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May 10th, 2005, 10:24 PM
Environment News Service (http://www.ens-newswire.com/)

By the Numbers, U.S. Traffic Congestion Worse Than Ever

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - Traffic congestion continues to thicken across the United States, costing Americans $63.1 billion a year, according to the latest annual traffic study of 85 urban areas by the Texas Transportation Institute. Released Monday, the 2005 Urban Mobility Report measures traffic congestion trends from 1982 to 2003, reflecting the most recent data available.

Drivers in large, medium and small cities all experienced more severe congestion lasting a longer period of time and affecting more of the transportation network in 2003 than in the baseline year of 1982, this year's study shows. In 2003, the total amount of delay reached 3.7 billion hours, and 2.3 billion gallons of fuel were lost as engines sat idling in traffic jams.

In 1982 a motorist driving at the peak periods sat in traffic an average of 16 hours during the entire year. In 2003, that person sat in traffic for 47 hours, nearly three times as long.

In very large urban areas with more than three million people, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area of California is the most congested, with the San Francisco-Oakland area not far behind.

Washington, DC is in third place, Atlanta, Georgia is the fourth most congested very large urban area, and Houston, Texas is fifth, the study shows.

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/may2005/20050510_trafficcars2.jpg Rush hour traffic in the Houston, Texas urban area (Photo courtesy TTI)

Congestion occurs during longer portions of the day and delays more travelers and goods than ever before, the study shows. And congestion is more severe in larger urban areas.

If the current fuel prices are used, what the researchers call "the congestion invoice" climbs another $1.7 billion, which would bring the total cost to about $65 billion.

The invoice considers the value of extra travel time and the extra fuel consumed by vehicles traveling at slower speeds. Travel time has a value of $13.75 per person-hour and $72.65 per truck-hour in 2003. Fuel cost per gallon is the average price for each state.

"Congestion is a complicated issue and can’t be solved with one approach nationwide," says study author Tim Lomax, a research engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). "We need to think about how policies and programs enacted at the federal, state and local levels affect congestion."

Despite slow growth in jobs and travel, urban areas are not adding enough capacity, improving operations or managing demand well enough to keep traffic congestion from growing larger, the study shows.

Lomax and co-author David Schrank found that the number of urban areas with more than 20 hours of annual delay per peak traveler has grown from only five in 1982 to 51 in 2003.

Over the most recent three years, the contribution of operations improvements has grown from 260 to 340 million hours of congestion relief, but delay has increased by 300 million hours over the same period.

The study comes at a time when Congress is considering legislation to re-authorize funding for transportation programs and projects across the nation. The House passed a version of the six-year bill that includes a Congestion Relief Program to address urban congestion problems.

"The bill includes important sections dedicated to developing a strategy to improve mobility by attacking congestion in a systematic way using an array of traffic congestion relief activities," says Lomax.

Building more road and public transportation capacity, operating that capacity for the most efficient service, and innovative pricing and truck-only lane projects are among the relief measures authorized by the House bill, known as the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. The bill has been placed on the Calendar in the Senate.

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/may2005/20050510_trafficcars.jpg Delays that waste time and fuel are more frequent and last longer than before. (Photo courtesy TTI)

"There is no single solution that can reverse the growth in congestion," Lomax says. "The deliberations in Congress, decisions by state and local elected officials, the results of voter initiatives last fall, and our research findings recognize that reality."

The study shows that regular route public transportation service on buses and trains provides a significant amount of peak period travel in the most congested corridors and urban areas.

If public transportation service was discontinued and the riders traveled in private vehicles, the 85 urban areas studied would have suffered an additional 1.1 billion hours of delay in 2003. That figure represents a 27 percent increase in delay and an additional congestion cost of $18 billion.

Useful solutions to delay shown by the study include high-occupancy vehicle lanes - also known as diamond lanes, bus and carpool lanes, or transitways. Data for the 19 congested corridors studied showed a saving equivalent to 10 to 15 years worth of congestion growth in the average area. "These HOV lanes carry one-third of the peak direction passenger load, providing significant passenger movement at much higher speeds and with more reliable travel times than the congested mainlanes," the study says.

Entrance ramp meters that regulate the flow of traffic on freeway entrance ramps using traffic signals are another useful solution. Designed to create more space between entering vehicles so those vehicles do not disrupt the mainlane traffic flow, the signals allow one vehicle to enter the freeway every two to five seconds. They also reduce the number of entering vehicles due to the short distance trips that are encouraged to use the parallel streets to avoid the ramp wait time.

Twenty-five of the urban areas reported ramp metering on some portion of their freeway system in 2003 for a total of 33 percent of the freeway miles. The effect was to reduce delay by 102 million person hours, approximately five percent of the freeway delay in those areas.

Also useful in reducing delays are the freeway incident management programs - such as Freeway Service Patrol, Highway Angel, Highway Helper, The Minutemen and Motorists Assistance Patrol - that attempt to remove crashed and disabled vehicles from the freeway lanes and shoulders by working in conjunction with surveillance cameras, cell phone and reported incident call-in programs.

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/may2005/20050510_accident.jpg Another accident slows traffic on a California roadway. (Photo courtesy Rialto Police Department (http://www.rialtopd.com/divisions/traffic.html))

In the 71 areas studied that have such programs, the effect was to reduce delay by 177 million person hours, approximately seven percent of the freeway delay in those areas.

Other helpful strategies are traffic signal coordination and arterial street access management.

The data suggest that nine percent of the roadway delay is being addressed by these four operational treatments for a total of 336 million hours in 2003, Lomax and Schrank report. And if these treatments were deployed on all major freeways and streets, the benefit would expand to about 15 percent of delay.

The authors point out that these techniques can be enacted much more quickly than major roadway or public transportation system expansions can occur. "But the operational treatments do not replace the need for those expansions," they say.

"Congestion is a complicated issue and can’t be solved with one approach nationwide," Lomax says, "We need to think about how policies and programs enacted at the federal, state and local levels affect congestion."

2005 Urban Mobility Report (http://mobility.tamu.edu/ums/report/)

See table on page 16 of summary report.

May 21st, 2005, 10:35 PM
As a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the growing uncertainty with the situation in the Middle East, South America and Europe, the United States is now forced to re-think its energy policy so that it can lower energy consumption of and dependence on foreign oil. Just as the automobile replaced the horse-drawn carriage so it is time for the electric battery to replace the gasoline engine. We are at the dawn of a new age when one can plug their car into an electric outlet and re-charge it for travel up to sixty miles or more. But with any wholesale change comes the requirement of a transitional mechanism. Hence the need for a vehicle that can run alternatively on both gasoline and electricity. The goal of course would be to make a total conversion within a reasonable amount of time. Most of the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal-fired power plants so the concern by some is that a reduction in tailpipe emissions would be offset by an increase in air pollution from the power plants. Others argue that the sheer volume of reduced vehicle emissions would fall far greater than plant-produced air pollution. We may even see a coalition of military hawks and environmentalists as fuel efficiency brings about both security and a better climate.

Few would argue that two factors influence consumer's choice of transportation more than anything else: gas mileage and appearance. Ever since the automobile became available to the average consumer, it has always been considered a status symbol much like the clothing we wear and the houses we live in. The price of electricity is pale compared to the price of gasoline so this factor is virtually a no-brainer. The choice of appearance however, will always linger as long as we believe that "appearance makes the person". But this factor can also be addressed during the transition phase since it appears that most vehicles today can be modified to use both fuel sources. As for the future, the old tried and true marketing techniques will convince most people that buying the style of car available will guarantee that the "future won't pass them by". Just as Japanese cars promoting fuel efficiency in response to the oil embargo of the 1970's sparked the Big Three to respond accordingly so will the shift to electric vehicles change the market once again. Perhaps this time General Motors, Ford and Daimler Chrysler will get the "jump on the competition" and in so doing, save themselves from bankruptcy.

May 23rd, 2005, 08:03 AM
I've merged another thread with this one, since they are related.

The reason that increasing fuel efficiency of automobiles would have a major impact on foreign oil dependency is a problem in itself - the ever growing number of cars on the road.

CBS Sunday Morning ran a story about it yesterday.

The increase in vehicle registrations has far outpaced population growth.
1960: 70 million vehicles registered
2003: 230 million.

Despite that there seem to be roads everywhere, road capacity from 1960-2003 increased by only 10%.

Americans consume 2.3 billion gallons of fuel per year just idling. The loss in productivity is estimated at $63 billion annually.

November 22nd, 2005, 08:33 AM
Fueling Growth Of a Humble Crop

Biodiesel Energy Industry Sparks Interest in Maryland Soybeans

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Larry Jarboe's quest for energy independence began years ago in the mangrove swamps of the Florida Keys, with a 15-foot canoe he bought for $75 at Sears. He installed an electric trolling motor to chase lobsters and realized along the way that "it was a really great way to live and very clean."

After that came the homemade electric riding lawnmower, the solar-powered electric Toyota MR2 with lightning bolt on the side (known as the "Green Hornet"), the electric bicycle and the wood-and-gas-powered sawmill. Now Jarboe, a Republican St. Mary's County commissioner, has laid his hopes on a hard vegetable the size of a pencil eraser grown throughout Southern Maryland: the soybean.

Already the great utility player of the vegetable league -- used in soaps, foams and salad dressing -- the soybean is also the key ingredient for the burgeoning biodiesel fuel industry. Thanks to hefty petroleum prices, a tax incentive that began this year and a desire for cleaner-burning alternative fuels, biodiesel plants are popping up across the country.

In such rural areas as Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, where farming is slowly waning, some officials are hoping that the biodiesel market for soybeans might help halt that slide.

In St. Mary's, Jarboe has held public forums advocating biodiesel and is working to install a 1,000-gallon biodiesel tank for county-owned vehicles.

"I think America needs to pull together to become energy-independent," Jarboe said. "And anything we could do to help farmers generate more income from their crops would be a good thing."

But widespread biodiesel use is still hindered by its price: Pure biodiesel can cost 50 cents more per gallon than regular diesel.

While still a fraction of petroleum output, the National Biodiesel Board expects that 75 million gallons of biodiesel -- which also can be made from other plant products and used cooking oils -- will be produced nationwide this year. That is three times the amount made last year and 38 times the production in 2000. In September, Minnesota became the first state to require that all diesel sold in the state be mixed with at least 2 percent biodiesel.

Around Washington, local governments and agencies are increasingly using the vegetable product. More than 400 large trucks and school buses in Arlington County use biodiesel, as do a number of National Park Service vehicles. President Bush visited Virginia Biodiesel Refineries in West Point, Va., in May, touting the fuel as "one of our nation's most promising alternative fuel sources."

Queen Anne's County on the Eastern Shore, the largest producer of soybeans in the state, this year converted its entire 180-vehicle diesel fleet, including 20 school buses, to a 20 percent blend of biodiesel. The county received a $60,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to pay for the difference in cost between biodiesel and regular diesel.

"We're an agricultural, rural community," said James Wood, the regional recycling coordinator for the mid-shore region. "It's a natural fit for us."
Wood said he was first drawn to the product because of its cleaner-burning properties, with reduced levels of carbon monoxide, sulfur and the sooty particulate matter. It is also biodegradable and, as many advocates proclaim, "less toxic than table salt." At one of Jarboe's recent biodiesel forums, a true believer threatened to drink a bottle of 100 percent biodiesel to demonstrate its safety.

The major market for soybeans in Maryland is now the poultry industry. Farmers sell their beans to Perdue Farms, which crushes them into meal, for chicken feed. A byproduct is soybean oil, most of which is sold to the food industry, said Perdue spokeswoman Julie DeYoung, but a small but growing portion is sold to two biodiesel plants. Hot oil can be blended with ethanol and potash to make glycerin and biodiesel.

That is the basic recipe that James Warren, owner of the Cropper Oil Co. in Berlin, Md., on the Eastern Shore, plans to use in a biodiesel plant for which construction is to begin in January. Warren has been helped by federal tax incentives that lessen the cost of producing biodiesel, and the Worcester County Commissioners voted this month to change county zoning to allow such an operation. He plans initially to produce between 500,000 and 1 million gallons a year.

"The more demand for biodiesel, the more demand for soybeans, and that's going to help the profit off the beans," said Warren, who is also a soybean farmer. "I heard a lot of farmers talking about biodiesel . . . when the prices [of regular diesel] were going up so high and they were tired of it, and they were saying, 'I'd rather see somebody here get paid than some foreigner.' "

The biodiesel industry, in its nascent stage, still must overcome obstacles -- including but not limited to the higher cost -- before it attains widespread use. The average driver can purchase biodiesel at only a couple dozen gas stations in the region, for instance.

In colder temperatures, it can become thick and sludge-like, especially the pure biodiesel. It also has solvent properties that, while capable of cleaning an engine, can result in plugged filters, Warren said.

"It's just taking off. I think it's going to be a niche product," said Michael Besche, president of Waldorf-based Besche Oil, which distributes diesel to about 50 service stations in Maryland and is considering distributing biodiesel. "When you start talking about billions and billions of gallons of diesel, and the amount of soybeans that would have to be grown to produce it, there are limits."

Still, Besche said, with mandates from such large institutions as the Navy to use alternative fuels, there may be a good market in the area. Also, since the permissible sulfur content of regular diesel is set to be massively reduced next year, biodiesel -- with no sulfur -- could be attractive as a blend, he said.

It was the sulfur smell that first led Paul Waxman, an employee at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County, to search for alternatives for his turbo-diesel Jetta. He has been driving on 100 percent biodiesel for four years now and said he much prefers the deep-fried smell of soybean oil. He said nothing needed to be done to get his car ready for the new fuel.

Waxman said a friend of his in Calvert County drives 80 miles to buy 200 gallons of biodiesel from a service station in New Windsor, Md., in Carroll County, and a small group shares the fuel.

"I don't remember the last time I went to a gas station," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

January 16th, 2007, 01:07 AM
January 15, 2007, 7:19 pm

Who Cares About the Price of Gas?

The Detroit Auto Show, which is going on right now, is full of cars purporting to solve the problem of the moment: the political, economic and environmental damage done by America’s dependence on oil. GM is showing off an electric Chevy; Ford has an adorable diesel hybrid that gets 65 miles per gallon, and Toyota is parading not only its hybrid Prius but also a huge truck that next year will be available in a model that runs on ethanol.

An overwhelming number of Americans believe that our oil problems can be solved by better auto technology: 78 percent of us want Congress and the president to push for 40 m.p.g. fuel economy standards, according to a recent poll.

What we would rather not do is use less gas. Over the past five years, as gas prices have doubled, fuel consumption has continued climbing upward. In 2006, we spent $364 billion on gasoline, which was double what we spent in 2002, according to Tom Kloza, an analyst who monitors American gasoline-buying behavior for the Oil Price Information Service. (The difference amounts to as much as the entire federal budget for Medicaid in 2006. It’s hard to imagine that we would have swallowed a one-year tax increase of that proportion.)

But the costs don’t accrue only to Americans — the whole world has to live with the high prices we tolerate. We are a country with 140 million pedals to the metal. American drivers buy one of every nine barrels of crude oil pumped from the ground, so we have more power and influence over world prices than any other buyers. Our behavior exacerbates small supply shortages, sending prices even higher. The International Energy Agency now considers drivers’ “insensitivity” to price as a potential threat to the stability of the world oil market.

This numbness to gasoline prices is relatively new. A recent study of consumer behavior by economists at the University of California at Davis found that between 2001 and 2006, as gas prices doubled, we reduced our consumption by only four percent. This is a big change from the last gas crisis, when drivers faced with the same relative price increase between 1975 and 1980, cut back by about 30 percent.

Why? In 1977 the average family traveled 12, 036 miles a year, but by 2001, we were driving 21,171 miles to and from work, soccer practice and the mall. People bought bigger cars to make the longer drives more bearable, and now they’re stuck with both the cars and the commutes. Then too, fuel accounts for a smaller share of the cost of driving today’s cars. (In 2004, gas and oil accounted for 9.5 percent of the cost of driving a mile, down from 19.9 percent in 1985.)

Many Americans subtract the cost of gasoline from other parts of their budgets — by skipping movies, for example, or buying breakfast cereal on sale. Obviously, that’s a good strategy for drivers who don’t want to reduce their gas consumption, but it’s hell on the oil markets.

Why are we like this? American energy policy since the 1930s has been based on ensuring greater supply — first from the Middle East, and later from countries outside of OPEC — rather than on controlling demand. Generations of Americans have come to expect a constant flow of cheap gasoline as a right — and they attribute high prices to oil company shenanigans. Eric Smith, a political scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, found that that 85 percent of Californians believe that high gas prices are the result of oil company manipulation, not market pressures. And if there’s no shortage, why conserve?

Kloza, of the Oil Price Information Service, observed that when prices recently hit $3.20, some people did start car pooling, but not for classic economic reasons. They just wanted to get back at the oil companies. They weren’t “making an internal calculation about fuel’s percentage of their disposable income,” he told me in an email. “People drove less to express their wrath, or spite. It’s a combination of the numbers themselves, and the perception (am I getting hosed?) that lead to demand changes.”

To really address our overconsumption of oil, we need to fix the drivers along with the cars. And that will require big new approaches. For years, environmentalists have begged for higher gas taxes as a way to discourage people from wasting gas. But we have demonstrated that we can’t or won’t respond rationally to high prices, so taxes will not push conservation. We need to rethink our supply-based energy policy, and ready to start making changes both big and small in the way we consume oil.

I called Neal Elliot, of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy to ask how Americans can change. Elliot said he’s watching the “Don Index,” named after his brother-in-law. Like other well-off Americans, Don is basically impervious to gas prices. “Don is price insensitive” said Elliot, before detailing Don’s S.U.V. history: He replaced his Ford Explorer with a Chevy Tahoe, then got a larger Tahoe, and then a Cadillac Escalade. Recently, that too was replaced, by an even bigger Escalade. But suddenly, Don is feeling guilty. “He’s beginning to realize that unsustainable energy consumption isn’t affecting him yet, but it is making his company less viable,” said Elliot, who believes that the “Don Index” is starting to take hold. Maybe the 2008 Auto Show will include this new model of driver too.

Lisa Margonelli, a journalist in Oakland, Calif., is an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation. Her first book, “Oil on the Brain,” will be published in February.

January 23rd, 2007, 08:10 AM
January 23, 2007

The Energy Challenge

Springtime for Ethanol

Neal Ulevich/Bloomberg News
Last May, workers prepared an ethanol plant intended to produce 40 million gallons a year in Windsor, Colo., north of Denver.


WASHINGTON — The Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol industry’s major lobbyist, works out of cramped offices that it shares with a lawyer near Capitol Hill. Pictures of ethanol plants from its 61 board members hang everywhere. “We’re about to run out of wall space,” said Bob Dinneen, the association’s president.

The association may only have six staff members but it is now bursting with energy, a far cry from the early days when its founder, a South Dakota farm boy who was convinced America needed to break the stranglehold of foreign oil, quit in frustration after four years.

After three decades of surviving mostly on tax subsidies, the industry is poised tonight to get its biggest endorsement from on high that it has a long-term future as a home-grown alternative to gasoline.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush is expected to call for a huge increase in the amount of ethanol that refiners mix with gasoline, probably double the current goal of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

While the details of the proposal are not known, 15 billion gallons of ethanol would work out to more than 10 percent of the country’s current gasoline consumption, and is far beyond the current capacity of about 5.4 billion gallons.

At least half of the new ethanol would come from corn, signaling the administration’s support to the Midwest farm states that have benefited the most from the recent ethanol boom.

For an industry once dominated by the will of a single powerful producer, Archer Daniels Midland, ethanol has come a long way, joining the oil industry and producers of major agricultural commodities as an entrenched political force in Washington. And it now enjoys a powerful role in presidential politics because of Iowa’s status as one of the first states to select delegates to the parties’ nominating conventions.

But with dozens of new ethanol plants coming online this year, the ethanol lobby is facing a critical point. The political reality is that corn’s days as the chief crop for making the fuel may be numbered.

