Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Did Renewables have it's "Sputnik Moment" in Spain this year?

Grumpy Old Men resistant-to-change ("geezers") love to rant in great detail about how renewables will never work, continually quoting already-debunked statements like "it's impossible to get above 20% penetration without MASSIVE investment in unproven or non-existent technology" or "the wind doesn't always blow, then what?" etc etc.

Well let's look at Spain's progress up till now and especially let's focus on what happened during 2010.

Previous to 2010 one particular region in Spain, Navarra had at times achieved penetration of up to 60% of it's electricity supply from a combination of wind and hydro. Pretty impressive you might say, but not everywhere has hydro (though plenty places do such as Norway, Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia among others - and it should be pointed out that Ontario is an industrial powerhouse, producing more cars by volume than Michigan so we might say that the industrial base to produce electric cars without being affected too too much by oil declines already exists but that's another story for another day....).

Anyways returning to the point: Spain as an example and it's progress on renewables up to 2010.

In this post here there are some juicy details:

Translated from Spanish, what it basically says is that across the entire country, between wind, solar and hydro, Spain produced an *average* of 35% of it's electric demand from renewables such as wind, hydro and solar and and additional 19% from Nuclear and the balance from oil and gas. This when demand *increased* by 2.9% on an annual basis. I make that to be Spain 55% covered by non oil-and-gas. Or a little bit better than glass is half full.

That's interesting. I thought it was impossible to get above 20% without MASSIVE upgrades to the grid. Oh wait, perhaps the doomers and old change-resistant curmudgeons were actually WRONG? Could it be? Oh woe.

What's also interesting to watch is that Spain is a testbed for solar. In Spain they already have close to 3% being generated by Solar methods and they're nowhere near maxxed out. Given that a radical new solar energy technology is on the horizon with greatly increased efficiency we could conceivably be looking at 10% Solar electricity in Spain in the next decade and perhaps much more optimistically speaking.

And on a sarcastic note one of the reasons hydro was able to produce much more was due to all the extra RAIN that Spain received. Turns out that the evil global warming made Spain WETTER rather than drier. Excuse me but I thought global warming was always EVIL?!?!?

Returning from sarcasm to the real world where money is made, it's also interesting to point out that another of the myths the change resistant geezers promote is that fossil fuel plants need to be built to cover times when renewables produce low volumes. Turns out, that rather than import electricity from fossil fuel powered domains, Spain in fact EXPORTED electricity to France in 2010. And not just in 2010. They've been doing this since 2004.

Anyways, Spain's national target is 40% renewables by 2020, a laudable goal. They're already 70% of the way there and we're only at the end of 2010.

Combine this mix with a healthy increase in nuclear power and we may see the Spanish at least being entirely off of fossil fuels for electricity within the foreseeable future. Now we just need to get off our asses in North America...

So returning to debunking dieoff, could it just possibly be that unlike what the dieoff crowd say, the lights are NOT GOING OUT??

Christmas Post

In idle moments I often wonder why some people are so resistant to change. These very same types of people throw up objections to moving off of oil (while at the same time offering no solutions).

Since there is a lot of resistance (I'd say whining) to moving off of oil, we hear things like the following "I don't want to drive an electric car because I can't refuel it everywhere and I'd like to (2X a year!) drive to the coast which is too far" (ignoring completely the fact that SOME people will have to change their transportation methods if peak oil is real)


"I don't want to pay tax dollars towards subsidizing wind power or solar power because I'm a free marketeer" (but you support spending 2 trillion dollars defending oil supplies in the mid-east - which is *allegedly* not "subsidies".

So imagine this:

Imagine that we have no choice but to move a million vehicles per year in the national fleet off of oil.

Will those disenfranchised drivers prefer to

a. Take the bus
b. Drive a limited range electric vehicle.

Personally I know which I'd choose.

On another note, I often muse about what the next decade or two is going to look like and I also wonder how to make some money out of it. Some of the signs of change are already here but no clear winners have yet emerged.
2011-2020 is going to be interesting I think. So let me take a stab at guessing what could happen (just guesses):

I think we could see some big winners in the following
1. Electric vehicles powertrain and associated parts suppliers.
2. Japanese, US and European companies who develop alternative non-rare-earth magnet substitute technology
3. Continued breakthroughs in battery technology which bring 400 mile range to european sized passenger cars - some of these technologies will be composed of cheap materials but enhanced by nanotechnology materials
4. Continued breakthroughs in enhanced oil extraction technologies which bolster production - flattening any decline
5. Continued cost reductions in solar technology - better than parity in some of the sunnier regions
6. Reduction in format of nuclear reactors for applications such as freight shipping
7. Standardization in recharging facilities for electric vehicles - will the EU pick one and standardize on it or will be see a betamat vs VHS fight?
8. Heavy duty big rig truck manufacturers will go for natural gas conversions in a big way
9. Continued incremental increases in crop yields
10. Standardization of battery swap technology similar to Project Better Place's idea

Following are wild cards I think we could see:
1. Algal oil up to a sustainable level to be able to produce a couple million barrels per day
2. Methane hydrates - the japanese may figure out how to unlock the massive deposits they have off their coast in a cost effective way
3. Perennial cereal crops & Salt water crops
4. Cheap energy efficient desalinization
5. Seaweed to oil
6. Industrial volumes of biochar for increased crop yield with the by-product of carbon capture
7. Plastics from renewable sources such as biomass on an industrial scale
8. Plastics from natural gas augmented by nuclear power or renewables
9. Greatly enhanced efficiency to some form of fischer tropf process to go from shale gas to liquids using nuclear or renewables
10. Large numbers of junker vehicles backfitted to natural gas for those who can't afford electric vehicles

Place your investment bets ladies and gentlemen...

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Batteries: Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

We might be close.

Planar Energy, a spinoff from the US Department of Energy Renewable Technology lab has developed a 3D printable solid state lithium battery with three times the energy density at half the cost of current generation Li-Ion batteries.

The hard process engineering part was to scale up the size of the batteries which had previously been difficult to do. The breakthrough is their 3D "printing style" deposition process which allows precise deposition of solid state nanoscale electrodes, doing away with the need for liquid.

Half the cost and three times the energy density?

A nissan leaf with a three hundred fifty mile range optimal conditions and two hundred mile range sub-optimal conditions would probably meet in excess of 90% of North American driving scenarios and higher still in Europe.

So are we there yet? Nearly.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

So thinking some more about today's post

So I've been thinking some more about today's post on the new solar antenna which could replace solar panels at greatly increased efficiency and harvest some of that from infrared.

I have come to the conclusion that this technology is disruptive. It's the long awaited replacement for fossil fuels right there.


Let's do a little back of the envelope calculation.

Let's say you get 45% efficiency during direct sunlight (say 6 hours per day). Let's say you get 12% efficiency during the rest of the day (let's remember it can harvest infrared energy even at night). What we're talking about is effectively doubling the number of hours of full sunlight. So we get 12 hours of sunlight every day at 45% efficiency.

Now the best solar panels of today get 25% efficiency during 6 hours per day under optimal conditions (these new paradigm panels get 80% under optimal conditions).

Doing the math that means we have 4X as much energy harvested as with current best of breed cells.

Looking at costing we are at about 2X to 3X the cost of fossil fuel with current solar panel installations with *United States* average retail electricity prices.

Now let's be conservative and say we only get 2X the energy harvested rather than the 4X I have postulated. In this case, assuming we can get the process engineering out of the way and the cost down to a level that's at *least* the same for volume production of current generation solar cells, then we are at parity to 50% more than parity with fossil fuel derived electricity in the United States.

Who cares about parity you say?

Well as it happens the United States happens to be in the least expensive 10% of electricity produced GLOBALLY.

So that means 90% of the planet will be able to produce electricity cheaper with these new solar cells than by burning up fossil fuels.

That's a game changer.

So here's your homework:
What will the world look like 20 years from now?
10 billion people, limited fossil fuels, very cheap renewable electrical energy and ability to extract useful minerals from very low quality ores due to abundance of energy.

We live in very interesting times.

Solar Panels just took a big jump in efficiency

It has been a long hard slog to develop and produce solar panels with an efficiency rating of 25% (that is they convert 25% of the convertible light spectrum into electricity with the rest wasted). The original solar panels from the early 1970s had an efficiency rating of just 10%. So it has taken us forty years to just more than double the efficiency. I'm thinking that surely we can do better than that?

Other technology has been used to lesser or greater degrees of efficiency such as focussed lens solar panels, but these are far more expensive than standard solar panels and since regular solar panels to start with are 2X-3X as expensive today as the most expensive electricity in the United States, we don't need anything that adds to the cost.

One of the issues at hand is standard solar panels have two major drawbacks. The first is that they must be angled correctly or the angle of the sunlight will just bounce off the junction in the solar cell, with the potential to convert the light to electricity lost. The second drawback is that standard solar panels are able to utilize only a small and fixed portion of the solar spectrum.

These two factors may be about to change with the invention of an entirely new class of solar panels at the US Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. The new panels are able to use a much wider spectrum of light than standard panels and additionally they are capable of absorbing energy at a variety of angles.
This leads to an efficiency of greater than 45% compared to the current best of 25% for the most expensive panels currently on the market.

