Archive for June 15th, 2009

US State Dept. Hires TED Conference for New Ideas at TED@State
stewart brand ted at state photo

On June 3rd, TreeHugger was able to attend TED@State, a one-day mini-conference sponsored by the US State Department, and organized by the folks over at TED Conference. As part of their Global Partnership Initiative, TED@State was meant to reflect Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s assertion that the department is “opening its doors to a new generation of public-private partnerships.” A good idea we think. …
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US State Dept. Hires TED Conference for New Ideas at TED@State
stewart brand ted at state photo

On June 3rd, TreeHugger was able to attend TED@State, a one-day mini-conference sponsored by the US State Department, and organized by the folks over at TED Conference. As part of their Global Partnership Initiative, TED@State was meant to reflect Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s assertion that the department is “opening its doors to a new generation of public-private partnerships.” A good idea we think. …
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Gavin Newsom Talks Green Goals as Governor of California (Video)
Current TV’s Leah Lamb interviewed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom about his upcoming run for Governor of California. He answered a series of questions posed by viewer…
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Customer Support Forum

Customer Support Forum
Forum area to discuss – Customer Support

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Leveling the Skystream Monopole Tower Forum
Forum area to discuss – Leveling the Skystream Monopole Tower

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Grid connect Skystreams Forum

Grid connect Skystreams Forum
Forum area to discuss – Grid connect Skystreams

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Battery Charging with Skystreams Forum

Battery Charging with Skystreams Forum
Forum area to discuss – Battery Charging with Skystreams

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Skyview/Zigbee Remotes Forum

Skyview/Zigbee Remotes Forum
Forum area to discuss – Skyview/Zigbee Remotes

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I had a request from Scott Ditter to put specific subject posts up on the site to make it easier for people to discuss specific parts of the skystream. Sounds like a great idea, so here you go Scott. Hope this helps out.

If anyone else has a subject they would like loaded as a forum to be discussed, just email me a request at and I’ll post it on the site. To see all the current forums, just click the FORUM link under category archives on the left side.


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Green IPO Watch at – New Geothermal Stock Coming to Canadian Markets
POINT ROBERTS, WA and DELTA, BC- June 15th, 2009 –, a leading investor news and research portal for the renewable energy sector within, reports on Magma Energy Corp, a pending new Canadian geothermal listing in the renewable energy space.

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Response to Green Algae Strategy Review
I have received a response from Mark Edwards, auther of Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports And Engineer Sustainable Food And Fuel. I reviewed the book here recently, and as I indicated in the conclusion of the review I would gladly post any of Mark’s comments. So, here they are in full. I have added clarifications, such as to indicate when Mark is quoting me [e.g., RR quote]. I have otherwise tried to keep the formatting consistent with what Mark sent me. No further response from me.


Response to Green Algae Strategy Review

Thank you for the review and the opportunity to respond to your thoughtful comments. Your observations are right on target for someone focused on algal oil as a liquid transportation fuel.

Remember that food energy is actually more important to humans that liquid transportation fuels. We can survive without transportation assistance but we starve quickly without food energy. I see no way to produce algae economically purely for liquid transportation fuels. The only way production makes sense will be to grow massive amounts of algae biomass, harvest the lipids for transportation energy and use the protein and carbohydrates to produce additional forms of energy, including especially food and feed.

RR quote: “Either Mark Edwards is dead wrong, or I am dead wrong.”

On the future of any topic, especially science, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Skeptics abound in the algae space and the leading skeptic, Dr. John Benemann, speaks at all the algae conferences and stands in stark contrast to many other equally experienced scientists who do not share his natural pessimism. John revels in his reputation for pessimism. Other scientists engaged in the Aquatic Species Report have a completely opposite view. Several are working for companies that are producing algae for fuel. Professor Milton Sommerfeld at ASU and a co-author on the Report, has been producing algal oil for jet fuel in the laboratory and a field setting for several years.

Speculation on cost per gallon of algal oil is useless until we see actual field production. The good news on this front is that I have seen the following:

• Cost reduction of algal oil production — one order of magnitude in the last two years
• Cost reduction on algal extraction — two new methods promise two orders of magnitude
• Cost reduction on energy for mixing — one order of magnitude in the last two years

These cost reductions will be reflected in various producers’ cost models. American scientists and engineers are exceptionally talented at taking costs out of production.

The real question is not the cost of algal oil per gallon but the value of the total culture. The best production models I’ve reviewed have only about 30% of the algal biomass value going to fuel. That means 70% of the biomass produces other coproducts from the protein and carbohydrates. Those many coproducts are examined in analyzed in Chapters 7 and 10 in Green Algae Strategy.