Corn-based ethanol can only marginally reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. But it does little, if anything, to improve energy efficiency, and the mounting concern of some politicians is that relying on corn is leading to collateral damage in other parts of the agricultural economy and threatening the nation’s status as the leading corn exporter. The big increase in the works may mean consumers would end up paying more at the supermarket.

So the ethanol lobby and its political supporters now face the challenge of trying to maintain the momentum of ethanol’s feel-good story before the potential negative consequences of the rapid ramp-up become all too apparent.

Clutching the reins these last five years is Mr. Dinneen, a longtime Washington lobbyist who joined the association in 1988. He recalled his early years there as a pitched war with the oil industry. “I would wake up in the morning and try to think of a way to vilify the oil guys,” he said.

Today, to keep the ethanol train moving, ethanol makers are cozying up to the oil industry, forming political alliances and enlisting executives from companies like Chevron as they race to make a quicker transition to cellulosic ethanol made from nonfood crops, like switchgrass.

Otherwise, public support could turn against the fuel, which yields a third less energy than petroleum-based gasoline and still relies on a federal subsidy of 51 cents a gallon to remain competitive.

“We are no longer debating whether this makes sense, if this public policy should be pursued,” Mr. Dinneen said. “The discourse now is how much ethanol can we produce, how quickly can we produce it and what is the pathway for greater production of domestic renewables.”

That pathway, at the moment, relies on commercializing cellulosic ethanol made from crops like switchgrass or wood chips, which today is twice as expensive to produce as ethanol made from corn.

Some analysts, though, believe that politics has already trumped economics. “Once we have a corn-based technology up and running the political system will protect it,” said Lawrence J. Goldstein, a board member at the Energy Policy Research Foundation. “We cannot afford to have 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol in 2015, and that’s exactly where we are headed.”

Mr. Goldstein said that rather than speed up the process of producing more ethanol, Congress should “step back and reflect on the damage we have already done.”

By contrast, ethanol advocates in Congress are pushing to accelerate research into cellulosic sources with the stated goal of speeding the timetable for when corn can be supplemented — or supplanted — as the chief ethanol crop.

“We need additional funds for transitioning to making more energy crops for our national security,” Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in an interview earlier this month.”

The agriculture secretary, Mike Johanns, said there will be an “adjustment period“ for ethanol that will last a few years. But he is confident that more corn will emerge to ease the pain of higher grain prices, as seed companies improve yields and farmers shift their acreage from other crops. “When you look at the whole constellation of issues, and advancements that are out there, it is a very encouraging time for agriculture,” Mr. Johanns said in an interview.

The race to crack the code to produce cellulosic ethanol more efficiently has attracted dozens of researchers, venture capitalists and even the interest of major oil companies like BP and Chevron. Vinod Khosla, a major venture capitalist who has poured money into seven different start-up companies, has been pushing Washington lawmakers to set more aggressive targets to ensure that the demand for corn moves beyond corn. “If I am going to take the risk, the market has to be big,” Mr. Khosla said.

The Renewable Fuels Association is trying to balance the competing concerns. The organization was not always interested in rapid expansion, particularly if that meant allowing competition for A.D.M. from sources like Brazilian sugar. David Hallberg, the association’s founding president, said he left after four years in the job partly because he grew tired of disputes with A.D.M. executives over the future direction of the industry.

“I thought my job was to grow the industry to be as large as it could be,“ said Mr. Hallberg, who denied he was forced out. “That isn’t what our bigger members always wanted.”

By the time Mr. Hallberg left the organization in 1985, oil prices had plummeted to $9 a barrel, making ethanol uneconomic as a fuel. The industry turned its efforts toward selling ethanol as an oxygen enhancer for gasoline that could lift octane and reduce carbon monoxide.

With the influence of Dwayne O. Andreas, A.D.M.’s longtime chief executive and now chairman emeritus, Congress passed the federal excise tax in 1978 that gave ethanol its primary subsidy, a credit worth 51 cents per gallon of ethanol, or $21 per barrel of oil. Mr. Andreas had powerful friends in Congress, including Senator Robert J. Dole, a Republican from Kansas who rose to majority leader and who pushed consistently over the years to retain the ethanol subsidy.

In those early days the influence of Mr. Andreas and A.D.M.’s generous contributions to both Republicans and Democrats kept ethanol alive. The company also held greater sway within the organization because of its great weight as an ethanol producer. Even today, at around 25 percent of total ethanol capacity, A.D.M. remains the largest maker.

At first, the ethanol producers had few allies. The National Corn Growers Association was agnostic about ethanol at best, and the American Farm Bureau opposed ethanol, worrying that it could raise the price of livestock feed and cut into exports, Mr. Hallberg said.

That began to change in the late 1980s when the groups began to work together to supply ethanol to some 30 cities as a gasoline additive in the winter months. Those months were also when A.D.M.’s wet mill corn processing plants made more ethanol.

While the ethanol and corn forces preferred their wintertime plan, they later threw their support behind a federal proposal to implement a reformulated gasoline with an “oxygenate” — either ethanol or methyl tertiary-butyl ether — in nine of the country’s smoggiest cities. The program took effect in 1995.

Ethanol’s big breakthrough came over the battle to ban M.T.B.E. After gasoline spills in California revealed that M.T.B.E. could corrode groundwater, the Renewable Fuels Association and the corn growers were among those pushing ethanol as an environmentally safer alternative.

California banned M.T.B.E. in 1999 and requested a waiver from the federal oxygenate standard, arguing it could make a cleaner-burning gasoline without ethanol. President Bush rejected the waiver, spurring an ethanol construction miniboom.

In 2001, Mr. Dinneen took over as president, focused on reaching détente with the oil industry. To win approval for the renewable fuels standard, he eventually cobbled together an unlikely coalition of consumer groups, the American Petroleum Institute and environmentalists like the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The fuel standard Congress approved in 2005, which called for a ramp-up of ethanol use to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012, ended up lighting a fire under the industry. When oil prices shot over $50 a barrel, ethanol became profitable, and then President Bush set off an industry building boom when he said last January that “America is addicted to oil.”

It helped that the mix of ethanol’s advocates had been changing. About a decade ago farmers began investing in ethanol plants; today more than half of the 110 ethanol plants in production are at least partly owned by farmers. The ownership by farmers brought home the rural benefits of the ethanol industry more directly.

The association’s expanding board, which is 10 times the size it was some 20 years ago, has also become more diverse and less beholden to the business agendas of its biggest members.

As ethanol expands, Mr. Dinneen dismissed the concerns of some economists that its explosive growth could threaten exports and livestock prices, and that a potential investment bubble could burst before cellulosic ethanol has a chance to hit the market.

“I don’t get all that worried that we are building too fast,” he said. “I am not bright enough or foolish enough to try to control the market.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

January 31st, 2007, 07:22 AM
January 31, 2007

Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-Nightmare

Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters
Oil palms are delivered for pressing in Malaysia.

Tengku Bahar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A palm oil estate on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Exports hit a record $9 billion last year because of strong European demand.


AMSTERDAM, Jan. 25 — Just a few years ago, politicians and environmental groups in the Netherlands were thrilled by the early and rapid adoption of “sustainable energy,” achieved in part by coaxing electrical plants to use biofuel — in particular, palm oil from Southeast Asia.

Spurred by government subsidies, energy companies became so enthusiastic that they designed generators that ran exclusively on the oil, which in theory would be cleaner than fossil fuels like coal because it is derived from plants.

But last year, when scientists studied practices at palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, this green fairy tale began to look more like an environmental nightmare.

Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of chemical fertilizer there.

Worse still, the scientists said, space for the expanding palm plantations was often created by draining and burning peatland, which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Considering these emissions, Indonesia had quickly become the world’s third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists believe are responsible for global warming, ranked after the United States and China, according to a study released in December by researchers from Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics, both in the Netherlands.

“It was shocking and totally smashed all the good reasons we initially went into palm oil,” said Alex Kaat, a spokesman for Wetlands, a conservation group.

The production of biofuels, long a cornerstone of the quest for greener energy, may sometimes create more harmful emissions than fossil fuels, scientific studies are finding.

As a result, politicians in many countries are rethinking the billions of dollars in subsidies that have indiscriminately supported the spread of all of these supposedly eco-friendly fuels for vehicles and factories. The 2003 European Union Biofuels Directive, which demands that all member states aim to have 5.75 percent of transportation run by biofuel in 2010, is now under review.

“If you make biofuels properly, you will reduce greenhouse emissions,” said Peder Jensen, of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen. “But that depends very much on the types of plants and how they’re grown and processed. You can end up with a 90 percent reduction compared to fossil fuels — or a 20 percent increase.”

He added, “It’s important to take a life-cycle view,” and not to “just see what the effects are here in Europe.”

In the Netherlands, the data from Indonesia has provoked soul-searching, and helped prompt the government to suspend palm oil subsidies. The Netherlands, a leader in green energy, is now leading the effort to distinguish which biofuels are truly environmentally sound.

The government, environmental groups and some of the Netherlands’ “green energy” companies are trying to develop programs to trace the origins of imported palm oil, to certify which operations produce the oil in a responsible manner.

Krista van Velzen, a member of Parliament, said the Netherlands should pay compensation to Indonesia for the damage that palm oil has caused. “We can’t only think: does it pollute the Netherlands?”

In the United States and Brazil most biofuel is ethanol (made from corn in the United States and sugar in Brazil), used to power vehicles made to run on gasoline. In Europe it is mostly local rapeseed and sunflower oil, used to make diesel fuel.

In a small number of instances, plant oil is used in place of diesel fuel, without further refinement. But as many European countries push for more green energy, they are increasingly importing plant oils from the tropics, since there is simply not enough plant matter for fuel production at home.

On the surface, the environmental equation that supports biofuels is simple: Since they are derived from plants, biofuels absorb carbon while they are grown and release it when they are burned. In theory that neutralizes their emissions.

But the industry was promoted long before there was adequate research, said Reanne Creyghton, who runs Friends of the Earth’s campaign against palm oil here.

Biofuelswatch, an environment group in Britain, now says that “biofuels should not automatically be classed as renewable energy.” It supports a moratorium on subsidies until more research can determine whether various biofuels in different regions are produced in a nonpolluting manner.

Beyond that, the group suggests that all emissions arising from the production of a biofuel be counted as emissions in the country where the fuel is actually used, providing a clearer accounting of environmental costs.

The demand for palm oil in Europe has soared in the last two decades, first for use in food and cosmetics, and more recently for fuel. This versatile and cheap oil is used in about 10 percent of supermarket products, from chocolate to toothpaste, accounting for 21 percent of the global market for edible oils.

Palm oil produces the most energy of all vegetable oils for each unit of volume when burned. In much of Europe it is used as a substitute for diesel fuel, though in the Netherlands, the government has encouraged its use for electricity.

Supported by hundreds of millions of euros in national subsidies, the Netherlands rapidly became the leading importer of palm oil in Europe, taking in 1.7 million tons last year, nearly double the previous year.

The increasing demand has created damage far away. Friends of the Earth estimates that 87 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia from 1985 to 2000 was caused by new palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, the amount of land devoted to palm oil has increased 118 percent in the last eight years.

In December, scientists from Wetlands International released their calculations about the global emissions caused by palm farming on peatland.

Peat is an organic sponge that stores huge amounts of carbon, helping balance global emissions. Peatland is 90 percent water. But when it is drained, the Wetlands International scientists say, the stored carbon gases are released into the atmosphere.

To makes matters worse, once dried, peatland is often burned to clear ground for plantations. The Dutch study estimated that the draining of peatland in Indonesia releases 660 million ton of carbon a year into the atmosphere and that fires contributed 1.5 billion tons annually.

The total is equivalent to 8 percent of all global emissions caused annually by burning fossil fuels, the researchers said. “These emissions generated by peat drainage in Indonesia were not counted before,” said Mr. Kaat. “It was a totally ignored problem.” For the moment Wetlands is backing the certification system for palm oil imports.

But some environmental groups say palm oil cannot be produced sustainably at reasonable prices. They say palm oil is now cheap because of poor environmental practices and labor abuses.

“Yes, there have been bad examples in the palm oil industry,” said Arjen Brinkman, a company official at Biox, a young company that plans to build three palm oil electrical plants in Holland, using oil from palms grown on its own plantations in a manner that it says is responsible.

“But it is now clear,” he said, “that to serve Europe’s markets for biofuel and bioenergy, you will have to prove that you produce it sustainably — that you are producing less, not more CO2.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

January 31st, 2007, 07:49 AM
Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

We need to build responsible habitat: dense cities like New York or Krakow, where you can walk or take public transport. Marginalize the automobile as transport and you've put a big dent in the problem. To accomplish this, suburban zoning needs to be totally replaced by an urban model: no more parking lots, no more setbacks. Take all highway money and build train lines.

For electricity production you go nuclear.

January 31st, 2007, 10:58 AM
You do realize that there are millions of suburbanites out there who won't go along with this.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

We need to build responsible habitat: dense cities like New York or Krakow, where you can walk or take public transport. Marginalize the automobile as transport and you've put a big dent in the problem. To accomplish this, suburban zoning needs to be totally replaced by an urban model: no more parking lots, no more setbacks. Take all highway money and build train lines.

For electricity production you go nuclear.

January 31st, 2007, 04:17 PM
You do realize that there are millions of suburbanites out there who won't go along with this.
Of course, but so what? It's still what needs to be done.

February 4th, 2007, 12:15 AM
The fact that it might need to be done it not particularly relevent. The fact that it would be a complete political dead duck is.

While it might be a shock to a New Yorker, but suburbanites are the majority in this country.

Of course, but so what? It's still what needs to be done.

February 4th, 2007, 12:26 AM
I agree with ablarc but unfortunately the general public is very ignorant of the need for and the positive attributes of increased density.

Forget suburbanites, even New Yorkers (at least the vocal ones) are actually calling for downzonings left and right.

Just follow the development threads and you can see just about every project that runs into community opposition has to do with its height, bulk and density.

February 5th, 2007, 09:57 AM
Ummmmmm, no.

You guys are calling for the urbinization of all areas in an effort to make things more efficient which ignores the fact that no matter how dense you pack the people, you will still be using more than you can handle.

What we need is to find a balance point. Clustering of humans does not work to well on a global scale. People are pack animals and get rather itchy when you pack too many of them together for too long.

You can deny it by siting many large cities that ave not spontaneously combusted, but you can also site increased crime rates when compared to similar less dense areas composed of the same average financial demographic.

I think that we DO need setbacks, and regulations as to densities, but at the same time find a way to prevent the "development" mentality that you can make a bunch of cul-de-sac little twisty roads to stick a bunch of McMansions on so close together that you can say Hi to your neighbor just by looking out your side window and taping on theirs.

IF, of course, they built side windows into these things anymore.

I do think they need to look at the "villa" kind of development that I believe Cali has tried in some areas where you have some of the things you need within WALKING DISTANCE of your home reducing the need to jump in the Suburban Suburban to go get some OJ for breakfast.

But to add to that, which Cali is WOEFULLY insufficient, we need to increase public transportation availability, convenience, and UTILITY! It is one thing to have a train station within walking distance. It is another to only have 1 train evey 45 minutes (or longer later) OR have it take you longer to get in by mass transit than to drive your car into work.

We need to make these systems handy and less centralized. Major arteries ned to go to the heart (NYC) but who says we cant have some lines that would be able to get from A to B (right next door) without having to go to NYC to get there?

As for power, we have so many options, but people just do not like them. The tidal generators in LI sound would be one example. The resident$ there giving the rea$on that it would di$rupt their $ailing. People worrying more about birds being hit by windmills than the ecological damage done by the current methods.

There are SO MANY reasons why we are facing these problems, but turning the country into a bunch of little people-nodes is not a viable solution.

We need to look around and find out why areas like Europe actually have DECLINING populations while our horny little residents keep popping them out like bunnies. What made europe hit their equilibrium point? How can we try to get there ourselves before we blow right past it and feel the reprocussions from the backswing?

How can we get a balance to occur again?

February 5th, 2007, 04:51 PM
The problem with mass transit is that it only really works well with a hub and spoke organization, and with the ability to get riders really close to their end destination on at least one end of the trip. This is why it works in NY metro, and fails miserably in someplace like LA.

February 5th, 2007, 09:29 PM
Cheney's Fund Manager Attacks ... Cheney

thestreet.com (http://www.thestreet.com/funds/fundmorning/10336832.html)
By Brett Arends
Mutual Funds Columnist
February 5, 2007

Mutual Fund Morning

The oil-based energy policies usually associated with Vice President Dick Cheney have just come under scathing attack. There's nothing remarkable about that, of course -- except the person doing the attacking.

Step forward, Jeremy Grantham -- Cheney's own investment manager. "What were we thinking?' Grantham demands in a four-page assault on U.S. energy policy mailed last week to all his clients, including the vice president.

Titled "While America Slept, 1982-2006: A Rant on Oil Dependency, Global Warming, and a Love of Feel-Good Data," Grantham's philippic adds up to an extraordinary critique of U.S. energy policy over the past two decades.

What Cheney makes of it can only be imagined.

"Successive U.S. administrations have taken little interest in either oil substitution or climate change," he writes, "and the current one has even seemed to have a vested interest in the idea that the science of climate change is uncertain."

Yet "there is now nearly universal scientific agreement that fossil fuel use is causing a rise in global temperatures," he writes. "The U.S. is the only country in which environmental data is steadily attacked in a well-funded campaign of disinformation (funded mainly by one large oil company)."

That's Exxon Mobil (XOM) .

As for Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen, who appears everywhere to question global warming, Grantham mocks him as "the solitary plausible academic [the skeptics] can dig up, out of hundreds working in the field."

And for those nonscientists who are still undecided about the issue, Grantham reminds them of an old logical principle known as Pascal's Paradox. It may be better known as the "what if we're wrong?" argument. If we act to stop global warming and we're wrong, well, we could waste some money. If we don't act, and we're wrong ... you get the picture.

As for the alleged economic costs of going "green," Grantham says that industrialized countries with better fuel efficiency have, on average, enjoyed faster economic growth over the past 50 years than the U.S.

Grantham says that other industrialized countries have far better energy productivity than the U.S. The GDP produced per unit of energy in Italy is 50% higher. Fifty percent. Japan: 60%.

And China "already has auto fuel efficiency standards well ahead of the U.S.!" he adds. You've probably heard about China's slow economic growth.

Grantham adds that past U.S. steps in this area, like sulfur dioxide caps adopted by the late President Gerald Ford, have done far more and cost far less than predicted. "Ingenuity sprung out of the woodwork when it was correctly motivated," he writes.

There is also a political and economic cost to our oil dependency, Grantham notes. Yet America could have eliminated its oil dependency on the Middle East years ago with just a "reasonable set of increased efficiencies." All it would take is 10% fewer vehicles, each driving 10% fewer miles and getting 50% more miles per gallon. Under that "sensible but still only moderately aggressive policy," he writes, "not one single barrel would have been needed from the Middle East." Not one.

I repeat: This is not some rainbow coalition. This is not even Al Gore. Grantham is the chairman of Boston-based fund management company Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo. He is British-born but has lived here since the early 1960s.

Grantham is, like most fund managers, prudent, conservative and inclined to favor the free market and smaller government. He has even said he supported Bush-Cheney in 2000. That doesn't make him particularly political. He also manages a portion of the Heinz-Kerry fortune, as well as those of many other wealthy types.

But he's certainly a man Cheney respects highly. According to the vice president's last personal financial disclosure form, filed with the Federal Election Commission, Cheney has somewhere between $1.6 million and $6 million of his family's money invested in four of Grantham's funds. These aren't even index funds. These are discretionary funds, where you trust the manager to look at the landscape, analyze all the data, and make the best investments. Cheney must have a lot of faith in Grantham's judgement and analytical skills.

When I met Grantham last autumn he, quite rightly, refused to confirm that the vice president was a client. But you can see the evidence in Cheney's own personal financial disclosure.

