Monday, November 24, 2008

Gasoline from Air and Water

by Marcel F. Williams

Fossil fuels are predominantly responsible for putting excess carbon dioxide and methane into the Earth's atmosphere, greenhouse gases that are melting our polar ice caps, raising global sea levels, and causing more extreme climate conditions around the world. The coal and natural gas power industry has looked looked towards future technologies for the on site capture of flu gas in order to recover and sequester carbon dioxide. However, there is no cost effective technology for capturing the CO2 from the mobile producers of carbon dioxide: automobiles, trucks, aircraft, and sea craft.

But there are new technologies that are rapidly being developed that may eventually divorce carbon dioxide polluting sources of energy from the need for on site capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide. These devices are sometimes referred to as mechanical trees. But what they do is to simply extract and recover carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And these future technologies appear to be far more efficient at extracting CO2 from the air than the plant life on our planet.

Some argue that these carbon dioxide from air extracting technologies could be the saviors of the fossil fuel industry. Ironically, such future technologies could also eventually lead to the complete extinction of fossil use on this planet if the CO2 taken from the atmosphere is used in combination with hydrogen from water to produce hydrocarbon fuels such as: gasoline, methanol, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and dimethyl ether.


Because the combustion of hydrogen produces only energy and water, hydrogen via the electrolysis of water through hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and solar has often been proposed as a replacement for hydrocarbon transportation fuels. Liquid hydrogen fuel has been used in US space craft since the days of the Apollo Moon program. And liquid hydrogen has also been frequently proposed for future generation subsonic and hypersonic airliners and aircraft. Hydrogen fueled buses now transport commuters in many urban areas in the US. And hydrogen automobiles have been demonstrated by many automobile companies around the world .

However, hydrogen automobiles have a substantially shorter range than hydrocarbon fueled vehicles and are a lot less efficient than electric vehicles. Refueling hydrogen vehicles also takes much longer than refueling with gasoline, ethanol, or methanol. Because of the hydrogen embrittlement of metals like steel, hydrogen pipelines are more expensive to maintain than natural gas and oil pipelines. Aircraft, seacraft and ground vehicles, and the infrastructure associated with these vehicles, would also have to be completely replaced if we completely replaced our fuel economy with hydrogen.

Hydrocarbon fuels from CO2 and hydrogen

Alternatively, there are several demonstrated methods for synthesizing hydrocarbon fuels by utilizing carbon dioxide in combination with hydrogen which could allow a country to avoid any major overhaul in its transportation energy infrastructure.

Chemist have known how to produce methanol from hydrogen and carbon dioxide for more than 80 years:

CO2 + 3H2 → CH3OH (methanol) + H2O

Methanol is mostly used as a feedstock for making other chemicals. But methanol can be converted into dimethyl ether (DME), a fuel that can be effectively used in diesel engines equipped with new fuel injection systems. The fact that dimethyl ether produces no black smoke, soot, or sulfur dioxide is an clean advantage it has over diesel fuel.

Methanol can also be converted into high octane gasoline via the Mobil Oil methanol to gasoline (MTG) process. Back in the 1980's, the New Zealand government produced 600,000 tonnes of gasoline a year from methanol derived from natural gas using the MTG process.

Methane gas can also be synthesized from hydrogen and carbon dioxide:

CO2 + 4H2 → CH4 (methane) + 2H2O

And methane can also be converted into diesel and jet fuels via Fischer-Tropsch and hydrocracking processes.

Mechanical extraction of atmospheric CO2

Plants capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while utilizing sunlight to convert the CO2 into starch. During photosynthesis, trees, for instance, convert carbon dioxide and water into starche molecules and oxygen through a series of oxidation and reduction reactions:

6 CO2 + 6 H2O + sunlight ---> C6H12O6 + 6 O2

Some farm crops and trees can produce up to 20 metric tons per acre (4047 square meters) of biomass a year. One tonne of dried tree consist of 0.45 tonnes of carbon which would translate into the extraction of 1.65 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually extracted from the atmosphere. That's 33 tonnes of CO2 per acre extracted on an annual basis.

Even though the concentration of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere is a meager 0.04 per cent, companies like GRT (Global Research Technologies) in Arizona and Canadian researchers at the University of Calgary have already built machines that can extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere far more efficiently than any tree or any other source of biomass. GRT claims that its carbon dioxide air extraction system is a thousand times more efficient than a tree of equal size.

