Welcome to the Energy Blog


  • The Energy Blog is where all topics relating to The Energy Revolution are presented. Increasingly, expensive oil, coal and global warming are causing an energy revolution by requiring fossil fuels to be supplemented by alternative energy sources and by requiring changes in lifestyle. Please contact me with your comments and questions. Further Information about me can be found HERE.

    Jim


  • SUBSCRIBE TO THE ENERGY BLOG BY EMAIL

After Gutenberg

Clean Break

The Oil Drum

Statistics

Blog powered by Typepad

« Diesel Hydraulic Delivery Truck Unveiled | Main | Simple Combustor Increases Efficiency, Reduces Emissions »

July 02, 2006

Comments

Cervus

We have a lot of biofuel irons in the fire right now. This is a very good thing. It meeans we're looking at a very diverse number of sources, and many different approaches. It's a brand new industry. It's the ground floor.

Let the best product win.

Engineer-Poet

No, it's a bad thing; our "irons" include a number of schemes which have dubious benefits (at best) even at their theoretical limits and are being done mostly as pork programs.

If we wanted the best product to win, we would force all programs to be reviewed by an expert board and drop the ones which have no chance of giving us real energy independence.  That money would do more good almost anywhere else.

JJ

DA -- Wind and solar are not even mentioned here, or, in the original Washington Post article. What a shame -- we need to connect all the dots when it comes to renewables -- not just "preferably coal and nuclear"!! Let's get with the "total view" of what the future can and will look like!!!!!!!!!!!! If sites like this can't get the big picture and get the word out then they should shut down and go away. I for one won't be reading this site any more. What a shame. We need accurate and big picture reporting -- not tunnel vision gobultity guck.

Jim from The Energy Blog

Solar and Wind are included in renewables which was stated as the preferable way of generating electricity--the thrust of this post was about biofuels and plug-ins, not renewables.

Harvey D.

Biodiesel, ethanol, butanol and other alternative fuels will make more sense when PHEVs are in wide general use and our vehicles get 100+ mpg thus reducing the fuel demand by 5 or more.

As EES (batteries and ultra capacitors)performance improves and EVs become common place, liquid fuels demand will go down significantly and USA could produce enough biofuels without overly affecting food crops.

odograph

I believe this is the report that made the 50% (47%?) claim:

http://www.worldwatch.org/taxonomy/term/445

I meant to go back and check into it but I've been busy .. or lazy .. or busy/lazy.

amazingdrx

This study assumes 10% of transportation fuel coming from biomass by 2020.

As the study proposes to supply that amount by converting more photosynthetic bio-energy to fuel that is burned, that will exacerbate climate change. All the land that can be converted to carbon sink, either through more reserve land or returning as much biomass as possible to the soil through organic farming, us needed to reverse CO 2 climate problems.

Between non-CO 2 emmitting electric renewable power used in PHEVs and EVs and liquid fuel generated with algae in solar systems, the economic and war related problems of importing oil and the even bigger problem of CO 2 climate change can be solved simultaneously.

Trying to use fuel farming to replace oil will only replace a fraction of it and actually degrade the present level of the carbon sink effect of conserrvation reserve land and sustainable farming practices that build soil organically by recyclng biomass.

The illusion that fuel farming actually can solve these problems is a dangerous one. It makes the release of methane from permafrost inevitable as CO 2 levels continue to rise.

That will overwhelm the climate system and cost far more than conversion to renewable electric transportation power and carbon sink sequestration with more conservation reserve land will.

Just the increasing storms and droughts alone will cost many orders of magnitude more. In fact the economic boom from renewable energy will more than pay any extra costs.

And how can anyone envision agricultural yields actually increasing (as this study does) with ever increasing weather volatility? The reverse is true, the water needed for even present ag production levels is rapidly being depleted as aquifers are destroyed with overuse and pollution.

it is interesting that renewable electric transportation advocates are often accused of over optimistic predictions given the unrealistic assumptions behind fuel farming.

mcr

I think James Fraser did a good job of defending the pro-Biofuels side here with some logical and legitimate arguments.
To be honest, I can't understand why the Washington Post would publish something like this? It was bordering on a completely biased article against biofuels rather than giving both sides of the arguement. What was the objective? What other choice is there? Oil reserves arn't going to last - so any improvements to the energy mix - if sustainable are welcome!
I work/study/research in the "clean technologies area" - specifically novel reactor design and catalysis amongst other things - BUT as far as I am aware no one has ever said anything about Biofuels completely replacing Oil/gas/coal - TOMORROW???
This is future plans with agriculture providing the majority of the feedstock in the short-term until Bioprocessing (algae and other fermentation processes) takes over the larger burden and as technology improves. And the fact that energy from agriculture is an economic spur to the international chemical industries to invest in CHEMICALS FROM AGRICULTURE - an important economic/environmental point. Then what is the contrary arguement? I can't see one? Do we want to be reliant on peterochems for ever - an impossibility!
To quote PM Tony Blair MP, "this is an opportunity" - specifically for developing new technologies. I think not to seize it is foolish.

