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On Throwing the Carbon Capture Baby Out with the Coal Bath Water

Greenpeace takes a hard line against CCS because they advocate for zero fossil fuels across the board, they don't want a solution that allows coal power plants or other fossil fuels to continue operating.

Because Greenpeace is adamently opposed to all fossil fuels, they are doubly opposed to using captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery. The whole idea is anathema to their philsophical approach and they hope it will not work and certainly work to convince the public that it cannot work, facts be damned.

Injecting CO2 into oil fields for EOR is a proven method to sequester CO2 permanently. 40 years of industry experience and extensive  monitoring of the Weyburn field in Canada have proven that the CO2 will stay permanently sequestered. And it has been sufficiently demonstrated that there is potential for hundreds of gigatons to be sequestered in oil fields across the globe, and on top of that CO2 can be injected into shale, coalbeds and hydrate formations for enhanced gas recovery. 

There are many sources of CO2 that can captured at much lower cost than from coal power plants, albeit at lower volumes. Ethanol distilleries, ethylene and hydrogen plants, oil refineries, natural gas cleanup, the list goes on.

The economics of carbon capture from coal are also greatly improved in polygeneration plants rather than straight power plants. Poygen plants that convert coal into synthetic liquid fuels or natural gas and chemicals already have the CO2 separation integrated into the process, and so the only additional costs are for the CO2 pressurization and pipelines. Biomass can also be blended with the coal in polygen plants greatly improving the overall carbon footprint.

April 23, 2015    View Comment    

On Natural Gas Heavy Duty Trucking Fleet Could Benefit US Economy, but Not Climate

Amy, while it is true that fuel switching from diesel to natural gas has marginal benefits in terms of climate and carbon, switching to natural gas has enormous benefits in reducing toxic air pollution, particualrly in the form of PM 2.5.

Natural gas burns cleaner than the cleanest Tier 4 diesel engines and can play a huge role in improving urban air quality and saving lives.

Renewable natural gas can also be readily blended with fossil natural gas without restriction, reducing the overall carbon impact of natural gas. There are trillions of cubic feet of RNG available to be harvested and blended.

Landfill gas has been used for many years to fuel CNG garbage trucks. And Clean Energy Fuels, the nation's leading retailer of LNG/CNG for trucking, claims that 17% of the LNG they sell is renewable. 

February 24, 2015    View Comment    

On Methane Hydrates are a Promising Energy Resource

EV's for light duty vehicles. LNG for bulk / heavy duty. Reduce the fossil carbon content of natural gas by blending increasing quantities of RNG. Land management practices needed to sequester carbon in soil.

February 19, 2015    View Comment    

On Methane Hydrates are a Promising Energy Resource

We need to have carbon capture. It is not optional.

The hydrates may prove to be a suitable location to sequester CO2. 

Natural gas can replace coal and oil. Electricity alone can not.

February 19, 2015    View Comment    

On Meeting the Challenges of a Sustainable Energy Future

I agree heartily with this entire post, but would add a few points. 

Carbon capture must be coupled with natural gas for long-term stability. Shell's CEO made this point in a speech last week.

Methane is our most abundant renewable fuel in addition to our most abundant fossil fuel. The earth produces methane in robust quantities every day and so can we. The fact that we can easily manufacture methane from a variety of resources changes the dynamics of traditional fossil fuel resource extraction and exploitation and opens up a conversation about how carbon be cycled and recycled.

Methane is abundant, non-toxic, cheap, relatively safe, facilitates renewables, and can replace coal and oil in every engineering application. Pretty advantageous.

February 18, 2015    View Comment    

On Methane Hydrates are a Promising Energy Resource


That is a very premature analysis. We do not know how much it will cost to harvest the gas resources in the hydrates, since the technology is only now being developed. Shale resources were long considered uneconomic until the day the technology and markets evolved enough to make them economic, which surprised most experts. 

We also do not know what techniques will be used to drill the hydrates so no one can judge the environmental impact yet. I would argue that exploiting the hydrates offers many benefits over strip mining coal or tar sands. And we may find that we can sequester CO2 in the hydrates as well.

You could potentially be right that methane replaces coal and oil though, since it is far more abundant, non-toxic, and more versatile.

As to the potential for melting hydrates to impact the climate, only a small percentage are near enough the surface to be potentially unstable. The vast majority of hydate formations are below 500 meters of the ocean and plunge deeper from there and pose no threat of melting. But there are enormous quantities of hydrates, and some do pose a risk, particularly those in the permafrost. But I will leave it to the scientific community to judge the real risk, it is a new area of study with little in the way of conclusive answers.

