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By Robert Rapier on Feb 21, 2010 with 38 responses

Answering Questions on OTEC – Part I

Dr. Robert Cohen has been involved in ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) since the early 1970′s. He has posted two guest essays here previously:

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

Potential Markets and Benefits from Ocean Thermal Energy

Following both essays, a number of questions and concerns were raised, so I asked Dr. Cohen if he would respond. He has written me a thoughtful and detailed response, and I will present it here in two parts.

Dr. Cohen also has a website with more information on OTEC. His contact information is available there. Part I is a general commentary on history, current status, and the projections for cost and a market-entry outlook. Part II will delve deeper into the engineering and environmental questions that were raised.

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RESPONSE TO COMMENTS RE OCEAN THERMAL ENERGY POSTED ON THE R-SQUARED ENERGY BLOG

Robert Cohen, February 16, 2010

Introduction

Numerous comments were posted on this blog in response to my two previous postings here regarding ocean thermal energy. Those comments raised various issues and concerns regarding the implementation of ocean thermal energy technology. This posting is an effort to provide some perspective on the status of ocean thermal technology, written with the intention of addressing the points people raised in their comments.

The postings by viewers tended to fall into several categories, which I shall group as follows:

  • Possible environmental impacts of plant operation on the ocean, including those on parameters such as temperature and CO2-concentrations
  • Technical and economic requirements, challenges, and hurdles for ocean thermal technology to become a commercial reality
  • System conversion efficiency and system energy costs

My Perspectives on Ocean Thermal Energy Technology

Since being assigned by NSF in 1973 to serve as the first ocean thermal program manager, charged with organizing and conducting a concerted federal R&D program on ocean thermal energy, my tentative outlook has been, and continues to be, that of a cautiously optimistic advocate of this technology. Informed by my experience since then, I have yet to encounter a demonstrable or foreseeable “show-stopper” in the technical, environmental, or economic areas that would preclude the achievement of economically/technically viable and environmentally acceptable technology for harnessing ocean thermal energy.

In the mid-1970s my outlook was first bolstered by two federally sponsored industrial studies that resulted from contracts awarded to Lockheed and TRW. After conducting an engineering evaluation, both firms independently concluded that ocean thermal technology had good prospects for achieving technical and economic viability. By “economic viability” I believe that we all mean that baseload ocean thermal power systems could become cost-competitive, at least versus oil-derived electricity.

Now, some 35 years later, both Lockheed Martin (LM) and the U.S. Navy seem to have reached similar tentative conclusions about today’s outlook for this technology.

Starting around 2007, LM began rebuilding its ocean thermal engineering team by annually investing millions of dollars of its own discretionary internal R&D funds, and is continuing to make such investments. The LM team’s effort is focused on developing the design of a multi-megawatt power plant for operation off Hawaii, successful operation of which can lead to prompt design and construction of a first-of-a-kind 100 MWe commercial plant. LM regards the latter as likely to be cost-competitive in markets like Hawaii that presently rely on oil-derived electricity. Some company perspective on LM’s effort is stated at this URL.

Recently the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), which is responsible for naval-base infrastructure, competitively awarded an $8.1 M contract to the LM team. That award is for technical activities aimed at reducing overall system and developmental risks for critical subsystems and components, and at maturing a pilot-plant design. The Navy has a long-term interest in helping foster the commercialization of ocean thermal technology, achievement of which would enable it to purchase, at cost-effective rates, ocean-thermal-derived electricity and fresh water from privately developed facilities at U.S. military bases located in places like Hawaii, Guam, and Diego García.

In an effort to help call attention to what harnessing ocean thermal energy can do to help mitigate global warming, I posted some information on the Copenhagen Climate Council Web site, which can be accessed via URL here. A set of slides addressing various facets of ocean thermal energy can be downloaded there. Those slides summarize many of the technical, economic, and environmental aspects of the issues raised here.

A November 2009 workshop was convened and hosted by the NOAA people who are charged under U.S. law with licensing ocean thermal plants. That workshop was specifically aimed at exploring the technical readiness of ocean thermal energy technology, and it is my understanding that the technology received high grades there. The workshop is summarized on this Web page. [Note that the Web page is replete with hot buttons, i.e., Web links, each leading to detailed information about various technical aspects of ocean thermal that were examined at the workshop. Most, but not all, of the items that are in bold face are Web links.]

