Wednesday, September 06, 2006

An Energy Decarbonization Roadmap

New College

NEW YORK, August 31, 2006 - In an article to be published tomorrow in Science, Dr. Reuel Shinnar, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at The City College of New York (CCNY) and Director of the Clean Fuels Institute, and Dr. Francesco Citro, a Research Associate with the Institute, present a roadmap for reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels by up to 98 percent. The plan, "A Roadmap to U.S. Decarbonization," would sharply curtail carbon dioxide and methane emissions and reduce global warming while simultaneously America's dependence on imported oil and gas.

"While the United States has responded to the looming energy crisis by sponsoring a large research program for alternative energy, research success is not predictable," Drs. Shinnar and Citro said. "Any effective plan for solving our energy problems over a short timeframe needs to be based on proven, existing technologies."

The bulk of the fossil fuel savings in the plan - 72 percent - would come from replacement with electricity generated from alternative sources. If achieved, coal, oil and natural gas would no longer be used in electricity production or heating of residential and commercial properties. Also, 65 percent of petroleum used for transportation and 70 percent of natural gas used in industry would no longer be needed. Carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 76 percent, as well.

To accomplish this, hybrid cars and light trucks equipped with plug-in batteries would replace 80 percent of gasoline usage. This would be the cheapest way to reduce oil consumption, the authors noted. In addition, railroads powered by electricity would handle 50 - 60 percent of the long distance hauling now done by heavy trucks.

Increased electricity generation would rely on a combination of sources including concentrated solar thermal (CST), nuclear energy, geothermal and hydroelectric plants, wind and solar cells. CST technology, the main source, has generated 354 Mwe for about 20 years in California's Mojave Desert. It uses solar collectors to concentrate the sun's rays on a heat transfer fluid that can sustain high temperatures and heat steam to drive power plant turbines. In addition, it is competitively priced for intermediate load and load following production.

Expanded electricity usage would, however, require substantial enlargement of the nation's electrical transmission and distribution system. The national transmission grid would need to be doubled at a cost of approximately $250 - $300 billion with between $850 billion and $1 trillion needed for new local and regional distribution lines.

Another 26 percent of fossil fuel consumption could be replaced through use of synthetic gasses produced from biomass. This would eliminate all petroleum and 30 percent of natural gas used in industry as well as 35 percent of petroleum used for transportation. In addition, it would achieve an additional 21 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Drs. Shinnar and Citro would replace ethanol production with processes that use biomass as a carbon source combined with hydrogen to generate syngas (carbon oxides plus hydrogen) for the production of methanol or liquid fuels produced through the Fischer-Trospch process. The syngas processes can produce three to four times as much hydrocarbons as fermentation to ethanol, they maintain.

Most of the technologies cited in the article are competitive with crude oil priced at $70 per barrel. They estimate that it would cost $170 - $200 billion a year over 30 years to replace 70 percent of U.S. fossil fuel consumption. A $40 - $50 per ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions could pay for the whole investment, based on current emission levels, and also provide incentives for implementing renewable technologies.

No comments: