Future Energy eNews July 5, 2004
1) After the Oil Runs Out
By James Jordan and James R. Powell, Washington Post, Sunday, June 6, 2004; Page B07
If you're wondering about the direction of gasoline prices over the long term, forget for a moment about OPEC quotas and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and consider instead the matter of Hubbert's Peak. That's not a place, it's a concept developed a half-century ago by a geologist named M. King Hubbert, and it explains a lot about what's going on today at the gas pump. Hubbert argued that at a certain point oil production peaks, and thereafter it steadily declines regardless of demand. In 1956 he predicted that U.S. oil production would peak about 1970 and decline thereafter. Skeptics scoffed, but he was right.
It now appears that world oil production, about 80 million barrels a day, will soon peak. In fact, conventional oil production has already peaked and is declining. For every 10 barrels of conventional oil consumed, only four new barrels are discovered. Without the unconventional oil from tar sands, liquefied natural gas and other deposits, world production would have peaked several years ago.
Oil experts agree that hitting Hubbert's Peak is inevitable. The oil laid down by nature is finite, and almost half of it has already been extracted. The only uncertainty is when we hit the peak. Pessimists predict by 2010. Optimists say not for 30 to 40 years. Most experts expect it in 10 to 20 years. Lost in the debate are three much bigger issues: the impact of declining oil production on society, the ways to minimize its effects and when we should act. Unfortunately, politicians and policymakers have ignored Hubbert's Peak and have no plans to deal with it: If it's beyond the next election, forget it.
To appreciate how vital oil is, imagine it suddenly vanished. Virtually all transport -- autos, trucks, airplanes, ships and trains -- would stop. Without the fertilizers and insecticide made from oil, food output would plunge. Manufacturing output would also drop. Millions in colder regions would freeze.
Fortunately, oil production does not suddenly stop at Hubbert's Peak; rather, it declines steadily over time. But because production cannot meet demand, the price of oil will rapidly and continuously escalate, degrading economies and living standards. People complain now about gasoline at $3 per gallon. After Hubbert's Peak, $7 per gallon will seem cheap. Spending $150 to fill up the SUV? Ouch!
How to minimize the impact of declining oil production? Conservation and new finds can help. Higher mileage standards for autos and trucks could cut U.S. oil use by 20 percent or more. New oil fields continue to be discovered, but they are small. No giant Saudi Arabia-type fields have been found in 30 years. The small fields contribute ever diminishing amounts of oil. But while conservation and new oil can delay Hubbert's Peak and ease its impact, they cannot prevent it. Moreover, even if the United States conserves oil, other countries might not. A practical long-term, non-oil solution to the problem of Hubbert's Peak is needed.
We need new technologies, especially for transportation, which accounts for two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption. Possible options are synthetic fuels from coal, hydrogen fuel from nuclear and renewable power sources, and electrified transport: light rail, rail and maglev. Processes for synthetic gasoline, diesel and jet fuel are well developed but expensive. The environmental problems from coal -- mining, carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants -- are serious and require more attention. Hydrogen fuel produced by electrolysis from renewable power sources is environmentally clean, but it has serious technical problems. Producing the hydrogen equivalent in energy to the oil now used in U.S. transport would require 10 trillion kilowatt hours of electric energy; we would have to triple our electric generation capacity.
A more practical approach would be the electrification of transport. Switching half the truck and personal auto miles to electrified transport would require an increase in electric generation capacity of only 10 percent. Electrified transport is clean, non-polluting and energy-efficient. Light rail and rail systems are already in wide use. First-generation maglev systems are operating, and lower-cost second-generation systems are being developed.
As oil production declines, the combination of electrified transport and synthetic fuels from coal can meet the challenge. Hydrogen fuel is probably not practical, but research and development on it should continue in the hope of a breakthrough.
Whatever non-oil transport technologies prove best, making the transition from our present systems will take many years. It took decades for the first automobiles and airplanes to evolve into effective systems, and decades to build the interstate highway network. We can't afford to wait until Hubbert's Peak occurs. We should begin now to plan and implement the new, non-oil technologies. If we don't, our economy and living standard will be in serious trouble.