Cost and Market-entry Outlooks

The largest ocean thermal power system heretofore operated (by DOE contractors in 1980) was OTEC-1, a floating test facility designed to test candidate ocean thermal components and subsystems, such as heat exchangers, rated at 1 MWe. Lacking a turbine-generator set, that facility fell short of being a complete power system. Two complete closed-cycle ocean thermal power systems of sub-megawatt size have been successfully demonstrated. They were the 50 KWe (15 kWe net power) floating facility operated off Hawaii in 1979, which was developed by a private consortium led by Lockheed, and the 100 kWe (34 kWe net power) land-based facility operated in 1981 on the island of Nauru, which was developed by the Tokyo Electric Power Services Co.

To bridge the gap to multi-megawatt commercial plants, the LM team is designing a 5/10 MWe ocean thermal pilot plant—initially containing the first of two 5 MWe power modules—to be sited off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Operation of the pilot plant will provide performance, cost, and environmental data preparatory to designing and constructing a 100 MWe “commercial” plant for Hawaii’s oil-driven market.

Extrapolating pilot-plant cost estimates to what the commercial plant might cost, the LM team believes that a first-of-a-kind 100 MWe commercial plant can be built at a capital cost enabling it to compete in Hawaii’s oil-driven electricity market; i.e., to produce electricity at an avoided-cost target close to what busbar electricity is currently worth there.

Assuming that LM can achieve that energy-cost target—a busbar cost of electrical energy of roughly 20¢/kWh—then, if I work backward from that energy cost, using reasonable assumptions regarding interest rate and plant-amortization lifetime, including an additional cost of ca. 2¢/kWh for O&M, I estimate that that energy cost for a first-of-a-kind 100 MWe baseload power plant would roughly correspond to a plant capital cost target of about $1 B, or $10 per watt. If one assumes that federal tax credits are available to serve as an incentive/subsidy, then the tolerable capital cost for this first-of-a-kind commercial power plant could perhaps be about 50% higher, around $1.5 B.

In contrast, the 5/10 MWe pilot plant that LM is designing—since piloting of a technology at small scale increases the cost per unit output—will probably cost roughly several hundred million dollars, corresponding to an energy cost perhaps ranging from 40 to 60¢/kWh, making that large an investment sub-economic. Hence the pilot plant will require some subsidization, the hurdle-cost for launching this new ocean industry.

But the subsidy required sounds like peanuts nowadays. Note that during its heyday—the late 70s and early 80s—the DOE ocean thermal R&D program was being funded at about $40 M annually, equivalent to $100 M/year in today’s dollars. It may well be that Recovery Act funds or DoD will provide that subsidy, but it would be reassuring if the Obama Administration and the Congress would soon explicitly embrace ocean thermal and commit to rapidly advancing it into the marketplace, as was happening during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Administrations.

Once the pilot plant is successfully operated, the design data and cost estimates for the first 100 MWe commercial plant will become much clearer. There are various options for funding that commercial plant. For example, about 80% of its capital investment could be federally loan-guaranteed; the remainder, roughly $200 to 300 M or so, would be venture capital, and investment tax credits would offer an additional incentive.

A comparison—albeit crude—can be made between the above $10 capital cost per watt, for baseload (continuous, 24/7) ocean thermal power capacity, versus the capital costs per watt for intermittent wind and photovoltaic power. Let’s assume wind and photovoltaic power systems that cost $4 and $7 per watt, respectively, and that they generate power about one-third of the time. Then, for purposes of making a rough comparison with the capital cost of a baseload source like ocean thermal, the intermittent wind and photovoltaic capital costs can be multiplied by three, yielding $12 and $21 per watt, respectively, compared to roughly $10 to $15/watt for a first-of-a-kind, 24/7 ocean thermal plant.

References

Clare, R., 1981, in Proceedings, Eighth Ocean Energy Conference (ed. E.M. MacCutcheon)

Derrington, J., 1979, in Proceedings, Sixth Ocean Energy Conference (ed. G.L. Dugger)

Gavin, A. P. & T. M. Kuzay, 1981, 0TEC-1 power system test program: biofouling and corrosion monitoring on 0TEC-1. Argonne National Laboratory

Green, H.J. and P.R. Guenther, 1990, Carbon dioxide release from OTEC cycles, Solar Energy Research Institute report TP-253-3594

Myers, E.P. et al., 1986, The potential impact of ocean thermal energy conversion (0TEC) on fisheries, NOAA Technical Report NMFS 40—Available at URL http://spo.nwr.noaa.gov/tr40opt.pdf

Wortman, E.J., 1981, in Proceedings, Eighth Ocean Energy Conference (ed. E.M. MacCutcheon)

  1. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    “Then there are those who don't comprehend the issue well enough to understand the difference between "anti" and pointing out BS.”

