I've been following this e-mail chain about energy alternatives with great interest. The caution about examining energy (especially non-renewable) consumption vs. output for any alternative is certainly one that we should all keep in mind. And it's also true that the distorting effect of subsidies all around to suit different interest groups makes it extremely difficult to discern what practices currently employed are truly worthwhile from an energy balance perspective.
What I see as a major problem with bio-fuels right now is the myopic focus (among politicians and certain interest groups in this country, and not necessarily among researchers here or in other countries) on traditional crops such as corn and sugar that require substantial fossil fuel inputs for large scale production. For example, it seems abundantly clear that one is better off simply burning diesel or gasoline straightaway in a car, rather than burning a bunch more to produce fertilizers, run tractors, etc. (not to mention cutting down forests and eroding soil) to grow and transform a traditional corn crop for ethanol (which, of course, is itself burned).
I think that a critically important trick that members of BEST have taken up is how to best use plants that are highly productive without substantial fossil fuel-based inputs, or that thrive in the waste streams and emergent ecosystems we have generated and continue to generate through modern activities. Water hyacinths, water lettuce, air potato, and other sorts of invasive "weeds" are what come immediately to my mind as a Floridian, although I'm sure there are many others worth investigating. I believe that having organizations like BEST at universities throughout the world to objectively discuss and facilitate basic research on a variety of different options is an important key to new knowledge and innovation.
This is a predictable concern about nuclear energy, but I'm personally not very comfortable advocating for more until I'm convinced that the waste generation and disposal problem can be dealt with in a reasonably satisfactory manner. The daunting waste legacy of our current nuclear power plants - particularly in a dangerous world characterized by global terrorism - is something that seems difficult to account for in simple energy consumption vs. output calculations. I'm sure that nuclear is bound to play an increasingly important role in the future irrespective of these concerns due to the incredible outputs it can obviously achieve, but I'd sure like to learn more about new technologies that may alleviate the radioactive waste stream worries. Perhaps John Hurford could do this in a presentation for BEST?
Ph.D. Candidate, Interdisciplinary Ecology
School of Natural Resources and the Environment
University of Florida
Social Sciences and Environmental Studies
New College of Florida
From: Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology Society on behalf of John Hurford
Sent: Tue 9/27/2005 9:17 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: ASES Meeting - "Hydrogen Production using Solar Energy"
I welcome your participation in this discussion; after all it was your
e-mail that prompted me to write something that I have been kicking around
for some time. Your enthusiasm for the pursuit for solar success is critical
to its success.
The sources of energy currently in place are there because economic
concerns drove the technology in the direction it has gone. Subsidies
(sometimes as tax incentives) provide the push for investing in a new
If you look, I think you will find that the US petroleum industry has been
kindly treated with subsidies, both past and present.
In Dr Humphries last e-mail, he provided PDF files of a trade magazines
claiming great things for bio-fuels, and then asking for subsidies to make
I believe that one of the unspoken principles of the College of
Environmental Engineering and Science is to protect/enhance the environment
by limiting the amount of pollution mankind releases.
Therefore, the need to analyze a process for its true energy consumption
verses its true output is necessary to determine if the process warrants
further consideration as a useful alternative. The exception is the process
that meets some other design criteria more important then energy balance.
With that said, just keep in mind the example of the "clean hydrogen" power
yielding four times the pollution as the "dirty diesel" produces.
Conservation can yield significant reduction in fossil fuel consumption and
the corresponding release of pollutants.
With respect to nuclear power, this is a topic for presentation rather than
e-mail. But, let me say that your statement about massive subsidy is not the
experience I have had in the industry. Florida Power and Light's Turkey
Point Nuclear Plant had a return on investment of four years. The typical
oil burning plant had a 15 yr return on investment. Both had the same
I am optimistic that the engineers and scientists currently enrolled in
Black Hall have the potential to advance many of the various alternatives.
But, we want smart choices not just enthusiastic ones.
On 9/22/05, Marcelo Dias de Oliveira <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Allow me to participate of this discussion. I don't have the same
> and/or knowledge of you guys, but I want to participate anyway.
