The future of fuels?

Al Fin puts the case for further development of traditional fuels and shale:

The oil and gas industry could be creating even more jobs if the United States had more of a pro-development policy for traditional energy sources instead of a government-driven, heavily subsidized, green energy approach.

… as well as unconventional liquid fuels:

In terms of what GTL is, it is the process of chemically turning natural gas into cleaner-burning liquid products, including fuel, base oil for lubricants and feedstock for chemicals.

The two things I’ve never understood are why the issue must be so polarized and how government can make such a hash of green fuels.  I understand how they make make a hash but not to this extent, e.g. the wind farms.  Now wind is a perfectly good idea and there’ve been windmills for donkeys’ years – so why do they suddenly become impossible to build and manage, with the people in charge on 6 figure salaries?

Why can’t all contribute – nuclear, hydrocarbon, shale, oil, wind, whatever? On the other hand, if ethanol kills agriculture, then why bother?

[H/T Chuckles]

9 comments for “The future of fuels?

  1. March 19, 2012 at 08:22

    I comment just off the top of my head concerning the photo of the windmill in Holland.

    Presumably its function is to pump water: something they need a lot of in Holland. Also presumably, it was built quite a long time ago.

    Now, if it still works and pumps water usefully, that is just great: a good investment of capital and labour (original in building it, and continuing in running it).

    However, if one needed a new water pump in a new location, it is (I suspect) rather doubtful that wind power would be the mechanism and fuel of choice. However, that does depend on the location and surrounding infrastructure. This is because the technology has changed and the cost-effectiveness of each available method of energy generation has changed.

    There might well be much higher capital construction costs (and non-fuel) running costs with a windmill than with an electrically powered pump (depending on the cost of routing mains electricity to the location). Likewise for diesel power, depending on the transport infrastructure for that fuel to the location. This may well swing the advantage to the more modern energy generation and delivery, despite (in both latter cases) the fuel costs being much higher than those of the (freely available) wind fuel.

    There are only two things, as far as I can see, that wind power has for such water pumping has over wind power for mains electricity generation. The first is that of the infrastructure to take away the wind power being unnecessary for localised water pumping. The second is that there is a less pressing (but not irrelevant) constraint on timeliness for water pumping; thus the water can be pumped when the wind blows; whereas other domestic and business uses of electricity generally favour having that energy available continuously (without waiting) and so there must be alternative generating capacity (and its capital costs) in opposition to the lack of fuel costs (the wind being free).

    If anyone knows the cost-effectiveness for new (or replacement) water pumping in Holland, it would be interesting to know what the current trade-offs actually are.

    As with the other energy sources being discussed, the cost-effectiveness of each technology changes with time. This is both for the technology itself and for the uses to which the energy is put.

    But government does, as far as I can see, interfere with too much negative effect. This is down to their non-economic agenda and down to the flexibility of leviathans.

    Best regards

  2. Moggsy
    March 19, 2012 at 09:42

    Looking at your 11the hour pic – and I am not suggesting anyone use a good bourbon or whisky – but what about alcohol?

    I mean gas/petrol is made out of oil that organic matter sort of fermented in the ground over billions of years. Fuel is gotten from it by distillation.

    Distilled alcohol can (I am assured) be used to run a vehicle with hardly any adapting. Most anything can be used to make alcohol. I guess you could use most all the same distribution networks and infrastructure even?

    So why not grow something, or things that can be bulk fermented and then distilled? Run all our vehicles and airplanes on rotgut? If we did then I figure it would also give fuel security, sustainable… and make the middle east less.. strategically important? what’s not to like?

    Am I being absolutely naive? I am thinking what can I be missing, if I can think of it… Couldn’t we switch fairly quickly and easily? Someone?

  3. March 19, 2012 at 10:01

    Having a rational debate is the real problem. Environmental fundamentalists have too much sway. There are lots of good ideas out there from lightweight materials to novel fuels, but highly skewed politics gets in the way.

  4. Chuckles
    March 19, 2012 at 10:14

    Moggsy, you are correct in much of what you say. there are minor issues with things like upper cylinder lubricants in the engine, and corrosion of some componenets, but the issue is not whether it can be done, or whether it will work.
    Oil, coal, or gas are very concentrated sources of energy whereas biofuels or, for that matter, any of the ‘renewable’ sources are usually very diffuse. While it is feasible to produce petrol from coal or gas rather than from oil, it simply is not economic to use biomass to produce it. e.g. In december, the US Navy bought 450, 000 gallons of biofuel, to evaluate their effectiveness. They cost $26.75 per gallon…..

