Global Energy Day Debates Alternative Energy Options

Speakers Focus on Biofuels, Solar Energy, Wind Power, Nuclear Power Development, and Other Innovations

9/20/2006 10:37:00 AM

To: National Desk, Environment and Energy Reporter

Contact: Al Rickard of Association Vision, 703-402-9713 or

NEW YORK, Sept. 20 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Against a backdrop of declining oil resources projected to run out during the next 30 to 40 years, a panel of experts analyzed alternative energy options at Global Energy Day, sponsored by the Licensing Executives Society (LES).

Samuel F. Baldwin, Ph.D., the leading expert on renewable energy research at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), keynoted Global Energy Day with a talk that cited the latest statistics on energy use and reviewed the growing problem of global warming.

He spoke of potential large-scale changes such as the movement of eco-zones and agricultural zones caused by global warming as well as less visible but significant changes such as the acidity of the oceans, which is already affecting the ability of plankton to develop, holding implications for the future of the ocean food chain.

DOE is working through its Advanced Energy Initiative to help fund alternative energy aprojects such as biomass fuels, advanced hybrid cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, solar energy, and wind energy.

However, he explained, "The time it takes to respond to these issues is long," and noted the need for an increased focus on energy issues.

Baldwin also observed that 200 cities across the United States have "climate initiatives" designed to address global warming, and said that DOE is reviewing these to see which ones may have the potential for broader applications.

Simon Hobbs, a business development officer with oil and energy company UOP, noted that the energy used by an average American in one year consumes 7.9 tons of resources, while the average consumption by people in the rest of the world is only 1.3 tons.

Because of this, he urged a move to decrease the growth in consumption and development of methanol as an alternative fuel, which his company is currently researching.

"Methanol has a high energy density, is versatile, and the cost to produce it has come down significantly," he said. It can also be used to produce ethylene and propylene, products which now consume petroleum resources.

In the big picture, Hobbs predicted that "the future will be a high-energy world, no matter what energy we use. Our energy sources will be highly diverse."

Peter Dobson, Ph.D., of Oxford University, spoke about research conducted by a university spin-off company, Oxonica, which holds promise for finding new applications for nanotechnology in the energy arena.

For example, the company developed a diesel fuel additive that produces an 11 percent fuel efficiency increase and a reduction in emissions. It is currently used by the Stagecoach bus company in buses across the United Kingdom and is beginning to attract attention from oil companies.

Norma Formanek, vice president of the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute, reviewed ways this organization is leveraging research and development on behalf of the entire electric industry and finding ways to license out new technology.

Much of its work has been in the nuclear power area, where new technology has found effective ways to clean fuel rods and remove low-level nuclear waste from water used in nuclear power plants.

Carsten Heide of the University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center explained how his organization works on developing cleaner and more efficient energy technology. Much of this group's research is in biomass energy production, where the focus is on developing innovations that will respond to real market needs.

Heide explained, "research and development by itself does not create innovations -- you have to understand the client perspective. An entrepreneurial culture is the key to successful innovation."

Andrew Barron, Ph.D, associate dean for industry interactions and technology transfer at the Rice University Wiess School of Natural Sciences, talked about the potential for solar energy generation and other innovations.

For example, research at Rice University has developed certain types of carbon nanotubes that can conduct electricity with no energy loss. He explained the many complicated aspects of how these can be efficiently manufactured and the subsequent licensing process to bring this product to market.

M. Rashid Khan, Ph.D., a specialist on intellectual properties for the Saudi government-owned Saudi ARAMCO, talked about how his company has created an extensive innovation program that empowers all employees to contribute ideas and rewards them for this innovation. He said that the approach has already generated $1 billion in value as a result of innovation.

"By leveraging our internally grown technology," Khan said, "in the long run our company will create more value for Saudi Arabia than the value of the oil we produce."

Tadeusz Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, delivered his strong views about how bioethanol produced from corn or cellulose plant sources cannot produce a sustainable energy supply that will significantly reduce dependence on gasoline.

He charged that the United States uses 105 times more energy than it needs, and it needs to drastically reduce consumption for biofuels to cover any significant portion of the demand.

Patzek believes that investment in solar cells and wind turbines will be more productive than biomass solutions to contribute to overall energy needs.

Mark Austin of Xethanol, a company that produces ethanol in locations near large urban centers, acknowledged that, while "biofuels are not going to be sustainable overnight, there is a lot of bipartisan acceptance for the role of ethanol."

He noted that 95 ethanol plants are currently producing 4.3 billion gallons of ethanol, and that plants capable of producing another 1 billion gallons are currently under construction.

"Cellulose is the most abundant biomaterial on the planet and it is made of sugars," Austin explained. The problem is that nature has linked these sugars to other compounds and the energy from them is not easily released.

He described the scientific research now underway to find the best ways to process cellulose into bioethanol and said the projected cost to produce ethanol will eventually drop to $1 to $1.25 per gallon.

"The bioethanol industry is still in its infancy," Austin said, noting that it took the oil industry 100 years to develop advanced refining processes.