Breaking the OPEC Chains
The world is entering the period when petroleum reserves are being depleted and transportation fuels are becoming scarce. Price gouging will result.Cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes are wholly dependent on the supply of liquid fuels. When petroleum fuels become too costly, world economies will slow and fail.This article proposes a novel approach to produce liquid fuels from biomass forever and without endangering food production.
Worldwide demand for petroleum is increasing. Crude oil prices have topped $135 per barrel. Oil prices have been on a steady climb for a long time. Dwindling OPEC oil reserves and a weak dollar are driving petroleum prices to new heights.
The US government has made no serious efforts to develop effective countermeasures. Instead, energy conservation, ethanol production from corn, and a failing "Cap and Trade" permit system are hyped by politicians.
Exploding grain prices have exposed the ethanol hoax and made poor people across the world scramble for food. Coal and oil sands are used to produce petroleum substitutes and increase greenhouse gas emissions. The "Cap and Trade" concept was tried in Europe. The concept is deeply flawed. It does not provide lasting relief. It merely delays the day of reckoning for a few years.
Electricity and liquid transportation fuels are the lifeblood of our economies. Economic growth is impossible without plentiful, affordable, and secure energy supplies. Economies will collapse when supplies of petroleum begin to shrink, when global warming keeps causing damages, and when energy prices continue skyrocketing. Will our grandkids witness such disasters?
We are facing a problem that is too large to be solved by industrial entities. The financial risks of introducing new technologies are too large. Government agencies and industry cooperatives must find technical solutions to our problems, must install a few of any new energy producing installations, and must make the advanced technologies economically competitive.
Are there any solutions that can be developed before petroleum is depleted and before global warming exceeds the 3 to 4 degree Celsius global warming threshold?
The world community must solve these two threatening disasters very quickly. Petroleum reserves will last only a few more decades considering the accelerating, worldwide demand. Greenhouse gases from coal and petroleum combustion will continue to accumulate in our air at ever faster rates and will accelerate global warming and ice melting. Any of these disasters may strike within less than five decades.
Increased use of nuclear power can generate large amounts of electricity and can replace the use of coal. Increased use of solar power, hydropower, wind power, marine power, and geothermal heat can provide additional electricity.
Surprisingly, only one single concept seems to have the potential to produce sufficient amounts of liquid transportation fuels. This concept is the conversion of biomass into liquid petroleum substitutes.
The concept of biomass conversion has just suffered a major public relations debacle. The ill conceived process of converting corn by fermentation into ethanol has led to a temporary tripling of US corn prices. This huge increase caused the destabilization of worldwide food prices. This effect was entirely predictable. Nevertheless, this concept was considered worthy to receive large governmental subsidies.
Biomass conversion into fuel is our one and only option. We must learn how to convert sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and fertilizer into biomass. Food crops are not suited for conversion. Food crops have been selected, domesticated, and bred to provide tasty and nutritious foods. Energy crops must be selected based on entirely different properties. Energy crops must have very high energy content, must provide very high crop yields, and must grow very fast. This means that we must find and further breed plants with very high energy yields; i.e. plants with the highest values of energy per acre per year.
When designing biomass plantations, we must address several specifications. We need plenty of sunshine and we must protect against the misappropriation and abuse of fertile lands and of forests. By locating biomass plantations on arid lands and by combining biomass growing and biomass conversion into a single facility, we can avoid abuse of agricultural lands.
Biomass production must be designed to be highly automated and mechanized to lower costs. Additionally, biomass is best converted into petroleum substitutes within hours. Such quick conversion requires on-site processing. Harvested biomass cannot be stored for long times. Liquefied petroleum substitutes can be stored in tanks and can be transported by pipeline.
Obviously, such radical plantation concept, which ideally uses hydroponic techniques and is not dependent on soil quality, will need development. New biomass types must be identified. The performance of high energy yield plants must be optimized. The engineering of hydroponic plantations located on arid lands or in deserts must be completed, pilot plants must be built and tested, and fast conversion processes for converting carbohydrates into hydrocarbons must be found and developed to maturity.
One question remains; does our Earth have large enough areas of arid land which are ideally located closely to coasts and seawater?
In 2004 the world consumed roughly 30 billion barrels of petroleum. This figure translates into an energy consumption of 173 exajoules per year. We know the energy yields of a few food plants. We can extrapolate those energy yields and arrive at a probable energy yield of newly bred plants of 10,000 gigajoules per hectare per year. When we divide energy consumption by energy yield we arrive at a figure of 17.3 million hectare or 42.6 million acres. This area is equal in size to the state of Florida. This small area can support biomass growth to supply the entire world with transportation fuels! Very large areas are readily available to support the growth of biomass. The Earth has many arid areas and huge deserts.
US government must lead the world in this endeavor and must establish an agency with a single mission: Develop the technologies to produce plentiful, affordable, and secure liquid transportation fuels for the next few centuries.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Hemsath recently published the book: CLIMATE CHANGE-GOLD RUSH OR DISASTER? For 50 years he has worked as scientist, process engineer, Director of R&D, Corporate Vice President of R&D, Company President, CEO, and Inventor. He holds more than 60 US Patents. He is working on a new book: "THE 100 % SOLUTION FOR ENDING GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE". See his website: Stopping Global Warming and Climate Change" at http://www.thermalexpert.com