Biofuels cellulosic biofuel image

Published on December 24th, 2012 | by James Ayre


Biofuel Production Could Get Huge Boost Thanks To Galactan Breakthrough

December 24th, 2012 by  

Researchers from the Department of Energy (DOE) have for the first time identified an enzyme that is capable of significantly raising the amount of the sugar galactan that is present in the cell walls of plants. Galactan is a type of galactose, which is a 6-carbon sugar that is easily fermentable into ethanol by utilizing yeast. It has long been a substance of great interest to researchers trying to create advanced biofuels from “cellulosic biomass.”

cellulosic biofuel image

In contrast to ethanol, new and “advanced” biofuels created from the sugars found in the cell walls of plants could be directly substituted in place of currently used fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. They can take the place of these fuels “on a gallon-for-gallon basis,” and wouldn’t require any modifications to be made to the engines and infrastructures that are currently in use.

The quality that makes them truly promising as a supplement to renewable energies, though, is their potential to be carbon neutral, potentially being burned without contributing any new carbon to the atmosphere.

The primary challenge to the creation of these fuels has been finding a way “to maximize the amount of plant cell wall sugars that can be fermented into fuels,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers note. The new research does a lot to address this.

“We have confirmed the identity of the GT92 enzyme as the first enzyme shown to increase the biosynthesis of galactan,” says Henrik Scheller, vice president for JBEI’s Feedstocks Division and director of its Cell Wall Biosynthesis group. “This identification of the first β-1,4-galactan synthase provides an important new tool for the engineering of advanced bioenergy fuel crops.”


While I’m not a proponent of biofuel use on a large-scale, carbon-neutral forms could very useful as a small-scale supplement to renewable energy such as solar and wind power.

The new research was just described in a paper published in the journal Plant Cell.

Source: DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Complete our 2017 CleanTechnica Reader Survey — have your opinions, preferences, and deepest wishes heard.

Check out our 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • I can’t believe the comment at the end about a preference for solar or wind. Have you ever tried to power a truck or a train with wind or solar?

    We desperately need large scale bio fuels for our transportation.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The Trans-Siberia railroad is almost the length of the distance from SF to NYC. Times two.

      It runs on electricity. It carries a tremendous amount of freight.

      Someone has already built a 100 mile range 18-wheeler. Battery swapping is an ‘already demonstrated’ technology. Moving the last few hundred miles from rail to warehouse by battery-swapping trucks is possible a solution.
      We could move freight with only electricity. The question is which will turn out to be the most cost effective over time.

      Large scale biofuels are possibly restrained by available crop land and water. There’s an energy input to growing, harvesting, producing, and distributing biofuel.

      Freight could move mostly at night when the wind tends to be up and grid demand down.

      • Bob:
        It is physically possible to build overhead lines to operate a train electrically.

        It may also be possible to put several hundred pounds of batteries on a truck and put swap stations every hundred miles along the truck route.

        So these things are physically possible.

        But a “drop-in” fuel like what was proposed in the article would permit trains and trucks to proceed along our rail and road system without modification.

        I don’t there is any doubt that this would be our first choice.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m glad we agree that trains and trucks could be run on electricity. And since we know that we can generate electricity with wind turbines and solar panels then we know that we could run trains and trucks from renewable electricity.

          Yes, it would take a fair amount of storage to make that work but it seems to me that we’re further along with storage technology than with viable biofuel technology.

          Now if someone comes up with a method to make “biodiesel” on non-agricultural land using seawater or urban waste water for $2/gallon then we might go the biofuel route.

          I doubt that with a worldwide population of 8-9 billion we will have land and water resources to grow biofuel on crop lands.

          • Certainly given the new weather patterns it is going to be difficult to grow enough food with or without the load from bio fuel.

            We for sure will see product production and sourcing move closer to the market because of the fuel requirements for transportation. This will effect imports from China and other countries because of the increased transportation costs.

            Maybe this new “galactan” technology will allow us to make bio fuels from tree leaves. That’s if we can get to them before the forest fires wipe them out.

            I myself have not been too thrilled with new storage technology suitable for transportation. There is some progress in storing solar energy with molten salt but that would be difficult to put on the back of a truck. The Chevy Volt is good for about 60 miles on a warm day. These batteries weigh about 400 pounds. I shudder at the thought of multiplying that for an 18 wheeler.

