Friday, November 25, 2011

Light to Medium and Heavy To Light

We have light to medium and heavy to light. I am not talking about boxing fighting weight divisions but rather how energy companies are playing the arbitrage due to high price of liquid transportation fuels (middle weights) and the lower price of natural gas (light as a bantam weight) as well as the lower price of heavy oils, shale, tar, and even wood (the heavy weights). I recently blogged about compressed natural gas and how it should be used as a transportation fuel as this can be done with very little loss of energy (about 3% to 5% for compression of the gas), it is very economical, and will yield lower carbon emission per mile traveled. Of course we in the ignited states will not settle for a simple solution, we prefer the Rube Goldberg solutions of converting natural gas to liquids or using brute force gymnastics to get the heavy weight fuels to lighten up and yield liquid transportation fuels.

Liquids are great fuels. They have the highest energy per unit volume, can be stored at ambient conditions in simple tanks, and are easily pumped. One cannot pump coal, tar, wood, or corn stalks. The problem with converting solids to liquids is that it is costly, almost half of the energy content of the solid fuel is lost in the conversion process, and the factories that perform this transformation have high carbon dioxide emissions. Storing natural gas requires high pressure cylinders or thermos like cryogenic tanks. Converting natural gas to diesel and gasoline is less costly than starting with solids, and has lower carbon emissions at the factory, still wastes as much as 45% of the energy contained in the natural gas, and half of the hydrogen in the synthesis gas ends up as water not fuel.

Converting natural gas to electricity in the most efficient combined cycle generation station yields a thermal efficiency of approximately 55%. Transmitting the electricity and converting it into direct current for use in battery powered vehicles causes another loss of 15%, therefore by the time all losses are accounted for only 40% of the energy in the gas ends up in the batteries on board the vehicle. From the above analysis it can be argued that transforming the natural gas into other forms of energy for transportation is simply wasteful. Of course we do this because the value of liquid transportation fuels is high and there is money to be made transforming the natural gas. The government’s energy policy also subsidizes these expensive alternates. However, the best policy is to use the natural gas directly as the fuel on board the vehicle. My previous blog showed the economic driver for natural gas fired personal vehicles.

Compressed Natural Gas Now a website reports that in Europe and other parts of the world 28 models of new vehicles propelled by CNG are in production and are available for purchase. In the US only Honda offers such a production vehicle (Civic GX). There are 2.75 million compressed natural gas vehicles in Pakistan compared with minuscule figure of 110,000 on the road in the USA. I’d imagine that many of the CNG vehicles in Pakistan are three wheel scooters and have been retrofitted with high pressure tanks by small workshops in that country. Iran and Argentina follow Pakistan in leading the number of CNG vehicles with almost 2 million such vehicles in each of these countries. Bolivia one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere has 140,000 CNG vehicles. It is a pathetic indictment of the incompetence of our department of entropy that the US is a laggard in the CNG world. We have bet a wad of money on advanced biofuels and advanced batteries and the energy source that is right under our feet and yields the most bang (BTU) for our buck never gets any mention, attention, or funding. T Boon Pickins who is an energy man and a billionaire has tried and tried to promote CNG only to be ignored. I wish he would take the role of Energy Secretary and set a target for 10 million CNG vehicles in 10 years. We may have to learn the Argentine Tango on Dancing With The Stars if we are going to do this. I am not certain of the national dances in Pakistan or Iran but I imagine they do it without women and men dancing together and without the passion of the Tango.

Seriously why is the US such a laggard in CNG vehicles? The answer goes back to 2003 when another not so brilliant guru in government had no clue of the future but dictated national policy. This guru was none other than Al The Green Spanner In The Works. The news from June 10, 2003 was the following:
Alan Greenspan the Federal Reserve Chairman warned that Americans can expect high natural gas prices and tight supplies for the foreseeable future and urged the nation to build facilities to import gas.
"Today's tight natural gas markets have been a long time coming," Greenspan told a House panel. "We are not apt to return to earlier periods of relative abundance and low prices any time soon."
Greenspan took issue with policy-makers who believed the United States should try to become self-sufficient in terms of gas supplies. "There is no way we can be self-sufficient," he said, adding, "It is in the interests of this country not to endeavor to localize, to be protectionist, to pull in our horns."

