• [Video] CNN Reporters Clueless to Biological Origins of Oil, Time For An Energy 101 Literacy Campaign

    March 02 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    [Ok, this is a snarky post, but I'm leaving it up.  It seems reasonable to assume that CNN would have a Producer, Writer or Intern make a stronger connection between 'hydrocarbons' like coal and oil that originated from biomass (plants and diatoms).  Instead CNN frames algae like a space alien recipe.]

    Gas 2.0 writer Nick Chambers has featured a CNN video clip of baffled reporters who 'have just discovered algae' based energy systems via a look at Origin Oil's helix bioreactor. 

    The CNN correspondents are clueless to the biological origins of oil and the basics of energy science- namely that everytime we drive our car we are breaking apart hydrogen-carbon bonds formed by ancient algae.  So tapping the power of algae to bind molecules for energy feedstocks is not 'science fiction', it is Mother Nature.    

    [Peaking in snarky tone right there...] The clip shows how disconnected we are from understanding even the basics of energy systems and where energy comes from.  (It's scary how many people I meet that still think 'fossil fuels' are ancient dinosaurs.)  And it is not a surprise that shallow 'consuming green' strategies dominate public conversations, despite falling flat in terms of offering global solutions.

    Could we get science back into the conversaton? How about teaching our children and news reporters the most basic '101' energy science. Oil is not pixie dust, it comes from somewhere.

    CNN should educate its reporter on what they fill up in their gas tank.  Because it's ancient algae. 

    Related algae posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • Japanese Researchers Advance High Surface Area MOFs For Biofuels and Solid Hydrogen Storage

    March 01 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    MOFs RikkenResearchers from RIKEN’s Harima Institute have designed a unique version of a high surface area material known as Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs).  Their version of these ‘lego-like’ scaffolding have two different size pores useful in manipulating metals to interact with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules.

    The larger pores could be helpful in separating alcohol gases from water in creation of fuels from biomass, while the smaller pores can be used to store hydrogen as a solid.

    We have featured a number of stories (below) on MOFs, and believe they are on a solid development path towards commercialization in a wide range of energy applications. 

    First synthesized in the mid 1990s, MOFs have the highest surface area of any known material.  They can be used for 'separating (carbon-hydrogen rich) gases, acting as catalysts to speed up chemical reactions, and for storing gases as solids.' 

    The future of energy will be based on our mastering of interactions between basic units like light, molecules, and metals. MOFs provide human beings with a platform of unprecedented surface area that increase our ability to manipulate these interactions.  They might play a critical role in enabling a new era of energy systems that go beyond 'extraction' of hydrocarbon reserves.

    Why Science, Not Consumerism, is Needed to Move beyond the ‘Extraction’ Era of Energy

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  • General Motors Can Still Reinvent the Auto Industry

    February 28 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    Kill the Combustion EngineVision: Skateboard = 21st Platform for Mobility
    Last week, GM announced $30.9 billion loses in 2008, yet it hasn't lost its 'Autonomy' vision of re-engineering how cars are built via modular components and its ability to grow new revenue streams around 'after market' upgrades and mobility services (e.g. OnStar).

    The catch?

    It needs a decade or two to make it happen!

    21st Century Growth Platforms
    Growth has nothing to do with moving beyond oil, or finding better ways to sell 'new' cars.  In fact, we must get over this notion of a 'new' car industry model.   What other industry manufactures a $20,000-60,000 product without a pre-arranged buyer?

    Growth has everything to do with:

    1) Reducing 'Manufacturing Footprint'
    Lowering costs by moving beyond the combustion engine manufacturing platform towards modular electric drive trains powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. 

    2) Software Services &  After Market
    Shifting revenues towards the software-service side of the driving experience, and physical 'after market' design upgrades. GM should profit 'per mile', not 'per vehicle'.  Dealerships need customers that buy some new upgrade every month, not one vehicle every few years.

    3) Rebranding as a Mobility Service Company
    Why should GM be limited to a brand for personal vehicle ownership?  Develop new categories of mobilty products (e.g. personal urban vehicles).  Integrate products and services into a broader 'mobility services' sector that blends private and public transit options. (Realize you aren't in the 'new car' business, but in mobility services)

    Many of GM's leaders like Sr VP Larry Burns, (Mr. 'Skateboard kills Car') understand this new reality, and I wish they'd be more public about a new vision for mobility and jumpstart this multi-decade long transition.  I'm not talking about an 'ad campaign', but a clearly stated vision that inspires the next generation of mobility industry entrepreneurs. 