Anyway, a lot of these points will be raised at the forthcoming 2006 "Renewable Resources and Biorefineries (RRB)Conference" in York (The University of York, UK) 6th to 8th September 2006. The deadline for abstract submission has been extended incidentally. So if anyone in academia/industrial R&D is reading this and is interested - get on the web and submit to attend a major international conference.

Cervus

Engineer-Poet:

So you'd rather have some politically motivated central authority decide the winner? It's bad enough already with all these corn subsidies.

amazingdrx

"we would force all programs to be reviewed by an expert board and drop the ones which have no chance of giving us real energy independence."

I agree that the state of emergency on climate change and oil war and terrorism demands some sort of action like this.

Maybe studying the process used in WW 2 war production might help. Remember the story of the jeep? A competition was held, and the winner was chosen. But even then the company that won was judged to be too small and it was manufactured by bigger automakers.

Did it step on that smaller company's rights? I'm not sure how they were compensated (other than a contract for trailers), but WW 2 was won by the allies thanks in large part to mass production of the jeep, among many other devices. FDR was far from perfect, but he kicked ass to get the war production going to save the free world.

Some equitable way to make the mass production of the best batteries and best solar and wind technology happen as soon as possible is on the same level of importance now as it was for the jeep them.

Fuel farming is a misdirection at best, a waste of precious capital and natural carbon sinks at worst. Ah sweet reason please save US!

amazingdrx

I am not opposed to these biorefining efforts though. With algae as feed stock they will be the future of the chemical industry and especially liquid fuel production where it is needed.

I would really like to see the harvesting of algae that is clogging rivers, lakes, and oceans due to fertlizer runoff, to be processed with biorefining into fuel and organic fertlizer, as well as to remove pollution from waters.

mcr

amazingdrx - I agree with your point about the long term future of the chemicals industries being in fermentation/algae (microbial) bioprocessing - but the agricultural element is still going to have an important part to play since setup costs will be inevitably cheaper (i.e. it'll be expensive to genetically modify & develop an array of strains to produce the vast variety of commodities)... which are already one or two steps away from synthesis in the agricultural crop.. is it going to be economical? NOT IN EVERY CASE I think. You have to think of this situation as like us having to develop an entirely new array of tools to develop chemicals/fuels we currently get from peterochemical refining. It's about diversification... creating a "toolkit".

This is a balancing act - is harvesting river algae energetically competitive with agricultural chemicals??? Studies need to be done first! Along the WHOLE CHEMICAL LIFE CYCLE.

This sort of issue is the bread and butter of my PhD really - although I'm looking at more specific examples myself.

I do enjoy reading the news sections on here - WELL DONE JAMES FRASER for an excellent blog.

One point, I urge readers to become familiar with the "12 principles of green chemistry" (ANASTAS), and the idea of LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT (LCA), and I also urge readers to check out the HIGHLY ACCESSIBLE British academic journal "GREEN CHEMISTRY" (from the Royal Society of Chemistry), or at the very least "Chemistry World" magazine(RSC) - another accessible periodical available.

My final point is - the future is ok in energy provided continued resources are thrown at these problems from governments and the private sector.

RENEWABLES are fashionable currently in both academia and the public conciousness. It'll have to stay that way to make significant impacts (I say this since there is currently difficulty attracting the next generation of Chemists in UK universities... with departments closing, competition from the likes of Psychology etc and other artisic subjects that are over subscribed makes this difficult!).

I was disturbed to see some alarming, misrepresentative reporting in the respected Washington Press. It was a little unbalanced in its headline I feel to say the least. A better headline would have been "Questions on the hopes for Biofuels". The actual title was already biased against them.

I've only started posting on here today - but I'll keep people updated on info (related to my work and others I hear about)particularly since this blog seems rather US orientated ... needs more European input I feel! Since collaborative efforts are prevalent now people - we work with people all over the world).

Thanks to James Fraser's inspiration (this site!)... I setup my own PORTAL in my own research area (novel reactor design & catalysis). It's about creating a phenomenon known as the "independent researcher" - using things like this site and the internet at large (INFORMATICS) - it's amazing what an impact people can have when they work together and share information.

I'll post the site URL in a few weeks if there's any demand & as it develops. Its specifically in MICROWAVE-ASSISTED CHEMISTRIES (and "Scale-out" & "process intensification" - "Scale-up" would be the incorrect term due to the nature of it)...

If anyone wants it - post on here so I can see demand ... I can post the administrator (my) email for the site on here if people want it? (AND JAMES doesn't mind!)

mcr

amazingdrx - I agree with your point about the long term future of the chemicals industries being in fermentation/algae (microbial) bioprocessing - but the agricultural element is still going to have an important part to play since setup costs will be inevitably cheaper (i.e. it'll be expensive to genetically modify & develop an array of strains to produce the vast variety of commodities)... which are already one or two steps away from synthesis in the agricultural crop.. is it going to be economical? NOT IN EVERY CASE I think. You have to think of this situation as like us having to develop an entirely new array of tools to develop chemicals/fuels we currently get from peterochemical refining. It's about diversification... creating a "toolkit".