            Its hard to know which horse is going to win this race but if were a betting man I think I would put my money on a bio fuel.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If we get the sort of batteries that seem to be developing EV range will not be an issue. The batteries currently used in the Nissan Leaf store 120 watt-hours per kilogram. One of the companies (Envia) working on better batteries has a 400 watt-hour per kilogram battery. At least the cathode part of it. Their battery has been * *independently* tested by the US Navy Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division. *

            If they, or another company, pull that off then the Leaf would have over a 200 mile range out of batteries which weigh what the current batteries weight. That would solve the personal transportation issue.

            And we have some interesting grid storage batteries in the works that promise very cheap large scale storage.

            If these products develop (and I did say ‘if’) then I don’t think we will use biofuels for land transportation. Look at the ‘labor’ differences. You install some solar panels or a wind turbine and you get 30+ years of electricity with very little maintenance. Biofuels require constant growing, harvesting, processing and distribution – over and over and over.
            Biofuels may be the answer for planes. I think about 10% of our oil goes to plane fuel. If we move most of our medium distance travel to electrified high speed rail I suspect we could get that amount cut in half. That’s an amount that we might be able to get from switchgrass or some other plant that thrives on non-agricultural land.

            We will also need a fuel source for ocean transport.

            I just don’t think we’ve got enough land and water to produce enough biofuel to replace oil. And I don’t think any liquid fuel can match the “$1/gallon” price of electricity.

          • You are using terms like “if they pull that off”. There have been so many ideas about improved battery storage that have not made it off the drawing board. If you are planning to invest your own money in any of these companies, I would be very careful.

            Also when you are using figures of “$1/gallon price of electricity” I am guessing they are not burdened with the cost of transmission of the power to the rail line or highway.

            Europe has a much higher population density than North America and this makes it more difficult to get the economic benefits of electricity for transportation.

            We are still heating our houses with natural gas and these houses are already on the grid. It would seem we could get more bang for the buck by converting them to electric heating.

          • dynamo.joe

            If by electric heating, you mean geothermal heat pumps, you are right, we could get a pretty big bang for the buck.

          • Actually Geothermal usually requires a fair amount of land like 5 to 10 acres for each house so it can work for very low density housing.

            Once you get into city densities, it requires much deeper drilling and is no longer economical.

            If you are close to a hot spring, the economics turns in your favour.

          • Bob_Wallace

            No. A lot of ground effect heat pump installation use deep wells. Prices are coming down. A geothermal system in some places is turning out to be about the same cost as other new HVAC systems with immediate savings in operating cost.

          • Bob:
            Do you have any links for that?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ve got a Google Alert set up for geothermal and I see reports from homeowners from time to time, but I haven’t saved any of the links.

            Here’s a gov site that talks about a two to ten year payback in a retrofit. If some systems are giving a two year payback then that’s a heck of a good deal.

            With new construction one would also credit the savings of the other system “not bought”. If annual utility bill savings are running $2k per year then a new construction install would make great sense.

            Count on 20 or more years of continued savings.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If they develop batteries, if they figure out how to make affordable biofuel – do you not see that we are speculating about how the future might play out?

            Batteries are showing some definite progress. Aquion is going into production with a decent grid storage battery. Chrysler tested a battery that had about twice the capacity of the Leaf battery but it would need a liquid cooling system like the Volt has because it heats up during rapid charging.

            There are some companies starting to produce biofuel. So far I don’t think any can get close to gas pump prices.

            We’ll have to see how this all plays out. But the cost of electricity and the very high efficiency of electric motors is going to make it difficult for internal combustion engines with their very low efficiencies.

            “Also when you are using figures of “$1/gallon price of electricity” I am guessing they are not burdened with the cost of transmission of the power to the rail line or highway.”

            That’s based on an average $0.12/kWh price of electricity. Very large consumers, the way our pricing systems work, pay well under average. The price target for biofuels is going to be very hard to reach. I suspect they will only be used where electricity is not an option.

            “Europe has a much higher population density than North America and this makes it more difficult to get the economic benefits of electricity for transportation.”

            I don’t see how that works. If you’re saying that people don’t travel as much then it would take longer to recover an EV price premium but there’s no reason to believe that EVs will be more expensive than ICEVs in the future. They should be less expensive.

          • I would not make light of bio fuels. Google, GE and BP are investing “Negative Carbon Liquid Fuels” see and

            Also the Dept of Defense are investing heavily in bio fuel research because you can’t run a ship or jet on batteries.

            It is hard to predict which horse will win. Neither technology is ready for prime time. Some more water has to go under the bridge.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Geeze, Mike, why do you try to make it sound like I was suggesting we might power airplanes or ocean going ships with batteries?

            (If zinc-air batteries work out we might do some flying with them.)

