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By Robert Rapier on Mar 1, 2012 with 16 responses

Natural Gas Liquids and Algae as Fuel — R-Squared Energy TV Ep. 13

In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I answer questions about natural gas liquids and algal fuel. Some of the topics discussed are:

  • The difference between natural gas liquids (NGLs) and crude oil
  • How NGLs and “all-liquids” contribute to oil supplies
  • How “double-counting” and net energy impact the reported oil supply numbers
  • The challenge of water in making algal fuel economical
  • Whether algal fuels have long-term process

 

One thing I want to clarify about natural gas liquids. According to the Energy Information Administration, the lease condensate is defined as “a mixture consisting primarily of pentanes and heavier hydrocarbons which is recovered as a liquid from natural gas in lease separation facilities. This category excludes natural gas plant liquids, such as butane and propane, which are recovered at downstream natural gas processing plants or facilities.” In this case, “Crude Oil Plus Lease Condensate” will include some liquids that were condensed from natural gas, but then the “All Liquids” category that is commonly reported as global crude oil production will include the stream specifically defined as NGLs. The difference is that the NGLs require a natural gas plant to separate (i.e., they require more processing than lease condensate).

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Link to Original Article: Natural Gas Liquids and Algae as Fuel — R-Squared Energy TV Ep. 13

By Robert Rapier

  1. By ben on March 1, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Glad to know that you aren’t holding your breath on commercial viability of algal fuels.  I’ve heard some bold pronouncements out of this niche of the bioenrgy market.  Upon an examination of the costs/benefits the numbers fall short.  I wish it were not so, as there are plenty of farmers willing to explore the potential integration of algal production into their operations as another revenue source.  We might place this in the kelp/seaweed category–nifty in theory but breaks down in practice.   Fossil fuels will remain our principal source of liquid fuels for the next generation.  The challenge is in gaining greater efficiences even as we move beyond the disadvantges that they currently impose.  Something that is admittedly much easier said than done.   

    Ben       

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  2. By Tom G. on March 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Audio is significantly better.  Very clear and could easily distinguish every word without having to adjust the volume level.   

    Thank you

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  3. By James Clary on March 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I concur with Tom G., don’t think audio was horrible before, but a noticeable improvement.

    I think the first question you answered left me a little more confused then I was before. I get there is liquid natural gas (which condenses that comes out of the ground), and I thought the question was asking about its role as a replacement fuel. You mentioned the other hydrocarbons that come out during oil production that I know several companies have turned into fuels for fleet vehicles. But then you started talking about total liquid production and how that was related to biofuels production, and perhaps I missed something, but that felt like a non-sequitur…

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    • By Robert Rapier on March 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      I get there is liquid natural gas (which condenses that comes out of the ground), and I thought the question was asking about its role as a replacement fuel.

      The question was really about what it is, and how it contributes to oil supplies. I mentioned “all liquids” because this is what is normally reported when oil production is reported. So the natural gas condensate contribute to the crude plus condensate category, and then a lot of other things contribute to the “all liquids” category.

      Although according to this link, NGLs might not even be included in the crude plus condensate number, but would be included in the all liquids category. I would like to ask the EIA to confirm that (or I need to carefully check their definitions).  
      RR

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    • By Robert Rapier on March 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      So I dug a bit deeper, and added this paragraph to the article: 

      According to the Energy Information Administration, the lease condensate is defined as “a mixture consisting primarily of pentanes and heavier hydrocarbons which is recovered as a liquid from natural gas in lease separation facilities. This category excludes natural gas plant liquids, such as butane and propane, which are recovered at downstream natural gas processing plants or facilities.” In this case, “Crude Oil Plus Lease Condensate” will include some liquids that were condensed from natural gas, but then the “All Liquids” category that is commonly reported as global crude oil production will include the stream specifically defined as NGLs. The difference is that the NGLs require a natural gas plant to separate (i.e., they require more processing than lease condensate).

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      • By James Clary on March 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

        Thank you very much in researching and responding to my comment. I am looking forward to your book and wish you the best for its release.

        JC

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  4. By SRackey on March 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Rob, I think your point about algae is largely right, but you need to clarify that there are at least two routes in the algae story.  In the conventional route (i.e. the “soggy newspaper” method), the algae is optimized to accumulate lipids (fat-like oils) within the algae cells themselves.  To collect these lipids, the algae needs be separated from the water, dried, chemically broken down, and then the lipids need to be separated from the rest of the biological material, and then finally the lipids themselves need to chemically processed into commercially valuable fuels and chemicals.  Yes, this is complex and expensive.

    However, companies like Joule Unlimited and others are going down a different route.  They have developed photosynthetic bacteria that excrete useful fuels is a single step.  They claim that they have a varieties that excrete ethanol at high yield now, and will have other strains that will excrete diesel shortly.  Yes, this is still years from commercially relevant volumes, but the costs will be far lower because of the simplicity.

    To borrow on your analogy, you now have a pond where near-commercial grade diesel separates itself (oil and water) and pools on the surface of the pond as it bubbles up from the algae population below.  Every few days, you skim this oil off the top, put it in a tanker truck and collect your checks.  With this model, the owner of the pond is somewhere between an oilman and a high-tech farmer.  Of course, this is a gross simplification, but the point remains.

    In the end, algae-based biofuel is like any other solar energy project.  The viability of the technology comes down to dollars per watt installed, or in the case of biofuels, dollars per gallon per year capacity, operational costs (dollars per Whr or per gallon), and cost of capital.  Given sufficiently low dollars per unit capacity, the resultant dollars per gallon will be competitive.  Conventional oil business invest several hundred dollars for each gallon-per-year unit of capacity.  If biofuels can meet or beat these numbers, they will eventually be competitive. 

    If you ever want your grandchildren to be able to fly to and from Hawaii like you do, they will have to be…

     

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  5. By Edward Kerr on March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Robert,

    As a person who is concerned with the energy future of the planet I read as much as possible on the issue. I have followed your blog posts and have the utmost respect for your opinion.

    About the only issue that I am somewhat at odds with you is on the “algae” issue. Regardless of the fact that we will be dependent on fossil fuels for as long as they remain recoverable, at some point we will simply need to find a viable replacement. I believe that that replacement will be oil extracted from algae. (most fossil oil was produced by algae in the first place)  As you note there has been a problem with extraction in the past causing some research efforts to fizzle out.

    I don’t know if you are aware of the averred single step breakthrough in extraction that Origin Oil has recently announced(?) It’s a process that uses some type of electromagnetic pulse that apparently ruptures the  cell walls allowing the oil to collect in a way that permits a simple removal process. You can look at their claimed technology here: http://www.originoil.com/technology/single-step-extraction.html 

    I would be very interested in hearing your appraisal of this in a future TV episode (I like those)

    Grown in greenhouses and extracted in the mentioned manner would allow the H2O to be recycled, the oil somewhat easily extracted and the biomass utilized for the applications to which it lends itself.

    At the amounts projected of 10,000 GPA/annum algae offers hope of a long term carbon neutral oil feedstock that is capable of being refined into all of the liquid fuels that we utilize presently.

    Even natural gas (if it is indeed a “fossil fuel” though I suspect that it is being produced contemporaneously) will eventually become depleted. There also seems to be some holes in the claim that fracking posses no threat to ground water so it’s long term use could have some serious downside issues.

    So if you find the time I would certainly be keen to hear you take on this development in the algae debate.

    Best regards,

    Edward Kerr

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  6. By art on March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Hi RR, 

    the soggy newspaper example may be better replaced example of  to  18th and 19th century peat industry.  this (poormans) fuel is around for a long time
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peat

    if you look at peat as an example where the algae industry can go then the issue of dewatering biomass seems to me  only a problem for fuel fabrication  if the  primary incentive is the cost effectiveness of energy… 
    but to be honest i think we will first start burning peat again before algae to biofuel route becomes significant.   

    Solazyme  reported a loss of 15 million Dollar in last quarter 2011…… let’s see if they survive 2012 with the biofuel operations….

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  7. By RBM on March 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Can anyone point to a source that provides the whole continuum of Hydrocarbons arranged by ascending or descending order of name/chain length with the associated phase state at in the ground and then out of ground conditions ?

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    • By Brad on March 4, 2012 at 2:13 am

      http://brad-ngl.blogspot.com

       

      Contains most of what you may be looking for or more.

       

      Methane – C1H4 – gaseous under and above ground  

      Ethane – C2H6 – gaseous under and above ground will condense under extreme cold)

      Propane – C3H8 -gaseous under and above ground; dittofor temp

      Butane (iso and normal) – C4H10 – gaseous under and above ground; will condense under cold, but not as cold as ethane or propane

       

      Pentane – C5H12 – gaseous under ground, but condenses at normal pressure and temp; this the first chain of “Condensate” or “Condi” or “light oil”

       

      Hexane, and higher – generally gaseous under ground due to high temp/with pressure. 

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      • By RBM on March 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm

        That’s a start. Thanks, Brad.

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  8. By RBM on March 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    P.S.

    I thought the audio had previously been reasonable, but your new input device certainly make a discernible improvement.

    Thanks for the efforts.

     

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  9. By Rufus on March 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I think it’s reasonable to say that GPRE (Green Plains Renewable Energy) is one of the best “operators,” around, and they are moving right along with their scheme to produce algae using the warm, nutrient-rich water, and CO2 from their ethanol operations to produce algae. 

    This is an outfit that I’d be loathe to bet against, and they just took their program to the next step.  They are, in my opinion, worth watching.  

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  10. By Jim Takchess on March 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    The President’s speech today; here  in Nashua about energy. 

    http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/952004-196/the-full-text-of-president-obamas-address.html

     

     

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  11. By Liquid Energy on March 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Haha. My brother thought he’d try to make algae into fuel in our backyard.  It didn’t work so well, but I always thought the concept was interesting….just a bit of a ways before it’s commercial viable.  

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