Friday, August 28, 2009

Who is the most gullible venture capitalist in the world?

The prize for the most gullible private venture capitalist maybe goes to Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures. Old Vinod whose name in Hindi means Joy or Happy is also the slang name for a clown in certain Indian traditions. This guy who has no basic knowledge of thermodynamics has been the spokes person for alternate biofuels for the venture capital industry. Perhaps even more than Alfalfa Gore another thermodynamic want to be, Vinod has led the US and California governments astray with promises of unlimited bio fuels from all sorts of cellulosic sources with unrealistic expected costs.

On August 27 the Wall Street Journal reported on the fallacy of the biofuel industry and that it is running on empty The Wall Street Journal article focused on a company called Cello Energy of Alabama. Quoting the Wall Street Journal “The sector suffered a major setback this summer after a federal jury ruled that Cello Energy of Alabama, a plant-fiber-based biofuel producer, had defrauded investors. Backed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Cello was expected to supply 70% of the 100.7 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels that the Environmental Protection Agency planned to blend into the U.S. fuel supply next year. The alleged fraud will almost certainly prevent the EPA from meeting its targets next year, energy analysts say. “

I guess old Vinod was taken by Cello. The story gets even more interesting and again quoting the Wall Street Journal article “This year, Khosla representatives took samples of diesel produced at the new Cello plant and sent them off for testing. The results showed no evidence of plant-based fuel: Carbon in the diesel was at least 50,000 years old, marking it as traditional fossil fuel.

The EPA wasn't told about the test, and continued to rely on Mr. Boykin's original claims when it asserted in the Federal Register in May that Cello could produce 70% of the cellulosic fuel targets set by Congress that are due to take effect next year.”

The question then should be asked is why did Vinod not reveal to the EPA the results of his test of Cello biodiesel that was carbon dated to long before when Fred Flintstone drove his foot mobile? Maybe Vinod had egg on his face or maybe he was trying to recover the millions of dollars he invested in Cello? My conclusion is that the US government is the most gullible venture capitalist in the world and the EPA stands for Easily Prayed Animals. The sad truth is for years I have been saying biofuel is biofool and Mother Nature never intended photosynthesis to provide liquid fuel for a billion internal combustion engines. Perhaps Vinod and Alfalfa will write a book tilted the “Convenient Untruth” when they reflect upon the nonsense they sold the EPA, CARB, and the US public on biofools.

