In his bold speech calling to transform the energy industry, Al Gore forgot to say one of the most important words of the 21st century – biology. He forgot to mention that if we wanted to ‘grow’ energy, carbon could become a profitable feedstock rather than an economic and environmental liability.
Gore is now calling on America to launch a major Apollo-style program to ‘decarbonize’ the electricity sector by 2018 using renewables, geothermal and carbon sequestration efforts. He imagines a world beyond ‘fossil fuels’, but might be overlooking our greatest potential investment in the energy sector – tapping biological systems that ‘eat’ carbon and ‘grow’ energy resources such as biofuels (for transportation) and hydrogen (for electricity generation).
What is possible by 2018? Within a decade we could transform the role of carbon into a profitable feedstock for clean, abundant energy by tapping the power of biology.
The phrase ‘fossil fuels’ is misleading. Coal and oil are not ancient bones or animal matter, rather they are ancient plant life and microorganisms that locked up hydrogen and carbon molecules using the power of the sun. Coal and oil are bioenergy resources. And rather than extract ancient bioenergy from the ground, we can grow the same hydrocarbon chains ourselves without adding new carbon to the atmosphere. (cont.)
For 80-year-old Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens the
answer is blowin’ in the wind.
When you imagine of the future of U.S. energy, chances are the
you don’t think of 80-year-old Texas Oil tycoons. At least
you didn’t until T. Boone Pickens began campaigning for the
The Pickens Plan just a few weeks ago.
With oil prices heading towards $5 a gallon in the midst of a
recession, an administration change on the horizon and the
clean-tech debate drawing a great deal of attention and even more
capital, the U.S. sorely needs a high profile spokesperson for
energy policy change. So is Pickens our guy? And is the
timing finally right for some serious energy policy change?
The Pickens Plan calls for a reduction in U.S. use of
foreign oil by 38% in 10 years by greatly expanding wind
power in the center of the country to be used towards electricity
production, thus freeing up natural gas reserves to be used for
transportation. 22% of U.S.
electrical generation comes from natural gas. The plan argues
that if the current 1% (48 billion kWh)
of power converted from wind can be expanded to 20% (960 billion
kWh) then the more than 6.2 trillion cubic feet of natural
gas used annually to produce electricity could be used for transportation starting
with industry vehicles like trucks and buses. Furthermore,
unlike oil, natural domestic gas production can increase and
actually did see a 9% rise
from 2007 to 2008. U.S. natural gas reserves are twice
But why has Pickens chosen to promote his plan at this exact
moment? U.S. dependence on foreign oil has been an issue for
at least 20 years and it’s not as if the other selling points of
his plan—lower CO2 emissions of natural
gas, the need to expand renewable energy infrastructure, and the
potential of wind power in the U.S.—are new to the political
landscape. Environmentalists and many Democrats have been
shouting these points for years. The only thing new to these
ideas is that
Pickens is promoting them. Atop in all, Pickens is a
particularly unlikely renewable energy spokesperson. Besides
being a billionaire oil tycoon, he has been an outspoken supporter
of the Republican party and contributed $5.5 million to help defeat John Kerry elect
George W. Bush in 2004.
General Motors is not afraid of the future. And it is not afraid to let go of the past.
On Tuesday the company released details of its production version of ‘Volt’ – the industry’s first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) that will go into production in 2010.
And this is only the beginning.
GM’s plan to reinvent the auto industry starts with killing the combustion engine.
We believe the company has three strategies for the future:
#1 The Real Revolution is about Manufacturing
GM knows that in the next automobile revolution – it is not how you fuel a car that matters, it’s how you build it.
GM cares less about the price of oil, than it cares about the cost and complexities of building cars around the mechanical combustion engine. The Volt is important because the combustion engine is relegated to a new temporary task – recharge the batteries. The 21st century auto industry begins when we shift to modularity of electric motors (e.g. lower manufacturing costs, fewer factories).
#2 Design Matters
GM knows that design matters, and the bulky, mechanical combustion engine holds them back. If you eliminate the engine and regain 1/3rd of the vehicle chassis you can rethink how cars are built. Transition to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking – and you open up new potential for vehicle designs and upgrades.
#3 The breakthrough is Electric motors, not the batteries
GM knows auto-engineering. High performance electric motors have arrived. Now we need to develop systems to deliver the streams of electrons. The future of the automobile is not ‘all’ battery or ‘all’ fuel cell – it’s both.
