Future Energy eNews IntegrityResearchInstitute.org July 24, 2007
|1) Ramjet designer's new pitch: safe,
cheap fusion reactor|
(06/04/2007 9:00 AM EDT)
There's a way for fusion reactors to sidestep high-temperature plasmas, steam turbines, neutron radiation and even nuclear waste--and still generate inexhaustible nuclear energy for less money than Google's annual electricity bill. That's the position, and latest mission, of physicist Robert Bussard.
In the 1960s, Bussard proposed the ramjet, a paper engine design that would power deep-space vehicles by collecting hydrogen atoms in space and feeding them into a fusion reactor. Now, in a proposal titled "Should Google Go Nuclear?" (video.google.com/videoplay?docid= 1996321846673788606), Bussard presents an alternative to thermonuclear fusion. He claims an inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) reactor can provide fusion power that is simpler, cleaner and cheaper than would be possible under the various routes now being pursued by the Department of Energy.
"Everything [the DOE] is doing is highly radioactive and expensive--measured in tens of billions of dollars, with projected run-out costs of greater than $12 billion, plus another $30 billion over the next 20 or 30 years. The United States has already spent $18 billion [on fusion]," said Bussard. "And there is no end in sight."
By contrast, Bussard estimates startup costs of $200 million for an IEC fusion reactor that would operate at 95 efficiency.
The ramjet, proposed in the 1960s, sought to remove an obstacle to deep-space travel. Traditional spacecraft cannot carry enough fuel to reach distant stars, but the ramjet would harvest particles present even in natural vacuums, using fusion to release energy. Bussard parlayed his ramjet fame into a career working to redirect the nation toward simpler, cleaner, cheaper fusion reactors. He founded Energy Matter Conversion Corp. (EMC2; Santa Fe, N.M.), which initially focused on contract work for the Department of Defense. Lately, Bussard has been courting deep-pocketed corporations to help him build a commercial version of the IEC fusion reactor. He has set up a nonprofit organization, EMC2 Fusion Development Corp. (www.EMC2Fusion.org), to fund the work.
The current, third-generation prototype uses six doughnut-shaped electromagnets to create a cube in which to confine the fusion reactions in a strong magnetic field. The original protype operated in air and was just centimeters in diameter; the current design operates in a vacuum chamber and measures roughly a cubic yard.
When all six electromagnets are energized, the magnetic fields meld into a nearly perfect sphere. Electrons are in jected into the sphere to create a superdense core of highly negative charge. Given enough electrons, the electrical field can be made strong enough to induce fusion in selected particles. Positively charged protons and boron-11 ions ("p-B11") are injected into the sphere and are quickly accelerated into the center of the electron ball by its high negative charge. Protons and boron ions that overshoot the center are pulled back with an oscillatory action of a thousand or more cycles.
If the negative charge of the core is high enough, the positively charged particles will accelerate enough during their oscillations to induce a fusion reaction. The boron-11 collides with a proton to create carbon-12, which then splits into a helium nucleus and a beryllium nucleus. The beryllium particle splits into two more helium nuclei, resulting in a total of three helium nuclei, each of which has almost 3 million electron volts of energy. The force of the final splitting step drives the helium nuclei out of the center of the reactor, where a surrounding electrical grid directly dissipates their energy by generating electricity at a claimed efficiency of 95 percent.
For More Information:
2) Record Efficiency for Plastic Solar Cells
Peter Fairley, Technology Review, Friday,
July 13, 2007 http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19044/
A new process for printing plastic solar cells boosts the power generated by the flexible and cheap form of photovoltaics. Initial solar cells made with the technique can, according to a report in today's issue of Science, capture solar energy with an efficiency of 6.5 percent--a new power record for photovoltaics that employ conductive plastics to generate electricity from sunlight. Most photovoltaics are made from conventional inorganic semiconductors.
