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Spring 2009 National Renewable Ammonia Architecture

by SacredCowTipper Mon May 11th, 2009 at 03:37:59 PM EST

 Many months ago I posted A National Renewable Ammonia Architecture. I've been busy with all sorts of things but I have taken time to research further and expand upon the original 2,400 words to just over 6,500. It's a bit much to be spamming EuroTrib with but I'm rather proud of it - I cover historical nitrogen sources, current methods and emissions, and I made some inroads into describing a world where we have food, fuel, and carbon sequestration all rooted in renewable ammonia production.

  You can read the Spring 2009 National Renewable Ammonia Architecture on the Stranded Wind web site ...

Comments >> (2 comments)

A National Renewable Ammonia Architecture

by SacredCowTipper Mon Dec 22nd, 2008 at 08:21:14 PM EST

  I've been laying low for the last little bit but I swear I haven't been slacking - I cranked out a 2,500 word white paper describing a National Renewable Ammonia Architecture. This is also making an appearance over on The Oil Drum and it's drawing a good bit of discussion there, too.

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Kleptocratic Kakistocracy

by SacredCowTipper Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 10:49:24 AM EST

The United States is (or was) a powerful, liberal democracy with a sprawling middle class and a history of adhering to the rule of the law. Nigeria is a developing nation hosting an extractive petroleum industry with all of the attendant corruption. Economic growth was a blistering 9% even in 2008, most of the country lives on about a dollar a day, and they vie closely with Bangladesh for the number one slot in the list of most corrupt countries.

   They're polar opposites ... at least until you look just a bit deeper.

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The Famine Of 2009

by SacredCowTipper Thu Nov 27th, 2008 at 10:48:01 PM EST

   Last week I received a very concerned call from South Dakota farmer and agronomist Bryan Lutter.  "Neal, we're out of propane!"  I figured this was personal distress - he and his family farm over three square miles of land and I know this has been a tough year for many people. He promptly corrected my misconception when I tried to console him. "No, everybody is out, all three grain elevators, we can't get fuel for the bins, and we're coming in real wet this year."

   There are equally dramatic issues due to the bankruptcy of Verasun and the apparent insolvency of the nation's largest private crop insurance program. Payments that would have come in June or July of a normal year are still not dispersed at the end of November and this has grim implications for next year's crop.

   I started digging into the details and unless I'm badly mistaken people are going to be starving in 2009 over causes and conditions being set down right now. It's a complex, interlocking issue, and I hope I've done a good job explaining it below the fold ...

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So I met Bill McKibben

by SacredCowTipper Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 02:41:27 AM EST

    Last week I was talking with the edit beast about some strategic marketing stuff and he says "You know, we need someone with a big name to take an interest in this stuff ... like Bill McKibben." It wasn't a day later that I notice gmoke's diary on stuff happening at Harvard and MIT and there's Bill McKibben listed in one of the panels.

    I went charging off to see the event, but things were a little more challenging than normal ...

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Agriculture without Fossil Fuels

by SacredCowTipper Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 02:33:05 AM EST

    This has been a busy year for the Stranded Wind Initiative and I'm not sure I take the time to sum things up as often as I should. We've launched a hydroelectric powered ammonia plant, assisted in fundraising for a solid state ammonia synthesis method, filed a patent for a methanol synthesis method suitable for use with wind power, and our next effort will be the exploration and possible patenting of the century old Haber Bosch ammonia synthesis method, making it behave with the variable power typical of renewable sources.

    If we execute on all of the things describes above we'll have cut the first little bit of brush on the path to freeing our agriculture from fossil fuels for both transportation and fertilization. (This is a crosspost from DailyKos)

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Creating Jobs With Ammonia

by SacredCowTipper Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 11:14:15 AM EST

Crossposted from DailyKos ...

   OK, after months of shouting in the wilderness I now see that pretty much everyone gets it - the hopeful are saying 'deep recession' while most are seeing the news about this or that being 'worse than the Great Depression' and adding it all up - the Greater Depression has arrived just in time for Christmas of 2008.

   I knew something grim was going to come out of the August 2007 crash of those Bear Stearns funds and I was already wide awake and paying careful attention to the concept of peak oil, so much so that I settled on a career change from telecom to renewable energy.

    Due to my skills, my location in northwest Iowa at the time I began my change, and my rural background I settled on stranded wind and renewable ammonia as being the things to do. It has been slow but now, in early November of 2008, we've got some air under our wings. I thought I'd share some of the secrets of our impending success, as many of you community organizer types are going to be looking for something to create jobs for your town before too long.