The most interesting and salient point, however isn't the ability to use angles, it's the fact that in addition to being able to use a much wider spectrum of light, they are also able to use non-visible light such as infrared.

Why is that important?

Firstly greater than 50 percent of sunlight is in the infrared and secondly another name for infrared is *heat*.

What are the implications of that?

These solar panels can be used at *night*!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Nuclear Powered Freight Shipping coming to a theater near you

Many of the bleeding edge thinkers on oil decline point to nuclear energy as being a valid substitute to diesel in freight shipping.

It seems that the freight shipping industry itself has finally sat up and taken notice. About time too I say to myself.

Anyways... One of the largest shipping and freight operators in the world, greek shipping operator Enterprise Shippind And Trading S.A. has gotten together with Hyperion Power and discussed the concept of powering the shipping fleet with nukes.

This has already been tried successfully by the Germans between 1970 to 1979 on a nuclear powered freighter called Otto Hahn.

So the crap we buy from Wal-mart will still be arriving from China much to the chagrin of our "green" friends, likewise the 4000 mile salads even post peak.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Electric Buses

Start and stop fixed loop delivery vehicles are a prime candidate in the logistical supply chain for electrification. In previous posts I've pointed that out and also the accumulating evidence that the marketplace is starting to take notice. Specifically that those kinds of applications are already cost competitive with diesel and if prices rise drastically post peak oil decline then they will become more cost competitive still.

What about buses? I've pointed out before that buses are another prime candidate for electrification since they are fixed loop and since there is typically a large dedicated depot facility at the beginning/end of the loop, that depot facility would be a prime candidate for a fast charge facility so that even in heavily used urban bus routes, the bus could be taken out of service for, say, an hour and fast-charged back to 80% of capacity. I expected that this would cover most if not all urban bus scenarios.

As it turns out, I'm way too pessimistic. In the US, which has some 800,000 buses registered, close to 75% of them travel less than 100 miles per day. This is particularly true of the nearly 500,000 school buses.

There are several bus companies who have either hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric already in short-run production.

One interesting application is one recently trialed by GE Global Research who have successfully piloted a dual battery system which has two distinct kinds of battery technologies: One is a high power A123Systems advanced (but expensive) lithium-ion battery with extremely high power density and the other is a much less expensive sodium metal halide battery which has lower power density but higher energy density.

The combination of the two is both cheaper (20% less expensive) - making it an easier sell - and meets the needs of a stop-and-start transit application or else a school bus type application.

I make that to be a potential market of more than half a million vehicles at the same time as shoring up yet another section of the transportation network.
Since these are a 1:1 substitution for diesel applications, the diesel that these electric vehicles *would have* used would subsequently be freed up by use forpersonal transportation, thus blunting any potential price rises and allowing car manufacturers a longer time period to amortize older plant and equipment and also spread the costs of raising capital for new plant and equipment.

So now where are we post peak oil in terms of substitutes:

Long distance transportation (via electric rail) Check.
Long distance shipping via nuclear powered freighters. Check.
Hub and Spoke last mile delivery via electric trucks. Check.
Pizza delivery via electric scooter. Check.
Mass transit via electric buses. Check.
School Transit via electric buses. Check.

The only remaining piece is to cover the personal transportation segment.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Dieoff by global warming

So allegedly if we don't stop the economy the associated emissions from carbon dioxide will heat the planet up, leading to temperatures so high that we'll all fry.

What's interesting to me is that there have been at least two global warming episodes in the past.

The biggest was during a period called the Eocene several tens of millions of years ago. What's interesting about this era is that carbon dioxide was several times what it will be in the worst case scenario in our own era(more than 500 parts per million project compared to 2000 parts per million during the Eocene). During the Eocene the summer temperature at the poles was 20C and in the tropics it was close to 40C. At the same time the global biodiversity was one of the highest it's ever been in the history of life. There were no humans around.

The more recent period called the Pliocene was very interesting because it's similar to now. Carbon dioxide was just under 400 parts per million and the configuration of the continents was almost identical to the way they are now. The temperature, however was some 5C higher at the poles and some 3C higher than today at the tropics.
Biodiversity was also much higher than today. There were only early hominids around and in limited numbers. Practically speaking there were no humans around.

What can be gleaned from those two cases?
1. Biodiversity in the pre-human epoch was usually higher during global warming periods.
2. There is large variation in temperatures at the same level of carbon dioxide
3. Even at extremely high concentrations of carbon dioxide there was no runaway greenhouse effect and life was not baked to a crisp.

So given these incontrovertible pieces of evidence we have to ask the question WHY are the ecologists so up in arms about us pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?

To answer that question we have to note that the response is: reduce the size of the economy and reduce energy consumption in order to reduce the emissions.

I think the answer to that is they do not really care about the carbon dioxide, it's the processes that generate the carbon dioxide and the energy consumption they're worried about.


Well, if your prime concern is biodiversity and preservation of ecosystems then you want the least possible interference. Given that carbon dioxide has a net positive impact on biodiversity all things being equal it's glaringly obvious that the problem for the ecologists isn't carbon dioxide, it's the size of the economy and the amount of energy consumption.

If it were carbon dioxide alone then we switch to non carbon means of generating energy but there isn't a consensus among the green groups. Some are opposed to e.g. nuclear power and wind turbines and very few are not. Tbus it's easy to conclude it's not the emissions they really care about it's the fact that the economy drives energy consumption which drives extraction of natural resources.

In the end the answer is the economy needs natural resources and that's their real concern. That also in fact is a message that's now being pumped out into the media: reduce consumption and "we use too many resources".

What's interesting however, is you hear no such message coming from e.g. the Chinese or the Russians.

The Russians don't believe in global warming AT ALL. They think it's bullshit.
On the other hand they also think WE should reduce our emissions (read: reduce the size of our economy).

Likewise the Chinese state they are very concerned about global warming but have no intention of reducing their emissions and in fact are going to GROW their emissions. They say that if anybody has to reduce emissions it should be us, meanwhile they will be free to increase theirs.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions from these observations but it's enough to ask one final question in closing:

Are we so GULLIBLE here in North America and Europe that we're going to voluntarily reduce our economy and standard of living while our industrial competitors laugh at us behind our backs while they increase their standard of living at our expense with NO NET EFFECT on global emissions since they will be emitting more to make up for our reductions?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Peak Oil the doomer position

On this site I've already taken a look at the IEA report and concluded reaonably optimistic projections based on chopping it down a little.

One of our more pessimistic friends (as reported on the Oil Drum) ex- from the Saudi Company Aramco Sadad Ibrahim Al-Husseini, former executive vice president for exploration and production says that IEA is too optimistic because supplies are depleting at "twice" the rate of new reserves being added. (Note that he's talking about supplies of *conventional* crude and isn't talking about substitutes, demand destruction or efficiency *at all*).

He goes on to say that conventional resources have to be replaced by deep water resources and arctic resources as well as smaller fields which deplete at a higher rate than large fields. (Note that nowhere is discussed the possibility I highlighted earlier that there might be greater total volume in a potentially much larger number of smaller fields than there are in the large fields since in nature volume of e.g. lakes follows a power law and it's unlikely that oil fields are any different)

Husseini's "more realistic" forecast of global crude oil supplies yields what he described as a production plateau that levels off at around 87 million bpd from 2013 through 2019 and declines thereafter to nearly 83 million bpd by 2030.

“Supply shortfalls during this time frame must be met by unconventional fuels and oil substitutes…Gulf oil production would not exceed 25-26 million bpd over the next two decades owing to a variety of technical and economic reasons.”

Interesting. So he says that conventional fields all by themselves will start to decline from 87 mbpd in 2019 to 83 mbpd in 2030. I make that to be a gap of 4 mbpd over a period of 11 years. In other words less than a half million barrels per day net decline rate for *conventional* supplies.

Can we make up a half million barrel per day decline rate on a yearly basis from unconventional sources such as tar-sands, gas-to-liquids, fuel substituion, efficiency and other demand-destruction measures such as "taking the bus"?

We're so friggen dooooooomed!!!
(Rolls eyes)

Electric Trucks: Told you so

So I've been ranting about Electric Trucks being a key component of the solution to peak oil. Specifically they address the depot to local market delivery problem in the logistical transport of goods network. At a stretch they could also address the last mile in the fast crash scenario where there are liquid fuel shortages and not enough electric cars built.

Any case, returning to reality. As I have pointed out before, Electric Trucks have been not only cost competitive in Europe for some time now, they have also netted cost savings compared to the equivalent diesel based solution for delivery networks such as those operated by Federal Express, DHL and others.

Now we have proof of concept in the North American market. Frito-Lay and Staples have now put in large orders of Smith Electric Vehicles medium duty trucks (16,000 lb vehicles with a range of 100 miles fully charged and a top speed of 50mph).

Both Frito-Lay and Staples (as well as Fedex) have now conducted reasonable trials and concluded that over a ten year period due to reduced costs of fuel (electricity is cheaper and more fuel efficient than diesel) combined with reduced maintenance costs, electric truck will be *much* cheaper to operate in the *current* diesel-price environment than an equivalent diesel based truck.

So... the *market* is providing a solution to keeping goods on our shelves.

We're not there yet in terms of an electric vehicle being much less expensive for personal trannsportation simply because the duty cycle is less intense and the maintenance and fuel costs are much lower over a vehicle lifetime, but we are within a factor of 2 for Europe and a factor of 3 for North America.

