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Thread: Synthetic Petroleum?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Synthetic Petroleum?

    Sooo, I may need some schooling on this from those who know. But I was thinking about this while listening to the Leftist talk station out of (snicker ) Boulder this morning on the way into the grind. As usual, gas prices and the addiction to petroleum was a topic of the show. Got me thinking.

    There is synthetic motor oil. Is it entirely synthetic or still somewhat petroleum based?
    If it is entirely synthetic, then would we be able to make synthetic gasoline to power minvans, SUVs, big trucks, and other redneck ordinance?

    Just a thought, and maybe someone could shed some light, and who knows, spark an intellegent dialog for the course of Wednesday.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  2. #2
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    What's hilarious is that "synthetic" usually means "comes from oil" in common usage. Therefore nylon, which is hydrocarbon based, is synthetic and cotton, which occurs naturally, is not.

    What you're asking is if we can produce gasoline from plants (called "biomass") rather than sucking it out of the ground (where it came from plants). Then answer is yes, we can do that. In fact, the Germans first began developing the science to do that in WWII when they got cut off from oil.

    The problem, though, is a matter of scale.

    All the nylon and plastic, and motor oil, and bike chain oil, and pesticides and all the other uses of oil that don't involve burning it for energy consume only 6.6% of the oil pumped. If we didn't need oil for energy, we'd not need to pump 93.4% of the oil pumped today! Moreover fully 57.8% of the oil pumped is used for energy by the transportation sector alone.

    The result is that, while it may be reasonable to create plastics and motor oil out of biomass, there simply isn't enough harvestable biomass in the world's ecosystem to provide for our energy needs.. Here's an article that attaches numbers to it:

    http://www.energybulletin.net/3389.html

    Let's put it another way; if 8 billion were to have Australian oil plus gas use via methanol 30 billion ha would have to be in plantations constantly yielding 7 t/ha. But there are only 13 billion ha of land on the planet!

    By the way, energy use in Australian is growing at around 2.5% p.a, so it will be twice as great in about 30 years.

    So make whatever optimistic assumptions you choose re technical fixes, energy conservation, "factor four" reductions and Lovinsian hypercars and you have no chance whatsoever of showing how liquid fuels from biomass can supply all people with anything remotely like the present rich world rates of transport etc.
    Reality does not conform to your ideology.
    http://neighborhoods.chicago.il.us Photographs of Life in the Neighborhoods of Chicago
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  3. #3
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    The Nazis developed technology to liquify coal, hydrogenate it and produce synthetic gasoline over 60 years ago. I wonder why we don't hear more about this? If a country rich in coal deposits (like the US) were able to use/improve this process it might go a long way towards reducing the need for petroleum (but at the expense of increasing the need for coal)

    Edit: oops, just noticed jordanb kinda mentioned this in his post above.
    Last edited by Maister; 26 Apr 2006 at 5:56 PM.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  4. #4
    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister
    The Nazis developed technology to liquify coal, hydrogenate it and produce synthetic gasoline over 60 years ago. I wonder why we don't hear more about this? If a country rich in coal deposits (like the US) were able to use/improve this process it might go a long way towards reducing the need for petroleum (but at the expense of increasing the need for coal)
    But what was the EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) for the German coal liquefaction process? This I do not know. But I did find a table on the EROEI for several current sources of energy: http://www.abelard.org/briefings/ene...tarsands_table
    Currently in the U.S., for every barrel of oil we expend in the production of oil, we get about 3 barrels returned.

    From the chart and other sources, it appears that biofuels have at best, a mildly positive EROEI. So this is a fraction of the current rate of EROEI for oil. But whether we have enough decent crop land to grow enough biofuel to meet current demand (to replace oil completely) while still feeding ourselves is doubtful. So I think biofuels will fulfill at most a token contribution to total liquid fuel demand.

    What EROEI tells us is that just because it may be economically profitable to produce a biofuel doesn't mean it is worthwhile. Iowa farmers may get more money by devoting their corn to ethanol production, but to do so, they are using petroleum in fertilizers and to power tractors. An EROEI =<1 is an energy sink. It's like an astronaut using his oxygen tank for thrust. What's the point of propelling his spaceship any longer if won't be able to breathe?

    Having said this, I have heard Brazil has had some success in producing biofuels on a large scale with a positive ERORI.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dobopoq
    What EROEI tells us is that just because it may be economically profitable to produce a biofuel doesn't mean it is worthwhile. Iowa farmers may get more money by devoting their corn to ethanol production, but to do so, they are using petroleum in fertilizers and to power tractors. An EROEI =<1 is an energy sink. It's like an astronaut using his oxygen tank for thrust. What's the point of propelling his spaceship any longer if won't be able to breathe?
    Much like with early refining of oil it was a very wasteful and inefficient process I think biofuels and ethanol will also see an increase in efficiency and waste reduction making it more porfitable in $ and EROEI. Also as more Ethanol plants are popping up distance to distiller and distance to market are being cut down dramatically.
    @GigCityPlanner

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by Maister
    The Nazis developed technology to liquify coal, hydrogenate it and produce synthetic gasoline over 60 years ago. I wonder why we don't hear more about this? If a country rich in coal deposits (like the US) were able to use/improve this process it might go a long way towards reducing the need for petroleum (but at the expense of increasing the need for coal)
    They only did that because they had been cut off from any naturally occurring sources of oil and were desperate to keep fighting.

