Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) is spending $600 million on developing biofuels for motor vehicles from algae, but the company says success is still a quarter of a century away.
Over three years into a joint venture with Synthetic Genomics Inc., Exxon says the technology just isn’t there yet for algae-based fuels, though it had originally predicted it was only a decade away from producing these fuels.
So far, the JV has been unable to come up with a way to produce enough raw material from algae to supply a refinery, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson told PBS television, as reported by Bloomberg. (Related article: Camelina – Tomorrow’s Biofuel, Today)
“We’ve come to understand some limits of that technology, or limits as we understand it today, which doesn’t mean it’s limited forever,” Tillerson said. The venture is “probably further” than 25 years away from successfully developing fuels. ( Continue… )
We couldn’t pin down global warming, exactly, so now it’s re-labelled as climate change, which is an incredibly vague loaded term that no-one fully understands. The difficulty of pinning down this “wicked problem” has produced more uncertainty than ever and rendered the subject the purview of politics that has polarized the public and turned the issue into something reminiscent of the dark ages and conjuring up of weather-focused demons.
Amid these dark ages, the voice of former TV meteorologist and meteorological instrumentation specialist Anthony Watts has become unusually controversial. The knee-jerk reaction of a polarized public has been to place him in one of two climate change camps, and to categorize him as a “denier”. But Watts insists his latent climate change scepticism is pragmatic and based on his experience as a meteorologist and a long process of connecting the scientific dots. His message, he says, is misunderstood, and he best describes himself as “lukewarm” on the issue. He believes that climate change is happening, but that there’s no need for panic.
Pope Benedict XVI made environmentalism a central theme of his nearly eight years as Bishop of Rome, earning him the nickname "the green pope." With the conclave underway, it's possible that legacy will have some sway over the 115 red-robed cardinals charged with choosing a new pope.
Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras could further Catholic environmentalism if elected Pope, Mother Jones notes. Cardinal Rodríguez has called climate change a "faith issue," and has advocated for a global treaty to reduce worldwide carbon emissions.
For some, the greening of the church would be less an adaptation to modern trends, and more a reflection of traditional Christian values.
"It's not unlike the realization a few decades ago that social justice isn't a side issue for Christianity but a central aspect of it that flows out of our relationship to a loving God concerned for all people," wrote Robin Gottfried, director of the University of the South's Center for Religion and Environment in Sewanee, Tenn., in an e-mail. "[B]ecause many young people are greatly concerned about the environment and sustainability – by addressing these concerns the church also will position itself to address the youth and help stanch the flow of youth out of the church."
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There's a connection between a concern for natural resources and Catholicism's "long-standing, centuries-old" critique of consumerism and materialism, Randolph Haluza-DeLay, an editor of the forthcoming book "How the World’s Religions are Responding to Climate Change," said in a telephone interview. ( Continue… )
A continued viable domestic coal industry (Sponsor content)
Last week at the Platts Coal Properties & Investment conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Stephen Braverman, vice president for coal services, at DTE Coal Services predicted that “No matter what, the U.S. is still going to have a viable domestic coal industry.”
According to Platts, Braverman said “the end result of the slew of new regulations facing the industry will be bigger units that burn more coal.”
Braverman said, he predicts a 4% drop in coal-fired generation by 2020, and that older, high-heat rate plants are more at risk of being shuttered.
But larger, more efficient coal-fired plants will continue to operate and provide baseload generation, Braverman said.
That’s why affordable, stable electricity from coal is essential to this country. We need this natural resource—there is more than two centuries of coal in the U.S.—to keep the doors open at small businesses, power our hospitals and keep assembly lines running at manufacturing plants across the country.
America has depended on the reliable and abundant coal that comes from our land and powers our lives for more than a century. With the energy in America’s coal reserves being roughly equal to the world’s known oil reserves, it’s clear that coal should continue to be a reliable source of electricity for all of us.
The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster left some Americans wondering: Could such a destructive failure happen to a nuclear plant in the US?
