Category Archives: Power Generating Technology – Alternate

Energy Literacy

I was impressed in 2007 by the following chart in Scientific American, which shows where our energy in the U.S. comes from and how the energy is used in electricity generation and in four consumer sectors. One conclusion is that more than half of our energy is wasted, which is clearly shown in the bottom right corner of the chart. However, this result shouldn’t be surprising.

2007 USA energy utilizationSource: Scientific American / Jen Christiansen, using LLNL & DOE 2007 data

The waste energy primarily arises from the efficiencies of the various energy conversion cycles being used. For example, the following 2003 chart shows the relative generating efficiencies of a wide range of electric power sources. You can see in the chart that there is a big plateau at 40% efficiency for many types of thermal cycle power plants. That means that 60% of the energy they used is lost as waste heat. The latest combined cycle plants have demonstrated net efficiencies as high as 62.22% (Bouchain, France, 2016, see details in my updated 17 March 2015 post, “Efficiency in Electricity Generation”).

Comparative generation  efficiencies-Eurelectric 2003Source: Eurelectric and VGB PowerTech, July 2003

Another source of waste is line loss in electricity transmission and distribution from generators to the end-users. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity transmission and distribution losses average about 6% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed.

There is an expanded, interactive, zoomable map of U.S. energy data that goes far beyond the 2007 Scientific American chart shown above. You can access this interactive map at the following link:

The interactivity in the map is impressive, and the way it’s implemented encourages exploration of the data in the map. You can drill down on individual features and you can explore particular paths in much greater detail than you could in a physical chart containing the same information. Below are two example screenshots. The first screenshot is a top-level view. As in the Scientific American chart, energy sources are on the left and final disposition as energy services or waste energy is on the right. Note that waste energy is on the top right of the interactive map.

Energy literacy map 1

The second screenshot is a more detailed view of natural gas production and utilization.

Energy literacy map 2

As reported by Lulu Chang on the website, this interactive map was created by Saul Griffith at the firm Otherlab ( You can read her post at the following link:

I hope you enjoy exploring the interactive energy literacy map.

Quadrennial Energy Review

On 9 January 2014 the Administration launched a “Quadrennial Energy Review” (QER) to examine “how to modernize the Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility…” You can read the Presidential Memorandum establishing the QER at the following link:

You can get a good overview of the goals of the QER in a brief factsheet at the following link:

On April 21, 2015, the QER Task Force released the “first installment” of the QER report entitled “Energy Transmission, Storage, and Distribution Infrastructure.” The Task Force announcement stated:

“The first installment (QER 1.1) examines how to modernize our Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility, and is focused on energy transmission, storage, and distribution (TS&D), the networks of pipelines, wires, storage, waterways, railroads, and other facilities that form the backbone of our energy system.”

The complete QER 1.1 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:

QER 1.1 contents are listed below:

QER 1.1 contentOn January 6, 2017, the QER Task Force released the “second installment” of the QER report entitled “Transforming the Nation’s Electricity System.” The Task Force announcement stated:

“The second installment (QER 1.2) finds the electricity system is a critical and essential national asset, and it is a strategic imperative to protect and enhance the value of the electricity system through modernization and transformation. QER 1.2 analyzes trends and issues confronting the Nation’s electricity sector out to 2040, examining the entire electricity system from generation to end use, and within the context of three overarching national goals: (1) enhance economic competitiveness; (2) promote environmental responsibility; and (3) provide for the Nation’s security.

The report provides 76 recommendations that seek to enable the modernization and transformation of the electricity system. Undertaken in conjunction with state and local governments, policymakers, industry, and other stakeholders, the recommendations provide the building blocks for longer-term, planned changes and activities.”

The complete QER 1.2 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:

QER 1.2 contents are listed below:

QER 1.2 contentI hope you take time to explore the QERs. I think the Task Force has collected a great deal of actionable information in the two reports. Converting this information into concrete actions will be a matter for the next Administration.

Hey, EU!! Wood may be a Renewable Energy Source, but it isn’t a Clean Energy Source

EU policy background

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (The Paris Agreement) entered into force on 4 November 2016. To date, the Paris Agreement has been ratified by 122 of the 197 parties to the convention. This Agreement does not define renewable energy sources, and does not even use the words “renewable,” “biomass,” or “wood”. You can download this Agreement at the following link:

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), based in Paris, France, is described as, “a global renewable energy multi-stakeholder policy network that provides international leadership for the rapid transition to renewable energy.” Their recent report, “Renewables 2016 Global Status Report,” provides an up-to-date summary of the status of the renewable energy industry, including the biomass industry, which accounts for the use of wood as a renewable biomass fuel. The REN21 report notes:

“Ongoing debate about the sustainability of bioenergy, including indirect land-use change and carbon balance, also affected development of this sector. Given these challenges, national policy frameworks continue to have a large influence on deployment.”

You can download the 2016 REN21 report at the following link:

For a revealing look at the European Union’s (EU) position on the use of biomass as an energy source, see the September 2015 European Parliament briefing, “Biomass for electricity and heating opportunities and challenges,” at the following link:

Here you’ll see that burning biomass as an energy source in the EU is accorded similar carbon-neutral status to generating energy from wind, solar and hydro. The EU’s rationale is stated as follows:

“Under EU legislation, biomass is carbon neutral, based on the assumption that the carbon released when solid biomass is burned will be re-absorbed during tree growth. Current EU policies provide incentives to use biomass for power generation.”

