Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, said recently it was “not in the interest of OPEC producers to cut their production, whatever the price is…” (link)
Naimi also said the Saudis might even raise their output to improve their market share (which would also lower prices further). “The best thing for everybody,” he says, “is to let the most efficient producers produce…”
What exactly does he mean? Many industry insiders are not shy in concluding that Saudi Arabia, one of America’s largest trading partners, “basically wants oil prices to move lower to reduce production in the U.S. and force many American producers out of business.” As trading partners and friends of the United States, to even the most unbiased observer, it seems as though Saudi Arabia is willing to go to great lengths to ensure America is dependent upon the Middle East for oil.
That is what monopolies do. If a monopoly can produce a commodity or product cheaper than anyone else (and Saudi Arabia currently has the cheapest oil in the world to produce), their best bet in the long run, if they can get away with it, is to drop the price so low it puts all the competition out of business.
Oil prices are low and getting lower (from the time of this article being written, November 2014 through January 2015, and possibly beyond, gasoline has dipped into the $2 per gallon range), and in the short term that is great. It could give the American economy a bit of a short-term recovery, but it is happening at the cost of long term domestic energy security and energy independence. Long-term if the Saudis get their way, eventually most of its competition will be out of business and they can go back to gouging the world. The only way to get our economy off their roller coaster is robust fuel competition. It can be done now, and when they raise their prices again, our economy will keep humming. The hope is that enough of us see the wisdom to keep pursuing it while oil prices are low.
In late November, in Vienna, OPEC decided not to do what it normally does when oil prices get too low: They chose not to cut their production levels. Some OPEC members can afford this because their oil is cheap to produce. Some countries like Venezuela will be hurt badly by this decision, but they do not have the same clout within OPEC. This is a quote from an article in USA Today:
In Vienna, Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez effectively conceded defeat when he appeared to angrily storm out of the OPEC meeting once a no-cut decision was signaled.
Over half of officials from OPEC countries — the poorer half — were consistently on-message that the market is over-supplied and that something needed to be done but, nothing was done to increase the price of oil (and thereby gasoline at the pump.)
Any long-term reduction of the price of crude under $50/barrel will hurt shale-oil producers in the United States and Canada. Low crude prices make it harder for them to launch new drilling projects or expand operations because they count on high returns to finance the more costly penetration and oil harvesting than Saudi Arabia.
Lower fuel prices will immediately ease the financial burden of hundreds of millions of people around the world because the artificially-induced high oil prices we have experienced around the world have functioned much like a regressive tax on the whole world. Prevent billions of people from realizing their dreams of prosperity.
An open fuel standard would mean the end of the fossil fuel petroleum standard, which the world has been stuck with since the early twentieth century. It means the end of a one-fuel economy and the beginning of a free market for transportation fuel.
Many fuels are available that our vehicles can be converted to burn and all have some advantages over gasoline and that cost less and burn cleaner than gasoline, but, currently our cars were made in such a way that we cannot put these fuels in our cars. An open fuel standard could change this situation. With only a few small tweaks to the manufacture of a car, it would be capable of burning methanol, ethanol, butanol, and gasoline. Each car would become a platform upon which fuels could compete, or at least that is the theory.
The repercussions of real fuel competition would be enormous. When cars start rolling off assembly lines capable of burning multiple fuels, gasoline prices would have to come down to compete, new jobs would be created by companies scrambling to get a piece of the hundreds of billions of dollars Americans spend on fuel per year, pollutants would spill into the air, landfills would have significantly less bulk, rural people in developing countries would raise their standards of living, women in oppressive OPEC nations would see the regimes holding them down begin to weaken, America’s national security would improve without costing taxpayers any more money, and you, the consumer, would finally be able to have as much choice with your fuel as you do with your coffee.
Sounds great! So why is there not an open fuel standard in place for America, like yesterday?
Unfortunately, all fuels are not created equal and many of the disadvantages of alternative fuels are not trivial.
While there are problems with an open fuel standard and fuel freedom as currently conceived and envisioned, it is a noble effort and if industry support can be had it could provide America with a great benefit in the areas of the economy and national security. It remains to be seen if there would be any environmental benefit from alternative fuels, even if they were renewable.
Methanol, Ethanol, DiMethyl Ether (DME), and Butanol are the most highly touted transportation fuels that would compete with gasoline in an open fuel standard. The leadership of the eGeneration foundation believes that, while the currently envisioned open fuels standard is a great idea, and we do not want to diminish this in anyway, there is potentially a better, long term vision for the open fuels standards. We reach this conclusion because of the drawbacks of the most touted fuels.
