R-Squared Energy Blog

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“Your Passion is Energy”

Saying Goodbye Again

Today is Independence Day in the U.S., but I am spending it in the Netherlands without my family. This has become an all-too-familiar situation for me. I have spent far too many birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays in remote locations away from my family. The time has come to rectify that situation.

Most of my career has revolved around energy. But about a year and a half ago, I decided to try something slightly different. I left my job with ConocoPhillips in Aberdeen, Scotland (and I explained the details behind the decision here), said goodbye to friends and colleagues there, and boarded a plane to the Netherlands. This is where I have spent about half my time since then.

But that chapter is coming to a close. On Monday I will leave Amsterdam for the flight back to Texas. I have made this trip around 20 times in the past 18 months, but I am making the trip for the last time in my current role as Engineering Director for Accsys Technologies. This trip was my farewell tour, and I said my goodbyes to a fine engineering team.

The past year and a half has been both interesting and challenging. We are a small company, so I found myself doing more cross-functional work than at any other time in my career (e.g., writing HR policies). We were staffing up, so I also interviewed numerous people for all sorts of positions. Because our company was the first (and still only) to commercialize our technology, we encountered some unique engineering challenges.

As I look back, I am proud of what my engineering team has accomplished. They have vastly improved our process in the past two years, and we climbed a steep learning curve. We managed to increase the throughput of our plant in Arnhem by a third, while at the same time cutting our energy inputs. With all sincerity, our successes came about because I have a clever and dedicated team of engineers.

And while I believe strongly in the product that we have developed, my job involves about 50% travel. I have engineering teams based in Dallas and in the Netherlands, and I have to try to keep a presence in both locations. I knew that I could keep that up for a while, but not forever. If I continue with this schedule, I will grow old forever haunted by the lyrics to Cat’s in the Cradle.

I have been fortunate over the years to have had a number of different job opportunities present themselves. In the past six months I began to more seriously listen to inquiries. I decided if the right one came along – and it enabled me to spend more time with my family – then I would make a change. The right opportunity has come along.

Future Plans

If I had to describe my ideal job, it would be to bring sustainable energy technologies to the world. I would do a lot of technology evaluation, visiting with universities, small companies, inventors, and entrepreneurs. The goal would be to identify the renewable technologies that I feel can compete in the long-term, and then work to facilitate that future.

One of the most brilliant engineers I have ever met (who will also be a future colleague), recently introduced me to a very successful businessman who has been in the energy business for decades. Because he greatly values his privacy, I will not divulge his name nor the companies he has been involved with. Suffice to say that his vision is long-term, he is realistic, and he has a long track record of successfully building companies. When I met with him, I discussed my current job, and then we started talking about our views on the future of energy. He made a comment that I often hear when I am discussing energy: “Your passion is energy. You should follow your passion.”

After much discussion, which included meetings in Houston, Hawaii, and Hamburg – it was clear that my goals and views were very much aligned with his. We saw a similar future, but were both quite realistic about the challenges of realizing that future. The primary objective for both of us wasn’t to create wealth, but instead to see our current unsustainable way of life nudged toward something more sustainable. We are both concerned that we are leaving a mess for our children to clean up, and we believe we can build something better for them.

I have therefore decided to join forces with him, and will leave my current job on August 1st. I will continue to assist Accsys/Titan Wood with their technology on an as-needed basis, but my primary energies will be focused around the conversion of biomass into value-added products. The specific end product will depend upon the particulars of a situation. I firmly believe that biomass can work, sustainably, in specific niches. As fossil fuel prices rise, the niches will grow as long as the biomass technologies are not heavily dependent upon fossil fuel inputs. We plan to establish ourselves in some of those niches.

I have written in this blog about some of the technologies and companies that we will be involved with. (In fact, it is a long story, but one of my articles was what led to the initial contact, which occurred almost 3 years ago). Other technologies, which I have felt had great potential, I haven’t written about. I am still not yet going to write about them, as we are busy establishing ourselves in various areas and establishing dialogue with different companies. But as one of my new colleagues likes to say “We are technology agnostic.” That simply means that we are open to different technologies and won’t base our business around a single technology.

I will relocate to Hawaii with my family. I estimate that my travel will drop from the current 50% to around 10%, meaning I will get to spend much more time with my family. Based on our plans, when I do travel, I expect my travels will take me to Germany, which is familiar territory, but also to some areas I have not seen, like Southeast Asia.

