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By Robert Rapier on Jan 12, 2006 with 25 responses

About Me


The mission of R-Squared is to foster open discussions of Energy and the Environment.

My career has been devoted to energy issues. (See my resume for specifics). I have worked on cellulosic ethanol, butanol production, oil refining, natural gas production, and gas-to-liquids (GTL). I grew up in Oklahoma, and received my Master’s in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University.

I am presently the Chief Technology Officer for Merica International, a renewable energy company (more details on that can be found at this interview with earth2tech). We are involved in a wide variety of projects, with a core focus on the localized use of biomass to energy for the benefit of local populations.

I am also the author of Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil.

  1. By Richard McLean on April 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Robert, I enjoyed your articles and analysis. I am a bit of a novice to this area and a financial type not an engineer. I have a question though. I understand the costs associated with algal conversion to biodiesel are not cost effective, but is there analysis of C02 capture and algae production at coal facilities to utilize cofiring? I’m looking at an opportunity where that would appear to make sense, but wondered if there was any cost analysis out there on production/solar drying to provide a cost/ton of algae feedstock. Thanks for any assistance you might be able to provide.

  2. By Robert Rapier on April 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Hi Richard,

    That was in fact the business model of GreenFuels. They were using CO2 from coal-fired power plants to feed the algae. I have heard bits and pieces on the technical problems they had with this approach, but they ultimately went bankrupt.

    I think the problem is that algae to fuel is such a sexy concept, people are really too quick to skim over the technical challenges that people have had in the past. However, I think if it is going to work, it will have to be an integrated approach in which the fuel does bear the costs of capital and producing the algae. If the fuel is only a byproduct of another process, then there may be a way to make that work.


  3. By v. n. Weiner on May 19, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you so much for the lucid explanations of the short term and the long term reasons for gas prices. I’m doing a unit on cause and effect and your material cuts through the fog and truly educates.


  4. By Robert J Halpern, MD on April 6, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Mr. Rapier
    I enjoyed reading your Guest Column in the Atlanta Journal concerning myths about oil prices in the US. I feel there is an omission that merits consideration, as to whether the President can control oil prices, and that relates to currency.
    Whether you blame tax policiy, our two costly and unfunded wars, entitlement spending, our level of borrowing affects the value of our currency, and the cost of oil. Even if oil is priced in dollars, the price of a barrel will reflect the value of a dollar.

  5. By Robert Rapier on April 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Hi Dr. Halpern,

    There are in fact many more than 5 myths around gas prices, so there was much I couldn’t cover. Also remember that it is about 5 myths, not necessarily what causes gas prices to rise. I agree that there are impacts from currency fluctuations, but it is also true that oil has risen sharply even if we price it in Euros or Pounds.

    Cheers, RR

  6. By Austin Carson on May 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Mr. Rapier,

    As a fairly young person involved in politics and policy, desperately searching for honest analysis amongst a sea of partisan hackery, I was honestly elated to find your blog today. From first read and some cursory examination, you do a phenomenal job of laying out the inconsistencies, spin, and plain misdirection of much of the discussion on energy, and explain the current situation in a way that is more refreshing than I could tell you. Thank you sir, and I look forward to reading more from you in the future. Also, if you have any recommendations for other people who write from your same approach, I would love to hear about them.

    Best, Austin

  7. By Robert Rapier on May 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Also, if you have any recommendations for other people who write from your same approach, I would love to hear about them.

    Hi Austin,

    Thanks for your comments. I would say that Geoffrey Styles is the person whose essays are most like my own approach: Energy Outlook.

    Cheers, RR

  8. By Al Stewart on June 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Austin, do you have any figures on the energy costs to produce animal fat biofuels per gallon v. the cost to produce fossil fuels and ethanol?

  9. By David Garcia on August 29, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Hello Robert,

    I am an avid reader of your blog. In your recent post, you requested feedback from your readers… my request to you would be expanded coverage of the economics of GTL. I keep on hearing on the vast NG reserves the US has, yet it appears nobody speaks about converting those inputs into gasoline. Why?

    Congrats on your good work and your courage in tackling difficult and politically sensitive issues.


  10. By Niel barnard on October 19, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Good article on Kior. Just saw in german press another star of BTL crash and burn – Choren which you would know well. They had so much but could apaarantly not get the scaling to commercial scale large plant right. The big challenge for all is whether they should be technology suppliers or plant developers and KIOr seems to have fallen into the same trap

  11. By Jim McQuaid on November 8, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Robert, I loved “five misconceptions.” You might find my little film “after the peak” of interest. There is a trailer on the website. If it does interest you, I’m happy to send you a DVD (this is not a sales pitch – I’ll send it to you free if you like the idea of the film). cheers, Jim

  12. By Sarita on January 18, 2012 at 3:21 am

    Have you done any critical review on Alphakat technology developed and marketed by They have a few demonstration plants. I am kind of exploring to try this technology, becasuse getting synthetic diesel from biomass has advantages like distribution and using the product as automobile fuel with out needing to alter the engine of the diesel vehicle.
    Thanks / sarita

  13. By Robert Rapier on January 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Have you done any critical review on Alphakat technology developed and marketed by

    I have written some about it; more about a person trying to bring this technology to the U.S. than about the technology itself. But this person has been associated with fraudulent claims in the past — never a good sign.


