Overall funding for alternative fuels has shifted from venture capital investment to project financing, aimed at building up first and second facilities and getting them online. Many alternative fuel companies have raised capital from diverse sources, including private equity, loans, and loan guarantees by state and federal governments.
Other sources include corporate partners, such as oil companies interested in scaling up alternative fuels technologies to commercial production levels.
"There's reluctance among some investors because these are unproven technologies," said Soare, going on to say:
In particular, venture capitalists want higher, more likely returns. To mitigate this risk, one of the best strategies fuel companies take is building smaller-scale facilities that leverage existing infrastructure. For example, taking a corn ethanol plant that's no longer producing and retrofitting it to reduce overall cost.
Funding is also decreasing across the board, especially from federal and state governments focused on longer-term goals such as energy diversification and job creation. At the same time, funding from corporations is decreasing somewhat as they reduce investments. "The overall funding of new feedstocks is really a key strategy for oil companies to mitigate the long-term risk of oil price and supply volatility," said Soare.
An earlier Lux Research report on biofuel feedstocks found that by 2030, the available biomass will be insufficient to keep up with demand. Today, more than a billion metric tons of biomass are needed each year for replacing only 3 percent of petroleum-based fuels and chemicals, according to "Finding Feedstocks for the Bio-Based Fuels and Chemicals of Today and 2030."
"By 2030, this number will soar to 3.7 billion metric tons, and meeting the growing challenge will require feedstock innovations such as crop modification, new value chain configurations, and agronomic technology improvements like irrigation and biosensors," said Kalib Kersh, Lux Research analyst and a lead author of the report, in a press release.
This report found that several strategies are being pursued to improve feedstocks. The use of waste, such as municipal solid waste and waste gases like carbon dioxide and flue gas, is increasing. Many universities and companies are pursing research in crop modification, such as breeding plants that are resistance to pests and drought or that can fix their own nitrogen, to reduce their use of agricultural resources. Finally, some alternative fuel makers are developing infrastructure to cut fuel costs and transportation time, such as intermediate conversion facilities that feed into a central processing facility, in a "hub-and-spoke" model.
I didn't know about Witricity but that sounds perfect. Charging batteries seems like the bane of our existence, and to worry about your car having juice, as you mention, would be a complete pain. If everything was always charging, this would solve a lot of our device-battery woes, and the electric car problem, too.
oldguywithtoys, first of all, second-generation biofuels that are based on crops are based on non-food crops, for either people or animals, and grown on land that cannot be used to grow food crops on. So they are not at all decreasing the food supply. Second, ethanol and methanol are not the only fuel possibilities. There's also biodiesel and butane, among others. I do agree that federal subsidies for cellulosic-based biofuels (ethanol, methanol, butane or biodiesel) are a good idea.
Whether a crop is people-food or animal-food or inedible and only useful for creating ethanol or methanol, it still takes land to grow that crop. Whether you divert a corn crop from animal feed to the production of ethanol or you divert a field from growing corn to growing switchgrass, you're still decreasing the food supply to increase the alcohol supply.
My own opinion is "all-the-above" - we need to cut our dependence on imported oil by
finding substitutes and making them cost effective.
increasing domestic production.
increasing the efficiency of everything that uses energy.
So far, the processes used to generate biofuels from plant waste haven't scaled very well. I read somewhere that the federal government has mandated that the oil companies use a certain amount of cellulosic alcohol each year, but that they pay hefty fines simply because nobody has figured out how to make that much cellulosic alcohol in a year.
I'm not saying they'll never be able to figure it out. What I'm saying is that we need to go more with the carrot than the stick - tax credits for research toward the efficient large-scale production of cellulosic alcohol rather than fines for not using what isn't available. And above all, funding for R&D into making everything that uses energy as efficient as possible, as cost-effectively as possible.
oldguywithtoys, I wish everything could be powered by the sun, too. But we're a long way off from that for multiple reasons, and many people would rather start somewhere on alternatives than wait. Meanwhile the biofuels scenario you describe is out of date. Second-generation biofuels are made from plants that are not food crops and don't compete with them (crop-based biofuels), or they're made from the waste from food crops or the waste from other plants (cellulose-based biofuels).
I'll lump ethanol and methanol together: biofuels. As their use increases, their prices (low now more due to government subsidy than production efficiency) will go up. As the production volumes go up, it will be more profitable for farmers to turn their land to the production of ethanol/methanol-producing crops than food and food prices will rise... and petroleum prices will fall. Meanwhile, ethanol and methanol are still hydrocarbons, the burning of which will still produce greenhouse gasses.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel and still produces greenhouse gasses when it burns. When a natural gas pipeline leaks, it doesn't spout black goop all over the landscape, it dissipates into the air. But unburned natural gas is itself a greenhouse gas
The vast majority of our electricity is produced by the burning of fossil fuels and it will take major breakthroughs in battery capacity and solar cell efficiency before wind and solar can replace more than a tiny fraction.
The push by our government should not be to force the use of alternative fuels, but to help fund research to increase the efficiency of solar cells, the capacity of storage batteries and the efficiency of our use of the energy ANY fuels can produce.
Ann, thanks for the clarification. When Google for the same info, it seems that power density, Cost and Vehicle design considerations are some of the constrains. More info will be available with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_vehicle
Ceylon0, thanks for the link. I see several announcements like this every month, in fact, tens of announcements such as this one in a year. I don't usually report on these initial research breakthroughs in possible bioprocessing or pre-treatment technologies because they're years away from a production stage. Let's hope this one pans out.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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