The new process stacks multiple polymer layers within a single photovoltaic device to produce a "tandem" cell. Alan Heeger <http://www.ipos.ucsb.edu/ajh.html>, who won the 2000 Nobel Prize for his codiscovery of electrically conducting polymers, and his colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara <http://www.ipos.ucsb.edu/> (UCSB), created the process with a group from South Korea's Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology <http://www.gist.ac.kr/english/index.php>. Heeger says that the tandem architecture offers plenty of room for further improvement--enough to eventually make plastic solar cells practical in rooftop solar panels. "We see a pathway here toward even higher efficiencies," he says. "We can do significantly better than 6.5 percent in the near future."
Tandem cells, commonly employed in conventional solar panels, increase power output in two ways. The semiconductors in the different layers can be optimized to capture different bands of light, thus enabling the tandem device to absorb a broader spectrum of sunlight. And the multiple layers boost the voltage of the tandem device, yielding more power from every photon absorbed. "You do a better job of light harvesting and a better job of utilizing the photon energy," explains Heeger.
Until now, however, the tandem architecture spoiled
plastic photovoltaics such as Heeger's, which are "printed" by spraying
solutions of conductive plastics and other materials onto a plastic film.
Layers of different plastics sprayed on top tended to mix, degrading
rather than enhancing power output. Heeger and his colleagues beat the
mixing problem by finding an effective spray-on separator to keep the
layers in place.
Heeger expects further efficiency strides as device developers gain experience with the cell's new materials. For example, in May, the UCSB researchers reported a processing tweak that doubles the power output of single cells made with Konarka's new polythiophene polymer. Heeger says that the processing trick was not used in the tandem cell. Yang Yang <http://220.127.116.11:81/index.aspx>, a physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees that rapid improvement is likely. He says that such optimization could yield a tandem cell that's more than 10 percent efficient. "I would call this important progress," he says.
Not all experts are as optimistic. Sean Shaheen, who
recently left a research post at the Department of Energy's National
Renewable Energy Laboratory <http://www.nrel.gov/> for the University
of Denver, cautions not to overreact to the report. For one thing, says
Shaheen, efficiency estimates are notoriously unreliable because each
research group tests efficiency under its own approximation of the solar
For the time being, says Gaudiana, Konarka will stay
focused on producing single-cell plastic photovoltaics with 5 percent
efficiency. That power output is sufficient for Konarka's first
application, portable battery chargers, which the company hopes to begin
selling next year. But tandem cells could help Konarka reach the more
demanding rooftop market, which Gaudiana says will require at least 7
3) A Power Plant for the Home
Prachi Patel Predd , IEEE Spectrum, April,
What if the power plant were sitting in your home's basement instead? Combined heat and power (CHP) systems can utilize up to 90 percent of a fossil fuel's energy by simultaneously generating heat and electricity on-site, reducing energy consumption and slashing utility bills. Such systems already power hospitals, university campuses, and large petrochemical factories, and they are widely used for district heating in Denmark, the Netherlands, and other northern European countries. But only in the last few years has the technology evolved to the point that it can power and heat individual homes. Recently gaining popularity in Europe and Japan, micro-CHP, as it's called, has now broken into the lucrative U.S. market.
The Freewatt system, made by Honda, can be installed in a basement as shown in a Boston-area home. Climate Energy, a company in Medfield, Mass., is testing a 1.2-kilowatt system in 25 U.S. homes and hopes to sell several hundred units this year. The company, a joint venture of ECR International, in Utica, N.Y., and Yankee Scientific, also in Medfield, is marketing a system developed by Honda Motor, Tokyo [see photo, "Basement Installation" Honda has sold 50 000 1-kW units for single-family homes in Japan. SenerTec, a firm in Schweinfurt, Germany, markets a 5-kW system for apartment buildings in Europe.
Micro-CHP systems typically consist of an internal combustion engine and a furnace. The engine drives a generator to produce electricity, and the heat created in the process goes to the furnace via a heat exchanger module. Micro-CHP equipment can run on a range of fuels, including coal and oil. The most popular systems, including Climate Energy's, run on natural gas.
Unlike solar panels, wind turbines, and fuel cells, CHP is, as Climate Energy CEO Eric Guyer says, "an approach that's much more like the hybrid gasoline-electric automobile than an exotic automobile such as one running on fuel cells. It's a good application of available technology-nothing extraordinarily new, no new science, no new way of converting energy."
