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June 2004

June 30, 2004

Major Coal-to-Liquid Project in China

sasol_flow

Financial Times. Sasol, the world’s largest synthetic fuels producer, is building two coal-to-liquid plants in China. (Image at right sketches the production process. Click to enlarge.)

The two projects, in the Ning Xia and Shaan Xi provinces, are expected to cost about $3bn each and to have a combined annual production of 60m tonnes of oil. China currently needs to import 100m tonnes of oil a year and is keen to reduce its reliance on the Middle East.

“It is a very big deal,” a company executive said yesterday. “We are talking four or five Secundas.” Secunda is Sasol’s flagship plant in South Africa, which produces 150,000 barrels of oil a day.

The project had been rumored for some time, with lengthy discussions between the parties concerning protection of Sasol’s intellectual property.

Sasol was founded in 1950 with the original Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technologies for synthesizing fuel and enhanced it from there. In the coal-to-liquids FT process, the producer gasifies the coal to create syngas, which then is treated to create a variety of liquid fuels and chemicals. The resulting fuels are very clean -- much lower in emissions such as Volatile Organic Compounds, CO and Particulate Matter than standard petroleum fuels. However, the process is resource intensive.

Sasol is also working in Qatar on straight Natural Gas-to-Liquids projects. (In other words, skip the coal gasification process, and take natural gas to syngas to fuels.) More information on Sasol technology here.

June 30, 2004 in Fuels | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

China’s Energy Development Program

Xinhuanet. China’s cabinet approved in principle the draft of China’s medium- and long-term energy development program, covering the period from 2004 to 2020.

  • Make energy conservation the top priority.

  • Adjust and optimize the energy structure. Pursue an energy development strategy with coal forming the mainstay and electricity the center of the energy structure, while promoting comprehensive development of oil, gas and new forms of energy.

  • Fully tap both domestic and overseas resources and markets. While making domestic energy exploration, exploitation and construction projects as the basis, China should also actively participate in energy resource cooperation [and competition] and development projects around the world.

  • Rely on scientific and technological advance and innovation.

  • Enhance environmental protection and strive to reduce the impact of energy production and consumption on the environment.

  • Attach a high degree of importance to energy security. Energy supply should be diversified, construction of oil reserves should be accelerated and the energy security pre-warning and rapid response mechanism should be improved.

  • Institute safeguard measures for energy development. Policies regarding energy resources and energy development should be improved, the market mechanism should be brought into full play and input in energy issues should be increased.

We can already see aspects of this being carried out in China’s decisive and expansionary moves in the global oil market and in its seeking to leverage its enormous coal resources.

To that point, Sasol has announced that it is building two $3 billion coal-to-liquid plants in China to feed the country’s demand for fuel without increasing reliance on external sources of oil—such as the Middle East. Separate post on this coming.

June 30, 2004 in Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

O2Diesel Shifts to Amex

O2Diesel, an e-diesel provider, is shifting tomorrow to the American Stock Exchange from being an Over The Counter bulletin board stock. Upgrading its profile, in other words.

Alan Rae, President and CEO of O2Diesel Corp., said, “Our move to the Amex is a significant step in the Company’s evolution from a development-stage company to one focused on the full commercialization of our clean-burning diesel fuel technology throughout the U.S., Brazil and other key global markets. As we move forward, our commercialization strategy will include leveraging key partnerships with industry leaders for marketing, distribution and manufacturing of our O2Diesel™ product for use by centrally fueled vehicle fleets such as truck and bus fleet operators, as well as the U.S. military, construction equipment and railroads.

“Our listing on the Amex will help increase our visibility in the U.S. investment community, and we look forward to building broad awareness of the O2Diesel investment story among fund managers and analysts as we begin to execute on our strategic goals.”

The move reflects the growing business awareness around ethanol as a fuel and as an additive.

E-diesel refers to a blend of standard #2 Diesel (petroleum-based) with up to 15% ethanol and up to 5% special additives. The special additives are necessary to overcome issues with solubility(ethanol has limited solubility in diesel), cetane number (standard ethanol has a cetane number of 8, diesel of 42-50), and lubricity issues. More on this from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory here. E-diesel has to be handled more like gasoline than standard diesel -- it has a lower flashpoint, for example.

