Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MORE COAL....Brad Plumer has a piece today in the New Republic about coal-to-liquid that's more lucid and more damning that the NYT piece I linked earlier. In particular, feast your eyes on this:

Ironically, for all the hype, liquefied coal is hardly the cheapest or easiest way to achieve energy security. According to the National Coal Council, an advisory board to the Department of Energy filled with coal executives, a tremendous coal-to-liquid push — involving $211 billion in investments over the next 20 years and a 40 percent increase in mining — would allow the United States to replace just 10 percent of its oil supply. By contrast, using that coal to generate electricity for plug-in hybrids would displace twice the oil and emit a fraction of the carbon.

Look, if even the National Coal Council thinks we'd be better off just burning the stuff to produce electricity, then we're probably better off just burning the stuff to produce electricity. And as long as we're at it, maybe one of those coal companies talking up the joys of carbon sequestration for CL plants would like to step up to the plate and first demonstrate that it actually works on a commercial scale at an existing plant. Any takers?

UPDATE: Yet more from David Roberts. He's unimpressed too.

Kevin Drum 7:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Comments

Carbon sequestration is actually harder at an existing plant - you need to engineer the plant right, and have a place to put it.

And from the dammed if you do, dammed if you don't department: one of the best places to put captured carbon is into depleted oil fields, where it would drive additional oil recovery.

Kevin - you're due for a peak oil update, btw.

Posted by: Fred on May 29, 2007 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Carbon sequestration is actually harder at an existing plant - you need to engineer the plant right, and have a place to put it.

And from the dammed if you do, dammed if you don't department: one of the best places to put captured carbon is into depleted oil fields, where it would drive additional oil recovery.

Kevin - you're due for a peak oil update, btw.

Posted by: Fred on May 29, 2007 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Third, too, though I would appreciate someone deleting this one and the previous.

Posted by: Fred on May 29, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, $211 billion over a decade to decrease foreign dependency 10% looks cheap compared to recent "investments".

Posted by: Boronx on May 29, 2007 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

I fully agree with Kevin. Unfortunately, this sort of giveaway is rampant. Congress loves to give money to special interests. The taxpayers cough up the dough, while Congress gets the gratitude of the recipient.

Rich farmers like Sam Donaldson get government money. Rich ethanol producers get government money. And, thousands of lesser known friends of Congressmen get government money. Big coal probably figures that they're as entitled as the rest to share in the gravy. It's disgusting.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 29, 2007 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Guess I'd better go back to the prior thread to get up with what people have said.

I believe Norway is well into CO2 sequestration and plan to be carbon neutral relatively soon. Does that include their oil exports? I don't think so. That's up to the buyer, and I think that is right. It's for them to wean themselves.

Liquified coal for more efficient burning makes all sorts of sense. The less coal and oil we burn to produce energy the beter. For new cars sold I say average 40+ mpg by 2015.

Something similar with home or rental and business insulation and equipment for heat/cooling efficiency.

You need to make a jolt to get people to understand what is really needed.

But coal to liquid, Absolutely no way. Very inefficient. Not any solution at all. Compounds the problem. Hitler did it because his only source was Romania and he had no choice. It is not a valid CO2 or climate solution.

For Christ's sake. Any of ypu out there got children?

And their's?

World Carbon Tax is the way to go. Any country that doesn't join in, their exports start at twice the rate as a tax, and go up by 25% every single year until they comply.

It IS a world problem.

Posted by: notthere on May 29, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

Back in the day, my father was in charge of an exploratory subsidiary that worked on industrial scale production of coal-water fuel. It was my understanding that the plan was for coal-water fuel to replace diesel. I suspect hybrid or electric big rigs are a long way off, so maybe there is a place for coal-water fuel as a transition to some future method of mass transportation of goods.

Posted by: greennotGreen on May 29, 2007 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

I see a lot of future 'subsidies' going to large coal companies for poor solutions to our energy problems.

Posted by: Brojo on May 29, 2007 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read the articles, but how does any of this promote "energy independence"? As long is there is a world market for oil or other transportable energy sources, it all just flows into the world market to the highest bidder. Unless we are going to subsidize this AND demand that it only be sold in the US exclusively, it does nothing for energy dependence (the same goes for drilling in Anwar, btw). It may make the Chinese more dependent on us, but that's a different argument.