My personal guess is that inside of ten years we should be hitting the sweet spot.
Tighten our belts a little and we should make it comfortably.

Here are the cost savings broken down right here:

Smith Electric Vehicles trucks cost $30,000 more than an equivalent diesel.

The Annual maintenance cost of a diesel is about $2,700 in most years.
An Electric vehicle which doesn't need fluids, belts and associated parts is about $250, given an annual saving of $2500 more or less.

Brakes also have significant cost savings: Regenerative brakes on electric vehicles need repaired only every four or five years rather than every year, so there's an additional saving of $1000 more or less.

Also since Electric Vehicles are by definition zero emissions, the exhaust cleaning system at $700 annually is not required.

The results of Staples trial suggests that the fuel savings at *current* prices of diesel (hardly peak oil or even current European territory) are around $6500.

I make that to be a savings of $10,700 per year or slightly less than 3 years payback. If the vehicle lifetime is 10 years then you have 7 years where it costs $10,700 less per year to run than a diesel equivalent. Therefore over a ten year period you are STUPID not to buy electric trucks to replace your diesel trucks or you just happen to have 7 x $10,700 (approx $75000) to throw away on each of your diesel trucks.

Here's a story going into greater detail in the Wall Street Journal:

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

More on Rare Earth Motor Substitutes

You know, it seems that unlike the doomer position (where substitutes can't happen because oil is irreplaceable) substitutes seem to be popping out of the woodwork.

Yet another substitute for rare-earth magnets by a Silicon Valley based company:

Novatorque's design uses ferrite magnets and some innovative engineering to produce a motor that functions under similar operating conidtions to neodymium based magnets but without the need for rare earths.What it does is make a motor more efficient by modifying the shape and positioning of the magnets to improve magnetic flux.

Now the interesting point about this is that this technology could *also* be applied to rare earth magnets thus reducing the usage of rare-earth minerals and therefore magnifying the utility of existing reserves.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Oooops! Yet another substitute: this time Plastics.

So according to the main reason we are about to dieoff is that global oil production is about to go into a precipitous and imminent decline and that since there are NO viable substitutes and every single product made out of oil is necessary to our very existence we are therefore doomed to a massive population crash.

I have diligently debunked this theory by means of pointing out that not only do we have substitutes but also that some of the products currently made by oil are not even necessary.

Here's yet another one:
Scientists at the University of Massachusetts have just come up with a zeolite catalyst that can be produced cost effectively leading to a process to create plastic feedstocks (such as bezene, toluene, xylene and olefins) from renewable biomass which is on par economically with current production methods using petroleum based feedstocks.

The new catalyst is an add-on drop-in piece of technology which can be used with no change in current infrastructure.

What's interesting about this is that it increases the net worth of existing cropland since currently low-value waste products can now be converted into high value chemical feedstock with an end-value higher even than fuel.

Given that we use about a million barrels a day in North America for chemical feedstocks this is great news.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Rare Earths: Toshiba to the rescue

Just a very quick post today.

Remember the rare earths fiasco?

Well it seems that not even counting the fact that we have the Chinese by the balls because we have all the coal, the Japanese company Toshiba has already sidestepped dependence on the Chinese rare earth strangehold entirely:

They have developed and are in production of a high magnetic field strengh Samarium-Cobalt magnet - both of whom are in good supply from that highly unstable and dangerous part of the world called Australia, thus completely avoiding dependence on dysprosium which currently is almost all produced in China.

Link is here:

Monday, 22 November 2010

IEA Global Energy Outlook 2010

The IEA has just released it's global energy outlook for 2010.
What's interesting (especially if you are a doomer) is that the "World oil production by type in the New Policies Scenario" graph visually shows that the IEA expects oil from conventional existing fields to start globally declining *now*.

I have a couple of points to raise:
1. It's unlikely that we will see a decline averaged across all of the global fields *without* first seeing a *longish* plateau of some sort. Why? Because the North Sea showed a plateau of ten years before showing a decline and the North Sea is a much smaller area. So I'd expect a plateau of *at least* ten years rather than the four to five years on the graph.

2. Even taking a very pessimistic approach (saying that *all* of the fields yet to be found *do not exist* and that the rest of the numbers are reasonable and accurate, then if we sum the fields yet to be developed (i.e. already found oil in the ground) PLUS the natural gas liquids PLUS unconventional oil and then subtract that from the projected decline we still are in surplus and even show a slight growth out till 2035 so we effectively have a slightly increasing plateau till 2035

3. Although they have accounted for substitutes in the form of EVs and PHEVs (pretty reasonable by my reckoning) there is no accounting for efficiency in regular vehicles - like increasing MPG of the North Amercian fleet from an average of 14MPG to 35MPG which should be easy. We also have *albeit expensive* substitutes in the form of nuclear powered shipping as well as demand destruction (like taking the bus or cycling or walking to work or moving closer to facilities or work).

So all in all, I'd say the IEA report is more optimistic even than I am. I personally expect to see a small decline rate starting around 2015 which we should be able to deal with by a combination of efficiency, substitution and *harmless* demand destruction.

The graphs in the report can be found here:

Friday, 19 November 2010

Coal vs Rare Earths

So I posted about how the Chinese have us by the balls over rare earths for the current time and how it would take us 10 years to bring our rare-earths production back on line.

An interesting tidbit:

The Chinese have 14% of the world's coal reserves and 47% of the world's demand.
We on the other hand have 30%, Australia has 10%, South Africa has 5% and Canada has 2%.

Interestingly, a report has now come out of Hong Kong that the Chinese government want to cap their coal production so their reserves last longer.


Looks like the Chinese don't have the bargaining position they thought they had.

I think the new argument is going to go like this:

China: "We got the rare earths suckers! Pay what we want or you get none."
Us: "Oh really? We got the coal suckers! Give us the rare earths at a *reasonable* price or your lights go out."

Some people think that may lead to saber-rattling. I on the other hand think that it will tend to stabilize things. If we have each *other* by the balls, then we're less likely to fight. MAD works.

Interesting times.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Why the GM Volt is a winner for EVERYONE

There are two types of critics of the GM Volt.

The first is the greenie doomer who doesn't want any energy use let alone fossil powered personal transport (albeit mainly electric). Nothing is good enough for these people and no matter how "green" no technological solution is every going to be adequate because their problem isn't with solving climate change or peak oil, their problem is with industrial civilization itself.
Anyways, those folk bore me so on to the next critic.

The second kind of critic is the person who doesn't believe in either climate change nor peak oil. Personally my take is the jury is out on climate change but peak oil is very real and requires technical solutions of the highest caliber.

Why, then, is the Volt such a big winner in my eyes?

Several reasons.

Firstly, obviously, it's going to substitute demand away from conventional oil supplies which are shortly going to be declining (probably in the region of 1-2% per year). Even if we are getting the electricity to supply the volt from coal it's *still* better than oil because of the much higher powerplant to wheel efficiency (60%) as compared to oil well to refinery to gas station to internal combustion efficiency of only 15%).

Secondly given the current cost of high energy density batteries the cost is kept down by using less batteries with a lower though still adequate range. Even though the hard science has already been done for better batteries, the process engineering is only just getting started - so currently *inexpensive* batteries to create a vehicle with a 500 mile range are non-existent.

Thirdly, the charging infrastructure to charge batteries at high voltage just doesn't exist yet. An alternative is better place's battery swapping stations which are currently on trial but not yet widely installed.

Fourthly if peak oil decline were to come next wednesday then we would need a solution that could displace gasoline usage but didn't require a huge and immediate investment in infrastructure AND allowed the current paradigm to continue without requiring a huge and immediate investment in mass transit.

Fifthly the price: While it's not cheap, the Volt is certainly within the range of most middle class incomes. Just looking round the cubicles in my office, probably 50% drive a vehicle that costs in excess of $25,000 so they could *probably* with a stretch meet the payments.

Sixth: It reduces dependence on foreign oil supplies coming from regions which are not friendly to us.

Lastly the hidden one: Why did GM kill the electric car before?
It's my take that it was uneconomical for them to keep it.
GM is a business. i.e. they build cars in order to make money.

Unfortunately, very few car companies make much money off of the manufacture of cars. The money is made in service and maintenance and supply of parts.
Given that all electric vehicles have parts that last a *lot* longer due to the lesser complexity, there wasn't really any way GM could make money off of all-electric cars. That's a problem for GM because of all the already invested and not-yet-amortized plant and equipment sitting on their books. Ultimately they could find another way to make money off of battery electrics, but with all the current old-paradigm dependencies I think they probably could have gone bust if forced to go all-electric, say by government mandate.

The volt, however, is a plug-in-hybrid. Although it ticks all the boxes for most people (and definitely for those who seek to escape potential liquid fuels shortages) it is also much more complex than just a battery electric vehicle with no gasoline engine. That means the existing paradigm can still continue, allowing GM to continue to service it's existing plant until it is replaced and a new business model can be worked up allowing them to make money off of battery electric only.


Go Volt Go!

Yet more substitutes: Natural Gas from Shale powered delivery vehicles

Continuing on the theme of viable substitutes:

Many in the doomer camp say "we're screwed because we can't possibly replace all of our current oil production before we peak".