There is an investment angle to Grantham's argument. He says he is "certain" that "oil substitution, energy conservation, and related environment issues will be the biggest investment issue of at last the next several decades." He adds: "It is clear there is no single solution so investment opportunities will be spread very broadly, especially in energy conservation."

He believes we will need more nuclear power.

But he calls corn-based ethanol "more or less a hoax" when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "U.S. corn-based ethanol, as opposed to efficient, Brazilian sugar-based ethanol, is merely another U.S. farmer-protection program, made very expensive both directly and indirectly by inflating real agricultural prices."

Tell that to the presidential candidates currently stumping the Iowa caucus. (Incidentally, three MIT scientists told me the same thing about corn ethanol more than a year ago when I interviewed them on the subject. After my article appeared in the Boston Herald, I received a snotty letter denying there was any such thing as "an Iowa corn growers' racket." It was from the "chairman of the Iowa Corn Growers' Association.")

Grantham's full letter can be seen on his company Web site [www.gmo.com] (http://www.gmo.com]) , though you will need to register. It appears as the second half of the investment missive "Goldilocks Rules."

Grantham blames three decades of political cowardice for America's backward energy policy. As he dryly notes, "U.S. drivers -- the world's richest and some of the best behaved -- would, it was said, never accept increased taxes, where Italian drivers would! Even tax-neutral policies, such as taxing high mileage cars at purchase and subsidizing efficient cars, were never seriously considered."

The result: the fuel efficiency of U.S. cars has actually gone backward since 1982.

The irony is that this isn't, or shouldn't be, a partisan issue. Grantham singles out the Ford administration for his strongest praise on environmental matters. Everyone since, of both parties, has been a failure, he concludes. "The past 26 years have been such a wasted opportunity," Grantham writes. "This country had previously shown leadership in this field. President Ford got us off to a running start in energy efficiency... With a succession of President Fords, we would have ended up as an environmental leader and a great model."

I would love to know what President Ford's former chief of staff thinks of that.

His name? Richard B. Cheney.

© 1996-2007 TheStreet.com, Inc.

February 6th, 2007, 09:27 AM
The problem with mass transit is that it only really works well with a hub and spoke organization, and with the ability to get riders really close to their end destination on at least one end of the trip. This is why it works in NY metro, and fails miserably in someplace like LA.

It needs to be re-thought.

How does NYCitself work? When you are in manhattan and close by, you have pretty good interconnectivity. It just fails miserably once you get outside of that and I think that is where we need to rethink the system.

Hub and spoke is fine when you have only one place to get to, but most areas are not like that (as you have said). Even NYC could stand more of a spider-web approach to mass transit (being able to get from Queens to Brooklyn w/o having to go through midtown).

We need to start thinking of mass transit as more of a network than a hub. Granted that some preference has to be given to higest traffic, but the more we can get from A to whatever letter we want w/o getting in the car, the more you will see people taking mass transit to go to the mall if they just want to go there to browse. (I know it would be that way for the teen-scene).

The hard part is, it is MUCH harder to design one of these systems than a hub system. A hum grows almost by itself. A web or network needs planning and management, and once you get government in on something complex like that, forget it.

February 6th, 2007, 08:00 PM
The problem with mass transit is that it only really works well with a hub and spoke organization, and with the ability to get riders really close to their end destination on at least one end of the trip.
The best systems aren't hub and spoke; they're networks except at the very perimeter. Examples are Paris, London, Berlin and Madrid. Moscow turns hub and spoke into network by means of a circumferential a fair distance out.

February 11th, 2007, 11:47 PM
February 11, 2007


Life on the Ethanol-Guzzling Prairie

Peter Newcomb for The New York Times
CORNFED Tiny Laddonia has one of Missouri’s four ethanol plants. The people’s slogan: “Our Crop. Our Fuel. Our Country.”

Peter Newcomb for The New York Times
Not Just Big Agribusiness Ethanol plants like this one in Laddonia, Mo., are popping up all around the Farm Belt.



THE quilt of winter brown that covers the high plateau makes this area look particularly depressing on a February afternoon. But the still-life can be deceptive.

Later this year, a Canadian company, Iogen, will announce whether Idaho will get what could be the first large-scale commercial plant in the United States to produce fuel from straw. Not ethanol made from corn, as refineries in more than a hundred mostly small towns are now doing, but ethanol made from the native prairie grass, corn stalks, field waste and wood chips.

That would follow an announcement just last month that a company whose investors include Bill Gates plans to open a corn-based ethanol plant here in Burley — the latest in a boom of biorefineries that are being planted in some of the most depressed areas of the United States.

What is happening here is a vision that many in rural America see as their salvation: high-performance moonshine from amber fields of grain, and a “grass station” in every town. It may be a chimera. It may drain precious water from the arid plains and produce less energy that it uses.

But it has the undeniable power of an idea in ascendancy.

In part this is because the ethanol economy, as it grows before our eyes, is looking less like a taxpayer-financed Big Plan dominated by a single agribusiness corporation and more like something that might bring fresh jobs and local control back to farm country.

The vision of a decentralized ethanol industry is taking shape, albeit an industry aided by tax breaks and government mandates. There are now 113 American ethanol plants and an additional 77 under construction, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, the industry trade group. Most of them are right in the middle of the Farm Belt, in counties that have been losing people since the Depression.

Archer Daniels Midland, once the dominant force, is less of a player, controlling about 22 percent of the market. But roughly 40 percent of the new biorefineries are locally owned, representing the sweat and capital of farmers, retired schoolteachers and small-town bankers.

With the kind of Wall Street and venture capital money now sniffing around the farm, this could change in the blink of a pig’s eye. But for now, in barren counties with shuttered stores on Main Street, people see a renaissance. They see a biorefinery every 50 miles or so, turning out American fuel for American drivers from American crops. And, once the technology moves from corn to cellulose (as field waste is called), they see the essential stuffing of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz providing a sustainable economy that also offers some answers for global warming.

“We’re going to revitalize rural America,” said Read Smith, a farmer in eastern Washington and national co-chairman of a nonprofit group working with some of the biggest names in politics and philanthropy to have agriculture produce 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs by the year 2025. “We’re going to pull the plywood off the windows. We’re going to create a $700 billion per year industry that is not here today.”

Already, in places that have not felt a new pulse in decades, the reality is getting ahead of the dream. From Benson, Minn., where a farmer-owned refinery is making ethanol — and a premium vodka — while returning more than $60 million to local corn growers, to Shelby, N.Y., where a planned biorefinery would provide some of the first new jobs in years, rural America is in a swoon for ethanol.

This year, the nation is expected to produce six billion gallons of ethanol, mostly from corn. That is still barely enough to replace 4 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption, but is well ahead of the pace dictated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Several thousand people turned out last summer in tiny Laddonia, Mo., for the opening of the state’s fourth ethanol plant. A yard sign, fusing a picture of corn, a gas pump and the flag, carried the slogan that people are marching to: “Our Crop. Our Fuel. Our Country.”

With his call for a mandatory fivefold increase in renewable fuels within 10 years, President Bush in his State of the Union address added his voice to the cause. He was joined by Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who said he wanted to use the coming farm bill to energize rural America.

“We need to think big and act aggressively,” Mr. Harkin said. “My goal is to pass a bold new farm bill that will drive the transition toward enhanced energy security for the nation based on renewable energy from our farms and rural communities.”

The stampede to the cornfields and beyond is not without plenty of risk. You need look only as far as “synfuels,” the disco-era dream to produce fuel from rock beneath the crust of the Rocky Mountains. That effort left open wounds in the mountains, and little to show for it. Or further back, there was the Dust Bowl, a result of a government call to rip up the native prairie grass and replace it with wheat. When grain prices crashed, the land peeled away and covered the flatlands in haze.

And even in small towns with a biorefinery that has been operating for some time, the new jobs and new money have not been enough to keep people from leaving. The Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company in Benson produces 45 million gallons of ethanol a year, which has led to an economic revival in a town with a little more than 3,000 people.

The plant has been in operation for 10 years. But young people are still walking away from Benson. The town and its surrounding county lost 5 percent of its population between 2000 and 2005, according to census estimates.

“But think of what the population drain would have been if Chippewa Valley had not been there,” said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association.

Indeed, the plant’s general manager, Bill Lee, said the fact that there is something new and exciting in an often fragile farm town is a very big deal. “In the 10 years that we’ve been here, there’s been a housing boom, a downtown makeover and the community has authorized a new swimming pool,” he said.

Ten years ago, ethanol was a curiosity, dominated by one company. High oil prices, tax breaks and government mandates have finally created a real industry, diverse and growing.

Though some big money is moving into corn and the leap to fuel from straw, the small producers can compete on price because they are so close to the product, at its creation and its end use, they say.

“There’s an old saying among farmers that is, if you can see the barn from your field, you can afford what you put in there,” said Chad Kruger, a consultant working on climate-friendly farming at Washington State University.

There is a limit to how much corn can be converted to fuel without denting the food supply, and that day is not far off, farmers say. Already, corn prices have spiked considerably, causing livestock farmers to complain about costs. Tortilla protesters in Mexico blame the demand for corn by ethanol producers for high prices.

Others say they are concerned that in the rush to convert corn sugar to fuel, lands set aside for wildlife will be freshly plowed, and all the fertilizer and processing waste used along the way will be little help in lowering the temperature of the planet.

Also, at a time when millionaire landowners get six-figure subsidies, there is fear of creating a new class of welfare-farmers hooked on green entitlements.

“So far, the ethanol boom has been positive,” said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, a nonprofit research group in Nebraska. “But government incentives should be tied to promoting local ownership and producing the crop in a way that is environmentally sustainable.”

The cost of converting something like straw to ethanol is more than twice what it is for corn, which is one big reason no cellulosic plant has yet opened. Still, if market forces and technology come around, the prairie could be dotted with refineries running entirely on grass or field stubble in five to eight years.

And it is that dream that keeps many farmers going: owning their share of the little ethanol plant on the prairie.

“I’ve been hearing about this ethanol for 15 years, and it looks like its time has finally come,” said Cloy Jones, who farms 560 acres here on the Snake River Plateau.

Still, it may not be enough to return rural America to its glory days. Mr. Jones has nine children, all grown. Not one works on the farm.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

February 12th, 2007, 06:47 AM
Shoulda done it ages ago.

Guess you have to wait till an idea's time has come; just don't know why it takes so long.

If this had happened ten years ago would there have been an Iraq invasion?

February 12th, 2007, 09:04 PM
Although ethanol and hydrogen are going to be very important energy sources in the 21st century, its silly to think that we are going to be able to power our economy on corn. To simply power our vehicles, we would have to use massive amounts of land that would cause environmental damage. Of course ethanol should be used. However, we should be investing in our public transit system rather than trying to keep our cars running at all costs.

February 12th, 2007, 09:29 PM
its silly to think that we are going to be able to power our economy on corn.
Where was that said?

February 12th, 2007, 09:51 PM
To simply power our vehicles, we would have to use massive amounts of land that would cause environmental damage.
Much of the country is covered in second-growth forest. Eighty years ago, that was farmland. There was far more of it then, and it didn't represent environmental damage. Most of Europe is farmland and I'd hardly call it damaged.

we should be investing in our public transit system rather than trying to keep our cars running at all costs.
Heartily agreed.

But there will always be a place for cars. Again, Europe shows a more rational balance: though there are cars aplenty, lots of folks ride transit to work and use their cars evenings, for weekend excursions and for shopping.

March 4th, 2007, 03:42 AM
U.S. and Brazil Seek to Promote Ethanol in West

Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times
A worker cuts sugar cane in São Paulo State, one of Brazil’s biggest cane-growing regions.
Ethanol from cane is cheaper than that made from corn.

By EDMUND L. ANDREWS (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/a/edmund_l_andrews/index.html?inline=nyt-per) and LARRY ROHTER (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/larry_rohter/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
March 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 2 — President Bush, hoping to reduce demand for oil in the Western Hemisphere, is preparing to finish an agreement with Brazil (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/brazil/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) next week to promote the production and use of ethanol throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, according to administration officials.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/03/03/business/03ethanol1.190.jpg (http://javascript%3Cb%3E%3C/b%3E:pop_me_up2%28%27http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/03/03/business/03ethanol_CA0.ready.html%27,%20%2703ethanol_CA0_re ady%27,%20%27width=720,height=600,scrollbars=yes,t oolbars=no,resizable=yes%27%29)
Lalo de Almeida
An ethanol-sugar mill in São Paulo State. Any deal that expands
Brazilian output at the expense of American corn growers would draw heat.

The agreement could lead to substantial growth in the ethanol industry in Brazil as technology and manufacturing equipment developed there is exported to other countries in the region.

Much of the ethanol produced there is made from sugar cane and is far cheaper to produce than the corn-based ethanol that has been nurtured by protective tariffs and government mandates in the United States.

But the agreement has already begun to prompt complaints from politicians from corn-producing regions of the United States. They fear that the plan would lead to an increase in imports of cheap foreign ethanol and undercut American producers.

By increasing ethanol production and consumption, particularly in countries that produce sugar, officials of the Bush administration hope to reduce the region’s overall dependence on foreign oil and to take some of the pressure off oil prices.

As a side effect, American officials contend, the program could also reduce the influence of Hugo Chavez (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/hugo_chavez/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the president of oil-rich Venezuela.

Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet in São Paulo next week with Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/luiz_inacio_lula_da_silva/index.html?inline=nyt-per).

Administration officials are hoping to complete a memorandum of understanding that calls for cooperation between the countries on research and common standards for biofuels, as well as on helping other countries replicate Brazil’s expertise in producing ethanol from sugar.

The agreement is largely a framework and provides few details, according to administration officials who have been briefed on the agreement but who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been completed.

Government officials in Brazil confirmed the agreement. Senior Brazilian government officials said the most important effect of a collaboration with the United States would be in promoting a broader international market for Brazilian ethanol technology.

Brazil and the United States account for a total of more than 70 percent of global ethanol production. The agreement is aimed at encouraging other countries, especially small and poor sugar cane producing countries in the Caribbean and Central America, to become producers.

“This is more than a document, it’s a point of convergence in the relationship that is denser and more intense than anything we’ve seen in the last 20 or 30 years,” Antonio Simões, the director of the energy division of the Foreign Ministry of Brazil, said in a telephone interview from New York. “Brazil will profit, the United States will profit, and so will third countries. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

“The good thing is that a poor country can reduce what it pays for imported oil and earn money exporting this,” Mr. Simões said. “That way they will have more money to invest in social programs, and the production of energy will be democratized in the world, with 100 countries producing energy instead of just 15 or 20.”

Eventually, the two countries hope to use their accord to spur production of renewable fuels beyond the hemisphere. Brazil is interested in encouraging sugar-cane-based ethanol production in Africa, where it has extensive trade and cultural ties, and in Asian nations like Thailand.

Brazil’s own direct exports of ethanol reached a record last year. But demand for the fuel is growing so rapidly within Brazil that the government’s immediate priority is to satisfy its domestic market.

But Brazilian business groups see commercial opportunities in supplying advanced equipment to other countries setting up their own ethanol distilleries.

“We want ethanol to become a global commodity, and for that to happen, Brazil can’t be the only producer,” said José Luiz Oliverio, vice president for operations at Dedini Industries, Brazil’s leading manufacturer of equipment for sugar cane and ethanol mills. “We’ve been growing and processing sugar for 500 years, and we are confident of our ability to maintain our leadership in this sector.”

American officials expressed a similar enthusiasm for making ethanol and ethanol-producing equipment on a huge scale. The biggest area of cooperation, they said, will be in helping countries identify and remove obstacles to building their own ethanol production capacity.

Mindful of protests from domestic ethanol producers and from the powerful American farm lobby, administration officials are not expected to even hint at a reduction in American tariffs on foreign ethanol.

Nor does the administration appear ready to offer money or loan guarantees for construction of ethanol plants in other countries.
In a letter to President Bush on Thursday, Senator Charles Grassley (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/g/charles_e_grassley/index.html?inline=nyt-per), Republican of Iowa, said he failed to understand “why the United States would consider spending U.S. taxpayer dollars to encourage new ethanol production in other countries.”

The proposed partnership, Mr. Grassley warned, could become a backdoor way for Brazil to escape the tariff on imported ethanol that currently insulates American producers.

The United States imposes a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on imported ethanol, but Caribbean nations and countries in the Central American Free Trade Agreement are exempt from those duties if they make the ethanol from products grown in their own countries. Using Brazilian technology for refining sugar-cane-based ethanol, such countries could in time become exporters to the United States.

In addition, Caribbean nations can export a limited amount of ethanol that comes indirectly from Brazil and other countries. Under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, which has been in force for years, countries can take partly processed ethanol from a country like Brazil and carry out the last step in processing before shipping it to the United States. But the region is allowed to export that kind of ethanol only up to a limit of 7 percent of United States’ ethanol consumption.

Last year, the United States imported about 600 million gallons of ethanol, and about 200 million gallons came indirectly from Brazil through the Caribbean, according to Robert Dineen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group that represents ethanol producers. The total imports of all kinds of ethanol amounted to slightly more than 10 percent of American consumption last year.

For the moment, American ethanol producers are watching warily but not protesting.

“I don’t believe the fundamental objective of the administration is to produce ethanol in the Caribbean for export to the United States,” Mr. Dineen said. But, he added, American companies will be watching to see if the initiative becomes “the camel’s nose under the tent.”

Edmund L. Andrews reported from Washington and Larry Rohter from São Paulo. Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington.


March 5th, 2007, 09:54 AM
I only skimmed, but this is interesting.

If they get SA to start doing things like producing and USING cane-ethanol it would have several effects:

1. It WOULD reduce the influence of Chavez on the area.
2. It would reduce the world demand for oil and allow us better access.
3. WE would have more of a say on Hugo's policies if there is less demand worldwide (good for our economy and a political leveraging device, although I am not in 100% agreement with it).

On the BAD side, we may get political unrest as areas that could grow and supply cane may come under scrutiny and possible political contension because of this new-"found" resource.

Also, the way they grow these plants may also not be the best for the environment if teh money becomes too available/ready for this crop.

Lastly, doesn't Ethanol also produce CO2 on combustion? I think it is a "cleaner" fuel, but we would still have the basic problems that would not be there for things like Hydrogen fuel cell....

Who really knows, but it will be interesting to see how this develops.

May 28th, 2007, 10:41 PM
Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process

Published: May 29, 2007

WASHINGTON, May 28 — Even as Congressional leaders draft legislation to reduce greenhouse gases linked to global warming, a powerful roster of Democrats and Republicans is pushing to subsidize coal as the king of alternative fuels.

Prodded by intense lobbying from the coal industry, lawmakers from coal states are proposing that taxpayers guarantee billions of dollars in construction loans for coal-to-liquid production plants, guarantee minimum prices for the new fuel, and guarantee big government purchases for the next 25 years.

With both House and Senate Democrats hoping to pass “energy independence” bills by mid-July, coal supporters argue that coal-based fuels are more American than gasoline and potentially greener than ethanol.

“For so many, filthy coal is a dirty four-letter word,” said Representative Nick V. Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “These individuals, I tell you, have their heads buried in the sand.”

Environmental groups are adamantly opposed, warning that coal-based diesel fuels would at best do little to slow global warming and at worst would produce almost twice as much of the greenhouse gases tied to global warming as petroleum.

Coal companies are hardly alone in asking taxpayers to underwrite alternative fuels in the name of energy independence and reduced global warming. But the scale of proposed subsidies for coal could exceed those for any alternative fuel, including corn-based ethanol.

Among the proposed inducements winding through House and Senate committees: loan guarantees for six to 10 major coal-to-liquid plants, each likely to cost at least $3 billion; a tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of coal-based fuel sold through 2020; automatic subsidies if oil prices drop below $40 a barrel; and permission for the Air Force to sign 25-year contracts for almost a billion gallons a year of coal-based jet fuel.

Coal companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying on the issue, and have marshaled allies in organized labor, the Air Force and fuel-burning industries like the airlines. Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal company, urged in a recent advertising campaign that people “imagine a world where our country runs on energy from Middle America instead of the Middle East.”

Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat whose district is dominated by coal mining, is writing key sections of the House energy bill. In the Senate, champions of coal-to-liquid fuels include Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat, Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Larry Craig of Wyoming, both Republicans.

President Bush has not weighed in on specific incentives, but he has often stressed the importance of coal as an alternative to foreign oil. In calling for a 20 percent cut in projected gasoline consumption by 2017, he has carefully referred to the need for “alternative” fuels rather than “renewable” fuels. Administration officials say that was specifically to make room for coal.

The political momentum to subsidize coal fuels is in odd juxtaposition to simultaneous efforts by Democrats to draft global-warming bills that would place new restrictions on coal-fired electric power plants.

The move reflects a tension, which many lawmakers gloss over, between slowing global warming and reducing dependence on foreign oil.

Many analysts say the huge coal reserves of the United States could indeed provide a substitute for foreign oil.

The technology to convert coal into liquid fuel is well-established, and the fuel can be used in conventional diesel cars and trucks, as well as jet engines, boats and ships. Industry executives contend that the fuels can compete against gasoline if oil prices are about $50 a barrel or higher.

But coal-to-liquid fuels produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as ordinary diesel. In addition to the carbon dioxide emitted while using the fuel, the production process creates almost a ton of carbon dioxide for every barrel of liquid fuel.

Coal industry executives insist their fuel can actually be cleaner than oil, because they would capture the gas produced as the liquid fuel is being made and store it underground. Some could be injected into oil fields to push oil to the surface.

Several aspiring coal-to-liquid companies say that they would reduce greenhouse emissions even further by using renewable fuels for part of the process. But none of that has been done at commercial volumes, and many analysts say the economic issues are far from settled.

“There are many uncertainties,” said James T. Bartis, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, who testified last week before the Senate Energy Committee. “We don’t even know what the costs are yet.”

The clash between “energy independence” and global warming will break into the open next month. The Senate energy bill, being drafted by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, would promote renewable fuels — but not coal-to-liquid fuels — and would require electric utilities to produce 15 percent of their power with renewable fuels by 2020.

But coal-state Republicans have vowed to resume their push for coal incentives when the bill reaches the Senate floor, and many Democrats are likely to support them. In the House, Democrats like Mr. Boucher and Mr. Rahall will be pushing in the same direction.

But some energy experts, as well as some lawmakers, worry that the scale of the coal-to-liquid incentives could lead to a repeat of a disastrous effort 30 years ago to underwrite a synthetic fuels industry from scratch.

When oil prices plunged in the 1980s, the government-owned Synthetic Fuels Corporation became a giant government albatross that lost billions and remains a symbol of misguided industrial policy more than 25 years later.

“This is the snake oil of energy alternatives,” said Peter Altman, a policy analyst at the National Environmental Trust, an environmental advocacy group. “The promises are just as lofty and the substance is just as absent as the first snake oil salesmen who plied their trade in the 1800s.”

Coal executives contend that the technology for converting coal to “ultraclean” diesel fuel for use in cars and trucks has been around for decades. Known as the Fischer-Tropsch process, the technology dates to the 1920s. It was used by Germany during World War II and by South Africa during the apartheid era, in both cases because the countries were blocked by international embargoes from buying oil.

SASOL, a South African chemical conglomerate, is the world’s largest producer of coal-based liquids and operates a plant that produces 150,000 barrels a day.

“Greener and cleaner — we can do it, and we will do it,” said John Baardson, president of Baard Energy, a firm in Vancouver, Wash., that is trying to build a $4 billion coal-to-liquid plant in Ohio.

But no company has built a commercial-scale plant that also captures carbon, and experts caution that many obstacles lie ahead.

“At best, you’re going to tread water on the carbon issue, and you’re probably going to do worse,” said Howard Herzog, a principal research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-author of “The Future of Coal,” a voluminous study published in March by M.I.T. “It goes against the whole grain of reducing carbon.”

The M.I.T. team expressed even more skepticism about the economic risks. It estimated that it would cost $70 billion to build enough plants to replace 10 percent of American gasoline consumption.

The study estimates that the construction costs for coal-to-liquid plants are almost four times higher than the costs for comparable petroleum refineries, and it argues that cost estimates for synthetic fuel plants in the past turned out to be “wildly optimistic.”

In a new report last week, the Energy Department estimated that a plant capable of making 50,000 barrels of liquefied coal a day — a tiny fraction of the nearly 9 million barrels in gasoline burned daily in the United States — would cost $4.5 billion.

But the Energy Department also estimated that such a plant could produce a 20 percent annual return if oil prices remain about $60 a barrel.

Coal executives say that they need government help primarily because oil prices are so volatile and the upfront construction costs are so high. “We’re not asking for everything. All we’re asking for is something,” said Hunt Ramsbottom, chief executive of Rentech Inc., which is trying to build two plants at mines owned by Peabody Energy.

But coal executives anticipate potentially huge profits. Gregory H. Boyce, chief executive of Peabody Energy, based in St. Louis, which has $5.3 billion in sales, told an industry conference nearly two years ago that the value of Peabody’s coal reserves would skyrocket almost tenfold, to $3.6 trillion, if it sold all its coal in the form of liquid fuels.

Coal industry lobbying has reached a fever pitch. The industry spent $6 million on federal lobbying in 2005 and 2006, three times what it spent each year from 2000 through 2004, according to calculations by Politicalmoneyline.com.

Peabody, which has quadrupled its annual lobbying budget to about $2 million since 2004, recently hired Richard A. Gephardt, the Missouri Democrat who was House majority leader from 1989 to 1995 and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2004, to help make its case in Congress.

One of the most vociferous champions of coal-to-liquid fuels is the Southern States Energy Board, a group organized by governors from 16 states. Last year, the group published a study, which cost $500,000, that concluded that coal-to-liquid fuel could and should replace almost one-third of imported oil by 2030.

As it happens, the coal industry supplied much of the financing for the study and subsequent marketing. Peabody Energy contributed about $150,000 and the National Mining Association added $50,000, officials at the Southern States Energy Board said.

The inducements under discussion would not only subsidize up to 10 coal-to-liquid plants, but also guarantee a minimum market through long-term contracts with the Air Force and minimum prices for at least some producers.

“There is financial uncertainty, which is inhibiting the flow of private capital into the construction of coal-to-liquid facilities,” said Mr. Boucher, who supports most of the proposals and is drafting portions of the energy bill.

In addition to construction loan guarantees, Mr. Boucher would protect the first six liquid plants from drops in energy prices. If oil prices fell below about $40 a barrel, the government would automatically grant loans to the first six plants that make coal-based fuels. If oil prices climbed to $80 a barrel, companies would have to pay a surcharge to the government.

But the most important guarantee, many coal producers said, is the prospect of signing 25-year purchase contracts with the Air Force.

The Air Force consumes about 2.6 billion gallons a year of jet fuel, and Air Force officials would like to switch as much as 780 million gallons a year to coal-based fuels. Air Force officials strongly support the idea of extremely long contracts, but others at the Defense Department worry that the military could be left holding the bag for years if oil prices dropped significantly.

For Mr. Boyce, chief executive of Peabody Energy, there is no reason to be timid.

“If America has the will to be one of the great energy centers of the world,” he told an industry conference last year, “we have the resources right under our feet.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

May 31st, 2007, 03:06 AM
World's First Air-Powered Car: Zero Emissions by Next Summer

This six-seater tax, which should be available in India next year, is powered entirely by an engine filled with compressed air.

By Matt Sullivan
Popular Mechanics
Published in the June 2007 issue.

India’s largest automaker is set to start producing the world’s first commercial air-powered vehicle. The Air Car (http://www.popularmechanics.com/automotive/new_cars/4217016.html#), developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy Nègre for Luxembourg-based MDI, uses compressed air, as opposed to the gas-and-oxygen explosions of internal-combustion models, to push its engine’s pistons. Some 6000 zero-emissions Air Cars are scheduled to hit Indian streets in August of 2008.

Barring any last-minute design changes on the way to production, the Air Car should be surprisingly practical. The $12,700 CityCAT, one of a handful of planned Air Car models, can hit 68 mph and has a range of 125 miles. It will take only a few minutes for the CityCAT to refuel at gas stations equipped with custom air compressor units; MDI says it should cost around $2 to fill the car’s carbon-fiber tanks with 340 liters of air at 4350 psi. Drivers also will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car’s built-in compressor to refill the tanks in about 4 hours.

Of course, the Air Car will likely never hit American shores, especially considering its all-glue construction. But that doesn’t mean the major automakers can write it off as a bizarre Indian experiment — MDI has signed deals to bring its design to 12 more countries, including Germany, Israel and South Africa.

Air Car Engine


June 7th, 2007, 07:37 AM
The New York Times
June 6, 2007
The Energy Challenge

From Turkey Waste, a New Fuel and a New Fight

Greg Langmo, a turkey grower who lobbied for the litter-burning power
plant, visiting a farm where he keeps some of his 49,000 birds

By SUSAN SAULNY (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/susan_saulny/index.html?inline=nyt-per)

BENSON, Minn. — For anyone curious about what thousands of tons of turkey litter looks like, piled high into an indoor olfactory-assaulting mountain of manure, this old railroad stop on the extreme edge of alternative energy production is the place to be.

Thanks to the abundance of local droppings, Benson is home to a new $200 million power plant that burns turkey litter to produce electricity. For the last few weeks now, since before generating operations began in mid-May, turkey waste has poured in from nearby farms by the truckload, filling a fuel hall several stories high.

The power plant is a novelty on the prairie, the first in the country to burn animal litter (manure mixed with farm-animal bedding like wood chips). And it sits at the intersection of two national obsessions: an appetite for lean meat and a demand for alternative fuels.

But it has also put Benson, a town of 3,376 some three hours west of Minneapolis, on the map in another way: as a target of environmental advocates who question the earth-friendliness of the operation.

The critics say turkey litter, of all farm animals’ manure, is the most valuable just as it is, useful as a rich, organic fertilizer at a time when demand is growing for all things organic. There is a Web site devoted to detailing the alleged environmental wrongs at the power plant, which detractors consider just another pollutant-spewing, old-technology incinerator dressed up in green clothing.

A related issue is that the electricity is expensive, as called for in a utility contract that led to the plant’s construction, and that it requires a lot of input for a rather small output. Marty Coyne of Platts Emissions Daily, a newsletter that analyzes issues related to the energy markets, said it would take 10 waste-burning plants the size of the one here to equal the energy generated by one medium-size coal-fired plant.

David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an advocacy group with offices in Minneapolis and Washington, said: “As a matter of public policy, it stinks. The problem is that it’s using a resource in an inefficient way, and required huge subsidies to create a more inferior product than what was already being sold on the market.”

All the unwanted attention shows, once again, how the landscape of renewable energy production is fraught with potential land mines, even in a case that seems small-scale and straightforward. What could be so offensive about burning turkey poop?

“This is the only advancement in manure utilization since the manure spreader — that’s 100-year-old technology,” said Greg Langmo, a third-generation turkey farmer who lobbied for the plant, where he now works as a field manager.

Minnesota (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/national/usstatesterritoriesandpossessions/minnesota/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) produces more turkeys than any other state, some 44.5 million birds in 2005, the most recent year for which data are available. It follows that the turkeys leave behind a lot of waste in their pens, where most are confined to gobble and peck until they are robust enough for slaughter.

The Benson plant, then, has been of considerable help for farmers with a disposal problem.

The plant was built by Fibrowatt, a Philadelphia-based company, with financial incentives from the State of Minnesota. And, without precedent in the United States, it is largely a test case, watched carefully because Fibrowatt has plans to expand its operation to other big poultry states.

Officials at the company did not expect a perfectly smooth start but are surprised by the level of debate over the plant.

“We are completely puzzled by why people would make such a major effort to denigrate what we’re doing,” said Rupert J. Fraser, the chief executive, whose father pioneered manure-burning technology decades ago in Britain. Fibrowatt ran three such plants there before moving to Philadelphia to enter the American market.

“We’re seeking to provide an environmentally sustainable service to the industry which produces renewable energy,” Mr. Fraser said. “We’re not claiming to be the only solution, but we think we are environmentally responsible and are doing everything to the highest possible standard.”

Fibrowatt is advancing an important goal, Mr. Fraser said: the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels and their attendant pollutants.

But biomass burning, as it is called, produces its own pollutants. According to information in one of its federal air permits, the plant is a major source of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrogen sulfide. It was granted permission to operate because of the way the emissions are controlled and cleaned before being released into the air — “All projected impacts were well below Minnesota’s health risk values,” the permit says — but officials will continue monitoring it.

“We shouldn’t just assume that because something is called an energy source, it’s a good one,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy, an advocacy group in St. Paul. “You have to evaluate: where did this waste product come from? You have to look at the whole life cycle, how the plants were grown, what the turkey was fed. You want to be careful about what you’re putting into the air and water.”

Pet owners who see newfound possibilities for their household litter boxes should know that it will take about 500,000 tons of turkey waste to produce enough electricity for a few rural counties for a year. And not all litter burns well, although turkeys’ does, at least relatively so.

Unlike cow or hog manure, which is wet, turkey litter is mostly dry. That aids combustion. So does the fact that it is mixed with turkey-bedding materials like sunflower hulls, wood chips and alfalfa stems.

At the plant here, a boiler produces high-pressure steam that drives a 55-megawatt generator. Throughout operations, a negative air pressure system controls odors from becoming a nuisance outside the facility.

Part of what drew Fibrowatt to Minnesota, Mr. Fraser said, was a legislative mandate, back in the early 1990s, that the primary utility in the area, Xcel Energy, build a wind or biomass generating plant, or contract for electricity from one, as a way of reducing Minnesota’s dependence on traditional energy.

To meet the requirement, said Karen Hyde, Xcel’s managing director of resource planning and acquisition, the company entered into a 21-year agreement with Fibrowatt to buy all of the waste-burning plant’s power at a rate that was, at the time, twice the price of the electricity generated by plants fired by fossil fuels.

Because the price of fossil fuel has gone up, Miss Hyde said, the contract is more cost-effective today: the waste-burning electricity is now 30 percent more expensive than power from conventional plants.

“Some people call it a subsidy — that’s fine,” said Mr. Fraser, Fibrowatt’s chief executive, who prefers to look at it as “an incentive for change.”

“Any way you look at it,” he said, “you’re not going to get a shift from fossil-fuel energy to renewable energy without an equivalent change in the financial structure of energy policy.”

Back on his turkey farm, Mr. Langmo let the gritty litter from some of his 49,000 birds fall through his fingers. In one year, his farms will produce 8,000 tons of manure, and the power plant is buying manure from farmers for $3 to $7 a ton, depending on the quality.

“Is it green enough?” Mr. Langmo said of the operation. “I’m in no position to judge that.”

But he added: “It just feels right. And I think the vast majority of Americans would look and say, ‘I think it makes sense.”

Copyright 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)


June 7th, 2007, 08:16 AM
It will take only a few minutes for the CityCAT to refuel at gas stations equipped with custom air compressor units
Where does the energy come from to run the compressors?

September 11th, 2007, 07:04 PM
Radio Frequencies Help Burn Salt Water

By David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Yahoo

Tue, 11 Sep 2007, 11:41AM

ERIE, Pa. - An Erie cancer researcher has found a way to burn salt water, a novel invention that is being touted by one chemist as the "most remarkable" water science discovery in a century.

John Kanzius happened upon the discovery accidentally when he tried to desalinate seawater with a radio-frequency generator he developed to treat cancer. He discovered that as long as the salt water was exposed to the radio frequencies, it would burn.

The discovery has scientists excited by the prospect of using salt water, the most abundant resource on earth, as a fuel.

Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, has held demonstrations at his State College lab to confirm his own observations.

The radio frequencies act to weaken the bonds between the elements that make up salt water, releasing the hydrogen, Roy said. Once ignited, the hydrogen will burn as long as it is exposed to the frequencies, he said.

The discovery is "the most remarkable in water science in 100 years," Roy said.

"This is the most abundant element in the world. It is everywhere," Roy said. "Seeing it burn gives me the chills."

Roy will meet this week with officials from the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to try to obtain research funding.

The scientists want to find out whether the energy output from the burning hydrogen — which reached a heat of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit — would be enough to power a car or other heavy machinery.

"We will get our ideas together and check this out and see where it leads," Roy said. "The potential is huge."

September 11th, 2007, 07:25 PM
Very exciting!

September 12th, 2007, 09:06 AM
Sort of.

Thing is, Hydrogen burns by combining with oxygen and forming, guess what, water.

So what is REALLY happening here? Is this simply an ionization/disassociation of the water molecules produced by both the radio frequency AND the heat of the reaction? Is thi sthe perpetual potion machine that only gives as much energy as it is receiving?

Interesting news, but somehow I doubt it can be used as "fuel" as people are propositioning here. I think that is just coming from the people who want to get funding from the government/Big Oil to continue experiments in burning other liquids in the lab! ;)

January 20th, 2008, 01:39 AM
Power Switch

The New Energy Law Will Change Light Bulbs, Appliances and How We Save Electricity in the Home

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008

From light bulbs to clothes washers, the energy law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in December will change many of the appliances in the average American home.

The incandescent light bulb, invented two centuries ago and perfected and popularized by Thomas Edison in the late 1800s, will become a thing of the past by the middle of the next decade.

The look of the future? The curvaceous compact fluorescent bulbs that recently have become popular and other bulbs featuring light-emitting diodes or other advanced technologies.

The energy law will also bring about important but less noticeable changes in the way clothes washers, dishwashers, boilers and dehumidifiers use energy and water.

The goal is to reduce U.S. electricity use, a major source of greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to global climate change. Half of the nation's electricity generation comes from coal-fired plants, which emit carbon dioxide. Moreover, if households cut electricity used for lighting and appliances, it could become easier to introduce electric cars, which could cut oil use without creating the need for a massive, new electricity-generating investment.

Five to 10 percent of residential electricity goes into lighting, making it a prime target for policymakers searching for energy savings. If every American household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, the country would conserve enough energy to light 3 million homes and save more than $600 million annually. It would be as if 800,000 cars were taken off the road, according to a Web site maintained by the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cutting down the amount of electricity used for light bulbs makes economic sense for homeowners, too, though most consumers are reluctant to make the switch. "These bulbs will be more expensive, but for a light bulb that you have on a couple of hours a day, the electricity is more expensive than the bulb," said Lowell Ungar, a senior analyst at the Alliance to Save Energy. "It will pay back in a few months."

Compact fluorescent bulbs can screw into existing sockets, and they last many times longer than traditional lights.

Homeowners' reluctance prompted lawmakers to illuminate the path forward. The new energy law says that in 2012, any bulb emitting the amount of light a 100-watt bulb does today must use only 72 watts. In 2014, 40-, 60- and 75-watt bulbs will have to cut energy consumption by similar percentages.

In 2020, the required energy savings become even more stringent, limiting electricity usage to about a quarter of today's incandescent bulbs.

Even before the law, the nation's light-bulb makers had been scrambling to come up with new technologies to meet the standards and the sudden increase in demand for energy-saving bulbs.

General Electric says it has come up with a more efficient incandescent bulb that would meet the intermediate standards to take effect in the next decade, but it hasn't begun selling it.

The main beneficiary of the push to reduce energy used by lighting has been the compact fluorescent bulb, invented by a General Electric engineer in 1976 but long neglected by consumers and manufacturers. Now, sales of energy-efficient bulbs are doubling annually, and sales of traditional incandescent bulbs have been falling at an annual rate of about 10 to 12 percent, according to Charlie Jerabek, chief executive of Osram Sylvania.

"The dynamics are in place, and the new legislation will just accelerate it," said Jerabek.

Unlike incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs contain no filament. They are gas-filled tubes with an electronic ballast. When turned on, an electric current flows through the gas, which emits ultraviolet light. That excites a white phosphor coating, which produces visible light. The tubes are twisted so their shape resembles an incandescent bulb.

