• China Expanding Global Energy & Raw Resource Deals- Preparing for 2010 Recovery? or Next Century?

    February 20 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Economics


    While the world stumbles through this economic recession, China is not sleeping, it is spending.

    Its future success depends on very old world thinking about power and economic growth.

    The world economy does not grow only because of digital bytes. Molecules, metals and minerals still matter!

    China understands this reality and is taking full advantage of the economic downturn by paying low prices for access and control to much of the world's raw resources.

    In the past month, China has made major moves on the global stage including:

    - Potential $10 billion funding of Brazil's deepwater reserves via Petrobras
    - Adding pressure to negotiate favorable iron ore prices (for steel production) with Rio Tinto, and potential $2 billion investment in Australia's Fortescue Metals Group
    - $25 billion deal with Russia's Rosneft for crude oil access via a East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline by 2011
    - Talks with General Electric on carbon gas reduction technologies to address its growth in coal emissions
    - A signed a memorandum  between Ukraine's Chernomornaftogaz and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to build a gas pipeline toward the Odessa gas deposit off the Black Sea
    - Negotiating Chinese vehicles to be built inside Mexico
    - China is also addressing domestic water issues with an effort to decouple water use and GDP as it faces shortages in the years ahead.
    - Working with Ecuador to provide funding on a new  hydroelectric plant as a diplomatic effort to gain access to other resources in the region.

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  • BP Forms Joint Venture with Verenium to Advance Cellulosic Ethanol

    February 19 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy


    BP has announced a 50-50 joint venture with Verenium to develop and commercialize cellulosic ethanol from non-food feedstocks.

    The companies have committed $45 million in funding and assets to progress the development of one of the nation's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities, located in Highlands County, Florida. 

    Yes, it will take years to scale up cellulosic (and algae) energy systems, but the pace of breakthroughs and production focused investments remains one of the most compelling stories emerging in the energy sector. 

    The Real Transition:
    Growing Energy by Closing the Carbon Loop
    The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed.  But the real question for those exploring the futures of energy is: Will our economy continue to be based on energy that is 'borrowed and wasted' or 'created and recycled'? 

    We shifted from an Agricultural to Industrial society, by tapping 'stored energy' locked up in the chemical carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal, oil and natural gas.  And this system is shamefully inefficient at every level from electric power generation to the mechanical engines that power our transportation sector.

    If the Industrial Age was based on a high value energy 'input', low value energy 'output' (waste), the 21st century could be shaped by our efforts to close the loop of chemical energy cycles using biology (chemistry, et al) to return to a high value energy product from that waste.

    Looking at Biology is an Energy Tool


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  • Rocky Mountain Institute Report and Interactive Map Highlight Electricity Sector Inefficiencies

    February 18 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    RMI mapEfficiency is widely considered the 'low hanging fruit' for improving the energy sector.

    And while it is tempting to seek out gains via some mass market consumer push with hybrids and new lightbulbs, the greatest near term returns are to be found within the utility sector (electricity power generation) and among power hungry industrial clients.

    Rocky Mountain Institute's consulting arm RMI ERT has identified US opportunities to 'close the electric productivity gap' around tremendous cost and carbon savings.   

    To suport this vision of a more efficient power generation sector, RMI has released a new report: Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the U.S. Efficiency Opportunity [PDF] and an interactive map that ranks every state in the the US.

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  • Energy Startup to Watch: Carbon Sciences (Biocatalyst to 'grow' fuels)

    February 18 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Fortune may favor those who see carbon as a resource for making things, and not the demise of human civilization. 

    Carbon Sciences (Santa Barbara, CA) is another company focused on 'growing energy' using bio-derived conversion processes.  It is betting its future on bioenergy systems patterned from Mother Nature:  Harness and 'protect' the 'biocatalysts' (enzymes) that have molecular pathways designed to eat carbon dioxide (CO2), bind it with hydrogen to form liquid hydrocarbons.  Just like oil!