This is a balancing act - is harvesting river algae energetically competitive with agricultural chemicals??? Studies need to be done first! Along the WHOLE CHEMICAL LIFE CYCLE.

This sort of issue is the bread and butter of my PhD really - although I'm looking at more specific examples myself.

I do enjoy reading the news sections on here - WELL DONE JAMES FRASER for an excellent blog.

One point, I urge readers to become familiar with the "12 principles of green chemistry" (ANASTAS), and the idea of LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT (LCA), and I also urge readers to check out the HIGHLY ACCESSIBLE British academic journal "GREEN CHEMISTRY" (from the Royal Society of Chemistry), or at the very least "Chemistry World" magazine(RSC) - another accessible periodical available.

My final point is - the future is ok in energy provided continued resources are thrown at these problems from governments and the private sector.

RENEWABLES are fashionable currently in both academia and the public conciousness. It'll have to stay that way to make significant impacts (I say this since there is currently difficulty attracting the next generation of Chemists in UK universities... with departments closing, competition from the likes of Psychology etc and other artisic subjects that are over subscribed makes this difficult!).

I was disturbed to see some alarming, misrepresentative reporting in the respected Washington Press. It was a little unbalanced in its headline I feel to say the least. A better headline would have been "Questions on the hopes for Biofuels". The actual title was already biased against them.

I've only started posting on here today - but I'll keep people updated on info (related to my work and others I hear about)particularly since this blog seems rather US orientated ... needs more European input I feel! Since collaborative efforts are prevalent now people - we work with people all over the world).

Thanks to James Fraser's inspiration (this site!)... I setup my own PORTAL in my own research area (novel reactor design & catalysis). It's about creating a phenomenon known as the "independent researcher" - using things like this site and the internet at large (INFORMATICS) - it's amazing what an impact people can have when they work together and share information.

I'll post the site URL in a few weeks if there's any demand & as it develops. Its specifically in MICROWAVE-ASSISTED CHEMISTRIES (and "Scale-out" & "process intensification" - "Scale-up" would be the incorrect term due to the nature of it)...

If anyone wants it - post on here so I can see demand ... I can post the administrator (my) email for the site on here if people want it? (AND JAMES doesn't mind!)

amazingdrx

"I'll keep people updated on info (related to my work and others I hear about)particularly since this blog seems rather US orientated ... needs more European input I feel! Since collaborative efforts are prevalent now people - we work with people all over the world)."


Excellent!!! Thanks!

I sure like that algae harvesting for bioremediation and raw material for biorefining. Think of floating ocean wave/wind platforms with built in algae filters and solar powered refining built into and under the floating platform.

This actually has the capacity to replace oil someday (along with algae from solar collectors mounted on buildings and over parking areas), if most transportation energy was electric.

And even without modification there are known algae strains that yeild 50% biodiesel, for instance. The rest of the plant can be converted to methane.

Neal

Excellent article as usual, Jim. I am always quite skeptical of the type of resouce limitation studies that the Energy Blog is quoting from ORNL here.

Typically, if the economics work, the market manages to push the envelope a lot further than these studies suggest, and if the economics do not work, nothing happens anyway.

Private industry proves to be extremely more innovative and resourceful than the study can ever predict.

So I never feel that these types of analyses add a huge amount of value beyond initiating a debate.

For example, we did a blog on Cleantech Blog regarding a similar NREL analysis about the theory that cellulosic sources will quickly replace corn in ethanol production, based primarily on the fact that the US needs a large percentage of our current corn crop for animal feed.

http://www.cleantechblog.com/2006/05/more-capital-markets-stories-for.html

Our thesis is that corn ethanol will be a significant player for a long period of time. The rationale: farmers are smart, they subsititute rather quickly when the economics are in their favor. And the real drivers keeping corn ethanol afloat over cellulosic will be sheer process economics (most cellulosic process are not only more costly, the feedstock has severe transport issues), and ease of switching costs (relatively high with new crops like switchgrass, and very low with corn).

mcr

Neal - I think the Dupont/BP development of "biobutanol" if successful will be hugely significant as to replace the ethanol-end in biofuels. Two major key players (multinationals - BP having the largest corporate profit is British history!)... if they're checking the feasiblity of this then you can be sure it'll be significant - even in terms of the BTUs generated/and the fact it has a lower water affinity (higher vapour pressure) etc. It's just superior all round as far as I can tell.

The point is ... with the cellulosic and seed-oil crops ... the fuel element MUST go hand in hand with agro-derived biochemicals / technologies. Thats when you will get highest efficiencies/sustainability (IN TERMS OF THE LCA).

