The United Nations asked the US to change its biofuel policy to avoid a global food crisis reported Reuters. Fearing high food prices in poorer countries and mass starvation, the UN has urged the US to move away from food crops to energy and use non-food sources instead. Concern has escalated as drought in the U.S. midwest this summer has sent grain prices to record highs, causing a 6% surge in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s July food price index. The US government has mandated that gasoline be mixed with 10% ethanol which is made from corn crops. The US now wants to increase the ethanol component to 15%. As a result, 40% of corn that originally was destined as food for humans and animals is now being siphoned off into biofuel production. The UN says: “An immediate, temporary suspension of that mandate would give some respite to the market and allow more of the crop to be channeled towards food and feed uses.” Farmers in the US who purchase corn to feed their livestock support such a suspension while biofuel companies say suspending the mandate could have several unintended effects, such as dampening investment in cellulosic and other advanced biofuels. See also The Guardian US and EU must change biofuel targets to avert food crisis says Nestlé chief and EuropeanVoice Drought puts squeeze on EU biofuel policy.

UPDATE: Climate Spectator reports the European Union has drafted legislation that will impose a limit on the use of crop-based biofuels over fears they compete with food production. Under the proposals, the use of biofuels made from crops such as rapeseed and wheat would be limited to 5% of the total energy consumption in the transport sector in 2020. The plans also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020. The Commission is expected to formally publish the draft rules in the coming weeks. The draft rules would need the approval of the 27 EU governments.

CNN highlighted the 10 most expensive energy projects in the world. Most involve natural gas in Australia. The most expensive project, however, is in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. Kashagan, in the north Caspian Sea, is one of the largest crude oil discoveries of the last 40 years.  The oil will have to be transported out of this harsh climate by a series of interconnecting rail lines, pipelines and ships.

Russia is going to produce electricity from old nuclear weapons said Der Spiegel. Under the July 2011 Plutonium Management and Disposition Treaty, the US and Russia agreed to destroy 68 metric tons of plutonium, enough to fill 17,000 nuclear warheads. Russia plans on doing this by using it in a new type of nuclear reactor called a “fast” nuclear reactor. Such a reactor, known as the Beloyarsk BN-800 nuclear power plant, is currently under construction in the city of Zarechny (formerly the closed city called Penza-19). The reactor is being built at breakneck speed to be ready for the fall of 2013. Operating a fast reactor with weapons-grade plutonium is a risk no one have has ever taken yet although this is permitted in the Russian-American treaty. Plutonium is considered the most dangerous nuclear fuel. Breathing in just a few milligrams of plutonium dust is fatal to humans. It is enormously expensive to store safely — and completely useless for civilian purposes. The author questions whether the Russians have the knowledge, skill, and safety procedures to deal with this highly dangerous material..

The cost for Japan to go nuclear free was examined by The New York Times. “If the country’s 50 nuclear reactors were permanently closed this year, electric power companies would be hit with losses totaling 4.4 trillion yen ($55.9 billion), rendering at least four of them insolvent..” Nuclear plants generated about one-third of Japan’s electricity before the Fukushima accident in March 2011, but most remain offline. The government is looking at 3 options to reduce the country’s dependence on this energy source. All of them would give the power companies until 2030 to shut their reactors permanently. One would reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear power to 20% to 25% of electrical needs by 2030. A second option would cut this to 15%, and a third would eliminate nuclear power entirely. Public hearings and opinion polls have shown overwhelming support for a complete phaseout. Those opposed to nuclear power are hoping renewable energy (wind, solar) will fill the gap of closed reactors.  However, these intermittent energy sources produce very little electricity in Japan now and the country has been forced to substantially increase its imports of fossil fuels, notably coal, natural gas and oil to fill the void. See also CleanBiz Asia Japan puts forward strategy to eliminate nuclear power by 2030.

knowledge@wharton discussed The Once and Future U.S. Shale Gas Revolution. The author looked at the promise and problems, including environmental concerns, raised by the massive finds of shale gas in the US. See also Knovel Country turning to natural gas for the long haul.