Green solar energy captured in algae creates a portable energy source and grows biomass with solar energy stored in forms that may be used for a variety of purposes:

• People – organic protein in food
• Animals – organic protein in fodder
• Fowl – natural protein for birds
• Fish – natural protein in fish feed
• Land plants – organic nitrogen fertilizer
• Fire – high energy algal oil for cooking and heating
• Cars – carbohydrates refined to gasoline for transportation
• Trucks and tractors – high energy clean, green diesel
• Trains, boats, barges and ships – high energy clean diesel
• Planes – high energy, clean aviation gas and jet fuel

Algae also offer low energy and low cost pollution solutions to clean waste, brine or salt water, sequester CO2 from coal fired power plant plumes and recover abandoned soils. This presentation will highlight the status of the algal industry with a focus on food and energy.

RR quoting a study that I cited in the review: What about the value of sequestered carbon in algae-based biofuels? In short, there isn’t any. Atmospheric carbon is only sequestered for a short time until it’s burned in an engine. Under existing biofuels mandates in most industrialized countries, there will be no opportunity to sell carbon offsets unless fuel production is additional, or beyond such mandates.

This criticism ignores the fact that algae-based biofuels recycle atmospheric carbon and every gallon displaces a gallon of fossil fuel. When algal production occurs with no fossil energy, the production is carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide is simply being recycled. In contrast, cropland-based biofuels such as ethanol emits more carbon than burning natural gas directly due to the huge amounts of fossil fuels needed to produce corn.

I recently presented a paper demonstrating our work with Desert Sweet Biofuels where we produced carbon negative algal biomass by using a gasifier and creating bio-char. The gasifier burned biomass in a oxygen starved container creating hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The hydrogen was burned for energy to create electricity while the carbon dioxide was flued into algal ponds to produce algal biomass. Our calculations showed that we sequestered only about 10% of the total carbon — the bio char that was scratched into fields. The University of Arizona is currently conducting research to see what percentage of that bio char stays in the soil and for how long. Other research suggests that much of the bio char stay sequestered for decades.

Several countries are financing gasifiers in the U.S. for algal oil production for carbon trade off-sets.

RR quote: Edwards falls prey to the Vinod Khosla fallacy on cellulosic ethanol: This is simply too important and there are too many companies working on this to fail.

Vinod Khosla gave an excellent keynote at the 2009 Algal Summit in Seattle where he outlined his reasoning for not investing in algal production. His primary points were that he needed to see actual production before making investments and that the industry needed to do a better job at conveying the value proposition for algae.

RR quote: He is sufficiently skeptical about the near term prospects for cellulosic ethanol, and is harsh in his assessment of corn ethanol (even more so than I have been).

My prior book, Biowar I: Why Battles over Food and Fuel Lead to World Hunger examines the entire ethanol fiasco including energy and cost models. BioWar I is available for free PDF download with color speaker notes at Every claim made for ethanol has turned out to be false. Consider that 2009 production of ethanol produce about 9 billion gallons of ethanol (the DOE Target) and will consume:

• 40 million acres of prime American cropland
• 2 trillion gallons of fresh water for irrigation
• 5 billion gallons of diesel fuel for corn production

The 2009 ethanol production will create severe pollution of air, water and soils while reducing imported oil by about 3%. Algal production, when commercially viable, could produce far more ethanol or other higher energy fuels using no or minimal cropland, fresh water or fossil fuels.

BioWar I covers the research on cellulosic ethanol which, for litany of reasons including that it takes too much fresh water and energy, makes no sense for biofuel production. Cellulosic products may turn out to be an excellent source of carbon for the production of algal oil. BioWar I concludes that our best policy is to end subsidies for ecologically destructive production such as ethanol and big oil and to shift subsidies to ecologically friendly production such as algal biomass. Subsidies played a key role in the review.

RR quote: He blames the lack of progress for algae on lack of funding, which is blamed on corn ethanol. This, he argues, was the politically favorable biofuel that sucked up all the R&D funding (and subsidies). He later writes “If corn ethanol makes sense, the market will reward it without taxpayer monies or protectionist tariffs.” Can’t we say the same about algal fuel?

Making corn whiskey, ethanol, is a 200-year-old technology. Subsidies are useful for changing consumer behavior and supporting new technologies. Subsidizing corn and the many inputs for growing corn for ethanol make no sense and are ecologically destructive. Algal production does not need protectionist tariffs but does need public monies to develop the knowledge base to grow massive amounts of biomass. The two top threats I see to the algal industry are subsidy-based. Lack of government subsidies, which began in the 1990’s at the end of the Aquatic Species Program led to: (Subsidies were shifted to corn ethanol.)

a. No support for academic, institute or government algal research. As a consequence, the US has few algae labs, nearly no American algal professors and very few students trained in algal production. Lack of trained scientists and graduate students put the U.S. at severe disadvantage in algal production.

b. An algal industry constrained by vertical markets. Each algal company jealously protect its intellectual property and does not share bubble research or breakthroughs. Even the scientific meetings are full of statements that the scientist cannot share real numbers because they have signed on disclosure agreements with their employers or grantors.