The point on Dumeric's (Wisconsin) HMF "Science" article was that its creating a pretty important commodity from a previously unusable feedstock FRUCTOSE - CELLULOSIC material.
(Fructose is NOT EVEN in the TOP 30 value added platform molecules ....
SEE "Top Value Added Chemicals from Biomass
Volume I—Results of Screening for Potential
Candidates from Sugars and Synthesis Gas" - Produced by the Staff at
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Office of Biomass Program (EERE)
For the Office of the Biomass Program
T. Werpy and G. Petersen, Editors ... August 2004)


I want to see a followup paper from Dumeric's group for further confirmation etc. But was very pleased to read it.

THE USUAL - MORE RESULTS THE BETTER! Even better would be for further literature on highly selective routes to biodiesels/polyesters etc to have been included here. Can anyone give me them?

My own opinion - we live in exciting times for renewables (THAT'S WHY I GOT INVOLVED WITH THEM). The likes of the Washington Post, although quiet rightly highlighting disadvantages/limitations... should really go more for CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISMS rather than some of the writing I read there.

I mean... how is agrochems going to jeopodise food reserves? The EU vastly over produces food ("FOOD MOUNTAINS"). That's my point. To use the land in a more CONSTRUCTIVE/SUSTAINABLE way for the benefit of all is the whole idea. It also diversifies its use...

WITH parallel development of Fermentation/Microbial Processing methods - and other MODULAR TECHNOLOGIES THAT CAN BE ADDED ON DOWNSTREAM ... Then the "INTEGRATED-BIOREFINERY" is a real - possibility...

TRUST ME - I am working on it myself!


By the way: I urge people to check out this article as an introduction to GREEN CHEMISTRY incase anyone wonders what the fuss I am making here is all about?

IT IS FREE TO VIEW TO ALL

http://www.rsc.org/Publishing/Journals/GC/article.asp?doi=b516637n

Jim from The Energy Blog

I agree with Neal that favorable market conditions have to exist before changing technologies will be adopted. I believe that some government subsidies in the begining are ok, as long as the technology eventually can be selfsustaining--not the never ending subsidies that oil companies and farmers are getting. Cellulosic ethanol has to be developed and demonstrated before it becomes competitive. There are now about a dozen companies in the US that are pursuing this goal (an upcoming post will delineate them-not too soon though as it is a massive research project).

The wholesale price of gasoline is hovering between $2.00 & @2.30/gal and I expect it too stay there at least until the end of summer. This should be high enough for ethanol to compete with gasoline. I expect the peak price of gasoline to continue to escalate every year. New oil production is more expensive than older sources and refineries are spending enormous sums on new equipment to handle new crude oil. I believe that new refineries are not being built, not only because of environmental problems, but beacause there is little profit to be made at the prices for end products that they have to use to justify new construction. They are still thinking less than $50.00 crude and I don't see that ever happening.

We do not know what the price of cellulosic ethanol will be, but I can't see some of the large investments in plant facilities that are being made if they don't believe they can compete.

The current price of ethanol, somewhere in the $4.00 to $4.75/gal is an aberration caused by the necessity to replace MBTE by July 1, requiring record imports with their tarrif of $0.51/gal. Supposedly we will have enough domestic production next year.

Quite a few people believe that we will have a shortage of land too grow corn on by 2010-2012. That is not in evidence this year as slightly lower acreage has been devoted to corn than last year although greater acreage was devoted to soy beans (biodiesel). Whenever a land shortage occurs and prices start escalating will be the signal that it is time for large scale cellulosic ethanol. At that time any higher cost or more complicated harvesting will cease to be an argument.
Fairly large acreage of switchgrass are being planted in Illinois. You may have seen the reports of trial firing of switchgrass with coal which had considerable sucess. The swithchgrass was harvested with conventional bailing equipment and fed into the boilers with new equipment built for that purpose, which worked well by the end of the three month trial. That equipment is very similar to the equipment that would be required to break apart the bales of switchgrass before feeding it too the pulverizing equipment that would be used in cellulosic ethanol plants. (one version of which is described in my upcoming cellulosic ethanol post)

Ethanol plants are becoming more geographicall distributed to eliminate the need to transport the ethanol. Many of the initial cellulosic ethanol plants are being sited in California, the south and the northeast rather than the corn belt where the corn ethanol plants are located.

Douglas Hvistendahl

The advantage of a really free market is that when the thing (almost) everybody knew couldn't work DOES WORK ANYWAY, it often works much better. We will be using stored energy vehicles (not necessarily battery), multifuel, and more efficient. Best of all is when we can eliminate an expense. I've been working on my house in my spare (HA) time and have cut heating bills to 1/4 of original and am not yet finished. In storage, there is a recent item in liquid air/nitrogen cycle design that raises specific energy from slightly over half the theoretical limit to slightly under the theoretical limit. This would be most useful for the larger vehicles. I'd like to see trolleys in the cities again - possibly with hybrid capability.
See www.annualizedgeosolar.com and www.starrotor.com among others.