First of all, we don't need to replace ALL of our current oil production.

We ONLY need to blunt the decline rate.

Given that we can do this by substituting away some of the demand for the likely 1-2% decline rate the challenge seems much less insurmountable and great strides have been made so that we no longer have a need to destroy demand by 1-2% a year as we may have needed to do if peak oil had come say, in 2000-2002 when many of the substitutes we now have were not technically available.

One such substitute that is effectively a snap-in is the huge reserves of shale gas which have been developed in the United States through the progressive development of increasingly sophisticated horizontal drilling methods combined with advanced fraccing technology. This has led to the lowest prices for natural gas in the US and Canada in more than a decade because there is frankly a glut of supply.

This couldn't have come at a better time. We now have an arbitrage opportunity (read money-making opporutinty) whereby natural gas joule per joule is cheaper than oil. All that's required is to shift some of the demand from oil to natural gas.

I've been saying for some time that some enterprising auto or truck manufacturers will likely start to shift production of their vehicles to natural gas which is a drop in to existing fueling infrastructure (many gas stations already have natural gas pumps).

Now one of the major automobile manufacturers has released a natural gas powered version of their delivery vans (Daimler-Chrysler with their newly released natural gas powered Sprinter).

I expect other van manufacturers to soon follow suit. What this means is that we now have a second leg of the logistics delivery infrastructure shored up both by natural gas and battery electric.

Like I said before, I'll be ordering pizza from dominoes delivered by unconventional fuel powered vehicles while the doomers cower in their MRE filled basements awaiting the zombie apolcalypse.

Peak Oil? Yawn.

Yet more large format energy storage solutions

I've written before about the energy storage solutions being developed by the many innovative companies working to solve our pressing energy challenges and here is yet another:

Corvus technologies has developed an advanced lithium ion battery with 20% higher energy density than the current best-of-breed batteries. The quality engineering has been increased to such a high degree that the battery has a working life of 20+ years as compared to 8 years for previous generation batteries.

In addition, the process engineering involved has reduced the cost to a level where it's inexpensive enough to enable energy storage to become competitive enough to enable storage for wind as the battery packs come in megawatt sizes, which is a breakthrough.

Those who say renewable energy is a non-starter because of intermittency are just dead wrong and given that up to 65% of available wind is currently dumped means we could more than double capacity usage of wind turbines, thus further increasing the cost competitiveness compared to fossil fuel powered plants.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Yet more substitutes: Asphalt and Cement

Korean scientists have developed a biotech method for producing cement and an asphalt substitute.

The method works by harnessing a specialized bacteria which secretes an enzyme which rapidly turns sand into sandstone, with properties which can be tweaked to match either pavement on highways or else cement for buildings.

For our purposes this is yet another die off killer (as we all know, dieoff rests on there being no viable substitutes to oil). In this case asphalt competes directly with petroleum derived from tar-sands. i.e. with this process we won't need to use valuable oil to pave our roads. Instead we can used this bio-engineered sandstone.

Additionally, cement is very energy intensive and with this process the energy requirements will come directly from the sun without any artificial energy requirement whatsoever.

By my reckoning we use about a million barrels a day between cement and asphalt in North America alone. So given that we use about a quarter of the worlds oil on a daily basis I reckon thats 4 million barrels a day potentially could be saved.

If we calculate a decline rate of 2% a year then this alone pushes peak oil back 2 years or cuts the decline rate in half for four years (which is *plenty* of time to assist with bringing online substitutes - remember the Hirsch report says we need a crash program lasting ten years to give us breathing room).

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Electric Cars: Inches away from the Goal

Only inches away from the goal.

So some good news on the electric car front.

It's my position that when we achieve the ability to produce an electric car more or less comparable in size and interior space to todays vehicles which can drive for 8-10 hours at a reasonable speed (say 60 miles an hour) and be fully recharged in a reasonable time (say less than an hour) then we have hit 100% substitution.

Well we're close to that goal.
Recently the German Electricity company Lekker Energie converted a full size Audi A2 without taking up the trunk (i.e. a fully functional Audi A2) to an all electric car. The battery was a high efficiency polymer battery produced by German company DBM Energy. What makes that battery special is that it can be recharged fully in less than 10 minutes.

The test driver, Mirko Hanneman took the car for a pretty chunk ride of 375 miles without recharging at a speed of 55 miles an hour. He did the ride in just under seven hours. He drove from Munich to Berlin and when he reached Berlin he drove around a little and did a few chores before re-connecting.

Now call me a techno-cornucopian or whatever other slur you want but I reckon that covers about 90% of the anti-electric-car whining I have heard over the last ten years.

I'll go further than that: I declare this to be victory. Given that the charging time is less than an hour we have de facto achieved 100% substitutability. Not every vehicle on the market is capable of driving 400 miles without having to refill the tank. I'd say, in fact, that nobody realistically drives until their tank is completely empty in practise either. Most people will stop after say three to four hours driving and take a rest-room break or eat something and while they're doing that likely top up the gas tank. In this case the same paradigm would apply: take a rest-room break and maybe eat something while the battery is being topped off.
You could effectively drive round the clock to the maximum realistic human ability, same as you can now, assuming of course the availability of charging points.
The point is, now all the hard technical R&D has been done.

All that's left now is process engineering and construction of a network of charging stations to get this down to a reasonable price (and process engineering is just the thing multi-national companies are expert at and given that multi-nationals are the ones with the money invested in this then I'd say what we're looking at is a slam-dunk).

So we can now say with some certainty that we have the technology available for the pieces to enable the current paradigm to continue.

So much for "dieoff".


FYI The photo above is the Audi A2: kind of like a small-ish SUV. Other than die-hard pickup freaks, this would be more than adequate for the average North American driver and certainly surpasses the average rest-of-world vehicle.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Buses can be cheaply and easily converted to 100% electric grid powered TODAY

The Swiss company Furrer+Frey and Germany's Schunk have developed an overhead fast charging system which is similar in design to the overhead brushes you might find in electric streetcar applications. Combined with Altair-nano lithium batteries, the batteries can be kept topped up at the end of the bus route for 5 or 6 minutes at a time. This allows the bus to run all day long off of grid electricity. Which could of course be emissions free and peak oil defying wind power.

So sorry doomers, looks like the logistics infrastructure and the mass transit infrastructure isn't collapsing any time soon. Even if significant numbers have to take the bus in the interrim if we get a hard decline (unlikely) we will still be able to get our cheap plastic trinkets from wal-mart and be able to get there by bus.

Company spokesman Opbrid CEO Roger Bedell:
"It can be installed easily in any location, since it is unobtrusive and swings away from the road when not in use. Unlike building a tram or trolleybus system, the Bůsbaar can be installed in days at a tiny fraction of the cost.

With this system, it is possible to change most of the urban bus systems in the world from petroleum to electricity simply by changing diesel buses to fast charged hybrids and installing these charging stations. We can do this now."

Anyone else notice that? It can be installed in days.
Just let that sink in for a moment and then consider exactly how few of these we'd need to install under hard-crash conditions compared to how many charging points we need to keep all electric cars running.

Dieoff? Hit the snooze button.

The full story is here:

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Yet more on algae oil : double to triple increased oil yields breakthrough

So it seems there has been yet another breakthrough. Montana State University researchers have discovered that the addition of a cheap common chemical, the oil yield of algae can be doubled and sometimes tripled. That cheap chemical is common baking soda and it needs to be dosed at a particular stage in the lifecycle of the algae. It works on both algae and diatoms.

Interesting. So if that works then we *almost* have feasible yields for this stuff.
That being true, I think we have a reasonable case to say that a viable fuel-substitute for commercial aviation fuel is gradually coming into view.

Oh and this also likely works to increase *food* yields from algae too. One has to ask the question: could the algae be gen-modded to produce *Omega-3* oil instead of diesel?

Original link is here:

Monday, 4 October 2010

First Jet flight usings 100% synthetic fuel

Though I have argued that jet flights are the one application that cannot be easily substituted out using electricity, we are not out of options.

Jet Fuel can be synthesized from natural gas, coal, biofuels or a number of other more esoteric processes.

It's likely, however, that the expense of flights will be higher than they are today because of a combination of demand and limited availability of jet-fuel compared to todays near ubiquity of the fuel.

Nevertheless, it's unlikely that jet-flights will disappear entirely because
1. We can still do it due to the ability to provide jet-fuel through alternative pathways
2. There are applications that require jets such as high-speed transatlantic (or transpacific) journeys where traveling by ship won't cut it.

In other land based use-cases, as stated elsewhere we could substitute regular rail, buses or personal electric vehicles. In applications that required fast transit times, at least in Europe and Asia there are high-speed rail links.

In any case, the coal-to-liquids application has just been demonstrated on a trial basis by SASOL of South Africa as below:

"Lanseria, Johannesburg – Sasol, the world’s leading producer of synthetic fuels from coal and natural gas, today flew the world’s first passenger aircraft exclusively using the company’s own-developed and internationally approved fully synthetic jet fuel.

The fuel, produced by Sasol’s proprietary Coal to Liquids (CTL) process, is the world’s only fully synthetic jet fuel to have received international approval as a commercial aviation turbine fuel.

