Tag Archives: energy

methane

The Prince of Fuels – Natural Gas

In 1993 Daniel Yergin published a widely acclaimed book on the global oil and gas industry titled “The Prize.” He described natural gas as the Prince of fuels because natural gas is a more recent player in the energy mix of fossil fuels. Natural gas is essentially one molecule, methane. Coal and oil are a mixture of many, many different hydrocarbons.

Roughly one quarter of the energy used in the US comes from natural gas. It is used for process heat and as a raw material for industry, for space heat in residential and commercial buildings, and for electrical generation.

Because of the technological developments of horizontal drilling and shale fracturing, production of natural gas is at an all time high. Projections based on current technology suggest that gas production will expand for 30 or more years before peak production is achieved and then begin a slow decline.

Increased natural gas production has allowed for expanded export markets which may be geopolitically important. European reluctance to stronger sanction on Russia is to a large degree due to their dependence on natural gas from Russia. A US export market in the form of Liquified Natural Gas could help support stronger sanctions.

Liquified Natural Gas

Liquified Natural Gas

Increased reliance on natural gas should expand in the economy for a couple of reasons. Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. It is not contaminated with a host of impurities such heavy metals and sulfur present in coal and to a lesser extent in oil. Because it is cleaner burning we might expect to see expanded use of natural gas for transportation, especially in urban areas. Natural gas could also replace fuel oil for residential and commercial heating in northeastern United Sates.

A major advantage of natural gas is that it presents a lower global warming potential for an equivalent amount of energy compared to the other fossil fuels.

Natural gas is particularly attractive for the production of electricity. As more and more sustainable energy sources come on line, there is an increased need for rapidly dispatchable power to balance the intermittent nature of solar and wind. Electricity produced from gas turbines can be quickly increased or decreased to match the variable production regimen.

That’s the good news, now for the not so good. The increase in gas production comes entirely from expansion of gas production from fracturing shale formations. Fracturing involves a witch’s brew of water and chemicals plus a material called a proppant. Traditional methods are used to drill a well into a shale formation. Water and other chemicals are pumped into the formation to expand the shale layers where the gas is trapped. The proppant is comprised of small particles like sand or ceramic beads that hold the layers open to allow for gas extraction. There is evidence that the water table has been contaminated with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in areas near fracturing (fracking) operations.

fracking simplified

fracking simplified

Another problem comes about when dealing with the used fracking fluids. The only practical disposal of the fracking fluids to date involves reinjection into old oil or gas wells. Injection of these fluids under pressure has been linked to earthquakes in numerous locations both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

As with most things in life there are both risks and benefits to be considered. In the last analysis the cheapest, safest energy is the energy we don’t use. This can be achieved through improvements in energy efficiency.

Pollutant Emissions and Efficiency

The answer to the question in the real estate business about property is always “location location location.” Similarly, the answer to the energy utilization question is always “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.”

Dr. Amory Lovins, a physicist and energy guru coined a term for it called the “negawatt.” A negawatt as opposed to a kilowatt is the energy you don’t use by being more efficient. Negawatts save rather than cost money, yet still provide the same service to a homeowner.

So why all this talk about negawatts and efficiency? The Public Service Commission (PSC) here in Arkansas will soon have to address new regulations, promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intended to reduce the harmful effects of power plant emissions.

These rules will impact coal fired power plants most directly, and rightfully so. Burning coal for electricity generation releases the largest share of pollutants from any of the possible fossil fuels. For a given amount of energy produced, burning coal produces more Carbon Dioxide, Sulfur and Nitrogen Oxides, heavy metals, fine particulates, etc – all serious pollutants.

You might ask that if we throttle back the burning of coal and coal is cheap, then our cost for electricity production is going to go up. Not necessarily for two important reasons. First, the cost you see on your electric bill is only part of total cost.

The cost of impaired health due to exposure to the aforementioned pollutants is real but not accounted for. Likewise, the cost of environmental degradation from global warming is real. The cost of political instability due to global warming induced climate change is real. The Less coal we burn, the lower are these external costs born by society.

So how do we contain the directs costs? The second step is demand side management. Now we’re back to negawatts. The new EPA regulations call for lowering carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. We need to achieve about a 2% reduction per year to meet the standard. It shouldn’t be difficult to achieve this goal through efficiency improvements alone.