The electric car is not an iPod. The battery is not our end game. It is merely one piece of the puzzle for electric propulsion. Batteries might have a short-term commercialization advantage, but the platform might struggle to evolve into the 21st century. The chemistry is bad. The costs are too high, and the performance is adequate at best. Future electric propulsion systems will integrate all three systems – batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Looking beyond the Chevy Volt
The GM Volt is big – because it is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine. R.I.P.
GM’s real revolutionary vision is not the Chevy Volt, but its AUTOnomy concept.
That vision starts with simple idea– skateboard kills car.
Then the industry uses the principles of modular design and manufacturing to change the cost structure of how cars are built, bought, sold and upgraded.
It is no secret that the energy delivered by batteries has failed to keep pace with the growing demands of power-hungry consumer products. We all deal with the inconvenience of batteries and plugging in to recharge!
Meanwhile, the multi-billion market for batteries will continue to grow exponentially in the years ahead as more people around the globe cling to advanced consumer electronics. This means more people will be dependent on cords, plugging in and recharging batteries.
The winning combination of qualities in micro-power systems is simple: low cost, long-life, high energy density, quick recharge or refill, non toxic, and safe (e.g. chemical stability and heat management).
Today, portable power means one source- lithium ion batteries (Li-ion). Unfortunately Li-ions suffer from bad chemistry. As manufacturers try to cram more energy into lithium-ion batteries, more heat is generated and the device runs a higher risk of a runaway reaction and fire. The good news is that nanoscale science and engineering is expanding the list of potential solutions to Li-ions problems.
There are a number of promising start ups innovating around nanoscale electrodes, separation membranes and new compounds that could allow lithium ions to grow their market leadership position. Boston-Power Inc, ActaCell, and Lion are start ups with impressive academic institution foundations. So their science seems strong!
Then there are the rapidly rising stars of Altair Nanotechnologies Inc. and A123 Systems who might skip over portable power applications for a potentially more lucrative role for Li-ions in automotive applications.
But let’s think beyond lithium ions. What options exist beyond today’s highest performing consumer batteries? And is there a chance that we might go ‘cord-free’ someday?
How about Silver-zinc batteries and methanol-based micro fuel cells?
October 12 2008 / by Will / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy Year: General Rating: 11 Hot
Cross posted from Where There’s A William.
As long as we seem to be in the mood to spend our way out of trouble anyway, what say we try to acquire a little something in return for or effort?
I have written about the Hyperion Power Module with some degree of specificity in the past, but the present socio-political climate within the US national environment allows me to complete the strategic formulation, I believe.
Since the recent signing into law of the US$850b financial legislation, the mechanism to create a unifying force to relieve the impending energy crisis the USA presently faces is now available. Since the SecTres works for the President, a simple executive order to assign 8.5 of those $850b to a specific project would provide ample force, I submit.
Beginning now, the President should direct formation of a contract with Hyperion to purchase 500 of it’s standard power modules on a crash construction basis to enhance the US domestic electric grid.
Here’s the Strategy: The USG offers to pay a one-time fee of US$1,000,000 per unit and to supply sufficient real estate from suitable USG controlled land, limited legislative exemption from construction legal challenge, engineering and regulatory assistance for site and plant design and the sum of US$200,000,000 for each of five purpose-built construction facilities. Additionally, USG agrees to purchase at 50% of the present advertised price of US$25,000,000 apiece, 500 units over the course of 5 years plus one year for construction of the assembly plants. Finally, USG agrees to finance from this allocation the recruitment, relocation, training and housing needs of sufficient workforce to initially staff all five anticipated production facilities.
By Garry Golden
If curators at New York’s Whitney Museum are correct, the world
might once again turn towards Buckminster
(Bucky) Fuller for inspiration in addressing global
Bucky Fuller (1895-1983) is widely recognized as one of the
world’s great modern visionaries of the 20th century. He was a
natural Futurist, not because of his intellect, but his wisdom to
challenge widely held assumptions from the world around him.
He blended his skills as a writer, thinker, and engineer into a
concept he called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.”
Bucky believed that the essence of human life on the planet is to
solve problems and continue expanding our awareness and views of
what is possible.
New York’s Whitney Museum has re-opened the question of Bucky’s
outlook towards the world with its latest exhibition Buckminster
Fuller Starting with the Universe running through September 21,
Our best strategy for addressing problems of the 21st century
might be to revisit the core principles of his philosophy related
to design, shape and energy. If the Whitney curators, are correct,
Bucky Fuller might turn out to be one of the most influential
thinkers of not one, but two centuries.
Planet Earth is about to get its own version of the Web!
