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Pioneering scientists turn fresh air into petrol in massive boost in fight against energy crisis

by Steve Connor

A small British company has produced the first “petrol from air” using a revolutionary technology that promises to solve the energy crisis as well as helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five litres of petrol since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapour.

The company hopes that within two years it will build a larger, commercial-scale plant capable of producing a ton of petrol a day. It also plans to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral.

Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: “It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I’ve been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It’s a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work.”

Although the process is still in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, the company believes it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages.

“We’ve taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol,” said Peter Harrison, the company’s chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

“There’s nobody else doing it in this country or indeed overseas as far as we know. It looks and smells like petrol but it’s a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol derived from fossil oil,” Mr Harrison told The Independent.

“We don’t have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol, and yet our fuel can be used in existing engines,” he said.

“It means that people could go on to a garage forecourt and put our product into their car without having to install batteries or adapt the vehicle for fuel cells or having hydrogen tanks fitted. It means that the existing infrastructure for transport can be used,” Mr Harrison said.

Being able to capture carbon dioxide from the air, and effectively remove the principal industrial greenhouse gas resulting from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, has been the holy grail of the emerging green economy.

Using the extracted carbon dioxide to make petrol that can be stored, transported and used as fuel for existing engines takes the idea one step further. It could transform the environmental and economic landscape of Britain, Mr Harrison explained.

“We are converting renewable electricity into a more versatile, useable and storable form of energy, namely liquid transport fuels. We think that by the end of 2014, provided we can get the funding going, we can be producing petrol using renewable energy and doing it on a commercial basis,” he said.

“We ought to be aiming for a refinery-scale operation within the next 15 years. The issue is making sure the UK is in a good place to be able to set up and establish all the manufacturing processes that this technology requires. You have the potential to change the economics of a country if you can make your own fuel,” he said.

The initial plan is to produce petrol that can be blended with conventional fuel, which would suit the high-performance fuels needed in motor sports. The technology is also ideal for remote communities that have abundant sources of renewable electricity, such solar energy, wind turbines or wave energy, but little in the way of storing it, Mr Harrison said.

“We’re talking to a number of island communities around the world and other niche markets to help solve their energy problems.

“You’re in a market place where the only way is up for the price of fossil oil and at some point there will be a crossover where our fuel becomes cheaper,” he said.

Although the prototype system is designed to extract carbon dioxide from the air, this part of the process is still too inefficient to allow a commercial-scale operation.

The company can and has used carbon dioxide extracted from air to make petrol, but it is also using industrial sources of carbon dioxide until it is able to improve the performance of “carbon capture”.

Other companies are working on ways of improving the technology of carbon capture, which is considered far too costly to be commercially viable as it costs up to £400 for capturing one ton of carbon dioxide.

However, Professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University in New York said that the high costs of any new technology always fall dramatically.

“I bought my first CD in the 1980s and it cost $20 but now you can make one for less than 10 cents. The cost of a light bulb has fallen 7,000-fold during the past century,” Professor Lackner said.

Source

Study: Biofuels mandate could increase EU CO2 emissions

Published 17 September 2012

European biofuel mandates are unlikely to deliver a significant reduction and could even increase greenhouse gas emissions unless land use factors are considered, says a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The ICCT report suggests that Brussels is on the right track with its new biofuels rules, leaked last week, in which the EU executive backtracked on its policy goal of a 5.75% share for biofuels in the transport sector’s renewable energy targets.

The ICCT paper claims that, if not revised to address indirect land-use change (ILUC) the renewable energy directive could be expected to deliver a carbon saving of only 4% compared to fossil fuels, with a 30% chance actually of causing a net emissions increase.

The implementation of indirect land use change factors is likely to significantly increase carbon savings from biofuel policy, it says.

Such factors would also allow Europe to meet the directive’s target for a minimum 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels compared to fossil fuels.

All of the carbon savings from the policy are likely to come from use of bioethanol, since its main source – sugarcane – uses less land than biodiesels made from palm and vegetable oils.

Biodiesel from non-waste vegetable oil, the study says, is “likely to have a worse carbon footprint that fossil diesel“.

No basis for biodiesel

“Given that biodiesel production is also expected to be worse for a range of other environmental indicators (e.g. acidification, eutrophication, biodiversity) … than fossil diesel, there is no environmental basis for the EU to continue to support the supply of biodiesel … from non-waste vegetable oil.”

Under the leaked EU proposal, the EU executive will end all subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, a major blow to a sector worth an estimated €17 billion a year in Europe alone.

Angela Corbalan, EU media and communications officer for Oxfam, said her organisation viewed the leaked Commission proposal as a “step in the right direction.”

“If adopted”, she said in emailed comments, “it will send a strong signal that the Commission eventually wants to stop promoting the use of food for fuel and climate change damaging biofuels.”

A ‘crystal ball’ exercise

Rob Vierhout, secretary-general of ePure, a trade group representing the bioethanol industry, said he doubted the significance of ILUC factors in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t trust this science”, he said, adding that at this particular point in time no clear methodology exists: “It’s a crystal ball exercise. No one can give hard numbers on iLUC.”

