Answering Reader Questions 2009: Part 2

In this installment, I continue to work my way through the list of questions recently submitted by readers. This post picks up where Part 1 left off, and covers coal-to-liquids, technology hype, green gasoline, refining improvements, allocation of money toward renewables, electricity consumption, the Automotive X Prize, Big Oil, cellulosic ethanol, and Exxon’s recent algae announcement.

The Questions

Benny wrote: Arlington researchers’ work could lead to $35-a-barrel oil. Any chance of making oil from lignite? At these prices? Or are they just some guys who want research money? Answer

takchess wrote (and Doug also asked about): Thought this was interesting. If cost and technically feasible this would be cool.

Rive Technology Working to Increase Oil Refining Efficiency 7-9% by 2011 Answer

DDHv wrote: The new ionic liquid technique allows easier extraction of cellulose. Do you know if we have enough information yet to do energy and/or economic balances? If so, what are the present results? Improvements are likely, given the novelty of the technique. Answer

John asked: What do you think of pyloric conversion to make “green gasoline”? What are it’s peak lite and environmental ramifications? Specifically referring to an article in the Boston Globe RE: Anellotech and UMAss on July 13th: The greening of gasoline Answer

PeteS asked: How likely is money spent today on renewables to be wasted in retrospect because of “grey swans”? Obviously nobody can predict the future, but I’m thinking more in terms of, say, a plan to completely power a country from wind turbines, versus low-to-medium-probability dramatic improvements in wind-power within a decade or two. Answer

SamG wrote: I hear many theories about electricity consumption and the utility business model (sell more make more). Do you see any mechanism that puts suppliers in the loop for the reduction of consumption (not just demand reduction via passing through higher prices)? Answer

takchess asked: Any comments on this Urea fueled entry into the XPrize auto race?

Alternative Fuel Sciences Answer

John wrote: Americans are being “taxed” at a rate of 200 billion bucks a year to fund the U.S. Military to “baby-sit” the Strait of Hormuz and other oil company interests in the mid-east, etc.

Factor that in and the bio-fuels look good, as do CNG, electric vehicles or bio-fuel-electric hybrids. Imagine that…. a bio-fuel-electric hybrid. That completely shuts out the oil companies and their little “gasoline forever” game. The fact that bio-fuels, CNG and electricity are already cheaper than gasoline must be giving the traditional oil companies nightmares already. Answer

LovesoiL wrote: 1) What is a reasonable pace towards commercialization of ‘1st generation’ alternative fuels, e.g., cellulosic. Many ethanol advocates (DoE, USDA, EPA, US Congress) assume that while only 1 commercial scale facility is currently in construction (Range), somehow 1 billon gallons of annual capacity will get built during the next 3-5 years, and then we’ll build that much (30-40 plants) every year for the next decade?

2) How long is needed to operate a 1st gen facility to optimize its processing and demonstrate profitability before investors will agree to pay another ~$300 million build the 2nd facility?

3) Both Choren and Range fuels have gasification of woody biomass as the first step for their transformation process. Choren finished construction a year ago and has been in the commissioning process ever since. Range says they will finish construction 1Q 2010, and begin ethanol production in 2Q 2010. Can Range really begin production that soon?

4) Ask POET what they think of cellulosic from corn stover. They seem to say that stover has too many collection and handling problems (dirty, low density, etc), and that is one reason they are concentrating on cobs only. Many others assume corn stover will be the primary source of cellulosic feedstock. Answer

Anonymous wrote: While you’re in Alberta, ask about Iogen and when they’ll finally get their cellulosic plant started in Sask. Also, Enerkem has been making news lately, both with a 10 mgy MSW plant and their just-released plans to construct a $100 million R&D facility in Edmonton. EnerkemR&D EnerkemMSWPlant Answer

bts asked: Comments on this partnership between Venter and Exxon?

Exxon to Invest Millions to Make Fuel From Algae Answer

The Answers


You always have to read between the lines. Sometimes people talk about where costs might be “in a few years” or “with technical breakthroughs” – as is often the case with algal biodiesel (and has been the case with oil shale for 100 years). Not that this is necessarily the case here, but those are the kinds of things I look for as I read these press releases. Is it possible to make oil from coal? Sure, it just traditionally takes a lot of energy. Coal into oil is essentially what you are doing with CTL, and there are several variations of the process (including non-gasification options). South Africa has been doing it for a while now.

So what the UTA researchers are describing is a chemical process for turning coal into oil. Such processes do exist, so the question is whether this is novel, cheaper, more efficient, etc. That will require peeling a few more layers of the onion than what one finds in a press release – where the best you may get is caveats. Generally speaking, press releases tend to over-simplify things a lot. If even a tenth of the press releases on “the next big thing” had turned out to be true, we would be living in a very different world. My favorite pasttime might be loading the family up in my cold fusion-powered hovercraft for a family outing. Or knocking out essays on my DNA-based computer (I remember in 1995 or so when this was going to put Intel out of business).

