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By Robert Rapier on Mar 15, 2010 with 28 responses

Changes Coming to R-Squared

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At the end of the week, I have to go to New Zealand for 10 days. As is often the case, my posting will be limited while I am traveling. Any time I travel, this always highlights one of the major weaknesses with a personal blog: Traffic is driven by new content, and if there is no new content for a week, traffic falls off. For this, and other reasons detailed below, I have decided that I would make some changes to the operation of this blog. I believe that they will ultimately result in a better experience for readers.

There are multiple reasons for making the changes. In addition to the travel issue, the blog is taking up more of my time. But a large portion of that is due to peripheral issues. Each morning I have to clear out a lot of spam, make template changes as needed, and deal with any technical issues.

Second, I don’t like Blogger’s comment structure. It becomes difficult to keep up with who said what, and then when comments exceed 200 in number, it becomes difficult to find the newer ones.

Third, I have a great number of technically savvy readers. My readers have shown that they have a lot to contribute. They frequently bring my attention to new energy stories, and they often post links to new stories. I have always felt like we needed a forum where readers can start their own discussions – and then discussions needn’t fall off if I am traveling.

If there is a noteworthy or controversial energy-related news story (e.g., the Bloom Box), instead of posting a link in the comments following the latest essay, I want readers to have the ability to start that topic themselves. That would also open up the discussions so that they aren’t so dependent upon me posting something new. I am always hesitant to post on areas that I don’t know a lot about, but with more reader-driven content the discussions could become more diverse.

I have been thinking about this change for over a year, but never quite found a good solution. Now I have found a solution (or maybe the solution found me) to all of these issues, but it requires migrating my blog to a different place. After a number of discussions with Sam Avro, founder and editor of Consumer Energy Report (CER), I have decided to base my blog there. CER is a comprehensive site for all things energy-related. It covers the spectrum from fossil fuels to alternative energy to politics to investments.

Over the next week or so, my blog will migrate there. You can read about CER’s mission here, which is consistent with my mission to have serious, thoughtful discussions on energy issues. But by combining with CER, I will have access to more tools than I have now. You can check out the new blog format here:

R-Squared Energy Blog at Consumer Energy Report

There will be a discussion forum for readers to start their own threads:

Discussion Forum

Readers who wish to participate in the forum will need to go through a 30-second registration procedure (Link here). It simply requires a user name and an e-mail address (which will not be shared, nor will it be publicly visible). This should help to minimize the spam. I also believe that this will facilitate civil discussions.

There will be a redirect from this blog starting later this week. Hopefully readers will come and join the discussions there. I will continue to post on a regular basis. It will still be “R-Squared”, just under a different roof with a number of improvements.

I want to build on the foundation that Sam and his staff have put together so that I can take R-Squared to another level. But it is of utmost importance to make sure it is a good experience for readers. We are open to suggestions from readers, and happy to answer any questions you may have. I believe Sam will be stopping by to introduce himself in the comments.

Questions, comments, or concerns?

  1. By PeteS on March 15, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Only had the briefest of looks, but it seems there will still be a blog comments section AND a separate discussion forum. Won't people use the comments just as before? Will you end up with a confusing mish-mash of the two?

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  2. By Samuel Avro on March 15, 2010 at 8:50 am

    PeteS,

    You are correct. The option to comment directly on the blog posts will still be there, so as not to prevent unregistered users from taking part in the discussion.

    However, it is set up for the comments and forum posts to work in sync; comments made on the blog will post in the forum, and comments made in the forum will be cross posted to the blog.

    Each and every time that Robert writes a new essay, a brand new forum thread will be launched automatically.

    We hope that users will register for the forums instead of commenting anonymously on the blog, and thus be enabled to:

    1) Take part in the discussion there, with a better commenting structure,

    2) Branch out the discussion into new forum topics when a comment is totally unrelated to the original blog post discussion.

    We want to give everyone the opportunity to take part in the discussions, but at the same time are working hard to keep the format as user friendly for the regular readers as possible.

    If you, or anyone, have any suggestions, we are always glad to hear them, and will implement changes if necessary. The single-most important thing to us is that everything should be user friendly.