This policy framework, which treats biomass as a carbon neutral energy source, is set by the EU’s 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (Directive 2009/28/EC), which requires that renewable energy sources account for 20% of the EU energy mix by 2020. You can download this directive at the following link:

The EU’s equation seems pretty simple: renewable = carbon neutral

EU policy assessment

In 2015, the organization Climate Central produced an assessment of this EU policy in a three-part document entitled, “Pulp Fiction – The European Accounting Error That’s Warming the Planet.” Their key points are summarized in the following quotes extracted from “Pulp Fiction”:

“Wood has quietly become the largest source of what counts as ‘renewable’ energy in the EU. Wood burning in Europe produced as much energy as burning 620 million barrels of oil last year (both in power plants and for home heating). That accounted for nearly half of all Europe’s renewable energy. That’s helping nations meet the requirements of EU climate laws on paper, if not in spirit.”

Pulp Fiction chart

“The wood pellet mills are paying for trees to be cut down — trees that could be used by other industries, or left to grow and absorb carbon dioxide. And the mills are being bankrolled by climate subsidies in Europe, where wood pellets are replacing coal at a growing number of power plants.”

”That loophole treats electricity generated by burning wood as a ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘zero emissions’ energy source — the same as solar panels or wind turbines. When power plants in major European countries burn wood, the only carbon dioxide pollution they report is from the burning of fossil fuels needed to manufacture and transport the woody fuel. European law assumes climate pollution released directly by burning fuel made from trees doesn’t matter, because it will be re-absorbed by trees that grow to replace them.”

“Burning wood pellets to produce a megawatt-hour of electricity produces 15 to 20 percent more climate-changing carbon dioxide pollution than burning coal, analysis of Drax (a UK power plant) data shows. And that’s just the CO2 pouring out of the smokestack. Add in pollution from the fuel needed to grind, heat and dry the wood, plus transportation of the pellets, and the climate impacts are even worse. According to Enviva (a fuel pellet manufacturer), that adds another 20 percent worth of climate pollution for that one megawatt-hour.”

“No other country or U.S. region produces more wood and pulp every year than the Southeast, where loggers are cutting down roughly twice as many trees as they were in the 1950s.”

“But as this five-month Climate Central investigation reveals, renewable energy doesn’t necessarily mean clean energy. Burning trees as fuel in power plants is heating the atmosphere more quickly than coal.”

You can access the first part of “Pulp Fiction” at the following link and then easily navigate to the other two parts.

In the U.S., the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has made a similar finding. Check out the NRDC’s May 2015 Issue Brief, “Think Wood Pellets are Green? Think Again,” at the following link:

NRDC examined three cases of cumulative emissions from fuel pellets made from 70%, 40% and 20% whole trees. The NRDC chart for the 70% whole tree case is shown below.

NRDC cumulative emissions from wood pellets

You can see that the NRDC analysis indicates that cumulative emissions from burning wood pellets exceeds the cumulative emissions from coal and natural gas for many decades. After about 50 years, forest regrowth can recapture enough carbon to offset the cumulative emissions from wood pellets to below the levels for of fossil fuels. It takes about 15 – 20 more years to reach “carbon neutral” (zero net CO2 emissions) in the early 2080s.

The NRDC report concludes

“In sum, our modeling shows that wood pellets made of whole trees from bottomland hardwoods in the Atlantic plain of the U.S. Southeast—even in relatively small proportions— will emit carbon pollution comparable to or in excess of fossil fuels for approximately five decades. This 5-decade time period is significant: climate policy imperatives require dramatic short-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions from these pellets will persist in the atmosphere well past the time when significant reductions are needed.“

The situation in the U.S.

The U.S. Clean Power Plan, Section V.A, “The Best System of Emission Reduction,” (BSER) defines EPA’s determination of the BESR for reducing CO2 emissions from existing electric generating units. In Section V.A.6, EPA identifies areas of compliance flexibility not included in the BESR. Here’s what EPA offers regarding the use of biomass as a substitute for fossil fuels.


This sounds a lot like what is happening at the Drax power plant in the UK, where three of the six Drax units are co-firing wood pellets along with the other three units that still are operating with coal.

Fortunately, this co-firing option is a less attractive option under the Clean Power Plan than it is under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive.

You can download the EPA’s Clean Power Plan at the following link:

On 9 February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review.

In conclusion

The character J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye cartoon by Hy Eisman is well known for his penchant for asking for a hamburger today in exchange for a commitment to pay for it in the future.


It seems to me that the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive is based on a similar philosophy. The “renewable” biomass carbon debt being accumulated now by the EU will not be repaid for 50 – 80 years.

The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive is little more than a time-shifted carbon trading scheme in which the cumulative CO2 emissions from burning a particular carbon-based fuel (wood pellets) are mitigated by future carbon sequestration in new-growth forests. This assumes that the new-growth forests are re-planted as aggressively as the old-growth forests are harvested for their biomass fuel content. By accepting this time-shifted carbon trading scheme, the EU has accepted a 50 – 80 year delay in tangible reductions in the cumulative emissions from burning carbon-based fuels (fossil or biomass).

So, if the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive is acceptable for biomass, why couldn’t a similar directive be developed for fossil fuels, which, pound-for-pound, have lower emissions than biomass? The same type of time-shifted carbon trading scheme could be achieved by aggressively planting new-growth forests all around the world to deliver the level of carbon sequestration needed to enable any fossil fuel to meet the same “carbon neutral” criteria that the EU Parliament, in all their wisdom, has applied to biomass.

