Alternative Energy, Energy Independence and Global Warming Reduction

  On the Front Page Today

Backlash Over the Biomass Boom
Outrage is developing over the folly of burning food crops for fuel, but politicians in the U.S. and Europe are, as usual, handing lavish subsidies to the farm bloc, while blocking imports from better-suited nations with tariffs.
Guess Who's Pioneering an Automotive Revolution
Endowed with hydroelectric power and geothermal springs, Iceland plans to do away with $8/gallon gasoline and switch to hydrogen-powered autos.
climate help from an unlikely source
Energy Vulnerability Prompts U.S. Air Force to Explore Coal Liquification — but Insists on Reduced Emissions

The United States Air Force has set a goal to supply at least half of its fuel requirements from domestic synthetic sources by 2016. It is highly motivated to reduce dependency on imported hydrocarbon fuels for reasons that are apparent.
     One option for doing this is to produce liquid fuels from coal via the Fischer-Tropsch process (FT) used by the Germans during WWII and by the South Africans during sanctions aimed at ending apartheid. This process is known as coal-to-liquids (CTL).
     Unfortunately, the CTL process releases considerable CO2 in the conversion process, and then releases more when the fuel is consumed. Thus the "well-to-wheels" emissions are nearly double those of ordinary petroleum-derived jet fuel. Various schemes for limiting the CO2 released via capture and sequestration can reduce the carbon footprint to that of current fuels, but the Defense Department is looking for and researching options that will reduce the carbon footprint to less than that of a conventional petroleum refinery.
    A study by the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory has concluded that co-conversion of coal and biomass to liquid fuel (CBTL) offers the most fruitful approach. Simultaneously feeding a mixture of the two feedstocks into the production stream promises to reduce the total emissions of the resulting fuel to considerably less than that of petroleum. The carbon in the biomass is not counted as a carbon input penalty because the biomass had recently removed the carbon from the atmosphere by photosynthesis.
     Three types of biomass were examined in this study: switchgrass, chipped poplar trees and corn stover. All three performed satisfactorily and and were similar in effect. It was concluded that a CBTL plant that produces 7500 barrels a day of diesel or jet fuel was feasible using biomass from only 8% of the area contained in a 22 mile radius circle around each plant to grow the biomass. Land that could grow edible feedstocks were not used and so there should be no effect on food supplies or prices. Illinois #6 bituminous coal was used. Plant sizes up to 30,000 bbl per day were shown to be feasible depending on local biomass availability.
     The airlines and the business aircraft community are following this work very closely, and supporting it, in hopes that the Air Force studies will point the way to sustainable sources of jet fuel that are not only much lower in carbon footprint, but also that can be domestically supplied from alternate sources.
     The idea of using both coal and biomass together to produce high quality FT fuels via gasification should help coal and biomass technology industries, while supplying alternate fuels for air transport. It will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of CTL facilities and allow non-food biomass, such as cellulose and lignin to be used for energy production.
     This is a good example of how effort to increase energy independence may contribute to mitigation of climate change as well.
      - Douglas Ayer, PlanetWatch Editor,