James C. Jordan is an energy and environment policy consultant and a former energy program director for the Navy. James R. Powell, a former senior scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, was a co-recipient, with Gordon Danby, of the 2000 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Engineering, for their invention of superconducting maglev technology. He is a director of Maglev 2000 of Florida Corp.
Recommended book:Out of Gas, (Norton, 2004) by David Goodstein, Caltech Vice Provost and a distinguished physicist [recipient of the Oersted Medal]
2) Bush, Kerry Chasing Oil Impossible Dream?
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, Friday, June 4, 2004; Page A09,
Before they ascended to the national stage, President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry shared a single policy passion: energy. Now, although they have chosen different paths, both men hope to drive the country toward the same goal that critics say is as chimerical as it is politically attractive: freeing the nation from dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
With oil and gasoline prices near record highs, energy policy is back on the political agenda. Both Bush and Sen. Kerry (Mass.), the presumptive Democratic nominee, have proposed comprehensive energy plans that have more in common than their allies like to acknowledge: tax credits to stimulate oil, natural gas and alternative energy production; tax incentives for the purchase of high-mileage vehicles and electricity conservation; federally funded hydrogen research; tax incentives to construct a natural gas pipeline from the north slope of Alaska to the lower 48 states; and a major push to boost "clean coal" technologies.
There are also significant differences. Bush would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, a proposal Kerry ardently opposes, and the president has moved to loosen environmental regulations on oil refineries and older power plants. Kerry is promoting far more dramatic energy conservation initiatives: raising automotive fuel economy standards to as high as 36 miles per gallon, offering $10 billion in tax incentives for automakers to convert plants to advanced vehicle production, and requiring that 20 percent of electricity generation come from renewable energy sources by 2020.
"As long as we are dependent on oil from other nations, we are not masters of our own destiny," Kerry declared last week in Washington state. "We are not independent."
That was not far different from Bush's message in an October speech pushing his energy policy. "We need more energy production close to home," Bush said. "We need to produce in our own country, and we need to encourage exploration in our own hemisphere so we're less dependent on other parts of the world."
Laudable as it sounds to wean the United States from the 2.3 million barrels of oil that the country imports from the Persian Gulf every day, many energy policy experts say the goal may be pointless. Oil prices are set on the world market, and even if the United States is no longer importing a drop of petroleum from the Middle East, it would be just as prone to price shocks as it is today.
"If we don't buy from the Mideast, Japan does, and if that supply is cut off, Japan will be trying to buy oil from Canada and Mexico and Venezuela, just like we will be," said Mark A. Baxter, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "There is no advantage to weaning ourselves."
Indeed, what is surprising about the Bush and Kerry energy policies is their shared faith that the government, not the marketplace, should be directing how energy is produced and consumed, said Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, who dismissed both plans as "goofiness."
"Both believe that at the end of the policy rainbow is energy independence, and they are willing to move heaven and earth to get there. Both are convinced we need government intervention in energy markets," he said. "The difference is emphasis, not policy."
Kerry and Bush aides respond similarly, saying energy is one area that does need federal direction. As long as the United States is importing nearly 12 million barrels of oil a day, it will remain vulnerable, they say. But by advancing research into hydrogen, ethanol and other gasoline alternatives, the government can move the nation toward a petroleum-free economy in the long run.
"The country needs a long-term comprehensive energy plan," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy. "We're going to have to deal with fossil fuels becoming more and more scarce, and government has a role."
Dan Reicher, a Kerry adviser who headed renewable energy and efficiency programs at the Clinton administration's Energy Department, pointed to the statistics. In 1972, the Department of the Interior predicted U.S. energy consumption would nearly triple by 2000, with average annual growth rates of 3.6 percent. In fact, by 2000, energy demand had risen only 38 percent above 1970 levels, with annual growth of 1.2 percent, Reicher said.
