R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Lifting the Veil

Over the next six weeks, I will start to talk publicly about what we are putting together in Hawaii. There isn’t a specific strategic reason for doing so at this time, nor is it for the purpose of soliciting investors. The deal is that I have three speaking engagements between now and mid-November, and I believe it will be necessary to spell out the details and answer questions over our activities.

There have been very specific reasons for keeping a low profile. One is that we believe some of our technology pursuits are completely novel. We would rather not call attention to this until we have things nailed down a bit better. Another reason is that there will be specific competition for certain other technologies and biomass resources. Speaking publicly about those details could hamper our efforts.

But I can talk in broader terms about what we are doing, and I will do so at these speaking engagements. Further, in the next few days I will post some bits on my blog that will fill in some of the details.

My schedule between now and mid-November looks like this. This week, I have to go to Panama for a meeting. On the way back, I fly to San Francisco and will speak at the First Nations’ Futures Institute at Stanford University:

First Nations’ Futures Program

I will be on a panel session on October 27th with Stanford Professor Margot Gerritsen on the topics of energy and sustainability.

On November 11th, I will be on a panel at the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in Honolulu. The topic is Specialty Crops, Renewable Feedstocks, & Sustainability.

On November 16th, I will be on the opening plenary session at a conference in Orlando on alternative energy and globalization:

The Economics of Alternative Energy Sources and Globalization: The Road Ahead

I have received some requests since coming to Hawaii about what we are working on, and I did the first interview on that over the weekend. It is still purposely vague on some technology specifics, but the other details will be laid out as needed:

Our Holistic Approach

I say this again and again, and sometimes I can feel my co-workers wince when I say it: The primary goals here are all long-term, and as such we aren’t planning to make fast money. On the other hand, we are trying to put something together that has staying power, and that can make a real net contribution.

Additional details to follow in the next post.

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October 20, 2009 - Posted by | alternative energy, Hawaii, sustainability

41 Comments

  1. Best of luck RR in your continued ventures. What I will be interested in learning from your own exploits is will ANY biomass source which is annually planted, tended, watered, grown and harvested for it's carbonaceous BTU content actually be able to compete with free or nearly free sources of society's waste streams?I'm sure you'll have a great time in delineating appropriate technologies like specific gasifiers to cleanly convert specific feedstocks. And what happens IF you might find that coal becomes integral to any mix?Cliff

    Comment by Anonymous | October 20, 2009

  2. Love it Robert – looking to hearing more in time to come!

    Comment by russ | October 20, 2009

  3. RR,Congrats on the new gig. I read the earth2tech interview this morning and look forward to hearing more details.

    Comment by Nathan Schock | October 20, 2009

  4. Merica’s ultimate goal is to use its large portfolio of companies to provide sustainable bioenergy solutions for communities, using local energy solutions and completely removing petroleum inputs from the equation, explained Rapier.I hope he misquoted you on this. A goal of completely removing petroleum inputs is a recipe for failure. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Target 70-90% reduction for launch, deal with the rest later.

    Comment by doggydogworld | October 20, 2009

  5. Best of luck to RR and everyone else pursuing biofuels.I wonder if abundant and cheap natural gas, and steadily improving lithium batteries represent better pathways to our future in North America. Let the market decide! However, if RR and other bio-fuelers can figure out how to become "farmers" and get themselves under the protective cowl of the Department of Agriculture, I see a long, prosperous future for bio-fuelers.We have been subsidizing farmers since the Dust Bowl, now 70 years. Certainly, this practice will continue for a full century.Maybe there is a century's worth of subsidies out there for bio-fuelers too.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | October 20, 2009

  6. Good luck with things Robert, I'm really interested to see what is happening with your work.This question is meant with the best of intentions…Working on energy and sustainability, how do you reconcile doing all the traveling that you do? Is your new company tracking energy usage and CO2 emissions from all activities, including travel? I think it is important for us to walk the walk…and I'm sure you've given this some thoughts and would love to hear them.

