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By Robert Rapier on Jan 31, 2011 with 53 responses

What the RAND Report on Biofuels Really Said

The just-issued RAND report Alternative Fuels for Military Applications has generated quite a bit of controversy. However, in my opinion many of the news stories covering the report got the gist of the message wrong. In essence, what has been reported is “RAND Says Biofuels are Bunk.” In fact, many in the renewable energy industry have responded as if they are under attack. Biofuels Digest published comments from several in the renewable fuels industry. Some excerpts from those comments:

Will Thurmond, CEO, Emerging Markets Online

Is it simply a coincidence that RAND’s study on alternative fuels for the military, the “Clean Coal” Coalition’s advertising campaign, and the State of the Union address were released on the same day? In contrast to greenwashing by some big electric cos, this is brown-washing by friends of coal by proxy via one RAND oil and coal consultant who says CTL or Coal To Liquids via Fischer-Tropsch gasification technology, is a better solution than biofuels.

John Plaza, CEO, Imperium Renewables

As one of the leading companies in the development of Renewable Jet fuel from biomass, Imperium Renewables is extremely disappointed by the research report released today by the RAND Corporation.

Advanced Biofuels Association President Michael McAdams

“Shame on the RAND Corporation as it does a great disservice to itself and our nation by wrongly criticizing the Department of Defense and its investment in advanced biofuels and deployment of a Great Green Fleet. The RAND study clearly embraces the failed energy policies of the past. The technologies and benefits of advanced biofuels are real.

The Algal Biomass Organization

The positioning of the entire US algae industry as a “research topic” is frankly both demeaning and patently false. We have more than 100 companies, academic institutions and national laboratories working to develop the algae-to-fuels industry. Algae-derived fuels have already been tested and/or used in motor vehicles and commercial aircraft, and last fall’s successful test of a Navy Riverine Command boat showed that algae fuels are ready for use. It is unclear to us whether or not any actual “green” CTL fuels have been produced or tested.

I believe these comments, as well as many of the media reports on the study, have missed the point. The key point of the study is that biofuels don’t necessarily offer the military any tactical advantage, which may very well be true. Further, the report raises questions of whether the military can count on the commercial availability of some of the fuels that are being tested. Posturing by vested interests aside, this is a legitimate question.

The report also points out that per the Defense Production Act of 1950, the Defense Department and its contractors have “preferential access to contracts for the production, refining, and delivery of petroleum products.” In other words, if there are petroleum shortages, the U.S. military is near the front of the line for receiving what they need. In that case, the report implies that the military won’t need biofuels in the foreseeable future so there is no reason for them to take the lead on this.

Below are some other highlights from the report. Following each, I offer my thoughts.

Fischer-Tropsch fuels are the most promising near-term options for meeting the Department of Defense’s needs cleanly and affordably.

The reason for this conclusion is pretty straightforward. There are commercial GTL and CTL plants operating today, from Shell’s 15,000 barrel per day Bintulu GTL plant to Sasol’s 140,000 barrel per day Secunda facility. To my knowledge there isn’t even a 100 barrel per day facility that produces fuel from algae. So the concerns highlighted in the report over algal fuels are more around the possibility that technical problems aren’t resolved, and algal fuels are ultimately not cost effective. The report viewed algal fuel as more of a long-term prospect. However, even in the case of Fischer-Tropsch fuels, the report still indicated that there wouldn’t necessarily be a tactical advantage; it is just that FT fuels are the option most likely to deliver scalable volumes of fuel.

It is highly uncertain whether appreciable amounts of hydrotreated renewable oils can be affordably and cleanly produced within the United States or abroad.

I would say that this is probably accurate in the U.S., but as I noted following my trip to Malaysia, renewable fuel from palm oil can be produced cheaply — with duly noted environmental consequences.

Concepts for forward-based alternative fuel production do not offer a military advantage.

One of the images Tom Hicks invoked when I interviewed him was the vulnerability of long fuel convoys headed into the theater of operations. But the RAND report suggests that local production facilities and feedstocks would also be vulnerable to attack. In the former case, fuel can be produced far from the battlefield and must then be protected during transit. For locally produced fuels, the facilities and feedstocks would need to be protected, and that may not offer any advantages.

Defense Department goals for alternative fuels in tactical weapon systems should be based on potential national benefits, since the use of alternative, rather than petroleum-derived, fuels offers no direct military benefits.

I think this was the key point of the report — not that biofuels don’t deliver but that the military really doesn’t need them.

Current efforts by the services to test and certify alternative fuels are far outpacing commercial development.

I agree, but I don’t view this as a problem. In many cases commercial development would hinge on whether the fuels will actually work for the military, and thus the testing would be expected to lead commercial development.

Within the United States, the prospects for commercial production of alternative fuels that have military applications remain highly uncertain, especially over the next decade.

I think that is a factual statement. People may disagree over how uncertain it is, but nobody can promise a slam dunk here.

Ethanol and biodiesel are unsuitable for use in weapon systems. They pose a severe safety risk, reduce performance, unduly complicate fuel delivery and storage, and generate maintenance problems.

I saw some mentions in the press that the report viewed ethanol and biodiesel negatively. But look at the context. The report notes that existing military power systems are designed for jet fuel or diesel, and thus ethanol is unsuitable. The report also notes that if the engines could be redesigned, ethanol’s propensity to absorb water could be an issue. So again, I don’t think the report is slamming ethanol, it is just saying that it is unsuitable for those specific military applications.

In conclusion, I don’t view the report as the negative slam on renewable fuels that has been portrayed, and I don’t think the renewable fuel industry needs to get overly defensive as a result. The people who have legitimate reasons to be defensive over the report are those who have been behind the push for renewable fuels in the military.

  1. By Walt on January 31, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    Concepts for forward-based alternative fuel production do not offer a military advantage.

    One of the images Tom Hicks invoked when I interviewed him was the vulnerability of long fuel convoys headed into the theater of operations. But the RAND report suggests that local production facilities and feedstocks would also be vulnerable to attack. In the former case, fuel can be produced far from the battlefield and must then be protected during transit. For locally produced fuels, the facilities and feedstocks would need to be protected, and that may not offer any advantages.


     

    Yes, I did not think of this issue before.  This makes sense since destroying one fuel vehicle is far less risky than loosing the entire facility.  This sort of puts a crimp in my distributed generation fuels concept.  Hmmm.

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  2. By Walt on January 31, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    Ethanol and biodiesel are unsuitable for use in weapon systems. They pose a severe safety risk, reduce performance, unduly complicate fuel delivery and storage, and generate maintenance problems.

    I saw some mentions in the press that the report viewed ethanol and biodiesel negatively. But look at the context. The report notes that existing military power systems are designed for jet fuel or diesel, and thus ethanol is unsuitable. The report also notes that if the engines could be redesigned, ethanol’s propensity to absorb water could be an issue. So again, I don’t think the report is slamming ethanol, it is just saying that it is unsuitable for those specific military applications.


     

    This is why we need methanol based technologies.  Methanol-to-gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel are all known and patented processes.  Methanol is the perfect feedstock to make high quality military grade fuels without a lot of technology risk as demonstrated by Exxon, soon to be Total Petrochemical, and others likely working in stealth such as Lurgi, Linde, Halder-Topsoe, Sinopec, etc.  Not the companies who make Biofuels Digest reporting due to it being methanol based.

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  3. By PJ on January 31, 2011 at 9:30 am

    The military requires options. Local biofuels may be a great alternative if the technology is mature enough and the DoD wants to increase local economic ties even when in the theater of war. For example, the DoD currently wants to improve the economic conditions of both AfPak and Iraq. Hiring local companies to provide this fuel creates an interdependence that is both a strength and a vulnerability. It would be a lot more advantageous if the US military could pay AfPak farmers to grow energy producing crops over poppy crops. Unfortunately, this scenario is far off, but basic testing of engines, fuels, and other systems needs to occur now.

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  4. By Wendell Mercantile on January 31, 2011 at 9:49 am

    This is why we need methanol based technologies.

    Walt~

    The Army has been at the forefront of developing methanol-based fuel cells to power the many pieced of electronic equipment they use. As I can say from experience, one of the limiting factors (LIMFACs) on a battlefield is the logistics of keeping all the radios, computers, sensors, etc. supplied with batteries. They all seem to have different voltages and physical configurations, and many lose power too quickly in extremes of temperature.

    Portable methanol fuel cells that can simply be refilled with methanol would ease that battery logistics trail substantially. It easier to send trucks and helicopters forward loaded with jerry cans of methanol than it is to carry and distribute many kinds of batteries.

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  5. By Walt on January 31, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    This is why we need methanol based technologies.

    Walt~

    The Army has been at the forefront of developing methanol-based fuel cells to power the many pieced of electronic equipment they use. As I can say from experience, one of the limiting factors (LIMFACs) on a battlefield is the logistics of keeping all the radios, computers, sensors, etc. supplied with batteries. They all seem to have different voltages and physical configurations, and many lose power too quickly in extremes of temperature.

    Portable methanol fuel cells that can simply be refilled with methanol would ease that battery logistics trail substantially. It easier to send trucks and helicopters forward loaded with jerry cans of methanol than it is to carry and distribute many kinds of batteries.


     

    Wendell,

    I’m just about to run out the door to leave for the site location.  I will not have easy access to email this week until we are back in the hotel at night.  However, I have heard more about methanol fuel cells lately and it might be an option others are considering as well.  There is definitely a slow down in the hydrogen vs. methanol fuel cell debate over the past 1 year, so perhaps there is hope for methanol fuel cells long-term.

    In talking with the operator of the field this morning we have 2-4 inches of snow coming tonight, and 20 inches coming tomorrow.  Temps are suppose to be in the 12 degF to -10 degF range so I’m taking extra food for the trailer, a new propane heater I bought Saturday, my snow shovel and a back-up battery system that is charging now.  Should be another winter wonderland of fun.  I’m happy to see (for those who enjoy the snow) 20 inches in Southern Michigan for a change so they know what we feel like week after week in Northern Michigan!  Loads of fun.

    Have a nice week where you are!

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  6. By Bioblogger on January 31, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I don’t think the military is pushing for biofuels because they believe there are advantages to logistics and deployment. Nor do I think they have suddenly decided that they need to help “save the planet” from global climate change. They are concerned that we are dependent on a strategic commodity that has determined the outcomes of wars and been the cause of many. How many Gulf Wars do we need to fight? Maybe that is why Bush felt compelled to decry our addiction to oil at the height of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

    What is the rationale of sending our wealth to a region that can makes access to oil more difficult the richer they become? As Jim Woolsey puts it – “We need to make oil boring.” The Department of Defense is not exactly equating the danger to the risk that spurred the Manhattan Project, but reducing our dependence on oil may determine future diplomatic and wartime strategies. They are the experts at contingency planning and biofuels gives them options – while reducing the causes of war.

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  7. By Rufus on January 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    The enemy will, Always, target your fuel “Storage” facilities. Whether it’s fuel bladders full of diesel that’s been trucked in, or a biodiesel production facility. With current technology it’s much easier to defend a fixed facility than a truck convoying through “enemy country.”

    The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines are as “point of the spear” as you can get. They recently deployed to Afghanistan with enough “Solar” capability to cut their need for imported diesel by half. This is a Huge deal.

    If they had a small, portable “poppy-seed to biodiesel” set-up they wouldn’t have to be resupplied with anything other than food, bullets, and medical supplies (all of which can be done by air-drop.)

    The reactionary fossil-fuel forces are fighting hard, but they’re losing. Common sense will, slowly, prevail.

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  8. By Marcel F. Williams on January 31, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    There’s more than enough urban and rural biowaste to supply the US military with all of the synthetic diesel fuel and jet fuel that they need for ground vehicles and aircraft.

    These biowaste conversion process, however, waste 80% of their CO2 content. If hydrogen produced from nuclear reactors and hydroelectric power plants were added to the mix, there would be more than enough urban and rural biowaste to supply all of the carbon neutral gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, methanol, methane, and dimethyl ether that the US economy needs.

    But combine biofuels with fuel saving technologies such as plug-in-hybrid, electric, and fuel cell automobiles, then the US could suddenly become a major exporter of clean carbon-neutral fuels.

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  9. By Benny BND Cole on January 31, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Excellent post by RR.

    BTW, the events in Egypt again raise the question of vulnerability of the Western world to oil thug states, and politics. Can we forever install puppet states we like–even as they crush populations under corruption and abuse? And, yes the alternatives are even worse, such as Islamic radicals.

    That is why moves to domestic sources of energy make sense. The free market fails sometimes, as in pollution, or in international politics. We can buddy-buddy up to whoever we like, but someday the oil spigot could be cut off. You can’t pump or tanker oil with an aircraft carrier.

    And in the Mideast or around the oil-exporting world, we are not dealing with sound free-market democracies–we are dealing with thug states, Islamic radicals, tinpot crooks and Gong Show contestents running nations.

    For this reason, support for domestic energy sources makes sense. However, free market principles and the price signal should still be relied upon.

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  10. By mac on January 31, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    The reactionary fossil-fuel forces are fighting hard, but they’re losing. Common sense will, slowly, prevail.

    Rufus,

    Military MASH units are increasingly being fueled up with solar power, eliminating the need for loud, noisy diesel generators and fuel supply lines to remote areas. The flexible solar panels are un-furled, and the field hospital is set up to run on solar, with re-chargeable batteries that last for months or years. No need for nightmarish supply lines and high noise signature diesel generating equipment.

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  11. By Rufus on January 31, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Yeah, Mac, I know I didn’t realize that half the fuel we use in a combat zone is for generators, etc.

    Also, I believe the diesel in those trucks, and personnel carriers can be augmented with ethanol (perhaps, produced from local “cellulosic” sources.)

    The fossil fuel boys have had us over a barrel (pun intended) for a long time, but Science, and technology are taking hold. This ain’t the “20th Century” any more.

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  12. By Wendell Mercantile on January 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Also, I believe the diesel in those trucks, and personnel carriers can be augmented with ethanol

    It could more easily be supplemented with methanol. You are an agent of the ethanol industry if you overlooked that.

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  13. By Optimist on January 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    There’s more than enough urban and rural biowaste to supply the US military with all of the synthetic diesel fuel and jet fuel that they need for ground vehicles and aircraft.

    I don’t think so, Marcel. You have a source and/or some calculations to back up this outrageous claim?

    Flexibility is a huge strategic military advantage. Using biofuels would give the US military a lot of flexibility. If you bomb the local BTL plant, they can always switch back to conventional fuels for the time being.

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  14. By Wendell Mercantile on January 31, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    There’s more than enough urban and rural biowaste to supply the US military with all of the synthetic diesel fuel and jet fuel that they need for ground vehicles and aircraft.