But E-diesel offers significant benefits, particularly in reducing Particulate Matter (PM). Because ethanol is much more plentiful than biodiesel, E-diesel offers a more scalable way to reduce emissions and reduce petroleum usage.

O2Diesel uses a 7.7% ethanol blend, with up to 1% proprietary additive and a cetane improver. Cetane is a measure of a fuel’s ignition delay -- the period between the start of injection and start of combustion of the fuel. Higher cetane fuels will have shorter ignition delay periods than lower cetane fuels, and shorter delay is better.

Further technical information on e-diesel: the E-diesel Consortium

June 30, 2004 in Diesel | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 29, 2004

EPA Helps India With Climate Change

Newkerala.com. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a $500,000 effort to help control pollution in India, the US embassy said in a statement here Tuesday. Releasing a report on air pollution in India, the EPA urged India’s environmentalists to take advantage of its initiative, Integrated Environment Strategies (IES).

“This is part of a larger US-India partnership to mitigate the effects of climate change,” the statement said.

The report stresses the need for improved transportation and the use of alternative fuels like natural gas, since the air here shows high levels of airborne particles from vehicles and industries.

Hmm. Sounds like we should stress the same things here.

June 29, 2004 in Emissions, Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

We’re in Deep...Soot

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Associated Press. U.S. counties that are home to nearly 100 million people appear to flunk federal air standards because of microscopic soot from diesel-burning trucks, power plants and other sources, the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday. [The soot referred to is called PM2.5 -- particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter -- less than one-seventh the width of a human hair.]

The EPA said a preliminary analysis showed that 243 counties in 22 states -- almost all in the eastern third of the nation and in California -- may have to take additional measures to curb pollution to meet the standards by 2010. [EPA’s map of non-attainment on the right shows states that pass in green, states that flunk in sooty gray.] The largest concentrations of counties in noncompliance were along the urban corridor from New York City to Washington, D.C., eastern Tennessee, in the Ohio River Valley region and counties surrounding the urban centers of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Atlanta.

The Los Angeles Basin and interior central California also face significant soot air quality problems as does a small corner of northwestern Montana -- one of the few strictly rural areas cited by the EPA. Leavitt said the county had dirty air because of pollution from mining activities near Libby, Mont.

The EPA designations went well beyond a list of counties that states submitted to the agency in May. The governors listed 141 counties with a population of 79 million people as in noncompliance. The EPA added another 102 counties.

EPA120counties

More information on the PM2.5 designations are here on the EPA site. Also here is a more detailed, county-by-county PDF map showing the counties the states thought were in non-attainment, and the additions the EPA made. Thumbnail image to the right.

Correcting this will be expensive.

Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which regulates air quality in the Los Angeles area, said local officials would need lots of help from the state and federal government to meet the standards by 2015. The district only has the authority to regulate stationary air sources, not the vehicles, planes and ships responsible for much of the pollution.

The federal government plans to spend about $10 million this year and $100 million a year for the next five years to help polluters reduce their emissions of diesel, one of the main sources of the particles, Haber said. The money would be spent on programs to retrofit older vehicles or remove them from the road, and on reducing emissions from other sources. AP.

But not as expensive as not treating the problem.

The fine particle standards were established in 1997, but litigation significantly slowed their implementation. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the standards and in 2002 all remaining legal challenges were cleared, allowing EPA to put these standards into effect. The implementation of these standards will prevent hundreds of thousands of occurrences of aggravated asthma and thousands of premature deaths every year. EPA.

June 29, 2004 in Emissions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lexus Plans 3x Euro Sales, Leads with Diesels and Hybrid

Financial Times. Lexus is planning to triple its sales in Europe over the next six years.