Why Hawaii? Hawaii offers a unique laboratory for renewable energy. Hawaii has very good renewable resources (sun, wind, geothermal, ocean thermal, biomass, etc.), and no fossil fuel resources. Hawaii should have a small bias toward renewable energy relative to the rest of the U.S., since all fossil fuels must be shipped in for power and transport. And because of the year-round growing season, I can do a lot more experimentation there both with gardening (which I love to do) and with energy crops.

I won’t go into specific details right now about our efforts. We aren’t ready for that yet. Some parts of the business are already far along, and others are just starting. But we won’t be messing around with pie-in-the-sky technologies. That will be one of my key roles: To make sure we are focused where we need to be focused and not wasting our time working toward dead ends.

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July 4, 2009 - Posted by | Accsys Technologies, biomass, Hawaii, Netherlands, Titan Wood

54 Comments

  1. 'Follow your bliss' – Joseph Campbell. Best wishes Robert. Will you still be able to blog?

    Comment by JN2 | July 4, 2009

  2. "Will you still be able to blog?"I will, but I will perhaps need to be more selective about what I write. I don't what to give the appearance of a conflict of interest. Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 4, 2009

  3. Good luck with your new venture, Robert. Just think about the old days pre-fossils, when Yankee sailors went on 3 year round-the-world whaling voyages to provide fuel for lamps. No trips home to the family, not even Skype. We indeed live in fortunate times.One serious question about biomass. I have seen (but never checked) estimates that the entire biological energy conversion of the globe is equivalent to about 45 TeraWatts. Human energy demand is currently running about 15 TW, mainly from fossils, with about 2/3 of the human race still seriously under-served and with a high "Energy Return on Energy Invested" (i.e., lots of usable Net Energy from fossils). Throw in the lower EROEI from non-fossil sources, the essential humanitarian uplifting of our fellows, and a growing global population — we really need sources that can deliver about 100 TW.Better use of any resource (such as biomass) is great, but will it be enough?

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | July 4, 2009

  4. I've enjoyed reading your postings and hope that your new endeavors are successful.Hopefully you can continue to post, if for no other reason than to cause us to think.Best Regards,John

    Comment by JT | July 4, 2009

  5. I believe you make your own luck and those with capacity and desire will do well. Simply saying, I am sure you will do great!You have always been careful to state your conflicts and potential conflicts so I doubt any of us are worried now.I enjoy your blog and look forward to much more – thanks!

    Comment by Russ | July 4, 2009

  6. Good luck RR, many have tried all have failed. When I was developing renewable energy, my wall had maps of NG pipelines, major coal train routes, and locations of power plants. Finding customers who do not have cheap fossil fuel access should be easier. I am aware of one sound project that failed in Hawaii. Unfortunately, Hawaii has lawyers.

    Comment by Kit P | July 4, 2009

  7. Robert, Best of luck with your new venture, and the new location. Wow, Hawaii! We enjoy your perspective and insights, and we hope you'll keep writing. In fact, I just posted a quote from your Wood Gasification Plant Opens post on our Trash Talk journal regarding the potential gasification. Good stuff.Aloha from Darby, MT,Jayhttp://www.biorootenergy.com

    Comment by Jay Toups | July 4, 2009

  8. Congrats on your new job and location, RR. My only advice would be to keep going east, all the way to Thailand! I am sure we all will look forward to your work. I sure hope someone "cracks the code" to successful, commercial biomass-to-fuel production–otherwise, look into planting palm oil trees in Hawaii, and let nature do the work for you. Yields are rising with new hybrids.Keep your blog going. There are few enough true forums on energy on the web.

    Comment by Benjamin | July 4, 2009

  9. "Better use of any resource (such as biomass) is great, but will it be enough?"No, it won't. It is going to take a contribution from several different areas, and even then I think we have to reduce our energy usage for a chance at sustainability.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 4, 2009

  10. Congratulations! And a better place you couldn't have chosen! My family is from Hawaii, and we still spend a decent amount of time there. On which Island will you be located? I've been trying to follow the alternative energy work out there (in hopes of moving back after getting my phd) and it really does seem ideal in some ways, particularly the high sustained winds (something like 50% of peak capacity for turbines!) and the potential for utilizing cold deep water seem very interesting. I have a friend that is also looking at high altitude kites for wind power that is doing some testing out there. Either way, congratulations and I hope your family enjoys the relocation (and decreased travel time)! I look forward to hearing your take on the situation out there.

