Cal on March 15th, 2018


The promise of nuclear fusion is huge: it represents an inexhaustible supply of clean, safe power — a zero-carbon, combustion-free source of energy without any hazardous radioactive waste. The problem, so far, has been to create a reactor that produces more energy than the amount of energy used as an input.  Many have tried, yet all have failed to produce net energy from a fusion experiment.

Now scientists at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say the dream of nuclear fusion is on the brink of being realised. Indeed, the world may see its first fusion reactors in 15 years. The scientists are working with Commonwealth Fusion Systems to put a working fusion reactor on the electric grid. They intend to use a new class of high-temperature superconductors that will allow them to create the world’s first fusion reactor that produces more energy than needs to be put in to get the fusion reaction going.

Fusion works on the basic concept of forging lighter atomic elements together to form heavier ones. When hydrogen atoms are squeezed hard enough, they fuse together to make helium, liberating vast amounts of energy in the process. Fusion is the source of the power of the stars, including our Sun. However, this process produces net energy only at extreme temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees celsius – hotter for any solid material to withstand. To get around this dilemma, scientists use powerful magnetic fields to hold in place the hot plasma – a gaseous soup of subatomic particles – to stop it from coming into contact with any solids. A newly available superconducting material – a steel tape coated with a compound called yttrium-barium-copper oxide, or YBCO – allows plasma physicists to produce smaller, more powerful magnets. And this potentially reduces the amount of energy that needs to be inputted  to get the fusion reaction started. And the higher the magnetic field, the more compactly we can squeeze that fuel and extract even more energy.

The planned fusion experiment, called Sparc, is designed to produce about 100 megawatts (MW) of heat. While it will not turn that heat into electricity, it will produce, in pulses of about 10 seconds, as much power as is used by a small city. The scientists anticipate the output will be more than twice the power used to heat the plasma, achieving the ultimate technical milestone: positive net energy from fusion.

Unlike other fuels, there will never be a shortage of hydrogen as it is the most common material in the Universe.

Prof Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice-president for research, said: “If we succeed, the world’s energy systems will be transformed. We’re extremely excited about this.”

See WBURMIT Aims To Bring Nuclear Fusion To The Market In 10 Years

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Cal on March 15th, 2018

Cal on March 14th, 2018

Volkswagen has updated its electric car plans. The German automaker will have 16 production sites and invest $25 billion in battery cell contracts.  The plants will start producing electric vehicles by 2022. By 2025 the company hopes to produce three million electric vehicles annually and market 80 new electric models. The batteries will be produced in Europe and China. Over the next 5 years VW expects to invest $84 billion (81 billion euros) in EV cars and batteries.

The UK has commenced a 3 year review of self-driving vehicle laws. The government wants to make sure that it remains one of the best places in the world to develop, test and drive self-driving vehicles. The research will be undertaken by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission, and led by Transport Research Laboratory. The review will examine how existing driving laws can support the next generation of vehicles and check whether there are any legal obstacles for the introduction of self-driving vehicles as well as highlight the need for regulatory reforms. Subjects to be investigated include who will be classed as the driver of or responsible person for an autonomous car, and how to allocate criminal and civil responsibility in case of some shared control in a human-machine interface. It will also determine whether new criminal offences are required to cope with novel types of conduct and interference and what is the expected impact on other road users and how they can be protected from risk. UK Roads Minister Jesse Norman said:

 “The UK is a world leader for self-driving vehicle research and development, and this work marks an important milestone in our continued commitment to the technology. With driving technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, it is important that our laws and regulations keep pace.” 

So far, the UK government has spent £120 million on research and development projects for the development of self-driving vehicles and has pledged another £1 billion to examine autonomous vehicles in difficult and hostile environments.

An executive order by California Governor Jerry Brown has set an official target of 5 million electric cars on the US state’s roads by 2030. To reach this goal, California will spend $2.5 billion between now and 2025 to install more EV charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations throughout the state. It will also increase incentives and rebate programs to subsidize people who buy zero emissions cars. Currently there are some 350,000 zero-emissions vehicles in the state. Fast charging stations will increase from 1,500 to 10,000 and hydrogen refueling stations will jump from 31 today to 200. The program will be partially funded by the money the state received from the Volkswagen diesel scandal and from its carbon emissions trading scheme.

France announced it will spend an extra €700 million euros ($862 million) by 2022 to assist developing countries with their solar energy projects. Emerging economies will get the assistance in the form of loans and donations. 

A new report from Zion Market Research finds the global biomass pellets market accounted for $7.7 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $16 billion by 2022.

Straw will provide heat and electricity at a facility in southwest France. Designed to be operational in 2019, Biotricity Maubourguet’s plant will generate 16 megawatts (MW) of electricity and 33 MW of heat using straw and other agricultural crop residues as inputs supplied by agricultural cooperatives Euralis and Vivadour. The plant will process about 150,000 tonnes of biomass annually. The electricity will be sold to the power distribution grids of France and Europe under a 20 year contract, while the heat will be used by nearby food-processing factories and for the production of biofuels.