> Most of you don't know me. My master's dissertation was on ethanol fuel
> production and environmental impacts.
> For what I will write I don't have data at the top of my mind. But I don't
> numbers are the big issue here.
> I do realize that there are some serious problems when considering the use
> renewable sources to substitute fossil fuels in large scale considering
> scenarios. Actually during our work (also Dr. Burton Vaughan and Dr.
> Rykiel Jr. from WSU), we came to a conclusion that would be unfeasible in
> of cropland requirements, for the whole US passengers cars fleet to use
> However in our conclusions we did not totally disregard the use of ethanol
> basically because Increasing research might improve efficiency of fuel
> production, reducing its energy costs and environmental impacts to a point
> ethanol could have fractional participation along with other sources on
> role of substituting fossil fuels.
> I have the sense (and lack of data), that the amount of solar energy that
> reaches the earth in a daily basis should be a factor encouraging the
> pursuit of
> the efficient utilization of this energy source. Here again, research
> a big role, bigger than in ethanol, in my opinion.
> We would not be using cell phones today if we decided back on the 80's,
> considering costs and other technical aspects, that it was worthless to
> in such technology.
> Also the potential for Hydrogen production need to be better assessed, not
> considering current scenarios.
> Again, I acknowledge that current scenarios are not very favorable for
> sources at large scales, however, just disregarding those options doesn't
> wise to me.
> I agree with Dr. Humphrey that we should have a more optimistic view in
> issue and I wanted to thank him for sharing information about solar energy
> ongoing projects and perspectives.
> I also agree with Dr. Hurford about nuclear energy potential, and also
> thank him for sharing all those information. As an immediate alternative
> for fossil fuels, nuclear energy is readily available, and could have a
> Nuclear generating does not generate CO2, and it has inconsequential other
> pollution features.
> The main objections to nuclear power have been a) radiation health
> hazard, b) potential for diversion of nuclear fuel to warfare purposes,
> and c) uneconomical without massive subsidy. The first two
> considerations are potential problems, only; the last consideration was
> true in the past, but can no longer be claimed.
> I am not advocating adoption of one or another option for the future, at
> not right now. Although I confess I already had better expectation about
> renewable sources. My biggest hope still relies on the sun energy.
> I think the energy issues should be carefully and unbiased analyzed. And
> kind of discussions are very important. Current scenarios are not
> renewable energy in large scale; nuclear power might be an immediate
> But we should not rely just on current scenarios.
> Again, as an environmentalist and ecologist, my hopes rely on the sun.
> Thank you all for the attention,
> >From: Steve Humphrey <[log in to unmask]>
> >Reply-To: Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology Society
> ><[log in to unmask]>
> >To: [log in to unmask]
> >Subject: ASES Meeting - "Hydrogen Production using Solar Energy"
> >Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2005 10:51:07 -0400
> >Two aphorisms come to mind:
> >"Optimists and pessimists both get what they expect."
> >"If you drive a car only looking in the rear-view mirror, eventually you
> >will run off the road."
> >To learn more about what is happening and what may be possible, it is a
> >challenge to keep our minds open to new possibilities. The news is
> >For example see the following from Forbes.com <http://Forbes.com>:
> >BP Solar to start building world's largest solar power plant in Portugal
> >next yr
> >09.13.2005, 03:59 PM
> >LISBON (AFX) - BP PLC unit BP Solar will begin building the world's
> >solar energy power station in Portugal next year, Portuguese officials
> >'The construction of the station will begin in 2006, it is irreversible,'
> >Moura mayor Jose Maria Pos-de-Mina was quoted as saying by Lusa news
> >The plant is expected to be completed in 2009 and will have a total cost
> >250 mln eur. The town of Moura owns the majority of the firm which will
> >oversee the solar power station project, Amper Central Solar. The plant
> >have 350,000 solar panels spread over 114 hectares near the southern town
> >Moura and will be able to produce 62 megawatts, more than six times the
> >largest existing solar power station in Germany. 'This is a unique
> >and the world's most ambitious in terms of final capacity,' said BP Solar
> >commercial director for southern Europe, Francisco Conesa, according to
> >For another example, see the appended news story from BusinessWeek.