    Comment by David | July 4, 2009

  11. "Aloha from Darby, MT"Hi Jay,My wife and kids just flew back to Dallas from Billings yesterday after staying up there for a month. If I put it to a vote, they would all like to just move back up there and stay forever. That remains to this day their favorite place of all the places we have lived.Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 4, 2009

  12. "On which Island will you be located?"Toward the north end of the Big Island. My hope is that we can build a model of sustainability out there. Of all the states, I think it has the best shot of achieving something approximating sustainability. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 4, 2009

  13. "look into planting palm oil trees in Hawaii, and let nature do the work for you."I plan to experiment with palm oil, as well as jatropha and Chinese tallow if they are not deemed to be invasive species. They have a very special ecosystem out there, and we will have to take extra precautions as a result.And I do plan to keep the blog going. Only now I will be in a better position to pursue some of the more interesting technologies/companies I have written about.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 4, 2009

  14. Good Luck, Robert.Thanks for the blog, I will continue to read when you write.RBM

    Comment by Anonymous | July 4, 2009

  15. "It is going to take a contribution from several different areas, and even then I think we have to reduce our energy usage for a chance at sustainability."Thanks for sharing that, RR. It is the same impression I have gained — biomass is not the solution.I am a bit skeptical about reducing energy usage. It is very easy to look at the German in his oversized Mercedes and say he needs to cut his energy usage. Not so easy to look at the Bangladeshi scraping in the dirt and make the same statement. Add it all up, and total global power demand really needs to grow.I have looked at this subject from a number of different angles and keep coming back to the same conclusion — if we are serious, we will commit to nuclear power today in a big way. And if we are not serious, then all the rest is merely shifting deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | July 4, 2009

  16. RR-Some people are making noises about pongamia pinnata as well…may be the right choice for many areas…supposedly, yields are higher than palm…

    Comment by Benjamin | July 4, 2009

  17. Your contributions have been extremely valuable, much more so than I suspect you realize.Bloggers usually don’t get much acknowledgment for what they do but good information disseminates rapidly on the net.Unfortunately, so does bullshit. I have linked to your posts uncounted times. Please continue to give your blog at least as much priority.As an example, I recall when it was popular in the lay press to use Brazil as an example of how America could become energy independent.Tom Friedman wrote a long article describing a trip he took to South America to witness this miracle. He came back with glowing reports from all of the politicians and ethanol producers he met.Your clear cut post on the realities of Brazilian energy use pretty much evenhandedly put that urban legend to rest. The lay press can’t deal with issues this complex. The blogosphere has become a kind of sixth estate.I’m going to hazard a guess that your work will have something to do with sugarcane. Sugarcane and palm oil will be very hard to beat with new technology. Cellulosic ethanol research is essentially our attempt to recreate the productivity of sugarcane in a temperate climate.Boeing was forever trying to send me on trips. After a while, I refused to do them. My wife and children meant more to me than promotion and still do. The grass always looks greener on the other side. We can’t have it all.

    Comment by Russ Finley | July 5, 2009

  18. Congratulations, sounds good. You do not want to be haunted by Cats in the Cradle, or, for that matter, Mr. Bojangles.Roberthttp://www.industrializedcyclist.com

    Comment by 57 | July 5, 2009

  19. "I’m going to hazard a guess that your work will have something to do with sugarcane. Sugarcane and palm oil will be very hard to beat with new technology." To tip my hand just a bit, I am very interested in the sugarcane model. I have seen an entire ethanol and ethanol derivatives factory built from sugarcane as a base in India. They used the bagasse for fuel and returned the ash and compost back to the soil. I think that has a realistic shot at being sustainable, provided you use the cane first for the sugar, and then you make ethanol from what's left over.I am also very interested in palm oil, but the guys I will be working with are very sensitive to food versus fuel issues. They don't want to use food or prime crop land to produce fuel. That makes the palm oil issue a bit stickier. Ideally we will find a good oil producer that grows well on marginal land.Those are two of my key interests. We are going to cover a lot more ground than that, though. In fact, the business that is most well-established has nothing to do with either of these options. We will also be involved in sustainability issues outside of just fuel production.Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 5, 2009

  20. I heard that you can't bring back the sugar plantations of old in Hawaii because once the plantations shut down or shrank, they gave up massive water rights that they most likely can't get back. Perhaps farming any kind of biomass in Hawaii could have the same water rights difficulty.http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/Oct/08/ln/FP610080363.html

    Comment by Clee | July 5, 2009

  21. Good luck with your new ventures! I am glad to have met you briefly during an interview and agree very often with your views. May your new path be very succesful!