People have all sorts of motives for these press releases. Some are to announce something truly revolutionary. Those are a tiny fraction. More often, it is as you say; someone is trying to catch the eye of someone who might fund them. I have been in a position many times to issue just such a press release, and sometimes I think about that when I see one of these.

For instance, in 1994 at Texas A&M I had an idea to create a cellulose reactor based on the contents of termites’ stomachs. To my knowledge, I was the first person to attempt such a thing. The experiment didn’t turn out very well. My analysis detected only a small amount of butanol in the product. Had my imagination been big enough, here was the press release: “A&M Researcher Turns Trash into Fuel.” For the story, I could project increases in yields, renewable butanol bringing Arab sheiks to their knees, and an actual use for those pesky termites. Of course as my yield projections go up, my cost projections go down, and I could predict that this “may soon lead to sub-$1/gal fuel.” In reality, I considered it a failed experiment, stopped work, and wrote up my dissertation. But that is the sort of experience that always has me looking at these press releases in a pretty skeptical light.

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Jim, this is along the lines of my last answer. People are working on these catalysts all the time. I have spent time in the lab working on gasification catalysts, and sometimes you come across something that looks pretty interesting. Then you try to scale it up and find that it isn’t stable in a larger reactor because the temperatures are hotter than they were in the lab.

Again, without peeling the onion and having a look at what everyone else is doing, it is impossible to tell whether this really amounts to something special. It could be that their competitors have already achieved these milestones and just didn’t issue press releases. Most organizations don’t. I was awarded several patents from my days at ConocoPhillips, but we never issued a press release even though the potential implications of some of them were pretty interesting.

One thing I will say is that from my time in a refinery, there wasn’t 7-9% efficiency gain to be had. We were already pushing the maximum possible conversion efficiency of oil into liquid products, and while you might have squeezed out another 2-3%, no way could you get up into the 8% range. There may be some really inefficient refineries out there that could benefit from this, but we will have to wait a couple of years and see if they actually start penetrating the market. Then you will know that they indeed invented something with a distinct advantage over the competitors.

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There are a couple of developments in cellulose chemistry that I have been watching pretty closely: The ionic liquid techniques that you mentioned, and supercritical cellulose chemistry with either CO2 or ethanol.

Both of these techniques are energy intensive, so a lot of work needs to be done around the economics of these processes relative to competing technologies. A number of questions arise, such as “What other components are extracted along with the cellulose?” Or “What does it take to separate the cellulose from the component used to extract it?” That isn’t to say that these technologies aren’t well-worth further exploration. From an academic standpoint, they are very interesting. In the end, I think they will be hard pressed to compete with gasification if the intent is production of fuels. However, specialty chemicals might turn out to be a good niche application for these techniques.

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Building on the previous answer, I think the more interesting developments in lignocellulosic chemistry are in chemical processing, as opposed to biochemical processing. I discussed this in an essay a couple of years ago, which was about Vinod Khosla’s investment into KiOR. This is their approach as well; to use catalytic processes to produce fuel.

The challenge is that biomass isn’t very energy dense, and these processes require elevated temperatures and pressures. So a key question is how much energy (and in what form) it takes to transport one BTU of biomass and process it into one BTU of fuel. Presently I think the processing energy is a pretty high fraction of the contained energy. Those energy inputs are going to have to come down before these sorts of technologies make much of an impact. The research is certainly promising, and I favor continued government funding. Would I invest in a company based on this concept? Not at this stage of development.

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Generally speaking, I think we are going to look back and see that we wasted tremendous money, time, and resources chasing dead ends. As you say, nobody knows what developments are in front of us. But many are betting that there are revolutionary developments that will transform the energy sector. As a result, they are throwing a lot of money in a lot of different directions. I don’t have a big problem with this if the proper due diligence is done, especially if private money is being used to fund these various ventures. I do agree with Vinod Khosla’s philosophy of spreading his bets across many different technologies. What I find annoying is that often the proper due diligence is not done, and often taxpayer money ends up funding these dead ends. That is money that is truly wasted.

However, one thing to keep in mind with respect to your “grey swans” is that they also have entrenched lobbies to contend with. It may turn out that the grey swan finds itself in a difficult fight to penetrate the market. One particular example I am thinking of is the decision of Congress to kill support for more efficient 2nd generation green diesel production because the inefficient 1st generation producers argued that it would put them out of business. Add in the fact that it was an oil company involved in the 2nd generation technology, and we find that grey swan struggling to survive.

