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Range Responds

I just became aware that BiofuelsDigest wrote a story on my recent blog on Range Fuels, and got some comments back from Range Fuels’ CEO David Aldous:

Battle of the Falling Timbers

Aldous said pretty much what I would expect the CEO of Range Fuels to say. He defended his company, and complained that the funding includes money for future phases. That may be, but it is true that Range recently went back to the DOE for more money. If they are already funded for future phases, then why not show us what you can do before asking for more money now?

The truth is that the early public statements from those involved with Range – prior to them getting taxpayer funding – don’t remotely reconcile with what they are now prepared to deliver. The costs have escalated, the capacity has been ramped down, and production went from “cellulosic ethanol” to “cellulosic biofuels” to “mixed alcohols” to “methanol.” Those are the facts, and I think Aldous is trying to put the best possible spin on a bad situation that he inherited.

In fact, left unsaid in my original blog is that things have obviously gone horribly wrong from the days of Range’s early claims. Reading between the lines, I think the capacity downgrades are an indication that the gasifier didn’t scale up as expected. Gasifiers are tricky, and one that works fine at one scale and with one feedstock may not work at all at a different scale. I also think Range found out that producing ethanol from syngas is much more difficult than they expected, and they couldn’t get a catalyst to do what they had hoped.

One interesting comment from Aldous was that their methanol would be a qualifying fuel because they will put it into biodiesel. Imagine that. Biodiesel is already struggling to compete, and now we are going to pay a subsidy on the methanol that is used to produce biodiesel, and then we will probably end up reinstituting the subsidy on the finished biodiesel.

That is going to be some expensive biodiesel (from a taxpayer perspective). Methanol presently trades at about $1.10 a gallon, so if we subsidize that as a cellulosic biofuel we would presumable pay a subsidy of $1.01 per gallon on top of the market price. In a nutshell, the real cost of that methanol going into biodiesel would be double what it should be. It all begs the question, of course, of why you wouldn’t just use the methanol directly as fuel.

There was a comment left following the story that allows me to finally tell a funny story that happened at the Pacific Rim Summit last November (here are my slides from my presentation). Alan Propp wrote the following:

Dear Editor,

My comment is this: you describe Mr. Rapier at the outset of your article with these terms, “Noted and widely respected energy writer…” I have met Mr. Rapier, and my description of him would have been, “Controversial, highly opinionated and frequently misinformed energy writer…”

His lack of knowledge or understanding of the Range Fuels project is indicative of his blog and other writings.

Sincerely,

Alan Propp, Ph.D., P.E.
Merrick & Company

That comment is priceless on several levels. First, while Propp is smearing me he conveniently doesn’t mention that his company is the engineering firm for the Range Fuels plant. His company has made a lot of money on all the hype, and his fingerprints are all over the project. Think he might have an axe to grind?

But here is the really priceless part. At the Pacific Rim Summit, I was having a bite with a colleague at an evening conference event. Joining us was David Bransby, a professor from Auburn (and advisor to Range Fuels) who gave a presentation that I really enjoyed. His wife was also present, as well as some members of the Hawaii Science and Technology Council. We were having some interesting discussions around logistics, energy density, and the problems of scaling up biomass-based solutions.

Up walks Alan Propp, Ph.D., and he immediately began to berate me. Shortly thereafter, one person got up and left the table (telling me later that Propp’s behavior was the reason he left the table), and two more later asked “What was that guy’s problem?

We were talking about the difficulties with scaling up biobutanol (which I have blogged on here) and Propp said “You are wrong. They now have a new process which can get butanol titers above 10%.” I looked at him with a puzzled look, and said “That’s impossible. Butanol phases out of water at 7.7% concentration. You can’t have a 10% solution.”

Propp was undeterred. He said that a certain company had given a presentation that day, and if I had attended it “I might have learned a thing or two.” (I would have attended but had a conflict). I was really puzzled, and couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. I decided I would investigate later, but I knew one thing: He was wrong about butanol titers above 10%. That’s like saying “Our water freezes at 40 degrees.”

