Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Wind and the Pickens' Plan

Now that oil prices are high again, imagine that, there is more talk about "real" action. The Pickens' plan is more wind energy and natgas for over the road transportation fuel. T. Boone Pickens was on one of the news shows and mentioned that once more Natgas was used for semi-trucks delivering good across the nation that shipping cost would drop and natgas prices would climb. That is absolutely true.

As I have mentioned before, more Natgas for utility power plus transportation will drive natgas prices up, mainly because of the limits of the infrastructure. There is plenty of natural gas available from normal sources, the trans-canadian pipeline will so provide more and the vast shale gas deposits will eventually provide much more. But it ain't doing no good unless it gets distributed via pipeline to customers. The US natural gas pipeline system needs serious upgrading in volume, pressure and distribution. While they are at it, the powers at be might what to think about lining the new pipeline with plastics to extend their life if hydrogen is used to enrich the natural gas.

The down side of wind power is in the news again as well. In the UK, the John Muir Trust published some research on the goofy things that wind power does. Goofy as it it is unpredictable, erratic or whatever you wish to call it. Several years ago I published an article on the limits of wind power. Then I listed 20% of utility power by wind as a realistic maximum. Any more and it just plays hell with the baseload. The John Muir Trust just illustrates those points. The discussion has been picked up by Wattsupwiththat, Bishop Hill and other blogs, yet again. The difference this time is that the John Muir Trust is a megabucks "GREEN" player starting the conversation.

Interestingly, "wind Gas" is a part of the UK side of the discussion. Hydrogen generated by wind power through electrolysis is the "Wind Gas". I think I wrote about that a few years ago noting the different constraints hydrogen imposes on pipelines and storage systems. Hydrogen tends to degrade metal pipelines and tanks through embrittlement. The tiny molecules beat the hell out of the micro-structure of the metal. Hydrogen enriched natural gas is not a bad idea, but the pipeline has to be designed for the hydrogen. The Germans took the lead in hydrogen pipeline design years ago, so you might want to check out their hydrogen highway concepts mentioned in that report.

Shale gas and synfuels are renewing their buzz at Lucia's Blackboard in a post by Zeke. New estimates of shale gas mentioned at Bishop Hill and the Blackboard are pretty impressive. Still it would be nice for more of the gang to realize the potential impact of biogas, as in trash, synfuel production. I like killing a few birds with one stone, er shotgun.

So will all this new resolve generated by high gas prices lead to anything productive? Maybe, I am not holding my breath. It would be nice if the guys pooh poohing the ideas because of start up costs pulled their heads out of their asses. So I will say it one more time: Prices are only going to go up, building synfuel plants will temporarily drive fuel costs down weakening our resolve, which will lead to higher prices yet again. Somebody needs to plan more than ten years down the road if any real change is going to happen.

Note: While I personally think the odds of catastrophic global warming are pretty low, it never hurts to hedge a bet. Options that reduce that potential without breaking the bank are a good thing.

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