Aug 19, 2010 Energy Talks
TU Delft in the Netherlands and Universidad Rey Juan Carlos of Spain researchers have a concept developed for the efficient catalytic cracking of unsaturated vegetable oil to greatly increase the production of gasoline and light olefins such as propane and butane. The scientists’ paper on their work was published in the journal ChemSusChem on Aug 4th 2008.
The team seems to have a novel take on the catalysts metallic structure. By incorporating nickel onto a base commercial fluid catalytic cracking process (FCC) called equilibrium catalyst or ECat and co-feeding hydrogen into the reaction system under realistic FCC operations (525 °C, 1.1 atm), the team found that gasoline production increased 32% relative to the standard ECat. That is a massive improvement in gasoline molecule production worthy of some serious note.
Contrasting to that the scientists learned that incorporating platinum with our without co-feeding hydrogen, was detrimental both to oil conversion and molecule selectivity. This information closes a door to the very expensive platinum component often thought to be the highest form of metallic catalyst performance. The scientists are quoted saying in a conclusion a “judicious choice of metal” is vital for performance during vegetable oil cracking.
The matter remains about coming up with hydrogen for the unit. As adding hydrogen is a common process in most oil refineries using usually a steam process the technology is readily available. The authors say in the study:
“This approach can be very promising and economical by utilizing recycle system for in-situ hydrogen produced to eliminate the hydrogen requirement from other sources. This concept can also lead to another potential application: co-processing of vegetable oils together with heavier petroleum feedstocks that contain metal, especially nickel, contaminants.”
“In that case, the great advantage is that metal incorporation onto the base FCC catalyst is not required while at the same time gasoline production from the vegetable oil fraction can be enhanced by exploiting the metal deposits present in the petroleum feedstock. These findings may certainly stimulate interest for directing future research in the rational design of new FCC catalysts for the production of biofuels.”
The paper has an interesting introduction that alternative fuel people might want to keep in mind. There are several main ways to convert biomass to renewable fuels. The list isn’t comprehensive but does get the main efforts into a short list.
· Bioalcohols such as ethanol from the fermentation of sugars;
· Transesterification of plant-based oils or animal fats to biodiesel;
· Hydrotreatment of vegetable oils to renewable (“green”) diesel;
· Pyrolysis of biomass to bio-oil, and its upgrading;
· Gasification of biomass via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis via syngas; and
· Catalytic cracking of vegetable oils to gasoline, diesel and light olefins similar to the standard FCC process in refineries.
The authors note that, “Depending on the feedstock type, some of the above-mentioned processes are already commercially available, but except for the FCC of vegetable oils, only the fermentation process is directly designed for gasoline (replacement) production. In addition, some of the processes above are still under development because they are very energy- and capital-intensive.”
The advantage for the new FCC process is pointed out by saying, “Thus, catalytic cracking of biomass (e.g., vegetable oils) is the only process that is able to directly produce gasoline, along with diesel and light olefins components. Furthermore, the compatibility of vegetable oil processing with the existing infrastructure of the standard FCC process makes this process much more economically feasible than other methods.”
The point being made hinges on the fact that FCC is a process with extensive support now for the oil refining business including materials and parts, experienced operators and a fully developed market.
The questions lie in the cost of operation – does feeding an FCC using vegetable oil run at higher or lower cost compared to crude and can vegetable oil source at or below the price of crude oil? At about $2.00 per gallon for crude many vegetable oils could profitably get to an FCC for conversion and marketing.
Fluid Catalytic Cracking is a technology that many thought peaked in development several times over the past decades, but FCC just keeps on giving. The Europeans have made a significant contribution expanding the use of FCC and there should be a high probability the new catalysts might see commercial use.
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Aug 18, 2010 Energy Talks
The BP well blowout, fire, explosion and platform collapse, and the ensuing crude oil leak are without doubt the result of human failings. Underestimating the quality of the reservoir is one reason, perhaps some engineering choices and safety oversights, inadequate equipment, testing that didn’t work out in the real world and all the rest only show that human planning can come up short.
Now that its over this writer can recoil from the anger felt as the catastrophe unfolded. Yes, the well getting away is cause No. 1 – something that has happened before and will happen again – hopefully with more and more infrequency. The lessons keep coming – from drilling into the earth since Drake’s day; the pressures down there can surprise you.
But the sorrow of the lives lost was quickly overcome by the shear idiocy of the media and political response. There has been essentially no worthy information making the mainstream press or incorporated into political activity. The reverse is the fact – misinformation is rampant and the consequences, not counting the loss of life itself is simply incredible.
