Synthetic fuels and other options

Without question, the great economic problem confronting the world today is the pending collapse, yes I said collapse, of oil supply. I do not believe that we can even buy an additional year or postpone this event in any way shape or form. You have to believe surplus pumping capacity exists that has not already been tapped by the advance of oil from $20 per barrel to $90 per barrel. What were they waiting for? The point that I am making, is that this resource is mythical.

We now have maximum production and no elasticity while demand has yet to decline in a meaningful way. These are painful words to write, but the folks we rely on to keep our civilization ahead of things are in deeper denial than anyone. The developed world needed to support the massive diversion of resources into solving this problem about ten years ago. It will now be done in a crisis environment. George Bush may even be able to slip out of office just ahead of the angry peasants. This is one of he greatest policy failures in history, but then no one wanted to believe it was so, including ourselves, dear reader.

Even if all the political constraints on oil exploration world wide disappeared tomorrow, the reprieve would be brief. And to be perfectly honest, the sooner we replace the fossil fuel economy, the better it is for all since that will also end the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere. We still have several trillion barrels of oil in the ground available for other uses if justified. They are simply becoming far to expensive to chase from a energy cost point of view. It is pretty hard to justify spending a barrel to earn a barrel unless it is used for something other than fuel.

Faced with the same constraints in the past, South Africa and wartime Germany were able to produce synthetic fuel using coal and natural gas as a feedstock. The coal can be replaced by wood chips to great effect. This is not necessarily the best solution but it is certainly the one proven solution with all the technology extant and deliverable. The main challenge will be to maximize the use of wood chips as feedstock world wide. The Fischer - Tosch process does work.

The two other solutions which are high pressure depolymerization and algae oil culture are in the beginnings of full development and therefore as yet unproven. No one has sorted out the algae equation quite yet and it may well take hundreds of trials to sort out the cheapest and most stable production protocol. The initial focus of depolymerization has been toward select high quality waste to prove out the viability.

The technical viability of the process, as reported seems to stand up although the pilot plant economic model appears to be unsustainable primarily because the high value waste turned out to have high value. To redirect this effort into the conversion of wood chips is the best direction for this approach. The massive potential supply, the absolute uniformity of the feedstock and the production of a high quality crude, allows the process to be standardized and made cost efficient.

The only problem is that several years of aggressive development needs to be already done. Your wish to live in exciting times is about to be granted.

No comments:

Post a Comment