At the moment I used to be challenged for most likely the fiftieth time as regards to biofuels, which I’m bullish about. However I’m bullish about them the place they make sense, and bearish the place they don’t. Floor transportation? All electrical. Marine transport? Plenty of electrical, then biofuels. Aviation? Plenty of electrical, then biofuels. Word what isn’t current — hydrogen or artificial fuels.
So why am I so robust on this? Effectively, it’s been a years-long means of stepping by means of information, chemistry, physics, economics, and publishing, then constructing on my findings. Let’s take a journey by means of time.
My first evaluation was for bus transit, evaluating hydrogen, diesel, and electrical variants for transit near a decade in the past. What I discovered was that bus assessments with hydrogen had been failing globally even then, that inexperienced hydrogen multiplied any full lifecycle carbon debt in electrical energy by an unforgiving quantity and that instantly utilizing electrical energy was lowest carbon.
In 2017 I spent a while summarizing my findings thus far for various modes of transportation and the potential for hydrogen. The context then was segments the place hydrogen nonetheless hadn’t confirmed itself to be unfit as a gasoline for transportation. On the time, I suspected there may be a task in freight trains, aviation, and marine transport. Amongst different issues, this turned a roadmap for me for assessing completely different transportation refueling fashions.
Quick ahead to 2019, and Carbon Engineering, the BC-based direct air seize scheme funded by a variety of fossil gasoline firms, snagged my consideration with its promise of plug-compatible, artificial transportation fuels. I printed a variety of articles in regards to the firm, working up the chemical processes from scratch, reviewing the literature, and contrasting its proposed plug-compatible artificial fuels for floor and aviation transport with alternate options akin to direct electrification and SAF biofuels. That become a substantive printed case examine with a foreword by Mark Z. Jacobson.
That is the top outcome for aviation fuels. The NREL SAF biofuel documented was vastly decrease CO2 and vastly decrease value than the Carbon Engineering equal, which whereas higher from a CO2 perspective than fossil fuels was removed from good, and in addition 3 times the value of present Jet-A on the time.
The outcomes for floor transportation had been much more deeply unfavorable for Carbon Engineering (and all artificial fuels) because it was clear even then that highway freight was all going electrical, and that the transition can be much more speedy than Carbon Engineering’s capacity to scale its expertise.
I asserted that Carbon Engineering’s solely pure market was enhanced oil restoration on tapped-out oil wells with unmarketable pure fuel provides, and I used to be proper, as that’s the one factor it’s apparently doing, constructing a few kilometers of 20-meter excessive, 3-meter thick followers within the Permian Basin with Oxy. As considered one of its engineers divulged at a convention I used to be at, the corporate has managed to persuade the federal government of California and the US to offer it about $250 per ton of CO2 it injects underground, regardless of a 3rd of that being from burning the aforementioned pure fuel, and the ensuing oil emitting extra CO2 than they inject. Simply one other CCS shell sport.
Shifting on into 2021 after a deep dive on grid storage, I lastly engaged absolutely with aviation, which is among the laborious to decarbonize segments. The reply turned very clear once I began wanting on the physics and economics. Hydrogen wasn’t going to be it. Too costly to function, probably not possible to certify, and would radically diminish cargo and passenger hundreds. And these are laborious limits of physics, not topic to technical innovation. That is very properly understood stuff.
Rechargeable aluminum gasoline cells wouldn’t be it both. The response would require absurd volumes and mass of specifically ready aluminum to be shipped to airports, then become a degraded type of itself in flight, after which the identical absurd volumes and mass to be shipped to aluminum smelters once more, after which the cycle repeating itself. The ‘gasoline’ would journey vastly additional than the airplane, at nice expense.
Artificial fuels constructed from scratch from molecules I’d already labored out with the Carbon Engineering evaluation can be vastly costly and multiply the total lifecycle CO2e of no matter electrical energy was used to create them, and clearly can be worse if blue hydrogen had been used as a substitute.
What did make sense was batteries and biofuels. Batteries are already match for objective for 4 to a few dozen passengers or equal cargo touring a few hundred kilometers. Hybrid-electric turboprops with as much as 100 passengers and a number of other hundred kilometer ranges are utterly viable at present. And in contrast to hydrogen, batteries are a great distance from laborious limits of physics.
