Skip to comments.White House holds 'pep talk' on biofuels
Posted on 07/14/2012 4:45:18 PM PDT by neverdem
Sensing increasing resistance to a Navy biofuels testing program, the White House on Wednesday convened biofuels proponents for a strategy session about the energy source.
Ex-military, agriculture, industry and government officials all met in the Roosevelt Room for the talk, retired U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Cheney said Thursday at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by The Truman Project.
Though the Pentagon, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has said the Armed Forces need biofuels for energy security, lawmakers have made it more difficult for the DOD to procure biofuels.
When they cut it out of the NDAA (defense authorization bill), that caught peoples attention, Cheney said of biofuels in an interview with The Hill after the event. It was kind of like saying, Well, we dont care about this anymore. And we do.
The meeting, which Cheney called a "pep talk," reflects a growing malaise regarding biofuels, which have attracted criticism from fiscal hawks. Reports of a $26-per-gallon biofuel and petroleum mix being tested by the Navys Great Green Fleet aircraft carrier strike group through a $12 million Navy biofuels program riled lawmakers, pushing the Senate Armed Services Committee to pass amendments from Republican Sens. James Inhofe (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) that limit the Defense Departments ability to buy biofuels.
Michael Breen, vice president of The Truman Project, said lawmakers ignored that the $26-per-gallon fuel purchase was only meant for testing. The price would have been lower if it were an operational buy, he said. That $26-per-gallon price tag was also for the biofuel alone. Once blended with traditional petroleum, that figure comes down to $15 per gallon.
The defense establishment sees biofuels through a security lens. More options, especially domestically produced ones, mean less dependence both tactically and strategically on foreign nations, they said. Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman Seip commented Thursday that unbudgeted fuel costs diverted $2 billion last year from military operations.
The military relies on oil as its major fuel source, leaving it exposed to market volatility, he said.
The administration has stood behind biofuels on national security grounds. It combined with the Energy, Defense and Agriculture departments to propose a $510 million investment in biofuels with a private sector match through the Defense Production Act, which couches the need for biofuels on a national security logic.
The White House sent Heather Zichal, the administrations deputy assistant for energy and climate change, to the Energy Departments annual biomass conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., with a message that Congress needs to get beyond short-sightism on biofuels. She touted Panettas views on biofuels during that speech.
The administration also announced $62 million in new biofuels funding earlier this month.
Lawmakers are treating the Navy biofuels testing program as a political football for uncertain reasons, a White House official told The Hill on Friday.
Some lawmakers, mostly Republicans, have pushed against biofuels. They say cheaper domestic fuel options that do not require government support, such as natural gas, can supply a good portion of U.S. energy needs. That could spin off into transportation fuel, they say.
Citigroup predicts U.S. oil self-sufficiency by 2020 as a result of those new natural gas supplies, and once Canadian imports are factored in, Ed Morse, managing director and global head of commodities research at Citigroup, said Thursday at a D.C. event hosted by the New America Foundation.
Some people accept natural gas as an alternative fuel source, Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, said Friday. Part of that interest is based on cost, but politics is another reason, he said, explaining that Republicans are trying to make renewable fuels a wedge issue in an election year.
Though natural gas vehicles are not currently available at scale, some believe the long-term prospects of cheap natural gas fuel could drive a market for those vehicles without much federal backing.
Some states have begun investing in natural gas fueling infrastructure, and firms such as FedEx have started converting their truck fleets to that fuel source.
Morse said converting trucks to use natural gas would cost $7,000 per vehicle, an expense that could be recouped in about one year.
The administration supports natural gas as one option for transportation fuel, but that it should not come at the expense of biofuels, the White House official said. It announced $30 million of funding for natural gas vehicle technology research Thursday through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
But what is lost on some lawmakers is that natural gas does little good for the military, said Cheney, who is now CEO of the American Security Project. Compressed natural gas vehicles are explosions waiting to happen in war zones, he said. The aviation industry likely will need dense liquid drop-in fuels, which is something natural gas cannot provide, he said.
Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project, said ex-military at the White House meeting said natural gas was not a serious option for the military.
Natural gas may make it seem like we can take our eye off the ball, but the message was that they are different things, he said.
No one has a firm estimate on how long those natural gas reserves will last, retired U.S. Army Col. Dan Nolan said Thursday. Investments now in biofuels could produce a sustained energy source, he said.
Cellulosic biofuels, which are considered next generation and preferred to corn-based ethanol, are expected to reach commercialization stage in 2013, Holland said.
Senate and House efforts to handcuff the Defense Department from purchasing biofuels could stall that progress, he said.
But some lawmakers feel the military has no business propping up industries, especially during tough financial times. McCain and Inhofe both oppose using the military as a capacity building enterprise, McAdams said. Therefore, their push against biofuels in the Defense authorization bill should not come as a surprise, he said.
Congressional impatience with cellulosic biofuels is understandable, Holland said.
The renewable fuel standard put in place in 2007 that required 36 billion gallons of production by 2022 promised commercialization by 2012. But the global recession cooled credit for biofuels projects, he said.
There really is no alternative source of energy other than oil. Its a single source dependency for the military, Holland said. In civilian energy there are alternatives. You could electrify your transportation, you could do natural gas transportation. But for the military right now, its just oil.
Biofuels are so dependent on the weather. See this year’s corn crop. The cost of biofuels will go through the roof. We don’t need to be burning our food as fuel.
They need a big pep talk. Burning food for fuel is stupid.
