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New study raises questions about sustainability of metal resources
Researchers studying supplies of copper, zinc and other metals have determined that these finite resources, even if recycled, may not meet the needs of the global population forever.

The researchers suggest the environmental and social consequences of metals depletion become clearer from studies metal stocks–those in the Earth, in use serving people and lost in landfills–instead of tracking the flow of metal through the economy in a given time and region.

For the entire globe, the researchers estimate that 26 percent of extractable copper in the Earth’s crust is now lost in non-recycled wastes. For zinc, that number is 19 percent. Prices do not reflect those losses because supplies are still large enough to meet demands and new methods have helped mines produce
ever more material.
(17 Jan 2006)

A New Old Way to Make Diesel

Simon Romero, New York Times
In this tiny emirate near the border with Iran, the world’s largest oil companies are betting billions of dollars on an obscure method for making diesel fuel that stems from apartheid South Africa’s aggressive efforts to wean its economy off imported oil. …

These different types of fuels may have clunky nicknames, like G.T.L. and L.N.G. But they draw big money. Mr. Attiyah rattled off a roster of ventures with Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch/Shell, Chevron and Sasol of South Africa to produce a new form of diesel from natural gas and said they were expected to invest more than $14 billion in capital over the next five to seven years.

This new diesel fuel is far cleaner than the diesel commonly used in passenger cars in Europe and heavy trucks in the United States. Diesel is usually made from the sulfur-laden parts of crude oil and traces its origins to the sturdy 19th-century engine invented by Rudolf Diesel.

Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum are working together on one venture to produce cleaner diesel from natural gas that is expected to require $7 billion over the next several years. It would be the single largest investment in Exxon Mobil’s history. …

By 2015, overall production of this fuel may reach more than one million barrels a day, according to an estimate by Cambridge Energy Research Associates. That is roughly equivalent to Venezuela’s current daily oil exports to the United States. …
(18 January 2006)
Longish article, good back-grounder on gas to liquids.

U.S. Will Decode Soybean DNA to Ramp Up Biodiesel Production

Two U.S. federal government departments have joined forces to decode the DNA of the soybean as a prelude to using the bean to make biodiesel fuel. The sequencing of the soybean genome is the first project resulting from a new agreement between the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to share resources and coordinate the study of plant and microbial genomics.

“This agreement demonstrates a joint commitment to support high-quality genomics research and integrated projects to meet the nation’s agriculture and energy challenges,” said Dr. Colien Hefferan, administrator of Agriculture Department’s Cooperative State Research, Extension and Economics Service (CSREES), who signed the agreement for the USDA.

“Both agencies will leverage their expertise and synergize activities involving agricultural and energy related plants and microbes,” said Dr. Ari Patrinos, associate director of science for biological and environmental research with the Energy Department. …

The new partnership of the Energy and Agriculture Departments to undertake biotech development is part of a broad push by the federal government and private industry to move the country away from a petrolem based economy. …

“Biotechnology is creating a new industrial revolution based on biology instead of petroleum. As biotech processes replace old rust belt technologies, they are enabling a transformation from a petroleum-based economy to a biobased economy,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice
president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section.
(17 Jan 2006)
As the above article points out, using human or near-human quality food sources as feedstock for biodiesel is grotesque. Organic liquid fuels can be made from woody cellulose which has a much higher EROEI; than annual food crops and can grow on less arable land. Soybean production is one of the destructive agricultural practices on the planet, and transgenic varieties of plants often are more productive only in ideal conditions, demanding higher inputs of petro-chemicals. Whether biotech can actually improve the EROEI of agriculture remains to be seen. We’re going to need help from every worthwhile technology available to deal with energy descent, but a combination of more biodiversity, more perennials and intelligent design in agriculture seems to be a more promising approach -AF

Waste incineration ‘set to rise’ in UK

Ministers are preparing to back a large increase in the amount of rubbish that is incinerated instead of being buried, according to documents seen by the BBC. An environment department paper, to be published next month, suggests the proportion of burned waste could rise from 9% to 25% in the next 15 years. It urges making “energy from waste”, a process in which incinerators are used to power electricity generation plants.

Friends of the Earth labelled as “myth” claims refuse can provide green energy.
(17 January 2006)

Community members speak out on oil shale

Donna Gray, Post Independent (US)
RIFLE – A public meeting hosted by the Bureau of Land Management Wednesday drew about 100 people who wanted to know more about the agency’s environmental impact study, which analyzed the potential impacts of commercial oil shale leasing.

People expressed concern about air and water quality, the problems that could come with thousands of workers moving into the county and the potential addition of coal-fired power plants to heat the shale. …

This week, the BLM announced its selection of eight companies which have applied for research and development leases in the three states. Eight were chosen, and six of them applied to lease 160-acre tracts in southern Rio Blanco County, about 25 to 30 miles southwest of Meeker.

Those companies will also be given an preferential right to expand their leases to 4,960-acre commercial leases. Congress mandated commercialization of oil shale, as well as tar sands in northeastern Utah, when it passed the Energy Policy Act this year. The act calls for commercial leasing by 2008. …
(19 January 2006)