    Samuel Avro
    Editor-in-Chief
    Consumer Energy Report

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  3. By Kinuachdrach on March 15, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Mr. Avro — Since you are apparently following this thread, let me ask you: Why put Coal & Nuclear into one bucket?

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  4. By Russ Finley on March 15, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Blogs always evolve. Most go extinct. One common problem with established blogs is that the comments often come to be owned (and dominated) by a few individuals. The comment field becomes their turf to be defended.

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  5. By Russ Finley on March 15, 2010 at 9:46 am

    And why do you lump coal with nuclear? Shouldn't you lump nuclear with carbon free technology or let it stand alone?

    Lumping it with coal gives it a disadvantage by association in many circles.

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  6. By Samuel Avro on March 15, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Kinuachdrach, Russ, thank you for your comments.

    Although nuclear and coal are unrelated forms of energy, we originally streamlined them together so as not to overwhelm visitors with an excessive number of links. We operated under an assumption that news developments in those areas were slower than the other topics.

    As we augment our staff and become able to update each category with more frequency, we plan on giving each form of energy a category of its own.

    We closely monitor our topic development and will modify things as they become necessary in order to keep the site as user friendly as possible.

    Our staff has already agreed that coal and nuclear each deserve their own category and we anticipate modifying that within the next few weeks.

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  7. By PeteS on March 15, 2010 at 10:30 am

    …"it is set up for the comments and forum posts to work in sync; comments made on the blog will post in the forum, and comments made in the forum will be cross posted to the blog."

    Now THAT'S pretty clever!

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  8. By Benny BND Cole on March 15, 2010 at 11:52 am

    A minor quibble–not sure about th name "Consumer Energy Reports"
    What I like about RR's blog is that is not a consumer blog, but mix of a tech and policy blog.

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  9. By Moiety on March 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    In a blog new information could be added to a post that is old and be missed by the community. Further somebody may not post information pertinent to an old post for that reason.
    A forum helps to highlight new information in old posts and also highlight stories that are popular or those that evolve.
    The manifestation of this and how successful should be interesting at least to Robert.

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  10. By Kinuachdrach on March 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Sam — Thanks for the explanation.

    Consistent with your mission to educate, why not arrange the tabs for energy (and maybe even size them, if that would not be too cute) according to their current importance in US (or global?) energy supplies:
    Oil
    Coal
    Gas
    Nuclear
    Hydro
    Subsidized

    OK, the last one is tongue in cheek.

    But that kind of arrangement would certainly set the right framework for discussion — we have 5 major commercially-proven large scale sources of power, and a raft of interesting ideas that seem to spend more time with their begging bowls out lobbying for subsidies than they do trying to come up with successful sustainable businesses.

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  11. By PeteS on March 15, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    There should be a giant EU tab before all those other ones, for complaining about Europeans.

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  12. By Kit P on March 15, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    “complaining about Europeans”

    That are complaining about Europeans denigrating American.

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  13. By KLR on March 16, 2010 at 12:31 am

    Only 13 subforums, including "R-Squared Blog Posts," and 7 topics, including the humorously titled "Report: Americans Are Overflowing with Gas." Kind of a ghost town, in other words.

    Will we be able to post images in the forum? I'd register now but it's bed time. Lack of image posting is the crucial thing lacking in blogger/blogspot, and WordPress as well I think.

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  14. By Kinuachdrach on March 16, 2010 at 7:51 am

    "There should be a giant EU tab"

    But Pete — there is a giant EU tab. It's called "Renewable Energy, Green"!

    Although that EU tab should actually be colored Red, since we all know that the EU is mainly filled with hot air (and imported fossil fuels).

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  15. By Denny on March 16, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Actually, we Europeans aren't all that interested in denigrating Americans. It's much more fun to just complain about them (and their tea parties and imported fossil fuels)

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  16. By Wendell Mercantile on March 16, 2010 at 10:35 am

    It's much more fun to just complain about them (and their tea parties and imported fossil fuels)

    Particularly that tea party in Boston Harbor in 1773, right? :-)

    And of course Europeans import no fossil fuels. ;-)

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  17. By Benny BND Cole on March 16, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    OT but really interesting:

    Here is another story on the UT Arlington profs/scientists who say they can convert lignite to oil at under $30 a barrel.