GRT CO2 absorbent material

The University of Calgary team has shown that they could capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere with less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per tonne of carbon dioxide. Their carbon dioxide from air extraction tower was able to capture the equivalent of about 20 tonnes per year of CO2 on just one single square meter of air scrubbing material. Astonishingly, this suggest that even the most conservative estimates would allow these CO2 extracting machines to produce more than 80 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide per acre annually.

University of Calgary carbon dioxide extraction machine

Because of the need for cheap electricity for hydrogen production, only nuclear and hydroelectric facilities would be currently viable for hydrocarbon fuel production utilizing carbon dioxide from air extraction technologies. Hydroelectric facilities currently produce electricity at 0 .85 cents per kwh while electricity from nuclear facilities currently cost 1.68 cents per kwh. Wind and solar thermal electricity, however, is much more expensive and ranges from over 4 cents per kwh to over 6 cents per kwh.

At the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, F. Jeffrey Martin and Williams L. Kubic, Jr. have developed the Green Freedom concept for using the cooling towers of nuclear reactors to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the production of gasoline and methanol. They argue that a 1 GWe power plant using their Green Freedom method could produce 18,000-bbl/day of gasoline or 5000 tonnes a day of methanol.

Carbon neutral hydrocarbon synfuel production at nuclear and hydroelectric facilities would not only allow such power facilities to produce transportation fuels and industrial chemicals, they would also allow them to pump methanol and oxygen up to 80 kilometers away to high efficiency power plants for the production of peak-load and back-up-load electricity and commercial waste heat. Nuclear power plants could therefore not only produce base-load electricity but could also supply methanol fuel to replace greenhouse polluting natural gas power plants which are used for daytime peak-load energy and back-up energy for wind and solar power plants.

In 2006, the US consumed nearly 21 million bbl/day of petroleum for transportation fuel and industrial chemical use. If we assumed that nuclear power plants replaced all of the petroleum used in the US in 2006, that would roughly require more than a thousand new 1Gwe nuclear reactors, over 1000 GWe of electrical capacity. Existing nuclear sites that already have nuclear reactors could probably add an additional 200 to 300 Gwe of capacity. However, if one large centralized nuplex (nuclear park) with about 30GWe of average electrical capacity were set up in every state in the union, then that could add an additional 1500 GWe of electrical capacity, more than enough to replace all of our petroleum needs today and probably our needs 30 years from now.

If the new Obama administration is going to invest substantial R&D money into new energy technologies, I would strongly suggest investing in the fast tracking of these carbon dioxide extraction from air technologies that could revolution synfuel production by helping to achieve US independence from the petroleum fuel economy while protecting the global environment from the dangers of global warming and climate change.

Links and References

1. Green Freedom: A concept for producing carbon-neutral synthetic fuels and chemicals, Los Alamos Labs, November 2007 F.J. Martin and WL Kubic,

2. GRT (Global Research Technologies, LLC)

3. Giant Carbon dioxide Vacuums

4. Snatching Carbon dioxide from the Atmosphere

5. CO2 capture from air

6. First Successful Demonstration of Carbon Dioxide Air Capture Technology Achieved:

7. First Successful Demonstration of Carbon Dioxide Air Capture Technology Achieved by Columbia University Scientist and Private Company, (2007) Earth Institute News Archive, 04/24/07

8. Carbon capture and storage:

9. Researchers Scramble to Create CO2-Busting Technologies:

10. CO2 capture from ambient air: a feasibility assessment:

11. Carbon Capture and Storage A False Solution

12. The Case for Carbon Dioxide Extraction from Air

13. Klaus S. Lackner, Patrick Grimes, Hans-J. Ziock, Capturing Carbon Dioxide From Air

14. K. Schultz, L. Bogart, G. Besenbruch, L. Brown, R. Buckingham, M. Campbell, B. Russ, and B. Wong HYDROGEN AND SYNTHETIC HYDROCARBON FUELS – A NATURAL SYNERGY General Atomics Poster

15. G. Olah, A. Goeppert, and G. Prakash, (2006) Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, Wiley-VCH Verlang, Weinheim, Germany

A New Papyrus Publication

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Public Power & the Future of Nuclear Energy

by Marcel F. Williams

Because of the dangers of climate change and America's dependence on foreign oil, there's been a lot of speculation about a nuclear renaissance in America and in the rest of the world. The advantages of nuclear power are numerous. Nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases, takes up extremely little land area relative to renewable energy sources, produces 100 times less radioactive waste than coal power plants, and thousands of times less toxic waste than coal power plants.