If the EU Parliament truly accepts what they have done in their Renewable Energy Directive, then I challenge them to extend that “Wimpy” Directive to treat all carbon-based fuels on a common time-shifted carbon trading basis.

I think a better approach would be for the EU to eliminate the “carbon neutral” status of biomass and treat it the same as fossil fuels. Then the economic incentives for burning the more-polluting wood pellets would be eliminated, large-scale deforestation would be avoided, and utilities would refocus their portfolios of renewable energy sources on generators that really are “carbon neutral”.

What to do with Carbon Dioxide

In my 17 December 2016 post, “Climate Change and Nuclear Power,” there is a chart that shows the results of a comparative life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis for 10 electric power-generating technologies. In that chart, it is clear how carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies can greatly reduce the GHG emissions from gas and coal generators.

An overview of carbon dioxide capture and storage technology is presented in a December 2010 briefing paper issued by the London Imperial College. This paper includes the following process flow diagram showing the capture of CO2 from major sources, use or storage of CO2 underground, and use of CO2 as a feedstock in other industrial processes. Click on the graphic to enlarge.

Carbon capture and storage process

You can download the London Imperial College briefing paper at the following link:—-Grantham-BP-4.pdf

Here is a brief look at selected technologies being developed for underground storage (sequestration) and industrial utilization of CO2.

Store in basalt formations by making carbonate rock

Iceland generates about 85% of its electric power from renewable resources, primarily hydro and geothermal. Nonetheless, Reykjavik Energy initiated a project called CarbFix at their 303 MWe Hellisheidi geothermal power plant to control its rather modest CO2 emissions along with hydrogen sulfide and other gases found in geothermal steam.

Hellisheidi geothermal power plantHellisheidi geothermal power plant. Source: Power Technology

The process system collects the CO2 and other gases, dissolves the gas in large volumes of water, and injects the water into porous, basaltic rock 400 – 800 meters (1,312 – 2,624 feet) below the surface. In the deep rock strata, the CO2 undergoes chemical reactions with the naturally occurring calcium, magnesium and iron in the basalt, permanently immobilizing the CO2 as environmentally benign carbonates. There typically are large quantities of calcium, magnesium and iron in basalt, giving a basalt formation a large CO2 storage capacity.

The surprising aspect of this process is that the injected CO2 was turned into hard rock very rapidly. Researchers found that in two years, more that 95% of the CO2 injected into the basaltic formation had been turned into carbonate.

For more information, see the 9 June 2016 Washington Post article by Chris Mooney, “This Iceland plant just turned carbon dioxide into solid rock — and they did it super fast,” at the following link:

The author notes,

“The researchers are enthusiastic about their possible solution, although they caution that they are still in the process of scaling up to be able to handle anything approaching the enormous amounts of carbon dioxide that are being emitted around the globe — and that transporting carbon dioxide to locations featuring basalt, and injecting it in large volumes along with even bigger amounts of water, would be a complex affair.”

Basalt formations are common worldwide, making up about 10% of continental rock and most of the ocean floor. Iceland is about 90% basalt.

Detailed results of this Reykjavik Energy project are reported in a May 2016 paper by J.M. Matter, M. Stute, et al., Rapid carbon mineralization for permanent disposal of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions,” which is available on the Research Gate website at the following link:

Similar findings were made in a separate pilot project in the U.S. conducted by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership. In this project, 1,000 tons of pressurized liquid CO2 were injected into a basalt formation in eastern Washington state in 2013. Samples taken two years later confirmed that the CO2 had been converted to carbonate minerals.

These results were published in a November 2016 paper by B. P McGrail, et al., “Field Validation of Supercritical CO2 Reactivity with Basalts.” The abstract and the paper are available at the following link:

Store in fractures in deep crystalline rock

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has established an initiative dubbed SubTER (Subsurface Technology and Engineering Research, Development and Demonstration Crosscut) to study how rocks fracture and to develop a predictive understanding of fracture control. A key facility is an observatory set up 1,478 meters (4,850 feet) below the surface in the former Homestake mine near Lead, South Dakota (note: Berkeley shares this mine with the neutrino and dark matter detectors of the Sanford Underground Research Facility). The results of the Berkeley effort are expected to be applicable both to energy production and waste storage strategies, including carbon capture and sequestration.

You can read more about this Berkeley project in the article, “Underground Science: Berkeley Lab Digs Deep For Clean Energy Solutions,” on the Global Energy World website at the following link:

Make ethanol

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have defined an efficient electrochemical process for converting CO2 into ethanol. While direct electrochemical conversion of CO2 to useful products has been studied for several decades, the yields of most reactions have been very low (single-digit percentages) and some required expensive catalysts.

Key points about the new process developed by ORNL are:

  • The electro-reduction process occurs in CO2 saturated water at ambient temperature and pressure with modest electrical requirements
  • The nanotechnology catalyst is made from inexpensive materials: carbon nanospike (CNS) electrode with electro-nucleated copper nanoparticles (Cu/CNS). The Cu/CNS catalyst is unusual because it primarily produces ethanol.
  • Process yield (conversion efficiency from CO2 to ethanol) is high: about 63%
  • The process can be scaled up.
  • A process like this could be used in an energy storage / conversion system that consumes extra electricity when it’s available and produces / stores ethanol for later use.

