Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2012

Vortex Tools looks at the history of corn ethanol and the modern-day flaws of cellulosic ethanol.

You know the stereotype of the dumb son around the office who only has a position of power because his dad is the boss? I’m going to go ahead and call ethanol the dumb son of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Whether it’s the former failure of corn ethanol standards or the current failure of cellulosic ethanol standards, the EPA can’t find an ethanol solution that works for the U.S.

Ashlyak at ml.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsTo be fair, most people didn’t know that corn ethanol was going to do so poorly. Unlike in Brazil — where sugar ethanol benefits from abundance and an easier process — U.S.  corn ethanol requires so much water to produce that it’s unsustainable (both financially and environmentally). Additionally, while many thought the water could be used for farmland, that option soon went away, leaving an excess of unusable water (save for some cattle feed options). In 2008, ethanol from corn produced seven pounds of by-product for every gallon of ethanol.

The final kicker was the food vs. fuel debate. Although it was largely debunked — as corn crops for food and crops for ethanol are different — the stigma stuck. Although correlations were never fully established, many argued the rising costs of consumer goods — especially dairy, poultry, and meat products — were directly tied to the increasing price of corn for ethanol use. (I won’t even note the contradiction of using fossil fuels to run alternate energy plants… at least not outside of these parentheses.)

So corn ethanol went down, but a new ethanol hero arose: Cellulosic ethanol.

Lignocellulose is basically the stuff that makes up the structure of plants. There’s lots of it around, and people can’t eat it, so the food vs. fuel debate is out. Like corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol may have less power to it, but it’s environmentally cleaner than gasoline. No wonder the EPA set standards to blend billions of gallons of cellulosic ethanol back in 2005.

The problem? Cellulosic ethanol doesn’t actually exist in the mainstream. The EPA just assumed that technology solutions would rise to meet their mandates.

According to an article by Fox News,  “not one drop of cellulosic ethanol has been produced commercially. It’s a phantom fuel,” says Tom Pyle, a representative of the Institute of Energy Research. “It doesn’t exist in the market place.”

Charles Drevna, a refinery representative, stated that, “forcing us to use a product that doesn’t exist, they might as well tell us to use unicorns.”

Considering the Congress Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandated (that then largely corn) ethanol production to be raised to from 9 billion in 2008 up to 36 billion by 2022 — rates that couldn’t be met then and can’t be met now (and even if they could, they might destroy the corn soil in less than 30 years) — there’s a trend of ethanol standards being set in the hope of jumpstarting solutions.

Regardless of the reality, the EPA fines the refineries when they can’t meet these unattainable standards. As the EPA can lower these rates at their discretion, they’ve done so, but not completely: “We are going to reduce your blending obligation by 98 percent because we feel that that’s the right thing to do,” says Brooke Coleman, the executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council of the Renewable Fuels Association. “We are going to maintain your blending obligation on the gallons that we think are going to emerge.”

As cellulosic ethanol rates will rise to 16 billion by 2022, the refineries are suing the EPA now, hoping to force a firm change in standards.

Me, I’m still banking on the unicorns.

*     *     *

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools shares five insights on the shifting views of green business in the U.S.

Each year, the Cleantech Open holds a national conference. In order to attend this conference, your company needs to be a semi-finalist in their competition to accelerate emerging green technologies. As Vortex Tools qualified in the energy efficiency category in the Rocky Mountain region (for transforming harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells to recovered high-value energy), some of our team attended the event.

Although I’ll comment more on the Cleantech Open in later blogs, as this national conference brings together leading minds in green industries—both the proven standards for today and hopefully the better standards of tomorrow—there’s a lot of insight as to what’s shifting in the world of green.

While these may be obvious to many in the green energy market, for the Average Joe, here are the top five green insights from the Cleantech Open:

1. Global Warming is Dead; Long Live Climate Change

There are certain words the green industry doesn’t say anymore. Clearly, Solyndra is out—I suppose these things happen when a California solar company gets $527 million from the Obama administration to go out of business with an inferior product—but global warming was officially announced as debunked, dead and a term to ditch (yes, at a green conference).

In the mean time, climate change is still alive and well. Like the vague buzzword green, climate change is broad enough to mean different things to different people, giving it wiggle room to be easily updated.

2. Wind Power is Down; Solar Power is Up

Despite the variety of companies at the Cleantech Open, I expected to see a number of  innovators from solar and wind power. While there were nearly a dozen solar companies, only a couple of wind power companies qualified from around the country. Five years ago, the split would’ve been 50/50, maybe even slightly in the favor of wind power, but now the solar power market is heavily saturated.

According to a solar energy expert, these companies are playing a game of last man standing, because many believe solar will be huge… sometime. However, most solar companies know that the market can only handle a fraction of them, so barring acquisition from a larger company on the way through, most will falter before the boom. In many ways, it’s the behemoth companies with infrastructure—the BPs, the GEs: the very companies these smaller startups want to replace—who’ll do the best when (and if) solar does go big.

