The Good Bets for ‘08

December 31, 2007 | 4 Comments

It’s a tradition at year end, and at the beginning of the new year to prognosticate on what the new year will show us. For the new energy and fuel area there are some obvious and not so obvious ideas all tainted by my bias and prejudices. Forward looking is fun, fraught with hopes and concerns spiced with the markets players who each have their own agendas. Well, let go!

First up, biofuels, with the Shell announcement that they’re funding an algae farm and just a avalanche of research interest algae should have a good year. Algae might get a lot of speed up as algae is a simple genome to work with, has a wide array of species to draw from, and a short cycle from genetic change to life span and quick life span cycles. Algae offer a very wide geographical opportunity and can exploit sunshine where food crops aren’t a competitive issue.

Fission using uranium could be replaced by thorium, but it would need a direct application by the folks who build plants to get on with development. A lot has been done, but it’s in some cases 40 years or more old research so the personal expertise is aged out requiring a new crew of expertise to grow. But if the builders want to compete, a thorium fuel should be the only choice.

Oil will continue to be the daring of the troublemakers, authoritarian regimes, and speculators in the spot market. Meanwhile the smart producers will be making long term lift deals for as high of a price as they can manage without pushing alternative technology so hard as to create an oil price bust. The coming twelve months is too short a time frame for smart producers, and allows lots of time for the trouble makers to keep prices high.

Coal might get a shot at long-term survival if they can hook to some alternatives. One idea might be to try to supply gasified coal to stored compressed air by wind compressors. Coal hasn’t had the intense research that the petroleum business has lavished on oil and gas, yet. With so few players in production it probably won’t happen, but other private and government sources of research money can get the clue that coal offers a huge resource that could use some more investment to enhance its use, find more products and clean up its effluents.

Diesel is the fuel to watch. With the algae business going to produce oils that would displace diesel and the U.S. wide sale of ultralow sulfur diesel the makers of diesels are looking at a banner year. The light truck market could see the diesel applied to smaller and lighter version of pickups and maybe larger SUVs. With Toyota’s announcement, they will be showing their hybrid pickup this year, diesel is on a sure upward slope.

Gasoline will be for most everyone the fuel of most concern. Following the crude oil market on a daily basis if not hourly basis, subject to every refinery problem, and the target for the global warming crowd, gasoline may become overpriced in more than market terms. This year the oil companies have done well to keep gasoline as low cost as possible, but the outside pressures are mounting, more wrongly than justified. Over the past months, in a period of +$90 oil, gasoline has been cheap at the pump. It can’t last.

Fusion will see some result from the Bussard design team, perhaps as early as spring or maybe by midyear. While talk runs from getting beyond breakeven to just running continuously, I’ll be thrilled if it runs continuously, producing high energy helium, which will prove the physics that Dr. Bussard has developed can be engineered up to commercial use. The “Cold Fusion” field could also get a break, with more to come here and a high level of work done outside of the academic stream and journal publishing, another avalanche of progress in fusion could get mainstream and into research to grasp what’s going on so that the physics can be worked out which would lead to commercial use.

Hybrids and electric drive for vehicles should clear the tipping point. With fuel savings in series designs and the cost of batteries coming down this might be the year that sees the series hybrid get its foothold. There is way to much benefit to buyers in both the small car and the pickup/SUV markets to stay so small. Some smart marketer will compare the wheel horse power of the current drive train and the wheel horsepower of the hybrid – then the game is on in earnest.

Hydrogen has ideas in research to solve the storage problem, but. That’s the rub. While I hope to see a technology store hydrogen in low risk-high density, there is a great deal of work to do. With the stakes so high and the promise so great, a year isn’t a long time. I think I’ll be saying much the same a year from now.

Solar Panels will see a lot of news, interesting ideas and rapid development. The cost to install is still the problem along with low efficiency. While lab units and prototypes are gaining in solving these problems, the manufacturing is usually requiring new and specialized facilities. With improvements coming so fast, committing to a building a manufacturing plant is a scary notion. Its moving so fast that just setting a number for efficiency or installed cost per watt is a challenge that defies staying put for more than a few months. It will be another year of see and read a lot with little to buy with confidence.

Thermal Solar is much more mature. There is competition in designs for large installations and these could begin to standardize somewhat, allowing more efficiencies of scale and manufacturing volume. Thermal Solar is where wind was not long ago, practical, coming to standards and beginning to be competitive in installations.

The super capacitor people need to get more products out and with pricing that makes sense. Although there are some big claims, those products don’t seem to be available. It might be a put up or shut up kind of year. In a field of such potential, I am looking forward to developments here as the battery folks are mostly centered on lithium and a big leap isn’t likely.

The wind business will boom all year both in orders and in installations. The success should create a pressure for storage, by battery, compressed air or other ideas that will need addressed. The other segment worth watching will be the home sized units. This market has been overlooked, while there are mini-sized wind turbines, other means to generate power are being looked at. The prime mover won’t be the gross output, rather it will be the cost per watt output. To get the sales for millions of units the retail cost before anything other issue will need developed.

That leaves the main forecast idea. Wind will mature and compete more broadly. Storage will be a much more important issue in buyer’s minds. The options to co-generate with other sources of fuel with compressed air will get a great deal of attention. The need to identify locations for compressing air will be a booming business soon. We may see experiments to compare the efficiency of pipelining compressed air to high voltage power lines. This new frontier will merit the closest attention in 2008.


4 Comments so far

  1. Toyota » The Good Bets for ‘08 on December 31, 2007 7:33 AM

    […] Here’s another interesting post I read today by New Energy and Fuel […]

  2. M. Simon on December 31, 2007 9:47 AM

    The great promise of high voltage titanate super capacitors is a bust. EEStore was all hype. I fell for it until I read about dielectric saturation.

    Energy today is like radio in 1920. A lot of exaggerated claims by folks who didn’t understand the technology.

    Compressed air storage is not a pipeable solution. The losses are too high. Look at a natural gas pipeline. Boost pumps burning some natural gas are a regular feature on the pipelines. If it is piped at all it will be local.

  3. Toyota » The Good Bets for ‘08 on December 31, 2007 10:45 AM

    […] Here’s another interesting post I read today by New Energy and Fuel […]

  4. Evan Stanifer on October 19, 2010 4:12 PM

    Nice reading. Thank you, keep up all the work.

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