Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Science Lessons FTCua 8



A weekly newsletter from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The EERE Network News is also available on the Web at:

August 06, 2008
News and Events
DOE and USDA Award $10 Million for Cellulosic Biofuel Research
DOE to Save $13 Million in Annual Energy Costs at Four National Labs
DOE Pursues Zero-Net Energy Commercial Buildings
Housing Act Aims to Encourage Energy Efficient Mortgages
GM and Utilities to Study how Plug-In Hybrids Connect to the Grid
Assistant Secretary Alexander Karsner Announces Resignation
Energy Connections
Study Finds a Large Supply of Natural Gas in U.S. Shale Formations
News and Events
DOE and USDA Award $10 Million for Cellulosic Biofuel Research
DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week their plans to award 10 grants, totaling more than $10 million, to accelerate fundamental research in the development of cellulosic biofuels. The grants will be provided through a joint DOE-USDA grant program that aims to accelerate fundamental research in biomass genomics and to further the use of cellulosic plant material for bioenergy and biofuels. The grant awardees include Colorado State University, the University of Massachusetts, Michigan State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University in Indiana, and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in New York, in addition to Oregon State University and the University of Georgia, which are both receiving two grants. DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research will provide $8.8 million of the total funds for these awards, while USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service will provide $2 million. See the DOE press release.

Most of the new projects funded by DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will focus on improving the performance of switchgrass. Enlarge this image.
Credit: Todd Johnson

Most of the awardees will be investigating ways to improve the performance of switchgrass, a fast-growing perennial grass that can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol. They'll be using a number of "model organisms"—simpler plants that can yield insight into the more complex switchgrass genome—including purple false brome (Brachypodium distachyon), foxtail millet, maize, and rice. One awardee will study the symbiotic relationship of switchgrass and soybeans to a fungi that boosts production, using model organisms like purple false brome and barrel medic (Medicago truncatula), a simple legume. In addition, two awardees will be studying sunflowers and poplar, which can also be converted into biofuels, while one project will develop computation tools for making better use of existing genome data. See the full list of awardees, which includes links to abstracts on the work, on DOE's Genomics Web site.

DOE to Save $13 Million in Annual Energy Costs at Four National Labs
DOE announced on Monday that it has signed contracts for $140 million in energy efficiency improvements at four of its national laboratories: Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The energy efficiency improvements will help DOE to save about $13 million on energy and energy-related costs per year. The contracts are the first ones signed under DOE's Transformational Energy Action Management (TEAM) initiative, which aims to have 7.5% of the energy used at all DOE facilities supplied by renewable sources by 2010. The TEAM initiative also seeks to reduce energy intensity by 30% and reduce water consumption intensity by 16% in all DOE facilities by 2015.

At Idaho National Laboratory, the energy source for the boiler will be changed, eliminating 600,000 gallons per year of fuel oil purchases to yield an annual savings of $1.7 million. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will receive an upgraded energy management control system, which will result in $1.3 million in savings per year. The National Energy Technology Laboratory will receive a variety of green upgrades, including biogas boilers, green roofs, hybrid lighting, advanced metering, solar lighting, rooftop wind turbines, and natural gas well dewatering, which will reduce energy consumption by more than 27 billion Btu per year and reduce water use by more than three million gallons, resulting in approximately $800,000 in savings per year. And on top of implementing other general energy conservation measures, a biomass steam plant will be built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, allowing for nearly $8.7 million in savings per year.

The energy efficiency improvements will be installed under Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs), under which energy service companies or utilities provide the funding required to purchase equipment and system enhancements for an organization, and are paid back from the energy savings that result from increased energy efficiency. Over one billion pounds of carbon dioxide can be avoided by the potential ESPC projects currently in development at DOE. This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from more than 83,000 vehicles. See the DOE press release and the TEAM Initiative Web site.

DOE Pursues Zero-Net Energy Commercial Buildings
DOE launched the Zero-Net Energy Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) on Tuesday, with the goals of developing new commercial buildings that produce as much energy as they use and making these buildings marketable by 2025. Such zero-net energy commercial buildings will minimize their energy use through cutting-edge energy efficiency technologies and will meet their remaining energy needs through on-site renewable energy generation. To help with the CBI, DOE has also formed the National Laboratory Collaborative on Building Technologies (NLCBT), which will allow DOE and five of its national laboratories to work closely on the research, validation, and commercialization priorities that are critical to the success of zero-net energy buildings. Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will be working together under the NLCBT.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed by President Bush in December 2007, authorized DOE to collaborate with its national laboratories, other federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to advance high-performance commercial green buildings. With help from the NLCBT, DOE's Building Technologies Program will carry out the intent of that act through the new CBI and its existing partnerships, including such efforts as developing new technologies, sponsoring pilot and demonstration projects, providing technical assistance, developing training materials, working with organizations that set building codes, analyzing incentives, developing ways to measure energy savings, and educating the public. In 2005, commercial buildings accounted for 18% of U.S. energy use as well as 18% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

