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Monday, September 19, 2011

CONVERSATIONS WITH BOCKRIS AND VEZIROGLU ON THE BIOMETHANOL ECONOMY


How this happened is still mystifying, but in 1974 I fortuitously participated in a gathering in Miami organized by Professor Nejat Veziroglu (left):

That trip in the previous paragraph was particularly monumental, for, while I don’t remember why, I first went to Miami to participate in the charter international hydrogen gathering chaired by Nejat Veziroglu. A couple of years ago I wrote a recommendation for him to the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee. Professor Veziroglu started and has been the continuing inspiration for the modern era of hydrogen. One of Nejat’s Romantics, John Bockris (above right), also was there, and is credited with coining The Hydrogen Economy. It is this group that has initiated a campaign to “save the world” from Peak Oil and Global Heating, as reported on in CHAPTER 3.

Mind you, this was more than 37 years ago, and the above quote came from my hydrogen chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.  I have sporadically been in contact with both Professors Veziroglu and Bockris since then, but today sent John the following response to our interminable exchanges on the future of the BioMethanol Economy:

Dear John (cc: Nejat):

I generally agree with you on your current thoughts about carbon dioxide and methanol.  My overall thinking was provided three years ago in the Huffington Post.  A few points to consider for your future refinement:

1.  The optimal renewable ground transport fuel option is to gasify and catalyze biomass into methanol.  The problem is that the Department of Energy seems still influenced by the Farm Lobby to minimize research on the biomethanol economy.  This is America's best opportunity to capture world patents.  The Japanese control lithium battery technology, but that's okay because a fuel cell car can go five times further than one powered by a lithium battery, and that is the last battery.  The collateral problem is that hydrogen will be too expensive for a couple of generations, at least, so biomethanol will be this transition biofuel if only the DMFC can be commercialized for cars.   However, very little effort is being expended and a DMFC is at least a decade away from commercialization. 

2. There is no magic cost effective process to harvest carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  The systems technology for a sustainable energy source that shows the best multi-mode opportunity in a timely manner, first because advocates indicate this pathway can be commercialized in a decade, but, too, the products are fuels and electricity, is something called heavy ion fusion.  Click on my latest Huffington Post article on STARPOWER.  The main product from this process is, surprisingly enough, synthetic fuel (where the carbon will come from the atmosphere), though, of course, electricity will also be an important revenue source.  The problem, and this sounds like a conspiracy (but is not--this is how human emotions work) is that governments and companies will do everything possible to promote their invested cause and subsequently try to prevent the development of this option, as might have happened in 1974 with the KMS fusion program.

3.  If only the USA had, in the 50's, selected thorium over uranium/plutonium, fission might today, actually, be okay.  Certainly, neither the Chernobyl nor Fukushima tragedies would not have happened, and there are only minimal terrorism and dirty bomb threats.  Of course, there was a good reason for this decision:  the Soviet Union and the Cold War dominated all our security priorities, and the military prevailed:

Why pick a bad design? In the early 1950s, the US Military wanted nuclear bombs. The fastest way they could do it was by building uranium reactors. That way, they would have an abundance of the raw material they wanted for bomb making – Plutonium-239; a nasty waste product of a normal uranium reactor. They also wanted a design that they could shoehorn into a nuclear powered submarine. The uranium reactor fit that bill. It really didn’t matter that uranium reactors were pretty inefficient, tended to overheat and relied on a rock that needed intensive mining and refining. They had a bigger agenda.

Now, the general public is so anti-nuclear, that thorium will not be given a chance.  The operative intelligence of public will is limited.

4.  Then more recently, beginning in the 80's, our U.S. Congress, smartly lobbied, took the incredibly stupid step of supporting the conversion of corn into ethanol over methanol from cellulose, and, worse, purposely preventing methanol as a competitive option.  This one track mentality extended to then use hydrolysis and fermentation of the whole plant into more ethanol, a faulty methodology, even with electricity as a by-product.   Methanol has one carbon, while ethanol has two.  That bit of logic should have convinced our braintrust to 40 years ago select methanol and the direct methanol fuel cell over ethanol, the key being that methanol is the only biofuel that can directly be fed into a fuel cell without going through reformation.  Ethanol can too, of course, but those two carbons make this very inefficient.  That a gallon of methanol has 140% more accessible hydrogen than LIQUID HYDROGEN is amazing enough, but the current infrastructure can also be easily retrofitted, an advantage to an entirely new and costly infrastructure required for hydrogen.


5.  This is getting even more comical, but just this year, the farm industry must determined ethanol was not worth the effort, for, as the oil companies were getting all the tax benefits anyway, the Farm Lobby backed off, and these credits will apparently be dis-continued at the end of the year because of that debt deficit matter.  Farmers have selected to focus on their surer and more traditional kind  of aid from Congress.  Surprisingly enough, very few realize that, subsequently, new and future ethanol investments will be placed in serious jeopardy.

6.  How we continue to head down the wrong path defies my common sense, but the private sector is still avoiding methanol (too low energy density to combust, plus a perceived and inaccurate concern about it being carcinogenic) by now plunging into the fermentation of biomass into an expensive  4-carbon fuel feedstocks, butanol and isobutanol (right), with the intent being to link them to synthesize 8-carbon gasoline and 12-carbon diesel substitutes.  I doubt if they will get under $3/gallon ($126/barrel), ever, for fermentation is just too slow and equipment bulky, meaning expensive.  Jetfuel is a mixture from 6 to 16 hydrocarbons, so there is a semblance of rationality here, as methanol will never be used for aviation, which is where, I think, hydrogen will someday bring advantages.

Aloha.

Pat

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After being down by almost 250, the Dow Jones Industrials recovered to only drop 108, ending at 11,401.   World markets were also mostly down, especially Europe, for the Greek problem remained metastable.  Hopefully, after their stock exchanges closed, signs of substantive and productive discussions surfaced, rescuing the American bourse.  All common sense now should inspire the trader to go big tonight in anticipation of a major stock market recover tomorrow.  However, when it comes to the Greek debt matter, what is announced is not necessarily what is real nor realistic.

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Oh, oh!  What looked like a weak tropical storm Roke has not suddenly become a Category 3 Typhoon, which is projected to strike Shikoku, Japan on Wednesday with near hurricane force strength, roll over Tokyo as a tropical storm:


with the eye almost directly over Fukushima by midnight on September 21.  People trying to recover in Tohuko must be wondering why them.


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