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Sam, I don’t see an easy answer to that. Utilities are in the business of making money. When people reduce consumption it costs them money. Is there a way that they can benefit from that? I suppose in a world in which we are taxing carbon emissions, the savings from lower emissions would partially offset the loss of the sale of the electricity. But truthfully, that will be a small fraction at best. I always had the same issue when I was in the oil business. I wanted to see lower consumption, and I couldn’t see any way the oil companies could benefit directly from that. I think an effective mechanism for enabling suppliers to benefit from lower consumption would really be a game changer. If you think of something, let me know.

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When I first saw this, I thought “That’s one of the strangest energy-related stories I have ever seen.” It reminded me of my reaction to a recent story: Greenland shark may become new source of biofuel. I like the wild and wacky, and both of these fall into that category. But can it make an impact? The problem with the urea idea is that the fuel is actually ammonia and hydrogen. Where do those come from? Mostly from natural gas. If you look at the efficiencies of the processes involved, you would be far better off just to burn the natural gas. So I don’t see it going far in its current form, but I applaud the creativity. Who knows, maybe this will evolve into something more promising.

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John, while I agree that we are spending dollars in the Middle East because of oil, I disagree with several of your points. First, we aren’t spending that money to guard oil company interests. It is being done with the intent to keep cheap oil flowing to the American consumer. So the key interest here is that of the U.S. government, so the voting public is kept happy. Not that there is no benefit to the oil companies, but the government views a military presence there as an important issue of national security – not one of oil company security. If the oil did get cut off, the average person is going to bear the consequences.

I also disagree with your comment that biofuels are cheaper than gasoline. There are some exceptions – like sugarcane ethanol from Brazil – but for the most part gasoline is cheaper based on energy content. For instance, at today’s close ethanol on the CBOT for September delivery was trading for $1.65 a gallon. Gasoline on the NYMEX today was trading for $2.07/gal. However, because of the difference in energy content, the cost of this ethanol was $21.71/MMBTU and the gasoline was $18/MMBTU. With rare exceptions over the years, this has always been the case – and at times the differences have been quite large.

Further, you are kidding yourself if you think the oil companies are running scared. As I have pointed out before, it is a matter of scale. If corn ethanol started to look like a viable, long-term business model for them, the oil companies would just buy their way in as Valero recently did. Oil companies won’t sit around and go extinct because some fancy new biofuel put them out of business. They have big R&D budgets, and their efforts likely cover every biofuel you ever heard of (and many options you probably haven’t).

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1. Put me down as someone who believes that the one currently under construction – Range Fuels – is going to see their schedule continue to slip, and I believe they are going to have a difficult time meeting production goals. Multiple sources are telling me that they have some issues.

Further, the national projected ramp-up in cellulosic ethanol – if it happens at all – will be a fraction of what has been projected. Right now there isn’t even a clear pathway. It’s like marking out the road map for curing various cancers over the next few years. It is great to have such a road map, but you are assuming technological breakthroughs that may not happen. Right now cellulosic ethanol still looks to me like a niche, and not a scalable, mainstream fuel.

2. That’s a good question, because I am aware of just such a situation now. Investors are dragging their feet on Plant #2 because Plant #1 is still not producing per the plan. In general, I think if a 1st gen facility comes online and starts to deliver per expectations, money will start to flow pretty quickly. I would think within 6 months of delivering, investors will be ready to jump in. But it is going to take more than 6 months to optimize production to optimize one of these next generation plants once it starts up. There isn’t a blueprint for success, and novel problems are going to be encountered and have to be solved.

3. No, the schedule for Range will slip because they still have kinks to work out. Write it down and hold me to it.

4. Here is what POET said about stover: “The yield of cobs is 0.65 tons/acre, and we can collect them commingled with grain with a modified combine. Or we can collect them with stover coming out of the back of the combine. The bulk density for cobs is higher than for stover, and that makes them easier to separate. We make sure sufficient stover is left on the field for erosion control and nutrition. We are focused on cobs because the bulk density for cobs is better than for stover, and cobs have 16% more carbohydrates than the stover. We don’t have to leave all stover in the field necessarily over soil depletion issues; we have just chosen to focus on cobs. How much one can remove depends on soil type, location, and tillage practice. Cobs take those variables away.”

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I did ask about both Iogen and Enerkem while I was in Alberta. My hosts were quite skeptical that Iogen will ever build a commercial plant. I will say that they have enough demonstration level experience that it is suspicious that they don’t have plants sprouting up everywhere. After all, they have been producing cellulosic ethanol at small scale for 5 years. There are people that have been producing it for 0 years who are in the process of building plants. Given that governments are throwing money at anything looking like cellulosic ethanol, I think this puts a big question mark over their true commercial viability (at least at the present state of their technology).