In a related post FierceEnergy said natural gas in North America and Europe has a “sound future”. A new study by Frost & Sullivan concludes the relatively clean burning characteristics and flexible operating capabilities of natural gas-fired power generation ensure this energy source will grow across the globe. The combination of high natural gas availability worldwide,  extremely low natural gas prices in North America and the shale gas production boom are all leading to the replacement of many coal-fired electricity plants with natural gas based plants. Frost & Sullivan says: “The leading regions for gas-fired power plant orders during the current decade will be the Middle East and China. The global market will be sustained by the burgeoning demand for new plants in emerging economies as well as replacement demand arising from decommissioning of old coal-fired power plants, particularly in Europe and North America.”

The Sydney Morning Herald worried that Australia’s natural gas projects may be imperiled by Africa’s natural gas rush. The discovery along Africa’s east coast of the world’s biggest gas finds in a decade threatens to undo $100 billion in Australian LNG investments. “Royal Dutch Shell, BG Group of the UK and France’s Total may scale back projects to build liquefied natural gas export plants in Australia and switch to Tanzania and Mozambique, where the new prospects lie and will cost about half as much.” Both Australia and Africa are vying for the rich export market to satisfy Asian demand, particularly China and India.

Science Daily headlined with Enough Wind to Power Global Energy Demand. New research from the Carnegie Institution concludes there is enough energy available in winds to meet all of the world’s demand. Moreover, atmospheric wind turbines that convert steadier and faster high-altitude winds into energy could generate even more electricity than ground and ocean-based units. The study looked only at the geophysical limitations of these techniques, not technical or economic factors. Using computer models, the study found that more than 400 terrawatts of power could be extracted from surface winds and more than 1,800 terrawatts could be generated by winds extracted throughout the atmosphere. The authors observed: “Looking at the big picture, it is more likely that economic, technological or political factors will determine the growth of wind power around the world, rather than geophysical limitations.” You can read the study here. The Australian responds from the other side of the equation – financing global wind power in Answer is blowing in the wind, at a price. “…the research looks only at physics, not finances. Other experts note it would be too costly to put up all the necessary wind turbines and build a system that could transmit energy to all consumers…Furthermore, all the necessary wind turbines would take up too much land and require dramatic increases in power transmission lines.”

The Telegraph told us China’s solar industry is on the brink of bankruptcy.  With a trade war with Europe and the US looming before the WTO and declining demand from the Great Recession, China’s solar manufacturing facilities are closing down as a glut of solar panels litters the country. “While the Chinese government has promised to hugely increase its purchases of solar panels, there is a significant excess capacity in the domestic market that has kept prices low. China’s big five firms are all reporting disastrous trading and heavily indebted balance sheets.”

fuel fix wrote about China and its North American energy ambitions as it invests heavily in both Canadian and American energy resources and technological knowledge.

In a related post, The Asset focused on Asia’s quest for green energy in Australia. While Chinese companies are most interested in wind, other Asia companies are expressing an interest in geothermal and bio-energy. Japan is interested in converting Australia’s massive brown coal reserves into cleaner burning synthetic gas and pumping the carbon into exhausted natural gas cavities beneath the waters of Bass Strait, which separates the Australian mainland from Tasmania. The post looks at the different ways Asian countries are getting involved in Australia’s renewable industries.

ECOSEED says LED lighting is about to become more energy efficient. A new report released by the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and UK-based analysis group N14 Energy Limited suggests that LEDs could have a far-reaching edge over conventional lighting systems as the technology and manufacturing methods advance in the next five years. The report found that LEDs and CFLs are significantly more energy efficient than the traditional incandescent, which requires more energy to function. For instance, the 60W incandescent bulb uses 60 watts of power while the LED. and CFL only use 12.5 and 15 watts, respectively, to produce the same amount of light. The study also found that LEDs stand out as capable of generating the most energy savings among the three lighting technologies available. The researchers expect improvements in manufacturing processes and electronics to be L.E.D. bulbs to be even more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than CFLs within five years. (Note: LED = light emitting diode; CFL = compact fluorescents  — not Canadian Football League!!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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