            Biofuels probably have some sort of role in our future. During the transition away from fossil fuels, if they can be produced for about the cost of refined petroleum. A carbon tax might help them close the gap. Right now biofuels are struggling to get their production costs down to the “$4/gallon” level.

            But, longer term, I cannot see biofuels becoming so cheap to produce that they would be able to compete with electricity for most of our land transportation.

            Electrovaya is manufacturing an EV battery that has almost double the capacity of the Leaf battery. It would give the Leaf a highway range of greater than 150 miles. That is very close to the range needed to drive all day, >500 miles, with only two <20 minute stops. When we get a 'drive all day' EV sales volumes are likely to soar and prices fall.

            We're very likely to build electrified high speed rail. We'll get there later than Europe and Asia, but it's starting to happen. Those rail lines will move people during the day and probably much of the goods on the highways now at night. Someone shipping from LA to SF is going to get their goods delivered faster and cheaper by HSR than with an 18 wheeler making the drive. The stuff that needs to get there very fast can be shipped in between or on passenger trains.

            Liquid fuels, when you throw away 70%+ of the energy as waste heat, will simply have a very hard time competing.

          • Bob:
            I mentioned the DoD because if they figure something out there will be spinoffs for trucks and trains.

            One of the things to remember is we have about 4 years to start a significant downward trend in our carbon emissions. Otherwise we will hit the tipping point with total loss of the Arctic ice cap and unstoppable global warming.

            We have the technology for building a transmission and nuclear power system right now for electric trains and we are not doing it because of the prohibitive costs.

            We do not need EV storage systems to accomplish this. EV storage systems are required for solar and wind power systems which cannot begin to meet our base load requirements because of land requirements.

            We now have the CANDU6 which we are building in China and possibly Scotland, that is safe and can consume spent plutonium helping us deal with the disposal of the spent bundles. See and

            A drop-in non food bio fuel at $2 per litre could permit us to convert to low carbon transportation almost over night. It can be pumped through the same pipelines and run in existing diesel engines.

            There is another angle with long range car batteries. They take several hours to recharge. So for long haul driving, we need a network of swap-out depots that would take years to roll out. Israel has such a network of depots but the effort to develop such a network of depots for North America will be significant.

            I do not know which technology will win but my intuition tells me that bio fuel will be much easier to roll out if they ever figure it out.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If we’ve got to start cutting our CO2 in four years, to use your timeline, then forget about nuclear. We, at best, could get a handful of new reactors on line ten years from now. And, no, China’s ability to build in half that time does not apply here. Double their timeline and double their cost (because they do not borrow money).

            We could, right now. start building nothing but EVs and PHEVs and
            very significantly cut our liquid fuel use.

            We could, right now, set a ten to twelve cent, 20 year FiT for solar and cause a solar installation stampede. A eight cent FiT for wind would do the same for that industry. We could turn all our existing NG capacity into wind/solar fill-in and shut down coal for most of the year. We would get CO2 levels down very quickly.

            “A drop-in non food bio fuel at $2 per litre” – as far as I know we have no $8/gallon biofuel which wouldn’t eat into our food supplies. And the public would not stand for those sorts of fuel price increases. Any politician who tried to double the cost of fuel would be voted out of office. Plus $8/gallon fuel prices would dump us back into a deep recession.

            We already have EV batteries that can be 90% recharged in less than 20 minutes (the Toshiba SCiB). The Chevy Spark EV can be recharged in 20 minutes. The average driver goes about 33 miles per day. They can recharge from a garage outlet in an hour and a half.

            We are already installing rapid charge points along our main travel routes. Hotels are starting to install charge points for their guests.
            Those people who really need to drive long distances often could use PHEVs. EV owners could rent a PHEV if there weren’t Level 3 chargers where they were going.

            85% of all US driving days are less than 40 miles. 85% of our driving could be done on electricity.

            A liquid fuel might be easier to roll out. We would have to first find one that was affordable. Then we’d have to figure out how to grow it in very large amounts. And we’d have to build plants to refine it. Once in hand we could move it to gas stations as we now do with gas and diesel.

            Or EVs/PHEVs might be easier to roll out. We need to sell them in higher numbers so that economies of scale can bring down the purchase price. We could charge them right now with available capacity during off-peak hours. Approximately 40% of all drivers would need a place to plug in. Something like replacing parking meters with metered outlets and installing metered outlets in parking lots. The grid is already close.

          • Bob:

            Yes, you are right about nuclear construction time. The new modular reactors can be built in as little as 40 months (see ) but you can double that when you take in time for approvals.

