People Like Me

Just in passing, during a general internet browse, I find that Bosch take synthetic fuels seriously. People like me.

“Synthetic fuels are made solely with the help of renewable energy. In a first stage, hydrogen is produced from water. Carbon is added to this to produce a liquid fuel. This carbon can be recycled from industrial processes or even captured from the air using filters. Combining CO2 and H2 then results in the synthetic fuel, which can be gasoline, diesel, gas, or even kerosene.” This is not new gizmodery, however. Synfuels have a long history : see here, here, here and here.

And they mention that the Germany Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has been working in this area. Another search term in the internet browser later, I find companies doing work on turning wood into fuel, and capturing carbon dioxide to make methanol. But I know there’s more. So, after a little more digging, I find the bmwi 2019 Federal Government Report on Energy Research.

And what’s this ? Carbon2Chem – “CO2 reduction via cross-industrial cooperation between the steel, chemical and energy sectors”. And the section on projects and companies involved, for L6, “Oxymethyl ether: BASF SE, Volkswagen AG, Linde AG, FhG-UMSICHT, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) – Institute of Catalysis Research and Technology, thyssen-krupp AG”.

Volkswagen ? I mean, I can understand BASF and Linde being heavily involved at this stage, being chemical engineering majors, but Volkswagen ? A motor vehicle manufacturer ? Already ? I would have thought the carmakers would come along to the party a bit later. Although, actually, thinking about it, I have heard of some other automobile companies doing things in the gas sphere.

And KIT, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Here’s their general piece about the bioliq plant.

“Modern combustion engines become increasingly economical and clean. Engine developers, however, are now facing the technical conflict of whether fuel consumption or exhaust gas emission is to be further reduced. This Gordian knot might be cut by chemists’ and engineers’ further development of sophisticated fuels that help optimize combustion in the engine. […] A promising concept for diesel fuels is the use of oxymethylene ethers […]”

It goes on, “[…] Oxymethylene ethers (OME) are synthetic compounds of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen (CH3O(CH2O)nCH3). Due to their high oxygen concentration, pollutant formation is suppressed in the combustion stage already. As diesel fuels, they reduce the emission of carbon black [BC] and nitrogen oxides [NOx]”. This sounds like a very optimistic route for development.

However, there’s still the usual catch of new tech : the economics. “[…] Still, economically efficient production of OME on the technical scale represents a challenge. The OME project will therefore focus on new and efficient processes for the production of the chemical product OME.”

And clearly, they will need to be produced from renewable resources, “[…] OME might be produced from renewable resources, as is shown by the bioliq project of KIT. In this way, these substances would not only contribute to reducing pollutants, but also to decreasing carbon dioxide emission of traffic. The carbon/oxygen/hydrogen ratio of OME is very similar to that of biomass. Production with a high energy and atom efficiency is possible.”

As of now, “[…] Little is known about the effects of OME during engine combustion and other aspects of the use in vehicles. Comprehensive studies of engine tests will focus on these aspects of application and contribute to revealing the potentials of enhancing efficiency of OME use. These studies are to provide detailed insight into the relationships between the chemical OME structure and combustion properties. The objective is to demonstrate a highly simplified exhaust gas treatment process without particulate filters and catalytic treatment. […]”

And this is a very important point : the way forward for diesel engines in road vehicles implies the use of several different kinds of filtration, additives, catalytic conversion and other gas exhaust treatment – including recycling. Yet even with all this extra kit in a diesel vehicle, there will be RWDC – real world driving conditions that defeat all this added expense and weight.

We have to face the facts : dino diesel is dangerous dirt, and cleaning up after its combustion requires complex chemistry. Any alternatives could be very useful in reducing the weight and cost of vehicles, including removing the need for rare earth elements in catalysts.

The Renewable Gas Ask : Part Q

In the continuing inquiry into which bodies and actors are likely to call for Renewable Gas, and why, I am going back to add extra comments to sectors I already discussed.

14.   Power Grid Operators (Continued)

An Embarrassment of Electrons

Stories regularly bubble away, and rise to the surface from time to time, about how renewable power is being wasted, as grids don’t need it or can’t handle it.

