Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘Technology’ tag

Cooperation on Biofuels Increasing between Brazil and US

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With the US ending both the tariff on imported ethanol and the tax credit for domestic blenders, cooperation between the US and Brazil on biofuel technology is increasing, as well as efforts to trade renewable fuels on global markets. (See my post at the end of last year)

Yes, we need to be ever vigilant on the possible effects of increased biofuel production on food availability and prices as well as on land use, soil and water quality, and related issues. In my doctoral dissertation, however, I examined these issues in depth and contend that increased production can occur along with protection of ecological health.

The cooperation discussed in the article below can lead to greater efficiency of renewable fuel production, using less land and less water to produce more fuel.

Energy is fundamental to economic growth, and as countries in Latin America and Africa increase their ability to produce renewable energy domestically, they create more jobs and better the lives of their people in ways that will improve economic as well as environmental conditions for generations. These are undoubtedly positive.

It is a fascinating time to be alive.

Insight: U.S. and Brazil – At last, friends on ethanol

A gas station worker fills a car's tank with ethanol in Rio de Janeiro April 30, 2008. Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter of ethanol. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

By Brian Winter

BRASILIA | Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:21pm IST

(Reuters) – After years at each other’s throats, Brazil and the United States are working together to promote the use of ethanol in a collaboration that could revolutionize global markets and the makeup of the biofuel itself.

The breakthrough came in January when Washington allowed a three-decade-old subsidy for U.S. ethanol producers to expire and ended a steep tariff on foreign biofuels. The tariff, in particular, had poisoned diplomatic relations between the world’s top two ethanol-producing countries for years.

Continue reading this article here.

US Ends Tariff on Imported Ethanol

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With surprisingly little fanfare, the US has ended the $0.54 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. This comes at the same time that Congress also allowed the $0.45 per gallon of ethanol tax credit for blenders to expire, potentially opening the door to much more US importation of Brazilian ethanol, as well as cooperation between the two countries on more advanced biofuels. Brazil was the leading producer of renewable fuel until 2005 when US production of ethanol from corn surpassed production of Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol.

The article below is clearly biased, quoting two top officials from UNICA, Brazil’s powerful sugarcane industry association, without presenting views from American officials who have been opposing these measures as they work to protect domestic energy production and agricultural markets.

That said, decreasing government intervention has always been favored by this humble author, and the elimination of these barriers to trade should make for the more efficient functioning of energy and agricultural markets.

Cooperation between the two largest producers of renewable fuels could also lead to faster development of fuels from non-food crop residues such as corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, and other cellulosic feedstocks.

Congressional Recess Means the End of Three Decades of US Tariffs on Imported Ethanol

Time for the world’s top two ethanol producers, the United States and Brazil, to lead a global effort for increased production and free, unobstructed trade for biofuels, says Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.

SAO PAULO, Dec. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — For the first time in more than three decades of generous US government subsidies for the domestic ethanol industry, coupled with a steep tariff on imports, the United States market will be open to imported ethanol as of January 1st, 2012, without protectionist measures. The adjournment of the 112th Congress means both the US$0,54 per gallon tax on imported ethanol and a corresponding tax credit of US$0,45 per gallon for blenders, the VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit), will expire as expected on December 31st.

Continue reading this story here.

Efficiency, Innovation, Natural Gas are Keys to Energy Security

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Former Presidents Bush and Clinton are walking a fine line, balancing between taking advantage of the cost effective resources we have now, such as oil and gas, and the need to protect our energy security and natural environment for generations to come.

Two former presidents share many energy views


March 12, 2011, 2:28AM

Oil will be essential for fueling the U.S. for decades to come, but low-emission natural gas and improved efficiency will bridge the transition to cleaner alternative fuels, business leaders, two former presidents and energy analysts said Friday.

Former President George W. Bush told a packed ballroom of energy executives at the CERAWeek conference that while the U.S. has a vision of new technologies to power our homes and propel our cars, the nation needs to be prosperous to afford them. And that prosperity, Bush said, is tied to oil and natural gas.

Although they have been political adversaries, Bush and former President Bill Clinton agreed that the U.S. should do more to harness the promise of natural gas, which produces fewer emissions than coal and oil.


