Integrated Biofuel Production, Part 3

Subtitle: The “100 Quad” Problem

The 100 Quads of energy used annually in the US are comprised of:

When I refer to “fuel-less” power, I mean hydroelectric power, wind, solar, geothermal and ocean power. Of these, ocean power (tidal energy and thermal differentials) may have the greatest long term potential.

The AG reader divide the “100 Quad” problem into two general parts: the transportation sector and the electric power grid… With respect to the Grid, “I believe that fuel-less power stations are where future investments should be made.”

Fuel-less power is environmentally responsible and enhances energy security. The technology clearly exists to incrementally convert the electric power grid to an essentially fuel-less power grid.

The main problem will be “load following” because fuel-less power sources tend to be intermittent. But, projects such as Solar Tres in Spain demonstrate that there are solutions for intermittent energy production. The goal, in my opinion, should be to reverse present, accepted thinking about the electric power grid. Grid base load power should be mainly fuel-less with small, fuel-dependent power plants in a supporting role.

Today’s grid is almost entirely fuel-dependent. Ulf Bossel would say hell dependent, i.e., dependent upon fuels from underground which become depleted. Referring to state regulations of, and incentives to, providers for their adoption of renewable energy resources, the AG reader perceives some movement, “But much more can, and should, be done.” (Darn, a good snipe spoiled.)

Changing how we think of the electric power grid’s base load / peak load management is probably the first step. As base load, fuel-less electric power develops, base load coal and natural gas-fired power stations can be phased out. As coal and natural gas usage is reduced in the electric power sector, so are net CO2 emissions (and acid rain-forming emissions). By concentrating on fuel-less electric power generation, the fuels that we do produce can then be used for the transportation sector.

Other than a reference to acid rain, no commentary is made upon why we would be phasing out coal. If there were, then this blog would have the opportunity to apply the logic that if we should be reducing coal for the benefit of the future of humanity, then the same logic could be applied to phasing out nuclear power.

Instead, the AG reader switches to the transportation sector and how it presents a different set of engineering problems. For significant operating range and power on demand, energy must be stored in the vehicle.

Upfront, the AG reader acknowledges that mass transit lends itself to a switch to electric drive: “*I admit electric trolleys are an exception,” yet would have them run on fuel-less electricity. for that system.* In the correspondent’s favor, there is an absence of doubt about the need to reduce GHG emissions from the combustion of petroleum. Instead, the challenge is about practicalities.

“With respect to US petroleum usage, about 65% (25 Quads) is used by the light duty vehicle fleet. That is an enormous number. What”, asks the correspondent rhetorically, “are our available assets that can be used to address the problem?” The proposed answer is a switch to NGVs (Natural Gas Vehicles.)

As in the case of the electric power grid, we do have a delivery infrastructure for an alternative transportation fuel: the natural gas pipeline system. The infrastructure does not have to build from scratch. Pressure stations will be required for vehicle fueling, but that is already being done in Europe and in California. So, if we are going to substitute natural gas for a portion of the petroleum Quads, we have to expand the natural gas resource base.

In addition to fossil fuel or “wellhead” natural gas, we will need sources of “synthetic” natural gas (I realize the phrase is an oxymoron). While biomass could be used to generate electricity, as you suggest, the fuel-less electric power strategy does not require biomass inputs. Let’s not waste our biomass for electric power when we have better alternatives. Biomass is more properly used as a fuel feedstock for synthetic natural gas and for DME, which can be stored on-board the vehicle.

The AG reader then return to the initial proposal for integrated biofuel production. Syngas for DME diesel fuel. Methane from char (”The lignin fraction of biomass becomes a char.”) “If you have relatively pure cellulose to begin with, such as from industrial food processing waste, anaerobic digestion is the best alternative means to produce synthetic natural gas.”

All of these methods should be encouraged. Whatever the methane source, the natural gas pipeline is the common delivery system to fueling stations. I look at methane as hydrogen with a carbon “transport” atom. If the carbon comes from a biomass source, methane is just about as CO2-neutral as hydrogen and, unlike hydrogen, can be rapidly integrated into the vehicle fueling system because we have the basic infrastructure in place.

You are right that there will be an obvious temptation to use coal as the feedstock for synthetic natural gas. At least that will be better than burning coal in a coal-fired power plant because the sulfur and heavy metals in the coal will be removed during the Syngas production process, which is another reason for fuel-less electrical power. Realistically, coal will probably be used.

Similar Posts: Coal to DME Green Light to Clean Coal Growing Concern over Natural Gas Supply Integrated Gasification Combined Cycles What about the Long Term Forecast?

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