There appears to be a whole phalanx of media commentators, who might identify as right-wing, and therefore be fans of shareholding and markets, who complain about wind turbines being “shut down” (or more accurately “shut out”) because it’s too windy. Funny, though, increasingly more wind turbines are being planted, almost as if there’s a strong return on capital investment in these zero carbon assets. Plus, these opinion-formers don’t seem to change their story from year to year, which is a tad strange :-

2018 : Wind farms paid £100m to switch power off
2020 : “Wind farms paid up to £3 million per day to switch off turbines”

It’s a losing argument, lads. Actually, no, it’s lost. The National Grid knew what it was doing when it agreed to adopt renewable electricity sources. There’s the whole Balancing Mechanism, and soon, there will be heaps of extra electricity storage, and the storage of the power of electrons in other forms of energy.

As time goes by, and reams of solar panels and crowds of wind turbines are added to the standing army of power grids in the developed and developing countries, because neighbouring countries will all be producing too much electricity at the same time – for example in a strong storm system or a very sunny day – it will not be possible to export electrons along interconnectors.

Oops, an embarrassment of electrons. The infrastructure and grid distribution people will be looking for anything that can act as a load sink. Sure, for an anticipated storage time of a few hours, using grid-integrated solid state batteries are going to be a boon. Except the scale of the energy storage required might far outweigh original scoping.

Will the power companies turn to flow batteries and other kinds of chemical looping systems for energy storage on windy Wednesdays and sunny Sundays ? It all depends on how stable these turn out to be – how many cycles of a unit can be done before maintenance or chemical refilling is required. Also, the containment of chemical batteries is a fairly major construction cost, and for safety reasons, it might be better if they were built into the ground – also saving on build materials. If the power companies need to go to the extent of digging for battery provision, why not produce synthetic gas from excess renewable power, and store that underground instead ? It would require much less in terms of containment and build. Nature has provided a fine example of how gases can be stored safely for millions of years underground – why, we could even use the now-emptied Natural Gas caverns to store synthesised methane.

It is at this point in the logic that a wise reviewer of energy will reflect on how there is now a bit of a competition for the provision of sub-surface storage of gases. Large, traditionally leading oil and gas companies are selling the idea of CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, where all vagrant carbon dioxide should be plucked from whichever process, or even from the air itself, to be compressed and pumped underground for eternity – but actually a good deal shorter, because of tectonics and the natural long period natural Carbon Cycle. Modern, more conscious energy companies want to use the sub-surface to store carbon-free hydrogen, despite the fact that hydrogen molecules are incredibly small and incorrigibly mobile, seeping through even metals.

Whilst it is true that the world needs Renewable Hydrogen – hydrogen liberated from water and biomass by the action of renewable power – the best gas for energy storage is definitely Renewable Methane – made from Renewable Hydrogen. There is a strong parallel with natural processes : Natural Gas, which has been resident in the sub-surface for millions of years, is primarily methane in content.

Fine. Capture and lock away a bit of carbon dioxide underground. Bury CO2. But there is no gain in locking away a source of carbon that has no intrinsic fuel value. What’s more important is energy storage – so temporarily burying hydrogen and methane – which are ideal fuels. Although, as previously noted, methane is more stable and containable, theoretically. Methane gas emissions from oil and gas industry operations have been bad in some places and at some times : due to liberating methane from its millions-years sub-surface storage : this failing will need to be deal with when applications of Renewable Methane expand.

10.   Industrial High Energy Consumers (Continued)

Developed and developing economies will continue to have industries with high levels of energy demand, causing high levels of carbon dioxide emissions : for products such as steel, glass, fuels, petrochemicals and cement. Processes in this sector are highly concentrated in terms of location, owing to the energy efficiency of highly centralised operation, and this would facilitate high volume carbon dioxide capture, and therefore lower-cost CCS – the underground, permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide.

However, in terms of capital expenditure barriers to new technologies, it would be less of a hurdle to implement low carbon synthetic gas production to meet energy demand; and in addition, provide energy-dense synthesised gases for storage which would have a future earnings potential. If syngas in high energy demand industries were to be made from renewable resources, so Renewable Gas, so Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane and Renewable Carbon Monoxide, this would advance low carbon industry significantly.

Another question is that of speed-to-implementation : Renewable Gas for low carbon energy in energy-intensive industries is likely to be much faster to get going than industry-wide Carbon Capture and Storage.

In order for Renewable Gas to be called for in this sector, however, there would need to be a strong confidence that renewable electricity supplies were growing virtually exponentially, as cheap power will be essential. Renewable Gas will not only be a serious soak of excess renewable power load, it will also provide a way to capture and recycle process heat in energy-intensive industries – a matter of energy efficiency, which is highly important to make advances in.

The Renewable Gas Ask : Part P

I am still adding extra ideas into points I previously laid out regarding who is likely to call for the development of Renewable Gas.

