Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pennsylvania is just the right size ----
From The Reagan Wit – “The credibility gap is so great in Washington they told us the truth the other day hoping we wouldn’t believe it.”  I still have difficulty in catching Washington telling the truth.  It’s politics, politics, politics – to hell with science and business.  It’s easy to state a problem, but a helluva lot more difficult to solve it.  Unfortunately, they seldom understand the problem, so how can they solve it.

However, so far Obama and his advisors have been strong on FANTASY and weak on REALITY.    Maybe it is because less than 10% of his advisors have ever been in business or held a job in the private sector.   From the pronouncements issuing out of the White House, I’d bet that 9 out of 10 only have rudimentary knowledge about energy matters.   After all, they do not want to corrupt their politically motivated decision-making with science or engineering “know how”.
Obama revealed his lack of expertise when he outlined his so-called energy plan.  Simply said, he emphasized that algae would be utilized to produce 17% of America’s transportation fuel requirements.  The fossil fuel consumption in November 2011 totaled 13.9 million barrels per day, or 5.073 billion barrels per year.   The factors and items involved in the calculating the total area needed for the cultivation sites is set forth in the table below:

Per day (MM)
Per year (MM)
Biofuel Products


      17% to biofuels       





 Step 1.    5,073,500,000/28.51 =  177,955,183 acres (278,125 square miles)
 Step 2.    278,125 x ,17 = 47,269 square miles (30 million acres)

The above calculations establish that 30 million acres will be needed to fulfill Obama’s plan to produce 17% of our fossil fuel transportation consumption.  The total area required for cultivation sites is slightly larger than Pennsylvania (46,056 square miles.    Let’s use sites that are 1,000 acres in area.  WOW!  We’ll only need 30 thousand of them.  Are you developing the feeling that this plan is IMPRACTICAL?
Just in case the President was only talking about diesel fuel, let’s analyze it.   November 2011 diesel consumption was 4 million barrels/day, or 1.460 billion barrels/year.   Dividing 1,460,000,000 by 28.51 barrels/ac/yr, we have 49 million acres.  Now we apply the 17%, and the result is 8.3 million acres (13,000 square miles).  The square mileage required amounts to about the size of Maryland.
Unfortunately, the best species of algae are those that thrive in water.   In fact, the oceans are a perfect place for Obama’s algae gardens  -  using  1 square mile sites gives us 45,000 sites.   Moreover, the length of the coastline of the lower 48 contiguous states is only 6,053 miles.   Sound practical to you?
Barack, please don’t make a stab at trying to replace 100% of our fossil fuels.  If you do, the total area would increase to a size about equal to Texas.   Mr. President, what steps would you take to use the roughly 100 million acres (156,000 square miles) of fresh water and wetlands contained in the lower 48 states.   Would you propose to utilize the Great Lakes for algae farm sites?  Seriously, I think we could have a few sites near population centers on the Great lakes, but navigation might be restricted unduly.   What do you think the Canadians might say?
I doubt if anyone with commonsense would support using even 5 or 10% of our fresh water and wetlands for algae farms.   Mr. President, I hope you don’t forget about your environmental activist supporters?   However, I’d be willing to bet that  more thoughtful Americans would be up in arms and might very well outnumber the activist protestors.  

Don’t any of you jerks in Washington get it?   I know you don’t want to be confused by FACTS, because your minds are already made up.   In hopes that one or two of you will gain some understanding of the problems, let’s apply some commonsense and some simple mathematics using some facts – scientific research facts:

1    Algae is as much as 10 times more productive than corn or sorghum.  On the average
      one acre of algae will produce 4,000 gallons of lipids (oil) annually.

2    Unfortunately only about 25-30% of the lipids can be utilized for biofuels.

3    4,000 x .3 = 1,200 gallons (30 barrels)/acre/year will be available for processing into

4    Cultivation problems that must be overcome include temperature control, probable
       invasion by native microalgae species, evaporation of water, and lower lipid
       content of algae grown in ponds.  Importantly, the design and shape of bio-reactor,
       along with the best type of plastic to use is a major concern.

5     Once the algae is mature and ready for processing into biofuel a series of time
       consuming and complex steps begin.  They are - harvesting, dewatering, drying
       lipid extraction, and conversion to various biofuels – diesel, gasoline, kerosene (jet).
       By the way, today's overall energy conversion costs are roughly $30. per gallon, or
       about $1,200 per barrel.

6     Transportation, distribution, and marketing costs must be taken into account once
        the project becomes commercially viable.

7     What about the raw material remaining after extraction of the fuels?  Out of this 70%
        nutrients, pharmaceuticals and animal feed can be manufactured.  However,
        these costs are above those for biofuel processing.

8     The cost of algae runs from $2.25 to $4.50 per pound dry weight, and the price and
       supply will be stable.  This situation is unlike corn, soybean, palm, sugar cane and
       sorghum whose prices and supply are not stable.

9     Algal biofuels have a molecular structure not unlike petroleum, yet they have
       insignificant C0² emissions.

Commonsense tells us that the quantities of algal biofuels promised by the President are a fantasy of overwhelming proportions.  You say, give him a break.  Ok, let’s double the lipid recovery – instead of 4,000 gallons/ac/yr, we’ll use 8,000 gallons/acre/year.  Need I go further – this is “pie in the sky”!

Now, let’s be realistic.  Even our academic Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, believes that any success of biofuels will depend on next generation of biofuels, and maybe the third and fourth generation.  However, he dreams of keeping the price of gasoline high to lower consumption.  I think it is an excuse to raise the price so that green energy can be made more attractive.  I do believe that eventually algal biofuels offer the best potential as a supplemental fuel for transportation.  Can it equate to 17% of our fossil fuel needs?  You can answer this question – a dream.

 Shell Oil, BP Oil, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips are among a number of oil companies that agree with the conclusion that algae will be used as a supplement to fossil fuel.  These companies are spending millions of dollars on algal fuel research.  They are spending shareholder dollars, not taxpayer dollars on their research projects.

NASA scientists are also involved in extensive algal research.  They have developed a plan to grow and harvest algae in an ocean environment.  Hopefully, their project will produce large quantities of biofuels sometime in the future.  The project will use semi-permeable plastic filled with sewage that will be towed offshore.  As the algae grows, it will clean up the sewage, and allow the fresh water from the process to flow into the sea, keeping the algae and the nutrients in the enclosure.  The plastic membrane will keep the sea water from entering the enclosure.  Remember this is a research project, and is far from ready to be commercialized.

Algae is not close to being the answer to replacing or supplementing large volumes of fossil fuel.  It is out in the future, just one of many things we must do to supplement fossil fuels.  Furthermore, all of these will require continuous research and development.   Face reality for a change, Mr. President.

1 comment:

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