Energy Policy and Renewable Hydrocarbons

The following guest essay is by Frank Weigert, a retired DuPont chemist who was involved in some of DuPont’s early work on alternatives to petroleum in the mid-1970’s. This work spurred a lifelong interest in a renewable hydrocarbon economy. Recently Frank sent me an e-mail in which he described his views on a pathway that could lead us away from our dependence on petroleum. It was a very detailed and technically interesting e-mail, and I asked him if we could turn it into an essay for others to read. What developed from that request was the essay below.


Many people find it hard to think rationally about our energy problems because there is so much misinformation and disinformation out there. Some is the innocent confusion of people misinterpreting scientific terms in layman’s language. An example is the word “oil”.

Some is more sinister, with whole industries planting lies and distortions to confuse the issues. Corporations and their lobbyists spend large amounts of money protecting their short-term interests from reforms needed to promote long-term good.

Politics distorts good decision making. If Iowa didn’t hold a Presidential beauty contest every four years, ethanol would not be on the agenda. If corn-based ethanol wasn’t on the agenda, then ethanol from cellulosics wouldn’t be either.

Economics is used as a weapon against change by polluting industries who are not now held accountable for the damage they do. Utopians refuse to see just how expensive some of their proposed solutions are. While the magnitude of our energy problem is orders of magnitude greater than the CFC / ozone problem of two decades ago, some of the precepts used to solve that problem also apply to the current one.

The world needs to think outside the box. We have a remarkable opportunity to establish a sustainable energy future that could last centuries. Short-term solutions which profit existing businesses should not be allowed to crowd it out.

1) Biofuel Definitions.

Non-chemists all too often get confused by the differences in chemical nomenclature and more conventional terms. Oil as an ingredient in salad dressing is not the same as oil as a synonym for petroleum.

Green plants make nucleic acids, proteins, hydrocarbons, carbohydrates, and lipids. Only the latter three need concern us as fuel precursors. Hydrocarbons have only carbon and hydrogen in their structure. Examples include natural rubber and other materials made from isoprene oligomerization.

Carbohydrates have formulas around (CH2O)n: Carbo (C) – hydrates (H2O). Glucose, C6H1206, is a monomer. Sucrose is made from glucose and another sugar fructose with the loss of one water molecule. Both sugars are soluble in water. Polysaccharides such as starch and cellulose are insoluble in water. Yeasts ferment soluble sugars to ethanol, an alcohol. The technology to ferment insoluble carbohydrate polymers practically does not yet exist.

Lipids are esters of the alcohol glycerin and long-chain fatty acids. Transesterification with a short chain alcohols such as methanol or ethanol converts these lipids to glycerine and esters generically known as biodiesel. Biodiesel is not a hydrocarbon.

Hydrocarbon reactions are generally many orders of magnitude faster than the reactions of polar molecules such as those involving alcohols or esters. That means that the equipment required to reform hydrocarbons is much smaller than that required to ferment carbohydrates to ethanol or transesterify lipids to biodiesel. Hydrocarbon chemistry does not require a solvent. Fermentation must be carried out in water, and yeast generally can only produce an ethanol concentration of 10% or so. The ethanol must then be separated from a large excess of water. Transesterification to make biodiesel is an equilibrium process that will not go to completion without a large excess of the small chain alcohol. That means large equipment for separation and recycle. While a hundred or so refineries provide all the transportation fuel America uses, many thousand fermentation or biodiesel facilities would be needed to produce the same amount of fuel.

The new investment required to convert from a hydrocarbon economy to one involving either ethanol or biodiesel is going to be very high. Why bother? Use hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons such as gasoline or diesel are global warming neutral if produced entirely from biological materials.


2) What defines a Climate Change / Hubbert’s Peak solution.

Four precepts should guide our work in solving the world’s Climate Change and Hubert’s Peak problems.

a) These are world problems. An expensive solution that works for the United States but not for China, India or Kenya is not a valid solution. America might be the Saudi Arabia of coal, but coal is not a solution for the Hubbert’s Peak problem because it exacerbates the climate change problem. Where is China going to get the land to grow corn to make ethanol? Solutions that depend on local conditions such as desert sunlight or constant high winds are not solutions to the global problem. Venture capitalists who want to get rich selling high investment solutions are part of the problem.

b) Consumers should not have to change anything.

The precept needs to be considered separately for electricity and transportation fuels.

Electricity is easy. Consumers don’t care whether the electrons that power their lights, televisions or computers come from falling water, burning coal, or splitting atoms. An electron is an electron.

Transportation fuels are harder. Hybrid cars like the Prius come closest to meeting the criterion. Consumers fill up their gas tank and don’t have to worry about the battery until it wears out. The cost of the replacement battery has not sunk in yet. A typical battery pack costs $5000 and will last five years. Thus during the life of the electric car, owners will have to pay $10,000 to replace their battery twice. You can buy a lot of expensive gasoline for that amount of money.

Plug-in hybrids WOULD be different. Suppose you live in an apartment and park 100 feet away. That’s an awfully long extension cord. A better option is to continue making gasoline and diesel, only from renewable resources. Cars powered by fuel cells or hydrogen are even more far out. People like personal transportation. Walking is not a solution. Shutting down the airline industry is not a solution.

c) Use existing investment when at all possible and minimize the need for new investment.

This is where most of the pundits get it wrong. Venture capitalists love high investment projects because they earn their fees as a percentage of the capital required. The November cover story of Scientific American is about sustainable fuels. It limits the discussion to Big Physics projects. Only toward the end do the authors offer an estimate of the capital investment required: $100 TRILLION. Ain’t gonna happen. Many of the proposed remediation projects are also horribly capital intensive and will never fly.

Many physics solutions claim they will be competitive with oil “soon.” But oil at what price? In the Middle East, countries can pump oil to the surface for a COST $5 a barrel. Americans VALUED that oil at $150 a barrel in 2008. Europeans and Japanese are willing to pay twice that, including taxes. So what is the free-market PRICE of oil? OPEC can set it anywhere within that range. If photovoltaics become competitive with oil at $100 a barrel, OPEC can lower the price to $90 a barrel until the venture capitalists give up. They then buy up the investment for pennies on the dollar, destroy it, and raise the price again. I don’t see any way to compete with $5 a barrel Middle East oil. I would be hopeful that biofuels could compete with $25 or $30 a barrel oil.

d) Biofuels should not compete with food production or cause land use issues.


3) The algae Botryococcus braunii can potentially meet all my criteria for a solution to the Climate Change / Hubbert’s Peak problem.

Nobel Prize winner Melvin Calvin discovered a shrub growing in the Brazilian rain forest related to rubber tree in the 1970s. When tapped, this shrub exuded a latex. Calvin collected the material, (a mix of isoprene trimers) broke the emulsion, dried the organic layer, poured it into the fuel tank of a diesel powered car and drove off. No refining necessary! He correctly realized there was not enough land in the Brazilian rain forest to grow this crop. Genetic engineering did not exist back then.

Calvin made a bad mistake when he attempted to breed a modification that would grow in the desert. Making hydrocarbons needs more water than making carbohydrates. He should have been experimenting in a swamp.

Later, Calvin found the pelagic algae genus Botryococcus and studied the hydrocarbons they produce.

A summary of his work is available online, but cannot be accessed directly. You have to link through a bridge site. Here is it’s URL.

Click on the 1 MB PDF file icon. The discussion of algae begins on page 15.

Calvin reports that 86% of the dry weight of the algae is hydrocarbons, isoprene oligomers averaging n = 6 degree of polymerization. The structures include linear oligomers and cyclic structures related to steroids. They are not directly useable as transportation fuels.

The algae Botryococcus is among the slower growing breeds. It has a reported doubling time of two days. Presumably, producing hydrocarbons is harder than producing carbohydrates. Nevertheless, it is an interesting exercise in powers of 2 to calculate how quickly 1 g of algae can turn into the 100 million barrels of oil needed each day. Once you have the ocean surface carpeted with the algae, you can then harvest half the crop every doubling period in a self-sustaining manner.

One of your discussions (RR: e.g., this one) laments the fact that useful algae cannot generally compete with trash species. True, but farmers have learned how to grow crops and eliminate weeds. Farmers of the ocean will have the same incentives. Agricultural chemical companies have been very successful at finding selective herbicides for important crops. If growing algae becomes important, they will attack this problem as well.

Another possibility is to begin with an invasive species and modify it genetically to produce the hydrocarbons we want. Caulerpa taxifolia is an algae that escaped from a Monaco aquarium and now carpets the northern edge of the Mediterranean sea. When it also got loose from the Monterrey aquarium outside San Francisco, the U.S. government spent $8 million chlorinating the Pacific Ocean to eliminate the infestation. While it doesn’t make useful hydrocarbons, it does make a toxin caulerpenyne, which presumably is the secret to it success. The structure is available in Wikipedia. As the name suggests, it includes both double and triple bonds. It also has 2 acetates which according to biochemical studies are added last. The main chain contains 15 carbon atoms arranged in a way that suggests derivation from an isoprene trimer. Inhibit the acetylation steps and you have a precursor to diesel fuel. Adding the gene sequence to produce the hydrocarbons or disabling the genes that acetylate the product and you have another way to get at hydrocarbons from algae.

I believe conventional oil refineries could process this hydrocarbon mix to produce gasoline and diesel. Refineries could shut down much of their catalyst guard investment because these hydrocarbons have no nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, metals, or ash. This is an extremely sweet crude. These hydrocarbons should be able to replace coal as a fuel in electricity generating plants. Similarly, because it is a high quality fuel, much of the pollution abatement equipment at the back end could be shut down.

Check out the MIT Website Whatmatters for more details The URL is:

42 thoughts on “Energy Policy and Renewable Hydrocarbons”

  1. "..A typical (Prius) battery pack costs $5000 and will last five years. Thus during the life of the electric car, owners will have to pay $10,000 to replace their battery twice…"

    I'm not an expert on liquid fuel chemistry so I want to trust the information presented in the original post but I don't because of the above quote. What else does he have wrong that I'm unaware of?

