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Guest Essay on Energy Independence

I am still traveling for a few days, and will be back in Scotland on January 13th. One of the e-mails I received while I was traveling was a guest submission. The author wrote:

Mr. Rapier

After reading a bit of your blog, I am sending this to you in the spirit of promoting a lively debate.

Please find attached a practical approach to achieving energy independence. It is a construction project rather than a research project. It does require some tinkering with the market; however, the energy market is not a free market today and the governments setting the price of oil are either overtly or covertly hostile to our interests.

The plan is simple and for the most part economic. It can not compete with $10 per barrel oil but OPEC is more likely to present us with $200 per barrel oil.

Use nuclear to produce electricity; use electricity rather than natural gas for heating; convert the saved natural gas to methanol, an excellent transportation fuel. 200 nuclear plants and 200 natural gas to methanol plants at a capital cost of about $400 billion can increase the supply of US transportation fuel on an energy equivalent basis by 40%.

Our first objective in the War on Terror should be to break OPEC’s control of oil prices. The West is transferring $1 trillion dollars per year to OPEC at $90 per barrel. This will not be as easy as in the 80’s. Significant increases in demand from China and India are almost certain to overwhelm US conservation efforts and Saudi Arabia appears opposed to the US role in Iraq (higher oil prices) just as they were opposed to the Russian presence in Afghanistan (lower oil prices).

Recent publications on this approach include “The Methanol Economy” by Dr. Olah, a Nobel prize winner, and “Energy Victory” by Dr. Zubrin.

Please feel free to make any use of this material that you deem appropriate. I am trying to put it into general circulation.

Stephen DuVal

I have read the essay a couple of times, and it touches on a lot of the issues that are discussed here frequently. There is a lot of it that I agree with, but some I disagree with. I also think some of the introduction is unnecessarily inflammatory. Nevertheless, I present the entire essay from Stephen DuVal unedited.

———————————————————–

Energy Independence
A Construction Project Rather than a Research Project
by
Stephen DuVal

WW2 didn’t have to turn out the way it did. Suppose Germany and Japan had the oil and we didn’t; suppose Germany and Japan held $3 trillion in US government debt at the start of the war and the US needed $500 billion per year in capital inflows to pay for its imports. Suppose the war started with them raising the price of oil at the rate of $30 per year and starting to insist upon payment in marks and yen. Suppose they started to sell their dollar holdings. Suppose they sold oil to China at $50 per barrel under long term contracts while they charged the West $200 per barrel.

Suppose instead of attacking Pearl Harbor, they built churches in the US, they sent religious leaders to recruit and train Special Forces, and the religious leaders said that they shouldn’t be blamed for the acts of terrorists who may have attended their church in the past. (reference 1, 2, 3). Suppose Hollywood didn’t make Casablanca and Why We Fight; but movies about Marines raping women and killing children. Suppose our journalists recruited sources (spies) within our government; and newspapers, and citing the public’s right to know, printed stories about how radar worked to detect enemy aircraft and how we had broken the German encryption codes.

The Saudi Wahabis have spent $45 billion around the world building mosques and 20,000 Madrasahs to teach young men their religion of hate and violence. They have built, staff, and fund the operation of 10% of the mosques in the US. During the Russian war in Afghanistan, Saudi overproduction of oil hurt the USSR financially since oil exports were its major source of foreign exchange (see reference 4). Since the US invaded Iraq, the price of oil has risen from $30 to $90 per barrel. This hurts the US financially and transfers $1 trillion (80 mbd * 40% OPEC share * $90 per barrel) from the West to OPEC every year.

Energy independence is not a pipe dream. The first step is a construction project rather than a research project; and the second step is based upon an engineer’s view of the Hydrogen Economy.

If we use nuclear to increase the supply of electricity, we could use electricity rather than natural gas for heating. The freed up natural gas can be easily converted to methanol which is an excellent transportation fuel. With minor modifications, cars can run on flexfuel which is a combination of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol. With minor modifications, the current gasoline distribution and storage system can be modified to support methanol/ethanol/gasoline mixes.

Natural gas supplies almost the same amount of energy to our economy as oil; if natural gas was converted to transportation fuel, our supply of transportation fuel would double. Almost all of our natural gas is used for heating; a need which can be satisfied with electricity, and the electricity produced by natural gas can be produced using nuclear power. Currently, there is no substitute for oil in the transportation sector; natural gas can break this monopoly.

France has a very successful nuclear program producing 80% of its low cost electricity. Brazil has implemented the other half of this program. In the last 3 years, Brazil went from 0% market share for flexfuel cars to 100% flexfuel cars. Three years after the US mandated production and importation of flexfuel vehicles, there would be 45 million flexfuel vehicles on the road in the US. This solves the chicken and egg problem: who wants a flexfuel car if you can’t purchase flexfuel, and who wants to build a flexfuel gas station if there are no flexfuel cars.

This entire program is economic. Nuclear electricity is competitive with coal and natural gas. Given today’s price of natural gas, nuclear electricity is competitive with natural gas for heating applications. Methanol costs 10 cents per gallon plus the cost of the natural gas; at $3 per thousand cubic feet (the price in 2000), methanol costs about 60 cents per gallon. Since methanol has 50% of the energy of gasoline, on an energy equivalent basis, methanol costs $1.20 per gallon plus 20 cents in taxes. An existing gas station pump can be converted to flexfuel for about $20,000. An extra $100 per automobile allows a car to run on flexfuel.

The Brazilian flexfuel program is for a mix of ethanol and gasoline; it does not include methanol. A sensor measures the oxygen content in the vehicle exhaust to determine whether the engine is running lean or rich. An engine management system adjusts the air/fuel ratio to balance performance, fuel efficiency, and emissions. This system does not need to know what the fuel is; it can run on a mix of methanol, ethanol, and gasoline.

The Brazilian approach is based upon an earlier effort by Ford to develop a methanol/gasoline flexfuel car for the California Energy Commission. The program involved 14,000 cars over 10 years in the 1990s. A summary report concluded “seamless vehicle operation using any combination of methanol and gasoline … engine durability can be expected to match gasoline vehicles … an incremental improvement in vehicle emissions … Health and safety related issues that had undergone long examination and debate with respect to methanol proved largely insignificant”.

Unlike gasoline, both methanol and ethanol are soluble in water and biodegradable by common bacteria. A methanol spill in the ocean would disperse quickly and not pose any long term environmental risk. Similarly a land spill or seepage does not pose any risk to groundwater. While methanol in quantity is toxic, the FDA allows a daily dose of 500mg. Since aspartame is converted to methanol via the digestive process; drinking a can of diet soda results in 10 times as much methanol intake as from potential inhalation while refueling.

Nuclear electricity combined with natural gas to methanol is the way to implement the first phase of the Hydrogen Economy. Methanol is the elusive Hydrogen Carrier. There is more hydrogen in a gallon of methanol at room temperature than in a gallon of liquid hydrogen at -400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The problem with the conventional view of the Hydrogen Economy is not the engine or even the fuel cell technology. The fundamental issue is hydrogen distribution and storage and secondarily the production of hydrogen economically.

The Distribution and Storage issue centers around the search for a Hydrogen Carrier. Methanol is an excellent hydrogen carrier which exceeds the 2015 research target of the DOE by a wide margin. The existing gasoline distribution and storage infrastructure can be utilized for methanol storage and distribution with minor modifications.

Hydrogen can not be produced economically by electrolysis; it takes 4 energy units of electricity to produce 1 energy unit of hydrogen. However, high temperature nuclear reactors should be able to produce hydrogen as a byproduct; but, that technology will not be available for commercial deployment much before 2020-2030.

Natural gas is an excellent initial source for hydrogen using methanol as the Hydrogen Carrier.

You may raise two objections to the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. First, it is still a fossil fuel so how are we reducing funding for OPEC; and second where is the vast quantity of natural gas that will be needed for this approach?

The issue with OPEC is first to drive the price of oil and natural gas down and then second to totally eliminate fossil fuels from the American, European, and Japanese economy. By converting natural gas to methanol, we have the opportunity to double the supply of transportation fuel which will drive down the price of oil and gas. This should be the first objective in the transition from fossil fuels to nuclear.

When we can produce hydrogen economically from nuclear power, then we are ready to relegate fossil fuels to the dustbin of history. At that point, hydrogen can be combined with CO2 from the air to produce methanol and the distribution and storage infrastructure can continue to be used. When fuel cell technology becomes available for commercial development, the gasoline engines can be removed from hybrid cars leaving only an electric motor, a battery, and a hydrogen fuel cell and methanol reformer or a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell.

If China and India also adopt this approach, then OPEC will be marginalized within 10-20 years. Reducing the competition between the US and China over energy resources will go a long way towards improving the long term relationship between the current superpower and the emerging superpower.

The second issue is where do we get the natural gas. The answer is to convert from natural gas to nuclear electricity for heating and cooking. Furnaces are replaced on average every 16 years and stoves every 12 years. Over this time period the transition from natural gas to electricity could occur. We could also pass a law discouraging the use of natural gas to produce electricity similar to the law which discouraged the use of oil for the production of electricity.

Using very rough calculations, 200 nuclear plants at a cost of $300 billion would free up 40% of our natural gas consumption and 200 large natural gas to methanol plants at a cost of $80 billion would increase our supply of transportation fuel by 40%. In 1974 and 1975, we added 2 new nuclear plants in the US every month. This is a construction project; not a research project.

To make this program work, the following laws are required:
1) mandate production and importation of flexfuel vehicles within 3 years

2) automatically grant an operating license for a nuclear reactor if it is built on an existing site and it’s design has already been approved by the NRC

3) set a minimum price for a barrel of oil ($30-50) to prevent OPEC lowering the price of oil until our investments are made uneconomic (Saudi Arabia pumps oil at $2-5 per barrel)

4) some kind of incentive to transition from natural gas to electricity for heating applications

To those who say that this kind of intrusion into the market place is unwarranted, they are living in a dream world. The current market for oil is nothing like a free market. The US attempt to establish a free market in energy after WW2 started to break down in the 1970’s with the first oil embargo. Today, OPEC is a cartel with monopoly pricing power.

What is even worse, OPEC’s decision makers are not completely motivated by financial concerns. Profit maximization is not the only decision criteria. Decisions makers are now political players at the state level and these decision makers are growing increasingly hostile to the interests of the US.

At some point, our choice will not be to pay an extortionate price, but rather how to respond to an embargo. If Japan was willing to attack the US, a country 10 times its size, within 6 months of the US embargo in 1941, how long will it take the US to react militarily to an embargo?

Would the US invade if the price reached $300 per barrel; how about $500 per barrel? Would an invasion even be useful if the oil infrastructure was destroyed.

OPEC can claim that the market sets the price; it is a function of supply and demand they will say. Who can argue with that? That’s our position, market based pricing.

In reality, OPEC sets the price though its control of reserves and its investment decisions which determine the industry capacity. To maintain current price levels, OPEC does not have to cut production in response to US conservation as in the 1980s; OPEC only has to ensure that the growth in oil supply is less than the growth in demand from China and India less US conservation.

If you are concerned about CO2 emissions, then by 2050, 1000 nuclear plants will have solved the problem. The coal plants can be phased out as sufficient nuclear is available to satisfy heating (natural gas) and hydrogen requirements. Nuclear does not produce CO2 for electricity production; there will be no CO2 from heating when electricity replaces natural gas; and the net CO2 emissions from transportation will be zero when nuclear produces hydrogen, the hydrogen is combined with CO2 from the air to produce methanol, and methanol feeds a fuel cell which releases the same CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Nuclear energy is economic. 80% of the cost of nuclear electricity is capital costs; uranium accounts for about 10%, and operations and maintenance account for the rest. While current electricity production is competitive with coal and natural gas, two developments in nuclear plant design could significantly reduce the capital cost: assembly of 200MW reactors into larger reactors as demand increased and factory fabrication of large components for assembly at the construction site. The first creates a closer match between supply and demand while the second will reduce the length of the construction project.

Nuclear energy is clean . A cubic yard of uranium produces the same amount of electricity as 2 million tons of coal. A coal plant releases more radioactivity than a nuclear plant because of the trace amounts of radioactive material in the coal being burnt.

Nuclear energy is safe. Nuclear reactors have operated safely for 12,000 reactor years. Chernobyl does not count against the nuclear safety record; this Russian design would never be approved in the West. Three Mile Island was a success story; the release of radiation was minimal and no one was hurt. Even the recent earthquake which went right thru a Japanese nuclear plant had minimal effect. The new reactor designs which will be built are 1000 times safer than the current plants because they substitute safety systems based upon gravity and convection for safety systems based upon one or more extra sets of pumps and pipes. No only does removing all the extra pumps and pipes increase safety, it also reduces the cost by 30%.

Recycling nuclear waste reduces its volume by 96%; all of the waste produced to supply a person with electricity for their entire life would be the size of a golf ball. Spent fuel is stored in a water pool for 5-10 years and then moved to onsite dry cask storage for another 50 – 100 years. After 100 years the radioactivity of the waste has been reduced by 95%. The waste is then reprocessed to removed unenriched uranium, plutonium, other transuranic elements leaving only 4% of the original waste. The uranium is enriched and fed back into the reactor, the plutonium is mixed with enriched uranium and fed back into the reactor; the transuranic elements are fed into a breeder reactor. The remaining waste is encased in glass and stored underground. After 1000 years, the radioactivity level is the same as the original uranium dug out of the ground. Dealing with nuclear waste is a political problem, not a technical problem.