But he cautioned that the nation needs to make sure that the hydraulic fracturing process, used to unlock vast stores of gas in shale formations, doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies or create an accident that shuts down the industry the way last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill stopped most offshore drilling.


‘We’ve got to take action’

Big energy consumers said they are scrambling to offset spikes in crude prices and eke out more per barrel by boosting efficiency.

Read the entire article here.

Limited Government Intervention Can Aid Innovation

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Especially during the healthcare debates, many were heard to decry increased government intervention as stifling not only the economy, but also innovation. Many of the concerns regarding the inefficiency of the federal government were certainly valid, and I stand by my contention that, while every person in a country as wealthy as the US ought to have basic healthcare, the federal government is not the most efficient instrument to carry out this mission.

But for those who ask what new technologies have come out of the much more socialist Europe, I point to the vast strides they have made in renewable energy. As I said in an earlier post, Germany and China are leading this charge, two countries that have far more government intervention than we have here.

Yes, more fence sitting. I take the stand that limited government intervention is necessary to set the framework for more long term thinking, to provide the guidelines for business activity that will provide the same options we have now in terms of resource availability for future generations. Once that framework is set, the market ought to be able to work out the most efficient means to maximize welfare given the world’s physical constraints.

The quote below by Pietikainen captures this sentiment. Wow, imagine that coming from a socialist politician.

European Business and Policy Leaders Discuss the Role of Innovation and Energy

BRUSSELS, September 29, 2010 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ —

– Dow Corning-Sponsored Roundtable Spotlights European Commission Vision to Accelerate Development and Deployment of Economic Stimulating, Low-Carbon Technologies

Political representatives and business leaders today provided a glimpse into the role that innovation and energy technologies will play in the economic recovery and environmental protection in Europe.

The roundtable at the European Parliament in Brussels was sponsored by Dow Corning and co-hosted by Members of the European Parliament (MEP) Fiona Hall and Sirpa Pietikainen. Panel participants exchanged views on pressing issues that will be addressed this autumn by the European Union’s institutions to position Europe for the 21st Century, including the upcoming innovation strategy and the revision of the EU’s industrial policy.


“Europe must ensure that companies can operate in a business-friendly environment that promotes low-carbon technologies and innovation,” said Pietikainen, “which will contribute to solving Europe’s greatest challenges by reducing costs and improving resource efficiency in production processes.”

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 11th, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Improving Energy Storage Tech Is Key

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Due to the high variability of renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar, improving the efficiency of energy storage is essential to the future of our energy matrix. Unlike coal, natural gas, or nuclear power, renewables vary with wind speeds, sunshine, and other uncontrollable factors. This makes our dependence on these resources quite tenuous.

If firms like the one described in the article below can create batteries that can store energy longer, and produce them using materials that are not as rare and unsafe as many used in today’s batteries, we will be in a much better position to power our electricity grid with energy that ebbs and flows.

In Presidio, a Grasp at the Holy Grail of Energy Storage

Published: November 6, 2010

Dozens of gray compartments, lined neatly in rows, inhabit a boxy concrete building on the edge of the impoverished border town of Presidio. The only sound, aside from occasional clanking, is the whirring of air-conditioners to keep the compartments cool.

This $25 million contraption is the largest battery system in the United States — locals have dubbed it Bob, for Big Ole Battery. It began operating earlier this year, and is the latest mark of the state’s interest in a nascent but rapidly evolving industry: the storage of electricity.

Storage is often referred to as the holy grail of energy technology, because it can modernize the grid by more efficiently matching demand for power with the generation of electricity.


The state is especially keen on storage because of the proliferation of wind turbines in West Texas. The machines generate the most power at night, when people are sleeping — so if their power could be stored for use during the day, the usefulness of wind power, which currently accounts for about 6 percent of the state’s electricity generation, would significantly increase.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

November 8th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Biofuels Beyond Ethanol

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Here are a couple of interesting articles about the next generations of biofuels.

The first two sentences of the first article below are priceless, and quite correct. As expected, the article in The Economist is excellent. It’s not exactly cutting edge, as these technologies have been discussed for well over a year, and it doesn’t look like we’re a whole lot closer now.

