A biofuel announcement and updating my energy forecast and recommended energy policy.
General Motors announced a partnership with Coskata of Warrenville, IL, a new company that claims it can make ethanol from wood chips, grass, and trash–including old tires–for a dollar a gallon.
Coskata is completing a pilot-scale ethanol production facility and will announce locations for a 40,000-gallon-per-year facility and a 100-million-gallon-per-year commercial-scale plant later this year. Coskata joins a number of other companies looking for ways to make biofuels from alternative sources. A new federal mandate, signed into law late last month, calls for 36 billion gallons [2.4 million barrels per day] of biofuels to be produced by 2022.
An increase from 7.5 billion gallons [510,000 barrels per day] of biofuel in 2007
According to Argonne National Laboratory—which analyzed Coskata’s process and is named as a partnering organization on Costka’s Web site, www.costkataenergy.com—for every unit of energy used, it generates up to 7.7 times that amount of energy (EROEI, Energy Returned on Energy Invested), and it reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 84 percent compared with a well-to-wheel analysis of gasoline.
The Coskata process uses less than one gallon of fresh water per gallon of ethanol produced, versus 3-5 for corn, and as much as 7 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol for enzymatic routes. There is more than one billion tons of biomass that can be converted into fuel annually in the U.S. alone. Using the Coskata process, each of these tons can be converted into over 100 gallons of low-cost ethanol.
Source: GM research analysis. The biofuel potential in the US appears to be about 7-8 million barrels per day [about 39% of current US fuel needs]. This analysis does not appear to include algae biofuel processes.
Coskata CEO and President Bill Roe said the next generation ethanol is here today. “We will have our first commercial-scale plant making 50 [million] to 100 million gallons of ethanol running in 2011, and that includes the two years it will take to build the plant,” Roe said.
There has been a great deal of concern over the possibility of peak oil. Peak oil would mean rapidly rising oil prices and reduction in oil that would be available for countries to import. (Export land model of oil)
Demand destruction would happen first in poorer countries and with people who are more poor in wealthier countries. So even if global oil and oil substitutes goes down there is a 5 year lead time to see other countries and segments of an economy having problems with a decline before the USA sees significant reductions. So the price has to go up to $200-250/barrel.
12 million barrels per day imported at $100 is 438 billion.
12 million barrels per day imported at $200 is 876 billion.
12 million barrels per day imported at $250 is 1.1 trillion.
The lead time allows in time for legislation and actions to have more deployment. The increase in biofuels under way. The increased number and quality and efficiency of hybrids, electric and diesel cars. More time for the new Chevron gulf of Mexico oil to come up. More time to get the Colorado oil shale going. More oilsand oil in Canada which is exported primarily to the USA.
The US economy can tolerate those price levels, but they would trigger more actions.
First year of new energy plan:
Increased fuel use for transporation (around double the 1970s usage). Fuel saving of 750,000 gallons per day from 55 mph speed limit in the USA.
Legislate to allow for more fuel saving measures which are difficult now by loosening other regulations (safety, emissions etc…). Enable more work from home and satellite offices.
First years of steps that will take many years:
Put in tax advantages for aero modding cars or diesel conversions. Support battery powered folding electric bikes/scotters (60+ million in China already)
200 million cars but getting the most used cars and trucks first.
$2 trillion to apply $10,000 per car and truck conversions to all the cars and trucks. $200 billion for the first 10%. But those 10% use about 30% of the fuel used for cars and trucks which is about 50% of the fuel use (long haul trucks, taxis and cars for salesman etc…). So getting those vehicles more 50% efficient would save 7%.
$50 billion for 100 million electric bikes and scooters at an average price of $500. Allow people to leverage public transit for more easily and to have a reasonable commute travel radius of about 20-25 miles (each way) without using a car.
Fire up the process to allow for drilling in ANWR (Alaska)
$200 million flex fuel program to get all new cars flex fuel to allow for more alternative fuels.
Stop using 9.8% of the oil to heat homes, offices and for electricity. (mostly North east)
Try to switch from oil for factory process heating.
Ban/phase out oil for recreational vehicles 1%. Require a switch to electric.
Tap the strategic fuel reserve if needed.
Continue modifications to the installed base of cars and trucks. Aeromodding and diesel conversions can increase fuel efficiency by 25-100%. Determine how to make the process more automated and efficient and low cost.
Get more agressive on the efficiency of new vehicles. do more to force the phase out of heavier vehicles. Cars like the 150 mpg Loremo (expected next year) have 0.22 aerodynamic (versus 0.4-0.6 for regular cars) and have a weight of 450kg versus 1000-3000 kg for regular cars and SUVs. It uses lightweight steel and modular cell construction.
Restructure for more busing and mass transit use.
Have gotten significant oil from oil shale 2+ million barrels per day
ANWR tapped for 1 million barrels per day
Gulf of Mexico oil 1 million barrels per day.
Enhanced oil recovery 2 million barrels per day.
Gotten high efficiency thermoelectrics onto a lot of cars and all big
Start getting a lot more nuclear power deployed. (9 new nuclear plants ordered in 2007. First could be completed by 2014 and there will be several significant power uprates of existing plants.)
More efficient conversions to power grid (superconductors, DC power lines for long haul.)
Increase US oil and oil equivalent production to 12+ million barrels per day.
The US produced 8.37 million barrels per day in 2006. By 2015, we should expect 2 million barrels per day from old production sources to not be available because of the aging of the fields.
Increase car, home and industrial effiency in the use of oil by 50+% within 7 years.
Structurally adjust the economy where possible for less oil usage (no oil for heat, instead use electric from nuclear and renewables.)
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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