Nobody really cares how many kilowatt-hours they use, what they care about is having a warm in the winter, cool in the summer, well lit home. The less energy you need to achieve that goal, the lower will be the electric bill. A very cheap step is to check that ALL incandescent lights have been replaced by compact fluorescent bulbs, or even better now, Light Emitting Diodes.

philips-led-light-bulb

philips-led-light-bulb

Consider adding some solar panels to produce energy and lower the electric bill. The cost of PV systems has decreased drastically, 60% in just the last two years!

Check the attic to see if more insulation is in order. How old is your HVAC system? Newer equipment is much more efficient. If you have an older Heat Pump, newer is better, i.e. more efficient. Or consider a ground source heat pump which is much, much more efficient.

ground-source-heat-pump

ground-source-heat-pump

Some of these these efficiency upgrades can be expensive, but recent legislation can help. Most notable is the PACE law. The Property Assessed Clean Energy bill allows cities and/or counties to form Energy Improvement Districts which have the authority to assist homeowners to make improvements, the cost of which is then added to the property taxes at such a rate that the increase in property taxes is matched by a corresponding decrease is energy costs.

Efficiency, Efficiency, EFFICIENCY.

v2g

Crowd Sourcing Energy Storage.

The amount of electricity produced for the grid must be matched very closely with demand. There are large swings in demand from hot summer days when demand is high to mild spring and fall nights when demand is low.

To match demand with supply requires that a certain amount of power be constantly produced, the so called base load, and this must be supplemented with additional power sources for peak demand times. The cost is higher for electricity generated only intermittently. To encourage use of electrical energy during off peak times and discourage use during peak times some areas vary the cost of electricity with the season and time of day.

If massive batteries were available the power production could be smoothed out and only base load would be needed. Excess power produced at night could be stored for use when peak demand occurred. Alas such massive grid connected batteries don’t exist. Or do they?

Instead of a few massive batteries for a metropolitan area, how about 10s or 100s of thousands , even millions of smaller batteries all interconnected to the grid.

Enter electric vehicles as battery storage devices for the grid. The idea is called V2G, for Vehicle to Grid. Electric car batteries are connected to the grid for charging and this is especially true at night, so they immediately help to level demand by charging off peak. An electric vehicle owner could charge at night at home then drive to work in the morning. There, the driver would reconnect to the grid and charge or discharge as needed. Smart outlets controlled by computers could simply shuttle power to and from the individual vehicles as needed, essentially crowd sourcing energy storage and delivery.

Especially valuable would be plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. In addition the the energy stored in their batteries, they could act as stand alone generators, supplementing power production with their engines which are easily capable of providing electric current to the gird.

Plug-in hybrids are becoming increasingly popular. Cars like the Chevy Volt operate on a “dual fuel” basis. They can run on gasoline stored in a tank or on electricity stored in a battery. Such vehicles, when connected would provide power to or take power from the grid as needed. Pricing would be computer controlled to pay a premium to power providers at peak demand times and charge appropriately for electricity delivered to vehicle owneers as needed.

Although the idea for V2G was originally planned as a method of covering the need for peak demand in urban areas, the same idea could be used to smooth production system wide. It could be an elegant way to compensate for the intermittency of sustainable energy supplies such as wind and solar.

Electric companies of the future may not be the massive monolithic power providers of today, but rather simply brokers for grid distribution of a diffuse set of suppliers. Large wind turbines, small solar arrays and even the family car parked in the garage, all contributing through a computer managed network.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Waste to Fuel

Most transportation be it personal or commercial depends on liquid fuels. The availability of liquid fossil fuels is decreasing and the cost is rising, Our dependence on these transportation fuels will continue until batteries and the electrical grid are greatly improved.

The only current alternative to fossil fuel is biofuel, ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy beans. Ethanol makes up a scant two percent of our liquid fuel needs, biodiesel less than that. The figure is even lower than that when you account for the fossil fuel energy inputs to the production of biofuels. We won’t see row crop biofuels making up a larger share of our fuel needs because of the negative environmental impacts and the fact that biofuels production drives up food prices.

fueling up

fueling up

Another source of biofuel could be to waste to fuel plants. There are already plants which burn garbage (solid waste) for the generation of electricity, consuming about fifteen percent of all solid waste. Although this does produce energy and reduce the need for landfills, it doesn’t help with transportation needs. There are also concerns about the environmental and health impacts of the combustion products.