You can read more on this process in the 19 October 2016 article, “Scientists just accidentally discovered a process that turns CO2 directly into ethanol,” on the Science Alert website at the following link

The full paper is available on the Chemistry Select website at the following link:





International Energy Agency (IEA) Assesses World Energy Trends

The IEA issued two important reports in late 2016, brief overviews of which are provided below.

World Energy Investment 2016 (WEI-2016)

In September 2016, the IEA issued their report, “World Energy Investment 2016,” which, they state, is intended to addresses the following key questions:

  • What was the level of investment in the global energy system in 2015? Which countries attracted the most capital?
  • What fuels and technologies received the most investment and which saw the biggest changes?
  • How is the low fuel price environment affecting spending in upstream oil and gas, renewables and energy efficiency? What does this mean for energy security?
  • Are current investment trends consistent with the transition to a low-carbon energy system?
  • How are technological progress, new business models and key policy drivers such as the Paris Climate Agreement reshaping investment?

The following IEA graphic summarizes key findings in WEI-2016 (click on the graphic to enlarge):


You can download the Executive Summary of WEI-2016 at the following link:

At this link, you also can order an individual copy of the complete report for a price (between €80 – €120).

You also can download a slide presentation on WEI 2016 at the following link:

World Energy Outlook 2016 (WEO-2016)

The IEA issued their report, “World Energy Outlook 2016,” in November 2016. The report addresses the expected transformation of the global energy mix through 2040 as nations attempt to meet national commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, which entered into force on 4 November 2016.

You can download the Executive Summary of WEO-2016 at the following link:

At this link, you also can order an individual copy of the complete report for a price (between €120 – €180).

The following IEA graphic summarizes key findings in WEO-2016 (click on the graphic to enlarge):


New Catalyst Could Greatly Reduce the Cost of Splitting Water

Splitting water (H2O) is the process of splitting the water molecule into its constituent parts: hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction or lowers the energy required to get a reaction started, without being consumed itself in a chemical reaction.

Water moleculeWater molecule.  Source: Laguna Design, Getty Images

A new catalyst, created as a thin film crystal comprised of one layer of iridium oxide (IrOx) and one layer of strontium iridium oxide (SrIrO3), is described in a September 2016 article by Umair Irfan entitled, “How Catalyst Could Split Water Cheaply.” This article is available on the Scientific American website at the following link:

The new catalyst, which is the only known catalyst to work in acid, applies to the oxygen evolution reaction; the slower half of the water-splitting process.

Author Irfan notes that, “Many of the artificial methods of making hydrogen and oxygen from water require materials that are too expensive, require too much energy or break down too quickly in real-world conditions…” The availability of a stable catalyst that can significantly improve the speed and economics of water splitting could help promote the shift toward more widespread use of clean, renewable fuels. The potential benefits include:

  • May significantly improve hydrogen fuel economics
  • May allow water splitting to compete with other technologies (i.e., batteries and pumped storage) for energy storage. See my 4 March 2016 posting on the growing need for grid energy storage.
  • May improve fuel cells

At this point, it is not clear exactly how the IrOx / SrIrO3 catalyst works, so more research is needed before the practicality of its use in industrial processes can be determined.

The complete paper, “A highly active and stable IrOx/SrIrO3 catalyst for the oxygen evolution reaction,” by Seitz, L. et al., is available to subscribers on the Science magazine website at the following link:


Floating Wave-powered Generators Offer the Potential for Commercial-scale Energy Harvesting From the Ocean

The idea of extracting energy from wave motion in the open ocean is not a new one. This energy source is renewable and relatively persistent in comparison to wind and solar power. However, no commercial-scale wave power generator currently is in operation anywhere in the world. The primary issues hindering deployment of this technology are:

  • the complexity of harnessing wave power
  • the long-term impact of the harsh ocean environment (storms, constant pounding from the sea, corrosive effects of salt water) on the generating equipment
  • the high cost of generating electricity from wave power relative to almost all other energy sources, including wind and solar

In April 2014, Dave Levitan posted an article entitled, “Why Wave Power Has Lagged Far Behind as Energy Source,” on the Environment360 website. You can read this article at the following link:

You’ll find a June 2014 presentation entitled, “Wave Energy Technology Brief,” by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) at the following link:

The general consensus seems to be that the wave energy industry is at about the same level of maturity as the wind and solar energy industries were about 30 years ago, in the 1980s.

Several U.S. firms offer autonomous floating devices that are capable of extracting energy from the motion of ocean waves and generating usable, persistent, renewable electric power. Two of the leaders in this field are Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. (OPT) in Pennington, NJ (with subsidiaries in the UK and Australia) and Northwest Energy Innovations, LLC (NWEI) in Portland, OR. Let’s take a look at their products

Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. (OPT)

OPT ( is the developer of the PowerBuoy®, which is a moored ocean buoy that extracts energy from the heave (vertical motion) of ocean waves and converts this into electrical energy for marine applications (i.e., offshore oil, gas, scientific and military applications) or for distribution to onshore facilities and/or connection to an onshore electric power grid. OPT currently offers PowerBuoy® in two power output ranges: up to 350 watts and up to 15 kW.

PowerBuoy   Source: OPT

The modest output from individual PowerBuoys® can be combined via an Undersea Substation Pod into a scalable wave farm to deliver significant power output to the intended user.

PowerBuoy wave farmOPT wave farm concept. Source: OPT

You’ll find a description of PowerBuoy® design and operation on the OPT website at the following link:

OPT describes their PowerBuoy® as follows:

“The PowerBuoy consists of a float, spar, and heave plate as shown in the (following) schematic…… The float moves up and down the spar in response to the motion of the waves. The heave plate maintains the spar in a relatively stationary position. The relative motion of the float with respect to the spar drives a mechanical system contained in the spar that converts the linear motion of the float into a rotary one. The rotary motion drives electrical generators that produce electricity for the payload or for export to nearby marine applications using a submarine electrical cable. This high performance wave energy conversion system generates power even in moderate wave environments.

The PowerBuoy’s power conversion and control systems provide continuous power for these applications under the most challenging marine conditions. The spar contains space for additional battery capacity if required to ensure power is provided to a given application even under extended no wave conditions.”

PowerBuoy diagram    Source: OPT

On the OPT website, you’ll find several technical presentations on the PowerBuoy® at the following link:

Northwest Energy Innovations, LLC (NWEI)

NWEI ( is the developer of the Azura™ wave energy device, which is a moored ocean buoy that extracts power from both the heave (vertical motion) and surge (horizontal motion) of waves to maximize energy extraction. Electric power is generated by the relative motion of a rotating / oscillating float and the hull of the Azura™ wave energy device.

Hull-Float-Pod   Source: NWEI

You can see a short video on the operating principle of the Azura™ wave energy device at the following link:

In 2012, the Azura prototype was fabricated and deployed at the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) ocean test site offshore from Newport, OR.

NNMREC site mapSource: flickr / Oregon State University

On May 30, 2015, under a Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Navy sponsored program, NWEI deployed the improved Azura™ prototype at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site at the Marine Corps Base, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. The Azura prototype extends 12 feet above the surface and 50 feet below the surface. It generates up to 18 kW of electricity.

NWETS site photo Source: NWEI

You can view a short video on the Azura being installed at the offshore site in Kaneohe Bay at the following link:

In September 2016, the Azura™ prototype reached a notable milestone when it became the first wave-powered generator connected to a U.S. commercial power grid.


I think we all can all agree that the technology for wave-generated power still is pretty immature. The cost of wave-generated power currently is very high in comparison to most alternatives, including wind and solar power. Nonetheless, there is a lot of energy in ocean waves and the energy density can be higher than wind or solar. As the technology matures, this is an industry worth watching, but you’ll have to be patient.



Bio-fuel at Less Than Half the Price

1.  New process for manufacturing bio-fuel

The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) is a Department of Energy (DOE) bioenergy research center dedicated to developing advanced bio-fuels, which are liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass. Such fuels currently are replacing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels in selected applications.

On 1 July 2016, a team of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) scientists working at JBEI published a paper entitled, “CO2 enabled process integration for the production of cellulosic ethanol using bionic liquids.” The new process reported in this paper greatly simplifies the industrial manufacturing of bio-fuel and significantly reduces waste stream volume and toxicity as well as manufacturing cost.

The abstract provides further information:

“There is a clear and unmet need for a robust and affordable biomass conversion technology that can process a wide range of biomass feedstocks and produce high yields of fermentable sugars and bio-fuels with minimal intervention between unit operations. The lower microbial toxicity of recently developed renewable ionic liquids (ILs), or bionic liquids (BILs), helps overcome the challenges associated with the integration of pretreatment with enzymatic saccharification and microbial fermentation. However, the most effective BILs known to date for biomass pretreatment form extremely basic pH solutions in the presence of water, and therefore require neutralization before the pH range is acceptable for the enzymes and microbes used to complete the biomass conversion process. Neutralization using acids creates unwanted secondary effects that are problematic for efficient and cost-effective biorefinery operations using either continuous or batch modes.

We demonstrate a novel approach that addresses these challenges through the use of gaseous carbon dioxide to reversibly control the pH mismatch. This approach enables the realization of an integrated biomass conversion process (i.e., “single pot”) that eliminates the need for intermediate washing and/or separation steps. A preliminary technoeconomic analysis indicates that this integrated approach could reduce production costs by 50–65% compared to previous IL biomass conversion methods studied.”

 Regarding the above abstract, here are a couple of useful definitions:

  • Ionic liquids: powerful solvents composed entirely of paired ions that can be used to dissolve cellulosic biomass into sugars for fermentation.
  • Enzymatic saccharification: breaking complex carbohydrates such as starch or cellulose into their monosaccharide (carbohydrate) components, which are the simplest carbohydrates, also known as single sugars.

The paper was published on-line in the journal, Energy and Environmental Sciences, which you can access via the following link:!divAbstract

Let’s hope they’re right about the significant cost reduction for bio-fuel production.

2.  Operational use of bio-fuel

One factor limiting the wide-scale use of bio-fuel is its higher price relative to the conventional fossil fuels it is intended to replace. The prospect for significantly lower bio-fuel prices comes at a time when operational use of bio-fuel is expanding, particularly in commercial airlines and in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). These bio-fuel users want advanced bio-fuels that are “drop-in” replacements to traditional gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. This means that the advanced bio-fuels need to be compatible with the existing fuel distribution and storage infrastructure and run satisfactorily in the intended facilities and vehicles without introducing significant operational or maintenance / repair / overhaul (MRO) constraints.