Methanol is probably the most hyped of the alternative transportation fuels that will compete with gasoline in an open fuel standard. A few of its drawbacks are:
- Fuel storage tanks and dispensing equipment must be corrosion and damage resistant. This is because of the potentially harmful nature of M85 (in the case of spills/leaks), and the fact that it is a corrosive solvent. Fuel delivery requires use of non-corroding hoses and stainless steel fuel tanks. This is not a trivial cost for distributors or fuel stations for these upgrades
- Although the refueling process is the same as that for gasoline, because of the much greater corrosion of Methanol, most automobile manufacturers will void their warranties as the engine and fuel tank will not last as near as long as an auto that uses only gasoline.
- Methanol has about half the energy content of gasoline. Because mileage using M85 is lower than mileage using gasoline (10-20%), refueling is needed more frequently.
Methanol makes a fine racing fuel but, in all fairness, it is not entirely for mass-market application.
The corrosion factor of methanol has automakers pushing back against the open fuel standards saying it would reduce the life of many of the major components of their vehicles (gasoline tank, gasoline pump, engine block and cylinders, exhaust manifold, and parts of the exhaust system.) If the open fuel standard is put into place it is warned that Americans will quickly see the vehicle warranties shrivel up or disappear.
There are other drawbacks as well.
Start with the energy side of these drawbacks. Turning natural gas into methanol consumes around 1/3 of the energy content of the gas, similar to producing hydrogen from natural gas. As with hydrogen, there is no way to recover those losses when burning methanol in an internal combustion engine, so while direct emissions might be lower, indirect emissions negate most of that benefit.
The argument could be made we would much better off just putting the natural gas directly into cars in the form of CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) or LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas.)
Then there is fuel economy. Even after you modify a car to run on a 50% (M50) or 85% blend (M85) of methanol and gasoline, you cannot compensate for its lower energy content without precluding operation on ordinary gasoline. While a car running on E85 typically uses 40% more fuel per mile than on gasoline, you would need 75% more M85 to go the same distance, because methanol’s energy content is 25% less than ethanol’s and less than half that of petroleum gasoline.
In reality, a Ford Fusion FFV that gets a combined 21 city/highway mpg on gasoline and 15 mpg on E85 would deliver a paltry 12 mpg on M85. Even with the car’s generous 17.5 gallon fuel tank, its range on M85 would be barely 200 miles.
Then there are the risks in the public handling methanol. While the risks are minimal, they are greater than gasoline and so the risks for lawsuits and insurance claims are greater. The basic problem is that, unlike gasoline or ethanol, methanol is a neurotoxin. Ingesting even a small quantity can lead to blindness or death, as described in the Material Safety Data Sheet from Methanex, one the world’s largest methanol producers. Its vapors are not much safer, and it can even be absorbed though the skin. These properties create serious concerns for both bulk handling and at the point of sale. Gasoline is hardly as safe as water, but at least if you spill some on your hand, you do not need to be hospitalized. While methanol can be handled safely by trained personnel in industrial facilities and storage terminals, that does not extend to the gas station forecourt, where it could potentially pose a hazard to both customers and employees.
DME, in our estimation, is a much better alternative fuel than methanol
DiMethyl Ether (DME) has a number of uses in products and is most commonly used as a replacement for propane in liquid petroleum gas (LPG), but can also be used as a replacement for diesel fuel in transportation. Diesel fuel contains more energy per gallon that the gasoline that we use in most passenger cars, and where pure methanol would not be able to power a diesel engine as effectively, DME can.
Today, DME is primarily produced by converting hydrocarbons via gasification to synthesis gas (syngas). Synthesis gas is then converted into methanol in the presence of catalyst (usually copper-based), with subsequent methanol dehydration in the presence of a different catalyst (for example, silica-alumina) resulting in the production of DME.
Besides being able to be produced from a number of renewable and sustainable resources, DME also holds advantage over traditional diesel fuel because of its high cetane number – which measures the combustion quality of diesel fuel during compression ignition. By combusting more thoroughly, an engine tailored to run on DME can achieve much higher efficiencies, better mileage, and emissions reductions.
DME (dimethyl ether) is a clean-burning, non-toxic, potentially renewable fuel. Its high cetane value and quiet combustion, as well as its inexpensive propane-like fueling system, make it an excellent, inexpensive diesel alternative that will meet strict emissions standards.
DME has been used for decades as an energy source in China, Japan, Korea, Egypt, and Brazil, and it can be produced domestically from a variety of feedstocks, including biogas, syngas, and natural gas. Ideal uses in North America are in the transportation, agriculture, and construction industries. Because production is not dependent upon the price of crude oil, DME can offer stable pricing that is competitive with that of diesel.
DME is a gas under ambient conditions with properties similar to those of propane. However, because it can be stored as a liquid under moderate pressure, it eliminates the need for the high-pressure containers used for CNG or cryogenic storage of LNG. DME can be used as a direct replacement for diesel fuel powered engines.