    Comment by michield | July 5, 2009

  22. "We will also be involved in sustainability issues outside of just fuel production."Got to wish you good luck with that too.Unfortunately, RR, the word "sustainability" has earned the same dubious distinction as "nano" — the wise investor holds his wallet tighter when he hears it.Maybe the first step in your venture should be to find a new untainted word to describe what you are trying to do.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | July 5, 2009

  23. I read a LCA at least 10 years ago that compared anaerobic digesters to process waste to burning it on a tropical island off the coast of Africa. When it rains in tropical areas, it rains hard washing nutrients out of the soil. The organic fertilizer produced by anaerobic digesters retains the nutrients much better.The company I worked for got a contract to build a renewable energy power using sugar cane waste there. I was excited to see what technology would be selected. Who knew coal was renewable energy?

    Comment by Kit P | July 5, 2009

  24. Aloha, Robert! Enjoy your new garden!

    Comment by Rate Crimes | July 5, 2009

  25. Congratulations Robert. Biomass is an industry sorely in need of people like you who don't do wishful thinking, I believe.

    Comment by Nick de Cusa | July 5, 2009

  26. Kinu is correct word "sustainability" has very bad connotation with electricity producers. If the equipment to harvest renewable energy is not "sustainable" then it will just become a picture in a greenwashing campaign. It repairs costs $5000 for every $200 in electricity produced, the bean counters will not let you fix it. Here is a list of equipment for making electricity that is not "sustainable":• Fuel cells• Solar PV• Solar thermal• Wind turbines• Gasification of biomassFor my marketing plan I coined a phrase "sustainable energy integration" which incorporated reliable equipment with "sustainable" environmental practices.

    Comment by Kit P | July 5, 2009

  27. Interesting bit about pongamia…hope RR can improve the breed or its operations….The University of Queensland Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research (CILR) , has begun research to establish the Pongamia Pinnata tree as a resource for Australia’s biodiesel industry.Using Pongamia for biodiesel production has the two-fold environmental benefit of growing trees that store carbon while producing oil for fuel. Pongamia will grow on land not fit for food crops and does not need nitrate fertilisers like most other biofuels crops. How productive it will be under these circumstances is yet to be seen.In a report by the Invasive Species Council called The Weedy Truth About Biofuels the authors rated Pongamia as the least invasive of a range of potential biofuels plants. However, the report still recommends the trees not be planted near sensitive areas such as National Parks due to its propensity to spread.CILR has now agreed to a $1 million research contract with Pacific Renewable Energy (PRE). PRE is set to partner CILR and put in another $1 million as part of a Queensland Government SmartState fund.CILR Director, Professor Peter Gresshoff said:Momentum is really starting to build. We’re getting a proper financial basis for research and now we have to make sure we lay a solid basis for a biodiesel industry in Australia to replace crude oilTwelve hectares of Pongamia planted near Caboolture should, in two or three years, give insight into how its oil handles.PRE was co-founded by George Muirhead. Mr Muirhead had seen the Pongamia oil used as fuel by an academic who was searching for affordable fuels for villagers in Bangalore, India. This research resulted in a village trial in which the oil was used to fuel a generator and that powered a cold room.