Cyrus

To zoom out a level or two of abstraction, if you need hydrocarbons, and if not enough of them are available at market price, and if coal converstion is politically unacceptable, then you need two things: carbon and energy.

Ultimately, your carbon source is going to be carbon dioxide, maybe atmospheric, or you might have a fossil power plant's tailpipe to suck on: at least you get to burn the same carbon twice.

And ultimately, your energy source is going to be solar. (Or maybe nuclear, but I don't see anyone putting their billion dollars down behind the combined the safety issues of a hydrocarbon refinery and a nuclear power plant in the same complex in today's legal climate.)

And if your carbon source is carbon dioxide, and your energy source is solar, then today, you'll be using a plant. And if you start looking at the efficiency of photosynthesis, you will find yourself thinking your plant ought to be able to do better.

One way we might be able to do better than a plant is synthetic photocatalysts. This is something the DOE is just now seriously starting to fund research for, but the idea is you have a material, that in contact with water and carbon dioxide, will synthesize methane. Plain old titanium dioxide can do the job, but only very inefficiently. The question is, can any device be made which will do it with efficiency in the mid-teens.

The other possibility I can see is, If the sun-tracking problem for solar concentration get solved in a cost-effective fashion, and If catalysts can be found to do hydrocarbon chemistry at temperatures more like 400 C than 800 C, then a solar-thermal powered carbon-fixing industry is a real possibility.

I can only see biofuels as a stopgap on the way to something that uses light energy more effectively.

Engineer-Poet
It was bordering on a completely biased article against biofuels rather than giving both sides of the arguement. What was the objective? What other choice is there?
That's a false dichotomy.  Bio-ethanol is not going to work just because oil is depleting.  It is logically possible for nothing to work, and technological society collapses.

There are workable possibilities, but bio-ethanol is at most a bit player rather than a starring role.

So you'd rather have some politically motivated central authority decide the winner?
No, I'd rather have it be decided by something like the National Academy of Sciences, with the public able to intervene if it managed to get the facts wrong (and anyone who tries to interfere forced to pay up and admit wrongness if the facts were right).
The wholesale price of gasoline is hovering between $2.00 & @2.30/gal and I expect it too stay there at least until the end of summer. This should be high enough for ethanol to compete with gasoline.
It would be, if the energy in ethanol wasn't about 80% "laundered" fossil energy.  That's why the cost of ethanol rises along with, or even faster than, oil.  You'll find more details in Robert Rapier's essays.

peter

Mr engineer-poet,
If ethanol takes more fossil energy to produce than it yields, how can a modern plant produce ethanol for $1.10 per gallon including all energy costs for the plant and the cost of the feedstock?

Engineer-Poet

If it's fired by coal, it could.  But that's just laundered (cheap) fossil fuel again.

Robert Rapier

The wholesale price of gasoline is about $2.20 right now, but the wholesale price of ethanol, which is 35% less energy dense than gasoline, is about $3.20 right now. See: http://www.aceethanol.com/ which lists NYMEX gasoline and CBT ethanol prices.

So, if it takes $1.10 to make a gallon of ethanol, and it is being sold for $3.20, then it looks like the oil companies aren't the ones doing the gouging.

Cheers,

RR

mcr

Engineer-Poet said: "That's a false dichotomy. Bio-ethanol is not going to work just because oil is depleting. It is logically possible for nothing to work, and technological society collapses.
There are workable possibilities, but bio-ethanol is at most a bit player rather than a starring role."

You missed the point. The point I was trying to make was - what was the Washington Post's objective in publishing that article?

I don't feel that Bioethanol nor any other FIRST GENERATION BIOFUEL... WILL have a starring role I make that clear now - due to their lower energy densities and other limitations. However synthetic butanol and bidiesels do have better properties and although CURRENTLY (too much?) energy is lost in their creation (the energy loss is poorer compared with Peterochem refining but better than certain GTL technologies...?). I recently viewed some research from the University of Utrecht, Netherlands that showed that they (Biofuels) were more than competitive with peterochems - WHEN TAKEN/VIEWED WITH CHEMICAL MANUFACTURE IN PARALLEL AT THE SAME LOCATION.
WE GET BACK TO THE "INTEGRATED-BIOREFINERY" ISSUE AGAIN!!! Chemical synthesis and fuel synthesis need to occur at the same locale to make this feasible. Remember fuels is only one part of the equation - if you develop "value-added chemicals" at the same time YOU'RE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO TURN A PROFIT ... one can offset the other depending on location availability of other energy sources? This is providing the techology is good? i.e. SELECTIVE etc and have low mass (e.g. solvent use) & energy intensities: RELATES TO THE TERM "METRICS" specifically "Green Chemistry Metrics". I suggest people "Google" the term.