This comment came from a Reader Phil Borland

Subject: Vinod Koshla retortDear Lindsay,I’m unsuccessful in trying to add the following to your article on our “friend” Vinod Koshla, can you help, please? Many, many thanks. As a point of personal reference, we met several times years ago at Marin Professions. I still remember you holding up you pressure vessel for filling up celebratory balloons! Hope that you made a killing on it!"There have been many more than Vinod Khosla who have been sucker-punched/duped by the expectations of bushels of money flowing into their pockets by supposedly cashing in on “helping” the environment. There are very few people, now, who actually believe that ethanol derived from corn is a sensible business or environmental solution – save those who are still trying to fund their failing and ever-subsidized ethanol ventures before the jig is up! Why do we insist on using food crops for fuel when there are other options? For your reference, please review the following article on Mr. Vinod Koshla: field, Koshla is investing in – cellulosic ethanol – is most probably also doomed. The large scale of the conversion plants and the massive amounts of biomass required to constantly feed them are standing in contradiction to the low energy contents of biomass. The logistics just do not pencil out. A Japanese scientist has recently presented at a symposium on biomass-derived fuels that the threshold for transporting biomass is at 30km or about 18 miles. Another point is that the ethanol pocess can only convert the cellulose, but not the lignin, which is a large share of the biomass. This is burned in boilers to provide the process heat. This again show the bad energy balance this process has. So even if it ever can become cost competitive, it is environmental nonsense – too little energy from too much feedstock transported and converted in an inefficient way. We have calculated that with the process explained now, it is possible to yield more than two times the energy from the same feedstock, which reduces the transport distance by 50%.There is a scientist in Germany who spent over 30 years working for the giant company, Siemens, pioneering in the development of a waste-to-fuel technology that mimics what took Mother Nature 300 million years to develop but is now done in a continuous three minute closed-loop cycle. This tried and proven technology, called the KDV is an acronym which means low pressure and low temperature catalytic depolymerization – that’s a mouthful, better use the letters, KDV! Dr. Christian Koch has, in effect, dedicated his life’s work in finding a way to convert almost all organic waste into a fuel that can be used worldwide. In case of biomass as feedstock, the fuel is an ultra low sulfur diesel fuel oil, a synthetic oil because it’s not derived from fossil fuel like other petroleum products. Dr. Koch has managed to convert all matter of hydrocarbon wastes: waste oil, bunker oil, cardboard, construction waste, plastics, and crop wastes (corn, sugar cane, African palm, pineapple, banana, etc., etc.) into this high grade diesel fuel oil which has both an extremely high lubricity and clean burn rate – a far cry from conventional diesel fuel AND no additives are needed or being blended like bio-diesel or ethanol is; it can be used straight from the tap, as is!Here’s my gripe: for obvious reasons, oil companies detest this technology, and members of our esteemed U.S. “bureaucracy” prefer to spend $385 million for a questionable technology, while they will not heed the call to convert organic “waste” into a very useable, in many cases carbon-neutral fuel that is less expensive than “regular” diesel, has obvious environmental benefits, is socially responsible, and can create more U.S. jobs. Interestingly, our foreign neighbors to the north, east, south and west are more strategic, they immediately see the value of diverting their waste stream into diesel fuel instead of going to the ever over-filling garbage dump. Moreover and here’s the worldwide clincher: the KDV technology can process, convert the hydrocarbon content in pre-sorted MSW, municipal solid waste, too. Yes, it’s more complicated and more costly (a longer ROI, Return On Investment) than a fast-track bean counter would like to see BUT the global benefits are what we’ve all been waiting for, praying to see for many years AND this alternative energy development couldn’t be more timely.If you are interested in learning more, please visit and you will see that the future is here, now.Phil Boland"Phil BolandPresident & CEOEnergy Visions, Inc.55 Rodeo Ave, Suite 25Sausalito, CA 94965 +1 415.298.3582 Direct +1 415.499.8242 Office philipboland Skype

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bottoms Up - Breweries Go Green

Breweries are one of the latest industries to focus on sustainability and green business, whether they are "greening" their supply chains, buying locally-grown ingredients, using solar power to run their production facilities, or making organic beer.

Sierra Nevada (pictured), a California company at the forefront of the craft brewer movement, outfitted its brewery and restaurant with one of the largest solar arrays in the United States. The solar panels provide over 1.4 MW of AC power for the brewery, and have the side effect of giving shade to restaurant patrons and visitors.

The New Belgium brewery in Colorado gets 100% of its power from wind, has cut its water use in half, and is in the process of going solar as well.

Other breweries are using recycled glass and cardboard for their packages, and encouraging customers to bring in their empty growlers to get refills.

Of course, as a customer, you can always buy local beer that didn't have to travel thousands of miles to get to your mouth. By buying local you'll be helping the planet, helping your local economy, and sticking it to Anheuser Busch. Doesn't that feel good?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is the Electric Smart so smart or not so smart?

Larry and avid follower of the Green Machine asked me to opine on whether the conversion of the Smart for Two into an electric vehicle is a smart or not so smart idea. Daimler has taken an equity position in Tesla Motors and Tesla will provide the electric propulsion systems for the Smart. Smart is also an affiliate of Daimler and hence the connection of Tesla to Smart and visa versa.

The standard gasoline Smart for two has an empty mass of some 1,653 pounds. With two people in it, the mass would equal a ton. The Tesla roadster has a mass of 2,723 pounds and with two passengers it would have a mass 3,170 pounds. The Smart has a mass equal to 63.1% of the Tesla before it is fitted with batteries and a motor and the internal combustion engine and gas tank are removed. Mercedes has stated they will fit the electric Smart with 14 kilowatt hours of lithium ion batteries. With current state of the art power densities this will add some 300 pounds of batteries to the vehicle. With the swop out of the internal combustion engine and gasoline tank for an electric motor, I estimate the electric Smart for two will have an extra 150 pounds of mass over its gasoline counterpart. The electric Smart for two will have a mass approaching two thirds that of the Tesla. Ignoring aerodynamics for slow city driving the Smart for two will go one and a half times the distance of the Tesla on the same amount of charge.