Nuclear energy represents 20% of electrical power production in America and is currently the second cheapest source of electricity in the country after hydroelectric power. Nuclear power also produces 70% of the non carbon dioxide polluting electricity in the US.

Cheap electricity from nuclear power also enables us to produce hydrogen through water electrolysis that can be combined with carbon from biomass or from the extraction of carbon dioxide from the air for the production of carbon neutral gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, methanol, and dimethyl ether.

If our planet were totally powered by once through uranium reactors there would only be enough terrestrial uranium to power human civilization for 15 years. But if uranium extracted from sea water were utilized, then our entire civilization could be powered for more than 3600 years. If the spent fuel from these reactors were also utilized, as they are in France, then nuclear power could supply the world with all of its energy for over 5000 years.

So even without a new generation of nuclear breeding technologies that could allow us to power the entire planet forever, current nuclear technology could power our planet for at least 5000 years at current levels of energy use and for more than 1600 years if global power consumption was three times our current level.

So its easy to see why numerous countries around the world are interested in either acquiring or expanding nuclear power. However, in the US, the ability to significantly expand nuclear power faces financial and political obstacles that could eventually leave Americans far behind Asia and Europe as the world tries to move towards a non carbon dioxide polluting energy economy.

The US, which created and pioneered the development of nuclear
energy and provided it to the rest of the world, now ranks behind more than ten other countries in the percentage of electricity derived from that technology. Even though the United States has more nuclear reactors than any other nation, as mentioned above, the US produces only 20% of its electricity through nuclear power.

Percentage of electricity produced through nuclear power:

France - 78%
Belgium - 54%
Ukraine - 48%
Sweden - 46%
Switzerland - 40%
Hungary - 37%
South Korea - 35%
Finland - 29%
Japan - 27%
Germany - 26%
USA - 20%
Taiwan - 19%
Russia - 16%
UK - 15%
Canada - 14%

In the US, however, the ability to significantly expand nuclear power faces financial and political obstacles that could eventually leave Americans far behind Asia and Europe as the world tries to move towards a non carbon dioxide polluting energy economy. Jason Ribeiro's recent blog States with Laws that Impede Nuclear Power points out some of the political obstacles in each state that impede the construction of more nuclear reactors in several states.

The problem of spent fuel and nuclear waste is largely a political problem rather than a scientific or technological one, IMO, which I addressed in my article Short & Long Term Solutions for Nuclear Waste . And the best way to decommission a nuclear reactors is to simply allow irradiated parts of the reactor to safely decay over a period of about 100 to 150 before safe dismantling.

However, the unpredictable cost of capitalizing new nuclear reactors is a cause for concern. Estimates for a new single 1000 MWe nuclear reactor in the US have ranged from less than two billion dollars to as high as over 10 billion dollars. Are Nuclear Costs Unreasonable?

In my opinion, the fact that US nuclear facilities rely too much on private capital is the biggest obstacle to nuclear power expansion. In the US, there are hundreds of utilities that are generally too small to be able to risk the large capital investment required to build nuclear facilities. In a country like France on the other hand , a single government owned utility provides electricity for the entire country.

The French government owns and operates 59 nuclear power plants which produce over 78% of France's electrical power. France is also the world's largest net exporter of electric power, exporting 18% of its total electricity production to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Britain. France's carbon emissions per kWh are less than 1/10 that of pro-renewable energy countries like Germany and the UK, and 1/13 that of Denmark, which doesn't have any nuclear plants.

The US government also owns a few nuclear facilities via the TVA. And this federal public power corporation was the last utility to build a nuclear power plant in American and is now the first to order the new AP1000 Westinghouse (Toshiba) reactors.

With the desperate need for the US to move towards energy independence from the fossil fuel economy, I believe that it is time for the federal government to move aggressively towards helping to fund new nuclear reactors. Under the new Obama administration, I believe the federal government should provide up to 45% of the investment capital for new nuclear reactors on existing sites.

Alvin Weinberg proposed an existing-site policy back in 1979 as the best way to expand nuclear power in the US. By simply increasing the number of nuclear reactors at existing nuclear sites already in operation, the US could increase its nuclear capacity up to 343 Gwe. That's more than triple current nuclear capacity and would allow America to power nearly 70% of its electricity from nuclear sites that already exist.

In the long run, however, I believe the best way to keep the cost of electricity low in the US for baseload distribution and for synfuel production while finally achieving total energy independence from the fossil fuel economy , is to build multiple reactors within nuclear parks (nuplexes) consisting of 10 to 40 reactors and which include enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing facilities and on site nuclear waste storage facilities. While I strongly believe that nuclear power facilities should continue to be built and operated by private industry, I also believe that nuclear parks (nuplexes) should be capitalized and owned by the Federal government.