    The 2000-2003 first-generation Prius battery costs $2,300. The 2004-2008 second-generation battery costs $2,600. The total cost to replace one should be in the $3,000-$4,000 range.


    In California the battery is warrantied for ten years and 150,000 miles, in the rest of the country it's 8 years and 100,000 miles. And no, the batteries are not dropping dead at 8 years or 100,000 miles. Toyota designed them to last 180,000 miles, most are going much further.


    The author thinks that "Transportation fuels are harder."

    It seems to me that he has this backwards.

    By simply swapping a Prius for an Outback, and a Cherokee for an electric bike (the Jeep remains parked until needed) my family reduced oil for transport use 80%, saving money while doing it.

    Reducing my electrical usage is proving to be very difficult and expensive.

    Costs for new nuclear plants have gone ballistic.

    Also, IMHO, precious liquid fuel would tend to be used for transportation instead of stationary power generation as he suggests.

  2. I am always skeptical of solutions when this is an absence of a systematic approach to solve problems. The first step is identifying the problem, for example Frank Weigert writes,

    “Economics is used as a weapon against change by polluting industries who are not now held accountable for the damage they do.”
    Thirty years after the CAA, CWA, NEPA, RCRA, and CERLA we have cleaned up industry. There are still a few places with pollution issues but it is difficult to regulate a huge number of non-point sources from consumers of gasoline.

    We forget far far we have come from the 70s.

  3. I still don't understand why Deserts shouldn't utilize Solar, and why the North Sea shouldn't utilize the available Wind, and Wave.

    Why shouldn't Eastern Canada use Hydro, and why shouldn't Missouri build Nuclear? Why wouldn't a homeowner in LA want a Volt for his 20 mi/day (one way) commute?

    Enough of the Grandiose, one size fits all General Unification Equations. Today, we use oil, hydro, nuclear, coal, nat gas, solar, wind, biomass, ethanol, land-fill gas, geothermal, and a hundred other technologies.

    Tomorrow? I'm betting it'll be about the same. Maybe a little more ethanol, biodiesel, and green diesels/gasolines. Maybe more biomass, and Solar/Wind. Maybe less petroleum. But, a mix, nevertheless.

    Cover the surface of the OCEANS with Algae? Whatever could go wrong with that?

  4. The easy dismissal of PHEVs strikes me as a bit glib.

    Some fairly serious automakers, such as Ford and Toyota, are going ahead with PHEVs.

    Apartment buildings? In CA, most apartment buildings have underground parking, and assigned spaces. It would actually be easier to wire up such a building than many single-family homes.

    And it is not impossible to imagine street parking where you buy juice from a meter, along with your parking.

    Some suggest the PHEV battery packs can be recycled into energy storage units for lighting etc. Solar panels charge during the day, and you use the power by night. The nature of battery packs is that they are still useful, even after they are not useful for PHEVs.

    The quality of lithium batteries seems to be increasing rapidly.

    I suspect the writer has a magic bullet in mind, the one he has been working on for a long time. He wants algae or some other biofuel to prevail. I happen to like the tree pongamia pinetta, and I think it can yield even more oil per acre than palm oil.

    But I do not make it out as a sole solution.

    The market and price signal should determine much. At $7 a gallon gasoline, PHEVs will sell like hotcakes. At $2.50 a gallon, people will shun them.

    If we have gas lines and $7 a gallon gasoline, then people will offer car dealers sex and double-price to buy a PHEV.

    I suspect France and Japan in 10 years will be well along the nuke-PHEV model. It seems to solve both oil and climate-change concerns.

  5. One fermentation route to hydrocarbons is to make butyric acid from feedstock and then decarboxylate it straightforwardly to propane or with Kolbe electrolysis to hexane. Albeit energy intensive and requiring land use, these steps do not require huge amounts of capital plant or sophisticated technology. However, these hydrocarbons aren't universally useful, e.g. propane is a gas at STP and hexane has a low octane rating and would need to be reformed into (say) dimethylbutane to be useful in cars.

    This post has "Hydrocarbon reactions are generally many orders of magnitude faster than the reactions of polar molecules such as those involving alcohols or esters. That means that the equipment required to reform hydrocarbons is much smaller than that required to ferment carbohydrates to ethanol or transesterify lipids to biodiesel."

    In the light of this, just how much capital, sophisticated technology and energy are actually needed for reforming such "easily" reached biohydrocarbons?

  6. I'm reminded of the NASA guy in the movie, "Armageddon," who upon hearing that the Asteroid was going to destroy Earth in two weeks trotted out the "solar-sail" spiel.

    It' probably going to be evident by late this summer, or early next that we need to do something Now.

    Right now, we could approve 4, or 5 "cookie cutter" plants, and get busy putting one small ethanol plant in each Congressional District.

    That could throw off five, or six hundred thousand barrels/day within 2 years. Then we could do it, again. Then again three more times.