Between 1975 and 2000, the U.S. economy grew 128 percent, but energy use -- once thought to rise in lock step with the economy -- grew 36 percent, Reicher said.
Some of that energy savings is a result of the shift from a manufacturing economy to a more service-oriented one, he conceded, but two-thirds of the savings came from federal policies: fuel efficiency standards for cars that have not risen since 1985, and energy efficiency standards for pumps, industrial motors, refrigerators, water heaters, dishwashers and other appliances.
In the early 1970s, a refrigerator consumed more than four times the energy of the least efficient refrigerator now on the market.
But for all those successes, critics point to what they see as glaring failures: the glacial spread of solar and wind power despite a stream of federal investment, the failed synthetic fuels initiative of the 1970s, and the quiet death of the Clinton administration's effort to build an 80-mile-per-gallon family sedan that would run on electricity and gasoline.
Nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money went into the supercar partnership with the Big Three U.S. automakers, but after eight years Detroit could come up with only three gleaming concept cars. The companies have shown no interest in actually producing the cars. Instead, U.S. automakers turned away from the family sedan in favor of the sport-utility vehicle, while Honda and Toyota, two automakers locked out of the venture, actually did bring gas-electric hybrids to market.
"It's the obvious cautionary tale against politicians trying to second-guess the market," Taylor said.
Undaunted, both Bush and Kerry have turned their sights to hydrogen-powered cars, as well as tax credits and other incentives to shape the future of energy. But success in this may be just as elusive. In February, the Energy Department's independent Energy Information Administration examined the potential impact of a major energy bill pending in Congress and strongly backed by the president. Many of the provisions are also backed by Kerry.
The EIA's conclusions are sobering. Loan guarantees and tax credits to build a natural gas pipeline from Alaska would advance its creation by a single year, to 2017. Tax credits to build advanced nuclear power plants would do nothing to make such projects any more economically feasible. Tax incentives for renewable electricity generation would boost production significantly in the short run, but by 2025 they would have done little more than the market would have accomplished on its own. And a tax credit for the purchase of alternate fueled cars would boost sales of electric vehicles by a total of 460 cars through 2012, while hybrid vehicle sales would be virtually unaffected.
Overall, the report concluded, legislation that would cost $19.4 billion over the next 10 years would lower energy consumption by at most 0.3 percent in any one year. "From 2004 through 2020, primary energy consumption is virtually identical to" the level it would reach with no policy changes at all, the EIA said, and "changes to production, consumption, imports and prices [would be] negligible."
3) A Sweet Way to Fuel Cars
By TERESA RIORDAN, New York Times, June 21, 2004
YOU may not be able to refuel your car with corn syrup or charge your computer by plugging it into a bottle of Coca-Cola anytime soon. But to Stanley H. Kravitz and a group of researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, sugar looks like the new oil.
Dr. Kravitz and his colleagues have begun to apply for patents covering ways to convert glucose, a basic form of sugar, into energy.
Glucose seems an obvious potential source for fuel. Unlike hydrogen, for example, it is renewable, cheap and abundant.
"The problem with hydrogen is that it isn't just found in the air or lying around," Dr. Kravitz said. "You have do something quite energy-intensive to break apart some molecule in order to get hydrogen. That's the Catch-22."
So why aren't other researchers trying to power their fuel cells with glucose rather than hydrogen? Glucose molecules, it turns out, are not easily persuaded to give up their energy.
Over time, naturally occurring enzymes have turned mammals into glucose-burning machines. The human body, for example, metabolizes glucose in a delicately choreographed dance. Twelve different enzymes partner in succession with the glucose molecule, each enzyme sending two electrons spinning offstage into cellular power sources and thereby fueling the body. (If the body does not need this energy when it is made, the body stores it as fat.)
One approach that Sandia researchers are taking is to genetically engineer enzymes that mimic those in the human body. "If evolution figured it out, we should be able to figure it out," Dr. Kravitz said.