The US, Canada, and Australia have 70% of the world’s reserves of uranium. The US has sufficient supplies of coal for hundreds of years. OPEC has 70% of the world’s oil reserves. Russia, Qatar, and one of the “stans” have 70% of the world’s natural gas reserves. Russia has already proposed the formation of an OPEC like cartel for natural gas.

Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have proposed pricing oil in a basket of currencies and accepting payment in the same basket; Iran has implemented this policy. Russia sold Iran an air defense system and is selling arms to Venezuela. Iran is building a nuclear bomb and setting up a Hezbollah franchise in Venezuela. The Russian defense minister joked about setting up missiles in Venezuela. China’s puppet state, North Korea, has built a nuclear bomb and sent missiles flying over Japan. China has the capability to destroy the US satellite system which is essential to US military superiority; China recently surfaced an undetected submarine near a US aircraft carrier. OPEC and China hold about $3 trillion in US dollar reserves.

Al Qaeda is operating openly in sections of Pakistan; entire Pakistani Army units are surrendering to Al Qaeda without much of a fight; Sharif, who was deposed by Musharraf in 2000, has returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia/Wahabiland. If Pakistan goes over to the dark side, Saudi Arabia will not be far behind.

If you believe in the Green Dream of wind and solar, just remember that your choices are not without consequences. Shutting down the nuclear industry in the 70’s created the CO2 problem of today. If we had 300 or 400 nuclear plants now instead of 100, most of the coal plants would already be phased out.

The people promoting Global Warming are proposing a carbon tax or a cap and trade system to reduce CO2 emissions. If this policy is implemented, the result will not be electricity generated by wind and solar; the main result will be the substitution of natural gas for coal in electricity generation.

We have already seen this in California. In 1985 the environmentalists convinced California that with conservation, there was no need for additional power plants. In 2001 when the air conditioners and lights started to turn off, there was a panic and the electric utilities were blamed for the crisis. The politicians scrambled and a large number of natural gas plants were built. When the chips were down, they didn’t turn to wind or solar, they used natural gas. A carbon tax will have the same effect.

In 20 years, we may be importing large quantities of natural gas from OPEC in the form of Liquefied Natural Gas. An exploding LNG tanker has the force of a hydrogen bomb. Shipment of methanol, after conversion from natural gas, has a risk similar to oil. Not only is there a risk of LNG explosion, but we will be dependent upon OPEC for our electricity as well as our oil. OPEC will be able to turn out our lights as well as stop our cars. A carbon tax takes us down the road of increased OPEC energy dependence rather than OPEC energy independence. Green Dreams have consequences.

Malaria kills 1 -2 million Africans per year and 300 million worldwide are afflicted with this disease which saps the victim’s energy. Spraying DDT on the walls of houses has reduced the incidence of malaria by 80% where it has been tried. If environmentalist did not oppose DDT, at least 1 million people per year would not die. The people responsible for malaria reduction prevent implementation of the technique used in the West to eliminate malaria. Why isn’t this considered genocide? This is more than one Rwanda every year; it is 15 – 30 million men, women, and children over the last 15 years. Green Dreams have consequences.

If environmentalists manage to prevent the introduction of genetically modified food citing the precautionary principle, and as a result millions die of starvation, will the environmentalists confess their guilt or will they accuse the West of greed and indifference.

A lot of environmentalists long for the good old days when food was grown organically, corporations didn’t exist, there was no commute, and technology didn’t dominate our lives. If this view wins the political battle in the US, there are a lot of people in the world who want to help us return to the 7th century. When we go bankrupt and can’t pay for the oil we need, the people preaching hate and intolerance just might turn their dreams of a caliphate into our reality. Green Dreams have consequences.

To those on the right who oppose nuclear electricity due to fears of proliferation, all I can say is North Korea, Pakistan, and soon Iran. Saudi Arabia will follow Iran. Brazil is talking about an enrichment program. The genie is out of the bottle. We should continue our attempt to contain enrichment programs but not by restraining our own nuclear development. Not only is it just as important, it is also possible to achieve OPEC energy independence.

A containment strategy against Islamofascism may be possible if we can achieve OPEC energy independence; without independence, containment is not possible and a military confrontation is almost inevitable. We are already in Iraq and Afghanistan and were recently threatening to bomb Iran. At what point do Russia and China become involved? If we didn’t have Saudi Arabia as an “ally”, it just might be easier to strengthen our relationship with democratic India.

Stephen C. DuVal
December 16, 2007

References:
1) The Role of Synthetic Fuel In World War II Germany; Dr. Peter W. Becker; http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1981/jul-aug/becker.htm
How oil affected the German war effort.

2) Energy Victory: Winning the war on terror by breaking free of oil; Dr. Robert Zubrin 2007
Describes the threat from Islamofascism, the effect of oil on WW2, why the Hydrogen Economy wont work, why methanol should be included in flexfuel, the Brazil experience with flexfuel, argues that methanol from biomass is the way to go. Describes using biofuels to promote development in third world countries and to provide substitute crops to farmers currently growing illegal drug crops.

3) Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, NYPD, 2007, http://www.nypdshield.org/public/SiteFiles/documents/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf
How terrorists are recruited and trained based upon a review by the NYPD of terrorist activity around the world.

4) Grain and Oil By Yegor Gaidar, 2007
http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.25991,filter.all/pub_detail.asp
How the price of oil impacted the fall of the Soviet Union. Yegor Gaidar was Prime Minister of Russia in the early 1990’s.

5) Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, Dr. George Olah 2006
Excellent review of all energy sources. Argues that the Methanol Economy makes much more sense than the Hydrogen Economy from a Chemistry and Physics perspective. Dr. Olah has a Nobel prize in Chemistry.

6) The Bottomless Well, Peter Huber 2005
Reviews the history of energy, shows that the supply of energy are almost limitless, shows that over time we use/waste more and more energy producing energy, shows that concentrated energy (laser) is much more valuable than diffuse energy (sunlight)

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January 8, 2008 - Posted by | electricity usage, methanol, nuclear energy, OPEC, reader submission

102 Comments

  1. Zubrin’s book also mentioned that coal can be converted to methanol…IIRC, there was an additional step in the process, first converting the coal to gas and thence to liquid. Does anyone know the relative economics of coal vs gas as feedstocks in methanol production?

    Comment by David | January 8, 2008

  2. I like his ideas. I’ve discussed the need for a floor for alternatives since dwindling US demand is sure to lower prices.

    Mr. DuVal’s numbers are a bit off. Natural gas can’t replace liquid transportation fuels even on a straight up BTU basis.

    The US uses about 20 million barrels of crude per day. Each barrel has about 6 million BTUs. So the daily BTU content is 120 x 10^12 BTUs per day.

    The US natural gas market is 60 billion cubic feet per day. At roughly 1000 BTU/cu ft, that works out to 60 x 10^12 BTUs per day.

    So the transportation fuel market is about 2X the natural gas market. Granted, not all crude is turned into gasoline and diesel, but there is also conversion losses in turning natural gas to methanol.

    There is another way. The US is like the Saudi Arabia of coal. Instead of turning natural gas to methanol, we could gasify coal & biomass to syngas, then convert to methanol. The resulting CO2 from the syngas step could be sequestered into deep saline aquafers.

    By employing water gas shift reactions we could make H2 directly from gasification.

    I don’t agree that it would be easy to convert a gasoline/diesel based system to methanol. We would need to completely remove water from the transportation systems, not as easy as it sounds.

    But DuVal is on the right track.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  3. David – that would be me. Coal sells for about $1.00 – $1.50 / million BTUs. Natural gas today (Henry Hub) is selling for about $8.00 / million BTUs. The gasification step is endothermic and consumes about 30% of the energy. So on a BTU basis you are looking at around $2.00/mmbtu to make syngas. From there you can convert directly to methanol:

    CO + 2H2 –> CH3OH

    You need a 2-1 H2/CO ratio, which can be achieved in a conventional gasifier using coal. Autothermal reforming of natural gas produces 3-1 H2/CO.

    The big issue is capital costs. At the economies of scale we are talking about for transportation fuels, I think gasifiers would have a big edge.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  4. katy…”gasifiers would have a big edge”..just to be sure I understand right: you’re saying that at high levels of scale, the additional capital costs involved in using coal are outweighed by its lower cost per BTU?

    Also, does methanol have the same transportation problem as ethanol: ie, can’t travel over conventional pipelines because of water contamination?

    Comment by David | January 8, 2008

  5. Yes, to both questions.

    Today most methanol is made from natural gas because historically it was cheap on a BTU basis ($1-2 / mmBTU) and the capital costs for steam reforming from natural gas are cheaper. About one half the methanol is used in synthesis of formaldehyde.

    Methanol is miscible in water. I think at any concentration but I’m going from memory. Also I don’t believe it forms a stable azeotrope, so it can be seperated by simple distillation. Methanol was one of the components used to make MTBE. Like MTBE, groundwater contamination will be major issue for its widespread use as a transport fuel.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  6. BTW – methanol transport fuel would likely appear as M85, and 85% methanol/gasoline mixture. Methanol alone burns with a colorless flame. It also makes cars hard to start in cold weather. Adding conventional gasoline helps.

    Methanol is very toxic and corrosive to certain metals, rubber, and plastics. Widespread use of methanol would require considerable re-engineering.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  7. Switchgrass
    They measured the energy needed to grow the crops, including that used to make fertilisers and the diesel consumed by farmers’ vehicles.

    From the biomass of grasses harvested, they calculated that ethanol derived from them should yield 5.4 times as much energy as all these inputs combined.

    Land and water use concerns remain.

    Comment by LarryD | January 8, 2008

  8. Land and water use concerns remain.

    There is one other issue – the word “calculated.” How did they calculate it? What were their presumed conversions? What was the presumed ethanol concentration in the final product? What was the energy requirement to dispose of the wet waste? How much energy to transport the switchgrass?

    My guess is that buried in these assumptions are sticky little issues that will cause that 5.4 calculation to drop to less than 1.0. After all, if you take the highest demonstrated cellulosic ethanol yields, it would take as many BTUs to separate out the ethanol as the ethanol contains. So, they are making some assumptions on technological advancements that may never happen.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | January 8, 2008

  9. All cellulosic EROEI figures I’ve ever seen assume you get distillation heat by burning the waste biomass. Similar to Brazilian sugar cane approach. Of course you can do with with corn waste as well and produce great EROEI from corn ethanol. Economic ROI is another story.

    Comment by doggydogworld | January 8, 2008

  10. I like the gues essay, bu I think PHEVs, and much expanded use of solar, wind, geothermal and nukes to power our existing grid is a lot simpler, and can be accomplished without setting up huge bureacracies.
    However, for countries such as Japan, France, Germany and who knows who else, the essay makes a lot of sense.
    In the US we have gobs of solar power, which we can tap in large plants, or by a solar collector on every roof.
    I thik the esaay underscores a key point: Solutions to the “energy crisis” are rampant. We are not doomed to a world of cold and darkness.
    We can make a better and cleaner world, a more prosperous world.
    The enemy is snivelers, naysayers and idealogues who seem to want doom, rather than success.

    Comment by Benny "Peak Demand" Cole | January 8, 2008

  11. 1. Why is conversion to methanol a better technology than using compressed natural gas as an auto fuel, a currently available option?
    2. One of the few pieces of good news in the energy world is that batteries are getting better, and we will have practical electric cars, at least for city driving, in a few years. Why is gas to methanol a better solution than using the electricity directly to fuel light vehicles?
    (I am not questioning step 1, build more nuclear power plants.)

    Comment by SF | January 8, 2008

  12. Thanks for all the comments, many of them positive.

    I am not an expert in this area and I did my best with the calculations. I would certainly appreciate your help in improving the quality of the calculations.

    My basic idea is to boost the quantity of transportation fuel as quickly as possible.

    Coal to syngas to gasoline/methanol is one route. This was tried in the early 80’s using the Synthetic Fuels Corp. This was the route taken by Germany in WW2 and by South Africa when it was being embargoed. Germany and South Africa did not have access to large reserves of natural gas.

    With natural gas at historically high prices, coal gasification may be more economic. However, natural gas prices are high because of the pressure from environmentalist to use “clean” natural gas rather than coal to produce electricity. Natural gas prices would return to their cost of production if NG was not used to produce electricity.

    The other advantage of the natural gas to methanol approach is a fit with the long term conversion to a nuclear version of the Hydrogen Economy using methanol as the Hydrogen Carrier.

    If someone here could figure out how many thousand ft of natural gas it took to make a gallon of methanol, and how much electricity generation is required to replace a thousand feet of natural gas used for heating, I would greatly appreciate it.

    My capital calculation of $80 billion for methanol plants is based upon the capital cost ($400M) and capacity (1.7M tonnes/yr = 565M gal/yr)of the Atlas plant owned by Methanex in Trinidad. To determine the number of plants, I converted the plant capacity to 1.5M gal per day or .8M gal per day of gasoline equivalent. 200 plants would produce 160M gal per day of gasoline equivalent. This is 42% of the current US consumption of 380M gal per day of gasoline.

