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Catching Up

Folks, I know it has been almost a week since I posted anything new, and it will still be a couple more days. I have had a productive trip to Central America, and am at Stanford this morning to give a talk on sustainability. It will be the first time I have presented my new company’s plans in public (although that is a minor component of the presentation). I fly back to Hawaii on Wednesday, and then should start catching up on a backlog of correspondence.

The title of my presentation today is “Toward a Sustainable Bioenergy Platform.” I am well aware that the word sustainable has lost almost all of its meaning. It is like “being green.” I remember seeing an interview with a Hummer owner a couple of years ago who said he was “becoming green” by putting E85 in his Hummer. I see the same sort of logic being applied toward the concept of sustainability.

Anyway, below is the outline of the talk that I will deliver in two hours at the First Nations’ Futures Program at Stanford. I will host these slides somewhere following the presentation.

Sustainability Basics
A Higher Standard
– Case Study: Sugarcane Ethanol
Caveats
Contenders
Has Brazil Paved the Path?
– Brazil versus U.S. consumption statistics
Building a Sustainable Platform
– Merica Overview
– Strategy
Political Risk Factors
Solutions

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October 27, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

34 Comments

  1. ‘Progressive’, ‘green’, and ‘sustainable’ are three words that drive me crazy. The reason being that people who use those words can not tell me what they mean to them and appear to live a life style contrary to the common sense meaning of the words. For example,“I fly back to Hawaii”I have often used ‘sustainable’ and even called my business development plan Sustainable Energy Integration. Since my customers were common sense utility I made sure that what I stood for. SEI is where renewable energy is used as part of a process to create environmental assets from environmental problems. It incorporates a systematic and holistic design process including design for the environment (DFE) and streamlined environmental Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methods to first identify the best environmental choice based on local and regional conditions and community values; and then make it economical. The best part of my plan is I did not need to get on an airplane. There were enough local environmental problems resulting from excess biomass to keep a whole office of engineers busy for the rest of their lives.

    Comment by Kit P | October 27, 2009

  2. Yes, "green."I happen to do PR work for some truly green architects, who are able to design large structures that are pleasing, yet use a fraction of the energy of old days.One client has even designed a high school that will be "net zero" –generate as much juice and it uses. But in industry trade magazines, our projects are lumped in with such "green" projects as a 12,000 square foot, $15 million home. I look at the used Airstream trailer which I bought and in which live, pulled onto the parking lot of a small factory I own. I ripped up some asphalt and planted vegetables.No one ever wrote a story and called my home green.The guy with the $15 million mansion–he is green.That's the way it goes.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 27, 2009

  3. Benny a "net zero" high school is not much of an accomplishment depending on the location. Especially California! Who pays for the solar collectors? A "net zero" building most likely less green than a low energy one. I built a low energy house in California in 1986 had hard time with regulations. They wanted me to build a Michigan house with lots of insulation and few windows. I wanted to build a Monterey house to fit the climate. The cost of low-e glass, proper overhangs, and thermal mass are marginal. I solved the problem by having my architect label south facing windows as passive solar collectors. I then did 37 pages of ‘alternate Title 24’ calculations to get a permit. I suspect Benny’s ‘truly green architects’ are just taxpayer rip off artists. Using PR is the thing that gives it away. Send me a link to the buildings and I will expose the fraud.Furthermore, your living location is a violation of California environmental regulations unless you did an environment audit. Gosh Benny, you may be living on a superfund site and not know it. At least when they rip up stuff at a coal mine, they get a permit and follow the rules.

    Comment by Kit P | October 27, 2009

  4. It's all relative. Gore talks green. Bush lives it. Shale oil is dirty,until you compare it to tar sands. We should hear something from Shell on their in-situ experiment in the next few months Benny. If it works,we've got enough oil for another lifetime or two. It's a power intensive process,but we now know shale rock has enormous reserves of natural gas. I've got my fingers crossed.