    Comment by Benjamin | July 5, 2009

  28. Good Luck.

    Comment by Fat Man | July 5, 2009

  29. Congrats Robert. This sounds like it should be interesting. Can't wait to hear more about it (to the extent that you can talk about it, of course).I took a long hard look at the Big Island a few years ago, because I also think that it is unusually well positioned (and well motivated) to become self sustaining for food and energy. It was also very far from that point culturally — when I was last there, the Big Island was still very much in the mode of an abandoned client state, after big ag moved on. It was still partially paralyzed culturally and economically by that bit of recent history, but all the basic physical resources are in place to move towards food self-sufficiency. Hopefully the local food movement has started to tap into those resources.Point of fact: When I was visiting Hilo from Petaluma CA, all the grocery store chicken was from… Petaluma, CA. Bizzarre, but there you have it.I'll be particularly curious to hear how the gardening goes. One of the big appeals of Hawai'i is that if I have to go to plan C (subsidence farming), I'm pretty sure Hawai'i is the only place in the US where I could do so and maybe still have time to do anything else BUT work on growing food. But a friend of mine who had lived there and gardened for some years (in Honolulu, granted) said that she experienced a level of plant disease and predation unlike anything she has seen before or since, which would obviate those advantages. So I'll be very curious about your experience.Are you going to be working with the OTEC facility folks on the Kona side of the island? Or is your new company an entirely separate group?

    Comment by GreenEngineer | July 5, 2009

  30. Congrats Robert,What a great time to have engineering or bioscience skills. Perhaps we will look back at this time as a golden age. May you have great success, always make payroll and not need to depend on the gov to make the numbers work!

    Comment by takchess | July 6, 2009

  31. On the other hand, a little guvmint money never hurt.;)

    Comment by rufus | July 6, 2009

  32. Make us an incinerator that produces electricity Robert. A better burn barrel. Something those of us with net-metering can put to work. It would have to be virtually smokeless for us city dwellers. Filters that could be hosed off would be nice. There're wood fired boilers out there. Even wood pellet electrical generators,for the commercial market. But,there's nothing for the guy who doesn't mind chopping his own wood…..or seperating paper products before taking out the garbage.

    Comment by Maury | July 6, 2009

  33. I live in South Texas and have recently been trying to figure out if plam trees ect would down here.I live on the northern edge of the freeze line of orange trees production in the valley in south texas.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 6, 2009

  34. Maury:  you should be able to do something with a combustion engine fueled by a gasogene.  I've got many of the pieces of such a setup but I'm lacking some of the skills to put it all together (like knowing how to weld).I disagree that we need to "power down", any time soon or necessarily ever except over a geological time scale.  We are swimming in energy; rooftop PV can supply a US level of electricity in most of the world, to give just one example.  The world also has thousands of years of thorium.  What we cannot supply from renewable resources (barring some breakthrough with algae) is a huge supply of liquid and solid fuels.

    Comment by Engineer-Poet | July 6, 2009

  35. Anon-I know a little about palms, having considered planting palm in Thailand. For best results, you need to be within 10 degress latitude of the equator. It used to be 5 degrees, but new hydrids have widned the range. There are "cold-tolerant" oil palms (still a warm weather plant) that may work in Texas; they are used in parts of Africa. Basically, the hotter and wetter it is, the more the oil palms like it. The south tip of Florida comes to mind.You may wish to check out the Pongamia Pinnata, a more durable and ready tree, that can grow in Texas easily, and offers higher yields per acre than palm. Pongamia Pinnate has other qualities, such as nitrogen-fixing the soil, and deep taproots. It ay be a real winner.

    Comment by Benny "The Hopemonger" Cole | July 6, 2009

  36. Robert – best of luck to you. Sounds very exciting. It will also be a challenge to working on a smaller scale. There are only 200,000 inhabitants on the big island.

    Comment by KingofKaty | July 6, 2009

  37. Mai-ka 'i pomai-ka 'i

    Comment by Anonymous | July 6, 2009

  38. Good luck, RR!I can't wait to see what will happen now that there is a proper sharp pencil in the renewable energy business…Must be a technology with a serious chance of working, if they managed to rope you. One that passes the fundamental smell test, as well as the underlying business potential. I, for one, can't wait to hear more…Make us an incinerator that produces electricity Robert…. But,there's nothing for the guy who doesn't mind chopping his own wood…Not sure it makes sense to do this on the in your own backyard scale…

    Comment by Optimist | July 6, 2009

  39. Congratulations, Robert. A great post, and a great theme. Well done.

    Comment by www.gregor.us | July 7, 2009

  40. Congratulations Robert. Like your work…

    Comment by Dennis Moore | July 7, 2009

  41. I don't know either Optimist. Is it better to have a nuclear plant producing 1000 megawatts or 1,000,000 people producing 1000 watts? Louisiana has a net-metering law that allows for biomass electrical production. I don't know how much heat energy the two 50-gallon cans of trash we usually fill twice a week would produce,but right now it's all wasted. The garbage truck brings it to the landfill where it's buried. If I put out limbs or boards,or anything heavier than 10 lbs.,I've got to call for the "white truck". A container truck with a grappling device. I've mentioned my arborist friend before,who pays $40 a ton to dump wood at the landfill. It gets burned,and doesn't produce a thing. If heat is energy,we're wasting a boatload of it at the landfills.Engineer-Poet,I can't weld either. Worse,I wouldn't know which parts went where,LOL.

