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By Robert Rapier on Feb 6, 2011 with 51 responses

The Natural Gas Debate

The Economist just finished hosting an online debate on natural gas. The resolution was an interesting one: This house believes that natural gas will do more than renewables to limit the world’s carbon emissions. At first glance, the statement may seem preposterous; after all natural gas is a fossil fuel and natural gas usage will therefore generate net carbon dioxide emissions. But there is perhaps more there than meets the eye.

Arguing for the resolution was Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry and Gusher of Lies, and Senior Fellow at the Center for Energy Policy and the Environment at the Manhattan Institute. Opposing the resolution was Steve Sawyer, the Secretary General for the Global Wind Energy Council. I was asked to contribute an essay to the debate, but I didn’t feel really comfortable being put in the position of either defending or opposing natural gas. I was told that this wouldn’t be a problem, that I could write what I wanted to write and wouldn’t have to choose a side. What I sought to do was not pit natural gas against renewables, but rather to bring up some factors that had thus far not been considered. I will include my full entry below.

Initial voting showed that only 20% of readers agreed with the resolution, but by the end of the debate that number had grown to 49%. Either Robert Bryce did a good job of convincing people, or perhaps some natural gas advocates started to spread the word that they needed to go vote (or more likely, a combination of the two).

As far as my opinion of the question, as I said in my essay I think it comes down to what is theoretically possible versus what is likely. It is theoretically possible that renewables could reduce our net carbon emissions to zero. But over the next decade or so, I think it is much more likely that natural gas does in fact do more than renewables to limit carbon emissions. In many cases — as I argued in my essay — renewables are highly dependent upon natural gas anyway, so the roles sometimes overlap. But I am getting ahead of myself. Below is the full text of the essay I offered. Here is a link to the original.

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The question at hand—whether natural gas will do more than renewables to limit the world’s carbon emissions—is really a question about the long-term economic viability and sustainability of many renewables. Ironically, for many renewables the economic viability may be influenced by the price and availability of natural gas, because many forms of renewable energy are presently dependent upon natural gas.

For corn ethanol, natural gas is used to produce the fertilizer for the corn and the process steam for the ethanol refinery. In the production of biodiesel, natural gas is used not only in the supply chain for steam and fertilizer but also for the production of methanol, a key reagent in the chemical reaction used to convert vegetable oils into biodiesel.

Many sources of renewable energy utilize hydrogen, and most of the world’s industrial hydrogen comes from natural gas. In America, for example, about 95% of industrial hydrogen comes from natural gas, and thus processes that rely on hydrogen are dependent on natural gas.

For hydrotreating processes that are used to produce “green diesel” (a true hydrocarbon unlike biodiesel), natural gas provides the hydrogen needed to hydrotreat the oils and convert them to diesel. For green diesel produced from biomass via the Fischer-Tropsch process, hydrogen can be added to significantly boost the yields of the process.

But natural gas also plays an important role in the production of renewable electricity. Consider wind power. If the wind dies down during a period of high demand, other sources of electricity must be brought online. In an ideal world, wind power could be backed by hydropower, but for many areas this is not an option. Natural gas is often called upon to fill that role, because natural-gas-fired generators can respond fairly quickly if the wind stops blowing.

Natural gas can also limit future emissions in other ways. First, as has already been discussed by both Robert Bryce and Steve Sawyer, carbon-dioxide emissions in power plants are sharply reduced when using natural gas instead of coal. Second, as noted, natural gas plays a key role in enabling many renewables through the production of fertilizers, electricity and hydrogen, and as back-up power for intermittent sources of electricity. But natural gas also plays an important role directly as a transport fuel.

Countries like Brazil and India are well known for their sugarcane ethanol production. Less well known is the fact that Brazil and India have some of the largest compressed natural gas (CNG) fleets in the world. Brazil’s fleet of 1.6m CNG vehicles represents 14% of the world’s total, and is larger than the combined natural gas fleets of the European Union and all of North America. India’s fleet is just under 1m vehicles. (Neighboring Pakistan has the world’s largest CNG fleet at 2.3m vehicles.)

By comparison, the CNG fleet in America is only 110,000 vehicles (of a total of approximately 250m vehicles), and in Britain there are only about 200 CNG vehicles. As in the power sector, use of natural gas greatly reduces emissions relative to petroleum. The American government estimates that natural gas vehicles emit 60-90% less smog-producing pollutants and 30-40% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-fueled cars — thus there is enormous potential for developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions by encouraging a transition to CNG vehicles.

Given the environmental and price advantages over petroleum (prices are presently $4.40 per million BTU for natural gas and $16.84 per million BTU for Brent crude, which must still be refined into finished products), it may seem surprising that more developed countries have not aggressively pursued CNG vehicles. But instead of encouraging greater use of natural gas in the transport sector, America has burdensome licensing requirements that make the conversion of vehicles to CNG very expensive.

In any case, the potential is there for natural gas to provide an enormous reduction in carbon emissions via multiple pathways. Will it ultimately provide a greater reduction than will renewables? That is a question of what is theoretically possible versus what is likely. In theory, algae-derived fuels produced with renewable fertilizers, electricity, and hydrogen could provide a large reduction in net carbon emissions in the transport sector. But many technical hurdles remain, and there are no assurances that they will be overcome.

On the other hand, we know how to build natural-gas-fired power plants and CNG vehicles today. We can easily quantify the carbon-emission savings from doing so. But instead of arguing that perhaps renewables cannot compete with the emission savings from expanded use of natural gas, I have a different suggestion. Let each side give it their best effort, and if each is moderately successful then we all win.

  1. By Wendell Mercantile on February 6, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    This house believes that natural gas will do more than renewables to limit the world’s carbon emissions.

    I would modify that statement slightly: Natural gas has the potential to be the “bridge fuel” that the corn ethanol advocates keep talking about. It could make a huge contribution until an actual viable renewable fuel is in the scene.