The conversation turned to energy balances, and Propp’s position was “Energy balances don’t matter.” We were discussing a municipal solid waste project for converting trash into fuel. I said that if the energy inputs into the project were higher than your outputs, then in most cases you don’t do the project (unless you are using non-fungible fuel like coal as an input to produce a liquid fuel output). Propp said (paraphrasing) “If the biomass is free, then usage of those BTUs is what matters.”

I knew that we were looking at this problem in two very different ways. I was looking at it from the long-term viability of an energy project. Propp was locked into the idea that because the BTUs are free, then any usage of them is an improvement over the status quo. I couldn’t get it through his head that if the usage involved consuming more BTUs than you could extract from the free biomass, you don’t do the project. So we had a very fundamental disagreement. For an energy project, I won’t consume more than 1 BTU of fungible fuel to produce 1 BTU of fuel unless there are some really special circumstances (e.g., if the project is really a waste disposal project and energy would have been consumed regardless).

The evening went on like that. Propp was extremely arrogant and condescending. Had I known then of his involvement in some of these biofuel projects, I would have had a better grasp on why he behaved as he did. But then I went back to my hotel and looked up the company he had been talking about. It turns out that the good Dr. Propp was actually confused and had been talking about iso-butanol, a fundamentally different compound than normal butanol (which is almost always shortened to just “butanol”).

From a biological perspective, it is true that i-butanol is less toxic to microbes than n-butanol, but the phasing concentration for i-butanol is also higher. What is needed to crack open the economics of producing butanol biologically (which used to be the case before the much cheaper petro-route came along) would be to get butanol concentrations above the phasing level, so it could be skimmed off instead of having to distill it all. From that perspective, the lower toxicity of i-butanol is offset by the higher phasing concentration.

Further, in the chemical industry the chemical properties of n-butanol are generally preferred over i-butanol. Therefore, butanol production is shifted to the greatest possible extent to n-butanol, and i-butanol almost always trades at a discount to n-butanol. There is still a market for i-butanol, but it is unclear if i-butanol would be an attractive renewable fuel. The published test results I have seen were all of n-butanol.

So I chuckled at the thought that Alan Propp, Ph.D., didn’t know the difference between i-butanol and n-butanol, yet berated me for not knowing about new technology that produced “butanol titers above 10%.” I sent him a note later that night and said “I think you meant iso-butanol.” He responded back “Yes, that’s correct.” (In fairness to Merrick, Propp did have a colleague with him – Steven Wagner, VP from Merrick – who I found to be much more reasonable and more interested in simply have a conversation about technology).

The next day, I saw Propp and his demeanor had changed entirely. Gone was the arrogance from the night before. (I presumed he was feeling pretty sheepish). He had promised to show up for my presentation later that day and put some tough questions to me, and I said “By all means, show up and give me your best.” He was a no-show.

So it is with an extreme sense of irony that I read Propp’s comment above. It is a classic case of projection. Of course the sort of pseudo-knowledge displayed by Propp that night is a big reason that Range is in the position it is in. The initial promoters failed to distinguish between cellulosic ethanol and biomass gasification, and therefore made certain representations that many of us knew were incorrect.

Second, they didn’t understand the chemistry of alcohol production well enough to know that the production of pure ethanol via this route is problematic, and that a mixed alcohol is what they would produce. Pure ethanol would only be produced at a very high cost. As reality began to settle in, we have seen the statements from Range evolve a very long way from the initial claims of what they would do.

So despite comments from Aldous and Propp, the verdict on Range is the same. What they are proposing to deliver is a far cry from the technology (and cost) that they initially went out and hyped. The public statements are there for anyone to read, and don’t need any particular interpretation from me to see that things have not gone according to plan. So whether I understand Range’s grand plans isn’t the issue. I understand what they have said publicly.

March 2, 2010 Posted by | butanol, ethanol, hype, methanol, range fuels | Comments Off on Range Responds

Technical Feasibility is the Easy Part

A couple of people have now written to ask for comments on the story from Green Car Congress about the Polish CO2 to methanol scheme. Here is the story:

Report: Polish Power Plant and University to Cooperate on CO2 to Methanol Trial

Here is the bit I immediately focused on:

Nazimek says his “artificial photosynthesis” process is based on the photocatalytic conversion of water and carbon dioxide under deep ultraviolet light. Synthesis of 1 kmole (32 kg) of CH3OH from CO2 and H2O requires 586MJ of energy, according to Nazimek’s calculations. (Methanol has a HHV of 22.7 MJ/kg, or 726 MJ/kmole).

So the implication there is that you are getting more energy in the form of methanol than you put into the system (input of 586 MJ for an output of 726 MJ), for a positive net energy. However, like the Steorn system, this interpretation would unfortunately violate the laws of thermodynamics. Perhaps something has been lost in the translation. Otherwise, either all of the energy into the system is not being measured, measurements are being done inconsistently, or there is some other error.

Here is one problem. Methanol’s high heating value (HHV) is quoted above. However, when considering energy that you can practically get out of a system one should not use HHV. Why? Because that presumes that you have condensed the water from the combustion products and taken everything back down to room temperature (25 C). That doesn’t happen in practice. Just feel the exhaust coming out of your auto.

So the comparison of energy input into the system to HHV for the output can be misleading. If you consistently use HHV for input and outputs, then you should get a consistent answer for the net energy, but if you mix lower and higher heating values you could easily conclude that you are creating energy when in fact you are simply subtracting apples from oranges.

Having said that, I think artificial photosynthesis has great potential for energy production. I have often speculated on this. Natural photosynthetic efficiency is very low, but it does result in captured solar energy in plants all over the world. Plants do take CO2 in and convert to biomass. The trick is that they do take in more BTUs in the form of solar energy (and maybe also energy in the form of fertilizer) than are found in the the biomass they produce.

So I am in no way trying to diminish the work. This sort of work needs to be done. I just want to inject a dash of reality into the energy balances. It’s like I tell people all the time – you can in fact run a car off of water. You can turn combustion products like CO2 and water back into fuels of all sorts. The catch in both of these cases is that you must always input more energy into the system than you can get back. That’s how the laws of nature unfortunately work.

So while technical feasibility can often be easily demonstrated, there are many more hurdles that must be jumped before you would operate a scheme like this in practice. For instance, what is the source of energy? If you are using sunlight, then it may be perfectly acceptable to input 100 BTUs of sunlight and get back 10 BTUs of liquid fuel. But it wouldn’t be a good idea to input similar quality fuels and get back fewer BTUs.

A second consideration is energy required to purify the final product. The story above indicates that the product is in water at a 15% concentration. This is quite similar to the concentrations of ethanol that corn ethanol producers make and then have to purify. The water has to be removed, and it takes energy to do that. So even if I had a perfect conversion of 1 BTU of energy input to 1 BTU of energy out, the net energy will fall as I input energy to purify the final product. (A 3rd major consideration is the capital costs, which keeps many fine ideas in the lab).

So in conclusion, technical feasibility of so many of these schemes is not in question. (Of course as was the case with Steorn or (possibly) with Cello, sometimes technical feasibility itself is the problem). But beyond technical feasibility are all sorts of considerations that can render a seemingly wondrous invention into something that never escapes the lab. If you hone in on the mass and energy balances of the system (a chemical engineer’s bread and butter), you can often see why a promising experiment in the lab won’t work in practice.

