Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Bloom is off the rose

My nemesis has struck again. Alfalfa and his well connected team of VCs got CBS to air the Bloom Box on 60 Minutes last Sunday. I have been inundated with hundreds of emails to comment on the veracity of the so called Bloom Box. The Green Machine certainly has an opinion on this. The Bloom is already off the rose. In fact this Betamax would not have budded if not for all the cash Alfalfa’s team have put into it. The box is more like a thorn than a bloom. A rather prickly subject for the Green Machine – it is the subject of fool cells. Yes the Bloom Box is a fool cell and although they have couched it in mystery it is most probably a solid oxide fool cell. 60 Minutes used to expose hype now they assist hypers. This is the perfect storm, Alfalfa has convinced Colin Powell to sit on the board of Bloom. Reminds of the prelude to the US invasion of Iraq except now we are being told the enemy has “weapons of mass combustion”.

Solid Oxide fool cells are an improvement over PEM fool cells as they operate at higher temperatures and are therefore not dependent on platinum for catalysis of the fuel. As they operate at higher temperatures they can be feed hydrocarbon fuels and do not need pure hydrogen. They still emit carbon dioxide and the nonsense on 60 Minutes of the box being emission free and being able to run on solar energy is simply untrue. A company traded on the NASDAQ as FCEL called FuelCell Energy Inc. has been trying for ten years to commercialize solid oxide fuel cells and has lost six hundred million dollars in the process. United Technologies has been trying to commercialize this technology for fifty years.

I have cost data from a proposal that Bloom has made to a local institution. These data show that the Box is one expensive piece of equipment with only a slight efficiency advantage over a natural gas fired engine coupled to a generator set that one can buy from Caterpillar or several other well established electric gen set manufacturers. The Bloom Box has a thermal efficiency of 50% and the Caterpillar engine 41% when both a fired on natural gas. The Caterpillar gen set can be installed for $1,000 per kilowatt of capacity, the Bloom box for over $10,000 per kilowatt of capacity. Natural gas will need to increase 15 fold to $120 per mmbtu for the Bloom Box to use its energy savings to pay for the additional first cost. But your government is coming to the rescue to stop the Bloom from rapid natural death. Our mighty but bankrupt State and Federal governments will pay half of the upfront cost of this money waster and will allow companies to rapidly depreciate the fool cell. Perhaps that is where Arnie the Gangrene Governator and Alfalfa got together to help Bloom and screw you out of your tax dollars.

Let’s compare the carbon emission from the fool cell and the Cat engine. The carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity generated are 0.84 pounds for the fool cell and 1.02 pounds for the Cat engine. The planet will save 0.18 pounds per kilowatt hour of power generated if generated on the fool cell. At a cost difference of $9,000 per kilowatt of installed capacity that is amortized over five years and is operated for 8,500 hours a year the saved emissions cost the consumer $1.17 per pound. This translates to $2,340 per ton of carbon dioxide. Old Alfalfa who flies around in his private jet and buys carbon credits for his Sasquatch sized footprint only pays some $15 a ton for these credits. Perhaps the way to kill Bloom and get Alfalfa to fly in coach on a scheduled commercial flight is to charge him and his VC and political buddies $2,340 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions for their cap and trade. The carpet bagging eco opportunist emits about 400 pounds a year of carbon dioxide by the simple act of breathing so let’s charge him $600 dollars a year as a living tax. I have often said he makes me puke and my barf has more chance of becoming a bio fuel and greening the planet than the junk science he promotes as a convenient untruth. I hope this blog put this thorny matter to rest.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Goodbye Hummer

Perhaps the happiest day in my life. Hummer is history. I certainly predicted this in 2003. Now what will Arnie do? Perhaps he too will disappear soon.

Hummer faces shutdown after Chinese sale collapses
Hummer sale collapses; GM brand, scorned by greens but loved by loyal fans, facing shutdown

By Dan Strumpf, AP Auto Writer , On Wednesday February 24, 2010, 8:19 pm
NEW YORK (AP) -- Hummer, the off-road vehicle that once symbolized America's love for hulking SUVs, faces a shutdown after its sale to a Chinese heavy equipment maker collapsed.

Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines Co. said Wednesday it pulled out of the deal to buy the company from General Motors Co. Tengzhong failed to get clearance from Chinese regulators within the proposed timeframe for the sale, the Chinese manufacturer said.

GM said it will continue to honor existing Hummer warranties.