A biomass combined-heat-and-power project in southwest England will generate heat and power for nearby homes and Discovery Park, a center for science and innovation in Kent, England. To be operational by August, the Kent Renewable Energy CHP plant will use locally sourced wood as fuel to generate more than 27 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 50,000 homes. 15 to 20% of the electricity will be supplied directly to the tenants of Discovery Park, who will also benefit from the heat generated by steam from the plant.

The US Energy Information Administration projects wood biomass is expected to be used to generate 120,000 megawatt hours per day of electricity this year, increasing to 121,000 MWh per day next year. Waste biomass is expected to be used to generate 59,000 MWh per day of electricity this year, increasing to 60,000 MWh per day next year. The EIA also predicts 2.2 million U.S. households will use wood as a primary heating fuel this winter, with 1/3 of these households being in the western part of the country.

North America’s first fully integrated closed-loop organic waste management system opened in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Surrey’s Biofuel Facility converts curbside organic waste into renewable biofuel to fuel the city’s fleet of natural gas-powered waste collection and service vehicles. Under this closed loop system, waste collection trucks will literally be collecting their fuel source at curbside. Excess fuel will go to the new district energy system that heats and cools Surrey’s City Centre. The Biofuel Facility will divert 115,000 tons of organic waste from the landfill, produce approximately 120,000 Gigajoules of renewable natural gas and produce approximately 45,000 tons of nutrient-rich compost annually. All of the waste is contained and processed within the plant which means no odors are emitted into the atmosphere.

Waste from sugarcane is generating electricity in Mexico. A plant in Oaxaca owned by a joint-venture of Mexican bottlers is capable of generating 50 megawatt hours per day using waste from sugarcane milling. The electricity will go to operating the sugarcane mill and to associated bottlers. Excess power is delivered to the Mexican Federal Energy Commission.

What may be the world’s largest solar energy farm is now operating in the Indian state of Karnataka. Located in the southwest part of the country, the solar farm is called Shakti Sthala and spans 13,000 acres across five villages. Farmers from these villages are being paid for the land they have leased to the project. Capable of generating some 2 gigawatts of electrical power, most of the energy will be delivered to people in the local area.


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Cal on March 14th, 2018


Larry Coryel, Bireli Lagrene et al playing Amapola live

Cal on March 13th, 2018

The International Energy Agency predicts the US will cover 80% of the world’s increased demand for crude oil over the next three years.  Canada, Brazil, and Norway will cover the remainder, leaving no room for more OPEC supply, without dramatically decreasing world oil prices, something OPEC has worked hard to prevent for the past two years with its supply cuts. The Agency added that China will continue to be a main driving force for the growth of global crude oil demand.

Saudi Aramco Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser said the global crude oil and natural gas industry needs to invest more than $20 trillion over the next 25 years to meet expected growth in demand and compensate for the natural decline in existing developed fields.

Saudi Arabia plans to use all surplus crude oil revenues to bolster the sovereign wealth fund being used for economic modernization efforts. Should oil prices exceed the level required to balance the annual Saudi budget, any extra revenues would be funneled into the fund.

China plans to create an energy ministry to oversee the country’s crude oil, natural gas, coal and electric power sectors as part of a shake-up aimed at making policymaking more efficient. The move comes in the wake of the debacle earlier this winter when many buildings in northern China were converted from coal to natural gas without sufficient natural gas supplies available to heat them.

Dominion Energy became the second US exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced from shale gas when a tanker departed its Cove Point terminal in the state of Maryland. Dominion joins Cheniere Energy in the state of Louisiana as a LNG exporter. A handful of other US export terminals are under construction and more than a dozen are being proposed, putting the country on the verge of becoming a much bigger player in the supply of LNG globally.

The accelerating demise of diesel fuel, long used by automakers to increase fuel-efficiency, is undermining their plans to meet looming European Union CO2 goals and avoid large annual fines. Car manufacturers are grappling with a Hobson’s Choice: re-engineer existing vehicles at huge expense, restrict sales of their most profitable models; or risk hundreds of millions of euros in penalties.

Toyota says it will phase out diesel engines from all its passenger cars by the end of this year.  However, it will continue to offer diesel engines in commercial vehicles to meet customer needs.

The Swedish Gas Association announced that as of December 2017, there were 55,117 natural gas vehicles (NGV) registered in that country. Of these there were 2,533 buses, 854 heavy vehicles, and the remainder passenger cars and vans. A new incentive system introduced at the end of last year provides SEK 10,000 (US$1,210) to a purchaser of a NGV vehicle.  There are currently more than 170 natural gas refueling stations in the country.