July 9, 2009 Posted by | methanol, thermodynamics | 40 Comments

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)

January 8, 2008 Posted by | electricity usage, methanol, nuclear energy, OPEC, reader submission | 102 Comments

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)

January 8, 2008 Posted by | electricity usage, methanol, nuclear energy, OPEC, reader submission | Comments Off on Guest Essay on Energy Independence

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)

January 8, 2008 Posted by | electricity usage, methanol, nuclear energy, OPEC, reader submission | 102 Comments

E85, M85, or Gasoline?

Introduction

Joseph Miglietta has sent me a new essay, this time getting into some of the advantages and disadvantages of methanol. I do believe that long-term we are likely to see more methanol come online to meet our energy needs, because the route from coal is pretty straightforward, and we have vast coal reserves. I believe the economics of coal-based methanol are better than for coal-to-liquids, so we may see more plants converting coal to methanol, like Sasol’s in South Africa.

First, a quick bit of trivia. Joseph mentions Robert Zubrin in his essay. For those who haven’t heard of Dr. Zubrin, here is a brief biography: Robert Zubrin at Wikipedia

Dr. Zubrin is president of the Mars Society, and a strong advocate for the exploration of Mars. This also happens to be one of my interests, and Dr. Zubrin and I have corresponded regarding some technical issues that would need to be resolved in order to ensure a successful Mars mission. Specifically, we discussed the types of fuels that could be synthesized from native Martian materials, because this an area that I know a bit about. Dr. Zubrin advocates producing the fuel for the return flight after landing on Mars, as this would enormously reduce the cost of the mission. I won’t digress any further into that topic, but just thought I would mention that bit of trivia about Dr. Zubrin.

Now, on to Joseph’s essay.

E85, M85, or Gasoline?

Written by Joseph Miglietta

Recently, I came across with the article written by Robert Zubrin:

An Energy Revolution

This article reflects many of my thoughts. I share the author’s opinion that energy conservation per se is a strategy for enduring economic oppression from petroleum monopoly. The political fact remains: the more oil we consume, the more money terrorists receive to finance all their activities, including the development of nuclear weapons directed against us. In the financing scenario, the higher the price of gasoline at the pump, the more reduced becomes our national economy and our personal finance. In the environmental situation, the more fossil fuels we consume, the higher the global warming with all the tragic consequences that accompany this phenomenon. These three interrelated factors should place all of us in a state of urgency, demanding a quick action from our representatives. We cannot find a better moment than this election year to induce the politicians to take action. Also the private sector should redouble their efforts in finding solutions. This may seem an alarmist statement, but if we closely examine the situation we may find sufficient supporting facts to reach this conclusion.

We are making some progress, and taking some measures towards reducing the oil consumption. However, our present efforts are totally inadequate; they cannot even meet the increasing yearly energy demand we require for transportation. As Zubrin points out in his article, the share that hybrid cars contribute to the 17 million cars sold in the U.S. every year is less than 1%, conservation through gasoline efficiency is a losing strategy, hydrogen is not a direct source of energy because it must be made by another source of energy and any process consumes more energy than the hydrogen it produces.

Gasoline

Liquid fuels have been with us since the advent of the automobile, because of their practical advantage over their counterparts used in transportation in far more limited amounts, such as propane gas. Gasoline and diesel have been and still are, the cheapest available energy source for transportation. This situation, however, is rapidly changing. In our country, oil availability has peaked out several years ago. Most of the remaining oil reserves in the world, although they have not peaked out yet, are concentrated in unstable countries where hate against us is most notorious.

We are now totally dependent from this source of energy. Therefore, we are reluctant to attack a country like Iran, for fear to destabilize even more that region, causing the price of oil to go sky high. They know this, and they’re taking full advantage of the situation. Their aim is at fully destroy Western Civilization or bring us at their mercy. They think they can achieve their objective by gradually impoverishing us while they get richer. I am not saying that they can achieve their objective, but we can reverse this situation and reduce them to their original state without the use of force by becoming independent from their oil and reduce pollution at the same time.