You will find a fact sheet on the DoD bio-fuel program at the following link:

The “drop in” concept can be difficult to achieve because a bio-fuel may have different energy content and properties than the petroleum fuel it is intended to replace. You can find a Department of Energy (DOE) fuel properties comparison chart at the following link:

Another increasingly important factor affecting the deployment of bio-fuels is that the “water footprint” involved in growing the biomass needed for bio-fuel production and then producing the bio-fuel is considerably greater than the water footprint for conventional hydrocarbon fuel extraction and production.

 A.  Commercial airline use of bio-fuel:

Commercial airlines became increasingly interested in alternative fuels after worldwide oil prices peaked near $140 in 2008 and remained high until 2014.

A 2009 Rand Corporation technical report, “Near-term Feasibility of Alternative Jet Fuels,” provides a good overview of issues and timescales associated with employment of bio-fuels in the commercial aviation industry. Important findings included:

  • Drop-in” fuels have considerable advantages over other alternatives as practical replacements for petroleum-based aviation fuel.
  • Alcohols do not offer direct benefits to aviation, primarily because high vapor pressure poses problems for high-altitude flight and safe fuel handling. In addition, the reduced energy density of alcohols relative to petroleum-based aviation fuel would substantially reduced aircraft operating capabilities and would be less energy efficient.
  • Biodiesel and biokerosene, collectively known as FAMEs, are not appropriate for use in aviation, primarily because they leave deposits at the high temperatures found in aircraft engines, freeze at higher temperatures than petroleum-based fuel, and break down during storage

You can download this Rand report at the following link

After almost two years of collaboration with member airlines and strategic partners, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published the report, “IATA Guidance Material for Biojet Fuel Management,” in November 2012. A key finding in this document is the following:

“To be acceptable to Civil Aviation Authorities, aviation turbine fuel must meet strict chemical and physical criteria. There exist several specifications that authorities refer to when describing acceptable conventional jet fuel such as ASTM D1655 and Def Stan 91-91. At the time of issue, blends of up to 50% biojet fuel produced through either the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process or the hydroprocessing of oils and fats (HEFA – hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) are acceptable for use under these specifications, but must first be certified under ASTM D7566. Once the blend has demonstrated compliance with the relevant product specifications, it may be regarded as equivalent to conventional jet fuel in most applications.“

You can download this IATA document at the following link:

In 2011, KLM flew the world’s first commercial bio-fuel flight, carrying passengers from Amsterdam to Paris. Also in 2011, Aeromexico flew the world’s first bio-fuel trans-Atlantic revenue passenger flight, from Mexico City to Madrid.

In March 2015, United Airlines (UA) inaugurated use of bio-fuel on flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Eventually, UA plans to expand the use of bio-fuel to all flights operating from LAX. UA is the first U.S. airline to use renewable fuel for regular commercial operation.

Many other airlines worldwide are in various stages of bio-fuel testing and operational use.

B.  U.S. Navy use of bio-fuel:

The Navy is deploying bio-fuel in shore facilities, aircraft, and surface ships. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has established a goal to replace half of the Navy’s conventional fuel supply with renewables by 2020.

In 2012, the Navy experimented with a 50:50 blend of traditional petroleum-based fuel and biofuel made from waste cooking oil and algae oil.   This blend was used successfully on about 40 U.S. surface ships that participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise with ships of other nations. The cost of pure bio-fuel fuel for this demonstration was about $26.00 per gallon, compared to about $3.50 per gallon for conventional fuel at that time.

In 2016, the Navy established the “Great Green Fleet” (GGF) as a year-long initiative to demonstrate the Navy’s ability to transform its energy use.

Great Green Fleet logo          Source: U.S. Navy

The Navy described this initiative as follows:

“The centerpiece of the Great Green Fleet is a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) that deploys on alternative fuels, including nuclear power for the carrier and a blend of advanced bio-fuel made from beef fat and traditional petroleum for its escort ships. These bio-fuels have been procured by DON (Department of Navy) at prices that are on par with conventional fuels, as required by law, and are certified as “drop-in” replacements that require no engine modifications or changes to operational procedures.”

Deployment of the Great Green Fleet started in January 2016 with the deployment of Strike Group 3 and its flagship, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. The conventionally-powered ships in the Strike Group are using a blend of 10% bio-fuel and 90% petroleum. The Navy originally aimed for a 50:50 ratio, but the cost was too high. The Navy purchased about 78 million gallons of blended bio-fuel for the Great Green Fleet at a price of $2.05 per gallon.

C.  U.S. Air Force use of bio-fuel:

The USAF has a goal of meeting half its domestic fuel needs with alternative sources by 2016, including aviation fuel.

The Air Force has been testing different blends of jet fuel and biofuels known generically as Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ). This class of fuel uses triglycerides and free fatty acids from plant oils and animal fats as the feedstock that is processed to create a hydrocarbon aviation fuel.

To meet its energy plan, the USAF plans to use a blend that combines military-grade fuel known as JP-8 with up to 50 percent HRJ. The Air Force also has certified a 50:50 blend of Fisher-Tropsch synthetic kerosene and conventional JP-8 jet fuel across its fleet.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency (AFCESA), headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida is responsible for certifying the USAF aviation fuel infrastructure to ensure its readiness to deploy blended JP-8/bio-fuel.


