Aug 21, 2008

Analysis: How much energy can be realized from waste-to-fuel conversion processes?

This post was motivated by a discussion at Big Biofuels Blog. The question was what impact would these waste-fuel processes make on crude oil imports/consumption.

Assuming that 30% of petrochemical product-containing waste is collected for conversion to fuels, and a 15% waste to fuels conversion energy efficiency, I estimate that ~0.3% of current US crude oil consumption can be met with waste-fuels conversion. Here is a link (Nature Network) for further discussion . Details of the calculation after the jump.

Current US oil consumption: ~20 million bbl/d
10% of our crude oil use goes towards making petrochemicals. If we assume that 70% of the energy is lost, 1.4 million bbl/d of oil equivalents of energy is still left for us produce fuels (if we do not count the energy that is input while making the petrochemicals). If we use 30% of this waste to make fuel, and assume a (conservative) 15% efficiency for the waste-fuel conversion, we can get 1.4*0.3*0.15 = 0.063 million bbl/d. (or 0.32% of current US crude oil consumption).
To put this in context, transportation accounts for 70% of the current crude oil consumption.


Aug 18, 2008

News: Update on the Vedanta vs. Dongria Kondh case

The Economist has an interesting article on the Indian Supreme Court's decision to allow Vedanta resources to go ahead with mining the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri hills in the state of Orissa. For his credit, the chairman of Vedanta (Anil Agarwal) promised not to mine unless they had the permission of the court & the people. I especially liked the last paragraph of the article:
It should be some consolation to campaigners that nothing Vedanta now does in Orissa will escape notice. Of greater concern are the smaller, more obscure firms which have no reputation to protect. The developing world’s global giants now endure global scrutiny.But not every polluter has upstanding Norwegians investing in it, or holds its AGM in London.

Well put.


Aug 17, 2008

North East Renewable Energy Conference AUg 26-28, Pennsylvania

The 2008 North East (United States) renewable energy conference will be held at Penn State University on Aug 26-28th of this month. More details are reproduced from a mailist list message that I received recently. A PDF flyer for the event providing more details can be downloaded here.

The 2008 NE Renewable Energy Conference will be held August 26-28 at the Penn Stater Conference Center in State College, Pennsylvania. The conference will showcase regional renewable energy and energy efficiency research, demonstration, and university-industry-government partnerships for sustainable economic development. The audience will be drawn from across the northeastern U.S. and the states of Michigan and Ohio. We are anticipating 300 - 400 attendees from the 14 states in the region as well as Washington, D.C. Sponsors include the Northeast Sun Grant Initiative, the Northeastern Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Station Directors, NE SARE, and several other companies and organizations.


Aug 16, 2008

Analysis: How much biodiesel will jatropha cultivation in UP produce?

UP (a large Indian state with the highest population) is planning to cultivate jatropha in 1.586 million hectares (3.91 million acres) of wasteland. Both the Business Standard and the GCC do not mention how much of India's current fuel/diesel demand can be met by this move. My back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that a significant portion (~23%) of India's diesel product imports can be displaced by cultivating jatropha in the 1.6 million ha.

From the Green Car Congress blog:
Indian State of Uttar Pradesh to Cultivate jatropha on 40% of Wasteland
16 August 2008
Business Standard. The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has set a target to bring at least 40% of its wasteland under jatropha cultivation for biodiesel feedstock within the coming five years.

  • The average yield of jatropha is ~1-5 tonnes/ha(from a somewhat dated Frost & Sullivan report on biodiesel). Assuming crude jatropha oil yield of ~2.5-3 tonnes/ha (see above report), UP would produce ~4 million tonnes of crude (jatropha) oil/ha for every crop of jatropha. According to an article in the MIT technology review, 1 hectare of jatropha produces ~1900 liters of "fuel". Therefore, 1.6 million ha. will produce 3040 million liters (800 million US gallons) of fuel for each crop of jatropha (The actual production per year will depend on the number of crops that can be cultivated per year).
  • In an other paper, Francis et al. assume a yield of ~580 l biodiesel/ha/year from jatropha cultivation in India. UP would therefore generate ~243 million US gallons of fuel/year (900 million liters of biodiesel/yr).
  • What does 240 million US gallons/yr of biodiesel mean ? On a mass basis, it is approximately 0.8 million tonnes of biodiesel/yr. Since the calorific value of petroleum diesel is ~15% higher than that of biodiesel, 0.8 million tonnes of biodiesel would be equivalent to 0.7 million T of petroleum diesel.
  • India's diesel "product" imports during 2007-08 were 2.93 million T. (This does not include diesel made from imported crude oil). Therefore, cultivating jatropha in 1.6 million ha. (approximately equivalent to the area of the state of Nagaland or eleven times the area of (the state of) Delhi) will potentially displace ~23% of Indian diesel product imports.
A report on jatropha cultivation in Cambodia, but also has India-specific data.


Aug 15, 2008

News: BP and Ergo Exergy agreement on UCG

This is somewhat old. Following up from a previous post on underground coal gasification (UCG), BP and Ergo Exergy have teamed together to combine their respective strengths in directional drilling, seismic data interpretation and UCG technologies. The Ergo Exergy website has details of the εUCG™ process.


