March 27, 2006


Wind power 'ahead of predictions' (BBC, 3/27/06)

Onshore wind farms will provide about 5% of Britain's electricity by 2010, according to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

In a new report, it says turbines are being installed faster than predicted.

If this is correct, onshore wind farms will take the government halfway to its target of generating 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

The transition away from oil will happen faster than anyone dreams.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 27, 2006 7:38 AM

Ted Kennedy's spearheading the effort here in the states ... your state that is; not theirs.

Posted by: at March 27, 2006 9:11 AM

I'd love to think you're right, but didn't we just hear about how hydroelectric is already maxed out in this country, while to even make a dent in the energy needs of the U.S. with wind power, you'd need windmills covering an area equivalent to that of the state of Oklahoma. Which leaves nuclear...

Posted by: M. Bulger at March 27, 2006 9:16 AM


Yes. Hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen, etc.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 9:20 AM


No. Not unless you have a solution to the environmentalists and the NIMBY's. I'd be truly interested to hear it.

Posted by: Rick T. at March 27, 2006 10:02 AM

Economics and democracy.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 10:05 AM

A proposal for a coal-fired power plant on Nantucket Island might also help the alternative energy cause...

Posted by: John at March 27, 2006 10:43 AM


I'll see your economics and democracy and raise you courts and regulatory agencies. All in.

Posted by: Rick T. at March 27, 2006 11:41 AM

i have no problem covering OK with windmills.

Posted by: toe at March 27, 2006 12:37 PM


Courts and buraucracies respond to electorates in the long run.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 12:43 PM

We're decades from significantly easing up on oil demands. Too many biproducts depend on oil base and they lag way behind in replacement.

Posted by: Tom Wall at March 27, 2006 3:46 PM

"Decades" seems unduly pessimistic.

Cellulosic ethanol could replace 10% of gasoline demand within ten years - and will, if crude oil stays in the $ 60 - $ 70 range.

Cellulosic ethanol - from ag plant wastes (corn stover, cereal straws, sugarcane bagasse), plant wastes from industrial processes (sawdust, paper pulp), or from switchgrass - offers up to twenty times the return on energy invested in production that ethanol from corn does.

A biotech startup says its genetic engineering method could turn plants into cheap ethanol producers within five years.
By Neil Savage
February 22, 2006
Technology Review

[R. Michael Raab] is president and founder of Agrivida, a Cambridge, MA-based biotech startup. [...] For now, the company is focusing its efforts on corn, already a source of ethanol. But standard ethanol production uses just the kernels. Ethanol manufacturers process the kernels using enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars. The sugars are then fed into a fermentation tank, where yeast digests them and produces ethanol. But in this process the corn stalks and leaves -- about half of the plant mass -- are thrown away.

Using the whole plant would produce much more ethanol -- but the sugars in the stalks and leaves are in the form of cellulose, which is a much more complex chain of sugar molecules. [...] Agrivida proposes to add genes to the corn plants that will produce enzymes for breaking down the cellulose. This makes it much easier to process the cellulose into sugar, reducing production costs to a point where it's feasible to use the whole plant, Raab says. He predicts the process will be about 50 percent cheaper than current processes once it matures. And it could be adapted to switchgrass, [a woody grass native to North America that can grow to nine feet tall in a single year].

However, enzymes that break down a corn's structural elements could also result in weakened stalks. So Agrivida has redesigned the enzymes to remain inactive during the plant's life. Only when they encounter the conditions of processing, such as increased temperature or pressure or a change in pH level, are the enzymes activated. [...]

A study at Argonne National Laboratory estimates that a gallon of ethanol produced from kernels of corn in today's processes provides about 20,000 BTUs more energy than the energy that went into making it. The study projects that using cellulose from switchgrass would triple that net gain, to about 60,000 BTUs per gallon, mostly because little fossil fuel would be used in farming the grass. [...] Raab says switchgrass is appealing; for one thing, an acre of land can produce four times the mass of switchgrass as of corn. And switchgrass is far hardier and easier to grow than corn. "The energy balance for ethanol from switchgrass is tremendously better," he says. "It doesn't require all the fertilizer, all the irrigation, all the energy intensity that corn does."

Scientists estimate that ethanol could replace about 30 percent of the demand for gasoline without affecting food production. Right now, ethanol, mixed with gasoline, accounts for only about 2 percent of fuel in U.S. cars. Switchgrass can be grown on marginal land that couldn't support food farming. And experiments have shown that an acre of land can produce from 6 to 15 tons of switchgrass, yielding about 100 gallons of ethanol per ton. [...]

So far, Agrivida has designed enzymes on the computer and grown them in bacteria, but they still have to test how the enzymes act in plants. Raab hopes to begin field trials in late 2007, in order to get approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to start marketing his corn in 2010. Adapting the method to switchgrass would require an additional two or three years of academic research, Raab says.

And Agrivida is just one company among a dozen vying to bring the cost of ethanol down below that of gasoline.

But that'll just bring down the cost of crude oil, by reducing demand slightly.
Oil isn't going to fall out of favor as go-juice anytime soon - unfortunately.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 28, 2006 4:36 AM