    Okay then! I must boast that I am one of those individuals who does understand the difference. The first thing I look for in any technology when I go to their web pages is the successful projects they have completed. Then I look to see if they have new customers. Friday we had a meeting with our head marketing guy and the CFO. My company had 5b in new orders in 2009. What recession! My company is also building about 5b in new in new production facilities.

    So what about OTEC.

    “the DOE ocean thermal R&D program was being funded at about $40 M annually, equivalent to $100 M/year in today’s dollars.”

    I certainly do not have a problem with government funded R&D. Results? I can show biomass projects from the Carter era that are still producing electricity. So what do they compare OTEC to:

    “versus the capital costs per watt for intermittent wind and photovoltaic power”

    What anti-s do is find fault with what they do not like but characterize as a 'thoughtful and detailed response'.

    Ignoring for the moment that the US navy does not make a lot of electricity with biomass, those navy bases are the home of nuke subs that do. So where are 4 150 MW D2G reactors that I made electricity with:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship-Submarine_Recycling_Program

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  2. By Robert Rapier on February 21, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Okay then! I must boast that I am one of those individuals who does understand the difference.

    Kit, please try to keep your comments in the appropriate thread. That comment followed a previous essay.

    Further, I can point out many inconsistencies in the story you are telling here. On a number of occasions when I have pointed out that someone was speaking BS – you would characterize that as "anti", despite the fact that they had no successful projects, new customers, etc.

    It has long been clear that you change your standards to fit the argument you wish to make.

    RR

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  3. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Let me see if I understand what you are say RR.

    OTEC is a good way to make electricity and does not need to be subsidized?

    Robert Cohen is not just a guy interested a technology but Doctor Cohen energy expert? The interesting thing is that Robert Cohen does not even make such a claim on his web site.

    RR wrote.

    “Dr. Robert Cohen has been involved in ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) since the early 1970's. He has posted two guest essays here previously:”

    None of your links support your statements. The best I can tell is that he is a friend of a friend.

    “I responded by telling Bob that I had a favorable impression of ocean thermal,..”

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  4. By robert on February 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    If we had time of use pricing, what would electricity really cost? Maybe 5 cents for night, 20 cents for day, 50 cents for those summer peaks. Today they charge you one price, but clearly the night time users subsidize the day.

    Anyways lets take whatshisnames numbers. Solar power costs $7/watt. OTEC costs $10/watt. For that matter nuclear costs around $10/watt (maybe). Solar produces power 1/3 the time but that third is during the day. And even more during the summer. Nukes produce power 90% of the time but have no day/night preference. So once we correctly price nighttime electricity, does OTEC really have a price advantage?

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  5. By Robert Rapier on February 21, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Robert Cohen is not just a guy interested a technology but Doctor Cohen energy expert? The interesting thing is that Robert Cohen does not even make such a claim on his web site.

    Kit, please do us all a favor and try to read essays before spouting off. You will save us all a lot of time.

    Read once more:

    Since being assigned by NSF in 1973 to serve as the first ocean thermal program manager, charged with organizing and conducting a concerted federal R&D program on ocean thermal energy…

    Now, if you wish to characterize Dr. Cohen as just some guy who has an interest in OTEC, then I don't know what that says about you. Once again, I will point out that Dr. Cohen is not some anonymous hack casting aspersions and telling us all how great he is. That would be you.

    Now stop wasting our time, before I lose patience with you. If you wish to address the essay, do so. If you wish to cast aspersions, then you will find yourself in Maury's shoes really fast. I am not messing around with this crap anymore. It is not a good use of my time.

    RR

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  6. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    “Since being assigned by NSF in 1973”

    Well I missed that but just for the record I have been making electricity since 1971.

    Now maybe young man you can answer my questions in a civil manner.

    I wrote,

    “Let me see if I understand what you are say RR.

    OTEC is a good way to make electricity and does not need to be subsidized?”