Sanctioned by the global aviation fuel specification authorities the jet fuel is the first fully synthetic fuel to be approved for use in commercial airliners. This marks a significant development in the adoption of clean burning alternate fuels for the aviation industry. The engine-out emissions of Sasol’s synthetic jet fuel, are lower than those from jet fuel derived from crude oil, due to its limited sulphur content.

The historic flights, from Lanseria Airport in Gauteng to Cape Town, kicked-off Sasol’s 60th birthday celebrations, by staging a fly-past at the opening of the Africa Aerospace and Defense (AAD) 2010 exhibition at Cape Town’s Ysterplaat Air Force Base. "

Original story is here:;jsessionid=PQSDEWYJUK0WHG5N4EZSFEQ?articleTypeID=2&articleId=28500003&navid=1&rootid=1

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Super Strong, Super Hard Organic Material Produced

Taking a break from my usual vitriolic verbal tirades against doomers and their ilk (but still keeping in the spirit of "technology will save us from doom") here's yet another little gem:

Researchers in Tel-Aviv have created a bio-friendly, super-hard organic material which is lightweight, cheap and easy to produce.

Sounds like a *metal* substitute to me.


Since it's *strong* AND *light* that means we could get the weight down in vehicles.
And given that most of the energy used in an automobile is moving the weight of the vehicle around that makes today's batteries even more useful.

Take this very obvious back-of-the-envelope calculation as an example:

If we reduce the weight of today's Volt by half we go from 35 mile range to 70 mile range.

Likewise if we reduce the weight of today's Nissan Leaf electric vehicle by half we go from a 100 mile range to a 200 mile range.

The more important point in this calculation, however, isn't personal automobiles. It's large factor trucks.

Currently Smith Electric Vehicles has a medium duty truck that can go 100 miles on a full charge. That means effectively the same size truck would be able to go 200 miles on a charge. Now *that* is not too shabby.

Original story is here:

Friday, 24 September 2010

Yet more on rare earth substitutes

So we have Hitachi chipping away at the need for rare earths with it's improved ferric oxide magnets.

What else could there be coming down the line?

One key fact in the OMG we're so doomed because we ABSOLUTELY-FRICKEN-NEEEEEED rare earths for electric cars and wind turbines is this:

Currently the MAIN driver for demand of rare earths happens to be hard drives and not motors for electric cars or wind turbines.

So is there successful R&D on potential substitutes for hard drive magnets?

Yup. Something similar to the flash drives that are already eating away at hard drive sales. They're made out of graphene. So what you say?

Graphene is CARBON. One of the most abundant materials on Earth. Heck we produce so much of it that there are complaints it's all ending up in the atmosphere....

Some details here:

"MIT TEchnology Review reports that researchers at the National University of Singapore have made computer memory devices using graphene based on the well understood ferroelectric effect. This is the first step toward memory that could be much denser and faster than the magnetic memory used in today's hard drives. The researchers have made hundreds of prototype graphene memory devices, and they work reliably, according to Barbaros Özyilmaz, the physics professor who led the work presented at a recent American Physical Society meeting in Pittsburgh."

Doom by Chinese Rare Earth Embargo?

There has been much talk about our nascent green technology being stymied by the Chinese (who not unreasonably) need the supply of rare earths for themselves.
This is allegedly a concern because the Chinese has 90%+ of the world production and that without rare earths (specifically neodymium and dysprosium) you can't make high magnetic flux permanent magnets.

Which just happen to be the magnets that are an absolute REQUIREMENT for motors and gearboxes in wind turbines as well as motors in hybrid or electric cars.

So we're all so fricken DOOOOOOOOOMED right? (Hit's Savinar's call center on speed dial: Get me 365 days supply of MRE's, 10,000 rounds of ammo and some broad spectrum antibiotics in case of being bitten by zombies).

Well, in fact, nuh-uh.

Hitachi America beig a good corporate citizen doesn't like having it's balls squeezed by the Chinese so it has been conducting a research campaign for the last ten years because they PREDICTED THIS.

They have now successfully developed (with a lot of sweat and R&D effort)a high magnetic flux magnet composed of olde-fashioned ferric oxides. No rare metals there.

Hitachi's new ferrite oxide magnet has more or less the same level of performance as equivelant rare earth motors.
Right now they haven't (yet) been able to scale it to the size needed for motor vehicles but they're on the case.

That said, even if they can't scale it large enough, there are better gearboxes currently being developed which will allow the size of the motor to be smaller.

Sorry Doomers, still no cigar.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Solar Panel Grid Parity Pricing: Nearly there

The market price of solar panels dipped last year and this brought us to the brink of price parity - the point at which electricity derived from solar panels costs the same as that derived from fossil fuels.

Now grid parity is a little bit of a misnomer because electricity prices vary widely throughout the world, such as in many European countries, electricity costs upwards of 25c per KW/h whereas in North America it's typically 15c per KW/h and sometimes less. In that case we should expect to see grid parity reached in sunnier European jurisdictions (and e.g. South Africa) first.

In fact that is indeed the case.

"The European Photovoltaic Industry Association and a number of analysts say solar panels can already produce electricity at a cost competitive with conventional sources in parts of southern Italy, where the sun shines often and electricity tariffs are among the highest in the world."

Likewise we are within a hair's breadth of grid parity for South Africa.

"Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a renewable-energy database, sees the best solar panels producing electricity at a cost of US15¢ per kilowatt-hour by 2015, says Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst. That is less than the retail electricity price in most European countries and parts of the US."

Once that happens, the switch to electrical based transportation systems will be breathtaking.

Algal Oil Breaktrhoughs?

I noticed the following press release:
"Joule Unlimited, Inc., has been awarded a US patent covering its conversion of sunlight and waste carbon dioxide directly into liquid hydrocarbons that are fungible with conventional diesel fuel. Joule is the first to achieve and patent a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of hydrocarbon fuels requiring no raw material feedstocks, enabling fossil fuel replacement at high efficiencies and costs as low as $30 per barrel equivalent."

So... good news, right?
Or is it?

Well anything that slows the decline rate of oil should be good news but I think a bit of careful analysis will show that there is a rusty nail in the silver lining.

Assuming this works then we are talking about a 10% efficiency rate for capture of the solar energy by these microorganisms. That's about 6X better than the best biofuel crops.

So what's the problem?
Well it's the same as the problem with regular oil: if we're going to find 2-4 new million barrels of oil energy equivalent every single year after peak oil it's going to be seriously difficult to do.


Simply because internal combustion vehicles are ridiculously inefficient because close to 90% of the energy from the raw crude oil product is wasted by the time it's processed into gasoline (or diesel), transported and then burned in the extremely inefficient (25%!) internal combustion engine.

So taking those numbers your microorganisms are really pumping out at a 2% efficiency rating.

Conversely, the worst efficiency solar panels are already operating at 10% efficiency and given that electric vehicles are closer to 90% efficient compared to 10-15% efficient for the internal combustion engine we are looking at 9% for the worst solar cells. The best on the market solar cells right now are 25% so that would mean we would get 22% of the energy back for electric cars.

Clearly for cars and trucks algal oil or biofuel is not the way to go.

But it's not a total downer, however, because there is one application that needs liquid fuels:
Jet travel.

Post-peak oil, there are substitutes for almost everything except jet travel.
You can move freight to electric trains instead of long distance big rigs (though we could convert long distance big rigs to nat gas). You could take trains for long distance passenger travel or else you could take your electric truck on a route which has project better place style battery swap stations along the way or else you could take a boat powered by nuke. But jet travel is difficult to do without liquid fuels.

In reality in the meantime we could create liquid fuels from coal or else natural gas and this has been done already but let's assume that our only option is biofuels. (And to be honest everything is welcome).

So let's look at what that might look like in some post peak world:

Right now (fall 2010) for my pathetic fuel mileage dodge durango (15 miles per gallon) if I want to take a trip, to say, disneyland it's about 2000 miles each way so a 4000 mile trip. That's 266 gallons. At $3 a gallon that's $798. Call it $800.

Now on the least expensive flight option (and let's say I get a FREE rental vehicle at the other end with gas include (bursts out laughing)) it's $400 per person. So for myself, my wife and two kids it'll run me $1600 to fly.

That's a decent difference, but people today will still pay for that to avoid the hassle of driving 4000 miles.

At an efficiency rating of 4X worse than electric means of transportation, you may expect to see flights cost 4x what it costs to drive, so my trip to disneyland would cost $3200 in today's money.

Expensive, but not out of reach for a two income family.

Friday, 10 September 2010

What's wrong with Hubbert Theory

Hubbert theory states that oil production from a field or a group of fields will rise gradually, reach a peak in production and subsequentely decline.
If you take that at face value it's correct.

Oil is a non-renewable resource and logic dictates that the volume of oil produced must lie under a production curve (of whatever shape) and that the amount of oil produced can never be greater than the volume under the curve.

What hubbert theory doesn't mention is that it's talking about the production curve taking ONLY current technology into account.

Let's repeat that so we get it. At any one point in time, the amount of technically recoverable oil is x% of the total oil in there. 100 years the total recoverable oil from a field was 10%. That means that 90% of the oil from those old fields is still down there and not recoverable with the technology they used 100 years ago.

The actual amount of oil sitting in the ground, however is much larger than that under a hubbert curve at any one point in time. Some Old fields, for example, as stated still have 90% of the oil still sitting in them.

