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On Climate One: Overselling the Fracking Boom

And further not so positive news is that despite the current Administration’s increasingly aggressive policies to restrain coal power generation, reduce petroleum consumption, increase Consumer’s efficiencies and the less than full support for natural gas production, total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels consumption actually increased by 122 million metric tons per year (+2.3%) 2012-2013.  The largest source of this increase (over half the total) is surprisingly due to increased coal consumption.  Could the major contributing factor be inadequate clean energy policies, just another temporary increase as was experienced in 2009 or due to a significant increase in the level of GDP growth and economic recovery?  Your guess is as good as mine at this time.  We will all find out in the next couple years, assuming the slow and consistent growth in the economy continues and if future clean energy/efficiency gains can successfully outpace the energy consumption from further increased GDP and population growth.  

April 20, 2014    View Comment    

On Report Challenges EIA's Renewable Energy Projections

The EIA has a history of being relatively conservative in their (AEO) projections of renewable power growth.  Part of the reason has to do with predicting the future subsidies which must be routinely reapproved by Congress.  Since wind power accounted for 88% of average annual non-hydro renewable power increases in U.S. net generation over the past 10 years, the impact of Congress not extending the ‘production tax credit’ (PTC) is likely a major contributing factor to the EIA not more aggressively projecting growth in future wind power generation 2015-2025.

Review of the SUN DAY's projection indicates assumptions to the extreme in the opposite direction of the EIA AEO 2014 (early release).  The more obvious examples are their assumptions for hydrokinetics, biomass and geothermal.  While these renewables could definitely someday substantially increase their contribution to total renewable power generation (depending on the economics), recent performance histories’ are not that optimistic compared to actual wind and even solar power.  Wind and solar’s growth of course have been very strongly supported by various Government subsidies over the past 10 years.  Another factor not apparently addressed very much in the SUN DAY projection is the impact of increased penetration levels of variable wind & solar or other renewables that require increased levels of spinning reserves to properly maintain power grid balances and reliabilities.  The EIA routinely uses power grid standards developed by North American Electric Reliability Corporation. 

The bottom line, all analyses have their pluses and minuses.  The accuracy is almost always conditional on the assumptions used to develop the projections.

April 18, 2014    View Comment    

On ABCs of LNG

Edward, natural gas is by far the cleanest burning fossil fuel.  It does, however, contain up to a few ppm’s sulfur.  This level of sulfur content is much lower than all other fossil fuels; particularly coal and most petroleum vehicle/marine fuels.

April 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Spurring a Manufacturing Renaissance: Increasing Competitiveness through Energy Efficiency

Improving or encouraging the Manufacturing Sector’s energy efficiency in producing durable and non-durable goods definitely has its benefits.  However, the Federal Government’s ability to support significant and sustainable improvements to facilitate a re-growth of the Manufacturing Sector and possibly improve the U.S. balance of trade through the proposed legislation/policies is highly questionable.  Energy costs do make up a significant percentage of the total costs to produce most goods sold domestically or exported.  Other costs normally make up the majority of total manufacturing expenses including labor, feedstocks, maintenance, transportation, taxes and company administrative expenses; particularly for various regulatory compliance actions.  Also, the current Federal Government Agencies have not done a very good job of picking winners and losers (example: clean energy) over the past six years.

Yes, the U.S. Manufacturing Sector has been in decline, and, was very negatively impacted by the 2007-09 economic recession.  As a result, most Manufacturers have struggled to more fully recover from the recession, as most the overall economy; which has experienced a historic weak recovery since 2009 compared to past recessions.  Having spent most my career in the Energy Manufacturing Sector I suggest that each Manufacturer class or specific goods Sector normally has more than adequate incentive to properly manage their operating expenses including energy efficiency, and generally do a good job of sharing technologies and upgrade innovations without the Government’s help.

Where the Federal Government can best help the U.S. Manufacturing Sector is by reducing current very high U.S. corporate taxes, minimizing onerous-wasteful regulations & required compliance costs, and better manage our trade policies with other countries that unfairly disadvantage U.S. Manufacturers.  These and other improvements such as making regulations more effective/efficient or eliminating wasteful policies, will much better enable a re-growth of the U.S. Manufacturing Sector and facilitate a much stronger overall U.S. economic recovery.  Benefits: substantial added jobs, increased wages, increased tax revenues/reduced Government deficits, and possibly improved trade balances.

April 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Can the Complexities of Sugarcane Ethanol Imports Lead to Increased Carbon Emissions?

Bill, a couple more facts to consider:

Some ‘tight (crude) oil' production, compared to conventional crude oil production, could have increased energy consumption directionally up towards 50%.  This, however, is the extreme of economically feasible operations and only represents a very small fraction of total production.  On average, U.S. crude oil production energy intensity overall has only increased by a couple percent in recent years (based on $100 per barrel average market prices).

The original ethanol lifecycle energy and fossil fuels/carbon balances used by most Federal Agencies (including the EPA) were develop by the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL); hired by the DOE.  My past analysis shows that based on ANL GREET data the petroleum consumption for the ‘well-to-wheel’ (cultivation-thru-consumption) was 15% of total fossil fuels consumption.  Natural gas made up about 60% (power+heat) and the balance of fossil fuels consumption (25%) comes from coal (power+heat).

The Brazil sugarcane ethanol producers are very likely currently claiming carbon reduction benefits for possible future efficiency/improvements.  While this practice may be acceptable to the IPCC and EU, I do not believe U.S. Consumers should be paying for RIN’s that have little or no current carbon reduction value.  For IPCC/EU carbon credit information, refer to a past TEC Post section: “Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol Carbon Trading Mechanisms”.

If indeed the co-product credit for DDGS is under estimated as you suggest, the EPA needs to address this issue (with ANL probably) in addition to the updated RFA conventional corn ethanol biorefinery efficiency updates.

Also, if E-30 is the most optimal gasoline blend for state-of-art ICE designs the Auto Industry needs to be much more engaged and aggressive to selling this factor to the U.S. Government (under CAFE standards possibly) and Consumers.  Today only two grades are normally available in the U.S.; E-10 and E-85.  Based on contact and personal experience, E-85 has not been too successful in U.S. FFV’s due to lower heat content, poorer fuel mileage, and higher overall cost per mile operation for average Consumers.  A niche market has however developed for high performance/compression vehicles (on-/off-road).  LDV’s that require 100+ octane normally use Nascar fuel or Avgas to operate efficiently/effectively.  Those high performance vehicles that have FFV capabilities (fuel systems designed for high ethanol content fuels) can be much more economically operated on E-85 vs. alternative high performance petroleum gasolines.

April 14, 2014    View Comment    

On Can the Complexities of Sugarcane Ethanol Imports Lead to Increased Carbon Emissions?

Bill, I understand very well how the RFS and associated RIN’s are designed to function.  The RFS was created under Energy Policy Act of 2005 and updated under Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  Both these regulations were primarily intended to displace petroleum consumption (and imports) with alternative fuels, including biofuels.  The primary priority was ‘energy security’ and had nothing to do with some assumed ‘monopoly’ theory.  The RIN’s, of course, are just an accounting process, with the possible application to ‘free market’ (trading) investors.

Biojet can directionally burn cleaner than 100% petroleum jet.  However, biojet does have a major physical property shortcoming: pour/freeze point.  In order to meet Commercial/Military jet specifications biojet must be blended with large percentages of petroleum jet.  Also, biojet is not the perfectly clean fuel either.  Jet engine exhaust pollutants such as formaldehyde are increasingly generated from biojet.

Ethanol was the original octane booster since the dawn of the automobile.  Due primarily to economics it was (unfortunately) replaced by TEL, and more recently by higher octane hydrocarbons.  As I assume you are aware, modern ICE’s with exhaust-environmental controls have more than adequately eliminated the past VOC emissions that contained aromatic combustion products; in the fairly distant past.

April 13, 2014    View Comment    

On Can the Complexities of Sugarcane Ethanol Imports Lead to Increased Carbon Emissions?

Bill Brandon, as far as ‘Figures vs. Facts’ let’s review some additional facts.  I did a detailed analysis of the GREET model a couple years ago and found the full lifecycle carbon emissions of petroleum gasoline was over estimated by about 75%.  Granted, petroleum production from growing U.S. domestic ‘tight-oil’ crude production directionally increases its carbon emissions, but this factor also directionally applies to the petroleum consumed during the corn ethanol full lifecycle ‘cultivation-to-wheel’ carbon emissions.  These factors also directionally inflate the carbon reduction benefit of all biofuels (including conventional corn ethanol) very significantly.

Agreed, the energy efficiencies of average corn ethanol bio-refineries in operation today have very likely increased over the years (in part due to the shutdown of the least efficient/unprofitable plants in recent years).  If the RFA analysis that corn ethanol carbon reduction has increased from 22% (past GREET model analysis) up to 38% that would definitely be a good outcome (assuming the EPA validates/approves the increased benefit analysis).

As far as sugarcane vs. corn ethanol, the chemical/bio conversion fact is that fermenting pure sugar(cane) into ethanol is far more efficient than having to first convert corn starch into sugar prior to fermentation.  This TEC Post, however, focuses primarily on the probable fact that Brazil has recently and currently replaced its exported sugarcane ethanol (and associated domestic motor fuels consumption) with higher carbon U.S. corn ethanol and petroleum imports.  These factors make Brazil sugarcane imports’ ability to comply with U.S. advanced biofuel requirement of a 50% full lifecycle carbon reduction vs. petroleum gasoline, highly infeasible (and likely in violation with U.S. RFS requirements).

It will be interesting to witness how successful Ford’s Ecoboost engines operating on E-30 will be in reducing actual fuel consumption (increased efficiency) outside the lab.  These state-of-art turbocharged, direct fuel injection and higher compression engines are definitely more efficient than simpler technologies.  Do you know why Ford has chosen to test E-30 (not Commercially available within the U.S.) vs. E-85 which is widely sold to FFV owners today?