    Time's not our friend, anymore, kiddos.

  7. These plants should run about $50 Million/copy. I figure $10 Mil from the Feds, and loan guarnatees for the $40.

    Cost to the Fed for the first round – $4.3 B. About what we spent on C4C.

  8. Step up the mandates, remove any "Tax Credits" for blends of less than 20%. Require 10% of stations to have an E85, or Blender pump.

  9. I will echo these previous comments – there are some things in this essay that strike me as odd, if not just wrong

    On PHEV's:
    "Suppose you live in an apartment and park 100 feet away. That's an awfully long extension cord."

    Half of Canada is already equipped with outside plug ins for vehicles at houses, apts, shopping centres and Park and Ride stations. They are for people to plug in their engine block heaters in -25C weather, but they would just as happily plug in PHEV, if they could buy one.

    On oil prices:
    "I don't see any way to compete with $5 a barrel Middle East oil." This is true, and if they were selling it for that, I'd try to buy all they could produce, and so would everyone else, and it wouldn't be $5 for very long.

    They can' t flood the market and control prices anymore, they just have to be content to make better margins than anyone else. I can't see the Saudi's buying up American ethanol plants anytime soon, though the American oil companies are getting in on it, but to make money, and maybe control the market, not close them down.

    "Once you have the ocean surface carpeted with the algae, " Hmm, there's the only biofuel solution I can think of that everyone will object to. Farming anything in open ocean is very difficult to control -storms, etc, it will need thousands of square miles to be a source of any volume.

    And, my personal favourites;
    "Another possibility is to begin with an invasive species and modify it genetically to produce the hydrocarbons we want."

    combined with "While it doesn't make useful hydrocarbons, it does make a toxin caulerpenyne, which presumably is the secret to it success."

    This is exactly the basis of the storyline in John Wyndham's landmark 1951 sci-fi book, "The Day of the Triffids", where post-oil mankind has genetically engineered poisonous plants to produce oil, and, of course, they take over the world. It's a great read, which I have never forgotten – and it's eerily relevant today.

    There is some good stuff in there too;
    "Politics distorts good decision making. If Iowa didn't hold a Presidential beauty contest every four years, ethanol would not be on the agenda."

    But overall, it seemed to be conflicted, and I couldn't get a clear message, other than that the author thinks algae has good potential, which it does, though he offers no new insights into solving the many challenges algae faces.

  10. Yes, lots of good comments and lots of questionable stuff in the essay.

    I agree with rufus that there is no need for a one-size-fits-all solution, considering we don't have that right now. Just because a solution like sugarcane ethanol wouldn't work in most of the world where sugarcane doesn't grow, it doesn't mean that it's not a valid solution for Brazil, or that Brazil should therefore abandon it. Think global, act local. Some countries have millions of CNG vehicles, or propane. Electric vehicles may have their niches, though right now that seems to be forklifts and commuter rail. When everyone finds a local solution that works, that mix will be the global solution.

    Calvin reports that 86% of the dry weight of the algae is hydrocarbons,

    Well, that's all fine and nice, except well over 90% of the algae is water and not the dry weight. Separating out the dry weight from the water is the energy-intensive part.

  11. "Time's not our friend, anymore, kiddos."

    We'll be fine Rufus. The Prius is Japan's top selling car. When gas hits $5 a gallon,the Volt will be the top selling car here. I'll stretch a cord around the block if I have to. Put enough E85 plug-ins on the road and we can tell OPEC to take a flying leap.

  12. If we doubled our fleet mileage,we could cut US gasoline consumption from 400M to 200M gallons per day. With PHEV's,we could cut that by another 70%,to 60M gallons per day. If they run on E85,we cut that by another 85%,to 9M gallons a day.

    Yeah,I know we aren't gonna cut gasoline useage by 97.5% with PHEV's. Theoretically possible,but not gonna happen in the real world. Still,it shows we don't HAVE to be dependent on OPEC. Not anymore.

  13. I love these discussions. My impractical hypothetical solution is better than your impractical hypothetical solution to a problem we do not have. Then there is always, they do it better in where ever (insert name of county that you know little about).

    “The Prius is Japan's top selling car.”


    France might be the country that uses the lowest amount of fossil fuel to make electricity. Why is nuclear 80% of the mix?

    “No coal, no gas, no choice!”

    In the US, we have lots of natural gas and coal but we are the largest producer of electricity with nukes in the world too.

    When it comes to oil and transportation fuel, the US is the largest oil importer. Many fail to mention that the US is the third largest producer too.

    So is peak oil and AGW a problem. I do not think so but if they are problems the solutions are very easy to solve. The biggest problem for engineers is letting us solve them.

    Rufus did a good job of describing the mix of choices. I know it sounds contradictory to say the wind and solar are not very good ways to make electricity but never the less we should be pursuing those choices as fast as we can

    In the end the mix will be decided by how well technologies work and that requires just doing it for a while. Your practical solution of geothermal looks pretty good where you live but my practical solution of wood waste pretty good where I live.