    It may not be necessary to produce the energy equivalent amount of methanol. I have read studies which show comparable fuel efficency to gasoline for methanol mixes from 5-25% methanol. This is because methanol is an oxygenate which improves the burn characteristics of gasoline.

    My calculation of the number of nuclear plants is a guess based upon 100 nuclear plants supply 20% of the electricity, natural gas and electricity provide similar amounts of energy, we need to free up 40% of the natural gas, therefore 200 nuclear plants.

    Any help to improve these calculations would be greatly appreciated.

    Steve DuVal

    Comment by steved | January 8, 2008

  13. Guest essay is correct — we have a supply side issue on energy, and we need a supply side solution.

    Greater use of nuclear power is really the only practical energy supply option with today’s technology. But there are issues.

    For example, it has been asserted that the US no longer has the capability to manufacture the necessary huge steel pressure vessels for nuclear power plants. What we are really talking about is re-industrializing the west.

    If we want to rebuild western industrial capacity, we first have to tear down a lot of useless bureaucracy & excessive regulation that has built up since WWII. That is a big reason industry has left the west and gone to places like China — it is not simply their low wages.

    That would be a complete change of direction politically. Realistically, there are too many politicians, lawyers, bureaucrats & activists who are quite happy being on the bridge of this sinking ship. It is going to take a crisis to change things.

    Also, we need to look beyond the west. There are billions of poor people who need more energy in China, India, Africa. The energy supply solution must be capable of meeting their legitimate needs too — which limits the contribution from conservation.

    And the oil producers need revenues. Remember that Europe is very heavily dependent on nuclear-armed Russia for gas & oil. Europe can’t simply stop buying fossil fuels from Russia and imagine there will be no consequences.

    If we think we have problems with Islamic terrorists from a rich Middle East today, what do we think will happen when the oil revenues go away and the Middle East becomes poor?

    There are definitely proven technical solutions to energy supply needs today. Hopefully, with continuing research, there will be even more technical options in the future. The real problem is political.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | January 8, 2008

  14. KingofKaty said…

    Methanol was one of the components used to make MTBE. Like MTBE, groundwater contamination will be major issue for its widespread use as a transport fuel.

    Olah in The Methanol Economy on page 207 says “It should be pointed out that the behavior of methanol in the environment is very different from that of MTBE, which is not easily degraded…

    rapid biodegradation [of methanol] by microorganisms present in the ground.

    Steve DuVal

    Comment by steved | January 8, 2008

  15. Natural gas supplies almost the same amount of energy to our economy as oil;

    As KingofKaty note, this is incorrect. DOE shows NG at 23 quads vs. 39 for oil (2002 data).

    Almost all of our natural gas is used for heating;

    Only 8 quads is used for residential and commercial space heating, which electricity could efficiently displace. Another 6 quads go to make electricity, which nukes can also displace. But 8 quads goes into industrial processes such as making fertilizer or generating high temp heat which nukes cannot realistically displace.

    I think it makes more sense to use electricity directly to power PHEVs. Building nukes to displace NG so we can build huge plants to convert NG into a new type of liquid fuel for which we have no existing infrastructure is just too convoluted. But this essay illustrates several good points:

    1. Oil markets are not free
    2. Oil money funds US enemies
    3. The US has plenty of energy
    4. The cost to replace oil is much less than we spend on oil

    Critics will say if #4 was true we wouldn’t need any government program, the free market would take care of it. But they forget point #1 — the oil market is not free.

    If the market was free, low cost alternatives could take market share from OPEC. But in the oil markets, it’s the low cost alternatives who go bankrupt because OPEC can produce full out no matter how cheap oil gets. We’ve already seen this movie, we know how it ends for the low cost alternatives.

    It’s silly to apply free market logic to a controlled market. We must think about oil strategically, just like our enemies.

    Comment by doggydogworld | January 8, 2008

  16. If someone here could figure out how many thousand ft of natural gas it took to make a gallon of methanol, and how much electricity generation is required to replace a thousand feet of natural gas used for heating, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Stephen, I can’t do this at the moment, as I am traveling with inconsistent access. But these numbers should be readily available. I used to work in a chemical plant that made methanol from natural gas, but I didn’t work in that unit. If I had, the number would be second nature to me.

    But if I can to guess, I would say that a mole of natural gas is going to end up making something like 0.7-0.85 moles of methanol. The syngas conversion step alone is going to be in the 90-95% range, and then you have the syngas to methanol step (but I don’t know the efficiency of that).

    Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert Rapier | January 8, 2008

  17. KingofKaty said…

    BTW – methanol transport fuel would likely appear as M85, and 85% methanol/gasoline mixture. Methanol alone burns with a colorless flame. It also makes cars hard to start in cold weather. Adding conventional gasoline helps.

    Methanol is very toxic and corrosive to certain metals, rubber, and plastics. Widespread use of methanol would require considerable re-engineering.

    The idea is not to sell M85. The idea is to sell some mix of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol. Current market conditions would determine the exact mix.

    Gasoline would not be less than 15% to deal with starting problems.

    Methanol is more corrosive than gasoline and it would take an extra $100 to manufacture an automobile able to run on some mixture of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol.

    Zubrin in Energy Victory p112 “Alcohol flex fuel vehicles are proven systems. They can be manufactured for the same price as gasoline cars, they pollute much less, and they significantly improve safety.”

    Steve DuVal

    Comment by steved | January 8, 2008

  18. Steven, List,

    An interesting essay.

    Methanol is however extremely toxic, either by ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin.

    Quoting FDA toxicity figures of 500mg per day is irrelevant. 500mg is one eighth of a teaspoon.

    What is the FDA toxicity rating for gasoline?

    Here is a fuel that you intend pumping by the gallon, and storing around the house and garage in 5 gallon containers.

    I cannot see methanol becoming an accepted transportation fuel on the grounds of its toxicity and the need to re-engineer vehicle fuel lines and components to withstand its corrosive action.

    The risk for accidents is immense.

    Regarding nuclear expansion – What about the additional uranium needed for all these new nuclear plants? What about the energy input required for the uranium enrichment?

    Why this obsession about finding a viable gasoline substitute?

    If faced with an energy shortage I would rather be warm, dry with the lights on, than driving around in a vehicle that achieves 25mpg or less.

    Perhaps if you were to implement conservation policies to cut down your domestic energy usage by 50% – to levels more typical of European lifestyles, you might find that more viable options presented themselves.

    Comment by 2020Vision | January 8, 2008

  19. David said…

    Also, does methanol have the same transportation problem as ethanol: ie, can’t travel over conventional pipelines because of water contamination?

    One solution is to transport the natural gas via existing pipeline to the major cities, site the methanol plants near the major cities, and transport the methanol to the gas stations via tanker truck.

    Steve DuVal

    Comment by steved | January 8, 2008

  20. Robert, Steven, List,

    Would it not be simpler to produce a vehicle that has the ability to run on compressed natural gas, liquid petroleum gas or gasoline.

    It would save a lot of unnecessary investment in huge methanol plants.

    If the automakers were not in such a mess right now, their production lines could be utilised to make gas compressors and storage tanks.

    It is highly unlikely that the electric power distribution network has sufficient capacity to carry all the additional power needed for electric space and water heating.

    My 1000sq ft house needs 120kWh of heat on a winter’s day, with the ambient temperatures here seldom below freezing point. What would a large house in upstate New York need – and area where the power lines are virtually overloaded already?

    Natural gas is a very efficient carrier of energy. It can heat a house with 90% efficiency, it can run a CCGT power plant with better than 50% efficiency – why convert it to liquid vehicle fuel, in itself inefficient and then burn it in a 25% efficent IC engine?

    Comment by 2020Vision | January 8, 2008

  21. Benny “Peak Demand” Cole said…

    I like the guest essay, but I think PHEVs, and much expanded use of solar, wind, geothermal and nukes to power our existing grid is a lot simpler, and can be accomplished without setting up huge bureacracies.

    If you look at the graph in the essay, you can clearly see the problem with PHEVs. Battery technology is hardly off zero in terms of energy per volume or energy per kilogram. These are the two key characteristics for transportation.

    Batteries are also relatively expensive, don’t last very long unless treated very well (Prius keeps the battery charge between 40% and 70% to increase the life of the battery; while extending the life, it reduces the capacity of an electric only car by 70%), and batteries have a lot of toxic material.

    As for bureaucracy, the net effect of the proposal is probably a reduction. Getting the auto companies to produce flex fuel cars does not require any bureaccrcy. Granting operating licenses to nuclear operators automatically for existing sites and approved designs reduces bureaucrcy. The existing bureaucrcy that administers the consumer incentives for solar power could also provide consumer incentives to switch from natural gas to electricity for heating. Alternatively a surcharge/tax could be added to the price of natural gas bought by electricity producers and to the price of NG charged to consumers by gas utilities. Look at your telephone bill and see the tax added; every gallon of gasoline has a tax added; etc.

    The most problematic issue is OPEC’s ability to manipulate the price of oil. OPEC could drop the price of oil by increasing production. That is the economic problem with monopolists: they lower the price to drive out competition and then raise it after the competition has been eliminated.

    Since petroleum at $2-5 per barrel is the lowest cost source of energy in the world. Unless OPEC is prevented from making our investments uneconomic, we will just have to pay whatever they demand.

    OPEC sets the price of oil by signalling to member states how much they should invest in additional capacity. The Texas Railroad Commission used to fill this role when the US dominated oil production.

    Comment by steved | January 8, 2008

  22. SF said…

    1. Why is conversion to methanol a better technology than using compressed natural gas as an auto fuel, a currently available option?

    Iran is actually in a crash program to convert to compressed natural gas. Ironically, Iran imports about half of its gasoline requirements. This leaves it vulnerable to a possible embargo and thus the rush to compressed natural gas.

    I have not looked at this very closely. I think the primary issue would be storage and distribution, and possibly the cost of auto conversion. Also from what I saw of the Iranian program, most of the trunk was taken up by compressed natural gas canisters.

    I imagine storage and distribution would be similar to propane for Barbeques. Either you trade in your empty cannisters for full cannisters or you attach your empty cannister to a local storage tnk and refill your cannister. I am not sure how well this model works on a large scale.

    Comment by steved | January 8, 2008

  23. Good Essay! Lots of interesting ideas. Does anyone know how efficient the Mobil process is for converting methanol to synthetic gasoline? I believe New Zealand used this method to make gasoline from natural gas via methanol in the 1980s. It would have the advantage of being compatible with existing transportation infrastructure.

    You’re absolutely right about the perverse effect the anti-nuclear movement has had on CO2 emissions (not to mention mercury and SO2 etc.) Ideally I would like to see 100% renewable, but the problem of how to get base load power would remain, and for all its problems, nuclear is still a lesser evil than conventional coal plants.

    If the gasification of coal to syngas is the same process for both synfuel production and for power generation in Integrated Combined Cycle Gasification (ICCG) power plants, it should be possible to design flexible plants for either peak power production or off peak synfuel production. Plug in hybrid vehicles would also be a good thing, if the next generation of batteries work as well as promised.

    Comment by Yogi | January 8, 2008

  24. CNG vehicles are a mature technology (Honda mass produces one). The range isn’t great, but not much worse than what you’d get on a tank of E85 or M85. The emissions and engine life on CNG are superb.

    The infrastructure at the filling station level isn’t there, but home refueling stations (e.g. Phill) are available.

    So although there are a few more moving parts (i.e. a gasoline-CNG flex-fuel car isn’t as cheap as a gasoline-alcohol flex-fuel car), you could save the GTL step and free up some more energy.

    Comment by Frank | January 8, 2008

  25. Would the US invade if the price reached $300 per barrel; how about $500 per barrel?
    What would be the purpose of the invasion, to return oil to $25/bbl? As if…

    That great sucking sound you’re hearing from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is your tax dollars getting deployed in Iraq (where they don’t seem to be doing much good). Since we invaded Iraq, the oil price has gone from $30/bbl to $100/bbl. Add the war expenditure ($275 million per day and our consumption of ~20 million bpd) and you can add about $15/bbl on top of that. So invading took the price of oil from $30 to $115/bbl or an increase of almost four times.

    So, invade at $500/bbl and soon you pay a whopping $2,000/bbl! GWB will be so proud of that.

    Comment by Optimist | January 8, 2008

  26. Steved – I think you are on the right track, my comments were meant to be helpful.

    Energy density matters. That is why methanol is better than CNG and batteries.

    Thanks Doggy for checking my math. I literally did it on the back of the envelope this morning. The oil market is about twice as large as the gas market. So you can’t replace all oil with natural gas.

    Even if you could do it, this would only forestall the problem for a few decades, when we would run out of natural gas and have to import either LNG or methanol. The biggest supplies are in Russia, Iran, and Qatar, in that order.

    So I get back to coal. If you are going to make this transformation, do it once. We have coal reserves enough to last at least 100 years even at a much greater consumption rate.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  27. The most problematic issue is OPEC’s ability to manipulate the price of oil. OPEC could drop the price of oil by increasing production.
    Bullocks! To do that OPEC would have to suddenly put 2 – 3 million bpd on the market. To do that would require substantial upfront investment, assuming you have an oilfield sitting idle at $100/bbl.

