Tag Archives: renewable energy

stealing used fast food oil

According to Bloomberg, theft of used fast food oil has become more common as its economic value has increased recently. There are a few interesting reasons for this:

Finding value in old grease isn’t new. For more than a century, the waste product has been processed into ingredients for everything from makeup and paint to pet food and livestock feed, according to the Arlington, Virginia-based National Renderers Association, which represents 51 companies with 205 plants in the U.S. and Canada.

What’s different is more cooking oil is being made into fuel. It’s now the largest use for old grease, at around 30 percent of demand. A 2007 energy law calls for American cars, trucks and buses to use escalating amounts of biofuels. Most of that is corn-based ethanol used in gasoline, but refiners also are making more biodiesel. Soybean oil is the primary raw material, followed by used grease and corn oil…

The rally in biodiesel is boosting the value of grease. Since Feb. 17, the fuel is up 12 percent to $3 a gallon, as of April 28. Further gains may be likely because of a trade dispute with competitors in Argentina and Indonesia, which may limit imports of biodiesel

So the value of, and therefore the incentive to steal, grease is on the rise due to a complicated set of factors involving fuel demand, government regulation, and international trade policy. If some of the biodiesel we are using in the U.S. is coming from palm oil plantations in the tropics, that adds another element to consider in the environmental benefits or costs of the technology. I also suspected that the typical burger joint owner who is paying someone to pick this stuff up doesn’t care all that much if someone else picks it up. From that person’s perspective, either way it goes away. I suppose the environment could be hurt depending on where it goes, and the licensed grease hauling industry gets hurt (and yes there is an industry association for that, called the National Renderers Association, and they are very concerned about this issue.

making your own biodiesel

Do you want to make your own biodiesel? Here’s an article. Basically, biodiesel is vegetable oil either mixed with regular diesel or processed to change its properties so it can fuel a diesel engine or generator. If you try this please don’t poison, burn or blow yourself up. If you poison, burn or blow yourself up don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This is interesting on a small scale but I don’t think it’s the answer to civilization’s energy problems for a few reasons. The obvious one is that it takes a lot of vegetable oil, vegetable oil crops/trees take a lot of land to grow, and if you do it on a huge scale you will not have that land available for anything else, like growing food. We should be diversifying our economy away from our reliance on oil specifically, and liquid fuels more generally. Still, there are applications like air travel where liquid fuels seem to be the best technical solution, and it might make sense to reserve biofuels for those. If you need an emergency generator for some reason, like at a hospital, and battery or fuel cell technology are not up to the job or cost-effective enough yet, a tank of biodiesel certainly seems like a safer and less toxic alternative to a tank of regular old diesel.

solar panel roads

According to Bloomberg, the technology to build roads and parking lots out of solar panels is coming along fast. This could be a big breakthrough considering the sheer amount of area that would be available. As solar panels get closer to being cost-competitive with fossil fuels, the time will come when space to install them is the limiting factor. This could open up enormous new areas compared to only having rooftops available. I can also imagine the possibilities for roads and parking lots being able to fund their own maintenance and repairs, then generate additional revenues for cities, states, and private entities on top of that. This could really be a game-changing technology.

oil discoveries at 70 year low

Here’s a long article from Bloomberg called Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low Signal Supply Shortfall Ahead. The basic thesis is that prices are so low companies have stopped looking for new oil, and ones existing supplies start to run out prices will rise.

Explorers in 2015 discovered only about a tenth as much oil as they have annually on average since 1960. This year, they’ll probably find even less, spurring new fears about their ability to meet future demand.

With oil prices down by more than half since the price collapse two years ago, drillers have cut their exploration budgets to the bone. The result: Just 2.7 billion barrels of new supply was discovered in 2015, the smallest amount since 1947, according to figures from Edinburgh-based consulting firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd. This year, drillers found just 736 million barrels of conventional crude as of the end of last month.

That’s a concern for the industry at a time when the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that global oil demand will grow from 94.8 million barrels a day this year to 105.3 million barrels in 2026. While the U.S. shale boom could potentially make up the difference, prices locked in below $50 a barrel have undercut any substantial growth there.