Another approach is nonbiological, using metals like platinum to liberate electrons.
Early potential applications of glucose fuel cells would require only small amounts of energy. For example, security systems to detect movement or the presence of chemicals could use sensors that would be plugged into trees, siphoning glucose from sap for energy.
"They could be put in covertly and left for months in places that are risky, where you don't want to have to be changing batteries," Dr. Kravitz said.
The Sandia researchers are not the only ones who are converting glucose to energy.
Adam Heller, a professor at the University of Texas and a founder of TheraSense, a manufacturer of blood-glucose monitoring devices that was acquired in April by Abbott Laboratories, recently received patent 6,531,239 for a glucose fuel cell.
Last year, Professor Heller and colleagues published a paper in The Journal of the American Chemical Society describing the tiniest fuel cell ever built in a living organism -in this case, a grape, whose sap provided the glucose fuel. Professor Heller said he might use a similar fuel cell to run a continuous glucose monitor that he is developing. Embedded in a patient's skin for three days, the device would eliminate the daily pricking that most diabetics endure to keep track of glucose levels.
The device would generate minute amounts of electricity from the patient's own glucose as a measuring tool, to track blood sugar levels.
By contrast, Dr. Kravitz said, the Sandia researchers are "making electricity for electricity's sake - as a power source."
Dr. Kravitz and fellow Sandia researchers are developing an array of tiny glass needles, as slim and sharp as a mosquito's proboscis, that could, for example, be imperceptibly "plugged in" to a soldier's arm and used to convert glucose from the human body into energy.
"Suppose you could make a patch that went on the arm and had little micro needles that didn't hurt," Dr. Kravitz said. "Now the soldier just needs to eat an Oreo cookie to keep his radio going."
Such a device could also siphon excess glucose out of the blood of a diabetic, Dr. Kravitz speculated.
So this research could solve both the world's energy problem and the obesity epidemic simultaneously? "That's sort of a wild and crazy idea," Dr. Kravitz said. "But then again, maybe not."
In any case, the Sandia researchers have a lot of work to do. A three-year, $6.4 million grant will end in September, and the researchers are looking for new financing.
"The efficiency stinks right now," Dr. Kravitz acknowledged, noting that so far Sandia researchers were able to produce power in the milliwatt range, enough to power a tiny light-emitting diode - while a car would require kilowatts of power.
"We've increased the efficiency by a factor of a thousand in a period of three years," he said. "But we need to go up by a factor of a million."
Patents may be viewed on the Web at www.uspto.gov or may be ordered through the mail, by patent number, for $3 from the Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, 20231.
4) 154 Nations Pledge to Increase Renewable Energy Usage
BONN (AFP), Emagazine, Jun 04, 2004http://www.emagazine.com/view/?1828
At a conference last week in Bonn, Germany, senior officials from 154 nations including the United States signed onto a communiqué committing to a substantial increase "with a sense of urgency" in the percentage of renewable sources in meeting global energy needs.
Reportedly the delegates did not set specific targets or timetables as a concession in order to get the Bush administration on board. Bush has said he favors the "invisible hand" of the free market over government regulation.
"Renewable energies, combined with increased energy efficiency, will become a most important and widely available source of energy and will offer new opportunities for cooperation among all countries," said the communiqué.
Delegates also issued a set of policy guidelines for moving the development of renewable energy sources forward. These guidelines include 165 detailed promises by governments and corporations for promoting solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, wave and hydro power.
Delegates are optimistic that a follow-up meeting will take place by the end of 2006, perhaps in China, which has established itself as a pioneer in the development and implementation of renewables.
5) New look for molecular photodiodes
Scientists in Japan have made a new type of molecular photodiode, whose current switches direction depending on the wavelength of the light used to excite it. Designed by Shunsaku Kimura and colleagues at Kyoto University, the device consists of two helical peptide molecules, whose dipole moments point in opposite directions. Their technique could be used to make a wide variety of molecular electronics devices on the nanoscale (S Yasutomi et al. 2004 Science 304 1944).