The President’s behavior has been an utter failure – doing far more damage than the oil itself. The offshore drilling ban is keeping 50,000 jobs without paychecks topping $2 billion in payroll losses alone, not counting the effect throughout the local economy in the situation where the major economic engine, tourism, disappeared. The President’s action wasn’t just foolish, but cruelly focused on a few innocents, thoughtless and without any kind of leadership or sense of responsibility to the local area or the nation as a whole. The reaction actually fed the media hysteria – a fault beyond forgiving in a leader. No gulf beach trips and minigolf photoshoots will take away the realization the President is out of his league.
In the meantime property values are gong to be hit with incomes going down. From Texas to Florida the tourism business is in shambles and may take years to recover.
There are many reports that no one is buying Gulf seafood, even in areas unaffected by the spill. Gulf Coast shrimpers and fishermen are in a tough spot: On the one hand, as more areas of the Gulf are declared safe, they presumably won’t be able to collect compensation from BP or the government and will have to get back to work; on the other hand, no one’s buying their catch. Given the public fear of toxins in food, this problem could last a long time. But this writer is buying – Gulf seafood – if you can find it, hasn’t been so reasonably priced in decades.
For the future perhaps the most important lesson is the current administration can’t be trusted to act in the national interest. Bans, moratoriums and other fear based knee-jerk reactions have spoiled regulatory certainty, which will exact a huge cost from oil firms, their shareholders, management and employees and in particular we consumers. Some insider reports suggest that oil assets in the Gulf are already being disposed of at fire-sale prices. Fear leading fear, just what an economic recovery can not stand.
The most damning realization is the most liberal administration in American history is composed of people who lack the reflexive skepticism that intelligence and science apply to the mainstream media and those left-wing blogs. Spend some time following the reporting and blogging on Deepwater Horizon, and you come to realize that the administration’s behavior in the crisis likely wasn’t based on a cynical progressive master plan. The administration was overwhelmed by sheer emotional panic about the magnitude of the potential disaster it faced as outlined by its most loyal supporters. Embarrassing to thoughtful knowledgeable citizens.
Here is why. What President Obama called the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced” – the oil has pretty much already disappeared into the environment. The disaster was a man made broad-based failure on the part of the media, the science establishment, and the federal bureaucracy. With the nation and its leaders looking for facts, information was replaced with a massive plume of apocalyptic disinformation and threats of losing a significant part of the coastline to the goo.
While the leaking oil was terrible in many resects the magnitude was vastly over wrought. In June a slick computer-modeled animated video showed a gigantic part of the spill making its way around the southern tip of Florida and up the East Coast. Oil covered everything from the Gulf to the Grand Banks. The New York Daily News said, “BP Oil Slick Could Hit East Coast In Weeks: Government Scientists.” CBS, MSNBC and many others followed on. The video was a huge YouTube hit. It was one of history’s most successful news frauds from the National Center for Atmospheric Research – paid for by taxpayers. Then the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) disavowed the scenario. Too late, who ever hears about the recantations when the media screws up?
Watson Technical Consulting of Savannah, Ga. a firm specializing in computer modeling of the effects of hurricanes, seismic events, geophysical hazards, and weapons of mass destruction asserts the simulation was bogus from the very beginning, because it ignored important conditions in the Gulf. Furthermore, says Chuck Watson, the media never took account of how diluted the oil would be once it got around Florida, through the Gulf Stream and finally got to the Atlantic: The bulk of the theoretically massive spill the video shows amounts to roughly a quart of oil per square mile. Watson claims flat-out that NOAA was “gold digging” for grants as there’s probably more federal research money floating around the Gulf than there is oil. “There is a feeding frenzy with people trying to get funding for their specialty,” he said. Never let a disaster go wasted or some such cleverness from the administration – does that sound like people that can be trusted?
The coffin for this writer was the “Giant Plumes” of oil. Here the lying got very creative and flunked high school general science class. Halfway into May coming up with oil on the surface was getting problematic so some marine researchers were drafted to provide the answer. Water tests were showing oil in small quantities under the water’s surface from wave action, but how much no one could say nor, obviously, was there any peer reviewed literature to check on the known facts.
Media reports implied and even tried to assert that “enormous oil plumes” were waiting, like nuclear submarines, to rise and attack unsuspecting beaches and wetlands. The New York Times summed up the media consensus on May 15: “Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.” The article quoted Samantha Joye, a marine-sciences professor at the University of Georgia, as saying that this oil was mixed with water in the consistency of “thin salad dressing.” Except there weren’t any plumes at all, let alone any ‘salad dressing’ type stuff.
By the end of May NOAA, where some grownups still have responsibility, released a study finding weak concentrations of oil in the area surrounding the Deepwater Horizon site at only 0.5 parts per million, maximum. The median was a little over 0.2 parts per million.