    There is no way to know, but most of the available evidence would suggest OPEC is pumping oil as fast as possible. Maybe Saudi can bring some more capacity online, maybe not. Certainly there is no evidence that they can do this overnight.

    Comment by Optimist | January 8, 2008

  28. In order to know how much methane it takes to make a gallon of methanol, you need to tell me the route you want to take to get there. The most common path is steam reforming methane to syngas and then converting to methanol. But that gives up a huge chunk of the energy in the syngas step. (You get some back when converting to methanol.) Direct oxidation of methane to methanol is possible at high pressuers and temperatures (2CH4 + O2 –> 2CH30H), but expensive and has scale up and catalyst issues.

    Robert forgets the energy given up in the syngas step. I would guess that on a BTU basis you would get an energy return of about 55% converting methane to methanol. via steam reforming.

    Steved and Dr. Olah underestimate the complexity of switching to methanol. It is much more than just the cost of the vehicle. All the ifrastructure from the gasoline can in your garage to the pumps and underground storage all the way back to the refinery must be modified to handle it. It is possible but not easy.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  29. Big picture comments:
    Why screw around with natural gas markets? Why force homes to convert to electric heating? How much is that going to cost the average household? What about the powerlines needed to supply all this electricity? Last I checked the powerlines in the NE was in pretty bad shape w/o having to supply heat in winter.

    Seems that you’d do this in one of two ways: Nuclear->electric->hydrogen->syngas->synfuel, or coal->syngas->synfuel. Right off the bat you can tell that the coal route is much simpler. It may not be green, but if getting off imported oil is the priority, there is going to be blood, I mean costs.

    King, is there a big difference between syngas->synthetic diesel and syngas->methanol? Some comments left by a Range Fuel proponent here a while ago seemed to suggest the methanol route is much more efficient.

    If the two are about the same i.t.o. efficiency, going the synthetic diesel (or gasoline) route would make more sense, since there would be no need to change existing infrastructure (gas pumps or vehicles).

    While it is true that methanol is readily biodegradable, this does not mean that there is no environmental impact from a fuel spill. If I fart, I mean breathe there is an environmental impact. A methanol spill in a small stream would kill a lot of aquatic life, even as it gets biodegraded. A methanol spill in a reservoir will cause headaches for the people supplying your water.

    Forget the Hydrogen Economy – hydrogen will be the fuel of the future for centuries. Hydrogen has several problematic properties (low density, small molecules, danger, etc.) and only one big advantage: high energy: mass ratio.

    Hence hydrogen is a good fuel for space travel. Note that hydrogen has so far utterly failed to find use as a fuel in the ultracompetitive world of air travel, where its energy: mass ratio counts for something. Unless hydrogen can penetrate the air travel fuel market, there is no reason to suspect it will make a dent in surface travel.

    Comment by Optimist | January 8, 2008

  30. Robert forgets the energy given up in the syngas step. I would guess that on a BTU basis you would get an energy return of about 55% converting methane to methanol. via steam reforming.

    That’s why I put it on a molar basis. Per mole, natural gas has higher heat of combustion than methanol, and part of those BTUs are lost in the process. But the moles themselve are probably in the ballpark of what I mentioned. On a BTU basis, you are probably correct. I have read of CTL numbers on a BTU basis that were about 50%.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | January 8, 2008

  31. Sharif, who was deposed by Musharraf in 2000, has returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia/Wahabiland. If Pakistan goes over to the dark side, Saudi Arabia will not be far behind.
    The first sentence would suggest that Saudi already is the dark site. I would certainly agree with that. (Where did most of the 9/11 hijackers come from?) Makes one sick to see our leaders, or rather elected officials kiss up to the leader, or rather dictator of Saudi.

    Comment by Optimist | January 8, 2008

  32. This table might help: Properties of Liquid Fuels

    This table points out a couple of other problems. Methanol is about 1/2 as energy dense as gasoline. Which means that you get 1/2 the miles per tank. The upper flammability limit (UFL) is 36%. I would have some concerns about gas tank flammability. Normally the gas mixture above the tank is too rich to ignite, this UFL is 5 times higher than gasoline.

    You need about 104 cubic feet of natural gas per gallon of gasoline. Rounding up to 10 million gallons per day, that means you would need about 104 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. Thats more than 1.5 times our current consumption.

    Gasoline accounts for about 1/2 of our crude demand, so that doesn’t count diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, and other petroleum products.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  33. The US attempt to establish a free market in energy after WW2 started to break down in the 1970’s with the first oil embargo.
    You mean you call the Texas Railroad Commission a free market? LOL!

    Nuclear energy is economic.
    Is that true? Last I heard these guys wanted Uncle Sam to assume all the risk AND give them a huge tax break. I know regulations and bureaucracy comes into play, but I’m not so sure that the economics are that favorable.

    Comment by Optimist | January 8, 2008

  34. Optimist – yes, syngas to methanol is much easier and cheaper than the Fischer Tropsch process to produce synthetic diesel. The methanol production uses a cheaper, more durable copper catalyst.

    FT liquids can’t normally be used directly as transportation fuels. They need to be hydrotreated to saturate olefins which can lead to gum formation. Usually you mix FT liquids with conventional or bio fuels to get a product that meets engine specifications.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  35. An exploding LNG tanker has the force of a hydrogen bomb. Shipment of methanol, after conversion from natural gas, has a risk similar to oil.
    A hydrogen bomb? Not likely.

    As King pointed out above, methanol has a significantly higher risk of explosion than oil (or gasoline) due to UFL and higher vapor pressure.

    Green Dreams have consequences.
    Well yes, as do dreams of energy indepence. The reality is that you have to balance cost, strategic interest and environemantal/safety concerns. The answer is somewhere in the middle, not at one of the fringes.

    Comment by Optimist | January 8, 2008

  36. Robert, List,

    Thanks to kingofkaty for finding us a figure for 55% energy return when converting to methanol using the steam reforming method.

    So multiply this out by the 25% efficiency of the IC engine in a typical vehicle and you get a lousy 13.75%.

    There are reciprocating steam engines that achieve a better efficiency that this! There were steam cars built in 1900 that did better than this in terms of miles driven per unit energy.

    Remember that methanol only has half the calorific value of gasoline – so the fuel tank has to be twice the size to give the same range.

    So you are carrying around 25 gallons of methanol to drive 300 miles.

    This seems like a road to nowhere…

    Possible Solutions:

    1. Improve the average fleet fuel consumption figures. There are cars in Europe that return 60mpg on the highway.

    2. Use some of that $275 million per day to subsidise the cost of fuel efficient cars and to kick start a smart new auto industry in the US. Forget the dinosaurs in Detroit.

    3. Look at mild hybridisation – this will lift the mean effective energy efficiency of the IC engine from a lousy 25% to close to 40%.

    4. Invest in rail transportation of freight. Freight trains can haul goods at 4 times the efficiency of a 40 ton truck.

    5. Consider the gasification of coal and biomass as an alternative to the ethanol fermentation processes.

    6. Combined heat and power systems running on a variety of renewable fuels. Use the plug in hybrid to generate heat and power for your property, burning NG, woodgas or biogas.

    Liquid fuels might look attractive, but in times of crisis, only the military can afford liquid fuels and the rest of us have to manage on solid fuels or gas derived from solids.

    Comment by 2020Vision | January 8, 2008

  37. Liquid fuels might look attractive, but in times of crisis, only the military can afford liquid fuels and the rest of us have to manage on solid fuels or gas derived from solids.
    That’s a bit presumptuous. Let’s see what the entrepreneurs can come up with before we try to predict how this will shake out.

    Comment by Optimist | January 8, 2008

  38. Optimist – you have fallen prey to the enviros negative spin on nuclear power in the energy bill.

    The risk insurance is for project delays caused by NRC’s delays in issuing permits or delays from legal actions that are not the fault of the applicant. I would have preferred a “loser pays” approach and allow the applicants to collect interest from delays.

    The tax break primarily applies to setting aside funds for decommissioning. Merchant nuclear plants will be allowed to set aside these funds BEFORE tax, just as regulated utilities are allowed to do.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 8, 2008

  39. 2020vision…”Invest in rail transportation of freight. Freight trains can haul goods at 4 times the efficiency of a 40 ton truck”…rail freight has been growing very nicely for the last few years, and trackwork to ease capacity constraints is being done on several routes. Also, advanced signaling systems (with GPS/inertial providing continuous train location data) will enhance capacity of existing routes. We are going to be seeing more NIMBYism…a line that goes past your backyard with 4 trains a day may be charming or at least acceptable–a line with 100 trains a day is another matter.

    Some shippers are lobbying for re-regulation of rail rates in some form: this could again make it impossible for RRs to earn their cost of capital and strangle the renaissance that is taking place.

    (disclosure: RR shareholder)

    Comment by David | January 8, 2008

  40. Steved-
    I like your essay. And PHEVs are not perfect. But they are close to practical, and GM plans introduction in 2010. I am not an engineer. But I read extensively, and it seems the batteries are getting better, and there may even be a breakthrough here ot there.
    PHEVs promise to turn the tables rather quickly on the oil thug states. We will use less oil every year, not more, and that trend will accelerate. Imagine if new Chinese/India middle class adopt PHEVs — they use less, not more oil every year.
    By the way, I have a friend of a frined working to try to convert natural gas directly to gasoline, through some magic of heat and pressure. It that works, would we need the methanol plants?
    Isn’t diesel best of all?
    Scientific American recently published a lengthy piece suggesting we could go the solar route for $420 billion.
    All said, I like your optimism, and ideas. Sitting still year after year while oil thug states crap on us is not my idea of a foreign or energy policy.
    My feeling is that a combination of solar, geothermal, wind, nukes and clean coal power plants could do the trick, while boosting employment in the US, and reducing oil imports, and cleaning the air.
    I guess that means we can’t do it.

    Comment by Benny "Peak Demand" Cole | January 8, 2008

  41. The resulting CO2 from the syngas step could be sequestered into deep saline aquafers.

    A better idea would be to sell it to oil companies looking to use it for CO2-based EOR. Several sources suggest there is up to another S.A. worth of oil to be wrung out of our oil fields with this technology.

    Comment by Doug | January 8, 2008

  42. Natural gas is a very efficient carrier of energy.

    At least, of heat energy. Electric heating is very inefficient – you first use heat to run a generator, send the power a long way to the home, then convert it back into heat, with losses everywhere. Until we shut down the last gas-fired power plant, it makes more sense to increase the use of gas for home heating (like, I’m tired of hearing the moaning out of the N.E. re. high prices for home heating oil), and eliminate it’s use for electric power. Replace gas and, to the extent possible, coal, with nukes and solar. I have to agree with the guest poster’s basic idea that we would rather convert any hydrogen we can produce into some other form before delivering that as fuel (or whatever). If we can produce hydrogen in nukes, we can then use that to produce ammonia and then fertilizer, saving yet more gas for heating. If we have even more hydrogen than that, I would argue that it would be better to combine it with coal and/or biomass in a synfuel process of some sort, delivering a liquid hydrocarbon fuel as the end product. This would of course be loads easier if the end demand were greatly reduced because passenger vehicles got 60mpg, and ran off of grid energy as much as possible. And of course domestic oil production isn’t zero – we’d still have enough to meet our needs for jet fuel, to run heavy equipment, and to produce plastics etc. This all seems perfectly feasible from an engineering standpoint. We just need political and business leaders with the guts to go for it.

    Comment by Doug | January 9, 2008

  43. DKRW, LLC A texas outfit is now building process plant to convert coal into methano derived gasoline and synthetic diesel fuels similar to much of proposed/discussed topic in this blog.

    web site dkrwenergy.com for detail.

    net–coal source,but could be any hydrocarbon source. plant site in medicine bow, wy. contracts/licences in place. funding settled. key players–GE[turbines/syngas], XOM[methanol to gasoline], ACI[coal], RTK[syngas to diesel]. build/complete–next 3 to 5 years. XX,000 bbl per day each fuel.

    have fun.

    fran

    Comment by Anonymous | January 9, 2008

  44. This all seems perfectly feasible from an engineering standpoint. We just need political and business leaders with the guts to go for it.

    Political leaders with guts would have to go straight for the heart of darkness in the modern world — the anti-human zealots of the so-called “environmental” movement. The same people whose actions have resulted in the deaths of millions of African children through the banning of DDT. Yet no-one seems to notice the blood on the environmentalists hands.

    It is doubtful that any political leader in the West will have the courage to call out the environmental extremists, or the wisdom to launch a new environmental movement — one which respects human beings as an important part of the environment.

    And so the West will die. But the human race will still march forward, led by places like China. They have their own ways of dealing with environmental extremists.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | January 9, 2008

  45. I liked the guest post, it reminded me of the setamericafree.org site which makes a similar appeal for why we need to change the way we get and use energy. So I went to check their site and I see that Dr. Zurbin is prominant there.

    Buildig nuclear power plants is a no brainer. We should have been breaking ground on dozens of these in early 2002.