    Marcel,

    In some parts of the world that may be true, but have you looked at where we’ve been fighting the last ten years?

    Do you have any idea how much fuel a jet airplane or turbine-powered helicopter uses? A much younger version of myself flew jet fighters in the Air Force, and we could easily burn 2,000 gallons per hour during a tactical air-to-air or air-to-ground mission.

    Do you have any idea how much fuel an M-1 Abrams main battle tank, or M-2 Bradley IFV use? (An Abrams tank gets ~ 0.6 mpg.)

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  15. By rrapier on January 31, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Rufus said:

    The fossil fuel boys have had us over a barrel (pun intended) for a long time, but Science, and technology are taking hold. This ain’t the “20th Century” any more.


     

    I am just wondering, Rufus, what you think goes on inside big oil companies. Do you think they twiddle their thumbs while the rest of the world moves on? Do you think they are not capable of becoming a dominant force in cellulosic ethanol if they felt it was a long-term economical proposition. I think you have this comic book view of things, where Big Oil is making slide rules while calculators pass them by.

    Doesn’t work that way. In fact, I can tell you that every biofuel development that you see in the press is being worked on by oil companies around the world. I know, because I used to work in one of those labs and I know all the things we worked on. But we weren’t out searching for funding, so we didn’t make press releases over what we were doing.

    RR

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  16. By paul-n on January 31, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Do you think they are not capable of becoming a dominant force in cellulosic ethanol if they felt it was a long-term economical proposition.

    Good call – I presume any one of the oil majors could buy all the US ethanol producers without too much  trouble, but the only one doing so is Valero, and that is because they are not a crude oil producer of note.  It is analgous to the junior exploration companies – their purpose in life is to find enough of something to make them a worthwhile takeover target.  Anyone who can, competitively, make,liquid fuel from garbage would be a good candidate for a takeover target, but we haven’t seen anyone making it, yet.

    But we weren’t out searching for funding, so we didn’t make press releases over what we were doing.

    I think that statement sums up, very nicely, what is wrong with the Khosla and VC approach.  You can get money by doing good work, but you can get much more by doing lots of marketing, whether or not you are doing good work.  The marketing and hype of the “potential” is all to distract the investor from the reality, which is that they haven’t solved the problem they are trying to solve.

    I do agree with the military’s approach of test these fuels to see that they can be used, so it creates some assurance that if the biofuel companies can produce them, then the military or others can buy and use them.  So now that everyone agrees they can use algae fuel, it’s back to the algae industry to show they can produce it.  Since there is not one commercial producer in operation, I think classifying it as a research topic, which it has been since the 70′s, is entirely appropriate.  It is up the the algae industry to show it is more by actually producing something that customers want to buy – they have a long way to go to catch up even to the Bintulu plant.

     

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  17. By Rufus on January 31, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Yeah, RR, you’re right. In my comic book view of the world Big Oil Companies don’t exactly live to get involved in small, “distributive” projects.

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  18. By Optimist on January 31, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Very funny, Rufus! What exactly will those lovely small “distributive” projects achieve?

    RR nailed it: if biofuels ever work out, Big Oil will be selling it. Just as well. I rather buy from Big Oil than from Big Ag (and Uncle Sam).

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  19. By michaelrs on January 31, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    What the RAND report IMHO characterizes is a repeat of somewhat known issues (with algea), the development of a hypotheses based upon longstanding hopes (FT) and the skirting of the white elephant in the room (money).

    Last start with the elephant: Profitability in view of complex financial markets rules the project feasibility and hence the production of commodities (!). Which ever way you will get to a new process to produce sometype of energy will cost you CapEx at the tune of $/EUR 2.8 and more per Watt installed capacity and then you have to procure your feedstock, which can be zero (wind, sun, waste) or comes at up to 90% and more of revenues (cane, sugar, corn, camelina, palm, etc.). Between the CapEx and the Ops cost the process has to be feasible and the operations need to be financable. That requires cheap (debt) capital in large amounts (billions would be good) as well as reliability/predictability of the input/output spread (no commodity speculation would be helpful).

    Sadly none of these basic financial parameters and mechanics have been touched upon by the RAND Corp. report, but they are crucial to making any of the technologies work at relevant scale. To use their numbers, even a FT GTL plant clocks in at $/EUR 2.8 to 3.8 per gallon CapEx and the gas input needs to be procured at $4.5 per MMBTU. Hence the Pearl/Qatar facility at a $5bn price tag will need to be somewhat financed, which is where a huge balance sheet helps, and also provides a barrier of entry, but last time I checked my bank’s credit officer would not give me $5bn to do same. And this is where the issue lies: lack of project finance capital, i.e. debt capital at LIBOR plus few percents for 8 and 9 digit amounts for “risky” projects. It’s absence and the resulting lack of financial feasibility, rather than any of the other points challenges technology from scaling and deployment.

    On the other side these very same large financing amounts make commodity production a non-VC business, the equity premium (usually linked to some IP) just is not available, the WACC would get completely out of whack using VC ideas on returns (3X, 5X, 7X, whatever …) in these projects. It is the huge equity investments made by VCs in plants, that tilted the balance and made the project a capital loss.

    That algea has a few fundamental problems of physics to overcome is long known (see the work of J Benemann and M Cooney), hence it would indeed be a surprise if algea would be feasible. On the other side, the number of CTL/GTL facilities built since WWII, i.e. in the last 60+ years is really limited as well and only feasible when done at huge scale, as in SASOL, Qatar etc. This is actually pointed out in the report and hence they admit it will be in 20yrs+ when BTL is to be expected large scale. Oil might run short before.

    Woolsey’s hypothesis to turn “Oil into Salt” is the most compelling rational, and indeed if Oil would not be a priced resource, we would not have wars to begin with and the logistics challenges to continue. That is why distributed global renewable fuel production, and abundant fuels should be a core military objective.

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  20. By Rufus on January 31, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Optimist, I’ve sold many insurance policies to my neighboring farmers, but I’ve never sold an insurance policy to anyone named Exxon, or Conoco Philips.

    I’d just as soon support the local guy.

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  21. By rrapier on February 1, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Rufus said:

    Yeah, RR, you’re right. In my comic book view of the world Big Oil Companies don’t exactly live to get involved in small, “distributive” projects.


     

    You mean like Shell and Iogen, or BP and Verenium? Or maybe you were thinking about ConocoPhillips and the cellulosic ethanol research they are funding, or perhaps their development of jet fuel produced via hydrotreating lipids.

    That must be really some comic book you have: Oil companies are the hapless villians, stumbling their way through time as the renewable energy heroes win the day.

    RR

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  22. By rrapier on February 1, 2011 at 12:58 am

    Rufus said:

    Optimist, I’ve sold many insurance policies to my neighboring farmers, but I’ve never sold an insurance policy to anyone named Exxon, or Conoco Philips.

    I’d just as soon support the local guy.


     

    Whether you have sold them any policies, I can assure you that oil companies buy insurance, as do all of the employees that work for them, scattered in communities across the country. You might have encountered a few of your friendly Chevron refinery workers down in Pascagoula, working just as hard as the hardest worker in an Iowa ethanol refinery. Yet that’s the local guy you completely disregard, even though you use their products every day.

    RR

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  23. By Rufus on February 1, 2011 at 1:34 am

    No, RR, I don’t disregard those guys down in Pascagoula. I just haven’t sold them any insurance policies. And, they don’t pay taxes in my County, much less my city. By the way, how’s the continuing saga of “we’re going to pay some income taxes some year” Exxon coming along?

