Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas

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DrKrbyLuv's picture
DrKrbyLuv
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Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas

Scientists in Texas say they have found a way to convert coal into gasoline at a cost of less than $30 (U.S.) a barrel - with zero release of pollutants  - full article

The United States alone has 30 per cent of the world's reserves, and scientists in Texas say they have found a way to convert coal into gasoline at a cost of less than $30 (U.S.) a barrel - with zero release of pollutants.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) announced last month that they have developed a clean way to turn the cheapest kind of coal - lignite, common in Texas - into synthetic crude. "We go from that [lignite coal] to this really nice liquid," Brian Dennis, a member of the research team, said in describing the synthetic crude that can be refined into gasoline.

The Texas researchers, who worked on the project for about 18 months, expect the cost to drop further. "We're improving the cost every day. We started off some time ago at an uneconomical $17,000 a barrel. Today, we're at ... $28.84 a barrel," Rick Billo, UTA's dean of engineering, told an Austin television reporter.

Texas lignite coal sells for $18 a tonne. The coal conversion technology uses one tonne of coal to produce 1.5 barrels of crude oil. One barrel of crude produces 42 U.S. gallons of gasoline. In other words, $18 worth of coal yields 63 gallons of gasoline: 0.28 cents a gallon.

Assuming, arbitrarily for the moment, that Texas has struck oil in a huge way yet again, UTA's announcement shows that energy research has finally begun to move in the right direction - simultaneously toward clean coal and the commercial exploitation of carbon dioxide. The reasons are obvious. The world has enough coal reserves to last for centuries. And it has enough CO{-2} - used as an abundant new raw material - to last forever. Harnessed together, this cheap coal and this greenhouse gas could drive the global economy for hundreds of years.

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wildjo
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Re: Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas

I don't believe in panaceas.  So, how is this not a game changer for peak oil?

Set aside the massive strip mining for coal and the increased release of CO2 from the burning of the frankenstein gas, how would such a technology change peak oil "theory"?

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cmartenson
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Re: Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas

Wow, there's so much wrong with that article I don't know where to begin.

:et's start with this gem of a paragraph:

Texas lignite coal sells for $18 a tonne. The coal conversion technology uses one tonne of coal to produce 1.5 barrels of crude oil. One barrel of crude produces 42 U.S. gallons of gasoline. In other words, $18 worth of coal yields 63 gallons of gasoline: 0.28 cents a gallon.

First off, there happens to be 42 gallons in a barrel of oil and there is no refining process that will yield 42 gallons of gasoline from 42 gallons of oil.  The yield is considerably less.  This alone puts me on edge wondering what other extremely basic flaws are lurking in this article.

Second, there happen to be an average of 13 million BTUs of energy in a ton of lignite but only 8.4 million BTUs in 1.5 barrels of oil.  So the conversion process they've come up with, whatever it is, loses a great deal of energy in the process, some -35%.  So even if we took one of the next claims at face value - that there are "hundreds of years of coal left" - we'd have to chop 35% off of that number right off the bat because we're losing that much in the process somehow.

Third, it is often repeated as fact that there are hundreds of years of coal left but we'd be remiss if we failed to note that this rests upon the puzzlingly indefensible assumption that  the RATE OF CONSUMPTION does not increase.   What happens if we increase our consumption?  Then we get hit by the old exponential depletion thingy.  For example if there's 200 years of coal left but we grow our consumption by 7%/year, then after ten years we'd find that there's only half as much left as we originally thought (because we doubled our consumption) and that's only if we then stopped growing our consumption at the end of ten years.  Any continued increase would only serve to shorten the time horizon.  Since our entire industrial experience has been one of ever icreasing consumption, I am at a loss when I read articles that imply we're going to continue our present trajectory of increasing consumption uninterrupted but we're going to do it without increasing consumption.  It's just incredibly sloppy thinking, if we can even call it thinking at all.

Fourth, there's solid evidence to suggest that the prior estimates of "hundreds of years" are completely baseless estimates that do not survive even initial inquiries into real world mining data and rough re-calculations of probable reserves.  Richard Heinberg's book on Peak Coal explains this all rather completely and rather well.

Finally for the whole story to hang together we'd need to be able to SCALE up this new production process in TIME to avoid any gaps in our aggregate net energy flows and be able to shoulder the COST of this obviously massive construction and mining process.  One thing that anybody in chemical engineering can tell you there is a big, fat world of difference between processes run at the experimental and/or pilot scales and those that have to operate at high rates of throughput. 

I'm not saying we shouldn't pursue this, we probably really should.  But I am saying that it would be a mistake to internalize the sloppy conclusions of a startlingly careless (or innumerate) journalist and conclude that peak oil has been tabled as a concern for the next ten generations.

 

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Re: Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas

delete

 

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DrKrbyLuv
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Re: Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas

Thanks for the great analysis Chris - looks as if there is more sizzle than steak in the article.  To further your point about coal reserves, an article was mentioned in one of the responses "Peak coal: sooner than you think."

The math doesn't seem to work as you said, a barrel of oil (42 gallon) does not equal a barrel of gas.  "U.S. refineries produce between 19 and 20 gallons of motor gasoline from one barrel (42 gallons) of crude oil."  It appears the cost could be doubled along with the amount of coal needed. 

I'm glad I didn't rush out to buy coal stocks!

Larry

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ckessel
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Re: Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas
DrKrbyLuv wrote:

Thanks for the great analysis Chris - looks as if there is more sizzle than steak in the article.  To further your point about coal reserves, an article was mentioned in one of the responses "Peak coal: sooner than you think."

The math doesn't seem to work as you said, a barrel of oil (42 gallon) does not equal a barrel of gas.  "U.S. refineries produce between 19 and 20 gallons of motor gasoline from one barrel (42 gallons) of crude oil."  It appears the cost could be doubled along with the amount of coal needed. 

I'm glad I didn't rush out to buy coal stocks!

Larry

Larry,

The math always seems to flush out the devilish details!  Last Fall there was a report out of Kern Co. Calif. (I don't have the specific newspaper to reference-sorry) about the largest oil discovery in Calif. in 35 years which was about 120 million barrels.  A person at one of my Crash Course Seminars brought up the fact that since that discovery was made that it proved peak oil was not going to occur!

So we took the opportunity  to "do the math" and that individual was agast to realize it was a one week supply +/- for the US.

The article you mentioned is good news but the question really is how good is it?

Thanks for the due diligence Chris!

Coop

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machinehead
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Re: Texas university has eureka moment for coal-to-gas

'Today, we're at ... $28.84 a barrel," Rick Billo, UTA's dean of engineering, told an Austin television reporter.'

You sure that ain't 'Rick Bunko'? Laughing

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