Again as the “giant” spill that threatened the East Coast, that’s barely above the threshold of detection. By late July and early August, BP, the Federal Government, and some independent researchers were saying they couldn’t find any plumes at all. “We’re finding hydrocarbons around the well, but as we move away from the well, they move to almost background traces in the water column,” said Admiral Thad Allen, the administration’s point man on the spill. By then some 75 percent of the oil released is gone – and that’s based on new estimates that put the spill rate at the high end of earlier projections.
The giant-plume threat was greatly overstated by scientists and further blown out of proportion by the media. This writer believes those ‘scientists’ are not scientists at all. As everyone who passed high school general science knows, oil is lighter than water and rises above it in all known situations on this planet. The idea of underwater plumes defies everything that we know about the physical laws on earth. It’s been a great source of irritation and anger for weeks. It’s a very good thing the notion is so incredibly dumb that its funny – but watching people report it is to see a stunning display of ignorance. Are there no fact checkers left in the mass media?
The Gulf of Mexico and some of the coast of California are warm ecological systems where oil seeps are part of the food chain. The leak was a bonanza for oil eating bacteria and the bacteria bonanza will work its way up the food chain with its abundance. While the leak was perhaps a four-fold increase in the annual oil supply to the Gulf, the natural ecosystem adjusted quite well and as seen decades ago in the Mexican leak – it’s a very short-term matter. Truly it’s a disaster not to be left unused – by bacteria.
Dispersants turn thick, ugly slicks into widely distributed droplets, minimizing damage to beaches and sensitive wetlands. When slicks are broken up the light oil parts evaporate, and the bacteria more easily eat the heavier parts. Corexit is thought to be the major dispersant used in the treatment – something you shouldn’t spray directly on coral, marshlands or other living things as it’s a detergent like chemical. Corexit has made lots of disinformation news too, even being a subject for a Congressional hearing. But the EPA who recently started proceedings to make milk spills hazardous material type events has approved Corexit in supervised use. In a reality check using dispersants is to break up oil before it gets to shore, piles up and gets out of the water – where the oil breakdown slows down and gets quite messy for wildlife and the flora. It’s a very good thing the EPA kept its act together and the disbursements flowing – an issue of debate that did have some suspense.
Finally, this writer has a question for everyone – where is the link to the reputable gulf shrimp supplier – I’d like a five gallon bucket full, packed in dry ice for a 3 day UPS ground trip. A shrimp feast might make the anger recede a little more.
In closing, people lost their lives and condolences are due their families and herewith are heartfelt given. Jobs are lost, suffering and troubles are mounting, so this writer is speaking out for you and will be your customer again.
The disaster isn’t about oil anymore, it’s the impact of media and politics – something that should and could be fixed in just a few words by just one man. Do you think it will happen?
Here is the original: New Energy and Fuel
Aug 17, 2010 Sponge
In an article titled “Feedstocks for Lignocellulosic Biofuels” published in Science, Chris Somerville of the University of California, Berkeley, and Deputy Director Steve Long of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with bioenergy analysts Caroline Taylor, Heather Youngs and Sarah Davis at the Energy Biosciences Institute suggest that a diversity of plant species, adaptable to the climate and soil conditions of specific regions of the world, can be used to develop “agroecosystem” for fuel production that are compatible with contemporary environmental goals.
Well, press release and research notes aside, they mean that there can be a set of plant species that could provide substantial amounts of biomass grown widely across the planet without an impact on food and feed production. The troubled firm BP, well before the Gulf well crisis, funded the study.
The study authors discuss the sustainability of current and future crops that could be used to produce advanced biofuels with emerging technologies that use non-edible parts of plants. Such crops include perennial grasses like Miscanthus grown in the rain-fed areas of the U.S. Midwest, East and South; sugarcane in Brazil and other tropical regions, including the southeastern U.S.; Agave in semiarid regions such as Mexico and the U.S. Southwest; and woody biomass from various sources.
The team takes some assumptive license by making some simplifying assumptions: that technology will become available for converting most of the structural polysaccharides that comprise the bodies of plants to sugars, that all the sugars can be used for fuel production, and that the process energy required for the conversion of the sugars to fuels will be obtained from combustion of the other components of the biomass, mostly the lignin. That way a sugar-to-ethanol bioconversion process using current technology, a metric ton (MT) of switchgrass or poplar, for example, would be expected to yield about 310 liters of ethanol.