    PHEVs can transfer some of the transportation energy burden to power plants where we have excess capacity, especially at night. This will require some breakthroughs in battery technology. My colleagues working in this area feel that an economical 10 mile electric range is possible soon, but 40 mile is going to be a strech. It depends on the price of gas and the value of appearing to be green.

    As to the methanol for transporation fuel, it is not so simple as to call it a construction project. But certianly turning coal and/or biomass into a liquid fuel is worth pursuing.

    I think that longer chain alcohols are better than methanol. It was my understanding that Range Fuel was doing syngas to methanol then
    using a catalyst to make a mixture of longer chain alcohols. I don’t know if they then separate the mixture. It seems to me that you would stop with the mixture, and call that your fuel.

    Recently, I have been intrigued by the cyclone engine invented by Harry Schoell. It is a modern day steam engine. Because it is a true heat engine, unlike the internal combustion engine, the only fuel requirement is that the fuel must burn hot enough to make it go. So this is the ultimate flex fuel engine. It can run on any mixture of diesel, kerosene, gasoline, alcohols, methane, propane, hydrogen, etc. anything that burns with enough BTUs. They also claim to have run it on some dry powder fuels. They are just making prototype engines, but if something like that worked, it would leave choosing the right biofuel up to the marketplace. It may also allow for the use of less refined fuels such as wet ethanol. I think they are at cyclonepower.com

    Kingofkaty, how did you become king? I didn’t vote for you.

    Comment by dennis moore | January 9, 2008

  46. Dennis Moore Dennis Moore – nobody was using the title of King, so I assumed the title. I am a benevolent monarch.

    I am also fond of heat engines when paired with PHEVs. My thought was to use a Stirling engine. Stirling engines are highly efficient, but start and stop very slowly. They are lousy for direct drive, but would work great in a hybrid.

    CO2 for enhanced oil recovery works well in oil producing states, but not so much elsewhere. Texas is developing a CO2 pipeline infrastructure.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 9, 2008

  47. Doggy

    Thank you for the numbers.

    39 quads for oil, 23 quads for natural gas.

    8 quads for res and commercial heating
    6 quads for electricity
    8 quads for industrial

    Even if only 14 quads are available for transportation fuel, that represents 33% of current oil quads. The initial objective is not to get completely off oil; the initial objective is to drive the price of oil back to $30 per barrel or lower.

    If mpg actually increases for gasoline methanol mixes between 5 and 25%, as a recent study indicates, then the impact of this much methanol on oil prices will be greater.

    Comment by steved | January 9, 2008

  48. 2020 vision

    70% of the world’s uranium reserves are in the US, Canada, and Australia.

    Methanol is toxic:
    Methanol is not considered carcinogenic or mutagenic unlike gasoline with benzene, toluene, xylene, and others.
    A typical refueling results in inhalation of 2-3 mg of methanol which is much less than drinking a .35 liter can of diet soda which produces 20mg of methanol via the body’s digestive system. A malfunctioning vehicle in an enclosed garage with a 15 minute exposure is equivalent to drinking .7 liters of diet soda. Olah p 203

    Conservation is a great idea but it won’t solve the problem. We are in an air tight room with a single air pipe. Somebody who doesn’t like us much has their foot on the air pipe. Holding our breath is not going to help much except to reduce CO2 emissions of course.

    Conservation is not going to help China, India, and Africa as they come up to our standard of living. Unles you are proposing that we descend to their standard of living.

    I am all for Toyota Prius type technology for cars with a 40% improvement in mpg. This will buy time; however, it doesn’t solve the problem.

    Why convert Natural Gas to methanol
    I don’t see any other fast (10-15 years) method to break OPEC’s monopoly on transportation fuel.

    Coal to liquid fuel is an alternative to natural gas.
    I think using coal on this level is going to be a very hard sell to the environmental lobby. I think coal will be harder on the environment and I believe that coal will cost more than natural gas if natural gas is priced based upon cost to produce rather than demand based pricing caused by the shift from coal to natural gas for electricity.

    Comment by steved | January 9, 2008

  49. Kinuachdrach said…

    I agree with your comments wholeheartedly. You may be right that we will not start to solve this problem until we are facing a crisis. I believe we are already in a crisis.

    Breaking the OPEC monopoly could easily take 10 years. I wonder if we have 10 years. Read the reference about the problems the Germans encountered in WW2 trying to build facilities to produce synthetic gasoline. In 1944 the US dominated the skies even though the Germans produced 44,000 airplanes that year. The planes couldn’t fly due to a lack of fuel.

    Moving to nuclear is the only viable source of energy on the scale required to get off fossil fuels. Nuclear also has the potential to produce hydrogen economically. Methanol is the elusive hydrogen carrier for storage and distribution.

    Comment by steved | January 9, 2008

  50. KingofKaty said…

    Thank you for your constructive comments.

    Coal reserves are abundant and do provide a possible route to transportation fuels. Historically, it is the route used by countries cut off from liquid fuels. It is certainly worth serious consideration.

    I think natural gas to methanol is more economic, more environmentally friendly, and a more reasonable politicaly. Methanol also makes sense as the hydrogen carrier when nuclear is used to produce hydrogen.

    I know that methanol is produced on a commercial scale from natural gas in plants such as the Atlas plant in Trinidad. I am pretty sure it is steam reforming. The process cost is about 10 cents per gallon including capital costs.

    I would love to know how many gallons of methanol you can get out of 1000 cu ft of natural gas.

    Even if energy is lost in the conversion, if a mix of methanol and gasoline provides more mpg than gasoline because of the oxygen effect on the burn, then the energy loss is not important, or am I missing something.

    In my calculations, I assumed that 2 gallons of methanol were required to replace 1 gallon of gasoline. Maybe only 1 gallon of methanol in a mixture is required to replace 1 gallon of gasoline given the enhanced burn.

    Comment by steved | January 9, 2008

  51. “Why convert Natural Gas to methanol”

    You can just burn it straight. We have an infra-structure for moving it etc.

    Comment by Fat Man | January 9, 2008

  52. Optimist said…

    OPEC would have to suddenly put 2 – 3 million bpd on the market. To do that would require substantial upfront investment, assuming you have an oilfield sitting idle at $100/bbl.

    Maybe Saudi can bring some more capacity online, maybe not. Certainly there is no evidence that they can do this overnight.

    I am not saying that there is excess capacity at this point in time or that they could increase capacity overnight. Investment decision in the next 5-10 years will determine the price of oil. Of course, even if capacity is increased, that does not mean that production will be increased. Near term pricing is a function of production given that sufficient investment in capacity has occurred.

    Saudi cost is $2-5 per barrel. Saudi investment per barrel is about $5000 versus $20,000 in the West when reserves are available and political restrictions on their developemnt do not exist.

    I am saying that OPEC is not investing sufficently in additional capacity given the expected demand.

    If you were Saudi and you have for example 100 billion barrels in the ground and $3 trillion in your bank, do you really want to convert your oil into dollar bills faster?

    The US dollar is declining because the current situation with oil and Asian imports is unsustainable. Why replace an appreciating asset, oil, with a depreciating asset, dollar bills?

    The Saudis and other oil powers are feeling out the acquisition of US equity in exchange for US dollars. Currently the dollars are held in the form of US $ denominated debt. If the West is transferring $1 trillion per year to OPEC, and US equity valuation is about $13 trillion, it will take 13 years to exchange all the equity in the US market for oil.

    This is not a desirable trade. We currently do not seem to have much of an alternative. We can refuse to sell equity for US$ to foreign entities, but that will only accelerate the devaluation of the US$.

    Read the reference with Gaidar’s account of the effect of Saudi oil policy in the 80’s on Russia after it invaded Afghanistan. Russia’s current revival is due to the rise in the price of oil.

    Comment by steved | January 9, 2008

  53. Any massive expansion of nuclear power generation is going to have problems with finding enough qualified personnel. With several decades of disintrest in and outright shunning of nuclear power, the number of new, young nuclear engineers has been minimal. Also, in the mean time large part of the previous large generation of nuclear engineers have moved on to retirement or other careers.

    This is already apparent in Europe. There are currently just two major nuclear powerplant projects in Western Europe (one in Finland and one in France). Just these two projects, together with preparing to possible upcoming projects, have caused an outright lack of qualified engineers especially on the desing side.

    For a long time the amount of graduating nuclear engineers has been about equal with the demand from upkeep of the existing plants. Now, with the increased demand, the universities are struggling to increase their output. Even if they manage to increase the number of students, it will take several years before it is noticable in graduation numbers – and even longer before those fresh graduates gain the skills that allow productivity equal to the “old hands”.

    Comment by Anonymous | January 9, 2008

  54. Last I checked the powerlines in the NE was in pretty bad shape w/o having to supply heat in winter.

    Whenever a snowstorm knocked out the power when I lived in the Northeast, I was extremely grateful that we did not have electric heat and hot water. It’s so nice to be able to take a hot shower and stay warm after shoveling snow. It’s also nice not having to worry about the water pipes freezing, bursting and causing flooding in the home. I would be reluctant to switch to all-electric. I might be able to live with a system that runs on electric, but has some other source as a backup; natural gas being most likely since it’s already piped to the home.

    Comment by clee | January 9, 2008

  55. Steved – you get about 10 gallons of methanol from 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas. (Your mileage may vary depending on your driving habits 🙂 )

    Henry Hub gas is selling for roughly $8 per thousand. So the fuel cost of the methanol is about $0.80 per gallon. You will need to add on to that amortizing the capital cost of the equipment, plus taxes. You are looking at $1.00 – $1.20 per gallon. Factor in that methanol has 1/2 the energy density of gasoline, and you come up with $1.00 – $2.40 per gallon on a gasoline equivalent basis. NYMEX gasoline this morning is selling for $2.46 per gallon.

    So at current prices there really isn’t any incentive to switch. Your idea is to replace natural gas fired power generation with nuclear. That might free some natural gas, but not enough.

    You forget to factor in baseload vs. peaking power generation. There isn’t much gas or oil fired baseload power generation. Nuclear would likely replace coal as baseload, NOT replace natural gas as peaking power.

    Which, again brings me around to coal. Carbon capture & sequestration can solve the greenhouse gas problem. Implementing coal to methanol doesn’t require first jumpstarting the nuclear program.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 9, 2008

  56. You forget to factor in baseload vs. peaking power generation. There isn’t much gas or oil fired baseload power generation. Nuclear would likely replace coal as baseload, NOT replace natural gas as peaking power.

    That is true today, but needn’t be true in the future. First, development of solar would have the effect of shaving some of the peaking demand, even accounting for the lagged correlation. Second, a shift to plug-ins with some sort of demand management (i.e. time-of-use metering) could be made to have the effect of increasing off-peak demand, further reducing the daily swing and making room for more baseload. Finally, industrial energy production (hydrogen or whatever) could be managed to soak up “excess” capacity available off-peak.

    Comment by Doug | January 9, 2008

  57. Robert, List

    This 1977 paper looks at the conversion of wood waste to methanol and compares it with NG to methanol plant.

    http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr12.pdf

    Page 16 states that 150 cu ft of NG is needed to make a gallon of methanol. So about 6.66 gallons per 1000 cu ft.

    Equating the energy value of methanol as half that of gasoline would suggest that 1000 cu ft of NG would make the equivalent of 3.33 gallons of gasoline at the plant/refinery gate.

    Even in a super efficient vehicle doing 60 mpg, the 3.33 gallons would provide a range of 200 miles.

    The alternative would be burning NG in a CCGT power station, this would provide approximately 128kWh of electricity, which in an EV at 4 miles per kWh gives a range of 512 miles per 1000 cu ft.

    Comment by 2020Vision | January 9, 2008

  58. New solar thermal engine
    Johnson, a nuclear engineer who holds more than 100 patents, calls his invention the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion System, or JTEC for short. This is not PV technology, in which semiconducting silicon converts light into electricity. And unlike a Stirling engine, in which pistons are powered by the expansion and compression of a contained gas, there are no moving parts in the JTEC. It’s sort of like a fuel cell: JTEC circulates hydrogen between two membrane-electrode assemblies (MEA). Unlike a fuel cell, however, JTEC is a closed system. No external hydrogen source. No oxygen input. No wastewater output. Other than a jolt of electricity that acts like the ignition spark in an internal-combustion engine, the only input is heat.

    Here’s how it works: One MEA stack is coupled to a high- temperature heat source (such as solar heat concentrated by mirrors), and the other to a low-temperature heat sink (ambient air). The low-temperature stack acts as the compressor stage while the high-temperature stack functions as the power stage. Once the cycle is started by the electrical jolt, the resulting pressure differential produces voltage across each of the MEA stacks. The higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure, maintaining the pressure differential. Meanwhile hydrogen passing through the high-temperature stack generates power.

    “It’s like a conventional heat engine,” explains Paul Werbos, program director at the National Science Foundation, which has provided funding for JTEC. “It still uses temperature differences to create pressure gradients. Only instead of using those pressure gradients to move an axle or wheel, he’s using them to force ions through a membrane. It’s a totally new way of generating electricity from heat.”