    Comment by Maury | October 27, 2009

  5. Kit P-Sometimes I wonder about you Kit P. You will be surprised that in some regards I agree with you–the fact that a high school is net zero does not mean it is green, if it consumed vast resources to get the that level of self-sufficiency.I can assure you the firm I work for is extremely skilled, and enjoys a national reputation. In fact, it takes a great deal of skill to create an entire, well-functioning high school campus that is net zero. It was accomplished through solar panels, thermal massing, building orientation, proper windows, overhangs, and ventilation, high-efficiency HVAC and 36 on-campus wind-turbines, and many, many smaller techniques.I cannot release information to anyone at this time, but when a release goes out, I can tip you off, and you can google as you see fit. I do not wish to use my participation in this website to promote my clients. It will be the first net-zero high school in the nation. Not so easy. If so easy, why is my client the first?I cannot imagine where you built a house that required such intrusive regulations. In Thailand I am having a house built–you would enjoy the process. It will be 1,800 square feet on 8-foot-high stilts. At no point are any drawings made, other than rough one-page sketches I gave to my wife, and some photographs in a book on Thai architecture.No blueprints, no permits.The builders follow traditional techniques, modified a bit over the years to accomodate modernities, and the lack of teak. Modern day stilts are rebar and cement, for example.They use large right-angles, and levels–much the way I recently built an 800-sf pergola to house woodworking equipment. Nothing more sophisticated than that. Lastly, when I bought my factory in 2001, soil samples were taken. The samples came up clean, and there has been a concrete and ashpalt cap on the land for genearations. In digging underneath the cap, I did unearth old square nails and horsehoes.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 27, 2009

  6. I really couldn't care less if Robert is taking a private jet and burning extra fuel to power a big screen tv on-board, if the end result is something that benefits us all. I really don't get the nitpicking going on here.. :(Millions of Americans today will burn millions of gallons of gasoline just to get a big mac. They are the ones you should be preaching to, imho.

    Comment by OptimisticDoomer | October 27, 2009

  7. I wonder if Kit P tells his boss not to send him to Germany to work because flying there is unsustainable, so the boss should send someone else instead.Of course RR's talk was on Sustainable Bioenergy Platform, not sustainable air travel, or sustainable lifestyle. Benny writes: I happen to do PR work for some truly green architects Can't resist…. Do they have to put on face paint so they appear flesh-toned, so as to not to scare away clients by the verdant hue of their skin? 😉

    Comment by Clee | October 27, 2009

  8. We should hear something from Shell on their in-situ experiment in the next few months Benny. If it works,we've got enough oil for another lifetime or two. It's a power intensive process,but we now know shale rock has enormous reserves of natural gas. I've got my fingers crossed.Even if it does work it is not likely to flow like the oil we rely on today. I do strongly believe that 2008 will go down as the peak oil year(forget that 2005 peak oil month).So even if we have an abundance of oil in the ground, I worry peak oil production will take its toll on society in the form of (what Robert calls) the long recession. Nevertheless, Shell's in-situ process would greatly help with any transition we make and I hope they succeed.

    Comment by OptimisticDoomer | October 27, 2009

  9. Clee-Yeah, they look like Martians.I gotta say, good architects seem like remarkable nice people, and good at heart. Concerned about the long-term effects of their work, beyond the fees they get.And the fees are nice, but any run-of-the-mill laywer makes more.They are not green in that sense.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 27, 2009

  10. “It will be the first net-zero high school in the nation. Not so easy. If so easy, why is my client the first?”Because it is a tax payer rip off. Most reputable companies would not touch such a stupid project. I will be happy to change my mind after you provide a link but everyone I have read reports about have been just that. “thermal massing, building orientation, proper windows, overhangs, and ventilation, high-efficiency HVAC”Nothing remarkable about this outside of California, it is the norm.

    Comment by Kit P | October 27, 2009

  11. “I wonder if Kit P tells his boss …”Did not need to tell my boss anything. I am currently working on US energy projects but there are 'opportunities' for those who want them other places in the world. Two nice young engineers who worked with me are now in the EU. We have a nice a young engineer from Germany and one from France in our little group. Sometimes the needs of our 65,000 employee strong company requires us to go places we do not want to go. Soon my friend will return to California and work on that energy project and go home every night. Clee does not realize that there is a difference between talking about sustainability in the most unsustainable places like Standford and Hawaii and actually working on real projects.Color me very skeptical because I have been listening this stuff for 40 years. These people never deliver anything but position and over arching goals. When it comes to doing something there is always something not perfect about it. The grass is always greener in Brazil than Iowa.

