America's Hydrocarbon Wealth
Widespread availability of cheap mechanical power unleashed the industrial revolution, altering the course of human history. Modern civilization began with the industrial revolution and will continue its advance until all nations have the technology and standard of living that defines the modern world.
Global communication and modern transportation systems have changed the geo-economic relationships between nations — modern technology has overcome the great distances and naturally isolated geographical locations that have historically separated the peoples of the world.
19th century industrialists and political reformers could not have imagined the consequences of the modern world. Globalization of the world economy will give billions of people an opportunity to become modern consumers. Thus, the potential for creating environmental pollution in the 21st century will be many times greater than what occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Cheap mechanical [and electric] power requires cheap energy and the primary source of modern civilization’s cheap energy has been fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. Fossil fuels produce heat energy when burned, and with the heat energy large amounts of waste gases are also produced. When these waste gases are allowed to escape into the atmosphere, our environment becomes polluted.
The Earth’s ecosystems are balanced within natural cycles. The plants and animals that live in the natural world cannot harm the natural balance, because they do not have the tools or ability to create more waste than the Earth’s natural systems can recycle, or safely dispose of.
A few centuries ago human societies were limited to the natural resources of the land without the benefit of advanced technology. Although ancient civilizations developed primitive technology and often indulged in wars and other savage behavior, their primary waste was human sewage and garbage, which, if left in the city streets, only effected the local populations by spreading infectious diseases.
With advances in modern technology and warfare human societies can no longer behave like animals in the natural world. Modern civilization must use its advanced technology to recycle or safely dispose of man-made waste, or suffer the consequences of poisoning the environment.
The advanced industrial chemicals and by-products created by Modern civilization have become toxic to the natural world. For this reason modern science must develop technology that mimics natural recycling, or safe disposal of waste and toxins. Advanced technology must recycle or otherwise safely dispose of man-made pollution — and do it better than Nature by completing the recycling or disposal within human time frames of hours, days or months; not geological timeframe’s of thousands or millions of years.
Clean Hydrocarbons are the product of technology that mimics, within human time frame’s, the Earth’s natural systems for recycling or disposal. Any product or process can be called clean if its manufacture and use does not poison or damage the natural environment.
— Ron Bengtson, Founder, AmericanEnergyIndependence.com
Clean Vs. Green Energy
by Peter A. Jeschke
“To generate clean, nonpolluting energy from fossil fuels, we just have to capture all of the wastes from energy production and then store that waste back underground where fossil fuels come from in the first place. Intuitively, it seems a simple cycle, using the same equipment and facilities which produce, transport, refine and combust fossil fuels, to capture and return the waste from their combustion safely back into the earth. To date, the energy industries, which produce and refine fossil fuels and generate power, have been taught to be fairly conscientious about capturing the most noxious waste fluids and gases and keeping them out of the environment. But these industries still spew billions of tons of other waste gases into the atmosphere every year, and that has got to stop. When it does stop, and it will, we will be generating clean energy.”
“However, no matter how clean we make this energy, it still won’t be greenenergy because it is produced from fossil fuels. Green power generated from renewable resources like the sun and the wind are wonderful concepts which must be pursued and implemented on a global scale as quickly as possible, but that will take decades, and green power is not problem-free. All that new equipment, like solar panels and giant wind mills, must be manufactured and installed, which will result in a demand for new sources of raw materials and the creation of more waste from fuel combustion in the manufacturing processes. Also, wind farms can be quite unsightly and can be especially hard on the avian population, and it’s not always windy and sunny. The reality is that fossil fuels will be with us for a very long time, and just because they are called fossil fuels doesn’t mean they’re obsolete, or that energy can’t be produced from them efficiently and cleanly. Through technological advancement, the energy industry has shown there to be an abundance of fossil energy resources still to be found and produced from the earth, and abundant ways to be more efficient. Although they are not renewableresources, for the next several decades, while we become more efficient with them and search for alternate sources of cheap energy, fossil fuels will besustainable resources.”
“What is not sustainable is the rate at which we humans, especially our energy and power industries, are emitting waste gases into the atmosphere. Orders of magnitude more waste than we’ve already produced will be generated by our children and the world’s developing economies in the coming decades. What we need right now are immediate, practical solutions to the problems of capture and storage of waste gases from energy production so that we can continue to enjoy cheap energy, the mainstay of a successful world economy, without destroying the atmosphere.”
— Peter A. Jeschke, Geophysicist
John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club and regarded by many as the Father of America’s National Parks, had a love for technological invention. John Muir was a practical man; his work to protect and preserve the natural wilderness was not motivated by abstract idealism. He knew that the wilderness experience holds real intrinsic value worth preserving. When a person spends time in a pristine wilderness environment his, or her, mind and body experience a renewal that cannot be found in any other way. This, John Muir believed, has real value and is something that should be preserved for present and future generations.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” – John Muir, The Yosemite (1912).
