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Toward a Sustainability Bioenergy Platform

The slides I presented on September 27th at the First Nations’ Futures Program at Stanford University are available for viewing for anyone interested:

Toward a Sustainability Bioenergy Platform

To summarize, the purpose of the First Nations’ Futures Program is “to establish a world class fellowship program focused on building First Nations’ capacity through developing values based leadership and more integrated solutions for managing First Nation’s assets / resources.” These are the leaders and future leaders of First Nations’ groups like the Māori of New Zealand, Native Hawaiians, and Native Americans. These are the people who are often tasked with managing group resources so they are still available for future generations. Thus, sustainable energy is high on their list of priorities.

My presentation starts with some of the traditional aspects we think of being related to sustainability, but then talks about a more systematic and objective method for measuring sustainability. I cover the fact that sustainable solutions are different in different locales. For example, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol has been deemed to be potentially sustainable by a Dutch group who attempted to measure sustainability based on six categories. But take that example and move it to a location that doesn’t receive ample rainfall, or a location in which the terrain is prone to erosion, and what was sustainable in one case is not sustainable in another. On the topic of sustainability, one size definitely does not fit all. I also contrast the U.S. to Brazil to show why the two are not at all comparable.

Finally, I spend three slides to present for the first time in public a tentative org chart for my new organization, our platform, and our strategy. The org chart has been sanitized to remove some company names from the boxes, as some deals are not ready to be publicized. As indicated previously, I sit in the “Merica” box, but spend most of my time working on the Global Conversions leg of the platform.

Next up is the Pacific Rim Summit in a week. I will be on a panel with Guy Cellier – the President and founder of Forest Solutions – and Professor Scott Turn from the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii. The topic will be sustainable bioenergy.

October 31, 2009 Posted by | bioenergy, sustainability | 49 Comments

Soliciting Reader Input for Bioenergy Chapter

9/8 Update: Lichtblick/VW announcement is now in the English version of Der Spiegel:

A Power Station in Your Basement

Green-energy provider Lichtblick and German automaker Volkswagen are joining forces and promising to stir up the energy market with an unusual plan. Instead of relying on massive energy facilities, the average consumer may soon have a miniature power station in their basement.

Chief executives of Germany’s major energy suppliers usually don’t have much time for their junior counterpart, Lichtblick. The Hamburg-based green-electricity provider’s half a million customers may be “impressive,” they say, but Lichtblick works in a niche market and is no competition for the larger companies in the industry.

The ambitious new project could be worth billions of euros and generate enough electricity to replace up to two nuclear power stations or even coal-fired power plants in the near future. The technology required to put this plan into practice is highly complex, but — depending on demand and the market situation — the new setup could network 1,000, 10,000 or even 100,000 small natural-gas-powered thermal power stations and, in effect, instantly create a virtual large one.

A giant quantity of electricity could be generated by such a system. Channelled straight from the basements of individual houses, where Lichtblick plans on installing the mini power stations, it could then be fed into the public powergrid. Likewise, the mini stations could also provide a source of cheap thermal energy and warm water for each household.

Calling All Wood Experts

In 2007, I wrote the renewable diesel chapter for a book called Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems. One thing I did when I was working on the book chapter was to solicit feedback from readers on what I might have missed. Some of that feedback turned out to be quite useful, and I provided an acknowledgment in the book for the feedback from readers here.

Once again, I am working on a chapter for a book on sustainable development in the forestry industry. My specific chapter is Bioenergy/Biofuels. I am basically trying to cover all aspects of the energy-related things one might do with woody biomass. Some of the things I am covering are gasification, pyrolysis, torrefaction, hydrolysis and conversion to ethanol, production of steam and electricity, use as fuel for cooking, and use as fuel for home heating. So what am I forgetting?

Volkswagen/LichtBlick Announcement

There was an announcement earlier today that has gone pretty much unreported in the U.S., but has gotten heavy media coverage in Germany. Earlier today, the German automaker Volkswagen announced that it is partnering with LichtBlick – a German company that only sells ‘green’ electricity – to produce small combined heat and power (micro-CHP) units for homes. (For a rare story on LichtBlick in English, see Target Customer Base: One Million). Here is the only story I could find on today’s announcement in English (but if you read German you can find loads of media coverage):

Volkswagen To Sell Home Power Plants

Together with the German Green Power supplier Lichtblick, VW wants to sell tiny natural gas power plants people can install in the cellar of their homes. Besides power the VW home power plants also generate warm water and heating.

The tiny power plants are supposed to be networked and feed power into the grid when it is needed most. The plan is to replace at least two nuclear power plants.

Honda has already entered this market, and have installed their micro-CHP units in 50,000 homes in Japan. Personally I think there is great potential for these units to displace the conventional oil furnaces found in many cold climates. I have been privy to some of the cost/output information on micro-CHP from three different suppliers, and based on what I have seen I believe this will be a very strong growth market.

I should disclose, though, that while I am not invested in LichtBlick, in my new job there is only one degree of separation between them and me. So while I don’t have a direct vested interest, I definitely have a personal interest in seeing them succeed with this venture.

Offline for a Week

Finally, my book chapter is due at the end of the week, and I plan to spend my normal blogging time finishing it up (and hopefully incorporating some reader feedback). I don’t foresee having much time to blog again until after September 11th, when the first draft is due. If there is a particularly interesting story, I may post a link, but I can’t afford to spend much time writing this week.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | bioenergy, biofuels, chp, forestry, Lichtblick | 59 Comments