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« Is This the Best They Have to Offer? | Main | Biological Fuel Cell Development »

April 09, 2006



The only company I've seen making real progress on the biofuels front is GreenFuel Technologies. Last December they got $11 million in venture capital for research staff to scale up their process to larger power plants. According to the articles I've read they hope to have full scale units within three years.

Until then, we can do a lot with soybeans, rapeseed, and other oilcrops.


I strongly disagree with you when you say that there's no way renewable could have a significant impact over the next 10 years. Quite the contrary, wind turbines are much faster to build than coal, especially if you factor in carbon sequestration, a non-trivial technology at this point. Few contractors actually have experience with the technology on the kind of scale necessary for a 500-1000 MW power plant. Nuclear is not a factor within the next ten years.

USA is nowhere near critical levels of "intermittent" wind power. And utility companies are getting better at handling that issue every year.

USA has some of the strongest solar power potential in the world. Several states in the south west have world-class solar resources, and in those states there is a strong correlation between solar radiation and power demand. Over a ten-year horizon, I bet the current issue of lack of poly-crystaline silicon will vanish completely, unless met with a continuous very high growth, which would only mean that solar was getting big anyway.

I think now is the time to come out and say that renewable IS ready to play a major part and reduce energy dependence. (I realize that USA is self-sufficient in coal, and some coal plants will be built anyway.)

May I also suggest investing heavily in grid reinforcement. A strong grid raises the overall efficiency and availability, thus reducing the necessary number of power plants.


Michael Cain

He also called for the approval of the Yucca Mountain project to dispose of our nuclear waste.

The arguments against Yucca Mountain based on the length of time which the wastes must be held (tens of thousands of years) are probably spurious. 100 years ago we had no idea how to build a reactor. 100 years from now we will know how to deal with the wastes cleanly and easily. Given our current inefficient nuclear fuel cycle with no reprocessing, which discards >90% of the available energy along with the wastes, we are likely to begin retrieving and reprocessing "wastes" from Yucca in far less than 100 years.


Not much point in explaining why this diatribe is totally wrong Thomas. You can see why I feel a greater sense of urgency! This is the US mindset in the government/corporate and political sector.

For engineers and bureacrats conformity is an obsession (to paraphrase George costanza). Just keeping the few jobs that are left here that haven't already been outsourced to India takes an even greater obsession to conformity than they already adopt way back in engineering school.

And as far as the bureacrats, most know so little about science or engineering anyway that it's easy for them to conform to the conventional talking point wisdom with no compunction.


Will you be asking for a nuclear waste processing facility near your home Michael?

Why not? It will be good for your local economy. All the waste from the rest of the country can be shipped right to your area! What a deal huh?

Many people are all for nukes until the plan is to locate one in their area.

Tom E. Gatherion


Can we turn the question around?: If the time frame here is 10 years, how much contribution can each of these technologies make to the total possible reduction in (A) oil & gas use for electric generation or (B) replacement of oil as transportation fuels?

Coal is one thing, but coal + sequestration is quite another; is there a full-size example running anywhere just now? How many new plants can go in in ten years, given X number of years in each of the design and permitting processes? What % of total electric generation are we looking at on a realistic basis?

Same question on nuclear- years of design and permitting (which process no intelligent person wants to discard) for each plant, a limited number of companies who can construct such a thing (and probably a world-wide rising demand for the services of said co's); how many new plants can be built and come on-line in the next ten years?

There seems to be a lot of agreement that we are on the cusp of major improvements in solar cost/kw (incl battery storage), wind is getting better by the same measure, but given the tiny base they have now, what percent of the total, 10 years from now, can they realistically contribute? For a commercial program? For a crash govt-assisted program? And if you have a multi-year NIMBY legal battle over some of the wind farms?

The US federal government is currently paralysed right now between war, financial exhaustion and Republican infighting. In the next three years, what is the real chance any sort of official action to ramp up alternatives or nukes? And if indeed there are three years of paralysis to come, what does this do to the potential non-oil/gas energy output ten years from now?

What about mini-solar and wind on individual homes and commercial buildings? Will it take from now until 2010 to convince the city & county planning boards, the local power utility, perhaps the neighborhood association in covenanted developments, ect., in much of the country, to allow construction to begin?

Its a pisscutter, ain't it? As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us..."

Joe Deely

- Bodman said demand for electricity in the U.S. will increase 50% over the next 20-25 years and "the only thing I see meeting that is nuclear power." -

Why not have a goal of electricity demand increasing by 0% over the next 20-25 years. This is a far easier goal vs. huge increases in renewables and/or nuclear.


The thing to watch out for on hydrogen funding is that not all of that is hydrogen research.

A lot of money goes to build-out of hydrogen highway filling stations, and promotion of that hydrogen highway.

At one time I tried to figure it out from the Energy Bill, but it looked like less than half went to research.

Michael Cain

Will you be asking for a nuclear waste processing facility near your home Michael?

Based on the technology that will be available in 100 years, sure. Where "near" is the same kind of "near" that people use today when asked if they want an electricity generating plant "near" their home. I don't want any large industrial operation across the fence from my backyard -- but I understand that one of the prices for the benefits of modern, complex, energy-intense technology is that there will almost certainly be such operations within several miles of where I live.

Walk around your house, or a modern hospital. How much of the technology that is now routine was almost unimaginable 100 years ago? I'm claiming that in 100 years, we will have the technology to deal with nuclear wastes safely.


Jim, Thomas

Please keep in mind that in 2006 and 2007 wind is 40% of planned new generation! By the end of 2007 total wind will be about 1.5% of total kwhr production, and doubling every 18-24 months. Annual installation in 2007 will be .6% of total production. This only needs to double 2-3 times to take take care of all new needed generation each year. By the time nuclear plants start arriving, in 10-12 years, it could easily not be needed at all.

see http://www.nei.org/documents/Energy%20Markets%20Report.pdf, and please note that after 2007 wind falls off because that's outside wind's planning horizon - This is not a "projection" (implying use of judgement to identify trends in a comprehensive way) rather it's a compilation, or snapshot of current plans, which is necessarily incomplete. Consider it a chart of "capacity currently in the planning pipeline".

You can see that coal is growing quickly. It will be interesting to see what happens with that, as wind grows.

Finally, in 10-12 years cheap solar will almost certainly be here. I think it likely that BIPV in new homes will become standard, and that from the point of view of utilities that traditional electrical consumption growth begin to slow dramatically around there. Of course, new consumption will probably happen - PHEV's - but that consumption will be eminently manageable and schedulable, making wind and solar intermittency easier to manage, and leveling peak load.

Things are getting there, if more slowly than would be ideal.


A barrier to the installation of any new power technology (clean coal, next-gen nukes, or renewables) is that before investment will be there to build it on a big scale, someone will have to demonstrate its maintenance and operating costs over several years. And if this demonstration is favorable, you'll have a hard time stopping investment thereafter.

With this in mind, modular technologies like wind and solar have a decided advantage in speed to roll-out. A small-scale pilot operation captures can tell you more of what you need to know about the cost structure than for a non-modular installation like a coal or nuclear plant.


I strongly agree with your comments: “We will need more power plants powered by...coal with sequestration..“
Everyone is waiting for the first coal-to-liquids plant in the U.S. It's almost here. Check out the site of the guy who is building it, www.ultracleanfuels.com

Drilling Chemicals

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