Fast forward to November 2011 and the US is now likely in the next decade to be a net exporter of natural gas due to the proliferation of a new technology in natural gas production from shale formations deep in the earth. Al was just another super smart idiot who led us in the wrong direction not only in energy but also in housing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Thermodynamic Meaning of Thanksgiving

How can thermodynamics have any bearing on a holiday of giving thanks for the bounty we enjoy? I will not bore you all with statistics of how many BTUs it took to raise the turkey, kill, clean, and freeze the turkey, or even roast the turkey. Rather this blog will remain philosophical (hence vague) and will tie in for you all how the third law of thermodynamics indeed explains the fundamental reason why we have Thanksgiving. Simply put the third law states that as temperature approaches absolute zero, entropy will approach a constant positive minimum, for perfect crystalline substances this constant minimum is zero. The three aspects of this law are Temperature, Zero, and Perfection.

These aspects are also the underlying principles of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a late fall beginning of winter holiday. It is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Note not the last Thursday but the fourth Thursday. Thanksgiving and cold temperatures are synonymous. The zero aspect of Thanksgiving is not the quantity of food and drink consumed. This quantity is enormous and bordering on ridiculous. The zero aspect of Thanksgiving is the elimination of animosity between people and that differences become unnoticeable. The perfect crystal is found in the sugar in one of the pies that are eaten. For me it is Pecan Pie for others it is pumpkin pie.

Several years ago I wrote a blog about tryptophan. There is a myth that turkeys are loaded with this satisfying amino acid (sub unit of protein). Actually on a unit mass basis cheddar cheese has more tryptophan than turkey. For kids and adults who love grilled cheese one can have a far simpler and less expensive Thanksgiving meal and yet get the tryptophan trip. The news is filled that the price of turkey is at an all-time high and this is due to the high price of corn. Of course the price of corn is high because of bio-ethanol but I do not want to ruin your Thanksgiving by opining on the stupidity of bio-fuels. Instead I just want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the day that truly is as close to perfection as we get. For those nerds who want an explanation of the third law of thermodynamics I extracted this simple explanation from Wiki.

With the development of statistical mechanics, the third law of thermodynamics (like the other laws) changed from a fundamental law (justified by experiments) to a derived law (derived from even more basic laws). The basic law from which it is primarily derived is the statistical-mechanics definition of entropy for a large system:

S = kB log Ω

Where S is entropy, kB is the Boltzmann constant and Ω is the number of microstates consistent with the macroscopic configuration. In the case of a perfect crystal at zero degrees there is only one microstate and hence the log of 1 is 0 and the entropy is zero.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Real Energy Policy That Works

I did some thinking about the occupation of the world. The folks at OWS have a point about the 99% versus the 1%. They just got the math wrong. It is about the 99.99% versus the 0.01%. The 0.01% has creamed the department of entropy for loans for dumb ass green energy projects. It was good to see the secretary of entropy “Dr. Chew On This” squirm a little in his testimony to congress. I am convinced this guy wants China to overtake the ignited states and rule the world, otherwise he simply could not believe the bull he told the thermodynamic neophytes who questioned him. It was like a scene out of the movie dumb and dumber.

For the benefit of the occupiers, I did some quick calculations on how the other 99.99% can get a piece of the Thanksgiving American Pie rather than seeing their government simply hand it over to Al Gore and the 0.01%. The equitable way to share the pie is to have the Feds pay for the installation of a natural gas compressor in each of the garages of 400,000 folks who belong to the 99.99%. The Feds should also front the cost of installing natural gas storage tanks and changing out of the fuel injection systems in the cars of the lucky 400,000 ordinary folks. I estimate this can be done for $2,500 per system. If we get 400,000 motorists to sign up for the conversion from gasoline to natural gas, the Feds will spend a paltry $1 billion on people who actually matter and make America great. The installation work will be done by ordinary folks and small businesses not by Al Gore and his cronies.