Cisco Systems is partnering with NASA to create a massive online collaborative global monitoring platform called the "Planetary Skin" to capture, collect, analyze and report data on environmental conditions around the world, while also providing researchers social web services for collaboration.
This type of platform is essential for Climate and Ecosystem researchers, but it also might be a sneak peak at the future of the Internet.
'Smart Planet': Age of Sensors & Structured Data
If life in the past few decades has been forever altered by complex microprocessor chips, the next century could see the same social disruption via simple, low cost networked sensors and 'embedded objects' that mirror a digital signal of our analog world. But making this disconnected data relevant is a challenge.
The 'Planetary Skin' platform [video] will stitch together 'petabytes' of unstructured data collected by sensors (land, sea, air, space) reporting on changing environmental conditions. The platform will also allow for 'streamlining of decision making' and 'collaborative swarming' on analysis of relevant data. The project's first layer, “Rainforest Skin,” will be prototyped during 2009.
Good for NASA, Great for Cisco, and Wonderful for 'Mirror World' Metaverse Enthusiasts
The benefits to NASA and Planetary system researchers is clear. Forget about Facebook, these scientists are looking for a functional digital research simulation 'Mirror World' (as envisioned by David Gelertner).
Meanwhile, Cisco is working diligently to make itself the most relevant web company in the next era of Internet architecture where collaboration, video, 3D simulations and structured data change the nature of our interactions. 'Planetary Skin' might be Cisco Systems under the radar, but out in the open effort of essentially building its own Internet of Tomorrow.
This Future Fiction piece was cross-posted from the
blog Future Feeds.
TechnoTraveller, the Tokyo company that was making furor on the
stock markets for the last months has recalled all of its 12
million Electro-suits after a teenager was found dead in a Tokyo
park. The unfortunate youngster’s solar electro-suit, while powering his
laptop, cell phone, iZune and Thermo-sweater malfunctioned and
directed all the sun-powered energy to the Thermo-sweater. Built-in
feedback systems that should have prevented such an event did not
work appropriately and the Thermo-sweater function will from now on
be disabled in the product, a TechnoTraveller spokesperson declared
in a company press bulletin.
The company’s hot selling item was the driving force behind
TechnoTraveller’s dethroning of Google as Wall Street’s darling
finding a need for cheap power on the road to fuel all electronic
portable devices and warming people in cold climates by using
high-efficient solar fuel cells weaved into a suit. TechnoTraveller
stocks plummeted by more than 55%. The press bulletin further
stated that although the recall will decrease profits and losing
the Thermo-sweater feature will impact sales, there is no need for
panic by shareholders and the future of solar clothing is still
looking bright. The Tokyo coroner performing the autopsy is still
trying to establish whether the cause of death was sixth-degree
burns or electrocution.
By Dick Pelletier
William McGaughey interprets world history as five
civilizations appearing in succession over the last 5,000 years,
each introduced by a new communication technology. In the first
civilization, humans only wrote in graphic form, then about 3,000
BC alphabet writing was devised, and this began the second
This eventually led to the invention of the printing press in
China in 593 AD and the world’s first printed newspaper in Beijing
in 700 AD. These events were the beginning of the third
civilization. The fourth civilization started in the 20th century
with electronic recording and broadcasting, which is now merging
into the fifth civilization which utilizes computer communications
and the Internet, and is still in its infancy today.
Leaving the communications world, futurists ponder where we go
from here. In 1964, Russian astronomer Nikolai
Kardashev introduced a method for categorizing civilization
advances based on energy consumption which he divided into three
stages, Type I, II, and III
civilizations. Type I harnesses all the energy from its planet,
Type II, its sun, and Type III, its
galaxy. Others have since added Type IV, which controls
extra-galactic energy including dark matter that makes up 73% of
Today, physicists rate Earth at Type 0.7. Astronomer
Don Goldsmith. reminds us that Earth receives only one
billionth of the suns energy, and that we utilize just one
millionth of that; however with the help of advanced nanotech and
greater-than-human intelligence, many predict we could reach Type I
status by 2100 or before. (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
Energy is the life-blood of America – it affects our economy, standard of living and national security. And our prime current energy source – oil – is a product we can no longer afford.
High gas prices, air pollution, and global warming are part of the problem, but more important are the tensions brought about with countries that supply this non-renewable energy. For decades, these tensions have directly or indirectly been at the root of most global conflicts.
