Sunday, July 4, 2010

Oil Companies Reap Billions in U.S. Subsidies and Tax Breaks

Posted 7:40 PM 07/03/10 , , ,

See full article from DailyFinance:

Oil production is one of the most heavily subsidized businesses in America, with tax breaks available at almost every stage of the exploration and extraction process, according to an analysis by The New York Times. The tax breaks average about $4 billion a year, based on various government reports, and are preserved by the oil industry's massive political influence.

The many subsidies in BP's (BP) disastrous Deepwater Horizon drilling venture, which resulted in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, are typical. Transocean (RIG), the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, registered the rig in the Marshall Islands, where it is subject to lower taxes and less stringent safety regulations. The company moved its corporate headquarters overseas from Houston in 1999, saving $1.8 billion in taxes in its years abroad. It is headquartered in Switzerland now, where it has far fewer employees than in Houston.

BP also gained huge tax benefits in leasing the Deepwater Horizon rig, writing off 70% of the platform's rent -- a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began, according to a letter sent to the Senate Finance Committee.

Paying Much Lower Taxes Than Virtually Any Other Industry

The Times reports: "According to the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, released in 2005, capital investments like oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9%, significantly lower than the overall rate of 25% for businesses in general and lower than virtually any other industry."

For many small and midsize oil businesses, the tax on capital investments is so low that their returns on them are often higher after taxes than before.

The government is now considering a new tax on petroleum production to pay for the enormous Gulf oil spill cleanup. This, and attempts to curb the oil industry's tax breaks, are likely to encounter fierce opposition in Congress. The Times reports that the oil and natural gas industry has spent $340 million on lobbyists since 2008, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors political spending.

The oil industry claims that cutting the subsidies and tax breaks threatens jobs and oil production. But a Treasury Department economist cited in 2009 a study that found oil prices and potential profits were so high that eliminating the subsidies would decrease U.S. output by less than 0.5%.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Israeli-developed boiled potato batteries may provide cheap power

Study: Boiling potatoes increases electric power 10-fold; Potato battery 6 times more economical than kerosene lamp.

By Reuters 17.06.10
An electric battery based on boiled potatoes could provide a cheap source of electricity in the developing world, according to the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
potatoesPhoto by: TheMarker

The treated potato battery generates energy that is five to 50 times cheaper than commercially available batteries, Yissum Research Development Co. said on Thursday. A light powered by the battery is at least six times more economical than kerosene lamps often used in the developing world.

"The ability to provide electrical power with such simple and natural means could benefit millions of people in the developing word, literally bringing light and telecommunication to their life in areas currently lacking electrical infrastructure," Yaacov Michlin, chief executive of Yissum, said in a statement.

The findings were published in the June issue of the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

Haim Rabinowitch and research student Alex Golberg at Israel's Hebrew University jointly with Boris Rubinsky at the University of California at Berkeley discovered a new way to construct an efficient battery using zinc and copper electrodes and a slice of an ordinary potato.

They found that boiling the potato prior to use in electrolysis increased electric power up to 10-fold over the untreated potato and enabled the battery to work for days and even weeks.

Potatoes are produced in 130 countries over a wide range of climates and thus available year round. It is the world's number one non-grain starch food commodity.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dell gets thumbs-up for bamboo packaging.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

World oil demand to hit record high this year: IEA

Tue Apr 13, 2010 6:39am EDT
China National Offshore Oil Corporation's (CNOOC) oil rig in China's Bohai Sea is seen in this October 21, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/China Newsphoto/Files SUN/dh

LONDON (Reuters) - Global oil demand will hit a record high this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday, revising up consumption estimates as the world economy recovers from recession.

The Paris-based adviser to industrialized economies raised its forecast for world oil demand growth this year to 1.67 million barrels per day (bpd), up 100,000 bpd.

The agency said in its monthly Oil Market Report that world oil demand would reach an average of 86.60 million bpd this year, up from 84.93 million in 2009.

The previous record high for world oil demand was 86.5 million bpd in 2007 before the onset of the global financial crisis and economic slowdown.

