Researchers pressure cook wet algae into crude oil in one minute

Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered a fast way to turn algae into biocrude oil, a clean substitute for conventional crude oil. Chemical engineering professor Phil Savage and doctoral student Julia Faeth were able to pressure cook microalgae in 1,100-degree-Fahrenheit sand for about one minute, converting 65 percent of it into biocrude.

It’s a revolutionary way to speed up the natural process, given that waiting for dead organisms to decompose can take millions of years. It’s a big improvement over the lab’s own research. Two years ago, the team was able to speed things up to less than half an hour while converting about 50 percent of the microalgae into biocrude.

The researchers have been mimicking the natural process that forms crude oil with marine organisms. Savage and Faeth filled a steel pipe with wet, green microalgae from the genus Nannochloropsis, and pressured it into hot sand. Within a minute, the algae made it to 550 degrees all the way through, and 65 percent of it turned into biocrude…

It won’t be competing directly with dry algae anytime soon. The Michigan researchers used only 1.5 milliliters of microalgae for testing, and still don’t know exactly why they were able to convert to biocrude within one minute. Algae biofuels have huge potential for reducing vehicle carbon emissions and dependency on foreign oil, but it will take a while for any version of algae to make it to gas stations – even if you can cook it in a minute.

But, that’s only a description of early proof of concept processes. If and when Professor Savage and Julia Faeth are are able to ramp up to the smallest pilot plant, they’ll have a clearer picture of the capabilities and costs of their new method.

I wish them well.

How one of Mitt Romney’s etch-a-sketch tax proposals can save us from the fiscal cliff

Elections have consequences. And the big consequence of the 2012 election looks to be higher taxes for the rich. With President Obama still in office, that’s what will happen on January 1, 2013 when the Bush tax cuts expire, whether John Boehner likes it or not. The big question is whether Obama and House Republicans can make a deal undoing the rest of the so-called fiscal cliff.

They can. If they listen to Mitt Romney.

Romney got some well-deserved criticism for his chronically math-challenged tax plan, but he did have a very clever idea when it came to tax reform. Rather than take on specific tax deductions — and the constituencies ready to defend them — he would limit overall deductions. Such a cap raises revenue without raising marginal tax rates, and it raises the most revenue from the rich…

See the tax changes for people making less than $200,000? Of course not. That’s because the Romney’s tax plan would hardly raise their taxes. But households making between $200,000 and $500,000? They would pay a couple thousand more in taxes. Millionaires could wind up paying almost a hundred thousand dollars more…

The wealthiest households not only pay more than others under the cap, they pay most of the cap. In other words, households making a million dollars or more would pay 73 percent of the $59 billion a $50,000 cap would raise in 2015 if tax rates stay the same. Middle-class households mostly wouldn’t get hit because they mostly don’t take itemized deductions, and when they do they rarely take anywhere near $50,000 worth of them. Take a look at the chart below to see just how progressive a $50,000 cap would be.

Click on graph to enlarge

The idea is fiscally valid – meets the approval of the other geeks with whom I discuss topics like business and banking.

I do wonder who suggested it to Romney. He isn’t capable of an original thought about the weather or sex – much less tax policy. Scott Galupo of the American Conservative thinks he stole the idea from an earlier suggestion by President Obama.

Sounds about right to me.

BP gets biggest criminal fine in US history for Deepwater disaster

BP has received the biggest criminal fine in US history as part of a $4.5 billion settlement related to the fatal 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Two BP workers have been indicted on manslaughter charges and an ex-manager charged with misleading Congress…

As part of the agreement, BP will also plead guilty to 14 criminal charges…

BP will pay an additional $525m to the Securities and Exchange Commission over a period of three years…

The resolution with the DOJ includes a record criminal fine of $1.26bn, as well as $2.4bn to be paid to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350m to be paid to the National Academy of Sciences, over a period of five years.

Attorney General Eric Holder said its resolution “stands as a testament to the hard work of countless investigators, attorneys, support staff members, and other personnel”.

He went on: “In addition to the charges filed against BP, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging the two highest-ranking BP supervisors, who were on board the Deepwater Horizon on the day of the explosion, with 23 criminal counts – including 11 counts of seaman’s manslaughter, 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter, and alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

“The grand jury also charged a former BP executive – who served as a deputy incident commander and BP’s second-highest ranking representative at Unified Command during the spill response – with hiding information from Congress and allegedly lying to law enforcement officials.”

The executive, David Rainey, is alleged to have intentionally under-estimated the amount of oil spilling from the well…

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and released millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.

RTFA to be reminded of the enormity of this crime. And crime it was.

I worked in offshore oil beaucoup years ago. Obeying established rules and regulations, living up to oversight long established, severely diminishes the likelihood of a disaster like this. Greedy bastards out to squeeze every penny from the raw resources beneath the floor of the Gulf of Mexico bear the responsibility.

Every beancounter and corner-cutting executive is as guilty as any engineer saving a buck on board that drilling platform. And they all should be locked up in one of Louisiana’s famous garden spots – like the state prison in Angola.