U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Early Release of a Summary of its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) Provides a Disturbing View of Our Nation’s Energy Future

Each year, the EIA issues an Annual Energy Outlook that provides energy industry recent year data and projections for future years. The 2016 AEO includes actual data of 2014 and 2015, and projections to 2040. These data include:

  • Total energy supply and disposition demand
  • Energy consumption by sector and source
  • Energy prices by sector and source
  • Key indicators and consumption by sector (Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Transportation)
  • Electricity supply, disposition, prices and emissions
  • Electricity generating capacity
  • Electricity trade

On 17 May, EIA released a PowerPoint summary of AEO2016 along with the data tables used in this Outlook.   The full version of AEO2016 is scheduled for release on 7 July 2016.

You can download EIA’s Early Release PowerPoint summary and any of the data tables at the following link:

EIA explains that this Summary features two cases: the Reference case and a case excluding implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

  • Reference case: A business-as-usual trend estimate, given known technology and technological and demographic trends. The Reference case assumes Clean Power Plan (CPP) compliance through mass-based standards (emissions reduction in metric tones of carbon dioxide) modeled using allowances with cooperation across states at the regional level, with all allowance revenues rebated to ratepayers.
  • No CPP case: A business-as-usual trend estimate, but assumes that CPP is not implemented.

You can find a good industry assessment of the AEO2016 Summary on the Global Energy World website at the following link:

A related EIA document that is worth reviewing is, Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2015, which you will find at the following link:

This report presents the major assumptions of the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) used to generate the projections in AE02015. A 2016 edition of Assumptions is not yet available. The functional organization of NEMS is shown below.


The renewable fuels module in NEMS addresses solar (thermal and photovoltaic), wind (on-shore and off-shore), geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, and conventional hydroelectric.

The predominant renewable sources are solar and wind, both of which are intermittent sources of electric power generation. Except for the following statements, the EIA assumptions are silent on the matter of energy storage systems that will be needed to manage electric power quality and grid stability as the projected use of intermittent renewable generators grows.

  • All technologies except for storage, intermittents and distributed generation can be used to meet spinning reserves
  • The representative solar thermal technology assumed for cost estimation is a 100-megawatt central-receiver tower without integrated energy storage
  • Pumped storage hydroelectric, considered a nonrenewable storage medium for fossil and nuclear power, is not included in the supply

In my 4 March 2016 post, “Dispatchable Power from Energy Storage Systems Help Maintain Grid Stability,” I addressed the growing importance of such storage systems as intermittent power generators are added to the grid. In the context of the AEO, the EIA fails to address the need for these costly energy storage systems and they fail to allocate the cost of energy storage systems to the intermittent generators that are the source of the growing demand for the energy storage systems. As a result, the projected price of energy from intermittent renewable generators is unrealistically low in the AEO.

Oddly, NEMS does not include a “Nuclear Fuel Module.” Nuclear power is represented in the Electric Market Module, but receives no credit as a non-carbon producing source of electric power. As I reported in my posts on the Clean Power Plan, the CPP gives utilities no incentives to continue operating nuclear power plants or to build new nuclear power plants (see my 27 November 2015 post, “Is EPA Fudging the Numbers for its Carbon Regulation,” and my 2 July 2015 post, “EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction.”). With the current and expected future low price of natural gas, nuclear power operators are at a financial disadvantage relative to operators of large central station fossil power plants. This is the driving factor in the industry trend of early retirement of existing nuclear power plants.

The following 6 May 2016 announcement by Exelon highlights the current predicament of a high-performing nuclear power operator:

“Exelon deferred decisions on the future of its Clinton and Quad Cities plants last fall to give policymakers more time to consider energy market and legislative reforms. Since then, energy prices have continued to decline. Despite being two of Exelon’s highest-performing plants, Clinton and Quad Cities have been experiencing significant losses. In the past six years, Clinton and Quad Cities have lost more than $800 million, combined.“

“Exelon announced today that it will need to move forward with the early retirements of its Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear facilities if adequate legislation is not passed during the spring Illinois legislative session, scheduled to end on May 31 and if, for Quad Cities, adequate legislation is not passed and the plant does not clear the upcoming PJM capacity auction later this month.”

“Without these results, Exelon would plan to retire Clinton Power Station in Clinton, Ill., on June 1, 2017, and Quad Cities Generating Station in Cordova, Ill., on June 1, 2018.”

You can read Exelon’s entire announcement at the following link:

Together the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants have a combined Design Electrical Rating of 2,983 MWe from a non-carbon producing source. For the period 2013 – 2015, the U.S. nuclear power industry as a whole had a net capacity factor of 90.41. That means that the nuclear power industry delivered 90.41% of the DER of the aggregate of all U.S. nuclear power plants. The three Exelon plants being considered for early retirement exceeded this industry average performance with the following net capacity factors: Quad Cities 1 @ 101.27; Quad Cities 2 @ 92.68, and Clinton @ 91.26.

For the same 2013 – 2015 period, EIA reported the following net capacity factors for wind (32.96), solar photovoltaic (27.25), and solar thermal (21.25).  Using the EIA capacity factor for wind generators, the largest Siemens D7 wind turbine, which is rated at 7.0 MWe, delivers an average output of about 2.3 MWe. We would need more than 1,200 of these large wind turbines just to make up for the electric power delivered by the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants. Imagine the stability of that regional grid.

CPP continues subsidies to renewable power generators. In time, the intermittent generators will reduce power quality and destabilize the electric power grid unless industrial-scale energy storage systems are deployed to enable the grid operators to match electricity supply and demand with reliable, dispatchable power.