Ethanol

This is not a simple task, but the more we procrastinate, the more difficult our situation becomes. We must face the politicians with the stark facts: grain ethanol has been the starting point to promote this alternative fuel in our country, but it is not the solution. Aside from the fact that it requires a great deal of oil to produce ethanol from corn, not enough corn can ever be grown to serve as a feedstock for our fuel needs. Regardless how much we can increase corn /acre, how many additional acres we put on corn, and how much we reduce the amount of oil to produce ethanol from corn through technical advances, the amount of ethanol we can produce from corn would still represent a small fraction of the total energy consumed in transportation.

The amount of ethanol produced last year represented 2% of our total oil consumption. Even if this year we increased by 50% the total ethanol production, this will still represent a mere 3% of our consumption. And if we were to increase production by 50% increments every two years (a physical impossibility), it would take fourteen years to reach an ethanol production equivalent to 50% our consumption.

This is without taking into consideration population expansion with its corresponding increase in consumption. I suspect that many politicians already know this, but it would be for them a political suicide if they were to propose to suspend the taxpayers’ subsidy to the farmers and to the ethanol producers who have joined the profitable bandwagon.

The Interest in developing new technologies for the better and more abundant cellulosic feedstock has increased significantly in the last two years, and even more so in the last few months; it is possible, therefore, that commercial applications may be achieved in the near future. Politicians may be counting on this development. But one cannot count on possibilities, as Robert Rapier has aptly manifested. Even if a feasible process is achieved tomorrow, it may take a few years before it reaches a vast, commercial stage. The energy crisis, however, requires a solution for the immediate future, and neither corn nor a cellulosic material will solve the problem hovering over our heads fast enough.

It is evident, therefore, that we must find other ways to tackle this energy crisis. While in the next three years from corn may trickle down a few more billion gallons of ethanol to add on what is currently produced, and while we continue to look for a commercial way to produce ethanol from cellulosic materials, we must look for other viable sources now available to us.

We are taking Brazil as a model for our own energy drive. Brazil, indeed, is helpful not only to show us that with a vision and determination it is possible to achieve energy’s economical independence, but also serves to us to point out our limitations. Brazil has the most efficient source for producing ethanol by fermentation, and in sufficient quantities for their internal needs and with a surplus for export. We are depending for now on corn, which is both less efficient for producing ethanol and inadequate to supply our internal needs. But we have other resources that we can use to attain our economical independence from oil. In other words, we can’t copycat Brazil, but we can equally achieve our energy independence using other means.

In the first place, let’s import all the ethanol we can to supplement the small amount we produce. Farmers should have no cause for complaining, as they can sell all the corn they produce for ethanol and still receive a subsidy. Imported ethanol may still be insufficient for our energy needs, but it would constitute an important boost. To compensate for the lost 54¢/gallon import tariff, we could apply a surcharge on the imported oil. In Brazil, ethanol costs $2 at the pump compared to $4 for gasoline. Gasoline is still blended with 20% or 25% ethanol and used mostly by non-flex vehicles.

Methanol

Methanol is the other liquid fuel that we can use in internal combustion engines. Like ethanol, it can be blended with 15% gasoline and distributed at the pump as M85. Flex fuel vehicles can be manufactured to use this blend. Flex fuel vehicles intended for E85 cannot use, however, M85 and vice versa. Car manufacturers, perhaps, may develop some small modifications to accommodate either fuel types or a mixture of ethanol/methanol blends with gasoline. Still another solution would be to have pumps at the gas station dedicated to M85 and others to E85. If E85 were limited only to the Corn Belt region as now is the case, then pumps for M85 would be for the rest of the nation. Although this may seem a little confusing, nevertheless is a practical solution.

Methanol’s greatest advantage over ethanol is that it can be produced in sufficient quantity to meet our consumption for centuries to come. Just as ethanol, it could be produced from biomass material of even larger varieties than those from which ethanol can be produced. It can be produced from natural gas, but that would be competing with the use that this natural resource is now employed.