The R&D necessary for successful algal production will take more money than is available from private investors. Who wants to invest $500 million on R&D. Investors want a fast return and are not willing to fund sufficient R&D. Failing government subsidies, the industry will sputter for decades. Then, when humanity desperately needs sustainable food and energy solutions, we will discover that the intellectual property for production is locked up by a very few producers who monopolize production to the detriment of all humanity.

RR paraphrase: To commercially grow them in the Midwest –pipedream.

Watch. Within 10 years, most the farms in the Midwest will use algal production to:

a. Recover and recycle energy in agricultural waste streams, especially manure
b. Recover and recycle nutrients in agricultural waste streams
c. Reduce the ecological damage and carbon footprint for agricultural production

Yes, many producers may use greenhouses and geothermal energy for algal production. However, cold tolerant algal species may flourish in the Midwest especially during the normal growing season.

RR paraphrase: Energy return not covered.

Correct. No one can credibly address energy return until production specifications and costs are determined. However, the production of algal biomass using solar, wind and geothermal energy avoid the issue of fossil fuel use. Two new extraction technologies promise significant reduction in energy requirements. One method uses simple air flocculation and another uses ultrasonic waves to break up the algal cells and separate the oil from the other biomass. The ultrasonic solution allows the oil to flow to the top where it can be skimmed off at very low cost.

RR paraphrase: Casually dismiss technical challenges

The technical challenges are treated with seriousness and focus. True, most are not solved in the book. An entire chapter examines each technical challenge and what needs to be done to successfully produce algal oil. In addition, the table in the last chapter provides a summary of the technical challenges and the R&D needed.

RR quote: Page 13: As a criticism of using food crops for fuel, he states that massive planting of corn leads to high humidity because the leaves transpire water. This leads to thunderstorms and potentially tornadoes. That large areas planted in corn can increase the risk of tornadoes is something I have never heard before.

Neither had I before doing the research for BioWar I and Green Algae Strategy.

RR quote: Page 150: When writing that algal fuel mimics fossil fuels without fossilization, he writes “Skipping the fossilization step not only saves 200 million years of pressure and heat, but lowers production costs significantly.” I can’t really comprehend this one.

Consider the true cost of production for fossil fuels. Failing government subsidies, fossil fuels would cost around $15 a gallon and that’s ignoring their ecological cost. Oil fields must be found and developed at huge cost. Extraction and transportation add significant additional costs.

Imagine growing algae locally for fuel production when the inputs are only sunshine, carbon dioxide and wastewater.

RR quote: Page 179: He cites a claim by Aurora Biofuels that their process creates biodiesel with yields 125 times higher and 50% cheaper than current methods. I am going to presume that this was supposed to read 125% higher and not 125 times higher.

You are correct.

RR quoting from the book: Page 204: “When someone invents a carbon capture filter for vehicle exhaust pipes, there will be a nearly limitless supply of low-cost CO2 for growing algae.”

I think this is a great idea. A Brit has developed the vehicle exhaust filter. This is only one of many new and some recycled ideas presented to spur algal production.

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Americans’ Six Views on Climate Change
Yale University and George Mason University recently released a study of 2,129 Americans (“Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009″) that categorizes the country’s view on climate change into six categories:

  1. The Alarmed (about 18% of the population): Fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it.
  2. The Concerned (33% and the largest group): Also convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged in the issue personally.
  3. The Cautious (19%): Global warming is indeed a problem, but are unsure whether the problem merits immediate attention, or whether it is as widespread as stated. They don’t see it as a personal threat at all.
  4. The Disengaged (12%): Do not know too much about the issue and have never taken any kind of interest in it. Relatively oblivious to the debate.
  5. The Doubtful (11%): Not exactly sure that global warming is happening, but if it is, it certainly isn’t caused by humans (i.e. it is a natural occurrence).
  6. The Dismissive (7%): Very sure climate change is not happening and are actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, these groups tend to behave in similar ways when climate change solutions are presented that also have personal financial benefits. For example, all categories of those surveyed support actions that save them money; the Dismissive group is just as likely to make energy efficiency improvements on their home as the Alarmed group. All six groups also support rebates for the purchase of energy technologies like solar panels and fuel-efficient cars.