    Fixated on Building better 'Buggy Whips' (and Related Posts)

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  • Sony unveils new micro fuel cell products for portable power solutions

    February 27 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Technology


    Sony product managers must be loving the blogosphere buzz around its demonstration of three unique fuel cell products at Japan's 5th Annual Hydrogen and Fuel cell Expo. 

    Geek.com has a nice snapshot of the three fuel cell models including a hybrid lithium ion battery charger.

    Many 'gadget' bloggers love to hate fuel cells because of missed 'hype' expectations.  But the appeal of hydrogen's 'clean molecules' is hard to escape.  And business leaders with foresight see a nice path to growth around micro-fuel cells and packet-based refueling sales.

    Ironically the first commercial applications for micro fuel cells are likely to be 'battery rechargers'!  A number of startups have early products already on the market, and analysts expect Toshiba to release its first generation product this year.

    Portable Power Systems: Enabling a 21st Century Energy Solution

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  • Canadian Researchers Advance Key Enabling 'Green Chemistry' Process, Then Open Source It For the World

    February 25 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Biotechnology


    The vision of 'Green Chemisty' is to create the basic components used in making materials, energy, food and pharmaceuticals using sustainable practices, often without the use of petroleum based feedstocks.

    Researchers from McGilll University have announced a breakthrough in a key enabling building block technology for 'green chemistry' that could not previously be explained by 'classical chemistry'.

    The team led by Chemistry professor Chao-Jun (C.J.) Li discovered an entirely new way of synthesizing peptides by using simple reagents that will enable a lower cost method for building larger molecules. 

    Peptides are short polymer chains that Mother Nature uses as a foundation for building proteins and other bio-materials.  

    Creating a Simple, Low Cost Process
    “Currently, to generate peptides you must use a peptide synthesizer, an expensive piece of high-tech equipment,” explained Li, Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry. “You need to purchase every single separate amino acid unit that makes up the peptide, and feed them into the machine one by one, which then assembles them. Every time you need a new peptide, you need to synthesize it individually from scratch.”

    The team's process is based on 'a single, simple “skeleton” peptide which can be modified into any other peptide needed with the addition of a simple reagent.'

    Open Innovation, Access to All
    Not only has the team announced the process breakthrough, but it is taking the high road to advancing global efforts by opening the information to anyone.

    “This is really an enabling new technology,” he added, “and since McGill has decided not to patent it, we’re making our method available to everyone. We are paying the journal’s open access fee, so anyone in the world can access the paper.”

    Related Green Chemistry Posts:

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  • Algae startup Bionavitas unveils Light Immersion Technology

    February 24 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    BionavitasBioenergy startup Bionavitas [Video] has unveiled a new lighting system, designed for both open pond and closed bioreactors, that the company believes could make algae-based biofuels price competitive with petroleum products.

    Why algae?
    The premise of Algae bioenergy is elegant and transformational in our effort to close the carbon loop. To understand the future of algae, you have to understand the past.

    Oil is just chemical energy stored in the form of hydrogen-carbon bonds that were assembled by ancient sea-living microbes.  So, oil is the result of ancient algae growth!

    But instead of extracting reserves of oil, we can 'grow energy' using efficient biochemical pathways of algae (and bacteria) that eat carbon and, then using the power of light, bind it with hydrogen to produce bio-oil that can be used as a source of energy or as a feedstock for biomaterials. 

    But in order to scale algae production, we need to solve a few problems including adequate lighting. 

    Let there be Light
    The Bionavitas Light Immersion Technology addresses one of the main barriers to scaling algae systems- giving the rapidly growing algae enough light to keep eating carbon and producing hydrocarbon chains.  As the algae grow, they block the light of the fellow neighbors.  Bionavitas hopes to bring 'photons to biomass' through an innovative lighting system.

    Within open pond systems, the Light Immersion Technology enables 'the algae growth layer in open ponds to be up to a meter deep... representing a 10 to 12 time increase in yield over previous methods that produced only 3-5 centimeters of growth.'

    For closed bioreactors 'the rods evenly distribute more readily absorbed red and blue spectrum light from high efficiency LEDs.'

    Related algae posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • Dow & Global Solar Continue Push For Distributed Power Generation Around Roof Shingle Solar Cells

    February 23 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Global SolarThe future where buildings integrate energy generation systems like 'thin film' solar rooftops might be closer than you think.   

