Poll results: Most believe $100 oil to come this year

It was a close race, but most of you who voted on the “$100 oil” poll believe the fossil fuel will rise past that symbolic $100 threshold this year. In total 10 people picked 2006, with 2007 and 2008 tied at 8 votes each. Only 5 believed it would happen in 2009 or later.

Okay, didn’t get a huge response with that one, but it’s gradually building — these things take time. Next poll will be posted this week so keep your eyes open. If anybody has suggestions for a question let me know.

Pimentel: Disses ethanol, but embraces “bioheat”

 

news conference was held on Saturday in the small farming community of Guelph, Ontario, to discuss the conclusions of a “ground-breaking scientific study” on the use of densified agri-fuels — such as switchgrass turned into pellets or briquettes– as a replacement for burning fossil fuels. The study was published in the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences.

“The major advantages of producing densified warm-season grasses for bioheat include: it is the most efficient strategy to use marginal farmlands in the most temperate and tropical climates to collect solar radiation; it has an excellent energy balance; the feedstocks can be used conveniently in a variety of energy applications; and it is relatively environmentally friendly,” according to an abstract of the study. “Densified warm-season grass biofuels are poised to become a major global fuel source because they can meet some heating requirements at less cost than all other alternatives available today.”

Research firm Resource Efficient Agriculture Production, or REAP Canada, says the heat from burning these densified energy grasses and other agricultural residue “could produce the equivalent of 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2020 in North America.”

REAP Canada argues that using “bioheat” would be less costly and more effective, in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, than pursuing mandates for ethanol and biodiesel content — such as the 5 per cent ethanol mandate supported by the new Conservative government. It also claims that it would be 25 per cent to 50 per cent cheaper than heating with oil or natural gas.

What’s interesting is that REAP Canada got Cornell’s David Pimentel to give a keynote address at the conference, where he apparently spoke publicly about his support for the emerging bioheat industry. In a press release before the conference, Pimentel is quoted as saying, “Bioheat offers the best energy and greenhouse gas balances of the available options and is the most efficient way to produce energy from farmland.”

Pimentel, as you’ll recall, is the chap who believes that ethanol and biodiesel production is a waste of time and money because, he asserts, it takes more energy to create the biofuels than the energy you get out of them. It’s an assertion that has been widely disputed. I unfortunately could not make it to the Guelph event to probe Pimental on this issue.

I have no doubt it takes less energy to simply compress switchgrass into briquettes and throw them in an oven to heat your house, but it doesn’t do much for the transportation market. Besides, does a bioheat market really have to take away from an ethanol market? If cellulose ethanol, for example, relies on agricultural residues such as cereal straw and corn stover, then this form of biofuel could still be produced for the transportation market alongside other bioheat-type fuels for heating.

In any event, it’s difficult to pass judgement without learning more. Stay tuned.

Pimentel: Disses ethanol, but embraces “bioheat”

 

news conference was held on Saturday in the small farming community of Guelph, Ontario, to discuss the conclusions of a “ground-breaking scientific study” on the use of densified agri-fuels — such as switchgrass turned into pellets or briquettes– as a replacement for burning fossil fuels. The study was published in the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences.

“The major advantages of producing densified warm-season grasses for bioheat include: it is the most efficient strategy to use marginal farmlands in the most temperate and tropical climates to collect solar radiation; it has an excellent energy balance; the feedstocks can be used conveniently in a variety of energy applications; and it is relatively environmentally friendly,” according to an abstract of the study. “Densified warm-season grass biofuels are poised to become a major global fuel source because they can meet some heating requirements at less cost than all other alternatives available today.”

Research firm Resource Efficient Agriculture Production, or REAP Canada, says the heat from burning these densified energy grasses and other agricultural residue “could produce the equivalent of 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2020 in North America.”

REAP Canada argues that using “bioheat” would be less costly and more effective, in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, than pursuing mandates for ethanol and biodiesel content — such as the 5 per cent ethanol mandate supported by the new Conservative government. It also claims that it would be 25 per cent to 50 per cent cheaper than heating with oil or natural gas.

What’s interesting is that REAP Canada got Cornell’s David Pimentel to give a keynote address at the conference, where he apparently spoke publicly about his support for the emerging bioheat industry. In a press release before the conference, Pimentel is quoted as saying, “Bioheat offers the best energy and greenhouse gas balances of the available options and is the most efficient way to produce energy from farmland.”

Pimentel, as you’ll recall, is the chap who believes that ethanol and biodiesel production is a waste of time and money because, he asserts, it takes more energy to create the biofuels than the energy you get out of them. It’s an assertion that has been widely disputed. I unfortunately could not make it to the Guelph event to probe Pimental on this issue.

I have no doubt it takes less energy to simply compress switchgrass into briquettes and throw them in an oven to heat your house, but it doesn’t do much for the transportation market. Besides, does a bioheat market really have to take away from an ethanol market? If cellulose ethanol, for example, relies on agricultural residues such as cereal straw and corn stover, then this form of biofuel could still be produced for the transportation market alongside other bioheat-type fuels for heating.

In any event, it’s difficult to pass judgement without learning more. Stay tuned.

What does GE have up its sleeve?

CNET News.com has an informative Q&A today with General Electric’s Ali Iz, general manager of technology growth. GE, of course, has been the buzz of the cleantech sector since it announced major investments in the area and its big “Ecomagination” marketing push. Iz talks about GE’s involvement and views on wind, solar, clean coal, utility-scale fuel cells, and even wave power. Definitely worth a quick read.

Fuel cells and more nagging questions

Okay, I understand that this whole dream of a hydrogen economy run by fuel cells has a number of barriers, including storage, distribution and other infrastructure issues. Assuming these can all be overcome — and there are many people out there trying to do just that, boosted by another $119 million in funding from the Bush administration — let’s consider two other potential barriers: platinum and water.

A story in ScienceDaily raises the issue of sustainability of metal resources, and has this to say about platinum: “Researchers believe scarce metals, such as platinum, face depletion risks this century because of the lack of suitable substitutes in such devices as catalytic converters and hydrogen fuel cells.”

I understand a lot of work is being done to try to reduce platinum dependency in fuel cells, or to replace platinum altogether. Unless these goals are achieved, it seems that fuel cells the way they are today will simply be driving into a brick wall.

Then there’s water. If water is to be used in the future as a source of hydrogen through electrolysis, and if — correct me if I’m wrong — you need to use relatively pure water to accomplish this, then tell me where this water is going to come from when we have water shortages/crises in many parts of the world — including the United States? This may be oversimplifying things, but water is essentially being positioned as a fuel for the future at a time when we are running out of it for basic things, such as survival (and of course for keeping Arizona golf courses green).

Then again, once you run hydrogen through a fuel cell and it combines with oxygen you get the water back… so perhaps I should just shut up.