If technology stood still then you could say that a hubbert curve with a steep production curve upwards, followed by a sharp drop was a definitively predictable model for future production.

In the REAL world, however, technology is ever changing and this leads to reserves being stated upwards as new technology allows us to grab an ever greater percentage share of oil in place thus pushing any putative peak off or else flattening out a peak from a bell curve into a grand piano curve instead.

The church of peak oil dogma, however, reckons that only a perfectly formed bell curve is possible and that the reason reserves have been continually stated upwards is in fact due to OPEC lying for political reasons rather than technology.

A recent example would be stating that Canada has 300 billion barrels of reserves whereas ten years ago it only had 80 billion barrels.

Actually here in Alberta we are sitting on over a trillion barrels of oil in the ground just waiting on technology to pull it out. The technology exists: nuclear reactors.

Move along here nothing to see folks...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

How much energy do we REALLY need to replace to handle peak oil?

One of our idiot doomer friend said that it's impossible to replace current petroleum energy used by modern civilization.

Well instead of just falling out of my chair laughing, let's just do the numbers.


We need to replace the UTILITY lost by decline in oil supplies. And ONLY for the decline in oil supplies. The entire economy just doesn't run off of petroleum ONLY. There is a huge component that runs on electricity right now and we have no shortage of electricity in the industrialized world nor will we if we continue building renewables and more coal and nuke plants. Anyways, let's take the tack that even if there were no viable fossil fuel substitutes for the petroleum component (shale gas and unconventional oil does not exist for example) then we have the capacity to ramp up electricity production.

So how much do we actually need to replace? Only the equipment and plant affected by the decline rate of oil, not the entire stock of hardware in modern civilization. And since most equipment that uses petroleum is in transportation, let's look at the energy requirements to replace that decline rate.

Since electricity provides about 4X the utility of petroleum due to 4X the efficiency we need to replace about 1/4 of the decline rate assuming there are no other efficiencies to be had.

But there are.

Here in North America people are still arguing that 20mpg is "good gas mileage" because the average mpg of the fleet is about 15mpg.

If we triple that up to 45mpg equivalent by driving European style vehicles by size and then further cut the energy requirement by 4 due to electric efficiency and THEN only replace what we need to replace to cover the decline rate things start to look a LOT more doable.

In North America for example if we need to replace 1/4 of 10% (the high end of the doomer scenarios - though it's more likely to be 1/4 of 2%) then let's take a look eh?

How many vehicles do we have in our vehicle parc? Answer 250 million.
How many get replaced right NOW every year in a normal year? Answer 14 million.
I make that to be about 5 and a half percent.

So every year we are ALREADY replacing double the number of vehicles we need to replace to keep up with decline if we made them all electric. So let's look at how much power we would need to power all these puppies, shall we?

7 million new electric vehicles per year at 20KW/h per day = 140 million KW/h per day. Which is a capacity requirement of 140/24 to get KWs only. That gives us 5.8 million KWs capacity needed which is 5800 MWs.

Now let's take a look at what kind of capacity we're ACTUALLY bringing online:
Right from the Nuclear Energy Institute we have the following:
"For the first seven months of 2010, the following new electric generation came online: 3,700 MW of natural gas, 3,400 MW of coal, 1,500 MW of wind, 300 MW of biofuels, 80 MW of solar, 50 MW of geothermal, and 20 MW of hydro. A total of 37,000 MW of new capacity are under construction and expected to come online between now and 2014. Of this capacity, 46% is natural gas, 29% is coal, 16% is wind, 6% are other renewables and 3% is nuclear. Another 248,000 MW of capacity is planned to come online by 2014 but is still in the documentation phase; 41% of this capacity is wind, 32% are other renewables and 27% are fossil fuels (Ventyx, page 5)."

Wow. Looks like we're already bringing on about half the requirement in renewables by themselves.
So if we triple renewable construction we cover the decline just by renewables alone.


Hit the snooze button.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Peak Rare Earths and Electric Cars - Doom by shortage?

Some doomers reckon that we are not only going to enter a period where conventional oil peaks but that also coal will peak, potash will peak, lithium will peak etc etc.

The one I'm interested in is electric cars, because I like driving and I don't want to give up my car.

So let's take a look at that.

A prius for example uses 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of neodymium in it's motors, and each battery uses 10 to 15 kg (22-33 lb) of lanthanum and some 10lbs of lithium.

There have been some reports that we are doomed because China is currently the #1 supplier of rare earths and if China shuts off supply we are all doomed.
First all, because it's currently the #1 supplier doesn't mean there's none anywhere else in the world. There are significant resources in Canada and the US (not even considering Russia, Africa and Australia) that are simply just not cost effective to extract at current (ridiculously cheap prices ).
But let's ignore that for a minute and focus purely on the amount of material.

Are there substitutes for neodymium? Yes there are. Cobalt works and is about as abundant as neodymium. Additionally Dysprosium can be used. It's also not widely known but the reason we are currently dependent on neodymium is due to a crash R&D program in the early 80s by Sumitomo of Japan to find a replacement for Cobalt Magnets which at the time were the gold standard for delivering high magnetic field strength (and thus high torque). The major source of Cobalt at the time was Zaire, which was involved in the Cold War (remember that?) and the Soviets at the time took the world's main supply of Cobalt offline, thus leading Sumitomo to invent post-haste an entirely new high magnetic field strength magnet based on different materials. Given that China is attempting a strangehold on the market at the moment, what is the likelihood that there are enterprising companies trying to develop alternatives as we speak? Well as a matter of fact there are:
AC induction motors have been developed that completely eliminate the use of rare earths.
Or you could use software controlled systems such as that developed by Chorus technologies which also eliminates the requirement for rare earths also. Options, options. What to pick? Blueberry ice cream or Chocolate or Vanilla or Mint or… you get the picture.

Is there anything else can be done? Why yes there is.
Currently all electric vehicles have a single speed transmission, leading to the need for very large, very powerful electric motors. Several companies, including Zytek and Zeroshift are working on multi-speed gearboxes, which will greatly reduce the need for such large motors (by up to 10-30% by some estimates) meaning that the amount of rare earths required are reduced signficiantly.

Is there yet anything else?
Unlike oil, which is burned in the form of gasoline and the waste products vented to the atmosphere, worn out electric motors and batteries can be RECYCLED and as much as 90% of the original in place material could be re-used.

What about batteries?
Ongoing R&D in the materials required to produce batteries are prolific and there are several candidates on the drawing board which use significantly less lithium and/or have entirely different chemistries such as zinc/air.

And last but not least, despite their name the rare earth metals chemically are not that rare. Within the crust the most common rare earth metals (lanthanum to neodymium) have a similar crustal abundance to the less common base metals (zinc, copper, nickel and tin) and even the rarer middle and heavy rare earth metals are more common than silver. They are certainly nowhere near as rare as the precious metals, such as gold and the platinum group elements. To a certain extent this is reflected in the price of rare earth metals which generally fall somewhere in between the price of the rarer base metals and silver.

So what it comes down to in the end is this: you can pick your investment options and possibly end up picking the Microsoft of the new energy/new transportation paradigm or you can scoot on over to savinar's site and load yourself up with guns and ammo in anticipation of the impending zombie apocalypse.

My choice? I'm deciding whether to go to Maui or Disneyland for my next vacation.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Revisiting Energy Storage for Wind

Some non-believers in the techo-luddite camp believe that wind or other renewables cannot ever replace fossil fuel based power for the simple reason that the wind and/or sun blows/shines at inconvenient times vis a vis power demand.

Ignoring completely that electric vehicles will most likely be run off of batteries which are *stored power* and all by themselves will solve the intermittency problem, there is an already existing and *operational* technology that will also solve the problem.

Back in the 80s a man named Michael Nakhamkin designed the United State's first compressed air storage plant in McIntosh Alabama.

This plant was built for a small utility called Alabama Electric Cooperative.
The problem AEC had was that the power demand did not match the supply. (Sound familiar?)
What they had was that the supply vastly overwhelmed the demand at night. They were running a coal plant at night which provided way more electricity that could be used. Running the coal plant at lower capacity wasn't workable because coal plants are more efficient at 100% capacity and running it down created excess pollution. Then during the day, the plant couldn't provide enough power to meet demand and so AEC had to buy power from other companies at the vastly inflated marginal price. So what to do?

The solution was to create some sort of storage facility.
Luckily such a storage facility already existed in Huntorf, Germany and was fairly straightforward to copy for US implementation. It was a salt dome which was partly dissolved and resealed leaving a giant air compression chamber.

During off-peak times, electricity runs a compressor which pumps the air down into the cavern. Then, when energy is needed, the air is released from the reserve to power a fairly standard turbine, with a little help from natural gas. The system has worked for more than 25 years.

In 1991, when the plant went online, there were high hopes that the technology might catch on among utilities.

‘We expect the CAES plant technology pioneered in Alabama to lead to widespread application in this country,” said Robert Schainker, the manager of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Energy Storage Program in a press release announcing the plant’s completion. ‘Three fourths of the United States has geology suitable for underground air storage. At present, more than a dozen utilities are evaluating sites for CAES application.”