The micro-CHP setup costs a few thousand dollars more than a traditional gas furnace. Whether it is worth the extra money depends on where you live. This is because it is driven by heat demand: in the winter the generator runs as much as possible without turning off, providing heat and about half of a typical home's electricity. When you do not need heat, the power plant switches off and you buy all your electricity from the grid. And if you generate more electricity than you need-say, at night-you could sell it to the utility company.
The Climate Energy system makes the most sense if you live in one of those states where it gets very cold in the winter and you pay a lot for electricity. In that case, it can pay for itself in two years and save you US $500 a year thereafter. Otherwise, the payback period could be up to 10 years.
More than 35 U.S. states now require utilities to provide net metering, a simple way for customers to sell power to a utility using standard meters. But states decide what type of residual energy customers can pump into the grid, and so far, just 11 states allow net metering for CHP.
The main market for micro-CHP in the United States would be homes that require more than 4000 heating hours per year, according to Peter Banwell of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who is investigating residential CHP. Banwell says roughly 30 million U.S. homes are in that bracket. Guyer notes that Climate Energy's system is especially attractive in states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut, where electricity can cost as much as 20 cents per kilowatthour and where local utilities are offering financial incentives for micro-CHP buyers.
According to John Jimison, a former executive director of
the U.S. Combined Heat and Power Association, in
Bethesda, Md., micro-CHP growth might be slower in North America than in
Europe and Japan because many of the same homes that require a lot of
heating in winter also run electricity-hungry air conditioners in the
summer. The drawback of trying to use CHP in such homes is that it makes
no contribution to a consumer's electricity bill during the summer, when
usage is highest.
Strong incentives from major utilities and the government would help spur residential CHP in the United States, Jimison says, but traditional utilities still see home power generation as a threat. Europe and Japan offer good examples of how financial incentives can boost micro-CHP sales. In Germany, micro-CHP users do not have to pay an eco-tax that is attached to the use of natural gas, and they are paid more than the wholesale price of electricity for what they deliver to the grid. Micro-CHP users in the United Kingdom get a big discount on the natural gas tax, paying just 5 percent rather than 17.5 percent. In Japan, where consumers cannot sell electricity back to utilities, the government gives subsidies toward micro-CHP, and gas utilities also give a discounted rate to encourage people to use it. Jon Slowe, a director in Glasgow of Delta Energy and Environment, a distributed energy research and consulting firm based in the UK and Belgium, says the Japanese subsidy is "in recognition of the carbon dioxide savings" obtainable from using CHP.
"My expectation is that when it's time to replace [the furnace], they'll be putting in a micro-CHP unit" -- John Jimison
Government support for micro-CHP in the United States has been scant. The U.S. Department of Energy funded preliminary system-design research in 2004, including R&D done by one of Climate Energy's parent companies, ECR International. But there have not been enough funds to support the research in subsequent years, says Douglas F. Gyorke, a program manager at the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory. "It's a novel technology that I wish we could've played around with a little more," Gyorke says.
Climate Energy's Guyer says the hesitancy of the government and utilities to embrace micro-CHP is natural. "This is the case of the microcomputer versus the mainframe," he says. "There were people in the mainframe business who thought that there was no role for personal computing."
Guyer and Jimison say they expect things to be different
in a few years. A typical gas furnace has a life of 15 to 20 years,
Jimison notes, adding, "My expectation is that for people who are putting
in a new gas furnace now, when it's time to replace that, they'll be
putting in a micro-CHP unit."
4) Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy
Susan S. Long, Cornell University News Service, July 5, 2005 (annotated by DBH) http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July05/ethanol.toocostly.ssl.html
Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study.
"There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. "These strategies are not sustainable."
Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76).