"There are signs of oil demand picking up in North America and the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East although consumption in Europe still looks weak," David Fyfe, head of the IEA's Oil Industry and Markets Division, told Reuters.

But the extra demand will largely be met by production from outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The IEA raised its forecast for non-OPEC output in 2010 by 220,000 bpd to around 52.0 million bpd due to higher output by OECD countries. Overall, non-OPEC supply is expected to rise by around 500,000 bpd this year.

As a result, the IEA estimated demand this year for OPEC crude and stocks would fall by 200,000 bpd to 29.1 million bpd.


Oil prices were largely steady after the IEA report, with benchmark U.S. crude oil futures for May trading around $83.63 per barrel, down 71 cents, by 6:06 a.m. ET.

The IEA noted that oil prices, which hit an 18-month high above $87 last week, had risen above the range of $60 to $80 per barrel that OPEC and many industrialized countries see as ideal for producers and consumers.

It said oil prices could stifle world economic growth if they were allowed to rise too far.

"Ultimately, things might turn messy for producers if $80-$100 per barrel is merely seen as the new $60-$80, stunting economic recovery while prompting resurgent non-oil and non-OPEC supply investment," the IEA report said.

Total OPEC production declined in March, the IEA said, but this was largely due to a fall in production by Iraq, which is not bound by OPEC output targets.

It said production by the 11 OPEC countries bound by OPEC output targets rose by 30,000 bpd, taking their compliance as a group with promised output cuts to around 55 percent at the end of March, down from its previous estimate of 56 percent at the end of February.

Oil stocks in industrialized countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rose to around 60 days of forward demand at the end of February from about 59.5 days at the end of January, the IEA said.

The IEA said refineries around the world would process nearly 1 million bpd more oil in the second quarter than in the same period last year with China and Asian countries raising output most. This is up 300,000 bpd over the last estimate.

"The return of economic growth and hence oil demand growth is fuelling the increase," the report said.

China's refinery output will jump by 900,000 bpd from a year ago, helping to offset a fall of 440,000 bpd in OECD countries.

(Additional reporting by David Sheppard)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Israel National Trail winds its way nearly 1000 kilometers across Israel.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gov't Exercise: Tests Emergency Evacuation to Judea and Samaria

IDF Emergency Drill (illustrative)
IDF Emergency Drill (illustrative)
Israel News Photo
03/09/10, 9:49 PM
by Malkah Fleisher

( A Home Front (Civil Defense) Command drill which tested the home front's readiness to endure an attack, included the possibility of absorbing refugee residents of central Israel into the towns of Judea and Samaria.

Avi Roeh, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, commented on the exercises and their outcome.

"It became clear to us during the drill that [in Judea and Samaria] there are warm and good people who are ready to absorb citizens. The state, the Emergency Economy Program and the National Emergency Management Services understood that such absorption would be part of the wartime reality, and that it is necessary to prepare for the evacuation of large communities," Roeh said.

He emphasized that the needs of the communities that are interested in taking in citizens during an emergency should be examined and provided for, including various assistance measures and housing options which are planned for in advance, instead of just counting on volunteerism in the moment of crisis.

Roeh said that while data regarding the emergency capacity of Jewish towns in the biblical heartland have not been disclosed, thousands of families are ready to take in their brothers and sisters from the coastal and central areas of Israel. "These areas are densely populated and therefore most vulnerable to missile or rocket attacks.

As an aside, Roeh referred to the building of new Palestinian Authority town Rawabi in the Binyamin Region as a potential security threat to Jewish citizens in the area, and a development that will lead to serious transportation and environmental issues

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Israel's first 'clean tech' college opens its doors.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can the Bloom Box change how we consume energy?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Importing Solar Power with Biomass

Thomas R. Blakeslee
January 5, 2010
Every six hours the sun bathes the lands of the earth in as much energy as the world consumes in a year. If we could just find a way to collect and distribute that energy our energy problems would be solved. Unfortunately, most of our energy consumption is in the places with the least sunshine (see insolation map, below.)