But with low fossil fuel prices and little intermittent renewable energy on the grid, there wasn’t much incentive for utilities to build the plants. The plant saved money for the Alabama Electric Cooperative, but it wasn’t “critical savings” as Nakhamkin put it.

“Rich people don’t talk about how to save five or 10 dollars,” he said.

So the salient points here are the following:
• Even at 1990s prices of electricty, salt dome compressed air storage was cost-competitive (and even saved some (small) amount of money.
• We don't *need* storage for the grid until 20% or greater as the European experience has shown
• 75% of the United States already has the necessary geology to do this.
• It wasn't done because the investment required to save a small amount of money was too great.

So it seems that there is no *practical* nor *technical* reason that it wasn't done. It was that electricity was TOO CHEAP to care about small savings.

So if as the doomers say, electricity prices have nowhere to go but up, then it will also become financially sensible to invest in this kind of storage technology which means there is no reasonable limit on how far we can scale up wind or solar.
And that's entirely ignoring other solutions such as the millions of electric car batteries soon coming online or the ability to ramp up storage into e.g. large refigeration facilities and let them run down overnight etc etc

Seems that the prognostications of doom based on forever rising electricity prices are, shall we say, somewhat of a stretch, hmmmm?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Dieoff by crop failure

Many limits to growth doomers think that we have no way in hell of increasing the food supplies enough to feed future populations.

The best estimate by the world health organization is that crop yields need to increase fifty per cent over the next century to feed the estimated 9 billion people (highest case) that will then be resident on our planet.

The crop with the biggest potential would be rice, since half the world's population depends on rice.

Unfortunately, the growth in rice yields has stagnated for the last thirty years or more. In the 1970s the green revolution doubled yields but since then there have been no more breakthroughs of that magnitude although small gains have been made.

Recently however, that changed, with the discovery of a new gene variant that produces a 10 per cent increase in yields in the field.

Two different and independent teams of crop geneticists at Nagoya university in Japan and the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing, identified the gene variant and tested them in the field in modified rice crops.

The Japanese team was able to increase yields up to 52 per cent but did not conduct a field trial. The Chinese team conducted a field trial and increased yields by 10 per cent.


Not yet.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

New Coal to Liquids Process significantly more efficient

Yet another process which will shore up hydrocarbon based heavy trucking during the depletion phase of peak oil has been created.
Previously there has existed the Fischer-Tropf process which allows conversion of coal to liquids, with significant energy costs, coal and other inputs including hydrogen.

This new process has been developed by a company called Quantex Energy based out of Calgary, Alberta and is significantly more efficient than the Fischer Tropf process to the point of estimating that it could be easily scaled to "millions of barrels per day in North America".

See for news. Quote from the site follows:

"Quantex Energy Inc is developing a process which seeks to refine coal as easily and inexpensively as crude oil processing. Taking advantage of the fact that the hydrocarbon refining industry has already developed the technology for "upgrading" heavy hydrocarbons such as Venezuelan Orinoco crude, or Alberta Oil Sands crude, Quantex Energy Inc seeks to produce liquids that meet the same specifications as heavy crude.

This new process is in distinct contrast to processes of the 1970s and earlier, which assumed that coal should only be made only into sweet light crudes. Consequently, protocols of the 1970s called for adding 30 pounds of hydrogen per barrel of synthetic crude, in turn requiring enormous high pressure reactors with hour long processing times. In contrast, the Quantex Energy Inc process requires only a few pounds of hydrogen to liquefy coal. It is primarily a depolymerization and cracking process. The reasons why the Quantex process is perceived to be advantageous compared to conventional direct liquefaction are:

* Requires significantly less hydrogen per barrel versus other CTL technology
* Hydrogenation is accomplished through a patent pending process
* Requires only minutes of processing time rather than hours in the break through bio-hydrogenation reactor
* Is accomplished at pressures significantly lower then competitive processes
* No molybdenum or cobalt catalysts are required.

Unlike the Fischer-Tropsch indirect liquefaction process, the Quantex coal to liquids process produces no carbon dioxide during the liquefaction process. The Quantex process is not based on gasified coal at all. Rather, the Quantex process is a simpler-cheaper-faster direct liquefaction process, which seeks to produce commodity fuels and chemicals-particularly heavy products such as pitches and heavy crude at the lowest achievable pressure and residence time.

Hence, given the enormous amount of coal reserves in Canada and the United States, the Quantex process can be scaled to the level of millions of barrels per day at a fraction of the cost of conventional liquefaction schemes."

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Peak Oil Specific Wind Intermittency Game Changer

Some German researchers have come up with an additional and novel way to store excess power from wind turbines when more power is being produced than can be absorbed by the grid: they convert it into natural gas. At a 60% efficient conversion rate with electric power already being 4X as efficient as fossil fuel we are looking at something very very interesting.

The full story is found at Science Daily.
Following are some selected quotes

ScienceDaily (May 5, 2010) — Renewable electricity can be transformed into a substitute for natural gas. Until now, electricity was generated from gas. Now, a German-Austrian cooperation wants to go in the opposite direction. In the future, these researchers and entrepreneurs would like to store surplus electricity -- such as from wind power or solar energy -- as climate-neutral methane, and store it in existing gas storage facilities and the natural gas network.
One advantage of the technology:it can use the existing natural gas infrastructure. A demonstrationsystem built on behalf of Solar Fuel in Stuttgart is already operating successfully. By 2012, a substantially larger system -- in the double-digit megawatt range -- is planned to be launched.

For the first time, the process of natural gas production combines the technology for hydrogen-electrolysis with methanisation. "Our demonstration system in Stuttgart separates water from surplus renewable energy using electrolysis. The result is hydrogen and oxygen," explains Dr. Michael Specht of ZSW. "A chemical reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide generates methane -- and that is nothing other than natural gas, produced synthetically."

The storage reservoir of the natural gas network extending through Germany is vast: It equals more than 200 terawatt hours -- enough to satisfy consumption for several months.

"The new concept is a game changer and a new significant element for the integration of renewable energies into a sustainable energy system," adds Sterner. The efficiency of converting power to gas equals more than 60 percent. The predominant storage facility to date -- pumped hydro power plants -- can only be expanded to a limited extent in Germany.

Starting in 2012, they intend to launch a system with a capacity of approximately 10 megawatt.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Wind intermittency problem solved conclusively and cost effectively.

Out on the web, it's recently been reported that the town of Presidio, Texas (population approx 7,500) has just installed a large sodium sulfur battery with a capacity of 32 MWH which they have affectionately named "Bob" at a cost of $25 million dollars. That's interesting you say, so what?

Well this is the final step in making wind non intermittent.


This battery is capable of powering the entire town's entire electricity needs for 4 straight hours.

So what?

Well, do the math. At a total cost of $25 million dollars, that comes out to about $3K per resident.

$3K per resident is hardly going to break the bank.

If this technology was implemented in wind farms all over the country it would lead to a situation where excess wind power could be stored and delivered on demand.

That would in turn lead to a much higher percentage of wind as a proportion of generating capacity being installable without having to upgrade the grid.

In addition, this technology makes it possible for wind turbines to compete as storable sources of energy for electric vehicles. Imagine this: along the interstates, there are car charging stations built with their own windfarms attached along with a number of these sodium sulfur batteries. The energy to charge the cars is gotten from the wind when the wind is blowing but delivered ON DEMAND. We're talking effectively about fixed price fuel for driving in unlimited quantities.

A scientific american article has this to say
So Xcel Energy, Inc., has become one of the first utilities in the U.S. to install a giant battery system in an attempt to store some of that wind power for later. "Energy storage might help us get to the point where we can integrate wind better," says Frank Novachek, director of corporate planning for the Minneapolis-based utility with customers in Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. "The overall cost of electricity might be lower by using energy storage."

The energy storage in question—a series of sodium–sulfur batteries from Japan's NGK Insulators, Ltd.—can store roughly seven megawatt-hours of power, meaning the 20 batteries are capable of delivering roughly one megawatt of electricity almost instantaneously, enough to power 500 average American homes for seven hours. "Over 100 megawatts of this technology [is] deployed throughout the world," Novachek says. The batteries "store wind at night and they contract with their utility to put out a straight line output from that wind farm every day."

That removes one of the big hurdles to even broader adoption of wind power: so-called intermittency. In other words, the wind doesn't always blow when you want it to, a problem Texas faced earlier this year when a drop in wind generation forced cuts in electricity delivery. But with battery backup, the 11-megawatt wind farm outside Luverne, Minn., can deliver a set amount of electricity at all times, making it more reliable or, in industry terms, base-load generation. Plus, the battery effectively doubles the wind farm's output at any given moment—both the megawatt being produced by the wind farm itself (that would otherwise have gone to charging the battery) and the megawatt delivered by the battery.

These guys are not the only ones either. Ceramatec, VRB Power Systems, IBM and others are all working on advanced batteries of one kind or another.

Since the cost of installation of wind turbines are currently on par with new gas turbines, and dwindling supplies of coal can only get more expensive as time goes on, it seems we are now closing in on the end of the fossil fuel age.

Monday, 5 April 2010

First Pre-Production Chevy Volts Roll Off Production Line

I was a little skeptical that GM was really going to do it and was relying more on the Chinese and Japanese to lead us into the post-oil personal transportation age but it seems that GM really is serious. The plug-in hybrid is an excellent solution to the peak oil transition period. If GM and others can ramp up production at least to offset the decline in availability of gasoline post peak then we won't even see large numbers of people having to take the bus because gas prices spike.

