Blue Crude
April 27, 2015 3:34 PM   Subscribe

 
They're 26 days late.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:36 PM on April 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


If this isn't it, I like to think we'll get there someday soon. I've been picturing something produced by genetically modified algae, but anything's fine with me. Batteries are great, but I think we'll always need some form of liquid fuel as well.
posted by uosuaq at 3:39 PM on April 27, 2015


Color me doubtful. While the diagram points to green and renewable energy sources to power production, what is the likelihood of this being true in the long run? I'd guess that the energy needed for synthesis is greater than the energy produced by the fuel. But hey, prove me wrong. Please.
posted by Splunge at 3:42 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


So from the article it sounds like they're "reversing" the combustion process by taking the byproducts of combustion (water and carbon dioxide) and putting them back together. Using renewable energy for this process isn't just green, it's essential - otherwise, you might as well just take whatever you were going to burn for the reactors and throw it in your gas tank instead, it would be more efficient.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:42 PM on April 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'd guess that the energy needed for synthesis is greater than the energy produced by the fuel.

It absolutely will be, but a) it's really hard to put a wind turbine on your car, and b) it avoids having to roll out a huge infrastructure for electric vehicles or fuel cells.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:44 PM on April 27, 2015 [16 favorites]


Is the battery a potted plant?
posted by Drinky Die at 3:44 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


And all it will take is the fully daily wind output of Scotland to make a gallon!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:46 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Order Now!!!!
posted by Fizz at 3:46 PM on April 27, 2015


"tasty, efficient children", said the spokesperson.
posted by boo_radley at 3:48 PM on April 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


Now that I think of it, weren't the energy sources in The Matrix technically renewable?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:49 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Weekend before last I was talking to a guy who worked for a petroleum refining operation. We got to talking about "the hydrogen economy", because I knew enough about the refining process to know what a hydrocracker is, and he said "yeah, cheapest place to get hydrogen right now is deriving it from natural gas".

So when you see diagrams looking to impress shareholders or potential investors talking about "hydrogen from renewable sources", think "fracking".
posted by straw at 3:49 PM on April 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


Oh, right, the other thing - if it took less energy to generate the fuel than what was contained in the fuel, you'd be breaking the laws of physics.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:50 PM on April 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


weren't the energy sources in The Matrix technically renewable?

If you ignore the Second Law, as they did, anything's renewable.
posted by 7segment at 3:53 PM on April 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


Well, it's not like German hasn't already invested in a substantial and quite successful wind power infrastructure, so this isn't in isolation.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Audi claims around 70% efficiency for conversion of power to fuel. Here's the press release, which doesn't include the crappy unrelated autoplaying video that, as a common site feature, can just go die in a fire.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:04 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, right, the other thing - if it took less energy to generate the fuel than what was contained in the fuel, you'd be breaking the laws of physics.

Who's claiming it uses less?
posted by Dr. Twist at 4:07 PM on April 27, 2015


backseatpilot: "Oh, right, the other thing - if it took less energy to generate the fuel than what was contained in the fuel, you'd be breaking the laws of physics."

Depends on your definition of "generate". It certainly takes less energy to get fossil fuels out of the ground and into your gas tank than what's contained in the gasoline.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:09 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


First the 1970's and SeaFuel want to remind you who was 1st. They took CO2 via atmospheric chilling to do a liquid synfuel

Second the US Navy was mentioning last year how they were using reactors + seawater to make a fuel for the jets.

I'd guess that the energy needed for synthesis is greater than the energy produced by the fuel. But hey, prove me wrong. Please.

This is already the case. If you believe oil comes from old plants and not 'magic rocks' the old plant had energy of photons and energy of pressure + heat from the Earth's crust and time to make the crude.

If you use plant or animal fats to make your fuel - they both got to be a long-chained hydrocarbon via 1st processing photons somehow.

It is possible that it takes less overall photons via PV to make this synfuel than via a biological process. ut unless you express things in eMergy, you won't take the time to know or understand.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:11 PM on April 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


To quote MacLean & MacLean, "When shit becomes valuable the poor will be born without arseholes..."
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 4:12 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is no gas shortage, man. It's all fake. The oil companies control everything. Like, there's this guy, who invented this car, that runs on water, man. It's got a fiberglass air-cooled engine, and it runs on water.