John Muir was an inventor, he loved machines and technology, and he was a student of science. If John Muir were alive today he would be part of the effort to develop clean hydrocarbons in order to prevent air and water pollution, and preserve the economic progress made possible by cheap mechanical power.
American technology has put a man on the moon, built an orbiting space station, mapped the human genome, and successfully landed robotic exploration vehicles on Mars. It seems reasonable to believe that American scientists and engineers could also achieve a down-to-earth practical accomplishment like developing technology that can create cleansynthetic fuels from America’s vast fossil fuel reserves (heavy crude oil, coal, and oil shale) without polluting the environment.
Coal gasification, in some form, is the technology that will solve the problem of air pollution caused by coal burning. The U.S. Government has joined with private companies to develop a near-zero emissions Coal gasification and electricity generation Power plant called “FutureGen”, see: www.futuregenalliance.org However, Coal gasification is not new. The Great Plains Synfuels Plant has been operated by Dakota Gasification Companysince 1988. The FutureGen Power plant is intended to duplicate much of Dakota Gas’s process, but with greatly improved efficiency and with the production of hydrogen.
Untapped 200 year supply of Hydrocarbons
The United States has an estimated 260 billion tons of recoverable coal, equivalent to three or four times as much energy in coal as Saudi Arabia has in oil. And, that’s only the coal that can be taken out of the ground today with existing technology — the totalDemonstrated Reserve Base of USA coal is over 490 billion tons. And, if anyone fears that the USA may run out of coal too quickly, the North American oil shale deposits are estimated to hold over one trillion (1,000,000,000) barrels of oil, recoverable with technology that exists today. One trillion barrels of synthetic petroleum produced from American oil shale could supply the U.S. with an additional 15 million barrels of oil per day for the next 180 years. Future technology could double or triple the recoverable amount.
Today, the USA burns about one billion tons of coal per year in power plants. If the USA used one billion tons of coal each year to produce synthetic fuels, at about 3 barrels of oil (equivalent) per ton of coal, the USA could replace 68% of its imported oil with domestic coal.
At 12 million imported barrels per day, 68% is 8,160,000 barrels per day. [Just over 20% of oil imported into the USA comes from Persian Gulf nations, which are also members of OPEC. Less than 45% of oil imported into the USA today comes from OPEC.]
Synthetic fuels are needed because Energy Independence cannot be achieved until all cars, trucks, and buses on American highways are powered by fuels made in the USA, from sustainable American natural resources. Coal and oil shale resources in the USA are large enough to sustain U.S. transportation for more than 100 years; long enough to give engineers and entrepreneurs the time they need to develop affordable renewable and nuclear technologies that will sustain modern civilization indefinitely.
Gas-To-Liquids (GTL) technology is a process that will produce synthetic fuels from America’s abundant coal reserves. This technology is also called Coal-To-Liquids (CTL).
Synthetic diesel and Synthetic alcohol can be produced using CTL technology. The CTL process begins with the gasification step which produces syngas (synthesis gas).Gasification technology can be adapted to use any carbon resource, including coal, oil shale, oil sands, natural gas, biomass, landfill waste, and even carbon dioxode combined with hydrogen produced by electrolysis. In a reaction based on Fischer-Tropsch chemistry, the synthesis gas flows into a reactor containing a catalyst, where it is converted into synthetic hydrocarbons commonly referred to as synthetic petroleum or synthetic fuels.
The USA has an abundance of natural resources that can replace imported crude oil:
America has the technology and natural resources to end its oil dependence now by replacing all gasoline and diesel, made from imported oil, with synthetic fuels made from American coal and oil shale. But, fear of cheap foreign oil is holding investors back. Investor’s want some certainty—or, at least, a long-term government policy that they know they can count on to protect their investments from OPEC price manipulations and the whims of partisan political ideology.
The capital investment required for building a Coal-To-Liquids (CTL/GTL) refinery is billions of dollars, so private companies don’t want their money tied up in a synthetic fuelsinvestment if world oil starts flowing again at under $50 per barrel. Until the American people, as a nation, place a value on energy independence, synthetic fuels will not compete with the price of Saudi oil. Saudi oil can be pumped out of the ground, loaded onto the tankers and shipped to the USA, or anywhere in the world, profitably, for less than $20 per barrel.
The barriers to developing a synthetic fuels industry are not technical, but social
—By Galen J. Suppes, Ph.D. and Truman S. Storvick, Ph.D.
Galen J. Suppes is associate professor and Truman S. Storvick emeritus professor of the department of chemical engineering at the University of Missouri in Columbia.