There are drawbacks, however. The bulbs can fade before burning out. And because the bulbs contain mercury, homeowners must be careful if one breaks. (Guidelines: Open windows, use disposable gloves, seal debris in a plastic bag, don't use vacuum cleaners. More instructions are available on the Energy Department and EPA's Energy Star Web site.)

In addition, many consumers fault the bulbs for being too white -- giving a room all the charm of a late-night bus terminal -- or too slow to switch on. Manufacturers say their newest bulbs address those problems. For bulbs with "warmer" color, look for lower Kelvin ratings, around 2,700. The brighter, "colder" bulbs have much higher Kelvin ratings.

Manufacturers say they are coming up with ways for compact fluorescent bulbs to turn on more quickly. Some of the bulbs, but not all, can also be used in fixtures with dimmers.

Makers of halogen lights are also making a new push. Philips is pushing its Halogena bulb, which can screw into sockets used by traditional incandescent bulbs.

Also coming: Light-emitting diodes. They are made more like semiconductors than light bulbs. For now they're too expensive, but costs are coming down. Unlike compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs don't contain any hazardous materials, Jerabek said. What's more, LEDs use half as much energy as compact fluorescent bulbs.

For now, Osram Sylvania is offering its customers packaging to send the compact fluorescents back for recycling and prevent the mercury from leaking into the environment. The used recycling packs can be dropped off at FedEx Kinko's locations or post offices.

It's a long way from Edison's day, when the metal base was removed from used bulbs, the carbon filaments were replaced, and the glass reused. Today, glass bulbs come off Sylvania's assembly lines at a rate of 1,100 a minute.

"It was a great ride," Jerabek said.

Other home appliances will also be affected by the energy law, but the changes won't be visible. Dishwashers and washing machines, for example, will have to meet new standards. Today's average energy-efficiency standards will become the new minimum standards.

According to the Energy Department's Web site, the average household does almost 400 loads of laundry a year, consuming about 13,500 gallons of water. By wringing out some energy and water consumption, more-efficient units could cut homeowners' utility bills by an average of $50 a year.

For more efficiency, manufacturers are turning to front-loading washing machines. These machines account for more than 30 percent of sales, according to Earl Jones, a senior counsel for government and industry relations at GE, which made its first front-loading machine in 2006. The clothes tumble the way they do in a dryer and do not sit in a pool of water. As a result, they use less water, require less energy to heat the water and ease the energy-intensive job of the clothes dryer.

Over the 11-year lifetime of the typical clothes washer, that would save enough money to buy a new energy-efficient dryer or dishwasher, the Energy Department said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

February 8th, 2008, 04:19 PM

February 8, 2008
Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions — for refining and transport, for example.

The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “So for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”

The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has said that the world has to reverse the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avert disastrous environment consequences.

In the wake of the new studies, a group of 10 of the United States’s most eminent ecologists and environmental biologists today sent a letter to President Bush and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, urging a reform of biofuels policies. “We write to call your attention to recent research indicating that many anticipated biofuels will actually exacerbate global warming,” the letter said.

The European Union and a number of European countries have recently tried to address the land use issue with proposals stipulating that imported biofuels cannot come from land that was previously rain forest.

But even with such restrictions in place, Dr. Searchinger’s study shows, the purchase of biofuels in Europe and the United States leads indirectly to the destruction of natural habitats far afield.

For instance, if vegetable oil prices go up globally, as they have because of increased demand for biofuel crops, more new land is inevitably cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on the profits. So crops from old plantations go to Europe for biofuels, while new fields are cleared to feed people at home.

Likewise, Dr. Fargione said that the dedication of so much cropland in the United States to growing corn for bioethanol had caused indirect land use changes far away. Previously, Midwestern farmers had alternated corn with soy in their fields, one year to the next. Now many grow only corn, meaning that soy has to be grown elsewhere.

Increasingly, that elsewhere, Dr. Fargione said, is Brazil, on land that was previously forest or savanna. “Brazilian farmers are planting more of the world’s soybeans — and they’re deforesting the Amazon to do it,” he said.

International environmental groups, including the United Nations, responded cautiously to the studies, saying that biofuels could still be useful. “We don’t want a total public backlash that would prevent us from getting the potential benefits,” said Nicholas Nuttall, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, who said the United Nations had recently created a new panel to study the evidence.

“There was an unfortunate effort to dress up biofuels as the silver bullet of climate change,” he said. “We fully believe that if biofuels are to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, there urgently needs to be better sustainability criterion.”

The European Union has set a target that countries use 5.75 percent biofuel for transport by the end of 2008. Proposals in the United States energy package would require that 15 percent of all transport fuels be made from biofuel by 2022. To reach these goals, biofuels production is heavily subsidized at many levels on both continents, supporting a burgeoning global industry.

Syngenta, the Swiss agricultural giant, announced Thursday that its annual profits had risen 75 percent in the last year, in part because of rising demand for biofuels.

Industry groups, like the Renewable Fuels Association, immediately attacked the new studies as “simplistic,” failing “to put the issue into context.”

“While it is important to analyze the climate change consequences of differing energy strategies, we must all remember where we are today, how world demand for liquid fuels is growing, and what the realistic alternatives are to meet those growing demands,” said Bob Dineen, the group’s director, in a statement following the Science reports’ release.

“Biofuels like ethanol are the only tool readily available that can begin to address the challenges of energy security and environmental protection,” he said.

The European Biodiesel Board says that biodiesel reduces greenhouse gasses by 50 to 95 percent compared to conventional fuel, and has other advantages as well, like providing new income for farmers and energy security for Europe in the face of rising global oil prices and shrinking supply.

But the papers published Thursday suggested that, if land use is taken into account, biofuels may not provide all the benefits once anticipated.

Dr. Searchinger said the only possible exception he could see for now was sugar cane grown in Brazil, which take relatively little energy to grow and is readily refined into fuel. He added that governments should quickly turn their attention to developing biofuels that did not require cropping, such as those from agricultural waste products.

“This land use problem is not just a secondary effect — it was often just a footnote in prior papers,”. “It is major. The comparison with fossil fuels is going to be adverse for virtually all biofuels on cropland.”

February 11th, 2008, 09:24 AM
if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account

Solution. Use better ways to produce them.

Red herring. I saw a story on this over the weekend. A lot of their postulation is about the loss of green space for less efficient crop fields as a contributor to the overall deforestation and inability of the Earth to re-convert CO2 back into O2. the other is with the process of distillation and other things, but that is something that may need to be delt with in another vein.

Anywho, I do not disagree with what they are saying, just how this is all being fed to us. "BIOFUELS ARE EVIL!!! STAY WITH OIL!!!!!"


February 11th, 2008, 12:59 PM
Ethanol, at least as it's being produced in the US now (ie from corn) is a complete red herring. Biodiesel is interesting, but I have yet to see anything on the energy giveaway/takeaway ratio yet.

That being said, we really need to go nuclear in a big way, and eliminate the use of imported fuel sources, at least for electricity production and home heating.

February 20th, 2008, 06:25 AM
Interesting idea, but a drop in the bucket compared with allowing our inner cities to return to Manhattan-like (or at least Brooklyn-like) densities and function. If you only use your car on weekend jaunts to the country, all this technology is obviated, and you save way more energy to boot. Plus you'd create enormous business opportunities and stimulate the construction industry.

February 20th, 2008, 08:50 AM
It is just cranking energy back into a solid (or in this case, liquid) chemical storage media.

I do not know if CO2 is even NEEDED to do something like this, or (as is the shortfall in many of these schemes) if it would be cheaper to do it some other way.

I do, however, favor the manufacture of the synthetic fuel over the expensive and potentially ecologically damaging extraction methods that we are continuing to develop and implement.

The second thing I am worrying about are the potential byproducts of this synthesizing. Will it be truly "green" or will we have some semi-organic byproduct that will not sit or store well or be able to be absorbed or used by the environment?

I think the base thing that most scientists are, or should be involved with in the search for alternate sources of energy would not necessarily be the generation and production of these resources, but the transport and storage of it.

The hydrogen fuel cell, superconductors, the "better battery". If we get that, you will see companies and manufacturers more willing to use something that can be obtained, transported and stored as easily (possibly more so) as Gasoline and other petroleum products.....

February 21st, 2008, 04:15 PM
Interesting idea, but a drop in the bucket compared with allowing our inner cities to return to Manhattan-like (or at least Brooklyn-like) densities and function. If you only use your car on weekend jaunts to the country, all this technology is obviated, and you save way more energy to boot. Plus you'd create enormous business opportunities and stimulate the construction industry.

^NIMBYs won't be too happy about that.

March 11th, 2008, 06:29 PM

March 11, 2008
Pollution Is Called a Byproduct of a ‘Clean’ Fuel

MOUNDVILLE, Ala. — After residents of the Riverbend Farms subdivision noticed that an oily, fetid substance had begun fouling the Black Warrior River, which runs through their backyards, Mark Storey, a retired petroleum plant worker, hopped into his boat to follow it upstream to its source.

It turned out to be an old chemical factory that had been converted into Alabama’s first biodiesel plant, a refinery that intended to turn soybean oil into earth-friendly fuel.

“I’m all for the plant,” Mr. Storey said. “But I was really amazed that a plant like that would produce anything that could get into the river without taking the necessary precautions.”

But the oily sheen on the water returned again and again, and a laboratory analysis of a sample taken in March 2007 revealed that the ribbon of oil and grease being released by the plant — it resembled Italian salad dressing — was 450 times higher than permit levels typically allow, and that it had drifted at least two miles downstream.

The spills, at the Alabama Biodiesel Corporation plant outside this city about 17 miles from Tuscaloosa, are similar to others that have come from biofuel plants in the Midwest. The discharges, which can be hazardous to birds and fish, have many people scratching their heads over the seeming incongruity of pollution from an industry that sells products with the promise of blue skies and clear streams.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” said Barbara Lynch, who supervises environmental compliance inspectors for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “This is big business. There’s a lot of money involved.”

Iowa leads the nation in biofuel production, with 42 ethanol and biodiesel refineries in production and 18 more plants under construction, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. In the summer of 2006, a Cargill biodiesel plant in Iowa Falls improperly disposed of 135,000 gallons of liquid oil and grease, which ran into a stream killing hundreds of fish.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, a trade group, biodiesel is nontoxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments, but scientists say that position understates its potential environmental impact.

“They’re really considered nontoxic, as you would expect,” said Bruce P. Hollebone, a researcher with Environment Canada in Ottawa and one of the world’s leading experts on the environmental impact of vegetable oil and glycerin spills.

“You can eat the stuff, after all,” Mr. Hollebone said. “But as with most organic materials, oil and glycerin deplete the oxygen content of water very quickly, and that will suffocate fish and other organisms. And for birds, a vegetable oil spill is just as deadly as a crude oil spill.”

Other states have also felt the impact.

Leanne Tippett Mosby, a deputy division director of environmental quality for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said she was warned a year ago by colleagues in other states that biodiesel producers were dumping glycerin, the main byproduct of biodiesel production, contaminated with methanol, another waste product that is classified as hazardous.

Glycerin, an alcohol that is normally nontoxic, can be sold for secondary uses, but it must be cleaned first, a process that is expensive and complicated. Expanded production of biodiesel has flooded the market with excess glycerin, making it less cost-effective to clean and sell.

Ms. Tippett Mosby did not have to wait long to see the problem. In October, an anonymous caller reported that a tanker truck was dumping milky white goop into Belle Fountain Ditch, one of the many man-made channels that drain Missouri’s Bootheel region. That substance turned out to be glycerin from a biodiesel plant.

In January, a grand jury indicted a Missouri businessman in the discharge, which killed at least 25,000 fish and wiped out the population of fat pocketbook mussels, an endangered species.

Back in Alabama, Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Black Warrior River and its tributaries, received a report in September 2006 of a fish kill that stretched 20 miles downstream from Moundville. Even though Mr. Brooke said he found oil in the water around the dead fish, the state Department of Environmental Management determined that natural, seasonal changes in oxygen levels in the water could have been the culprit. The agency did not charge Alabama Biodiesel.

In August, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, in a complaint filed in Federal District Court, documented at least 24 occasions when oil was spotted in the water near the plant.

Richard Campo, vice president of Alabama Biodiesel, did not respond to requests for an interview, but Clay A. Tindal, a Tuscaloosa lawyer representing the refinery, called the suit’s claims “sheer speculation, conjecture, and unsupported bald allegations.” Mr. Tindal said that “for various reasons,” the plant was not now producing fuel.

The company has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it has entered into a settlement agreement with state officials that requires it to pay a $12,370 fine and to obtain proper discharge permits.

Don Scott, an engineer for the National Biodiesel Board, acknowledges that some producers have had problems complying with environmental rules but says those violations have been infrequent in an industry that nearly doubled in size in one year, to 160 plants in the United States at the end of 2007 from 90 plants at the end of 2006.

Mr. Scott said that the board had been working with state and environmental agencies to educate member companies and that the troubles were “growing pains.”

Ms. Lynch said some of the violations were the result of an industry that was inexperienced in the manufacturing process and its wastes. But in other instances, she said, companies are skirting the permit process to get their plants up and running faster.

“Our fines are only so high,” Ms. Lynch said. “It’s build first, permit second.”

In October 2005, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management informed Alabama Biodiesel that it would need an individual pollution discharge permit to operate, but the company never applied for one. The company operated for more than a year without a permit and without facing any penalties from state regulators, though inspectors documented unpermitted discharges on two occasions.

For some, the troubles of the industry seem to outweigh its benefits.

“They’re environmental Jimmy Swaggarts, in my opinion,” said Representative Brian P. Bilbray, Republican of California, who spoke out against the $18 billion energy package recently passed by Congress that provides tax credits for biofuels. “What is being sold as green fuel just doesn’t pencil out.”

May 1st, 2008, 11:55 AM
May 1, 2008
For Exxon Mobil, $10.9 Billion Profit Disappoints

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, said Thursday that its first-quarter net income rose 17 percent, boosted by surging oil prices.

But even as it posted the second-most profitable quarter in its history, Exxon’s earnings managed to disappoint investors because of a drop in oil production. Shares were down more than 3 percent Thursday after the company missed earnings estimates by a dime a share.

Record oil prices have lifted corporate profits to new heights throughout the industry but they are also masking an increasingly tough business environment for international oil companies, marked chiefly by rising development costs and stagnating hydrocarbon production. In the refining business, profit margins have plummeted as refiners have been unable to pass through all the increases in oil prices onto gasoline.

Extraordinary profits are also turning into a real, if somewhat incongruous, embarrassment of riches. Rising gasoline and diesel prices have sparked resentment among drivers and truckers, and are threatening to create a backlash against oil companies that could be especially resonant in an election year.

BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips all reporting big gains this week. Most of these gains came as oil prices averaged nearly $100 a barrel in the first quarter, compared with $58 in the period a year ago. They recently rose close to $120 a barrel.

But in a rare slip, Exxon did not do as well as its rivals. The company said that its net income in the first quarter was $10.9 billion or $2.03 a share, up from $9.3 billion, or $1.62 a share a year ago. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had forecast $2.13 a share.

After the earnings were released, the stock dropped as low as $89.41 after closing at $93.07 in regular trading Wednesday.

William A. Featherston, an analyst at UBS, said the results were “disappointing” compared with those of BP and Shell.

In particular, investors focused on a drop in production from Exxon’s operations, because of a nationalization of its assets in Venezuela, declines in the United States and Canada, and lower volumes in Africa.

Exxon’s oil output dropped almost 10 percent to 2.47 million barrels a day compared with last year, as production declined in every region of the world except for Russia and the Caspian region. Production of natural gas rose by a little more than 1 percent to 10.2 billion cubic feet a day.

The company’s combined oil and gas production fell by almost 6 percent to 4.18 million barrels a day in the first quarter.

“Deeply concerned about future energy supply, the market wants growth, growth and growth,” Paul Sankey, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note Thursday morning. “ExxonMobil does not offer that right now.”

While energy companies have no control over the price of oil, which is set on international futures markets, they have benefited from the rally in commodity markets. Exxon, for example, earned over $163 billion from 2003 to 2007. Oil prices more than quadrupled during that period.

But because of how some contracts are structured, international companies must give a larger share of the oil they produce back to the host governments as prices rise. In addition, the higher prices have sparked a wave of energy nationalizations from Russia to South America, that has left Western oil companies with a smaller footprint to operate.

The higher prices have also translated into sharp inflation in the industry, with drilling and production costs more than doubling in recent years. As a result, oil companies have been struggling to increase their oil and gas production.

In the United States, the political attention has been increasingly focusing on the impact of high energy costs on the economy and on pocketbooks. The Senate blocked a $15 billion extra tax on oil companies late last year but calls for a windfall profit tax are likely to re-emerge this year.

Few energy specialists expect prices to fall this year. Retail gasoline sells for $3.62 a gallon on average, according to AAA, the automobile club, up from around $3 last year. Diesel sells for $4.25 a gallon on average.

Oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 73 cents to $112.72 a barrel on Thursday.

Exxon, viewed with admiration within the industry for its spending discipline and skills at managing complex projects, has not been immune to the schizophrenic nature of the current market.

From 2002 to 2006, Exxon spent over $15 billion each year for oil and gas production and development. Its capital expenses last year rose to $21 billion, and they should average between $25 billion and $30 billion from 2008 to 2012.

Meanwhile, the company’s hydrocarbon production has been nearly flat in recent years.

In the first quarter, Exxon bolstered its spending on capital and exploration projects by 30 percent, to $5.5 billion.

Earnings from exploration and production increased 45 percent to $8.79 billion.

Exxon said that lower refining margins had dropped by $1 billion in the last quarter, pushing its profits from refining operations down 39 percent to $1.17 billion from the quarter a year ago. The drop in profitability was partly offset by improvements from operations of $350 million. Exxon sold 6.8 million barrels a day of petroleum products, down 377,000 barrels a day.

The company said Wednesday that it would pay a cash dividend of 40 cents a share, an increase of 14 percent compared with last year. The company has raised its payments to shareholders for the past 26 years. Last year, it paid out $7.62 billion in dividends.

Since the merger between Exxon and Mobil was completed, in November 1999, the stock has risen nearly two and half times, valuing the company at about $498 billion. Exxon’s shares outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index over the last year, rising 18 percent while the index fell 7 percent.

The results fell shy of the Exxon’s fourth quarter — its most profitable ever — when it had net income of $11.7 billion, or $2.13 a share.

Exxon continued its longstanding program to buy back its shares. In the first quarter, the company spent $8 billion to reduce the number of its shares. Including dividend payments, the company gave $9.9 billion to shareholders, up $1.1 billion from last year.

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June 21st, 2008, 01:26 PM
Brown in Saudi to talk oil prices


Gordon Brown will ask oil-rich nations to invest in Britain's nuclear plants

Gordon Brown is to urge oil-rich nations to invest some of their trillions of dollars in profits into Britain's nuclear power projects.

The prime minister will fly to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia later in a bid to secure a "new deal" between oil producers and consumers in the West.

Mr Brown said he wants them to help reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

His efforts come as the government seeks to increase the UK's use of nuclear and renewable energy sources.

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks told BBC Radio 4's Today programme Britain could not lower fuel prices on its own.

"I share a frustration that we can't - in this country alone - determine these things. These are global factors," Mr Wicks said.

He added that the fast-growing economies of China and India were part of the reason behind the speculative boom in oil pricing.

"But it's important - and one shouldn't be cynical about it - but Gordon Brown is out there, with other leaders, to see what can be done. We need to see a reduction in the price of oil."

Open access

Mr Brown is facing public anger over the cripplingly high price of fuel, largely due to the cost of Opec oil.

He told the Guardian he wants to press his Saudi hosts and the other big oil producers to consider putting some of the estimated $3 trillion they have made out of the recent "oil shock" into new nuclear technology.

He told the newspaper he wanted backing for Britain's ambitious plans to significantly increase the use of wind and tidal energy.

After discussing the issue with fellow EU leaders in Brussels, Mr Brown said he would appeal to oil producers to invest their profits in the more stable market of renewables.