Every internet thread is better if you imagine it as the transcript of a That 70's Show Circle Scene.
posted by officer_fred at 4:12 PM on April 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


It absolutely will be, but a) it's really hard to put a wind turbine on your car,

Exempli gratia.
posted by happyroach at 4:19 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh look, another breathless press release that someone has rediscovered the fischer tropsch process.
posted by Justinian at 4:21 PM on April 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


[...] someone has rediscovered the fischer tropsch process.

Which was first developed almost 100 years ago...

yeah, cheapest place to get hydrogen right now is deriving it from natural gas

...So this is kind of the rub, isn't it? Ultimately, we aren't going to see widespread adoption of alternative fuels (or energy sources more generally) until they're cheaper than conventional, either because of scarcity or government intervention. "Blue crude" will become a viable fuel source at the point that the alternative energy sources used to produce it have enough of a price advantage that it's cheaper than fossil fuels.
posted by pullayup at 4:25 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


straw: Weekend before last I was talking to a guy who worked for a petroleum refining operation. We got to talking about "the hydrogen economy", because I knew enough about the refining process to know what a hydrocracker is, and he said "yeah, cheapest place to get hydrogen right now is deriving it from natural gas".

So when you see diagrams looking to impress shareholders or potential investors talking about "hydrogen from renewable sources", think "fracking".


Heh. You and me both. I grew up in a small city where petrochemical refining and its byproducts was the primary industry.

What we're really talking about here is the feedstock. And there's a shit ton of cheap natural gas around these days.

Here's the Henry Hub spot pricing for natural gas. Not historically expensive.

Also, you don't have to heat fossil fuels as much as the cited 800 degrees C for the initial electrolysis step in blue fuel. The fluid catalytic cracking process happens at a much lower temperature.

Believe me, I want us to get the hell off fossil fuels. This doesn't quite seem like it's the thing, though.

It's actually the other things that are harder that and will help more: huge investments in public transport, less urban sprawl, yadda yadda.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:26 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wait, did the lady in the video say "like vodka"? Siphoning gas will be mighty tasty. I will bring the olives and vermouth!
posted by breadbox at 4:27 PM on April 27, 2015


Their claimed system efficiency of 70% is the new part. Fischer-Tropsch doesn't usually get that efficient (maybe 60%?), and that's before taking into account the power source. So if their number is actual system efficiency, then that's a big improvement worth a press release.

Most of this technology is so far used for coal or gas liquefaction, but using it industrially for what is effectively carbon capture is not something I've heard of before, and if these efficiency numbers for a process from plain CO2 prove real, it's huge.
posted by dlg at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I will bring the olives and vermouth!

Only if you promise to very lightly wave the vermouth in the general direction of the gas tank.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:30 PM on April 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


70 percent sounds like a pretty good efficiency for high-temperature electrolysis alone. That the whole thing as depicted, including not only hydrogen production but also carbon dioxide extraction from the atmosphere (very expensive), synthesis, and refining, comes out to 70% is incredible. More likely it's an estimate that doesn't include the CO2 capture or refining. Still, pretty good.
posted by sfenders at 4:32 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


There isn't enough wind to recycle all the CO2 from all the auto exhaust. But at some point in the future that's all we'll have, so at least the wars will be able to go on, because that's who'll get all the blue crude.
posted by BentFranklin at 4:32 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


We talked about the US Navy seawater to fuel announcement last year. They were claiming as high as 94% conversion as well.
posted by bonehead at 4:42 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


In a surprise announcement, Audi has confirmed that their renewable energy sources are, in fact, library books.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:48 PM on April 27, 2015


Maybe I'm confused, but I think the real reason this is cool is because it's efficient, carbon-neutral power storage, not generation, right? My understanding is that noon-time energy can cost up to three times as much as night-time energy, so even with 30% loss, setting these up on always-on hydro or wind generators could significantly increase their profitability.
posted by The Ted at 4:54 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's actually the other things that are harder that and will help more: huge investments in public transport, less urban sprawl, yadda yadda.