  14. OT but two portable nuke reactors have been sent to Haiti to power hospital room, air traffic control systems, and desalination of sea water. The reactors are on the the USS Carl Vinson which also has lots of helos and young able bodied Americans. Would not be surprised that some of those sailors were born in Haiti.

    Chavez said on his weekly television show. "They are occupying Haiti undercover."

  15. In California the battery is warrantied for ten years and 150,000 miles, in the rest of the country it's 8 years and 100,000 miles. And no, the batteries are not dropping dead at 8 years or 100,000 miles. Toyota designed them to last 180,000 miles, most are going much further.
    Yes, Russ, I think the author suffers from the I-hate-the-Prius paranoia that seems so widespread in some areas.

    I suspect what is happening with all those Prius batteries (that contrary to the author's claims are NOT getting replaced) is that they are slowly dying: Fuel economy on those Priora are slowly trending down. At some point the battery probably stops contributing altogether. You still have a high-mileage car, relatively speaking. Only owners keeping careful records will notice.

    Note that in a PHEV you WILL notice the difference. Good luck with that, Volt.

    But, a mix, nevertheless.
    Today's mix: oil and rounding errors. I suspect it will always be a main fuel and noise. Will biofuel be the main fuel? Now that is the question.

    Time's not our friend, anymore, kiddos.
    I would have said: Ethanol's not our friend, and never was, kiddos.

    When gas hits $5 a gallon,the Volt will be the top selling car here.
    Or should that be when pigs fly? Let's not pin our hopes on a car that has not even made it to showrooms, just yet.

    "Once you have the ocean surface carpeted with the algae, " Hmm, there's the only biofuel solution I can think of that everyone will object to. Farming anything in open ocean is very difficult to control -storms, etc, it will need thousands of square miles to be a source of any volume.
    Yes, there will be (severe) environmental impacts. But, if you do this right, algae lost from fuel production goes into the food chain.

    In the light of this, just how much capital, sophisticated technology and energy are actually needed for reforming such "easily" reached biohydrocarbons?
    We need an expert opinion on this: King or RR, how advantageous is a hydrocarbon feedstock, as opposed to a (mainly) carbohydrate feedstock (to gasification). Gasification is still high-rate compared to fermentation.

    My suggestion would be: harvest whatever algal species grows the fastest, and adapt the fuel production process to that.

    Sure sounds simpler than trying to protect a slow-grower on the open ocean.

  16. The three counties directly south of Memphis, Desoto, Tate, and Tunica comprise about 1,400 sq miles, and have a combined population of about 140,000. Gasoline consumption is probably on the order of about 84 Million gallons/yr.

    Let's assume that the newer vehicles will eventually get that consumption down in the range of 60 Million gallons/yr. Let's, also, assume that the US will be able to provide close to 20,000 of that for quite some time to come.

    That means we need a lousy 40 Million gallons/yr to be independent of foreign sources for our fuel for private transport.

    Well, 140,000 people will generate approx. 140,000 Tons of MSW. At 100 gal/ton that would give us 14 Million Gallons.

    Now, we're down to needing 26 Million gallons. We should be able to generate 600 gallons/acre (actually, a lot more if it's corn, and you consider the feed co-products,) so 26 M/600 = 43,333 acres. Or, about 68 sq miles. A little more than 8 miles sq.

    5% of our land area and we blow a raspberry to Everybody.

    Cost of a plant that size – About $50 Million. Maybe $5 M for 20 years pays it off. $0.10 gal.

    AND, we could do it, TOMORROW.

  17. Kit P wrote: France might be the country that uses the lowest amount of fossil fuel to make electricity. Why is nuclear 80% of the mix?

    That's France's solution. Iceland gets 70.1% of its electricity from hydropower and 29.9% from geothermal power, for a total of 100% non-fossil fuel to make electricity. France has some hydro and biomass electricity, but not enough to supply its needs, so France imports most of its electric power fuel sources.

  18. Well Clee, the tricities area of Washington State (about the same population as Iceland) gets 500% of its electricity from one nuke, 400% from hydroelectric, 10% from wind while manufacturing a significant portion of nuclear fuel for the world. Lots of of other stuff the world needs.

    The electricity tricities area does not need is shipped to consumers like Clee. Clee's idea of a solution is telling others how to make stuff he consumes. The PNW used to be a major producer of aluminum until California would pay more to heat hot tubs and swimming pools.

    France exports 5 times more electricity that the total than Iceland produces. Also France produces lots of things like nuclear fuel. Iceland is also a producing country. Those aluminum mills that used to be in the US are now in places like Iceland chasing that last MWe of cheap hydroelectric power.

  19. Kit P wrote: Clee's idea of a solution is telling others how to make stuff he consumes.

    Kit P's idea of a comment is claiming things about other people that aren't true and repeatedly confusing me with the state of California. I did not tell anyone how to make anything I consume (other than returning an entree that was overcooked).

    You were the one who chose the measure "the country that uses the lowest amount of fossil fuel to make electricity.". Iceland out does France by that/your measure, even though it does it partly by not having much population.