As for Robert Rapier - maybe ethanol production in Califonia isnt economic like it is in Brazil? But who is to say Biobutanol won't be more economic? Thats the point!

Cyrus said: "I can only see biofuels as a stopgap on the way to something that uses light energy more effectively."

I agree with this technology being a short term measure (for next 50-100 years) at least before what you describe occurs. I agree this is a stepping stone to that vision you describe. I recently sent these thoughts to an academic friend of mine:

"My thoughts/opinion are that we're now seeing another change in the whole basis of the economy...

E.g. Human history ...

Hunter-gatherers...
Early agricultural .... (PRE INDUSTRIAL AGE)
Agricultural Revolution ---> Industrial Revolution (INDUSTRIAL AGE)

Industial Maturity & Innovation (Computer-Web / Early-Nuclear / Nanotech AGE)

Depletion of finite-fossil fuel reserves...
Reverstion to a quasi- Agricultural-Industrial Complex (?) ...
(therefore = Computer-Web / Early-Nuclear / Nanotech / Biorefinery AGE)

In 50 years plus from today...(convergent) Computer-Web / Fusion-Nuclear / Nanotech / Biorefinery AGE... ?

I argue it'll still be the biorefinery age in 2050 - since even though dependence on it as an energy source will be reduced (Fusion power?) the need for food/commodities/basic hydrocarbons will still be there - if not more so due to increasing world population...

Thats enough discussion/speculation anyway."

mcr

Neal said: "...I am always quite skeptical of the type of resouce limitation studies that the Energy Blog is quoting from ORNL here.

....So I never feel that these types of analyses add a huge amount of value beyond initiating a debate."

They also pull together nicely some statistics and important figures that people can use.
We use them professionally, also some statistics from The DTI (UK government). They allow the professional scientist to read, make up their own mind then go away and create new routes/methods using the information contained as considerations.

The important point is accuracy. With these bodies you can be sure the figures are going to be pretty accurate - since they are open to scrutiney.

Anyway - the DOE's, EPA's and other related reports can usually dictate future trends in academic R&D. So they are of value after all!

Engineer-Poet
The point I was trying to make was - what was the Washington Post's objective in publishing that article?
It was correct and made no obvious moves to mislead.  Does the objective matter?  Deconstruction is passé, you know.
I don't feel that Bioethanol nor any other FIRST GENERATION BIOFUEL... WILL have a starring role I make that clear now - due to their lower energy densities and other limitations. However synthetic butanol and bidiesels do have better properties....
That doesn't matter.  What matters is that
  1. Bio-fuels, including butanol, are aimed at the same old inefficient combustion engines.
  2. We cannot satisfy our needs if we have 50+% losses in conversion and 85% losses in engines.
  3. The bio-fuel lobby is trying to maintain the status quo, including engines (touting "compatibility" far and wide); it is part of the problem.
  4. The WaPo article is a nail in the coffin of complacency.  Regardless of the publisher's objective, this is necessary.
recently viewed some research from the University of Utrecht, Netherlands that showed that they (Biofuels) were more than competitive with peterochems - WHEN TAKEN/VIEWED WITH CHEMICAL MANUFACTURE IN PARALLEL AT THE SAME LOCATION.
The demand for fuel is so much greater than the demand for petrochems that the market for the latter would saturate if biofuels took over in the current scheme.  However, there isn't enough biological productivity in the world for that to happen; if you have 48% efficient cellulosic ethanol feeding into 15% efficient cars, the field-to-wheels efficiency is 7.2%. 

There's an alternative that probably would work.  Conversion of biomass to carbon (charcoal) is about 50% efficient and yields a combustible byproduct gas.  Charcoal can be used in direct-carbon fuel cells, which appear to be capable of up to 80% efficiency.  A field-to-wheels efficiency of 40% or even 30% would make it feasible or very close to it, but doing this requires abandoning the whole concept of liquid biofuels as drop-in replacements for petroleum.

The WaPo article makes this point.  It needs to be made more often, and much louder.

Note by Jim from The Energy Blog--My post on the direct-carbon fuel cell can be found here.

Jim from The Energy Blog

While the auto companies endorsement of biofuels is in their interest in maintaining the role of the ICE, the fact is that the ICE will be the dominant prime mover for the next few decades. It takes about 15 years to transition a new technology into widespread use and it will be a few years before alternative technologies will be mass produced. During this time oil will become extremely expensive and in short supply. This creates four needs 1)the need for alternative fuels 2)the need more efficient propulsion 3)the need for vehicles that use less liquid fuels and 4)alternative propulsion methods. The plug-in hybrid and bifuels provides a relatively easy transition to meeting these needs.

Diesel engines will be a significant player in the drive for higher efficiency. Fuel cells offer the potential for more efficiency, but their time frame for adoption is speculative, somewhere in the 15-25 year time frame. The biofuel/PHEV/EV economy is self sustaining until,if ever fuel cells become competitive. The fact that auto companies have made a significant investment in fuel cells, makes the eventual adoptation of the fuel cell more likely and conversely causes more resistance to the adoptation of the plug-in/EV. Thank goodness for Toyota.