This. When 60 mile round trip commutes to work are not at all unusual, coming up with cleaner fuel for your single-occupancy vehicle is kind of not addressing the problem.
posted by indubitable at 4:55 PM on April 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Absolutely. It's carbon neutral, a way of using surplus electricity and preserving current hc infrastructure, in transportation, cars, trucks and air, particularly.

If you have a wind turbine that's not able to put into a full grid, why not make fuel? It complements and solves one of the big problems of renewable sources. Much more easy to manage than batteries.
posted by bonehead at 4:59 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is pretty useless without a full lifecycle comparison with batteries, hydrogen, and the other contenders like biodiesel and oil algae.

But basically it seems like a crap idea: the biggest problem with internal combustion engines is that they mostly produce waste heat instead of movement. Basically you may get 70% efficiency on your fuel conversion but then you put it in the old goddamn reciprocating piston engine and get only 15% of the combustion energy to the tires. Electric makes massively more sense at that end of things; it's well over 90%.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:05 PM on April 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ultimately what we need is an efficient way to store energy in a liquid fuel, or at least an effective way to make a liquid fuel that works with existing technology. Turns out charging batteries aren't 100% efficient so while it's fine and good to be skeptical of these announcements doing things like saying it violates the laws of physics to make a liquid fuel or pooh-poohing the efficiency doesn't do any good.

Also, I find the best results come from allowing sunlight to pass through my bottle of vermouth then through my vodka-like liquid fuel. That gives just the right flavor.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:08 PM on April 27, 2015


Electric makes massively more sense at that end of things; it's well over 90%

IIRC, hasn't that been a problem with proper electric motorcycles? Too efficient in that they can generate so much torque it snaps your head back?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:10 PM on April 27, 2015


Well, if that's the problem the solution is not to use a less efficient conversion system but just regulate the acceleration current a little more sanely or use a less powerful motor.

(Having ridden a motorcycle with better than 3 sec 0-60mph, neck snappage isn't the first problem I'd think of, it's having the bike actually get away from you.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:17 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


The base materials of Fischer–Tropsch appear to be CO and H2, while this process claims to use H2O and CO2. Can someone who's better at chemistry than me say if they're making CO out of their CO2?
posted by Gilead at 5:18 PM on April 27, 2015


Fuel cells may well bridge the gap between battery and liquid fuels. The liquid may just end up being and easier to handle electron storage than a tricky gas, hydrogen, or relatively environmentally underwhelming solid state batteries.
posted by bonehead at 5:20 PM on April 27, 2015


it's really hard to put a wind turbine on your car

Wind power on (commercial freight) ships, however, may soon be making a comeback.
posted by acb at 5:46 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


When 60 mile round trip commutes to work are not at all unusual, coming up with cleaner fuel for your single-occupancy vehicle is kind of not addressing the problem.

Yeah, but someday these ironies will be too cheap to meter!
posted by sneebler at 5:47 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Who's claiming it uses less?

My comment was specifically in reference to this: I'd guess that the energy needed for synthesis is greater than the energy produced by the fuel. But hey, prove me wrong. Please.

There is physically no way that cracking water and carbon dioxide and recombining them can possibly cost less energy than the resultant fuel will give off when burned. Otherwise you would essentially have a perpetual motion machine.

It's not just a good idea, it's the (First) Law (of Thermodynamics)
posted by backseatpilot at 5:54 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


To clarify a point above, when we're talking about converting natural gas into hydrogen, what you really want is a Steam Methane Reformer (SMR). When you're talking about Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC), the most common interpretation of that phrase is a way of using a fluidized bed of catalyst (actually a naturally occurring mineral called zeolite) to crack longer hydrocarbon molecules (think gas oil) into shorter hydrocarbon molecules (think gasoline). When talking about hydrocrackers in terms of refining, the primary output of that unit is almost always diesel. While we're at it, there are also alkylation units that use either sulfuric or hydrofluoric acid (which is some seriously hardcore shit) as catalyst to make high octane blending stock.
posted by conradjones at 5:59 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Electric makes massively more sense at that end of things; it's well over 90%.