            Now wind may have some land limitations. I could not find a US article on this. Here is one from the UK ( ). It would be good to find out how this would work for North America. From some of the stuff I have read, the best locations are by the ocean or on the ocean. This can drive up transmission costs. T. Boone Pickens was ready to spend billions on wind but pulled out because it did not appear to be competitive.

            Your examples about batteries seem to apply mostly to cars not trucks. People who do long haul driving should buy a Toyota Prius Hybrid for $30,000 which gives over 50 mpg. People who are deemed “sort haul” or “commuters” will be a small segment of the population indefinitely but they can buy a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf for less than $30,000 after rebate and get a range of 60 or more miles but with a re-charge time of several hours. Even if 85% of a person’s driving is commuting, they need to be able to use their car for occasional long trips unless they have 2 cars. So these cars may be a while catching on. The Chevy Spark with a 20 minute recharge time may help get over the recharge time hurdle.

            One of the advantages of trucks over trains is their speed. I don’t care if the train goes 300 miles per hour. The truth is, they have to put the train together and break it apart along the way, so they are almost always slower point to point. High speed trains are great for passengers but they are not so great for freight. Bio fuel allows you to keep trucks on the road which is really important for business.

            For sure, there are a lot of moving parts.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Mark. Has there been a “new modular reactor built” yet? Or are we talking about a hypothetical?

            The UK wind stuff is bogus. The UK has massive offshore wind potential. And a lot of tidal potential. Plus the UK will not be a ‘stand-alone’ grid. They aren’t now, there are transmission lines connecting them to the mainland and plans are underway to drop a HVDC line over to Iceland.

            Offshore can cost more, but winds offshore are generally more steady and, in general, there tends to be more wind during daytime hours when demand is higher.

            T. Boone did not follow through with his wind farm plans because the route for the transmission line he was expecting to use did not come close enough to his site.

            “People who do long haul driving should buy a Toyota Prius Hybrid for $30,000 which gives over 50 mpg.”

            Or they could buy a plug-in Prius or Volt and do their short drive days and the first part of their long drive days using “$1/gallon fuel”.

            “People who are deemed “sort haul” or “commuters” will be a small segment of the population indefinitely”

            Do you really want to make that claim? We know that 85% of all US driving days are less than 40 miles. I would guess that well less than 10% of all US driving days exceed a Nissan Leaf range. Just not that many people have a 100 mile or more per day commute. And even people with 150 mile RT commuters could plug in at work.

            “One of the advantages of trucks over trains is their speed. ”

            You should go somewhere that has high speed rail and take a ride. Passenger stops are brief and infrequent. The intermediate stations are served by fast shuttles.

            A properly put together freight train would not need to stop long. Uncouple, pull up, back on to an adjacent track for waiting cars, couple, move out.

            HSR does not stop at the greasy spoon for meals and a sleepover at the highway rest stop. It doesn’t get bogged down getting through packed city stretches.

          • Bob:
            I am not sure if the 40 month is hypothetical or real. They are building one of these in China but I am not sure if it is on schedule.

            Even if the UK study is “bogus” it would be good to get a study for the US. i.e. how many MW do we need to replace coal and gas power plants and how much land is required to produce that power with wind and does the US have that much land with good wind? Actually wind capacity is a lot better if the towers are 80 m high instead of 50 m high.

            If trains can compete with trucks, then why don’t they? Is Warren Buffet waiting for instructions from the government?

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you will recall, there are many things that have been undertaken but were never brought to fruition.

            China may be building a SMR and they might be experimenting with thorium reactors but that does not mean that they will succeed. And if they succeed it does not mean that they will be affordable. Remember, China tried building a pebble bed reactor and found that they could not control temperatures adequately in order to use it for power generation.

            When/if some quick to build, cheap to build reactor is built then we can consider whether to add it to our box of tools. Or at least we’ll then need to consider siting and waste disposal problems.

            As for the question of the availability of wind and solar I’m going to paste something here that I wrote for a different purpose so that I don’t have to do a lot of repeat work…

            There are four important questions which I believe need to be answered as we consider abandoning fossil fuels.

            *1. Is there enough non-fossil fuel, non-nuclear energy available to provide all the energy desired worldwide?

            2. Do we have the technology necessary to turn that energy into useful forms?

            3. Can we deal with the variable supply nature of some forms of renewable energy?

            4. Can we afford to operate our economies using nothing but renewable energy?

            Jacobson and Delucchi (2009) answers questions 1 and 2 in the affirmative.
            They surveyed the most abundant renewable energy sources (wind, solar, tidal, hydro, etc.) and found we had far more than enough. They calculated the number of solar panels, wind turbines, etc. we would need to install to produce all the energy we would need in 2030 and found that current (2009) technology could do the job.