"We are disappointed that the deal with Tengzhong could not be completed," said John Smith, GM vice president of corporate planning and alliances. "GM will now work closely with Hummer employees, dealers and suppliers to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner."

GM has been trying to sell the loss-making brand for the last year and signed a deal with Tengzhong in October. However, resistance from Chinese regulators, who have been putting the brakes on investment in the fast-growing Chinese auto industry, created difficulties from the start.

As recently as Tuesday, private investors were trying to set up an offshore entity in a last-minute effort to complete the acquisition ahead of a Feb. 28 deadline. That plan, along with other options, was unsuccessful, according to a person close to the situation. The person declined to be identified in order to speak more freely.

"There's no way forward with that," this person said. "We're out of time."

GM spokesman Nick Richards said the automaker would still hear last-minute bids for the brand, which employs about 3,000 people who make and sell Hummers in the U.S.

"In the early phases of the wind-down, we'll entertain offers and determine their viability, but that will have to happen in pretty short order," he said.

Hummer, which traces its origins to the Humvee military vehicle built by AM General LLC in South Bend, Ind., acquired a devoted following among SUV lovers who were drawn to the off-road ready vehicles. But they drew scorn from environmentalists and sales never recovered after gasoline prices spiked above $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008.

Sales peaked at 71,524 in 2006. But in December 2009, only 325 Hummers were sold, down 85 percent from the previous year, according to Autodata Corp.

Sticker prices start at more than $42,500 and run to about $63,000, according to data posted at the Web site. The H3, the most fuel-efficient vehicle in Hummer's lineup, averages about 16 mpg. The vehicles are built at GM's factory in Shreveport, La.

Under the initial agreement to sell Hummer, Tengzhong would have received an 80 percent stake, while Hong Kong investor Suolang Duoji, who indirectly owns a big stake in Tengzhong, would have gotten 20 percent. The investors would also have owned Hummer's nationwide dealer network.

Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed, although a person briefed on the deal at the time said the sale price was around $150 million. GM's bankruptcy filing last summer said that the brand could bring in $500 million or more.

Beijing had been cool to the acquisition. Tengzhong lacks a government permit to manufacture cars, and the Chinese government has been seeking to streamline and slow investment in the fast-growing auto industry rather than to attract newcomers.

Richards said the collapse of the sale does not change earlier plans to close the Shreveport facility by 2012. The plant also builds the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon and is currently operating on a single 10-hour shift, he said. Hummer production was idled in January.

The plant once employed about 3,000 people, but that payroll has been reduced to about 950.

Plant worker Alex Santana, a 17-year veteran of the Shreveport operation, said the end of Hummer "is going to hurt a lot of people."

"There's a lot of jobs going down the drain," he said.

Doug Ebey, president of the United Auto Workers Local 2166 and a 28-year worker at the plant, said the proposed Hummer deal "was a little glimmer of hope we had."

"It's going to be tough for the city of Shreveport," Ebey said. "I wish there was more of a public outcry. This place will be missed once it eventually closes. It provides good-paying, union jobs."

Hummer is the second brand after Saturn that GM has failed to sell as part of its restructuring. GM sold Swedish brand Saab to Dutch carmaker Spyker Cars NV earlier this year. Pontiac is being discontinued.

GM is focusing its efforts on its four remaining brands: Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac and Buick.

AP Business Writer Alan Sayre contributed to this report from New Orleans.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A worthwhile meeting

Yesterday, I met with Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and two of her senior staff members. The meeting far exceeded my best expectations. While I have previously blogged in negative fashion about my lack of representation vis a vis energy policy, I am pleased to report both the Congresswoman and I have turned a new page. A week ago I communicated to the Congresswoman’s staff my expectation of the meeting and had sent a PowerPoint deck that illustrated the limitations of bio-fuels, and the painfully slow learning rate photo-voltaic cells, lithium batteries, and fuel cells will enjoy in the future. I suggested that we institute the position of Engineering General of the United States. I also suggested that we rely much more heavily of diesel cars and dual fuel cars but not plug ins with a range greater than 10 miles. I suggested we institute a carbon value added tax at a sufficiently large rate (perhaps as high as $100 per ton of carbon dioxide) on all items manufactured in the USA. Food would be the only item excluded from the carbon value added tax. Imported items would also have a duty imposed on them that is proportional to the carbon emissions in their manufacture abroad and the carbon emissions in their transportation to the United States. No subsidy for the items manufactured in China with their heavy reliance on coal, in fact the duties on Chinese made items would be the highest because of the heavy usage of coal in that country. French manufactured items that used nuclear power would enjoy the lowest duty.