    Comment by craig | October 20, 2009

  7. Ben,OT but….Forecast: 17M Natural Gas Vehicles Worldwide by 201519 October 2009Cleantech research firm Pike Research forecasts growth in natural gas vehicles (NGV) on the road worldwide to 17 million units by 2015, up from 9.7 million in 2008. Pike Research forecasts that the NGV market will grow globally at a CAGR of 5.5% to reach just over 3 million vehicles (including conversions) by 2015.The top five markets for NGVs are currently Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, and India. Pike Research anticipates India will be the fastest-growing NGV market with a CAGR of 18.4% between 2008 and 2015. This rapid expansion will largely be due to the availability of refueling stations and the growth of government emissions rules in large cities in India.John

    Comment by Anonymous | October 20, 2009

  8. "I wonder if abundant and cheap natural gas, and steadily improving lithium batteries represent better pathways to our future in North America." Absolutely Benny. Better batteries for cars and light trucks. Natural gas for 18-wheelers and heavy machinery. Still,we'll need all the biofuels we can muster for airplanes and industrial use. That last category uses something like a third of crude production.

    Comment by Maury | October 20, 2009

  9. I wonder if abundant and cheap natural gas, and steadily improving lithium batteries represent better pathways to our future in North America.Benny,Yes, but add to that nuclear power. We'll still need to generate the electricity those better batteries will store.Natural gas will be able to do some of that, but nuclear power has to be part of the calculus in our energy future.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 20, 2009

  10. John-Yes, I posted that in the last round of posts. Interesting news. The globe is going NG.Wendell-I am pro-nuke, pro-mini-nukes, and wonder why US industry has not come up with a single design that can be approved by the NERC, and then replicated often. Maury-I have nothign against biofuels, and I think both Palm Oi and Pngamia Pinneta oil are competitive.I like the idea of a PHEV that uses pure ethanol as onboard generating fuel (or methanol). Obviously, if our entire fleet switched to CNG and PHEV, maybe we could meet our liquid fuel demands through biofuels only. But we have seen here, due to RR's excellent posts, that the volume of biofuel production possible in the USA is rather small compared to the needs. But I am for anything that breaks our dependence on foreign oil, imported at great cost and constant risk of interruption or disruptive price spikes.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 20, 2009

  11. "But we have seen here, due to RR's excellent posts, that the volume of biofuel production possible in the USA is rather small compared to the needs." What Robert has said is that coming up with even half of our liquid needs with biofuels will be a daunting task. I don't disagree with that. But,we don't need that much biofuel. Like you and others have said,we can meet most of our needs other ways. Even if it costs an average of $200 or $300 per barrel for biofuels,we'll be okay if they're used mostly for industry and airlines. We'd pay a lot more for plastics,solvents,and a seat on an airplane…but that's not the end of the world.

    Comment by Maury | October 20, 2009

  12. What I will be interested in learning from your own exploits is will ANY biomass source which is annually planted, tended, watered, grown and harvested for it's carbonaceous BTU content actually be able to compete with free or nearly free sources of society's waste streams?It depends. If the “free” waste stream is municipal solid waste that has to be sorted, then some harvested biomass could be cheaper. My view is that in the long run most of the free sources won’t remain free. They will be the first to be utilized, of course, but our waste streams can only power a tiny fraction of society.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 20, 2009

  13. A goal of completely removing petroleum inputs is a recipe for failure.We recognize the reality of petroleum inputs, but we want to develop processes that are capable of getting by without petroleum. There are self-sustaining mobile processes now that can go to a site, process the biomass, and cannibalize a portion for the energy needed to run the process. Of course there are petroleum inputs in the equipment and so forth, but it will be a very long time before we can think about heavy equipment that doesn’t require petroleum. I probably won’t see that in my lifetime.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 20, 2009

  14. Correction. Not the end of the world for developed countries. Barring a miracle,peak oil does mean mass starvation for half the world though. We've still got to reach that magical "price point" that compels alternatives. I can't see that happening before food is simply too expensive for several billion folks. I don't want to sound like one of those people casually discussing the death of half the world's population. But,it's going to happen the way things stand today. The US and Western Europe provide almost all of the world's food aid. The two can't possibly grow enough to even put a dent in the needs that will be there shortly. And the US is so deep in debt,we may be begging for scraps ourselves at some point.

    Comment by Maury | October 20, 2009

  15. Wendell said,"Much of that enormous resource of deep, fertile soil that took tens of thousands of years to develop in the Midwest has now been sucked of its nutrients. Many industrial farms are not good stewards of the soil, and will plant corn-on-corn year after year."———————————The fact that mid-west farmers haveadopted "no-till" practices ought to tell you something about the "topsoil" issue and how much topsoil is actually still left in the Great American Bread-Basket.Topsoil is a "fossil" resource.In other words we are going to run out out top-soil, just like we are going to run out of oil someday if we keep strip-mining our agricultural land.John