Takis Athanasopoulos, chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Europe, said the brand’s first diesel engines and a hybrid petrol-electric off-roader would help boost sales to more than 60,000 by 2010 and bring the brand into profit. Last year it sold 21,651 vehicles in Europe, and Mr Athanasopoulos said it was running at break-even.

“Europe is the cradle of the premium market,” said Mr Athanasopoulos at the Automotive News conference in Switzerland. “But we are operating in less than 50 per cent of the market because we have no diesel engine, and diesel engines make up more than half of premium sales.”

Lexus will introduce its first diesel-powered car next year, as well as the RX400H hybrid off-roader, which it hopes will be the first environmentally sensitive 4x4 in Europe.

By comparison, Lexus sold 26,155 vehicles (passenger cars and SUVs) in the US in May. Be interesting to see if Lexus will bring the diesel to the US as well, and how it would do against the Mercedes.

June 29, 2004 in Diesel, Hybrids, Vehicle Manufacturers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tackling Diesel Startup and Emissions With Electronic Control

beru_psgBeru AG, a leader in diesel cold-start technology, has rolled out a new Instant Startup System (ISS) plus a smart pressure sensor glow plug (PSG) that can play a critical role in minimizing diesel emissions at startup and during all phases of operation. (The image at right is a cross-section of the PSG. Click to enlarge.)

While gasoline engines use a spark plug to ignite the air/fuel mixture, diesel engines rely on the heat of compressed air to ignite a precise amount of fuel to initiate combustion. Heating the air to a minimum starting temperature of 850°C is critical for diesel engine start-up.

In low temperatures, cold intake air and cold cylinder walls hinder attaining the necessary starting temperature. Glow plugs have functioned as an additional heat source at startup to raise the temperature of the intake air to the point necessary to initiate combustion.

Beru’s new Instant Start System can uses optimized glow plugs and an electronic controller that can individually regulate the glow time and voltage for each individual glow plug at any time during operation -- not just at startup.

Operating in conjunction with the control unit of an electronically managed engine, [ISS] aims to ensure optimum combustion conditions during the phases which continue to recur while an engine is operating normally and lead to an increase in the concentration of exhaust pollutants.

Such phases include idling or after extended periods of overrun. At the same time the ISS device targets petrol-style key start, i.e. starting without preheating at temperatures as low 32 degrees F and with only two seconds of glow plug operation at -77 degrees F. Automotive Industries.

The addition of the Pressure Sensor Glow Plug (PSG) to the Startup System provides an even greater deal of intelligent control of combustion. Beru’s goal is to provide control akin to that required in an HCCI engine, with the resulting drop in emissions.

Consequently, research is now focusing on alternative combustion processes such as HCCI (Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition), which is characterized by its very low NOx emission levels. With this combination, the emission limits would appear to be feasible, and it may even be possible to completely do away with NOx treatment. These new combustion processes require a closed-loop control, with in-cylinder pressure measurement proving to be highly advantageous here. Once the diesel engine has reached a warm running temperature following its cold start, the smart pressure sensor glow plug makes a significant contribution toward reducing emissions, with the aim of making costly exhaust treatment unnecessary as far as possible.

There were some tough engineering challenges to combine these two functions.

BERU equips the glow plug, which is uniquely positioned right in the middle of the combustion chamber in the cylinder to accommodate other microcomponents, with pressure sensor functions. In cooperation with Texas Instruments, BERU integrated a piezo-resistant pressure sensor into the glow plug. In view of the extremely high temperatures, vibrations and pressure ratios in the cylinder head, the mechanical design of the glow plug is a major issue.

The heating element is not incorporated into the body of the glow plug, as is usually the case, but is instead mounted on flexible bearings as a moving part, transmitting the pressure to the membrane. The actual pressure sensor is nowhere near the combustion chamber, and is located in much more favourable conditions. Using a heating element from the BERU Instant Start System, which only glows at the tip, means that the thermal load can be controlled.

The result of the PSG should be reduced noise, fuel consumption and emissions. DaimlerChrysler is using the ISS in its new Mercedes diesels, and according to Beru, at least one major auto manufacturer has already signed up for the PSG. This seems like very good work. I'd love to see corroborating test data.