Biomass captures and stores the suns energy for later use. In tropical zones biomass grows year round and can be five times more productive than in the temperate zones. Biomass can be converted to denser forms and shipped to where it is needed surprisingly economically. For example, ocean shipping of coal priced at $73/ton from Australia to China only adds about $12/ton to the final cost. Wood chips are bulkier, but they can be made as dense as coal by heating and compressing them into torrefied pellets.

Ocean shipping is amazingly efficient for long distances. Australia has shipped an average of two million tons of coal per month to China so far this year. Ordinary (untorrefied) wood pellets have less than half the energy density of coal, yet Plantation Energy just signed two contracts to ship $130 million worth of pellets to Europe over the next three years. With torrefied pellets shipping costs could be halved so the economics would work out even better. Torrefaction is like coffee roasting. It requires no external energy but uses about 8% of the biomass energy to drive the process. Some of that energy is recovered because pelletizing energy is reduced because the heat-softened lignin in the biomass makes it easier to compress into pellets.

Another big biofuel order recently announced by Valero Energy could be worth up to $3.5 billion dollars. Mission New Energy, an Australian company, will deliver 60 million gallons per year of biodiesel oil from Jatropha crops in Malaysia. Jatropha is a drought-resistant bush with oily seeds that are easily converted to diesel fuel. It is not edible and thrives in tropical climates but requires manual labor for picking the seeds. The all-year growing season, tropical sun and availability of inexpensive labor provides a clean replacement for diesel fuel that can be shipped by the same tankers used for fossil fuel. Valero's annual sales are $120 billion, so this is a serious order.

Mission New Energy works with small farmers to encourage them to plant the bushes on unused and marginal land. They can press their own oil and sell it to the refinery. Larger farmers can refine the oil themselves, as the refining process is very simple compared to petroleum refining.

Jatropha can also be planted on depleted, marginal forestland to restore the land. Mission is careful to maintain a balance between food, fuel and forest so the development is a plus for the community. Unlike factory development, biomass makes it possible for people to remain on their ancestral lands and make money doing clean, outdoor farm work. With industrialization everybody moves to the city to work on dehumanizing production lines. Growing biomass can become a major source of income for the poor and undeveloped tropical countries of the world.

Biomass feedstocks can be grown on soils that have no other uses. For example, Florida has 100,000 acres of phosphate clays that are not stable enough to build on and useless for growing food crops. Leucaena is a bushy legume that grows nicely on these lands. It can be harvested three times per year using standard harvesting machinery to chop it into chips and put it into a truck that follows the harvest machinery. Yields of up to 25 dry tons/acre per year have been obtained but 15 tons is a reasonable average.

Moringa is another legume that has achieved even higher productivity and is tolerant of sulfate acid soils. Legumes need no nitrogen fertilizer because they can fix nitrogen from the air. In semi-desert areas, specially adapted plants like Agave can be grown with no irrigation. Agave stores water in its leaves and heart so that it can continue growing through the long dry seasons that are common in the tropics.

Bamboo has been known to grow as much as 48 inches in a 24-hour period and has been observed growing 39 inches per hour for brief periods. The plants can grow to full height in 3-4 months but die naturally on a six-year cycle.

Clenergen has been growing a variety called Beema Bamboo in India for four years achieving a yield of over 60 tons/acre after four years of cultivation. The company has also been raising a tree called Paulownia for several years with a yield of 40 tons/acre. The company uses a process in which it gasifies the biomass to generate local electrical power but it has announced plans to use gas-to-liquids technology to make liquid fuels out of the syngas. Liquid fuels can be inexpensively shipped around the world by existing tankers.

In fact, biomass can be converted into a wide range of energy carriers for economic shipping. Here are some possibilities and their volume energy density in Watt-hours per liter:

Crude oil, biodiesel

8800 watt-hr/liter

LNG (Biomethane)

7216 (must be stored at 268�F)

Torrefied Wood Pellets








Wood Pellets


Liquid Hydrogen

2600 (must be stored at 423�F)

CNG 250 bar biomethane


Wood chips


Hydrogen, 150 bar


Lithium Ion Battery


The technology for converting biomass to gas and liquid fuels is well known. Methanol, also known as "wood alcohol," is readily produced from biomass through gasification and catalytic synthesis. Methanol fuel cells can convert it to electricity for efficient hybrid electric cars. Methanol has a big advantage because it can be reformed into hydrogen at 200 �C, about half the temperature of other fuels. This makes fast warm up times practical, greatly reducing battery size. During World War II methanol was used extensively in Europe to keep cars running in the face of gasoline shortages.