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Millions Will Starve

by SacredCowTipper Mon Nov 3rd, 2008 at 12:48:14 AM EST

    I've been working on renewable nitrogen fertilizer for the last year and I knew it was getting bad out there. I'd been hearing about problems in the potassium and phosphorus inputs, the other two legs of the N-P-K triad that supports our crops, but today it's different. Where once I had hints and analysis from interested amateurs today I've got a collection of stories from an agronomist who works in the field. He and I are on our way to providing Congressional staff briefings on this just as soon as the new Congress gets settled and that is a good step, but I'm not sure if this issue can wait until February.

   Even if we could wave a magic wand on Tuesday night after the polls close and usher Obama into office with a shiny new Sixty Democratic seat Senate standing behind him I don't think we can stop what is coming at us ... the crops are already in the ground, but deprived of vital nutrients.

(crossposted from DailyKos)

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Ammonia Fuel Network Fifth Annual Conference

by SacredCowTipper Wed Oct 29th, 2008 at 02:37:56 AM EST

 The fifth annual Ammonia Fuel Network meeting was held September 29th and 30th in the McNamara alumni center on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. A hundred and forty registered attendees crammed into a sometimes standing room only auditorium to hear twenty nine presentations ranging from highly technical catalyst development to ammonia safety to updates on various clean production methods.

    The sense among the attendees is that we're at a tipping point - the end of the beginning for ammonia fuel, and the beginning of a much more broad interest in the only hydrogen carrier that can be produced renewably. Per closing remarks by Dr. John Holbrook, the co-founder of the network, this is probably the last free annual meeting and had they pushed a little harder they could have doubled the number of attendees.

   The presentations fell into several broad categories: improved ammonia synthesis methods, ammonia combustion efficiency, ammonia safety, various energy storage schemes, and five ammonia production schemes, four of which were based on renewable energy sources.

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Global Human Protein Deficit

by SacredCowTipper Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 11:10:38 AM EST

    A billionaire natural gas baron loses it all in a declining market. A New Jersey ammonia plant closes. A South Dakota farmer explains the correlation between the use of nitrogen fertilizer and wheat protein percentage.

    Tens of thousands die in Haiti.

     The first three have happened. The fourth has not yet come to pass but I'm hard pressed to envision a scenario where it doesn't happen.

Natural Gas

      We have limited supplies of methane, commonly called natural gas. When found alone it is described, curiously, as being in a 'pool'. Oil fields often have a natural gas cap which is left in place to pressurize them, then perhaps harvested once the oil production is deemed to be complete. Methane also forms in sanitary landfills, sewage lagoons, and today we're starting to create biological processing systems to digest the waste from large scale livestock feeding operations to produce commercial volumes of the substance.

      Due to its gaseous nature methane has to either be taken from a well connected to a pipeline network or simply abandoned; that which is left behind is referred to as stranded gas, and the Stranded Wind Initiative takes its name from this concept.

   Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, was forced to liquidate his holdings in the company last week.


"I am very disappointed to have been required to sell substantially all of my shares of Chesapeake. These involuntary and unexpected sales were precipitated by the extraordinary circumstances of the worldwide financial crisis. In no way do these sales reflect my view of the company's financial position or my view of Chesapeake's future performance potential. I have been the company's largest individual shareholder for the past three years and frequently purchased additional shares of stock on margin as an expression of my complete confidence in the value of the company's strategy and assets. My confidence in Chesapeake remains undiminished, and I look forward to rebuilding my ownership position in the company in the months and years ahead."

   He had 30,000,000 shares that were worth $70 not so long ago - the liquidation was a two billion dollar loss. OK, so he is still very wealthy and why do we care? We care because this is about how much money Chesapeake has. They're going to dramatically scale back new wells.


   Ammonia is a pungent, caustic gas at room temperature but it is easily pressurized and stored as a liquid. Ammonia itself, or various ammonia bearing compounds such as ammonium nitrate, ammonium carbonate, and urea are all used as fertilizer. Ammonia in its raw form also works tolerably well as a liquid fuel, performing rather like a low density diesel fuel.

   Ammonia's formula is NH3. Our current production methods involve stripping hydrogen from a hydrocarbon, usually natural gas, then later using the carbon monoxide produced in that reaction to strip further hydrogen from water. Nitrogen is separated from the air and the two are combined in a Haber Bosch reactor, producing a good bit of heat as the ammonia is formed.

   Ammonia plants have been subjected to gas price fluctuation, cheaper production costs off shore, and now the financial crisis has nipped at least one plant, a New Jersey based operation, and I'm sure there is more news like that coming.

