Friday, March 4, 2011

Doing Due Diligence: EEStor, Mark Z. Jacobson and Greenpeace

Robert Rapier has posted an important essay on the Oil Drum titled "Doing Due Diligence." Rapier tells us,
To people who follow the energy industry closely, it’s a common occurrence to come across announcements from companies proclaiming to have developed the key to the ‘next big thing’ — for solving the world’s energy crisis. Maybe they say they can take any sort of waste biomass and turn it into fuel — ethanol, diesel, pyrolysis oil, mixed alcohols — at very low cost. Or they say they can produce renewable electricity at a price competitive with coal.
Roger points out that what is not being said about the energy future in press releases is often more important than what is said, and when the untold part of the story is revealed it turns out to be far less attractive that the story the press release tells.

The job of the energy futurest is to
peeled the onion a bit. There are technologies with real potential, and just because a company hypes their technology doesn’t mean it won’t work.
on the other hand there may be real reasons to suspect that the bad news is being withheld.
In my own experience, perhaps 90% of the stories you see promoting various technologies are at least exaggerated. So how do you separate fact from fiction and wishful thinking from reality?
In 2007, when I first began to look at energy future issues, I quickly discovered that some well regarded "experts" on the energy future did not have the slightest idea what they were talking about, and that press releases needed to be read carefully, in order to discover both what was being said, and what was not being said. A primary example is the ZENN-EEStor story which emerged in the early posts of Nuclear Green. ZENN was a Canadian start up that had the intention of building electrical powered cars. EEStor was an Austin, Texas company that claimed it had a break threw capacitor technology, that would enable it to produce capacitors capable of powering electrical cars for distances of more than 100 miles. ZENN Motors had bought part of EEStor and had announced its intention to power its future cars with EEStor capacitors. When I first investigated it quickly became clear that things were not adding up in the story. First EEStor had an agreement with ZENN to deliver a prototype EEStor Unit by the end of 2007. That did not happen. Subsequent promises were to fall through as well.

At the end of Spring, 2008 the GM-Volt Blog published an interview with Ian Clifford, the CEO of ZENN Motors. Clifford viewed the production of the ass of yet undelivered EEStor unit as a done deal. But some of the story's readers were skeptical. But some of the blog readers were skeptical. Raphael wrote,
But good physicist like me knows very well that capacitors physics under extreme conditions is not textbook straightforward. The dielectric constant involved will stay at indicated value until approximately 30000 V / sm electric field strength. This value is pretty high so measurements unlikely exceed this so they give high Eps value OK.

But to get claimed energy density you need approximately 100 times higher field strength. Getting such field strenght is extremely unlikely in the Eps measurements. But the reality is that exactly in this field strenght region electrical induction gets saturation because it reaches the interatomic field strength. This is well know effect to physicysts but not very widely known phenomenon to general public. Resulted effect on the energy could be described as if dielectric constant gets reduced in the formula. My estimations demonstrates that actual energy density would be 25 - 50 times less than a claim.

Resulted EEStore capacitor would approximately match currently available ultracapacitors by energy density per unit of mass making ~5 times better energy density per unit of volume. As such it would be marginal improvement over existing ultracapacitors technology. It surely would be a order of magnitude improvement for ceramic capacitors so it would have some use. But it would be nothing as bold as EEStore claims.

In 1 - 2 years from now we will see what would be the outcome of EEStore activity. Judgement day for EEStore would come when somebody would build a capacitor and try to store expected energy into it. It would be discovered that above
~100 V voltage would grow with charge much faster than expected and finally instead of ~15 kWh it would be ~0.3 kWh at the highest possible voltage. But powder alone would match all the promises. Who knows - they might even think it is a big discovery of new phenomenon. So they would explain the failure by claiming they run into truly unpredictable effect unknown to science. Irony is that 1947 year physics knows it and today it is forgotten.
There have as of yet been no announcements made from EEStor and no EEStor prototypes turned over to ZENN which has stopped making cars. Clearly then doing due diligence would have lead to skeptical conclusions, and indeed I was skeptical, although I continued to follow the story for some time after I concluded that EEStor would not come up with a game changer.

Mark Z. Jacobson has been another target of several of my my due diligence attempts. I
have commented,
I consider Mark Z. Jacobson to most likely be a competent scientist who has gotten sucked into the irrational renewables ideology. Jacobson has stopped being a scientist and has become a cognitive warrior for renewable energy. Cognitive warfare is about propaganda, not the judicious determination of facts.
Renewable Energy published a description of a Jacobson paper, Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security. I had previously posted a review of the same paper and found its treatment of nuclear energy flawed to the point of being preposterous. The Renewable Energy post drew 115 comments, many of which fit into the due diligence catigory.