This being America, the land of no conservation, we will quickly consume any excess energy on the market and remain as dependent as ever. With, it seems, even dirtier air.

Posted by: martin on May 29, 2007 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, this should make Richardson happy, he's a big supporter of the huge Desert Rock coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Reservation, south of Farmington, NM. cleve

Posted by: antiquelt on May 29, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

The entire government has failed us on Iraq.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 29, 2007 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, carbon sequestration involves two steps - getting a stream of relatively pure carbon dioxide, and putting it somewhere. Getting the pure carbon dioxide is much easier at a CTL plant than it is in an existing pulverized coal power station. In existing power station the CO2 is a much more diffuse component of the exhaust gas, making it much more energetically and financially costly. It's generally believed that the disposing of the concentrated CO2 will be the relatively easy bit (though that's heavily disputed by environmentalists). That's why proponents of carbon sequestration tend to be less enthusiastic about the idea of applying it to existing plants.

Furthermore, 211 billion dollars over 20 years may or may not be cost effective, but it's hardly a large amount of money in this context when you consider that the USA consumes around 438 billion dollars worth of crude oil every single year at current prices.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on May 29, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Furthermore, 211 billion dollars over 20 years may or may not be cost effective, but it's hardly a large amount of money in this context when you consider that the USA consumes around 438 billion dollars worth of crude oil every single year at current prices.
"

Don't be an idiot. The issue is not whether or not it is a large sum of money compared to other large sums of money. The issue is whether it is money well spent.

For example if this money were spent on wind power, or building nuclear reactors, or cellulosic ethanol research or, what the heck, nuclear fusion research, would it generate a higher payoff?
The general consensus appears to be yes, and substantially so, for every one of these except, perhaps, fusion.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 29, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

a tremendous coal-to-liquid push — involving $211 billion in investments over the next 20 years and a 40 percent increase in mining — would allow the United States to replace just 10 percent of its oil supply. By contrast, using that coal to generate electricity for plug-in hybrids would displace twice the oil and emit a fraction of the carbon.

10% of the total oil supply is a very large total amount of fuel. It's about 85% of the petroleum from the Middle East, for example.

$1.05B per year over 20 years would most likely be quite a worthwhile investment.

The total problems, fuel and CO2 sequestration, will not be solved by ONE solution, but by many solutions constructed in parallel. And although I do not doubt the quoted calculations, we can not tell in advance which calculations will be most accurate over the upcoming 20 years. going from the lab to demonstration projects, and from demonstrations to industrial scales, usually discloses many unanticipated problems. They'll mostly be solved, but the costs of all the individual projects will turn out to be different from what was projected, and even the rank orders may not be the same.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 29, 2007 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

MRmarler -- because you said absolutely nothing coherent or with any absolute or measurable meaning, or, actually, of any value, you make more sense than you usucally do.

Well done!

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

Look, if even the National Coal Council thinks we'd be better off just burning the stuff to produce electricity, then we're probably better off just burning the stuff to produce electricity.

In 2004, both presidential candidates supported development of more clean coal technologies. One of Al Gore's good ideas would be a law requiring all new coal fired plants to be built with CO2 sequestration. The question is, will environmenalists accept the building of new coal-fired power plants. Even Kevin Drum stops short of actually advocating new coal fired plants, he just says that synfuels are reportedly worse.

He's unimpressed too.

Every technology has costs and drawbacks. If that is all the discussion is ever about, then nothing new will ever be done.

Meanwhile, the Great Plains synfuels plant, competed ca. 1985, now operates at a profit, and sells its CO2 to the petroleum companies for enhanced petroleum recovery.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

Maynard, I'm not being an idiot.

I'm just making the point that 211 billion dollars sounds like an unsustainably huge amount of money. In this context, it's actually not a lot of dough. Whether it would be money well spent or not is a separate question.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on May 30, 2007 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

Besides, what about that federal carbon tax that both liberals and conservatives are starting to coalesce around as the best policy response to global warming? What are we going to do? Grant billions of dollars of subsidies to CL technology and then drive them all out of business with a carbon tax? That's some great policymaking there.

what policies do you support? do you think that fuel sufficiency can or should be achieved without any subsidies at all? what compromises would you be willing to make with people who disagree with you in order to get some actual new policies in place? The debate is taking place now, and congress will act soon. Tell them what you want.