Smart is being smart by only equipping their car with 14 kilowatt hours of battery storage versus 54 kilowatt hours for the Tesla. This will still add some $15,000 to the cost of the Smart. This means the electric smart will retail in the low $30,000s. Their will be some greens who will fork out this amount of green for a car with a range of seventy miles and that has a top speed of 62 mph. Interestingly Daimler is not claiming 400 mpg for their car. They are making honest claims about range and speed and have also been up front about the added cost of the battery system. I know their claim of range is honest as the 14 kilowatt hour battery should propel the car 70 miles in city driving with about 20% of the charge to spare as one does not want to fully discharge the system.

What if Smart wanted its car to have the same range as the Tesla? After doing a Newton Raphson interpolation of the net added mass for the Smart to have a range of some 240 city miles, I come up with the need to add 750 pounds to the Smart such that it will now have a mass of 2,750 pound with two passengers. This is getting quite heavy and makes no practical sense.

For the simple city driving, the Electric smart will need 0.2 kilowatt hours of electricity from the grid to travel a mile. The same car equipped with a gasoline engine and traveling in the city will get 40 mpg. The CO2 per mile traveled under these ideal conditions will be 0.5 pounds of CO2 per mile for the gasoline version and 0.26 pounds of CO2 per mile for the electric Smart using the average emissions for electric power generated in the USA. The electric Smart is a smart alternative for reducing CO2 emissions. The problem is one of cost and the question remains whether society can afford to double the cost of a car to halve the CO2 emissions?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is the Volt a call to revolt?

The Green Machine is livid. This is total nonsense that the Chevrolet Volt gets 230 miles to the gallon. Again the folks who flunked thermodynamics are making bogus claims. Both GM and Raser dropped out of engineering school. The 230 mpg Volt is as fake as the 100 mpg Raser. Each company makes their claims based on an infinitely efficient and free electricity grid. Even with the small engines that have been fitted to the Raser or the Volt their mileage is far less than their claims. The Volt gets about the same mileage as a Prius at about 50 mpg. The volt being capable of forty miles of travel on its battery pack, has a far larger and hence far more expensive battery pack than the Prius.

The Green Machine will answer whether this added expenses of a far larger battery pack does anything for the planet or is it pure hype brought to you by the federal government that is now the largest shareholder in Congressional Motors sorry I meant to say general Motors. The US EPA has this bogus calculation for equivalent MPG for plug in hybrids like the Volt and the Raser Hummer. This bogus calculation does not assign either energy value or carbon footprint to the electricity that is used in the plug in to recharge the plug in’s large battery pack. At least Tesla is honest about its requirements for plug in power. The Tesla site states the Tesla will need 0.28 kilowatt hours from the grid for each mile it will travel. The Volt is a heavier vehicle, and also less aerodynamic than the Tesla so the Green Machine estimates the Volt will require 25% more energy to travel a mile. The Volt will therefore require 0.38 kilowatt hours of electrical energy to move a mile. The most efficient fossil fuel fired method to generate electricity is by combined cycle generation with natural gas. Without boring you all with the mathematical details the Volt will need approximately 0.0225 gallons of gas equivalent to travel the mile. The Prius with an EPA rating of 50 mpg only needs 0.02 gallons of gas to do the job of moving a mile. So the Prius is indeed 10% more efficient than the Volt.