As I mentioned with Coronary heart Aerospace founder and CEO Anders Forslund, batteries are merely an engineering compromise house at present, with ample power density by mass out there at increased value factors. The slope for battery power density will increase over value is steep and can stay so for a very long time. As I mentioned with a world consulting agency’s consultant this week after they engaged me for my opinion on redox movement applied sciences for information middle backups (that’s a separate subject I’ll handle, because it’s one thing I’ve labored by means of as properly), the pace of maturation of electrochemistry and supplies with the appearance of machine studying characterization assessments and automatic testing has shrunk innovation cycles from a long time to years.
And for the remainder of aviation, the query turns into whether or not the radically decrease CO2e emissions are ample. The reply is that sure they’re as an intermediate compromise, when mixed with operational modifications to considerably diminish contrail formation. Mark Z. Jacobson and I spoke of this in 2020, and at the moment he thought hydrogen was required. I’m glad it received’t work now, however haven’t circled again to have the followup dialogue with Jacobson but. SAF biofuels change into a lot cleaner burning than fossil Jet-A, and in some unspecified time in the future there should be a compromise.
After all, that also left trains, and maybe some lingering questions on long-haul highway freight. However there empirical actuality reared its head. China’s 500,000 electrical buses, 400,000 electrical vehicles, and 40,000 km of high-speed, electrified, grid-tied freight and passenger rail constructed since 2007, Europe’s huge quantity of electrified freight rail, and the German state of Baden-Württemberg’s robust assertion that it wouldn’t trouble with hydrogen for rail anymore because it was 3 times as costly battery and grid-tied locomotion made it clear that arguments in opposition to electrifying highway and rail freight had been specious, or so narrowly tied up in native politics as to be price ignoring.
Rail is already the least carbon-intensive type of floor transportation, already diesel-electric hybrid, simple to tie to caternary overhead electrical energy, simple so as to add TEUs stuffed with batteries swapped out in transshipment terminals to, and already producing electrical energy from dynamic braking that could possibly be become regenerative braking. Sure, all floor transportation can be grid-tied or battery-electric in a couple of a long time. That’s only a query of time.
However there was nonetheless the query of carrying capability of biofuels for aviation. And so, I wanted to grasp each aviation passenger and cargo demand and resultant power demand from aviation sufficiently properly to have the ability to venture electrification and SAF biofuel alternative curves into the long run. Demand won’t rise almost as quickly or because the aviation business expects, and battery-electric will begin with regional air mobility and develop upward in vary and capabilities for many years, till, in my evaluation, it will likely be able to delivering passengers throughout the Pacific by 2070 or so. It would nonetheless take till round 2100 for many jets that burn issues to age out and get replaced by trendy airframes powered by the miracles of battery electrochemistries.
However what does that imply for SAF biofuel demand? Having the precise power necessities, it was comparatively trivial to make use of OSTI’s calculations for land-area required for power from stalk cellulosic biofuels. If reminiscence serves, Damon Vander Lind, previously chief engineer of Google Makani’s airborne wind power expertise after which Kittyhawk’s city air mobility electrical vertical takeoff and touchdown plane (two areas I’ve assessed intently as properly), and now operating Magpie, an aerospace startup which is meaning to allow long-haul, battery-electric, typical takeoff and touchdown plane, offered me with the hyperlink to the calculator as we had been discussing our relative opinions final 12 months.
What was the outcome? Diverting about 50% of present corn, wheat, and rice stalks to stalk cellulosic processing after which into ethanol to SAF biofuels was ample to fulfill international peak demand for all of business and era aviation. No meals required. No new land required. Simply dual-crop for meals and gasoline. And, after all, as we proceed to maneuver calorie-stripping subsistence farmers off of the land and into extra helpful livelihoods, swap grass on semi-arable land is totally affordable as properly, and about 3% of world land mass would provide all SAF biofuels for peak aviation demand. Having spoken to a biofuels professional as properly final 12 months, it’s probably that grain stalks will principally be used as a result of they’re already waste in fields the place machines are doing assortment, whereas swap grass is principally huge prairies that might have be harvested.
