Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Congress threatens cheap, renewable energy

It may come to nothing, but two proposals have surfaced in Congress that threaten some of the most promising energy developments in recent years.

Offshore wind power survived one effort to slow its development in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and now, new provisions in two pending bills in Congress are threatening wind power again.

An amendment inserted in the Defense Authorization Bill by Committee Chairman John Warner calls for a study of how wind energy projects might affect military radar systems, even though previous studies have already shown that radar interference is not a problem. Warner has been critical of wind platforms proposed for offshore Virginia.

Language in the Coast Guard authorization bill calls for the Guard Commandant to review offshore wind energy projects, a redundant measure since the Coast Guard already has the authority to review offshore wind projects on the issue of navigation.

On another front, hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars, are possible targets for new taxes. The recently passed $286.4 billion highway and public transit act, is projected to run out of money a year before it expires which has congressmen scrambling to find new sources of revenue for the notoriously pork laden bill.

These proposals may not go anywhere, but they are disturbing signs the congress still doesn't get it when it comes to energy.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Lithium Economy

An article in Technology Review interviews Donald Sadoway, who holds 13 patents and has published more than 100 papers on the future of batteries and the all-electric car.

Sadoway dismissed the much vaunted hydrogen economy, saying that the future is in lithium batteries.

I don't believe in fuel cells for portable power. I think it's a dumb idea. The good news is: they burn hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity, and only water vapor is the byproduct. The bad news is: you have to deal with molecular hydrogen gas, and that's what's stymieing the research and in my opinion is always going to stymie the research.

That's why I don't work on fuel cells. Where's the infrastructure? Where are we going to get hydrogen from? Hydrogen is a molecule, it's H2. To break it apart, to get H+, you've got to go from H2 to H, and that covalent bond is very strong. To break that bond you have to catalyze the reaction, and guess what the catalyst is? It's noble metals -- platinum and palladium. Have you seen the price of platinum? Lithium [for lithium ion batteries] is expensive. But it's not like platinum. Lithium right now is probably $40 a pound. Platinum is $500 an ounce. If I could give the fuel-cell guys platinum for $40 a pound, they would be carrying me around on their shoulders until the day I die.

While electric cars have thus far been held back because of their limited range between recharges, Sadoway believes that we could easily double the energy capacity of present batteries, and that much larger increases in power are within the realm of possiblity.

The fantasy of all fantasies is chromium. If we could stabilize chromium [as a material for battery cathodes] and I could...give you a battery with 600–700 watts per kilogram [of energy capacity] with reasonable drain rate, that says good-bye hydrogen economy.

Lithium batteries powered by solar rechargers hold out the possibility of a much greener future.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Virgin Airlines to Use Green Jet Fuel

Virgin Atlantic Airways boss Richard Branson announced this mont that his airline will abandon hydrocarbons and use plant waste to power his fleet.

"We are looking for alternative fuel sources. We are going to start building cellulosic ethanol plants (to make) fuel that is derived from the waste product of the plant," he told Reuters in an interview in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

"It is 100 percent environmentally friendly and I believe it's the future of fuel, and over the next 20 or 30 years I think it actually will replace the conventional fuel that you get out of the ground."

"We use around 700 million gallons of fuel a year between the four airlines. I hope that over the next 5 to 6 years we can replace some or all of that (with ethanol)."

Green energy has made its way into conventional business practices. But the bigger questions remain: can we make enough of it to fuel our vast economy without diverting land from food production despaarately needed by an overcrowded world. The concept of limits still must be faced.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Chinese hunger is destroying the Amazon

The soya bean has become a major threat to the Amazon.

Soy is Brazil's boom crop and feeds China's other energy demand; the millions of kilocalories to fuel its workers growing appetite. Soy farming is clearing more forest than logging, cattle farming and mining. Since 1995, soya bean imports from Brazil have increased 10,685%. Soy exports are now worth, or more than a third of Brazil's sales volume to Beijing.

According to Ibama, the Brazilian state environmental agency, only 2% of the deforestation is authorised. But with only six inspectors to cover an area three times bigger than the UK, there is little they can do. "There is no such thing as sustainable management of forests. It is all predatory," said Nielson Vieira at Ibama's Santarem office. "All we can do is minimise the damage."

The soya barons are so convinced that demand will continue to grow that they are planning to clear millions more hectares. "We don't trust China as a partner," said Pio Stefanello, a plantation owner and Brazil's leading distributor of soya seeds. "But it is a huge contributor to growth. They are big consumers for everything."