    Comment by Anonymous | October 20, 2009

  16. RR-I don't know why you think heavy equipment needs petroleum. In Thailand, I see large private trucks on CNG–indeed in Los Angeles, large busses and streetsweepers run on CNG.Additionally, a company named Balqon has developed short-hau heavy-duty battery trucks, that are used at the Port of Los Angeles. Obviously, T. Boone thinks America's 18-wheelers can go CNG.In Thailand, I saw large trucks with 8 torpedoes mounted behind the cab–CNG cylinders. It seems to me that heavy equipment might switch to CNG even before private automobiles–private drivers may be reluctant to switch for reasons of convenience, but heavy-equipment types are looking at costs. If oil prices rise too much…

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 20, 2009

  17. Barring a miracle,peak oil does mean mass starvation for half the world thoughHungry people don't typically die of actual starvation. They tend to die instead of illnesses that they can't fight because of malnutrition. This is already happening and has been the case for millennia. Peak oil will increase the scale. Barring droughts, I wonder how many of us in the privileged nations will even notice the increase in scale. Already a billion people in the world are undernourished, according to the UN FAO report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/i0876e/i0876e.pdfThough of course that doesn't mean that a billion people are going to drop dead of under-nutrition this year.

    Comment by Clee | October 20, 2009

  18. This question is meant with the best of intentions…Working on energy and sustainability, how do you reconcile doing all the traveling that you do?I started this response, and just I was writing it Kyle Datta walked into my office. Kyle is co-author of Winning the Oil End Game, and we had quite a lot to discuss.Yours is an absolutely fair question. I use Al Gore as an example. If he uses a lot of energy in his personal life, then he is being hypocritical. If he uses energy to fly halfway around the world to speak to a group of Indians, and as a result they make lifestyle changes that reduce their carbon footprint, then Al potentially far more than offset the energy he used to travel to India.I look at it the same way. In my personal life, I believe in Walking the Talk. In my professional life, my travels are to further a lower carbon future. If I didn’t believe that the overall potential energy reduction from my travels was greater than the energy I spent traveling, then I would not travel.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 20, 2009

  19. I don't know why you think heavy equipment needs petroleum.I am talking about secondary inputs; not the fuel itself but all of the embodied fossil fuel inputs to produce the heavy equipment.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 20, 2009

  20. RR–Still, this puzzles me. To manufacture heavy equipment, you produce it in large factories–almost always, the factories run on electricity. Electricity comes from nuke, hydro, coal, etc. But, save for Hawaii, almost no power plants run on petroleum.I still do not a special connection between petroleum nd heavy equipment.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | October 20, 2009

  21. Maury wrote: "We've still got to reach that magical "price point" that compels alternatives."Maury — that is defeatist, and dead wrong to boot. What we have to do is improve alternatives to the point where fossil fuels can't compete.Doesn't necessarily mean alternatives have to be cheaper — airplanes are not cheaper than ocean liners, but airplanes drove ocean liners out of business for scheduled transportation because they offered other advantages.Insisting that alternative energy will always be worse than fossil fuels is simply a form of doomerism. Yes, bird-whackers and ethanol will always be worse, but there are other options. Let's see some positive spirit!

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 20, 2009

  22. "Insisting that alternative energy will always be worse than fossil fuels is simply a form of doomerism."Not worse Kinuach. Just more expensive…..at least for the foreseeable future. I did say "barring a miracle" though,which is always possible.

    Comment by Maury | October 21, 2009

  23. Maury said: The US and Western Europe provide almost all of the world's food aid. The two can't possibly grow enough to even put a dent in the needs that will be there shortly.I'm not an expert on the topic, but it seems to me that there's a growing consensus that western food aid has been an unmitigated disaster for recipients. It has decimated local markets (and is often tied to unfair trade deals). Not too long ago a large aid NGO refused US food aid in some impoverished African region. I don't like to say it, but Chinese trade appears to be doing more for African development than fifty years of western interventions.

    Comment by PeteS | October 21, 2009

  24. “I use Al Gore as an example.”Explain how endless self promotion makes the world a better place. Flying around the country selling books of loony idea does not make the world a better place. I think Carter was ineffective but I can point to a few renewable energy projects that are still running from his era. Every time you see Carter he is roofing a Habitat for Humanity house or some other project for the less fortunate. Every time you see Al Gore he is in a tux in NYC promoting himself.