Crop Protein Content

    Biologically available nitrogen is the foundation of all protein formation. Fully 50% of all human protein gets its start in a Haber Bosch reactor somewhere in the world. Now we're losing both the input needed to make it and the ammonia plants themselves are suffering.

    I knew corn required ammonia to make the astonishing yields we've seen in the last few decades; fields that would have produced fifty bushels an acre two generations ago currently produce four or five times that amount. I wasn't aware of the tremendous difference that ammonia made in crop protein as well as overall yield, but Bryan Lutter, a farmer and seed distributor in South Dakota, recently brought me up to speed on it.

   "Farmers can't afford a thousand dollars a ton, so they've cut back on fertilizer. Wheat protein percentages will drop from 14% to 8%. People are going to starve."

    There were already significant concerns regarding wheat supplies and a dangerous pathogen called Ug99 wheat rust is spreading.

    Assuming we dodge the wheat rust and climate issues the 43% reduction in protein content we won't have much trouble here in North America but it is going to be awful for places like Haiti.


  Haiti already had troubles related to food ... and the things people do when there isn't enough to go around. If the wheat they buy suddenly has dramatically less protein the effects will be awful.

  Haiti is the obvious problem in this hemisphere and I'm going to pick Pakistan as the trouble spot in the east. They're already under the gun financially and if they escape an outright default they're still going to have reduction in imports ... and again we come back to the 43% decrease in protein.

   There are some things we can technically do to avoid outcomes along the lines of what I suggest above, but I don't think we have the political will to do them.

Comments >> (8 comments)

Eliminating 4% Of Global CO2 Emissions

by SacredCowTipper Fri Jul 25th, 2008 at 10:31:43 PM EST

  The Stranded Wind Initiative was founded last December with an eye on, well, rescuing stranded wind.

   How does wind get stranded in the first place? Simple - if you have a wind energy resource in place that lacks both the population to use its power and the transmission lines to get it out of the area it is stranded.

   We started looking for local electricity intense manufacturing that made sense in Iowa's wind patch and the first thing that came to mind was ammonia production driven by water hydrolysis rather than the current method, which uses natural gas and produces 4% of the total global CO2 emissions. It didn't work out in Iowa for a variety of technical reasons that may eventually be resolved, but earlier this week something very nice happened here in New England ...

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Meals & Meds or Heat? U.S. Veterans in Crisis.

by SacredCowTipper Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 02:13:38 PM EST

  I was out and about today and I got some very disturbing information on the condition of our veterans community. This came in the context of conversations about overall problems with electric bills, heating bills, and fuel & food costs for our fixed income and lower income residents in the area.

  If I had to summarize it in one paragraph it would be this: Sixty to eighty veteran households in just one county will have their power cut on April 1 when the over winter ban on shutting off utilities ends. Thirty to sixty of those households are skipping meals, cutting back, or completely cutting out medications in order to pay heating bills. And this is after the county assistance available to them has been applied to its fullest.

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Creating (many) greencollar jobs with stranded wind

by SacredCowTipper Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 03:47:47 PM EST

  This is a crosspost of a diary I did for our (Stranded Wind Initiative) DailyKos ID.

 We here at the Stranded Wind Initiative have recently taken up the cause of Freedom Fertilizer, an attempt to turn our theories on wind driven ammonia production into an actual funded business in northwest Iowa.

 We always knew we could take the natural gas out of the fertilizer and completely remove the need for diesel from the farm production environment, but earlier today one of our technical people came back with this gem:

Also, we need a user for the 23 MBtu/hr of "low grade" heat, at least for the cold parts of the year. My choice is a greenhouse for hydroponic red and yellow peppers or pricey and fast growing lettuce - this also uses CO2 from the local EtOH facility. The high CO2 environment also eliminates the need for most or all pesticides, so these can be labeled as "organic hydroponic", and fetch more money. Such products should be quite competitive in the Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee area, and will up the employment by about 200 people. Most large greenhouses have huge heating bills, which just ruin the economics. Other ideas for this heat....?

Inspiring - Promoted by migeru

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Check this - cool electricity outage tracking site

by SacredCowTipper Sun Mar 9th, 2008 at 12:13:01 AM EST

 I'm not affiliated, I just like this guy's work of tracking electricity issues on a global basis. Its kinda like a Drum Beat for electricity stuff. They've just switched from a Blogspot account to their own domain and could probably use a little encouragement - maybe stop, make an account, and notice the nice work being done?