Isn't the problem that while electric is great, batteries suck, and suck in a lot of ways relative to hydrocarbons.
posted by wotsac at 6:29 PM on April 27, 2015


electric is great, batteries suck

Every fuel sucks, too. Battery-powered cars are getting to be very good at what they do. Of course what they do covers only a part of even the limited transportation domain of propelling family cars around. Sort of like the also-mentioned "public transport" alternative; more of it would be nice, but it's not really in the same category of ambition as replacing all the uses of diesel fuel in the world.
posted by sfenders at 6:41 PM on April 27, 2015


Batteries are pretty good way to store the energy from electrical generation efficiently: about twice as good as hydrogen or compressed air. The problem with batteries is their materials, manufacture, weight and limited lifecycle. But I suspect that will only continue to get better; turns out there are an awful lot of ways to store electrical potential, some of them are going to pay off in ecological terms.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:04 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


For large scale storage, batteries are also far more costly than the alternatives. Even with Tesla's superfactory, I don't think there will be significant capacity to really buffer the grid any time soon. They're selling to consumers first after all, not the clients who really need it---factories and power companies. I don't think even tesla can make enough to make a significant difference.

To balance grid power, something is needed that can be produced and stored in large quantities. Gas and liquids can be. Batteries just aren't there yet and may not been for a decade or more.
posted by bonehead at 7:11 PM on April 27, 2015


When you're talking about Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC), the most common interpretation of that phrase is a way of using a fluidized bed of catalyst (actually a naturally occurring mineral called zeolite) to crack longer hydrocarbon molecules (think gas oil) into shorter hydrocarbon molecules (think gasoline).

I guess what I was getting at was: what's the energy expenditure, end-to-end, of the energy required in the electrolysis process to capture energy into the fuel Audi's proposing vs. extracting and cracking fossil fuels? That's the question. I mean, if the answer is "less," then wee!

Also, just for curiosity's sake I was Googling cracking operations where I used to live:

Hydrocracking explosion in my hometown. Thankfully, nobody was injured or killed in that one. Can't say the same for some of the other ones that happened when I was a kid.

So, hydrocarbons have some downsides other than carbon emissions. But again, I'm all for going off fossil fuels.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:26 PM on April 27, 2015


To balance grid power, something is needed that can be produced and stored in large quantities.

And there are lots of other ways to story energy besides batteries.

"[pumped storage] accounts for more than 99% of bulk storage capacity worldwide, representing around 127,000 MW"

There was a famous dam breach in Kentucky or Tennessee(?) a couple of decades ago where a utility was buying cheaper night-time power from neighbouring states, using it to pump water up to the top of a mountain and then using that water to generate power which they sold back to the same neighbours at day rates. They would have got away with it too, if they'd bothered to follow the regulations for dam construction.
posted by sneebler at 8:01 PM on April 27, 2015


They would have got away with it too, if they'd bothered to follow the regulations for dam construction.

I feel confident that you know very well that a certain cohort of readers heard a mental voice say something about "meddling kids" halfway through that sentence.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:13 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yet another major automaker banking on fuel that requires a ton of energy to make - a little more practical than Toyota's hydrogen fuel cells, but this is another indication that Lockheed may in fact have a functioning fusion plant. Close US allies get sneak peeks, which they leak to their business leaders.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:52 PM on April 27, 2015


Yet another major automaker banking on fuel that requires a ton of energy to make - a little more practical than Toyota's hydrogen fuel cells, but this is another indication that Lockheed may in fact have a functioning fusion plant. Close US allies get sneak peeks, which they leak to their business leaders.

Are you seriously suggesting that Lockheed has a fusion reactor? That they're twenty years ahead (heh) of everybody else?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:02 PM on April 27, 2015


There was a famous dam breach in Kentucky or Tennessee(?) a couple of decades ago where a utility was buying cheaper night-time power from neighbouring states, using it to pump water up to the top of a mountain and then using that water to generate power which they sold back to the same neighbours at day rates. They would have got away with it too, if they'd bothered to follow the regulations for dam construction.

Are you talking about Raccoon Mountain (not that I know of any failures per se)?

Unless the 'got away with it' part is referencing some regulatory no-no, perhaps related to it being a state-to-state sale but honestly that sounds unlikely but who knows, that was being violated then I have no idea what they'd be 'getting away with' except for business as usual for, ya'know, nearly any pumped storage energy solution (be it compressed air in salt mines in Alabama or the much more ubiquitous pump the water uphill with off peak (read: cheaper) electrons) connected to a national grid.