    Good fodder for an RR column, or maybe anybody at Consumer Energy Reports?

    UT is a real school, and these guys are going public. Maybe they are looking for a few mil. in start-up capital so they can cash out, and the technology doesn't really work. Or maybe it does.

    Anybody have any clues?

    "by JIM DOUGLAS / WFAA-TV

    Posted on February 19, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    Updated Saturday, Feb 20 at 4:32 AM

    ******

    ARLINGTON – How would you like to buy gasoline made from $30 domestic coal versus $75 imported oil?

    Researchers at the Unviersity of Texas at Arlington say they've found a practical way to make synthetic crude from inexpensive coal that's common in Texas.

    People have been turning coal into oil for 100 years or more, but researchers at UTA say they've invented a better way to do it.

    It is so much better that they expect to sign a deal with an oil company within weeks.

    "This is East Texas lignite coal. We go from that to this really nice liquid," said Professor Brian Dennis of a light synthetic crude, easily refined into gasoline.

    Professor Dennis and a team of scientists have been working on the process for about a year-and-a-half.

    "I had the idea for this while I was walking to my car," he said. "I ran back to the lab and I started drawing it out in my notebook."

    They only showed News 8 an early model reactor which doesn't look like much. The current reactor design is secret, extremely efficient, and emits no pollution, the UTA scientists said.

    "We're improving the cost every day. We started off sometime ago at an uneconomical $17,000 a barrel. Today, we're at a cost of $28.84 a barrel," said engineering dean Rick Billo.

    That's $28 a barrel versus $75 we pay now for imported crude.

    Texas lignite coal is dirt cheap – less than $18 a ton. A ton of coal will produce up to 1.5 barrels of oil."

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  18. By PeteS on March 16, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    "Particularly that tea party in Boston Harbor in 1773, right? :-) "

    Us Oirish had no problem with that! We were havin' our own problems with the Brits! :-)

    In fact, it inspired our own similar attempt in 1798. Didn't quite work out as well for us though — among other things the cheese-eatin' French showed up late.

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  19. By PeteS on March 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    (Could do with some of those modern-day tea parties too. At this stage we'd even welcome the Brits back if it would save us from the gubmint that's selling us off to the banks).

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  20. By Samuel Avro on March 16, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    @KLR

    Why there are few sub-forums: The message board was very recently launched in conjunction with Robert joining CER. Our goal is to tailor the forums and sub-forums to best suit people who have been commenting on Robert’s blogs as well as fans of other reputable bloggers who will soon be joining our site. Creating the forum section and presenting it in the most user-friendly manner possible has been a difficult task. We are still tweaking some usability functions to improve the experience for everybody and we expect to make changes as needed to make sure that topics are well organized so that people can easily find what they are looking for.

    For the sake of simplicity in launching the forums we intentionally created a minimal amount of sub-forums until the development of the board and new topics requires the creation of more sub-forums. We will be closely in tune with the needs and wants of our users, and have created a "Suggestion Box" sub-forum for the specific purpose of keeping in touch with what the users want to see changed or implemented.

    Images in the forums: Users will be allowed to post images using one of two options: 1) A button in the "create new post" box allows the user to hotlink to an image already uploaded to the web. 2) A separate button that enables the user to upload a locally stored image.

    However, we don't want the forums to become flooded with images and/or spam. The point of enabling image uploads is to enhance the message boards. Certain discussions flow better and points are more easily made with graphs or topic related images. We will greatly discourage tagline pics (or sayings) or other images which disrupt the flow of conversation. The objective is and will remain creating an environment for exchanging energy related ideas in a user-friendly atmosphere.

    We welcome any and all constructive comments from any posters who provide suggestions for fulfilling that objective.

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  21. By Kinuachdrach on March 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    "The current reactor design is secret, extremely efficient, and emits no pollution, the UTA scientists said."

    But extremely efficient at what? Separating a fool from his money?

    Benny, this is interesting. Thanks for posting it. Let's hope there is something behind it — but I have to admit my spidey sense is tingling.

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  22. By Wendell Mercantile on March 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    "We're improving the cost every day. We started off sometime ago at an uneconomical $17,000 a barrel. Today, we're at a cost of $28.84 a barrel," said engineering dean Rick Billo.

    One can only hope it's true, but if it were…

    …wouldn't it seem likely that Exxon or Chevron or BP or the DoD or DARPA would be beating down their door offering them about a billion dollars for the rights to their process?

    When I saw this guy's last name, I could only think of Phil Silvers starring as Sergeant Bilko. I know, that's beside the point, but that's what leapt into my mind.

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  23. By Russ on March 17, 2010 at 6:26 am

    The good professor is tired of being nobody from nowhere. He found his way to a bit of fleeting glory.

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  24. By Paul on March 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Benny,

    That is interesting, but also very, very hard to believe. Consider this statement;

    "That's $28 a barrel versus $75 we pay now for imported crude.

    Texas lignite coal is dirt cheap – less than $18 a ton. A ton of coal will produce up to 1.5 barrels of oil."

    So they use $12 of coal, and then it costs all of $16.84 to change that to oil. That is an amazing number. The only place in the world that has a production cost of less than $16/bbl is Saudi Arabia.

    An "zero pollution" too, by taking 1 ton of coal, to make 0.2 ton of oil – what happens to the rest of the coal? Unless they have an in-situ process, that's a lot of tailings to go somewhere.

    And they have only recaptured about 30-40% of the original energy in the coal, so where did all the rest of that carbon go?

    And to go the the press when they expect to sign a deal in a few weeks – who would do that if they were really onto something?

    I think Russ is right, someone just wants their 15 minutes of fame….

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  25. By Benny BND Cole on March 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Hey All-
    I don't know if anybody is still reading re lignite to oil, but I share reservations too…along the "if it sounds too good to be ture" variety.

    Still, these guys are at a major university, and the university has approved them having this press conference.

    I know if I was in charge of a university, I would try to assure myslef that a press conference revealed legit info, otherwise the credibility of UT Arlington would be radically reduced….

    Time will tell…

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  26. By Wendell Mercantile on March 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I know if I was in charge of a university, I would try to assure myself that a press conference revealed legit info…

    Hmmm. Does this remind anyone of the University of Utah and the Fleischmann-Pons press conference about "Cold Fusion" back in 1989?

    The U of Utah seemed to rush into the press conference on that one.

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  27. By Benny The Man on March 17, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Wendall-
    Yes, there are exceptions. Maybe UT-Arlington will become a laughingstock. Even by Texas standards.

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  28. By Anonymous on March 18, 2010 at 4:02 am

    UT Arlington profs/scientists who say they can convert lignite to oil at under $30 a barrel.
    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

    Benny: Producing 1.5 bbls of synthetic oil from one ton of Texas Lignite isn't a really good conversion rate.

    However, you and others will see this type of conversion efficiency more than double. And soon. But the end product might not be oils.

    Yet accomplishing such coal to liquid conversions for less than $30 per barrel equivalent is very doable! This is what people don't realize. When they do, they will marvel at the domestic opportunities to become less addicted to foreign oil and quickly.

    And right in-step with further advances in process efficiency, these conversion costs may drop significantly below $30 per barrel before any applicable tax credit whatsoever may be applied.

    • What then?
    • Who profits?
    • Who gains? (How?)
    • Who loses? (Why?)
    • NIMBY's to slow this down?
    These are the bonus questions.

    Some folks may refer to this as disruptive technology.

    Would you or other parties wish to decentralize ownership of GTL processes like these in the USA first?

    Or should we collectively sit back and wait to copycat China or India commercial scaleups in another 4-5 years?

    Just wondering here… ???
    Being first is difficult. Being second or third in line is relatively easy.

    And thanks for the heads-up to what these professors at UT Arlington are doing. I hope they are very successful.

    -Cliff

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