There was less talk about Enerkem, and frankly before the trip I didn’t know much about them. The talk I did hear was that Enerkem is really only focused on the front end of a GTL plant (the gasification step). Enerkem’s view is that their post-gasification steps are flexible, and they can produce a variety of chemicals. They have announced that one site will produce ethanol (this is not the most efficient usage of syngas, by the way). Enerkem’s Press Release page certainly implies that they are busy with projects.

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I think there are two approaches to algal fuel that might work. One is if algae can be made to naturally excrete oil. If so, then it may be possible to let the oil layer build up and then skim it. This avoids the materials handling nightmare of separating the algae from the water, and then the oil from the algae. This is apparently the focus of the research. Still, it is a long shot. Exxon’s VP for R&D was quoted as saying “I am not going to sugarcoat this — this is not going to be easy. Any large-scale commercial plants to produce algae-based fuels are at least 5 to 10 years away.” I think that is a realistic assessment. If the breakthrough came tomorrow then you are still looking at piloting and finally commercialization. I don’t think that is likely to happen in 5 years. So first you have to have some technical breakthroughs – and those aren’t a given – and if you pass through that gate then you won’t see this on the market for 10 years. I believe that is a realistic assessment.

The second approach that might work is if a valuable product – such as a pharmaceutical – is being produced as the primary product, and oil is being produced as a co-product. The expense of collecting and processing algae is just too great for oil to be the primary purpose of the operation.

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39 thoughts on “Answering Reader Questions 2009: Part 2”

  1. So Robert with respect to the lignite to coal claim, your answer is you really don't know? you can't say for sure it won't work?


  2. No, that isn't what I said. It has already been shown to work. The question is whether this will be an improvement that will be a step change from previous versions. It isn't a technological issue, but it could be an economic issue. That has historically put the damper on these schemes. But you have to really wait a bit to see if these things stand up to scrutiny.


  3. "Americans are being "taxed" at a rate of 200 billion bucks a year to fund the U.S. Military to "baby-sit" the Strait of Hormuz and other oil company interests in the mid-east, etc."

    RR, thanks for your reasoned response to John's rather dumb question.

    I guess some people never think for themselves. It would be so easy to compare the oil company after tax profit on a gallon of gasoline (fractions of a penny) with the government tax take (70 cents or more). Who really gets the economic rent from the oil business?

    Oil companies are like McDonalds — a big total profit comes from making a tiny per unit profit many many times. And what happens to those evil oil company profits? They don't go under the sofa — they get invested in construction projects which provide good jobs for union workers, or they get paid as dividends to teacher's retirement funds. Why does John despise union workers & teachers?

    Until people like John engage brain, we are likely to continue to see serious misdirection of our vital energy future by our stupid (when not actually corrupt) Political Class.

  4. +1 to what Kinuachdrach said.

    "…we aren't spending that money to guard oil company interests. It is being done with the intent to keep cheap oil flowing to the American consumer."

    As a European, I'd also point out that *we* benefit along with the American consumer … except, rather shamefully, *we* don't pay so much.

  5. “Utilities are in the business of making money.”

    I could not disagree more. Utilities are in the business of providing a service where competition is not practical. It is not very economical to have two electricity companies, water companies, sewage treatment, or natural gas companies serving the same street. Utilities are regulated to the amount of profit and many are public owned.

    Good service to the community is the motivating factor.

    Oil companies can compete with each other by the nature of their product. Independent electricity producers also

    The fallacy is that reducing consumption is a good thing. If Sam wants to take a long hot shower it is not wasting energy. Maintaining your house temperature so yo can get a good night is not wasting energy.

    Letting your car idle in the Starbuck's drive through is wasting energy. Blaming the greedy electric company that works 24/7 to provide service because you have a $500 electric bill is just stupid.

    The skill set for making electricity is different than the skill set to reduce consumption. I happen to have the skill set for both. either way, I am going to charge you for my time.

    Anyone one want to pay me to explain that you can save $0.10 by taking a navy shower?

  6. Sasol in South Africa has many Lurgi dry ash gasifiers shutdown in their low grade coal based GTL scheme – or at least did last time I was there. This is the same gasifier as used at the Great Plains Gasification project (whatever it is called now) but there it uses lignite.

    China was going ahead full speed with mainly the Shell gasification process which simply provides syngas that can be used for anything downstream.

    A gasifier project becomes immense due to the byproducts – all have to be converted to a salable commodity. A few hundred million in gasifiers and a few billion in the supporting plant.

  7. Just one nit, Robert. If I could replace the 3.5 L 6-cylinder engine in my Impala with, say, Saab's 2 L 4 cyl with the variable ratio turbocharger I would have the same, or better, HP on ethanol, and the same or better mpg.

