Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

Cracking oil is not a funny business

Heading Out, The Oil Drum
A couple of weeks ago I pointed out that the crude oil that comes out of the ground is not made up of a single hydrocarbon, but rather is a mix of different hydrocarbons that have to be separated. And oils from different parts of the world are formed as different combinations of these. Today I would like to go a little further and talk about distillation curves, and because the world supply is changing to heavier crudes then go on to explain a little bit about cracking.

For those new to the site this is where, on weekends, I often post a small technical talk, explaining some of the aspects of the fossil fuel business, so as to help understanding of some of the topics on the site. There are now two main topic themes developed, those relating to oil, and those to coal. Since this talk relates to oil, at the end I will post the list of topics that relate. It is a very simple explanation, because of space, and those who wish to ask or expound a bit more are invited to do so through the comments.

When you first get a sample of a new oil, then you will gradually heat it to known temperature levels, generally following a standard method. As the sample is heated, the lighter fractions boil off, and by plotting the volumes emitted within known temperature ranges, a basic sense of the make-up of that particular oil can be achieved.

For example, of one looks at the blue line in the following graph, this shows a typical light oil composition, and might well yield, on passing through the first distillation column of a refinery, the sort of separation that I showed in the plot last time.
(26 March 2006)

Clean-coal effort off to slow start

Robert S. Boyd, Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON – Three years after he first announced it, the centerpiece of President Bush’s plan to produce electricity from coal without adding to global warming is finally getting under way. But it’s off to a small start.

Like the war in Iraq, success will come to the billion-dollar project, if ever, long after Bush leaves the White House. Critics say the effort, known as “FutureGen,” is too little and too late.

The goal of FutureGen is to demonstrate a new kind of electric power plant that will capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by burning coal and keep it out of the atmosphere permanently. CO2 is the principal “greenhouse gas” blamed for the ominous increase in the Earth’s temperature.

Such “clean coal” systems could involve oddities such as upside-down smokestacks to funnel carbon dioxide deep underground or beneath the ocean.

Coal now provides fuel for more than half of the electricity generated in the United States, and its share is likely to rise as the price of natural gas and imported oil soars.
(26 March 2006)

UK wind power ‘ahead of predictions’

Onshore wind farms will provide about 5% of Britain’s electricity by 2010, according to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). In a new report, it says turbines are being installed faster than predicted.

If this is correct, onshore wind farms will take the government halfway to its target of generating 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. The report comes a day before the government unveils a major review of its climate change policies.

Entitled Onshore Wind: Powering Ahead, the report claims to be the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s onshore wind sector ever undertaken. It forms part of the BWEA’s response to another ongoing government review on energy which is due to conclude in the middle of the year.
(27 March 2006)

On the ethanol bandwagon: big names and big risks

Norm Alster, NY Times
VINOD KHOSLA was a founder of Sun Microsystems and then, as a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, he helped a host of technology companies get off the ground.

These days, Mr. Khosla, 51, is still investing in technology, but much of it has nothing to do with the world of network computing in which he made his name. He is particularly excited about new ways of producing ethanol — the plant-derived fuel that, he says, could rapidly displace gasoline. “I am convinced we can replace a majority of petroleum used for cars and light trucks with ethanol within 25 years,” he said. He has already invested “tens of millions of dollars,” he said, in private companies that are developing methods to produce ethanol using plant sources other than corn.

Mr. Khosla isn’t the only big-name entrepreneur to embrace ethanol. …Bill Gates has also made a move into the ethanol market.

…Ethanol derived from corn now accounts for 3 percent of the American automotive fuel market. Most cars in the United States can already handle fuel that is up to 10 percent ethanol, and as many as five million are so-called flex-fuel vehicles that can use a fuel called E85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

The current excitement over ethanol derives from research that has cut the cost of converting nonfood plant matter like grasses and wood chips into alcohol. Mr. Khosla says he believes that such ethanol, called cellulosic ethanol, will eventually be cheaper to produce than both gasoline and corn-derived ethanol.
(26 March 2006)