            Budischak, et al. (2013) answers questions 3 and 4 in the affirmative.
            They ran simulations against four years of actual grid demand against the weather (availability of wind and solar). They found that we could power the grid from almost nothing other than wind, solar and storage. That “almost nothing” was using natural gas turbines for a total of 35 hours in four years. Five times in 35,040 hours it was necessary to call on NG for an average of seven hours each time.

            And the overall cost for electricity was approximately what we pay now for electricity.

            These two studies show us the route forward. ‘Worst case’ is that we could power ourselves with renewables plus insignificant amounts of gas. All the improvements we make to our generation and storage systems over the next two decades simply make the job easier and cheaper.

            Jacobson and Delucchi Budischak, et al. Obviously if we include other renewable sources such as hydro, tidal, geothermal, wave and biomass/gas and residual nuclear we can reduce input variability and lower both storage and NG deep backup requirements. This would lower costs.*
            *Using load-shifting, increased *efficiency* and power trading with adjacent grids would also lower costs.*

            Then there are the inventions yet to be invented along with
            the improvements in current technology. For example it looks like we will have solar panels with are able to utilize large amounts of indirect light which means much more generation on cloudy days and longer solar day. And GE is testing a wind turbine blade which is a metal frame covered with fabric which could mean a 25% to 40% decrease in blade costs.

            A long answer to ‘do we have enough’. An answer in the affirmative.

            IIRC Jacobson was instrumental in determining the extra wind potential at 80m. In general 80 meters is the bottom edge of the nice smooth wind band.
            There are exceptions….


            “If trains can compete with trucks, then why don’t they? Is Warren Buffet waiting for instructions from the government?”
            Warren has gone on ahead. Trains already dominate the bulk shipment industry. Unless one needs to travel the direction of the Mississippi, and that’s getting problematic.

            We don’t yet have HSR. California will probably get the first HSR in the US. Initial plans were to run four tracks, one N/S set for passengers and one for freight. I’m not sure we need both. Careful scheduling could be adequate. We might need some clever engineering, such as passing lanes where the freight train could move over and run a few miles slower while the passenger train highballed on through.

            There’s even been speculation of “pushed” cars which could leave an intermittent station and sprint to catch up with and connect to a passing train. The ‘push engine’ could then detach and return to the station. Cars could be snatched from a passing train in the same fashion.


          • dynamo.joe

            That scheduling bit is probably a non-starter Bob. One of the primary reasons the US doesn’t use high speed lines is that freight lines take an awfull beating leading to warped rails which markedly decrease the safety and comfort of high speed rail service.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Joe, we are very unlikely to move our bulk shipments to HSR. I’m talking about the lighter freight that goes on our highways. Bulk will stay on the existing freight rails.

            There may be come exceptionally heavy loads that will continue to be roaded, but most freight is not that bulky/heavy. Remember, objects can be spread over more cars in order to not overload rails.

            We, in the US, do not use HSR because we have not yet built any HSR.

            We almost certainly will.

          • Bob:

            Thank you very much for the links. I found the Jacobson, Delucci article the best.

            Note: the point about nuclear power producing more carbon than wind or solar is contentious, see

            Now I am from Ontario and our Liberal government has run into problems because the farmers don’t like wind turbines. Also you can’t build them over the water if they effect people’s scenic views. So there have been huge political problems.

            They make the point that corn based ethanol adds carbon and they are right. But Brazil powers their vehicles with sugar cane based bio fuel that is carbon neutral. That’s a pretty big country to ignore.

            Now about the “push engines”. The concept of mag-lev trains includes the idea of each car being independently powered so the train can drop off and pick up car(s) at a siding without slowing down. You don’t need HSR to out-perform trucks, you need the independent power feature. It could be done on regular track without mag-lev but so far the rail companies don’t want to do it.

            I still feel that bio fuel will find a place because of the huge costs of electrifying our rail network. I don’t think they thought that part through very well.

            But lets give them the benefit of the doubt. Its better to have a plan that is 80% right than no plan.

            Its a plan that we could start with then modify as new technologies evolved.

            It would seem that we should pick out the worst carbon emitting coal plants in North America and have a plan to shut them down in the next 5 years. The blow back of course will be fierce but it can be sold by explaining the new jobs in the wind turbine and solar plants.

            I have always felt the big problem with global warming is no one wants to talk about the implications. If Barack Obama were to stand up and talk about more crop failures, more wild fires, more water shortages (like on Lake Mead and the Mississippi), more hurricanes and more sea level rise – that the people would buy it and actively support it. But because of the oil lobby both Stephen Harper (Canada) and Barack Obama will not discuss Global Warming.

