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Stop The Presses

I hope you're sitting down.

People are driving less because of higher gas prices.

Gee, somebody should write a book about that.


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Karl Hallowell wrote:

Unpossible! Gas demand is inelastic. We consumed a fixed amount no matter how little we drive because we have to!

Alfred Differ wrote:

So we drive fewer miles and eventually switch to a higher mileage car to avoid that pain? Sounds like a rubber band 'wire' cable to me. Pull it enough and some of the threads break changing the net spring constant.

Now if we could get the rest of the country to do that for electricity I would be happy. That would impact natural gas prices.

Fletcher Christian wrote:

Right. Now, put up gasoline (and diesel) prices at a rate considerably greater than inflation, to allow for gradual change, and maybe (just maybe) Americans will in the long run consume less oil-based fuels. Even if you don't believe in AGW, anything that will decrease the amount of money available to those who want to kill and/or enslave us has to be good, right? And use the tax revenue for things that will further decrease it - such as investment in the railway system, for example.

There would be numerous secondary effects, all of them beneficial to the environment and economy. Reduction of the size and weight of cars - less wear and tear on the roads and less need for new ones. (Also less fuel used building the vehicles in the first place.) Reduction in use of heavy trucks - the freight has to go somewhere, so it would probably end up on the railways, which are orders of magnitude more efficient in land and fuel use than trucks. I'm sure we can all think of others.

Paul F. Dietz wrote:

Now if we could get the rest of the country to do that for electricity I would be happy. That would impact natural gas prices.

GreatPoint Energy says they can make methane from coal cheaper than new drilling (in the US) or imports via LNG. Their technology (a one-step system where a very cheap methanation catalyst is sprayed into the powdered coal before steam gasification) is a product of research from the last energy crisis; they brought some people out of retirement to get it pushed over the finish line.

Bill Maron wrote:

What GreatPoint says they can do and what they are able to do are two different things. Beating the cost of imported LNG won't be that hard. If they could produce methane cheaper than drilling, they wouldn't be asking for a floor price on their commodity. Plus, the CEO didn't address the HUGE amounts of water used in coal gasification. A coal slurry pipeline is a mess to operate and it's amazing how often that CO2 just gets injected into the ground rather than used in EOR. If their production cost is less than $5/mmBTU, I would be surprised. I have been involved with both coal slurry and a gasification plant. I'll take drilling as the cheaper alternative for now.

Paul F. Dietz wrote:

Plus, the CEO didn't address the HUGE amounts of water used in coal gasification.

The amount of water chemically consumed in coal gasification is small, and its cost negligible. This is not the constraint.

The concern is the water used for cooling, but the loss there to evaporation can be avoided (as it is in some coal-fired powerplants out west) by 'dry' cooling systems, which transfer heat directly to the air via radiator-like coils.

Paul Milenkovic wrote:

This Professor of Chemical Engineering from Michigan State named Bruce Dale came to speak at our U about ethanol from celulose.

Without getting into a knock-down drag-out argument about ethanol, the good professor had some interesting points. We don't have as much a shortage of fuel as a shortage of liquid transportation fuel. I might add to that, what we have a shortage of is reduced hydrogen (H2 not bonded to O) with which to make light-fraction hydrocarbons for running cars, planes, trucks, boats, planes, trains not using overhead wires.

When you gasify coal, whether you only go part of the way to CO and H2 or convert that to methane, you are using a good portion of the energy in the carbon in coal to reduce the H2 out of H2O (the water gas reaction, which is endothermic).

There is a lot of talk about Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) coal-fired electric power plants and how "pulverized coal technology" (i.e. grinding up coal and burning it in a steam powerplant boiler) is obsolete. What is supposed to happen there is you take the coal and make water gas (CO and H2), scrub that gas to get rid of all of the sulfer and mercury and ash pollution, and burn that gas in an aviation-derived gas turbine to drive a generator (essentially a jumbo jet engine, modified for stationary use). The waste heat of the gas turbine runs a boiler and steam turbine (bottoming cycle). This is supposed to be so much better than pulverized coal because 1) it is supposed to be way more thermally efficient, and 2) the CO H2 stream is of lower gas volume and easier to scrub than the stack gas of a conventional coal plant, with all of the atmospheric N2 diluting it.

It is said that GE has achieved a record 60 percent thermal efficiency with an aviation-derived turbine combined cycle power plant. But that is on natural gas, and I don't know if they are counting the high-heating value or low-heating value of CH4 (your high efficiency home gas furnace gets effectively the high heating value of CH4 by condensing the furnace gases, hence the icicle forming on the plastic furnace pipe outside your window, but I doubt they condense the turbine exhaust gases in the power plant to recover that heat).

An IGCC coal plant is considerably less in efficiency because of the energy demand to convert the C and H2O in water to CO and H2. The gold standard for pulverized coal steam plants are supercritical steam cycle plants, which are pushing 40 percent in overall efficiency, and IGCC plants are only marginally more efficient at the expense of an experimental type plant that power companies have yet to operate with high degrees of availability.

What does rambling rant of mine mean? Converting coal into any kind of synthetic fuel is less than 100 percent efficient because a lot of the energy in the coal is used to free up H2 from water to get the H2 to promote coal from a solid to a liquid or gaseous fuel. For some processes, the efficiency may be around 50 percent. We already have the tech in the form of supercritical steam pulverized coal plants to convert 40 percent of the energy in coal to electricity, and if we were to build such plants on a mass scale, we could already replace all of the oil used for home heating with just plain electric resistive heat, not to mention heat pumps, even if they operate at low COP values, at a cheaper price than the current price of oil.

Why don't we go down the road to energy independence by making electricity cheaper and more plentiful by building those coal plants? Because "we" have already bought into the Global Warming coal-is-baaaad mantra -- that Governer of Kansas canceled a coal plant outright by executive order, and the power companies are afraid to build coal plants, waiting for the "carbon tax" shoe to drop.

I mean who needs synthetic fuels when you can burn coal to generate electricity at comparable efficiency and heat homes electrically? But we can't do either because even with President Bush who bailed on Kyoto, enough people subscribe to global warming that we already have a policy in place to make electricity expensive, even though the price of oil and natural gas is killing us.

Paul F. Dietz wrote:

GreatPoint claims the efficiency of their process is 65%. The reaction

2 C + 2 H2O --> CH4 + CO2

is nearly thermoneutral, so there is not a lot of waste heat. The reaction that forms methane from syngas is rather exothermic, so doing gasification and methanation in a single reactor balances things out.

Of course, since a BTU of methane is worth about 100x what a BTU of coal is worth, even a lower efficiency would, in principle, still be worthwhile.

Paul Milenkovic wrote:

I guess my point is that a 40 percent efficient supercritical steam power plant supplying heat pumps with a COP of 2 (2X40=80) beats out even a syngas process with an efficiency of 65 percent.

I am not against syngas or synfuel -- it is just that if you are talking about using coal for fuel in a major way, and as long as we are still using gaseous and liquid fuels in stationary applications, turning coal into electrons is as much a policy option as turning coal into CH4 or turning coal into liquids.

But as your chemical reaction equation shows, coal-to-gas overall results in double the CO2 of more drilling for gas. Even in the absence of a "national carbon policy", anyone building a coal-using plant with an expected 20-50 year service life is under the threat of such a carbon policy. You can't even get coal-fired power plants built -- the coal-synfuel industry, to excuse a pun, is under the same climate.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on April 25, 2008 3:09 PM.

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