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  7. By Robert Rapier on February 21, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Now maybe young man you can answer my questions in a civil manner.

    You start in right away on Dr. Cohen with ad homs – as you did the last time – and you want me to be civil? I will be civil as long as you keep it topical.

    “Let me see if I understand what you are say RR.

    OTEC is a good way to make electricity and does not need to be subsidized?”

    Not only do you not understand, you still seem to believe that I am against subsidies. You need to spend less time talking and more time listening. I think the jury is out on OTEC. That's one reason I like to see these debates play out. It helps me see the pros and cons in a better light.

    But if we decided to throw a lot of money specifically at OTEC? No, that isn't how I would do it. The government has been pretty lousy at picking technology winners in the energy arena. Where is that hydrogen economy anyway? How is Range Fuels coming along? (That is going to be my next exposé, probably mid-week). I favor a different approach that lifts everyone, and doesn't try to pick technology winners.

    If you think my issue with ethanol is the subsidies, please don't write anything else until you go back and understand what I am saying. My point is that you don't need subsidies with the RFS in place. It isn't rocket science.

    RR

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  8. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    “Nukes produce power 90% of the time but have no day/night preference.”

    The availability of commercial nuke plants is 99%. The shut down for maintenance when power prices are low.

    Navy nukes reactors like D2G can change power very quickly and the cores lasted for 20 years. I have read that new cores last for 40 years. The navy is thinking of bring back more surface nukes because of the large electric loads of modern combat ships.

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  9. By Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole on February 21, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I wish Cohen good luck with his OTEC. I worry that salt water will wreck everything. My experience is that sea water is relentless in corroding everything all the time.

    It does seem to me a coastal city could spur OTEC development on its own, simply by promising to buy power for 20 years at some rate from anyone who builds an OTEC and provides the power.

    Perhaps the city could promise to pay 75 percent of the bill, and the feds 25 percent, up to, say 7 cents per kilowatt.

    Then let the private sector build a real OTEC.

    BTW, the cheapest power in the United States?

    In Idaho, where a state-owned utility provides power.

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  10. By Kinuachdrach on February 21, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    "I think the jury is out on OTEC."

    After 35 years of serious investment & study, it sounds like the jury has well and truly ruled, many times.

    Put Ocean Thermocline Reversal into the "niche" pile. It may make sense in a few places like Hawaii — but even there a small nuclear power plant would make more sense.

    We have to get away from subsidies here and tax credits there and mandates on top of all of it as the way to make new energy sources work.

    Coal replaced wood & oil replaced coal & electricity replaced oil by offering something that was better than what went before — cheaper or more convenient or cleaner. That's how real post-fossil energy sources need to compete.

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  11. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    “The government has been pretty lousy at picking technology winners in the energy arena.”

    I must disagree. There is Hoover Dam, TVA, and BPA. These hydroelectric systems are huge winners. Least we forget the 104 LWR. These sources of electricity were not always the lowest cost. If I am an expert on anti-nukes and anti-hydro it is because I have been listening to them all my life.

    “No, that isn't how I would do it.”

    Is that because OTEC is a heat engine with low delta T in a marine environment?

    How people do things depends on the cards they were dealt. OTEC would make sense if there were no other alternatives.

    When it comes to looser, I want to know why. Building a nuke plant without any QA in the middle of coal country is one way to loose. The problem was not technology but poor management.

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  12. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    “In Idaho, where a state-owned utility provides power.”

    Investor owned utilities selling electricity in Idaho: Idaho Power, Altivista, Pacificorp, Rocky Mountain Power. Cost is low because it comes from hydroelectric and PRB coal.

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  13. By rufus on February 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I'm with Kit. There's a place for Government. Big, expensive projects with long-time, deferred returns. His list, plus Nuclear.

    Government is good. That's why we have it. You just have to keep a constant eye on the politicians.

    It's work, but the rewards are great.

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  14. By Robert Rapier on February 21, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I must disagree. There is Hoover Dam, TVA, and BPA. These hydroelectric systems are huge winners.

    Try to understand what you are disagreeing with. You are citing big projects based on proven technology. That is not the same as picking a technology winner.

    To pick a technology winner, the outcome is not clear on whether the technology will actually be able to deliver. That wasn't a question with any of the projects you cite. Cost was certainly in question, but the technology was not.

