American imports of oil could be eliminated by 2030, a new study claims, if the U.S. adopts an aggressive 20 year program of energy efficiency and commercialization of four already-demonstrated technologies for making transportation fuels.The New York Times reported on Saturday that the study sponsored by a nonprofit group of legislators and governors called the Southern States Energy Board, to be released on Monday, urges a crash program to meet fuel needs without imports. The study, authored by Roger Bezdek, claims that more than a million new jobs would be created and the deficit reduced by $600 billion.
The four technologies are:
- Coal liquefication which would replace 29% of oil.
- Use biomass to make syngas which would be converted to liquid fuels by a gasification-Fischer-Tropsch (FT) Process.
- Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) using CO2 produced by the other processes which would also eliminate CO2 emmisions that cause global warming.
- Production of oil from shale.
The study indicates that oil prices of $35 to $55 a barrel are necessary for these process to be competitive.
The study does not endorse corn ethanol, but it does anticipate the production of cellulosic ethanol, in a process which it points out is not yet commercial.
While I think that the first three points are possible, I believe that the oil shale program would not contribute significantly in the proposed 20 year time period. We have not made significant progress on that technology and calling it commercial is very misleading. Using coal liquefaction has been identified by several as a way to replace expensive oil.
Using biomass to produce liquid fuels has not been demonstrated to a significantly greater extent than biorefinery produced cellulosic ethanol has and I would argue that gasification of biomass is more difficult to comercialize than hydrolysis of biomass. I believe that biorefineries to make cellulosic ethanol are less expensive than gasification-FT gasoline or diesel, but both technologies are too immature to make definitive cost estimates. Both processes produce CO2 that could be used for EOR. Cellulosic ethanol of course has less energy content than FT liquids and is more difficult to transport than FT liquids. On the other had location of of cellulosic ethanol plants can be very diverse and relatively easy to permit while the expense of transporting coal and more difficulty in getting permits are negatives for FT processes. Locating them near coal mines where their may be unemployment will help the permitting process.
A less expensive program would be the one described in the previous post where the use of biomass fuels and conservation, through mandating higher mileage cars and light trucks, would all that would be required. Without aggressive mandates, as are required for the current study, it would take longer to implement than the program indicated by this study. Whether biofuels are made in a biorefinery or in gasification-FT process does not make too much difference to me, as long as the lower cost process is used. I believe that a combination of coal-liquefaction, biorefineries, gasification-FT and mandating higher gas mileage is the quickest route. There is an argument to let market forces cause a shift to higher mileage vehicles, but I believe that with an actual shortage of oil occurring within the next 20 years we will not be prepared if we do not mandate conservation.
I am anxious for the full report to come out and find out what credential the author has.
Resource: Study Cites Plan to End U.S. Oil Imports, Matt Wald, NYT, July 15, 2006