    Interestingly this is the origin of the expression "ersatz" that BKM seems to love using so much.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide
    Much like with early refining of oil it was a very wasteful and inefficient process I think biofuels and ethanol will also see an increase in efficiency and waste reduction making it more porfitable in $ and EROEI. Also as more Ethanol plants are popping up distance to distiller and distance to market are being cut down dramatically.
    You can talk about efficiency all day long, but efficiency is only a factor of how much energy is wasted, which is to say, not applied to the problem. That's why we can't make cars so "efficient" that they can run off of a AAA battery. No matter how efficient the car is, force still equals mass times acceleration and that's the problem that you're trying to solve and efficiency in the engine or the wheels or whatever doesn't make one iota of difference there.

    Sure, biofuel may become more efficient. Maybe they'll pull off four times increase in yield, or hell, maybe ten times. But to provide the type of energy we need to keep on trucking the way we're going now, you're going to need a thousand times or more increase in yield. And you're never going to get it no matter how "efficient" things become because there just ain't that many hydrocarbon bonds out there.

    We switched from chopping down trees and burning them to digging up coal back in the day because we were running out of forest. So we burned coal and then oil, and that worked cause there was 50 million years worth of energy just stored down there in the oil fields. But now we're burning through thousands of years worth of stored energy a year to feed our voracious appetite, and we're quickly running out, so now you're to have us believe that we can go back to chopping down trees and it'll all work out?
    Reality does not conform to your ideology.
    http://neighborhoods.chicago.il.us Photographs of Life in the Neighborhoods of Chicago
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    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    The way I see the oil/ethanol debate is, use ethanol, not as a replacement because I agree it never will be. However, if we can use ethanol as a E85 mix to extend our oil another 85% longer than so be it. In that time hopefully we will have better technologies and explore what will probably have to be electric cars fueled by our outlets in our house. That electricity will HAVE to come from renewable resources, sun, wind, water, wood. Yes it will be a dramatic change then from where it is now, but as any good planner "you must be aware of the long term actions of your decisions today".
    @GigCityPlanner

  9. #9
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dobopoq
    What EROEI tells us is that just because it may be economically profitable to produce a biofuel doesn't mean it is worthwhile. Iowa farmers may get more money by devoting their corn to ethanol production, but to do so, they are using petroleum in fertilizers and to power tractors.
    What that statement ignores as do many who are unfamiliar with corn production, is that some of the increase in corn production, is a change from other crops. Much of the corn produced is used for animal feed. The by-products of ethanol production are still used for feed.

    So if 100,000,000 more bushels of corn go into ethanol production, it doesn't mean that you can count the inputs for the entire 100,000,000 bushels. Some of those inputs would have been used anyway. I've never seen that point discussed in any study. Much of the time when a study of the EROEI is done, the by products of feed and CO2 are not counted. The capturing of CO2 for re-use is just now catching on, but the feed has been ther all along.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by giff57
    What that statement ignores as do many who are unfamiliar with corn production, is that some of the increase in corn production, is a change from other crops. Much of the corn produced is used for animal feed. The by-products of ethanol production are still used for feed.

    So if 100,000,000 more bushels of corn go into ethanol production, it doesn't mean that you can count the inputs for the entire 100,000,000 bushels. Some of those inputs would have been used anyway. I've never seen that point discussed in any study. Much of the time when a study of the EROEI is done, the by products of feed and CO2 are not counted. The capturing of CO2 for re-use is just now catching on, but the feed has been ther all along.
    And don't forget to mention how many ethanol plants can use scraps & wastes from places like breweries, candy factories, and food processors. Ethanol can be made from many many sources and not just corn. You can use soy or sugar like Brazil has mastered.
    @GigCityPlanner

  11. #11
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    Interestingly this is the origin of the expression "ersatz" that BKM seems to love using so much.
    Interesting in what way? BKM uses a lot of words. Mostly to great effect.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  12. #12
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    You can talk about efficiency all day long, but efficiency is only a factor of how much energy is wasted...........
    I don't imagine many folks are viewing synthetic fuels as The Solution to fossil fuel's finite availability. Rather, I think it represents one of several stopgap measures possible - something to buy the world time until a more comprehensive solution becomes feasible. Developments in technology, infrastructure, and political machinations will in all likelihood be necessary before we can hook up all the energy storage cells, fusion generators, solar collection satellites, tidal electrical stations, windmills or whatever...and this is all going to take time. I only hope we can move quickly enough to pre-empt the almost inevitable conflicts that will break out before any of this occurs.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

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