  20. BTW I think France's solution is just fine,
    and happens to be unrelated to my consumption or where I currently live.

  21. Now I see why Clee decided to respond to me in such as snarky way. He did not understand that I was explaining 'why' the mix might be a certain way.

    France had a choice between importing nuclear technology from the US or coal Germany. Sweden made a choice to develop their own nuclear technologies but later abandoned their program.

    Iceland is an example of a place where no choices were made, they used what they had. There is nothing we can learn from Iceland about making energy choices.

    We can learn from California. California is the icon for making poor energy choices and thinking they are doing a good job.

    I always want to know the why and the how. Ten years ago when Texas was the renewable energy leader, the why was 'deregulation' and the how was a modest RPS. More recently California energy policy to reduce AGW included a huge RPS. California has succeeded in contracting large amounts of renewable energy capacity built in other states.

    After knowing the why and the how, then check the results to see if you got what you wanted. We will see how it works out.

  22. Kit P wrote: Now I see why Clee decided to respond to me in such as snarky way. He did not understand that I was explaining 'why' the mix might be a certain way.

    No you weren't. You didn't start explaining any of " 'why' the mix might be a certain way." until this last reply, long after I got snarky in response to you making false claims how I think.

  23. Clee wrote, “No you weren't. You didn't start explaining any of..”

    But Kit P (that is me) had written

    “Why is nuclear 80% of the mix?

    “No coal, no gas, no choice!” ..”

    Now Clee, I also do not think I am wrong about how you think because I read what you writes. Clee is a typical California consumer who get electricity from out of state imports. He thinks solar panels on his roof is great and making electricity with coal where I live is bad.

    Did I get that right Clee?

  24. No, I was strictly looking at "Gasoline," M. I realize I got a little ahead of myself by not accounting for diesel before I "spiked the ball," but that will, actually, be pretty easy, also. Most counties have a plethora of "scrub" type land that would be well suited for different oil crops such as "Chinese Tallow," or some others.

    I'm not concerning myself, here, with electricity inasmuch as we're in pretty good shape for the short to medium term in that respect.

  25. Kit P,
    I'd suggest you read this article about France's problems with electricity before talk about how good they've got it….

    Where did you get the figure that they export 5 times more than Iceland produces? According to the article they are a net importer.

    Your claims about Washington State's export numbers seem equally as preposterous.

    References would really make your claims a lot more believable, but I've been lurking here long enough to know that will likely never happen. It's much easier to just pull numbers out of the air to support your arguments.

  26. First off Craig I made no statements about how 'good' France is just the reason for the generation mix. Second Craig you posted a boggers rant not some authority on energy.

    “France is the world's largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of generation, and gains over EUR 3 billion per year from this.”

    On most days, France has much more nuke capacity than demand therefore nuke plants load follow which is why France would like to make PHEV replace oil.

    The French Grid, RTE, looks like the US grids

    “numbers seem equally as preposterous”

    Lived in the PNW for 13 years. Before that I lived where Clee lives in California. Yes, some in California want a reference that water freezes 32 degrees F but people do freeze to death.

    That is WHY energy policy is important. If you want to study electricity generation in the US, the EIA has statistics going back 50 years sorted by state and generation source.

  27. Kit P had written:“Why is nuclear 80% of the mix?

    “No coal, no gas, no choice!” ..”

    Okay, I'll concede that maybe I didn't understand that you were attempting to explain why nuclear is 80% of France's mix. Since you put the "No coal, no gas, no choice!" in quotations just like "The Prius is Japan's top selling car." I assumed it was something someone else said that you were quoting and implying was misleading.

    You didn't answer your rhetorical question of "Why?" regarding the Prius. I thought you hadn't answered your rhetorical question of "Why is nuclear 80% of the mix?" since everything after that was about the US, not France. If "No coal, no gas, no choice!" was an explanation, then you have since directly contradicted it by saying "France had a choice between importing nuclear technology from the US or coal Germany."

    Of course Iceland had no coal, no gas, no oil but they had a choice because they had sufficient hydropower and geothermal and thus could and did choose those over nuclear. Portugal has no coal, no gas and so far they have chosen importing coal and gas over nuclear.

    So it looks to me that the "No coal, no gas, no choice!" was in fact not an explanation.

  28. “You didn't answer your rhetorical question of "Why?" regarding the Prius.”

    I do not know the answer. My point is that people advocate something without knowing why.

    But Clee you are still missing the point. I can explain why the mix is different between France and the US. I care about energy policy in the US.

    If I can learn good ideas from someplace else that is great. Now Clee if you can tell me what good idea they have in Iceland or Portugal and why it it is a good idea I would be interested in hearing it. However, it seems that your only interest is telling me I ma wrong based on your mindset. You brought up Iceland or Portugal, why?

  29. I've been thinking about why France went the nuclear route in a major way, unlike some other countries with no coal, no gas. I think it's Gallic pride. France resents that they are no longer the world power that they used to be with an empire rivaling that of the British. After WWII they wanted to show they they were a world power, so they needed to have nuclear weapons, which meant they needed nuclear power plants to produce plutonium.