DME can be produced from a variety of abundant sources, including natural gas, coal, waste from pulp and paper mills, forest products, agricultural by-products, municipal waste and dedicated fuel crops such as switch grass. World production of DME today stands at approximately 5 million tons per annually, and is primarily by means of methanol dehydration. DME can also be manufactured directly from synthesis gas (syngas) produced by the gasification of coal or biomass, or through natural gas reforming. Among the various processes for chemical conversion of natural gas, direct synthesis of DME is the most efficient.
|DME is a clean, colorless gas that is easy to liquefy and transport. Chemically speaking, DME is the simplest ether compound, with a chemical formula of C2H6O. Again, DME can be derived from many sources, including renewable materials (biomass, including municipal waste and waste from paper and pulp mills, wood, or agricultural products) and fossil fuels (natural gas and coal).DME has been used for decades in the personal care industry (as an environmentally benign propellant in aerosols), as DME is non-toxic and is easily degraded in the troposphere.|
Important concerns with any fuel used for transportation or cooking and heating are the potential environmental and human health impacts of the use of the fuel. In the case of DME, there are no concerns with regard to human or animal exposure.
DME was first used as an aerosol propellant because of its environmentally benign characteristics. It is not harmful to the ozone layer, unlike the _________(CFCs) that it replaced. DME producer DuPont Fluorochemicals (which markets DME under the product name “Dymel A”), provides a technical bulletin that gives a good overview of the physical and chemical properties of DME, and the results of their own health and safety studies.
“A two-year inhalation study and carcinogenicity bioassay at exposure levels of up to 20,000 ppm showed no compound-related effects…, no signs of carcinogenicity…, and no evidence of mutagenicity or teratogenicity in separate reproductive studies. Based on all these studies, the product have been approved by the Dupont Company for general aerosol use, including in personal products.”
DME is one of the most promising alternative automotive fuel solutions among the various ultra clean, renewable, and low-carbon fuels under consideration worldwide. DME can be used as fuel in gasoline engines (30% DME / 70% LPG), and gas turbines. Only minor modifications are required to convert a diesel engine to run on DME, and engine and vehicle manufacturers, including Volvo, Mack, Isuzu, Nissan, and Shanghai Diesel have developed heavy vehicles running on diesel engines fueled with DME. It is as a replacement for diesel fuel that DME particularly demonstrates its most distinct advantages.
For DME produced from methanol, the price of DME is a function of the price of methanol and LPG. The energy value of DME is approximately 62% that of LPG, however, the listed sale price is typically 75 – 90% that of LPG, representing a premium to energy value.
Ford of Europe has begun building the new Fiesta ECOnetic Technology at Ford’s Cologne Assembly plant in Germany.
According to Ford, the ECOnetic Technology is Ford’s most fuel-efficient car. Ford says the ECOnetic Technology gets 86.5 miles per gallon, or as they say in Europe, 3.3L/100km. But, unfortunately this diesel powered Festiva is available only in Europe.
The ECOnetic Technology is powered by a 1.6-liter Duratorq TDCi diesel engine. The ECOnetic is available in a three-door and five-door form and in a variety of trim levels.
“Fiesta is already hugely successful across Europe and the ECOnetic Technology model takes its fuel efficiency and low-CO2 offering to another level,” said Stephen Odell, CEO and chairman, Ford of Europe.
According to Ford, half of all Ford cars sold in Europe will carry the ECOnetic Technology badge by the end of 2016.
The Ford ECOnetic Technology offers fuel saving features like Auto-Start-Stop, Smart Regenerative Charging, Eco Mode and shift indicator light. Lower suspension, under shield, wheel airstream deflectors and extra low-rolling resistance tires further boost fuel economy.
The big question is, if 86.5 mpg is good for the European market, when will Ford make diesel technology in a small car available here in the U.S. market? Why is there a tax incentive to buy electric cars but no tax incentive to buy an ultra high mileage diesel car?
Look at the potential of the DME market if the federal government allowed the same tax incentive for an electric car as for a DME powered Ford Festiva.
With the very real potential of gasoline prices to rise back to the $4.00/gallon range, demand for fuel efficient cars is still as strong as ever. Inside Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters, rank and file employees and some key marketing executives who do not want to be quoted by name have been lobbying senior management to make the DME powered Ford Festiva come about (particularly for the California market). No word on when, if ever the lobbying will succeed.