As for the carbon tax, that I included in my own letter (one of millions written by Californians I imagine) to Sen Feinstein, I support it. However, every law that actually passes has to appeal to lots of Senators and Congresscritters. Montana, Illinois, W.VA., Indiana, KY, PA, have water and coal, and they have powerful senators in the majority party. You're not going to get a law passed that doesn't help those senators and their constituents.

Another note about money. The U.S. govt will spend $2.9T in the next fiscal year, $29T and $58T in the next 10 and 20 years respectively. The money necessary to achieve much greater fuel sufficiency is not a large fraction of that, it just has to be spent consistently, year after year, until the goal is achieved. The U.S. GDP is about $13T this year, or $130T and $260T over the next 10 and 20 years respectively. The money necessary to achieve much greater fuel sufficiency is not a large fraction of that.

notthere: you said absolutely nothing coherent

A lot of people seem to believe that the idea that the future is not predictable in detail, and that technologies have to be evaluated in practice to see which are better, is not fundamentally coherent.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

We've had no problem throwing $500 billion down a drain off-budget the last 4 or so years.

What's $211 billion over the next 12 years.

Oh, that's right. It's not going directly into the Pentagon, its suppliers, or the pockets of the Repugnuts friends.

And, I hope, not into the pockets of Democratic supporters in the future.

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Boronx: On the other hand, $211 billion over a decade to decrease foreign dependency 10% looks cheap compared to recent "investments".

Especially if the funds could indeed be transferred from those "investments".

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

Last note: and permission for the Air Force to sign 25-year contracts for almost a billion gallons a year of coal-based jet fuel.

Everyone here knows that the turbine engines do not run on coal. Hence the government subsidy for coal-based fuel. If it is a legitimate function for the government to buy the aircraft, it is a legitimate function for government to guarantee a non-interruptible fuel supply.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

"...By contrast, using that coal to generate electricity for plug-in hybrids would displace twice the oil and emit a fraction of the carbon."

Yes. We need to utilize the coal reserves we have (not export the coal), but it is best to use it in high-efficiency electricity generation instead of turning it into portable hydrocarbon fuel-that's where the real folly is.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 30, 2007 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

Subsidies favor one route over another, when it's normally accepted that the market will find the best solution.

So the actual need is a carbon tax with the free market finding the best way forward. No subsidies for farmers, oil companies, coal, timber, or anyone else.

"...technologies had to be evaluated..."

But it used to be that industry made those evaluations all the time.

Now that 25 years of Repubulican policy has brought us to the 6-month, 1-year, 2-year profit horizon, we don't invest in anything that doesn't return 15+%.

Look at the gas refineries and their profits.

Or the Gulf oil-prospecting leases bought but not developed. And on and on.

You hear what you want to.

It's the oil companies that should be investing their stupendous profits in the future, not the government.

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

You can produce twice the current USA usage of electricity with solar collectors covering less than a half of one percent (0.5%) of the continental US with existing technology.

Unlike coal, there is no carbon dioxide produced.

There are no pollutants.

There is no global warming.

There is no nuclear fuel to mine, process or dispose of forever.

Solar collectors exist that convert 25% of the sunlight directly to electricity. The process is called solar thermal conversion.

Your electric car can be charged from this solar derived energy.

Crops like corn and switch grass cannot convert even 1% of the sun's energy to useful fuel. There is not enough land to grow crops for people and fuel for transportation.

The sun will shine and the wind will blow for millions of years.

Use the existing Dwindling Supply of fossil fuel to build the totally solar electric economy.


Posted by: deejaays on May 30, 2007 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

MRm -- "non-iterruptible fuel supply"

and the national oil reserve is how hig?

and we're holding it for what?

Why do you guys claim logic even when it comes to giving our money to corporations for no reason?

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

You can produce twice the current USA usage of electricity with solar collectors covering less than a half of one percent (0.5%) of the continental US with existing technology.

