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More Interesting Energy Stories that you Might Have Missed

Guest blog by Mr. R. U. Cirius: Here are some interesting and somewhat offbeat energy stories that haven’t gotten much media attention that OWOE readers might have missed.

New Cryptocrude

The government of Venezuela, which has been unable to get inflation in the country under control (see new 200,000 Bolivar note worth 0.1 cents), has come up with a new idea on how to monetize their oil resource wealth – they are planning to introduce a variation of a cryptocurrency in the form of digitized oil. Venezuela is purported to have the largest oil reserves in the world, 304 billion barrels, which is just ahead of Saudi Arabia at 298 billion barrels. Unfortunately, most of this is extra-heavy oil that is very difficult and expensive to produce, and the mismanagement by the government has led to a precipitous drop in production over the last decade. The solution: don’t try to produce the oil, sell it virtually while it is still in the ground. Make the money now without having to do any work and leave the messy details on how to produce heavy oil to someone else.

The idea has garnered interest from Canada, another country with large heavy oil deposits that has also struggled with developing its resources, which has been in discussions with the Venezuelan government to do a joint cryptocrude offering that would include the tar sands oil in Alberta.

Avian Turbines

Birds, while an important part of our ecosystem, may not be used to their full potential. People are beginning to ask “could we be utilizing them more?” One company, Birdines, is looking for creative ways to do so. They have been exploring the concept of attaching a small wind turbine onto birds on long flight paths to harness a bit of wind energy.

While it might not seem like a bird could produce very much energy, with multiple flocks Birdines has shown that they could produce a sufficient amount of energy to run their production facility. The big challenge is how to harness that energy. They are working on a number of ideas ranging from wireless transmission to small batteries. As a first step, they are planning to place test turbines on a number of birds at the start of their migration, track the levels of energy generated during flight, and send collectors to bring back equipment for further evaluation. (See Fig. 1.) Engineers have worked tirelessly to ensure that these wind turbines will not affect the birds’ flight or safety. In fact, one interesting finding from their studies is that the turbines actually make the birds more attractive to their mates, which has helped get PETA onboard as a supporter of the effort. Over time, as their design becomes more widely used, they are predicting that it will be possible to power companies all over the world along the flight paths of these migratory birds.

Fig. 1 – Avian Turbine (image by Birdines)

Young Aspiring Female Engineer Merges Robotics and AI

California has its fair share of geniuses but they seem to congregate in the entertainment industries. However, at one dedicated technical high school, Ms. Noel Hayley, an aspiring engineer, has been turning heads with her research and independent school projects. She’s won several competitions for engineering challenges including building bridges out of popsicle sticks, producing energy from ocean currents, etc. But more recently she has turned her intellectual curiosity and technical prowess to robotics and AI.

Building robots using 3-D printing technology has been straightforward enough, but the AI part has presented a number of challenges. Most surprising, one day, in the lab, while listening to a radio segment with Bill Nye and Justin Trudeau (the Prime Minister of Canada), the robotic arm she was working on took on an unorthodox pose (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Robotic Arm Malfunction

“I haven’t been able to figure out why this happened. I ran some more experiments with other speakers – the arm behaved properly,” said Ms. Hayley. “Then I ran a different speech by the PM and the same malfunction occurred. Again and again, every time that I played a speech by the PM of Canada, the robot defaulted to this position.”  Although Ms. Hayley was dumbfounded as to this behavior, she started getting requests form Canadians for copies of the robot arm, “as is”. Ms. Hayley is still working on developing the robot for oil and gas work, but in the meantime has started a side business selling copies of the malfunctioning robot to folks in Canada. “For some reason, they especially like these in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland.”

Bio Power to the Rescue!

For some years now, scientists and keepers at the Tennessee Aquarium have been using an electric eel to power the lights of a Christmas tree.  Researchers at Tennessee Tech and Oak Mound National Laboratory have now taken that one step further and believe that they can harness sufficient power from eels for long distance trucking and that the whole system can be biology-based and totally carbon neutral. One huge benefit is the elimination of recharge time during long hauls. Since eels eat virtually anything that can fit in their mouths, the EEL-V driver needs to only stop for a meal or bathroom break, throw a bucket of small fish, shrimp, fly larvae, or any other protein source into the tank and get right back on the road. A photo showing the EEL-V prototype during road tests is shown in Fig. 3 in which the first module contains eels in water, which generate power to propel the truck down the road. The second module is the actual cargo trailer.