    Instead of designing expensive, bulky and ugly glass based solar panels, solar start ups are pushing down costs of plastic-substrate based 'thin film' solar cells that resemble today's roof shingles.  The field also includes 'Big Chemistry' players like Dow and DuPont who hope to drop the costs of advanced solar materials.

    PV Tech is reporting on the continued push by Dow Chemical to expand mainstream construction use power-generating roof shingles by 2011.  Dow has already committed more than $3 billion towards polysilicon production that will help lower the global costs of solar cells.

    One of Dow's key partnerships is with CIGS solar producer Global Solar (Image).  The two companies agreed in 2008 to join the US Department of Energy Solar America Initiative (SAI) project to develop building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) that makes solar energy cost competitive with 'grid' electricity by 2015.

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  • Growing Recognition of Peak Oil Production Could Accelerate Death of Combustion Engine

    February 22 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy


    [Note: Sadly, this is a Production chart focused on alternative 'decline rates', and does not include Global Demand forecasts.  Only know that there is a gap in any scenario!]

    The upside of 'Peak Oil Production' is that it might be a more effective message than Climate Change in spurring dramatic changes to our transportation sector.  The worst case 'peak production' scenario is that it might remain marginalized among mainstream audiences and political leaders just long enough to really matter. What if confusion reigns?

    People might confuse the idea of 'running out of oil' (not true) with the reality that global production is not keeping up with increasing demand.  People might place misguided hope into potential 'solutions' like solar or nuclear that have nothing to do with liquid fuel markets.  You cannot put electricity into a gas tank!

    Why Data Has Replaced 'Assumptions' & Why 'Peak and Plateau' Matters


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  • Northwestern Researchers Develop Novel Membrane for Hydrogen CO2 Separation

    February 21 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    hydrogen gas separationResearchers from Northwestern University have developed a new class of ‘honeycomb’ gas separation materials to purify hydrogen rich mixtures like methane (natural gas) for generating electricity via fuel cells.

    Traditional methods of gas separation use selective membranes that grab molecules by size. But Northwestern's Professor Mercouri G. Kanatzidis and Gerasimos S. Armatas are using a method of polarization.  As the gas mixture of (carbon dioxide and hydrogen) travels through the inner walls of the ‘mesopourous’ membrane, the carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are slowed down and pulled towards the wall as the hydrogen molecules pass through the holes.

    One type of membrane consisting of heavy elements germanium, lead and tellurium showed to be approximately four times more selective at separating hydrogen than traditional methods using lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen and carbon.  The process is reported to work at “convenient temperature range” -- between zero degrees Celsius and room temperature.

    “We are taking advantage of what we call ‘soft’ atoms, which form the membrane’s walls,” said Kanatzidis. “These soft-wall atoms like to interact with other soft molecules passing by, slowing them down as they pass through the membrane. Hydrogen, the smallest element, is a ‘hard’ molecule. It zips right through while softer molecules, like carbon dioxide and methane take more time.”


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  • England, the Birthplace of Coal Power, Will Build Europe's First Gasification Plant

    February 21 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Hatfield Mine

    England, the Birthplace of Coal Power and the Industrial Revolution, will now build Europe's first advanced coal power generation plant based on a gasification process that should provide 90 percent overall carbon capture.

    Honeywell's UOP has been awarded a contract by UK-based Powerfuel Power Ltd. to construct a 900 MW plant that transforms coal into a much cleaner syngas which is used to generate electricity.

    The UOP Selexol(TM) process technology allows the operator to capture carbon (sulfur, et al) during the process of creating the hydrogen-rich syngas.

    The Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant will be built adjacent to the Hatfield coal mining operation (picture) and should start operation in 2013.

    Finding a way to talk about Coal
    Coal is not the future of energy, but it has a future.  In recent years it has been the world's fastest growing source of energy, and is likely to gain market share in the years ahead even as renewables grow faster.  We cannot just wish it away and there are no easy, short term solutions that satisfy either side of the coal conversation.

    If 'Clean Coal' is not possible, then 'Cleaner' coal might be the middle ground.  Some engineers are betting on shoving carbon into the ground, and construction of future gasification plants.  Other biologists are betting that we can retrofit existing plants with bioreactors of algae/bacteria that 'eat' carbon and produce a usuable hydrocarbon fuel that can be used onsite to generate electricity, or sold as a liquid fuel of biomaterial feedstock.

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