These past few years have seen the pragmatic environmental community get more sophisticated in its messaging of climate change solutions, and this study supports those efforts to move away from “sky is falling” rhetoric and more towards commonsense actions and policies that are beneficial to the planet, the economy and people’s wallets.

via Softpedia, Yale University and Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009

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Small, Low Speed Wind Turbine

Small, Low Speed Wind Turbine
Small, Low Speed Wind Turbine

Most of us want to reduce our carbon footprints but currently most of the alternative energy products are simply unavailable for urban population that lives in metros. But gradually the scenario of alternative energy is changing and manufacturers have started thinking from common person’s point of view. Recently EarthTronics, which is based in Muskegon, [...]
Posted in: Future Energy, Wind Power, Wind Turbines

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CBO: Waxman-Markey to Reduce Cumulative Emissions Just 0.5% Between 2012-2020
By Michael Shellenberger and Jesse Jenkins. Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

The Waxman-Markey climate bill (HR 2454 or the American Clean Energy and Security Act) would reduce cumulative emissions by just 0.5% between 2012 and 2020 in the sectors of the U.S. economy regulated under the bill’s cap and trade program, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the legislation.

CBO, directed by Doug Elmendorf (pictured right), has published the first predictions from a government agency about the actual impact on U.S. emissions likely to result from the version of the Waxman-Markey legislation passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee and now heading towards debate on the House floor.

CBO’s analysis confirms earlier analysis by the Breakthrough Institute that revealed the climate legislation would only establish a non-binding emissions target, not a binding cap on emissions in covered sectors. Whereas Breakthrough’s analysis examined the total emissions legally permitted under the legislation (without projecting likely scenarios), CBO’s new analysis utilizes economic models to project what the legislation would actually accomplish under a likely set of assumptions.

The reason CBO projects that Waxman-Markey will result in such a low and arguably immeasurable reduction in emissions in supposedly capped sectors of the U.S. economy is because their models predict most regulated firms will purchase emissions offsets rather than reduce their own emissions. The legislation legally permits regulated firms to purchase up to two billion tons of offsets each year in lieu of reducing their own emissions.

CBO projects that firms regulated under Waxman-Markey’s cap and trade program would utilize 230 million tons of domestic offsets and 190 million tons of international offsets in 2012 [p. 16]. By 2020, CBO projects firms will be utilizing 300 million tons of offsets from domestic sources and 425 million tons from international sources, for a total of 725 million tons of offsets [p. 16]. That’s enough to offset 61% of the emissions reductions required by the ACES cap-and-trade program in 2020.

However, CBO also projects firms will purchase more offsets and emissions allowances than they need to cover their emissions in the early years of the program [p. 15]. This is because emissions permits (allowances and offsets) can be banked indefinitely under the legislation, and CBO predicts firms will purchase relatively cheap permits at the outset of the program, banking them to allow greater emissions in future years. For this reason, only an examination of cumulative emissions permitted by the legislation tells the full story of emissions reductions actually driven by the Waxman-Markey bill.

After taking into account the banking of emissions permits, Breakthrough’s calculations [.xslx] reveal that if offsets are utilized at the levels projected by the CBO, Waxman-Markey will cut cumulative emissions in supposedly capped sectors of the economy by just 0.5% through 2020. CBO projects cumulative 2012-2020 emissions in capped sectors would be 55.1 billion metric tons, compared to cumulative emissions of 55.4 billion metric tons under the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s business-as-usual emissions projections.

For comparison, if the United States was on track to reduce emissions at levels consistent with IPCC recommendations for developed nations (e.g. 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 on a 450 ppm stabilization track), cumulative 2012-2020 emissions would be just 46.2 billion metric tons, 16% below cumulative emissions under CBO’s projections.

CBO_Cumulative_Covered_Sectors.jpgClick any image to enlarge

CBO predicts that cumulative economy-wide U.S. emissions between 2012 and 2020 would be reduced 4 percent under Waxman-Markey — from 66 billion metric tons under the EIA’s BAU baseline to 63 billion metric tons at CBO’s projected levels. This analysis assumes that all domestic carbon offsets are emissions reductions that would not have occurred otherwise (i.e. 100% of domestic offsets are truly “additional”).

CBO_Cumulative_Economy_Wide.jpgIt is worth noting that CBO’s projections (like all forecasts) are based on various assumptions including the price of domestic emissions reductions, offsets, and the likely behavior of individual firms. The Waxman-Markey legislation itself does not legally require any emissions reductions below the EIA’s projected emissions baseline through 2030, if offsets are available and purchased at the maximum levels permitted by the legislation.

See Breakthrough Institute’s ongoing series of original analysis of Waxman-Markey ACES climate bill collected here

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