In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that: [In terms of USAG land = 943 million acres and half of the US annual transportation fuel usage of 140 billion US gallons - DBH]
Ø Corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced [Corn would produce about 340 gallons per acre and use about 90% of our agricultural land for only 50% replacement of gasoline.],
Ø Switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced [Switch grass would use about 12% of our agricultural land or about 116 million acres and make an estimated 1,150 gal per acre of our agricultural land]; and
Ø Wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:
Ø Soybean plants require 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced [Soybeans would produce about 56 gallons per acre and use about 64.4% of USAG land or about 356,398,598 acres to replace half of diesel fuel in use. The ratio of energy return to invested energy is 3.2 for soybeans compared to 2.6 with rapeseed and rapeseed would only use 37.8% of USAG land.], and
Ø Sunflower plants require 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
[Jatropha trees are similar to an olive can produce about 200 gallons per acre and may also do so in very desolate areas, like desert sands. Additionally, Palm and coconut have an ERoEI of 8, but are limited to warm climates. Also of interest are ocean green algae that can produce over 15,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre on a sunny day.]
In assessing inputs, the researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop (including production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix. Although additional costs are incurred, such as federal and state subsidies that are passed on to consumers and the costs associated with environmental pollution or degradation, these figures were not included in the analysis.
The United State desperately needs a liquid fuel replacement for oil in the near future," says Pimentel, "but producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road, because you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products."
Although Pimentel advocates the use of burning biomass to produce thermal energy (to heat homes, for example), he deplores the use of biomass for liquid fuel. "The government spends more than $3 billion a year to subsidize ethanol production when it does not provide a net energy balance or gain, is not a renewable energy source or an economical fuel. Further, its production and use contribute to air, water and soil pollution and global warming," Pimentel says. He points out that the vast majority of the subsidies do not go to farmers but to large ethanol-producing corporations.
"Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, economy or the environment," says Pimentel. "Ethanol production requires large fossil energy input, and therefore, it is contributing to oil and natural gas imports and U.S. deficits." He says the country should instead focus its efforts on producing electrical energy from photovoltaic cells, wind power and burning biomass and producing fuel from hydrogen conversion.
Cornell News Service:
Susan S. Lang, Senior Science Writer
Phone: (607) 255-3613
Office of Press Relations
Phone: (607) 255-6074
5) International Energy Events Announced by the U.S. Energy Association
USEA Today, United States Energy Association, July 2, 2007, www.usea.org
July 4* REVISED *
World Energy Council modernized website launch. Visitwww.worldenergy.org
July 10-12 The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (IPHE) 2nd Workshop on “Building the Hydrogen Economy: Enabling Infrastructure Development” Paris, France
Jill Gagnon, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
July 16-20Members from the SARI/Energy Markets Partnership meet with transmission operators, regulators and policy makers in India to understand regulatory, technical and financial mechanisms behind current Indian electricity trade practices and the impacts for cross-border trade. New Delhi, India
Tricia Williams, ext. email@example.com
July 21-28Regional Power Markets Executive Exchange for Central Asia. Representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will travel to the U.S. to meet with PJM, Exelon Power Team, NERC and FERC , among other organizations.
Albert Doub, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
July 25Barry Worthington addresses the conference “Climate & Energy Security – Towards a Low Carbon Economy” in the session “How Utilities Can Contribute to Energy Efficiency and Energy Security.” West Sussex, United Kingdom
Kim Grover, ext. email@example.com
World Energy Congress – Rome 2007 Update….
… U.S. reception will be held Monday, November 12, 2007 at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Current Co-Sponsors are expected to be: GE, Bechtel, and Black & Veatch. Any other USEA members wishing to consider co-sponsoring should contact Barry Worthington at 202.312.1235.