Iowa Lakes Community College's Gamesa Training Nacelle

by SacredCowTipper Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 10:18:31 AM EST

Today we got a chance to check out Iowa Lakes Community College's Gamesa training nacelle. The unit was dropped during installation, donated to the school, and they are just starting to prep it for mounting. The eventual goal is to have this unit as an easily accessible simulator for a running turbine, reducing the need to climb and disable the Vestas V82 the school has in production.

  Iowa Lakes Community College, the undisputed world leader in wind energy operations and maintenance training, is the only training program in the world that also operates a utility scale turbine. Thes Vestas V82 was purchased by the college prior to the program's inception, but its presence coupled with Zeitz's energy and focused has produced something special here on the Iowa/Minnesota border.

   Wind turbine operations and maintenance training is a bit like medical school - the "doctors" learn best when they've got patients ... both living and dead.

   This particular Gamesa (guh MAY suh) (on the right) three megawatt nacelle suffered an interesting demise. The unit was dropped, all eighty three tons of it, from a height of about 10', while being unloaded for a project in Illinois. The crane operator had been removing turbines from delivery trucks and placing them on timber supports pending installation. This was in the spring, the ground was soft, he was in a hurry, and had removed several nacelles without incident earlier that day. The delivery driver made a strong suggestion he use the crane's stabilizers, he refused, and minutes later he, his 350 ton crane, and the nacelle all took a tumble.

  The guy knew he was done and simply climbed out of the wreckage and walked away, dodging drug and alcohol testing. The industry is busy enough that he'll actually be able to get another job despite trashing a two million dollar nacelle and doing a similar disservice to a very expensive boom crane.

  Oh, and the one on the left? A prototype Vestas V82 nacelle, stripped of everything but its hydraulics. This one was donated directly by Vestas, while the Gamesa unit was a donation from the insurance company who owned it after its fall from grace. The school thrives on cadavers from the industry - like these damaged blades which they use for teaching composite repair. These particular ones are from Zond 750kW turbines in the Storm Lake II project.

  The donation did not include getting the machine off the trailer which cost $17,000 in crane services. The college is working their industry contacts in order to get a mounting built and get the nacelle installed for easy access, as the Vestas unit is now. Until then we're stuck climbing a ladder and scrambling over a very high sill to access the interior.

  Working on a wind turbine is quite a bit like working on aircraft. The composite blades are actually airfoils, there are hydraulic controls, electrical systems, and control systems that have to respond to atmospheric conditions.

 Here we see the mainshaft (gray) which connects to the planetary gearbox (blue), while behind that on the left (blue) is the three megawatt generator and on the right (gray) the cabinets containing the control and power conditioning equipment. The dark space at the very back contains three transformers which convert the 690 volt generator output to 34.5 kilovolt power suitable for direct attachment to a power grid. The horizontal silver beam (top) is a sliding crane for use inside the nacelle which can hold up to 800kg.

 The following two shots give some sense of the scale of the equipment as compared to those working on it.

  The gearbox connectors to the generator via a coupler. The gearbox is needed because the turbine blades rotate at about 1/20th the speed a generator needs to produce electricity. Gearboxes break and in this case the coupler between the gearbox and the generator has been removed to repair something else.

   Wind turbines are irregular; its just the nature of the beast - the wind blows when its in the mood. The generator produces 690 volt output of varying frequency, this is sent to power conditioners, and then the up to 4,300 amperes of 690 volt electricity is fed into the transformers, producing up to 86 amperes of 34.5 kilovolt utility grid grade power. The big brown objects here are the three transformers that accomplish this conversion. The uninteresting beige stuff below that is the power conditioning equipment, which was very hard to shoot in the confines of the nacelle.

 So, the long term plan for this much abused nacelle is that it will be mounted on a short tower like the Vestas unit, the insides will be rebuilt with assistance from Gamesa, and then there will be some modifications made to the control systems so that the machine "believes" it is operational. The instructors will introduce faults and the students will be sent up through the access hatch, shown below, to hone their troubleshooting skills.

  The future looks bright for our friends at Iowa Lakes Community College ... unless the entire wind energy is laid low by the Senate's failure to extend the production tax credit (PTC). We'll be taking that issue up in the very near future.

Comments >> (7 comments)

Renewable Energy From Tides

by SacredCowTipper Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 06:32:12 AM EST

  I first noticed Big Gav's marvelous report on renewable energy from tides over at The Oil Drum's Australia/New Zealand section. We asked for permission to crosspost this and he agreed. The original posting of this was at Peak Energy.

Diary rescue by Migeru

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