    In that case, ethanol, at today's prices, would be the equal of gasoline. Of course, if gasoline continues to climb, I would start to pull ahead.

    Now, it's true, that option isn't open to me, at present; but, almost surely, a similar one will be sometime in the near future.

    Don't you think?

  8. Somebody is going to tie "displacement on demand" with a variable ratio turbocharger, and VVT, and DI, and come out with a heck of an efficient engine for gasoline, OR ethanol.

    The "trick" is to be able to manipulate Displacement, AND Compression, at the same time.

    I believe we're just a year, or two, away.

  9. Rufus,

    Just watched a video on the science channel. They raced a gasoline powered Saab against one powered by ethanol. The ethanol Saab won the drag race just like the Swedish lab technician said it would.


  10. The Alky powered Saab should have won pretty convincingly, John. If not, it had the worst driver.

    The reason for this is the Saab engine has a variable ratio turbo. That means, when it's running ethanol E85 it can crank up the boost and take advantage of Ethanol's MUCH higher Octane rating by forcing more ethanol in the combustion chamber, in effect, upping the Compression Ratio to about 15:1.

    When running gasoline they have to keep the Compression Ratio down to about 10:1, I believe; and, of course, to handle that much compression they have to use Premium, or Racing fuel.

    The downside of the Saab is that, although, E85 will give you approx. 22% more power, your mpg will suffer.

    The really neat engine will be when they take the displacement on demand technology that the American carmakers have got pretty much perfected, now, (This technology will allow you to "cruise" on 4 cylinders, but kick in the other two – or 4 – when you need more power,) and combine this with the Variable Speed Turbocharger.

    This will allow you to, mostly, operate on 4 cylinders, and higher Compression, when running ethanol, and to utilize the other two cylinders, and lower compression when running gasoline.

    HP, AND mpg, should be fairly similar regardless of which fuel you're operating on.

    Of course, if you're running E85, and REALLY kick it in the butt, the other two cylinders could kick in and you'd be in control of the fastest rocket this side of $60,000.00.

    It will be a trip.

  11. Kinuachdrach wrote:
    "Americans are being "taxed" at a rate of 200 billion bucks a year to fund the U.S. Military to "baby-sit" the Strait of Hormuz and other oil company interests in the mid-east, etc."

    RR, thanks for your reasoned response to John's rather dumb question.

    Wasn't dumb at all. Just got interpreted in terms of oil companies, instead of oil in general.

    The US Military operations in the middle east subsidize oil, as does taxpayer-funded highway construction. The fact that taxpayers want it does not lessen the subsidy.

    The oil companies operate in a subsidized environment, but then so does everything else that depends on petroleum.

    And resource wars will likely be part of the cost structure of many other resources besides petroleum (e.g. water).

  12. Doubt we'd do anything different even if we didn't import oil bhaugen. Somebody has to keep the sea lanes open,and nobody else is in a position to. The US economy is far larger than any other. Germany and Japan aren't allowed offensive capabilities,so that rules out the necessary warships. Nobody wants China playing that role either. Not their neighbors,at least. I'm afraid the US will be guarding the high seas for the foreseeable future.

  13. RR-Thanks for your comments on the UT Arlington guys. I guess I am disappointed in the TU guys. I e-mailed the columnist for the Dallas paper, and asked him about this. He said two guys from UT sat across the table from him for two hours, and extolled upon the virtues of the lignite process.
    Something didn't sound right about that. If the process was that great, then they should have guys from the oil industry, or venture capitalists, tackling them to the ground in the parking lot, and burying them in greenbacks.
    But, it sounds like some researchers just scrounging for research dough.
    Sometimes, it seems like everything is spin–execept for the lucid commentary of one Rpbert Rapier.

  14. "If the process was that great, then they should have guys from the oil industry, or venture capitalists, tackling them to the ground in the parking lot, and burying them in greenbacks.
    But, it sounds like some researchers just scrounging for research dough. "

    Benny, have you considered that they did the article to get the attention of just those people?

  15. I guess I am disappointed in the TU guys.

    I wouldn't go that far. They might have something legitimate. It is just that the ratio of hype to legitimate breakthroughs is probably over 10/1. But maybe they are the one. If I was betting, I wouldn't bet on it. But we just have to wait and see. Or, I could dig through any of their papers, visit their labs, and get to the bottom of it pretty quickly.


  16. TAD-
    I hope so. Hey, I hope they can make oil for $35 a barrel in Texas, from lignite. I hope for a lot of things.
    TAD: Are you connected to the project? Can you illuminate us? Does it include the cost of digging up th elignit and transporting it to be refined?
    Hey, if someone from UT wants to comment, I am sure RR would welcome a submission, with clear explanantion (I don't mean to speak for RR, but he would welcome this process–if it works–and RR is always the first to defend free, civilized discourse.)
    UT researchers: Bring it on. Tell us what you got. Lay it out.