And it’s price stating that that is considered one of about eight main SAF biofuel pathways. Numerous them use waste meals biomass, particularly vegetable and animals fat, to shorten the pathway from gentle hydrocarbons to heavier kerosene equivalents. The world is absurdly large, and now we have absurd quantities of organic energy we will use in a principally virtuous cycle with out anybody going hungry.
That final, by the best way, is a nonsense meme that doesn’t stand as much as the slightest scrutiny. Even biofuels constituted of corn ears had precisely zero impacts on international provision of energy to individuals. We produce vastly greater than humanity requires, and waste absurd quantities of it. Now we have a distribution and economics drawback, not a calorie drawback.
And so to the final main gasoline demand space — marine transport.
Much like efforts for aviation, I projected all marine tonnage, distance, and power calls for for international inland, nearshore, and marine transport, together with all effectivity calls for and assessing all gasoline alternate options by means of 2100. That required assembling a unified dataset for the three, working by means of completely different modes, variances in cargo sorts and assessing a lot of the completely different effectivity levers that that had been out there to be pulled.
A giant information level was that 40% of all deepwater transport was of bulk coal, oil, and fuel, and that’s all going away. That’s 40% of the toughest drawback, gone with the disappearance of fossil fuels. A few of that may probably get replaced with biofuel transport, however with huge electrification of all modes of transportation, rather a lot much less mass and quantity of biofuels are going to be shipped than the absurd quantity of fossil fuels we ship yearly at present.
And one other 15% of bulk transport is uncooked iron ore, often heading to the identical ports coal goes to, a provide chain and processing requirement that’s going to alter. Much more metal will probably be constituted of scrap metal in electrical metal minimills. A a lot larger proportion of iron ore will probably be processed regionally into scorching briquetted iron or metal with inexperienced hydrogen or direct electrical discount. Container transport up, sure, however bulk transport declining radically.
And the outcomes had been clear there too. Battery-electric was utterly match for objective for all inland transport and roughly two-thirds of nearshore transport. Placing batteries in transport containers that could possibly be used on trains or ships, charged at transshipment ports, and loaded onto trains or ships as wanted is a trivial extension of present container logistics. That left a portion of nearshore transport and the declining phase of deepwater transport that required biofuels.
And that quantity was lower than the quantity required for peak aviation demand, which might eat fairly a bit lower than than half of waste biomass and grain stalks out there. Complete biofuels demand for aviation and marine transport, in different phrases, had been properly below present agricultural and biomass feedstock volumes.
However what in regards to the damages of agriculture, many ask. It’s high-carbon too, they cry. Ammonia-based fertilizers degrade into excessive international warming potential NOx after functions to fields, and phosphate fertilizer creates huge algal blooms in water it runs into.
And they’re proper, however that’s a set of issues now we have an growing set of options for. Low-tillage agriculture preserves each quick time period soil carbon and the long-term glomalin carbon sequestration pathway. Increasing precision agriculture requires low cost computer systems, GPS, and restricted farm gear automation to radically scale back fertilizer (and pesticide and herbicide) use. Shifting calorie stripping subsistence farmers off of the land and into helpful occupations in city areas frees up semi-arable land and eliminates the sometimes high-fertilizer use practices there. And at last agrigenetics is developing with nice new methods, with Pivot Bio’s tweaked nitrogen-fixing microbes which can be the energizer bunny of fertilizers, don’t produce multiples of CO2 as they’re made, don’t flip into excessive GWP NOx, and are as simple to make as brewer’s yeast. As agriculture turns into extra virtuous, so do biofuels.
It took a couple of years, a variety of publication, some corrections from sort (and unkind) strangers who in lots of circumstances have develop into common collaborators, rebuilding my mind in order that I may approximate being a chemical course of engineer, stuffing a relatively absurd quantity of various domains into my wetware, working by means of snarls of power unit conversions and constructing outsized spreadsheet fashions, however my opinion is solidly primarily based.
Biofuels are match for objective, and now we have much more assets for them than the necessities. Arguments in opposition to them are principally specious, biased, or primarily based on very stale information.
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