As I said in that post above over a year ago, when these fuels do become cost effective and energetically efficient, we will need to be very careful about converting more land to monocultures to produce biomass as feedstocks for these fuels.

The Worldwatch article below addresses this issue obliquely with its hopeful look at algae as a feedstock. We face some of the same problems with algae as we do with cellulosic bofuels–trying to expose the diverse, 5 and 6 carbon sugars for fermentation–as well as the added difficulty in our lack of experience either growing or harvesting algae.

It’ll be a while before any of these are ready for your gs tank, but it’s encouraging that we’re thinking this far ahead.

It’s a fascinating time to be alive.

The future of biofuels

The post-alcohol world

Biofuels are back. This time they might even work

Oct 28th 2010 | London and san francisco

MAKE something people want to buy at a price they can afford. Hardly a revolutionary business strategy, but one that the American biofuels industry has, to date, eschewed. Now a new wave of companies think that they have the technology to change the game and make unsubsidised profits. If they can do so reliably, and on a large scale, biofuels may have a lot more success in freeing the world from fossil fuels than they have had until now.


That is a start, but it will not be enough, Wood is a possibility, particularly if it is dealt with chemically, rather than biologically (much of the carbon in wood is in the form of lignin, a molecule that is even tougher than cellulose). But energy-rich grasses look like the best bet. Ceres, which is based in Thousand Oaks, California, has taken several species of fast-growing grass, notably switchgrass and sorghum, and supercharged them to grow even faster and put on more weight by using a mixture of selective breeding and genetic engineering. Part of America’s prairies, the firm hopes, will revert to grassland and provide the cellulose that biofuels will need. The Energy Biosciences Institute that BP is funding at the University of Illinois, in Urbana-Champaign, is working on hybrid miscanthus, an ornamental grass that can produce truly remarkable yields.

Read the entire article here.

Third Time’s the Charm, or Three Strikes and You’re Out? Third-Generation Biofuels Are Here

Sam Shrank Revolt 2010-11-01

This entry is the latest in a series on innovations in the climate and energy world.

Ethanol from corn and sugar cane? Beyond passé at this point, with major environmental, land use, and food security concerns.

Second-generation biofuels, made from non-food crops and wastes? So 2008.

The next big thing in biofuels? Algae.

So-called third-generation biofuels have begun to receive serious attention. Biofuels can technically be made from just about any plant material, and some of the advantages of algae are obvious: it wouldn’t compete for arable land, for example, as it is grown in water, and it grows like, well, a weed, allowing for incredible yields.

The two avenues of third-generation development being considered so far are microalgae (pond scum, etc) and macroalgae (seaweed). Research is going into both harvesting algae from its natural environment and creating artificial growing environments.

Various algae have been discussed academically as a potential fuel since 1955. The U.S. Department of Energy has looked into fuels from microalgae since 1978, although the Aquatic Species Program, as it was called, was discontinued in 1996. Since then, various government bodies, including the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and Department of Agriculture, have continued to look into algal biofuels.

Read this entire article here.

CEOs urge gov’t to spend on energy: Who benefits later?

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These captains of industry make some excellent points regarding why the U.S. government should increase spending on energy. In this economy and with our present budget situation, increasing spending on anything is a tough sell. But since energy is such a vital component of a healthy economy, and our energy matrix appears increasingly tenuous in the decades to come, it makes sound sense.

What may be difficult is to gauge to what extent this is private companies asking for government spending on technologies that are not now profitable, just so that they can swoop in and make money once we tax payers have laid the groundwork.

A perfect example is in the net neutrality discussions presently happening in Congress. Unlike phones lines and roads, which were paid for almost exclusively with tax payer dollars, the wires and other physical infrastructure for the internet were paid for by much more private investment. The innovation may have started with some government programs such as ARPAnet and, of course, Al Gore, but then companies invested in the infrastructure once the technology became feasible.

Now those companies that made those investments are saying they have every right to decide how much bandwidth should be devoted to which users, corporate, citizen, government, and otherwise. It’s hard not to agree. Those wires are not public goods.