    Look, I hope Exxon, and Shell produce a gazillian barrels of cellulosic ethanol; I just don’t think they will. We’ll see.

    I think cellulosic will end up being small, local producers selling a commodity product – a type of business Ultra-Big Companies have never been particularly interested in. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. It won’t be too long before we find out.

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  24. By Wendell Mercantile on February 1, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Look, I hope Exxon, and Shell produce a gazillian barrels of cellulosic ethanol; I just don’t think they will.

    Why don’t you think that? The “oil” companies are in the energy business. They are run by smart people and they know (they really do know) the number of years we can keep using oil at such a profligate rate are numbered.

    It would be completely irresponsible of them not to have contingency plans and to be deeply involved in R&D trying to figure out how to supply our fuel once oil has peaked.

    They have some of the smartest chemists and chemical engineers in the world working for them trying to figure out how to make fuel from something other than oil. They have research analysts looking closely — and quietly behind the scenes — at every biofuel company that issues a press release saying they have discovered the next big thing.

    Once there is a legitimate breakthrough that can be scaled up and profitable, the “oil” companies will have either made that breakthrough, or will buy out the company that does make the breakthrough and scale it up into profitability.

    The fossil fuel energy companies are not sitting back dumbly waiting for others to steal a march on them.

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  25. By rrapier on February 1, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Rufus said:

    I think cellulosic will end up being small, local producers selling a commodity product – a type of business Ultra-Big Companies have never been particularly interested in. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. It won’t be too long before we find out.


     

    I know that’s what you believe, but the capital costs for these small, local producers will be exceedingly high. And there’s the rub. One of them, anyway.

    RR

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  26. By JN2 on February 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    RR, somehow Rufus’ idea of small, local biofuel producers reminds me of Lovins et al’s book ‘Small is Profitable’, about distributed electricity production. Have you read it? Didn’t one of RMI’s staff move to Hawaii? And lastly, maybe working for CP has influenced your belief in big is beautiful? I agree, capital costs for small, local producers are high…

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  27. By Rufus on February 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    The good news is: These small cellulosic plants will, mostly, produce electricity as a necessary co-product.

    The Bad news is: This Does mean Capital Costs will be high.

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  28. By Rufus on February 1, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Southern California Edison has contracted for 250 Megawatts of Solar Power for Less Than Natural Gas.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2011/…..tural-gas/

    These are smaller, “distributed” projects (20 MW, or less.) They could have bought 2,500 Megawatts.

    It’s figured the Solar came in somewhere under $0.11/kwhr.

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  29. By rrapier on February 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    JN2 said:

    RR, somehow Rufus’ idea of small, local biofuel producers reminds me of Lovins et al’s book ‘Small is Profitable’, about distributed electricity production. Have you read it? Didn’t one of RMI’s staff move to Hawaii? And lastly, maybe working for CP has influenced your belief in big is beautiful? I agree, capital costs for small, local producers are high…


     

    I haven’t read that book, but I have Winning the Oil Endgame in my office. The person you are talking about is Kyle Datta. He is frequently in my office.

    Actually one of the main things I am working on is small distributed power. But there is no doubt that the bigger projects are more capital friendly per unit of energy produced.

    RR

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  30. By mac on February 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Rufus,

    With tiered utility rate structures, solar can sometimes be competitive, Third party solar providers can now install solar in areas with high day-time tiered utility rates saving large consumers (like Wal-Mart, etc.) money. Long term purchase agreements with the solar companies (mini-utilities) lock in rates.

    Even though the solar installations seldom can provide all the electricity needed by a customer, they can provide size-able amounts at competitive rates during the day-time hours when tiered rates are so high. It also takes load off the grid since it’s “distributed” electricity consumed on site.

    The Solar company maintains its system (acting as a kind of small, localized
    utility.) Walt Mart saves lots of money on its electric bill. Some places I’ve heard that tiered rates are running at about .37 cents Kw/hr.

    Not to worry,…. If it’s a cloudy day, the store (or business or factory) draws a bit more current from the grid. Over-all savings for the year more than make up for the cloudy days.

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  31. By Rufus on February 1, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Let’s face it mac, solar is cool because it produces power during the exact time that more power is needed.

    As an average guy on the street I’d like to see more solar, wind, nuclear, wave, ocean/river current, ethanol, efficient lighting, efficient engines, hybrids, BEVs for those whose needs are compatible, anaerobic digestion, and co-generation. Whatever works.

    I have no time for those that would denigrate a reasonable program just because it, alone, can’t produce every mini-joule of energy needed till the end of days.

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  32. By Walt on February 2, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Paul N said:

    You can get money by doing good work, but you can get much more by doing lots of marketing, whether or not you are doing good work.  The marketing and hype of the “potential” is all to distract the investor from the reality, which is that they haven’t solved the problem they are trying to solve.
     


     

    Paul,

    We will be announcing a press release this week.   It likely will not make any of the mainstream wire services, but they are working on it now.  It will be explaining the amazing and unrealistic (as defined by most experts) results we got testing Monday until 3:00am.  It was our first full 6 hour testing operation in the field using very poor quality natural gas, and nothing a syngas technology could ever touch without millions invested.  What was two weeks ago black sludge and something that would not start on fire as a burnable fuel turned out Monday night after hours of testing to the most beautiful burning blue flame fuel.

    I saw RR post on the other message that he has been doing a lot traveling the world working on their technologies and basket of opportunities without any need to do a press release.  I assume he is fully funded and so they “just do it”. That is one approach.

    Another approach is for us very tiny small businesses working against the grain to announce every once in a while our progress…in hopes that someone serious would ignore all the negative about methanol and visit to see for themselves.  Yesterday, before the massive snow fall it, we had one of the local operators visit…without 60 minutes we started up from shut-down, got all the controls working everything nicely, and after 15 minutes of operating the system produced liquid…walked over to the pie pan, and lit it on fire in the midst of heavy winds.  It stayed lit making nice blue flame and he was pleased with the basic test.

    The big issue will be, obviously, if this is so great why does not every oil company interested.  The answer I’ll leave to the experts, or if anyone can show me the CAPEX and OPEX of gasification technologies, or whatever will be the next holy grail as defined by Kleiner or Khosla and the silicon valley guys.  Certainly, our tests are laughable in some circles…but perhaps it won’t be long before we move next into commercial testing on even worse quality gas than we have been given now to “prove it up boys”!

    As soon as the plow the location we will be back on site working to ready for even worse gas for us to process after they before our feed line to right after the compressor before the JT separator.  That should be interesting.

     

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  33. By Forrest on February 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    The point of military having options and flexibility for fuel supply very potent. This would decrease their vulnerability. Probably a good reason to have back up plans for production and flexibility of fuel use to stay out of danger zone of supply chain interruption. Setting up locals to assist in the production could be valuable as well for improving local relations and saving money as already stated. Simple sugar fermentation process on a skid could be a backup plan if distillation energy flexible.

    Solar power extremely well suited to remote military operations.

    Large corp oil definitely keeping track of alternative fuel. Not that they would publish the results nor disclose their business strategy coping with emerging markets. First, they have a huge investment in oil infrastructure. They will do all they can to maintain the petrol business for the sake of the investment. Big oil very competitive and profitable upon this energy sector. They won’t give that up without a fight. Even if they projected the golden goose will lose out some years down the road.

    Corp management understands entrepreneurs and small business better at sweating details and cost effective research. No money to be made upon this phase of product development. Better to wait for success then buy out, bankrupt, takeover, or steal technology. Also, the market must meet their corp criteria. Meaning they need to have large capital intensive, high tech, and centralized production to minimize small business competition. Where the lobbying power of D.C. politics come to play. They need fed regs to run small business out of competition per costly environmental conformance costs. They desire large liabilities across the business spectrum as pollution justifies mega international business. Again keeping most from competing. Feds like these easy to control business as well. Politics easily tap into the big business money supply.

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  34. By Forrest on February 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Congratulations Walt!

    Only private citizens and the rest of society benefit from local small business production of fuel. Horrors if private citizens could produce energy at home. Political control would take a beating as voting public to hard to control within this political arena. Solar and wind has some capability for this. If ever battery storage efficiency doubled, the cost benefit ratio, it would revolutionize transportation as well as independent household energy production.

    Current technology makes home power generation more cost effective than grid power if the equipment utilizes heat from power generation and powered with natural gas fuel. Honda has such a device popular in Europe. Check out Polar Power Inc. for such a device utilizing A.C. heat pump added to the efficiency. Incredible! With our cost effective process control technology, home generation of power and fuel upon combined heat and power or co-generation processes economically possible, cost efficient, and with high quality. Only a few business working on these technologies and do so with little public assistance. It is a bad omen that our countries leadership is afraid of empowering citizens in such an uncontrollable and self sufficient way.

    After thinking and reading posts on Military forte into bio fuels. May they have it backwards? Meaning, they should not be positioning themselves in the political biofuel debate. It’s not their job to decide winners or losers. They need to prepare for eventualities of changing fuel supply and disruptions. They need to focus on flex technology. Follow the Scania model where engines can be quickly adapted or electronically controlled to burn a wide variety of fuel. Military is stuck in the mindset to simplify fuel variety. That luxury is gone. They need to adapt battle plans to be flexible or to increase redundancy. Training, standardize parts, field flexibility to exploit best available fuel solutions. Scandia is accomplishing this, it’s a good strategy.

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  35. By Walt on February 4, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Forrest said:

    Congratulations Walt!

    With our cost effective process control technology, home generation of power and fuel upon combined heat and power or co-generation processes economically possible, cost efficient, and with high quality.


     

    This reallly is an interesting statement.  I’ve worked on making it entirely automated.  We had Emerson service guys here until about 10:30pm last night trying to get a flow controller working.  The 15 flow controllers is a shock sticker price tag, but if the process controls can be as automated as we think would be practical, the cost is worth it in reduced man-hours on site.  The key is steady flow and steady heat to keep the wild swings from following the flared gas that bounces all over the place.  It is one thing to do it nicely with 50 mmscfd but another to do it with 10 mcsfd.  The system has to be intelligent to counter unintelligent flow conditions. I agree that process controls can be cost effective, but there is a big difference between practical and foolish when spending this type of money.  One of my good friends (college roommates when we got our Petroleum Technology degrees) is running/building the largest oil production operations in Michigan.  While seeing many of their production facilities, I can understand now the big differences in prices between “oil field” equipment and “chemical” equipment…often for the same part.  This has been a pleasant wake up call.

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  36. By thomas on February 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I agree that distributive energy will have important millitary applications going foward.  Defending five square miles around an energy production facility, essentially another base, is much easier than defending a fuel convoy over a 100 miles.  If you look at the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq most are related to convoys. Fuel, of course being the primary load.  The military would gain a strageic advantage if the diesel fuel umbilical chord could be thinned, even at a high cost. Will this current generation of biofuels be bring this to reality?  I’ll leave that to the experts, but distributive energy is a nut the military will eventually crack.   Its also interesting that a large propotion of this fuel is being devoted to simple electricity generation.  Look for the first practical applications of long range wireless energy transmission to be military as well.

      The same factors aren’t present on the civilian side.  Energy operates on a global marketplace.  County by county energy production doesnt seem likely.  I can’t think of a single commodity that is cheifly produced and consumed in a 25 mile radius.  It’s a reality of capitalism and the specilization of labor.

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  37. By paul-n on February 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I can’t think of a single commodity that is cheifly produced and consumed in a 25 mile radius.

    There is one, and that would be low value biomass residuals like corn stover, wheat straw, wood waste. The reason being that their low value simply does not justify transporting any great distance.

    These same materials are, of course, the intended feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol.

    So you have a feedstock that has distributed production, is bulky and thus expensive to transport.

    If you build a large plant, you will be sourcing your feedstock from a large radius, with the associated large costs.  That is the advantage the small production plants (assuming the process issues can be resolved) are looking to exploit.  You trade higher unit capex for for lower feedstock costs.

    A real world example of biomass plant that was built too big is the wood fired power station at Williams Lake, British Columbia.  At 60MWe, it is the largest (or highest output) biomass power plant on the continent.  When it was opened in 1993, it’s main source of fuel was wood waste from five large sawmills in the area, so they got their fuel for free.  Since that time, the lumber market has died, severaal of those mills have shuit down, and the plant has had to progressively go farther afield for fuel, and has had to pay to get it, instead of being paid to take it.

    There is a very good report from NREL that reviewed the 20 largest biomass electrical plants on the continent, and a common theme was the challenge in maintaining feedstock supply.  from that report;

    The highest priority at most biomass power plants is to obtain the lowest-cost fuels 

    possible. This involves tradeoffs in fuel quality, affects the design and operation of the 

    system, and frequently is limited by permit requirements.

    The Williams Lake plant uses 750,000 tons of per year.  Natural forest growth produces about 2t/ac/yr, so that is the annual production of 380,000 acres, or 6000 square miles, or a ninety mile radius, assuming all of the land in that radius is available forest, and there are no competing biomass users.  Even if you have managed plantations of high productivity (5t/ac/yr), you still have a 60-70 mile radius.  They have been using the standing timber, by clear cutting, so they get 200+tons/ac, but then you have to wait 100 years for it to regrow.  If you can get away with denuding the landscape, you will have a smaller radius, but this is hardly a sustainable solution.  A plant of one tenth the size would not be having such problems, and if designed for it, could even be relocated, if the fuel supply demands it.

    If that plant was a biomass to liquids facility, it would produce about 750,000 barrels/year of oil, or just 2000 barrels per day .  Refine this to useable fuel, and you probably are left with, at best, 1500bbl/day.  Now this could run a decent sized military operation in Afghanistan, but you will have to find a ninenty mile radius of productive land, that can be given over from whatever it was growing before.

    And, of course, that land needs to be defended, and for the enemy, they just need to have an organised campaign of attacking and burning the feedstock and you will constrain the plant.

    Biomass to electricity plants are already struggling with feedstock, and the larger they are, the more they struggle.  Cellulosic plants will have the same problem – only the smaller, capital intensive ones can get around this.  Either way – it means it’s an expensive operation, so it will likely be limitedto niche situations, where full value for all the by products (residual biomass, CO2 and waste heat) can be utilised.

    Then put this into a military situation, and your problems are even worse as the whole thing has to be defended.  The military is pursuing its own niche projects, particularly garbage to electricity, but in field production of liquid biofuel would be impractical at any scale large enough to be useful.

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  38. By Kit P on February 6, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Great report Paul. Read it when it came out. Let me help the Aussie out. Both Williams Lake and KETTLE FALLS STATION were built for environmental reasons not to make electricity in area with abundant cheap hydro. Making electricity with waste biomass improves air quality.

     

    Furthermore, since the time of the report, the cost of making electricity with NG has doubled in the area. Furthermore, furthermore, the task of clearing out excess biomass is a monumental task. Dare I say impossible.

     

    “If you can get away with denuding the landscape, you will have a smaller radius, but this is hardly a sustainable solution.”

     

    It sure did not take long for Paul long to start spouting the liberal BS after being calibrated by family down under. Come on Paul, you tell me your plan to solve the forest health issues of semi-arid west and I will let you talk about sustainability.

     

    Before even my time, biomass was being used directly in ICE with crude gasifiers during WWII. Humphrey Bogart made a reference to a jeep on producer gas. Something to the effect that it was easier than understanding women.

     

    Yes, there are limitations to biomass providing energy for society but we are do far away from finding those limitation that it is not something to worry about. In the case of the military, there is a different strategy. Using superior air power, you deliver a large amount of energy to enemy tanks. Burning Russian tanks do not use much.

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  39. By paul-n on February 6, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I don’t disagree about the benefits of the biomass power stations vs the air quality from the old beehive burners.  My point there is that those stations were built relatively large, assuming a continuous supply of (free) fuel, and then that supply situation changed, for reasons beyond the control of those stations.  The Williams Lake station still has plenty of fuel within the 90 mile radius, thanks to the mountain pine beetle, and the density of Canadian forests, but they have pretty much used up what is within 40 miles, and they won;t get any more from that close for decades.

     

    The point is, to “feed the beast” you need lots of fuel..If you do not want to strip the landscape bare, and leave some areas standing, or just thinned, etc, then you have to go farther afield for the rest, and it will get expensive.   It seems to me that these plants have been built to a size where this problem is likely to happen, and it has.  The cost of diesel fuel has also trebled in that time, which they did not expect either.  It was always planned to use the sawmill wood waste, but now there is not enough of that.  Going and getting beetle kill pine, from 40 miles away, just for fuel, is too expensive.  And the dead trees, after 3-4 years, are useless for lumber, so fuel is all you can do with them.

    I am not saying, at all, that wood to electricity is not viable – you know I am a big proponent of it.  I think that smaller plants are a better way to go, as it reduces the transport problem to a manageable level.  

    Forest health is a whole different issue, and for the beetle kill areas, can really only be dealt with by clearing and/or burning the areas.  Clearing for fuel, if it can be done profitably, is a good way to go.   But for the Williams lake plant, it is too far away to be profitable – time for some new, smaller, and/portable ones, and lots of them, and then get to work, before nature burns the wood for us.

    As for trying to use wood to energy for the military operations, I just don’t think it is workable at any large scale.  

     

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  40. By Kit P on February 6, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Yes, Paul power plants should be built with a supply of fuel for the life of the plant as a consideration. I will pass that on to the industry. Your wisdom is appreciated. While you are at it can you tell me what coal or natural gas will be 60 years from now?

     

    Just for the record I know. It cost what it costs and you will pay what it costs.

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  41. By paul-n on February 7, 2011 at 1:47 am

    No. I can;t tell you what coal or NG “will be” (i presume you mean price) in 50 years, and you probably can’t either, and it doesn’t really matter, ‘cos, as you say, it costs what it costs.

    What does matter for a power plant is that the fuel is available, period.  There is power plant in the coastal hills of southern Queensland, Australia that is built right next to the coal mine that supplies it – conveyor belt runs from one to the other – very efficient.  What matters is that when that coal is gone, there is no further supply available.  They (Rio Tinto, whom I used to work for) were very careful to match the size and life of the plant to the available (recoverable) resource, as the option of bringing coal in by rail (or road) is not practicable where they are.

    So the plant was matched to the resource – Williams Lake was matched to a waste stream, at the time, which has since dried up, and the local resource of standing dead trees, has also been used up – it is not much different to a played out mine.  

    My definition of a sustainable solution, for a biomass plant, is one that can use biomass at  a rate that can be economically, and indefinitely, supplied from the area around it.  If you are growing/collecting your fuel, as opposed to just buying it the planning is different.  Hydro plants are designed for what is available from the catchment – biomass plants need to be the same.  It is not like coal/ng/Uranium, where you can (almost) always buy more from somewhere else.

    In defence of the “industry”, the Williams Lake plant was heavily influenced by the BC govt for jobs etc.  Building a smaller plant just wouldn’t have been as dramatic, though if it was an electrical utility that would build and own the plant, I suspect they would have been more careful in their planning.

    The cellulosic ethanol promoters seem to have largely ignored the question of feedstock supply security for their plants, if they ever build them.  Once plant waste is a viable feedstock, it will very quickly have a market value.  This has already happened with sawmill sawdust, where MDF makers now find themselves in a bidding war with cogen plants and wood pellet plants.  Cellulosic ethanol will not have the playing field to itself, and even if it did, the plants would soon be competing against each other, just like sawmills. 

    As with the wood-electricity plants, cellulosics will find their dream of being paid to take waste material will dry up fairly quickly.

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  42. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 7:09 am

    “was heavily influenced by the BC govt for jobs etc.”

     

    But Paul you seem to love those liberal ideas. I am strongly in favor of modest renewable energy mandates. If something turns out to be a bad idea, at least it will be a small bad idea. If 50 MWe biomass power plants turn out to be a good idea, we can expand.

     

    I will come back to my central theme. We have a huge gap between the amount of waste and the equipment to use. If you think that you have found an example in BC, I would suggest that you are again wrong. Your track record is not very good.

     

    In any case, the report you provided should be required reading for anyone building biomass plants. My company builds biomass power plants among other things. One is planned that is bigger than I would expect. When I checked it out, it had access to biomass from barges and rail The nuke world has a huge ‘lessons learned’ data base. One of the lessons that should have been learned is not to build more plants than are needed.  Hinddsight is a great gift.

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  43. By paul-n on February 11, 2011 at 1:54 am

    No, I can’t stand that sort of government meddling – they are terrible at picking winners, and at effective use of capital.  The BC govt has got it a little better now, where they are agnostic about the energy technology, as long as it is renewable.  Not suprisingly, there has been a rush to build run of the river hydro, as there is lots of potential for that

    If something turns out to be a bad idea, at least it will be a small bad idea. If 50 MWe biomass power plants turn out to be a good idea, we can expand.

    In BC, at least, the Williams Lake plant has not been a great idea, as not a single, stand alone,biomass plant has been built in the 18 years since .  The few that have been built are attached to sawmills/pulp mills.  The only stand alone biomass energy plants have been some wood pellet producers.  

    There is indeed a huge gap between the amount of feedstock and the capacity to use it, in this part of the world, anyway.  And the feedstock is just degrading each year, and delaying forest recovery.  Much as I think smaller biomass plants (1-10MW) have potential, they are not happening.   But the gov’t can;t wave a magic wand, and the energy co’s much prefer hydro so that is what is happening, which  is no bad thing.  

    BC is still a net importer of electricity, by about 15%, so there is still work to be done to close that gap.  

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  44. By Kit P on February 11, 2011 at 11:34 am

    “In BC, at least, the Williams Lake plant has not been a great idea, as not a single, stand alone,biomass plant has been built in the 18 years since …”

     

    Paul that is a really stupid thing to say considering the information you have at hand. Some of these plant were built to solve an air pollution problem. They did an excellent job of that and a pretty good job of making electricity.

     

    Even by the today’s standards both the Williams Lake and Kettle Falls plants are very good power plants. Over 10 years ago, the EPA asked me (after listening to my presentation on the Yakima Valley dairy) if my company could work on the forest health issues. Subsequently we had lots of meeting with stakeholders including the forest service and local PUDs. At one of the meetings, an engineer who worked both the Williams Lake and Kettle Falls plants explained why wood waste plants could not be economical. I had made similar statements about wind in the PNW. My company was building 40% of the CCGT plants in the US. It also owned the NG pipelines and the fields that supplied them. We thought we had an inside track on the cost of NG but our assumptions were 100% wrong. In hindsight, biomass and wind can compete with NG.

     

    Steam power plants are built for 40 years. Lots can happen in 40 years.

     

    “BC is still a net importer of electricity, by about 15%”

     

    I find that a little surprising with all the hydro. The PNW was a net exporter of electricity but imported coal fired electricity in the winter. Power going south in the summer and going north in the winter is a pretty good idea until demand grew without building any new plants in California.

     

    I know Paul is skpetical of the cost of new power plants but have more capacity that you need is the conservative approach. Maybe Williams Lake does not have enough wood to run at 100% 24/7/365 but if it can run at a 100% during peak demand, it is a good asset to have. Wood stores nicely.

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  45. By paul-n on February 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I didn’t say Williams Lake was a waste of money, it did what it was supposed to do – I’ll even rate it as a good project – but not a great one, since it hasn’t been applied anywhere else here.  There are still some sawmills here with beehive burners 18 yrs later – so the idea has not been used to solve the same problem elsewhere.  The problem being that everywhere else you don’t have the luxury of four sawmills close by – you normally get just one, so doing a 60MW plant is just too big.  And doing a 10MW or less  seems to be too small to be worth it for a stand alone steam plant – since no one is doing it.

     

    I think a better approach is smaller plants with gasifier and ICE, like this one in Japan, at 2MW.  You can go bigger, of course (Jenbacher now has a 9.5MW engine that gets 49% thermal efficiency), but you can can be small, and size it to the mill or the locally available lumber.  A 2MW plant will never run  out of wood within a 20 mile radius, not  even 10 miles if it is all accessible forest – so a small town sawmill can do it.  And it can also be sized for a heat load (like the drying kilns).

    With almost a billion tons of standing dead wood, that is enough to fuel 8,500MW for 20 years – so there is a huge resource there, before you even add continuing supply for sawmill waste etc.  The main  hurdle with the ICE plants is the gasifier (and gas quality) – that would seem to be to be a good target for a focused gov-industry R&D program – solve the problem, and you unlock the resource.  

    BC has actually done a bit of California – virtually no new plants were built in the 90′s and the early 00′s.  In fact, the Williams Lake plant was the biggest one built for a decade.  The NIMBYs had effectively blocked construction of any new hydro plants until about five years ago, when the gov changed the rules to allow and encourage more IPP’s.

    I should clarify that it is BC HYdro that is net 15% importer – turns out the province is a 2% importer, but it swings wildly from year to year – see the graph on p13 of this (http://greenenergybc.ca/Assets/Hoberg_ppt.pdf).

    I am not skeptical of the cost of new power plants – they cost what they cost- it is up the their developers to work out what is viable and what is not.  I am skeptical of gov interference/blocking in the whole process, which is often driven by unrelated or unrealistic political directions – just like California.  

    Meanwhile, the dead forests remain dead and standing- the next best thing that can happen to them is a fire – though that is not so good for the towns around them.

     

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  46. By Kit P on February 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    “I think a better approach is smaller plants with gasifier and ICE ..”

     

    Really! Why is that again? On one hand you have information that tells you how well fluidized bed biolers run on biomass for many years and on the other you have a GE press release. Do you have any data on 5 year old gasifier/ICE systems? I stopped looking 5 years ago. Two big problems, very expensive and it does not work very well. The problems with AD biogas have been resolved in ICE. I would agree with you Paul if you had some data to support it.

     

    “the dead forests remain dead and standing- the next best thing that can happen to them is a fire”

     

    Are you nuts? Controlled burns are one thing. Low intensity fires that clean the forest are part of the ecosystem that evolved since the last ice age. However, more than a hundred years of well intentioned fire suppression create intense fire storms that destroy the forest and bake the soil into a hard pan. Next time it rains, erosion fills reservoirs with silt.

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  47. By paul-n on February 12, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Well, this plant in Austria has been operating since 2002;

    http://guessingrenewableenergy…..echnology/

     

    I did not say it was not expensive, but then so are steam plants.  And there’s the problem – steam is a mature, reliable technology, and is not cost effective at small scale stand alone plants (>20MW).  ICE’s are mature of course, but wood gasification is not.  But, some places like Gussing have it working reliably, so it can be done – and has a long history at small scale – that is why I think some further development is warranted.  

    Steam can’t do it at small scale, and large scale steam, like WL brings other issues such as transport distances.  So neither has cracked the nut, that is why nothing is happening at present.  But steam is mature, and there would sem to be little scope for any improvement in the small scale economics, while gasification has potential.

     

    As for the forests, well the beetle kill forests are dead, today.  The trees are standing, slowly shedding their dead needles.  The dead trees do not intercept rain as efficiently, and let more sun in faster to melt snow – the result is increased runoff coefficients and thus soil erosion.  This is being seen in inland rivers during spring freshet.  The main affected species, lodgepole pines, the seedpods only open after a fire, so no regeneration will occur until then.   The pioneer species, like alders, that normally appear after soil disturbance from logging, are not being seen.  Since their is nothing green, the birds and other animals have departed and the forests are effectively dead.  

    Some areas have burned from lightning caused fires (taking out a few houses and the odd town with them) and those burned areas are regenerating, as are areas that have had the beetle kill trees logged.  But when the forest is just standing there, dead, it just stands there, for years, and is of no benefit to man or beast.  The problem with fires is that with a standing dead forest, they burn very hot and hard to control – we may yet get a fire we can;t control.  

     I am not saying this is an ideal situation, or that fire is my preference – I would much prefer to see the forest cleared and regenerated.  For a standing dead forest, if we don;t clear it, then a fire is about the only thing will, and it is not pretty.  And the only way to afford the expense of clearing the beetle kill forest is to do something useful with the wood.  With all that feedstock there, if Williams Lake style plants were viable, they would be being built now – but they are not.  So, we need to find another way – I think gasifier – ICE is the best bet, but that does not mean there are not other options – anything that can do the job, affordably, is good.

     In the meantime, the clock is ticking, trees are dying, fires are burning, dams are silting, etc etc.  I think BC is letting an opportunity slip by.

     

     

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  48. By Kit P on February 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    “Well, this plant in Austria has been operating since 2002; ”

     

    Paul your link does not support your statements. Lots of data about people trying things, not a lot a data on how well it works.

     

    “It delivers 4 MW of electrical power, fed straight into the grid, at a price of 14 cents per kwh”

     

    Paul there are a lot of things I could do if you pay me $140/MWh with a twenty year contract.

     

    “In the meantime, the clock is ticking, trees are dying, fires are burning, dams are silting, etc etc. I think BC is letting an opportunity slip by.”

     

    I agree but the reality is that $50/MWh is the target you have to shoot for with a more risky technologies. Can not do that without some sort of incentive. I am technology independent. Tell me what problem you are trying to solve and I will put in order the solutions. If you need huge amounts of energy to run industry and you have no coal, the nuke plants are the only choice.

