Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Exxon Invests in Biofuel from Algae Production

Whether its “conventional” sources or renewable, energy is energy, and there is money to be made.

What does Exxon investment mean for algae biofuels?

By Callum James

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) have recently announced that ExxonMobil are set to invest as much as $600 million in biofuel production technology, specifically biofuel produced from algae. Exxon seem to be following the lead of many other much smaller energy companies who have been researching algae as a source of biofuel for some time.

However Exxon are not doing this on their own, they will work alongside Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI). Together they have formed a research and development partnership focused on exploring the production of biofuels from photosynthetic algae. EERE plan on using photosynthetic algae, such as single-celled “microalgae” and blue-green algae, harnessing their ability to use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into cellular oils along with some long-chain hydrocarbons that can be processed into fuels and chemicals.

via Biofuel from algae (via

The are two main advantages of algae-based biofuel.

  • Algae-based biofuel could be converted into a renewable replacement for gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel, without requiring major vehicle retrofitting. The flexibility to refine multiple fuels from a single source is also attractive.
  • Yield from algae production dwarfs that of even the most robust crop-based biofuels on a per-acre basis – more than three times as great as current crops can produce.

I applaud this move. The current actors in the energy markets are extremely well-positioned for this new development. The trading, distribution, and regulatory systems are already in place, no “perfect storm” of events has to fall into place (as was true of the Pickens Plan). No disruption of consumers’ patterns of consumption or lifestyles is required to transition to these new fuels.

Better living through chemistry – the 21st century version.


A no-fuss solar-powered building | ZDNet Photo Gallery

from the ZDNet photo galleries:

The Boston Architecture School and Tufts University are building the Curio House, a home that’s designed to run entirely from solar energy. It’s the Boston area’s entry into the Solar Decathlon, a Department of Energy-run event where student teams from 20 universities compete for the best solar home design.
Curio House

Teams need to take apart and then reassemble their buildings on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., next month where they will be open to the public for 10 days and judged by a panel.The Boston team has focused its design on affordability, making an 800-square-foot building using almost entirely off-the-shelf products and technologies. It has lined up a buyer for the home in Cape Cod where it is supposed to be the first unit in a green housing development. The projected cost of the building, big enough for two people and a small child, is about $200,000. Students, donors, and school administrators held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the unfinished building on Thursday at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

US subsidies of oil and coal more than double the subsidies of renewable energy

File under “Things that make me scratch my head:”

US subsidies of oil and coal more than double the subsidies of renewable energy

Jeremy Hance
September 21, 2009

During the fiscal years of 2002-2008 the United States handed out subsidies to fossil fuel industries to a tune of 72 billion dollars, while renewable energy subsidies, during the same period, reached 29 billion dollars. Conducted by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the research shows that the US government has heavily subsidized ‘dirty fuels’ that emit high levels of greenhouse gases.

The funds provided to renewable energy sources plunges further when one takes into account that of the 29 billion dollars, 16.8 billion went to subsidizing corn-based ethanol, an energy source that numerous studies have shown is not carbon neutral and has been blamed in part for deforestation in the tropics and the global food crisis. The remaining 12.2 billion went to wind, solar, non-corn based biofuels and biomass, hydropower, and geothermal energy production.

Of the 72 billion dollars given to fossil fuels, 2.3 billion went to carbon capture and storage. The rest of the funds went to oil and coal.

via US subsidies of oil and coal more than double the subsidies of renewable energy.

I have no problem with using subsidies or the tax code to encourage private enterprise to move in a certain direction. But this boggles the mind. Why are we subsidizing businesses that have posted record profits, even in the middle of a recession, and slighting those that have demonstrated economic, employment, and environmental superiority?

LakewoodAlive to host forum on wind energy feasibility in Lake Erie –

From the Sun News (Cleveland):

Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force members will discuss the possibility of wind energy in Lake Erie at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Harding Middle School, 16601 Madison Ave in Lakewood.

The results of the initial feasibilty study were made public in May (see Wind power initiative on Lake Erie passes feasibility test). Estimates for the next stage of the demonstration project – deployment of turbines in a pilot project – range from $77 million to $93 million.

World’s first full-scale floating wind turbine inaugurated in Norway

Here’s an interesting news item (via The first floating, commercial-scale wind turbine has been deployed for testing in the North Sea:

The world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine, which has a capacity of 2.3 megawatts, was recently inaugurated in Norway.

The launch was celebrated by Technip, a Paris-based project management, engineering and construction company for the oil and gas industry, and StatoilHydro, a Norwegian energy company focused on upstream oil and gas operations.

Hywind floating wind turbine

Hywind floating wind turbine

Called the Hywind demonstration unit, the world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine will operate for a minimum of two years with the purpose of knowing more about the maintenance of floating offshore windmills and the practical aspects of the operation.

The unit’s base was designed and constructed by Paris-based Technip. The turbine itself is a Siemens Wind Power model. The tower was assembled remotely, and towed approximately 10 km (6 mi.) off the southwest shore of Norway to begin the demonstration phase.

This is interesting on several counts. Although wind turbines can be constructed just about anywhere, the best wind for commercial-scale generation blows over open water – coastlines and the Great Lakes. If this test is successful, it will dramatically impact the calculus for profitability for wind power. While offshore wind towers are already being constructed (a very large part of Britain’s goal of 15% renewable energy by 2020, for example), siting them on the ocean floor is a difficult undertaking that adds both time and expense to each project. If this demonstration project is successful, future turbines could be deployed much more quickly and easily – and with much lower cost.

The second thing that interests me is that this test is being underwritten by an oil and gas company. If the transition to sustainable energy – with minimal disruption – is going to happen, more involvement by the companies already involved in energy production and distribution has to happen. New technologies being tested by traditional energy suppliers is a good sign.

What Every Business Can Learn from Vistaprint

Vistaprint rocks. They have a great selection of quality products, they give those products away for free, and someday they will own the world.

I’m not alone in thinking that this business model may be the wave of the future. Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson’s most recent book, “FREE: The Future of a Radical Price,” describes this business model as “free-mium.” He thinks it has legs.

What’s at the heart of this successful enterprise is no mystery. Every communication from VistaPrint offers the potential customer a high-quality product for free, so strings attached. Once they have your attention, the real selling starts. Want some free business cards? No problem, just pay shipping and handling. Want your picture or company logo on them? No problem – there’s just a small upcharge. How about putting your company slogan or a promotional offer or an appointment reminder on the back of the card? No problem – for another small charge. Each step of the sales process is designed to do two things: keep the conversation going, and offer a new benefit that adds value to the transaction.

But it doesn’t stop there. When the sale is over, the customer relationship has just begun. Need matching stationery? How about point-of-purchase signs? Magnets? Calendars? Maybe a web site? The list of complementary products and features is seemingly endless. Once a customer has ordered, he can count on an email Vistaprint on a regular basis.

So, what makes the Vistaprint business model tick?

1. Add value.
2. Offer choices.
3. Make it easy to do business.
4. Stay in contact with customers.

These actions are easily adapted to any business – but how many do you know that do it? Does your business?