Fig. 3 – EEL-V

Organic Storage of Renewable Energy

About a year ago, researchers at a Texas university announced a breakthrough in energy storage that combines solar gathering with thermal release. In the year since, numerous other research initiatives have focused on such molecular solar thermal storage systems. One such promising technology is being developed by Dr. Yudun Phul Mi, research lead at the Coshocton Institute for Carbon Research (CICR). Dr. Mi has announced a novel means of energy storage and quotes: “Renewable energy is great. It’s clean and there is enough of it to power the world. The problem is that it’s intermittent.”  Dr. Mi continues, “We’ve developed a novel means to store renewable energy using organic, plant based starches as feedstock.” According to Dr. Mi and his colleagues, the process of storing energy in starches is simple, and it would also be possible to capture atmospheric carbon into the new material. The key breakthrough that has eluded many researchers has been how to compactly store the new energy-dense material. “Our team,” Dr. Mi continues, “realized that arranging the starches in layers and then subjecting them to pressure and temperature would yield a semi-solid.” In simplest terms, see Fig. 4.

Fig. 4 – Renewable Energy Storage Using Starches

When asked about the energy storage potential, Dr. Mi explained that it was about 24 MJ / kg and that it would store energy for many years. “On a larger scale, we could even bury it for future populations to unearth as needed in 10, 100, or even 1000 years in the future. Of course, we still have to figure out how to burn it without emitting the carbon dioxide and other pollutants back into the atmosphere.” Additional research is being undertaken at CICR to determine whether the process could be modified to yield liquid energy stores that could then be pumped into underground reservoirs or porous sand deposits.

Harvesting the Energy from Crop Circles

Professor Emeritus Albus Dumblebee at HST (Hoagmoles School of Technology) in Edinburgh, UK, who has spent most of his career researching crop circles has developed a new concept for harvesting energy from these circles. Despite claims from some that the circles are created by alien visitors to the earth and from others that such phenomena are hoaxes, Professor Dumblebee believed that there was a more natural basis for the circles. After extensive research and excavation at a number of circles in the UK, he reported that he had found a highly concentrated radioactive source buried under several of these circles. Laboratory testing of these sources shows that they emit a pulsating spherical radiation field and that the perimeter of the crop circle coincides with the location where the peak energy pulse intersects the surface of the earth. Thus, the larger the point radiation source and the shallower it is buried, the larger the manifestation of the crop circle.

With this new understanding of how the crop circles are made, he has developed the concept of a large-scale partial-sphere flux capacitor (see Fig. 5). The partial-sphere flux capacitor will fit exactly on the crop circle which will allow it to capture the radioactive energy from each pulse generated by the buried radioactive source. Professor Dumblebee is currently working on the mechanism to convert the captured radioactive energy into electricity and feed it into the electrical grid. He believes that a field of 5 typical crop circles can generate enough electricity to displace approximately 100MW of conventional fossil fuel driven power plants, thus helping the world move toward a fossil fuel free future.

Fig. 5 – 2D Representation of 3D Flux Capacitor (credit Muller, et.al., and Dr. Emmett Brown)

Canadian Researchers Make Major Renewable Energy Breakthrough

Research from the Cape and the Rock have made a significant breakthrough in renewable power efficiency from wind and wave. At a press conference to reveal their breakthrough, team members summarized the technology as combining a bunny hug or doeskin with a vi-co. “We had many smattes over many chiffes, subsisting at times on bines and jam-busters when we sure g’awn witcha. There was no takitish.” Said another researcher about the team effort, “Lashins tof till I was rawny, but we kept the jinkers out of there so we wouldn’t be huffed: Soon enough it was full flye duckish.” Canadian government officials on hand were like buckle bunnies with new gotch: It was skookum tickety-boo. Research will be published in the upcoming quarterly journal of Timmies.

The Simple Answer: Oil Demand is Declining and Natural Gas Demand is Increasing

Guest Blog by S. A. Shelley: Since 2016, OWOE staff have been watching energy markets change as new technologies and phenomenon entered society, or as old problems and business practices ossified. While 2020 was a wild year that laid bare the ineffectiveness of most major governments to handle crisis, it also exposed some of the fallacies upon which western societies are built: Namely the need for business executives to fly around the world for meetings, the need for hordes of people to commute to digital jobs, and of course the lack of economic robustness in most realms. For certain, the pandemic surge and economic drop of 2020 that cut travel, commuting and similar highly energy intense activities resulted in a major drop in oil demand (Reuters, US BLS), and a noticeable drop in CO2 emissions along with a corresponding improvement in overall air quality in many urban settings. But, and here’s the real issue, as the pandemic ends, energy demand is increasing again.

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New Digital Tech Solutions Equal More Old Energy Tech

Guest Blog by S. A. Shelley: The last decade has seen an explosion of new digital tech incessantly infiltrating all areas of our lives. There were cells phones before 2010 as well as websites and such, but with the advent of smart phones, 5G, the internet of things, everything is now wirelessly connected. New things such as crypto currency and EVs have also made significant inroads into society in the last 10 years. Many of these technologies are, of course, promoted as green and helping the world. Such is always the case when new technologies arise, and there are enough people to advocate for their favorite thing: Bud or Bud Light, Democrat or Republican, Trudeau fan or intelligent person.

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What’s up with the Texas power grid?