  14. By Kenyan Beals on March 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I would like to talk to you about doing a presentation. Please email me

  15. By algaman on May 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm


    I read this article with great interest. If I do not argue with the way it is put in numbers and content I nevertheless shall say this is about antiquated technologies. People that understand about productivity and capital cost do not bother with this. Ponds are inefficient systems, huge consumers of natural and industrial resources and for a commercial bio-fuels avenues have no future.  PBRs as represented by this article are also totally ineffective and capital intensive; so have no future too. This is a fact.  As to Pyrolysis, the carbon foot print is in the way and will be a deal breaker. Because at the end the highest Energy returned to Energy Invested ratio is the goal. 

    However, not everything is bad in these existing technologies, if you re-arrange the bio-engineering and you create a new growth system using the best of each existing system and adding some creative features,  you have a complete different picture. Like the coming of the railroad in the industrial revolution. The steam piston engine did not stayt but the electrical engine did it. The railroad still exist, but it has a new and efficient look now with the same tracks.  The algae biofuel will exist, it won’t be with ponds and/or PBRs but something of the both and more. Because photosynthesis will be the same ,just  more intensify and performante.



  16. By JF on October 18, 2012 at 7:59 am


    I see your point about Obama  and how he had nothing to do with the rising gas prices . But THAT is the problem.  He hasn’t done anything about it.  The fact that he talks about American jobs and American products is baloney. What about American oil ? Where is it ? Well it’s dead  that’s right buried in the ground.  We are to dependent on foreign oil.  So your right he hasn’t done anything . Or should I say anything about it. 


  17. By MrColdWaterOfRealityMan on December 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    As always, the formula is “quantity x net energy = total energy”

    1.6 trillion barrels of oil is a meaningless number without net energy. We have no idea how much total usable energy is there.

  18. By Kevin King on March 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Ever consider doing a follow-up to your “TDP: The Next Big Thing”
    article from April 2007? It’s been almost seven years and Changing World
    Technologies was acquired by Ridgeline Energy Services (RDX) in 2013.
    The cumbersome “Thermal Depolymerization Process” has been renamed
    “Thermal Conversion Process” and is going strong at the Carthage, MO
    plant as well as other locations. RDX recently began an Industrial
    Franchising program and is in contract negotiations with over 50
    organizations to implement RDX’s technology for the purpose of recycling
    wastewater and extracting hydrocarbon-based fuel. That’s over 50
    organizations in actual contract negotiations, not simply firms RDX is
    pitching to. RDX is also contracting with multiple municipalities to
    process wastewater on the scale of millions of gallons daily. Changing
    World Technologies may have gone away, but TDP lives on and continues to
    deliver on the promises made by CWT founder Brian Appel to change the world.

    For more info:

    • By Robert Rapier on March 27, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      Hadn’t heard anything of them in a long time, so I will check into this.

  19. By CharliePeters on October 11, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Shell fuel ethanol affect my water?

    Dr. Stan’s California water supply opinion

  20. By Interested on October 12, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Have you done any critical analysis of one of the other companies (I.e. AMRS, Amyris) mentioned in your article on Kior?

    • By Robert Rapier on October 12, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Yes, in fact I did some paid consulting for a fund manager in 2011 about what AMRS was trying to do and whether it might be a good addition to his portfolio. I recommended that he avoid it.

  21. By kushalkumar on December 6, 2014 at 9:01 am

    The oil and gas turmoil just begun in November 2014 impacting global economy was well predicted on 2 June 2014 to begin in November this year by this writer in article – ” Stressful times ahead for world economy in 2015 and 2016″ – published online at The purpose was and is to serve as a guide to investors and economy think tanks/policy makers. Hopefully, the purpose is being served.
    The said article has significant predictions about world, region-wise and commodity-wise, for coming year 2015 also. It seems the world will make a determined bid now as also in coming days in December to counter the unhappy scenario set in motion towards end of November last. The rival parties interested in such prices to come down would obviously resist the moves for prices to go up. Some look-like impressions of countering could be in the news. Somewhat partial to little encouraging news is likely. But one and a half months spell covering January to mid- February 2015 appear to present another discomforting trend in the energy sector including oil and gas though some may be at ease or happy at the same time. Let this likely trend awareness to readers be published.

  22. By Cass on February 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    If oil stays below $60 throughout 2015, how many ethanol refineries go bankrupt?

    • By Robert Rapier on February 12, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      They have a fairly stable market with the Renewable Fuel Standard in place, but their margins have definitely been crushed. If not for the RFS then 90% or more of the industry would go under I suspect.

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