As the natural gas (methane) molecule has 4 hydrogen atoms and only 1 carbon atom compared with 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 carbon atom in gasoline, the carbon dioxide emissions per vehicle are reduced by 1.44 tons per vehicle per year by the conversion from gasoline to natural gas. With 400,000 conversions more carbon dioxide emissions are avoided than the Bright Source Ivanpah California “smoke and mirrors” solar project, that our government of the people for the people and by the people sponsored to the tune of $1.6 billion. The Bright Source Ivanpah project was purely for the benefit of the 0.01%. You may ask how Uncle Sam gets our money back from the 400,000 ordinary Americans. Well the motorist saves $2 per gallon equivalent of gasoline and therefore will save $1,500 a year if there was no tax on the natural gas. Uncle Sam can levy a $1 per gal equivalent federal tax on natural gas for such purpose and have the utility collect the tax for Uncle Sam. In 3.57 years the $1 billion loan to the less fortunate 99.99% will be paid back by the tax.

The motorists will each save $750 a year to spend on other goods or services. The world will be cleaner by almost 600,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide. The 0.01% will not make a buck out of it unless of course they own the natural gas wells and transmission system. In this example Uncle Sam will actually get our money back instead of us waiting 14 years for the smoke and mirrors project in the Mojave to yield some result. Also there will be real employment given to the folks who fabricate and install the natural gas systems. The $2 per gallon equivalent is calculated as follows: The EPA has mandated 10% ethanol in our now anemic gasoline with 120,000 BTU HHV per gallon. This equals 1.2 therms of purchased natural gas. A therm of gas is sold to households at $1.20 hence the natural gas will cost $1.44 per equivalent gallon. The electricity for compression will be about another dime an equivalent gallon, yielding a cost of about $1.54 per equivalent gallon. Gasoline retails for $3.54 a gallon and voila we have the two buck per gallon savings. Even moronic congressmen and women can do this math.

I looked up the address of our Department of Entropy. They are located at 1000 Independence Avenue Southwest, Washington, DC 20585-0001 with phone number
(202) 586-5000. The occupy movement is all about chaos and disorder so occupying the entropic imbecilic department is totally appropriate. Occupiers please take note of the address and move in on the department. I am personally appalled by the DOE locating on Independence Avenue. They were chartered more than 30 years ago by President Carter to help the US achieve energy independence. I wonder if there is a street in DC named Dependence Boulevard where all the parasitic and useless departments of government can be relocated. As for Chu it is time for someone else to occupy the position of Secretary of Entropy, and he should return to studying ultra-low temperature particles as his policy is approaching absolute zero.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Bay Leaf and A One Sauce

Bay leaves and A One Steak Sauce are respectively a spice and a sauce that make bland food taste special. The Bay Leaf is from the Laurel tree. There is a California Bay Leaf that is the leaf of the California Bay Tree (Umbellulatia Californica) and has a stronger flavor the Mediterranean Bay Leaf. Californians have taken to spicing soups, stews, and biryanis with our home grown Bay Leaves. Californians also lead the nation is eco gullibility. Californians in relation to the state’s population size purchased the highest number of Nissan Leaf plug in cars. Northern Californians living around the San Francisco Bay are even more gullible than the rest of Californians as they purchased even more Nissan Leaves in proportion to their population than anywhere else. Ok now we know that my neighbors have been green-washed and that the Nissan Leaf should be renamed the Bay Leaf, so what does this have to do with a blog by the Green Machine?

Well quite simply Bay Leaves and A One Steak Sauce are great for spicing up foods, but have had no tangible effect on greening America. The Nissan Leaf is for all intents and purposes a minor model that Nissan has subsidized to establish goodwill for their global petroleum fueled brand. Some 8,000 Leaves have been sold in the USA for the 2011 Model Year. Some 16,000 were sold worldwide. Nissan has now determined they are losing money on each Leaf they sell in the USA, hence they have upped the price on the 2012 Leaf by some 8% over the 2011 model year. Were we not told that “economies of scale” will reduce the cost of the electric car? I opined that there were minimal economies of scale to be expected in lithium ion battery manufacture and provided such sage advice to the US Senate in my outside witness testimony of a year and a half ago.