Its most significant source and the cheapest is coal. We have the world’s largest reserves and most of the other reserves are in the Western World. There will undoubtedly be environmentalist protesting extensive mining of coal. It has been proven cheaper, however, for the time being to import coal from South Africa than mining our own. Such details can be left for another discussion. The important point is that we have now the capacity to power our entire economy on coal. Even Europe has large coal reserves. In Europe, most automobiles have diesel engines, more efficient than spark-ignition engines. They could dehydrate methanol to dimethyl ether and use this gas for a cleaner-burning diesel. We were the first in establishing a fossil fuel economy; we could now be the first to do the switch.

There are a few disadvantages of methanol over ethanol, such as it is a little more corrosive than ethanol, but the use of antioxidants may obviate this property just as it is done for ethanol. Another disadvantage over ethanol is its toxicity, but blended with gasoline this disadvantage is also eliminated. Its major disadvantage is that it carries even less energy per gallon than ethanol. In fact, while ethanol is 32.6% less efficient than gasoline, methanol is 48.5% less efficient. But with E85 and M85 these values are a little better. E85 has 72.3% the energy value of gasoline, while methanol has 58.8%. If ethanol and methanol could be mixed, once a flex-fuel engine will be developed that accepts both alcohols, more efficient fuels will be achieved. Again, as Robert Rapier pointed out, the important thing is that we have it in sufficient quantity.

The difficult part is distribution. We cannot pretend that the oil companies will accept to establish fuel pumps dedicated to M85 in their gas stations nationwide, directly competing with their product: gasoline. Grudgingly, they are gradually accepting to incorporate10% ethanol; they even accepted to establish some 600+ fuel pumps for E85, because they know corn ethanol will never increase to a magnitude that will compete with their interests. Companies must be formed to take up this challenge, just as the companies that pioneered the discovery of oil with the advent of the automobile. But there is enough incentive, enough profit margins without the need of government subsidies to warrant this business venture.

JM

June 3, 2006 Posted by | E85, gasoline, methanol, reader submission | 4 Comments

E85, M85, or Gasoline?

Introduction

Joseph Miglietta has sent me a new essay, this time getting into some of the advantages and disadvantages of methanol. I do believe that long-term we are likely to see more methanol come online to meet our energy needs, because the route from coal is pretty straightforward, and we have vast coal reserves. I believe the economics of coal-based methanol are better than for coal-to-liquids, so we may see more plants converting coal to methanol, like Sasol’s in South Africa.

First, a quick bit of trivia. Joseph mentions Robert Zubrin in his essay. For those who haven’t heard of Dr. Zubrin, here is a brief biography: Robert Zubrin at Wikipedia

Dr. Zubrin is president of the Mars Society, and a strong advocate for the exploration of Mars. This also happens to be one of my interests, and Dr. Zubrin and I have corresponded regarding some technical issues that would need to be resolved in order to ensure a successful Mars mission. Specifically, we discussed the types of fuels that could be synthesized from native Martian materials, because this an area that I know a bit about. Dr. Zubrin advocates producing the fuel for the return flight after landing on Mars, as this would enormously reduce the cost of the mission. I won’t digress any further into that topic, but just thought I would mention that bit of trivia about Dr. Zubrin.

Now, on to Joseph’s essay.

E85, M85, or Gasoline?

Written by Joseph Miglietta

Recently, I came across with the article written by Robert Zubrin:

An Energy Revolution

This article reflects many of my thoughts. I share the author’s opinion that energy conservation per se is a strategy for enduring economic oppression from petroleum monopoly. The political fact remains: the more oil we consume, the more money terrorists receive to finance all their activities, including the development of nuclear weapons directed against us. In the financing scenario, the higher the price of gasoline at the pump, the more reduced becomes our national economy and our personal finance. In the environmental situation, the more fossil fuels we consume, the higher the global warming with all the tragic consequences that accompany this phenomenon. These three interrelated factors should place all of us in a state of urgency, demanding a quick action from our representatives. We cannot find a better moment than this election year to induce the politicians to take action. Also the private sector should redouble their efforts in finding solutions. This may seem an alarmist statement, but if we closely examine the situation we may find sufficient supporting facts to reach this conclusion.