    France also resents no longer being a major center of scientific endeavor like they were back in the days of the Curies. To be way ahead in technologically-advanced nuclear power is a point of national pride for them. But that's just my impression. I suspect to some extent China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran want nuclear power for the same reason, to be considered a world power.

    Iceland and Portugal aren't so uptight, so like the US today, they go with power plants that are cheaper to build and thus have less financial risk.

  30. "Walking is not a solution."

    Rubbish. Expanding walking, cycling, and transit use is essential if we're going to get out of the trap we've created for ourselves. It's not just a question of finding some fabulous new organic fuel supply so that none of us have to change our lives. Even vehicles powered by a totally carbon-neutral fuel would have a host of negative externalities.

  31. Kit,
    the link to the info on France's nuclear power was interesting.
    Given the age of the majority of their reactors, my guess is that the blog rant that I posted a link to would not be far off the mark as to the vulnerability of french generating capacity.

    I know in Canada, our aging nuclear reactors are being shutdown due to many factors, one of them being maintenance. Is there a 'typical' life expectancy of nuclear plant?

  32. “I've been thinking about why France went the nuclear route in a major way ..”

    Clee, did you read the link I provided. The reason is stated thus eliminating any reason to be insulting a large population of people. Same as South Korea, lots of people and industry requires lots of electricity.

    Portugal and Iceland have relatively small populations that would not justify the regulatory agency to support nukes. Switzerland would seem to contradict that. I have visited Switzerland and I would not be surprised if more regulation may not be why they adopted nukes.

    “which meant they needed nuclear power plants to produce plutonium.”

    France's nuke weapons program predates commercial nuke power plants by two decades. Western commercial nuke power plants due not produce weapons grade plutonium because of the isotope mix is not correct. Furthermore, France selected Westinghouse reactors as the base of their electricity generating industry. France, Japan, and South Korea have evolved US designs to compete with the US to market new reactors.

  33. “vulnerability of french generating capacity”

    Craig you may want to go back and read the link I provided for understanding. The US is leading the world in making 40 year old nukes last 60 years. France has no 40 year old reactors but they have decided to follow the US lead to make their reactors last 60 years. EDF has order a huge number of replacement steam generators to replace aging one.

    France is also building new Gen III reactors with 4 under construction.

    Craig also missed the point Frence nuke plants are load following. France has a long way to go before they maximize output from nuke plants.

    Canada also has a program to refurbish nuke plants to make them last 60 years. Canada has a different design that does not require large forgings that US PWR need. The why in this case is to not depend on the US and compete in the world market.

    Craig the web site I provided for France also has a similar info about Canada if you are interested. Much more accurate than what you might read in the press.

    “Is there a 'typical' life expectancy of nuclear plant?”

    Fifty years ago, US BWR and PWR (light water reactors) were designed for 40 years based on 10 years of commercial experience. With forty more years of experience with Gen II reactors, Gen III reactors are being designed for 60 years.

    I see no reason that these power plants will not operate for 100 years unless something better comes along.

  34. What is the lowest iodine value of any algae you've seen? What is the human health value attributable to Omega 3's? Algae is not the solution. At least not the mechanical energy solution.

  35. Kit P wrote: You brought up Iceland or Portugal, why?

    I brought up Iceland and Portugal because the standard in this blog is to start with the data. Often people make claims in this blog and I get curious to see if they are true or not and go look for the data. I've done it recently in response to things you, RR, paul, and Maury have said. You are the only one who went after me personally for bringing data that didn't agree with the claims. Iceland is "the country that uses the lowest amount of fossil fuel to make electricity", not France. Iceland and Portugal compared with France show your claim that"No coal, no gas, no choice!" is not supported by the data.

    It looks like I've finally coaxed a real explanation from you that accounts for Iceland and Portugal by offering a technically-bogus-political-posturing explanation for why France went a different way from no-gas-no-coal Iceland and Portugal.

    You want me to tell you what good idea they have in Iceland or Portugal? You said in the next thread, the only important criteria for energy is having when and where you need it in a useful form. Well, that's exactly what they have. But what I have learned from Iceland and Portugal and why their mix is a certain way, according to your latest explanation, is that having a nuclear regulatory agency is onerous and if your electricity demands are small, nukes might not be worth the effort.

    The link said that France went with nukes because they wanted energy security, which was better served by importing a little bit of uranium rather than a lot of fossil fuel. I wouldn't fault that reasoning. Iceland, without using nukes, also has energy security.

  36. To Russ Finley: I stand corrected. I never meant to be as precise as you assumed. My main point was these batteries are not something you're going to go down to your local grocery store and pick off the shelf. Perhaps I am too cynical. I am not nearly as confident in the value of a warranty as you are. In 2009 I had three instances in which a warranty turned out to the worthless. If a car company runs into problems with their battery warranty, I presume they would honor the warranty and raise the price of future models to compensate.