Unlike coal, there is no carbon dioxide produced.

There are no pollutants.

There is no global warming.

Posted by: deejaays on May 30, 2007 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

Since deejays has repeated a non-fact, it is worth pointing out that, under global awareness, you have to follow an industrial process from raw material extraction, through production and use, to disposal or recycling.

Therefore there are, indeed, carbon production inferences from all production, including solar panels, etc.

So, as an environmetally conscious person, I have to point out it is a bald lie that there are no carbon or other pollutants and climate change inferences from solar energy. Or tidal, wave, wind or geothermal energy.

We've seen where we have already gone on the corn-for-ethanol binge.

It would be good if those who are willing to apply their minds to this problem were more intellectually honest.

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

Having just attended a conference in which various future fuel options were discussed ad nauseam, one theme repeatedly came up as a response to various libertarian panelists' mantra of "let the market work": the need by automobile manufacturers, especially, for some certainty about what type of fuel will power their products 10-20 years from today.

The carmakers (both domestic and foreign) ultimately don't care whether or not vehicles are running on ethanol, methanol, hydrogen, biodiesel, synfuel, or old-fashioned gasoline; they just want one solution to be hammered down so they can minimize their risks. One of the reasons Ford has thrown itself so fully behind corn-derived ethanol is the huge political coalition behind that particular fuel. Alan Mullally doesn't give a rat's ass that corn ethanol neither represents a substantial improvement in CO2 emissions over gasoline nor will divert more than 10% of US petroleum demand; all he wants to know is that Ford won't sink billions of dollars of investment into the alternative fuel equivalent of Betamax.

By the way, the cold shoulder shown to Fischer-Tropsch by the coal industry comes not only from the factors mentioned in the passage quoted in the main post, but also the fact that both fertilizer production and corn-to-ethanol conversion require assloads of electricity as an input. Big Coal is gonna do just fine even if there are huge carbon taxes, because it costs just about nothing to pull coal out of the Powder River Basin.

Posted by: Pete McFerrin on May 30, 2007 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

matthew r marler

That $245bn, spent on Canadian tar sands, would generate far more oil, than if spent on CTL. And more oil would be saved, if it was spent on plug in hybrid vehicles.

CTL is a nearly dead end technology. No one has made it work, economically. The South Africans went for it because of the apartheid embargo, the Nazi Germans because of the war.

On the Great Plains project, it is a coal gasifier. It is profitable because the government wrote off its investment and sold it for a very low price to the private sector.

*anything* can look profitable if you write off the capital cost (nuclear looks dead cheap if you don't include the capital costs).

$260bn spent on say, wind power, and carbon sequestration of *power plants* would do far more for the environment, and more for US energy security. Coupled with plug in hybrid vehicles, it would do as much for US oil imports, as well. 10% of US liquid oil imports is only 2m b/d, which is about the savings if US passenger cars increased their fuel economy by 20%.

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 30, 2007 at 4:57 AM | PERMALINK

Oops sorry, I've conflated $245bn and $260bn, the number at issue is $211bn.

Roughly speaking, $100bn is buying 2.5m b/d of Canadian oil sands plant. The extractible resource is c. 200bn barrels or 200 years production.

The CO2 problem is huge, but one proposal is to build nuclear reactors to provide steam for the separation process: a very efficient thing to do, because you use a lot of waste heat.

Under the NAFTA Treaty, Canada and the US are one energy market, and cannot discriminate against each other on supply.

So $211bn for 2m b/d of US oil, seems very expensive.

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 30, 2007 at 7:06 AM | PERMALINK

In my perhaps limited understanding, CTL processes are being pursued by the likes of GE so that we might have something to spin the turbines, when Nat. Gas becomes to scarce, this is more accurately called coal-to-gas, but the technology is similar. I would ad that another major product using nat. gas are the nitrates used in fertilizers, which could also use coal for a source of Hydrogen.

Posted by: jhm on May 30, 2007 at 7:21 AM | PERMALINK

Have we run out of uranium?

Posted by: FS on May 30, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

I think the coal companies are basically trying to throw a wrench in the debate here. By bringing something up which is clearly a terrible idea (since in the best case, it's about as bad as what we've got now) they hope to move the debate rightward through sheer chutzpah.

