## Sunday, December 19, 2004

### Fuel for 15 USD a barrel

Gindy has lots of interesting, inspiring and reasonable texts on his blog.
This particular article is about fuel that may be produced as cheaply as for 15 dollars a barrel - from organic waste such as turkey guts. And it seems to be environmentally friendly - well, pollution created from burning the fuel has always been the most serious challenge of similar approaches. The technology seems to mimic the actual processes that led to the natural creation of fuel. You may read more about this possibility here:
This article appeared a year ago, and therefore they still presented the price as being 10 dollars a barrel. It seems that the factory in Carthage, Missouri, is now running at 80 percent of its capacity, as you can see if you read the interview with Brian Appel, its CEO and a skillful manager who seems to know what he's doing:
Appel expects the new plants, which should also produce diesel fuel for powerplants in 15-20 minutes, to process the beef. They are working on a variation of the technology that could be used in the cars; this also requires a modification of the motors, something that the Big Three works on, too.

The people who blame the US for producing more CO2 than others - and who want to "punish" the US by the Kyoto-like protocols and similar anti-growth bureaucratic regulations - don't realize (or perhaps don't want to realize) that it is the same United States that is the most likely place where the new technologies will be (and already are being) discovered and realized in practice.

1. Vaguely reminiscent of Soylent Green. :-)

On a different note, there must be restrictions on the efficiency of the conversion of (organic) garbage to fuel from thermodynamics ... of course the article is very upbeat on this issue. The article also says that the process has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so no one else has reproduced it.

Time will tell if this process is as good as it is made out to be.

Al

2. Hey Al,

thanks for your interesting note. Maybe I was not sufficiently clear and upbeat in this article. This depolymerization is not a speculative process investigated by theoreticians in thermodynamics.

It's a process that is already running - in reality, by which I mean this particular material Universe. ;-) The company is producing a lot of burning oil for power plants, it's as cheap as advertised, and it seems to work: turkey guts are converted to energy.

Maybe you misunderstood me, or I misunderstood you. Have you read the articles linked in this entry?

Best
Lubos

3. Dear Lumo,

So I know that the article (in the link) mentions that this process is running. However, the issue of efficiency will become important as the scale increases -- from 200 tons --> 50 barrels per day to one thousand times as much, say. (Daily crude oil production of the world is 90 million barrels per day, for comparison.)

As a scientist, would you not agree that even a successful experiment needs to be repeated in other laboratories before it is accepted as good science? ;-) So far, the efficiency figures are from the person who came up with the idea, and claims to be successfully running a small plant. That is fine, but one person cannot check all possibilities for problems anyway. So it would make sense for him to have the details of his process published -- which I believe he can do after applying for a patent.

Al

4. I too would like to squeeze that last erg out of all that free energy we get from the Sun, so naturally I hope this works out. The big counterclue is in the fact that most of this is being done with government money (20 megabucks from the EPA, and pork riders in other bills). If this is as good as claimed, or even close, why aren't entrepreneurs stepping up with the big bucks? The other clue is that this is all 19th century chemistry. If it works, it should be easy to demonstrate, cost out, and attract capital.

5. Dear Al,

great! As a non-chemist, I am not terribly scientifically interested in the question whether turkey guts can give you "E" of energy via fuel or "2E". The resulting energy will still be some 14 orders of magnitude below E=mc^2 - which would be better to squeeze out of the biowaste. ;-)

I am primarily interested in this question because of technological and economical motivations. It just sounds cool.

Imperialist: this project has already attracted a lot of capital - they needed some 90 million dollars for that new plant to run. It's described in one of these articles. Even Madonna said that it's a good idea to invest money to something that converts shits into money. ;-)

And yes, the possible motor-industry applications are under intense investigation, in collaboration with General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, and probably Ford - or whatever else Big Three means. They are clearly investing nonzero money to this project.

I also think that someone should try to develop "personal" converters of biowaste to fuel - something that you could use at home to get a few gallons of some fuel from your trash. ;-)

All the best
Lubos

6. Dear Lumo,

Tsk, tsk! ;-) I expected better from a theoretical physicist. Surely you know that no chemical process would get to the scale of E=mc^2. And surely you also know that whatever the process is (of making oil from organic waste), it is chemical transmutation -- turning carbohydrates, proteins and fat into hydrocarbons. Middle school chemistry tells you that it should be possible to do that. (Although I am willing to accept that the new process is superior to any previously known.)

The issue is not the possibility of the chemical process, but whether it is economically and energetically viable. Processing 200 tons of waste is one thing, processing 200 kilotons of waste is completely another thing. Anyway, they will find out in a few years.

I must say I am totally non-plussed by your attitude. Surely you want to know if the enterprise is scientifically sensible?

Al

7. Hey Al,

thanks for your healthy teasing. ;-) While people like me are theoretical physicists, they still care about the experiments! Once the company is running and producing oil which is used in a power plant, I would conclude that it has been proved experimentally that the mechanism is scientifically sensible, don't you think?

Yes, chemistry is a very very low-energy physics. Burning of organic compounds only uses a fraction of electronvolts per atom, and the difference between the "useful energy" content of the polymers and of the alkins is relatively small. All the details are pretty hard to calculate for a non-experienced chemist, and it's always easier for me to look at the experiments in such cases!

The experimental situation shows that all these things are now just a matter of quantitative difference. The technology works, seems relatively clean and efficient - and the question is whether it will get sufficiently efficient to expand.

However we should also emphasize that we're probably not producing enough biowaste to replace the whole import of oil from OPEC! This technology will probably remain a smaller part of the oil production, even in the most optimistic case, do you agree?