    The bigger the temperature differential, the higher the efficiency. With the help of Heshmat Aglan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Alabama’s Tuskegee University, Johnson hopes to have a low-temperature prototype (200-degree centigrade) completed within a year’s time. The pair is experimenting with high-temperature membranes made of a novel ceramic material of micron-scale thickness. Johnson envisions a first-generation system capable of handling temperatures up to 600 degrees. (Currently, solar concentration using parabolic mirrors tops 800 degrees centigrade.) Based on the theoretical Carnot thermodynamic cycle, at 600 degrees efficiency rates approach 60 percent, twice those of today’s solar Stirling engines.

    Comment by LarryD | January 9, 2008

  59. Any massive expansion of nuclear power generation is going to have problems with finding enough qualified personnel.

    Indeed! Of course, the same is true of many other industries. Even oil & gas is looking at a high percentage of current staff retiring within the next few years. And what about the steel industry?

    The obvious answer is to burn lawyers & bureaucrats for fuel in regular power plants — lots & lots of them! 🙂

    More seriously, look at what a mobilized society was able to do — the expansion of US aircraft construction during World War II, or the Manhattan Project, or the Apollo Program. There are inefficiencies from using under-trained people, for sure, but a project can still move forward.

    It is not just staff — the whole industrial infrastructure of the West (and the US in particular) has been encouraged to move to China — by those who consider themselves our leaders.

    The re-industrialization of the West is an achievable goal, but it is unlikely given the current political situation. As a society, we seem intent on turning our backs on progress.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | January 9, 2008

  60. The obvious answer is to burn lawyers & bureaucrats for fuel in regular power plants — lots & lots of them! 🙂
    Now, there is a solution to the energy crisis! Can I propose we add a few beancounters from Detroit? That should allow the US auto industry to become competitive once more.

    More seriously, look at what a mobilized society was able to do — the expansion of US aircraft construction during World War II, or the Manhattan Project, or the Apollo Program.
    EXACTLY! In a crisis that will happen again.

    The re-industrialization of the West is an achievable goal, but it is unlikely given the current political situation. As a society, we seem intent on turning our backs on progress.
    Not sure sentance #1 has any connection to sentence #2. Sentence #1 is a done deal – it’s not going to happen. Progress meanwhile continues.

    Comment by Optimist | January 9, 2008

  61. Political leaders with guts would have to go straight for the heart of darkness in the modern world — the anti-human zealots of the so-called “environmental” movement. The same people whose actions have resulted in the deaths of millions of African children through the banning of DDT. Yet no-one seems to notice the blood on the environmentalists hands.
    Ah, the history of Silent Spring and beyond. Why is that Americans seem to do things in two modes only: binge or starve? Somehow the balanced midway is avoided at all costs.

    While Silent Spring, and its aftermath made DDT harder to get hold of, and probably more expensive, it did not take DDT off the face of the earth. In fact, DDT is still used. Note the disaster in South Africa when the tried to stop using it between 1996 and 2000.

    So the envro’s may be complicit in some malaria deaths (what you never have unintended consequences with anything you do?), you can hardly blame them for the general inefficiency and corruption of African governments, which is a far bigger problem as far as eradicating malaria is concerned.

    And so the West will die.
    Talk about a heart of darkness. Cheer up, man! The West will only die when you convince people that you are right on this one. Cut it out!

    Comment by Optimist | January 9, 2008

  62. I believe “energy independence” is looking at the wrong goal. Simply reducing usage or using energy more efficiently should be the goal. Whether the United States imports some “combustible” is simply a side issue in the big picture.

    One angle not mentioned in your “natural gas to methanol” scenario is the effect of a major methanol market, and the effect on the large volume of natural currently “flared” in major remote producing regions. Once a methanol market is established, importing methanol may become irresistible, as current “zero cost” flared NG gets converted to methanol and enters the market.

    Unfortunately, hard choices in the world cannot be made until we accept the reality of six billion people on the planet, with more on the way. How we, the world population, set our day-to-day living in the face of dire consequences if we continue living a disproportionate lifestyle all based on “an addiction to speed”.

    By “addiction to speed”, I mean the feeling that we have the eternal right to drive motor vehicles at 60-100 miles-per-hour anytime we have the physical space to take that action.

    Really, the solution to a gigantic host of problems, a vast majority of problems, would be to direct vehicle manufacturers to (by law) only create vehicles whose top, physical, unalterable maximum velocity is 55 kph (34 mph).

    There would have to be a tremendous retrofit program, or new purchase program, but really, once in place, the cascade of benefits would be enormous.

    I will tick off the immediate fallout, without fiscal explanation (just to keep this thing short), but let me say two things first. One, I grew up in Southern California, with all the car craze cultural, and I am still a participant. Yet I have come to realize I must think beyond my personal desires if the world can become a sane and wonderful place. Second, car manufacturers currently boast of “electronically limited top speed: 155mph” together with acceleration numbers as sales propaganda, showing just how much appealing to the “addiction to speed” has become.

    The consequences of a physical top speed of 34 mph:

    Very small engines with simplified maintenance.
    Lighter cars, with lighter brakes, suspensions, lighter tires, no air bags needed.
    Tremendous mileage, in the 100 to 150 miles per gallon range.
    Much reduced expenditures for road construction, because of reduced speed, lighter vehicles.
    Reduced fatalities and accidents, reduced body repair bills.
    Creates viability for transit between cities via rail, which would offer triple the driving speed.
    Electric cars could be more competitive in every aspect.

    Auto racing would gain participants versus spectators.

    And to that, I add my own preference: Rather than own an expensive AMG Mercedes capable of 100mph+ (but where??), but is neither the best transportation nor the best race vehicle, I would rather own a “plush-mobile” that glides along at 35 mph max, AND an open-wheeled, Formula One type vehicle that I can scare the adrenalin out of myself at 140 mph at any of seven downtown racetracks in my area.

    Comment by Scott | January 9, 2008

  63. Vision2020 – that is a 30-yr old study. There have been improvements in both steam reforming (autothermal reforming) and methanol synthesis (ICI low pressure process) that have increased efficiency.

    Also efficiency is partially dependent on energy cost. At low prices there isn’t much incentive to conserve. Today these process are less energy intensive.

    I would stick with my estimates of 100-110 cubic feet per gallon of EtOH.

    Comment by KingofKaty | January 9, 2008

  64. If we use nuclear to increase the supply of electricity, …

    See how much resistance there is to this idea from the Democrats and the press.

    Although I’ve heard that there is a lot of sub-rosa interest in Dr. Bussard’s work. Some of that is (I suspect) environmentalist interest in any undeveloped technology, it gives the appearance of “We Are Working On The Problem”. On the other hand, the military and commercial interest is almost certainly serious.

    If WB-7 pans out, it will still take four years or more to build the first operational power reactor, plus time to learn from that and design a mass production version. It could be a decade before we start deploying Bussard reactors. I sure that the environmentalists will come up with some pretext to object.

    Comment by LarryD | January 9, 2008

  65. Really, the solution to a gigantic host of problems, a vast majority of problems, would be to direct vehicle manufacturers to (by law) only create vehicles whose top, physical, unalterable maximum velocity is 55 kph (34 mph).

    WHAT?!?!?

    That’s a joke, right?

    I would rather convert to Islam.

    Comment by dennis moore | January 10, 2008

  66. the usa military requirement for a usa based gasoline and diesel source will be the precursor for much of the tansportation fuel required for general purpose use for a significant time–until a completely new/different fuel economy happens[when?, who knows[20-40 years hence?].

    the need to power the military tansports[airplanes, tanks, combat troop carriers, etc] will be solved. from this effort will come a significant interim general purpose fuel.[augmented by LNG/CNG, EV/PHEV]. the “next final” fuel solution is beyond my grasp.

    home/general use power will remain generated electricity[coal, nuke, wind, CSP,ETC]

    WHEN/HOW THE NEXT PARADIGM HAPPENS; WHETHER IT MERGES BOTH HOME/TRANSPORT REMAINS OPEN, BUT BEYOND MY LIFETIME.

    in the interim we deal with lotsa carbon.

    i think the DKRW LLC referenced above should be watched as should other hydrocarbon derivatives being placed in operation.

    fran

    Comment by Anonymous | January 10, 2008

  67. Posters-
    Actually, I think we have lots of tme to move to conservation and alternative fuels. The price of oil will likely fall for the next several years. Check out 1979-80 (BP stats, on their web page) and world oil consumption and prices after that.
    This time around we have better alternatives.
    Oil could be cheaper in 2020 than it is today. I think we will have to tax consumption to keep prices up.
    I cmopletely agree we should produce all of our energy domestically, and much more cleanly.

    Comment by Benny "Peak Demand" Cole | January 10, 2008

  68. ” …the effect on the large volume of natural [gas]currently “flared” in major remote producing regions.”

    Sorry, you are a victim of standard decades-behind-the-times environmental extremist propaganda. The days of large-scale gas flaring are long gone in most producing regions.

    Biggest flaring today reportedly is in Nigeria. The problem there is that the Nigerian Gov’t (which is the largest owner) has repeatedly refused to put up capital for schemes to end flaring, e.g. by reinjecting or utilizing the gas. The Nigerian Gov’t is doing something dumb at today’s gas prices; it would be even dumber at higher prices, but why would that make them change course?

    Elsewhere in the world, such as in the Middle East, they are now using a lot of gas domestically (eg for water desalination) and building LNG export plants. Not flaring.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | January 10, 2008

  69. I wasn’t even thinking of Nigeria. And I got my idea from the magazine the Economist. They ran an article (some few years ago) about the woeful dreadful state of the former Soviet Union countries’ oil infrastructure. Not only flaring, but huge lakes of spilled oil.

    Perhaps enough money has been thrown at it in the last five years and it’s no longer so bad. It’s in an obscure part of the world. I know Chevron is doing a lot in Kazahstan, because I used to work for Chevron, and I know someone currently working in Kazahkstan.

    Nonetheless, just an aside.

    For the comment, “It’s a joke, right? I’d rather (convert to) Islam.” Everyone feels the same shock. You wonder why Gore used the polite word “inconvenient” in his movie? Because that kind of solution I suggested is really IMO the least painful of many paths.

    I imagine in 1908, a lot of people would have said that they’d convert to Islam rather than give up riding their favorite horse to the store!

    Comment by Scott | January 10, 2008

  70. WB-7 First Plasma

    The world has just changed. Cheap fusion is on the way. About 5 years.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 10, 2008

  71. Were the USA to adopt light rail transport and other efficiencies, it could halve it’s hydrocarbon use. That will not be sufficient for more than a decade or two.

    Natural gas is too valuable to burn. It is the prime feedstock for NH4 via the Frisch Haber process, for Diesel fuel via GTL, and for plastics monomers.

    Nuclear is in big dodo… France is scrambling to refuel it’s reactors as we speak. The molten salt reactor using the Thorium cycle is the only thing that makes sense long term. See the Thorium blog for info.

    The US spent lots of money on HotDryRock, only to abandon it just as it was beginning to show promise. The EU continued, and it has been estimated that geoThermal can contribute 30Gwe to the grid. Wind in the plains states could offer many Gwe more.

    If you really want a car… why not this one??

    The HY-LIGHT is the result of a partnership between the research centre of Michelin Group, based near Fribourg, Switzerland, and the PSI in Villigen, in the Canton of Aargau, Switzerland. PSI developed the fuel cell system, and contributed its long-term experience of basic electrochemical research. By using the new cells and improved supercaps, the scientists, engineers and designers achieved a technological leap forward in the efficiency of energy conversion. Michelin created the whole power train, the electric motors and the chassis management system, based on an active electric suspension. This gives the vehicle stability on bends and when it brakes, providing a safe, comfortable ride. Hydrogen and oxygen are stored in special vessels fitted into the structure of the vehicle and well protected against shocks. Both gases can be produced by electrolysis. A prototype installation was studied and realised with the support of the Electrical Power Company of Fribourg.

    Producing One’s Own Energy

    Groupe E is heavily invested in the development of higher-efficiency, smaller-size electrolyzers. The one used for the Hy-Light is the size of a small garage: “We’re working on getting it down to the size of a washing machine,” says Groupe E CEO Philippe Virdis. The metaphor isn’t random: Virdis’ vision is that over time “every Swiss will be able to produce the energy for his own home and car,” through a combination of solar panels, a home electrolyzer, and a fuel cell. “It’s a totally different approach than the current centralized, hierarchical energy production and distribution system: a decentralized, renewable, sustainable one.”

    Comment by Anonymous | January 10, 2008

  72. There is only one problem with light rail. It has not been profitable.
    You can’t get people to pay enough (people X price) to make it work.

    People want their roads and cars. To travel on their schedule. Not the rail’s.

    None of the boondoggles built so far has operated without theft. i.e. using government money.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 10, 2008

  73. “It’s a totally different approach than the current centralized, hierarchical energy production and distribution system: a decentralized, renewable, sustainable one.”
    This flies in the face of economic theory: the whole point of centralized power (or anything else) is that it can be done cheaper and more efficiently. The central facility can also employ expertise not available to households.

    So nice hollow green ring to it, but not in the real world.

    Comment by Optimist | January 10, 2008

  74. Many thanks to kingsofkaty and 2020 vision for the natural gas to methanol numbers and to doggy for natural gas energy numbers.