  17. You know, if I wasn't flying to Hawaii next week I might try to see if I could make an appointment and see their lab. They are only about 30 miles from my office in Dallas. But I just don't think I can swing it.


  18. Rufus.

    Didn't Cadillac first come out with this displacement on demand technology in the early 80's ? A friend of mine bought a Caddy that had this I think.

    I didn't realize the Swedes were as interested in ethanol and maybe cellulostic as they seem to be. They have the forests for it.

    Also turbocharge update.


  19. @Takchess

    Caveat emptor, caveat wiki

    Since about 1986, code has required low flow shower nozzles. WIKI totally overestimated the amount of hot water needed for a Hollywood Show. Take long showers without guilt.

    I used to give CFL bulbs as gifts back when they were a little pricey. Now I give shower nozzles. A nice shower nozzles costs $15. There are a low flow shower nozzles that give a poor quality shower but $5 more makes a lot of difference. Shower nozzles as a gift get weird looks when opened. One show later it is an appreciated gift.

  20. Yeah, John, I think they had problems with the technology, early on, but it seems to be working just fine, now. I think Chrysler has a pretty good system, also.

    Sweden had, the last I heard (a year, or so, ago,) about 1,000 E85 pumps. They've promoted E85 pretty strongly.

    They have pushed for "cellulosic," but, in all actuallity, I think the bulk of their ethanol comes from Brazil (I could be wrong about that. I'm just kind of parrotting back things I think I read, somewhere.

  21. I think I read that Sweden is the most advanced country in the World, as regards "renewable" energy in general. I think something like 20% of their energy comes from renewable sources, that they're aiming for 50% in 20 years, or somesuch.

  22. I had a Swedish engineer tell me a few months ago that there is an operating cellulosic ethanol plant in Sweden. He said that it is a converted pulp and paper plant, using lignin for process energy. I never was able to dig up any details, but he seemed to know quite a bit about the project.


  23. "I think I read that Sweden is the most advanced country in the World, as regards "renewable" energy in general."


    They are also much more advanced than we are in their use of energy. Their per capita energy consumption is about two-thirds ours.

    Sweden ~ 68662.44 kWh/capita
    U.S. ~ 99622.55 kWh/capita

    (Numbers from the International Atomic Energy Agency data reference bank.)

    I've traveled in Sweden and have to admit their quality of life is as high (or higher) than ours. So obviously they know something we don't.

    If we just reduced our per capita energy consumption to their level, we wouldn't even need the corn ethanol industry. In fact, if we quit using energy to make corn starch ethanol and used Brazilian sugar ethanol as they do, our per capita energy use would actually decrease.

  24. Sure, and we'd wake up one morning, and instead of being slaves to Riyadh, we'd be slaves to "Rio." No Thanks.

    Oil Drum (from which I'm barred from commenting) has a post up on nuclear. In it, they mention that 60% of Sweden's Electricity is Hydro, and Electricity is a very large part of their energy mix (24%, I think.)

  25. You might want to look at it this way, Wendell: if we don't get our "balance of payments" in order we won't have any money to buy energy, regardless of "where it's from."

  26. "You might want to look at it this way, Wendell: if we don't get our "balance of payments" in order we won't have any money to buy energy, regardless of "where it's from."

    I agree Rufus.

  27. @ Rufus – Right! Kind of like a third world basket case!

    The insane debt levels really need to be controlled – unless the US plans on a bit of inflation to resolve the problem. A couple of years of hyper inflation and guess what – debt problem solved.

    @ TAD – go to Buellah, ND (outside of Bismark) the Great Plains Gasification Project (you add current name last time I was there it was the Antelope Valley Elec Coop) makes CH4 for the pipeline but could, with a couple of more steps, make liquid.

    The gasification (Lurgi gasifiers) cover one small corner – the remaining 90% of the site takes care of the balance process plus handles byproducts.

  28. “I've traveled in Sweden”

    Good for Wendell! One way for Americans to use less energy is for Wendell to stay home.

    I think Wendell has his numbers wrong. Generally, courtiers with heavy industry and cold climates use more energy than the US.

    I am sure there is nothing in Sweden that we do not know in the US. There is no reason to think they are more advance. I am sure there is a lot that Wendell does not know about energy use in both countries.

    Sweden is an iconic country for socialists. I think that is might be a nice place but if you are going to denigrate the US, you may want do some more research and tell why Sweden is more advanced. People are always comparing a small country to a huge diverse country.