Liquid fuels such as methanol and ethanol can be produced from solid waste but currently the process is less efficient and more costly. Solid waste consists mainly of cellulose from various plant products and fossil fuel derived items like tires and plastic. Other unexploited sources of feedstocks are agricultural wastes from farming and timber harvesting. Even grass clippings and leaves could be utilized.

These materials when heated to high temperatures produce a mixture of gasses. The gasses can be chemically manipulated with catalysts and turned into methanol. Another methodology utilizes just the cellulose component. The materials are treated with sulfuric acid to release the sugar which is then fermented by traditional methods to produce ethanol. Japan is currently using this technology to produce ethanol for blending with gasoline.

A model system for waste to fuel would look something like a plant sited near a current landfill. Municipal solid waste, agricultural wastes, and suburban wastes would all be brought to the processing plant where the materials would be separated . Materials which are unusable wold still be land filled. Process heat for the plant would be provided to a degree by burning methane captured from the landfill.

So how much fuel can we expect to get? Estimates vary wildly. How much useful waste can be collected, how much energy will be consumed in the process, and the efficiency of the conversion process are just some of the confounding variables. Estimates range from a few percent up to as much as thirty percent of our liquid fuel needs.

waste fry-o-lator oil to biodiesel processing equipment

waste fry-o-lator oil to biodiesel processing equipment

The biggest problem with waste to fuel strategies is the resource base. The best way to contain the rising cost of any and all fuels is to become more efficient. The easiest way to be more efficient is to reduce waste. That means a diminishing resource base. This may not be a business model that many will wish to pursue.

The only long term solution to our energy needs, regardless source or form is to use a lot less and produce what we need sustainably. We have to learn to live within our means.

denial

Global Warming Denial

I’m old enough to remember commercials such as “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” – obviously if doctors smoke it has to be healthy. Or “when temped with indulgence, reach for a Lucky Strike” as if a cigarette is a healthy alternative to candy. One might excuse this as due to ignorance, but the hazards of smoking were known long before these commercials were aired.

Even today the deception continues, albeit more surreptitiously. Instead of advertising directly or acting under their own masthead to defeat anti-smoking legislation, they employ any number of front groups with names that imply that the represent consumers, or even health groups.

Robert Proctor, a professor of the History of Science coined a term for this kind of deceit: Agnotology – the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly by the use of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

Similar agents are at work in the realm of climate change denial. Fossil fuel industries hire lobbyists to influence congress and front groups to influence consumers. Make no mistake, the overwhelming majority of scientists around the world recognize that the climate is changing and we are responsible.

The public is told all too often that there is no problem, or even if the climate is changing it’s not fault. Unscientific positive effects are trotted out as real. We are told that scientists disagree. No where is it made clear that these views are a product, bought and paid for by the extractive industries.

This PR is presented as if it is a scientifically relevant alternative and all too frequently goes unchallenged by the media. The information superhighway can deliver deception more easily than
reality. In fact, front groups have in effect Balkanized the web. Now everybody can go and find just the view that supports their relatively uninformed preconceptions, not those which are the most valid. A couple recent examples are illustrious.

A research vessel studying climate change becomes stuck in antarctic ice. Certain news outlets tout this as proof that global warming isn’t happening. HA-HA, the poor saps trying to prove that the ice is melting get trapped in ice. The reality is that the ice they were trapped in was old ice, part of a seventy five mile long ice berg that broke off the Antarctic ice shelf, most likely due to global warming.

The recent cold snap paralyzing much of the United States is due to the temporary displacement of the Polar Vortex. It is an uncommon but well know meteorological phenomenon. The cold air is displaced to the south so that it is colder in Little Rock, Arkansas than Anchorage, Alaska. The denialist PR industry however would have you believe that the temporarily cold south means that global warming isn’t happening.

One final confounding principle is that the general public doesn’t read scientific journals, at best they listen to the evening news. The well funded front groups have convinced the media of the need for “on the other hand” and therefore get their message presented as balance.

The public is being lied to by a massive, well funded, PR campaign to prop up the sales of fossil fuels, to the detriment of us all.

Lighting Technology

The phrase “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness” came from a Eulogy given by Adlai Stevenson for Elanor Roosevelt. This is of course a metaphor, as the bringing of light refers to bringing knowledge to an unknowing hence dark world. Aphorisms aside, let’s be literal. Let’s talk about lighting technology.