Story follows:

The first pre-production Volt rolled off the line at the Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant on 31 March. These pre-production versions of the Volt will not be sold at dealerships, but will be used to assure all steps in the production system will meet the quality targets set by the Volt engineering team.

Assembly workers will build more pre-production Volts in the coming months. These vehicles will be examined by manufacturing engineers as the plant prepares to build retail models later this year.

We have a very experienced workforce at this plant and through all of their preparation and training workers here have been given the privilege to take GM into the future with this car.

—Detroit-Hamtramck plant manager Teri Quigley

The Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range delivers up to 40 miles of pure electric driving before an engine-generator kicks in to sustain the battery charge and extend the range to about 300 additional miles.

Where is JD?

Many people have been asking "where is JD?" or "where is Brewskie?".

The doomers would gleefully answer with "they have accepted that we're doomed and are now hunkering down in their doomstead and manically counting their gold eagles and MRE while calculating how many zombies they can kill per scarce and very valuable round of ammo.

Personally I reckon JD is just bored with the whole peak oil shtick. He has better things to do with his time than argue with fanatics whose real position stems from a belief that modern civilisation is evil and clutch at any available straw to argue that it *must* collapse.

In the case of Brewskie, he's gone back to school and is having fun and is spending his money on beer and pizza rather than saving for a doomstead.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Electric pizza deliveries are go

While the doomers hole themselves up in their basement apartments with their canned beans, ammo and MREs awaiting the zombie hordes, I will be watching the show on my big screen TV with popcorn and pizza delivered from dominoes. As I stated elsewhere, the doomers are out to lunch when they suggest that the logistics infrastructure will collapse post peak oil.
Given that fully loaded semi trucks combined with a hub and spoke delivery system and long distance container based shipping is the most efficient use of oil we currently have, when oil prices start to rise because of peak oil, it's obvious that the dollars will go to these rather than "local" production of food. The remaining leg of the logistics infrastructure is the last mile which is currently inefficient since it's based on low mileage low efficiency gas or diesel vehicles to take the shopper to the store. In the case where the shopper sits on his/her ass watching TV and ordering by phone or online, the inefficiency of the last mile is removed. That's already true with pizza delivery to multiple stops on a single run even with conventional vehicles. But now we have all electric delivery vehicles courtesty of Ford. The all new 2010 Ford Transit Connect available at a dealership near you.

Also available: full sized electric buses from Optare and 12-15 seater minibuses from Smith Electric and electric taxis from Mercedes. Seems the shopping malls, commuting to work and having frivolous crap bought on the internet delivered to your doorstep are not dead either.

Peak Oil Dieoff? Hit the snooze button.

BMW Completes successful year long trial of Electric Mini

The results of the year long BMW lease of all electric mini's is now in.
The BMW group conducted a one year study involving 450 drivers who lease their electric Minis.
The results are the following:

• People found the range of 100 miles to be more than adequate
○ The reported range under real world conditions is between 70 to 100 miles with 45 per cent reporting a range of 100 miles.
○ Drivers typically drove 30 miles round trip on average trips.
○ The average trip of a US driver is 40 miles per day and thus the range is adequate without having to charge away from home. This was validated by the study.

• The electric cars drive as well as conventional cars
○ Drivers reported driving the Mini E as "fun" and especially enjoyed trying to extend the range by the way in which they drove as well as using a single pedal to accelerate and decelerate.
○ Once accustomed to the Brake Energy Regeneration function they enjoyed driving their conventional vehicle less.

• The limited range did not pose any problem.
○ The US recharge needs 4-5 hours and though most people didn't need to recharge once a day because they usually drove far less than the 100 miles, about half of the drivers recharged daily as a matter of routine.
○ Recharging away from home was unnecessary. This indicates that less charging stations would need to be built than initially expected to overcome range phobia of the typical conventional driver since few journeys would be over 100 miles other than long road trips.

The Financial System will collapse because of Peak Oil Part II

The collapse of the financial system post peak oil part II
In the first part I debunked the myth that the global financial system will collapse once peak oil becomes evident because allegedly "growth" is based on oil and when oil stops growing we will no longer have growth. I did this by demonstrating that we do not in fact have a growth system but instead have a cyclical system and that our system is based on risk rather than the prospect of continual growth.
I will continue this by asking the question: Can the payment of interest be continued past peak oil?

This question is a very loaded question replete with multiple assumptions (as are many of the assertions on which dieoff are based).
The answer to the question "Can the payment of interest be continue past peak oil?" is met with another question: "Can surplus be generated post peak oil in order to pay interest?"
This is turn is answered by the question: "Do we or can we do work other than that provided by oil powered machinery?" and "Will this work provide any surplus?"

If we look closely the ultimate question is this: After peak oil, will ALL work be agricultural?
If the answer is yes then clearly there will be no surplus and thus no interest.

Back in the real world however, we see that even in heavily agricultural countries cities existed prior to the use of oil. Cities clearly are not deriving their income from agriculture and THUS they must have been living off of some kind of surplus. This is simple specialization of labor. In addition, in every single human society there is a power law describing the wealth distribution of the population. The human population since the invention of agriculture has never been homogenously poor. There have always been rich people, wealthy people and those who service them living in the cities. This is not likely to disappear after peak oil. And since the definition of a wealthy person is someone who has more than they need to live, quite clearly such a person will be capable of paying interest since they will be able to accumulate savings. This is also the case for EVERY SINGLE PERSON who earns more than their daily bread.

It's also interesting to note that the world's largest investors (such as Warren Buffer, HSBC bank etc) are not merely investing in gold, oil and ammo but instead are investing in what they reckon will be the markets of the future (i.e. electrified transportation systems, enhanced oil extraction, shale gas, renewables and nuclear (among other things)), quite the opposite of what you would expect if they were aware (as doomers like to suggest) that the world was about to disappear up it's own butt due to the collapse of the financial system brought on by peak oil.
But then again, rich people and their advisors are clearly stupid and unqualified right? Obviously the doomers know better. Sheeesh...

Those who say peak oil will lead to the collapse of the financial system are simply ignorant of real world economics. But that's the point isn't it? The dieoff crowd says "economists are wrong" and thus the world is doomed. My five bucks says otherwise.

Will the decline of large fields lead to dieoff?

One of the often quoted "truths" spouted by the dieoff doomers is that the decline rate post peak will depend on the world's giant fields and by proxy when the world's giant fields go into decline the world has effectively hit hard depletion. This comes from Ivanhoe L.F., & Leckie G.G's piece in 1993 titled "
Global oil, gas fields, sizes tallied, analyzed" which effectively says that 94% of the world's oil and gas lies in 1500 large fields.

I question this received "wisdom".
For a start, the distribution of virtually every other size plot in the natural world shows a power law.
Take lakes for example: there are only a few dozen giant lakes in the world but there are millions of small lakes. As wikipedia states:
"Small lakes are also much more numerous than big lakes: in terms of area, one third of the world's standing water is represented by lakes and ponds of 10 hectares (25 acres) or less.[citation needed] However, large lakes contribute disproportionately to the area of standing water with 122 large lakes of 1,000 square kilometres (390 sq mi, 100,000 ha, 247,000 acres) or more representing about 29% of the total global area of standing inland water."

If wikipedia is correct about the distribution of lakes (and we have no reason to doubt it) is it possible that the distribution of oil fields is somehow different than the distribution of lakes given that both were formed by natural processes?

I doubt it. There's something clearly wrong with the analysis. I do not believe that 94% of the world's oil lies in large fields when only 29% of the world's fresh water lies in large lakes. It doesn't make sense. I also note that there has been no update to the 1993 piece and this is the crucial piece on which many of the forecasts of depletion are relying on. If there is nothing to offset the decline from large fields then world depletion EQUALS large field depletion.

One point however: it IS likely that the distribution of the EASY TO DRILL oil fields are disproportionately skewed towards large oil fields simply because of cost vs profit. Large fields are easier to find and compare favorably to the sunk costs and overheads of the majors. Majors simply cannot develop the small fields because their costs do not permit. This is true in every business: a small niche market is not worth doing for the likes of giant corporations like Coca Cola, Lever Brothers etc If this is true (and there's no reason to suspect it isn't), it suggests that small oil fields are disproproportionately likely to not have already been developed compared to the giant fields. If this is true combined with the distribution of lakes being possibly similar to that of oil fields we could deduce that we still likely have the same amount of oil as in the large fields but in smaller fields still remaining to be developed. If this is the case, it's a strong argument that the depletion rate of the large fields will be tempered by the development of the smaller fields to some extent but at much greater cost. It can be argued of course that cost is indeed the issue. It's not. The issue is not greater cost, it's continually increasing cost which cannot be adapted to in a reasonable time frame. If the next tranch of oil fields to be developed are all smaller but more or less of the same cost and similarly for the subsequent tranch there what we are likely to see is a step change in the price of oil rather than a smooth and continous price upwards till the world economy explodes. And if we see step upwards and a plateau at a particular price, the question will be asked: have we yet reached the price at which it's cheaper to move to electric power for most applications that are currently powered by oil? Time will tell.