Molecular electronics has made steady progress in recent years and components made from single molecules could overcome the limits of conventional, silicon-based microelectronics. However, many challenges still need to be overcome before molecular electronic devices can become a reality, including the fact that it is difficult to integrate them into ordered structures.
The photodiode fabricated by Kimura and colleagues consists of two types of helical peptide -- long protein chains -- each of which has a different light-absorbing end-group, or chromophore. The two peptides, which are about 1 nanometre across, were anchored on a gold substrate. Such molecules are good candidates for molecular devices because they can form highly ordered self-assembled monolayers.
The Kyoto team found that when one of the chromophores was excited with light of a certain wavelength it generated an anodic photocurrent. However, when the other chromphore was excited -- with light of a different wavelength -- the current flowed in the opposite direction, towards the cathode. The reason for this behaviour is that each helical peptide has a large intrinsic dipole moment that accelerates electron transfer in the same direction in which its dipole moment is pointing. Since the two peptides have dipole moments that point in opposite directions, the current is sent in opposite directions (see figure*).
"The large dipole moment of helical peptides means they could be used as modulators in many types of electronic device made on the nanoscale," Kimura told PhysicsWeb. "They could thus be useful starting materials for the coming age of molecular electronics." The team now hopes to make a molecular transistor using such peptides.
( *Diagram of the two peptide molecules is posted:http://physicsweb.org/box/news/8/6/15/kimuraphotodiode -Ed note)
6) New light on dark energy
Cosmologists in the US have made the most accurate measurements ever of how dark energy varies with time -- and found that it remains perfectly constant. Yun Wang at the University of Oklahoma and Max Tegmark at the University of Pennsylvania performed numerical simulations on observational data from supernovae, the cosmic microwave background and galaxy clusters. The results, which agree with Einstein's predictions for a non-varying cosmological constant, lend further support to the existence of dark energy (Phys. Rev. Lett. 92 241302).
The acceleration of the universe is driven by a force that has repulsive rather than attractive gravitational interactions. But although this so-called "dark energy" is thought to account for around two-thirds of the universe, no one knows what it is made of. Possible explanations for dark energy include a "cosmological constant" -- which remains unchanged with time -- that was first predicted by Einstein in 1917.
But there are also more exotic explanations for dark energy -- such as quintessence, modified gravitational theories that include extra dimensions, or string physics -- that suggest that dark energy could change with time. If dark energy became progressively weaker, the universe would eventually tear apart in a "big rip". If it became stronger, on the other hand, the universe would collapse in on itself in a "big crunch".
Tegmark and Wang used a novel model-independent approach to measuring the dark-energy density. They analysed data from type 1a supernovae, recorded with the Hubble Space Telescope; the cosmic microwave background (CMB) taken with the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP) and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS); and from large-scale galaxy cluster observations.
The results agree with previous data on supernovae observations that suggested that dark energy remains constant with time and fit well with Einstein's cosmological constant. Moreover, the physicists calculated that if the dark energy density were to change with time, a big crunch or big rip could not occur for at least 50 billion years for models that allow such events. These findings could lead to these theories being widely reassessed.
"I'm struck by the fact that the dark energy seems so 'vanilla'," Tegmark told PhysicsWeb. "Theorists have invented scores of elegant models where it increases or decreases its density over time, yet even with this new improved measurement, it remains perfectly consistent with Einstein's Lambda model where its density is a mere constant."
Helen Pearson, Nature Science Update, June 22, 2004http://www.nature.com/Physics/Physics.taf?g=&file=/physics/highlights/6994-2.html&filetype=&_UserReference=1974DB100678183B40E060F4
There are many ways to celebrate your debut in space. For Mike Melvill, pilot of SpaceShipOne, it was to pop open a bag of multicoloured sweets and watch them dance. "It was absolutely amazing ... those M&Ms were just going around," he said minutes later, on the baking black runway in the California desert.