    Contrast cellulosic ethanol with electricity production via the Hoover Dam. If you think those are comparable issues, then we aren't speaking the same language. Frankly, I think you get in such a hurry to say "I disagree" that half the time you really don't think about what you are trying to disagree with. Hence, the perpetual inconsistencies in your positions.

    RR

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  15. By Anonymous on February 21, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    I would point out that the government that did those projects was a government from a different era. The pork barrel government we have today seems a lot less competent.

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  16. By rufus on February 21, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Unleaded Gasoline (84 Octane RBOB) just hit $2.10/gal in overnight trading.

    At this point Corn ethanol is competitive with gasoline (w/o subsidies) in my Impala.)

    THAT Gov. Program seems to be working out.

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  17. By Anonymous on February 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Great post Robert! I was the one who asked about Simmons's recent push on ocean energy, but I didn't anticipate you'd actually include a post! You went beyond the call of duty on this one.

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  18. By Russ on February 22, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Liked the post Robert! Learn to live and live to learn.

    looking forward to part II

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  19. By Robert Rapier on February 22, 2010 at 2:19 am

    At this point Corn ethanol is competitive with gasoline (w/o subsidies) in my Impala.)

    Rufus, you keep saying that, and yet I talked to a reporter the other day that said what they are really concerned about prices collapsing if the VEETC is taken away. In other words, the subsidy is propping up prices and keeping them alive. So don't say "without subsidies." There is no "without subsidies."

    RR

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  20. By rufus on February 22, 2010 at 2:44 am

    All I'm saying, Robert, is that the farmers, and biorefineries can produce ethanol, and deliver it to Chicago for $1.70/gal (and, show a nice profit, btw.)

    Now, whether Exxon wants to buy it, will buy it, will negotiate a better price is not my point.

    All I'm saying is they can deliver it, w/o subsidies to Chicago for $1.70/gal. They doing it, and making a profit.

    I need a 20% price break on E-85 to break even. At $2.10 I'm within a couple of cents of being there.

    Oops, I just realized that 15% gasoline is going to cost me an extra $0.06. Oh well, we'll be at $2.20 for gas soon enough, probably. :)

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  21. By rufus on February 22, 2010 at 2:52 am

    Yeah, it would definitely knock the price down. Right now, the blenders are buying more than they have to for their RFS2 quota. They're doing that because the extra $0.46 is giving them a nice incentive.

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  22. By Moiety on February 22, 2010 at 3:47 am

    The problem with this technology is not necessarily only the low efficiencies (why not try this process with equatorial air and sea water) but also with the transmission.
    This plant would have to be build at 'some' distance from l;an and then connected to the grid using high voltage lines. The cost for such a connection between the Viking wind farm proposed for Scotland (offshore) and the UK main grid is put at 500 million + the cost of substations. This is before we put it into storage which will have efficiency losses going in and out of the storage facility.
    Ultimately your final real efficiecny when looking at plant to plug is much lower than the 3%. That is a worry as the people who propose these technologies rarely put this in the limelight.

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  23. By OxyMaven on February 22, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Just curious, Rufus, as to how you know "The Blenders" are "buying more than they have to" for their RFS2 credit? That credit is based on annual gasoline sales isn't it? So in February, how do you know how much the blenders are going to buy for the rest of 2010??

    Also nice to get a post on another alt energy contender. One of the most fascinating things I find about energy today is the wide spectrum of possible contributors to displacing fossil fuels, and how difficult it is to assess their potential relative to all their competitors. Seems like energy sources will just continue to get more diverse, that is of course unless one becomes hugely superior and blows everyone else off the course. I especially find possible solutions for islands like Hawaii interesting, since their isolation provides unique opportunity to see what non-fossil sources can do.

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  24. By Kit P on February 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

    “This plant would have to be build at 'some' distance from l;an and then connected to the grid using high voltage lines.”

    This true of most power plants but you look for existing power lines or places where a new power line needs to be built anyway. One of the dairy farm with a new AD is a half mile from a substation. The 1.2 MWe will feed power into an existing grid with power flowing the opposite direction. What makes projects like this happen is a $500k grant and a loan guarantee.

    “I especially find possible solutions for islands like Hawaii interesting,”

    Of course if it is totally impractical, it will never make be a solution. What I find interesting is that people reject good solutions in favor of the impractical.

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  25. By Kit P on February 22, 2010 at 10:41 am

    “That wasn't a question with any of the projects you cite.”