On a truthful basis the Volt gets approximately 45 mpg when the natural gas that is needed to generate the electricity is accounted for. If the average efficiency of the electric grid is used the Volt gets no more than 30 mpg. Maybe the Congress and GM’s CEO had a typo in their press release and meant to claim 30 MPG not 230 MPG?
Since the EPA is for the entire US we should use the average CO2 emissions to generate a kilowatt of electricity over the entire US when calculating the Volt’s carbon footprint. This average amount of CO2 is 1.3 pounds per kilowatt hour. Therefore to move a mile the Volt will emit 0.494 pounds of CO2 per mile. The Prius will emit 0.4 pounds of CO2 to travel a mile when powered by gasoline. The Volt has 25% more CO2 emissions and is ten percent less energy efficient than the Prius. It is time for Congress to enact legislation that the EPA must use, that is based on thermodynamics rather than fantasy. This is no time for a tea party it is time that we Revolt against the Volt. Congressional Motors is a better sounding name then General Motors so instead of wasting the extra $15,000 to buy a General Motors Volt ES 230 MPG, we should all buy the Prius. After the Volt flops they will rename this car the Congressional Motors Revolt BS 45 MPG.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Electric Vehicles Prove Profitable at Tesla

Tesla Motors defied expectations by announcing on August 7th that they had achieved a $1 million profit on revenues of $20 million. Though this may not necessarily prove the large-scale commercial viability of the electric vehicle, it is a significant step forward in the march toward cleaner and more fuel efficient cars.

The Roadster (pictured) is their most popular model, and can travel 244 miles on one charge from its lithium-ion battery pack. The Roadster is the first production car to use this type of battery and it is the first electric car to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge. A full recharge of the battery requires 3.5 hours, and the battery has a lifespan of 7 years or 100,000 miles. According to one analysis the Roadster is twice as energy efficient as the Toyota Prius.

Reviews for the Roadster are overall very good. Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson said the car was "Biblically quick" (though an on-air brake failure led him to conclude that the car was a failure in the real world). The price tag, however, puts the car well out of reach for a majority of Americans: the Roadster starts at $98,000 and the Roadster Sport clocks in at $128,500.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Are synthetic corks better than natural cork for wine?

While my blog is often the grapes of wrath about some dumb company, politician or technology, today’s blog is about the fruit of the vine. Grapes are an amazing fruit and have been around as part of civilization from the beginning of recorded history. I live not too far from Napa and Sonoma two excellent wine making regions. My Mom and Sister were born in Stellenbosch an equally excellent place for wine making in South Africa.

The conversion of sugars and starches to ethyl alcohol via fermentation has been known to man and woman for at least five thousand years. What essentially has changed is the vessels in which the brew is fermented, the vessels in which the drinks are stored, and the stoppers that keep the alcohol from further oxidation and ruination. In the early days of wine making about 3,000 BC clay vessels held the wine and the stoppers were made of wood. Winemakers realized that wood was not an optimal stopper material and the bark of an oak tree in Spain and Portugal was found to be more pliable and an improved stopper. This is the origin of cork. During the medieval period folks kind of forgot their chemistry and forgot to use corks for closures and just drank their wine and beer as fast as they could manufacture the drinks. But a clever monk in France named Dom Perignon rediscovered the virtues of cork as a closure for his new discovered bubbly called Champagne. Dom was not Dumb even though the Afrikaans word for dumb is dom.

Cork and wine making have been synonymous for most of modern time since old Dom. Higher quality wines still use natural cork although other methods of preventing oxidation of the drink of Bacchus have now come to market. Old Bacchus was really Greek and not called Bacchus but Dionysus. As old Willy said “what is in a name” So why do folks fork out untold amounts for named vintage wines in old bottles that still have an intact cork? It must be that the cork did its job of preventing the egress of air into the bottle and therefore the breakdown of ethanol into less tasty and more toxic chemicals. Just last night I had some wine from Italy that came corked with a plastic cork from Supremecorq LLC I checked the company’s web site at and they claim the cork is made from a thermoplastic elastomer. I worked on thermoplastic elastomers for shoe soles back in 1980. Old Bacchus would have to resole his sandals if he found out that this is now going on. In truth the thermoplastic may perform just as well if not better as a closure for wine bottles. The cork tree may be a bit greener as the cork comes from the bark. By not felling the tree to produce the cork the tree remains alive and cork is therefore most probably greener than a block copolymer of styrene and butadiene, that I am guessing Supremecorq uses as their starting material. Cork is also less dense than the thermoplastic substitute so a case of wine will be a few grams lighter if corked with cork and not corq.

