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July 27, 2007

Mythbusters: What about Liquid Coal?

Category: Mythbusters – Dan 5:47 pm

Wow. There’s been so much press lately about liquid coal. Between “liquid coal” and “clean coal”, there’s almost a buzz, especially among non-technical people. Gee, this stuff sounds great.

OK, my analogy for “clean coal” is it’s as if you referred to sewage that’s had 90% of the feces removed as “clean water”. I suppose it would be legitimate to call it “cleaner“, but I can’t see anyone wanting to drink it.

Liquid coal, is in almost every way even worse. In the August 2007 issue of Scientific American, there’s an article that dispassionately goes down the many reasons.

  • One ton of coal produces only two barrels of fuel
  • Besides the CO2 produced while using the fuel, the production process creates almost a ton of CO2 per barrel.
  • MIT researchers estimate it will cost $70B to buile enough plants to replace 10% of US gasoline consumption.

The article concludes as follows:

The country would be spending billinos in loans, tax incentives, and price guarantees to lock in a technology that produces more greenhouse gases than gasoline does. This is unacceptable at a time when leading scientists from all over the world are warning that greenhouse gases must be cut by at last 60 percent over the next half a century to avert the worst consequences of global warming. Instead of spending billions to subsidize a massively polluting industry, we should be investing in efficiency and in renewable energy technologies that can help us constrain global warming today.

What’s the deal? Isn’t this obvious? Unfortunately, too many senators come from states where coal production is a major economic force, and a major campaign contributor. These members of congress talk (generally not understanding the technical details) about both “clean coal” and “liquid coal” being solutions. Know the facts here, folks. Not clean. Not smart. Liquid coal? Consider that the title of the SciAm article is “Worse Than Gasoline”…

The Rebound Effect

Category: Efficiency – Dan 4:32 pm

Now here’s a challenge. In the recent issue of Scientific American, there’s an article about the “rebound effect”. This is something straight out of Economics 101: “If prices decline, consumption will increase”.

When applied to efficiency, what this means is that, as energy consuming devices, like cars and our homes, become more efficient, will we drive more and turn up the heat? Studies listed in the article had conflicting results, but the conclusion was that indeed there was some rebound effect. The article concludes, in part, by stating:

To compensate for the rebound effect, energy efficiency must be couples with other policy solutions to lower emissions.

On a parallel thread, I’ve seen some companies, or companies-to-be working on solutions to this of another kind. Some of the contestants in the 2007 CleanTech competition are working on ways to make your energy consumption more visible. Primarily at the home level, these folks are looking to provide a real-time monitor for your home’s resource consumption, be it gas, electricity, or water. In the presentation at the most recent CleanTech event on green building, one of the speakers mentioned a case were simply by posting daily energy use on the bulletin board of a college dorm, that day by day the usage fell as awareness grew.

So maybe the answer to the Rebound Effect is better awareness. Instead of simply seeing the monthly bill, you see a red light on the wall every time you’ve left too many lights on, regardless of how efficient they are. Food for thought.