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On The Case for Carbon Capture


I believe it is possible to bring carbon emissions into balance with the Earth's existing natural carbon cycle through a combination of:

1. Maximum efficiency in the use of fossil fuels (leveraging renewables, batteries and nukes to allow us to sip instead of guzzle hydrocarbons).

2. Industrial carbon capture (send the CO2 back into oil fields, coalbeds, and shale as a component of continued hydrocarbon production).

3. Regreening the planet to sequester carbon in soil (reforestation and building healthy soil reduces the need for agricultural chemicals and their runoff pollution).

Hypocrisy is a strong word, folks who rely on products derived from hydrocarbons every day of their life should think twice about their own role in demanding the products that are sold in the market. You hate oil? Don't buy it. But just keep in mind that the computer you are using to type out your message is very much a hydrocarbon product. Kind of like the kayaktivist protesters in Seattle protesting Shell oil, paddling around in their petroleum based kayaks, with plastic paddles, life jackets, swim suits, water bottles and all the rest. Is the irony of that not lost on anyone?

June 4, 2015    View Comment    

On The Case for Carbon Capture


DOE has done a lot of research characterizing the resource potential for CO2-EOR both in terms of CO2 sequestration and oil production. The numbers I present in the article are actually pretty modest because they only cover the oil fields that have been studied in some detail, while there remains large categories of potential fields that have not been studied. For example there is huge, but uncharacterized potential for CO2-EOR in the Bakken Shale, where productivity today is low and much oil remains in place. Researchers believe that CO2 in shale could open up billions of barrels more, but since it is new technology no one can say for sure, but they are working on it. The numbers above are also only for the USA, but EOR opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the rest of MENA are pretty staggering if you can get the CO2 there. 

There is a good article here where I pulled the data from. The link is a kind of a kluge, it opens up an online magazine and you can find the article on p. 36.

And to all the folks who have a knee-jerk opposition to CO2-EOR simply because it produces more oil I would simply point out that there is no evidence that we are going to stop drilling for oil any time. Demand for energy remains sky high and the reserves continue to grow with technology advances. It it is tough to fight supply and demand.

Personally, I would like to see the oil industry step up to the plate on CO2-EOR and accept that they have a role to play in limiting carbon emissions and do their part by injecting CO2 into their fields. The industry could choose to put more efforts into CO2-EOR rather than drilling in the arctic or other sensitive locations.

I would also point out that the Middle East is going up in flames and as long as we are dependent on those resources we are vulnerable as a nation to disruptions. We have plenty of resources in North America that we can be net energy exporters and compete with Middle East supplies rather than depend on them.

June 3, 2015    View Comment    

On EPA's Blown Call on Ethanol


All the analysis I have seen indicates that the present corn ethanol industry would continue to operate essentially as-is if the entire RFS was scrapped. There is genuine demand for ethanol as an oxygenate blend in gasoline as a replacement for the old MBTE that was banned due to its toxicity.

The blend wall is effectively a demand wall that fortunately seems to have found some balance with overall corn production. We can't really significantly raise the amount of corn used for fuel without impacting food markets and all the cellulosic ethanol prodcution has been a bust. 

I say scrap the RFS and put into efforts into other, superior fuels, like DME, renewable natural gas, or fischer-tropsch synfuels.


June 2, 2015    View Comment    

On Where are the Unicorns?

It is also worth noting that in 2014 in the face of failure, EPA modified the definition of Cellulosic Biofuels that earn D3 RINs allowing biogas upgraded to vehicluar CNG and LNG to qualify. The immediate effect was that millions of RINs originally intended for cellulosic ethanol were absorbed by already existing biogas production.

May data from EPA shows Bio-CNG and LNG earning ~27 million D3 RINs while cellulosic ethanol still struggling at under 600,000. 

For comparison: D6 RINs for conventional fermented corn ethanol were over 4.6 billion and a few hundred million were earned for biodiesel spread across various categories.

May 21, 2015    View Comment    

On Rather than Divest, Advocate for Carbon Balancing

I completely agree with the author. Carbon capture is absolutely a requirement. Fossil fuels are not going away, supply and demand both continue to grow. 

We can bring carbon emissions back into balance with the Earth's carbon cycle. It will require changing the way we use fossil fuels, optimizing and being as efficient as possible, but it will also require industrial carbon capture, as well as regreening and a focus on storing as much carbon as possible as healthy soil.

We should be getting serious about building a carbon capture infrastructure, a continental scale pipeline system that links carbon sources to carbon sinks and seeks to create value along every link in the chain. At the right price there is a market demand today for billions of tons of CO2 for EOR, but capture costs remain high, infrastructure does not exist, and regulatory uncertainty hinders growth.

With the same kind of efforts that succeeded in bringing down the costs of wind and solar we could also bring down the cost of carbon capture to the point where it gets widely deployed.

May 21, 2015    View Comment    

On Throwing the Carbon Capture Baby Out with the Coal Bath Water

Greenpeace takes a hard line against CCS because they advocate for zero fossil fuels across the board, they don't want a solution that allows coal power plants or other fossil fuels to continue operating.

Because Greenpeace is adamently opposed to all fossil fuels, they are doubly opposed to using captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery. The whole idea is anathema to their philsophical approach and they hope it will not work and certainly work to convince the public that it cannot work, facts be damned.