[Excepts from this section taken from Makarand Gogate, Conrad J. Kulik, and Sunggyu Lee Process Research Center Department of Chemical Engineering The University of Akron]
Coal-derived syngas can be converted to methanol using Liquid Phase Methanol Synthesis Process. Methanol can be further converted to gasoline using the Mobil Methanol-To-Gasoline (MTG) process. The combination of commercial syngas-to-methanol technology with the MTG Process provides a ready synthetic route for liquid hydrocarbon fuels. The University of Akron has developed a novel process for one-step synthesis of Dimethyl Ether (DME) from syngas. This DME Synthesis improves the reactor productivity and syngas conversion, by as much as 100%, over the MTG Process. One-step DME synthesis is thus an ideal front-end for further conversion to gasoline. This substitution is justified not only because DME yields an identical product distribution as methanol, DME is also a true intermediate in the Mobil MTG process. The novel integration scheme has been termed as the Dimethyl Ether-to- Gasoline (DTG) process. The advantages of the University of Akron’s DTG Process over the conventional Methanol-to-Gasoline Process are in (a) enhanced syngas conversion, (b) superior hydrocarbon yield, (c) superior product selectivity, (d) alleviated heat duties, and (e) integrated energy efficiency.
These process merits are in the areas of higher gasoline yield, higher syngas conversion, good adaptability to coal-based syngas and integrated energy efficiency. Further experimental investigation to establish these merits is currently underway at the University of Akron.
Nearly a decade after the adoption of federal renewable fuel standards led to a sharp increase in production of ethanol, some producers in the Corn Belt are considering making a different fuel other than ethanol. The fuel, butyl alcohol, or butanol, is worth more to refiners because it has more energy than ethanol, is easier to handle and more of it can be blended into each gallon of gasoline. But producing it will require costly retrofitting of ethanol plants, and plant capacity will be reduced.
Several companies are leading the push for butanol, including Gevo of Englewood, Colo., and Butamax Advanced Biofuels, a joint venture of BP and DuPont based in Wilmington, Del. They have developed ways to make butanol the same way ethanol is made, through yeast-based fermentation and then distillation.
Butanol has better fuel properties than ethanol. It has higher energy content, gasoline-butanol blends do not separate in the presence of water, and no need to modify gasoline engines. Gasoline engines can utilize any gasoline-butanol blends up to a 100% butanol. Moreover, butanol production does not require expensive upgrades to the capital. The infrastructure for ethanol production could be switched to butanol production with minimal capital costs. Thus, society could very easily transition to butanol.
Butanol unfortunately has some perceived disadvantages, which we would argue could be an advantage. The first and most important disadvantage, traditional ABE (Acetone Butanol Ethanol) fermentation has low butanol yields, because Butanol is toxic to the microorganisms involved in fermentation at low concentration levels. However, genetic engineering has allowed scientists to create new microorganism that can handle higher concentrations of butanol and increase butanol yields. Further, researchers like Ramey and Yang of BUTYLFUELS of Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State University have improved the butanol reaction by using a continuous, two-stage process. The process increase butanol yields with no ethanol and acetone being produced as byproducts. In the first stage, the sugar is converted to butyric acid and in the second, the butyric acid is converted to directly to butanol. The technology exists to produce butanol very cost effectively, but because there is no market, no butanol standard, and no government or market incentive at this time, the technology is not being used in commercial applications.
The second disadvantage is butanol has a legal impediment from the U.S. federal government. Butanol is not recognized as a biofuel and thus, it is not able to receive the same subsidies as ethanol. Currently ethanol receives a $0.51 per gallon tax break . This subsidy helps offset the production costs for ethanol production, and stimulates the expansion of the ethanol industry.
The last disadvantage, and probably the most important disadvantage, is butanol production competes for the same feedstocks that are used by the food industry.
A large butanol industry can fuel a large demand for the feedstocks, which would increase food prices. Agricultural producers benefit from the higher prices, but it puts consumers at a disadvantage when shopping for groceries.
Another alternative is to produce butanol from lignocellulosic fermentation from crop and wood residues, and the energy crops. Although the feedstocks for lignocellulosic fermentation would have low market prices, they still entail some costs. First, agricultural producers are limited in the amount of feedstocks that can be removed from the land. Second, they also tend to be light weight and bulky which increases the hauling and processing costs. Finally, if the United States incorporated a carbon permit system, then the bio-electric plants would also compete for the same feedstocks, because they are also much more Green House Gas (GHG) efficient.
Butanol offers several advantages to gasoline refiners and those involved in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). It contains about 30 percent more energy than ethanol, and it can be blended with gasoline at a much higher percentage — Butamax recommends 16 percent butanol, compared with the current 10 percent standard for ethanol. That would allow refiners to more quickly meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s renewable fuel standards, which were adopted in 2005 and mandate that transportation fuels contain increasing amounts of alternative fuels over time.
Because ethanol evaporates relatively easily, refiners have to remove some of the lighter components from their gasoline so the blended product meets air-quality standards. Butanol evaporates less readily, so refiners can leave many of these more volatile components in, saving money.
Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, an industry group, said butanol was a “drop-in” fuel, able to be used with existing gasoline pipelines and other equipment because it does not have a tendency to take up water, as ethanol does.
“It’s more fungible in the existing infrastructure,” he said. “You could blend it with gasoline and put it in a pipeline — no problem.”
Butanol would also help producers get around the so-called blend wall, Mr. McAdams said. Given the amount of gasoline used annually in the United States, and the blending limit of 15 percent ethanol, producers are close to their capacity limits, now about 13 billion gallons of ethanol a year.
With the 10 percent limitation, “you don’t have enough gasoline to put the ethanol in,” he said. “You don’t have that problem with butanol.”
The production of butanol produces the chemical solvent acetone and it produces high purity carbon dioxide that is easily captured during the process. Both acetone and high purity carbon dioxide are highly valued in enhanced oil recovery application. It is quite feasible that acetone and carbon dioxide would be additional income streams for a butanol industry that could help greatly expand America’s economically recoverable heavy oil reserves.
A good policy for America would be to let butanol compete head to head with ethanol.
Here are some very interesting links:
American motorists will burn through 14 billion gallons of ethanol on average every year, the end product of 5 billion bushels of corn—a third of the U.S. crop—grown on 33 million acres of farmland. Since 2005, when Congress required that ethanol be added to your gas tank, U.S. corn prices have tripled and ground, lake, and river water have been more polluted than ever thanks to fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide runoff due to crop mismanagement of corn fields.
Steven Sterin thinks he has a better way. As president of the advanced fuels division at Dallas-based chemicals company Celanese, he’s supervising construction of two new plants—one in Texas, the other in China—to make ethanol. But you will not see any vats fermenting corn here. Celanese makes its ethanol by tearing apart and recombining the hydrocarbons found in plentiful natural gas or coal. “We have the best gas-to-liquids and coal-to-liquids technology in the world,” he says.
If it works, what Sterin is building will revolutionize the fuel industry. But that’s a very big if.
The problem is not science. It is Washington. Thanks to the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) law, gasoline refiners are mandated to blend so much plant-based or renewable ethanol into the gas supply that it prevents Celanese or any other fossil-fuel-based ethanols from even competing for the market. Though the RFS caps the blending of corn ethanol at 15 billion gallons a year, it calls for total biofuels blending to grow to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022.
Cellulosic ethanol is supposed to make up most of the difference. Maybe you recall President George W. Bush’s 2006 State of the Union address, in which he declared his goal that cellulosic ethanol made from “wood chips and stalks or switchgrass” would be “practical and competitive within six years.” RFS mandated 100 million gallons of cellulosic for 2010, 250 million for 2011 and 500 million this year.
But that has not happened, even though the feds under both Bush and Barack Obama pumped $1.5 billion in grants and loan guarantees into upstart cellulosic producers.
Most, like Range Fuels, Cello Energy and E3 BioFuels, have ended up bankrupt. Survivors like Abengoa Bioenergy produced fewer than 6 million gallons last year, and those were not at all market competitive.
Amazingly, gasoline refiners are still on the hook. For failing to blend into their mix the mandated quantities of a fuel that does not exist, the refiners have gotten a $10 million bill from the Environmental Protection Agency to pay for their so-called waiver credits. They are appealing.
The corn-dominated ethanol lobby is conflicted about making ethanol out of fossil fuels. On one hand, corn growers do not want competition from cheap gas. On the other, it is in the national interest to cut oil imports. “We’re supportive of expanding all renewables and all alternative fuels,” says Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association. Says Joe Cannon, president of the Fuel Freedom Foundation: “We need every option. There are 2 billion people moving from bicycles to mopeds to cars, and that’s just in India and China.”
Thirteen congressmen led by Pete Olson, whose district around Houston, Tex. encompasses dozens of chemical plants, including Celanese, have introduced a bill to add natural gas-derived fuels to the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard.) Any change would face attack from environmentalist but the legislation is supported by animal farmers who want cheaper feed corn. “We would prefer not to have the RFS at all,” says a spokeswoman for Olson, “but this is a step in the right direction.”
How did Celanese get into this business? For 30 years it has been perfecting the process of making acetic acid—more commonly known as vinegar—a chemical feedstock for plastics like vinyl acetate. The company makes a quarter of the world’s supply at giant complexes like those in Nanjing, China and Clear Lake, Texas. The building blocks for these chemicals are cheap natural gas (Texas) and plentiful coal (China). Using steam and catalysts like nickel, Celanese breaks apart the hydrocarbons in these feedstocks and reforms them into acetic acid. When coal is used, the gasification process captures bad stuff like mercury and cadmium.