Best
Lubos

8. Hey Gindy! Thanks for having me added! Lumo stands for LUbos MOtl, which is my full name - a ridiculous abbreviation, right?

9. Now, I know. One more thing. I don't recall if the article mentions this (going from memory now). Turkey wasn't the only product that would work with this process. Many forms of natural waste would work as well. I think that turkey was the most efficient. But, think about how much waste America goes through a year (off the dinner table, toilets etc). By the way, my view of this process is rather simplistic. There are definely some educated thinkers posting on this site. There are some great comments on this post. Alright. Back to work. Thanks again.

10. The efficiency claimed for the process is that for every 100 BTUs in the feedstock, it takes 15 to run the processing.

11. Hey Arun, is not it more apt to call the number "15 minutes" by the word "speed" as opposed to "efficiency"? I find this speed a bit too high, given the fact that Nature needed hundreds of millions of years to create the oil naturally ;-), but finally, why could not we do it faster?

I would reserve the word efficiency for counting how much useful energy can you extract from one turkey.

12. What are you teaching exactly? I am very curious. Thanks.

13. Lubos,

I didn't understand your comment re: 15 minutes.

Changing World Tech FAQQuote:

How much energy does the plant use to run?

For every 100 BTUs available in our feedstock, approximately 15-20 BTUs are needed to provide energy for the plant. The remaining BTUs will be available for sale in a converted state.

End quote.

14. BTU = British Thermal Unit = approx 1055 Joules.

15. I see, Arun, I was being stupid. Thanks for explanation of this "efficiency".

16. I haven't read the links yet but it seems to me the issue is not the efficiency of the conversion of "guts" to hydrocarbon but how much energy was required to make those "guts" in the first place. How much energy was used in making the feed (tractors, fertilizer, etc.)and in caring for the animals? Did the guts have a use already, such as in other animal feed or fertilizer? If so you are simply displacing that energy source.

17. The waste that is used as the feedstock - turkey guts, etc., - is produced as the byproduct of an already-economically-viable process. The open question is whether the fuel-product is economically viable.

I take the cost of fuel produced - $15 per barrel - to be an incremental cost, i.e., if the plant is operating at 80% capacity, then an additional$15 in material, labor, energy will produce a barrel of fuel. If the 500 barrel a day plant in Carthage, MO, cost $20 million to build, then a 5% interest rate on the$20 million + a lifetime of the plant of 5 years (i.e., depreciation) require an additional cashflow of $5 million dollars an year on a production of about 180K barrels, or roughly, an additional$27 per barrel. Thus for the plant to be viable, I think the market price of fuel has to be more than $42 per barrel. Economy of scale means that I can build a larger plant, say with$40 million, that will produce more than twice the 500 barrels a day of the $20 million plant at the same incremental cost per barrel ($15); or twice the production, but with lower incremental cost (< $15) or some combination of the two. 18. I've read the links and the comment above and still believe that my point is valid. Just because the original process is economically viable (i.e. raising and selling turkeys) doesn't mean that this process is useful to "produce" energy; i.e. turkey meat (protein) sells at a premium. Sure, if the efficiency of the conversion of turkey guts into hydrocarbon is high enough you may be able to produce more energy than you used in the conversion. But whether or not this makes sense to do it for the purpose of producing energy depends on how much energy was used in the original manufacture of the turkey. You can't count it as "free." Barnabus 19. Hey barnabus, it's not quite clear to me why you consider the efficiency of this process differently than using economic criteria. There's not way to make physics sense out of your phrase "producing energy". It's because the world around obeys the energy conservation law. You cannot "produce" energy if you count all of energy. What you can do is to convert one, useless type of energy into another type of energy which is more useful. (Usually, the opposite happens.) The energy contained in biowaste was viewed as useless - no one knew how to use it. If you can convert it to a useful form i.e. produce money out of it, then you definitely gained something. I really don't understand which other type of "energy production" you're talking about. If you think that others talk about the perpetual motion machine, then you must have misunderstood something. ;-) This is a serious topic about a serious process - one that is already running in reality. The relevant questions in this topic are subtle engineering questions, and economic questions - I just don't see any room for fundamental physics here. Best Lubos 20. Thanks for the response. Yes I think we agree. You said, "You cannot "produce" energy if you count all of energy." That is my point, sort of. More specifically, I am asking how much gasoline and oil was used in the production of the turkey guts. Basically you can view the process as solar energy into plant energy (e.g. seeds), into turkey food, into turkey protein (and guts). You have captured some solar energy in this process...which is now stored in the biomass in the form of turkey guts. My question is how much oil and gasoline was used as part of this process. Are you a net producer of hydrocarbon fuel? Your point may be that it is irrelevant since you are making fuel out of something that would be thrown away. My point is that it is relevant if you want to run this process, i.e. raising turkeys, for the sake of producing fuel. Barnabus 21. Barnabus, I don't think anyone is proposing to raise turkeys for energy. That would most likely be unviable, as you point out. -Arun 22. Arun, the idea is not as laughable as it may seem. If this process indeed yields "oil" at$10 per barrel then your turkey guts just went from being waste to being a valuable product. The guts would no longer be given away but they would be sold. This provides an additional revenue stream to the company raising the turkeys and hence an incentive to make even more. The more interesting question is what other "waste" is out there that nobody has even considered using as a source of fuel.

Barnabus

23. Cellulose is everywhere, if we could turn that into petroleum-like fuel economically, then we'd never be short of fuel.

Remember, the higher you go up the food chain the less efficient one is going to be. Roughly, I think ten pounds of feed go into one pound of turkey.

24. Cau! Nasiel som ta cez blog explosion. Mozes checknut moj blog, ked mas cas. Cau a Vesele Vianoce! ;-)

JANO
http://daghtus.chattablogs.com/