“4 Ways Election Results Could Intensify U.S. Energy Battles” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

After November’s midterm elections and the newly elected Republican majority in the both houses of Congress, President Obama might have a difficult time moving forward with his climate policy agenda. Now there’s a chance that Republicans will obstruct the EPA‘s funding so that it won’t be able to enact its proposed regulations of curbing power plants emissions. Meanwhile, we might get closer to authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and repealing our 1970s crude oil export ban. Only a few days before the elections, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change issued another report with grave warnings about the effects of climate change.

One method that Republicans can employ to hinder the Obama administration is with a joint congressional resolution of disapproval, which asks for a majority vote in favor of blocking proposed regulations. However, in order to advance their own bills, Republicans need 60 votes to stop filibusters by Senate Democrats, or a two-thirds majority to quash any of Obama’s vetoes.

Though those odds might seem unlikely, the Republicans can still play a huge hand in climate policy and the energy debate by:

  1. Further Opposing the EPA‘s Power Plant Regulations
    Previously, climate activist and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; however, now the position will transfer to Republican Senator James Inhofe (OK), a staunch climate denier and author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.That title itself says it all. Inhofe is staunchly again the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. So it’s reasonable to assume that his goal — along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is to block funding for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, where the EPA’s goal is to reduce existing power plants’ emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

  2. Advancing the Keystone XL Pipeline
    Another one of McConnell’s targets is the Keystone XL Pipeline — he would do whatever possible to advance the project, including strategizing a plan that would make sure the legislation would end up on Obama’s desk. Obama would then have to either approve the pipeline or use his veto power.Obama is more likely to approve the pipeline if it has no impact on emissions; according to the State Department, Keystone will not increase emissions.
  3. Increasing Fossil Fuel Exports
    Republicans are now more motivated than ever to end the circa-1970s crude oil export ban that was authorized amid the Arab oil embargo. So far, the Department of Energy has already authorized a few projects that would allow the US to export natural gas, but Republicans would like to push more through.Many Republicans and those in the oil industry contend that exporting crude could push gas prices down even more. Environmentalists assert that repealing the ban might prompt the US to generate more oil, at the cost of the environment.
  4. Introducing a Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill
    Republican Senator Rob Portman (OH) and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) have created a bipartisan bill that advocates for energy efficiency in many spheres, including residential, commercial, and federal buildings. The bill tried to get through the Senate in 2014, but was unable to because of the debate around Keystone. The bill will have another go, but might very well be blocked by Republicans who don’t support implementing rules that require stronger efficiency guidelines for appliances.

(From National Geographic)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 26, 2015

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“Making CO2 an Energy Asset” – Wall Street Journal, 16 July 2014

Though carbon dioxide has had a disastrous impact on our environment, the energy industry can actually use it for some good: inserting CO2 into oil fields actually boosts oil production.

Coal-burning power plants emit man-made CO2 into the air, and oil drillers typically find their CO2 underground caverns or industrial facilities. However, New York-based electricity manufacturer NRG Energy Inc. is aiming to do things a little differently. NRG’s new strategy is to trap CO2 emitted from one of its Houston coal-fired plants and siphon the CO2 to a nearby oil field. NRG and its Japanese partner JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. will be given half the extra output. The project is hoped to be finished by 2016.

NRG, JX Nippon, and the US Energy Department are spearheading the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project, with the aim to simultaneously decrease pollution from coal-burning plants while increasing oil output.

Yet, it’s an expensive process, and many utilities’ participation in carbon capture has been unfavorable. Atlanta-based Southern Co. is wrapping up on a Mississippi power plant that will transform coal into combustible gas while also ridding the gas of pollutants, like CO2. It’s costing the company $5.5 billion, the priciest coal plant in the US.

Another method where the industry has tried, and failed, is ridding flue gases of carbon after the coal has been used. Part of the process is selling the CO2, but carbon has never sold for enough to rationalize the effort and money used to strip the carbon in the first place. Adapting a coal-fired power plant to new technology is more expensive than building a new gas-fired power plant.

NRG’s project will be different, because instead of selling carbon, the project aims to make a profit from selling the supplementary oil. The CO2 that NRG will funnel into the oil field is predicted to increase oil generation by 10,000 barrels per day — from its current 500 barrels to 15,000 barrels.

When additional CO2 is introduced in underground oil reservoirs, the gas forces the remaining crude to rise to the surface. Overall, the DOE expects that oil production will expand to 360,000 barrels per day in 2020, and 580,000 in 2030.