Opinion: Oil Prices Depend on More on Speculation than assumed previously

New data released by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) last month (I picked this up from the recent article on the Wall Street Journal) gives more credibility to the idea that speculators had a substantial role to play in the oil futures markets.
By Ann Davis

Data emerging on players in the commodities markets show that speculators are a larger piece of the oil market than previously known, a development enlivening an already tense election-year debate about traders' influence.

Last month, the main U.S. regulator of commodities trading, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, reclassified a large unidentified oil trader as a "noncommercial" speculator.

The move changed many analysts' perceptions of the oil market from a more diversified marketplace to one with a heavier-than-thought concentration of financial players who punt on big bets.

... (Click here for entire article)

Continued... (Graph showing noncommercial positions is courtesy of Wall Street Journal,[Chart]

As a result, the number of futures and options contracts held by traders counted as speculators -- those who don't have a commercial need to mitigate the risks of energy prices in their business -- rose to 49% of all crude-oil bets outstanding on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up from 38%.

However in a July 22 release the agency had concluded speculators weren't "systematically" driving oil prices. Oil prices soared until mid-July before beginning a decline. US senators (some Democrats) have questioned the agency's timing of the earlier, incomplete report which painted a different picture. The issue here is that normally the positions taken by hedge funds (who incidentally are not hedging the fuel for any consumption) and other financial firms are in the same direction as the price movement. As far as I know, you cannot short commodities, you can purchase futures contracts.

As I had mentioned previously, additional middlemen are going to drive the price pressure upward. With the release of new data, and with the recent substantial drop in oil prices, the meteoric rise in oil prices over the last 1 year seems to be fueled more by irrational trading demand, rather than organic demand by the new and growing consumers of oil (namely China, Russia, India and Brazil: CRIB, pun intended).

Of course, pure economists and free, free market proponents might still stick to their arguments that oil prices are due to demand, but come on really, stock prices and commodities prices do not reflect their true and fair values on many occasions. A lot of hype (aka " expert opinions) and panic (see below) influence prices on short time scales.

(Cartoon courtesy:

Thankfully over long term, sanity prevails, but who lives for tomorrow, yeah?

Post script: I had to quote Lehman Brothers' opinion, just could not resist!

Lehman Brothers analysts say the CFTC data, as they are now reported, fail to distinguish certain categories of financial traders from commercial traders and create "an opportunity for the activity of less-informed, purely financial investors to distort expectations."


Aug 12, 2008

Speculation in Crude Oil, Middle men and prices

Here is one (my) perspective on how speculation was affecting price of crude oil , but profit margins of refiners (solo refining companies like Valero, Sunoco, etc) have not really gone up. Of course for the common public, the face of gasoline are companies like Valero/Sunoco/LukOil in some markets in US. The presence of "speculators" in the energy futures markets has just added more middle mento the path the crude oil takes from the well to the refinery and then to the gas station (petrol pump).
The addition of middle men is going to increase the cost of the goods at the final step. This is NOT any kind of value addition. But it was merely was an artificial way to increase the demand on a given contract of crude oil. The addition of speculators (who cannot be prevented in a truly free market) definitely puts an increased "Phantom Demand" for crude oil-which is merely a dirty oily raw material.

But wait, I dont think we are done when it comes to the price increase of crude. It will rise again but in a more gradual way and climb towards $250 within 3 years. If that does not happen, you can fry a donut in crude oil and serve it to me.
The increased demand due to actual use (of newly added vehicles, increase in vehicles in India and China, SUVs and pickups in the market all over the world) is a totally different factor.


Aug 8, 2008

Developing clean energy technologies: Role for green chemistry?

From the ACS Green Chemistry website:
"Green chemistry consists of chemicals and chemical processes designed to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts. The use and production of these chemicals may involve reduced waste products, non-toxic components, and improved efficiency."
If we consider that the production of fuels is a chemical process, with the energy in the fuel being the output of the process, applying the twelve principles of green chemistry could potentially impact the way fuels are produced. Three of the twelve principles of green chemistry that can be applied to clean energy technologies are the use of renewable feedstocks, maximizing atom economy, and designing chemicals to degrade after use. Some of the important challenges for developing clean energy technologies from a green chemistry perspective are:
  • How can we better use renewable materials to produce fuels or industrial feedstocks?
  • How can we maximize atom efficiency the above conversions?
  • How can we plan for chemical degradation/CO2 sequestration after use?
To better illustrate the above questions, consider the case of producing fuels/petrochemical feedstocks from natural materials/fossil fuels. The production of fuels and petrochemicals from crude oil is highly atom-efficient (but significant improvements can still be made in the energy requirements), compared to technologies such as coal-to-liquids (CTL). Additionally, the production of renewable polymers from natural materials (corn, cellulose, etc.) also involves breaking them down to sugars, followed by fermentation and polymerization to produce the desired polymer. [As an example, see the NatureWorks(TM) polylactic acid (PLA) production from corn.] Similarly, CTL technologies also involve breaking down the complex organic compounds in coal to simpler compounds and further processing to obtain fuels with desirable properties. From a green chemistry perspective, it is much more efficient to maximize the atom economy in these conversions. (This is probably easier to implement in the case of polymers compared to fuels, because the fuels have to match a given specification, while a polymer's specifications can be changed by controlling various process conditions).

Additionally, planning for the end-of-life means that we should have effective means to recycle/reuse products derived from natural sources, and we that we should have strategies to mitigate CO2 emissions while using CTL. I do not advocate that we only use CTL technologies, but only that if we do, we should have some means to mitigate CO2 emissions in place.


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