Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Economic viability of algae-based biofuels

Jeff Hassania of Diversified Energy Corporation in Gilbert, who recently presented some of this information at the 2nd Desert Biofuels Workshop, has published an editorial on the commercial viability of algae-based biofuels.

PDF format: Algae Biofuels Economic Viability: A Project-Based Perspective

Friday, April 24, 2009

2nd DBI Workshop summary

Francine Hardaway, a long-time friend of Desert Biofuels Initiative, has posted an excellent synopsis of the 2nd Desert Biofuels Workshop on her blog.

2nd Desert Biofuels Workshop and DPFs: an update

[Boy, say something in public and they want to hold you to it... Sheesh!]

We just had a fantastic 2nd Desert Biofuels Initiative Workshop at ASU SkySong; about 150 in attendance, and just a great energy and buzz during the 3 hours from 9a to 12p (plus post-workshop pizza lunch: score! Huge shout-out to Dan Rees and AZ Biodiesel for paying the pizza man).

Brad did an unbelievable job in organizing and playing emcee. The format was a series of fast-paced 5 minute "update" presentations, including many who presented last year, and some new faces. A webpage with the slides from today's event is already online.

I limited myself to some (mostly) extemporaneous remarks, and started by asking: "how many of you drove here today using biofuel?" As you might guess, even among this self-selected and highly motivated group, I would (generously) estimate a dozen hands went up.

When I got home I wrote up and expanded on my thoughts, put them into PowerPoint, and they're now also online. Kind of like a mulligan. Cool.

But it was my closing comment that got the most attention of my talk: I mentioned the ongoing issue with diesel particulate filters, which are being used in newer passenger vehicles with diesel engines. After expressing new-found respect, and even empathy, for the engine manufacturers, I noted that anyone who is running biodiesel in these newer engines should be aware that in-cylinder injection of fuel in a post-combustion process can experience problems, like oil dilution, high and/or premature wear, etc.

I summed up with something like: what are we going to do if we finally get widely available biodiesel, and then don't have any new vehicles that are compatible with it?

I've blogged about this issue previously, and I had several people approach me at the break to ask me about it, and later received a phone call of disapprobation from a prominent local biodiesel advocate.

I think I've been about as public an advocate of biodiesel as most people can be, without being a public figure, so I want to clarify that I'm talking about a very specific technical, but real, problem with newer engines and their biodiesel compatibility.

More on the "post-combustion" issue here:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FUEL film extended in Scottsdale

Greg Piraino writes: "due to increasing ticket sales, FUEL will be extended until April 30th". So if you haven't had a chance to see Josh Tickell's film, go see it!

"Showing at Harkins Camelview 5 - several showings per day through April 30th unless extended. Tickets and more info is available at www.thefuelfilm.com or www.harkinstheatres.com"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

FUEL film follow-up

Dave posted a introduction to the Josh Tickell film "FUEL" which is now showing at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale. I was invited to this Saturday's 7p show; afterward there was a short Q&A with Greg Piraino of Applied Engineering (who's helping with local promotion of the film), Greg Pitz of Logos Solar, and me. Friday's panel included Mark Edwards of GreenIndependence.org.

Saturday's audience included Dan Rees of AZ Biodiesel, who answered questions about getting biodiesel into local school buses, and James Towner of AZ Sustainability.com and the Arizona Alternative Fuel Alliance.

The film itself was visually compelling and told Josh's personal story around biodiesel, with a liberal sprinkling of political muckraking. Tighter editing would help; toward the end of the film not much new is being said. Dorothy attended as my "guest" and Harkins got his $5.50 for Emily. All three of us were fidgeting in our seats by the 90 minute mark of the nearly 2 hour movie. The soundtrack was fantastic.

Many of the issues are more nuanced than the somewhat histrionic version Tickell presents, and some of the interviewee's proposed solutions would only exacerbate our current problems (new government mandates and subsidies are mentioned more than once as "obvious" solutions).

One of the reasons *why* we are in this pickle: we don't pay, at the pump, the true cost of petroleum (we pay in other ways, though: through higher taxes to pay for foreign entanglements, and Superfund cleanups, for example). These externalities subsidize our petroleum dependence, and prevent alternatives from competing on a level playing field. This is a *hard* problem for which lots of solutions have been proposed.

And it seems, at least to me, that few people want to acknowledge the obvious: we benefit greatly from cheap energy, in the form of, well, everything! Food, clothes, housing, ... Whatever the solution is it better be consistent with first principles. Is massive social engineering really required? To quote David Boaz: "A socialist system - or an interventionist state, which is just partial socialism - requires uniform solutions to problems rather than the myriad variety of solutions available through the market process." [1]

Here's a simple question: Are we willing to pay for what we use?