Again, I'm missing the 'gotcha' moment here unless it's a minor one or altogether unrelated to pumped storage in general and, instead, dealt with carrier or state regulations and stipulations.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:03 PM on April 27, 2015


Bonus facts for those of you with high curiosity factors:

1) Hydro plants, their generators I should say, will often be used as means of shedding extra power on the grid. They do that by spinning the generator as a motor. No water is necessarily pumped, although I'm sure some facilities may be setup for this, but instead the resistance of air in the turbine allows for extra power to be vented safely as needed.

2) Pumped storage plants that have generators running off the potential energy of the 'stored' water have units that are much, much easier to maintain because they are rarely, if ever in some cases, cycled or loaded variably. As such their wear patterns and behaviors are much easier to manage and overall wear and tear is much lower.

*cue rainbow, no citation but my credentials for spouting the above factoids, slight though they may be, are available sans request*

posted by RolandOfEld at 9:08 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


There was a famous dam breach in Kentucky or Tennessee(?) a couple of decades ago

You're probably thinking of the Taum Sauk pumped storage plant in Missouri, which overflowed and breached in 2005 due to known malfunctioning level sensors. The damage was quite devastating. It has since been rebuilt.
posted by zsazsa at 9:13 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, I need a suburb and a wind turbine attached to my car? Someone didn't think this through.
posted by mattoxic at 9:15 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well yeah, you can make hydrocarbons out of hydrogen and carbon, given enough energy input, and water and air contain the needed elements, which you can extract given more energy input. Or you could use all that energy to charge the battery on an electric car.
posted by w0mbat at 10:50 PM on April 27, 2015


And it takes even less energy to convince someone that they don't really need to go where they were thinking of driving to anyway.

I was thinking of taking up a collection to buy space on a billboard on the most congested commuter route in the state, and have it say: "When you get where you're going, will anyone actually be glad to see you? Yeah, we didn't think so. Next time, stay home."
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:28 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


God I hate auto-playing video, but my rage increases threefold when the video's on a sidebar that doesn't even have anything to do with the damn article. You can go right to hell, fucking "International Business Times," and stay there until you realize that people tend to browse the internet these days using something called tabs.
posted by JHarris at 1:30 AM on April 28, 2015


blah blah wind turbine blah blah fuel in tank blah blah

A group of people were trying just that - the NH3 fuel group. Water + 78% of air + electricity -> Ammonia

Given how everyone seems to know about THAT effort, one can see their success.

Ultimately what we need is an efficient way to store energy in a liquid fuel

Or, perhaps, the old fuddy-duddies that grew up on 24X7 energy/information on demand come to accept that there is a ebb and flow and, just perhaps their now long dead fuddy-duddies had a point when they said "make hay while the sun shines". 1/2 of humanity lives under an ebb and flow model right now.

Now, if room temperature superconductors manage to come into existence then ideas for a nationwide electrical grid as envisioned by Ruf become a compelling replacement to the presently old grid system. Combine that with nationwide load sharing so that The Republic of Calfornia can get powered up from the sunlight in the Free State of Vermont and the Duchy of Manhattan (under control of the 7 families of the Wall and Street) the "national interest" is served by extending the workday via moving electrons across the landmass. Nations that have the longest sun-struck borders are the ones who can lead, yet ever fearful of a space-based EMP reducing them to a state where the secret IS to bang the rocks together guys.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:12 AM on April 28, 2015


Are you seriously suggesting that Lockheed has a fusion reactor?

They're not saying, and they're not doing more than hinting at this stage.

Note also however, that the US Navy is converting to electric-powered engines and weapon systems (rail guns and lasers) as quickly as they can. Their system of seawater-to-fuel was essentially so that they could run the aircraft on a carrier without refueling. Electric-only fighters and bombers aren't in the near future.
posted by bonehead at 3:42 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


God I hate auto-playing video

You don't even need a browser plugin any more to get Firefox to not play flash video until you click on it. Which is why I had no idea there was a video there from Sunfire/Audi, as there's no non-flash caption to suggest that it's something other than an ad. Well, something other than a completely irrelevant ad, at least.