> >It is helpful for example to read the current trade publications, such as
> >Environmental Science & Technology Magazine. Perhaps others on this list
> >could recommend publications worth being on our personal reading lists.
> >It is also useful to examine what companies are doing to commercialize
> >proven concepts. For example, the WilderHill Clean Energy Index (ECO)
> >provides a list of "pure" alternative energy companies at
> >http://www.wilderhill.com/about.html (scroll down to the list at the
> >bottom). There is an exchange-traded fund of stocks (PBW) that tracks
> >index http://www.powershares.com/pbwfund.asp. You can research what these
> >companies are doing to transform the energy system. Beyond this list are
> >"greening companies" that are not pure "clean energy" companies, like GE
> >Toyota, which are nonetheless making major moves to transition toward
> >cleaner energy. Both green and greening initiatives are quite
> >Dr. Stephen R. Humphrey, Director of Academic Programs,
> >School of Natural Resources and Environment,
> >Box 116455, 103 Black Hall, University of Florida,
> >Gainesville, FL 32611-6455 USA
> >Tel. 352-392-9230, Fax 352-392-9748
> >SEPTEMBER 12, 2005 • Editions: N. America | Europe | Asia | Edition
> >SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
> >Power From The Sunbaked Desert
> >Solar generators may be a hot source of plentiful electricity
> >Before President George W. Bush signed the federal energy bill into law
> >Aug. 8, he got a firsthand glimpse of a technology that could transform
> >deserts of the Southwest. Instead of a sandy wasteland, there would be
> >gleaming farms with thousands of giant dish-shaped mirrors measuring 37
> >in diameter. Each dish would track the sun and focus its heat rays on an
> >oil-barrel-size contraption suspended out in front, harnessing the heat
> >drive a 25-kilowatt generator. Advertisement
> >Plant enough of these solar-dish farms, Bush learned on his tour of
> >National Laboratories' National Solar Thermal Test Facility near
> >Albuquerque, and they could mightily reduce the need for electric power
> >plants that burn fossil fuels and emit carbon dioxide.
> >MOJAVE MEGAWATTS
> >The day after the Presidential tour, Sandia's vision began to look a lot
> >more real. The supplier of the solar-thermal dish generators, Stirling
> >Energy Systems Inc. in Phoenix, won a major commitment from Southern
> >California Edison Inc. (EIX ) (SCE): For 20 years the utility will buy
> >the electricity that Stirling Energy can generate at a 500-megawatt solar
> >energy farm that Stirling will build in the Mojave Desert near
> >Calif. This could be the biggest solar installation in the world -- equal
> >a typical coal-fired plant. And if local power lines can be upgraded to
> >handle more juice, Stirling could enlarge the facility to 850 MW -- and
> >would take all of that, too.
> >Stirling's deal was made possible by several trends that are pushing
> >alternative energy into the mainstream. As oil has become more expensive,
> >have natural gas and coal, the primary fuels for power plants. At the
> >time, concerns about global warming have prompted lawmakers -- local,
> >and now the feds -- to unleash incentives for renewable energy. Wind
> >solar energy, geothermal, and biomass fuels are all benefiting.
> >If the dishes do well, Stirling Energy's 4,500-acre desert farm will
> >in new potential for Stirling engines, invented in 1816 by Church of
> >Scotland minister Robert Stirling. His engine is ideal for green energy
> >because it doesn't burn fuel internally. Instead, its pistons are driven
> >heating and expanding a reservoir of gas, which then cools for the next
> >cycle. Using the sun's energy to heat the gas means zero fuel is burned.
> >Stirling Energy stands to rake in upwards of $90 million a year once the
> >solar dishes are generating 500 MW in 2011. For SCE, already the largest
> >purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S., the extra 500 MW will more
> >double the 354 MW of solar power it tapped in 2004 from nine other
> >solar-thermal operations in the Mojave. It will also add almost 20% to
> >2,588 MW of renewable energy sources, including 1,021 MW of wind power.
> >year more than 18% of the electricity that the utility delivered to its
> >customers came from renewables.