He also said he wanted Britain and other Western countries to be given more opportunity to invest in oil in Opec countries, which have long held massive sway over international markets via their control of oil prices.

He told the Guardian: "I am going to Saudi to see if we can get a new deal between oil producers and the consumers where oil producers will invest in countries like ours, and oil consumers like us with good companies, with good technology and skills, can invest in the oil-producing countries."

June 22nd, 2008, 12:48 AM
Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol
Silicon Valley is experimenting with bacteria that have been genetically altered to provide 'renewable petroleum'

Some diesel fuel produced by genetically modified bugs

From The Times
June 14, 2008
Chris Ayres
“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.”

He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.

What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to reengineer the global economy – as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.

LS9 has already convinced one oil industry veteran of its plan: Bob Walsh, 50, who now serves as the firm’s president after a 26-year career at Shell, most recently running European supply operations in London. “How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to grow a multi-billion-dollar company?” he asks. It is a bold statement from a man who works in a glorified cubicle in a San Francisco industrial estate for a company that describes itself as being “prerevenue”.

Inside LS9’s cluttered laboratory – funded by $20 million of start-up capital from investors including Vinod Khosla, the Indian-American entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Micro-systems – Mr Pal explains that LS9’s bugs are single-cell organisms, each a fraction of a billionth the size of an ant. They start out as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli, but LS9 modifies them by custom-de-signing their DNA. “Five to seven years ago, that process would have taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “Now it can take weeks and cost maybe $20,000.”

Because crude oil (which can be refined into other products, such as petroleum or jet fuel) is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result.

For fermentation to take place you need raw material, or feedstock, as it is known in the biofuels industry. Anything will do as long as it can be broken down into sugars, with the byproduct ideally burnt to produce electricity to run the plant.

The company is not interested in using corn as feedstock, given the much-publicised problems created by using food crops for fuel, such as the tortilla inflation that recently caused food riots in Mexico City. Instead, different types of agricultural waste will be used according to whatever makes sense for the local climate and economy: wheat straw in California, for example, or woodchips in the South.

Using genetically modified bugs for fermentation is essentially the same as using natural bacteria to produce ethanol, although the energy-intensive final process of distillation is virtually eliminated because the bugs excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready.

The closest that LS9 has come to mass production is a 1,000-litre fermenting machine, which looks like a large stainless-steel jar, next to a wardrobe-sized computer connected by a tangle of cables and tubes. It has not yet been plugged in. The machine produces the equivalent of one barrel a week and takes up 40 sq ft of floor space.

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

That is the main problem: although LS9 can produce its bug fuel in laboratory beakers, it has no idea whether it will be able produce the same results on a nationwide or even global scale.

“Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel, we’ll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011,” says Mr Pal, adding that if LS9 used Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock, its fuel would probably cost about $50 a barrel.

Are Americans ready to be putting genetically modified bug excretion in their cars? “It’s not the same as with food,” Mr Pal says. “We’re putting these bacteria in a very isolated container: their entire universe is in that tank. When we’re done with them, they’re destroyed.”

Besides, he says, there is greater good being served. “I have two children, and climate change is something that they are going to face. The energy crisis is something that they are going to face. We have a collective responsibility to do this.”

June 22nd, 2008, 05:30 AM
However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

Unfortunately that passage above, sets the correct perspective for this particular solution.

If you don't put all your efforts into any single choice for now, while exploring more comprehensive strategies as we go forward, the shift away from bio-fuels may be conceivable over the long term.

Alternative hybrid electric or electric-only vehicles, for instance, is yet another of several transitional solutions. This minimises if not eliminates vapour pollution while simultaneously lowering noise levels. Moreover, electric power can be derived from a multiplicity of sources that are transparent to the vehicle users but which are environmentally responsible.

July 18th, 2008, 11:09 AM
There has been a lot of discussion about allowing new offshore drilling for oil, especially in the wake of Bush's recent repeal (http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/14/bush.offshore/index.html) of the executive order banning offshore oil drilling (the executive order was signed by Bush I in 1990, the law banning offshore drilling went into effect in 1981). This repeal has thrilled some energy insiders, such as the American Gas Association (http://www.aga.org/Newsroom/news+releases/2008/AGAApplaudsPresidentCallRepealOffshore.htm).

One big question: How will the US negotiate the leases for any new offshore sites (especially now that oil companies are reaping incredibly high profits).

I've not been able to find any info on the proposed cost of new leases. And I'm a bit fearful that Bush's repeal and his ties to energy companies will result in lop-sided leases which will enrich the energy companies while offering little if any relief to the American consumer (historically leases for recovery / extraction of natural resources in the USA have been priced at a very low level and have been skewed to the mining, energy, timber companies in the effort to encourage the risk involved in the enterprise).

Anybody have info on what is in store for new off-shore leases?

September 22nd, 2008, 03:28 PM
Oil spikes $25 a barrel on anxiety over US bailout

Monday September 22, 3:09 pm ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices spiked more than $25 a barrel Monday -- the biggest one-day price jump ever -- as anxiety over the government's $700 billion bailout plan, a weak dollar and an expiring crude contract ignited a dramatic rally.

Light, sweet crude for October delivery jumped as much as $25.45 to $130 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange before falling back to settle at $120.92, up $16.37. The contract expired at the end of the day, adding to the volatility as traders rushed to cover positions; the October price began accelerating sharply in the last hour of regular trading, a common occurrence when a contract is about to go off the board.

Still, the rally, which shattered crude's previous one-day price jump of $10.75, set June 6, showed the intensity of emotion in the market. The Nymex temporarily halted electronic crude oil trading after prices breached the $10 daily trading limit. Trading resumed seconds later after the daily limit was increased.

The November crude contract, which became the front-month contract at the end of Monday's session, was trading at $108.69, up $5.94, still a sharp gain.

In other trading, gold prices shot up more than $44.30 to settle at $909 an ounce, and other safe-haven commodities also rallied, underscoring investors' uncertainly about the direction of the economy and their fear of more turmoil ahead.

"We're off to the races again," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Ill. "There's a renewed scramble for commodities because of a general weakness in the dollar."

Crude has gained about $30 in a dramatic four-day rally that has at least temporarily halted oil's steep two-month slide below $100. At this rate, crude is within striking distance of its all-time record of $147.27, reached in July.

Oil's sharp gains came as energy traders grappled with the implications of the government's proposed $700 billion initiative to stem the U.S. financial crisis by absorbing billions of dollars of banks' bad mortgage-related securities. Anxiety over the plan also sent stocks sharply lower Monday; the credit markets were calmer than they were last week, but still showing the effects of investors' nervousness.

"They're going to have to continue auctioning off a whole lot of Treasurys to finance these projects, so the dollar is going to suffer," said Matt Zeman, head trader at LaSalle Futures in Chicago. "Right now it's fear and anxiety driving people who want tangible assets.

The 15-nation euro rose to $1.4807 in afternoon trading, up from the $1.4470 on Friday. A weak greenback was a catalyst for the commodities boom of the past year, and analysts said large investment funds were expected to pour money back into the sector.

"That trade was very successful in past so if the dollar keeps weakening, a lot people are going to want to own hard assets like crude," said Andrew Lebow, senior vice president and broker at MF Global in New York.

But there is still much uncertainty about what impact the U.S. rescue plan will have on energy demand. Oil's run-up near $150 a barrel in July and a weak U.S. economy has forced Americans to cut back on their driving and led business to scale down operations. Though pump prices have eased from record levels above $4 a gallon, they remain expensive, and more softening in the economy would likely further curtail energy use in the world's thirstiest consumer.

"There are a lot of issues to be filled in. It's an extraordinarily complex situation," said David Moore, a commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. "The market is digesting how the (rescue) package will work and the implications for the U.S. economy."

U.S. congressional leaders endorsed the plan's main thrust, saying passage might occur in a matter of days. But they also want independent oversight, protections for homeowners and constraints on excessive executive compensation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pushed lawmakers, who received the package on Saturday, to approve the proposal as soon as possible.

The Federal Reserve also announced late Sunday it granted a request by investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to change their status to bank holding companies, a move that will allow the two institutions to open commercial banking subsidiaries, greatly bolstering their resources.

Associated Press writers Louise Watt in London and Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved. (http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080922/oil_prices.html?printer=1)

September 22nd, 2008, 03:32 PM
Here comes $500 oil

If Matt Simmons is right, the recent drop in crude prices is an illusion - and oil could be headed for the stratosphere. He's just hoping we can prevent civilization from imploding.

By Brian O'Keefe, senior editor
Last Updated: September 22, 2008: 1:12 PM EDT

(Fortune Magazine) -- Matt Simmons is as perplexed as anyone that it has fallen to him to take on OPEC, Exxon, the Saudis, and all the other misguided defenders of conventional wisdom in the oil patch. Why should one investment banker with a penchant for research be required to point out what he regards as the obvious - that from here on out, oil supplies can't meet demand, and if we don't act soon to solve this crisis, World War III could be looming?

Why should a man who scorns most environmentalists have to argue that locally grown produce and wind power are the way of the future? Why should a lifelong Republican need to be the one to point out that his party's new mantra - "Drill, baby, drill!" - won't really fix anything and that his party's presidential candidate is clueless about energy? That the spike in oil prices earlier this year wasn't a temporary market anomaly and the recent retreat in prices is just a misleading calm before a calamitous storm? That we're headed toward $500-a-barrel oil?

"I find it ironic that here we have the biggest industry on earth, and I'm one of the few people to figure out that we have a major problem," he says, in his confident if not quite brash way. "And I did it all in my spare time. How stupid and tragic is that? I shouldn't be one of the only folks that actually has a handful of ideas of how we can keep from blowing each other up and get through this."

Indeed, Simmons isn't the obvious candidate to be the bearer of bad news about oil. He's spent his career working in the business, has lived in Houston for decades, and is such an industry insider that he helped edit the Bush campaign's comprehensive energy plan in the 2000 election - the document that was ultimately more or less rubber-stamped by Vice President Dick Cheney's infamous secret Energy Task Force. Over the past 35 years, his boutique investment bank, Simmons & Co., has helped finance and shape much of the country's existing oil-services business. With profits gushing, you might expect him to be celebrating.

Not to mention that the 65-year-old banker doesn't have the personality of a prophet of doom. He has a puckish wit, a relentlessly cheerful and enthusiastic demeanor, and the appearance of a rosy-cheeked cherub in a navy blazer. He routinely refers - in earnest - to his daily experiences as "tremendous fun." His closest business associates have a hard time recalling him ever showing anger. But when it comes to oil and gas, his message is downright scary.

An unlikely maverick

Simmons was transformed overnight from an influential industry expert to an A-list pundit by the publication in 2005 of his book "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," a fairly technical read which argues that Saudi Arabia's oil supplies are much more limited than everyone thinks.

Since then he has moved to the forefront of the peak-oil movement - a once fringe but now growing contingent of oil industry veterans, independent consultants, investors, and academics who believe that world oil production is at or near an inflection point, after which it will fall inexorably and fail to meet projected future demands. According to Simmons, we have already passed that peak. And while we're not going to run out of it anytime soon, the era of easy oil is over, and the world is about to enter a period of convulsive change. (Hint: Learn to garden, and buy some comfortable walking shoes.)

The soaring price of crude - it has risen from below $20 a barrel in 2002 to as high as $147 earlier this year - has helped thrust Simmons further into the spotlight. He was one of the main voices, for instance, in the recent oil-shock documentary "Crude Awakening," and his book has now sold more than 100,000 copies. His willingness to make bold predictions about how high crude may go has made him an A-list guest for cable TV news programs and a go-to source for newspaper reporters covering oil and gas. In 2005, when oil was $58 a barrel, he predicted it would be at or above $100 within a few years. Now he sees it climbing to $200, $300, or higher. "There really is no roof on oil prices at this point," he says.

Being so outspoken, of course, invites criticism, and Simmons has endured plenty. But he has also won a lot of high-profile admirers. "Like most people who ignore conventional wisdom, he was scoffed at, ridiculed, and denied," says commodities guru Jim Rogers. "And now, of course, people are starting to say, 'Oh, well, I thought of that.'" Billionaire oil and gas investors Richard Rainwater and Boone Pickens both heap praise on Simmons's analytical abilities. Maine's Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who recently began consulting with Simmons on energy issues, says, "I think he's issuing a clarion call that policymakers need to listen to."

In his own upbeat way, he despairs about what is to come. As the price of oil has fallen this summer (to $101 at press time), Simmons has watched in dismay as complacency has returned and the champions of do-nothingism have popped out of the woodwork to say I told you so. Not that it's lessened his conviction about the road ahead. "I do think there are a growing number of people who are getting it," he says. "But I guess it just reminds me that as a society, we don't have the ability to actually come to grips with a crisis until it's hit us in the face. I am discouraged enough now to think that we're going to have to have a really nasty shock before we wake people up."

Has peak oil peaked?

On a Thursday morning at the end of July, Simmons is sitting in a wicker chair on the back porch of his six-bedroom summer home on the coast of Maine, waiting to do a live television spot on CNBC. Sun glints off Penobscot Bay below him. In the distance, sailboats glide in and out of Camden Harbor. It's the kind of scene that has captivated him since his Harvard days in the 1960s, when he started coming up here on weekends. Wearing a blue-and-white-checked shirt, cream-colored pants, and tasseled loafers, Simmons chats with Ellen, his wife, and Emma, one of their five daughters. His earpiece is chattering as CNBC anchor Melissa Francis teases his upcoming segment.

At the moment, the price of oil is hovering around $124 a barrel, and CNBC wants him to interpret why crude is suddenly tumbling. "Has peak oil peaked? I guess that's our topic," he reports to everyone within earshot, before the shot goes live.

It was on this same porch five years ago that Simmons had the insight that convinced him that the oil age had passed its zenith. During a trip to Saudi Arabia in February 2003 with his friend Herbert Hunt (yes, the son of H.L. Hunt who, with his brother Bunker, almost cornered the silver market in 1980), Simmons had become suspicious of the Saudis' claims about the vastness of their oil supply. In his four decades of working in the oil and gas industry, everyone he had ever talked to had taken it as gospel that the Saudis had enough oil to bail the world out when other supplies ran short. If that wasn't true, Simmons believed, the era of cheap oil was over. Demand for crude was on the rise worldwide, and supplies were getting tighter all the time. If the Saudis were pushing up against the limits of their oil production, the world needed to know.

In his typically analytical fashion, Simmons went hunting for data. He found it in the form of hundreds of technical papers submitted by Saudi oil geologists to the Society of Petroleum Engineers over the past 50 years. Simmons spent the month of August 2003 sitting on his porch in Maine and grinding his way through the minutiae of technical accounts of, for instance, reservoir pressure and water-cut percentages, trying to piece together the challenges that the Saudi geologists had encountered in managing their precious oilfields. In the end, his conclusion was clear. "I finished reading the last paper on a Sunday afternoon," says Simmons, "and I sat back and I thought, Holy crap, this is unbelievable. I've just discovered the biggest energy illusion ever in the world. We're in big trouble. I'm going to write a book."

And so he did. But writing the book didn't exhaust his passion. Today he is more convinced than ever that we've reached peak oil. If he's right, current world oil production- 86 million barrels a day- is about as high as we're going to go.

Of course, if demand goes up but supply doesn't, prices are apt to go through the roof. And unlike global oil production, global oil demand doesn't appear to be anywhere near a peak. Both the U.S. government's Energy Information Association and the independent International Energy Agency, based in Paris, estimate that worldwide demand will be more than 115 million barrels a day by 2030.

While demand growth in the United States has slowed recently due to higher prices, the EIA projects that China and India will more than pick up the slack. And the IEA recently warned that high prices won't slow demand growth in emerging economies. If demand wants to go north of 100 million barrels a day and supply can't break 90 million (or drops below 80 million, as Simmons believes will happen within five years), it will be a price squeeze felt around the world. The peak-oil crowd will be able to declare victory - but nobody will be celebrating.

The peak-oil theory

The concept of peak oil was introduced to the world in the 1950s by a curmudgeonly Shell geophysicist named M. King Hubbert, who observed that the production of oilfields tended to follow a bell-shaped curve, peaking and then turning down sharply. He came up with a formula to quantify his theory. And in 1956 he was ridiculed within the industry for predicting that U.S. crude oil production would max out in the early 1970s. Sure enough, though, in 1970 the United States reached its apex at just under ten million barrels per day, or roughly what the Saudis produce now, and began a long slide down. (Hubbert later predicted that world oil production would peak in 1995. He was a bit early on that call.)

No one disputes that oil production will top out some day. It is, after all, a finite resource. The argument is about how far off the peak is. As Simmons and others point out, many of the world's largest oilfields - Prudhoe Bay, the North Sea - have already gone into decline. The most optimistic estimate for the average depletion rate of the world's currently producing oilfields is between 4% and 5% annually, or about four million barrels per day at our current rate of production. That means that each year we must find enough new oil to first replace those four million barrels of lost daily production before we even add enough to meet new demand. This is all the more worrisome because world oil discovery of new reserves has been slowing since the mid-20th century.

Despite this gloomy case, most of the oil establishment insists that, while oil may be harder to find, there is still plenty of it, and any peak in production is decades away. OPEC, whose member nations sit on 75% of the world's reported reserves, pooh-poohs concerns about a peak.

Earlier this year Abdallah Jum'ah, CEO of Saudi Aramco, the kingdom's national oil company, called peak oil "a myth." The multinational oil giants are only slightly less optimistic. While they acknowledge that crude is getting harder to find and produce and that so-called unconventional oil (like natural-gas liquids) will be increasingly important, they don't think a peak is imminent either. Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500) has run ads that dismiss peak oil as a far-off problem. This summer Tony Hayward, BP's (BP) chief executive, bet a peakist that oil production in 2018 will be higher than it is today. "It's unbelievable," says Simmons. "These guys don't even understand their own business."

One difficulty in assessing the situation is the lack of transparent information about oil production and reserves, particularly in OPEC countries. Back in the 1980s, after OPEC decided to base its production quotas on reserve figures, several of the cartel's producers abruptly raised their claims of "proven reserves" by 40% or more. Saudi Arabia, for instance, raised its proven-reserve figure from 170 billion barrels to about 260 billion in 1988. Amazingly, that figure has stayed more or less constant since then - even as billions of barrels have been pumped out of the ground. "We need to send in the audit troops," says Simmons regularly in his speeches. "The major oilfields of the world need to be invaded by third-party inspectors so that we can figure out how bad things are and deal with it."

A favorite target of Simmons and other peakists is Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), a leading provider of supply data to the major oil companies. Led by chairman Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer-winning author of the oil history "The Prize," CERA rejects talk of an imminent peak and advises instead that the world may reach an "undulating plateau" of production at some point in the distant future, perhaps around 2030. The firm has opened itself to criticism over the past few years by consistently predicting that oil prices would fall back, only to watch them soar.

According to Peter Jackson, a geologist and CERA's director of oil industry activity, the firm's proprietary database of some 20,000 projects shows plenty of capacity growth through at least 2020. "Our analysis just doesn't support a peak in the foreseeable future," says Jackson, who declines to discuss Simmons directly. "I would love to see a decent analysis that shows something to the contrary."

For his part, Simmons would love to get a detailed look at CERA's proprietary information. "All this undiscovered oil they talk about has by definition not been found yet," he says. "And it is as unusable as my unearned net worth. I can guarantee you that I wouldn't have had the guts to go into any bank in the world and say I'd like a loan against my unearned net worth."

Earlier this year, Simmons and other members of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil in the U.S. offered to bet CERA $100,000 that the world would not meet CERA's production forecast of 112 million barrels per day in 2017. CERA didn't respond. "I'm very cognizant of how annoying it is to be the guy saying I told you so," says Simmons, leaning forward and peering over his bifocals. "It's much better to use a bit of ridicule."

Not a preordained prophet

When Simmons gets interested in something, he goes all out. In 2005, the same year that "Twilight in the Desert" came out, Simmons self-published a book of his watercolor paintings, the fruit of 30 years of carrying his paint set wherever he traveled. He and his wife sit on the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a few years ago he funded the restoration of an old movie theater in Rockland, Maine, near his house. Simmons is also an avid book and antique collector.

