs and stalks.

Brion Companies of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, now referred to as POET with the plant in Iowa. It will produce 18 million gal/year of ethanol from 842 tons of corn fiber, cobs and stalks. This will be an addition to their current production of corn-based ethanol.

Iogen Biorefinery Partners, of Arlington, VA for a plant in Shelley, IA. The plant will produce 18 million gal/year. It will use 700 tons of agricultural residues including wheat straw, barley straw corn stover, switchgrass and rice straw. The company has, since the DOE announcement suspended their plans for the Idaho plant, but will continue with a current operation in Canada.

Range Fuels of Broomfield, Colorado, though the plant will be in Soperton, Georgia. The plant will produce about 40 million gal/year of ethanol, and 9 million gal/year of methanol. The feedstock will be 1,200 tons/day of wood residues and wood based energy crops.

One of the hills that the technology must surmount is shown in the basic comparison table between corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol produced by the Chief Economist of the Department of Energy, and which was presented at the Sustainable Energy Conference in St. Louis in 2006.

It will be interesting to see how the new team at the Department of Energy, and in the White House, moves to improve productivity and encourage the evolution of the technology, since there are still some serious hurdles to get over. However, in the interim, the number of plants planned has increased. The additional sites are as follows:

Verenium to build a 1.4 million gal/year plant in Jennings, LA. This will also be funded by DOE , though just this month the company was contacted by NASDAQ about being out of compliance with one of the NASDAQ rules in regard to capitalization.

Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC has partnered with the University of Tennessee, and have broken ground for a pilot plant with the first full-scale plant being anticipated for 2012.

Mascoma has added MIT faculty its Scientific Board, and was initially funded by Khosla Ventures. The demonstration plant will be in Rome, NY. It will be looking to convert woodchips into ethanol and the first production plant, following a grant of $23.5 million from the State of Michigan, will be in Kinross in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It will be run by a new company, known as Frontier Renewable Resources.

Coskata, in Maddison, PA with a 40,000 gal/year demonstration facility. The goal is to generate 100 gal of ethanol for every ton of feed , using a synthesis gas process.

Zeachem, with a research lab in Menlo Park, CA is currently based in Lakewood, CO. They will work with wood chips, with an initial plant size aimed at 2 million gal/year.

Qteros which used to be Sunethanol, based in Hadley MA. Their plans include a pilot plant to be built next year, followed by a demonstration plant in 2010, and a commercial plant in 2011.

Note that the national renewable fuels standard mandates that fuel producers use one billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2013 and at least sixteen billion gallons by 2022. We shall see how that goes.

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P2. Pick Points

Cape Wind Project Advances
The proposed wind farm, opposed by beachfront homeowners who complain the 247-foot (75-meter) towers would spoil their views, would provide enough power for about 400,000 homes.

Developers of the $1 billion project are still waiting on a composite state and local permit, as well as federal approvals by the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of the Interior and the Federal Aviation Administration, said Mark Rogers, a spokesman for privately held Cape Wind Associates LLC.Rogers said Cape Wind expects the permitting process to be complete by March

This is a project that inspired a book, itself now followed by the blog site, Cape Wind – The Book. It is further a project that, as the book recounts, has been fought very strongly by the Kennedy clan. Hopes of a resolution continue to be delayed.

Speaking of sustainable energy projects, it should be remembered that

Winter Weather impacts Green Energy
This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up, biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce less power because there is not as much sun. And perhaps most irritating to the people who own them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering them useless even in bright winter sunshine.
The biodiesel problem extends to fuel in vehicles dropping below the gel temperature, and no longer flowing easily through the engine. And there is a safety feature that I wasn’t aware of, with wind turbines shutting down if they start to build up ice (otherwise it becomes a projectile).

Chicago reminds us that

Pot holes grow in winter.
So far, according to (Chicago) city statistics, December has been, if not quite smooth sailing, then at least no bumpier than usual. As of Tuesday, pothole complaints were holding steady—about 300 pothole calls per day through the city's 311 line, said Brian Steele, a Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman.

Unfortunately asphalt is often used to fill the potholes, and while prices have currently dropped, the high costs last year had a heavy impact on highway maintenance budgets. One alternative is to install local rail, but even that is not easy sledding.

Hawaiian elevated rail debated
Honolulu's planned commuter rail system will consume enough electricity each day to power about 9,250 homes, or a community the size of Hawai'i Kai. However, that shouldn't pose a risk of energy shortage and could lower air pollutants and energy use as people switch from automobiles to trains, according to the city.
Other concerns include the aesthetics of the train, which will run on a dual-rail guideway that's about 30 feet wide and between 40 to 80 feet tall, depending on the location. There also will be 19 to 21 elevated train stations, each 50 feet wide and as much as 300 feet long.

Meanwhile the tendrils from Russia spread even further into European networks.

Gazprom takes over Siberian Oil
Russia and Serbia have signed a deal on the sale of a 51-percent stake in Serbian oil monopoly NIS to Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Serbian President Boris Tadic and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the deal on December 24. Under the deal, Gazprom is to build a gas pipeline, called South Stream, through Serbia
This is all part of an ongoing “battle of the pipelines” to determine how to bring some of the richer oil, and in this case, gas, to Europe – with rival groups proposing lines that do (as in this case) or do not pass through Russia.