The beauty of a thermoplastic as apposed to a thermoset material is that it can be remelted and extruded over and over. Perhaps we can get bars to recycle the corqs, and Nike can make running shoes for high jumpers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Candy Wrapper Handbags Are Delicious

(Green Explored will now feature a weekly spotlight on green consumer products. We'll try to cover a lot of different product categories, and if you have any suggestions for products you'd like to see featured, please e-mail us at Moderator at GreenExplored dot com.)

Founded in 2004, Ecoist is literally turning trash into treasure with their line of handbags made from recycled candy wrappers, magazines, newspapers, and granola bar wrappers.

The Daily - Confetti handbag, pictured, is one of their top sellers. They source their materials from developing countries, mostly in Latin America - if you squint at the pictured handbag, you can just make out a wrapper from Mexican cookie and candy giant, Gamesa.

Their pieces are fairly expensive considering they're made from garbage, but they're also handmade, fair trade, and environmentally friendly, so they carry a premium over their less sustainable peers. Also check out their Luna Blue line made from Luna Bar wrappers - super cute gift idea!

The stock market is up but will fear overtake greed?

Greed is back. The stock markets in China, Japan, the US and Europe are up. Folks are losing the fear factor they had last October and traders continue to increase the price of oil, copper, and other commodities. So what has changed since governments have pumped almost half a trillion dollars into stimulus and five trillion dollars into the banking system? Really nothing has changed except that greed has replaced fear and there is an expectation that consumption as a driver of economic growth will return.

The Chinese now produce close to 500 million tons a year of steel. This is flat with production over the past couple of years but four times as much as their production in 2000. Does China need to produce this much steel going forward? I think they may not need to produce this much steel and that half of the worlds steel production comes from China is not sustainable in the future. Perhaps the Chinese government will shut down old inefficient and highly polluting steel mills and the world will be minutely better for this. The WSJ reported that some steel workers in China beat up and killed the mill manager when it was announced the government owned mill will be sold and the mill may be shut.

Finally we have a report form the agency that reviews commodities trading that speculators drove up the price of oil to $150 a barrel last year. Come on! Is this news we did not know? Of course greed drove up the price and fear drove down the price. Greed will certainly drive it up again but perhaps this time it will peak below a $100 a barrel, because at that price alternates exist and consumers start economizing. The government can quell speculation in the oil markets by enacting laws that tax commodities trading profits at 90% and only allow a 10% tax deduction on trading losses. Long term the governments must enact energy laws that favor conservation.

The government appropriated one billion dollars of funds for the “cash for clunkers” program to spur the trading of old inefficient vehicles for new ones. Within one week the entire billion was used up and now another two billion dollars is being proposed by the government to keep the program going. We will get news in a few weeks that some greedy folks came up with a scheme to defraud the government by trading in stolen or non existent cars. The Chinese government should come up with a program to give cash to the workers in old inefficient steel mills that need to be shut. This program could be called cash for junk smelters. Western Europe, Canada and US have all gone through the cycle of shutting down steel mills that no longer make economic and correspondingly environmental sense. The US peaked at 150 million tons a year of steel production in 1973 and now we produce under 100 million tons.

In 1875 Britain accounted for 40% of world steel production and by 1889 the US superseded Britain as the world’s largest steel producer. China took over the global leadership in steel production from the US just before the end of the 20th century. My fervent hope is that India does not overtake China in the steel production race as this is kind of the most stupid race mankind has ever undertaken. I am all for the production of steel. I even live in a steel framed house and drive a vehicle that is made primarily from steel. However it makes no environmental sense for a country like China to produce half of the world’s steel when they do not have enough iron ore nor metallurgical coke. Australia is becoming one big quarry for China. Steel should first be made by recycling old cars, cans, and appliances and secondly in a non coke process that uses natural gas as a substitute. I estimate that Nucor in the USA that produces steel from recycling as well as natural gas has a carbon footprint per ton of steel that is half that of the average Chinese mill. I was disgusted to learn that the contractor building a power plant for Duke Power in the same state that is home to Nucor has a policy to buy Chinese steel for the project. Are we dumb or is it plain greed that drives these decisions?