    23 quads of NG and 39 quads of oil
    8 quads for res and comm heating
    6 quads for electreicity
    8 quads for industrial

    part of the 6 quads is for peaking power; since most of the recent addition is by California to make up for the 15 years in which they didn’t build a power plant, give it 50:50 split

    11 quads of 23 available for transportation fuel
    11 quads out of 39 oil is still a 28% increase in transportation fuel without any increase in either oil or NG production.

    The US has very significant offshore NG reserves. I believe that even with a no drilling within 50 miles of the coast, most of those reserves are still accessible.

    100 to 150 cu ft of NG required per gallon of methanol.

    In 2000 the price of NG on a cost plus basis was $3 per tcf giving a cost of 45 cents for 150 cu ft. It costs 10 cents per gallon to produce methanol from natural gas including capital and maintenance.

    Given 2 gal of methanol to replace 1 gallon of gasoline and 20 cents tax gives $1.20 per gallon oil equivalent

    If methanol/gasoline mixtures between 5 – 25% yield gives the same or better mpg as gasoline due to the burn effect of the oxygen in methanol, then the price is 75 cents per gallon.

    Yes the electricity grid has to be upgraded. The solar proposal in current Sci Am includes 100,000 to 500,000 miles of new high voltage DC grid from the SouthWest to the rest of the country.

    Since this proposal is for local nuclear generation of electricity, the upgrades to power transmission will be a lot lower. Any PHEV approach will require a major transmission upgrade once you get beyond low market share.

    Does anybody know how many kWhr of electricity generation is required to replace 1000 cu ft of natural gas used for heating?

    Comment by steved | January 10, 2008

  75. scott said
    One angle not mentioned in your “natural gas to methanol” scenario is the effect of a major methanol market, and the effect on the large volume of natural currently “flared” in major remote producing regions. Once a methanol market is established, importing methanol may become irresistible, as current “zero cost” flared NG gets converted to methanol and enters the market.

    Clearly methanol would be imported when a market develops. The temptation for states with Natural Gas to get around OPEC’s quotas would be irresitible.

    The immediate purpose of my proposal is to significantly reduce the price of oil and secondarily natural gas. It is a major problem to transfer this quantity of money to OPEC.

    Providing Natural Gas countries with a way to avoid the OPEC quotas will contribute to this objective.

    In the 2020 – 2030 timeframe, the objective is to start the transition to the hydrogen economy using methanol as the hydrogen carrier. The prior development of methanol as a transportation fuel will assist in this transition. In this phase, nuclear will produce hydrogen which is combined with CO2 to produce methanol.

    While the idea of a PHEV looks good, after all nuclear could produce the electricity, my concern is with battery technology. Looking at the chart in my essay, you can see that batteries are not much off zero in terms of energy per kg and per volume compared with methanol and gasoline. Methanol is only 50% of gasoline but batteries appear to be less than 10% of methanol.

    Further, advanced batteries require exotic substances which may not be available in the quantity required to power the expected billion vehicles in the world.

    Comment by steved | January 10, 2008

  76. kingofkaty
    Which, again brings me around to coal. Carbon capture & sequestration can solve the greenhouse gas problem. Implementing coal to methanol doesn’t require first jumpstarting the nuclear program.

    The current Democratic Energy policy excludes nuclear as a renewable resource. The Global Warming advocates have already won the nuclear battle and have no intention of giving ground despite some positive comments coming from some environmentalists.

    The current target of the Global Warming advocates is the coal industry. They want to do to coal what they did to nuclear. A carbon tax will start moving coal to the sidelines versus natural gas which will be the primary winner from carbon tax. Nuclear should win hands down, however it will be blocked on other grounds.

    The main effect of increased reliance upon natural gas for electricity production will be that the US will become as dependent upon imports for our electricity as we currently are for transportation. This will be a complete disaster.

    Environmentalists are blocking coal plants in favor of natural gas plants around the country. They see the transition from coal to “clean” natural gas as a plus.

    Trying to push back with a coal solution is going to be a lot harder than pushing for a nuclear solution, after all it is a “completely clean” fuel. Unlike solar and wind, it is economically competitive if environmentalists are not allowed to block it in court.

    Comment by steved | January 10, 2008

  77. SteveD writes:
    Yes the electricity grid has to be upgraded. The solar proposal in current Sci Am includes 100,000 to 500,000 miles of new high voltage DC grid from the SouthWest to the rest of the country.

    Since this proposal is for local nuclear generation of electricity, the upgrades to power transmission will be a lot lower.

    I disagree. The solar proposal involves moving power from one part of the country to another, with no major increase in total power usage. Your proposal involves increasing the electricity demands of each household in the NE that currently uses gas heat. From this page on sizing an electric furnace
    http://www.acdirect.com/new_faq/info_sizing_electric_furnaces_1.php
    I gather that this could mean each household would have to increase their electric service entrance by maybe 80A, going for instance from a 100A entrance to a 200A entrance. This means upgrading the power lines to each house, and to each neighborhood. It wouldn’t involve just adding a new backbone, it means replacing almost everything, and that is very expensive.

    Comment by clee | January 10, 2008

  78. The Bussard Fusion reactor is a natch for long distance transmission. It produces power at 2 MV DC.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 10, 2008

  79. There are some good general ideas in your proposal, but also some serious flaws. The concept of expanding nuclear electrity and using it to displace gas or coal, which can then be converted to transport fuels, is good. NG can be used directly as compressed natural gas (CNG). This is a good diesel replacement, and is currently used by some buses and also the Honda Civic. NG can also be converted to methanol as you suggest, however I believe methanol is only useful for spark ignition engines. Coal can be converted to methanol or F-T liquids. I don’t think you have explained why you have picked NG to methanol over the other approaches.

    Now for the problems. To be economical nuclear plants have to run all the time. Winter heating demand is very peaky. It varies a great deal from month to month and day to day. Unlike electricty, NG has the great advantage of being storable, which helps to manage fluctuations in weather.

    If you think the US has ample reserves of NG then you are seriously misinformed. Since 2000 it has become apparent that US NG production is unable to keep up with demand. The past few years have seen a small uptick in production, but the long term future for US NG supply still looks grim. There may be some additional offshore supplies in areas covered by the offshore drilling ban, but with Democrats in control there is no chance of getting that lifted.

    NG is well suited to peak load generation because the cost of a simple cycle turbine is around $400/kw while nuclear will run about $2-3000/kw if you are lucky. This makes NG much cheaper for power plants with a low capacity factor. There are places such as Texas which use NG for baseload and replacement of that by nuclear would make a lot of sense. However there are many places where replacing NG power plants with nuclear wouldn’t work.

    Comment by schrodinger | January 10, 2008

  80. SteveD,

    “Does anybody know how many kWhr of electricity generation is required to replace 1000 cu ft of natural gas used for heating?”

    Natural gas when burned in a condensing furnace (boiler) can have an efficiency of about 90%.

    Resistive electrical heating is theoretically 100% efficient, and any heat loss from a poorly insulated water heater tank is going to warm the room is is located in.

    However there are distribution losses for electricity and these are quoted at around 7%.

    There are approximately 329kWh in 1000 cu ft of NG – depending on the source.

    At 90% heating efficiency, the heating value is 296 kWh.

    So allowing for electrical distribution losses, about 317kWh is needed to replace 1000 cu ft of natural gas.

    Comment by 2020Vision | January 11, 2008

  81. So allowing for electrical distribution losses, about 317kWh is needed to replace 1000 cu ft of natural gas.

    This assumes electric resistance heat, which is kind of silly. In moderate climates heat pumps use 100-140 kWh. Geothermal heat pumps use half as much and work well in cold climates.

    You actually use much less gas burning it in a combined cycle powerplant and heating with a geothermal heat pump than by burning the gas directly in a home furnace. Strange but true.

    Looking at the chart in my essay……

    The chart is misleading. Gasoline may produce 37 MJ/kg of heat, but useable energy in our cars is more like 6 MJ/kg. Of course batteries are even less, but PHEVs only use batteries for short range.

    The Chevy Volt design is very conversative, 150kg of batteries plus liquid cooling. 120kg without liquid cooling will be typical in future designs. You save more than 120kg eliminating the transmission, and you also save weight downsizing the engine. Battery weight is not the problem, battery cost is.

    Don’t put too much stock in studies showing ethanol/methanol burning more efficiently than gasoline. Lab studies can easily show better efficiency from any fuel, including straight gasoline. Real world spark-ignition efficiencies don’t vary that much.

    Comment by doggydogworld | January 11, 2008

  82. M. Simon said…

    WB-7 First Plasma

    The world has just changed. Cheap fusion is on the way. About 5 years.

    This is great, but it is a research project. In five years you might have a demonstration project. I am all for going full speed ahead on this as a research project.

    What we need is a construction project rather than a research project. We need proven technology which will produce electricity and proven technology which can substitute for oil in the transportation market.

    I am voting for nuclear for electricity production. Electricity has proven to be safe, clean, and cheap over the last 30-40 years. Cost issues associated with litigation by environmentalists can be avoided thru legislation. Politicians can’t repeal the laws of physics; politicians can prevent lawyers and judges from interfering with the development of nuclear energy.

    Natural gas to methanol is a commercially proven technique to produce a “good” transportation fuel. Using nuclear electricity for res and comm heating will free up sufficient natural gas to make a significant impact upon oil prices.

    Coal to liquids is the alternative path to a transportation fuel. The US has sufficient coal reserves to embark on this program. Personally, I prefer NG to methanol because it is cheaper and cleaner.

    NG to methanol is consistent in the longer term with a vision of electricity produced with nuclear power being the foundation of our energy generation. When nuclear can produce hydrogen which is combined with CO2 from the atmosphere, we will have started the transition from the age of fossil fuels to the age of nuclear. When fuel cells can power cars and methanol is use to store and distribute the energy required by the fuel cells, we will have an energy cycle which does not generate any net new CO2. Isn’t this the nirvana of the environmentalists.

    Comment by steved | January 12, 2008

  83. Steve D,

    If the project gets Manhattanized I can see a power producing reactor in 3 years (I am intimately familiar with the technology).

    If that time frame holds (I think it will) money put into nukes is money down the drain.

    Why? How does electricity at 2¢ per KWh compete with .2¢ per KWh?

    BTW expect Congress to Manhattanize the project if current experiments green light further efforts. Or so my sources tell me.

    We will know in 70 to 120 days.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 12, 2008

  84. Perhaps there is better fission economies of scale, better fission designs today, than thirty years ago. The US Navy has successfully used nuclear energy effectively, especially the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

    But even with no political (“green”) obstructions, the best-case situation is ten years to completion for a new nuclear power plant. I am aligning with the “fusion” advocate folks here. Let’s see what the next eight months bring. It looks too good to be true, but it could be truly the answer. People discounted the first phonograph as beyond comprehension, impossible. This particular fusion breakthrough could be worth the money.

    Comment by Scott | January 12, 2008

  85. KingofKaty said…

    This table might help: Properties of Liquid Fuels

    The upper flammability limit (UFL) is 36%. I would have some concerns about gas tank flammability. Normally the gas mixture above the tank is too rich to ignite, this UFL is 5 times higher than gasoline.

    For 30 years until just recently, the Indy 500 ran on methanol primarily because it was safer. They recently switched to methanol as part of going “green”. Methanol is much less likely than gasoline to catch fire in a collision.

    Comment by steved | January 12, 2008

  86. Benny “Peak Demand” Cole said…

    Scientific American recently published a lengthy piece suggesting we could go the solar route for $420 billion.

    That was $420 billion in govt subsidies by 2020. Their compressed gas storage plan costs $2 trillion, $3.6 trillion for PV, and another $2 trillion for concentrated solar power. The capital cost of 100,000 to 500,000 miles of high voltage DC transmission lines is not estimated.

    These costs assume a 70% drop in the price of PV; 32% drop in the cost of compressing air, and 30% drop in price of concentrated solar.

    Comment by steved | January 12, 2008

  87. dennis moore said…
    My colleagues working in this area feel that an economical 10 mile electric range is possible soon, but 40 mile is going to be a strech.

    Consumers appear to require about a 200 mile range before they are willing to consider a car. Most people do not want one car for commuting and another car for weekend trips. Battery technology is the Achilles heal of PHEVs.

    As to the methanol for transporation fuel, it is not so simple as to call it a construction project. But certianly turning coal and/or biomass into a liquid fuel is worth pursuing.

    I am not sure why you prefer coal to gasoline rather than coal/NG to methanol. My belief is that the primary reason for not going NG to methanol is the lack of methanol cars and the lack of methanol gas pumps. NG to methanol beats coal to gasoline on both cost and “clean” criteria. Since the cost to manufacture a flex fuel car which can run on a mixture of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol is between $0 and $100, and the cost to convert a gas pump to a flex fuel pump is $20,000, allowing the lack of flex fuel cars and pumps to determine the solution is bad judgment.