Methanol and other liquid fuels can be made efficiently on a small scale using microchannel technology, originally developed for the space program. Velosys and Oxford Catalyst have developed a working prototype of a biomass-to-FT-liquids plant that is just being installed in G�ssing, Austria. The 5 ft diameter X 25 ft assembly of 10 microchannel reactors is connected to a biomass gasifier and will output 400 barrels per day of ultraclean synthetic crude oil. This output can be shipped just like crude oil and burned or converted to a full range of clean, carbon-neutral fuels by conventional oil refineries. The microchannel reactor is much more efficient than massive-scale gas-to-liquids plants. The microchannel approach is much like a chemical microprocessor. This kind of small-scale upgrading technology will soon make it possible for tropical areas to convert their plentiful sunshine into easily shipped liquid and solid fuels.

Another approach to exporting solar power involves using electricity as the carrier. The Desertec scheme envisions building HVDC electrical transmission links under the Mediterranean Sea to connect the Sahara desert to the European grid. Massive solar thermal plants in the desert would then supply electricity to all of Europe. Similar concepts for Australia, India, and the USA have been worked out. It still remains to be seen if solar thermal with overnight storage can really be economical. Perhaps someday, but in the meantime, low-tech wood-pellet production is already working at prices almost competitive with coal.

Desertec is like the supercomputer approach while biomass is more like distributed microcomputers. An informal network of low tech, minimal investment biomass operations spread over the world and using existing transportation infrastructure could make a nice living for millions of small low-tech biomass entrepreneurs. Like the Internet, no central control is needed, just a free market that rewards innovation and efficiency. Ocean shipping compares very favorably with HVDC electrical transmission for efficiency. The energy wasted on a long ocean voyage is a tiny percent of the energy being transported.

Already, in 2008 the worldwide pellet market had reached 10 million tons. About 25% of it is already exported to other countries and the market is growing at 25-30% per year. As equipment for upgrading energy density improves, the economics of this market will also improve dramatically. Some power plants in Europe are running entirely on wood pellets but the pellet's lower density means that extensive modification of the power plant are needed. Torrefied pellets can be burned without modifying the power plant. They can be stored, pulverized and burned just like coal. With shipping costs halved, the economics are compelling.

The southern United States has lots of sunshine and rain so it is an excellent biomass growing area. The most efficient model for biomass is to grow it locally in a small radius around a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant built where thermal heat is needed. Efficiencies of 90% are often attained because all heat that is normally wasted is used. A recent study showed that the southeastern U.S. could easily be energy self-sufficient. The U.S. government has done some detailed studies showing the dramatic environmental superiority of biomass power over fossil fuel plants. Even conventional farming techniques using fertilizers, insecticides and mechanization turn out to have an excellent energy efficiency factor of 20.5 under a detailed analysis that includes all energy inputs including the energy to make the farm machinery. With all of the energy inputs subtracted, the plantation analyzed yielded a net energy production of 125 MWh per acre per year.

You may have heard that biomass is much less efficient than photovoltaic cells. Solar cells are typically rated around 10% efficiency but this rating ignores the fact that the average energy from the sun is only about 20% of peak. The real average efficiency then is .1 X .2 = 2%. If we look at land use of some real projects now on the drawing boards we find that the latest photovoltaic, parabolic and tower projects all use about 5-6 acres per peak MW.

The Saguaro 1-MW parabolic trough plant near Phoenix for example, generates 2000 MWh of electricity annually, using 15.8 acres. That's 130 MWh per acre per year. The 125 MWh figure for the biomass plantation that I mentioned above is for heating value. Electricity generation can be 80% efficient if it is done where wasted thermal energy can be used as in CHP plants. So biomass is at least in the same ballpark as other solar technologies for land use but much cheaper to implement, store and transport than direct electrical generation.