    Comment by Maury | July 7, 2009

  42. "Must be a technology with a serious chance of working, if they managed to rope you. One that passes the fundamental smell test, as well as the underlying business potential. I, for one, can't wait to hear more…"Not a single technology, but multiple technologies that we feel can work in certain situations. In fact, some are working unsubsidized in different areas today. Nothing exotic here; just straight forward engineering combined with an understanding of where the biomass sources happen to be, and what might work in specific situations.Cheers, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 7, 2009

  43. "Perhaps farming any kind of biomass in Hawaii could have the same water rights difficulty."Clee, thanks for that. I bookmarked it. The thing about the water, though, is that the eastern half of the Big Island is rain forest. I think they get plenty of rain for biomass that I don't believe even sugarcane would require irrigation.Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 7, 2009

  44. "Maybe the first step in your venture should be to find a new untainted word to describe what you are trying to do."Funny you mention that, because we have been discussing it. We want to stay away from buzzwords like "green" and "bio." You may be right about sustainability. True sustainability is important in the long run, but I don't think most people really appreciate what that means.Cheers, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 7, 2009

  45. "Point of fact: When I was visiting Hilo from Petaluma CA, all the grocery store chicken was from… Petaluma, CA. Bizzarre, but there you have it."Similar situation with their beef. They have a very large cattle ranch out there – the Parker Ranch – but they ship the cattle to California for slaughter and processing. They then ship the meat back to Hawaii."But a friend of mine who had lived there and gardened for some years (in Honolulu, granted) said that she experienced a level of plant disease and predation unlike anything she has seen before or since, which would obviate those advantages. So I'll be very curious about your experience."I expect that. I am growing a garden in Texas without any pesticides, and the bugs are just ripping through everything. I need to get better at organic techniques for controlling them. "Are you going to be working with the OTEC facility folks on the Kona side of the island? Or is your new company an entirely separate group?"A separate group, but I am aware of the OTEC group and plan to go visit with them. There is a group at present trying to make some things happen on that front, and I would like to gain a better understanding of where things stand at that facility.Our efforts are going to extend far beyond Hawaii, though. Lots of projects in Europe, North America, and Asia. Cheers, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 7, 2009

  46. Water.That is the problem we keep running into. I've been looking at large scale biomass gasification. To make it work I need 4 things: 1) Large continguous, flat, cheap, marginal land capable of supporting a fast growing biomass crop with minimal transportation costs. 2) Near enhanced oil recovery fields, or depleted gas fields for inexpensive CO2 sequestration. (We plan to sell credits to subsidize the biomass operation.) 3) Near natural gas pipeline or large electric transmission lines (need very high dispatch). 4) Large volumes of water for cooling and to provide hydrogen for the energy carrier. So far we haven't found the right place yet. Hawaii might work because energy prices are extemely high, you may not need the CO2 sequestration credits. But land is expensive. There is no or limited market for natural gas – so you are making electricity. Then you have to deal with dispatch issues.

    Comment by KingofKaty | July 7, 2009

  47. Sorry King, I see things a bit different:1) Large continguous, flat, cheap, marginal land capable of supporting a fast growing biomass crop with minimal transportation costs.Surely a big landfill meets all of those requirements, with NO new transportation costs? 2) Near enhanced oil recovery fields, or depleted gas fields for inexpensive CO2 sequestration. (We plan to sell credits to subsidize the biomass operation.)If the process is already carbin neutral (carbon in the feedstock came from CO2 as the plant grew), why do you need sequestration?3) Near natural gas pipeline or large electric transmission lines (need very high dispatch).OK, I'll spot you that one. 4) Large volumes of water for cooling and to provide hydrogen for the energy carrier.Huh? You need hydrogen? Surely biomass has more than enough hydrogen?As far as cooling is concerned: I'd suggest you put all that excess heat to productive use, perhaps to produce boiler feedwater via membrane distillation.Water. That is the problem we keep running into.No need to sweat it. When water eventually gets sold for what it is worth we'll figure out: You know, we CAN drink treated toilet water. As they have been doing in Windhoek, Namibia for ~50 years…

    Comment by Optimist | July 8, 2009

  48. Not a single technology, but multiple technologies that we feel can work in certain situations. In fact, some are working unsubsidized in different areas today. Nothing exotic here; just straight forward engineering combined with an understanding of where the biomass sources happen to be, and what might work in specific situations.Crud. Now you really have me interested. You need any help over there?