> >Monster dish-shaped "heat antennas" are hardly familiar icons of green
> >power. People tend to associate solar energy with flat, glassy panels
> >convert photons from sunlight into electric current. But such
> >cells don't produce power as efficiently as Stirling dish generators.
> >typically convert just 10% to 15% of the sun's light -- and many cells
> >perform at just half that level. In contrast, Stirling dishes achieve
> >30% in Sandia's six-dish system. "Later this year we'll do even better,"
> >declares D. Bruce Osborn, Stirling Energy's new CEO and a longtime solar
> >DAYTIME ONLY
> >Why hasn't Stirling Energy's technology made more of a splash in the
> >business? "Our dilemma has always been how to get costs down," explains
> >Osborn. The dish assemblies now run $250,000 each. But that's because
> >have been handcrafted in sporadic lots of one or two units. Building a
> >of 40 or so would trim the cost to $150,000 each, Osborn estimates. With
> >real mass production, that could drop by 50%.
> >So when SCE said it wanted to buy more renewable energy, Osborn's outfit
> >proposed the 500 MW project as the means of moving beyond its
> >impasse. Producing that much electricity will require 20,000 dishes,
> >in a steadily increasing flow over several years. "We're ramping up now,"
> >says Osborn.
> >He expects to have 40 dishes in place for a 1 MW facility by the end of
> >year, followed by 50 MW in 2008. The electricity will be delivered only
> >the sun is shining, but that's when the utility's customers place peak
> >demands on electricity. "Our system is a really good match, providing
> >power at times of peak load," notes Osborn.
> >The price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) that SCE will pay is confidential and
> >be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. But there's
> >little doubt that the contract will get a thumbs-up, perhaps as soon as
> >month. One reason: SCE says the price it negotiated is so attractive --
> >"well below the 11.33 cents per kWh" it now pays for peak power -- that
> >won't seek any subsidies from the state.
> >Subsidies have been a common means of jump-starting solar projects in
> >California and 46 other states. Early this year, Governor Arnold
> >Schwarzenegger unveiled his Million Solar Roofs Initiative, calling for
> >additional 3,000 MW of solar power by around 2017. If the Million Solar
> >Roofs Initiative passes next month, as expected, homeowners who install
> >solar energy systems will earn a 7.5% state income-tax credit, in
> >to other state incentives and the new 30% federal tax credit.
> >Consumers, of course, are unlikely to plant Stirling Energy's huge
> >dishes in their backyards, even if they are the most efficient solar
> >generators around. But the technology dovetails nicely with California's
> >mandate that utilities must derive 20% of their electricity from
> >sources by 2017 -- and Schwarzenegger would like to boost that goal to
> >by 2020. Osborn says that 11 square-mile dish farms could produce as much
> >electricity as the 2,050 MW from Hoover Dam. "We're already looking at a
> >half-dozen one-square-mile sites in the California desert," he says, "and
> >there's lots and lots more territory there."
> >Theoretically, Stirling dish farms with a total area of 100 miles square
> >could replace all the fossil fuels now burned to generate electricity in
> >entire U.S. What happens in the California desert over the next few years
> >could determine whether thermal solar power can help end the dominance of
> >fossil fuels.
> >By Otis Port in New York
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From: Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology Society
> >[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of John Hurford
> >Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2005 4:04 PM
> >To: [log in to unmask]
> >Subject: Re: FW: ASES Meeting - "Hydrogen Production using Solar Energy"
> >The big issue in all of these alternative energy sources is one of true
> >energy cost; not just dollars.
> > In other words, if you spend a megawatt of power to produce a device
> >can only yield 0.75 megawatts over its lifetime, then the process is
> >inefficient. This has been the case with solar photovoltaic panels (this
> >according to the late Dr. Howard T Odum of UF's College of Environmental
> >Engineering and Sciences). This is also the case with batteries. It is
> >portability that gives them value, not energy efficiency.
> > That is not to say that solar photovoltaic panels have no value. When
> >with rechargeable batteries, they are excellent for remote lighting needs
> >where providing permanent AC power would be prohibitive, such as blinking
> >stop lights on remote rural roads. They are great for many low-power
> >like calculators and clocks. But, thinking that this energy source can
> >produce the quantity of electrical power used in this county is naïve.