Some terrible mistakes have been made in recent years when tropical rain forests and peat bogs were burned for agricultural development. Big trees should not be replaced by a succession of little trees. We must structure carbon trading so that such acts are taxed and only sound actions are rewarded. Clearing land by open-air burning is common today. If simple, inexpensive equipment was available for upgrading biomass to shippable products, logging waste could be put to good use replacing coal power.

Biomass can help keep the lights on while we build more renewable capacity. If we don't use it, coal will certainly fill the gap. Sweden, Norway and Finland have been making heavy use of biomass for power for decades. They have structured their laws to encourage good stewardship of the land. We can do the same thing internationally by defining good rules for carbon trading.

Download my free renewable energy book, Fuel Free: Living Well Without Fossil Fuels here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hezbollah moves long-range rockets to north Lebanon

By Haaretz Service and DPA Tags: Hezbollah 23/01/2010
Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah has moved its long-range-rocket sites deep into northern Lebanon, a move that threatens to broaden any future conflict with Israel into a war between the two countries, according to analysts quoted in the Washington Post on Saturday.

Hezbollah's redeployment indicates that the group's next clash with Israel is unlikely to focus on the border as in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, instead moving deeper into Lebanon, according to the Washington Post.

The group "has been fortifying lots of different areas," Judith Palmer Harik, a Hezbollah scholar in Beirut, told the newspaper. With UN and Lebanese forces "packed along the border," she said, "we are looking at a much more expanded battle in all senses of the word."
More than 10,000 United Nations troops patrol the border between Israel and Lebanon to enforce the cease-fire implemented after the 2006 war.
Hezbollah "learned their lesson" during that conflict, reserve Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, a former head of IDF intelligence, told the Washington Post.

Farkash added that intelligence enabled the Israel Defense Forces to destroy Hezbollah's long-range-rocket launch sites in the first days of the conflict, and that, "the 'border' is now the Litani River," with Hezbollah's rocket sites possibly extending north of Beirut.

Hezbollah criticizes French FM comments condemning the militant group

Hezbollah on Saturday criticized French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner over his recent comments condemning the group and linking it to Iran.

"Israel is our friend, and if there was a threat to Lebanon, it will only come from a military adventure carried out by Hezbollah in the best interest of Iran," Kouchner reportedly told the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a visit to Paris on Friday.

"Kouchner's statement carried clear echoes for the Israeli voice and a full denial for France's history and its legacy in resisting aggression and occupation," said a statement by Hezbollah.

"This stance is an attempt to acquit Israel and to cover up its relentless violations of Lebanese sovereignty, the thing which represents a shield for its occupation and an encouragement for it to pursue its aggressions," Hezbollah said.

The statement refers to Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, in breach of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon.

The UN Security Council has listed 388 Israeli airspace violations on behalf of Israel against Lebanon, in its report last June.

Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Hezbollah to "avoid entering in conflict with us."

Israel has said that it will hold the Lebanese government responsible for any violations by Hezbollah of UN Security Council resolution 1701.

Barak reiterated that should Hezbollah carry out any attacks, Israel would retaliate against not just Hezbollah, but Lebanon and anyone else who helps Hezbollah.

Syria and Lebanon on high alert

Meanwhile, Syria and Hezbollah are on high alert in anticipation of an Israeli attack on Lebanon, the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat daily reported on Friday.

According to the report, Hezbollah has been monitoring with caution the reinforcement of IDF troops along the Lebanon border.

Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, Naeem Kassem, said the group was preparing to retaliate although it had no proof of any such Israeli plans.

Late last year, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi warned Hezbollah guerrillas possess tens of thousands of rockets, some capable of reaching up to 300 kilometers within Israel.

These capabilities would put Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well cities much further south, into rocket range.

"There is a war in the Middle East between two camps, the extreme and the moderate, which is pushing Iran to take radical steps. Without Iran's support to finance weapons and terror groups they would be lacking the means available to them today," said Ashkenazi.

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