… Registration is open and program updates are available atwww.rome2007.it
Our Nation’s Energy Partnership Program
US Energy Association, Washington DC
July 2007 Edition, USEA Today
Contact: Tel. 202-312-1230 Fax. 202-682-1682
** UPDATED ** ** UPDATED **
WASHINGTON - Conventional crude oil supplies won't keep up with
growing global demand in the next 25 years and other fuels from
ethanol to liquefied coal and oil from tar sands will be needed to
close the gap, says a draft oil industry report. The draft report by the National Petroleum
Council, an advisory group to the federal government, is
unusual in its emphasis on the need for a broad range of
supplemental fuels and conservation to meet future petroleum
needs. The document, titled "Facing the Hard Truths about
Energy," is to be approved by the 175-member council
Wednesday and then presented to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. A
copy was provided to reporters Monday. The council is made up of a cross-section of oil industry
executives and other energy experts selected by the energy secretary
to advise the department. Its chairman is Lee Raymond, retired chief
executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. The report projected continued growth of conventional global
crude oil production but said that it would not be enough to meet
demand. "It's a hard truth that the global supply of oil and natural gas
from the conventional sources relied upon historically is unlikely
to meet projected 50 to 60 percent growth in demand over the next 25
years," says the report. Many of its details were reported Monday by The Wall Street
Journal. To bridge the supply-demand gap the report called for ramping up
development of biomass fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel,
liquefied coal and unconventional crude oil sources such as oil from
tar sands, ultra deep water areas and shale oil. And it says conservation will be needed if supplies are to be
adequate to meet the growing demand for energy, especially in
industrially developing countries such as China and India. The report called for improvements in auto fuel economy "at the
maximum rate possible" although citing no specific fuel economy
increases. Among the "hard truths" about the global energy future outlined
in the report is that "an expansion of all economic energy sources
will be required" to meet the demand growth. It also cautioned that curbing carbon dioxide to address global
warming will "alter the energy mix, increase energy-related costs"
and will require finding ways to scale back the growth in energy
demand even more. Nevertheless, the report said, coal, oil and natural gas will
remain indispensable. In 2030, those three fossil fuels will account
for the same share of global energy demand, about 85 percent, as
they did in 2000, the report said. The report cited estimates by the International Energy Agency and
the U.S. Energy Information Administration that projected total
liquid fuel production of 116 million to 118 million barrels a day
by 2030. International oil companies indicated that amount may not
be achievable. Today global crude oil production is about 85 million
barrels a day. The report said production estimates varied among companies but
averaged only 107 million barrels a day by 2030, suggesting there
may be a struggle to meet future demand even if unconventional oil
sources and other liquid fuels are taken into
WASHINGTON - Conventional crude oil supplies won't keep up with growing global demand in the next 25 years and other fuels from ethanol to liquefied coal and oil from tar sands will be needed to close the gap, says a draft oil industry report.
The draft report by the National Petroleum Council, an advisory group to the federal government, is unusual in its emphasis on the need for a broad range of supplemental fuels and conservation to meet future petroleum needs.
The document, titled "Facing the Hard Truths about Energy," is to be approved by the 175-member council Wednesday and then presented to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. A copy was provided to reporters Monday.
The council is made up of a cross-section of oil industry executives and other energy experts selected by the energy secretary to advise the department. Its chairman is Lee Raymond, retired chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp.
The report projected continued growth of conventional global crude oil production but said that it would not be enough to meet demand.
"It's a hard truth that the global supply of oil and natural gas from the conventional sources relied upon historically is unlikely to meet projected 50 to 60 percent growth in demand over the next 25 years," says the report.
Many of its details were reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal.
To bridge the supply-demand gap the report called for ramping up development of biomass fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, liquefied coal and unconventional crude oil sources such as oil from tar sands, ultra deep water areas and shale oil.
And it says conservation will be needed if supplies are to be adequate to meet the growing demand for energy, especially in industrially developing countries such as China and India.
The report called for improvements in auto fuel economy "at the maximum rate possible" although citing no specific fuel economy increases.
Among the "hard truths" about the global energy future outlined in the report is that "an expansion of all economic energy sources will be required" to meet the demand growth.
It also cautioned that curbing carbon dioxide to address global warming will "alter the energy mix, increase energy-related costs" and will require finding ways to scale back the growth in energy demand even more.
Nevertheless, the report said, coal, oil and natural gas will remain indispensable. In 2030, those three fossil fuels will account for the same share of global energy demand, about 85 percent, as they did in 2000, the report said.
The report cited estimates by the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration that projected total liquid fuel production of 116 million to 118 million barrels a day by 2030. International oil companies indicated that amount may not be achievable. Today global crude oil production is about 85 million barrels a day.
The report said production estimates varied among companies but averaged only 107 million barrels a day by 2030, suggesting there may be a struggle to meet future demand even if unconventional oil sources and other liquid fuels are taken into account.
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