They might succeed, but rather than angrily deeming this "Hitler's fuel" or whatever, liberals should just calmly point out that it's not helpful for our goal of helping the environment.

The whole energy independence thing is interesting, it'd be nice to see an actual economic analysis of what that means and how much we can really achieve it. For example, if the U.S. is humming along with wind and solar and hydro power, or whatever, but all the other countries around us (especially China/India/developing nations) are still using petroleum, doesn't that mean we're still screwed if the oil market crashes?

Posted by: mk on May 30, 2007 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

notthere:

The equipment cost for installing and maintaining the solar thermal electric systems is much less than the value of the energy produced. The Department of Energy pilot plant studies for Solar One, Two and Tres (in Spain) show the net gain.

Even if half of the energy produced went to build more solar equipment, there would be a net gain in electrical output.

You can produce twice the current USA usage of electricity with solar collectors covering less than a half of one percent (0.5%) of the continental US with existing technology.

Unlike Coal, there is no carbon dioxide produced.

There are no pollutants.

Remember, solar collector systems already exist that convert 25% of the sunlight directly to electricity.

Your electric car can be charged from this solar derived energy. The car companies need to build totally electric cars.

Crops like corn and switch grass cannot convert even 1% of the sun's energy to useful fuel. There is not enough land to grow crops for people and fuel for transportation.

We must use the existing Limited Supply of fossil fuel to build the totally solar electric economy.

Posted by: deejaays on May 30, 2007 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

"Brad Plumer in the New Republic"

TNR sucks donkey phallus. Now, on a subject such as this one, their deep thinkers might not be as compromised as when the topic is, say, anything-to-do-with-Muslims, but why take a chance?

Non-stop hawkery, smug, smarmy, pretentious. They ought not be allowed in civilized conversation... I think those that still "take them seriously" have some kind of intellectual inferiority complex.

Posted by: luci on May 30, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

The reason why the Germans used coal to make gas was because they were desperate. The only substantial oil source they had available was Romania until the Soviets captured it. From our point of view it's expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Investments in hybrid cars or solar power would be better all around.

Posted by: American Citizen on May 30, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK
... half of one percent (0.5%) of the continental US with existing technology deejaays at 1:40 AM
Just to rough out the cost: 1% = 0.01, ½ of 1% = 0.005 times continental US land 9,161,923 sq km or 459,000 (rounded) sq km or 177 221 sq miles.

A Sharp panel 63x31in or 1953 sq in is selling for $800.

One sq mile = 4 014 489 600 sq inch so 177221 sq mil equals 7.11452E+14 sq in divided by 1953 sq in per panel = 3.64287E+11 panels.

At $800 per, that costs out to 2.91429E+14 or $291.429.000.000.000. Plus installation. Approximately.

I think I prefer geothermal.

Posted by: Mike on May 30, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Well deejaays, it would be nice if you could provide some links for your rather remarkable claims.

Posted by: mpowell on May 30, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Mike:

I am speaking of Solar Thermal to Electricity

Actually, my solar thermal calculations result in a square 107 miles on a side for twice as much electricity as we now use, if all the collectors were sited together. They won't be. This assumes 30% conversion efficiency (300 watts per meter squared) for 200 days of sunlight per year at 5 hours per day. The solar array space covers 50% of the territory because of self shading of the collectors.

Isn't the $800 a retail cost for Solar-VOLTAIC (not solar thermal) panels you mentioned? The DOE has figures for costs on Solar-Thermal electric conversion which are MUCH cheaper.

Tell us more about geothermal. Can it meet all our electrical needs?

Posted by: deejaays on May 30, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

MPowell:

Solar Thermal Parabolic trough collectors with molten salt storage to drive conventional steam generators.


Sun input = 1000 Watts /sq meter on a sunny day.

Solar Thermal efficiency sunlight to electricity is 30%.

= 300 Watts/Sq meter.

1 Sq kilometer = 1000 meters x 1000 meters = 1 million sq meters.

Solar electricity = 300 Megawatts per sq kilometer.

Assume average of 5 Hrs of Sun per day.