Engineer-Poet

Again, the problem is the ~7% field-to-wheels efficiency of liquid biofuels.  Incentives to produce them are themselves problematic, because they create entrenched interests with a stake in doing things the same way forever (e.g. ethanol from corn).  You may be able to hit 15% total efficiency with diesels, but that's still a long way from the 30%-40% possible with charcoal and DCFC's (and that figure ignores the products from the off-gas).  Conventional biofuels also leave no openings for substantial carbon sequestration.  Worse, many processes for biomass-to-liquids are enough like coal-to-liquids that they present a serious risk of persuading people to ignore the climate to save a bit on energy.

The PHEV is the key to the short term, but the dependence on liquid fuels is the Achilles' heel.  Yet the PHEV can be filled up with any source of electricity, and any portable form of storage (e.g. zinc-air cells) turns nuclear or wind or solar PV into a replacement for long-distance motor fuel.  Those make a far bigger dent in CO2 and pollution than biofuels, and they get around the traps of expensive hydrogen fuel cells and the fossil-fuel industry's lock on the least expensive methods of hydrogen production.

We can achieve quite a bit with diesels in the short term, but the long term needs to get rid of combustion engines entirely.  Liquid biofuels are not very good fuels for fuel cells (esp. PEM FC's); the MCFC and DCFC eliminate most of the fuel-related issues, and the DCFC boosts efficiency high enough that we can take on all of our issues (energy independence, pollution and climate) at once... and win.

mcr

Engineer-Poet said: "It was correct and made no obvious moves to mislead. Does the objective matter? Deconstruction is passé, you know. "

Emm... I don't mean to be pedantic, but perpetrators of indeterminate terminological inexactitudes are misleading my friend!

I merely “deconstruct” since I'm a scientist (chemist) and that’s generally what we do - go to empirical formulae to work out the answer... use "FIRST PRINCIPLES". Then reconstruct and try to IMPROVE / INNOVATE on what has gone before. So to say it is past tense is incorrect really.
I make the point of the article being misleading (especially the title) since average "Joe Blogs" on the street isn’t already aware of the bigger picture... THE ENTIRE ENERGY MIX.

I refer you to the term "bimimicry" where chemists are trying to understand/mimic naturally occurring chemistries for the benefit of mankind... It's something I am familiar with as an undergraduate.

We have been saying all along that these diesel/butanol biofuels are MERELY SHORTER/MEDIUM-TERM MEASURES (30-50 years). Obviously the "Hydrogen-economy" is a better objective (in 20 years minimum). But do you have the billions if not trillions in your bank account to implement it now? There are too many questions regarding the technologies (Polymer Electrode Membrane) Fuel Cells for instance... onboard storage onto metals ... gas losses... electrical output in a 3D cell volume... (control of Nano particulate – formation within a 3D volume of the polymer)
For PEMS the price of Nafion and related polymers is too high my friend for efficient mass production - AT THE CURRENT TIME. Also the price of Pt group metals is too high and alternatives still need to be found that work at lower temperatures. Then there’s the issue of miniaturization.

I think the TECHNOLOGY (FCs) NEEDS TO MATURE LIKE JAMES FRASER said.

WE ALREADY HAVE A MATURE AND EASILY IMPLEMENTABLE TECHNOLOGY WITH THE INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE!

I do take the valid point on efficiencies of electrical engines - BUT ITS SMALL STEPS FIRST MY FRIEND. And anyway with some of the onboard H2 reformer technologies for hybrid cars these (CO2 neutral) biofuels will have a longer lifetime than 15 years (that Jim suggested)... I feel! They can switch over to pure H2 fuels once the HYDROGEN-FC technologies are actually here.

Look at the BIGGER PICTURE.

With regard to petrochems - I think you underestimate the demand for replacements for PETEROCHEM commodities. The demand for diesel and the demand for plastics (particularly in Asia follow a very similar trend). Also it follows a similar model of what actually happens already in the ordinary Peterochem refinery.


Whats the saying "better the devil you know then the one you don't" ???

mcr

I also quote the following entry on this blog.

This shows the demand for liquid-fuels may even fall whilst the demand for commodities will only increase because of the increasing world population...

Support the "integrated-biorefinery" idea... is what I recommend!

German Survey Indicates Sharp Reduction in Motor Fuels
A Reuters article reported that a survey taken by the Mineraloelwirtschaftsverband (MWV) indicated that German motorists' demand for gasoline and diesel will drop by nearly a quarter in the next 20 years as fuel efficiency rises, the population shrinks and high prices discourage use.

Consumption of the two products in 2025 will be just under 40 million tonnes, down from 53.1 million tonnes in 2005. Compared with 2005, gasoline usage for road traffic alone will fall by 42 percent to 14 million tonnes by 2025. Annual diesel demand by that date will probably reach 26 million tonnes, which would represent a decline by 12 percent from the 2005 level.