Despite its faults the movie achieves its main purpose: to inform and, more importantly, to motivate those rapidly diminishing number of persons who are unaware that we have serious and immediate issues with our continuing dependence on petroleum. It'll also be interesting to see if Tickell can generate enough buzz, and money, to fund a follow-up: something that provides a "deep-dive" into some of the proposed alternatives to oil.

After all, folks (especially those for whom this is all new) want to know: what do I *do*? Suggesting CFLs is good as far as it goes, but kind of misses the point. Using his own logic, if the situation is really as dire as Tickell suggests, then we *really* need to focus on the big wins.

But enough nit-picking: FUEL is *definitely* worth checking out.

[1] The Politics of Freedom: Taking on the Left, the Right, and Threats to Our Liberties, David Boaz, 2008

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The FUEL Film

For over 7 years I've been following the work of Josh Tickell. Most of you are familiar with his self-published book, "From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank," a glossy primer for homebrewers. Tickell took his lead from the women who, in the early 1990s, traveled the US on B100 (and possibly WVO; obtaining the film is elusive) and filmed a documentary entitled "The Fat of the Land." Some of Tickell's critics argue he failed to acknowledge this seminal work, unfairly accepting the title of "Pioneer" bestowed unto him by his followers. I mention this not to diminish Tickell's impact for Biodiesel awareness but to note there is some controversy (in fact, he deserves more credit than any other single person or entitiy, in my view - except maybe Rudy Diesel!).

Over the last few years, Josh parted ways with the homebrew community (accused of "selling out" and abandoning amateur scientists and engineers) to reach a broader audience, primarily through presentations and keynote addresses to farmers, policymakers, and investors. For years, he's been working on shorts and a feature-length documentary, which won accolades at independent film festivals worldwide.

Now, buoyed by the support of Hollywood icons like Peter Fonda, the film is building national momentum. In fact, it starts tomorrow in Scottsdale. I plan to attend the Saturday 7pm show, where Josh will be leading Q&A (according to his website: http://thefuelfilm.com/).

Friday, April 3, 2009

2nd Annual Desert Biofuels Workshop - April 24, 2009

Our first Desert Biofuels Workshop, held in March of 2008, was an exciting event; attendee feedback included comments such as:

  • "...a watershed for AZ biodiesel..."
  • " ...never been at a conference with such broad representation, from corporate, to government, education, NGOs and home brewers..."
  • "...showed just how important this topic is..."
  • "...tremendously valuable..."

Details about last year's event can be found here (the "agenda" .pdf file includes links to the slides presented by each speaker).

For our second annual Desert Biofuels Workshop we hope to build on last year's success. Our primary goals for the Workshop are to (1) enable the diverse members of the Arizona biofuels community to connect with each other, and (2) explore how the $50 Billion in energy programs in the stimulus bill can advance biofuels in Arizona.

Confirmed presenters include (in alphabetical order):

  • John Andrews, Principal, Biofeedstocks Global
  • Andrew Ayers, CEO, Algae Biosciences
  • Ben Cloud, President & COO, XL Renewables
  • Jeff Collier, CEO, Energy Derived
  • Dave Conz, ASU
  • Colleen Crowninshield, Tucson Clean Cities Coalition [via videoconference]
  • Bob Eaton, President & CEO, AZBio
  • Gary Greenburg, Science Foundation AZ
  • Francine Hardaway, Stealthmode Partners
  • Jeff Hassannia, VP, Diversified Energy
  • Gene Leach and Jay Nance, Founders, Dynamite Biofuels Co-op
  • Gordon LeBlanc Jr., CEO, PetroSun
  • Victor Merino & Max Enterline, City of Phoenix
  • Kelly Patton or Dan Henderson, Town of Gilbert
  • Dan Rees, President, AZ Biodiesel
  • Bill Sheaffer, VP, Amereco Biofuels
  • Chris Walker (formerly of PinalJet and AZ Biofuels)
  • Gary Wood, CEO, Desert Sweet Biofuels
  • Neal Woodbury or John McGowen, ASU Biodesign Institute
  • other invitations pending

We'll also feature an analysis of biofuels-related funding opportunities (grants, loan guarantees and tax incentives) available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the "stimulus bill").

The Workshop will be held at ASU SkySong on Friday April 24th, 2009, on the first floor in the "Convergence" conference room. We'll have coffee and networking from 9:00 to 9:30am, and then begin the Workshop promptly at 9:30am. We'll end at 12 noon.

The Workshop is free and open to the public. Register at http://desertbiofuels.eventbrite.com/.