    The biofuel can be blown up in a combustion engine, converted into electricity via a fuel cell, or used to create bio-plastics.  It will take a few years for CS to move from its March '09 demonstration to pilot to full scale production as they confront the challenges shared by all bioenergy startups: lowering costs, improving reliability and scaling.   Let's not hype these advanced bio energy companies, but if society is going to invest in an energy system that has true disruptive potential - biology provides a compelling platform.  We should be paying attention to startups like Carbon Sciences.

    Video clip from MoneyTV with new President, Byron Elton

    Related Posts on bioenergy on The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • [Video] Google Power Meter translates energy into information flows

    February 18 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage. 

    There are dozens of 'smart grid' infrastructure startups that service utility companies, as well as more commercial/industrial efforts being pushed by IBM, Johnson Controls, Honeywell, and Cisco.

    And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'.  The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption.  Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.

    Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • Clinton Foundation to fund LED Street Lamps for City of Los Angeles

    February 17 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    ccbar street lampThe Clinton Foundation has announced a plan to help the City of Los Angeles retrofit 140,000 street lamps with more efficient white-light LEDs that offer longer lifetime, lower energy use and less 'light polllution' that restricts night sky views.

    The Outdoor Lighting Program of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) will be the largest LED street lighting retrofit project ever undertaken by a city to date. The City expects to reduce its electricity use by approximately 40,500 tons a year equal to taking '6,700 passenger vehicles off the road every year.'  The Foundation expects the city to save save a total of $48 million over a seven year period, and reduce carbon emissions by 197,000 tons.

    A National Model for Saving Electricity & Night Sky Views?

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  • Researchers design nano-crystals for high efficiency solar cells

    February 17 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy


    Researchers at US Los Alamos National Laboratory (LLNL) have confirmed a unique energy phenomena known as 'carrier multiplication' via nanoscale sized semiconductor crystals that could improve the efficiency of solar cells by squeezing more energy out of inbound photons.

    Traditional solar cells absorb a photon of light that releases an electron to generate an electrical current. Any excess energy from the photon reaction is wasted as heat or vibration.  The notion of 'carrier multiplciation' rests on the idea that we can get multiple electrons released from a single photon by forcing electrons into a more confined space.

    Carrier multiplication was observed several years ago, but has been criticized as a phantom phenomena via a process known as 'photoionization'.  But now a research team led by Victor Klimov has confirmed that semiconductor crystals designed at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) can channel this excess photon energy into a group of tightly packed electrons, leading to a more efficient solar cell.

    The team did not release statements about commercialization or scalable efficiencies.  “Researchers still have a lot of work to do,” Klimov cautioned. “One important challenge is to figure out how to design a material in which the energetic cost to create an extra electron can approach the limit defined by a semiconductor band gap. Such a material could raise the fundamental power conversion limit of a solar cell from 31 percent to above 40 percent.”

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  • IEA Warns: Oil 'Supply Crunch' Will Return

    February 16 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Burning Man

    Oil Supply Crunch ahead
    The world's leading authority on oil markets is warning that these days of cheap ($40 barrel) oil are just a mirage and that the world is likely to experience 'an oil supply crunch' next year (2010) as markets begin to recover.

    Reuters reports on IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka describing a potential short-term reality: "Currently the demand is very low due to the very bad economic situation, but when the economy starts growing, recovery comes again in 2010 and then onward, we may have another serious supply crunch if capital investment is not coming."

    The Real Problem with Oil - No Alternative
    Oil's biggest problem is 'lack of substiitutability'.  There is no other 'reserve' of liquid fuel that can compare to the energy locked up inside the hydrogen-carbon bonds of oil.

    If we talk about using oil as gasoline for the transportation sector there is no commercially viable alternative that offers the same volume and performance.  Even 'Next Generation' biofuels from algae and cellulose-eating bacteria cannot provide the scale to fill even a tiny gap in global oil production vs demand.

    People who push 'solar', 'wind' or 'nuclear' (which produce electricity) as an 'alternative to oil' simply do not understand the combustion engine. You cannot put electricity inside your gas tank.  We must either produce massive amounts of liquid fuel substitutes, or take a bolder step to kill the combustion engine.

