15 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for March 29: First flight test of warplane powered by biofuel blend; Ethiopia plans 15-fold increase in hydropower by 2020
The Air Force conducted the first-ever flight test yesterday of a military aircraft powered by a biofuel-jet fuel blend.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II jet flew from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for a 90-minute test of a blend of 50 percent jet fuel and 50 percent biofuel made from camelina.
Camelina — a flowering, non-edible plant in the mustard, cabbage and broccoli family — was tapped as a biofuel feedstock by a Honeywell company, UOP, under a 2007 contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Now UOP is under contract with the Defense Energy Support Center to produce 600,000 gallons of the camelina blend for the Air Force and the Navy. The company also makes a comparable biofuel for commercial aircraft.
The test flight’s goal was to let the Air Force determine if biofuel-powered flight would be indistinguishable from any other, said Maj. Chris Seager, the test fight’s pilot. The result, he said: “As far as things we’ve seen, the engine parameters are looking closely” like those of standard military jet fuel.
Leading up to the flight, the Air Force had completed lab and ground evaluations of the biofuel blend, said Jennifer Holmgren, UOP’s general manager of renewable energy and chemicals. She called the flight “an important step towards the Air Force’s goal to certify alternative fuels.”
Starting this summer, the Air Force expects to test the fuel in the F-15 Eagle, F-22 Raptor and C-17 Globemaster III as part of a wider effort to wean itself from fossil fuels.
“We hope to certify the entire Air Force fleet to use these fuels by the 2012 time frame,” said Jeff Braun, director of the Air Force’s Alternative Fuels Certification Office. The goal, he said, is to replace half the Air Force’s fuel with alternatives by 2016.
“I think the flight demonstrates that this is indeed a feasible objective,” he said.
But the high cost of the biofuel blend poses a problem. Standard jet fuel for military aircraft costs between $3.50 and $4 a gallon, Braun said, while the alternative fuel purchased for the test flight cost about $65 a gallon….
Commercial airlines have conducted flight tests with biofuel blends made from camelina, jatropha and algae, but they used jet fuel different from that powering military aircraft. Also, the airlines haven’t conducted a test flight in which all engines are powered by the blend, according to UOP.
In a bid to end an energy crisis, Ethiopia is building a series of megadams on its plentiful rivers, hoping to increase its power generation 15-fold by 2020 and become an energy exporter to the region.
With the help of Italian and Chinese construction firms, Ethiopia is building dams hundreds of feet high to capitalize on hydropower from rivers coming down from the highlands.
“For a developing country like ours, the dams are a must,” said Abdulhakim Mohammed, head of generation construction at the Ethiopia Electric Power Corp. “Power is everything.”
In rural areas of the country, 2 percent of households have access to electricity, while the capital city of Addis Ababa has been beset by blackouts. The fast-growing economy and population has caused demand for electricity to rise by 25 percent annually with no matching growth in production. That led planners to look to the the rivers cascading from Lake Tana, which provides 85 percent of the water for the Blue Nile.
Several new plants will be built in the next few years, joining the dams that are already on line or near completion. But the scale of the projects is alarming environmental groups. A coalition of global environmental groups started an online petition to stop the dams, particularly the 797-foot Gibe III. The groups warn that the dam could cause environmental damage as well as social and economic effects on the tribes that live downstream.
The dam will end the Omo River’s natural flood cycle, which could affect herders and farmers and reduce the water level in nearby Lake Turkana. International Rivers, one of the groups that launched the petition, says Gibe III should be stopped and that other dams can meet the country’s power needs. But the government is dismissing those concerns, looking to China to secure financing to continue the project.
The national push for more wind turbine-generated electricity could turn Illinois into a transmission hub.
“Illinois is the crossroads. Historically, whether it’s rails, shipping, travel, O’Hare airport, it’s a geographical midpoint, or hub, positioned for all things moving west to east,” said Thomas O’Neill, chief operating officer at Chicago-based Exelon Transmission Co., a unit of Exelon Corp.
But while regulators are paving the way for wind-farm development with tax credits and loosened regulations, the key challenge facing those developers is that existing transmission lines, substations and transformers are inadequate to handle the amount of energy expected to come from wind farms in various stages of development across the country. There’s already a waiting list for wind-farm developers who want to hook into the existing grid.
“It’s easy to be green and say let’s build wind but we have to think about “” how are we going to deliver that?” said O’Neill.
In the near term, companies are opting to harness wind power closer to existing transmission lines, usually near urban areas, to avoid the lengthy and costly process of building new lines. Aside from pockets of strong winds in the midsection of Illinois, however, some of the most powerful wind in the U.S. stretches from the upper Midwest, south, into Texas.
In order to integrate and move that alternative power east through Illinois, the grid would have to be expanded and upgraded, say transmission experts and utility companies.