Vinegar and ethanol are closely related. Ethanol is the stuff in a bottle of wine that gets you drunk; vinegar is what the ethanol turns into when you leave the bottle undrunk for too long. Air oxidizes ethanol into vinegar by pulling off its hydrogen atoms. In simplest terms, what Celanese does is reverse the process, taking the acetic acid components it already makes and using metal-based catalysts to add hydrogen to it to form high-purity ethanol. Finding the right catalysts was the real breakthrough.
And while using fossil fuels can mean emitting carbon dioxide, it is not clear that corn ethanol is more carbon-friendly. A 2010 study by researchers at Rice University found no reason to believe that the process of planting, tending, harvesting, and processing corn into ethanol emits less carbon dioxide than does gasoline.
Sterin figures Celanese can make ethanol for a cash cost of only $1.50 a gallon.
Capital costs, starting with $200 million for the two new plants, will add some 25 cents a gallon. While the diluted ethanol that is blended into gasoline sells for at least $2.30 a gallon today, the concentrated industrial ethanol that Celanese will make goes for closer to $3. That paves the way for big profits selling to makers of paints, pharmaceuticals and textiles, says Hassan Ahmed, analyst with Alembic Global Advisors. He expects Celanese to be making 300 million gallons a year by 2016, building a $1 billion business with net income of $250 million. Last year (2013) it earned $600 million on $6.8 billion in revenues.
What if Washington does not get on board? No matter, says Sterin. China sees ethanol as a vital fuel, but with so many mouths to feed it cannot waste farmland growing it. Celanese initially planned to build a 60-million-gallon-per-year ethanol addition at its Nanjing complex, but when Beijing issued final permits in March it was for an 80-million-gallon plant. (The Texas plant, in contrast, will do fewer than 6 million gallons.) Even so, he is hoping politicians will at least give Celanese a shot at competing in America. “We don’t need subsidies,” says Sterin. “We’re ready to go.”
Many policymakers now believe, as food prices have soared, that a plant based only ethanol policy has had a detrimental economic and environmental effect on the U.S. economy and environment. Any open fuel standards based legislation should seek to erase any distinction between plant based and fossil fuel based ethanol, or ethanol derived from other sources.
What does an open fuel standard seek to accomplish? In a couple of words, “fuel diversity.” If we are able to get our transportation fuels from more than one source and the creation of those fuels do not all lead back to a common source, then we start to erase the power of any one industry or group and make our fuel production much more robust and stable. So it really does not matter what form we deliver transportation fuel in, just as long as it does not all have the same origination. The differing origination points of transportation fuel ultimately provide fuel diversity.
Methanol has serious enough problems that automobile manufacturers will fight its use, no different than their fight of the greater use of ethanol mixed with gasoline. They view ethanol and methanol as being sub par and sub-grade fuel that will shorten the life of their vehicle components.
Not surprisingly, it looks like legislators, when they were picking winners and losers made the wrong choice in renewable fuels. Butonal seems to have much more on the ball than ethanol, but it is still made by corn, and hurts the price of food.
DME, a fuel that is largely ignored by open fuel standard activist, seems very much like it could have a very beneficial effect on our economy, security, and environment, with a little temporary help of the federal government.
It seems like it we want to power ourselves with food more cheaply that we should embrace ethanol being made from coal.
CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) are already displacing gasoline in fleet applications and in some larger cities with the general public.
What is largely ignored, and is the most obvious killer application for an open fuel standard, is producing a gasoline and diesel fuel drop in replacement that requires no modification of vehicles and does not sacrifice anything in the way of performance, from sources OTFFs (Other Than Fossil Fuels.)
The Plasma Gasification of solid waste is not profitable in a free market in the vast majority of cases. This is largely due to the plasma gasification process that requires an extreme amount of electricity to create a lightning bolt that essentially vaporizes trash converting it into syngas that can be further converted into DME (replacement for diesel fuel) and still get further converted into synthetic gasoline.
Pairing a plasma gasifier with a MSR (Molten Salt Reactor) than can produce electricity very cheaply to power the plasma gasifier would suddenly make the gasification of waste very attractive and profitable.
Plasma gasification of trash is an emerging technology, which can process landfill waste to extract commodity recyclables and convert carbon-based materials into fuels. It can form an integral component in a system to achieve zero-waste and produce renewable fuels, while caring for the environment. Plasma arc processing has been used for years to treat hazardous waste, such as incinerator ash and chemical weapons, and convert them into non-hazardous slag.
Utilizing this technology to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) to energy is still young, but it has great potential to operate more efficiently than other pyrolysis and combustion systems due to its high temperature, heat density, and nearly complete conversion of carbon-based materials to syngas, and non-organics to slag.
Syngas is a simple fuel gas comprised of carbon monoxide and hydrogen that can be combusted directly or refined into higher-grade fuels and chemicals. Slag is a glass-like substance, which is the cooled remains of the melted waste; it is tightly bound, safe and suitable for use as a construction material.