    Comment by Kit P | October 28, 2009

  12. “I really don't get the nitpicking going on here.”It is not a nitpicking. What RR is doing will not benefit anybody. He is talking to the wrong people. It is one of those think globally and act locally things.I will pick on Al Gore. He is a great cheer leader but he is at the same time against good solutions. For example, one of the best ways to burn less coal is to make coal plants more efficient.

    Comment by Kit P | October 28, 2009

  13. Maury–Like you, I am fascinated by the Shell in-situ process. Like you say, if this shale oil works, the fossil fuel era, for better or worse (when added to huge natural gas discoveries of late) will be extended for decades upon decades.Imagine 60 mpg fleets and new sources of fossil fuels. They will still be driving ICEs in the year 2108.I would prefer we go to PHEVs, but maybe the market won't go for it. CNG is interesting.We are on the cusp of one of the most fascinating epochs in industrial history. Will oil stay above $100 a barrel, and thus become a backwater fuel and industry, or stay below, and thus stay relevant for decades to come?Will CNG play out in the USA? Will PHEVs come to fruition?The next 20 years will be quite a show–with multiple highquality research outfits globally, and gobs of venture capital and investment capital everywhere, Technical information is now transmitted globally and instantly–compare that to past eras, when technical knowledge might take decades to reach from one place on the globe to another, and would even be lost!I predict huge technical advances in the next couple of decades. It is scary to think what China might dream up and produce as they develop more and more scientists and engineers.I think energy production is the least of our worries. Nukes, geothermal, wind solar, natural gas, and conservation. Energy production is easy.The challenge will be in transportation. The PHEV and biofuels may be the bullets. Maybe CNG. Certainly higher mpgs. Urbanization. I think we will see a cleaner and more prosperous globe in the next 100 years–wish I could stick around and see the show unfold.

    Comment by Benjamin | October 28, 2009

  14. "wish I could stick around and see the show unfold."Me too Benjamin. They say this next generation might live 150 years. Maybe longer. Exciting stuff ahead.The world has about 1.2 trillion barrels of conventional oil left. Canada has about 1.7 trillion barrels in tar sands. Venezuela has maybe 300 billion recoverable barrels of heavy oil. The 1.5 trillion barrels of US shale might turn out to be the cleanest of the unconventional oil sources. Just heat the ground for 5 years and then drill anytime you like. If it works,of course. Thing is,we know it works. Shell already did this on a much smaller scale. As Robert said in the post to the High School student,half of today's conventional reserves will still be there in 25 years. We've got 3X as much in unconventional reserves. It may take 100 years to use half of that. Like yourself,I'll be pulling for PHEV's and CNG's anyway.

    Comment by Maury | October 28, 2009

  15. IMHO, successful, in-situ processing of Oil Shale has about as much promise as does sequestered CO2 – staying in the same strata where it was re-deposited under extremely high pressure.

    Comment by Anonymous | October 28, 2009

  16. Shell got 1700 barrels out of a 30X40 ft. section using this process Anonymous. The 25 acre thing is just more scale.

    Comment by Maury | October 28, 2009

  17. Just heat the ground for 5 years and then drill anytime you like.Maury,Heating up the kerogen in the shale is just speeding up the process that would naturally turn it into oil in a few million years or so.Speeding up the natural process will of course take huge amounts of energy, bringing into question whether the return is worthwhile.To me it seems one of the best ways to get that energy would be using nuclear power plants on the Western Slope.There were also some early experiments using very deep, small-yield nuclear explosions within the shale to rapidly heat the kerogen and turn it to oil. Had we not become so skittish about nuclear explosions, now would be a good time to readdress that possibility.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 28, 2009

  18. That's what I was asking Robert on the last thread Wendell. How is the EROEI affected if they use the natural gas present to heat the ground? Will the rods be re-usable? Is the ammonia recycled? That would certainly change the equation.

    Comment by Maury | October 28, 2009

  19. Nuclear plants sound like a good idea Wendell. Do we want to wait 50 years for the permits though? Maybe this will be an opportunity for big oil to get into the electricity market. They'll certainly need loads of it. It might make it easier to morph into deep geothermal down the road. Lots of possibilities here.