The estimated cost to move that wind power east could range from $64 billion to $93 billion in 2009 dollars and would require 17,000 to 22,000 miles of transmission lines to be built in the eastern half of the country alone, according to the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) published in January and prepared for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The U.S., China and Germany are among the most attractive markets for developers of renewable energy technologies, according to Ernst & Young.
The U.S. scored of 70 out of 100, followed by China, scoring 67, on the Ernst & Young All Renewables index. The index, released today, rates countries based on the attractiveness of their renewable energy markets, infrastructure and support for specific technologies.
Provisions in the 2011 U.S. budget, including a proposal to increase the number of wind and solar energy projects built on government-owned property, are likely to boost clean energy development, Ernst & Young analyst Michael Bernier said in the report. Foreign developers may benefit from a new national renewable energy development fund in China, the report said.
Potential solar tariff cuts in Germany may drive investors away, the accounting firm said. The U.K. boosted its rank to fifth place on the index, tying with Spain, after Britain rolled out plans to extend its renewable obligations system to 2037 and pledged to support new projects for up to 20 years. India ranked fourth on the index.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is striving to propose rules this year that would dictate how power lines are financed and pricing is set for nontraditional grid resources, the agency’s chief said yesterday.
Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said FERC “set the framework” last year for decisions on electricity infrastructure and new market resources by producing a five-year strategic plan and establishing the Office of Energy Policy and Innovation.
Now the agency is ready to provide more certainty and send the right signals to those who would build transmission and increase nontraditional or “demand-side” resources, including flywheel and battery storage. The agency aims to voluntarily reduce power consumption using demand response, Wellinghoff said.
“Getting the prices right and getting the ability to allocate costs right so that we can start really start moving infrastructure in place and start really putting the demand side in place into the markets — that is where I hope to get this next year,” he told reporters.
Wellinghoff said he has ordered FERC staff to draft a proposed rule soon on transmission funding formulas known as cost allocation. The staff is currently reviewing comments from stakeholders on that issue, and the agency may well see filings by regional transmission operators this year, Wellinghoff said.
“We ought to look at benefits to the entities that the costs are spread to,” he said. “We should not spread costs to someone that there is absolutely no benefits to.”
FERC already proposed a rule about making demand-side resources equal in market value to traditional power supply, and Wellinghoff said he is hoping to examine the pricing structure for other non-traditional supply soon
Harvard economist Robert Stavins posted a short and provocative essay on his blog Sunday about cap-and-trade’s spectacular fall from rhetorical grace.
(I say rhetorical because, as he points out, some form of cap-and-trade remains part of all the major Capitol Hill climate change bills. What’s dead, at least for now, is the “economy-wide” cap-and-trade idea the House appoved last year.)
Stavins notes that the recession and the Wall Street crisis – which battered the reputation of trading markets – had something to do with cap-and-trade becoming politically toxic.
But then, the heart of his argument (and the italics are his):
But the most important factor “” by far “” which led to the change from politically correct to politically anathema was the simple fact that cap-and-trade was the approach that was receiving the most serious consideration, indeed the approach that had been passed by one of the houses of Congress. This brought not only great scrutiny of the approach, but “” more important “” it meant that all of the hostility to action on climate change, mainly but not exclusively from Republicans and coal-state Democrats, was targeted at the policy du jour “” cap-and-trade.
The same fate would have befallen any front-running climate policy.
Does anyone really believe that if a carbon tax had been the major policy being considered in the House and Senate that it would have received a more favorable rating from climate-action skeptics on the right? If there’s any doubt about that, take note that Republicans in the Congress were unified and successful in demonizing cap-and-trade as “cap-and-tax.”
Likewise, if a multi-faceted regulatory approach (that would have been vastly more costly for what would be achieved) had been the policy under consideration, would it have garnered greater political support? Of course not.
BP will close its solar-panel manufacturing plant in Frederick, the final step in moving its solar business out of the United States to facilities in China, India and other countries.
Just 3 1/2 years ago, in an announcement widely hailed by Maryland officials and promoters of “green jobs,” BP unveiled a $70 million plan to double output at the facility and erected a building to house the production lines.
But on Friday the company said it would lay off 320 workers and keep only a hundred people involved in research, sales and project development. BP said laid-off employees would receive full pay and benefits for three months, followed by severance packages and job-placement assistance. The company, unable to sell or lease the building, will tear it down.
“We remain absolutely committed to solar,” BP chief executive Tony Hayward said in an interview Friday. But he said BP was “moving to where we can manufacture cheaply.”
The company said in a news release that by closing down high-cost manufacturing locations, BP slashed unit costs by more than 45 percent.
A few years ago, under the leadership of then-chief executive John Browne, BP said that its initials should stand for “beyond petroleum” and that the solar business was a key part of that new image even though it remained a tiny part of the oil and gas giant. Hayward, who came up through the oil-and-gas-exploration side of the company, said BP remains committed to renewable energy where it makes economic sense.