1500 Megawatt-Hrs per Sq Kilometer per day.

547,500 Megawatt-Hrs per sq kilometer per year.

Divide by 1000 to get gigawatts. 547.5 Gigawatt-Hrs per sq kilometer per year.

Total annual US use is 3,953,407 gigawatthours as of December 31, 2004. Increase approx 2% per year.

Approx 7300 Sq kilometers. Shading effect assume 50%. This is around 14600 sq kilometers.

This is a square around 121 kilometers upon a side. (75.5 miles)


Now lets double the generating capacity to charge up the batteries on all-electric cars.

29,200 sq kilometers

171 kilometers per side or 107 miles per side.

The collector area will be larger in areas having fewer days of sunshine. Even with twice the area this is still less than a percent of the total US continental territory.

Solar Tres in Spain is a solar thermal plant coming on line with enough electrical capacity for 15,000 homes. Check it out.

http://www.eei.org/industry_issues/industry_overview_and_statistics/industry_statistics/index.htm


Posted by: deejaays on May 30, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

MPowell:

For starters try:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_One

and

http://www.solarpaces.org/News/Projects/Spain.htm

Posted by: deejaays on May 30, 2007 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK
...Solar Thermal to Electricity...deejaays at 5:46 PM
I've seen solar thermal projects in the Mojave, but it's doubtful that any single project could be made that large. Geothermal has great potential, but no large scale projects as yet. Posted by: Mike on May 30, 2007 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

All you guys talking up photovoltaic solar are forgetting something: the enormous amount of electricity required by the PV manufacturing process (largely in refining silicon). The figures I've seen suggest that it takes 20-30 years for a PV cell to hit carbon neutrality. Granted, 30 years isn't that long when you're talking about assets that will probably last well over 100 years--but where's that electricity going to come from in the meantime? Gimme a C! Gimme an O!...you get the picture.

I would gladly sacrifice the bulk of the Mojave for solar thermal power production, though.

Posted by: Pete on May 30, 2007 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

All you guys talking up photovoltaic solar are forgetting something: the enormous amount of electricity required by the PV manufacturing process (largely in refining silicon). The figures I've seen suggest that it takes 20-30 years for a PV cell to hit carbon neutrality. Granted, 30 years isn't that long when you're talking about assets that will probably last well over 100 years--but where's that electricity going to come from in the meantime? Gimme a C! Gimme an O!...you get the picture.

I would gladly sacrifice the bulk of the Mojave for solar thermal power production, though.

Posted by: Pete on May 30, 2007 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker on May 30, 2007 at 4:57 AM

I don't disagree with you.

For politics, and for robustness, I think it is best to invest in some of everything. By "for politics", I include that anything needs 51 senators to pass, and that likely implies spending in at least 26 states. Ideally, it is economically second-rate, but I don't believe in ideal economies, and there is some value to keeping much of the money within the U.S. I also think that there is some rush. Actual economies have mixtures of all sorts of stuff. No real economy has ever done anything using only the most efficient technology.

I do expect that with contunuous development CTL costs could be greatly reduced, as the Brazilians did with government-funded ethanol from sugar.

A note about solar. I mentioned this before, but its's worth repeating in response to: "Solar Thermal Parabolic trough collectors with molten salt storage to drive conventional steam generators."

Instead of parabolic troughs, SD G&E is buying a large set of parabolic "daisies" that focus light on an oil storage that drives a Stirling engine. The development work was done at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the installation has now been under construction for over a year.

There are multiple ways of getting power from solar:

1. direct heating, as with water heaters.

2. PV cells

3. focused heat (troughs and daisies) on liquids to power steam or Stirling engines

4. solar powered catalysts that generate H2 directly from water;

5. solar powered generation of H2 from reaction of water with metals (magnesium, iron, titanium) followed by solar powered reduction of the metal oxides.

6. biofuels, which we generally consider separately.

All of these are under development, and all (except #4) are in widespread use (though #5 isn't really widespread), and use is expanding.

Solar power does not produce CO2 in operation, but the production of the devices produces a great deal of CO2, and really rapid installation just isn't possible.