    Sweden does have good running nukes and have some innovative BWR improvements that they were marketing until the socialists’ shutdown any new nukes and planned to close existing nukes early. That policy is has been reversed.

    So Wendall, give me one thing I can learn from Sweden about energy use or production.

  29. "Generally, courtiers with heavy industry and cold climates use more energy than the US."

    Kit P.

    Courtiers perhaps, but for countries, Sweden's per capita energy consumption is indeed less than ours. The same is true of Norway, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and France.

    "So Wendall, give me one thing I can learn from Sweden about energy use or production."

    I'll give you several:

    1. They use smaller and more efficient household appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. Most Swedes (and Europeans) are shocked at the huge size of our refrigerators. They tend to buy small amounts of fresh food, more often, and keep it in smaller refrigerators.

    2. For years their street lights have been fluorescent tubes, and they don't keep them on all night. By two or three in the morning, perhaps only 1 of every 3 street lamps will still be on.

    3. They don't use energy wasting hot water heaters like ours. Theirs are "on demand" and only heat the water when you need it.

    4. Their homes are better constructed and insulated, and in the winter they selectively heat the rooms. If they have a spare bedroom, they will only heat it when someone is going to use it.

    5. The windows in their homes are much better insulated than ours.

    6. Their homes are usually heated with sub-floor hot water instead of the more wasteful forced air furnaces we tend to use. Home air-conditioning is virtually non-existent.

    7. Exterior lights and hallway lights are usually on timers and turn themselves off after 20 seconds or so. If you were to stay in a Swedish hotel and walked into the hallway, it would be lighted by only a couple of low-wattage bulbs. There would be hallway light switch by your door with which you could turn on all the hallway lights giving you about 20 seconds to get to the stairwell or elevator before turning themselves off.

    7. Their cars are typically smaller than ours.

    8. They drive less than we do. Someone in a Northern European country who needs a loaf of bread will walk (or bike) to the nearest bakery instead of driving. And there will most likely be a neighborhood bakery, meat market, green grocer, etc. within walking (or biking) range of their house or apartment.

    9. And one big advantage the Swedes have is that they are a much more homogeneous country than we are. Almost everyone in Sweden is Swedish. They have a better sense of, "What's good for everyone is also good for me." than most Americans do.

  30. Kit P writes: I think Wendell has his numbers wrong. Generally, courtiers with heavy industry and cold climates use more energy than the US.

    Wendell replies: Courtiers perhaps, but for countries, Sweden's per capita energy consumption is indeed less than ours

    That Sweden has a colder climate than the US makes their lower per capita energy consumption all the more interesting.

    Kit P does not explain how Wendell's numbers from the IAEA
    are allegedly wrong, and provides no alternate better source of numbers.

    The EIA's slightly more recent data agrees with Wendell on relative per capita energy consumption.
    In 2006 Sweden's total primary energy consumption was 2.216 quadrillion BTUs. With a population around 9 million, that's about 246 million BTUs per capita.
    In 2006 the US's total primary energy consumption was 99.856 quadrillion BTUs. With a population around 300 million, that's about 332 million BTUs per capita.

  31. What Wendell is ignoring is productivity. Total energy use compared to what is produced not per capita energy use for a different climates. Typical English major mistake.

    Keep in mind I have no complaint Sweden, just Wendell's hypocritical anti-American views. Typical of liberals. It not that I have not been critical of my country but it constructive criticism after careful review. Since part of Sweden is on the arctic circle, I suspect many do not have air conditioners.

    #1 It is unlikely that there is any difference in efficiency of US appliances. At least not at my house. I did have a smaller frig in Spain but that was because the unreliable power supply resulted in lots of wasted food.

    I do have a big refrigerator with an ice makers and shilled water in the door. I could have bought a tiny frig but I bought what I wanted. Nothing to learn from Sweden.

    #2 My neighborhood has not street lights. Wendell provided information that city planners in the US can learn from Sweden

    #3 On demand hot water heaters are nothing new. Had one in Spain and installed a propane one in the US. Also designed and built a solar hot water system in California. I am not too concerned with conventional well insulated hot water heaters like I have now. Maybe Wendell would like to tell us his experience his hot water heater. In any case, nothing to learn from Sweden.

    #4 Houses in Sweden are not better built. Insulation is insulation Wendell

    #5 Maybe windows installed in your house are not as good Sweden but the one I have installed are. My present house may not be as good as in Sweden but since I live in a mild climate there is no good reason to replace them.

    #6 I installed radiant floor heating in my house in the US more than 20 years ago. Hot water heating is common in the US where the climate is cold.

    #7 My exterior lights are either LED (< 10 watts total) or on a timer with motion detectors. Nothing to learn from Sweden.

    #7 I have a small car. Never had a problem finding one either. In any case, nothing to learn from Sweden.