"stop killin our wilderness" provided a devastating critique of Jacobson on Wind and Solar Thermal Power
obviously this person [Jacobson] lives in NORTHERN california, not southern california, or they would have a clue about how these technologies are vastly different here.

CSP uses nearly 90,000 gallons of water a year, just for rinsing mirrors (from a diesel truck), per megawatt - and that's for the inefficient air-cooled ones. water cooled use an additional 2,000,000 gallons of water/year per megawatt. 2 million gallons per year per megawatt!!! and the output declines as the temperature rises outside, right when we need the power most. idiotic. how can we justify these levels in SoCal, which is already on water rationing?

the land (10 acres/mw) is also permanently destroyed, and lengthy transmission means another 10% is lost.

to say "leave the rest as open space" around massive, inefficient wind turbines is also misleading. dynamiting, boring, trenching (so the turbines can pull power from the grid), concrete, roads, powerlines - all of these things add up to near-total devastation of the entire region when they are in SoCal deserts (which is usually where they are sited in SoCal). that means 45 - 70 acres per megawatt that is permanently decommissioned for all other uses. oh, and these turbines operate at roughly 16% of rated capacity, lower than rooftop solar, especially after transmission losses.

so, in terms of wasting HUGE amounts of water, killing habitats, destroying our carbon sinks (like the Mojave, which is a fantastic carbon sink, equal to temperate forest), massive roads and powerlines, and eminent domain, i beg to differ that these are reasonable solutions in SoCal. they are insane.

The same writer favors rooftop PV:
rooftop solar, at 18% and counting, destroys no land, requires no new roads or transmission, requires no water, forces no families from their homes, is MUCH less intermittent than Big Wind, and can be owned by PEOPLE instead of Big Energy is the only earth-and-human-friendly solution for SoCal. we are the land of sprawl and sun - let's make that a positive!

"Carolyn L" responded:
My rooftop solar still needs water for washing the panels, possibly at close to the rate of 90,000 gals of water per year per MW.
Richard Harding offered a well balanced assessment:
This is an extremely biased report, as are many in the field of alternative energy. The answer is that we can't meet all of our energy needs with a handful of fledgling technologies, we need a broadly diversified portfolio of energy sources, including renewables (wind, ocean, geothermal, solar PV, solar thermal, hydropower, biofuels, nuclear, and even fossil fuels (coal-to-liquids, natural gas). None of these are without impact on the environment, we just need to choose wisely in order to minimize environmental impact. Ultimately, the energy source with the least environmental impact is probably nuclear. Our goal needs to be energy independence and security with the least possible environmental impact.
"Steven" pointed to an obvious flaw in Jacobson's study:
It is also worth noting that cost was not considered as a factor in rating any of the energy generation methods studied. A study without an economic component is of very limited value....
"Steven" added
If I conducted a study for how I should get to work this morning in a similarly airy manner I might find that a helicopter ride or a chauffeur driven limo would appear as apt choices. Once I throw in economic considerations walking or taking the bus are the only viable candidates, and the earlier study does not help with that decision. Economic viability is a critical factor in evaluating energy generation schemes and if you leave it out of your study these is little value to any of the conclusions.
Ron Corso pointed to another flaw in Jacobson's analysis, namely his failure to appreciate the value of flexible energy output.
I don't know how the paper by Professor Jacobsen could possibly rank wind number 1 in his study. Wind is an unreliable source of energy varying dramatically from full to no output on the whims of wind currents that are totally unpredictable even sometimes within an hour. In addition, wind power equipment is notoriously unreliable and difficult to repair and maintain due to its location 100 to 200 feet elevated and is only viable economically with large subsidies. Hydropower on the other hand is dependable, easily maintained, very flexible in response to power demands, and has ancillary benefits unequalled by any other power source. If the Professor's paper does not discuss these important issues, it should do so to obtain a fair comparison
David Onkels suggests
The problem is that wind generation facilities are very inefficient producers of electricity, and owe their existence to government subsidies, tax preferences, or mandates on utilities to purchase the power. These investments drain capital away from more productive uses, reducing economic growth, employment, and wealth creation for us all.

These investments also drain money away from research into potentially more productive ways of generating power and fuel.

As soon as governments enter the picture, existing inefficient technologies become enshrined and develop political constituencies that stifle innovation and redeployment of capital into more efficient uses. The production of ethanol in the US is a perfect example of this problem.

