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On My Dr. Strangelove Moment: How I Came to Love Clean Coal

Just to add a point. BECCS works perfectly with clean coal. Plants designed for lignite coal can readily take biomass at up to roughly a 30% blend (depending on the specific facility). Lignite has a very high moisture content, similar to biomass. The challenge on blending biomass with coal is mainly on the upstream side, getting the fuel handling equipment to work right (conveyors, grinders, storage, etc.).

Both Kemper and Sask Power reps told me they had done analysis on blending wood chips with their lignite and they believe it would work fine. Both regions have extensive timber resources.

I have seen some interesting analysis that shows that biomass-coal blends with CCS could produce carbon negative synfuels (instead of power).

July 13, 2015    View Comment    

On My Dr. Strangelove Moment: How I Came to Love Clean Coal

I believe that CCS will scale quickly once the value proposition becomes clear, and that partly requires policy that forcibly limits carbon emissions. Canada has regulations now limiting CO2 emissions from coal power plants, and that drove the CCS investment decision in Saskatchewan. Canada is not a big coal country so the regulations were not as politically contentious there as they are in the USA.

If investors see that they can make money investing in CCS capital will pour in and infrastructure will get built. We have very elaborate infrastructures for rail, oil and gas, telecom, etc, which is largely built with private money (a lot of public money too). But there needs to be a solid business case for each link in the chain, every capture project and pipeline link needs to make financial sense or else it will never get done. But on the other hand if the business case is good, stuff will get built quickly and we need policy to push the needle or else business as usual will persist. 

July 13, 2015    View Comment    

On My Dr. Strangelove Moment: How I Came to Love Clean Coal

Nathan,

You need to look at the political drivers and local resource cases that drive investment decisions on a local, case-by-case basis. There is no one single price for any type of power generation, they all vary depending on location. For instance natural gas prices fluctuate dramatically, Boston and New York City routinely pay much higher prices for gas than the Henry Hub price that is generally used in energy statistics.

Saskatchewan is a perfect example of why a regional government would make the decision to invest in CCS. Saskatchewan has coal and it has mature oil fields, but they don't have natural gas in the province, nor good solar resources, they do have good wind though. For the regional govt it makes complete sense to invest in CCS and CO2-EOR because it supports two major industries in their province with significant employment and tax revenues, while helping to mitigate carbon emissions.

For Saskatchewan to invest in wind, and they do have wind farms, they must import natural gas from outside the province to match up with the wind. In this scenario the natural gas is fired in simple cycle turbines which are less efficient than combined cycle turbines (that are suited for baseload), and hence have higher CO2 emissions than combined cycle. In this scenario, CO2 emisssions are lower by doing 90% carbon capture on coal, than doing wind + simple cycle gas, plus two important local industries continue to stay in business. 

Other regional governments are starting to make the same argument. In England they see the opportunity to marry up their fading North Sea oil with their coal industry through CCS and CO2-EOR. The Western Governers Association in the USA also released a memo making the same case.

If your region has coal resources that you do not wish to see go out of business, and you have appropriate oil fields nearby, it is perfectly logical to invest in CCS and CO2-EOR. Of course other regions will make different decisons based on their local resource case. And none of these technologies are mutually exclusive options, you can have renewables and clean coal together. 

Here in New York where I live we could be using our own domestic gas in state to help lower prices and put New Yorkers to work, but the environmental lobby would rather shut the drilling industry down and force the state to import gas from elsewhere.

July 13, 2015    View Comment    

On My Dr. Strangelove Moment: How I Came to Love Clean Coal

Roger, the vampiric load for doing amine scrubbing is significant, but it is much lower than 33%, closer to 25%. But it is important to remember that these clean coal plants are not strictly power plants, they have evolved into chemical refineries that sell a variety of products, sCO2 is a value added product not waste. At Kemper, the expectation is that 60% of their revenues will come from chemical byproducts, only 40% from power.

I don't believe that CCS will be the sole solution for resolving climate change issues, but I do believe that there is no solution for climate change that does not include a significant amount of CCS. The mitigation numbers simply do not add up without CCS. 

CCS will ultimately require an extensive pipeline network at continental scale, similar in scale to existing oil and gas pipeline networks. This network will link carbon sources with carbon sinks, most of those carbon sinks will be oil and gas production because that will provide revenue. There are many CO2 sources with much lower capture costs than coal plants such as ethanol plants, chemical refineries, and oil refineries that will be able to plug into the network.

July 12, 2015    View Comment    

On The Case for Carbon Capture

Bob,

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

Roger,

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.

http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/wiley/cornerstone_2013winter/#/38

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

Geoffrey,

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.

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/rfsdata/2015emts.htm

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