A One the highly subsidized and highly touted US manufacturer of lithium ion batteries has proved that economies of scale in their battery manufacturing cannot be gained. They reported their third quarter of 2011 results the past week. They produced 67.7 million watt hours of batteries in the 3rd quarter of 2011 with an average cost of goods sold of $1.15 per watt hour. Back in the second quarter of 2009 they produced 17.0 million watt hours of batteries with an average cost of goods sold of $1.15 per watt hour. Since the second quarter of 2009 they have invested more than $100 million in manufacturing plant and have increased their scale of operations four fold but yet are to reduce their unit manufacturing costs by even a cent. A One is not alone in this regard they actually are a “stellar” performer compared with Ener 1 and Valence who simply have not done as much manufacturing as A One. Of course the department of entropy provided loan guarantees to both A One and Ener 1 on the promise of these magical economies of scale. Governor Perry was dumbfounded in the GOP debate last week when asked by the moderator which three cabinet departments he would eliminate if he was elected president? Had I been in the debate I would have ranked the department of entropy as the first branch of the bay leaf tree to be pruned. Interestingly when bay leaves are green they do not have flavor and are mild. They develop their full flavor several weeks after picking when they have dried and turned brown. Perhaps the Green Bay Leaves that the gullible nincompoops in the San Francisco Bay Area bought from Nissan will also turn brown and gain some flavor with time? Talking about Brown, governor moonbeam is still dreaming that California is first in the new green economy. He should realize that an aged brown bay leaf has the flavor and should use his wisdom accordingly. I did meet him when he was mayor of Oakland and he is a very intelligent guy. Compared with Arne he is a welcome relief or perhaps releaf.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Last Decade

I heard a startling report of a statistic on CNBC this morning. The reporter stated that 25% of the cumulative global goods and services ever produced and consumed were produced and consumed in the last decade. This means in the last ten years the global economic output was one quarter of all that in human history. So much for the “lost” decade in the West. The Orient, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Middle East and parts of Africa and South America have woken up economically. In a way this is great news for the billions of people who now are enjoying increased economic prosperity and sharing in global trade and consumption. For the planet it just means we have consumed increasing amounts of fossil fuels, iron ore, bauxite, and other natural resources. We also destroyed more of the globe’s habitat for the sake of economic progress. The statistic of economic output and therefore consumption over the past decade is quite amazing.

I watched Charlie Rose on Bloomberg last evening. His guests were Elon Musk of Tesla and Bob Lutz who retired from GM. The discussion was about the electric cars and about Tesla and the Volt in particular. My disdain for Musk is well documented and after listening to him pontificate on how he is working to save the planet I have to admit he got under my skin further last night. He said his desire is to help the planet and change the course of increasing carbon emissions. He touted the “success” of his Roadster and he claimed the Model S Sedan will sell 20,000 vehicles a year after they reach full stride. In the first year he claimed that they will sell 6 or 7 thousand vehicles. He said the price will range from $50,000 for a stripped down Model S with lesser range to $100,000 for a fully equipped vehicle with large enough battery pack to travel 300 miles.

For the sake of analysis let’s say Tesla does become an economic success and does sell 20,000 vehicles a year with an average range of 240 miles. This means Tesla will need something like 80 kilowatt hours of lithium ion batteries per vehicle or in total 1.6 million kilowatt hours of batteries each year. Had these batteries been placed in the Buick Regal E-Assist they could have equipped 1.6 million vehicles. If all vehicles travel 15,000 miles a year, the 1.6 million Buick Regal E-Assists will save almost 200 million gallons of gas a year compared with standard Buick Regals without E-Assist. Each of the Teslas will save 600 gallons of gallons of gasoline a year so the 20,000 in total will save 12 million gallons of gasoline a year. Elon should have got into the E-Assist business if he really wanted to save the planet from carbon emissions. By the above argument he has used up precious lithium and has caused the planet to use an extra 188 million gallons of gasoline a year. At 19 pounds of CO2 emissions per gallon he single handedly caused an added 1.8 million tons of CO2 emissions per year by his misguided desire to save the planet.

