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On Is the U.S. Really the World's Top Oil Producer?

"What source has the US at a new peak suddenly in 2014?"

Yeah, that was a mistake. It's been fixed. The original wording was that the combined emissions of the two set a new record, but I edited it before bed and it didn't read like it should have. I didn't notice it until you said something. In fact, I have actually written about the huge drop in CO2 emissions in the U.S. We had the largest decline in the world over the past few years. But now we are up 2 years in a row (per the BP Statistical Review).

July 22, 2015    View Comment    

On Is the U.S. Really the World's Top Oil Producer?

Biofuels are included in the consumption numbers. That's why consumption is higher than oil production.

July 22, 2015    View Comment    

On Where are the Unicorns?

I have written a little bit about this. In fact, for my company I wrote a report internally on this rule change. The EPA essentially conjured cellulosic biofuels out of thin air. I had compared commercial cellulosic ethanol to a unicorn, and then when they changed the rule I wrote "I can call a rhinoceros a unicorn, but that still doesn't mean unicorns exist."

May 22, 2015    View Comment    

On Where are the Unicorns?

Bob, you misunderstand what the issue was there. I quoted Jeff Broin saying "Some have called cellulosic ethanol a ‘fantasy fuel’..."

My clarifier isn't that I didn't say it was a fantasy fuel, but that the distinction "commercial" is what's important. I am just saying that what he said wasn't the same thing I said because he left off that "commercial" adjective.  

May 22, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?

"What's the EROEI on this?"

It is definitely less than 1. This is a process with net negative energy. That is assured by the laws of thermodynamics. 

May 12, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?

"The story suggests that Audi engineers made basic mistakes or its management made dubious claims. Both are unlikely, considering the name and history of Audi."

Not only are they likely, you can take it to the bank. They made dubious claims. They simply assumed dirty cheap electricity, and that they could run this process on dirt cheap intermittent power. But if you could consistently get dirt cheap electricity, why are Germans paying much higher electricity prices than the U.S., and indeed even most of Europe?

I can show you a long, long list of companies either making dubious claims or investing in dubious technologies that failed. Arguments from authority do not impress me. Chemistry and physics do.

"Whether their power-to-Diesel plants will be viable depends mainly on the price of electricity."

It would also be highly dependent on competing uses for that electricity. Why would I jump through all those hoops of pushing that rock up the hill when I could just run an electric car at a far greater efficiency? The car itself has a higher efficiency, but you don't lose all that energy producing the fuel.

"As the capital and fixed operating costs for these plants will be relative low, it will be also optimal for these plants to buy only electrictiy (and run only) if the price is low and run only part of the time."

Two problems in that sentence. First, capital costs will be incredibly high. Those various pieces are all very expensive pieces of kit. I know, because I have worked in plants that utilized them. Second, you don't run a plant like that "part time." This is a chemical process. It requires time to heat up, come to steady state, and and then cool off. Processes are at their highest risk of an accident during startup and shutdown. I am just trying to imagine running a chemical plant and starting it up and shutting it down every day. That would be madness.

So, the lesson here is that if you make a bunch of unrealistic assumptions, then indeed you could argue that this process makes economic sense. But in reality, there is the problem of those unrealistic assumptions. If they really could make fuel for that price, they would have no problem at all raising money and scaling up as quickly as possible. Instead, the press release said they are ready to commercialize as soon as they "get their first order."

May 12, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?

"John, if 100% renewable energy is used to produce diesel, what else would be a significant source of  carbon in the full-lifecycle?"

Here is the way I have thought about that problem. If you can produce 100% renewable energy, wouldn't it be far, far more efficient to just use it directly in an electric car? Which is roughly also what John is saying.

Or, if I need fuel for a combustion engine, why not just stop at hydrogen and burn that? Not very energy dense, but more efficient than producing a liquid fuel from that hydrogen.

May 5, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?

Yeah, if you look at the technology they cite, there is a presentation that I linked to. In that presentation they give electricity consumption numbers. You end up with something like $17.25 of energy inputs per ton of carbon dioxide removed from the air (assuming U.S. costs of electricity and steam). I think that's an aggressively low assumption. 

May 5, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?

"Robert, the only piece of the puzzle missing to make this technology carbon-free is nuclear energy."

That is correct. One big question I have, though, is around the carbon dioxide capture numbers. Those seem extremely low relative to other estimates I have seen. They don't seem to be employing any exotic technology there, so I wonder if they have just been too generous with their assumptions.

May 5, 2015    View Comment    

On Washington Post: President Obama is Lying About the Keystone Pipeline

"Think of KXL opposition as a grand gesture."

That's part of my point though. It isn't opposition. That would require taking a stand. He is just stalling. Deflecting. Not taking an actual stand on the issue, but instead actively trying to avoid taking a stand. So I would hardly call such passive resistance  a "grand gesture." A real grand gesture would be if he made the statement I suggested: "I oppose this pipeline for the following reasons..." 

March 9, 2015    View Comment    

On The Growing Risk of Transporting Crude Oil by Rail

As soon as people stop buying it, that problem will take care of itself. As long as they demand it, it will get to market. 

February 24, 2015    View Comment    

On The Growing Risk of Transporting Crude Oil by Rail

Seems like it might be a good idea on the surface, but it is true that shipping by rail is inherently riskier than shipping by pipeline. Numerous studies extending back many years have shown this. Some of that risk has nothing to do with how much oil is carried per train.

In fact, more trains with a smaller number of cars might increase the risk to pedestrians and cars of being hit by a train. The State Department actually estimated that shipping the same amount of oil by rail instead of by pipeline would result in 6 additional deaths a year, primarily from people being struck by trains.

February 24, 2015    View Comment