Deciding how to deploy these systems in the pipeline, who pays and who profits, will require active citizen engagement to monitor government and private activities with technologies that may seem unintelligible or even uninteresting, but are so essential to all of us.

Corporate Heavies Urge Tripling U.S. Clean-Energy Funding

Published: June 10, 2010

A new council composed of General Electric Co. CEO Jeff Immelt, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and other corporate executives is urging the federal government to more than triple investments in clean-energy technologies to boost the nation’s economic competitiveness and protect the environment.


“We know from our business experience that if you only give a fraction of what’s required to be a success, you will not be a success,” said council member Chad Holliday, chairman of Bank of America Corp. and former CEO of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.


“The world is not going to wait for the United States to lead,” Immelt said. “This is about innovation; this is about competition; this is about energy security.”

Read the entire article here.

The emerging world, long a source of cheap labour, now rivals the rich countries for business innovation

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These trends are also extremely important to apply to energy markets. In terms of energy and resources, it’s much more efficient to transfer technology than to transport physical resources such as petroleum or coal. In the past, we could have assumed the technology would come from the U.S. and Europe. Now China is ahead of the U.S. in clean energy technology, and Brazil is not far behind, in terms of biofuels and other areas as well.

IN 1980 American car executives were so shaken to find that Japan had replaced the United States as the world’s leading carmaker that they began to visit Japan to find out what was going on. How could the Japanese beat the Americans on both price and reliability? And how did they manage to produce new models so quickly? The visitors discovered that the answer was not industrial policy or state subsidies, as they had expected, but business innovation. The Japanese had invented a new system of making things that was quickly dubbed “lean manufacturing”.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 17th, 2010 at 8:42 am

Why Ford Wants Microsoft to Manage the Electric Vehicle Influx

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If there is a significant move to electric vehicles, and most of us come home from work and plug in our vehicles at the same time, there’s going to be an even bigger glut that we already have, and we already have a big glut. To those who deny the possibility, I’ll point to a recent conversation with a VP of BP (formerly British Petroleum) who said that in 50 years, the only use for oil will be for aviation. (Well, first he said that “we will never run out of oil.” When pressed about the meaning of “never,” he said not in his lifetime, and probably not in his kids’ lifetime. He was about 60, maybe 55. Clearly he’s not a geologist.)

The point is not to argue timescales or the finite nature of petroleum, but to point out that even the higher ups in the petroleum industry are thinking that plug-in vehicles are the wave of the future.

If these people within the petroleum industry and the folks discussed in the article below are correct, then the technology discussed in this article will be of the utmost importance to ensure a smooth transition to the infrastructure required for such a system.


Apr. 1, 2010, 12:00am PDT

Ford and Microsoft’s announcement on Wednesday that they’ll use Microsoft’s Hohm tool to minimize energy costs for drivers of Ford’s electric vehicles — and help limit strain on the power grid for utilities — represents a big step in the development of a “smart charging” ecosystem. But Microsoft and Ford both say Hohm, and other tools like it, need to — and will eventually — offer much more than this initial step.


Thousands of companies — many of them startups — are working on hardware and software for charging plug-in vehicles, Gioia said at the time, adding “We have not come even close to a funnel.” With an open architecture, the idea with Hohm is to keep the doors open for awhile longer.

Read the entire article here.

The data deluge

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So much information, so little time or desire to process it. This is a bit of a departure from the usual subject matter on this site, but I found it interesting enough to post. When we were talking about issues of identity theft and information security, a buddy recently said that, as a blogger, I’m more vulnerable than most. It offended me, first because I don’t consider myself a blogger, and second because I don’t like to think of myself as a blogger.

Anyway, here’s the article…

Businesses, governments and society are only starting to tap its vast potential

Feb 25th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

EIGHTEEN months ago, Li & Fung, a firm that manages supply chains for retailers, saw 100 gigabytes of information flow through its network each day. Now the amount has increased tenfold. During 2009, American drone aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan sent back around 24 years’ worth of video footage. New models being deployed this year will produce ten times as many data streams as their predecessors, and those in 2011 will produce 30 times as many.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 25th, 2010 at 8:52 pm