Plasma torch technology has proven reliable at destroying hazardous waste and can help transform environmental liabilities into renewable energy assets.
Plasma gasification is a multi-stage process, which starts with feed inputs ranging from waste to coal to plant matter, and can include hazardous wastes. The first step is to process the feedstock to make it uniform and dry, and have the valuable recyclables sorted out. The second step is gasification, where extreme heat from the plasma torches is applied inside a sealed, air-controlled reactor. During gasification, carbon-based materials break down into gases and the inorganic materials melt into liquid slag, which is poured off and cooled. The heat causes hazards and poisons to be completely destroyed. The third stage is gas cleanup and heat recovery, where the gases are scrubbed of impurities to form clean fuel, and heat exchangers recycle the heat back into the system as steam. The final stage is fuel production. The output can range from electricity to a variety of fuels as well as chemicals, hydrogen and polymers.
Gasification has a long history in industry where it has been used to refine coal and biomass into a variety of liquid fuels, gases and chemicals. Modern clean coal plants are all gasifiers, and so were the earliest 19th century municipal light and power systems.
Plasma gasification refers to the use of plasma torches as the heat source, as opposed to conventional fires and furnaces. Plasma torches have the advantage of being one of the most intense heat sources available while being relatively simple to operate.
Plasma is a superheated column of electrically conductive gas. In nature, plasma is found in lightning and on the surface of the sun. Plasma torches burn at temperatures approaching 5500ºC (10,000˚F) and can reliably destroy any materials found on earth with the exception of nuclear waste.
Plasma torches are used in foundries to melt and cut metals. When utilized for waste treatment, plasma torches are very efficient at causing organic and carbonaceous materials to vaporize into gas. Non-organic materials are melted and cool into a vitrified glass.
Waste gasification typically operates at temperatures of 1500˚C (2700˚F), and at those temperatures materials are subject to a process called molecular disassociation, meaning their molecular bonds are broken down and in the process all toxins and organic poisons are destroyed. Plasma torches have been used for many years to destroy chemical weapons and toxic wastes, like printed circuit boards (PCBs) and asbestos, but it is only recently that these processes have been optimized for energy capture and fuel production.
America’s Westinghouse Corporation began building plasma torches with NASA for the Apollo Space Program in the 1960s to test the heat shields for spacecraft at 5500˚C. In the late 1990s, the first pilot-scale plasma gasification projects were built in Japan to convert MSW, sewage sludge, and auto-shredder residue to energy. The Japanese pilot plants have been successful, and commercial-scale projects are under development now in Canada and other countries, by companies such as Alter NRG, from Alberta, Canada.
The economics of MSW plasma gasification are favorable, although complex. Waste gasification facilities get paid for their intake of waste, via tipping fees. The system then earns revenues from the sale of power produced. Electricity is the primary product today, but liquid fuels, hydrogen, and synthetic natural gas are all possibilities for the future if electricity costs can be reduced.
Sorting the MSW to capture commodity recyclables, such as metals and high-value plastics, presents a third revenue stream. Minor revenue streams include the sales of slag and sulphur. Slag has the potential to be used for a number of construction products, such as rock wool, bricks and architectural tiles, and sulphur has some commodity value as fertilizer.
There are additional waste streams available in certain locations, which earn higher tipping fees than MSW because they are toxic and yet have excellent fuel value.
Refinery wastes from petroleum and chemical plants, medical waste, auto-shredder residue, construction debris, tires and telephone poles, are all examples of potential fuels that can earn high tipping fees and provide good heat value. Additionally, there are millions of tons of low-grade waste coal that exist in massive piles throughout the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, US, that can be utilized for gasification.
Multiple outputs can be produced from a single facility. Heat and steam can be sold, and Ethanol, DME, and/or Synthetic Gasoline production can be made to maximize resources. Additionally, upgrading the methane content of syngas can produce synthetic natural gas that can be used as a drop in replacement of natural gas.
Liquid fuels are typically produced from syngas through catalytic conversion processes such as Fischer-Tropsch, which has been widely used since World War II to produce motor fuels from coal.
Gasification is superior to landfilling MSW for a number of reasons. First of all, landfills are toxic to the environment due to the production of toxic liquid leachate and methane gases. The EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) has a lengthy protocol for airborne and liquid chemicals, which must be contained and monitored for every landfill. Landfills must be constructed with extensive liners, drains and monitoring equipment to comply with regulations. Plasma gasification can divert waste from landfills and create beneficial uses for the material, by maximizing recycling and cleanly using the rest for fuel.