    My comment that transportation fuels are harder is meant for the producer, not the consumer. Producers can make electricity from falling water, nuclear fission, burning hydrocarbons, direct sunlight, and many others. Cars run on gasoline. Trucks run on diesel. Both are currently made from fossil fuels, and the free-market offers no viable alternative.

    To Anonymous Kit p: Those cleanups were forced on industry by a government of the people. Lobbyists for the coal and car industries have fought regulation by any means necessary. The capitalist system is basically a deal between a buyer and seller. It has no intrinsic means of addressing the problem of harm to uninvolved third parties, such as who. Midnight dumping is one obvious bad result. It costs more money to dispose of toxic wastes safely that it does to simply dump them by the side of the road. A sleazy CEO sees any money spent on pollution control as coming right out of his own bonus.

    To rufus: there is no reason deserts could not use solar or the North Sea should not use wind or wave if it is economically competitive. Unfortunately, the capital investment to capture sunlight directly with photovoltaic cells is not competitive. Wind is close, but still require subsidies to compete with OPEC. Today fossil fuels and nuclear fission supply most of our electricity. All the others are a drop in the bucket. The situation arises because we do not charge industry for the harm their pollution does. Only when regulations require industry to internalize the cost of pollution will alternatives become economically feasible. Many of the proposals you list are economically very capital intensive. The world simply does not have the money to buy the equipment necessary to exploit the technologies you list. Sunlight might be free, but the equipment to gather it is not. The infrastructure required to produce ethanol or biodiesel is more expensive than the reactors to convert petroleum to transportation hydrocarbons.

    Jay Keasling has genetically engineered a bacteria to produce biodiesel directly. The bug secretes these products into the aqueous medium in which it lives. According to Keasling, separation merely requires separating the oil and water layers. [Nature Jan 28, 2010 page 463. the abstract, but not the complete paper, is available on line]

    Economics is a matter of scale. The more different investments you have to make, the smaller the scale of each one, and the more expensive it will be. In today's economic environment, cost is paramount. Given the choice, initial cost dominates. That's why people buy incandescent light bulbs rather than fluorescent ones.

    What could go wrong with covering the ocean with algae? Probably lots of things. But lots of things can go wrong with transporting crude oil on the ocean. Lots of things can go wrong with nuclear power plants. Dams can burst. Growing corn to make ethanol can starve people. It is incumbent on all us to make sure that whichever path we take to the future solves the problem with the least harm.

  37. To Anonymous Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole: California is a car culture. It is not typical of the rest of the world. My apartment complex does not have underground parking. Many people have to park a hundred feet away from the entrance to their building. Many poor, inner-city residents have to park on the street and the odds of finding a place right in front of their home are not good. Having an outlet at each parking space would be capital intensive. All of a sudden that cheap electricity that you have in your home might turn out to be very expensive when Enron takes its cut for installing the outlets. Yes, the quality of lithium batteries is increasing, but lithium is less widely distributed than petroleum. What will the price of lithium be when the producing countries form an "Organization of Lithium Producing Countries?" Palm oil is a fat. It needs chemical processing to convert it to biodiesel which then can be used as a transportation fuel. [pongamia pinetta]

    There is no free market in oil, and to rely high-prices for alternatives to succeed isn't consumer friendly. OPEC knows this, and attempts to keep oil reasonably enough priced so that the alternatives never gain traction. The poor countries of the world are not going to give up cheap and dirty coal for clean, expensive alternatives. The only way to solve our problems with climate change and OPEC is a cheap, clean fuel. I emphasize CHEAP. People have short memories. When gasoline prices spike, people want small and efficient cars. When the price of gasoline drops again, they revert to wanting comfort and muscle. Changing the attitudes of the American car industry and its customers is not going to be easy. As long as they make more money selling SUVs that small cars, industry's incentive is to make SUVs. The oil industry makes more money when you drive an inefficient car. The electricity industry makes more money when lazy people leave gadgets on when they aren't using them. Existing industries are not structured for conservation.

    One terrorist action at a nuclear power plant and the world will turn away from this means of generating electricity. The industry does not come clean about how dirty it really is. They have the ethics of the tobacco industry. I simply don't trust them.

    To: Anonymous P.M.Lawrence. I am very familiar with Kolbe electrolysis. It is a very expensive technology. Part of the problem is that it requires electricity first. If you have electricity, why use it to make hydrocarbons? So, in your scheme to make gasoline, you first grow plants, then build fermentation equipment to make butyric acid, then electrolysis equipment to convert the acid into hydrocarbons, and then use existing refineries to convert low octane hydrocarbons into transportation fuels. That's a lot of steps.

    How much energy and capital investment are needed for reforming such "easily" reached biohydrocarbons? That will course depend on which specific hydrocarbons are made. Triterpenes can be used as diesel fuel with no chemical modification. Existing refineries should be able to convert any hydrocarbon mix to gasoline and diesel. Let's do some one significant figure calculations. With oil at $80 a barrel, that's $2 per gallon of oil. Gasoline from this oil does not even cost $3 a gallon, including tax. Oil refineries are very efficient at converting petroleum to transportation fuels.

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