Posts Tagged ‘biofuels’

photo: U.S. Navy

In The New York Times on Tuesday, I write about Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ plans to green the Navy and Marine Corps and help build a market for new technologies:

Want to stimulate demand for renewable energy? Send in the Marines.

That was Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’s message on Monday when he outlined plans to slash the Navy and Marine Corps’ dependence on fossil fuels during an appearance on Monday evening at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club.

“We use in the Navy and Marine Corps almost 1 percent of the energy that America uses,” Mr. Mabus said. “If we can get energy from different places and from different sources, you can flip the line from ‘Field of Dreams’ — If the Navy comes, they will build it. If we provide the market, then I think you’ll begin to see the infrastructure being built.”

“Within 10 years, the United States Navy will get one half of all its energy needs, both afloat and onshore, from non-fossil fuel sources,” he added. “America and the Navy rely too much on fossil fuels. It makes the military, in this case our Navy and Marine Corps, far too vulnerable to some sort of disruption.”

Reaching those renewable energy goals will be a gargantuan challenge. The Navy operates 290 ships, 3,700 aircraft, 50,000 non-combat vehicles and owns 75,200 buildings on 3.3 million acres of land.

Last year the Navy launched its first electric hybrid ship, the Makin Island, an amphibious assault vessel that some have dubbed the Prius of the seas. On its maiden voyage from a shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., to its home base in San Diego, the Makin Island saved $2 million in fuel costs, Mr. Mabus said.

“In terms of our fleet, we have most of ships we’re going to have in 2020 so we know what we have to do to change that,” he said in a conversation with Greg Dalton, a Commonwealth Club executive. “We can do things like retrofit ships with hybrid drives. Mainly it’s changing the fuels.”

Two days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, a Navy pilot flew an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet powered by a biofuel blend made from the seeds of camelina sativa, an inedible plant.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Aurora Biofuels

In the Los Angeles Times on Friday, I write about the Obama administration’s move to issue $600 million in grants for biofuel refinery pilot projects. California startups grabbed a fair share of the money:

The federal government this morning announced it will hand out $600 million for next-generation biofuels projects, including those being developed by several California companies.

“Advanced biofuels are critical to building a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system in the U.S.,” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a statement. “These projects will help establish a domestic industry that will create jobs here at home and open new markets across rural America.”

Second-generation biofuels produce ethanol, diesel and jet fuel from wood waste, nonfood crops, algae and other feedstocks. San Diego in particular has become a hotbed for companies developing biofuel from algae.

Sapphire Energy, based in San Diego, will receive $50 million from the Department of Energy for the construction of a pilot biofuel facility in Columbus, N.M. Algae grown in ponds will be transformed into jet fuel and diesel. The company also scored a $54.5-million loan guarantee from the Department of Agriculture to build the New Mexico project.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Worldwide revenues from the solar photovoltaic, wind and biofuels industries jumped 53% in 2008 to $116 billion and is on track to grow to $325 billion by 2018, according to a report released Tuesday by West Coast market research firm Clean Edge.

Last year’s boom, however, is unlikely to be repeated in 2009, given the global financial crisis. Signs of the slowdown were apparent last year as new global investment in green energy grew by a paltry 4.7% to $155 billion, compared to a 60% rise between 2006 and 2007. In the United States, however, venture capital investments in green tech grew 22% last year to $3.3 billion, representing 12% of all VC investments, according to figures compiled by research firm New Energy Finance.

“2009 is a year to get through,” said report author Ron Pernick during a conference call.

Of course, growth projections for renewable energy are inherently speculative. Green energy investment is strongly dependent on government policy and what the Obama administration gives today in the form of billions in subsidies and incentives a successor can take away. And then there are calamities like the extent of the meltdown of the global economy that few foresaw even a year ago.

The wind industry accounted for a third of renewable energy revenues in 2008, becoming a $50 billion business. Clean Edge projects that employment in the wind and solar industries will grow from a combined 600,000 jobs in 2008 to 2.7 million by 2018.

“As the market transitions to low-carbon fuel and electricity sources, conservation and efficiency efforts, and the deployment of a smart, 21st century grid, we believe clean energy offers one of the greatest opportunities for both local and global economies to compete and thrive,” wrote Pernick and co-authors Joel Makower and Clint Wilder.

They identified as growth areas smart grid technologies, energy storage for wind and solar farms, the Eastern Eureopean market,  power grid infrastructure and micro power grids that provide electricity to self-contained facilities or areas.