We are making some progress, and taking some measures towards reducing the oil consumption. However, our present efforts are totally inadequate; they cannot even meet the increasing yearly energy demand we require for transportation. As Zubrin points out in his article, the share that hybrid cars contribute to the 17 million cars sold in the U.S. every year is less than 1%, conservation through gasoline efficiency is a losing strategy, hydrogen is not a direct source of energy because it must be made by another source of energy and any process consumes more energy than the hydrogen it produces.

Gasoline

Liquid fuels have been with us since the advent of the automobile, because of their practical advantage over their counterparts used in transportation in far more limited amounts, such as propane gas. Gasoline and diesel have been and still are, the cheapest available energy source for transportation. This situation, however, is rapidly changing. In our country, oil availability has peaked out several years ago. Most of the remaining oil reserves in the world, although they have not peaked out yet, are concentrated in unstable countries where hate against us is most notorious.

We are now totally dependent from this source of energy. Therefore, we are reluctant to attack a country like Iran, for fear to destabilize even more that region, causing the price of oil to go sky high. They know this, and they’re taking full advantage of the situation. Their aim is at fully destroy Western Civilization or bring us at their mercy. They think they can achieve their objective by gradually impoverishing us while they get richer. I am not saying that they can achieve their objective, but we can reverse this situation and reduce them to their original state without the use of force by becoming independent from their oil and reduce pollution at the same time.

Ethanol

This is not a simple task, but the more we procrastinate, the more difficult our situation becomes. We must face the politicians with the stark facts: grain ethanol has been the starting point to promote this alternative fuel in our country, but it is not the solution. Aside from the fact that it requires a great deal of oil to produce ethanol from corn, not enough corn can ever be grown to serve as a feedstock for our fuel needs. Regardless how much we can increase corn /acre, how many additional acres we put on corn, and how much we reduce the amount of oil to produce ethanol from corn through technical advances, the amount of ethanol we can produce from corn would still represent a small fraction of the total energy consumed in transportation.

The amount of ethanol produced last year represented 2% of our total oil consumption. Even if this year we increased by 50% the total ethanol production, this will still represent a mere 3% of our consumption. And if we were to increase production by 50% increments every two years (a physical impossibility), it would take fourteen years to reach an ethanol production equivalent to 50% our consumption.

This is without taking into consideration population expansion with its corresponding increase in consumption. I suspect that many politicians already know this, but it would be for them a political suicide if they were to propose to suspend the taxpayers’ subsidy to the farmers and to the ethanol producers who have joined the profitable bandwagon.

The Interest in developing new technologies for the better and more abundant cellulosic feedstock has increased significantly in the last two years, and even more so in the last few months; it is possible, therefore, that commercial applications may be achieved in the near future. Politicians may be counting on this development. But one cannot count on possibilities, as Robert Rapier has aptly manifested. Even if a feasible process is achieved tomorrow, it may take a few years before it reaches a vast, commercial stage. The energy crisis, however, requires a solution for the immediate future, and neither corn nor a cellulosic material will solve the problem hovering over our heads fast enough.

It is evident, therefore, that we must find other ways to tackle this energy crisis. While in the next three years from corn may trickle down a few more billion gallons of ethanol to add on what is currently produced, and while we continue to look for a commercial way to produce ethanol from cellulosic materials, we must look for other viable sources now available to us.