" Thousands upon thousands of people however have died as a result of exposure to nuclear radiation."

Bombs and Chernobyl aside, tell me where. The military budget is irrelevant. By rejecting this interesting technology out of hand with scare-rhetoric, you marginalize the rest of your arguments.
El Rucio criticized Jacobson's assumptions about how much land is disturbed by windmills.
Such analyses are useful and of course rely on assumptions and concerns that can be debated as to their validity. But it really is a glaring error to claim that up to 144,000 5-MW wind turbines would take up less than 3 km^2 of land. In fact, at 50 acres/MW, they would require 145,687 km^2. To consider only the actual tower and foundation is like planning an airport only according to the small patches of ground touched by the tires of a plane.

And the paper appears to work towards a carbon reduction goal rather than towards providing energy, so the author seems to have wrongly assumed a one-for-one substitution of wind for other sources that is not borne out by actual experience.
Jacobson simply did not respond to any of the 115 comments, and indeed this is Jacobson's pattern. Jacobson rarely responds directly to any criticism of his work, and needless to say there have been plenty of criticisms of Jacobson in Nuclear Green and elsewhere. Jacobson's critics have demonstrated that Jacobson has failed to preform his due diligence obligations. For example, by failing to include costs among his energy options ranking criteria. Jacobson's failure to fulfill the due diligence obligations normally expected of scientists raises trobling questions.
Greenpeace is an organization that place doing due diligence far below ideological correctness. i
have in several posts pointed out serious flaws in arguments offered by Greenpeace, die to a failure to do due diligence assessments. For example, I critiqued a Greenpease assessment of the 2050 cost of Concentrated Solar Power.

Greenpeace recently spoke of a glowing future for Concentrated Solar Power:
With advanced industry development and high levels of energy efficiency, concentrated solar power could meet up to 7 percent of the world's power needs by 2030 and fully one quarter by 2050.
The 3rd joint report from Greenpeace International, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA) and IEA SolarPACES estimated that investment in CSP technology would increase to to $29 billion a year by 2015 and $243 billion a year by 2050. An investment increase at that rate would lead to installed CSP plant capacity reaching 1,500 GW by 2050.

The report states that "during the 1990's infrastructure was around €158-186 billion each year . . ." The report states that "the cost of CSP electricity is coming down and many developers say it will soon be cost-competitive with report estimates that with an all out investment program in CPS costs would drop 3,060 € ($4290) per kW by 2015 and 2,280 € ($3200) per kW by 2050.

The report, however, offers a confusing account of CSP costs that obscures important information about the CPS costs. The most conspicuous evidence for dropping CSP prices was based on a series of 7 small CSP plants built in California between 1986 and 1992. But rather than offer us real world information about construction costs the report offers us the information that operating costs are dropping. The report also offers an extremely obscure account of the cost of CSP with energy storage, noting for example the cost of Molten Salt heat storage, but failing to note the added cost of expanded heat gathering capacity required to provide electricity over a longer period of time. Thus for a 16 hour a day CSP with heat storage, the solar gathering capacity would need to be twice that of a no storage plant with the same rated electrical output. The report stated that molten salt heat storage cost costs $30 per kWh. So we not have all of the information we need to calculate the cost of 16 hour a day dispatchable CSP. Assume 2X the 2015 CSP cost of $4300 Per kW or $8600. Add to that $30 per kWh X 16 = 480. So we end up with a 2015 cost of $9100 for 16 hour a day concentrated solar power that is dispatchable and capable of generating electricity 16 hours a day.

In fact this cost seems to correspond to the cost of the Starwood 1 CSP facility.

As usual advocates of CSP are keeping quiet about the cost of Starwood 1, a CSP facility with molten salt storage. But it appears to be $2.7 billion for a 290 MW facility, or about $9300 a kW. This cost tracks closely with my estimates of the cost of CSP with storage, and while it gives me a certain satisfaction to have accurately predicted CSP costs, the magnitude of those costs give me no satisfaction. The bad news, and it is very bad news, is that CSP will be significantly more expensive than conventional nuclear power,

As I noted the Greenpeace report on solar power claimed without evidence that the cost of solar power was dropping, and claimed that it would drop even more by 2050. Let us examine the cost of CSP if the price of CSP does not drop between 2015 and 2050, and then look at costs if CSP drops as projected by Greenpeace. Greenpeace estimates that CSP could be responsible for as much as 25% of global energy output by 2050 or 1500 GWs of generating capacity. Given the no price drop assumption the cost of the 25% assumption would be around $13.5 trillion. If the average cost of the CSP generated power dropped by 1/3 as Greenpeace assumed, the total cost for the 25% CSP system could be as low as $9 trillion. Remember that $9 trillion is a low cost, based on the most unlikely of assumptions. There is by the way no assurance that the cost of CSP will not be higher than the Starwood 1 costs.

