"Energy and Global Warming News for February 17: Cellulosic fuel gets cheaper; GM push for E85 pumps"
Two of the world’s leading companies in the enzyme business, Novozymes and Danisco of Denmark, announced this week that they had found a way to produce enzymes that could reliably and affordably convert agricultural waste into so-called cellulosic ethanol.
The term cellulosic ethanol is a reference to cellulose, an energy-rich molecule in plants that scientists say can be converted to fuel. The term was coined to contrast this type of fuel with ethanol made from the simpler starch molecule in grains like corn. The developments at Novozymes and Danisco are being touted by the companies as a way to avoid using food feedstocks like corn in the creation of plant-based fuels.
Both companies are presenting the news at a biofuel conference in Orlando, Fla.
“We have been working on this for the past 10 years and promised our customers and the market to be ready by 2010,” Steen Riisgaard, the chief executive of Novozymes, said in a news release. “I’m extremely pleased to announce that we’re ready. The enzymes are ready. Biofuel producers now have a critical component to turn agricultural waste into a competitive alternative to gasoline.”
To find stations that sell E85 in your state, go to: http://www.e85refueling.com/index.php
General Motors is spending $100 million each year to build vehicles flexible enough to run on E85 fuel — yet most drivers don’t live near a gas station that sells the ethanol-gasoline blend, a top company executive said Monday.
Tom Stephens, General Motors vice chairman for global product development, is calling for more E85 pumps across the country. He said the nation needs to add 10,000 ethanol pumps to the roughly 2,000 already in place.
“I think it would be very helpful if we could get government assistance. But I really want the oil industry, I want the people who are at this conference, I want the government and I want us to just work together to make ethanol a reality,” Stephens told reporters at the Renewable Fuels Association’s National Ethanol Conference in Orlando. Stephens was slated to speak Tuesday at the convention.
GM expects that over half of the vehicles it makes by 2012 and beyond will be able to run on E85, which is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.
Stephens said two-thirds of the E85 stations are located in 10 states that have just 19% of the flex-fuel vehicles on the road. About 90% of registered flex-fuel vehicles are in zip codes without an E85 station, according to GM.
It took more than a month for the container ship Ebba Maersk to steam from Germany to Guangdong, China, where it unloaded cargo on a recent Friday “” a week longer than it did two years ago.
But for the owner, the Danish shipping giant Maersk, that counts as progress.
In a global culture dominated by speed, from overnight package delivery to bullet trains to fast-cash withdrawals, the company has seized on a sales pitch that may startle some hard-driving corporate customers: Slow is better.
By halving its top cruising speed over the last two years, Maersk cut fuel consumption on major routes by as much as 30 percent, greatly reducing costs. But the company also achieved an equal cut in the ships’ emissions of greenhouse gases.
“The previous focus has been on ‘What will it cost?’ and ‘Get it to me as fast as possible,’ ” said Soren Stig Nielsen, Maersk’s director of environmental sustainability, who noted that the practice began in 2008, when oil prices jumped to $145 a barrel.
“But now there is a third dimension,” he said. “What’s the CO2 footprint?”
Traveling more slowly, he added, is “a great opportunity” to lower emissions “without a quantum leap in innovation.”
In what reads as a commentary on modern life, Maersk advises in its corporate client presentation, “Going at full throttle is economically and ecologically questionable.”
Transport emissions have soared in the past three decades as global trade has grown by leaps and bounds, especially long-haul shipments of goods from Asia. The container ship trade grew eightfold between 1985 and 2007.
The Obama administration has laid out a relatively slow timeline for reviewing the terms of possible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean.
In a letter to Congress, the Interior Department said it will complete the necessary steps to plan for the possibility of “multiple geological and geophysical activities” in federal waters off the East Coast in two years.
The department plans to hold environmental reviews, scoping meetings, and public comment periods before issuing a final decision on offshore energy activities in the Atlantic by April 2012. Any exploration drilling would not occur until at least 2014.
The announcement builds on President Barack Obama’s recent hint that his administration is considering “opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development” and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plans to review applications to shoot seismic tests off the East Coast.
At present, offshore access is mostly limited to the western two-thirds of the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska. The oil and gas industry is particularly interested in gaining access to the Atlantic because of its proximity to major northeast cities.
However, industry groups and some policymakers from coastal states accuse the Obama administration of moving too slowly on offshore leasing following the expiration of longstanding moratoria on offshore drilling that lapsed in 2008
In a study released Monday, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) said the economic impacts of maintaining the moratoria would be significant and would drag down US economic growth over the next two decades.
Gov. Bob McDonnell and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar don’t have much in common when it comes to offshore drilling, but wind energy may be another story.
Later this week, McDonnell and other mid-Atlantic governors will go to Washington to discuss how states can proceed in a “coordinated” fashion to access wind energy off the Atlantic coast.
Last summer, federal authorities granted clearance to permit offshore wind projects along the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware. There’s also a tower off Massachusetts’ coast gathering wind data. And federal officials are reviewing applications for projects off Florida and Georgia.
To speed along the process in Virginia, several lawmakers have filed bills this year to establish a state wind energy authority.
Among them is Sen. Frank Wagner, a Virginia Beach Republican who plans to join McDonnell on Friday at the meeting with Salazar.
Wagner said now is the time to act if Virginia hopes to draw federal renewable energy dollars. He cited a recent analysis by the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, which found that a wind farm of about 200 tall turbines could produce electricity and generate roughly 1,000 jobs.
The Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club also wants to see action soon, arguing that Virginia is one of 10 Eastern states with enough offshore wind to meet its entire energy demand.
“If we get started right away and choose our sites responsibly, in 10 years we could be producing 20 percent of the state’s electricity needs from offshore wind turbines. Our wind resource vastly exceeds the energy potential of all the oil and gas thought to lie off our shores, without the huge risks to the environment and Navy and NASA operations that would accompany offshore drilling,” the group said in a statement.
A senior U.S. EPA official said yesterday that state regulators are doing a good job overseeing a controversial natural gas production technique called hydrofracking and there is no evidence the process causes water contamination.
The comment comes amid a push from environmentalists and some lawmakers to give EPA federal oversight of the drilling method out of concern that it leads to contamination of water supplies. The process, used by companies including Range Resources Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Chesapeake Energy Corp., involves blasting water, sand and a small amount of chemicals into natural gas reservoirs to multiply reserves.
“I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already” with regulating it, Steve Heare, director of EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division, said on the sidelines of a state regulators conference. He added he had not seen any documented cases that the process had led to water contamination.
State regulators and the natural gas industry have been fighting against federal regulation, saying it could prevent or delay development of trillions of cubic feet of new resources.
In its 2011 budget, EPA is seeking to spend $4 million to study the environmental effects of the process.
Even if EPA were given oversight of the process, Heare said, states would still have the right under the Safe Drinking Water Act to use their own regulatory standards so the change would not have a large impact on regulation