The new initiative and collaboration were announced at the California Clean Tech Open, a competition that supports innovative and sustainable new businesses which focus on energy efficiency, smart power, renewable energy, transportation, green building technologies, pollution control, and resource management. NREL is providing $100,000 to the California Clean Tech Open on behalf of DOE and NLCBT to facilitate initiation and development of a green buildings award category under the competition. See the DOE press release and the Web sites for the DOE Buildings Technologies Program and the California Clean Tech Open.

Housing Act Aims to Encourage Energy Efficient Mortgages
President Bush signed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 into law on July 30, and while the act is focused primarily on addressing the mortgage crisis in the United States, it also includes measures to encourage the greater use of energy efficient mortgages (EEMs). Such mortgages allow people to purchase or refinance their principal residence and incorporate the cost of energy efficiency improvements into the mortgage. But while the idea is laudable, the implementation of it is difficult, as the borrower must first receive a home energy rating report, usually from an energy consultant, and the report must demonstrate that the energy efficiency improvements are cost effective. After the loan closes, the money for the improvements is placed in an escrow account and is not released until an inspector verifies that the improvements are installed and will achieve the desired energy savings. Due to both the complicated nature of EEMs and a lack of awareness of them, the Federal Housing Authority has typically issued only about 30,000 EEMs per year.

To address that issue, Section 2902 of the new act requires the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop recommendations to eliminate the barriers to the use of EEMs, including the lack of reliable and accessible information on such mortgages, the confusion regarding underwriting requirements, the complex and time-consuming process of securing such mortgages, the lack of publicly available research on the default risk of such mortgages, and the limited availability of certified or accredited home energy rating services. HUD must report its recommendations to Congress within the next six months. The act also calls for HUD to carry out an education and outreach campaign for consumers, home builders, residential lenders, and other real estate professionals on EEMs and on the benefits of energy efficiency in housing.

In addition, Section 2123 of the act increases the limits for cost-effective energy efficiency improvements. For most homebuyers, the cost of improvements can now be nearly 5% of the property value, while it was previously limited to $8,000. But the act also limits the number of energy efficient mortgages to 5% of the number of mortgages for 1- to 4-family residences insured by HUD during the preceding fiscal year. See President Bush's signing announcement, the full text of the act (PDF 629 KB), and the HUD Web page on the Energy Efficient Mortgage Program.

GM and Utilities to Study how Plug-In Hybrids Connect to the Grid
General Motors Corporation (GM) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) announced in late July that they will team up to study the integration of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with the electrical grid. Plug-in hybrids run on battery power for short trips, but include an engine to recharge the batteries for extended trips. As a result, for most commutes the plug-in hybrid will use battery power only, burning no fuel at all, while on long trips the plug-in hybrid should have a fuel economy similar to today's hybrid vehicles. The cost of running on battery power is currently about one-fifth the cost of fueling with gasoline. But to meet the need for recharging these vehicles without straining the electrical grid, they must recharge during off-peak hours, such as late at night or early in the morning. Such "smart charging" was demonstrated by GridPoint, Inc. and Duke Energy in late March. The vehicles could also serve as an emergency power source, or they could provide supplemental power to the electrical grid during peak demand periods, such as unusually hot days. See the GridPoint press release.

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz introduced the Chevrolet Volt concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, in 2007. Enlarge this image.
Credit: Jeffrey Sauger, ©GM Corp.

The new collaboration between GM and EPRI will cover everything from codes and standards to grid capability of plug-in hybrids. While the collaboration will largely focus on safe and convenient vehicle charging, it will also examine how "smart grid" technologies can interact with plug-in hybrids. A smart grid is more interactive than today's electrical grid and could network with plug-in hybrids to optimize their charging times or to draw power from them when needed. Thirty four utilities from throughout the country will participate in the collaboration. GM is currently developing two plug-in hybrids: the Chevrolet Volt, which has been approved for production in 2010, and the Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid, which the company also intends to launch in 2010. EPRI formed a similar collaboration with Ford Motor Company in late March, and the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) has also launched a similar program. See the press releases on the GM agreement from GM and EPRI, the press releases on the Ford agreement from Ford and EPRI, and the Michigan PSC press release.