The video doesn't add much except the crucial number that everyone should want to know, the anticipated price at which they expect to be able to sell the stuff. It's a more meaningful number than system efficiency for example, which for the most part just confuses people as it isn't directly comparable to anything familiar. €1.00 - 1.50 per litre is suggested, which is about the same as the current price for petrol and diesel in Europe. That's suspiciously coincidental and optimistic, but great if it turns out to be for real. I seem to recall tracking down a price estimate for the US Navy fuel from seawater thing that came in somewhat higher, but not by too much. Maybe synthetic hydrocarbons really will be the fuel of the future. Or maybe Phinergy will come through first, with their plan to fuel cars with solid aluminum. Or maybe we'll just keep using fossil fuels until global civilization crashes and burns, that's a strong possibility too.

A slightly more substantial write-up: Audi Backs an Artificial Fuel Produced by Sunfire’s Power-to-Liquids Process
posted by sfenders at 5:35 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


This and hydrogen are both frustrating because they've got the amount of carbon wrong. Too little and you've got a virtually unusable fuel, too much and you're spending too much energy putting messy carbon chains into your fuel and making it too difficult to burn cleanly.

If you make methane, you've got something that's the same as natural gas, can be used in a fuel cell or an almost unchanged petrol or diesel engine, stored in a pretty safe tank indefinitely, and can be refuelled at home from existing infrastructure.
posted by ambrosen at 5:35 AM on April 28, 2015


Sunfire, the German specialist

But Sunfire is Japanese.

(I have nothing intelligent, beyond doubts, and hopes)
posted by Mezentian at 6:19 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even if you discount the long term usefulness of synthetic fuels for cars, they are essential for the sustainability of air travel, where energy density and low pressure storage are the most important aspects of the fuel.
posted by wierdo at 6:30 AM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Now all we need is a flux capacitor and 1.21 jigowatts.
posted by spock at 6:45 AM on April 28, 2015


Again, I'm missing the 'gotcha' moment here unless it's a minor one

Sorry, I was thinking of the Taum Sauk operation in MO. Both my memory and my knowledge of southeastern US geography are not what they could be.
posted by sneebler at 6:57 AM on April 28, 2015


nope, I think this is cool. Sure, it costs more energy than you get out of it, but that's true of every system of energy storage. As others have pointed out, fossil fuels just hide the initial input. If you calculated the total amount of energy absorbed by the plants, used in decomposition, applied via pressure and heat, I'd bet even the most inefficient production of ethanol would have it beat. It's just that nature did all the work for us, so it's "free."

Stupid nature, making us look bad. I'm glad we're getting rid of it.
posted by ghostiger at 7:54 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


...it's a little frightening when you think of how many hundreds (thousands?) of years of plant growth we're blowing through every time we burn a gallon of gas
posted by ghostiger at 7:57 AM on April 28, 2015


The way the chemistry works, crude oil mostly comes from marine sources, algae, small arthropods, bacteria, etc.. If the biotic source is higher plants, e.g. trees, grasses, you tend to end up with more natural gas, less oil.
posted by bonehead at 8:16 AM on April 28, 2015


Does the water need to be clean? Because we could still be screwed if it does...
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:22 AM on April 28, 2015


Even if you discount the long term usefulness of synthetic fuels for cars, they are essential for the sustainability of air travel, where energy density and low pressure storage are the most important aspects of the fuel.

Yeah, as someone in aerospace, I've wondered about this, too. From what I've seen from NASA's aeronautics programs, there's a lot of effort being put into aerodynamic drag reduction via tricky wing shapes, blended wing bodies, shape morphing, etc., but all of the propulsion concepts are still based on combustion. I suppose if I spent an hour or so reviewing my propulsion notes, I could tell you why. Some guesses on causes besides energy density would be that you just can't get propellers to move you fast enough to compete with modern transonic turbofan transports and that batteries, unlike fuel, do not drop in weight as you use them up (this seems like some multiplier to the required energy density to be competitive).
posted by indubitable at 8:46 AM on April 28, 2015


