Monday, June 13, 2011

Sanity in Energy Choices - Has the Time Come?

With the prospect of radical Green Energy only changing, it may be that rational decisions may finally be made. It's the economy, stupid has finally sunk in.

There are plenty of paths on the energy road to take. Affordable is the biggest road block. Natural gas while far from perfect, is affordable and offers plenty of options.

Electrical generation has gotten most of the attention. Coal fire power plants do produce a lot of pollution if not fitted with state of the art scrubbers and filters. Even then they produce more CO2 that other fuel choices. Natural gas combined cycle power plants produce much less pollution and up to 70% less CO2 than existing coal fire power plants.

A new MIT study not only promotes the future of natural gas from shale, but also points in the direction of Liquid To Gas (LTG) synthetic fuel production. Compared to Generation IV nuclear and a combination of "sustainable" energy sources, the technology of efficient natural gas and GTL technologies are a piece of cake.

As I have ranted before, Synfuel is has both economic and political advantages. While the cost of synfuels is higher than average oil based products, the swings in oil prices kill economic growth. Synfuel will help stabilize energy prices which is key to planning for the future.

Also as I have mentioned, synfuel offers a variety of green options for those so inclined. Biomass conversion to liquid fuels is limited both by feed stock and product. Synfuel expands both offering needed flexibility. Food to fuel can return to its intended role as a use for surplus or unsalable stocks instead of diverting, or at least appearing to divert, food from the starving masses.

For hydrogen fans, natural gas is both good and bad. Hydrogen from natural gas is the more cost effective method of producing hydrogen. It doesn't have the Green stamp of approval, but it can be the step needed to move into a more hydrogen based economy, buying time for fuel cells and hydrogen storage to make the next move into affordability.

Fuel cells are very close to affordability. Ballard Power and others have products that with increased production are very affordable. The Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) technology should improve mainly with new versions of the PEM using less expensive catalysts. The basic design of the components other than the membrane may very well not change. With companies focusing on reliable and reasonable cost maintenance of the fuel cells, a fuel cell purchased now may not be obsolete in a few years. That is the big fear when investing in improving technology, the chance of your investment being replaced with something costing a fraction of the cost.

Storage of hydrogen is a bigger question. Metal hydrates offer a lot of potential but are expensive. High pressure storage can be overly expensive if a reasonable useful life cannot be expected from the expensive composite construction storage tanks. Polymer lined metal cylinders are reliable, but the volume is limited due to pressure limits. Then there are other technologies that may rise in the near future. Once storage issues are resolved, direct conversion of electricity to hydrogen will become much more attractive.

All in all, the natural gas step makes a great deal of sense.

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