We are taking Brazil as a model for our own energy drive. Brazil, indeed, is helpful not only to show us that with a vision and determination it is possible to achieve energy’s economical independence, but also serves to us to point out our limitations. Brazil has the most efficient source for producing ethanol by fermentation, and in sufficient quantities for their internal needs and with a surplus for export. We are depending for now on corn, which is both less efficient for producing ethanol and inadequate to supply our internal needs. But we have other resources that we can use to attain our economical independence from oil. In other words, we can’t copycat Brazil, but we can equally achieve our energy independence using other means.

In the first place, let’s import all the ethanol we can to supplement the small amount we produce. Farmers should have no cause for complaining, as they can sell all the corn they produce for ethanol and still receive a subsidy. Imported ethanol may still be insufficient for our energy needs, but it would constitute an important boost. To compensate for the lost 54¢/gallon import tariff, we could apply a surcharge on the imported oil. In Brazil, ethanol costs $2 at the pump compared to $4 for gasoline. Gasoline is still blended with 20% or 25% ethanol and used mostly by non-flex vehicles.

Methanol

Methanol is the other liquid fuel that we can use in internal combustion engines. Like ethanol, it can be blended with 15% gasoline and distributed at the pump as M85. Flex fuel vehicles can be manufactured to use this blend. Flex fuel vehicles intended for E85 cannot use, however, M85 and vice versa. Car manufacturers, perhaps, may develop some small modifications to accommodate either fuel types or a mixture of ethanol/methanol blends with gasoline. Still another solution would be to have pumps at the gas station dedicated to M85 and others to E85. If E85 were limited only to the Corn Belt region as now is the case, then pumps for M85 would be for the rest of the nation. Although this may seem a little confusing, nevertheless is a practical solution.

Methanol’s greatest advantage over ethanol is that it can be produced in sufficient quantity to meet our consumption for centuries to come. Just as ethanol, it could be produced from biomass material of even larger varieties than those from which ethanol can be produced. It can be produced from natural gas, but that would be competing with the use that this natural resource is now employed.

Its most significant source and the cheapest is coal. We have the world’s largest reserves and most of the other reserves are in the Western World. There will undoubtedly be environmentalist protesting extensive mining of coal. It has been proven cheaper, however, for the time being to import coal from South Africa than mining our own. Such details can be left for another discussion. The important point is that we have now the capacity to power our entire economy on coal. Even Europe has large coal reserves. In Europe, most automobiles have diesel engines, more efficient than spark-ignition engines. They could dehydrate methanol to dimethyl ether and use this gas for a cleaner-burning diesel. We were the first in establishing a fossil fuel economy; we could now be the first to do the switch.

There are a few disadvantages of methanol over ethanol, such as it is a little more corrosive than ethanol, but the use of antioxidants may obviate this property just as it is done for ethanol. Another disadvantage over ethanol is its toxicity, but blended with gasoline this disadvantage is also eliminated. Its major disadvantage is that it carries even less energy per gallon than ethanol. In fact, while ethanol is 32.6% less efficient than gasoline, methanol is 48.5% less efficient. But with E85 and M85 these values are a little better. E85 has 72.3% the energy value of gasoline, while methanol has 58.8%. If ethanol and methanol could be mixed, once a flex-fuel engine will be developed that accepts both alcohols, more efficient fuels will be achieved. Again, as Robert Rapier pointed out, the important thing is that we have it in sufficient quantity.

The difficult part is distribution. We cannot pretend that the oil companies will accept to establish fuel pumps dedicated to M85 in their gas stations nationwide, directly competing with their product: gasoline. Grudgingly, they are gradually accepting to incorporate10% ethanol; they even accepted to establish some 600+ fuel pumps for E85, because they know corn ethanol will never increase to a magnitude that will compete with their interests. Companies must be formed to take up this challenge, just as the companies that pioneered the discovery of oil with the advent of the automobile. But there is enough incentive, enough profit margins without the need of government subsidies to warrant this business venture.

JM

June 3, 2006 Posted by | E85, gasoline, methanol, reader submission | 3 Comments