            We have the technology, what we lack is the political will.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you look at lifetime footprint nuclear is a bit higher than wind and solar but not enough compared to NG and coal to worry about. Nuclear’s carbon comes largely from mining and refining fuel.

            US farmers and ranchers seem to love wind turbines because it gives them some very nice return, especially considering how little land actually it taken up the turbine foundations. They can still farm/graze 98% of the original land.

            The answer for offshore seems to be to go further offshore. And once a few turbines are in place people are likely to adapt to them and be more accepting.

            I think there have been some problems in Canada with turbines being sited very close to people who were getting no income from the turbine. At least there seems to have been one. There’s one individual who seems to spend major amounts of time complaining about the turbine that’s disturbing their sleep. And they’ve been complaining for years.

            Proper zoning should be in place.

            Something that should be put in the mix with EVs and biofuels is fuel cell vehicles run on hydrogen. I think the extra energy it takes to crack water into hydrogen and distribute it will mean that EVs will win out, but only time will tell.

            We are closing the worst coal plants. The EPA has enforced regulations that are in the process of taking around 100 of our worst plants offline. A few years back coal provided over 50% of US electricity. First half of 2012 coal was down to 36% and it will continue to fall over the next few years.

            I think our political leaders can’t get too far in front of the public. They can lead, but they can’t drag long distances if the public has its heels dug in.

            Right now voters seem to be paying a lot more attention to climate change. We’ve just been through two years of nasty, unusual weather. While climate scientists are not able to definitely attribute the storms and droughts to climate change, many individuals are. This, is what it will take for someone like PBO to start things moving along.

            But we’ve got this other problem with one house of our Congress under the control of climate change deniers and heavily funded by fossil fuel interests.

            I suspect that for a while other countries such as Germany will lead and the US will trail along behind.

          • Hi Bob:

            If they can burn spent plutonium in the CANDU6 reactor then we don’t have to worry about the carbon footprint from mining. And I guess we are all agreeing that we won’t have an electric bulldozer for a few years.

            Farmers in Ontario are paid $20,000 up front plus $5,000 per year and not one of them gets headaches or insomnia from the turbines. It is the neighbours of the farmers and the people who drive along the highway who complain. Droughts have not hit Ontario and so far our farmers think Global Warming is a big hoax.

            The problem with “further off shore” is Lake Ontario is fairly shallow for the first 2 km then it gets really deep. There are about 100 rich families on Scarborough Bluffs who want the turbines further out. We may be forced to put them on floating platforms which makes them very expensive. We don’t get so much sun so this is why Ontario is still promoting nuclear.

            Yes, I know the lady (in the town of Ripley) who has been complaining about headaches. They use the same lady over and over again in all their demonstrations.

            Hydrogen has its own set of problems. It is very corrosive so you can’t use existing pipelines. And it is very volatile. If it leaks out, you could very easily have an explosion. Ballard Power has spent $12 B on hydrogen fuel cells and they only get limited use on e.g. courier trucks.

            After they close the coal power plants, then maybe next is the steel factories. Steel can be smelted in arc furnaces. Next maybe its oil and gas based power plants. Rather than make up a list its best to let the market decide. Our blog group up here is proposing a Carbon Tax at the retail or user end starting at $10 per ton and gradually increasing. The money collected would be used for incentives for improved home & building insulation, upgrading to a more efficient car, conversion of industrial processes from gas tom electricity, conversion of home and water heating from gas to electricity etc.

            I think it is time for political leaders to lead rather than follow. Barack is leading now on Gun Control and I think he (and Diane Feinstein) are going to get something through both Houses. Remember how George W. Bush convinced the people of the WMD in Iraq. People believe their President. Barack Obama is one of the most convincing leaders that the US has ever had. Its not about convincing the people, its about dealing with the blow back from the oil companies. But I think he could do it and the people in almost every geographic area would go along. I don’t think there is a single state that has not been adversely effected by global warming. Just picture almost every state getting a turbine or solar factory. Its a powerful argument. The corporations have almost $1 Trillion in retained earnings with no place to go. People desperately need jobs. I think the oil companies would not be able to stand up to the story. BP is already making huge investments in bio fuel. Exxon could become a leading maker of turbines, towers and blades. The idea simply has to be unleashed.

            I think the Democrats will control the House of Representatives in 2014. The Republicans seem unwilling to change after their loss to Obama. They still want to obstruct and I think people are getting tired of it.