On the economic front if his average Model S sells for $80,000 or about $50,000 more than a Buick Regal E-Assist he did reduce the world’s economic output by some $46.4 billion. I calculate this as 1.6 million Buicks times $30,000 average selling price minus 20,000 model Ss times $80,000 average selling price. I guess if we want the next decade to really be a lost decade and not chew up more natural resources we should let Elon have all the lithium in the world. Of course Al Gore and Fisker won’t let Elon monopolize the lithium supply so we don’t have to worry about Elon single handedly screwing up the world. The moron who produced the sequel to who killed the electric car should start working on the trilogy that thermodynamics and heavy expensive batteries killed the electric car. I believe a more important film will be about who killed the Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Irish, Spanish, UK, and US economies.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My prediction for 2100

Another week has passed and another Greek scare spooked the markets. This was another week of increasing carbon emissions and population growth. Auto sales for October in the USA were up on last year and folks continue to buy SUVs and pickup trucks. It is business as usual. I too am a culprit I had to drive to several business meetings this week and I racked up 200 miles of driving for the week instead of my normal 100 miles. I am still well below the average US motorist who racks up almost 300 miles a week. The San Francisco Bay Area had nice weather this week so no heating or air conditioning of my house was needed.

The news from our friends at A 123 Batteries is that they will fall far short of their revenue projections now that Fisker has reduced their purchases of battery packs for the Karma. This was not news to me but was to stock market. A123 dropped on NASDAQ-AONE to $3.17, it traded for $9 a share a year ago. Remember about a year ago I wrote that A123 was likely to have a very hard time in the marketplace. Here is what the A123 CEO reported. CEO David Viveau said in a statement that Fisker Automotive is cutting its battery pack order for the fourth quarter as it balances inventory levels from suppliers. Viveau said A123's relationship with Fisker is still strong and that it expects the reduction to be temporary. A few weeks back I wrote about Al Gore and the DOE loaning Fisker money. AONE is not alone, ENER1 is now a penny stocks, and Valence and Advanced Batteries are also trading near a buck a share.

The lithium battery guys are joined by the alternate fuels guys in sucking wind on Wall Street. Amyris, Solarzyme, Kior, Gevo, and Codexis are all struggling stocks. This is not about individual companies being managed well or poorly, it all relates to how difficult it is to mimic the energy content and cost of fossil fuels. The debate on shale natural gas rages on but we are somewhat fortunate that an increasing amount of shale gas is being produced and more power is being generated using natural gas rather than coal. The US is on course to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 1% this year. Part is a result of the economic slowdown but a large part is due to reduced coal usage and increased natural gas usage in electric power generation. President Obama should point to natural gas as a success story in the US energy arena as there are simply many failures in the alternate energy space. Thermodynamics tells us that the carbon hydrogen bond is one powerful source of energy and methane having four carbon hydrogen bonds in a very compact molecule is an energy source with concentrated power. While the US has reduced its CO2 emissions over 2010, China and India are headed in the opposite directions. It is likely that global CO2 emissions in 2011 will be 5 to 6% higher than in 2010. I wish I could say otherwise but my belief is that global CO2 emissions will continue to grow at approximately 5% each year over the remainder of this decade.

The UN is predicting a world in 2100 that has essentially depleted all of its oil reserves yet has a population of 10 billion humans. My prediction for 2100 is that we have a world population of about 8 billion and still have some oil, coal and natural gas to burn. We will have personal vehicles that weigh 1,000 pounds instead of 4,000 pounds and the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere will be 800 parts per million more than twice our 392 parts per million that was measured in July of this year. Where the 8 billion people will live and how they will pray to God is something I cannot even hazard a guess at, as I am sure wars will be raged, diseases and famine will plague us, and migrations will continue. I am certain that Department of Entropy will still be funding alternate energy ideas with borrowed money all the way through 2100