    Comment by Kit P | October 21, 2009

  25. I can't argue with that Pete. Afghan farmers claim they can only grow opium,because food crops can't compete with the free aid. You'd think we could get around the problem by sending aid money for destitute governments to subsidize the basic staple in that country. It's almost always corn,wheat,or rice. Unfortunately,the poorest governments tend to be the most corrupt. I was reading where Pakistan diverted something like 80% of the military aid we sent them over the last 7 years to other things. Now,they're getting their ass kicked by the Taliban.

    Comment by Maury | October 21, 2009

  26. If he uses energy to fly halfway around the world to speak to a group of Indians, and as a result they make lifestyle changes that reduce their carbon footprint…Except Indians already have a carbon footprint far smaller than ours. Al Gore could better spend his time (and carbon) getting the people around him (such as politicians, celebrities, and lobbyists) ) to reduce their carbon footprints, and then let that expand — sort of an spreading oil spot theory if you will.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 21, 2009

  27. “Just more expensive…..at least for the foreseeable future.”Many alternative energy sources are both cheaper and better for the environment than fossil fuels. If you own a forty year old nuke, biomass, or hydro plant; they are cheaper than fossil. Yet all were ‘too expensive’ expensive for years. It is important to ask how long something lasts. My gripe with wind and solar is that the equipment does not last. That does mean you could not provide for component replacement using a standard design.

    Comment by Kit P | October 21, 2009

  28. RR, I am truly excited that you are hanging out with people like Kyle Datta, especially with his views on central v distributed power generation. Good luck in your Merica venture; I look forward to seeing the results 🙂

    Comment by JN2 | October 21, 2009

  29. Robert,That's funny, I was thinking of Al Gore as I wrote my comment. However, I do think that it is a bit of a slippery slope to be on. Claiming that Al Gore has reduced the consumption more than his travel costs at best may make him feel better about himself and at worst is delusional. For yourself, being that you are a good inquisitive engineer, I suppose you could try to quantify the energy and emissions reductions that are achieved through your work. However, I forsee a very tricky problem in defining the boundary conditions of such an analysis. The majority of my professional work is process modeling and optimization in which I can quantify the savings in emissions and energy usage. Typically on a major project I'm able to reduce GHG emissions orders of magnitude lower than my family's yearly portion and if I’m lucky energy usage as well, but this depends on the size of the project. For my family in 2008: 253 GJ in energy was consumed and 5.4 tonnes CO2eq were emitted.I am still very careful and selective on my travel both personally and professionally. Site visits to understand things are obviously important, but I also try to factor in that those visits are costing my energy savings. By reducing and questioning my travel needs for work, I feel that I am able to be more efficient in my results.I've also found that when I am working on these types of project of proposing energy efficiency and more recently on a community sustainability project, that I really have to challenge my self to walk the talk. For my family, fossil fuel usage (gasoline and propane) comprises 97% of our GHG emissions. On an energy basis, they account for 95%. Most of this is from travel. I’ve really come to understand that living and working more locally are imperative for me to make the changes I want to see. I can’t say I’m there yet, but I have been able to limit trips to about 900 km (one way) slowly as I make changes to my life and career. While I applaud the work you are doing and the contribution to knowledge that you make through this blog and your travels, I think that leading by example is always more powerful than words. Craig.

    Comment by craig | October 21, 2009

  30. Sanyo says it plans to make millions of lithium batteries for PHEVs, within a few years.Again, this is Sanyo, not some guys in a lab seeking start-up capital. Credible source.TOKYO, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Japan's Sanyo Electric Co Ltd (6764.T) said it plans to start making lithium-ion batteries for plug-in hybrid cars in 2011, taking aim at growing demand for green car batteries.Plug-in hybrids have large batteries which can be recharged at home with an extension cord, unlike conventional gasoline-electric hybrid cars, which have batteries that are powered only when the driver hits the brake.Sanyo, the world's largest rechargeable battery maker, has said it will start producing lithium-ion batteries for conventional hybrid cars towards the end of the year in Japan and bring its monthly capacity to 1.1 million cells in 2010.The new lithium-ion battery production line for plug-in hybrid vehicles, which will also be located in Japan, will be capable of making 300,000-400,000 cells a month, Sanyo said."At 400k units a month, Sanyo is talking 5 million units a year. From one company only.OPEC go die. Sayonara, baby.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 21, 2009

  31. "Again, this is Sanyo, not some guys in a lab seeking start-up capital. Credible source."Exactly……..It's the beginning of the end of the oil age…….John