OWOE Staff: So what’s going on with the power grid in Texas? Last week the state was hit by a polar vortex winter storm (Uri) that brought snow and ice and record low temperatures. Such storms aren’t especially rare – it snows and ices in Houston about every ten years. But this time it created one of the biggest power outages in US history (Fig 1), and the Texas power grid came within minutes of failure. Then the real fun began. The Governor blamed the power failures on the wind turbines in West Texas freezing up, but had to retract the comment almost immediately when the grid operator, ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), announced that the majority of the power outages were due to gas supply shortages and freezing of the conventional thermal power plants. A former Texas Governor claimed that Texans would rather endure power failures than have more regulation of the industry. Senator Ted Cruz, from Texas, who had a history of denouncing renewable energy as the cause for California’s power outages fled the cold to take his family to Cancun and immediately had to fly back due to public outrage. A photo of a helicopter deicing wind turbines in Texas went viral as an example of renewable power being dependent on fossil fuel and chemicals, until the photo was identified as actually being an extreme case of deicing an old-style turbine in Sweden from 2014. Texans who signed up for electricity plans that charge based on wholesale electricity prices are now facing bills in the thousands of dollars. Etc, etc.

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Time for a New Energy Policy

OWOE Staff: It’s a new year, we have a new president and administration, and we have new hope that the plan to vaccinate Americans is going to finally end the pandemic. What we don’t have is new thinking on what this country should be doing for a long term, rational and strategic energy policy. OWOE believes it is the right time to propose a comprehensive energy policy that balances America’s needs with the planet’s needs and is based on sound economics, realistic technology and good common sense. The OWOE energy policy combines several key elements, including: firm commitment to dramatically reduce dependence on fossil fuels in a planned and rational manner, sustainable investment in renewable technologies, and establishment of a North American Energy Alliance (NAEA) between the US and Canada to aggressively develop and globally sell our existing energy resources.

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A Look-back at 2020

By OWOE Staff: Happy 2021 dear readers and supporters of OWOE. As everyone is aware, 2020 was a most unfortunate series of events, beginning with the release of a virulent pathogen from China which resulted in a wide range of foreseeable acute and long range economic, social and energy consequences. Thus, OWOE staff are working hard to analyze these consequences to provide meaningful insight about energy matters going forward. We plan a variety of interesting updates to our core energy information, tools and blogs this year and perhaps even a contest involving energy self-sufficiency at the local level. Many of the changes happening in the world of energy are the cumulative results of individual changes in consumption resulting from economic turmoil compounded by inept government policies and continuing industry business practices.

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The World Never Thanks Naval Architects

Guest Blog by S. A. Shelley: For almost all of human history, trade has been facilitated by water borne craft. Mesopotamia? They had boats on the rivers and in the gulf. Egypt? Boats on the river. Rome? Boats hauling grain from Egypt to Rome. China?  The Chinese were sailing and trading along East Asia for thousands of years.  By the time of the Clipper ships, naval architects had mastered wind power such that a clipper ship could make a transatlantic voyage in about 12 days . A modern fossil-fueled container ship can make the same voyage in about 8 days.  By 2018 goods carried on ships amounted to nearly 11 billion tonnes with some economists estimating that between 80% to 90% of all goods produced globally travel by ships across some water at some stage of production.

Ships today tend to be powered by fossil fuels, and when looking at the amount of CO2 emitted per tonne of cargo moved per kilometer, ships are by far the most efficient way to move goods (Fig. 1).

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Wishful Thinking vs. Reality

Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: On the morning of October 25, on CNN, Ms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke about fracking and how it is necessary to ban all fracking in the U.S. by 2025.

Fracking for energy is responsible for the overwhelming majority of gas supplies that feed America’s economy, including the heating of homes. As noted in previous blogs and based upon scientific fact, not woke feelings, burning natural gas is one of the cleanest ways to continue powering economies while economies transition. Yes, there are problems with fracking, including leakage of methane from poorly tapped wells, but with political imperative these problems can be fixed, now-ish without doing major economic damage.

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Green Energy in Germany, How’s it Really Going?

Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: With so much talk about Green New Deals (U.S.A.) and a Green Way Forward (Canada) these days, I thought it might be worth looking at the poster child for green energy, Germany and its frequently lauded Energiewende . Way back in 1971, the Germans started thinking about ways to shift their energy mix in order to promote sustained economic prosperity, especially, at that time, in the face of Global authoritarian (communist) threats. It was necessary then to find ways to reduce West Germany’s dependence on the Soviet bloc for energy supplies. After all, in case of war, one cannot expect one’s enemy to continue supplying fuel for one’s tanks and jet fighters.

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The Dangerous Decline of Good Engineering in Houston and Worldwide

Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: OWOE bloggers and other industry analysts often discuss technical and economic aspects about energy, such as oil demand or cost of renewables. But not enough attention has been focused on the changes in business thinking that has reduced engineering capability in Houston since the oil downturn in 2014.

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