9.   Other International Agencies, such as IEA Bioenergy and Governments (Continued)

The Renewable Energy Directive II (RED II) in the European Union, and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the United States of America set regulatory ambitions for the increase of renewable fuels, either as pure streams, or in blends.

There are a number of reasons why the percentages of renewable fuels in blends are relatively low compared to ambition in other areas, such as for the percentage of low carbon electricity generated.

One reason is that it is thought that supplies of renewable fuels, or renewable components of fuel blends, might be limited in quantity – specifying high percentages in targets for road fuels could lead to scarcity and rule-breaking.

Another issue of concern is that producing renewable fuels might well compete with the food supply for the use of land or crops. This “food versus fuel” struggle is typified by the competition for maize corn stocks (which is destined either for bioethanol or cattle feed) and the land to grow it.

A third deliberation is found where fuel plant species are supplanting native tropical rainforest or woodland : the net carbon emissions from deforestation cannot be compensated for by the raising of oil palms, for example, in Indonesia and Malaysia (which the forests were originally razed to raise).

As a general finding, the more a technology is deployed, the more evolved it is, and the more efficient and cheap it is : low renewable fuels ambitions could be said to be stalling cost-effectiveness and efficiency in producing renewable fuels – a negative feedback.

If volume growth continues to be depressed, there could come a point where regulatory targets cannot be met. If this arrives, then a new approach might be necessary.

So far, renewable fuels have been considered to be solely those produced from grown biomass – so by the thermal and biological decomposition and reformation of lipids and (poly)saccharides in photosynthesising plants and certain members of the non-plant-non-animal clades of the tree of life.

To increase volumes, we could make the biomass box itself larger, by broadening our understanding of what can be grown to become usable carbonaceous material : plasmodium-phase slime mold biodiesel, anyone ?

Yet, the more we start to look outside this biological box for sources of carbon to make into fuels (with the addition of the hydrogen from water, and the oxygen from the air), via synthesis, the larger the potential source of renewable fuels could be.

Why, we can fish carbon out of such things as : the carbon dioxide that’s normally a waste product of biogas production, carbon dioxide from the cement industry, waste wood by-products from forestry and maybe even young muds from tidal estuaries – ploughed out through dredging shipping channels.

There are a variety of ways that carbon can be cycled into making renewable fuels, including DAC – Direct Air Capture, if this becomes efficient.

It seems likely that if biomass-sourced biologically-produced renewable fuels have a maximum limit to their volumes, then governments and international agencies will put out the call for synthetic renewable fuels, such as the gases Renewable Methane and Renewable Hydrogen.

Tu Me Manques, David Miliband

I don’t know about you, but I’m missing David Miliband from the political fish-eat-fish top table already.

If he were to ask me, which he won’t, but anyway, if he did, I would recommend that he starts reading up about Energy production and supply, over the next 18 months or so before he gets invited, acceptingly, back into the Shadow Cabinet of the UK Government.

If he were to spend his time on the train between South Shields and Westminster looking into energy security matters, into crustal petrogeology, the Middle East oil fields, Wind Power, solar and marine options, he could make a strong comeback into the limelight – as opposed to the “lemon” light he’s been cast into, thrust into, so far.

If he becomes acquainted with the ways and wiles of engineering and fossil fuels over the next few years, the viability of Renewable Energy solutions, the transport explosion phenomenon and how to control it, then he will be able to offer solid assistance to his younger brother Teddy – who appears to be mistakenly sold on the idea of new nuclear power.

And if Ed Miliband were to ask, (again, which he won’t), I’d say – atomic energy cannot save us; carbon capture technology cannot save us; algae biodiesel can only trickle, even Frankenstein GM algae biodiesel; Peak Oil is almost definitely here; efficiency of use alone cannot save us. We have to go right out for a non-combustion, Renewable Energy future.

What Is “Clean Development” ?

The idea behind “clean development” is simple : promoting the clean development of developing countries so that they don’t make the same dirty development mistakes that the developed countries did when they were developing.

So, let the developing countries develop, but avoid the dirty part. Instead of burning Coal to make electricity, let them burn Natural Gas, or BioMethane (poo power); or let them make wind turbines, and hydropower dams and efficient biomass stoves.

There was to be a fund to finance Clean Development Mechanism projects, and it was supposed to be aimed at developing countries.

However, the negotiations around the CDM have taken more than one twist. Today, discussions were held about whether to permit Carbon Capture and Storage technologies to be included as “clean development”.

Continue reading What Is “Clean Development” ?