Gasification is superior to incineration and offers a dramatic improvement in environmental impact and energy performance. Incinerators are high-temperature burners that use the heat generated from the fire to run a boiler and steam turbine in order to produce electricity. During combustion, complex chemical reactions take place that bind oxygen to molecules and form pollutants, such as nitrous oxides and dioxins. These pollutants pass through the smokestack unless exhaust scrubbers are put in place to clean the gases.
Gasification by contrast is a low-oxygen process, and fewer oxides are formed. The scrubbers for gasification are placed in line and are critical to the formation of clean gas, regardless of the regulatory environment. For combustion systems, the smokestack scrubbers offer no operational benefit and are put in place primarily to meet legal requirements. Plasma gasification systems employing proper scrubbers have extremely low emissions and no trouble meeting and beating the most stringent emissions targets.
The objective of gasification systems is to produce a clean gas used for downstream processes which requires specific chemistry, free of acids and particulates so the scrubbing is an integral component to the system engineering, as opposed to a legal requirement that must be met.
Incinerator ash is also highly toxic and is generally disposed of in landfills, while the slag from plasma gasification is safe because it is melted and reforms in a tightly-bound molecular structure.
In fact, one of the main uses for plasma torches in the hazardous waste destruction industry has been to melt toxic incinerator ash into safe slag. The glassy slag is subject to EPA Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) regulations that measure eight harmful elements. Data from existing facilities, even those processing highly hazardous waste, has shown them to be well below regulatory limits.
The carbon impact of plasma gasification is significantly lower than other waste treatment methods. It is rated to have a negative carbon impact, especially when compared to allowing methane to form in landfills. Gasification is also an important enabling technology for carbon separation. It is primarily a carbon processing technology; it transforms solid carbon into gas form.
Syngas is comprised of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The hydrogen readily separates from the carbon monoxide allowing the hydrogen to be used while the carbon is sequestered. The US Department of Energy has identified gasification through its clean coal projects as a critical tool to enable carbon capture.
Environmentalists have expressed opposition to waste gasification for two main reasons. The first argument is that any waste-to-energy facility will discourage recycling and divert resources from efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. Economic studies of the waste markets show the opposite to be true; waste-to-energy heavily favors the processing of waste to separate valuable commodities and to maximize its value for fuel.
The second argument made against waste gasification is that has the same emissions as incineration. These arguments are based on gasification systems, which do not clean the gases, and instead combust dirty syngas. Such systems are essentially two-stage burners and are not recommended for environmental reasons. There are many variations of combustion, pyrolysis and gasification all used in different combinations. Proper engineering is required to achieve positive environmental performance.
As America has lost its manufacturing base in the Midwest of America, in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, West Virginia, and Kentucky, it has left many of these states with large formerly industrial brownfield sites, which, are perfect sites for plasma gasifying facilities, and could be capable of siting a Molten Salt Reactor.
The theory would be that the MSR would power the plasma gasifier at night and any excess electricity would be sold to the grid, while during the day, the MSR would make electricity exclusively for the grid while municipal solid waste is collected. This scenario would have the potential to re-invigorate these formerly industrial areas. This has the potential to reduce not only electricity costs for manufacturers but, reduce transportation fuel costs, and landfilling costs.
America’s original manufacturing states formed around sources of power in the form of coal. Many manufacturing states have millions to billions of tons of coal that is so sub-grade that it cannot be burned and is left as huge unsightly mountains of sub-grade coal in the environment. Plasma Gasification can convert these eyesores into ultra clean transportation fuel with the help of the MSR.
America also has a tremendous amount of energy and resources left in the coal ash that was used to make the electricity for manufacturers. Plasma gasification of coal ash provide the opportunity and economic means to recycle coal ash for energy and materials such as iron, uranium, thorium, high purity aluminum, vanadium, and other valuable metals.
We support an open fuel standard that gives auto manufacturers an incentive to produce flex fuel cars.
We believe that auto manufacturers should retain the right to void their warranties for sub-standard fuel use such as methanol and ethanol in their cars and trucks. We do not see this as impacting the open fuel standard as many Americans will simply choose to wait for their warranties to run out before fueling up with such fuels.
We believe a policy that does not discriminate against the sources of energy such as plant-based ethanol and fossil fuel derived ethanol is in the nations best interest for the economy and the environment.
We feel that legislators should allow butanol all the same benefits as ethanol and allow them to compete on a level playing field.
We support legislation that gives incentives to the production and use of DME as a transportation fuel
Everyone that supports an open fuel standard should also support the development and commercialization of molten salt reactor technology and pairing it with plasma gasification technology in the United States for the production of many types of synthetic fuel and the reduction of landfill waste.
Molten salt reactors have many benefits, such as the reduction of contaminated unspent nuclear fuel (high level nuclear waste) by 99%, desalination applications, the production of highly valuable medical isotopes that are used in the treatment of cancer and used in medical diagnostics, and the production of material that can be used in the enhanced oil recovery process.