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PASADENA, Calif. — Green tech guru Vinod Khosla probably didn’t win many friends among the chardonnay-and-carbon-offsets crowd Tuesday during an appearance at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference, where he castigated well-heeled enviros for thinking that driving a Toyota (TM) Prius and other “feel-good solutions” will save the planet

“The Prius is more greenwash than green,” the venture capitalist said on stage during a conversation with Fortune senior writer Adam Lashinsky. “Priuses sell a lot but so do Gucci bags. The hybridization of cars is the most expensive way to reduce carbon.”

“We do a lot of feel-good things like put solar panels up in foggy San Francisco so a few middle-class and upper-middle-class people feel good about themselves,” he added.


If Khosla was typically on the offensive, he’s been on the defensive a bit of late over early investments in corn-based biofuels. Alarm has escalated over the past year about the impact of taking food crops out of production to grow a gasoline substitute.

After Lashinsky read a recent quote from the Indian finance minister – “food-based biofuels are a crime against humanity,” Khosla agreed that “food-based biofuels are the wrong way to go. We have much better alternatives.” He has long championed cellulosic biofuels that can be produced from non-food plants like switchgrass or from wood waste and characterized his ethanol investments as a way to get the lay of the biofuels landscape.

Never shy about stirring the pot, he declared that, “People’s views on green are obsolete.” The way to fight climate, according to Khosla, is not to focus on putting solar panels on roofs or building electric cars but increasing the efficiency of things like engines and the operations of mainstream businesses.

Worried about the high price of oil? Don’t. “My forecast for 2030 is that price of oil will be below $25 a barrel,” Khosla said. No matter, he added, because by then biofuels will be cheaper.

So stick that in your Prius.

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Fortune senior editor David Kirkpatrick reports from Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference:

PASADENA, Calif — One of the more interesting observations I’ve heard at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference concerned genetically-modified foods and nuclear power. Someone commented that these two things — historically the object of huge vituperation from environmentally-minded critics — are both seeing a modulation of criticism.

The world is undergoing a food crisis caused, at least in part, by an undue emphasis on biofuels and in any case closely connected to the dramatically increased price of oil. (I certainly hope the issue of biofuels and food comes up when Adam Lashinsky interviews biofuel’s crown prince Vinod Khosla.) In the face of this food crisis, the antipathy toward GMOs may be starting to fade. The recent moves by Korea to allow in American beef after long resisting it, and by Japan to allow American rice, may just be early signs, this guy said. I’d speculate also that if it’s a question of starvation or survival, the southern African nations which have so adamantly opposed GMOs will almost certainly rethink their positions. (Aside from Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, of course, from whom rationality cannot be presumed.)

In a session on the topic of nuclear power, Fortune’s David Whitford asked the audience how many were unalterably opposed to increasing nuclear power in the U.S. for any reason. In this room of perhaps 300 environmentally-minded Americans, only about 20 raised their hands. With oil at $116 and global warming an ever-more urgent concern, minds are opening. Not that most of those in the room wouldn’t add substantial caveats to their unwillingness to rule nuclear out.

That said, the advocacy of nuclear power shown by Alex Flint of the Nuclear Energy Institute on Whitford’s panel drifted to some absurd extremes. For instance, he said that he would be willing to have a nuclear waste facility in his backyard, and that the location of a nuclear power plant “as close as possible” to his house “would be good for land values.” What is this guy smoking?

In answer to my question — one also raised by his co-panelist David Lockbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists — about what happens if a jet piloted by a terrorist plows into a nuclear plant, Flint was unconvincing. He claims that studies show that plants’ containment vessels are strong enough to prevent any release of radiation. To which Lockbaum replied that all the studies pre-9/11 found that even if that were the case, the shaking that would be inevitable in such a scenario would sever essentially all pipes and cables in and out of a plant, making a meltdown likely. Studies since 9/11 are classified, he noted, adding “but the laws of physics did not change that day.”

In the random interesting comments category, I was struck by an amazing statistic proffered by IBM’s (IBM) Rich Lechner in a session on Greening the IT industry. There were plenty of convincing arguments being made in the room that IT and the intelligence bequeathed by computing can have a major impact on reducing energy use and carbon releases.

But Lechner noted that a virtual person in Second Life has a larger carbon footprint than the average person in Brazil. His point, presumably, was that as people enter a developed economy, their carbon footprint goes way up along with their increasing use of tech.

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