Injecting CO2 into oil fields for EOR is a proven method to sequester CO2 permanently. 40 years of industry experience and extensive  monitoring of the Weyburn field in Canada have proven that the CO2 will stay permanently sequestered. And it has been sufficiently demonstrated that there is potential for hundreds of gigatons to be sequestered in oil fields across the globe, and on top of that CO2 can be injected into shale, coalbeds and hydrate formations for enhanced gas recovery. 

There are many sources of CO2 that can captured at much lower cost than from coal power plants, albeit at lower volumes. Ethanol distilleries, ethylene and hydrogen plants, oil refineries, natural gas cleanup, the list goes on.

The economics of carbon capture from coal are also greatly improved in polygeneration plants rather than straight power plants. Poygen plants that convert coal into synthetic liquid fuels or natural gas and chemicals already have the CO2 separation integrated into the process, and so the only additional costs are for the CO2 pressurization and pipelines. Biomass can also be blended with the coal in polygen plants greatly improving the overall carbon footprint.

April 23, 2015    View Comment    

On Natural Gas Heavy Duty Trucking Fleet Could Benefit US Economy, but Not Climate

Amy, while it is true that fuel switching from diesel to natural gas has marginal benefits in terms of climate and carbon, switching to natural gas has enormous benefits in reducing toxic air pollution, particualrly in the form of PM 2.5.

Natural gas burns cleaner than the cleanest Tier 4 diesel engines and can play a huge role in improving urban air quality and saving lives.

Renewable natural gas can also be readily blended with fossil natural gas without restriction, reducing the overall carbon impact of natural gas. There are trillions of cubic feet of RNG available to be harvested and blended.

Landfill gas has been used for many years to fuel CNG garbage trucks. And Clean Energy Fuels, the nation's leading retailer of LNG/CNG for trucking, claims that 17% of the LNG they sell is renewable. 

February 24, 2015    View Comment    

On Methane Hydrates are a Promising Energy Resource

EV's for light duty vehicles. LNG for bulk / heavy duty. Reduce the fossil carbon content of natural gas by blending increasing quantities of RNG. Land management practices needed to sequester carbon in soil.

February 19, 2015    View Comment    

On Methane Hydrates are a Promising Energy Resource

We need to have carbon capture. It is not optional.

The hydrates may prove to be a suitable location to sequester CO2. 

Natural gas can replace coal and oil. Electricity alone can not.

February 19, 2015    View Comment    

On Meeting the Challenges of a Sustainable Energy Future

I agree heartily with this entire post, but would add a few points. 

Carbon capture must be coupled with natural gas for long-term stability. Shell's CEO made this point in a speech last week.

Methane is our most abundant renewable fuel in addition to our most abundant fossil fuel. The earth produces methane in robust quantities every day and so can we. The fact that we can easily manufacture methane from a variety of resources changes the dynamics of traditional fossil fuel resource extraction and exploitation and opens up a conversation about how carbon be cycled and recycled.

Methane is abundant, non-toxic, cheap, relatively safe, facilitates renewables, and can replace coal and oil in every engineering application. Pretty advantageous.

February 18, 2015    View Comment    

On Methane Hydrates are a Promising Energy Resource


That is a very premature analysis. We do not know how much it will cost to harvest the gas resources in the hydrates, since the technology is only now being developed. Shale resources were long considered uneconomic until the day the technology and markets evolved enough to make them economic, which surprised most experts. 

We also do not know what techniques will be used to drill the hydrates so no one can judge the environmental impact yet. I would argue that exploiting the hydrates offers many benefits over strip mining coal or tar sands. And we may find that we can sequester CO2 in the hydrates as well.

You could potentially be right that methane replaces coal and oil though, since it is far more abundant, non-toxic, and more versatile.

As to the potential for melting hydrates to impact the climate, only a small percentage are near enough the surface to be potentially unstable. The vast majority of hydate formations are below 500 meters of the ocean and plunge deeper from there and pose no threat of melting. But there are enormous quantities of hydrates, and some do pose a risk, particularly those in the permafrost. But I will leave it to the scientific community to judge the real risk, it is a new area of study with little in the way of conclusive answers.

Hydrocarbons are the foundation of industrial society, they are not going away, even as we need to find solutions to keep excessive quantities of carbon from accumulating in the atmosphere.  The more natural gas we can use in place of coal and oil the better.

February 18, 2015    View Comment    

On What Will Fuel Today's Advanced Vehicles?

I am pretty optimistic on EV's though I believe that plug-in hybrids represent the rational transition pathway. A mature EV ecosystem obviously requires better, cheaper batteries and a lot more charging infrastructure, a common standard for DC high speed charging would also be a welcome improvement.

There is a lot to be said for hybrid vehicles though, at all duty ranges. I was at the ARPA-E Summit this week and I was checking out a military cargo truck built for the marines. Oshkosh is a big military truck manufacturer and they successfully retrofitted one model of their big trucks to diesel-electric. Same engine, but transmission and drive train replaced with three electric motors. The advantage is that the truck can do double duty as a generator, relieving the marines of the need to tow a big generator behind them which is their standard practice. The Oshkosh guys said that with some additional engineering they could deliver improved tactical driving performance as well.

Freight trains have been diesel-electrics since the 1950's and many big mining trucks are as well. As people come to recognize the performance gains that electric drive trains offer the demand will stimulate the market.

February 13, 2015    View Comment