    In hindsight! The Teton Dam was a government backed loser. All those 50 MWe nuke demonstration plants in the 60s were losers. Government agencies like TVA and WPPSS (know Energy Northwest) set records for being losers. Now that they are doing a good job, anti-s still harp on past performance

    It sure looks to me like corn ethanol is a winner. Yet RR takes every opportunity to hammer it.

    For example, RR wrote

    “My point is that you don't need subsidies with the RFS in place. It isn't rocket science.”

    In hindsight! There was a time in the 70s when gasoline was always going to be cheap. There was a time in the 90s when gasoline was always going to be cheap. There was a time in the 90s when many nuke plants could not make electricity cheaper than with natural gas or coal.

    Energy projects are capital intensive with razor thin margins. Energy is highly regulated with inconsistent polices. That is just the reality.

    So how do make investment happen?

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  26. By Russ on February 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

    How do you make investment (in energy) happen? By realizing yesterday is not tomorrow.

    The world is changing – energy sources will change or die – when what type must die is the open question. İt seems the time is still here for nuclear, coal and gas but also for PV, wind and other new sources.

    The ones who 'understand' are the ones who should worry us the most – as they are generally understanding the past.

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  27. By Robert Rapier on February 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    In hindsight! The Teton Dam was a government backed loser.

    Once again, apples and oranges. You are talking about big government projects. That would be like major funding of cellulosic ethanol within NREL – something I certainly support. I am talking about giving taxpayer dollars to fly-by-night outfits on the basis of exaggerated claims. So once again, you are disagreeing without understanding.

    It sure looks to me like corn ethanol is a winner. Yet RR takes every opportunity to hammer it.

    Pointing out that the industry only exists because of a steady diet of mandates and subsidies isn’t hammering it. And if you call that a success, then you must have loved Communism. Lots of successes there that only continued to exist because of government support.

    In hindsight! There was a time in the 70s when gasoline was always going to be cheap.

    That particular comment doesn’t even make sense. In hindsight? I am pointing out that our present tax credit is redundant because of the mandates. It has nothing to do with hindsight. It is what is.

    RR

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  28. By Benny BND Cole on February 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Rufus-
    If what you say is true, should not we strt to see pure ethanol tractors etc in farm land?
    Seems like a home run…

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  29. By rufus on February 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Benny, I think we will start to see E85 tractors after this next extension (depending on how long it is) of RFS2. Farm tractors are like Big Diesels in 18 wheelers; they turn over slowly.

    We're coming into a period of great flux, it seems. Businessmen hate uncertainty. Farmers live in uncertainty (the weather, the market, etc.) and try to eliminate as much of it as possible.

    Prices, right now, are at the inflection point. We're pretty sure we know which way the price of oil will, eventually, go; but we don't know when.

    And, Politicians. Let's face it; there is just no telling what they'll do. I believe we'll start getting a lot more clarity in 2011. Hopefully.

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  30. By Paul on February 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Rufus, I think you are spot on that manufacturers don't want to jump into ethanol-diesel engines in the current climate of uncertainty.

    But one of them has already done so – Scania trucks, in Sweden, made their first ethanol fuelled diesel bus over 20 years ago, and has over 500 of them running around in Sweden. They are selling them to other European cities.

    They run them on 95% ethanol with 5% ignition enhancer – there are some special modifications to a standard diesel. They also claim 43% thermal efficiency, compared to 44% for the diesel version of the same engine (this would be under ideal bench test conditions, real world performance would be back in the mid-high 30's).

    For the farmer that doesn't want to us a Swedish engine, they can set their engine up to "fumigate" ethanol. This company, (terrafueltechnologies.com) has been working on an add-on system to do just that. They are an Australian outfit, but have opened an office in Ann Arbor, Mich, so I think they can see where the future lies.

    Fumigation systems are really a carburettor that is added to an existing engine, and reduce diesel use by up to 80%, with no changes to the engine itself, and they can run on straight diesel, or any mix up to 80% ethanol (or CNG, or methanol, etc)

    The ethanol fuel can be E85, or E100, or (best of all) can be hydrous ethanol, even up to 50% water.

    If I was a farmer, I'd be getting my engines set up for this and then do a deal with the nearest ethanol plant (or start my own) and buy their hydrous ethanol (5% water), which would be cheaper still than the $1.70 wholesale.