    Comment by Maury | October 28, 2009

  20. Do we want to wait 50 years for the permits though?Of course not. What we need is a national priority to design and build a modular nuclear power plant with a common features that can take the fast track through all the permitting, zoning, and environmental studies that are now needed.In my opinion, Congress should pass an act that gives the AEC the ability to waive local zoning rules and restrictions with regard to the siting of nuclear power plants. We need to make a national decision to do what France has done, and then get to work. Using nuclear power plants to inject super-heated steam into the oil shale on the Western Slope so we can extract the oil from the shale is just one of the projects nuclear power would be suited for.Nuclear plants would also be useful in supplying the energy needed to crack water molecules to make hydrogen for fuel cells if fuel cell-powered cars is the route we decide to take.Nuclear power is the key to our energy future, but we have to get rid of the mindset that leads to the impossibly long lag time it now takes to build a reactor.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 28, 2009

  21. "Using nuclear power plants to inject super-heated steam into the oil shale on the Western Slope so we can extract the oil from the shale is just one of the projects nuclear power would be suited for."That's the in-situ process for tar sands. Maybe Canada should be using nuclear plants. What Shell is doing is heating the rock with long rods. And yeah,the idea of underground nuclear explosions that would instantly transform the kerogen into oil has been around a while. But,a slight tremor cancelled the deep geothermal project in Switzerland. Just imagine getting people in three states to allow nuclear explosions under their feet. LOL. Then,there's the matter of sucking up radioactive oil. It's dirty enough already.

    Comment by Maury | October 28, 2009

  22. What Shell is doing is heating the rock with long rods.Injecting super-heated steam was just an example. Heating the long rods with electrical current generated at a Western Slope nuclear plant could work as well.Or they could do horizontal drilling and run steam through and under the shale heating it from within or below.The point is that a nuclear plant would be a good source of the large amount of energy needed to accelerate turning kerogen into oil.And yes, it would probably work in the Canadian tar sands as well.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 28, 2009

  23. It is not a nitpicking. What RR is doing will not benefit anybody. He is talking to the wrong people. It is one of those think globally and act locally things.I have to ask Kit, why do you bother coming to his blog at all if you think he's just putting on a pony show?I disagree with you, but we are entitled to our own opinions.

    Comment by OptimisticDoomer | October 28, 2009

  24. “pass an act that gives the AEC the ability to waive…”Do you mean the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) or the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)? It takes about five years to get permission to build a nuke in the US.http://www.nrc.gov/ It does not take any longer to go through the environment permitting process for a nuke than any other large power plant. I have seen wind projects get tied up for 10 years.

    Comment by Kit P | October 28, 2009

  25. I was joking Kit. It's been over thirty years since we've built a reactor. They say a new reactor goes online every 5 days or so. Obviously,the US is behind the curve.

    Comment by Maury | October 28, 2009

  26. Maury The US is not behind the curve. Maury may be however. The US is unquestionably the world leader in making electricity using fission. There is not even a close second place. One reactor is under construction now, Watts Bar 2. It was an unfinished reactor pulled out of being mothballed. Two more are being evaluated to reactive a construction permit. Unfortunately, some of the more expensive stainless steel tubing was salvaged but it may be cheaper to finish that start from scratch. At a new generation plant, the NRC has authorized limited work which in this case is about 450 construction workers. There is a lot of preparation work before the starting the foundation of the reactor building. This is the same US design that is under construction in China now. Lots of US workers are now making a living making China greener.What has changed in 30 years is there is now competition. The main competitor is France who are about to start pouring cement at two plants in China. The next new French plant may American version of the French design be in the US. The French are building a new factory in the US to build heavy components for US plants. By 2012, I expect at least 3 reactors to be under construction in the US. This is remarkable because in 2005, there was no market in the US partly because we were keeping plants for 60 years instead of 40. Incentives were in the 2005 Energy Bill to build a couple to test the process. The driving force for new nuke plants is the price of coal. China is no longer able to flood the world market with slave labor coal. The US is exporting coal so the price for is being controlled by the world market. Building new nukes in the US is a nice thing especially to replace existing plants. China (10 nukes under construction) and India are desperate for electricity. We can make a list places that have found that electricity can not be made fast enough.

    Comment by Kit P | October 28, 2009

  27. Kit P-Why not one nuke plan design, get fed apporoval, and replicate widely in USA?Why all the effing permitting on a one-off basis?