Unfortunately also there may be an

Energy Collapse in Ukraine
Company Lvovgaz cut off gas supplies from the Power Plant-1, because the city administration failed to deliver payments, which resulted in half of city buildings being left without heating, including 924 apartment blocks, 42 schools, 26 nurseries and 11 health facilities.

The situation is also poor in Kiev. Kyivenergo Co. has stopped hot-water supply because of the limited gas-supply. Buildings in the area in charge of the Power Plant-5 and the Power Plant-6 are left without hot water; that in general is about five thousand of apartment blocks, nearly 500 schools and nurseries and 200 hospitals
Now this is a Russian paper that I am quoting, but still this is not a promising development for the near future.

Meanwhile on the other side of Russia,

Shell is looking at investing in Sakhalin 3
In any case, we see all projects in Russia as joint ventures with prevailing participation of Russia (51 % and more). As to other regions Yamal is the region we are interested in as Nile Gilmar has emphasized.

They planned to enter "Sakhalin-3" Project in 2017-2022. The project includes several blocks; the part from them is in unallocated open recourse acreage, in particular, Kirinsky, Eastern- Odoptinsky and Ayashsky blocks. However in September the agreement was reached saying that the given blocks will be transferred to "Gazprom" till the end of the year. Development license for the "Sakhalin-3" fourth block - Veninsky - since 2003 belongs to "Rosneft". Shareholders of the company-operator on "Venineft" field are "Rosneft" (49,8 %), the Sakhalin oil company (25,1 %) and Chinese Sinopec (25,1 %).

Not content with these activities, and those in Serbia,

Gazprom to build European gas reservoir.
Gazprom and four other international energy companies will build Europe’s largest underground natural gas reservoir in The Netherlands at the exhausted Bergermeer field. The project will cost an estimated $1-1.5 billion. The Abu Dhabi National Energy Co. (TAQA), the operator of the project, announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Gazprom Export yesterday. . . . . . He said the usable capacity of the reservoir will be 4.1 billion cu. m. and will be launched in the second quarter of 2013.

The strengthening Russian grip on European supplies will, no doubt, have future impact, and yet . .

Drop in UK Energy Prices
The forward price of gas for delivery in the winter of 2009 has almost halved from 109p per therm in July to about 63.6p per therm. The forward price of the same contract for power has dropped from £94.50 MWhour to £56.65 MWhour. . . . . Mr Hall said this suggested that the companies could afford to make cuts of as much as 20 to 30 per cent by the spring “provided the wholesale price does not go back up again”.
Less optimistically the article notes that price drops are more likely to be in the 10-20% range.

However the drop in electricity prices might have other benefits.

High speed electric cars.
The first proper-performance, four-seater electric car from a major manufacturer is about to be launched on the UK market.

The i-MiEV – pronounced eye-meev – from Mitsubishi, is a saloon car which will carry four adults and reach a top speed of 87mph. It will be available in the UK, initially for leasing, from the middle of 2009 and can travel up to 100 miles without charging

Sadly the prices rises do not extend to the oil fields, and the rental costs of drilling rigs.

Statoil terminates rig tendering.
StatoilHydro is terminating its procurement process for rig hire for operations on the Norwegian continental shelf due to high rig rates. The Norwegian company is also reducing platform crews. ”We focus on reducing costs and making strict priorities,” says Anders Opedal, head of procurements in StatoilHydro.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

P1. Pick Points

These are small quotes from articles that might be either currently informative, or turn out to be significant, and thus tied into longer and more significant posts, at some time in the future. They are generally culled from the Web sites of some of the daily papers around the world, and also from other blog sites. I am still working out the protocols for developing the site, and so these first versions of this are going to be very short and limited.
Extensive snow in Canada
For the first time in four decades – from Atlantic to Pacific, from Windsor just south of Detroit to Ellesmere Island, just south of the polar icecap – all of Canada is experiencing a white Christmas.
This may or may not have any significance, we’ll just have to wait and see as winter wears on.

Next years gas prices will be relatively low
Although it's almost 2009, prices at the pump – close to $1.65 a gallon – are below what Americans paid in 2004. That year, the top three bestselling vehicles were pickup trucks, and gasoline prices averaged $1.85 a gallon for regular.

Also this winter, residents of the Northeast are expected to see their heating costs shrink by almost 25 percent when compared with last winter.

“It's a bit of a gift, like a giant tax cut," says Sarah Emerson, managing director of Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Wakefield, Mass. "This is one of the best things to happen to the economy over the next six months."

In 2009, the price of gasoline will average $2.03 a gallon, the Energy Department forecasts. While this number is higher than current prices, it's much lower than 2008, when gasoline prices averaged closer to $3.27 a gallon and crested at over $4 a gallon in July.

This ties into the story quoted above it. If the winter requires more heating oil, and the economy picks up a little, then we may see quite a change in crude oil prices. At the same time there are oil producing countries that need additional income, and the number of countries needed to impose some discipline on export limits are getting smaller every year.