Electric vehicles produce no pollution while running, but of course they depend on an electric power system that does produce pollution. While some people have expressed concern that this is just shifting the pollution from one source to another, a study released last year by EPRI and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that plug-in hybrids have significant environmental benefits. In fact, the widespread adoption of the vehicles could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 450 million metric tons per year by 2050, equal to removing 82.5 million of today's cars from the road. The study also found that if plug-in hybrids achieve 60% of the market for new cars by 2050, they will still consume only 7-8% of the nation's electricity. A separate study found that plug-in hybrids will have a small but significant benefit in terms on nationwide emissions of pollutants, while reducing petroleum consumption by 3-4 million barrels per day by 2050. Studies by DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) also concluded that a large percentage of U.S. vehicles could be powered using off-peak electricity. See the EPRI press release (PDF 40 KB), the EPRI reports, the ORNL press release, and the PNNL study (PDF 417 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

Assistant Secretary Alexander Karsner Announces Resignation
Alexander Karsner, DOE's Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has announced his resignation, effective as of August 30. As the Assistant Secretary, Karsner managed DOE's $1.2 billion portfolio of applied science, research, development, and deployment for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Karsner was nominated by President Bush in December 2005, and after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he was sworn in by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman in March 2006. Since then, Karsner has been key in several initiatives, including the Advanced Energy Initiative, which provided a 22% increase in funding for clean energy technology research; the "Twenty in Ten" vision, which aims to reduce gasoline use in the United States by 20% in the next 10 years; the "Bali Roadmap," which was established at the U.N. Convention and the Major Economies Meetings and presents an international, post-2012 climate change and energy security framework; and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. See the DOE press release.

Energy Connections
Study Finds a Large Supply of Natural Gas in U.S. Shale Formations
A new study from Navigant Consulting and the American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF) suggests that the United States has ample supplies of natural gas in "unconventional" sources such as shale formations, coal beds, and so-called tight sands, which are geologic formations with low permeability to natural gas. The report finds the most potential in shale formations, estimating that the seven largest U.S. formations will yield at least 27 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas per day, equal to about 43% of the current natural gas consumption in the United States. That diverges from projections of DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA), which predicts 26 Bcf per day of natural gas from all unconventional sources by 2030, even though tight sands are currently producing 5.8 Bcf per day and coalbed methane is producing 4.1 Bcf per day.

But both EIA and the new study agree on one fact: the largest current source of shale gas, the Barnett Shale formation in Texas, is a major unconventional resource. Located under Fort Worth, it now accounts for 6% of natural gas production in the lower 48 states, thanks to wells that run a mile-and-a-half deep, then run horizontally for about a mile. On the downside, drilling rigs are now located at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and within the Fort Worth city limits and "are headed downtown," according to the EIA. See the ACSF press release, the Navigant study (PDF 9.9 MB), and the EIA's "Energy in Brief" on recent trends in U.S. natural gas production. Download Adobe Reader.

The EIA currently projects essentially steady U.S. production of natural gas, declining Canadian imports, and increasing demand, causing the United States to import about 7.7 Bcf per day of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, by 2030. That increasing dependence on imports, and the price volatility that may accompany it, has discouraged an overdependence on natural gas in the electric utility sector and may also be discouraging its use for vehicles. But if unconventional natural gas resources truly pan out as predicted by the Navigant report, they may encourage a greater shift away from the use of coal and petroleum resources. Note that the EIA projections also depend on a natural gas pipeline connecting Alaska to the lower 48 states in 2020, increasing Alaska's production from today's level of about 1.1 Bcf per day to about 5.5 Bcf per day within a few years of its completion. That prospect became more certain last week, when Alaska passed legislation to award a license to TransCanada Alaska to permit, develop, and build the natural gas pipeline. See the section from the EIA's "Annual Energy Outlook 2008" on natural gas and see the announcement on the pipeline from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

This newsletter is funded by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and is also available on the EERE Web site. You can subscribe to the EERE Network News using our simple online form, and you can also update your email address, add a subscription to EERE Progress Alerts, or unsubscribe using our "Change My Subscription" page.

If you have questions or comments about this newsletter, please contact the editor, Kevin Eber.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008



Businesses in China

American Dairy is the largest dairy company in China.
AgFeed Corp sells premixed food for livestock, particularly hogs.
Agria Corp produces corn seed and sheep breeding products.
Chaoda Modern Agriculture is China's largest vegetable and fruit grower.
China Green Agriculture makes humic acid, a liquid fertilizer.
China Mengniu Dairy is another Chinese dairy producer.
China Organic Agriculture is one of the largest producers of organic rice in the world.
Global Bio-Chem Technology deals in corn starch, corn sweeteners, and corn feed.
Origin Agritech makes bioengineered rice, corn, canola, and cotton seeds.
New Oriental Energy & Chemical manufactures urea, a chemical used for fertilizer.
Sinofert is a major Chinese fertilizer distributor.

True or False?