3. Trending Companies Include Nanotechnologies and Green Roofs

As for newer representation and buzzwords, nanotechnologies and green roofs are taking off in the American green world.

Nanotechnologies is a broad market, as all nano really means is that it’s small, so there are benefits for coatings, electronics, bugs, material strength, etc. You name an industry, nanotechnologies are improving it, but the added cost is often prohibitive to success.

By Nickenge (Taken by Nick.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Green roofs are popular in Europe—1 out of every 5 houses in Germany has a green roof—but with the benefits of shading and improved insulation (especially in lowered AC costs), the trend is rising in the States now, too. The problem is that many older buildings, both commercial and residential, can’t handle the weight of 4-6” of soil, especially if it’s loaded with water. With this in mind, newer, lighter green roofs (likely with lesser benefits) are increasing in demand.

Hotter, arid climates like California, Arizona and Texas are slated to benefit the most from green roofs.

4. Natural Gas is Still the Bad Guy

This isn’t a new insight so much as a maintained trend. A couple of the main speakers expressed their (disgruntled) opinion that low natural gas prices are standing in the way of emerging green technologies. While I understand this viewpoint—as natural gas is a proven and plentiful energy source that’s been depressed for far too long—it seems as though many in the green crowd miss this point: Overall, the oil and gas industry is as unhappy about the price of natural gas as they are. The oil and gas industry wants the value of their proven resource to not be so low that it’s competing with emerging green alternative energies.

Finally, the other maintained trend:

5. Europe and Japan are Still Held Up As the Standard; China is Still Catching Up to the U.S.    

This one is no surprise, as Europe has a greater need for more efficient means, thus the reality reflects the necessity. Meanwhile, China’s current waste is still nearing where the U.S. was in the 1970s.

One ongoing trend I dislike is that many European and Japanese trends are held up as the standard  for America without qualification. For example, one of the panel members cited Japan’s recent minor emphasis on solar energy as indicative that clean tech has finally arrived in the world, so I asked how less than $10 billion in projected (not actual) solar energy could offset the $1.5 trillion juggernaut of Japanese nuclear power. While this panelist stated that he never argued that solar would replace nuclear energy, if your technology isn’t replacing an incumbent solution—likely in a cheaper, greener, more effective way—it doesn’t have a place, period.

*     *     *

In upcoming blogs, I’ll share my experience with Cleantech Open competition. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools looks at Japan’s decision to return to nuclear energy a month after shutting down their last nuclear reactor. 

By Nife (Nife's photo) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAlthough Vortex Tools covered Japan’s decision to shut down its last nuclear reactor in May 2012, over the weekend, the Japanese government approved restarting two reactors at the Kansai Electric Power Company in Ohi.

Here’s a quick recap up to this point:

  1. In the aftermath of 2011’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, four nuclear plants in Fukushima were damaged, leading to three meltdowns and radiation leaks. As this was the worst civilian nuclear disaster since Chernobyl — killing nearly 16,000, leaving 3,000 missing and evacuating 160,000 more — public concern shot up, and Japan had no choice but to make it through that time without heavily relying on nuclear energy.
  2. Since that time, as each of Japan’s 54 reactors have shut down for scheduled maintenance, none have been restarted due to public opposition. The thinking was that if they could make it through peak summer usage without major blackouts, this could spell the end of atomic energy in Japan.
  3. However, prior to the shutdowns, nuclear power provided almost 30% of the electricity to keep the $5 trillion economy going. After years of deflation, in 2011, Japan suffered its first trade deficit in over 30 years as oil and gas was heavily imported for extra power generation capacity. (As Japan has very little native oil and gas, this mass importation cost billions.)
  4. With the risk to $1.5 trillion of Japan’s economy from nuclear power, many politicians are pro-atomic energy; though with the split parliament and a lack of alternate energy sources, there’s no good solution at this time.

Kyodo News reported that 60% of Japan is opposed to restarting the nuclear reactors. Despite this public opposition, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he gained “public consent” to do so. In trying to balance out this ill-favored move, he also set the premium price of solar energy at triple that of conventional energy to spur a projected $9.6 billion in new solar installations. The immediate effect was a rebound in solar stock prices.

As reported before, wind power and solar energy only make up 1% of Japan’s alternate energy sources combined, meaning that even if Japan is successful in doubling their solar energy, it probably won’t be enough to shut back down the two restarted nuclear reactors (even if the hoped for growth in solar power could cover three nuclear reactors, projections have yet to meet reality). With $1.5 trillion of Japan’s economy in the balance, it is likely that more of the 52 remaining reactors will be turned back on.

Prime Minister Noda has other problems, too, as there’s large opposition to his goal of doubling Japan’s 5% sales tax to cover their large debt and welfare costs. As several politicians have been booted out every year for the last five years, many think Noda’s chances of getting reelected in August 2013 are slim. However, like most major problems in the world today, Japan’s struggle over nuclear energy won’t be solved simply by a change in political persuasion.