    The farmer could also then (try to) claim the blender's credit (while it is still around) – what's not to like?

    This is one example where the credit is not redundant, as there is no mandate regarding blending with diesel fuel.

    But if the farmer is using it to grow his corn, then finally the loop is being (partially) closed, with ethanol being an input into its own production.

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  31. By Moiety on February 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Kit-P that is not also the case with conventional on land power plants. These plants are generally located near to the energy sink i.e. near the city.
    Even so building power lines over the sea is extremely expensive as seen for offshore lines that have to connect to the main grid. On land lines are comparatively cheap.

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  32. By rufus on February 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Paul, Fiat is manufacturing an E85 engine for, I believe, Case-New Holland.

    E85 will start off as a fuel for the smaller "utility" tractors. Only after it is Very well established will it start to appear in the "Big" Tractors.

    A big John Deere can sell for around $100,000.00 "Used." The Big tractor is the farmer's life. Everything has to be there, just perfect, exactly when he needs it. No gambling will be done, here.

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  33. By rufus on February 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    An ex: Failure to pass the extension would, likely, Doom E85. The farmer whose $100,000.00+ tractor is set up to run on E85 might be in aa hell of a pickle.

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  34. By takchess on February 22, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    I appreciate Dr Cohen posting and answering questions here.Thank you Sir.

    I have a feeling we will see a post on Bloom Energy soon from RR.

    Also, I want to go on record that I have been using electricity since 1956.
    *)

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  35. By Paul on February 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Rufus,

    Agreed about the no risk approach -that's why I think the "fumigation" approach is the way to go – you can use as much or as little ethanol as you want, without needing a new tractor or modifying the engine. The manufacturer may have something to say about the engine warranty, but for those farmers that buy used equipment this is not such a big deal.

    Alcohol/water injection is not new technology either, has been around since WWII. My brother has used plain water spray on the intake for his header operating in the 105F Australian summer – noticeable improvement in engine temp and fuel consumption.

    I can't imagine anyone other than a corn farmer next to a distillery buying an E85 only tractor – you tie yourself to a very specialised fuel source. It could be a flex fuel like your car, but then, it's a gasoline engined tractor, and they are only economical as utility/garden tractors, and typically don't put up a lot of hours a year.

    BUt from a PR point of view, using corn ethanol to produce the corn would be a good thing, as well as providing an additional market for ethanol.

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  36. By rufus on February 22, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I agree, Paul. It'll be interesting to see how it all "shakes out."

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  37. By Wendell Mercantile on February 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    But from a PR point of view, using corn ethanol to produce the corn would be a good thing…

    Using corn ethanol would be a wonderful PR move for Big Corn and Big Ethanol. The same would be true for running an ethanol still on ethanol.

    I once asked a still owner near me why he didn't use some of his own ethanol instead of NG as his source of thermal energy for distillation. He told me that if he did that, he wouldn't have any ethanol left over to sell. He also said NG was a lot cheaper.

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  38. By Paul on February 24, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Wendell, I have no problem with using NG or other low grade (non transport) fuel to produce the ethanol. The idea is to produce a liquid transport fuel, so to use said liquid fuel to run the production, is counterintuitive, in my opinion.

    Even if the EROEI is 1, and all the energy input is cheap NG, then, we have at least, got a gas (or solid) to liquids process that is energy neutral – something that Fischer Tropsch or similar processes can never be.

    But absoultuely, they should then be using ethanol to displace as much of their own liquid fuel as possible.

    In fact, rather than aiming for 10 or 15% blending goals, I think a much better goal would be to make the agricultural industry "oil independent" such that the ethanol/biodiesel they produce can run their entire industry, and still have some food left over for the rest of us to eat.

    Again, if that means using NG, coal, biomass, or solar (basically anything except liquid fuel), as inputs to distillation, I am fine with that, as the liquid fuel then produced is truly displacing oil imports.

    It would also put to bed a lot of the doomerish sentiment that without (imported) oil, modern agriculture would come to grinding halt.
    And if that means all the ethanol produced is being used in Iowa, Illinois, etc instead of being trucked to California, then there is another energy saving too. In fact, if it would make Iowa and other farm states "oil independent", then they have (some) control over the cost of their fuel.

    Using the fuels themselves, first, seems to be a much more logical solution than requiring everyone else to use them (and requiring taxpayers to subsidise it.)

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