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Comments by Edward Dodge Subscribe

On Problems with $17 Trillion, Save-the-Planet Headlines

Roger, I basically agree across the board. I see nuclear as providing a large portion of energy in the long run, but will very slow to develop in the near term. Nuclear by nature is a long term project. It might take us 50 years to figure out to reprocess nuclear "waste", but when we do we will have 1000 years worth of fuel to use.

In the near term I see natural gas with carbon capture as the destination fuel. We absolutely require a robust CO2 pipeline infrastructure spanning the continent, similar in scope to gas pipelines, road, rail and telecom. CO2 becomes a commodity put to use in a variety useful ways.

EV's for light duty combined with LNG for heavy duty transport has the realistic capacity to break the grip of petroleum on transportation markets. This is the critical energy security issue of our day, the one that keeps us locked in unending military conflict in the Middle East.

Methane is simultaneously our most abundant fossil fuel and our most abundant renewable fuel. It is non-toxic, environmentally sound, and can be used across heat, power and transportation sectors. It complements both renewables and nuclear power, it just makes sense to optimize around natural gas for fuel. 

December 19, 2014    View Comment    

On Problems with $17 Trillion, Save-the-Planet Headlines

Bob, carbon capture is not an option, its a requirement.

Industrial society requires the use of hydrocarbons, it is inescapable. If we are going to be serious about keeping CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere we must physically grab those molecules and put them someplace where they can be useful.

I will agree though that CCS has been plagued by cost and liability issues which is why I continually argue to abandon the waste disposal approach and focus on carbon utilization. It is no mystery why nearly all of the successful carbon capture projects have had buyers for the CO2. The world does not need more waste dumps with long term liabilities. CO2 is useful stuff and CO2 pipelines are assets carrying a commodity, and when this approach is taken capital lines up to fund projects and operators are willing to pay insurance for reasonable liability.

December 18, 2014    View Comment    

On Problems with $17 Trillion, Save-the-Planet Headlines

Noah, you are right that CCS costs will come down as technology develops. I would take the argument even farther and say that we don't even know what technologies will be best for capturing carbon, much less how much they will cost.

Boundary Dam and other power plants are using amine scrubbers post combustion, but this is an inherently expensive and energy intensive approach. Oxy-combustion where pure oxygen is used instead of air to create high purity CO2 exhaust is likely to prove to be far more efficient in the long run, the trick is to find sources of oxygen that are better than constructing an oxygen plant on site. This can be acheived through chemical looping and more sophisticated systems integration approaches. These approaches are complex and will take time to develop but offers multiple energy efficiency feedback loops working together.

I also agree/argue that soil reclamation is wildly underappreciated in the carbon debate. The soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere (if not more), and is the obvious place to store carbon. Soil reclamation has multiple compounding benefits of improving water and bioshphere health as well as storing gigatons of carbon. Agriculture and land use are as much a part of the problem and solution as our energy systems.  

December 18, 2014    View Comment    

On Is Cellulosic Ethanol All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

I don't have good data for current production for RNG vehicle fuels. My new article I just finished is a discussion of resource potential for RNG and it is substantial, certainly a few TCF per year in the USA.

Any methane source is upgradeable to pipeline standards, landfill gas is perhaps the dirtiest source compared to digesters, but it is being done routinely. 

RNG  is used for heat, transport, and power, so use gets divided across all sectors. 

Regulations vary for pipeline injection of RNG, but they are being streamlined and many states have regs in place. At the end of the day RNG is pure methane. A lot of what is being sold is being drawn from pipelines after being injected elsewhere with credits following the transaction.

As for BioCNG specifically, they are just one company and there a number of players in the market. Not sure why their standards are slightly different, just something someone told me at a conference. But they do operate standalone facilities.

December 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Is Cellulosic Ethanol All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

You know what they have to do to the engines after the race?

Completely flush them out and eliminate all the ethanol so it does not corrode the engines overnight. Same reason they don't put ethanol in pipelines or use it in the military. 

Ethanol is a lousy fuel.

December 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Is Cellulosic Ethanol All it’s Cracked Up to Be?


Landfill biogas is being used every day commercially for vehicle fuel. Garbage trucks run on it routinely, the waste management industry totally embraces it and it has been very successful and expanding in use, with no subsidies. So there are real commercial fleet miles driven every day on landfill biogas.

BioCNG is a company that specializes in cleaning up landfill biogas for vehicular use. Interestingly enough, the standards are lower for CNG than pipelines so it is both easier and more profitable to sell landfill gas for transport. The equipment package is surprisingly small and unsophisticated.

T. Boone Pickens' retail LNG company, Clean Energy Fuels, sells a bioLNG product at commercial volumes and most of it is coming from landfills, though not all.

December 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Decoupling and Distributed Energy

There is more nuance to the Net Metering story. Once of the chief complaints from the utilities is that solar users are being paid retail rates for the electricity they produce, despite still being attached to the grid and still using grid power when sun is not shining.

There are common sense compromises to be had, first, pay wholesale rates instead of retail rates for net metering. Another is for solar users to pay some fixed fees for their grid connections.

With enough smart meters and real time pricing data then solar users could conceivably be paid in real time pricing for the electricity they produce. With high rates of solar penetration then you get spikes in production as all the solar in a region is producing at the same time, even over producing total grid demand. Logically, in this scenario the value of solar electric goes down as supply goes up.

These are challenging issues because utilities exists within a regulated environment where their ability to innovate is constrained. Some uilities would be happy to get in the solar business themselves but are not allowed to due to regulations.

Solar advocates want to keep receiving elevated retail rates for net-metering even if it means they free-ride the grid. Personally, I don't see why net metering customers should recieve retail rates for the power they produce, they should receive a rate that is logical and fair within the context of the overall market.

December 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Is Cellulosic Ethanol All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

I just use the official figures from EPA, DOE, and other reputable agencies. Personally, I share your question about how carbon emissions are calculated across the board in all scenarios. There are a lot of assumptions and murky science applied if you ask me, and you see debate and controversy periodically over specific figures. So that is why I just stick with the official numbers and if the analysis behind those conclusions shifts I will shift accordingly.

Here is the EPA's webpage on the Landfill gas calculations. They don't mention anything about including displaced atmospheric methane as part the analysis, just the displacement of fossil natural gas with biomethane for fuel.

December 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Is Cellulosic Ethanol All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

I'll accept that corn ethanol is a better gasoline additive than MBTE that it replaced and analysis I have seen suggests that the ethanol additive market is market is firmly established and does not need additional subsidies. Ethanol as an additive means sticking to the E10 threshold we are at today and that does nothing to address energy security nor does it make substantive improvements in the environment.

If we want to end our military entaglements in the Middle East we need to fundamentally break the grip of petroleum on transportation markets. A combination of EV's and natural gas can accomplish this. Biomass resources can contribute effectively to increasing natural gas supplies and lower GHG emissions, but biomass alone in any formulation will never offer the quantities needed to replace petroleum and in that regard I consider ethanol to be a distraction.

It is also worth noting that ethanol is not used at all for aviation, maritime, military or diesel applications, ZERO. And that is because it is a lousy fuel. But gas to liquids produce superior quality diesel and aviation fuels.


December 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Is Cellulosic Ethanol All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

Food to fuel is not a good solution for our energy problems. We need to use fuel to produce food, turning around and burning the food is energetically backwards. And we can't produce remotely enough ethanol or any biofuels to break the grip of petroleum on transportation, not within orders of magnitude. It does not really matter if ethanol is a few pennies cheaper than gasoline if we can't produce the quantities we need.

To say that the cellulosic ethanol program is working is wildly off-base, try to find an EPA official who will make that claim. If it was working why did they classify RNG as cellulosic? Why do they keep revising the production targets downwards?

The corn ethanol industry would not exist without generous subsidies and the cellulosic industry has had far more failure than success spending tax dollars. RNG on the other hand has been used for years in transport without subisides at all, check out how many garbage trucks run on landfill gas (and they run better than on diesel).

As for cellulosic ethanol, it is more efficient to take those same feedstocks and make RNG which can be utilized in our existing infrastructure. Ethanol requires all manner of investments and upgrades in engines, distribution and storage systems for little benefit environmentally or economically. Ethanol is just a lousy fuel, which is why the military won't touch it.

Methane is being produced already in enormous quantities by the Earth's natural systems, by capturing it and using it we keep it out of the atmosphere and directly replace fossil fuels.

December 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Are Negative Emissions a "Myth?"

The problem with the CCS debate is that is treated as an exercise in waste disposal, capture the CO2 and dump it underground somewhere. This process is by design economically negative and creates long term liabilities that no one wants to be resposnsible for. We play hot-potato with both the costs and liabilities, with everyone involved looking to someone else to be responsible.

Carbon utilization on the other hand treats CO2 as a useful asset and marketable commodity. And it just so happens that purified CO2 is incredibly useful, with practical applications in oil & gas recovery, power turbines, heating & cooling and chemical manufacturing. CO2 can also be recyled back into hydrocarbons, though it requires energy inputs (it is energy storage).

It is no coincidence that the only commercial carbon capture projects going forward are those where there is a buyer for the CO2.

We need to emphasize pratical uses for carbon that enable us to treat carbon capture as an exercise in value creation rather than expensive waste disposal. When CO2 is seen as a commercial asset rather than a liability you will see capital flood into the market to build infrastructure and take advantage of the opportunity. 

December 13, 2014    View Comment    

On 60 Minutes on Coal Ash: Muted Outrage, Lots of Smiles and Nods

What I find pathetic about these coal ash spills is that they are so avoidable. Coal ash has functional value in concrete and other construction materials. The levels of toxicity are low, fractions of 1%, but when piled up into enormous mounds the toxicity concentrates until it becomes a real problem. The way to avoid coal ash spills is to not pile it up in the first place. The science and practical methods for managing the toxins are well established, we know how to do it.

The USA already leads the world in recycling coal ash, we find uses for around 47% of it. We need to find uses for the other 53%. But companies are not obligated to find uses for the ash if it is cheaper to simply dump it. If you raise the costs for disposal, companies will be quick to find markets instead and we will all be better off.

December 13, 2014    View Comment