It's no wonder a topic as complicated as oil would beguile him. But his path to peak-oil prophet was anything but preordained. In fact, he was raised to be a banker. He grew up in a Mormon family, the second-oldest of six kids in Davis County, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City. His father, Roy, was a self-made man who in 1960 took over the struggling Zions National Bank, founded by Brigham Young, and built it into an empire. Roy always engaged his family in business discussions and even took a teenage Matt along on trips to New York to sit in on meetings. "I don't remember us sitting around the dinner table discussing who was going to win the Super Bowl or anything like that," says Harris Simmons, Matt's younger brother and current CEO of Zions Bancorporation (ZION), which has a market cap of $3.5 billion.

Simmons got his first exposure to the oil business in 1969. After graduating from Harvard Business School a couple of years earlier, he took a job writing case studies for one of his professors. (On the side he was also operating a booming business as a money manager; his clients included former Michigan governor George Romney, the father of both Mitt and Simmons's Harvard buddy Scott Romney.) That spring he traveled to Los Angeles for a case study interview and met up with his father, who was attending a conference in Palm Springs.

During a break, Simmons's father introduced him to a fellow attendee, a deep-sea diver named Lad Handelman who had been doing underwater work for the oil companies on rigs off Santa Barbara. Handelman explained that his fledgling company was growing faster than he could manage it, and he was planning to sell out. Simmons told him he should bring in new money instead. "I can help you with that," said Simmons. "Why don't we raise some capital?" The venture, Oceaneering, became one of the country's fastest-growing and most successful offshore-drilling service companies, and suddenly Simmons had a new career as an investment banker.

In 1974, Simmons moved to Houston with his younger brother L.E. to launch Simmons & Co. and take advantage of the exploding oil-services business. To get an edge over his bigger competitors from Wall Street, Simmons made it a point to learn his chosen industry inside and out. "He probably does more research than anyone I've ever seen in the energy business," says Bob Long, the CEO of offshore drilling contractor Transocean and a longtime Simmons & Co. client. "He's always been passionate about gathering and analyzing statistics." His business thrived until the mid 1980s, when oil prices crashed and, as Simmons says, the services industry "fell off a cliff." He found himself working on bankruptcies and liquidations. The fact that the experts missed the coming collapse of oil prices pushed him to study harder.

By the early 1990s, Simmons thought the industry had contracted too far and that at some point in the near future, America would be facing a new oil crisis as a result. He launched a securities business at Simmons & Co. to exploit the demand for research and trading that he envisioned in oil and gas. And at a stage in his career when most senior partners would be leaving the research to their young analysts and spending more time on the golf course, he did more and more independent research, publishing white papers for friends and clients. (He hates golf.)

In 1997 he wrote a prescient report called "China's Insatiable Energy Needs." And in 2001, when he realized there was no publicly available resource, he embarked on a study of the world's major oilfields. He found that an alarming percentage of today's oil production comes from a handful of giant fields that were mostly discovered decades ago. (Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field, by some estimates, still accounts for upwards of 6% of the world's daily output after 60 years of production.) By the time he arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2003, he began to suspect that worldwide oil production was reaching its peak.

Oil illiteracy

"John McCain is energy illiterate," Simmons is saying. "He's just witless about this stuff. As a lifelong Republican, I'm supporting Obama." A dozen oil and gas men sitting around a conference table in Lafayette, La., chuckle nervously as he continues. "McCain says, 'Oh, we're going to wean ourselves off foreign oil in four years and build 45 nuclear plants by 2030.' He doesn't have a clue."

On this humid day in early June, Simmons is visiting a gas exploration company called PetroQuest Energy. Lafayette is a hub for the Gulf Coast oil and gas industry, and Simmons is in town to give a talk at the local college this evening. But he and Mike Frazier, the CEO of Simmons & Co., have stopped off for a private visit with the PetroQuest board. After a bit of his usual sermon - "There's no end in sight to higher oil prices, unless the world economy absolutely collapses" - Simmons opens the room to questions. It's obvious that his rhetoric has surprised his hosts. But Simmons is not the sort to mince words. ("Matt is the smartest analyst I've ever seen on energy," said Frazier to me later, "but we don't always agree on everything. Including politics.")

McCain's midsummer move to begin campaigning on a platform of more offshore drilling has only hardened Simmons's position. "What a hypocrite," says Simmons, who supported McCain's rival Mitt Romney in the primary - no surprise given Simmons's history with the Romney family. "Here's a man who for at least the past 15 years has strenuously, I mean strenuously, opposed offshore drilling. And now it's 'drill, drill, drill.' And he doesn't have any idea that we don't have any drilling rigs. Or that we don't have any idea of exactly where to drill." (As for McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, Simmons says: "She's a very colorful person, but I don't think there's a scrap of evidence that she knows anything about energy.")

For the record, Simmons has been advocating more drilling off the coast of the United States since the early 1990s, but now he says that treating it as our salvation is misguided. "I'm not saying we shouldn't do it," says Simmons. "We should, and the sooner the better. But we shouldn't think that it'll have any impact for a decade or two." The exception, he says, is the reservoir in the hotly debated Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. "ANWR," he says, "is the only place that we could drill right now and it might actually make a difference in a year or two."

As for some other currently voguish sources of fuel coming to the rescue, he's dismissive. Oil shale? "Buck Rogers stuff. It just can't work." Ethanol? "It's a joke. The numbers just don't add up."

Simmons believes that a radical change in the way we live is inevitable. "We should basically be going back to creating a village economy, so that we really reduce the energy intensity of how we live," he says. "We need bigtime conservation, not feel-good conservation. Make things where they're used. You'll end long-distance commuting, and we have the tools to do that now with webcams. Grow food locally. Grow food in your backyard. If they're not commuting, people will have time to do that."

Ocean energy

One afternoon in 2005, Simmons was sitting in his study in Maine watching waves crashing ashore when he started to think about all the potential power to tap from the ocean. "I thought to myself, Wouldn't it be fun to start an institute to study ocean energy?" he says. So he did. Sort of.

Today the sole employee of the Ocean Energy Institute is a physicist named George Hart, 62, who has spent the past 25 years working on the government's Star Wars missile defense system. (In the 1970s, at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., Hart helped develop the excimer laser, which is used today for tasks as varied as Lasik surgery and printing the freshness dates on Budweiser cans.) The institute doesn't yet have a headquarters, but it does have a big idea. And it doesn't involve waves.

Last spring Hart and Simmons cooked up a plan to build a floating wind-turbine farm 20 miles off the coast of Maine that they say could easily power the entire state - the equivalent of five nuclear power plants (and far enough from the coast not to be visible). The Gulf of Maine has 100 gigawatts of wind power, or 10% of U.S. daily consumption. The hope is that Maine can be an example for the rest of the country. Playing off the high profile wind-farm plan recently proposed by Simmons's buddy Boone Pickens, they're calling this idea the Pickens Plan Plus. Things appear to be moving fast. Senator Collins has thrown her support behind it.

The day after the CNBC interview, Simmons and Hart drove up to the University of Maine to visit the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center (AEWC), a 60,000-square-foot structural testing facility. The lab's director, Habib Dagher, is one of the world's leading experts in composite materials. He's working with Simmons and Hart to develop new windmill-blade technology.

The AEWC guys gave a presentation showing how the project could be ready by 2020. Simmons then donned a hardhat and safety glasses and got a tour of the testing floor. As it happens, the lab had already been hired by a large wind-power company to fatigue-test a prototype for a 55-meter turbine blade. A ten-meter segment of the blade was locked in a device called a hydraulic actuator - what looked like two massive steel vise grips - receiving 38,000 pounds of pressure up and down every second. "This is really incredible," Simmons announced. "I'm going to come back up here with two or three investor types I know."

On the way out, I asked Simmons if seeing the lab made his virtual institute feel more real. "Oh, yeah, very impressive," he said. "But we need to compress the time frame - 2020 is way too far out. That plan is fine assuming that we go along like we are now, and everything is okay in the world. But it's not going to be okay. We're going to need this stuff much sooner."

Reporter associate Doris Burke contributed to this article.

© 2008 Cable News Network. A Time Warner Company ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (http://money.cnn.com/2008/09/15/news/economy/500dollaroil_okeefe.fortune/index2.htm)

September 22nd, 2008, 03:55 PM
Making America Stupid

Published: September 13, 2008
New York Times

Imagine for a minute that attending the Republican convention in St. Paul, sitting in a skybox overlooking the convention floor, were observers from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. And imagine for a minute what these observers would have been doing when Rudy Giuliani led the delegates in a chant of “drill, baby, drill!”

I’ll tell you what they would have been doing: the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan observers would have been up out of their seats, exchanging high-fives and joining in the chant louder than anyone in the hall — “Yes! Yes! Drill, America, drill!” — because an America that is focused first and foremost on drilling for oil is an America more focused on feeding its oil habit than kicking it.

Why would Republicans, the party of business, want to focus our country on breathing life into a 19th-century technology — fossil fuels — rather than giving birth to a 21st-century technology — renewable energy? As I have argued before, it reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution — on the eve of PCs and the Internet — is pounding the table for America to make more I.B.M. typewriters and carbon paper. “Typewriters, baby, typewriters.”

Of course, we’re going to need oil for many years, but instead of exalting that — with “drill, baby, drill” — why not throw all our energy into innovating a whole new industry of clean power with the mantra “invent, baby, invent?” That is what a party committed to “change” would really be doing. As they say in Texas: “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.”

I dwell on this issue because it is symbolic of the campaign that John McCain has decided to run. It’s a campaign now built on turning everything possible into a cultural wedge issue — including even energy policy, no matter how stupid it makes the voters and no matter how much it might weaken America.

I respected McCain’s willingness to support the troop surge in Iraq, even if it was going to cost him the Republican nomination. Now the same guy, who would not sell his soul to win his party’s nomination, is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency.

In order to disguise the fact that the core of his campaign is to continue the same Bush policies that have led 80 percent of the country to conclude we’re on the wrong track, McCain has decided to play the culture-war card. Obama may be a bit professorial, but at least he is trying to unite the country to face the real issues rather than divide us over cultural differences.

A Washington Post editorial on Thursday put it well: “On a day when the Congressional Budget Office warned of looming deficits and a grim economic outlook, when the stock market faltered even in the wake of the government’s rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, when President Bush discussed the road ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan, on what did the campaign of Senator John McCain spend its energy? A conference call to denounce Senator Barack Obama for using the phrase ‘lipstick on a pig’ and a new television ad accusing the Democrat of wanting to teach kindergartners about sex before they learn to read.”

Some McCain supporters criticize Obama for not having the steel in his belly to use force in the dangerous world we live in today. Well I know this: In order to use force, you have to have force. In order to exercise leverage, you have to have leverage.

I don’t know how much steel is in Obama’s belly, but I do know that the issues he is focusing on in this campaign — improving education and health care, dealing with the deficit and forging a real energy policy based on building a whole new energy infrastructure — are the only way we can put steel back into America’s spine. McCain, alas, has abandoned those issues for the culture-war strategy.

Who cares how much steel John McCain has in his gut when the steel that today holds up our bridges, railroads, nuclear reactors and other infrastructure is rusting? McCain talks about how he would build dozens of nuclear power plants. Oh, really? They go for $10 billion a pop. Where is the money going to come from? From lowering taxes? From banning abortions? From borrowing more from China? From having Sarah Palin “reform” Washington — as if she has any more clue how to do that than the first 100 names in the D.C. phonebook?

Sorry, but there is no sustainable political/military power without economic power, and talking about one without the other is nonsense. Unless we make America the country most able to innovate, compete and win in the age of globalization, our leverage in the world will continue to slowly erode. Those are the issues this election needs to be about, because that is what the next four years need to be about.

There is no strong leader without a strong country. And posing as one, to use the current vernacular, is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

September 22nd, 2008, 04:10 PM
I think I am gonna go buy some oil stock.........

September 22nd, 2008, 07:05 PM
Buy gold stocks instead.

September 22nd, 2008, 07:15 PM
Buy gold stocks instead.

If history teaches us anything, hes right.

September 23rd, 2008, 10:12 AM
I ain't STAYING with Oil....

Just long enough to ride the bell curve to the inevitable crunch, then hopefully jump free before the whiplash reaction.

Then it might be a good time to buy Corn futures or stock in an electronics firm doing solar cell research.

Or just buy a big-arse gold bathtub and wait it all out.

November 30th, 2008, 05:17 PM
Ocean currents can power the world, say scientists
A revolutionary device that can harness energy from slow-moving rivers and ocean currents could provide enough power for the entire world, scientists claim.

By Jasper Copping
Last Updated: 2:39PM GMT 29 Nov 2008 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/renewableenergy/3535012/Ocean-currents-can-power-the-world-say-scientists.html)

The technology can generate electricity in water flowing at a rate of less than one knot - about one mile an hour - meaning it could operate on most waterways and sea beds around the globe.

Existing technologies which use water power, relying on the action of waves, tides or faster currents created by dams, are far more limited in where they can be used, and also cause greater obstructions when they are built in rivers or the sea. Turbines and water mills need an average current of five or six knots to operate efficiently, while most of the earth's currents are slower than three knots.

The new device, which has been inspired by the way fish swim, consists of a system of cylinders positioned horizontal to the water flow and attached to springs.

As water flows past, the cylinder creates vortices, which push and pull the cylinder up and down. The mechanical energy in the vibrations is then converted into electricity.

Cylinders arranged over a cubic metre of the sea or river bed in a flow of three knots can produce 51 watts. This is more efficient than similar-sized turbines or wave generators, and the amount of power produced can increase sharply if the flow is faster or if more cylinders are added.

A "field" of cylinders built on the sea bed over a 1km by 1.5km area, and the height of a two-storey house, with a flow of just three knots, could generate enough power for around 100,000 homes. Just a few of the cylinders, stacked in a short ladder, could power an anchored ship or a lighthouse.

Systems could be sited on river beds or suspended in the ocean. The scientists behind the technology, which has been developed in research funded by the US government, say that generating power in this way would potentially cost only around 3.5p per kilowatt hour, compared to about 4.5p for wind energy and between 10p and 31p for solar power. They say the technology would require up to 50 times less ocean acreage than wave power generation.

The system, conceived by scientists at the University of Michigan, is called Vivace, or "vortex-induced vibrations for aquatic clean energy".

Michael Bernitsas, a professor of naval architecture at the university, said it was based on the changes in water speed that are caused when a current flows past an obstruction. Eddies or vortices, formed in the water flow, can move objects up and down or left and right.

"This is a totally new method of extracting energy from water flow," said Mr Bernitsas. "Fish curve their bodies to glide between the vortices shed by the bodies of the fish in front of them. Their muscle power alone could not propel them through the water at the speed they go, so they ride in each other's wake."

Such vibrations, which were first observed 500 years ago by Leonardo DaVinci in the form of "Aeolian Tones", can cause damage to structures built in water, like docks and oil rigs. But Mr Bernitsas added: "We enhance the vibrations and harness this powerful and destructive force in nature.

"If we could harness 0.1 per cent of the energy in the ocean, we could support the energy needs of 15 billion people. In the English Channel, for example, there is a very strong current, so you produce a lot of power."

Because the parts only oscillate slowly, the technology is likely to be less harmful to aquatic wildlife than dams or water turbines. And as the installations can be positioned far below the surface of the sea, there would be less interference with shipping, recreational boat users, fishing and tourism.

The engineers are now deploying a prototype device in the Detroit River, which has a flow of less than two knots. Their work, funded by the US Department of Energy and the US Office of Naval Research, is published in the current issue of the quarterly Journal of Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering (http://www.ooae.org/jomae/jomae.html).

December 2nd, 2008, 07:06 PM
Solar is down over %90, efficiency is increasing, prices have fallen, eventually oil will rebound and so will this.

STP good buy at $5 less then 5 P/E for this one biggest manufacturer of solar modules.

December 11th, 2008, 01:21 PM
From The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008 (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/top10-2008/index.html)

6 Greenhouse Gas Comes from Solar Panels

Think switching to solar energy will make you green? Think again. Many of the newest solar panels are manufactured with a gas that is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming.

Nitrogen trifluoride, or NF3, is used for cleaning microcircuits during the manufacture of a host of modern electronics, including flat-screen TVs, iPhones, computer chips—and thin-film solar panels, the latest (and cheapest) generation of solar photovoltaics. (Time named the panels one of the best inventions of 2008.) Because industry estimates suggested that only about 2 percent of NF3 ever made it into the atmosphere, the chemical has been marketed as a cleaner alternative to other higher-emitting options. For the past decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively encouraged its use. NF3 also wasn’t deemed dangerous enough to be covered by the Kyoto Protocol, making it an attractive substitute for companies and signatory countries eager to lower their emissions footprints.

It turns out that NF3 might not be so green after all. “NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than … even that of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants,” according to a June 2008 study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. Because NF3 isn’t covered by Kyoto, few attempts have been made to measure it in the atmosphere. But last October, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that four times more NF3 is present in the atmosphere than industry estimates suggest, and its concentration is rising 11 percent a year.

Compared with the damage caused by CO2 emissions, NF3 remains a blip because far less of it is emitted. But Ray Weiss, who led the Scripps team, thinks that, unless regulations require more complete greenhouse gas measurements, more unpleasant surprises will be in store. With NF3, he says, “We’re finding considerably more in the atmosphere than was expected. This [gas] won’t be the only example of that.”

December 29th, 2008, 08:22 AM
December 27, 2008
The Energy Challenge
No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’

DARMSTADT, Germany — From the outside, there is nothing unusual about the stylish new gray and orange row houses in the Kranichstein District, with wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkling through a freezing drizzle. But these houses are part of a revolution in building design: There are no drafts, no cold tile floors, no snuggling under blankets until the furnace kicks in. There is, in fact, no furnace.

In Berthold Kaufmann’s home, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room — but it is not in use. Even on the coldest nights in central Germany, Mr. Kaufmann’s new “passive house” and others of this design get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer.

“You don’t think about temperature — the house just adjusts,” said Mr. Kaufmann, watching his 2-year-old daughter, dressed in a T-shirt, tuck into her sausage in the spacious living room, whose glass doors open to a patio. His new home uses about one-twentieth the heating energy of his parents’ home of roughly the same size, he said.

Architects in many countries, in attempts to meet new energy efficiency standards like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard in the United States, are designing homes with better insulation and high-efficiency appliances, as well as tapping into alternative sources of power, like solar panels and wind turbines.

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

And in Germany, passive houses cost only about 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses.

Decades ago, attempts at creating sealed solar-heated homes failed, because of stagnant air and mold. But new passive houses use an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency.

“The myth before was that to be warm you had to have heating. Our goal is to create a warm house without energy demand,” said Wolfgang Hasper, an engineer at the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt. “This is not about wearing thick pullovers, turning the thermostat down and putting up with drafts. It’s about being comfortable with less energy input, and we do this by recycling heating.”

There are now an estimated 15,000 passive houses around the world, the vast majority built in the past few years in German-speaking countries or Scandinavia.

The first passive home was built here in 1991 by Wolfgang Feist, a local physicist, but diffusion of the idea was slowed by language. The courses and literature were mostly in German, and even now the components are mass-produced only in this part of the world.

The industry is thriving in Germany, however — for example, schools in Frankfurt are built with the technique.

Moreover, its popularity is spreading. The European Commission is promoting passive-house building, and the European Parliament has proposed that new buildings meet passive-house standards by 2011.

The United States Army, long a presence in this part of Germany, is considering passive-house barracks.

“Awareness is skyrocketing; it’s hard for us to keep up with requests,” Mr. Hasper said.

Nabih Tahan, a California architect who worked in Austria for 11 years, is completing one of the first passive houses in the United States for his family in Berkeley. He heads a group of 70 Bay Area architects and engineers working to encourage wider acceptance of the standards. “This is a recipe for energy that makes sense to people,” Mr. Tahan said. “Why not reuse this heat you get for free?”