    This is an example of where the gov’t can be effective in overcoming a local minimum which is not the best solution. By mandating flex fuel cars, all kinds of additional possibilities open up to market forces.

    fran Anonymous said…

    http://dkrwenergy.com/_filelib/FileCabinet/PDFs/Press_Releases/ExxonPressRelease.pdf?FileName=ExxonPressRelease.pdf

    This project is very interesting. It is a coal to gasoline project. I believe it uses a gasifier to go to syngas then to methanol. The methanol is converted to gasoline. This seems to indicate that it would be cheaper to convert coal to methanol than to convert coal to gasoline.

    Comment by steved | January 12, 2008

  88. The problem of coal to methanol (even if it is cheaper) is 200 million vehicles on the road.

    Assume the average worth is $10,000.

    That is $2 trillion in capital to replace. You have to think about transitions, not step changes.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 13, 2008

  89. Magical hand waving of “Total replacement by Nuclear is cheap and easy”, “Energy Independance is Prioriety #1”, and “Oh yeah by the way, lets otherwise get it all from Coal”.

    _

    Except that:
    1a. Nuclear isn’t cheap
    1b. Nor easy

    2a. Energy Independance is largely a hollow argument,
    2b. And largely irrelevant in a global economy.

    3. Coal can never be “green” and cheap at the same time, since it has the highest ratio of carbon-to-hydrogen of any fossil fuel out there.

    _

    What sickens me are these arguments that we should change the entire infrastructure backbone of the United States / World, just so long as we don’t have to change our cars.

    Simple math.
    The replacement rate of cars is 5 years.
    The replacement rate of power plants is 30+.

    Why not change the damn cars instead?

    And by “change”, I mean change them to be more energy efficient. Be it better engine technology, weight, aerodynamics, whatever.

    _

    Why is making liquid fuels “cheap” such a high goal for society?

    Why not transition away from liquid fuels, (for all but the few niche applications where it doesn’t cut it, like cargo ships, aircraft, and military)

    Especially since Prioriety #1 should be dealing with Global Warming.

    Not trying to subvert the entire world, just so that you can continue to fill up your Hummer on the cheap.

    Comment by GreyFalcon | January 13, 2008

  90. Total replacement by fusion will be cheap and easy.

    Cars are replaced on a 10 year schedule (about 10% a year) not 5.

    It will be much easier to make 1,000 fusion plants a year than 20 million autos. The design cycle to change all auto designs is about 10 to 15 years.

    Solar scientists are predicting a little ice age. Given that global temps have been flat for the last 10 years they may be right.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 13, 2008

  91. M. Simon said…

    The problem of coal to methanol (even if it is cheaper) is 200 million vehicles on the road.

    Assume the average worth is $10,000.

    That is $2 trillion in capital to replace. You have to think about transitions, not step changes.

    It actually takes 16 years to turn over the fleet of automobiles, about 6% per year.

    The changes to an automobile to make them suitable for flexfuel are relatively minor. It involves changing some of the components (seals)that deal with moving the fuel to the engine and some adjustment to the software which runs the engine management system. These changes are expected to add between $0 and $100 to the cost of a new car.

    Given a three year period for the industry to prepare for this change, all new cars after 3 years will be flexfuel capable. By year 6, there will be about 50 million flexfuel cars on the road. Since nuclear power is required to release the NG for methanol, these types of lead time are not inconsistent.

    Comment by steved | January 13, 2008

  92. ==Solar scientists are predicting a little ice age.==
    And “some people” say we’re all going to get invaded by floating spaghetti monsters. Your point?
    If it ain’t peer reviewed in a physical science journal, it ain’t worth jack.
    Much less a Non-Reviewed Social Science Journal which don’t even run a spell-check.

    ==Total replacement by fusion will be cheap and easy.==
    I agree. Fusion based energy is a wonderful idea.
    Cheap, and Easy.
    And plenty of it.
    Fission on the other hand is a rather crappy idea.
    Then again, I guess we can look towards the French then, huh. They figured out how to solve their waste problems. Lol.

    ==The changes to an automobile to make them suitable for flexfuel are relatively minor.==
    As for cellulosic ethanol, where pray-tell is all this raw biomass going to come from?
    Mars perhaps? That sounds practical. (Zubrin, now where have I heard that name before…)

    Comment by GreyFalcon | January 14, 2008

  93. NEI Magazine, and the $/KW for Nuclear is making me laugh.
    http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2047917

    $4000-$6000/KW
    Are you kidding me 😛

    And that doesn’t even begin to factor in the societal cost and the externalities in general.

    Sure wish I could write this one off as an overhead cost for doing nuclear.





    Much less the bogus premise, that the fund going for nuclear waste storage is adequate. (Especially when you consider it has never been adjusted for inflation)
    http://www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/ipfmresearchreport03.pdf

    Comment by GreyFalcon | January 14, 2008

  94. Obviously all we need are slower, lighter automobiles to make a 2008, IMMEDIATE reduction in automobile fuel consumption. Look at these results by high-schoolers and college students, and set your creative minds turning:

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/06/high_school_tea.html

    There is no need to create their exact results, but let’s start moving toward slower lighter vehicles

    Comment by Scott | January 14, 2008

  95. Scott,

    Your assumption that time and crash worthyness have no value is a non-starter.

    We could save even more by walking everywhere.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 14, 2008

  96. You are making assumptions and assigning them to me without any basis in my statements.

    To wit, how crashworthy are current Formula One vehicles, and what is their weight? And by that, I am -not- advocating Formula One cars as road vehicles. I am simply pointing out the technology for crashworthy and light vehicles is not a contradictory goal, like say, a submarine that floats on the surface.

    For those interested in vehicle power, this development is noteworthy:

    http://www.liquidpiston.com/Technology.asp

    as well as this development:

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2006/engine.html

    I can also highly recommend the second edition of Robert Q Riley’s Book (2003 edition) of “Alternative Cars in the 21st Century” from SAE. This is a compilation of the physics of traveling from A to B, as well as fuel economy factors. It also has a parade of various prototype and small manufacturer cars that have been built in the quest to create a more efficient car.

    Inertial weight is the largest impediment to road economy.

    You put a grade on yourself with conclusions like “We might all as well walk”. I would assume you are more intelligent than that self-awarded statement/judgment implies.

    Comment by Scott | January 14, 2008

  97. Weight is only a problem re: road friction and acceleration.

    A breakthrough in tires would fix the first (i.e. a low friction loss tire than grabs the road. That one has yet to be figured out) the second is solved with the hybrid.

    In any case if cost is no object – problem solved. If speed is no object problem solved. To think that car mfgs. are insensitive to these difficulties is to not understand their incentives.

    All the things you want have to be delivered at a price people are willing to pay. It is a multidimensional problem. If it was as easy as you think it would have already been done.

    I think that some kids designed a 500 mpg vehicle. It uses a micro engine. Accelerates slowly. Has bicycle wheels and top speed used is about 30 mph. They accelerate using the engine and then turn the engine off and coast.

    Interesting. Hardly useful for transport unless you want to go round and round a test track.

    The vehicle of the future will evolve – just as the vehicles of the past have. It will be slow and there will be lots of false starts. We must be patient. Difficult with a war on.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 15, 2008

  98. Sorry I misquoted you a bit in that last comment, M Simon.

    However, you wrote:
    “Weight is only a problem re: road friction and acceleration.

    A breakthrough in tires would fix the first (i.e. a low friction loss tire than grabs the road. That one has yet to be figured out) the second is solved with the hybrid.”

    The three components affecting fuel economy are inertia weight, rolling resistance, and aerodynamic drag. For tires, bias-ply tires might have a rolling resistance coefficient as high as .015. State of the art radial tires, .008. The GM Impact had a rolling reistance coefficient of .0048, because it had tires inflated to 65 psig. About twice the typical current inflation pressure.

    At 1600 kg curb weight, a vehicle with a .30 Aerodynamic Drag Coefficient would need about 14 kw (18.77 hp) to maintain a constant 65 mph. About 3.75 kw (5hp) of that is due to rolling resistance. So not much to gain from improving tires.

    A 385 kg vehicle with the same aerodynamic drag and same .008 rolling resistance coefficient takes a tad less than 7.5 kw (10 hp) to maintain 65 mph, steady state, with about 1.5 hp to overcome rolling resistance.

    Inertia (weight) consumes 60 percent of the total vehicle energy over the EPA urban driving cycle. Rolling resistance 22% and aerodynamics 18%.

    The SAE mileage contest does not use “micro engines”. Read the link. The point is, if these ultra-competitive staged events can get such great mileage, why can’t even TEN percent, one-tenth, be achieved? These cars have a minimum weight requirement, a minimum speed requirement, and they have a varied course.

    We have no need to “wait” or be “patient” because of the war. The technology was there twenty years ago, and GM developed it.

    General Motors turned loose a group of engineers with no restraints, to build a high-mileage commuter car. In the last of a series of 15 prototypes, they developed a three-wheeled vehicle that leans.

    (From the SAE book “Alternate Cars in the 21st Century” (1994 edition)). Page 285:

    ” A drag coefficient of .35 and a curb weight of 350 lb contributed to the Lean Machine’s ability to deliver high performance on a reduced power budget. The 11 kW (15 hp) Honda ATV engine and 5-speed transmission located in the power pod pushed Lean Machine to 129 km/h (80mph) and delivered fuel economy of 50 km/L (120 mpg) at a steady 64 km/h (40 mph)…

    “..Lean Machine product clinics conducted in the ’80s report that consumers were exceptionally enthusiastic about the design. Market potential appeared to be about twice the level that had been expected.”

    (same book, page 52:)
    “Engineers at GM computer-modeled an upgraded version with reduced aerodynamic drag and a 28kW (38hp) engine. The came up with a steady-state fuel economy of more than 85 km/L (200 mpg) and 0-60 mph acceleration in 6.8 seconds.”

    The hybrid does not solve the acceleration problem that is a problem of basically overcoming inertia. The hybrid reduces fuel consumption from idle (18 percent measured time in the EPA cycle) and deceleration (12 percent time) of the typical urban driving cycle, to zero fuel usage. The batteries -add- inertia!

    Honda built a high mileage car as GM’s Lean Machine, VW built a similar car, all majors had products developed, all in the 1980s. The USA just didn’t have the political will to mandate their use, and the profit wasn’t available compared to SUVs and “performance cars”. Why? Gasoline was extremely cheap. Good times! Woohoo!

    We’re spending $275 million a DAY on this war, and there is no outward sign in the United States that shows up in the economy, except the extremely unfortunate death of young people. Any need for “patience” to reduce fuel consumption is unnecessary. Only some sort of countrywide “will” to participate in a consensus of action.

    Comment by Scott | January 15, 2008

  99. I support the war for other reasons than oil. Self government is good. Not that I’m against protecting the oil flows.

    As to a 400 lb vehicle. Does it meet crash resistance requirements?

    And OK GM is stodgy about what it sells. If the news has been out for 20 years why isn’t Nissan selling them in the USA? Honda? Toyota?

    Could you also explain how weight affects air resistance? I was under the impression that only frontal area and drag co-efficient mattered.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 15, 2008

  100. Ah, mandate their use. I see.

    We are all communists now.

    What is wrong with car companies making products that people actually want to buy?

    Why is the solution always to put a (government) gun to people’s heads? Has liberty in America outlived its usefulness?

    I favor attractive solutions over coercive solutions. It generates less resistance.

    Consider the USSR. It had mandated solutions for everything. Never hear much about them these days. Perhaps you could explain that?

    Comment by M. Simon | January 15, 2008

  101. So do you think gas prices are high enough to make the Isetta a big seller?

    What about people like me? Family of six. Will we have to mandate family size to get the right gas mileage?

    Now if you personally wanted to get together a vigilante group and show up at people’s front doors with guns drawn to “encourage” them to buy the “right” cars I’d have more respect for you. The fact that you do not do your own dirty work disgusts me.

    Comment by M. Simon | January 15, 2008

  102. Ah, look here old chap, M. Simon. I know how it is to read a message on the internet, then “chew chew chew” on it and get all consumed by it.

    Forget it. Avoid that process.

    We’re here to exchange ideas, with science as the foundation for those ideas.

    Rhetorical remarks such as “Why does ..gun to the head..” etc. are simply premises that are generated within your head. You’re generating an adversarial soap opera, not out of facts given here, but your own personal emotions. The don’t serve any purpose on “R-Squared Energy Blog”. There are plenty of political blogs for that kind of punditry.

    I hope you realize that the list of regulations concerning car manufacturing is already filling volumes, so automobile companies are already “mandated” by a huge bureaucratic (DOT) set of rules. They already =cannot= simply “build” what they want to build. As I pointed out, the “Lean Machine” was enthusiastically embraced by those who tried it. They wanted it. GM didn’t build it. I speculate that it was not produced because of the “floor” in place: their profitibility profile caused by UAW legacy benefits. If the auto industry could do away with having to pay retiree health insurance for the UAW, plus pensions, they could “compete” on a level playing field, and be very innovative. But that is a subject for elsewhere.

    I don’t wish to get into “politics” as a main topic on this thread; suffice it to say I could write for an hour and a half on each of your “political” comments, which I feel are distinctly juvenile and “unsullied” by actual world history. All the speculative drama (e.g. “guns drawn”, “USSR”, “mandate family”) reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote:

    “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

    Instead, let’s just stick to the chemistry and physics, as directed by the author of this thread.

    Comment by Scott | January 15, 2008


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