This ties into:
A prediction that the world economy will grow 0.9% next year.
The World Bank's 2009 Global Economic Prospects report is projecting world growth will shrink to 0.9 percent next year from 2.5 percent in 2008. The report said that a long and deep global recession cannot be ruled out.
The interesting point is that the report is, overall, optimistic about growth increasing.

That may mean that the demand for coal is going to increase, and (as part of an ongoing story) the court struggle over carbon dioxide emissions made another step today.
Court reinstates EPA power plant pollution rule
The court found on July 11 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency went beyond its authority to create a trading scheme among utilities to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides at power plants in the East and Midwest.
But the current ruling vacates that earlier decision and leaves the interstate rule in place while the Environmental Protection Agency fixes flaws in the plan. . . . . . The earlier ruling effectively vacated the entire CAIR program, which regulates interstate emissions that contribute to acid rain and smog.

There are, however, other issues than just gases that come out of power plants. One of the products is coal ash, or fly ash as it is often called (see the upcoming post on power plants). This has to be stored, and . .

A retaining dam failed in Tennessee
The breach occurred when an earthen dike, the only thing separating millions of cubic yards of ash from the river, gave way, releasing a glossy sea of muck, four to six feet thick, dotted with icebergs of ash across the landscape. Where the Clinch River joined the Tennessee, a clear demarcation was visible between the soiled waters of the former and the clear brown broth of the latter.

By afternoon, dump trucks were depositing rock into the river in a race to blockade it before an impending rainstorm washed more ash downstream.

The spill, which released about 300 million gallons of sludge and water, is far larger than the other two similar disasters, said Jeffrey Stant, the director of the Coal Combustion Waste Initiative for the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental legal group

As someone who can still remember where I was when I heard of the the Aberfan disaster and knows of the studies done to prevent a repetition, these failures should not happen. Yet, on the other hand, the ash that they refer to is the same cinders that some neighborhoods sprinkle on the roads after snowstorms, so the levels of toxicity are unlikely to be as high as some residents fear. But still . . . . .

There are some stories, on the other hand, that pop up every winter.
Russia threatens to cut off gas to Ukraine
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev sternly urged Ukraine on Wednesday to fully pay its $2.1 billion debt for Russian natural gas supplies or face sanctions, as a Jan. 1 deadline for payment loomed.

Each year it seems that we go through this, with the increased price that Ukraine is now charged for gas by Russia leading to payment delays. The threat is that if Russia cuts back on deliveries, then the gas supply may be tapped by Ukraine as it passes through to Western Europe. This has, in the past, led to shortages in different countries, and these shortages have been of varying severity. A bad winter, however, such as the one inferred perhaps by the first citation at the top of the post, would make the situation worse.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

1. Heading Out and what it's about

This is my third attempt at a blog, and the second is still going, under the title The Oil Drum, where I could have been found for the past three and a half years. But, for reasons that I will probably allude to in later posts, it became time to move on. That site remains an excellent one for information on many of the topics that I am going to cover, and is well worth a visit (or several).

I called myself Heading Out, back at TOD, and I will continue to  use that as a pen name. For those with more curiosity I am David (Dave) Summers, and there was a short NYT piece on what I was then doing some thirteen years ago. The sons have now grown up, and will be referred to here as "The Advocate", (who has his own site ) and "The Engineer".  Barb, for historic reasons will be "The Actress". More recently, I have spent some dealing with items that contain explosives

In the main I have spent the last four decades teaching and leading research teams at the Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center at Missouri University of Science and Technology.  It is a job from which I will soon likely retire, and Heading Out was initially meant to signify that taking place. For a variety of reasons I‘ve stayed on already a year longer than planned, and we’ll see how much longer that continues.

So what is this about – well I’m starting with the same premise that I had back over three years ago. I will try to give a little technical background to some of today’s events, and providing a chronology and a little bit of a living history as we move through the change from an energy rich economy to one that is more challenged. Generally the posts are going to be contemporary comment on energy issues, as they unroll, intermixed with technical bits that I used to call Tech Talks (and which can be found on TOD). Those will be re-started here, and there will be some repetition as I build up a resource that I can then refer back to in later posts.

I expect to talk a little bit about climate change issues as the post goes forward. With the change in Administration, and the emphasis by the President-elect on a blanket acceptance of the global warming premise, signified in part by his choice for the energy portfolios in the Cabinet, it is going to be hard to be able to distinguish between the two. This is going to be particularly true as the debate on the role of coal intensifies. Since that was part of what “got me into trouble”, I suppose it would be as good a place to start as any. So the first Tech Talk posts will likely start discussing coal from where it came from, through how we get it out of the ground, to how we burn it, to the problems that are created, and how some are being or intend to be solved. But since the aim is to provide some commentary on events as they unfold, these technical posts are likely to be spread out over the next few weeks, and may end up being the Sunday Post.

The site should get a little more organized, with time, but since this was started with the North-East buried in a snowstorm, while we waited in Detroit for a plane to move us up there (see the comment following this post ), the site is a little more primitive than it may end up.

And we’ll see where we go from here! Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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