Now lets look at some nuclear costs. Indian LMFBRs are expected to cost $1200 per kW in serial production. 1500 worth of indian LMFBRs would run $1.8 trillion. Chinese LWRs have an estimated cost of $1750 per kW or $2.624 trillion for 1500 GWs. American factory built modular LFTRs could run as low as $1200 per kW or $1.8 trillion for 1500 GWs. The maximum estimated costs for Westinghouse AP-1000s in the United States is $7000 per kW or 10.5 trillion for 1500 GWs generating capacity which would be the lowest end of the CSP price range to 2050.

The conclusion is that AP-1000s may have a cost advantage over CSP facilities until 2050, and will remain at least cost competitive. Generation IV nuclear technology could cost as little as 20% of the cost of CSP facilities at least until 2050. Chinese reactors are likely to cost more than Indian or American Generation 4 reactors, but will still be inexpensive compared to European or American CSP.
Were I to write this post today, I would revise some of my figures, for example the current estimate cost of Indian LMFBRs now probably runs in the $2 billion per GW range, but that leaves the cost of Indian LMFBR far below the cost of Concentrated Solar Power in 2050. It is clear however, from this post that the failure of Greenpeace to perform its due diligence obligations could lead to troubling consequences were its advice followed.

I have yet to discuss the concept of due diligence as it relates to nuclear power. This will require a separate post.


seth said...

Actually Charles, you are making the same mistake greenies do all the time. You aren't doing the nuclear cause any good when you make this mistake.

The 290 MW Starwood 1 CSP claims to provide enough power for 73K homes for $2.7B. At a typical 8000 kwh per annum per houshold that gives 67 MWh average for a 23% capacity factor. Cost to compare to $2B/Gw nukes is $40B/Gw or twenty times the cost of nuclear.

Charles Barton said...

Seth, I sometimes make green assumptions in evaluating green claims, in order to show that even if their cost assumptions are correct, renewable energy will still cost more than nuclear power.

Cyril R said...

Interesting, 2,700,000,000 dollars for 73,000 homes means 37000 dollars per home. Expensive!

Nuclear capacity required would be only about 1 kilowatt per home, the most expensive nuclear project in the US has been costed at 8,000/kWe so over 4x cheaper than the solar project. With a more likely average build cost of 4,000/kWe it is 9x the solar cost. Even the most enthusiastic solar CSP supporters aren't counting on more than a factor of 2 in cost reduction.

The amount of materials required for the solar CSP plant is also at least a factor of 10 higher than the nuclear materials requirement. That's not encouraging, economically or ecologically.

DDMaven_com said...

Charles you do know about EEstor's patent explosion correct? Almost 1 new application per week and on every step of the process which matches up to the Youtube leaked interview. True the hype was pretty bad for 2006-2010 and things have been slow but why only focus on that?

Charles Barton said...

DDMaven, I am not impressed by pattens. I will only change my view if EEStor produces a unit for ZENN and 3rd party reports comeback of performance as expected. That is not likely.

LarryD said...

The US Patent system stopped requiring applicants to demonstrate that their inventions actually worked at all, a long time ago. It's estimated that half the Patents the USPTO awards wouldn't survive a challenge. Don't try to impress me with patents. ;)

Ultimately, I want to see a working prototype.

Cyril R said...

Also some 'inventors' are actively filing patents with the purpose of suing anyone who even tries to develop a prototype. This can be good money if you know what you're doing. Such people might be called "patent sharks". The invention doesn't even have to work, it just has to be popular so that many others can be sued.

So filing many patents can certainly be a bad thing for society rather than a good thing.

soylent said...

Large technology firms invariably will get sued for patent infringement, often frivolously, often because they didn't know they were infringing some patent.

The textbook strategy to defeat this is the "hedgehog defense". Where the needles on the hedgehog symbolize individual patents on everything from the useful to the frivolous as it relates to some technology. If sued, sue back claiming infringement on any patent even tangentially related; with so many patents something is bound to stick, and that gives you leverage to negotiate a favourable settlement.

This acts as a deterent. AMD knows that if they sue intel for patent infringement the only ones who come out ahead are the bloodsucking lawyers.


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