    #8 No problem finding a place to live in the US where you can drive less. Wendell have you ever been to NYC or Frisco?

    #9 homogeneous?

    What Wendall has demonstrated is that he does not understand diversity and ingenuity. Americans are rich because of our incredible productivity and efficiency. An American coal miner can drive a big new pickup and live in a nice house because of the amount of coal that can be mined in an hour. Pick a sector. How much energy to produce a ton steel? How much energy to bushel of wheat?

    How many more children would starve in the world if it was not for the productivity American farmers? Can Sweden even feed itself?

  32. Kit P. writes with innuendo but no data on country averages: What Wendell is ignoring is productivity. Total energy use compared to what is produced
    Sweden's 2006 GDP was US$337.1 billion
    US 2006 GDP was US$13,830 billion.

    So 2006 total primary energy consumption/$GDP was 6,574 BTU/US$ for Sweden and 7,220 BTU/US$ for the US. Sweden still did 9% better despite their colder climate.

  33. “9%”

    Oh Clee, do you mean about the same considering the quality of the data?

    What Clee and Wendell have done is provide statistic to justify a claim of better. I would argue using more energy is an indication of better. It is interesting the choices folks make.

    I could save energy by buying one of those new condos across the street from where I work. I could also save 20 minutes a day commuting. I could have a small frig too.

    Having the freedom to live the way you choose is better.

    I set out to find something about Sweden that is better. If you like the climate of Seattle, the Gulf Stream creates a mild climate where 85% of the highly urbanized population lives.

    “warm summers and cold winters, with average high temperatures of 68–77°F and lows of 53–59°F in the summer, and average temperatures of 25–36°F in the winter.”

    The only thing I can remarkable about Sweden is the misconception folks have.

    Still waiting for someone to teach me something about Sweden is better. Lots of things are different.

  34. Wendall-
    Boy, you struck a big nail on the head with the homogeniety angle. As much as I like our diversity, America seems nearly governed by various "us against them" wars. And only a sap would place value on the public welfare.
    Somehow, the United States stumbles forward (does any other nation go halfway around the world to not only invade, but occupy for decades at a stretch, whole other countries of minimal importance, such as Iraq and Vietnam?).
    No wonder we work an average of 2400 hours a years vs 2000 or so in Norway, Sweden etc.

  35. "#4 Houses in Sweden are not better built. "

    Kit P.

    I'm sorry, but they are. In the U.S. most houses are have stick-built, balloon frames usually made of 2 x 4s. In the Northern European countries few houses are built that way, and are much more solidly built.

    The last house I lived in in Germany was made of dense concrete blocks 25 cm thick. (They were real concrete, not the cinder blocks we use.) On the outside of the masonry blocks. was laminated a layer of high-density foam 5 cm thick, and that was topped with stucco. The roof was tile.

    One February we had a wind storm with 120 mph straight-line winds. There was no damage at all to our house, and the only damage in the neighborhood was a few tiles that blew off the roof across the street.

    There was an older house in our village that was built 400 years ago, and was last re-roofed about 150 years ago. It made it through the wind storm untouched.

    If a 120 mph wind storm hit your town, how many of the stick-built houses do you think would still have their roofs, or even be standing?

    "I would argue using more energy is an indication of better. It is interesting the choices folks make."

    Kit P.

    That might be a valid argument if the standard of living in the U.S. was proportionately higher than Sweden's, but for most Americans it's not. Considering the high standard of living in Sweden, your argument is false. It's amazing the Swedes do it using only two-thirds the energy we use per capita. There must be a lesson there for us.

    I'm sure Robert can tell you a similar tale from his time in the Netherlands.

    "Still waiting for someone to teach me something about Sweden is better."

    Kit P.

    You have a narrow-minded view of things. Have you ever been to Sweden, or even to Europe?

    And by the way, I'm not anti-American. I was a fighter pilot in the US Air Force and spent a year flying combat missions in Vietnam, receiving medals for valor. How much combat experience do you have fighting for this country?

    My visits to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, etc. came while stationed at a US Air Base in Germany.

  36. Considering the quality of the data? Do you have better data Kit? What is the quality of the data? If it's only good to one significant digit (even though they give 4), then Sweden's 10% more thrifty in their per GDP energy usage. 😉 And as you say, cold climates generally use more energy. So if Sweden weren't handicapped by their colder climate, they'd do greater than just 9% more thrifty.

    If you think it's better to use more energy after boasting how energy efficient your house and car are, that's fine. I agree that spending more (money, time, energy, whatever) than minimally necessary to improve what you value in your life is a generally a good thing. But I don't expect to affect your opinions. I'm more interested that discussions be based on actual data rather than the denial of it.

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