For now, Japan is learning to juggle safety with the need for a stable economy.

*     *     *

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Ecotech Systems shares an infographic from the Blood:Water Mission.

Although SpiroFlo has covered the Blood:Water Mission before (and their goal to provide clean water, sanitation and clean blood to sub-Saharan Africa), they recently featured an infographic on how the lack of sanitation affects those around the world. For all the complaints about biosolids, many have it far, far worse:

http://www.onlinenursingprograms.com/lack-of-sanitation/

*     *     *

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools looks at Japan’s decision to shut down its last nuclear reactor and what this could mean for the future of atomic energy and its alternatives.

In May 2012, Japan turned off its last nuclear reactor. If they can make it through another summer without blackouts—the peak time for energy use—it could spell the end of nuclear power for that country.

In the aftermath of 2011’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, four nuclear plants in Fukushima were damaged, leading to three meltdowns and radiation leaks. As this was the worst civilian nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, public concern shot up, and Japan had no choice but to make it through that time without heavily relying on nuclear power. To do so, they had to impose curbs on use and ran factories at nights and on weekends to avoid overloading the power grids.

At the time of the meltdowns, Japan had planned to raise its share of nuclear power generation to over 50% by 2030 (up from ~30% then). Since that time, each of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors has shut down for scheduled maintenance, and with public safety concerns, they have not restarted. On May 6th, the #3 Tomari reactor of Hokkaido Electric Power Co. shut down, making it the first time since May 1970 (when there were only two nuclear reactors) that Japan has been without nuclear power.

Although several European countries—including Germany, Italy, and Switzerland—are moving away from atomic energy, China, India and the United States are still planning on increasing their number of reactors.

A major consideration for Japan is how moving away from atomic energy will affect their economy. After years of deflation, in 2011, Japan suffered its first trade deficit in over 30 years as oil and gas was heavily imported for extra power generation capacity. As Japan has very little native oil and gas, this mass importation cost billions.

Regardless, according to a poll by Kyodo News, 60% of the public is still opposed to restarting the nuclear reactors. Although liquid natural gas (LNG) is on the rise—up 18% in importation and 52% in value through March 2012—like most cases, there isn’t yet a viable energy alternative. Renewable energy only makes up 10% of Japan’s power generation. Most of that is from hydroelectric dams; whereas wind power and solar energy only make up 1% combined.

As a result, despite the public opposition to nuclear energy, with the ongoing economic impact, much of Japan’s government remains pro-nuclear power. In April 2012, Yoshito Sengoku, the acting President of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, equated ditching nuclear power to “mass suicide.” Despite being chastised for the comment, there’s still a lot of turmoil in Japan’s government over the issue. Even setting up a more independent Nuclear Regulatory Agency—one that will likely transform the public’s concerns into regulations—has been deadlocked by Japan’s split parliament.

As atomic energy is never going to be 100% safe (and honestly, good luck finding a mainstream power source that is), some analysts believe that if nuclear power is going to have a future, the nuclear power companies will have to publicly come clean about what the risks are and what they have already done (not what they will do) to improve safety.

This line from Reuters highlights the tension: “Nuclear power provided almost 30 percent of the electricity to keep the $5 trillion economy going before the March 11, 2011 disaster that killed almost 16,000 people and left more than 3,000 missing.” ($1 = ~80 yen.)

No economy can afford to shrug off the impact of shifting $1.5 trillion, but no culture can shrug off the health and safety of tens of thousands of people when disaster strikes.

UPDATE: Japan restarts two nuclear reactors.

*     *     *

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

SpiroFlo looks at a recent journal that suggests those who live alone waste far more than those who live with others.

By Celiafung (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIn today’s obvious news: Living alone is worse for the environment than if you live with 4+ people.

According to Environment, Development and Sustainability research,  in households of four or more people, each person produces 2,200 pounds of  waste annually, compared to 3,500 pounds of annual waste from those living alone. In addition, those living alone consume 38% more products, 42% more packaging, 55% more electricity and 61% more gas per capita than  four-person households.

It makes sense: When you live with others, you share your home, light bulbs, heating, etc. I’ll also assume that houses with four or more people involve more spouses (who share driving and energy/waste responsibilities) and kids (who don’t drive and have their waste/energy managed to a degree). I’ll also assume that those living alone are adults who have no one to share their waste/energy use and view convenience (not conservation) as a premium.

Also, when you live with others, they’ll shame you out of certain activities. No, you won’t eat that entire carton of ice cream. No, you won’t take apart your bike and roast a pig on the living room floor. No, you won’t watch “Weekend at Bernie’s 2.” And so on and so forth (all the way down to environmental issues). Caring what other people think has its perks.

Inevitably, it’s still going to depend on the people involved. A single person from the hardcore green crowd will be less wasteful than a guy with 16 brothers who’s got a predilection for gas guzzlers and nuclear weaponry. Maybe that will get a follow-up article.

*     *     *

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »