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Wed Dec 5, 2012, 05:15 PM

Synthetic fuels could eliminate entire U.S. need for crude oil, create 'new economy'

Synthetic fuels could eliminate entire U.S. need for crude oil, create 'new economy'

Posted November 27, 2012; 09:00 a.m.

The United States could eliminate the need for crude oil by using a combination of coal, natural gas and non-food crops to make synthetic fuel, a team of Princeton researchers has found.

Besides economic and national security benefits, the plan has potential environmental advantages. Because plants absorb carbon dioxide to grow, the United States could cut vehicle greenhouse emissions by as much as 50 percent in the next several decades using non-food crops to create liquid fuels, the researchers said.

Synthetic fuels would be an easy fit for the transportation system because they could be used directly in automobile engines and are almost identical to fuels refined from crude oil. That sets them apart from currently available biofuels, such as ethanol, which have to be mixed with gas or require special engines.


"The goal is to produce sufficient fuel and also to cut CO2 emissions, or the equivalent, by 50 percent," said Floudas, the Stephen C. Macaleer '63 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science. "The question was not only can it be done, but also can it be done in an economically attractive way. The answer is affirmative in both cases."


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Reply Synthetic fuels could eliminate entire U.S. need for crude oil, create 'new economy' (Original post)
OKIsItJustMe Dec 2012 OP
jmowreader Dec 2012 #1
OKIsItJustMe Dec 2012 #2
jmowreader Dec 2012 #3
OKIsItJustMe Dec 2012 #4
NoOneMan Dec 2012 #5
GliderGuider Dec 2012 #6
happyslug Dec 2012 #7

Response to OKIsItJustMe (Original post)

Wed Dec 5, 2012, 05:46 PM

1. This is not far-fetched

Here at DU we are supposed to be all about cars powered by solar electricity and hydrogen. For a lot of applications - heavy trucks come to mind - neither works. Liquid fuel has to be part of any transport plan and fischer-tropsch synthesis is better than buying oil from the Middle East.

The process generates CO2, but it's salable.

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Response to jmowreader (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 5, 2012, 05:54 PM

2. Fischer-Tropsch can also be used to generate liquid fuels from H2 and CO2 (producing no new carbon)

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Response to OKIsItJustMe (Reply #2)

Wed Dec 5, 2012, 06:07 PM

3. Where do you plan to get the H2?

It would take a hell of a lot of solar and wind to do it.

Carbon is a commodity...is there a way to separate C from O2 and get carbon black and oxygen?

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Response to jmowreader (Reply #3)

Wed Dec 5, 2012, 06:18 PM

4. Things will take time to ramp up

However, yes, solar and wind (especially solar) can be used to produce H2.


And, yes, you can get usable carbon from CO2.

(Of course, you’ll need to put more energy into doing this than you got out of burning the carbon in the first place.)

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Response to OKIsItJustMe (Original post)

Wed Dec 5, 2012, 07:57 PM

5. Im very inspired by this


Im itching to chop down a forest to plant some biofuel crops now.

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Response to OKIsItJustMe (Original post)

Wed Dec 5, 2012, 10:28 PM

6. Who gets to burn the oil y'all don't burn cause you're burning this crap instead?

China? India? How could this possibly make things worse?

I thought professional engineers had to pass an ethics exam. I'm guessing it's not about inter-generational ecological ethics.

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Response to OKIsItJustMe (Original post)

Thu Dec 6, 2012, 12:10 AM

7. Using COAL and NATURAL GAS in addition to biomass

Using a combination of Coal. Natural Gas and bio-mass you could have 130 synthetic fuel plants built in 30 years to produce this synthetic oil. Price of oil would have to exceed $83 a barrel (and stay that high). I suspect they are assumed no increase in the price of grain, so much of the land they see as going to non-food production stays in non-food production (It is looking more and more that the giant increases we have had in food production over the last 50 years is coming to an end, food production will increase but no where near the level it has been increasing). Furthermore, Natural Gas and Coal prices stay constant (and they will not)

Just pointing out, this is based on a lot of assumptions that I suspect will NOT work out. One being electrical power will increase to provide the power to convert the feed stock (bio material, coal and Natural Gas) to oil. The paper states the conversion will take 30 years, so I suspect the restriction is electrical power supply (which is turning to Natural Gas, so one of the feed stocks is already headed for another part of the plan, i.e electrical production).

Coal production, in terms of energy, has already peaked in production, thus this feed stock will produce less energy over time. We are producing more coal today if you measure coal production by the ton, but if you measure it by the British Thermal Units (BTUs) that coal produces, we are mining less coal (basically we are mining coal with less energy in it, Lignite's instead of higher in energy Bituminous coal)

More on Coal:

Energy in various types of coal, megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg)
Anthracite: 30 MJ/kg (In decline since 1950, in 2005 1.5 million tons were produced, 1/6th of 1 % of the amount of Bituminous coal mined )
Bituminous coal: 18.8–29.3 MJ/kg (Production Peaked in 1990 when over 600 Million tons were produced, slight decline in production since)
Sub-bituminous coal: 8.3–25 MJ/kg (Very little mined before 1970 but today almost equals Bituminous coal production)
Lignite: 5.5–14.3 MJ/kg (Less growth then Sub-bituminous coal, but steady growth to over 100 million tons today)

I am sorry, but the only way this would work, would be a reduction in demand for oil. The only way to reduce the demand for oil is for the price to hit $10 a gallon (and may require $20 a gallon, at 42 gallon to a barrel, that means $420 to $820 per barrel of oil). The paper says synthetic oil can be produced at $83 a barrel today, $10 a barrel would drive this conversion, but quicker solution, 5-10 years instead of 30 AND would require the electrical power the paper reserves for the production of Synthetic oil.

For example, a quick huge saving in oil would be converting the Railroads to Electrical power. Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor is the sole electrical main line railroad using electrical power in the US today (Light Rail Vehicles, Streetcars and Trolley buses are also electrical power but they are all local power systems).

Russia and Europe has long converted their railways to electrical power, thus it is possible for the US to do so (please note in the case of European Railroads, the rail lines themselves are GOVERNMENT OWNED, maintained and operated. Now the actual trains, especially fright trains are run by private enterprise, except in those countries, such as Russia, that retains ownership of the railroads). To electrify the rail lines may require the Federal Government to do the same with US Rail lines but it can save a lot of oil.

Now the biggest single use of oil is trucking. Just like the Railroads can be converted to electrical power, so can the Interstates and other major highways. Trucks can be made to be electrical with a battery and small engine to run in those situations where no electrical power exists. Paying for the power can be done with modern computers. Each truck can have a computer that, when it passes a checkpoint makes sure the computer is still operating and download how much power the truck has used. These checkpoints can be are various location on the highway system, tied in with camera in case a truck goes by, using the overhead wire, but having a non-working computer so the truck can be stopped and the computer fixed (or installed and the driver arrested if it is cleat the driver was using the electrical power without any intention of paying for it).

This is NOT a new idea, being pushed in Europe:


The above system can also be used for buses, inter city buses but also local buses. I would hesitate to have cars hooked up to the system, more to encourage use of the buses (and other public transit) so that they is no to much draw from the overhead electrical system.

The above would provide much of the transportation we have today (with the exception of private cars) at a much lower cost then building the synthetic oil plants. The system outlined above is within reach of electrical production over the next ten years.

As to private cars, hybrids built with even smaller gasoline engines then we have today (along with electrical cars, with the electrical power provided by batteries NOT the above overhead wires) would fit the bill. These could be charged at night where other users of electricity are using less electricity and then run to and from work. Between the electrical cars (and hybrids for longer trips) AND a movement of people to be closer to where they work (driven by the high price of fuel) would be a substantial drop in oil usage in the US.

I just see the above one (electrification of the Rail lines along), two (electrification of the interstates alone with trucks becoming overhead power users), three (electrical cars for most people who need them), four (moving closer to work, making cities more compact so walking, biking and other non-energy related transportation again become the major form of transportation on cities as it was before WWII) punch being a more effective way to address the problem of high price of oil, then waiting 30 years for enough plants to open up so we can have the supply of synthetic oil we use in our vehicles. I suspect synthetic oil will be part of the solution (mostly reserved for the Military and Airplanes do to the lack of any other form of energy that is as compact per unit of energy other then nuclear power and Hydrogen) but it will NOT be the sole solution that the paper being cited hints at. To many other ways to address the problem, with the above being able to address the high price of oil quicker and more effectively.

Hydrogen actually has more power per megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg) then gasoline. Hydrogen is 123 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg), gasoline and diesel is only 46 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg), The problem is Hydrogen is NOT a liquid at room temperatures (or almost any temperature short of Absolute Zero) and thus to be usable must be compressed and held in a very strong (and in most cases heavy) container. Hydrogen, being the smallest atom, will leak through ANY containers (not the led of the container, through the very walls) at about 1% per day. I do not see the Military using it, due to the fact if something would hit the container, the hydrogen would rush out and if they is any flame (and in combat that is almost a given) bust into flame burning to a crisp anyone around. You have a similar problems with Gasoline and diesel, but being liquid will NOT spread as fast.

The Airline industry will have to weigh the greater energy capability of hydrogen with the heaver weight of what you have to carry on the plane to carry hydrogen compared to liquid jet fuel. I see the air line industry being one of the first to go to synthetic fuel, but the greater energy content of Hydrogen, if stored in a light weight high tech container may beat out Synthetic fuel (Airlines will be less concerned about storage, under the right condition the Hydrogen could be produced as it is pumped into the planes, thus minimizing leaks by not keeping the Hydrogen in the container that long).

Another factor would be how much the Military converts to hydrogen or stay with
synthetic fuel. These two energy users tend to feed off each other when it comes to the type of fuel they use. If the Military opts for one or the other, I suspect the Airlines will follow.

This is complicated by the fact that in 20 years it is estimated that manned fighter planes would be a thing of the past. The combination of mobile AA missiles, some using Radar, others using computers and sound in a passive system, would make flying anywhere near them suicide. On the other hand much of the same technology can be used to guide long range missiles to the target, such missiles would be much harder to hit for they will be a 1/3 of todays plane, if not smaller. You do NOT need a plane as large as we have today, if it is on a one way mission and it has no pilot. Computers in 20 years may be able to do what a Pilot does today, making the fighter and the bomber obsolete. Removing the Pilot and the Oxygen system for the Pilot, you make the plane smaller. The 1/3 number I used above is from the fact on a combat mission, the plane has to carry fuel to get to the target, fuel to get from the target AND fuel to carry the fuel to and from the target (i.e. it takes fuel to carry fuel and thus you burn 2/3rds of the fuel in a plane to get to the target and to carry the fuel you need to return to base). Combining the removal of the Pilot and the fuel savings, you may be looking at a plane 1/10th or smaller then what we fly today. The Smaller the plane the harder to pick it up on radar or hit it if a computerized sound system is in use.

I mention this for I can see Hydrogen being the fuel of choice in such a plane, it is one way anyway, hydrogen would permit a smaller plane for it would need less fuel if hydrogen is used. The AA defense weapons will be able to hit the plane directly so the fact the hydrogen container would leak completely out if damaged, while a bio-fuel plane would lead out slowly quickly becomes unimportant. The plane is destroyed no matter which fuel is used. Today, the fact jet fuel leaks slowly gives the pilot the ability to survive a near miss, something he would NOT be able to do if his jet ran on Hydrogen. This ability to survive a near miss is a huge plus for jet Fuel over Hydrogen today, but in 20 years near misses may be a thing of the past. You either get through or suffer a direct hit. Given that choice hydrogen may be the better choice for it would permit a smaller target to hit.

I bring up planes to show you, what may be on the surface an easy choice (bio-fuel over Hydrogen) may be more complicated due to other factors.


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