Romania has approved the construction of 9 compressed natural gas (CNG) refueling stations for public use. The stations are to be built in Arad, Timisoara, Deva, Pitesti, Constanta, Craiova, Drobeta Turnu Severin and Sibiu, and it its hoped they all will be fully operational by the end of 2019. The stations will form part of the European Union’s pan-European transportation corridors being built for alternative fuel vehicles.

In the US city of Miami, Domino’s pizza is testing a self-driving car to deliver its product to its customers. Customers can track their order via GPS and receive text messages as the vehicle approaches. This includes a four-digit code needed to unlock the heat-wave compartment in which their pizzas await.

The International Maritime Organization has announced that beginning in 2020, shipping vessels will not be allowed to burn fuel with a sulfur content higher than 0.5%, down from 3.5% currently.

As more people around the world move to cities and incomes rise in tropical regions, researchers estimate the amount of electricity needed to meet a rising demand for cooling could be ten times higher by 2050 than it is today.


with h/t Tom Whipple






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Cal on March 13th, 2018

 “I believe we are witnessing, and participating in, the reindustrialization of the United States.”

   —  Siemens AG president and CEO Joe Kaeser commenting on the abundance of shale gas in the US and its potential impact on the global economy.

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Cal on March 11th, 2018

Cal on March 11th, 2018

Self-driving trucks are on the roads of the US state of Utah. Uber has been sending self-driving trucks on delivery runs across the state since November. The trucks haul goods in both directions, using Uber Freight to coordinate load pickups and dropoffs with local trucking companies. Uber Freight is an app that matches shippers with loads. Trucking is a $700 billion industry in the US that moves 70% of all domestic freight. Uber does not plan on entering the trucking industry but may consider selling its technology to other companies.

The Canary Islands off the Atlantic coast of North Africa will form part of an European Union study to see if hydrogen can be produced using renewable energy to power cars, boats and heat buildings. The project will include construction of a hydrogen plant on the islands, where up to 25 kilogram of hydrogen gas a day will be produced, sufficient to power up to 10 commercially-available cars with a maximum range of 600 kilometers. The hydrogen will be generated using seawater and solar panels. Dr Pau Farràs Costa from the School of Chemistry at NUI Galway said:

“The plan for the project is to study if this model is a viable business model to export to other places within the islands and other regions. We are looking at other possibilities including heat, but also for boats and ferries. We are focused on islands because they are so dependent on fossil fuel imports.”

An alliance of 11 Japanese automakers and energy firms (“Japan H2 Mobility”) said it will build more filling stations for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. They intend to nearly double the amount of hydrogen stations by adding 80 new stations over the next four years adding to the 100 or so that already exist in Japan. The joint venture includes car manufacturers Toyota, Nissan and Honda along with major gas and energy firms.

The European Union has approved a five-year project that plans to replace diesel generators widely used for backup and temporary power with a hydrogen (H2)-powered equivalent. The 12 companies that comprise EVERYWH2ERE have been given €7 million ($8.7 million) to build eight plug and play gensets powered by hydrogen fuel cells to be used for portable, temporary power in urban environments.

Eco-Business writes about the potential of hydrogen to replace fossil fuels.

The European Commission has approved financing for an Italian plan for the production and distribution of advanced biofuels, including advanced biomethane for use in the transportation sector. These fuels are referred to as second and third-generation biofuels. The European Union will provide €4.7 billion (US$5.8 billion) over the period 2018 until 2022 to assist in financing the project. The plan will be financed by transport fuel retailers who are obliged by law to include a certain percentage of advanced biofuels and biomethane in their fuel blends .Advanced biofuels and biomethane are produced from feedstock that do not require agricultural land for their production, and include waste, agricultural residues, and algae. Since they have much higher production costs than fossil fuels, producers of advanced biomethane and biofuels will receive a subsidy which allows them to compensate for these higher costs and compete with fossil fuels in the transport sector. The subsidy can be increased if producers also make investments to improve the distribution and liquefaction of advanced biomethane. The level of the subsidy will be reviewed each year in relation to the production costs to ensure that producers are not overcompensated. The plan will also provide incentives to Italian farmers to produce biofuel and biomethane from manure and other residues originating from their farming activities and use the fuel to power their agricultural machines and vehicles. The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive requires all 27 Member States to ensure that at least 10% of all energy consumed in the transportation sector comes from renewable sources by 2020.

The city of Reading, England has introduced 17 new double decker buses that are powered by biogas. The biogas is produced from food and sewage waste. The buses will be operating on the city’s busiest route. The compressed natural gas (CNG) buses have a range of 250 miles and can refuel at the Reading bus station. The city now has 40 buses running on biogas. John Bickerton, chief engineer for Reading buses states:

 “Running a biogas fleet is less than 70% of the direct cost of a diesel fleet. They’re also much more reliable, which would be worth paying a premium for. Switching to biogas has meant a saving of up to 20% on fuel costs too.” 





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