            The US is far more resilient than Germany. If the US seizes on Green Energy, there could be a very rapid change in the economy. Remember China cannot make wind towers or propellers over seas. The Nacells are also very heavy and lend themselves to domestic manufacture. China will keep making the lighter parts for solar but the steel supporting structures will all be made in the USA.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Interesting that you know of the wind lady. I’ve been encountering her for years. She continues to complain about how wind in negatively impacting her life but she can’t sell her house because of the turbine. I suspect what she means is that she can’t sell her house for as much as she thinks it’s worth.

            The wind industry would be well ahead if they would buy her house from her for more than market price and let her move away.

            I also don’t understand why she hasn’t sued the turbine owner for her loss of value. I would think she would get a quick “go away” settlement.

            It’s not really a wind turbine issue, it’s a property rights issue. The same situation could have been created by someone opening a body shop or pig farm.

            I wonder if floaters really will be much more expensive once we start making them. The fact that they can be built in dry dock and towed into position would seem to be a cost cutter. No underwater foundation and tower to install. No hauling work crews out to the site and having to work around rough water. I would imagine they could be towed back in for major turbine/blade repairs which would allow using a cheaper land-based crane.
            We’re getting, I think, some floaters here on the West Coast before long. We’ve got lots of great wind but our water is deep.

            Yes, hydrogen has a set of problems. Like everything else. However, as long as you don’t contain it, it tends to burn upwards unlike liquid fuels which puddle.

            A carbon tax might be the easiest to sell if the revenues went straight to customers’ bills. Offset the hurt on the wholesale side. If their bills weren’t going up then most people wouldn’t care if the tax was implemented.

            On the political front I’m just not sure much of anything will get done at the federal level for the next two years. We’ll have a better idea in a month or so. Either the Republican House members stick together and continue to oppose everything except for cutting taxes or there will be enough pressure put on the less extreme ones to cause them to split off and vote with Democrats.

            I don’t think PBO can do anything with the right wing folks. They just plain hate him. There’s a lot of racism going on. And most of the ‘good oid boys’ that make up the Republican party realize that they are a minority. Non-whites plus liberal whites out number them and the divide is widening. There’s a lot of anger and emotion as they see control slipping from their fingers. It may take another election cycle or two before they can be sidelined.

            In the meantime I think we’ll see our solar installation rates shoot up simply because falling costs make installing profitable. Wind is going to get jerked around but as gas prices creep up utilities will fall in love with wind.

            Give us another year or two of weird weather. Let the Arctic Ocean melt out for the first time. Let us get further away from the recession. I think that’s when we see some real action on cutting carbon.

          • Mike Smith

            Hi Bob:

            The wind lady of Ripley is not trying to sell her house. The anti-wind people keep using her name but you are raising a good point – why doesn’t she sell her place if it is so hard to live there?

            If you look here the gap is closing as technology improves. But you can’t get over the increasing cost of carrying the power back to the market as you put the turbine further and further away. Its weird. In Ontario, the opposition to nuclear is much smaller than the opposition to wind. Solar is a non starter because it costs 4 times as much.

            Actually James Hensen wants to simply give the carbon tax collected back to the people. The money would not be spent on research or incentives. The tax would simply be a penalty to motivate people to consume less fossil fuel. Those that did would get on average more back then they kicked in. Europe has been playing around with Carbon Taxes for years, there is no “best method” based on experience. I believe that the key to a carbon tax is the story that the leaders tell the people. In the US, the Republican leaders and the oil lobby would try to convince the people the was no Global Warming making it hard to change people’s behaviour. I think people in every province except Alberta could be convinced about the importance or reducing emissions.

            It would be great if market pressures would lead to more wind and solar without government encouragement. Now they have discovered fracking which may give years and years of cheap oil. Matt Damon is in a new movie “Promised Land” which looks at the pros and cons of fracking.

            The problem is if we lose the Arctic Ice cover it could be too late. Global Warming could be unstoppable because ice reflects the sun and water absorbs the sun’s energy. Now there is a group “AMEG” (see ) that believes we have hit the turning point already because of Arctic melting and our only chance is geo engineering. It would only cost $8 B per year (see ) This is mana from heaven for the oil companies. They can keep fracking while various governments kick in to neutralize their effect.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Ripley lady, or someone pretending to be her, continues to post how terrible it is and how no one will buy her house. At this point it could just be one of the gang of anti-wind people who continue to post things which have been disproved.

