Liquid coal means liquid problems

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"Liquid coal means liquid problems"

I haven’t been posting as much as I usually do, since I have been preparing testimony for the Congressional hearing on Wednesday. The committee has finally posted details of the hearing here. It should be a rousing debate. At least I won’t be all alone on the anti-CTL side.

In the course of preparing, one of Climate Progress’s readers sent me some high-quality information on the high level of water use in the liquid coal process, which I though I’d share. The key factoid is five to seven gallons of water are necessary for every gallon of diesel fuel that’s produced (and double that if you coproduce diesel fuel and electricity from coal).

This comes from a very useful report: “Emerging Issues for Fossil Energy and Water” by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. The key chart is (click on it for a clearer image):

ctl-figure2.jpg

GPM is gallons per minute, Bgal is billions of gallon, BPSD is barrels per steam day (whatever a “steam day” is), and I think 42 gallons per barrel (that’s what it is for oil, anyway). Ed Markey (D-MA) put this all in layman’s language on Grist:

Liquid coal is also incredibly expensive and resource-intensive to create, with small returns compared to the amount of energy and the immense number of new industrial plants needed to create it. Even setting aside the environmental impacts of coal mining, the water resources needed for this sort of undertaking would be staggering: 4.6 billion gallons per year of liquid fuels from coal would require between 21 and 60 billion gallons of water per year. To give some perspective, 60 billion gallons could fill 90,850 Olympic sized swimming pools.

There has been much buzz that new CTL processes would use less water. The hearing’s CTL/water expert — Dr. Richard D. Boardman, The Secure Energy Initiative Head, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID — will hopefully clear that up.

The bottom line is that CTL is not a particularly smart long-term strategy for a nation and a world facing mega-droughts and chronic water shortages from human-caused climate change.

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5 Responses to Liquid coal means liquid problems

  1. john says:

    The other bummer for CTL is the amount of carbon generated per unit of useful energy obtained. Estimates vary, but something on the order of twice as much as gasoline is typical. And the cost of any reliable sequestration of process-related carbon generated makes the whole thing kind of silly.

    As for a steam day? Might be the kind of weather you could expect if you start using this stuff.

  2. James Smith says:

    Lets compare apples to apples. Liquid coal is NOT gasoline, it is Diesel and Kerosene(Jet Fuel ) Japans Auto makers will produce 200.000 diesel powered cars for europe in 2008. Sure, the ways to eliminate CO2 will be expensive. Is that not better than fighting wars for cheap oil.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    Much of that water is used for cooling. It isn’t “consumed”. Some is used in the “shift reaction” to get more H2 into the synthesis gas, but that is less than the amount of coal used ( 2C + O2 -> 2CO ; 2CO + H2O -> CO2 + H2 + CO then the H2 and CO get reacted to make hydrocarbons. Only one unit of water per 2 units of coal input. The reality is even better than this since coal has a lot of H already in it.)

    Recent advances in water desalinization have cut the costs way down. It’s now cheaper to turn sea water into drinking water than to put up a dam in the Sierra Nevada mountains and pipe the water to the coastal cities. That’s why so many desalinization plants are being built these days.

    The only limit on water availability is the desire to build the plants and the electricity to run them.

    To the extent that Nuclear becomes “green”, you can substitute nuclear process heat in the FT reaction and cut the coal consumption by about 75%. Nuclear also clearly can power water production. I’m not advocating nukes, just pointing out the facts.

    A Japanese scientist developed a process using a polymer sponge to extract Uranium from sea water at about $100 – $140 / pound. If the entire world were powered by U from this source, the amount washed into the ocean each year from rock erosion would exceed that extracted. We run out of power when we run out of planet.

    Similarly, we could power all the U.S. from solar on about a 100 x 100 mile chunk of desert or wind using the Rockies east slope wind tunnel from Canada to Texas (and still farm under the turbines). Ditto wave power where a 100 x 1 mile patch of coast could power all of California.

    The bottom line is that there is no limit on power and there is no shortage of power. There is no limit of water, and there is no shortage of water. There is a shortage of the will to build the facilities that provide the unlimited water and power that is available to us. This is a political choice, not a technical issue.

    Choose wisely. Just don’t blame the results on shortage of anything or technical limitations. The only reason for doom and gloom is lack of imagination and understanding of what is possible.

  4. Estetik says:

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  5. medyum says:

    Recent advances in water desalinization have cut the costs way down. It’s now cheaper to turn sea water into drinking water than to put up a dam in the Sierra Nevada mountains and pipe the water to the coastal cities. That’s why so many desalinization plants are being built these days.

    The only limit on water availability is the desire to build the plants and the electricity to run them.

    thank you.

    Medyum