    Comment by Optimist | July 8, 2009

  49. thanks for that. I bookmarked it. The thing about the water, though, is that the eastern half of the Big Island is rain forest. I think they get plenty of rain for biomass that I don't believe even sugarcane would require irrigation.Good to know. I had noticed that the link was mostly about islands other than the Big Island. I wish you best of luck in your endeavors on Hawaii and elsewhere.

    Comment by Clee | July 8, 2009

  50. Optimist – We are talking a different scale here. Land – we are looking at 5,000 – 10,000 tons per day. We'd clean out a landfill pretty quick. EOR – NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas is selling for $3.36 / million BTUs today. It is very hard to compete with cheap natural gas. You need both revenue from selling the CO2 for EOR ($5-$30 per ton), plus the CO2 credits ($15-$90 per ton) to enhance the revenue. Our thought is to maximize the revenue stream.3) Near infrastructure – gasifiers work best if they operate 24/7. Most power plants dispatch at 70% or less. So you need pipelines or large transmission to take away the product. 4) The hydrogen balance depends on what product you are making. To go to natural gas (or methanol), you need a 4:1 H:C. Cellolose (C6H10O5) has 1.7:1 ratio. You inject steam into the gasifier and use water-gas shift reaction to convert water to H2 and CO in the proper proportions. A small portion of the water gets used as H2. The process creates massive amounts of waste heat. Usually we recover this as electricity in a steam turbine. That requires cooling. Most of the water losses come from evaporation. We could use air cooling but it would be more expensive. Yes, you could purify water – but can't make any money doing it. As you say, water is cheap and the farmers have a lock on it.

    Comment by KingofKaty | July 8, 2009

  51. Land – we are looking at 5,000 – 10,000 tons per day. We'd clean out a landfill pretty quick.That IS massive, King! Why does it have to be so large?Evidence to the contrary:1. Long Beach, California operates a 1,380 ton/day waste-to-energy (electrical power) Facility. "[T]he City of Long Beach has been operating the Southeast Resource Recovery Facility (SERRF) since the mid 1980s. SERRF not only generates electrical power for the surrounding community, it recovers valuable, recyclable materials."2. International Environmental Solutions operate a 124 tpd facility in Romoland, CA, that can reportedly produce between 3 and 5MW. This is a gasification plant, using their so-called Advanced Pyrolytic System(R). Much potential for fuel production rather than electrical power.To go to natural gas (or methanol), you need a 4:1 H:C.Are those your best products? I guess methanol, liquid product, widely used in the chemical industry, probably relatively easy to produce would make sense.

    Comment by Optimist | July 10, 2009

  52. R.R. It sounds like you are going to be writing a book about your next experiences R.R.Good luck settling in on the Big Island with your family. Give my bro Matt a jingle and he'll provide you what advise that he can having lived there for 22+ years.And Billings? I know what your family is missing having been raised and schooled in Billings myself. The Big Sky Country and it's citizens gets into one's blood too… I know that you will enjoy jetting around far less. Persue your alternative energy passions. Last: I hope you are not dissatisfied with biomass conversion in any of it's multitudes of forms. Growing anything agri for it's renewable carbon to be utilized as a fuel source really isn't sustainable. I'll leave it at that – unless you are focused on gasifying beetle-killed pine. There certainly is some of this type of feedstock in Alberta and beyond.Mark

    Comment by Anonymous | July 14, 2009

  53. Gasify it?  There's no network to carry gas out of forests, and no national network unless you convert it to methane.  Torrefied biomass or bio-oil are the obvious candidates for portable products from dead timber.

    Comment by Engineer-Poet | July 16, 2009

  54. I've been using intensive horticulture. High production per unit land, but a lot of labor. You might have someone keep an eye out for ways of using this in your work.

    Comment by DDHv | August 1, 2009


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