There is good evidence that one of our ancestors, Homo erectus learned to control fire close to a half a million years ago. Fire provided heat, protection from predators, and light to extend the day into night. The campfire of Homo erectus was wood and provided much more light than heat. Light was a byproduct.

Technology expanded light production with the creation of oil lamps about six thousand years ago. Made from clay, lamps were found at numerous sites, and depending on location these were fueled by animal fat, vegetable oil or even petroleum oil from natural seeps. The related technology of candles came later, possibly originating in China about three thousand years ago. The Chinese candles were made of whale fat. Other materials for candles include tallow, beeswax, and contemporaneously paraffin, a solid petroleum derivative.

Kerosene lanterns, still in use in much of the world were common by the nineteenth century. Gas lamps, using gas as opposed to liquid developed about the same time and were popular as stationery light sources, e.g, street lamps.

All these light sources share one property – combustion. Burning something, combustion, is an exothermic process. Burning gives off heat, and if you give off enough heat you get (visible) light. Thomas Edison recognized that if you get something hot enough, whether burning or not, you get light.

Incandescent 16 Lumens per watt

Incandescent 16 Lumens per watt

His invention, the incandescent light bulb (ILB) employing electricity, revolutionized lighting and has illuminated the modern world since the start of the twentieth century.

The new revolution in lighting technology is the production of light sources much more efficient than incandescent bulbs. ILBs work by the heat, then light produced by resistance to the flow of electricity through the Tungsten filament. But it is an astoundingly inefficient process when illumination is the objective. Only about five percent of the energy consumed by an ILB produces light, the remainder is given off in the form of heat.

Luminous efficacy is measured by the product of the amount of light measured in lumens, divided by the energy to power it measured in watts. The luminous efficacy of an ILB is sixteen lumens per watt.
ILBs are cheap to produce but waste energy. More efficient are compact fluorescent bulbs (CFB).

a 100 watt equivalent clf uses about 28 watts

a 100 watt equivalent clf uses about 28 watts

These have a luminous efficacies of about fifty to sixty. They are therefore cheaper to operate but have a few drawbacks; they take time to reach full illumination especially at low temperatures, they aren’t dimmable, and they contain small amounts of Mercury which complicates disposal.

The most promising entry to inexpensive lighting are Light Emitting Diode light sources. They are everywhere already in electronic technology in the form of various indicator lights. These LEDs have now been ganged in groups to produce illumination with efficiencies of over one hundred.

100 watt equivalent LED uses less than 22 watt

100 watt equivalent LED uses less than 22 watt

LEDs don’t suffer from the deficiencies of other bulbs; they are very efficient, “instant on”, dimmable, cool to the touch, non toxic, and will become even more efficient as they are developed. The future for LED lighting is bright indeed.

Global Warming, Fossil Fuels, Air Quality, and Health

Everybody wants to be healthy, and we go to considerable lengths to achieve the same. Preventive care, diet and exercise all contribute to good health. There are factors however which are beyond our individual capacity to control. Global warming is one of those things that we have to address collectively. It comes about due to the release of certain air pollutants. Reducing these pollutants will not only help mitigate the direct environmental damage but also improve our health.

Air pollution has been linked to several of the leading causes of death in the United States. Asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and stroke have all been shown to be linked in multiple peer reviewed articles in major medical journals. Even conditions as diverse as Type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s’ disease have shown correlations with air pollution levels.

Chronic exposure to gasses such as ozone and nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter

particulate matter

particulate matter

cause an inflammatory reaction in sensitive tissues and contribute to poor health. The source of the pollutants is a result of our quest for the cheapest possible energy sources to power our lives. There is a deal with the devil in cheap energy sources, mostly fossil fuels. Burning coal and oil and to a lesser extent natural gas result in the production of these unhealthy pollutants.