As a consequence, carbon dioxide emissions from road traffic would fall by 30 percent over the 20-year period to 113 million tonnes a year, MWV predicted.

German Group Sees Lower Car Fuels Use by 2025, Reuters, June 28,2005

Continue reading "German Survey Indicates Sharp Reduction in Motor Fuels" »

Engineer-Poet

Funny, I thought the important part of chemistry wasn't deconstruction but reconstruction.  Or is it the reconstructionist chemists with their carpet bags and "all atoms of an element are created equal" rhetoric who are offending the old plant-ation biofuel interests?

Are you into biofuels because you support the Indy 500 racists and their methanol abuse?

<pause to wait for groans to subside>

We already have mature industries in electric motors and many forms of batteries.  These are not being widely used in vehicle propulsion, so there's a lot of low-hanging fruit right there.  The ICE itself has little room for improvement after more than a century of development, and it's tied to easily-stored fuels (mostly liquids).  We can grab a quick few percent improvement with tweaks like the Atkinson cycle or possibly Somender Singh's grooves (I remain a skeptic on the latter), but that's perhaps 20-30%.  PHEV's can yield 80% reductions.

I don't think that hydrogen is anything but a boondoggle, being used to keep people from demanding achievable improvements NOW.  And I don't think it's worthwhile over the long term, either; our major alternative sources of energy create electricity, and hydrogen is a very inefficient way of storing electricity.  We should stuff hydrogen on the back burner and put $50 million a year into each of metal-air fuel cells, Li-ion and other batteries, direct-carbon fuel cells and intelligent grids.

Robert

At any rate, biofuels will be useful in that segment of the fuel market that will the last, if ever, to be penetrated by battery storage: Big Things That Go. In this I comprise aircraft, large oceangoing vessels, and maybe trains and long-haul trucks. Fortuitously, Big Things That Go, unlike personal vehicles, aren't bothered so much by the start-up times and large size requirements for solid oxide fuel cells.

Engineer-Poet

Trains can be electrified directly; most trains in France are electric (and already running on nukes).  Lots of truck freight can move to rail, or there's the electrified Blade Runner scheme for trucks.  Zinc-air also works for trucks.

The only thing you really need chemical fuels for is ships and aircraft.

Chala

i agree, biofuels is not meant to replace the current fuel source, but instead, the goal is to conserve the dwindling supply of fossil fuel through alternative means that is the biofuels.

aside from using biofuels, hybrid and electric vehicles are already in the streets. and maybe in the near future we can have zero energy cost home which uses solar cells to provide power.

Harvey D.

Since 'field to wheel' efficiency of ICE machines is so poor (7% to 15%) and difficult to improve, it seems evident that changing the source of the liquid fuel used (from gasoline/diesel to ethanol, butanol, biodiesel etc.) is NOT the proper long term solution.

We have to move towards much more efficient + cleaner drive trains. PHEVs can go a long way towards that objective by reducing liquid fuel requirement by up to 80%. All car manufacturers could have such vehicles on the road by 2010.

As on-board, Electricity Storage Devices (EES) become lighter, cheaper and more efficient, PHEVs will use even less liquid fuel or will simply be upgraded to pure EVs, reducing liquid fuel usage to almost zero.

PHEVs and EVs could co-exist for a few decades and countries like USA and Canada could produce enough biofuel to support 200+ million such vehicles without reducing food production below requirements (if liquid fuel usage is reduce to less than 15% of current level).

The electric energy required for 200+ million PHEVs and EVs could easily be produced (over a 20 to 40 years time period) by mixed sources such as Hydro + wind + solar + waves + nuclear.

Very high speed electric trains (300 to 450 Km/h) could replace flights for all short trips (up to 1000 Km) and heavy long haul trucks to further reduce liquid fuel consumption and GHG. Europe, Japan and China are doing it, why not us.

Will

We just posted Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's (the Terminator) latest biofuel plans - http://cutoilimports.blogspot.com

Cooling systems

I am also not opposed to these biorefining efforts though. With algae as feed stock they will be the future of the chemical industry and especially liquid fuel production where it is needed.

wholesale dropshippers sources vendors

i just love the hybrid cars. the technology is just getting better every day.

Truck Rental

I liked the concept of Truck very much . heavy long haul trucks to further reduce liquid fuel consumption and GHG. You said right that Europe, Japan and China are doing it, why not us. We must go for it.

Drilling Fluids

Nice post. This post is different from what I read on most blog. And it have so many valuable things to learn.
Thank you for your sharing!

louis vuitton bags

Determine a person's life, and the entire fate, but the passing second.I love you, and your business.

Invertir en oro

I think that this post is very good, i would like to read more information about this topic.

The comments to this entry are closed.

. .




Batteries/Hybrid Vehicles