Sunday, July 08, 2012

Responses to article "Can solar fuels prevent an imminent petroleum fuels crisis?"

These follow an article that I posted on the Forbes blog:


fredlinn fredlinn 2 weeks ago

——-” Producing millions of electric cars is just not a practical proposition, and the only realistic means to move people around in number using electrical power is with light railway and tram systems.”——-

Diesel/electric railroad locomotives are hybrids—and have been for over 70 years. Build out overhead lines and deliver electric directly to the locomotives, and there is no need to use the diesel engines. You would however, still have them available for use if the need should arise.

——–” The fabrication of electric cars runs into similar resource difficulties, especially in terms of rare earth metals, and so a strategy based on liquid fuels would seem most sensible. Liquid fuels are furthermore entirely compatible with the prevailing transportation infrastructure, in regard to the distribution of fuels and their deployment in internal combustion engines.”——–

Any internal combustion engine can be run on methane. All you do is adjust the intake and air/fuel mix. We’ve been able to do it for over 90 years. There are over 14 million vehicles that can run on CH4 worldwide right now—and most of those a bi-fuel, they can run on petroleum or CH4 at the flip of a switch. Some, like the Fiat Siena Tetrafuel can run on a range of fuels—the Siena can run on petroleum gasoline, gasoline and ethanol mixtures, pure hydrous ethanol, and/or methane. Existing engines can be converted to bi-fuel engines at a fraction of the cost of building new vehicles.

——-” The notion of personalised transport will be relegated to history by massive fuel prices, and an absence of any cheaper “car ownership” option. “——-

In general, renewable fuels, ethanol, biodiesel and CH4 have significantly higher comparative octane ratings than petroleum. This means they can be used in high compression engines. Compression ratio is the key to thermal efficiency with ICEs. Smaller displacement engines that can generate as much or more power than large displacement engines that are dictated by the low octane rating of gasoline—-and get significantly better mileage per BTU of fuel used. Using ethanol, you can have more power than you get from the largest V8 engine using gasoline—from a 4 cylinder engine the size commonly used for small super economy cars. We’ve been doing it for over 60 years, and it is being done today.

——-” Liquid fuels are furthermore entirely compatible with the prevailing transportation infrastructure, in regard to the distribution of fuels and their deployment in internal combustion engines. The Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process is a well-established technology for converting syngas to liquid hydrocarbons, but the means to obtain H2 + CO on a large scale without using fossil fuels is not. Even when (or if) those clean technologies based on artificial photosynthesis are developed, a whole new generation and scale of FT plants will need to be installed, which at the level envisaged would take decades.”——-

During WW2, after the loss of North Africa, and the bombing of Ploesti left Germany with virtually no petroleum reserves at all—-they turned to synthetic fuels produced by F-T and the Scholler process from wood and coal, mainly wood. Coal was needed for steel production—-and also, coal contains sulphur which contaminates the reforming catalysts, shutting down the hydrocarbon rebuilding process from the synthgas.

They ran everything from submarines, panzers, trucks, jet aircraft(like the Me-262 Swallow-the world’s first operation jet fighter)—-even V1 and V2 rockets with synthetic fuels. And they did it in a matter of months, not decades. Even under wartime conditions of shortages, logistic problems and round the clock, day and night Allied bombing.

There is not one single “problem” in this entire article that hasn’t been met and dealt with before—-some as long as over a century ago. I see no reason why we can’t do the same things again today. And I don’t think it will take us decades to do it. We already know what works and what doesn’t work from past experience. And in most cases, we come out far better off if we deal with the problems using the technology and tools we already have at our disposal.

Most of this is something we need to be doing anyway. It is not something we should be deluded into thinking it is something we are being forced to accept. We should be think of it all as the next logical step to moving forward into a world that works with nature, by nature’s game plan.

We’ll all be better off, richer, healthier and happier when we do.

My Response - which I am having trouble posting on the Forbes site:

"Dear Fred,

as the title of the article suggests, I am trying to answer the question of whether the current emphasis on solar fuels is likely to fill the hole created by falling production of conventional crude oil, according to the IEA and a recent US Army analysis. My conclusion is that it almost certainly cannot.

We seem to agree that electrifying the train network is the way forward, since it can be powered by different kinds of fuel to make electricity. In the UK, there are plans to electrify the western side of the country - the east has been electric for many years. I am sure the UK government is aware of the peak oil problem. I don't think you envisage millions of electric cars any more than I do?

If I understand you correctly, you mean that we don't need petroleum derived fuels since we can run vehicles on natural gas and other renewable fuels - and indeed I take your point about the higher octane ratings and high compression engines. OK, but there are limits on biofuels, ethanol and indeed the diversion of (or creation of a new) methane supply on a scale corresponding to the predicted loss of around 3 million barrels of oil per day/year, and a loss of more than half the present supply by 2030, which must be supplanted by their means.

The ersatz fuels are well known, as a triumph of Germany during WWII whose ingenuity enabled their mobilization throughout that war. It has been noted that the bombing of the FT plants, among others, helped the Allies to win the war. The raw material is of course coal - coal was liquefied by means of both gasification/FT (indirect) and a direct method based on the earlier Bergius process.

There were however, only 40 million or so cars across the world then, to be compared with over one billion now. Since much of the fuel was used by the military, over one million "Gasogene" units were created, which you are clearly familiar with, but for the benefit of those who don't know, these were able to gasify wood and run cars and even tractors on the fuel gas so produced.

So, all in all, I accept what you are saying, and I am sure you are right that these tried-and-tested means can be brought to bear particularly in a "localised" rather than global scale. Gasogene units could be fabricated using spare parts and old tin cans, and using fairly simple tools. It is how quickly (or if) such technologies might be used to maintain the status quo that I question.

I couldn't agree more that we need to embrace the necessary changes, and to work with nature, rather than feeling coerced and hard done by, and for that reason at the end of the full article I quoted Charles Kingsley:

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something
to be enthusiastic about.” – Charles Kingsley (1819 – 1875).




Chris Rhodes said...

Just received this comment in my email, but it hasn't appeared on here so I'm posting it now, as it asks a good question:

"Howdy! I know this is somewhat off-topic but I needed to ask.
Does building a well-established blog like yours require a large
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Chris Rhodes said...

You ask a good question. The answer is "yes", as I've been writing on this blog since December 2005. Blogging is a good, and immediate medium to "publish" ideas, articles etc. Some people blog for fun, and others like me blog to try and express certain opinions about what is happening in the world.

My only tip is to decide what sort of coverage you want to give and then just start writing as things occur to you.



Global Market Research said...

very interesting article..I really enjoyed it..Biofuel can now be made from waste. The world produces a lot of trash every day. Those landfills can be converted to produce biofuels, energy (methane) and recycled materials for new products.This is a more sustainable way to manage trash than putting it in a landfill..