That good news is that the USEPA through the Clean Air Act regulates these pollutants and constantly reviews the scientific data supporting limitations of pollutant release. The act was passed in 1963 and has been significantly amended several times to tighten air quality standards. Enforcement of the act has led to considerable improvement of air quality, but currently something like one third of Americans live in counties which are out of containment.OzoneFormationDiagram

In 1990 Congress directed the EPA to conduct occasional scientific reviews as to the costs and benefits of air quality regulations. A 2009 study by the National Research Council finds that the cost for health care from one coal fired power plant is 156 million dollars per year. Collectively 62 billion dollars a year is spent as a result of burning coal to make electricity. This is due to the health effects of pollutants at currently allowed levels. Another study showed that over 20 years of clean air act regulations, one dollar spent on air quality protection resulted in a savings of 44 dollars in health care costs. The EPA estimates that the investment of 65 billion dollars in 2020 will save a total of 2 trillion dollars in health care.

One argument to revitalize the economy is to cut regulations, thus lowering the cost of doing business. Lowering air quality standards may save business and the consumer money on energy production but will greatly increase health care costs- out of proportion with the savings on energy costs. This is not the time to try to save money limiting the actions of the EPA, regardless of the budget cutting fervor in congress. We can pay a little for air quality but overall save a lot by supporting strict air quality standards, even if it means abandoning coal fired electricity production.

There is no question that somewhere in the future we will stop burning fossil fuels to produce energy, whether it is due to depletion of the resources or our recognition of the harmful effects to health and the environment. Any and all programs which get us away from fossil fuel consumption will benefit society. Ultimately we need clean sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar which release no air pollutants.

large solar array

Solar Steel

People often think that solar photovoltaic panels are OK to put on a roof to cut ones electric bill a little but really doesn’t go far to fill the needs of the nation when it comes to electricity. Or that it’s OK for light weight usages like lighting in parking lots but can’t provide for heavy industries like steel mills. I would like to disabuse those folks of the idea that solar can’t keep us going.

First some fundamentals. Electrical energy is measured in Watt-hours (Wh) or multiples there of. If your monthly electric bill is about a hundred dollars, close to the Arkansas average, you are using a MegaWatt-hour (MWh), which is a million times a Watt-hour. This amount of electricity is available year around from a space about twenty seven feet on a side. It easily fits on a south facing roof. A system like this will not just lower your bill but eliminate it.

Let’s talk about power for heavy industry, and it doesn’t get much heavier than steel mills. Nucor Corporation operates twenty-three steel mills

electric arc furnace

electric arc furnace

across the United States producing twenty-two million tons of steel annually employing electric arc furnaces. If we can figure out how to do this with solar panels we can do anything.

It takes about one and a half Mwh electric to produce a ton of steel. On average each plant produces a million tons of steel a year, so we need one and a half TeraWatt-hours;

steel

steel

a TeraWatt is a million times a MegaWatt. How much land do we need per plant? It works out to one thousand five hundred acres. This is equal to the land use of less than four average farms in Arkansas. That’s it. The land occupied by four farms in Arkansas will provide enough sunlight to power a steel mill. Cool, huh?

When you look at total electric use in the United States over a year the numbers get really big. The national annual electric use is four PetaWatt-hours; a PetaWatt is a billion times a MegaWatt. So how much land would it take to generate all the electric power we use in the United States? A surprisingly small nine thousand square miles. This is an area smaller than Rhode Island.

The numbers I cite are good for the amount of sunlight in Arkansas using flat plate collectors. If the national power grid originated in Nevada using tracking panels, the area needed is less than five thousand square miles. There are counties in Nevada much larger than that. There is no question that sunlight alone can provide all the electric power we need in this country.

The obvious fly in the ointment is the need for storage when the sun doesn’t shine, or transmission to where the sun doesn’t shine, but both those limitations are under study and are an achievable goal in the near future. And that’s just solar Photovoltaics as an energy source. That amount of energy is available from wind turbines and the potential for geothermal is greater still.

high speed rail

Trains, Here and There

Automobile use as measured by miles traveled per capita peaked in 2005 and has been falling since. It is had to explain by a single variable, gas prices have been both up and down, not continuously up. We went through the worst recession since the great depression, but the economy is now improving, albeit slowly. Vehicles are becoming smaller so less accommodating for passengers but more efficient thus cheaper to operate.

Regardless of the reason, we are moving around less; and, there has not been a concomitant increase in mass transit. Is it time for us here in the US to consider an emphasis on mass transit to the degree that is available in Europe or the far east? Travel by train there is easy and frequent. You want to go from Edinburgh, Scotland to Bucharest, Romania, 1700 miles? There are trains for that, and daily I might add.