    Comment by Anonymous | October 21, 2009

  32. RR,Here's a guy who says that biomethane makes a lot more sense than electricity as an energy carrier: Methane is a better long-distance energy carrier than electricity. Its storage and transportation is much cheaper and easier than electricity. Natural gas pipelines cost half as much to build as electric towers and have about one fourth as much transmission loss. They are also more reliable, safer and visually superior to ugly transmission towers.Of course, BTL has all the benefits of biomethane only more so.As someone who appears to believe in the electrification of transportation, I'd like to hear your comments…

    Comment by Optimist | October 21, 2009

  33. For my family, fossil fuel usage (gasoline and propane) comprises 97% of our GHG emissions. On an energy basis, they account for 95%.What, almost nothing for electricity? Solar panels? Sized for close to 100% of your consumption? Batteries? Using the grid as a battery? Please explain…

    Comment by Optimist | October 21, 2009

  34. Brazil drivers ditch biofuel over high sugar costs

    Comment by Anonymous | October 21, 2009

  35. Unfortunately,the poorest governments tend to be the most corrupt. I was reading where Pakistan diverted something like 80% of the military aid we sent them over the last 7 years to other things.Where to start?1. If we really wanted to help Pakistan (and ourselves) we could scrap subsidies on imported textiles. This would alliviate poverty over there and give young men the option of spending their time on something productive, making our lives safer. At the cost of putting one congressman's seat in the balance…2. Instead we send them military aid only. With all the poverty, can you blame them for diverting some of that aid?3. We insist on supporting Gen Musharaf, even when doing so aid the oppressor. Then we wonder why Pakistani's (and Saudi's) don't believe we're all about freedom and democracy.4. The corrupt government is something the Paki's own. These guys were elected. You get the leaders you deserve. Or at least, accept.5. Aid often makes that worse, because it bails out incompetent governments. And creates unrealistic expectations for the future.

    Comment by Optimist | October 21, 2009

  36. Craig,If you really want to do something about CO2, you can do what I do. Throw your yard waste in the regular trash, and that way all that carbon gets sequestered in the landfill.I just got done trimming the hedges around the swimming pool, and I've got many bags full of carbon just waiting to be sequestered.If you send me a check, I will write your name on one of the bags. Also, I will aboslve you of all your eco sins.

    Comment by Dennis Moore | October 22, 2009

  37. One of these days your landfill will be turning that trash into ethanol for my FF Chevy. And, selling the ash to go back into the soil.

    Comment by rufus | October 22, 2009

  38. But the landfill is already making methane for electricity.

    Comment by Clee | October 22, 2009

  39. Methane is a better long-distance energy carrier than electricity. Its storage and transportation is much cheaper and easier than electricity.If he had just replace the "e" at the end of methane with "ol" so it spelled methanol, he would have been on to something.Methanol is an even better long-distance carrier of energy than methane.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 22, 2009

  40. Optimist asked:"What, almost nothing for electricity? Solar panels? Sized for close to 100% of your consumption? Batteries? Using the grid as a battery? Please explain…"Actually, your question reminded me that I forgot to include wood in my calculations as it is our primary source of heat. Our house is strawbale and super insulated for reference.Here's the breakdown by energy:Gasoline: 229 GJ/year – majority for car, very small amount for chainsaw, lawnmower etc.Propane: 11 GJ/yearElectricity: 13 GJ/yearWood: 49 GJ/year (about 3 cords)Total: 302 GJ/yearThis still puts car use at 76% of the total. Assuming wood is carbon neutral, then the GHG percentages don't change.Our electricity comes from the grid which around here is hydro, so the emission factor is low, I also have a small solar system for a home office I work out of on our land, which was not included in the total since it's only been running for 11 months so far and I haven't tallied my demand/production from it. This system is not tied to the grid due to our local utility making net metering very onerous in both cost and hoops to jump through. It was an enlightening exercise to see just what proportion of my energy and emissions come from the need to travel…And I was the main point of my post. I would encourage everyone to do an energy and emission inventory to see how they stand in the world.By the way, my energy useage is slightly below the Canadian average (348 GJ/year according to wikipedia). But the world average is 109 GJ, so my car use puts me a good three times over that.

    Comment by craig | October 22, 2009

  41. If he had just replace the "e" at the end of methane with "ol" so it spelled methanol, he would have been on to something. Methanol is an even better long-distance carrier of energy than methane.Time to wake up and smell the coffee, Wendell!Notice I used the phrase BTL, which implies using all our current favorite liquid fuel products, in the current infrastructure, with no need for costly conversions, as is required for methanol…

    Comment by Optimist | October 23, 2009


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