If the cost of government sponsorhip of the best technology is that some money be spent on CTL in Montana, Illinois, and W. VA, then I say it's best to pay that cost. And to repeat another claim I made, we really do not know now what the best priced source of electricity will be 20 years from now. There are "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns" between now and then. For diverse reasons, I support diverse approaches.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

good recent source on concentrating solar power:

http://www.nrel.gov/csp/pdfs/2007/morse_look_us_csp_market.pdf

troughs and dishes (what I called "daisies") in the U.S. southwest.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

read about the bills under active consideration here:

http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/b_three_sections_with_teasers/active_leg_page.htm

under "E"

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

loads more about Stirling engines here:

http://search.nrel.gov/query.html?charset=utf-8&ws=0&col=eren&qc=eren&qp=site%3Awww.nrel.gov+site%3Awww.sst.nrel.gov+site%3Arredc.nrel.gov&qt=stirling&oldqt=stiirling

including commercial applications

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 31, 2007 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

It is important not to confuse Solar Thermal electrical generation systems with Silicon Photocell systems.

Concentrating the sun's heat to boil water or melt an energy storage salt that, in turn, drives a steam generator is cheaper than producing and using solar photocells made from single crystal silicon.

Another review of a a large scale projects to supply electrical energy to Europe and the countries of North Africa and the Middle East is summarized here:

http://www.trecers.net/downloads/summary_en.pdf

Posted by: deejaays on May 31, 2007 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler

You seem to be confusing (perhaps only in writing rather than thought) electricity generation, coal gasification, and CTL.

CTL is a very specific technology with a checkered past. It's greenhouse gas record will be disastrous.

It's not like people haven't been working on it for 60 years: they have. The South Africans have been developing the technology since they got it from the Germans at the end of WWII. They built large plants during apartheid.

Politics might be the art of the possible, but there's no point spending scarce money on mature technologies that, even if made to work, take you some place you don't want to go.

If America is desperate for oil it would be better to invest in Canadian tar sands. Or Natural Gas Liquids.

If it wants to do something about looming oil shortages and/or global warming, it should invest in energy conservation. A much cheaper route to the same point.

Electricity generation is a whole 'nother ballgame. Gasification of coal (in the form of IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) is a good idea, and a natural step towards carbon sequestration.

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 31, 2007 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

valuethinker: You seem to be confusing (perhaps only in writing rather than thought) electricity generation, coal gasification, and CTL.

I generally write about GHG reduction and secure fuel supplies together because the solutions have so many parts in common. I also interleave the politically expedient with the technologically optimal. I also maintain that over time the economic advantages of diverse technologies will probably change, so I favor doing diverse things, rather than the one best thing.

My reference to the Great Plains coal gasification plant was ill-advised. I meant only that a federally funded plant can be economically productive after a while (as was the federal investments in bomber wing design and the air trffic control system), and since they sell the CO2, but since it was gas rather than liquid fuel, it was pretty tangential.

One of Al Gore's good ideas was to require that every new coal-fired power plant be built with CO2 sequestration built-in. With that requirement, using coal for electricity is a very good idea.

We'll come back to energy again and again, I expect.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 31, 2007 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

deejays, that was a very interesting report from the Club of Rome. Thank you.

One of the sources that I have since lost described house-sized CSP units driving Stirling engines that could be built from parts already available at most U.S. auto parts stores. Some power went to heat the water for indoor use, and some to generate electricity, which could be sold to the grid.

The Club of Rome was forcasting substantial decreases in costs over time. those reductions, like the reductions in costs for CTL, are at this point only conjectural. Only time and experimentation will disclose the real future prices.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 31, 2007 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRmarler

The difference between CTL and these other technologies is that people have been working on CTL for 60 years, with lots of money, and not a lot to show for it. It's unlikely there is some enormous breakthrough to be made out there.

Contrast that with what wind power has achieved in the last 20 years.

In a world of $70/bl oil, it would work (maybe, ish).

But for any investment that you might want to make into CTL, you can find another investment opportunity with a higher return and/or fewer GHG problems.

Government subsidised R&D and pilot plants have a role to play, but on CTL what we are talking about is commercial scale plants.

If the market wishes to build same, let them. The US government is better to invest its money in proven 'sources' of fuel, like conservation.

Posted by: Valuethinker on June 1, 2007 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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