> > As an exercise, calculate the number of panels necessary to produce 1100
> >megawatts per hour of 240 Volt, 300 Amp service. Eleven hundred megawatts
> >the power rating of just one of the nuclear units at the Crystal River
> > As to hydrogen as a fuel produced from other energy sources, the
> >thermodynamic efficiencies quickly indicate the negative energy result.
> >we assume a 50% efficiency for each power conversion ( a generously
> >value), we can see that as a primary fuel, Hydrogen is not the way to go.
> >Like solar panels; however, hydrogen fuel will have a niche where it's
> >values out way the negative energy condition.
> > To illustrate the point, compare the thermodynamic efficiency for
> >one unit of output power from a hydrogen system and one unit of output
> >from a diesel fuel system. Both system are primarily fueled by diesel
> > HYDROGEN SYSTEM:
> >Fuel 1 Power station 2 Hydrogen generation 3
> > Hydrogen conversion 4 Output
> > Four conversion steps at 50% efficiency require 16 units of input power
> >one unit of output power.
> >Fuel 1 Power station 2 Output
> > Two conversion steps at 50% efficiency require four units of input power
> >for one unit of output power.
> >Therefore, for the same amount of useful output power, the direct use of
> >primary fuel yields the least consumption of the polluting energy source.
> >"Clean" hydrogen actual produces four times the pollution as the "dirty"
> >diesel engine.
> > Bio-fuels are wrought with all of the same efficiency issues, and yield
> >same green house gases as any carbon based fuel.
> > Producing "Green energy" from a waste stream, such as the Archer
> >Landfill, does reduce the amount of fossil fuel a community would
> >however, the carbon dioxide issue still exists.
> > Conservation and improved efficiencies are the best methods for reducing
> >the quantity of fossil fuel.
> > This is not the end-all with respect to this subject, but considering
> >issues raised, maybe the researches will consider the most rewarding
> >to pursue.
> > On 9/19/05, Marcelo Dias de Oliveira <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > >
> > > That must be a really nice presentation.
> > > It combines the use of the most promising renewable source - solar
> > > energy, used for producing a fuel that might become very important in
> > > terms of environment emissions. Unfortunately I don't have at the top
> > > of my head some technical information to emphasize the importance of
> > > this approach, what of course will be given during the presentation.
> > > But I for sure recommend everyone interested in renewable sources and
> > > sustainable fuel production to attend this presentation.
> > > That is, if my recommendation is worth any attention.
> > >
> > > Regards,
> > >
> > > Marcelo.
> > > ----- Original Message -----
> > > From: Brian Becker<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
> > > To: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
> > > Sent: Monday, September 19, 2005 5:42 PM
> > > Subject: FW: ASES Meeting - "Hydrogen Production using Solar Energy"
> > >
> > >
> > > -----Original Message-----
> > > From: American Solar Energy Society at UF
> > > [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of
> > > [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
> > > Sent: Monday, September 19, 2005 4:35 PM
> > > To: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
> > > Subject: ASES Meeting - "Hydrogen Production using Solar Energy"
> > >
> > > Dear Members,
> > >
> > > ASES will be holding its first meeting of Fall 2005 tomorrow (Tuesday)
> > > at the Reitz Union. The highlight of the meeting will be a talk by Dr.
> > > Ingley on "Hydrogen Production using Solar Energy".
> > >
> > > Date : Tuesday, September 20, 2005
> > > Time : 6:00 PM
> > > Place : Reitz Union, #282
> > > Talk : "Hydrogen Production using Solar Energy" by Dr. Ingley
> > >
> > >
> > > We will also discuss about the upcoming Gainesville Solar Home Tour
> > > which is scheduled for October 2, 2005. For more information about the
> > > Tour, please visit www.mae.ufl.edu/ases <http://www.mae.ufl.edu/ases><
> > > http://www.mae.ufl.edu/ases>
> > >
> > > If you have any questions, please contact us at
> >[log in to unmask]<mailto:
> > > [log in to unmask]>
> > >