A majority of the CO2 used to pump oil out of reservoirs originates from underground caverns and other natural formations, and industrial projects. A bulk of our man-made CO2 comes from the power industry, which uses a lot of coal since it’s a cheap source of power. The power industry is also our largest unused CO2 supplier; there might be a bright future for NRG’s project after all.

(From Wall Street Journal)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 23, 2015

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Phinix, LLC Awarded DOE Funding for Recycling Project

Phinix has been awarded funding by the Department of Energy‘s agency Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for its recycling project, “Electrochemical Extraction of High Quality Magnesium from Scrap”.

With this funding, Phinix will develop a new electrochemical cell technology that can recover high-quality magnesium from aluminum magnesium scrap. This technology could lower costs, energy inputs, and emissions from magnesium production, expanding its use in transportation industries. By recovering and reusing aluminum-magnesium scrap, Phinix’s technology could reduce the need for manufacturing new, expensive primary metals, while developing a sustainable and low-cost advanced manufacturing process.

Kentucky — Phinix’s homestate — Congressman Andy Barr congratulated the company in a press release sent out on October 9th:

Based on the strength of its application, Phinix will receive over $600,000 for the research and development of an electrochemical process to extract high-quality magnesium from scrap metal for reuse in manufacturing, as part of ARPA-E’s brand new METALS program.

ARPA-E is a Department of Energy agency charged with identifying and supporting cutting edge technologies to provide clean, affordable energy for American families and businesses. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which, among other breakthroughs, developed the basis for the modern Internet. ARPA-E seeks to develop similarly valuable innovations within the energy sector by leveraging the power of public-private partnerships.

Phinix, LLC was founded in September 2008 in Lexington by Dr. Subodh Das, following an illustrious academic and professional career. Dr. Das served for four years as an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky, during which time he founded UK’s Center for Aluminum Technology. Phinix provides concept development and consulting services in the areas of aluminum production, metal recycling, energy efficiency and conservation, and carbon management.

“I congratulate Phinix, LLC as it is announced that the company’s innovative metal recycling project will receive funding from ARPA-E following a competitive review process,” said Congressman Andy Barr. “Phinix’s presence in Lexington, established following Dr. Subodh Das’s tenure at the University of Kentucky, demonstrates the important role of the Commonwealth’s university system in providing an educated workforce for the industries of the future. The University of Kentucky is an important component of what makes the environment in central Kentucky ideal for attracting the entrepreneurs and high-tech startups, such as Phinix, which are poised to revolutionize our economy and create highly skilled manufacturing jobs.”

See ARPA-E’s announcement of allocating $66 million for transformational energy technologies, and a complete list of the projects.

October 9, 2013

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“Greenhouse-Gas Fight Escalates” – Wall Street Journal, 2 September 2013

The Obama Administration is seeking to increase prices on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a move that has inevitably stirred up trouble in Congress, causing Congress to introduce new legislation.

In May, the DOE publicized estimates of how much a ton of carbon dioxide emissions costs the US — the estimate in 2010 dollars was $21, a decrease from the 2007 estimate, which was $36 per ton.

Carbon dioxide emissions fell out of demand, and prices plummeted, between those years because the administration did not lawfully require companies to buy CO2 stock. But Obama has found that those estimates are significant because the pricier carbon pollution becomes, the greater impact it can have on both the US environment and economy. The EPA is planning to introduce additional, similar regulations, which also include limits for new power plants.

This August, House Republicans passed a bill, prohibiting the use of those estimates; House Republicans would rather have Congress price out estimates, rather than the administration.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has concluded that the 2007 $36 estimate is similar, or lower, than estimates used by major oil companies. Exxon Mobil Corp, for instance, has priced carbon dioxide emissions at $80 per ton by 2040, while BP currently prices carbon at $40 per ton.

The great assumption behind placing a price tag on carbon emissions is that climate change is rapidly developing, and that more CO2 in the atmosphere will give way to more natural disasters and growing sea levels. The Bush Administration was also moving to price carbon emissions, though unsuccessful. The Obama Administration has employed many computer economic models in order to ascertain current estimates, though such estimates are not trusted by all. A $36/ton estimate could surely lead to stricter regulations on coal-fired power plants, meaning higher electricity costs for consumers.

Yale economics professor William Nordhaus is the innovator behind the best-known climate change model. While numerous scientists have tried to deny the fact that climate change exists, Nordhaus, though “no climate hawk”, continues to present key facts as to why it is important that CO2 emissions be regulated. Read more here.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 13, 2013

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