Not only can one travel long distances between large cities, but also short distances to small towns as well. There are nine different departure times daily from Chepstow, Wales to London, England (Chepstow is a town about the size of Clarksville, AR.) This would be equivalent to a train, nine times a day from Clarksville to Little Rock.

But we’re all about speed, right; and trains are too slow. Well they’re not so slow in Europe or the far East. Speeds between one and two hundred miles per hour are common.

European high speed rail

European high speed rail

And unlike the USA; Japan, Korea, and China are all investing in infrastructure which will allow for faster, more efficient trains.

China currently operates a fourteen hundred mile rail at over two hundred miles an hour, and is expanding rail service faster than highways or airlines. When a high speed rail became available in Taiwan most passengers switched from the comparable air route, and highway congestion decreased.

Technological advances in Japan involve a Maglev train. Maglev is short for magnetic levitation, where levitation of the train above the rails means a near frictionless and therefore faster, quieter and more efficient rail line. The train has been successfully tested on a short track at over three hundred miles an hour and expects to be in service by 2015.

What about American Exceptionalism? Is anything unique going on here? One bright spot is California which has proposed a high speed rail line between Los Angles and San Francisco. The voters in California have approved close to ten billion dollars to develop the line, which at two hundred miles an hour would complete the trip in two to three hours. Current driving time for the trip is seven or eight hours.

A real game changer has been proposed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, who designed and sells the Tesla, a successful all-electric car. He wants to build a Hyperloop, basically an evacuated tube,

hyperloop

hyperloop

to transport people at eight hundred miles per hour. The technology is the same as that used to move money and checks from the remote teller to your car at the bank. The trip from Los Angles to San Francisco would be about a half an hour and if similar technology existed locally one could go from Little Rock to Dallas in about twenty minutes. Now that would be both exceptional and American.

Professor Mark Post holds the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a

Petri Patties – Lab Grown Meat

Even though we have yet to recover from the current recession, we still lead the world in economic might and that is reflected in our high rates of consumption of everything from crude oil to meat. Both of these commodities contribute to our exaggerated contribution to global warming.

As other countries expand their economies, that is become more wealthy, they tend to eat more meat. China in 1961 consumed four kilograms per person. By 2001 that jumped to fifty-four kilograms. Currently half of all pork produced in the world is consumed in China. By comparison the US eats over one hundred twenty kilos of meat per person per year. By the year 2050 global meat consumption is estimated to double, from the current 230 to 465 million tons.

The connection between meat consumption and wealth is easy to see. Protein from meat is expensive. The cheaper alternative comes from diet that balances beans and grains to provide complete protein – nutritious but bland. So what’s the harm if you can afford meat? Two factors; personal health effects such as heart disease correlate with high meat diets, and meat production contributes to global warming.

Enter the lab burger,stage left – PETA has a bounty out for the first practical lab grown meat. A study done a couple of years ago suggests that if meat could be “grown” in the lab, about 50 per cent less energy would be used, virtually no land would be needed, and ninety per cent less green house gases would be emitted compared to traditional agricultural methods. These environmental improvements result from considerable decreases in methane release from ruminants and decreased deforestation not needed for feed; corn and soybeans, and fodder; grass from pastures.

We now have a Petri patty, not practical by any measure but at least the proof of concept has been achieved. Last month a celebrity chef in London, England prepared the world’s first and only hamburger made from meat grown in cell culture in a laboratory in the Netherlands. The idea of lab meat is not new. As early as pre-world war II, Winston Churchill wrote about the possibility. He was concerned that a war which resulted in a blockade of the UK could threaten the population with starvation.

The process is simple in principle but extremely difficult in practice. The simple explanation: take a muscle cell from a cow, stimulate the cell to divide in a nutrient broth, and voilà! The lab burger. In practice the process took several years and over four million dollars. Tissue harvested from a carcass is first treated with an enzyme to remove connective tissue and release the muscle cells. The cells are cultured in fetal bovine serum, a fluid taken from slaughtered calves. Alternative cell culture media exist but performed poorly. Because the cells lack any vasculature the cells can only be grown in thin films. Also methods had to be developed to “exercise” the developing muscle tissue.

One final problem is physical, the cells are colorless and without fat so the lab meat was colored with beetroot juice and cooked in butter and oil. For cultured meat to become a real alternative it has to be a whole lot cheaper, redder and fattier.