Melvill shot into space history early on Monday morning when he became the first pilot to top 100 kilometres (3238,000 feet), and earn his astronaut credentials, in a privately financed rocket. Tens of thousands of eyes, including those of SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan and financial backer Paul Allen, were glued to the contrail as it streaked towards the fringes of space.
Not everything went as planned. The rocket crested at around 120 metres over the official boundary of suborbital space (a success, but far lower than Rutan had hoped for) and strayed over 30 kilometres off course when it re-entered the atmosphere, a problem attributed to a failure in one of the flight control systems. The ship also touched down with a dent in its tail.
A tannoy showered spectators with words such as "historic", "momentous" and "record-breaking" throughout the dawn air show. Space enthusiasts hope that the success will kick-start a space age of private travel.
But there are many obstacles to overcome before engineers can produce a space bus that even a luxury traveller can afford to jump on. Engineers need to work on a reliable, re-usable, and affordable vehicle that can reach orbit around the Earth, says Jim Benson, founder of space technology company SpaceDev, based in Poway, California. "What we need to strive for now is make it even simpler," he says.Space mania
The small town of Mojave, California, has a history of test flights and is littered with retired airliners and their innards. It perches in the high desert north of Los Angeles amid mountains dotted with wind turbines and contorted Joshua trees.
SpaceShipOne brought a wave of space mania like Mojave has never seen before. The night before the event, spectators' trucks began trundling into town and rumours spread of desert raves and hangar parties. "There's absolutely nothing else to do in Mojave," joked Rutan the day before.
By 3.30 next morning, a trail of headlights was snaking into the airport entrance and 500 or so members of the media jostled for space on the runway's edge. Shortly after the last stars were quenched and sunrise had painted the sky pink, the fierce desert wind dropped and the all clear was sounded.
Fastened to the stomach of a futuristic carrier aeroplane, SpaceShipOne cruised into the sky at 6.30am, accompanied by two chase planes. After circling upwards until they were glistening specks, SpaceShipOne dropped free and fired its own rockets towards the ground, pumping out a vertical contrail as it rose into the sky.
Down below, several minutes of suspense followed, as viewers waited for word that the rocket had reached its goal. Only as SpaceShipOne glided down towards the runway did news come through that it had grazed space: "It's a done deal," sounded the tannoy.On firm ground
Pilot Mike Melvill emerged from the rocket in front of a bank of photographers to hug Allen and Rutan. He described how he saw the curve of the earth, felt huge g-forces and spent three minutes weightless. "It was almost a religious experience," he said.
As he perched on the rocket's spine for a lap of honour, Melvill plucked a sign from the crowd. It read "SpaceShipOne, One, Government, Zero", referring to the relatively low cost of the flight, at around $20 million, compared with the lavish budgets of government projects.
Rutan says the team will analyse the flight data in detail and patch up the ship before announcing an attempt on the X-prize, the $10-million jackpot for the first private, piloted aircraft to top 100 kilometres carrying the weight of three people and repeat the feat within two weeks.
To maintain motivation and public attention, the X prize Foundation plans to award annual cash prizes for records broken in altitude and passenger numbers. "Some will probably drop out, but the most serious efforts will not," predicts Elon Musk of SpaceX in El Segundo, California, which makes orbital rockets.
8) International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference
The 2nd International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference (IECEC)http://www.iecec.org/ will be held 16-19 August, 2004 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, RI. The IECEC provides a forum to present and discuss engineering aspects of energy conversion technology, advanced energy and power systems, and devices for energy systems and aerospace applications. Papers on all engineering aspects and disciplines of power generation and storage are welcome and encouraged.
Inquiries concerning the program, format, or policies of the conference and suggestions for special high-interest informational presentations should be directed to the Conference General Chair:
Douglas M. Allen
Inquiries relating to the technical program should be directed to the Conference Technical Program Chair:
Dr. Ashwani K. Gupta
Invited speakers will provide an overview of the current state of energy conversion research. Program can be viewed athttp://www.iecec.org/Index.cfm?pageview=2
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