    Is the world ready to confront the real problem? The Combustion Engine


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  • Japanese researchers create synthetic plug to link 'bio' system to gold electrode for solar energy capture

    February 13 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy


    The most disruptive energy technologies of the 21st century might not exist today. They must be imagined and built.

    Researchers are still working to evolve the basic science and applied engineering capacity to deliver low carbon solutions that can meet a doubling of global demand in the next three decades.

    Bio-Synthetic Hybrids
    One area of cutting edge research deals with the integration of naturally occurring (or patterned) biocomponents into synthetic systems used in devices like solar cells and fuel cells.

    The vision is to build hybrids that blend what 'nature has perfected' at the molecular scale, with human engineering designs at an industrial scale.

    While modern solar cells struggle for low cost efficiency, plants and microbes have figured out a way to capture sunlight and store it as chemical energy at almost near perfect molecular efficiency where each photon causes the release of one electron. How? Because the parts in the photo-receptor systems fit perfectly.  Researchers are now looking to create bio-hybrid systems that could inspire new forms of solar collectors.

    Japanese researchers have now developed a new process to capture light energy with nearly equal efficiency by creating a synthetic molecular wire "plug" that transfers electrons from a biological photosynthetic system to a gold electrode. (Details here!)  There are no details about efficiency rates or how this system could scale, but it is a promising step forward!

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  • 10 Future-focused Ideas for Obama's 'Car Czar', Imagining Life After the Combustion Engine

    February 13 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    The FuturePresident Obama is close to naming the ‘Car Czar’ who will oversee a large portion of the federal auto loans and consult on the looming transformation of the US auto industry. Let's hope this person doesn't try to build a better buggy whip.

    Most ideas out on the table are incremental (e.g. ‘better mileage’), or short-sighted (e.g. plug in batteries?) and fail to inspire disruptive changes that reflect a 21st century version of the transportation sector. 

    Here are Ten Ideas for the US Car Czar: 

    1) Lower the US Auto Industry I.C.E. 'Manufacturing Footprint'
    The problem isn't oil, it's the cost complexities of building mechanical engines. Declare the Internal Combustion Engine ‘Dead’ by 2025 (When more than 50% of new vehicles will be powered by electric motors) Have automakers share combustion engine plants and suppliers during the transition.

    2) Accelerate the Electricification of the World's Auto Fleet
    At the same time expand the US manufacturing base around the 'next' generation platform for mobility: Electric Drive systems based on high performance motors, drive by wire systems, software and various energy storage devices.

    3) Explain ‘Electrification’ clearly to the public
    ‘Electric’ refers to the motor, not just the battery.  Next generation 'electric' vehicles will integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.  Fuel cells produce electricity.  A hydrogen powered car is an electric car. Let’s stop the confusion and battle between technologies.  Cars are not iPods, and will need various systems to function.  This is a multi-decade long transition.  Don't pick short-term winners.

    4) Go Global - Expand our ties to Asian Manufacturers & Markets
    Electric cars are not designed to be built as one unit, in one country. They are assembled systems of systems that can be constantly upgraded via a global value chain.  The line of 'new' car vs 'old' car blurs when we shift to modular electric platforms.  And all the real growth will happen outside of the US!   'Detroit' must participate in this global supply chain and be in a position to sell 21st century vehicle systems to Asian markets. (Hint: The high value auto industrial base will revolve around polymers, software and sensors, not metal frames.)

    5) Software Side of Car Experience
    The single greatest opportunity for the next century might be the ‘software’ side of the automobile experience.   Smarter vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ systems, customized driving experiences based on ‘drive by wire’, and mobility services (e.g. OnStar).   The US can compete in this new growth market and benefit by getting 'more flow' out of our current roadway system as we make drivers and cars smarter.  (PS - Mass Transit could use some software to create service transparency)

    Read on:
    6) Build next generation energy systems; 7) Reinvent the Wheel; 8) Fleet only for Plug-ins; 9) Shift Revenue streams to After Market 10) New 'types' of vehicle & service


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