That's why I favor the creation of a Federal Nuplex Corporation (FNC). I will elaborate in more detail on this nuclear electricity and synfuel concept in an upcoming post because I believe that it is the cheapest, safest, and most energy productive way of achieving energy independence in the United States.

References and Links

1. Nuclear share figures, 1996-2007

2. Nuclear Power in France

3. Nuclear power in France (Wikipedia)

4. Short & Long Term Solutions for Nuclear Waste

5. Are Nuclear Costs Unreasonable?

6. States with Laws that Impede Nuclear Power

7. The Economics of Nuclear Power

8. Fueling our Nuclear Future

A New Papyrus Publication

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nuclear Energy Industry Congratulates President-Elect Obama

Nuclear Energy Institute

November 5, 2008

Nuclear Energy Industry Congratulates President-Elect Obama, Vice President-Elect Biden

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Following is a statement on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election by the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer, Frank L. (Skip) Bowman:

“The nuclear energy industry congratulates Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden on their election. One of the most important and compelling challenges facing their administration is to put in place a national energy policy to achieve energy security and to protect the U.S. economy and the environment.

“If the United States is going to meet the predicted 25 percent growth in electricity demand by the year 2030, as well as achieve its environmental goals, we must begin that work now. And we must recognize as a nation that we cannot reach our energy goals without the reliable, affordable and carbon-free electricity that nuclear power plants generate to power our homes, businesses, telecommunications, military and transportation infrastructure. Senator Obama recognized this linkage early in his campaign by noting, ‘It is unlikely we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option.’

“The development of U.S. energy policy must transcend partisan politics. There must be a bipartisan effort to develop a diverse portfolio of energy resources, including nuclear energy, which is the only large-scale source of carbon-free electricity that can be expanded to meet our nation’s electricity needs. Building new nuclear power plants will expand U.S. industry and manufacturing, creating thousands of green jobs and enabling America over the long term to electrify its transportation sector.

Affordable around-the-clock electricity also helps to strengthen the U.S economy and protect America’s neediest citizens.
“The executive and legislative branches have shown considerable support across the political spectrum to work with the nuclear industry in a public/private partnership to enable the construction of new-generation nuclear plants and to move ahead with scientifically sound solutions for used nuclear fuel storage and disposal. We will work with the new administration to pursue an integrated used fuel management strategy that includes interim storage of used nuclear fuel, research and development into advanced technologies for recycling used fuel without contributing to proliferation concerns, and development of an appropriate geologic repository for permanent disposal of the used-fuel content that can’t be recycled.

“It is crucial for the new administration to continue with these and other efforts to shape a comprehensive energy policy that recognizes the value of nuclear energy and other low-emission electricity sources. We look forward to working with the Obama-Biden administration and Congress to assure that nuclear energy continues to be recognized as a key tool to deepen economic prosperity and achieve enduring environmental stewardship.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

Electoral Predictions

As the final tabulation of votes are revealed on Wednesday morning, I predict that Barack Obama will win the presidency of the United States by winning a total of 318 electoral votes-- including Florida.

The fatal flaws of the McCain campaign, IMO, were:

1.) Picking Sarah Palin, a woman who clearly lacks the foreign policy experience to be the Commander-in-Chief. If McCain really loves this country and cares about the safety of this country more than he wants the presidency, he certainly didn't show that by picking Palin as his VP nominee!

2.) McCain's failure to focus like a laser beam on the energy re-industrialization of America through both private and public investment in order to end our dependence on foreign oil and to create jobs here in America. McCain did best in his campaign and even in the debates when he talked about energy and especially nuclear energy even though I strongly disagree with him on off-shore drilling. It was a huge mistake, IMO, that he didn't make energy independence through nuclear and renewable energy the primary focus of his campaign.


3.) Trying to instill fear and division in America through negative campaigning with phrases like 'paling around with terrorist', 'socialist', folks at his rallies referring to Obama's middle name and screaming for Obama's death. Sorry but that's not what America is all about, or at least it shouldn't be about that.

But if for some tragic reason, McCain and Palin do win the White House, I'll pray (and I'm an atheist:-) for McCain's good health because a Palin presidency, IMO, would put this country and the rest of the world in an extremely dangerous situation thanks to her total lack of foreign experience. The woman got her first passport in 2006!

McCain's picking of Palin is simply an unforgivable act. Unforgivable!!!!

Marcel F. Williams

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