Vierhout also condemned the Commission policy u-turn as “inconsistent policymaking”.

“We’ve invested billions of euros”, he said. “Now the Commission says they’re going to change the game.” ePure would put up a strong fight against the proposed law, he vowed.

The criticism echoes many others in a biofuel industry which argues that current modelling, such as that used in the ICCT study, is not robust enough for use in policymaking.

Food prices vs CO2 emissions

Nusa Urbancic, clean fuels campaigner for the Transport & Environment NGO, said that despite the Commission proposing to cut the use of crop-based biofuels, the bioethanol industry could benefit from the new law.

European demand for biodiesel exceeds bioethanol, as more European cars run on diesel but, while the proposed law would hit all crop-based fuels – including ethanol made from sugar cane – the market for fuels better in iLUC factors could increase.

“It will still be good for them because there will be an incentive to move towards biofuels with lower factors”, Urbancic said.

Land used to power European cars with biofuels for one year could produce enough wheat and  maize to feed 127 million people, said a study released by Oxfam ahead of the EU Energy Ministers’ meeting today (17 September).

“With the world’s poorest at greater risk of hunger as a result of spiralling food prices, the international agency is calling on the EU to rethink its dangerous love affair with biofuels”, read a statement accompanying the study.

Positions:

Biofuels are wreaking havoc on tight food markets and our forests, increasing hunger and accelerating climate change just so Europe can fuel its cars,” said Robbie Blake, the biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

“The EU needs to comprehensively close the carbon accounting loophole [from ILUC], otherwise biofuels will continue to expand agriculture for fuel at the expense of forests and natural habitats, and increase carbon emissions.” He continued: “After months of delay, the Commission has come up with a messy compromise that acknowledges that ILUC is extremely serious, but then fails to address it in all pieces of legislation. This proposal would see an increase in Europe’s biofuels made from food, when what we need at this time of food crisis is to stop burning them altogether.”

“Europe has helped spark a global rush for biofuels that is forcing poor families from their homes, while big business piles up the profits. Biofuels were meant to make transport greener, but European governments are pouring consumers’ money down the drain, whilst depriving millions of people of food, land and water,” said Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office.

Study: Biofuels mandate could increase EU CO2 emissions | EurActiv.

Germany: Siemens to Convert Wind Energy into Gas

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Siemens AG (SIE) has revealed its intention to introduce technology in 2015 that will enable conversion of wind-turbine electricity into gas, providing wind farms with an alternative revenue stream when the grid is fully charged.

Michael Weinhold, Chief Technology Officer of Siemens’ Energy Businesses, says the electrolyser, a soccer-field sized plant that converts power into storable hydrogen, is in the testing phase, reports Bloomberg. It offers a promising capacity necessary for overcoming the challenge of how to harness fluctuating electricity output from wind farms, especially at night when demand is the lowest.

Munich-based Siemens allocates 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) on annual bases to devising new technology for the energy industry. Wind farms have faced hardship in commercial terms because power cannot be stored on a large scale, however the converted hydrogen can be stored by feeding it into the gas grid.

“The main problem today is the mismatch of renewable power generation and demand,” Weinhold said in an interview. “If we can offer solutions to solve that, we have a business case.”

Source

Another Stimulus-Backed Energy Company Files for Bankruptcy

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After months of financial turmoil, an Energy Department-backed lithium ion battery company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Lachlan Markay

January 26, 2012 at 10:39 am

The company, Ener1, received a $118 million grant from DOE in 2010 as part of the president’s stimulus package. The money, which went to Ener1 subsidiary EnerDel, aimed to promote renewable energy storage battery technology for electrical grid use.

But despite generous federal support for the company, Ener1 was racked by problems last year. In October, NASDAQ delisted the company due to non-compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission filing requirements. A month later, the company’s president, chief executive, and top financial officer were fired.

On Thursday, Ener1 announced it will initiate a pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan as part of an agreement to restructure the company’s debt obligations.

Ener1, Inc. (OTC: HEVV) (the “Company”) today announced that it has reached agreement with its primary investors and lenders on a restructuring plan that will significantly reduce its debt and provide up to $81 million to recapitalize the Company to support its long-term business objectives and strategic plan.

To implement this restructuring plan, the Company has voluntarily initiated a “pre-packaged” Chapter 11 case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, in which it is requesting that the Court confirm a pre-packaged Plan of Reorganization to implement the restructuring.  The Company filed a proposed Disclosure Statement and Plan of Reorganization with the Court and anticipates completing the restructuring process in approximately 45 days…

The pre-packaged restructuring plan, which has been unanimously accepted by all of Ener1′s impaired creditors, provides for a restructuring of the Company’s long-term debt and the infusion of up to $81 million of equity funding, which will support the continued operation of Ener1′s subsidiaries and help ensure that the restructuring will not adversely impact their employees, customers and suppliers.  Of this amount, a new debtor-in-possession (DIP) credit facility of up to $20 million will be available upon Court approval to support working capital needs during the restructuring.  The balance, for a total of up to $81 million, will be available over the four years following Court approval of the restructuring plan and subject to the satisfaction of certain terms and conditions.