            If you look at this graph of Arctic Sea ice volume (the three dimension measurement) you’ll see that the Arctic gone. The only remaining question is “Which year?”.
            Line smoothing says we see the first summer meltout in 2015. But if you look at how little was left at the end of last year and the fact that this year’s refreeze is, so far, lower than ever we could see a meltout sooner.
            At the end of this last season there was only a bit over 3,000 km3 remaining. Looking back, there have been multiple 2,500 km3 year to year drops. Were things to line up even this year to cause that sort of additional melt it would be all over in 2013.

            It’s very likely that the melt rate will not slow, but accelerate as we get inside the last 1k or so. The ice will be very broken up and normal wind patterns will blow huge amounts through the Fram Straight and down into the Canadian Archipelago when warmer waters will cause it to quickly melt.
            Of course, weather could hold things off for a while but I can’t see that there is ten years left.

            Now, I don’t understand the math involved, but it’s somewhat accepted that once we experience the first summer meltout then we’re roughly ten years away from an Arctic Ocean free from ice year round.

          • “I have always felt the big problem with global warming is no one wants to talk about the implications. If Barack Obama were to stand up and talk about more crop failures, more wild fires, more water shortages (like on Lake Mead and the Mississippi), more hurricanes and more sea level rise – that the people would buy it and actively support it. But because of the oil lobby both Stephen Harper (Canada) and Barack Obama will not discuss Global Warming.”

            -Ditto. Definitely. This is the issue. We have the technology — we even have diff technology options — but politicians are in the hands of current powers, and the public is asleep to the threat.

          • Bob_Wallace

            PBO has announced that climate change, along with immigration, will be his major issue of his second term.

            The rest of us need to start working on creating a Congress peopled by fewer anti-science representatives and senators.

            You want to be represented by a Republican? At least find one who is from the 21st Century, not the Dark Ages.

          • Bob:
            There are none.

            You have to get people to elect Democrats for the House of Representatives. Its the only way out,

          • Bob_Wallace

            At some point the Republican party will have to join the 21st Century or go extinct.

            I was trying to give Republican-leaning readers a clue. It’s evolution time.

          • The special interest groups in this case are the oil and coal companies.

            Coal is getting pushed back somewhat in that there are no new coal power plants getting approved. But North America continues to export coal.

            The Oil Companies which have now discovered fracking have huge influence on both the Democrat and Republican parties. And there are a lot of people working in these industries who don’t want to lose their jobs.

            I don’t think the government can just introduce a Carbon Tax. The leaders must explain the implications of global warming (which are already obvious to most people) and explain how Green Energy will create new jobs. Think of wind turbine factories in every State. This is how you get people behind this,

          • dynamo.joe

            Wait. You think wind is the right energy source for trains but not for boats?

        • Bob_Wallace

          “Along the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway, trains of oil tank cars extend across the landscape for miles. Each tank car, black and tarry-looking, with its faded white markings, resembles the one that follows it… a trainload of these cars defines monotony.

          The Trans-Siberian Railway covers 9,288 kilometers between Moscow and the Pacific port of Vladivostok, or 5,771 miles. In other words, if it were twenty-one miles longer, it would be exactly twice as long as Interstate 80 from New Jersey to California. Laying awake near the tracks in some remote spot at night you hear trains going by all through the night with scarcely a pause.

          (T)he Trans-Siberian Railway is all-electric, with overhead cables like a streetcar line – you find the tracks are empty of traffic only for five or ten minutes at a time.

          Besides oil, the railway carries coal, machinery parts, giant tires, scrap iron, and endless containers … just like the containers stacked five stories high around the Port of Newark, New Jersey, and probably every other port in the world.”

          Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier (2010)

          • Bob:

            The trans Siberian railway seems to be suggest that electric trains are economical. But for some reason they are not popular for long haul in North America.

            In North America we seem to use electricity to power sub way trains and short haul passenger trains but not long haul. I do not know the basis of the cost studies but I am giving the engineers credit that they have done the studies correctly.

            The “brass ring” that most engineers seem to be looking for is a “drop in” fuel that will work the same and cost the same as diesel. If these guys can come up with a “drop in” fuel that will with an enzyme that will raise the Galactan content making it more economical then we should go for it, I think.

            I agree with your points about displacing food. It seems that they can now make fuel from fast growing grasses that will grow in soil below agriculture grade so it doesn’t displace food.

            They are also working with bio fuels from algae that might also address this problem.

            One final point, because of the way trucks are spread out on a more diverse network of highways, I believe the economics of electrifying trucks is even less favourable.

            And I don’t think they will be coming with electric air planes any time soon.

  • dynamo.joe

    Galactan?! We don’t need your damned alien technology! Earth for Earthlings!1!!

Back to Top ↑