     

    I worked with a PUD that bordered on BC. The first choice with waste biomass is to not make electricity. In short order they found 5 boilers making process steam with fuel oil. My company did not make electricity with LFG, they piped it to a nearby boiler. The problem that had to be overcome in that case was the tuff war between the regulated electric utility and regulated NG utility. If you have more waste biomass than you need for process steam, then drop in a steam turbine and turn it into a CHP.

     

    “And there’s the problem – steam is a mature, reliable technology, and is not cost effective at small scale stand alone plants (>20MW).”

     

    Of course that is not true, how many CHP are external combustion steam plants compared to ICE CHP.

     

    I still maintain that most biomass is burned in fluidized bed boilers under 50 MWe because that is the best choice. For some application like FT transportation fuel, gasifiers are the best choice. In the PNW and BC I think the basic problem is a mindset of cheap electricity from hydroelectric out the yeng yang. As a result, there are decades of poor management that comes years of not having to think. The wake up call came in 2000, but the legal challenges resulted in an atmosphere of fear at the upper levels of management.

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  49. By paul-n on February 26, 2011 at 4:34 am

    the reality is that $50/MWh is the target you have to shoot for with a more risky technologies. Can not do that without some sort of incentive.

    Well, in BC, where they will not allow any coal or nuke plants to be built, the reality is that any new generation will be more than $50/MWh.  You can buy it cheaper than that at most times of the day, of course, but that is not always guaranteed.

     

    Even the new Peace River Site C hydro  project will have a cost of around $100/MWh ($6.6bn for 900MW/ 4600 GWh/yr).

    And people here still complain about paying 6c/kWh, pointing out the legacy projects that produce for 0.7c/kWh, but you can;t build any more of those..

    The original intention for the biomass plants was to do them first at pulp mills (which has been done at many) and then at sawmills, and use the heat for drying kilns.  Seemed like a good idea except that most of the sawmills have closed and now raw logs are sent to the US or China (the US government, in the long running softwood lumber dispute, put an import tax on milled lumber, but not on raw logs, so the sawmill jobs got transferred from here to there).

    There are precious few other industrial uses for heat in BC, and certainly not where the trees are, so you need to do something else.  But small gasifiers for wood are still an emerging technology, and at the current pace, the dead trees will be gone by the time they are ready, so opportunity lost.

    Certainly agree about the attitude that there is lots of hydro – until anyone tries to actually build a new one, and the reality sets in. It is clean, and renewable, but new ones are not cheap – all the cheap sites are already developed.  

     

    On the subject of $140/MWh, that is what the delivered cost is for medium – large commercial customers in rural  NSW ($220-270 for residential/small commercial).  So, if you can do something on site for $140, you are in the ball game.  There are AD projects going in now at many feedlots/abbattoirs/landfills, though there is still plenty more potential there.  The country areas get hit with high electricity prices, (as almost all generation is from  two areas near Sydney with lots of coal plants) but they are also where all the opportunities are for AD, wind and biomass projects, so they are happening, slowly.  In this case it is the avoidance of long transmission distances, up to 1500 miles, that is the real benefit.  By the time electricity gets to the western part of the state, 23% of it has gone in line loss, which is reflected in their rates, so that’s a good incentive for on site generation right there.  No one solution for all, but lots of niches that can be filled.

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  50. By Kit P on February 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

    “will not allow any coal ”

    But they will allow mining and exporting to South Korea. Go figure! And it is okay to use coal generated electricity imported from the US in the winter. I am not saying the water melons in Victoria are hypocrites any anymore than I am saying that about those in Seattle. Wait a minute that is exactly what I am saying. Coal plants in Washington State, Oregon, and Montana are not making electricity for California in the winter.

    “You can buy it cheaper than that at most times of the day ”

     

    Paul please compare the cost of frozen pipes to that of electricity. Of course frozen pipes are followed by frozen children. Who cares what it costs, it energy is not available when you need it. I do get bored with those who live in mild climates like Seattle and Victoria talking about cost. When I lived in the PNW, my wood stove was used for emergencies.

    Where life is easy, you will find pathetic grid management. I was farther south this week on business. I was explaining the facts of life to colleague from Florida. I pulled up the PJM and was shocked by the high demand. When I got back to the hotel, WGN (Chicago) had the weather on. There is a reason why I did not move back to the Midwest.

     

    “though there is still plenty more potential there. ….By the time electricity gets to the western part of the state, 23% ”

     

    While I think AD is a great environmental choice and a good way to make electricity, there is not that much potential. When you start to see that much line loss is when a large nuke is needed near the source. I do not know about the NSW but what BC needs in one the abandoned nukes at Hanford to be finished. It can be done much less than $140/MWh. After 20 years, the O&M is more like $14/MWh

    TVA is finishing one at a time, nukes they started construction on 40 years ago. Both TVA and WPPSS bit off more than they could chew with massive nuclear building programs. When you bring a new plant on line every five years, you can keep a core of construction workers employed while growing the permanent staff you need to run it.

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  51. By paul-n on February 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Who cares what it costs, it energy is not available when you need it. I do get bored with those who live in mild climates like Seattle and Victoria talking about cost.

    Well, people here complain about the (cheap) cost of electricity like Californians do about gasoline – they think they have a right to it and will never be satisfied until it is free – Quebec has gone closest to this point – and not surprisibly has the higest per capita electricity use in Canada.

     

    what BC needs in one the abandoned nukes at Hanford to be finished.

    Well, no doubt that would make difference to the PNW supply,and the already cheap wholesale prices.  But I do not necessarily agree that is a good strategy for BC hydro to solve its shortfall based on someone in another country doing something.  Like food, exports of electricity are are in times of surplus only – if everyone in the PNW is having a cold winter after a low rainfall/snow year, then BC is no better off.  With plenty of hydro potential in the north of the province, they need to just get on and build it.

    Western NSW is an area greater than all of California, with a population of about 200k, (but quite a few mining operations) so a real distributed use problem.   I guess a nuke (near Sydney) would help if you deem the electricity to be cheap enough that the line loss doesn’t matter.  If there was actually a cost effective solar technology this would be  the place for it, as it has expensive electricity, no water, hardly any wind and lots of sunshine.   But until then, they just have to put up with the line loss and the cost – it is better than the diesels they used to be on decades ago. 

     

     

     

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  52. By Kit P on February 27, 2011 at 3:11 pm

     

    “Quebec has gone closest to this point – and not surprisibly has the higest per capita electricity use in Canada.”

     

    I am also bore with liberals in mild climates who do not produce anything talking about the energy use some place they know nothing about. Tell me about the the performance of your steel mill Paul. That’s right, your specialty is using less electricity at a ski resort.

     

    “If there was actually a cost effective solar technology this would be  the place for it,”

     

    Cost is not the problem with solar. The only purpose of solar is to make liberals feel less guilty about using energy. Providing electricity with insignificant environmental impact is how we do it in western counties. We live in society where cosmetic surgeons make more money than power plant engineers.

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  53. By rrapier on February 28, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Kit P said:

     

    I am also bore with liberals in mild climates who do not produce anything talking about the energy use some place they know nothing about. Tell me about the the performance of your steel mill Paul. That’s right, your specialty is using less electricity at a ski resort.


     

    You must be a truly miserable person to act like such a jerk to everyone. Be more courteous to other posters or find a new place to hang out.

    RR

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