  5. ivan
    March 19, 2012 at 11:14

    Getting electricity from the wind is not and never will be economic on a large scale. The wind doesn’t blow at the correct range of speeds all the time. When there isn’t any electricity has to be supplied from the grid to turn turn the blades otherwise there is distortion of the main shaft and bearings. If the wind is blowing too fast the windmills have to be shut down or they will damage themselves.

    The large windmills are not environmentally friendly either – they make good bird choppers – and require the same capacity fast start backup generators, usually gas turbine equipment so in fact, they do not reduce the ‘so called’ carbon footprint. In fact, if the government didn’t subsidise them they wouldn’t be built.

    On the other hand, shale gas is causing a revolution in the US energy market because it is cheap and plentiful. The watermelons – those that are green on the outside but red all through – don’t like it and even produced a film, based on erroneous data – like Al Gore’s – to scare people about it.

    Shale gas – when it is produced in this country – should cut energy costs by a very significant percentage and stop the upward spiral caused by ‘green’ energy.

    For those interested in seeing how little wind and other forms of ‘green’ energy contribute to the total energy requirement of the country go to and weep.

  6. Moggsy
    March 19, 2012 at 12:59

    Chuckles. I am not talking about making petrol/gas from alcohol. Just using very distilled alcohol instead of petrol/gas.

    That is a nice concentrated form of energy that can be used to make a bang in an internal combustion engine. I wonder if you might even be able to make basic alcohol from waste vegetable products, sugar beet waste maybe?

    Am I being an air head? What am I missing this seems like a no brainer.

  7. Chuckles
    March 19, 2012 at 16:05

    Moggsy, no you’re not. You CAN run an engine on alcohol, or an alcohol petrol mix, with some caveats, as I noted. Some countries do. You can also make alcohol from waste biomass. Or you can grow crops to do it. e.g. Like Brazil with sugar cane.

    What you cannot do is send out a team or geologists to find you an alcohol deposit or an alcohol mine. You’ve got to have the feedstock, or no fuel, and your feedstock is diffuse, not concentrated, like oil or coal or gas, where it arrives in large quantities at 1 place.

    e.g. If we take the UK with (rounded down) 30 million cars, say doing (an absurdly low) 1 000miles per year. At 30 mpg, thats a billion gallons? 1 000 000 000. If we grow switchgrass in reasonable conditions we can, they say, get 1000 gallons per acre per year. That means we need to dedicate a million acres to power just our cars. Corn yield is much lower. The real numbers are of course much higher, the insurance companies assume 10 000 miles per year.
    Plus all the fuel we use growing, harvesting and processing the biomass.

    So yes, we can. But we really don’t want to.

  8. Moggsy
    March 20, 2012 at 06:53

    Chuckles, TY. That makes sense, but the reason oil is able to supply so much is that it seems to be a process that has slowly “stockpiled” oil since before the dinosaurs.

    Now the stockpile is getting used up way faster than it can replace it’s self and we can’t keep using it like that forever.

    We simply must find some alternative and/or be more efficient how we use it or we will find we can only travel as far as we can cycle or ride a horse.

    So I get that we don’t want to have to.. but maybe we don’t get to choose on that?

    Maybe we do have to or at least will have to soon. So we need to start to figure out what would work best now.

    Biological processes can do a lot on a large scale, but maybe we could use hydrogen? Get it from seawater with nuclear electricity? Would that work?

  9. Chuckles
    March 21, 2012 at 11:18

    Moggsy, Opinions differ as to where the oil comes from, and I’m certainly not qualified to judge. It is not a ‘stockpile’ of known size, it is a resource,which means that we identify quantities sufficient unto the day, and stop looking.
    Its VERY important to remember that refining oil we’ve hauled out of a well somewhere is just one way of producing motion lotion for our hummers and v8s. And the ONLY reason we do it is because it’s the cheapest and easiest way to make the stuff. It’s almost as easy to make it from coal or gas, and S Africa has been doing so for 50 or so years.

    So no, we don’t really have to, but we might want to. But not I’d suggest, at the cost of our civilisation, although some might differ.

    Your last paragraph is a very important observation. If we have plentiful cheap energy, which may or may not be nuclear fission or fusion, but certainly it needs to be cheap and plentiful, we can make anything we want. Short of water? distil seawater. Short of oil for petrol? Make it from coal or shale gas, or whip it up from some carbon and hydrogen. That said, I’ve never been keen on the whole hydrogen fuel thing. Firstly, I dislike high pressure vessels anywhere near me in a vehicle, and secondly it’s filthy stuff to work with. I don’t want to be anywhere near a hydrogen vehicle refueling station, ever, thank you.
    Goes boom very easily and leaks out through ANYTHING. And I mean anything. Not my choice for a fuel.

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