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 28, 2009

  28. Gentlemen — you are to be congratulated. Of course nuclear fission has to be a big part of any realistic plan to supply the huge scale power that the human race needs.And the showstoppers are political, not technical. Congress is the problem, not the solution.Fortunately, China, India, even France are proceeding with fission anyway. The US no longer even has the capacity to manufacture some of the large pressure vessels needed for nuclear reactors — just have to get in line to buy them from Japan. Who needs jobs in Obama's America anyway?Put on the technical hat, and the future is bright, bright, bright. Look at the politics, though, and we are on an entirely unsustainable track — one that ends in tears. How do we change that?

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 28, 2009

  29. Kinu-Man you tell us. You can vote Republican, and you get a complete train wreck called the Bush Administration. You vote D-Party, and you get Obama.In gloomier moments, I think the answer is simple: Emigration. In brighter moments I will tell you there are always mediocre political leaders, and we muddle through.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 29, 2009

  30. Benny and Kinu are examples of people who are upset by a problem that they formulated in their mind without ever checking the reality of the situation. “Why not one nuke plan design, ..”Why do you think think one design is a good idea? Nuke plants are not toasters or cell phones. Currently four different vendors are certifying their designs with the NRC. With a environmental permit in hand (good for 20 years), a utility can select the standard design that meets the utility's needs or they can have a custom design sized specifically for a location. Further any design certified by the US NRC has a competitive advantage in the rest of the world. There is no more professional and technical regulator in the world than the NRC. If only the EPA was as competent and free of politcs. “The US no longer even has the capacity to manufacture some of the large pressure vessels needed for nuclear reactors ..”How absurd and incorrect. The US has a huge over capacity to build nuke plants. So Kinu how many new reactor pressure vessels needed to be manufactures in the US the last 15 years? Zero! Only only one facility in Japan forges large castings to western standards because only one is needed. As I write, facilities to build those components in the US are being prepared.

    Comment by Kit P | October 29, 2009

  31. Why do you think think one design is a good idea?Kit,The obvious answer is to save time and money.Wouldn't there be economies of scale in setting up a production line and pumping out common components that can go into standard design reactors — whether those reactors are to go on line in Idaho, Colorado, or Florida?Not needing to design from a blank sheet of paper for each individual reactor would save save time and money, wouldn't it?You say we can't build reactors like we do toasters, but why not? Maybe not toasters, but why can't there be a production line to build fission reactors just as we have production lines to build jet airliners, submarines, locomotives, or steam turbines? Building a jet airliner or submarine is no less complicated than building a nuclear reactor.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 29, 2009

  32. Oh gosh Wendell, you are not trying to tell me that there is only one design of toaster or jet liner are you? Westinghouse has one design. All AP1000 reactor vessels and steam generators will be a standard design. The French have one design. All EPR reactor vessels and steam generators will be a standard design.So each company will have a standard design but we will still gave competition.

    Comment by Kit P | October 29, 2009

  33. …you are not trying to tell me that there is only one design of toaster or jet liner are you?Obviously not. But I am trying to say that the companies that make airliners, diesel locomotives, submarines, etc. do it on a production line where they make large numbers of identical models to take advantage of economies of scale — they don't custom-build them one at at time, designing each from scratch.If we are to build hundreds of nuclear reactors* to provide for our energy future, we will need assembly lines churning them out, one after another, all made to the same specs.__________________* I realize that because of the political environment, the likelihood of that ever happening is remote.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 30, 2009

  34. What part of each company having a standard design is Wendell having trouble understanding? Nobody is building nukes from scratch. Go to the NRC web site and lookup an application for a new design certification. You will see Chapter 1 of the FSAR discuss similarities with existing designs. However, the same standard design for a plant on the Artic circle is going to be a little different from one in the tropics.Consider for a moment the large number of designs of wind turbines. If a particular wind farm has 4000 identical turbines, it has 4000 different foundations and routings for power lines.The equivalent generating capacity of a nuke plant is going to have one foundation and one routing for power lines.God help you Wendell if some endangered species burrowing owl just happens to burrow where your drawing tell you to pour concrete.You can not compare something that is designed to be used anyplace (car, toasters, planes) with something that is designed for one place for 100 years.

    Comment by Kit P | October 30, 2009


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