As an example let’s discuss the manufacture of bio ethanol (a pet peeve of mine). The conversion of corn to ethanol requires some 50,000 BTUs of external energy per gallon. If these BTUs are derived from natural gas this equates to approximately 55 cubic feet of natural gas and the carbon dioxide emissions in the process of manufacturing ethanol approximately equals 6.3 pounds per gallon. At $100 per ton or 5 cents per pound the carbon value added tax on ethanol would be 31.5 cents per gallon. I would scrap the 50 cent per gallon subsidy that ethanol now enjoys and this would mean an 81.5 cent per gallon increase in the wholesale cost of ethanol. All transportation fuels would also have a carbon value added tax levied on them. This would be in the form of a fuel tax at the pump. Gasoline and ethanol should be taxed at about one dollar per gallon. Diesel, propane, and compressed natural gas would be taxed at a lower rate of say thirty cents a gallon. A friend of mine in New Zealand has told me that diesel sells for 50 Kiwi cents a liter less than gasoline. The New Zealand government levies far higher taxes on gasoline than on diesel. A significant fraction of the personal cars in New Zealand are diesel. While the Kiwis are really wrong on nuclear power they are certainly right on diesel.

I closed the meeting with the Congresswoman that I would write a policy essay that details my ideas and also details why advanced batteries and cellulosic bio ethanol is destined to be a waste of tax payer money. The Congresswoman will then take my policy essay to the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy that she sits on. My ultimate expectation is to be invited to testify before the committee and go on record with the laws of thermodynamics. The members of the committee may in fact be refreshed to hear this rather than the junk big oil, big ethanol, and the once big three have lobbied for as energy policy that only serves their special interest and simply prevents real policy to be adopted. I must say I felt proud to be a citizen of the United Sates after the meeting and do thank the Congresswoman and her staff for listening to me. While I have been harsh on Lynn Woolsey, I do believe she is a person with principle and passion and is no doubt very honest. Kind of like the Green Machine except like my Kiwi friends she keeps to the left when she drives. The Green Machine drives on the median and is therefore always crashing.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A meeting is set with Congresswoman Woolsey

The Green Machine received some mighty good news this week. I have been granted a meeting with my Congresswoman. The meeting will occur on Friday February 19th. Of course I will blog about the meeting after it happens. I have been thinking of the things I want to discuss with my Congresswoman. Of course I will discuss the wasted funds that are being given to myriad Betamax technologies and their sponsoring companies. Fisker, A One, and Tesla will top this list. Of course I will tell her that photovoltaic cells will remain for all intents and purposes too expensive to really make a dent in our electricity supply. I will tell her that it is plan dumb and stupid that the bridges over the San Francisco Bay are going to charge tolls to carpools during peak rush hours this coming June. I will tell her the Feds should help out the bridge districts with this rather than giving funds to gangrene and fake prophets of sustainability (e.g. fuel cells, cellulosic ethanol, algae biodiesel).

I will tell her why PV cells and Lithium Batteries simply cannot have substantially lower costs based on economies of scale when these technologies have underlying physics that prohibit rapid learning rates. I will tell her that Mother Nature did not intend photosynthesis to propel 245 million vehicles in the USA. Actually 2009 was a good year for Mother Nature even though it sucked for all of us economically. In 2009 5 million more private vehicles were scrapped than were sold. In the USA. For the first time the number of private vehicles out there in the good old USA dropped. Yes the figure dropped from 250 million in 208 to 245 million. My prognostication is that this decline will continue and that by 2015 we might have 230 million vehicles. OK so we have 5 million fewer vehicles parked in garages, driveways, yards, and on the streets. So how come parking spaces in San Francisco are still so difficult to find?

I will tell her how Germany went ape on PV cells with subsidies. PV provides 1% of Germany’s electric needs yet 7% of Germany’s electric costs are associated with these PV electrons. This shows you how government subsidies can cause scarce funds to go into the wrong investments. I will use the last part of the meeting to tell her what alternates do work. Subsidizing buses, carpool, and vanpools. She should steer public policy in the US so that consumers buy more diesel cars and smaller cars. Hybrids with small batteries and smaller engines are a solution. Other dual fuel systems that make small engines perform as well as large engines are also possible. A national recycling law on all plastic, glass and aluminum containers is needed. Abandoning the mandate to reach 20 billion gallons a year of biofuels should also be an adopted policy. She should support wind and geothermal energy projects that are well engineered and appropriately located.

