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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

THE FUTURE OF CARBON-FREE NEXT GENERATION AVIATION: Part One

First, let me provide some background for analysis.  Petroleum these days is selling for around $30/barrel.  In June 2008 the price was $145/barrel, while two years ago it wallowed at $100/barrel.  The Chicago Mercantile Exchange suggests $51/barrel in December of 2024.

And, incidentally, what about Peak Oil?  Historically, here are the 36 most respected historic estimates (click on the table to read the details):


By the way, here are the peak years of some noteworthy oil producers:
  • USA  1970 (even with fracking)
  • Venezuela:  1970
  • Iran:  1974  (hmmm...)
  • Norway:  2000
  • Mexico:  2003
  • China:  just about there
  • Russia:  just about there
  • Saudi Arabia:  2027
  • Iraq:  2036


In other words, the USA is losing money if oil sells for $30/barrel and China is right at $30/barrel, while, to break even, the price has to go down per barrel to:
  • Russia  $17
  • Iran  $13
  • Iraq  $11
  • Saudi Arabia $10


Four years ago the U.S. Navy spent $26/gallon for clean biofuel.  This is $1092/barrel.  Two years ago the Pentagon spent $150/gallon for green jet fuel made from algae.  That was $6300/barrel.  A little idiotic, but I can't condemn them for showing some progressive interest, as aviation fuel takes up 40% of Navy fuel consumption, and 80% for the Air Force.  Energy security is a major concern, and their demonstrations were undertaken to spur industry to do something cleaner and safer.  Well those were the days when oil sold for $100/barrel, so will the military continue to be greenish today?  You will, of course, read headlines that purport to represent $2/gallon clean fuel by the Navy and United Airlines, but read the details.

So what should we do about next generation clean air transport?  Two pathways:  green jet fuel and a different kind of airplane. That is the Hydrogen Clipper to the right.

It was nearly 37 years ago at the height of the second energy crisis when oil jumped to $40/barrel.  The worth of this sum today would be $130/barrel.  But oil is $30/barrel, so you can imagine how relatively cheap petroleum is today.  No new technology for biofuels can today compete with oil.  But I can't underscore enough that, while commercialism is nowhere close, we have been provided a few decades to develop cleaner pathways, as the shift to next generation aviation will take another quarter century, at best

Anyway, from the middle 1970's I had a team at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute which completed a series of studies for the U.S. Department of Energy, and we came to the following three conclusions:
  • Conventional solar and wind technologies would someday replace fossil fuels to generate electricity.  There has been admirable progress, but global warming had a lot to do with the renewables now beginning to compete with and replace fossil fuels.
  • Ground transport will ultimately be a competition between battery and fuel cell power.  However, the most sensible option was to gasify biomass and catalyze the gaseous product into biomethanol.  The direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) would need to be developed, as a fuel cell car could take a vehicle four times further than any future battery.  A decade later the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research did initiate a $25 million project to initiate this effort on Maui, but this project failed to get very far, and did not even initiate a DMFC attempt.  Sadly, the Toyota Mirai and all those European variations to build hydrogen vehicles which will just be too expense for a long while to come, further handicapped by a lack of infrastructure.
  • Hawaii tourism will depend on air travel.  If jet fuel costs rose too high, visitors would stop coming here, seriously hurting our economy.  Thus, now (37 years ago) was the time to begin a hydrogen jetliner program, for the ideal aviation fuel was hydrogen, and this would take 50 years to commercialize.  Well, in the 1980's the Department of Defense and NASA did spend (some of this support ended up in the black program, so the total budget is amorphous) around $2 billion to develop a National Aerospace Plane.  In any case, you can read my Huffington Post article of five years ago on this subject.
So 37 years ago I went to Washington, D.C. to work for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga during the Second Energy Crisis, where I drafted the first hydrogen legislation that became law, and in the 1990's chaired the U.S. Secretary of Energy's Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel   Much of my professional career subsequently was dedicated to developing all the above at the University of Hawaii,  Tomorrow I will provide the latest info on just what is happening with the future of clean aviation fuel, for there is also some growing concern about the enhanced dangers of current jet fuel emissions.

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For weeks there has been no major ocean storms, but today, two popped up:

In the Indian Ocean, Tropical Cyclone Uriah is already at 145 MPH with gusts to 170 MPH, but, thankfully, headed nowhere:


A bit more troublesome could be Tropical Cyclone Winston in the South Pacific.  Now already at 110 MPH, there will be strengthening to at least a Category 3, and computer models show strange movements, with possibly a back track to Tonga in a week or so:


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