Biofuels would only make sense if they were being made from product already discarded as waste. It makes no sense whatsoever to grow produce for the PRIMARY purpose of making the fuel.
There was a program through the co-operative efforts of Cargill and Con-Agra to make a grade of petroleum from wastes created at the turkey processing plant in Carthage, Missouri, and by all odds, the thermal depolymerization process worked with a relative degree of efficiency.
Two things were accomplished with this process - a small amount of relatively high-grade kerogen (crude oil, for those of you from Rio Linda) was produced from the organic waste from the turkey processing, and the discharge was kept out of the waste stream that would otherwise have to be treated as sewage.
But apparently either further development of this process was strongly discouraged, or the economics simply were not there. Had the now failing obama regime invested in this technology, rather than solar or wind “renewables”, they MIGHT have developed a paying enterprise, but that was probably a viable plan, and not what they wanted to be using to throw a monkey wrench into good business management practice.
Actually, the thermal depolymerization process could be applied to a lot more of the organic waste stream, probably to good result, such as sewage processing plants, solid waste disposal, or even cleanup of existing trash dumps.
Didn’t the Nazis create synthetic fuel?
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Because the Nazis did it, does not taint the physical process in the least. People who are NOT Nazis can use the same process.
Actually what the German scientists developed was something called the “Fischer-Tropfsch” process, in which the supply of high-carbon fuel (coal) is heated to about 1,000 degrees, then a jet of water is squirted on the glowing red granules of coal (coke or charcoal works just as well).
The water breaks down into free hydrogen and carbon monoxide under those conditions, making something called “synfuel”, and the product itself is an excellent fuel mix, as carbon monoxide burns quite well in the presence of additional oxygen. Hydrogen also burns, one of the hottest flames available, generating considerable amounts of heat, which may be used to generate other forms of energy, as in heating steam up to drive an electric generator, aor even as fuel in an internal-combustion engine. In large enough quantity, it can drive a gas turbine.
The German scientists went a couple steps further. First the free hydrogen was separated from the carbon monoxide, then finely divided particles of coal or coke were exposed to this flow of hydrogen, in the presence of a catalyst. The catalyst essentially stripped off the lone external electron on the hydrogen atom, causing it to react strongly with the carbon atoms to which it is exposed, and the first of a series of hydrocarbons is formed, starting with methane, and depending on the conditions, longer and longer chains of hydrocarbons may be formed, creating just about any combination of hydrocarbons which are deemed useful for a given purpose.
It is relatively expensive, and depends on the low acquisition price of the basic ingredient, coal. The Germans had coal in vast amounts, but no petroleum, and they needed the petroleum. So if it cost them the equivalent of, say, $5 a gallon to produce the fuel, it was still a bargain compared to the logistics of getting any petroleum to the German homeland.
$15 Dollars a Gallon..wow.. so Cheap what a bargain..
$15 Dollars a Gallon..wow.. so Cheap what a bargain..
I just read an analysis that predicts $40/bbl oil for the next 10 years due to
supply increase due to shale oil / fracturing
demand reduction due to weak world economy
You can cover a lot of petroleum market volatility at $26 per gallon. Even at the peak #2 distillate price of $4 per gallon in mid 2008 it was a bargain compared to this insanity. Today, #2 is currently at about $2.70 per gallon. You can save a hell of a lot more burning Bunker C (residual fuel oil). Get the damned "NO" people out of the way and we'll have all the petroleum we'll need to fuel our armed forces.
The next piece of the puzzle for cost competitive synfuels is the reactor design plus of course, the competitive cost of crude oil.
The original reactor system developed by the Germans in WWII was the Lurgi process and this was the basis used by the South Africans during the world embargo of oil and other imports during their apartheid era. Sasol I think was the South African company implementing the coal gasification and refined the original Lurgi system. Since then, the South African version of the Lurgi was improved by Texaco and is known as the Modified Texaco process. R&D work by US petrochemical companies has further improved on the Modified Texaco although this was something like 40 years ago.
The process improvements have primarily focused on reactor modifications to lengthen the amount of time between major maintenance, which takes a prolonged shutdown. The reactor conditions are extremely corrosive and refractory linings are required. In addition, there are plugging and heat transfer headaches because of slagging on the reactor walls. One design I am acquainted with that improved on the Modified Texaco process actually utilized the wall slagging to better protect the refractories from damage.
In terms of economics, there is a break point on the price of crude oil at which coal gasification becomes competitive. From the kinds of numbers I was hearing several decades ago when R&D was significant, I would SWAG an estimate now of something in the mid-100’s per barrel range today. My opinion is that there are coal gasification process designs ready to go when the economics make sense. In addition, I am familiar with R&D work on alternative chemical reaction pathways to make use of the mix of hydrocarbons coming from coal gasification versus the crude oil derived feed stocks in use now. The last large scale coal gasification I am aware of was in the late 70's to early 80's at the Great Plains coal gasification plant in South Dakota. Remember Jimmy Carter and the alternative energy boondoggles and hoops he forced American industry through? The Great Plains facility cost about about $10 billion in 1970's dollars for capital and operating until it was shut down. Funding was a combination of private and federal dollars.
“....predicts $40/bbl oil...”
No matter. After taxes are added it will still be over $4.00.
How much will this cost us?
An old Carrier like the USS Forrestal used to take on 1 million gallons of marine diesel and 1 million gallons of jp5 regularly it was cheap back then, this not even feasable at these prices, won’t happen.
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