Well, you can do something like a propfan but it really does come down to energy density. The best example I can think of right now is the Cri-Cri - it's got a 460 km range with traditional engines, and only about 55 km with electric. Scale that up to airliner sizes and you're looking at some major shortcomings. In addition, you've got to keep turnaround time to a minimum in order to maintain profitability - you can't leave the plane sitting overnight to charge after every flight, and swapping out batteries quickly becomes infeasible at the size and quantities you'd need for something the size of a passenger jet.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:00 AM on April 28, 2015


NASA is working on bonkers stuff like distributed propulsion - think dozens of little props all along the wings - and lifting-body fuselages to make electric and hybrid-electric aircraft feasible. They had a working solar-powered drone as early as 2003 that was basically a flying wing with a dozen propellers. Not terribly practical for connecting flights to St. Louis, but newer designs are promising (and very strange looking.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:24 AM on April 28, 2015


EADS VoltAir does have swappable batteries, at least in concept, and given that tonnes of freight are regularly loaded and unloaded on many flights it's not that bad an idea. There is the advantage that you can operate electric aircraft into major airports at night due to the much lower noise. And with a whole bunch of new technologies such as superconducting motors and the various interesting battery technologies in the pipeline - some of which may even work - people are seriously looking at stuff getting real as soon as, oh, 2050.

Personally, I'll be very happy not relying on mulitple pods containing highly complex rotating machines fed by FIRE.
posted by Devonian at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Except we've been doing the whole tube of flaming hydrocarbons bit pretty well for near on 7 decades now, more than a century if you include IC planes as well.

HD batteries aren't safe either. When energy density starts getting high enough, run away reactions can occur in solid, liquid or gels. IATA, the UN body where air safety treaties get negotiated, still doesn't really want (or allow) bulk air shipment of lithium batteries. Just this last year, in fact, they've added a new special label just for lithium batteries (PDF) in response to a number of fires and at least one big crash that I'm aware of.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on April 28, 2015


Realistically, anything that's energy-dense will have amusing failure modes. I'm not serious about being worried through knowing exactly what's going on about thirty feet to my right in seat 35H. My major warm fuzzies for electric propulsion are the hugely greater simplicity and efficiency of the process. If you break an electric cable then the electric tends to stay inside, unlike fuel lines, and you don't need to create and regulate massively exothermal, high pressure gas-air reactions. Look at the ridiculously simpler design of a Tesla's motive chain to that of a petrol car, or peer into the cavernous engine compartment of a converted canal boat, where something the size of a Stilton cheese is doing the job of a marine diesal. (Batteries, however...)

There's a good chance that if we do come up with an efficient and cost-effective way to synthesise hydrocarbon fuels, then some sort of hybrid system will end up as the preferred propulsion for the next hundred years. If you take away the environmental downside, what we have is clearly good enough to do the job of moving lots of people and stuff around the planet in good order, so while I'm at one with the eye-rollers with the five-yearly PR cycle of "Oooh! Look!" of synthetic/biofuel announcements from the aircraft and automotive industries, I'm not against it. If it keeps attention on, and investment in, chipping away at this issue, then go for it.
posted by Devonian at 1:02 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


A fuel cell is essentially a battery with (right now) refillable gas and liquid electrodes, so it's kind of the best of both worlds. Many of the problems with cells are down to impurities damaging the membranes. Synthetic products are much, much cleaner than natural ones though, so that might also be a benefit.
posted by bonehead at 2:21 PM on April 28, 2015


The verdict: Pilot plant produces high-quality diesel fuel

Where do these pilot plants grow?
posted by chavenet at 9:34 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


A co-worker tried to violently convince me that my Prius utilizes more energy than a regular car that gets half the gas mileage. His argument was that the energy required to mine the compounds used in the battery negates the energy saved by the hybrid engine. I'm sure he heard this on Rush Limbaugh, as most of his arguments were along the same lines. I doubt this is true, and certainly not true if driving the car for 100K miles. Arguments against renewable, green energy can be shot down pretty quickly if one considers long-term gains, not to mention that one shouldn't dismiss ideas based on current pricing but rather should consider future situations where these technologies will indeed be needed.
posted by waving at 9:35 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'll be very happy not relying on mulitple pods containing highly complex rotating machines fed by FIRE.
posted by Devonian


I prefer to think of it as a box containing tubes of explosions. YMMV depending on city or highway.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:00 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


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