How soon will this have an effect? 2025 according to one source cited in this article, 2040 according to another. That seems pretty far out to me to make precise predictions. Hopefully we will have a cheap, reliable renewable energy source by then. But maybe we will have explosive population and consumption growth. Or maybe the world economy will tank. It’s just hard to say. I’m not snapping up oil stocks just yet.

resilience.org roundup

This “resilience roundup” links to so many interesting articles I just couldn’t pick one or two to link to. Among them:

  • an argument that the “clean energy miracle” is here, and the press and the public just haven’t picked up on it yet
  • a map of the global coal trade – an awesome map/Sankey diagram combo almost as cool as that famous one of Napolean’s death march into Russia
  • the predicted return of oil shortages and high prices
  • an argument that the big multinational oil companies need to “adapt or die”
  • a cool animated gif of global warming


Standard Alternative Energy

In a slight irony, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has joined the fossil fuel divestment movement.

Given the RBF’s deep commitment to combating climate change, the Fund is now committing to a two-step process to address its desire to divest from investments in fossil fuels. Our immediate focus will be on coal and tar sands, two of the most intensive sources of carbon emissions. We are working to eliminate the Fund’s exposure to these energy sources as quickly as possible. Given the structure of some commingled investment funds and investments in highly diversified energy companies, we recognize there may continue to be minimal investments in our portfolio in those energy sectors, but we are committed to reducing our exposure to coal and tar sands to less than one percent of the total portfolio by the end of 2014. As we take the steps to divest from coal and tar sands investments, we are also undertaking a comprehensive analysis of our exposure to any remaining fossil fuel investments and will work with the RBF Investment Committee and board of trustees to determine an appropriate strategy for further divestment over the next few years.

In working to align our endowment investments with our mission and programs, we will adhere to the longstanding mandate of our board of trustees that our assets be invested with the goal of achieving financial returns that will enable the foundation to meet its annual philanthropic obligations, while maintaining the purchasing power of the endowment, so that future generations will also benefit from the foundation’s charitable giving. In uncertain and volatile markets, these financial goals are not easy to achieve. Therefore, our divestment from fossil fuels, which is now underway, will be accomplished through a careful process of evaluating our exposure and a phased approach that proceeds as quickly as is prudent.

Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem

I have heard from know-it-alls that the problem with renewable energy is that it is intermittent and hard to store. I have always thought there are many ways to deal with that – charge a battery, pump water uphill, heat something, wind a spring, compress air, electrolyze water into hydrogen and charge a fuel cell. Those are my thoughts with absolutely no expertise at all, but luckily the experts are thinking about this too:

Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi, Mary A. Cameron, and Bethany A. Frew. A low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes. PNAS 2015; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1510028112, 2015

This study addresses the greatest concern facing the large-scale integration of wind, water, and solar (WWS) into a power grid: the high cost of avoiding load loss caused by WWS variability and uncertainty. It uses a new grid integration model and finds low-cost, no-load-loss, nonunique solutions to this problem on electrification of all US energy sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) while accounting for wind and solar time series data from a 3D global weather model that simulates extreme events and competition among wind turbines for available kinetic energy. Solutions are obtained by prioritizing storage for heat (in soil and water); cold (in ice and water); and electricity (in phase-change materials, pumped hydro, hydropower, and hydrogen), and using demand response. No natural gas, biofuels, nuclear power, or stationary batteries are needed. The resulting 2050–2055 US electricity social cost for a full system is much less than for fossil fuels. These results hold for many conditions, suggesting that low-cost, reliable 100% WWS systems should work many places worldwide.

wind and solar

Here are some fun facts on the wind and solar revolution.

Rooftop solar is growing worldwide by 50% per year. In 1985 solar cost $12 per watt, but today’s prices are closer to 36 cents per watt. Every five hours the world adds 23 MW of solar—which was the global installed capacity in 1985.

In January of 2014 Denmark got 62% of its electricity from wind. In 2013 Ireland got 17% of its electricity from wind, and Spain and Portugal both exceeded 20% from wind. Today China gets more electricity from wind (91,000 MW) than it does from nuclear reactors. The United States is second in the world in installed wind turbines, with South Dakota and Iowa obtaining over 26% of their electricity from wind…

The renewable energy revolution will enable civilization to stop the growth of highly polluting fossil fuels. It will enable society to leave the majority of the remaining reserves of fossil fuels alone and unburned. Acceleration of this revolution helps in solving many problems and is a key to restoring and maintaining the life support systems of the earth.