June 29, 2004 in Diesel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Temperature Up, Rice Yield Down

Research reported in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found a direct correlation between rising temperatures and a decrease in rice crop yield.

Here we report that annual mean maximum and minimum temperatures have increased by 0.35°C and 1.13°C, respectively, for the period 1979–2003 and a close linkage between rice grain yield and mean minimum temperature during the dry cropping season (January to April). Grain yield declined by 10% for each 1°C increase in growing-season minimum temperature [i.e., nighttime temperature] in the dry season, whereas the effect of maximum temperature on crop yield was insignificant. This report provides a direct evidence of decreased rice yields from increased nighttime temperature associated with global warming.

This study confirmed what had been predicted by simulations -- that global warming reduces crop yield. Unfortunately, this study also revealed that the simulated reductions were smaller than the data actually shows. Global warming has a more devastating affect -- at least on this particular staple -- than previously thought.

Again we find a situation of increasing demand matched with declining yield. Just to keep pace with population growth for which rice is a staple, global production needs to increase at approximately 1% per year. Given what this research highlights, that will be a difficult target to hit.

Mitigating the effect of greenhouse gases and global warming is a long-term process. Once the gas is in the atmosphere, it stays there for a long time. We must take action now, though, to decrease the acceleration of the problem, and to minimize the scale of the long-term impact. Much of the potential (both positive and negative) lies in the transportation sector.

It is very worthwhile reading the paper -- Rice yields decline with higher night temperature from global warming -- at the link above.

June 29, 2004 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oil Majors Differ on Same Reserve

Reuters. The oil and gas reserves controversy sparked by Royal Dutch/Shell’s shock January downgrade took a new turn on Tuesday as two of Shell’s partners in a Norwegian gas field differed over reserves bookings.

In its filing, Britain’s BP reaffirmed its bookings for the Ormen Lange gas field, Norway’s biggest offshore development. However, Norwegian company Norsk Hydro cut its bookings for the same field by about a third. Ormen Lange was the focus of one of Shell’s well-publicized reserve cuts this year.

Resolving this is going to require a more rigorous set of definitions from the SEC on what can be considered a bookable reserve. It continues to highlight the uncertainty around reserve numbers which then ultimately end up being the basis for policy decisions. (In other words, it makes a big difference if production peaks in 5 years or 50.)

It’s a bit like trying to avoid hitting a mountain in an airplane when the altimeter readings are open to interpretation. You may be lucky and get it right -- but you may not.

June 29, 2004 in Fuels | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 28, 2004

GM Yeast for Commercial Ethanol Production

Iogen Corporation (earlier post) has has obtained the first (and non-exclusive license) from the Purdue Research Foundation for a genetically modified yeast that can produce ethanol from agricultural waste.

Purdue’s genetically altered yeast allows about 40 percent more ethanol to be made from sugars derived from agricultural residues, such as corn stalks and wheat straw, compared with “wild-type” yeasts that occur in nature.

The agricultural residues are primarily made up of cellulose and “hemicellulose,” which are known as cellulosic materials. Unlike traditional ethanol feedstocks, such as corn kernels, the cellulosic materials contain two major sugars, glucose and xylose, which cannot both be fermented into ethanol by natural Saccharomyces yeast, the microorganism used by industry to produce ethanol, said Nancy Ho, a senior research scientist and leader of the molecular genetics group in Purdue's Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering, or LORRE.

The Purdue researchers altered the genetic structure of the yeast so that it now contains three additional genes that make it possible to simultaneously convert glucose and xylose to ethanol. The ability to ferment xylose increases the yield of ethanol from straw by about 40 percent. Being able to simultaneously ferment glucose and xylose is important because both sugars are found together in agricultural residues, Ho said.

The original paper describing the yeast:“Genetically Engineered Saccharomyces Yeast Capable of Effective Cofermentation of Glucose and Xylose”, Applied Environmental Microbiology, May 1998, p. 1852-1859, Vol. 64, No. 5.

June 28, 2004 in Biotech, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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