Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ExxonMobil's long track record with lithium-ion batteries

ExxonMobil Chemical is involved in developing battery separator film technologies. What I didn’t realize was that Exxon has 20 years experience in lithium-ion battery technology. Melissa Stark, a senior executive with Accenture Energy Strategy’s London office, brought this to my attention during a Jan. 27 media roundtable in Houston.

Stark was in Houston to discuss a report she wrote, “Betting on Science—Disruptive Technologies in Transport Fuels.” That report identifies 12 technologies having the potential to disrupt current transportation fuel supply and demand in the next 10 years.

Separator films are used in personal electronics devices and also support the development of future lithium-ion battery applications in hybrid-electric and electric vehicles. TonenGeneral of Japan is an ExxonMobil affiliate and one of the world’s largest producers of separator film for lithium-ion batteries.

Accenture’s study notes that transport fuels account for about 50% of global primary oil consumption and up to 30% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

When it comes to electrification of vehicles, only lithium-ion batteries currently can provide the necessary power density required for plug-in electric vehicles, Stark said. “However, lithium is expensive, combustible, and scarce,” she said, noting only 11 major producing countries.

International oil companies have dominated the transport fuels industry for decades. Interestingly, Stark sees utilities and battery manufacturers as key players in future transport fuels.

“Utilities have the capital strength and a distribution infrastructure that could make cars running on electricity a reality,” she writes in her report. “Many lithium-ion battery manufacturers are also large global players.”

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Doomsday Clock reset to give world additional minute

People working in the oil and gas industry tend to be optimists, sometimes very big optimists such as the early wildcatters who repeatedly dared to risk their livelihood on a hunch. These are solution-driven folks who tend to be very resilient.

So it with some amusement that I tell my blog followers about a Jan. 14 release out of New York entitled “Doomsday Clock moves 1 minute from Midnight.” They mean 1 more minute as in 6 minutes instead of 5 minutes. Midnight represents the end of civilization.

“Citing a more hopeful state of world affairs in relation to the twin threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) is moving the minute hand of its famous Doomsday Clock 1 minute away from midnight. It is now 6 minutes to midnight.”

Created in 1947 by BAS, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted only 18 times. I respect BAS and its Board of Sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel Laureates. Granted, the BAS is being more optimistic by giving civilization another minute.

But I wonder where the hands might be on a clock created by all the industry groups that organize the Offshore Technology Conference every May in Houston.

Scientists within oil and gas companies are working hard on protecting the environment and addressing climate change questions. Although they might not want to address the nuclear threat issue, I believe they would give the world more than 6 minutes.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

San Diego raises cost for home solar installations

San Diego residents have to dig deeper into their pocketbooks if they want to install solar panels on their homes. Homeowners are required to get an installation plan approved and their solar system inspected by city officials.

The permit cost was raised sixfold to $565 from $93. City officials told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the City Council changed its policy of subsidizing solar installations.

The $565 fee stems from recommendations of a study into what the City Council should charge to ensure that the permit fee covers the city’s cost of issuing solar permits and inspecting home installations. The city commissioned that study for $80,000. San Diego city officials plan to review permit fees annually, the newspaper reported on Jan. 11.

The Sierra Club surveyed the cost of home solar permits across California, and Los Angeles-area cities had the highest fees at $1,500.

I have a sixth-sense that solar advocates and the solar industry will push for lower fees.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Baker Institute study on biofuels examines ethanol spills

A recent study by Rice University’s Baker Institute concludes that the US needs to reconsider its policy to promote grain-based ethanol.

The study, “Fundamentals of a Sustainable US Biofuels Policy,” questions the economic, environmental, and logistical basis for federal subsidies that support US ethanol producers. Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the Rice Energy Program, was one of the authors of a paper about the study's results.

A research grant in environmental engineering from Chevron Technology Ventures supported the study on biofuels.

The study notes that increased use of ethanol increases the likelihood of leakage of ethanol into water supplies and the environment, often when ethanol is blended with gasoline.

Underground storage tanks are a principal source of this contamination. Metal containers are prone to corrosion and leaking. Already, there have been more than 479,000 confirmed releases of which 377,000 have been cleaned up.

Releases of ethanol likely will lead to some altered remediation approaches, the Baker Institute study said. But rather than the dangers of direct exposure to ethanol, the greater risk to human health comes from the potential for BTEX mixed with ethanol, which is more difficult to degrade. BTEX stands for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes.

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