Hydrocarbons are the foundation of industrial society, they are not going away, even as we need to find solutions to keep excessive quantities of carbon from accumulating in the atmosphere.  The more natural gas we can use in place of coal and oil the better.

February 18, 2015    View Comment    

On What Will Fuel Today's Advanced Vehicles?

I am pretty optimistic on EV's though I believe that plug-in hybrids represent the rational transition pathway. A mature EV ecosystem obviously requires better, cheaper batteries and a lot more charging infrastructure, a common standard for DC high speed charging would also be a welcome improvement.

There is a lot to be said for hybrid vehicles though, at all duty ranges. I was at the ARPA-E Summit this week and I was checking out a military cargo truck built for the marines. Oshkosh is a big military truck manufacturer and they successfully retrofitted one model of their big trucks to diesel-electric. Same engine, but transmission and drive train replaced with three electric motors. The advantage is that the truck can do double duty as a generator, relieving the marines of the need to tow a big generator behind them which is their standard practice. The Oshkosh guys said that with some additional engineering they could deliver improved tactical driving performance as well.

Freight trains have been diesel-electrics since the 1950's and many big mining trucks are as well. As people come to recognize the performance gains that electric drive trains offer the demand will stimulate the market.

February 13, 2015    View Comment    

On Energy Quote of the Day: 'Do not Grow Food or Grass Crops for Ethanol or Diesel or Cut Down Trees for Electricity'

I fully endorse the use of waste biomass, and have written a number of articles on the value of biogas and renewable natural gas. I also think there is a lot of potential in various biotech and synthetic biology pathways to produce renewable fuels.

But monocropped biofuel plantations offer little benefit on carbon or energy security. There were big problems with deforestation in Europe in the 1700's prior to the use of coal, and it is well established that we cannot produce remotely enough biomass of any type to provide meaningful competition to fossil fuels.

Shipping US timber to Europe as wood pellets, or diverting corn and soy to use as vehicular fuel does not solve any environmental problems, it exacerbates them. We should be focusing our use of land on food production, sequestering carbon in soil, and as habitat, not on moving historically backwards to yesterday's energy sources.

February 9, 2015    View Comment    

On Energy Quote of the Day: 'Lower Oil Prices will Make it More Difficult to Achieve Climate-Change Goals'

Bob, it was reported in the Washington Post article I was quoting. The link is in the article.

"As the ruler of a country that sits atop 300 billion barrels of oil, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was no fan of proposals to limit the burning of fossil fuels. During most of his reign, the king’s chief envoy to climate talks was a ­global-warming skeptic who boasted of his success at scuttling climate treaties."

That said, the Saudis have invested substantially in solar power as well.

February 2, 2015    View Comment    

On Capturing Methane to Fuel Drilling Operations

Bob, this has nothing to do with KXL.

The new law says they will get the flaring down to 5% by 2020 by doing exactly what you say. You can argue the merits of that timeline if you want, but that is not the point of the article which is about technology innovation and mitigating methane emissions by finding useful ways of capturing them.

Converting pollution into valuable commodities is a primary theme of my work. Whether its methane from any source, carbon dioxide, coal ash or garbage. We live in a world where we are inundated with pollution and waste, but all of those molecules can be converted into something useful. It will require technology and policy to make it happen.

January 30, 2015    View Comment    

On Capturing Methane to Fuel Drilling Operations

What do you suggest they do about it Bob?

Everyone agrees that flaring so much gas is bad. But it is one thing to point out problems, it is something else entirely to come up with solutions.

The new laws to restrict flaring went into force in July, 2014. Too early to tell what the results on the ground have been, but the new laws seems like an appropriate step to me and these new laws have driven the technology innovation I discuss in the article.


Historical Data:

In December 2012, North Dakota produced roughly 25 billion cubic feet of natural gas. That month, 71% of North Dakota’s natural gas was captured and sold to consumers, while 29% of the natural gas was flared due to a lack of pipelines or space on existing pipelines. According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and World Bank, North Dakota accounted for 27.6 percent of total U.S. flaring and only 1 percent of world flaring.

January 30, 2015    View Comment    

On Capturing Methane to Fuel Drilling Operations

Bob, I am not sure if they met the target or not, but understand that the goal was not to capture 77% of all the gas being flared, but 77% of all the gas being produced. The current target was only an incremental improvement from previous years since the vast majority of gas in the state is brought to market already. The important benchmark is to get from today's levels up to 95% usage.

January 29, 2015    View Comment