Energy news roundup : Nuclear uprates, cheaper ethanol and biofuel

1. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved uprates to seven nuclear reactors over the last year, adding a further 249 MWe (2 billion kwh) to overall US nuclear capacity.

2. Researchers have genetically engineered a thermophilic bacterium, meaning it’s able to grow at high temperatures, and this new microorganism makes ethanol as the only product of its fermentation. The technology to convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol is steadily improving, and it also has the potential to be cost-competitive with gasoline production.

3. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered a fundamental shift in an enzyme’s function that could help expand the toolbox for engineering biofuels and other plant-based oil products.

“Right now, the materials we use — the plastics, foams, nylons — have been limited by the structures of petroleum-based chemical feedstocks. But if we understand how to engineer designer desaturase-like plant enzymes, we can tailor-make feedstocks with optimal properties, instead of relying on the properties of preexisting raw materials,” said Shanklin. “We’d no longer have to say, ‘this is what we have, so this is what we can make.’ Instead, we could make the best feedstock for a particular application by designing the raw materials that will yield it.”

4. The creators of the omnivorous engine, engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, seek to fashion an engine that can run on just about any type of spark-ignited fuel.

5. Researchers in Norway report that injecting a special type of seawater called “smart water” into certain low-yield oil wells may help boost oil extraction by as much as 60 percent in limestone (50% of oil wells)

Scientists now inject seawater into chalk-based oil wells to boost oil extraction, but researchers do not know if the method will work for oil wells composed of limestone, a tough material known for its low oil-recovery rates — usually less than 30 percent, but in some cases less than 5 percent.

0 thoughts on “Energy news roundup : Nuclear uprates, cheaper ethanol and biofuel”

  1. I enjoyed your comments on Peak Oil over at Futurepundit, Brian. Here’s more from The Age of Oil:

    During the last 25 years more than 70% of exploration has taken place in the United States and Canada, mature areas that probably hold only 3% of the world’s reserves of crude. The Middle East, on the other hand, has been the scene of only 3% of global exploration, even though it harbors 70% of the earth’s reserves. In the Persian Gulf, holding 65% of the region’s reserves, fewer than 100 exploration wells were drilled between 1995 and 2004. During the same period, 15,700 such wells were drilled in the U.S. Forbes

    Here’s my look at The Age of Oil, and here’s the link at Amazon.

    Current high prices for oil do not come from scarcity of oil in the ground. They come from decisions made by government controlled oil companies inside the authoritarian countries that contain most of the world’s oil.

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  2. Nice table, Brian.

    Efficiency is vital for economic and environmental reasons. We need to be efficient for the right reasons– because it’s smart.

    There are over 1 million oil wells in the US and fewer than 500 in either Saudi Arabia or Iraq. Production methods in the middle east are slip-shod, and lead to recovery of oil from any field of less than 20% of oil present.

    Peak Oil projections by the IEA and others that focus on production figures will always vastly underestimate the oil in place–because for political and technical reasons, oil fields are not being effectively utilised, and large numbers of sedimentary basins are still unexplored.

    The best future is one where humans do not use oil and coal for energy because they have better fuels and power generation methods. Artificial scarcity such as we have currently is good for oil-producing countries and corps., but it shrouds the underlying reality–which is likely to bite forecasters in the posterior.

    If you haven’t read “The Age of Oil” by Eni exec Maugeri, look it up.

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