Ironically, however, when California inspectors were examining the Berkeley home to determine whether it met “green” building codes (it did), he could not get credit for the heat exchanger, a device that is still uncommon in the United States. “When you think about passive-house standards, you start looking at buildings in a different way,” he said.

Buildings that are certified hermetically sealed may sound suffocating. (To meet the standard, a building must pass a “blow test” showing that it loses minimal air under pressure.) In fact, passive houses have plenty of windows — though far more face south than north — and all can be opened.

Inside, a passive home does have a slightly different gestalt from conventional houses, just as an electric car drives differently from its gas-using cousin. There is a kind of spaceship-like uniformity of air and temperature. The air from outside all goes through HEPA filters before entering the rooms. The cement floor of the basement isn’t cold. The walls and the air are basically the same temperature.

Look closer and there are technical differences: When the windows are swung open, you see their layers of glass and gas, as well as the elaborate seals around the edges. A small, grated duct near the ceiling in the living room brings in clean air. In the basement there is no furnace, but instead what looks like a giant Styrofoam cooler, containing the heat exchanger.

Passive houses need no human tinkering, but most architects put in a switch with three settings, which can be turned down for vacations, or up to circulate air for a party (though you can also just open the windows). “We’ve found it’s very important to people that they feel they can influence the system,” Mr. Hasper said.

The houses may be too radical for those who treasure an experience like drinking hot chocolate in a cold kitchen. But not for others. “I grew up in a great old house that was always 10 degrees too cold, so I knew I wanted to make something different,” said Georg W. Zielke, who built his first passive house here, for his family, in 2003 and now designs no other kinds of buildings.

In Germany the added construction costs of passive houses are modest and, because of their growing popularity and an ever larger array of attractive off-the-shelf components, are shrinking.

But the sophisticated windows and heat-exchange ventilation systems needed to make passive houses work properly are not readily available in the United States. So the construction of passive houses in the United States, at least initially, is likely to entail a higher price differential.

Moreover, the kinds of home construction popular in the United States are more difficult to adapt to the standard: residential buildings tend not to have built-in ventilation systems of any kind, and sliding windows are hard to seal.

Dr. Feist’s original passive house — a boxy white building with four apartments — looks like the science project that it was intended to be. But new passive houses come in many shapes and styles. The Passivhaus Institut, which he founded a decade ago, continues to conduct research, teaches architects, and tests homes to make sure they meet standards. It now has affiliates in Britain and the United States.

Still, there are challenges to broader adoption even in Europe.

Because a successful passive house requires the interplay of the building, the sun and the climate, architects need to be careful about site selection. Passive-house heating might not work in a shady valley in Switzerland, or on an urban street with no south-facing wall. Researchers are looking into whether the concept will work in warmer climates — where a heat exchanger could be used in reverse, to keep cool air in and warm air out.

And those who want passive-house mansions may be disappointed. Compact shapes are simpler to seal, while sprawling homes are difficult to insulate and heat.

Most passive houses allow about 500 square feet per person, a comfortable though not expansive living space. Mr. Hasper said people who wanted thousands of square feet per person should look for another design.

“Anyone who feels they need that much space to live,” he said, “well, that’s a different discussion.”


December 29th, 2008, 08:36 AM
December 28, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Win, Win, Win, Win, Win ...

How many times do we have to see this play before we admit that it always ends the same way?

Which play? The one where gasoline prices go up, pressure rises for more fuel-efficient cars, then gasoline prices fall and the pressure for low-mileage vehicles vanishes, consumers stop buying those cars, the oil producers celebrate, we remain addicted to oil and prices gradually go up again, petro-dictators get rich, we lose. I’ve already seen this play three times in my life. Trust me: It always ends the same way — badly.

So I could only cringe when reading this article from CNNMoney.com on Dec. 22: “After nearly a year of flagging sales, low gas prices and fat incentives are reigniting America’s taste for big vehicles. Trucks and S.U.V.’s will outsell cars in December ... something that hasn’t happened since February. Meanwhile, the forecast finds that sales of hybrid vehicles are expected to be way down.”

Have a nice day. It’s morning again — in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, it’s a blessing that people who have been hammered by the economy are getting a break at the pump. But for our long-term health, getting re-addicted to oil and gas guzzlers is one of the dumbest things we could do.

That is why I believe the second biggest decision Barack Obama has to make — the first is deciding the size of the stimulus — is whether to increase the federal gasoline tax or impose an economy-wide carbon tax. Best I can tell, the Obama team has no intention of doing either at this time. I understand why. Raising taxes in a recession is a no-no. But I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of ways to retool America around clean-power technologies without a price signal — i.e., a tax — and there are no effective ones. (Toughening energy-effiency regulations alone won’t do it.) Without a higher gas tax or carbon tax, Obama will lack the leverage to drive critical pieces of his foreign and domestic agendas.

How so? According to AAA, U.S. gasoline prices now average about $1.67 a gallon. Funny, that’s almost exactly what gas cost on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. In the wake of 9/11, President Bush had the political space to impose a gasoline tax, a “Patriot Tax,” to weaken the very people who had funded 9/11 and to stimulate a U.S. renewable-energy industry. But Bush wimped out and would not impose a tax when prices were low or a floor price when they got high.

Today’s financial crisis is Obama’s 9/11. The public is ready to be mobilized. Obama is coming in with enormous popularity. This is his best window of opportunity to impose a gas tax. And he could make it painless: offset the gas tax by lowering payroll taxes, or phase it in over two years at 10 cents a month. But if Obama, like Bush, wills the ends and not the means — wills a green economy without the price signals needed to change consumer behavior and drive innovation — he will fail.

The two most important rules about energy innovation are: 1) Price matters — when prices go up people change their habits. 2) You need a systemic approach. It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit — and demand that the auto companies use this cash to make more fuel-efficient cars — and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior with a gas tax so more Americans will want to buy those cars. As long as gas is cheap, people will go out and buy used S.U.V.’s and Hummers.

There has to be a system that permanently changes consumer demand, which would permanently change what Detroit makes, which would attract more investment in battery technology to make electric cars, which would hugely help the expansion of the wind and solar industries — where the biggest drawback is the lack of batteries to store electrons when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. A higher gas tax would drive all these systemic benefits.

The same is true in geopolitics. A gas tax reduces gasoline demand and keeps dollars in America, dries up funding for terrorists and reduces the clout of Iran and Russia at a time when Obama will be looking for greater leverage against petro-dictatorships. It reduces our current account deficit, which strengthens the dollar. It reduces U.S. carbon emissions driving climate change, which means more global respect for America. And it increases the incentives for U.S. innovation on clean cars and clean-tech.

Which one of these things wouldn’t we want? A gasoline tax “is not just win-win; it’s win, win, win, win, win,” says the Johns Hopkins author and foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum. “A gasoline tax would do more for American prosperity and strength than any other measure Obama could propose.”

I know it’s hard, but we have got to stop “taking off the table” the tool that would add leverage to everything we want to do at home and abroad. We’ve done that for three decades, and we know with absolute certainty how the play ends — with an America that is less innovative, less wealthy, less respected and less powerful.


March 18th, 2009, 11:03 AM
From The Oil Drum:
World Oil Production Peaked in 2008 (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5177)

Fun Excerpts:
World oil production peaked in 2008 at 81.73 million barrels/day (mbd) shown in the chart below. This oil definition includes crude oil, lease condensate, oil sands and natural gas plant liquids. If natural gas plant liquids are excluded, then the production peak remains in 2008 but at 73.79 mbd. However, if oil sands are also excluded then crude oil and lease condensate production peaked in 2005 at 72.75 mbd.

Fun Graph below showing how oil production plateaued from 2005-2008, despite record prices

Guess I better get one of those new hybrids when I toss my old car this year.

March 18th, 2009, 03:25 PM
They need to compare that to global usage.

Sometimes a production is stunted not because of a lack of resource, but because people are not paying for it anymore.

If I remember right, OPEC was trying a number of things when Oil dropped below $40 a barrel, including reducing production.......

I am not saying that we are not running out, but charts, graphs and forecasts can be deceiving.

March 18th, 2009, 09:53 PM
That would make sense - except according to the chart - global production hasn't gotten any higher since 2005 - well before the price spike. It hit a certain level in '05, and just didn't budge higher (even with 100+ per barrel)

Peak Oil doesn't mean we run out - just means that we have to move to more expensive alternatives (deep ocean oil, oil sands, etc).

April 19th, 2009, 11:26 PM
CBS News 60 Minutes

April 19, 2009

Cold Fusion Is Hot Again

Once Considered Junk Science,
Cold Fusion Gets A Second Look By Researchers

Video (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4955212n)


(CBS) Twenty years ago it appeared, for a moment, that all our energy problems could be solved. It was the announcement of cold fusion - nuclear energy like that which powers the sun - but at room temperature on a table top. It promised to be cheap, limitless and clean. Cold fusion would end our dependence on the Middle East and stop those greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. It would change everything.

But then, just as quickly as it was announced, it was discredited. So thoroughly, that cold fusion became a catch phrase for junk science. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion - for many scientists today, cold fusion is hot again.

"We can yield the power of nuclear physics on a tabletop. The potential is unlimited. That is the most powerful energy source known to man," researcher Michael McKubre told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

McKubre says he has seen that energy more than 50 times in cold fusion experiments he's doing at SRI International, a respected California lab that does extensive work for the government.

McKubre is an electro-chemist who imagines, in 20 years, the creation of a clean nuclear battery. "For example, a laptop would come pre-charged with all of the energy that you would ever intend to use. You're now decoupled from your charger and the wall socket," he explained.

The same would go for cars. "The potential is for an energy source that would run your car for three, four years, for example. And you'd take it in for service every four years and they'd give you a new power supply," McKubre told Pelley.

"Power stations?" Pelley asked.

"You can imagine a one for one plug in replacement for nuclear fuel rods. And the difference only would be that at the end of the lifetime of that fuel rod, you didn't have radioactive waste that needed to be disposed of," McKubre replied.

He showed 60 Minutes just how simple the experiment looks; there are only three main ingredients. First, there is palladium, a metal in the platinum family. Second, one needs a kind of hydrogen called deuterium which is found in seawater.

"Deuterium is essentially unlimited. There is ten times as much energy in a gallon of sea water, from the deuterium contained within it, than there is in a gallon of gasoline," he explained.

The palladium is placed in water containing deuterium and the third ingredient is an electric current.

The experiment is wrapped in insulation and instruments. They're looking for what they call "excess heat." In other words, is more energy coming out than the electric current puts in?

No one knows exactly how excess heat would be generated, but McKubre showed 60 Minutes what he thinks is happening.

At the atomic level, palladium looks like a lattice and the electricity drives the deuterium to the palladium. "They sit on the surface and they pop inside the lattice," he explained, using an artist's rendition of the lattice.

McKubre believes there is a nuclear reaction - possibly a fusion process like what happens in the sun, but occurring inside the metal, at a slower rate, and without dangerous radiation.

Scientists today like to call it a nuclear effect rather than cold fusion. At least 20 labs working independently have published reports of excess heat - heat up to 25 times greater than the electricity going in.

"This little piece of palladium metal has about a third as much energy as the battery in your automobile. So very small volumes, very small masses can produce large amounts of energy," he explained, holding a small piece of palladium foil weighing just 0.3 grams.

McKubre has been working on this since that first discredited claim of cold fusion made headlines 20 years ago.

"To work on this issue is almost to put your scientific credibility at risk and I wonder why you've done it?" Pelley asked.

"My belief is that if there's a one percent chance that Fleischmann and Pons were correct, and I now believe that possibility is 99 percent. I have a duty to work on it," he replied.

Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons amazed the world in 1989 with their cold fusion news conference at the University of Utah. Fleischmann in particular was one of the world's leading electro-chemists, and the announcement of room temperature fusion set the world on fire.

(CBS) Immediately, prestigious labs at MIT and Caltech rushed to reproduce the experiment, but didn't get the same results as Fleischmann and Pons.

The careers of Fleischmann and Pons were destroyed as quickly as a nuclear flash - names once linked to a Nobel Prize were forgotten by nearly everyone. And most of the scientific world today is happy to leave it that way.

"I'm still waiting for the water heaters. I'm still waiting for the thing that will produce heat on demand," Richard Garwin, one of the most respected physicists in the world, told Pelley.

In the 1950s, he helped design the most successful fusion experiment of all time: the hydrogen bomb.

"It was unfortunately, a very successful experiment," Garwin told Pelley.

Garwin was a critic of Martin Fleischmann back in 1989. And he has seen reports on the research that's been done since.

He thinks McKubre is mistaken.

Asked why, Garwin said, "I think probably he measures the input power wrong."

It's one of the most common criticisms of cold fusion experiments - that the amount of electricity going in and the heat coming out are simply mismeasured.

"It's possible, it is possible, that I have been mismeasuring energy for 20 years, but I think it extremely unlikely. A very large number of people have been making these measurements and measurements of current, voltage, temperature, resistance they're some of the simplest measurements that a physicist or a physical scientist will measure," McKubre said.

But there's another problem that critics point out: the experiments produce excess heat at best 70 percent of the time; it can take days or weeks for the excess heat to show up. And it's never the same amount of energy twice.

"I require that you be able to make one of these things, replicate it, put it here. It heats up the cup of tea. I'll drink the tea. Then you make me another cup of tea. And I'll drink that too. That's not it," Garwin said.

He told Pelley that for him to become a believer, the process would have to work 100 percent of the time.

But McKubre said, "Our critics often complain that we can't boil water to make tea. We could have, in fact, boiled 64 gallons of water and made 1,000 cups of tea, had we chosen to do so."

No one's sure why the experiments can't be consistently reproduced. McKubre thinks it has something to do with how the palladium is prepared. He's working with an Italian government lab called ENEA where some of the most reliable palladium is made.

(CBS) With so many open questions, 60 Minutes wanted to find out whether cold fusion is more than a tempest in a teapot. So 60 Minutes asked the American Physical Society, the top physics organization in America, to recommend an independent scientist. They gave us Rob Duncan, vice chancellor of research at the University of Missouri and an expert in measuring energy.

"When we first called you and said 'We'd like you to look into cold fusion for 60 Minutes,' what did you think when you hung up the phone?" Pelley asked Duncan.

"I think my first reaction was something like, 'Well, hasn't that been debunked?'" he replied.

We asked Duncan to go with 60 Minutes to Israel, where a lab called Energetics Technologies has reported some of the biggest energy gains yet.

Duncan spent two days examining cold fusion experiments and investigating whether the measurements were accurate.

Asked what he thought when he left the Israeli lab, Duncan told Pelley, "I thought, 'Wow. They've done something very interesting here.'"

He crunched the numbers himself and searched for an explanation other than a nuclear effect. "I found that the work done was carefully done, and that the excess heat, as I see it now, is quite real," Duncan said.

Asked if was surprised that he'd hear himself saying that, Duncan told Pelley, "Very much. I never thought I'd say that."

And we've found that the Pentagon is saying it to. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, did its own analysis and 60 Minutes obtained an internal memo that concludes there is "no doubt that anomalous excess heat is produced in these experiments."

Asked if he feels vindicated after all these years, McKubre told Pelley with a smile, "I don't have any real need for vindication. I know what I've seen."

"That was a pretty big smile on your face though," Pelley pointed out.

"It's good. It's not bad. Certainly it’s good," McKubre replied.

Now the Pentagon is funding more experiments at the naval research lab in Washington, D.C. and at McKubre's lab in California.

(CBS) 60 Minutes wondered what Richard Garwin would think of the Defense Department's appraisal.

"The experiments leave 'no doubt that anomalous, excess heat is produced,'" Pelley told Garwin.

"Well, that’s a statement," Garwin said. "I am living proof that there's doubt. Now, they can say that there, that excess heat is being produced. But they can't say there's no doubt. All they can say is they don't doubt. But I doubt."

"If you ask me, is this going to have any impact on our energy policy, it’s impossible to say, because we don't fundamentally understand the process yet. But to say, because we don't fundamentally understand the process and that's why we're not going to study it, is like saying, 'I'm too sick to go to the doctor,'" Duncan argued.

"You know, I wonder how you feel about going public endorsing this phenomenon on 60 Minutes when maybe 90 percent, I'm guessing, of your colleagues think that it's crackpot science?" Pelley asked.

"I certainly was among those 90 percent before I looked at the data. And I can see where they’ll be very concerned when they see this piece. All I have to say is: read the published results. Talk to the scientists. Never let anyone do your thinking for you," he replied.

There was one more scientist 60 Minutes wanted to find, a man who left America in disgrace and retired with his wife to the English countryside.

Martin Fleischmann, the man who announced cold fusion to the world, is hindered by years, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and maybe a little bitterness. At home, he pulled out an improved version of his experiment, something that he was working on when he was hounded out of science.

"When you hold that in your hand and you think back on what's happened these last 20 years, what do you think?" Pelley asked.

"A wasted opportunity," Fleischmann replied.

He thinks this way because it was discredited at the time.

He told Pelley he has two regrets: calling the nuclear effect "fusion," a name coined by a competitor, and having that news conference, something he says the University of Utah wanted.

"Now that you know that your experiments have been replicated and, and improved upon in labs all over the world I wonder, do you see a day when homes will be powered by these cells, when cars will be powered by these cells?" Pelley asked.

"I think so. It wouldn’t take very long to implement this," Fleischman replied, laughing. "You make me feel that I should take a part in this?"

"I'm getting you interested again?" Pelley asked.

"Yes," Fleischmann replied, laughing. "The potential is exciting."

Produced by Denise Schrier Cetta
© MMIX, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

April 20th, 2009, 09:30 AM
Sounds like good news. You get more energy than you put in and it is POSSIBLE we have found a new energy source. the problem comes when you need to USE this energy. Will we need to use seawater to readily obtain the deuterium? What is teh afterproduct (I read the first half and skimmed the rest, but I did not see what it was). Helium? Although it isn't toxic, would too much helium be a good thing in our atmosphere?

Also, how would you utilize this energy? By boiling water with a car battery?

Again, this sounds great, but the problem we had with some great things were that they did not produce the energy how we needed it. I am hoping this can be figured out AND that it can be harnessed and utilized in the future.....

April 20th, 2009, 09:53 AM
Helium is one of the inert gases, and doesn't readily combine with anything, unlike oxygen, which is the whore of the periodic table.

April 20th, 2009, 11:19 AM
Helium is one of the inert gases, and doesn't readily combine with anything, unlike oxygen, which is the whore of the periodic table.

I am not saying that it would be Zip.

But what happens when you shift the balance too much? The extreme example of my thought is simple. Stick a person in a room full of helium and they will die (and sound funny doing so). I am not saying our planet will become so suffused with helium that we all will be dying like an episode of the Chipmunks, but still. Would helium displace other gasses in the upper atmosphere? Will we create a weird imbalance?

This is probably MUCH less of a concern than the CFC's of the past, but it still makes you wonder..... Well, me anyway!;)

April 20th, 2009, 11:49 AM
But what happens when you shift the balance too much? The extreme example of my thought is simple. Stick a person in a room full of helium and they will die (and sound funny doing so).Well, that's it. Stick a person in a room full nitrogen, and they'll die; but the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen. It would take a lot of helium to cause a problem.

BTW, if anyone in the mid 60s ran across this guy at Grand Army Plaza selling helium balloons, that was my friend Ira at his summer job. I was the guy taking shots of helium and chatting with passersby.

I always wanted to do this at a police spot-check, which were frequent at the time - "License, registration, any pot? " I never did it, since there was usually pot somewhere in the car.

April 20th, 2009, 02:24 PM
Actually, the surest way for a cop to tell if you probably had it is if HE came to the car on a helium hit and asked you the same question.

If everyone in the car could not stop laughing, chances are you could probably find some "substance" in there... ;)

April 21st, 2009, 10:57 AM
So the upside is we get a great new energy source, the downside is we all talk like the Mayor of Munchkinland.