Ener1 is not the first energy storage technology company to file for Chapter 11 after receiving significant stimulus support. Beacon Power, which manufactures flywheel energy storage technology, received a $43 million loan guarantee from the same stimulus program that funded Solyndra. Despite having used $3 million marked for loan repayment to continue funding its daily operations, Beacon filed for Chapter 11 in November.

Source

Gone with the Wind Subsidies

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Nicolas Loris
December 9, 2011 at 10:52 am

The year 2012 marks a monumental yet depressing milestone for the wind energy industry: 20 years of tax credits.

The federal renewable energy production tax credit, which allows wind producers to take a 30 percent investment tax credit or receive a 2.2-cents-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit, has been around since 1992. The tax credit expires at the end of 2012, and the wind energy advocates are already ramping up their efforts to include an extension in any end-of-the-year must-pass legislation. It’s time to let this wasteful, unnecessary subsidy run out.

The Wrong Way to Promote Technology

Let’s take it back to 1992. The parents are watching Murphy Brown, the kids are watching Full House, and people are rockin’ out to Nirvana and Dr. Dre. (Some things never change.) And wind was ready to usher in a new era of energy production. In fact, Matthew Wald wrote in a 1992 New York Times article, “A New Era for Windmill Power,” that “striking improvements in technology, the commercial use of these windmills, or wind turbines as the builders call them, has shown that in addition to being pollution free, they can now compete with fossil fuels in the cost of producing electricity.”

He went on: “Kingsley E. Chatton, president of U.S. Windpower, which operates 22 new-generation windmills here, said the economics of wind power was at the point where it ‘will compete with fossil fuel.’ Others agree.”

Twenty years of subsidies later, wind still only provides a paltry 2.3 percent of America’s electricity in 2010, and it still needs subsidies.

Jim Nelson, CEO of Solar3D, argues that government subsidies are obstructing innovation in the renewable-energy sector:

Operating subsidies, or installation subsidies, helps get clean energy sources installed but the problem is that current technology is not economically competitive. Everything we do needs to be done with a view toward global competitiveness. Unfortunately, because current technology is not economical relative to alternatives, it does not promote our competitiveness.

The problem is that subsidies promote technological malaise. They take away the incentive to innovate and lower cost by promoting business models geared more toward gaining favor with politicians than on technological innovation. The result is that subsidized industries quickly become dependent on government. At that point, long-term competitiveness becomes secondary to near-term survival, which is generally conditioned on more handouts.

Thus when the government support is threatened, the propped-up industry responds with pleas for more handouts. Recognizing that their survival depends more on securing subsidies than on technological innovation, subsidized industries reject such investments to the extent that they too are not subsidized by government. Hence, the vicious cycle of subsidies inevitably result in technological stagnation.

When 2.2 Cents Adds Up

That 2.2 cents doesn’t sound like much, but it is on average 40 percent of the wholesale price of electricity. Treasury says the tax credits costs taxpayers $1.5 billion annually. This is uncalled for. Not only is the nation facing $15 trillion of debt, but it already has access to ample supplies of diverse electricity sources that are perfectly capable of meeting our energy demands so long as government gets out of the way. Not only are the subsidies not needed, but they do not work. So regardless of our debt problems, taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing any energy source.

Artificially Creating Politically Preferred Jobs and More Lobbying Jobs Will Not Grow Our Economy

Wind-energy advocacy groups are on their megaphones screaming that without the extension of the tax credits, thousands of jobs will be lost. This is a half true, at best.

Subsidizing uneconomical industries, as perhaps the wind-energy tax credit has done for two decades, shifts labor and capital away from other sectors of the economy. Removing the subsidy would free up these resources to be more productive elsewhere in the U.S. economy. In the process, jobs that rely on taxpayer handouts would likely go away. But the newly available resources could then go toward the likely creation of more and better jobs.

If we produce more wind energy without subsidies, all the better, but the American Wind Energy Association says that may not be the case if the tax credit expires. Spokesman Peter Kelly said, “Industrywide we are seeing a slowdown in orders for towers and turbines after 2012 that is rippling down the supply chain and the big issue is the lack of certainty around the production tax credit that gives a favorable low tax rate to renewable energy.”

President of the Cheyenne and Laramie County economic development organization Randy Bruns echoed, “A lot of these projects, the economics change without that tax credit.”

If wind energy is not economically viable without the taxpayers’ crutch, then we’re propping up a market loser. If wind energy is a market winner, the subsidy is taking money out of the taxpayers’ wallets and putting into the hands of the wind producers. Neither case makes any sense.

Removing the government’s influence in the market reduces the need for more office space on K Street in Washington, D.C., the central hub of lobbyists. Just yesterday, Occupy Wall Street shut down K Street with protests, but they should direct their message to the root cause of lobbying—government controlling decisions that are best left for the private sector. If Occupy Wall Street is sincere in its fight against crony capitalism, it would be arguing for less government intervention into the economy, not more.

These problems will continue to persist so long as politicians continue to expand subsidies for their pet projects. When it comes to energy subsidies, we need to prevent the new and repeal the old.

That’s my 2.2 cents. I’d like to keep them in my own pocket.

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