The author’s base is founded on the comparative soil impacts. Maize or corn plants used completely remove much more soil fertility than a perennial plant. Perennial plants that use C4 photosynthesis, such as sugarcane, energy cane, elephant grass, switchgrass, and Miscanthus, have intrinsically high light, water, and nitrogen use efficiency as compared with that of C3 species as seen in corn. Moreover reduced tillage and perennial root systems add carbon to the soil and protect against erosion.
While the team reports that tropical Napier Grass in El Salvador natural stands of Echinochloa polystachya on the Amazon floodplain can respectively reach production of 88 and 100 MT/ha/year, temperate Miscanthus x giganteus produced in England at 52°N a peak biomass of 30 MT/ha/year and harvestable biomass of 20 MT/ha/year. (ha is hectare, 2.47 ha per U.S. acre) Miscanthus also offers an important soil protection effect, seasonality leads to an annual cycle of senescence, in which perennial grasses such as Miscanthus mobilize mineral nutrients from the stem and leaves to the roots at the end of the growing season. Thus, harvest of biomass during the winter results in relatively low rates of removal of minerals.
That could account for the observation that stands grown at Rothamsted, UK showed no response to added nitrogen during a 14-year period during which all biomass was removed each year. In side-by-side trials in central Illinois, unfertilized M. x giganteus produced 60% more biomass than a well-fertilized highly productive maize crop, and across the state, winter-harvestable yields averaged 30 MT/ha/year.
The author’s note in an observation that if Miscanthus were used as the only feedstock, less than half of the 14.2 Mha currently set aside for the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) would be required to deliver the ethanol mandate of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Contrary to that readers should be informed that a great chunk of the CRP land area is tiny little headlands, terraces, protective filters along watercourses and the like. But there are vast amounts of highly erodeable land that could better serve the economy than being used for corn or soybean production.
Its worthwhile to note that as the authors seem to overlook some details they turned up others. The Global Potential of Bioenergy on Abandoned Agriculture Lands published in 2008 reveals that more than 600 Mha of land worldwide has fallen out of agricultural production, mostly in the last 100 years.
Most readers will know that for tropical production sugarcane isn’t beaten yet and won’t most likely. Harvested cane arrives with the sugar in liquid form ready for fermentation and the plant remnants can be burned for distillation with power left over for the electric grid. Many other regions of the world beyond Brazil are also well suited to sugarcane production or formerly produced sugarcane on land that has been abandoned. Thus, “the total amount of fuel that may be produced from sugarcane worldwide could eventually be a very substantial proportion of global transportation fuels.” As the authors seem to be aware – the potential in sugarcane defies calculation in responsible numbers for now.
Approximately 18% of the earth’s surface is semi-arid and prone to drought. The authors suggest various Agave species that thrive under arid and semi-arid conditions with high efficiencies of water use and drought resistance hold a potential opportunity for production of biomass for fuels. Agave species that thrive under arid and semi-arid conditions by using a type of photosynthesis called Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) that strongly reduces the amount of water transpired by absorbing CO2 during the cold desert night and then internally assimilating this into sugars through photosynthesis during the warmer days. By opening their stomata at night, they lose far less water than they would during the day. Much of the land noted in the Global Potential of Bioenergy on Abandoned Agriculture Lands that has fallen out of agricultural production worldwide is semi-arid, and it appears that the amount of land that may be available for cultivation of Agave species is vast.
The research paper points out that about 89 to 107 Mha of land that were formerly in agriculture globally are now in forests and urban areas. The authors bravely note the biomass that is harvested annually in the Northern Hemisphere for wood products has an energy content equivalent to approximately 107% of the liquid fuel consumption in the United States. Wood resources provide regionally specific opportunities for sustainably harvested biomass feedstocks. That explains the Chevron and Weyerhaeuser deal for biomass.
For this summary its important to note one more point the authors took the time to briefly discuss. It is inevitable that some mineral soil nutrients will be removed when biomass is harvested, it will be essential to recycle mineral nutrients, which are not consumed in the production of biofuels, from biomass-processing facilities back onto the land. That is virtually all of the minerals. It needs to be a built in cost before soils are degraded further by any new biomass effort.
This writer’s summary leaves a lot out from the published study including the references, the supporting documentation and the available links. For this article Science has free registration, an opportunity cost well worth the small effort.
The authors did a good job here, but left a lot out. There are lots more plants to consider, but the local weather and soils are going to decide what farming can accomplish and the profit for production will in the end decide. This writers main concern is that highly profitable biomass could displace prime food and feedstock land and force food and feedstock production onto the less optimal soils. Some oversight, as oppressive as it is – is going to be needed to balance the demands with the conditions – something competition isn’t going to get done.
Original post here: New Energy and Fuel
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Aug 17, 2010 Environmental Controls
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