    And the one kicker too many overlook is the massive amount of natural gas tied up in the frozen clathrates (methane ice) under the oceans. The only people trying to exploit that now are the Japanese, but a breakthrough in getting at the huge deposits of clathrates would be even more significant than the fracking breakthrough allowing us to exploit the NG locked up in shale.

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  2. By Vic on February 6, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    did anyone discuss that natural gas extraction releases huge amounts of CO2 since natural gas typically occurs in a mixture with CO2? This CO2 is generally separated and vented, not captured.

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  3. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 12:48 am

    What a stupid debate! It is like asking what is better for your health, drinking a case of beer a day or a fifth of vodka. Then inviting a brewer and distiller to debate the answer. RR would be equivalent to suggesting large amounts of wine is the answer.

     

    Of course the answer is none of the above.

     

    While I am not a believer in AGW, I am an expert at minimizing the environmental impact of producing energy which includes minimizing ghg. The way you do this is by looking at the sources of ghg gases and different ways of producing energy. When it comes to producing electricity, nuclear power is the answer.

     

    Methane is a big source of ghg so methane capture is another big source of reduction because methane has 21 times the global warming potential of CO2. Capturing methane leaking from landfills, manure pits, coal mines, and natural gas production would be examples. Think about all the methane that leaks when fueling ICE in Pakistan, India, and Brazil.

     

    Rotting waste biomass is another big source of methane and nitrous oxide a very powerful ghg. Using waste biomass reducing ghg and improves air quality.

     

    Less important but still significant is efficiencies improvements and expanding the amount of forests.

     

    “We can easily quantify the carbon-emission savings from doing so.”

     

    Actually we do that already. Which is where I get my information. DOE/EPA publishes an annual report.

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  4. By rrapier on February 7, 2011 at 1:35 am

    Kit P said:

    What a stupid debate! It is like asking what is better for your health, drinking a case of beer a day or a fifth of vodka. Then inviting a brewer and distiller to debate the answer. RR would be equivalent to suggesting large amounts of wine is the answer.

    Of course the answer is none of the above.

     


     

    The answer is none of the above because the debate isn’t remotely “like” the analogy you used. Further, since my essay focused on completely different issues than the two debaters, your analogy is a particularly odd one.

    Keep in mind that there is no requirement that you add comments to something you deem a “stupid debate.” Sometimes silence is golden — especially when you have nothing of substance to say.

    RR

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  5. By moiety on February 7, 2011 at 3:39 am

    I have just read the opening remarks and I am very disappointed by both actually.

     

    Robert Bryce says he likes renewables but later blasts wind for being so noisy that people have to leave their homes. So he has no problem with forcing people to leave their homes? OK I am using a bit of word play here but why, in a discussion about CO2 reduction is Bryce bring up this and also the amount of anti wind lobbies (IMO it is a non-issue). Generally the turbines on site and in the vicinity here only make a large amount of noise in a storm. Some amount of noise is always present but it is low level. I have and will happily rest at the base of a turbine without discomfort).

     

    Steve Saywer produces the typical straw-man arguments that I am used to hearing from the wind lobby. I like the following quote

    Much is made of the $50 billion spent every year by governments in support of renewables. Much less is made of the $500-700 billion in annual subsidies to the conventional energy sector (about $150 billion to natural gas)

    Again why highlight the 500million figure and not the 150 million figure. Further total subsidy is not the issue but subsidy per MW used by the consumer. That is a measure we do not have so we settle for subsidy per MW produced. (On that issue I would suggest reading Table 25 and 26 of http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/se…../chap5.pdf. This clearly shows the expense of renewable subsidies).

     

    What is disappointing is that neither author got into the real problem of many renewables; intermittent supply or availability. I would suggest the Bryce should have devoted his entire opening remarks to that point. When backing up renewables, spare capacity always needs to be running so that when say wind fails, there is no power interruption. This leads to excessive waste (E.ON puts this as 90% of wind capacity must be backed up). He could have argued that this constant backup is not accounted for in the renewable industries figures.

    Steve almost did get to the correct point but I would argue that he should have used this more forcefully. Indeed as suggested by  Wendell Mercantile he should have alluded to the bridge fuel. In essence he gave up the debate for the immediate future (2030 is his aim) so he should have started with that point and used that as his main spine. That would have been a more bullish and IMO, honest way to discuss and debate the point in play.

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  6. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 7:57 am

    “Sometimes silence is golden — especially when you have nothing of substance to say.”

     

    Since RR missed it, I will say it again. There is a systematic way of reducing ghg emissions. DOE/EPA has a ton of data. For example when making electricity, wind and nuclear have about the same life cycle greenhouse gas emissions on the low end and NG and coal have about the same on the high end. Nukes are very good at making electricity. Wind is a very bad way of electricity. NG and coal are also good ways to make electricity but the worse choices when ghg emissions are concerned.

     

    If the debate is about wind and NG, then it is a case dumb and dumber.

     

    RR likes to promote NG but does not seem to know very much about the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions Again comparing CNG to gasoline is a case dumb and dumber. CNG has very high ghg emissions with very little potential for reduction. RR touts CGN use in Pakistan, India, and Brazil but provides not studies to support his claims.

     

    For any really interested learning more about ghg reduction methodology, I will be happy to provide links. The work of reducing the environmental impact of producing energy is boring and does not make a good debate for those selling books. After all, why would you want to compete with free information on the net.

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  7. By robert on February 7, 2011 at 11:12 am

    We can generate electricity from natural gas for 50 cents a watt capital costs and 5 cents a kilowatt hour fuel costs. Dispatchable electricity. If we have a zillion year supply of natural gas, there’s no point doing anything else. So how much shale gas do we have?

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  8. By Wendell Mercantile on February 7, 2011 at 11:19 am

    So how much shale gas do we have?

    Lots. And don’t forget the frozen methane clathrates under the oceans. Twenty years ago no one thought we could access the natural gas trapped in shale deposits. It’s likely to be the same for those methane clathrates — someone will figure out how to get at them. And when we tap that tremendous deposit…

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  9. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 11:25 am

    “5
    cents a kilowatt hour fuel costs.”

     

    Assuming
    that you have an infinite supply of cheap NG. Of course the fuel
    cost of coal is about 2 cents/kwh and the O&M for nukes is well
    below 2 cents/kwh

     

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  10. By biocrude on February 7, 2011 at 11:45 am

    What about the new EPA analysis of methane emissions from Nat Gas?
    “Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…..13750.html

    Also, I don’t think we need to be reminded of how bad “fracking” is, as well as the fact that apparently they are using diesel fuel in fracture fluids…
    http://www.arktimes.com/Arkans…..rill-in-ar

    Better than petroleum though? Yes

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  11. By Wendell Mercantile on February 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Assuming that you have an infinite supply of cheap NG.

    Which would no longer be an assumption once we figure out how to tap into the methane clathrates. Although it wouldn’t be infinite, it would be vast.

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  12. By rrapier on February 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Kit P said:

    “Sometimes silence is golden — especially when you have nothing of substance to say.”

    Since RR missed it, I will say it again. There is a systematic way of reducing ghg emissions. DOE/EPA has a ton of data. For example when making electricity, wind and nuclear have about the same life cycle greenhouse gas emissions on the low end and NG and coal have about the same on the high end.


     

    Kit, you are nothing if not ironic. So let me pull a page from your book: “Kit touts NG as having about the same GHG emissions as coal, but provides no studies to support his claims.”

    Nukes are very good at making electricity.

    Another bit of irony: Robert Bryce, whom you have denigrated here before as merely a journalist who is mostly wrong, touts nuclear power as well. He calls it N2N (natural gas to nuclear).

    If the debate is about wind and NG, then it is a case dumb and dumber.

    Except for the fact that you say that NG is a good way to make electricity, and wind isn’t. So maybe you meant smarter and dumber?

    RR likes to promote NG but does not seem to know very much about the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions

    As I have pointed out here before, unlike you I have actually been heavily involved in LCAs; in fact I was the project leader on one. I have no doubt I know far more about them than you do, and I am well aware of LCAs for natural gas.

    If you have a question about the LCA, ask and I will answer it. If you have a question on emissions savings from burning natural gas versus coal, ask and I will answer. In any case — and contrary to your claim — even taking the LCAs of both into consideration (and I am well aware of your penchant for hand-waving away negative environmental impacts from coal mining) natural gas comes off as a much cleaner producer of electricity.

    Again comparing CNG to gasoline is a case dumb and dumber. CNG has very high ghg emissions with very little potential for reduction. RR touts CGN use in Pakistan, India, and Brazil but provides not studies to support his claims.

    Did you need the link showing the usage numbers in those countries? Or the link that I already provided showing the government claims on the emission reduction?

    Ball is in your court. My claims are referenced; yours are not. So please consider supporting some of the claims you made — especially given your demands that others support theirs.

    RR

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  13. By rrapier on February 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Biocrude said:

    What about the new EPA analysis of methane emissions from Nat Gas?

    “Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…..13750.html


     

    I specifically avoided the fracking question in my essay because in my view it is a separate debate. But regarding the question above; 1). They are only talking about shale gas (and obviously not all gas is shale gas); and 2). Even considering only shale gas, they say that it might “only” be 25% cleaner than coal.

    So I think the point is valid: Building natural gas electric plants instead of coal plants would go a long way toward reducing emissions.

    RR

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  14. By rrapier on February 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Moiety said:

    I have just read the opening remarks and I am very disappointed by both actually.


     

    I agree that the debate wandered into the weeds at times. I felt like the subsidy issue was a distraction. There are so many side debates one can have (on fracking, for instance) but then you tend diverge further off topic.

    RR

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  15. By Rufus on February 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I’m certainly not an expert on this subject, but I’ve read that when several windfarms are dispersed over a wide area (500 – 600 miles) you can predict with deadly accuracy the electricity you will get and it will be very close to the long-term average, thus the need for back-up would be considerably (as much as 90%) less than would be needed for one, isolated, wind farm.

    Also to consider, the back-up natgas peakers are spinning at “no-load.” This would be comparable to a car at idle. It uses some fuel, but not like it would driving down the interstate.

    Then, we get to the price of nat gas. Long-term, this ball seems to be well up in the air. We all know the arguments, both ways.

    Methane Clathrates? No one knows what they will cost, but we know what wind will “cost.”

    Nuclear is great. Head, and shoulders above anything else, but, as of right now, pretty expensive (at least in the USA) to build. And, even though the price of uranium is low, today, will it be low 20 yrs from now?

    If we needed a whole lot of “baseload” energy, Right Now, I’d have to support Nuclear. But, that’s not exactly where we are “mostly.” For “peaking” in most places you’d have to like Solar. Just to add a bit, and replace some GHGs I’d have to favor solar, and wind (depending on the local weather, etc.)

    All fossil fuels, it strikes me, are liable to become very strategic, and valuable in the future, and I would I would lean toward husbanding those resources to the extent possible. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. We should approach it that way.

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  16. By Wendell Mercantile on February 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    …but we know what wind will “cost.”

    Actually, we don’t. The generators in the turbines use rare earth magnets, and the more we depend on rare earths, the more expensive they become. Most now come from China. There are unused mines in the U.S. that have been abandoned because of cost. Those could (will) be reopened, but the production costs will be higher.

    The logistics of building a wind farm is also heavily dependent on transportation, concrete, and steel. It takes at least nine heavy, oversize truck loads to haul the parts for just one utility-scale wind turbine, and the same utility scale wind turbine may need a foundation as deep as 60-75 ft filled with concrete and rebar to keep it anchored.

    There are also unmeasured environmental costs to wind farms and the utility lines to get the electricity to where it will be used. Wind farms in developed areas are getting more and more push back because of the noise, flicker effect, interference with electromagnetic radiation, and decrease in value of residential real estate. It is almost impossible to sell houses that have had wind farms built up around them.

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  17. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    “peaking” in most places you’d have to like Solar.”

     

    Why Rufus? Just checked two of the largest RTOs, PJM and Midwest ISO, finding peak demand today is well after the sun goes down. Also checked California ISO, same story. Most places most of the time, solar is just to tiny to make a difference.

    Anyone talking about wind and solar is not very serious about mitigating AGW. Wind and solar is very useful for politicians who wants to make false claims about climate.

     

    “The logistics of building a wind farm is also heavily dependent on transportation, concrete, and steel.”

    Wendell do you know of a power plant that does not need lots of steel and concrete? The life cycle ghg emissions for construction materials are determined by dividing by the amount of electricity produced over the life of the plant.

    “As I have pointed out here before, unlike you I have actually been heavily involved in LCAs; in fact I was the project leader on one.”

     

    So what did you learn? What were the results?

     

    “If you have a question on emissions savings from burning natural gas versus coal, ask and I will answer.”

     

    Why would I ask you about making electricity RR? For that matter, ICE or economics? If RR would like to provide some LCA for CNG, I would read them.

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  18. By russ-finley on February 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Replacing coal with NG has potential. Not so sure it should be used to replace gasoline. Millions of cars running on compressed methane gas will leak and those leaks will get worse with age.  Given a choice between a CNG or electric car, I’d take the electric. The grid will only get cleaner.

     

     

     

     

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  19. By PeteS on February 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    O/T …

     

    Robert, this sounds like your post-graduate work on MixAlco that you described previously, but using software rather than mucking around in the lab to determine the properties of ruminant enzymes:

    http://www.scientificamerican……zymes-cows

     

    (The first paragraph refers back to a previous Sci Am article about the AFEX process which I asked you about recently).

     

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  20. By Rufus on February 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Maybe I should have said: in “many” places you’d have to like Solar. I guess in some places you’d like Wind.

    Kit, I don’t give a two whoops, and a holler about GHGs. I think it’s a total, multi-faceted, to-a-large-extent “inside” joke. But, I do know that fossil fuels won’t last forever. Nuclear I’m tottaly ignorant about. Uranium might be cheap for a thousand years. Maybe it gets expensive in ten, or twenty. I don’t pretend to have an informed opinion about that.

    I just think it’s a good idea to explore options. If they turn out to be unnecessary, well, we haven’t lost a whole lot.

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  21. By rrapier on February 7, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Kit P said:

    “As I have pointed out here before, unlike you I have actually been heavily involved in LCAs; in fact I was the project leader on one.”

     

    So what did you learn? What were the results?


     

    The most important result is that LCAs can be subject to quite a bit of mischief. The people who do LCAs are not experts in technology, and thus they rely on input from others. So if I hire someone to show that my product stacks up very well in the LCA, I feed them certain assumptions. If I want to show a competitor in a bad light, I feed them certain assumptions. So the point here is that LCAs are a tool, but they shouldn’t be confused with truth. Two different LCAs on the exact same process can show very different results. This I have seen firsthand.

    “If you have a question on emissions savings from burning natural gas versus coal, ask and I will answer.”

    Why would I ask you about making electricity RR? For that matter,

    ICE or economics? If RR would like to provide some LCA for CNG, I would

    read them.

    Well, because you erroneously think that the emissions from coal and natural gas-fired power plants are about the same. So you might want to ask me about electricity to learn something new. I realize that you think you know everything about making electricity, but your claim shows that you do not. You are simply wrong in your contention.

    And as far as providing the LCA for CNG — that was your contention, remember? I don’t supply things in support of your argument — you do. Or at least you are supposed to. But I won’t hold my breath. I have provided links. You have not. You are just saying stuff.

    RR

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  22. By rrapier on February 7, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    PeteS said:

    O/T …

     

    Robert, this sounds like your post-graduate work on MixAlco that you described previously, but using software rather than mucking around in the lab to determine the properties of ruminant enzymes:

    http://www.scientificamerican……zymes-cows

     

    (The first paragraph refers back to a previous Sci Am article about the AFEX process which I asked you about recently).

     


     

    Yeah, I saw a bit on this earlier. I have not seen the original article, but I would be surprised if there are no references to our work at Texas A&M. We were the only ones doing anything like that for many years.

    RR

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  23. By Wendell Mercantile on February 7, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Wendell do you know of a power plant that does not need lots of steel and concrete?

    Kit P.

    Of course not. But what many don’t realize is that wind farms also consume significant amounts of those items. I’m sure you know this, but one doesn’t just haul a truckload of parts into empty field and put up a utility scale wind turbine.

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  24. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    “Kit, I don’t give a two whoops, and a holler about GHGs.”

     

    Rufus I will tell you what I give two whoops about. Keeping the thermostat set just where the wife likes it. If Obama or anyone else does like like that they better not come to my house. Their butt will stop bouncing in the middle of the road. I absolutely guarantee that the electricity generating industry can keep the light on and the house cool for whatever world population you can imagine with insignificant environmental impact. It will be affordable too, and not just for the rich.

     

    “But, I do know that fossil fuels won’t last forever.”

     

    So Rufus, how long do you think you will last? If you want to worry about ‘forever’ that is a pretty good indication that you do not have much to worry about. A pretty good indication of what a good job energy providers are doing.

     

    “I just think it’s a good idea to explore options.”

     

    Rufus you are a little old to say such juvenile things. I know some people who explore the option of sucking white power into their noses to feel good about themselves. They worry about radiation and think wind and solar is an option to explore. If you swallow that BS, your critical thinking skills are not very good. 

    As a matter of disclosure, put money on the table and my company will design and build some very good wind and solar equipment. I will even show how it has insignificant environmental impact. I would not say it is a good idea from any standpoint except for the profitability of my company. My company will also builds biomass power plants. I can show how biomass power plants do solve environmental problems. Particularly in a how humid climate where we live because let’s face it’s a jungle out there. Put one hell of a lot money on the table, and we will build you a nuke plant that will last 100 years with an O&M cost less than 2 cents/kwh.

     

    How do I know? Well that what we do. Been there and done that at more than a few nuke plants. While I do not have experience at coal and NG, those folks do a good job too. Same with hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass. However, I have just provided a short list of the options that are a good idea. Everything else is some variation of bad ideas.

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  25. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    “I’m sure you know this,”

     

    Wendell I am very impressed with many of the wind farms I have observed in the PNW and Texas. There are still many good locations. If the can be maintained and produce electricity for many years, I will valuable assets. Wendell you may read a book that tells you that they are a bad idea but instead of just passing along what you have read, go for a drive and do some observations.

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  26. By Kit P on February 7, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    “I have provided links. You have not.”

     

    RR has not provide any links that is a serious LCA of the issues. Nor did he bother to tell me what the results were.

     

    “So the point here is that LCAs are a tool, but they shouldn’t be confused with truth.”

     

    Something I have said many times.

     

    “You are simply wrong in your contention.”

     

    No actually. What the RR’s friends in the NG industry like to do is say that ghg for NG is 50% better than coal by comparing modern base load CCGT to 50 year old coal plants used infrequently for peaking while ignoring 50 year old SCGT.

     

    When you plot biomass, nuclear, coal, and NG on the same graph what you immediately notice is that coal and NG are about the same. When you plot fuel costs on the same graph you will notice that coal is half of NG and biomass.

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  27. By rrapier on February 8, 2011 at 12:32 am

    Kit P said:

    “I have provided links. You have not.”

     

    RR has not provide any links that is a serious LCA of the issues. Nor did he bother to tell me what the results were.


     

    I have provided links. You have made claims. Now might be a good time to support your claims, instead of merely repeating them. If you assert that the LCAs show they are the same, it is up to YOU to produce them.

    RR

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  28. By moiety on February 8, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Rufus said:

    Also to consider, the back-up natgas peakers are spinning at “no-load.” This would be comparable to a car at idle. It uses some fuel, but not like it would driving down the interstate.


     

    That is not necessarily true. First for backup, open cycle gas turbines would be used for their ability to start up quickly. These would lose around 15-20% efficiency points on combined cycle turbines. Second turning up and down is inherently inefficient. Third you can only turn up and down if you have accurate predictions on the wind possibilities.

     

    I’m certainly not an expert on this subject, but I’ve read that when
    several windfarms are dispersed over a wide area (500 – 600 miles) you
    can predict with deadly accuracy the electricity you will get and it
    will be very close to the long-term average

    I do not think this is correct. The long term average can be predicted with good accuracy but the power supply at specific times cannot be predicted accurately especially when demand peaks.

    [link]      
  29. By Kit P on February 8, 2011 at 7:12 am

    “These would lose around 15-20% efficiency points on combined cycle turbines. Second turning up and down is inherently inefficient.”

     

    Actually that is 15-100%. Setting aside the wild claim made when justifying burning more fossil fuel, it is a case of the chicken and the egg. Fossil power plants of all vintage and types exist to meet demand. Replacing old fossil plants with more efficient ones is done for economic reasons.

    My previous company replaced a 50 year old SCGT with a CCGT in California providing a 100% improvement. Since the SCGT was used for base load, that is a fair comparison. The demand for NG was reduced but not the demand PRB coal. In the western US when the wind is blowing, demand for hydroelectric or NG is reduced. On very hot days, even the most inefficient SSCT are running at a generating cost of $200/MWe. However, the wind farms are not making electricity.

    When the wind industry starts providing data to back claims I will believe them. When the NG industry starts providing data, I will believe them. Just for the record, the nuclear industry does provide data through NEI. Improvements at nuke plants since 1990 account for 75% of the reduction of US ghg emissions.

    RR likes to tout hypothetical 20% reductions based on questionable sources. A new 1500 MWe nuke using centrifuge enrichment will 5 kg CO2/kwh compared with 700 kg CO2/kwh for fossil plants. The availability of US nuke plants on hot summer days and cold winter nights is 99%. The average CF of the 104 US nukes is greater than 90%. One of the projects I worked on was a design of equipment to take weapons grade U235 and make it into commercial fuel which is now making electricity in US reactors. Another project now under construction will use weapons grade P239. At any given time, 10% of US electricity comes from the process of destroying nuclear weapons.

    Much smaller by comparison but LVA also huge environmental improvement for adding anaerobic digestion to CAFOs. If you make a list of effective ways to reduce ghg emissions, making electricity with fossil fuels is at the bottom. It sure makes economic sense to improve the fossil performance so we should do it. Save the NG for making fertilizer and heating homes in cold climates.

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  30. By Forrest on February 8, 2011 at 8:06 am

    RR point on regulation kill for CNG vehicles, correct, from my perspective. My enthusiasm for these vehicles peaked when the once retired Canadian engineer decided to go back to work solving the costly fuel problems. He invented a home refueling device “Phil” that solved the infrastructure problem. The pump was about as complicated as installing a gas dryer. Pump would have benefited with longer lifespan, but for first gen product o.k.. It hasn’t exactly caught on. Regulations, inspections, permits, and liability a big anchor drag. Funny, I worked with a Pakistani engineer whom knew first hand CNG transportation fuel from home. Looked up the stats on safety concerns. Could find no justification for the U.S. hyper expensive regs, other than to stymie a low cost home owner controlled fuel source.

    It costs 10x more to convert a car in U.S. to CNG, compared to Pakistan. All import kits must be U.L. approved. Annual certs and inspection required for fuel tank. Expensive certified labor required to install the refueling station. Same for car conversions. End result…..economically unjustifiable. Surprise.

    The high pressure tank easy to fear monger. Talked to a Russian Engineer whom said back home CNG within car fleet is popular as so cheap. What is wrong with our country? To many fed chiefs not enough open market Indians? I’m thinking the bureaucracy lusts for expensive solutions requiring maximum fed control. No easy solutions need apply. Politics of fed control will eventually solve the problem with ever more control and increase funding.

    Phil eventually purchased by Honda. It’s the typical path for disruptive technology to get purchased and controlled by Corps, Ford, GM, BP, GE to name a few.

    It is unsettling to watch the nation’s politics form bed fellows with these large international corps. This is a new legacy for U.S. and it will not bode well for citizenry. Elites, cha ching. This brotherhood of beauty and power circling around DC political machinery, more like Russian Politburo days of opulence….the reason CEO pay rates continue to skyrocket. These elites have little control of business operations other than a Rolodex full of powerful influential connections of brotherhood. Some in business, some in government. Where is the open market?

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  31. By russ on February 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I have never seen one who can type so much, say so little, be so obnoxious and display a total ignorance of anything to do with science and engineering as Kit manages to – all the while impersonating an ex-navy officer.

    You get rid of the clown and you would make many people happy Robert. I believe your reader base would expand as many are totally turned off by his comic book statements.

     

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  32. By rrapier on February 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    This post also went up at The Energy Collective, and has gotten some interesting comments. I will copy one below in response to someone who claimed that natural gas might not be better than coal. The original can be found here.

    —————————-

    I designed fossil and nuclear utility power plants during my working past. Even if CO2 emissions are about the same, as Professor Howarth claims (his report has not been vetted yet), environmentally, coal is far worse than gas. Coal emits particulates that are toxic and radioactive and harm the fauna and flora. The life

    cycle radioactivity from a coal plant is orders of magnitude greater than from a nuclear plant. The sooner we stop using it the better. Of course, the coal industries in the US, India and China will not like that.

    Below is an excerpt of my Base-Loaded Alternatives article on this website and the website.

    I have corresponded with Professor Howarth and sent him my Base-Loaded Alternatives article. He responded that my article was based on 1990s data. I informed him it was based on the recently published EPA data. Have not heard back from him.

    http://theenergycollective.com…..oal-plants

    Base-Loaded Natural Gas Replacing Base-Loaded Coal is Better

    Natural gas from a well is a mixture of CH4 and CO2. The CO2 is removed and released to the atmosphere.

    For comparison: Land fill gas may be 50% CH4 and 50% CO2. 

     

    The production, processing, transmission and storage, and distribution of natural gas creates CH4 (leakage) and CO2 emissions (processing).

    Natural gas industry emissions in 2006, million metric tons of CO2 equiv: CH4  261.00   CO2    28.50 

    Petroleum industry emissions in 2006, million metric tons of CO2 equiv:   CH4    27.74   CO2      0.29

    The US EPA calculates conversion factors at standard temperature (32F) and pressure (14.7 psia).

    Per EPA, combustion of 1,000 cf of CH4 yields 122 lb of CO2.

    The US petroleum industry calculates conversion factors at 60F and 14.7 psia. 

    Per US petroleum industry, combustion of 1,000 cf of CH4 yields 115 lb of CO2

    Adjustment factor is 115/122 = 0.9426

     

    Natural gas industry leakage rate of CH4 in 2006 was about {261 MMT CO2e/(Adjustment factor 0.9426 x 0.4045 MMT CO2e/bcf)}/19,410 bcf production in 2006 = 3.52% 

    Value of leakage in 2006 was about 3.52% x 19,410 bcf x $4.00/million Btu = $2.74 billion.

    CH4 + 2 O2 –> CO2 + 2 H2O; as a green house gas CH4 is about 21 times more potent than CO2. 

    16 lb + 64 lb –> 44 lb + 36 lb; 1 lb of CH4 becomes 44/16 = 2.75 lb of CO2. 

    It is 21/2.75 = 7.64 times worse for CH4 to be leaked than burned. 

    Additional CO2 equivalent emissions due to CH4 leakage and processing is {(261 + 28.5)/261)} x 3.52% x 7.64 = 29.8%

     

    The emissions of mining, transporting, storing and pulverizing of coal is about (1,700 grams of CH4/MWh)/(454 gr/lb) = 3.75 lbs of CH4/MWh, almost all of it during mining, which is equivalent to 7.64 x 3.75 = 28.65 lbs of CO2e/MWh. 

    For comparison: combustion of coal yields about 2,250 lbs of CO2/MWh. 

     

    Additional CO2 equivalent emissions due to CH4 and CO2 leakage is (2,250 + 28.65)/2,250 = 1.27%

     

    Base-loaded coal plants emit about 2.25 lb of CO2/kWh, higher than any other power source. Older coal plants, with lower efficiencies and higher emissions than newer coal plants, will likely be replaced with new CCGT plants. 

     

    Coal plants have flyash and bottom ash emissions that contain heavy metals and radioactive elements that are harmful to the fauna and flora. Replacing most of the older plants with a mix of base-loaded gas, wind and nuclear plants would significantly reduce US CO2 emissions. 

    http://www.epa.gov/climatechan…..-W_TSD.pdf

    http://theenergycollective.com…..newsletter

    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/his…..50us2a.htm

    http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/…..6/0186.pdf

    http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy…..sions.html

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/1822…..rter-final

    http://www.carboncompany.com/s…..istics.htm

    http://www.epa.gov/cmop/resour…..erter.html

    Tue, 2011-02-08 16:09 — Willem Post
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  33. By Wendell Mercantile on February 8, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Wendell you may read a book that tells you that they are a bad idea but instead of just passing along what you have read, go for a drive and do some observations.

    Kit P.

    You don’t read very closely do you? I never said wind farms are a bad idea. In reply to Rufus I said their costs aren’t always fixed or predictable.

    I’ve done more than read books about them, and have been involved closely with the site selection of several utility scale wind farms, and placement of commercial and residential scale wind turbines.

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  34. By Kit P on February 8, 2011 at 10:42 am

    “Could find no justification for the U.S. hyper expensive regs, other than to stymie a low cost home owner controlled fuel source.”

    The justification is preventing fatal accidents in the home and workplace. So Forrest I want to hear your justification of for killing children to save a few bucks.

    I was in high school when two houses blew up in my neighbor. The only evidence of big two story homes was the basement and neighborhood full of litter. The only other thing that I ever saw that caused such destruction was tornadoes. Of course safety devices for using natural have improved since then but the potential hazard still exists.

    “The pump was about as complicated as installing a gas dryer.”

    No, compressing explosive gases is complicated. Even air compressors are dangerous if code is not followed along with standard safety precautions.

    “What is wrong with our country?”

    I think the US is pretty great. If compare the demonstrated safety and environmental performance of the US electricity generating industry including mining to Russia, China, India, and Pakistan you will see that having clean air and protecting workers is not that expensive. If fact I think it is very cost effective to not blow up your house and kill your children.

    There is big difference between and nanny state that worries about second hand smoke and following codes and standards that are very effective preventing fatal accidents.

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  35. By russ-finley on February 8, 2011 at 11:29 am

    From: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/44113

    A new draft study provides evidence that, in the US, enough natural gas leaks into the air to give gas-fired electricity, megawatt-hour for megawatt-hour, a bigger greenhouse impact than electricity from good-quality steaming coal.

    Turns out the report had a math error that nullified it’s conclusion. But what I thought was interesting is that the error was found by a commenter who bothered to read the report, which he found in a link by another commenter, while having an off-topic discussion, under an article on an entirely different subject, in a different blog:

    http://www.grist.org/article/a…..10#c491973

    But it was too late to keep the bad information from sweeping across the Internet. The Internet giveth and it taketh away.

    On the Internet, if you can’t provide links to back up what you say, you’re wasting your time. Nobody is taking you seriously. The days of pointless arguments on bar stools are over, unless one of you has an iPhone.

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  36. By rrapier on February 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Kit P said:

    RR likes to tout hypothetical 20% reductions based on questionable sources.


     

    The U.S. government is a questionable source? I guess it is when it goes against your own source — which is you. You have yet to link to any of these LCAs that you claim show they are about the same.

    Because you aren’t a scientist or an engineer, let me explain the reason. Coal is hydrogen deficient; natural gas is hydrogen rich. When you produce an equivalent quantity of energy from each, coal is going to given much higher CO2 emissions for that reason. These are things you should know, but feel free to continue to live in denial and use yourself as the source of correct information.

    By the way, when considering ethanol’s environmental impact, I am sure you are weighing the horrors of natural gas into that equation. After all, they use a lot of natural gas, but I don’t recall you being too concerned as you sing ethanol’s praises.

    RR

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  37. By rrapier on February 8, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Kit P said:

    “Could find no justification for the U.S. hyper expensive regs, other than to stymie a low cost home owner controlled fuel source.”

    The justification is preventing fatal accidents in the home and workplace. So Forrest I want to hear your justification of for killing children to save a few bucks.


     

    Prone to hyberole much? Sure, if it suits your purposes. But talk about kids eating fish with mercury in them, and you are more prone to deny that this is an issue. Or point you to a woman whose house was destroyed by floods caused by mountaintop removal? Same deal. Those things don’t exist.

    The fact is that all fuels have some level of danger, and it is easy to cherry-pick cases to support your argument. But natural gas disburses much faster than liquid fuel in an accident. You may not have known this, not being an expert.

    RR

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  38. By rrapier on February 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    russ said:

    I have never seen one who can type so much, say so little, be so obnoxious and display a total ignorance of anything to do with science and engineering as Kit manages to – all the while impersonating an ex-navy officer.


     

    Yes, it is a bit amazing that he can write so much and say so little. His posts are ironic and contradictory. He demands data while providing anecdotes in return. He would be tolerable if he would just argue the points and leave the bombast and insults alone.

    You get rid of the clown and you would make many people happy Robert.
    I believe your reader base would expand as many are totally turned off
    by his comic book statements.

    I know. Sam and I are working on some things that should fix this. Just taking longer to implement than we anticipated.

    RR

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  39. By Kit P on February 8, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Russ Finley from the link you provided.

    “Coal mining causes the release of methane that is embedded in the coal.”

    This is true and considered in LCA for coal generation. As stated before LCA is a tool to help reduce the environmental impact of doing something. When we moved from Washington State to Virginia, I become more interested in how my electricity was made with coal. I read one report produced by the state of Virginia which included a discussion of coal bed methane. Before opening a new coal mine, wells are drilled to extract the methane and send it to a pipeline reducing the ghg emissions from coal mining.

    [link]      
  40. By russ-finley on February 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Bottom line:

    Replacing most of the older plants with a mix of base-loaded gas, wind and nuclear plants would significantly reduce US CO2 emissions.

    [link]      
  41. By Kit P on February 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2008

    Executive Summary

     

    http://www.epa.gov/climatechan…..ummary.pdf

     

    “For example, some electricity is generated with low CO2 emitting energy technologies, particularly non-fossil options such as nuclear, hydroelectric, or geothermal energy.”

     

    So who still wants to debate which is worse, coal or gas?

    [link]      
  42. By rrapier on February 8, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Kit P said:

    So who still wants to debate which is worse, coal or gas?


     

    So you finally dug a up a link that shows something that nobody here disputes? Nobody here denies that there are lower emission ways to produce electricity than either coal or gas. But two of the three you mentioned are limited in their application.

    RR

    [link]      
  43. By Wendell Mercantile on February 9, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Also to consider, the back-up natgas peakers are spinning at “no-load.” This would be comparable to a car at idle. It uses some fuel, but not like it would driving down the interstate.

    Rufus~

    Not really. The turbines in the natural gas peaker plants are basically NG-burning aircraft jet engines mounted on the ground and connected to generators. They don’t sit running at idle, and unlike coal-fired thermal plants, can be started quickly when needed.

    That is their big advantage — while not terribly efficient, they don’t burn fuel when not in use, and can be brought on line in a hurry to fill demand gaps.

    [link]      
  44. By Kit P on February 9, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    “So you finally dug a up a link”

    Well it is kind of hard to link micro fished journal articles from 1996. There was a 1996 DOE 200 page study that I got online that was the plant to meet Kyoto. It was interesting that the executive study never mentioned nukes but there was a whole chapter on it. Clinton/Gore were big anti-nukes.

    This is the closest I could find to the 1996 document.

    U.S. Climate Change Technology Program: STRATEGIC PLAN

    September 2006

    http://www.climatetechnology.g…..p-2006.pdf

    From page 37:

    Actions that provide 1 gigaton per year of carbon-equivalent mitigation for the duration of their existence:

    • Nuclear. Build 500 new nuclear power plants, each 1 GW in size, to supplant an equal capacity of coalfired power plants
    • Efficiency. Deploy 1 billion new cars at 40 miles per gallon (mpg), instead of new cars at 20 mpg.
    • Wind Energy. Install 650,000 wind turbines (1.5 MW each, operating at 0.45 capacity factor)
    • Biomass Fuels from Plantations. Convert a barren area about 15 times the size of Iowa’s farmland (about 33 million acres) to biomass crop production.

     

    Nuclear power is the only scalable option. All we have to do to solve ghg emissions for the electricity generating industry is build nukes at half the rate that we used to.

    Also check:

    Figure 3-16. Global CO2 Emissions Intensity versus Percentage of Renewable and Nuclear Energy in the Energy Supply Mix

    Who can spot France on the curve?

    [link]      
  45. By Wendell Mercantile on February 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    micro fished journal articles

    Micro fish? That’s microfiche not tiny torpedoes. What exactly was it you did in the Navy?

    [link]      
  46. By Kit P on February 10, 2011 at 10:04 am

    “What exactly was it you did in the Navy?”

     

    One of things I did was supervise making electricity for fire control radar so our missiles could blow jet jockeys out of the air.

     

    Had not planned on nit picking but both Wendell and Rufus have a fundamental misunderstanding of how electricity is produced and interaction with wind.

     

    Generally speaking electricity is produced with steam turbines driving generators. The amount of steam allowed to enter the turbine by turbine control valves determines how much electricity is produced to follow load. Since steam plants take hours to warm up, the load for the next days must be predicted.

     

    Reserve margin must be provided in case something happens to the largest source. SCGT can come on line in 10 minutes. If a 1000 MWe generator making electricity at $30/MWh trips, then a 1000 MWe of SCGT comes on line at $200/MWh until the next most expensive steam plant can be warmed up and be brought on line at $40/MWh.

     

    The only time you use a $200/MWh SSCT turbines to make electricity is when we run out of $50/MWh CCGT. The problem we just saw in the Texas and the Southwest is that demand for NG heating along with SSGT using twice as much NG taxes the pipeline capacity.

     

    So wind will reduce the demand for NG in general but may not help on days when wind turbine blades are icing. I will let Wendell explain icing on wing tips.

    [link]      
  47. By Andre Garnet on February 10, 2011 at 11:39 am

    As far as I can tell, most people involved in this debate go off on tangents with considerations that lead away from the topic. If carbon dioxide emissions are concerned, there is only one factor that matters: what is the carbon dioxide equivalent of whatever alternative fuel is used (being burned)? In a first approximation, the answer is 0 for hydrogen gas, 1 for methane or methanol, 2 for ethane or ethanol, 3 for propane or propanol, etc. 

    Hydrogen has a CO2 equivalent of 0 because it can be produced by electrolysis using electricity current from solar cells or wind energy and then be oxidized to water without any emission of carbon dioxide whatsoever. Likewise a number of other alternative fuels contain no carbon, produce no carbon dioxide when burned and thus have a CO2 equivalent of 0.      

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  48. By Wendell Mercantile on February 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Likewise a number of other alternative fuels contain no carbon, produce no carbon dioxide when burned and thus have a CO2 equivalent of 0.

    Andre~

    Ammonia is one of them and does have real possibilities as a fuel for internal combustion engines. Hydrazine is another, although it is also an extreme HAZMAT and has little use outside of special applications such as rocket fuel. Red fuming nitric acid is another, but is even more hazardous than hydrazine.

    Please be specific, and name the others you have in mind.

    [link]      
  49. By Kit P on February 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    “Hydrogen has a CO2 equivalent of 0 because it can be produced by electrolysis using electricity current from solar cells or wind energy and then be oxidized to water without any emission of carbon dioxide whatsoever.”

     

    That is a very good theory Andre.  You will see that hydrogen is seriously discussed in “U.S. Climate Change Technology Program: STRATEGIC PLAN” that I linked above.  However, there are some serious engineering changes that must be overcome before hydrogen can scale up to meet energy needs.  For example, hydrogen is much more difficult to handle than methane which has resulted in at lease five deadly explosions killing Americans in the last year such as this one today. 

    “ALLENTOWN, Pa. – A natural gas explosion rocked a downtown neighborhood overnight, leveling two houses and spawning fires that burned for hours through an entire row of neighboring homes. One person was killed, and at least five others were unaccounted for Thursday.”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/201….._explosion

     

    Whatever solutions we find for AGW, they have to be as safe as we do things.  Yes, we can do hydrogen but what will it cost compared to other solutions?  

    The EU has been much more serious about AGW than the US. One of the things they are doing is building a new generation nuke reactors.  Here is a story on the progress. 

    All Four Steam Generators Successfully Installed at Olkiluoto 3

    http://nuclearstreet.com/nucle…..20801.aspx

    “With the successful installation of the four steam generators in the reactor building, another important stage has been reached in the construction of AREVA’s EPR™ reactor at Olkiluoto in Finland.”

     

    This is a link to a video at the bottom of the article.  Wendell will love all the nuclear grade concrete.  One of the differences in construction practices is having a large enough equipment hatch to for the reactor vessel and steam generators rather than build the containment building around those components.  

    [link]      
  50. By Kit P on February 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    “Ammonia is one..”

     

    For each ton of ammonia you get 1.22 tones of CO2.  A very small amount of ammonia will produce a large amount of biofuel.  Furthermore if anaerobic digesters are used in the process the nitrogen compounds can be recycled.  American children are fuel with milk.    

     

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  51. By valerien on May 12, 2011 at 5:13 am

    Wine as an alternative fuel in running a car? Everybody was interested in watching the Noble Wedding. The event keeps everybody interested. The event was something Americans were especially interested in. It is a dream that girls just wish they could live. The wedding auto runs on wine though. The proof is here: Kate and William’s wedding car

    [link]      
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