As far as DDGS (corn protein/oil/fiber co-product from ethanol production), the carbon credit value of this co-product made up the majority of the past GREET model analysis carbon reduction (vs. petroleum gasoline).  I suspect the DDGS co-product carbon credit makes up about half the carbon reduction value of corn ethanol based on the more recent RFA full lifecycle analysis (including ILUC).  Is DDGS more healthy for animals vs. raw corn?  I’ll leave this factor/comment up to those more familiar with this specific subject.

April 13, 2014    View Comment    

On Can the Complexities of Sugarcane Ethanol Imports Lead to Increased Carbon Emissions?

Lewis, a brief history of the RFS development: back in the 1990’s ‘oxygenates’ were required-blended into reformulated gasoline (RFG) in order to reduce LDV’s tailpipe CO emissions.  The most economic oxygenate was initially MTBE, followed by EtOH.  Leaking buried gasoline station tanks lead to MTBE water contamination problems, which resulted in EtOH becoming the primary and only oxygenate by the early 2000’s.

As you probably remember, Congress passed the EPAct of 2005, which created the first RFS(1) regulation and blending up to 7.5 billion gallons per year of EtOH.  This regulation was fairly consistent with the original RFG oxygenate requirement of about E-7.5.  The popularity of EtOH (with help from the Corn Farming/Ethanol Lobby) resulted in Congress passing EISAct of 2007, which raised total biofuel blending RFS(2) up to 36 billion gallons/year.  This is when the RFS regulation became less than constructive towards either LDV tailpipe CO emissions or energy security (displacing petroleum gasoline).  The EISA RFS2 regulation assumed that advanced cellulosic and/or algae biofuels technologies could be developed to efficiently and cost effectively produce ethanol & biodiesel.  Unfortunately, both these non-conventional/non-corn ethanol advanced biofuels struggle to compete (cost, efficiency and carbon emission reductions) with conventional corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel.

Yes, I agree, above E-7.5 (assuming RFG oxygenates are still required in modern LDV’s to control tailpipe CO emissions) continue to be a bad bargain in nearly all cases based on currently available advanced biofuels technologies.

April 11, 2014    View Comment    

On Biomass: Not Carbon Neutral and Often Not Clean

With the EPA’s recent emphasis on the huge health impacts of relatively small exposure to particulate material (PM 2.5) and need to reduce fossil fuels SOX, NOX, VOC, CO, PM and toxics emissions to insignificant levels, it’s difficult to understand why the EPA would allow biomass heat and power plants to be classified as ‘minor’, uncontrolled pollution sources.  Such a designation basically allows burning biomass and toxic waste materials that can contain large amounts of metals, polynuclear aromatics and other major toxins without any essential environmental controls.  Those who live in proximity or downwind of uncontrolled biomass combustion facilities can be put at very significant health risk.  Correcting this potentially very serious uncontrolled toxic emissions situation should be addressed by immediate facility' shutdowns until proper analysis and MACT controls are installed to prevent significantly harming all local, at-risk exposed Residents.

April 10, 2014    View Comment    

On Solar Energy Jumps to 22% of New US Generation Capacity in 2013

Increased solar power new installed ‘capacity’ over the past year is definitely a good trend.  Actual solar ‘net power generation’ doubled 2012-2013 from 4,327 GWh to 9,252 GWh.  This still only represents an increase of solar’s contribution towards total U.S. electric power net generation-consumption of 0.1% to 0.2%.  Solar will definitely have a role in displacing fossil fuels in the future, but annual new capacity installations must increased by many magnitudes for its contribution to become more significant.  Installed cost unfortunately continues to be a significant accelerated expansion barrier.

April 10, 2014    View Comment    

On Can the Complexities of Sugarcane Ethanol Imports Lead to Increased Carbon Emissions?

The only biofuel that comes to mind that meets all of the constraints you have listed is ‘wood’.  Wood biofuels have historically exceeded all other renewables except hydropower.  Even today, despite the large growth in solar+wind renewable energy, wood still exceeds these non-bio renewables energy supplies within the U.S. (and many other nations around the world).

April 9, 2014    View Comment    

On Can the Complexities of Sugarcane Ethanol Imports Lead to Increased Carbon Emissions?

N Nadir, ‘land-use changes’ are a significant and very important issue for essentially all biofuels.  When natural environments must be disturbed or destroyed to produce biomass feedstocks for various biofuels production, this is often one of the necessary trade-offs required to produce increased levels of biofuels around the world.  This includes clearing of rain forests in Asia to produce palm oil for EU biodiesel markets, to the huge chemical fertilizer run-offs in the U.S. from increased corn production that results in Gulf of Mexico algae blooms-dead zones, to the impacts of increased sugarcane production in Brazil (as you have done a very good job in referencing).  When it comes to ‘full-lifecycle’ or ‘overall global impacts’ of biofuels the complexities can often hide or confuse the sum-total of all environmental impacts that can often off-set most or all the estimated or claimed benefits.  That’s why responsible Government Agencies must do a much more thorough job of evaluating biofuels and other schemes that are supposed to reduce World carbon emissions and require Consumers to pay for the associated carbon credits that may not be beneficial in the bigger picture; i.e. World ‘net’ carbon emissions and current-future environmental impacts.

April 9, 2014    View Comment