10/03/2005

Daily Kos: Governor Schweitzer, I have a few questions for you

Governor Schweitzer, I have a few questions for you
by Jerome a Paris
Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 10:25:26 CDT

(Gov. Schweitzer's promise of energy independence is a rightfully exciting one, greatly improving our nation's security. Now, while Schweitzer has repeatedly suggested that his solution, the Fischer-Tropsch process, will be cleaner than existing fossil fuels, it should be in his interest to answer the concerns addressed in this diary. If he's right about the environmental benefits of F-T, this is a huge no-brainer to tide us over from fossil fuels to the green fuels of tomorrow -- kos)

Today, you provide an interesting op-ed in the New York Times, where you rightfully point out the danger for the USA of depending too much on oil.

America is addicted to foreign oil, and like any addict we are at the mercy of the pushers and require an intervention.

Your solution is a pretty legitimate one when you've seen the graph below and your State happens to sit on one third of the US reserves of coal: make synthetic fuels from coal, using coal-to-liquids technology, also known as the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process. Thus the USA can keep on burning oil, but using domestically produced - and cleaner - liquids.

You point out in your article (as well as on your website on the topic):

"Synfuels" have remarkable properties: they are high-performing substances that run in existing engines without any technical modifications, and they burn much more cleanly than conventional fuels. The synfuel process, which is nothing like conventional coal use, removes greenhouse gases as well as toxins like sulfur, mercury and arsenic.

This makes is sound like a miracle, environmentally friendly, technology. But here are some numbers from a 1948 study for the DoE:

Building a 10,000 b/d plant requires:

* 4,300 tons/day (that's 1.5 mt/y)
* 40 tons of catalyst (molybdenum, copper or aluminium) per day
* 166,000,000 gallons of water/day

It will produce in addition:

* 260 tons/day of solid waste (ashes, catalyst, etc)
* 2,300,000 gallons/day of liquid waste, of which H2S, CO2, NH3 and phenols
* 90,000 cu.ft/day of H2S (based on coal with 1% sulphur)

Now 10,000 b/d must be compared to the current 20,000,000 b/d consumption of the USA and 12,000,000 b/d of imports. Replacing 10% of current imports will thus require 180 million tons of coal per year (close to 20% of current US production) and large volumes of fresh water.

My questions here are as follows:

* will you lobby for tight environmental guidelines to be set for such an activity (as wel as for the mining of the coal itself) or do you trust the Bush administration to put these in place - and to enforce them?

* you mention a price of 35$/bl in production costs. Which environmental standards would be included in such price? Have you taken into account the likely cost increases in metals used as catalyst? (And if you think this is nor relevant, take a look at what happened to molybdenum not long ago);

* how will you take carbon emissions into consideration? Burning coal in automobiles will generate (in the whole chain) even more global warming cases than burning oil does? Is that priced in as well? Or do you think it does need to be?

* don't you think it is dangerous to tout Montana coal as the miracle solution for a problem (our wasteful and unsustainable energy consumption habits) which, in fact, is a lot bigger, and can only be solved by demand-side solutions (conservation, smarter energy use)?

The conclusion of your article:

Synfuel, ethanol, biodiesel, wind power, solar power, hydrogen - these are no longer dreamy ideas. They are now real and ready solutions, and with a national committment behind them, America can kick the foreign oil habit for good.

rightfully points out that energy is a national security issue, that diversity is essential, and that the USA must take the lead in the new energy technologies of the future. Coal-to-liquids could be a part of that balance, but only if it is done in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, and is not sold as an effortless way to continue on driving gas-guzzlers.

Please have a look at the Democratic Energy Manifesto that we are try to develop as a collective endeavor here on dKos (Building together an effective Dem energy policy (I)).
Daily Kos: Governor Schweitzer, I have a few questions for you

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