In a “Wired Magazine” article, Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall say concerns about oil supply are indirectly responsible for our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have caused strained relationships with our allies. And clashes with the Muslim world, mired in oil interests, finally brought the unthinkable to our shores – the “9-11” World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
Schwartz and Randall believe there’s only one way to insulate the U.S. from oil’s corrosive power. “We must develop an alternative energy,” they say. “Hydrogen stores energy more effectively than batteries, burns twice as efficiently in a fuel cell as gasoline does in an internal combustion engine, and leaves only water. It’s plentiful, clean, and capable of powering cars, homes and factories.”
Today’s energy situation is reminiscent of Soviet cold war times. In 1957, Russia launched the first satellite into space, and in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in orbit. Afraid Soviet space domination would make our country unable to defend itself, President Kennedy announced Apollo, a 10-year, $100 billion program (in today’s dollars) to land a man on the moon. Eight years later, Neil Armstrong made his “giant step for mankind” and America quickly regained world leadership.
Schwartz and Randall believe we face a similar threat today from foreign oil dependency. “As President Kennedy responded to Soviet space superiority,” they said, “Our next president must respond to foreign oil by making energy independence a national priority to be achieved within 10 years.”
Few people think of Brazil as an emerging global energy player. Even the most widely cited future of energy scenarios do not put Brazil into the elite group of energy resource-rich nations.
While it is best known for its domestically produced sugarcane ethanol, Brazil’s real source of energy wealth and future geopolitical power is likely to come from exports of oil and natural gas extracted from its deepwater reserves.
Energy pundits are now tracking early indicators hinting that Brazil is awakening to its full potential as a uniquely diversified energy economy growing around traditional hydrocarbon resources while simultaneously expanding its own renewables and bio energy solutions. Brazil’s rise as a global energy powerhouse will take decades to unfold, but it might turn out to be one of the more interesting geopolitical energy stories of the next century.
Who might follow in Anadarko’s footsteps
On Thursday, Houston, Texas-based Andarko announced a successful deepwater field discovery offshore of Brazil in its Campos Basin region. This could be the beginning of a string of announcements to come from energy majors tapping the deepwater oil fields of Brazil.
Announcements are likely to come from companies based around the world. Everyone is looking to partner with Brazil in advancing deepwater drilling and securing access to their growing reserves. While the general public might see the oil industry organized neatly into brand names like BP, Shell, Exxon and Chevron, the reality is that these companies are all betting on each other. Most projects have a lead company, but the financial risk is spread with smaller stakes held by competitors and specialized development firms.
Brazil’s emergence as an energy giant might be quiet, but they are not going to do it alone. Now that it has overcome the technical challenges of deepwater drilling, it must navigate the complex geopolitical landscape of energy politics.
Brazil: Deepwater brings new opportunities & challenges
By Jenna Varden
“It’s just a math problem.” – Google CEO Eric Schmidt
Google is thinking big, again! The company that was founded to ‘organize all the world’s information’ is now focusing its attention on energy. Google’s Cleantech Movement plans to “eliminate all utility fossil fuel dependence and 50 percent of automobile fossil fuel dependence by 2030.”
So far, the company has already invested $45M in wind, solar, and geothermal energy, with tidal and wave power as next in line. This will not only save consumers and America money, one of Google’s motivations, it will also protect the Earth’s environment, reason number two, which is “all part of not being evil (Source: Stefanie Olsen/CNET). In other words, not only is funding alternative energy helpful for its monetary benefits, it helps the environment and gives Google a positive image in the public eye. It will also benefit Google’s energy guzzling servers, whose life-force is the precious commodity of electricity, thus saving the company money.
Schmidt believes that better energy efficiency will lead to more savings. And moving from fossil fuels to renewable, alternative energies will also cost less in the long-term. As an example, while it may indeed cost a hefty amount to make the switch, once in place, the ‘U.S. would save 97% of $2.17 trillion in energy spending over the next 22 years.’ Google’s renovation of its own buildings to cut carbon emissions, installed solar and power monitoring equipment, and is already saving money each year. Restructuring the U.S. power grid, currently with a 9 percent efficiency loss, could also make the country’s energy more efficient and thus, save more money.
Are Computer Servers 21st century ‘energy guzzlers’?
While Google should be lauded for its progressive view on energy efficiency, it also has an intrinsic self-interest in cheap electricity. Google’s new server farm to be built on the banks of the Columbia River in Oregon, called The Dalles data center, will need an estimated 103 megawatts of electricity to run, ‘enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington – via Roughtype
While The Dalles center will not be up and running until 2011, Google’s multitude of other server farms also require large amounts of electricity. Cheaper electricity will allow Google to save money powering their farms, as well as allow further expansion.
What is behind Google’s real motivations? Not being Evil, or Green is Good