As a nation, I believe we’re trending toward more costly electricity with lower power quality and reliability.

I hope you share my concerns about this trend.

Dispatchable Power from Energy Storage Systems Help Maintain Grid Stability

On 3 March 2015, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation announced the delivery of the world’s largest energy storage system, which has a rated output of 50 MW and a storage capacity of 300 MWh. The battery-based system is installed in Japan at Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Buzen Power Plant as part of a pilot project to demonstrate the use of high-capacity energy storage systems to balance supply and demand on a grid that has significant, weather-dependent (intermittent), renewable power sources (i.e., solar and/or wind turbine generators). This system offers energy-storage and dispatch capabilities similar to those of a pumped hydro facility. You can read the Mitsubishi press release at the following link:

The energy storage system and associated electrical substation installation at Buzen Power Plant are shown below. The energy storage system is comprised of 63 4-module units, where each module contains sodium-sulfur (NaS) batteries with a rated output of 200 kW. The modules are double stacked to reduce the facility’s footprint and cost.

Buzen Power Plant - JapanSource: Mitsubishi

The following simplified diagram shows how the Mitsubishi grid supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system matches supply with variable demand on a grid with three dispatchable energy sources (thermal, pumped hydro and battery storage) and one non-dispatchable (intermittent) energy source (solar photovoltaic, PV). As demand varies through the day, thermal power plants can maneuver (within limits) to meet increasing load demand, supplemented by pumped hydro and battery storage to meet peak demands and to respond to the short-term variability of power from PV generators. A short-term power excess is used to recharge the batteries. Pumped hydro typically is recharged over night, when the system load demand is lower.

Mitsubishi SCADA

Above diagram: Mitsubishi BLEnDer® RE Battery SCADA System (Source: Mitsubishi)

Battery storage is only one of several technologies available for grid-connected energy storage systems. You can read about the many other alternatives in the December 2013 Department of Energy (DOE) report, “Grid Energy Storage”, which you can download at the following link:

This 2013 report includes the following figure, which shows the rated power of U.S. grid storage projects, including announced projects.

US 2013 grid  storage projectsSource: DOE

As you can see, battery storage systems, such as the Mitsubishi system at Buzen Power Plant, comprise only a small fraction of grid-connected energy storage systems, which currently are dominated in the U.S. by pumped hydro systems. DOE reported that, as of August 2013, there were 202 energy storage systems deployed in the U.S. with a total installed power rating of 24.6 GW. Energy storage capacity (i.e., GWh) was not stated. In contrast, total U.S. installed generating capacity in 2013 was over 1,000 GW, so fully-charged storage systems can support about 2.4% of the nation’s load demand for a short period of time.

Among DOE’s 2013 strategic goals for grid energy storage systems are the following cost goals:

  • Near-term energy storage systems:
    • System capital cost: < $1,750/kW; < $250/kWh
    • Levelized cost: < 20¢ / kWh / cycle
    • System efficiency: > 75%
    • Cycle life: > 4,000 cycles
  • Long-term energy storage systems:
    • System capital cost: < $1,250/kW; < $150/kWh
    • Levelized cost: < 10¢ / kWh / cycle
    • System efficiency: > 80%
    • Cycle life: > 5,000 cycles

Using the DOE near-term cost goals, we can estimate the cost of the energy storage system at the Buzen Power Plant to be in the range from $75 – 87.5 million. DOE estimated that the storage devices contributed 30 – 40% of the cost of an energy storage system.  That becomes a recurring operating cost when the storage devices reach their cycle life limit and need to be replaced.

The Energy Information Agency (EIA) defines capacity factor as the ratio of a generator’s actual generation over a specified period of time to its maximum possible generation over that same period of time. EIA reported the following installed generating capacities and capacity factors for U.S. wind and solar generators in 2015:

US renewable power 2015

Currently there are 86 GW of intermittent power sources connected to the U.S. grid and that total is growing year-on-year. As shown below, EIA expects 28% growth in solar generation and 16% growth in wind generation in the U.S. in 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 1.22.06 PMSource: EIA

The reason we need dispatchable grid storage systems is because of the proliferation of grid-connected intermittent generators and the need for grid operators to manage grid stability regionally and across the nation.

California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program has required that utilities procure 33% of their electricity from “eligible renewable energy resources” by 2020. On 7 October 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill (SB 350) that increased this goal to 50% by 2030. There is no concise definition of “eligible renewable energy resources,” but you can get a good understanding of this term in the 2011 California Energy Commission guidebook, “Renewables Portfolio Standard Eligibility – 4th Edition,” which you can download at the following link:

The “eligible renewable energy resources” include solar, wind, and other resources, several of which would not be intermittent generators.

In 2014, the installed capacity of California’s 1,051 in-state power plants (greater than 0.1 megawatts – MW) was 86.9 GW. These plants produced 198,908 GWh of electricity in 2014. An additional 97,735 GWh (about 33%) was imported from out-of-state generators, yielding a 2014 statewide total electricity consumption of almost 300,000 GWh of electricity. By 2030, 50% of total generation is mandated to be from “eligible renewable energy resources,” and a good fraction of those resources will be operating intermittently at average capacity factors in the range from 22 – 33%.

The rates we pay as electric power customers in California already are among the highest in the nation, largely because of the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program. With the higher targets for 2030, we soon will be paying even more for the deployment, operation and maintenance of massive new grid-connected storage infrastructure that will be needed to keep the state and regional grids stable.