She should help establish an Engineering General for the USA. This position like the Surgeon General (medicine), Attorney General (Law) should have high prestige in matters that relate to energy and science. This officer of the US government must prevent waste on gangrenous project that get promoted by all sorts of greedy green wannebees. I will tell her we are fortunate that nuclear energy can be a source of cleaner energy and that natural gas is preferred option over coal and oil. I will tell her carbon sequestration will always remain expensive and illusive and that conservation is the best way to sequester carbon in fossil fuels we do not use. This should be a great meeting and I am going into it with the expectation that this is the beginning of her metamorphosis to becoming a true green thermodynamically informed butterfly. It is up to her to change from a caterpillar and maybe the Green Machine can perform some magic. If the meeting is a bust I could make her disappear from Congress in November.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

How to feed and save the world at the same time

This week I applaud the work of a high school chum named Ronni. She lives in Sydney Australia and she started an organization called OZ Harvest. Ten days ago the prime minister of Australia hailed Ronni as a Hero. I have not seen Ronni in forty years as we graduated in 1969.

OZ Harvest is doing an amazing job of providing meals to the less fortunate in Sydney and Canberra. The food that was previously wasted and dumped in landfills is now collected and distributed to the needy through multiple charities. OZ harvest provides the logistics for the collection and distribution of the wholesome and fresh meals that are unsold or unused by restaurants, stores or institutions. Without OZ Harvest these perfectly nutritious meals would have simply wound up in the garbage and would have been left to rot in a land fill. OZ Harvest has been recognized by the Prime Minister of Australia for the wonderful accomplishment of providing over four and three quarter million meals since the organization began their operation back in 2004.

The operation started with a single delivery van and has now grown to six delivery vans making daily trips to and from restaurants and stores to the charities OZ Harvest serves. The current operation is set to deliver approximately one and a half million meals in 2010. When I first heard about the wonderful work being done by OZ Harvest, my heart was of course warmed by the provision of food to the needy. But immediately after this thought, it dawned upon me that the world was also being saved from tons of carbon emissions by food being used for its rightful purpose and not simply rotting in a land fill. I contacted OZ Harvest last week and told them if they provided me with their information on the number of meals, the calorie content and make up of the meals, and the quantity of diesel and electricity they use, I would model their negative carbon footprint. Yes OZ Harvest has a negative carbon footprint that I will explain further.

First one has to understand the composition of food and how food is carbon rich. We measure nutritional value in Calories. A Calorie of food value is actually a kilocalorie of energy. This is the amount of energy to heat a liter of water one degree centigrade. Just as natural gas burns on your stovetop to provide heat to boil water in your kettle, food burns within our body to provide heat and nutrition to our muscles, organs, brains and blood. The meals OZ Harvest provides weigh 300 grams and have a typical nutrition value of 800 Calories. These Calories of food nutrition come from the breaking down of the chemical in the food. These chemicals are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Food also has moisture and fiber that do not provide chemical energy. Fats are typically composed of 80% carbon, proteins around 50%carbon and carbohydrates and fiber are approximately 40% carbon. In our bodies we use oxygen to react with our food and besides the energy we gain from the food we exhale carbon dioxide and moisture. In a land fill the food is broken down by either one of two methods. Aerobic breakdown that is similar to our bodies where oxygen and the food combine to yield carbon dioxide and moisture. But much of the food in the land fill does not contact oxygen and the food then rots without air or is anaerobically digested. In this case the gas emitted from the land fill is methane. Methane is a wonderful cooking fuel but when emitted from a land fill it is a terrible greenhouse gas with twenty one times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide.

I developed a spreadsheet that analyzed and calculated the mass of carbon in the food that would have been wasted, the mass of carbon that remains as a solid in the land fill and the respective mass of methane and carbon dioxide that would have been emitted from the food decomposing in the land fill. I then calculated the carbon emission of OZ Harvest’s fleet or trucks and the corresponding carbon emissions for the electricity generation for the electricity that OZ Harvest purchases and after a series of tedious mathematical manipulations I can independently vouch that at a minimum OZ harvest has had a negative carbon footprint of 3,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is equal to taking off some 1,044 cars that drive 20,000 kilometers with a fuel consumption of 7 liters of petrol per 100 kilometers. In 2010 with the expected number of meals provided to reach 1.5 million, OZ Harvest will have a negative carbon footprint of some 1,074 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This corresponds to removing 330 mid sized cars off the road for the year.

I applaud the work of the team at OZ Harvest for keeping two birds alive with one stone. These birds are humanity and the planet that humanity occupies.