Two years later, US officials say the country's nuclear plants are safe, but a new report from an environmental organization challenges that assertion.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found safety equipment problems and security shortcomings in a dozen nuclear plants across the country, according to a report the group released last week. While none of the issues resulted in injury to plant workers or the public, UCS says the frequency of the incidents are the result of lapses by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the agency charged with overseeing the nuclear industry.
“It’s evident the NRC is capable of being an effective watchdog,” Dave Lochbaum, director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project and author of the report, said in a statement. “But too often the agency does not live up to its potential, and we are still finding significant problems at nuclear plants that could trigger a serious accident.”
The nuclear industry disagrees. Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, said the UCS uses a misleading metric to measure safety issues. The NRC, by contrast, counts two significant, "abnormal occurrences" at US nuclear plants over the past decade as its benchmark, he said. ( Continue… )
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives drafted a measure that would strip the president of his authority to approve the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline planned from Canada. Dubbed the Northern Route Approval Act, the legislators backing the measure said four years worth of delays is long enough for a pipeline that could bring another 830,000 barrels of oil to the U.S. market, already booming with oil of its own. Compared with other major pipeline projects in Europe, however, the time horizon suggests Keystone XL is anything but the project facing the roadblocks that its supporters contend.
Canada's National Energy Board, the independent energy regulator, scheduled its first oral hearings on the proposed pipeline in late 2009. Since then, pipeline company TransCanada has revised the route through Nebraska in order to allay state environmental concerns. Now, the U.S. State Department, a little more than three years later, submitted its own draft environmental assessment on the project. Final say, however, rests with U.S. President Barack Obama, who needs to sign off on the project because it would cross the U.S.-Canadian border. (Related article: Environmentalists Futile Battle Against Keystone XL)
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., however, says he's frustrated with what he says are undue delays for a project that would not only provide a stimulus to the regional economy, but protect the North American energy sector from foreign shock.
Is the EPA an impediment to economic recovery? (Sponsor content)
Further evidence that the EPA continues to ignore the damage that its new regulations are causing to the U.S. economy, and to states that depend on coal for jobs and affordable electricity, comes from a recent blog post by Hannah Fjeldsted at the Heritage Foundation.
In her post, The EPA: an Impediment to Economic Recovery, she states, “The rapid pace and severity of EPA regulations on the energy sector during the past four years illustrates an ongoing problem—the government’s impediment to an economic recovery.”
She goes on to say:
“The EPA’s mandates have unfairly discriminated against certain sectors of the energy industry, most notably coal, pointlessly killing desperately needed jobs. On top of the regulations that have questionable benefits at best, the EPA has withheld permits for coal mining that were already approved by other agencies, gratuitously delayed permits, and even rescinded previously issued permits. There are real consequences to actions like this.”
In fact, earlier this week U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky said, “The EPA, without question, has established an unfortunate trend line, methodically establishing a regulatory framework to eliminate coal, and taking away diversity choices from utilities throughout the country.”
As we’ve stated, we hope for a more constructive working relationship with the next EPA administrator. We will continue to emphasize that the best approach is a more balanced path that recognizes America’s continued need for coal, and the importance of clean coal technology.
The EPA needs to analyze and understand the full, cumulative economic impacts of its regulations, and not seemingly choose sides when it comes to energy production. American jobs are at stake, as well as access to affordable, reliable electricity that is essential to our economic recovery.
With early stage capital for cleantech innovation becoming increasingly scarce, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and a new crop of clean/green ones are beginning to emerge as significant sources of funding for selected next-gen clean technologies.
Hurdles remain, particularly for investors seeking returns, but I’m more optimistic about these sites’ usefulness to cleantech entrepreneurs than I used to be.
Asked a year ago by a publication about how significant crowdfunding was likely to become in fostering disruptive cleantech innovation, I wasn’t exactly effusive. As GE’s Ecomagination Magazine wrote, “’When it comes to the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars needed for new breakthrough science, that still best comes from institutional investors,’ says Kachan. Kachan says big investors like to get seats on a company’s board and hope to get a sizable chunk of profits. Clearly, someone who plunks down a small pledge on Kickstarter has different motivations.”
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Today, a year later, a lot has changed. Cleantech venture investment worldwide in 2012 was two thirds of what it was the year previous, with early stage funding particularly hard hit. And now with good, relevant success stories like Adapteva and BioLite, at least some startups are starting to find today’s crowdfunding options emerging as a source for the equivalent of friends & family seed capital. While it’s unlikely to ever produce the millions that institutional or corporate deep pockets will continue to provide, it may—just may—serve entrepreneurs seeking early stage money in a time when early stage money has become harder to come by than ever. ( Continue… )
On Monday, President Obama nominated Ernie Moniz to be the next Secretary of Energy. Like his predecessor, Stephen Chu, he is a scientist - Moniz is a nuclear physicist. Unlike Dr. Chu, Moniz would come to the job with plenty of experience dealing with Beltway politics, having been in the Clinton Administration from 1995 until 2001 and a member of the President's council of Advisors on Science and Technology for the past four years. Early indications suggest a fairly easy confirmation process. Here are a few things to listen for as the confirmation process plays out:
* Sequester has kicked in, and the path to a resolution is opaque at best. Whether sequester is replaced with a deal or not, it seems virtually certain that DOE will be working with a smaller budget than it has had for years. How will Moniz reconcile the demands of a dynamic energy marketplace, the need for continued support for new energy technologies, and the integration of a carbon policy with the energy sector against a budget that may be diminished significantly?
* Former National Security Advisor and now president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, General James Jones, has been championing the idea of a cross cabinet and bipartisan board to direct national energy policy. Given the pace of the changing energy landscape and the generally accepted view that the U.S. has been in need of a national energy policy for decades will Moniz get behind the creation of a national energy council?
* The meltdown at Fukushima, and ongoing challenges managing huge capital demands have brought the development of new nuclear plants to a halt here with the promised renaissance producing just two plants in construction and some license extensions for plants coming to the end of their original 40 year life. Moniz is an obvious proponent of nuclear power, who wrote a report in 2003 calling nuclear power an import option for a lower carbon energy sector. Will his leadership usher in the beginning of a real nuclear renaissance? ( Continue… )
On Tuesday, the government of Venezuela announced that President Hugo Chavez had died from cancer. Recently re-elected, Chavez had long used the country's vast reserves of oil for his "Bolivarian Socialist Revolution." His successor will face many challenges in continuing Venezuela's status as a major oil producer, largely due to the legacy of Chavez over the last decade.
Venezuela ranks as the country with the number one, two, or three oil reserves in the world, depending on who's doing the counting, along with Saudi Arabia and Canada. These reserves led the country to be a founding member of OPEC, and one of the petro monopoly's most ardent supporters. However, its oil has more in common with the heavy tar sands oil of Canada than the light, sweet crude of the Persian Gulf. Future production in the country will require new investment capital and expertise in the heavy oil of the Orinoco belt.
When Chavez came to power, PdVSA, the national monopoly oil producer, was widely admired as one of the most professional in the world. Over the last decade, however, Chavez has wrung the golden goose to pay for the social spending that has underwritten his social programs. The company is showing the stress resulting from poor management and underinvestment.
RECOMMENDED: Five energy challenges for Venezuela
The Amuay refinery fire in August of 2012, killing 48, was symptomatic of the problems faced by the company. And, in a country in which about 95% of export revenue and 50% of the budget is due to profits from oil, the importance of PdVSA can not be overstated. Perhaps an even stronger symptom of the problems faced by PdVSA was that in September, it was forced to pay contracts with IOUs, not cash. It was widely speculated that the company's coffers were emptied in the lead-up to the October 7 election, in which Chavez was reelected. ( Continue… )