Coal to Liquids – Oil security for Australia – but too sensible for Governments

David Archibald sets out what a Government with Australia’s real interests at heart should be doing to ensure energy security. The seven page pdf is only 120Kb – so go on – download it. David relates energy issues to world history with a nice sweep.
And I do like his advice to – “Repeal all the carbon-related legislation and close the Department of Climate Change”
Yes David – Australia would be more secure and prosperous.

14 thoughts on “Coal to Liquids – Oil security for Australia – but too sensible for Governments”

  1. Why bother with liquids when we have ample natural gas and LPG is a good vehicle fuel and natural gas nearly as good.

    The problem is that the Greens here in Australia as well as the rest of the world have wasted 20 years and billions of dollars on the electric car idiocy, when they could have been producing NG cars.

    Guess which 2 powerhouses of technological innovation are the world’s biggest producers of natural gas powered vehicles.

    Answer: Iran and Pakistan

  2. Philip B, do not agree with you about LPG for vehicles. I had a dual fuel vehicle and used to compare petrol price and LPG price divided by 0.7. LPG was less fuel efficient per litre and gave less power (when pulling a trailer or caravan the ratio was more like 0.55 plus greater concern for safety). The best fuel for a car is diesel. European car makers eg Mercedes, Peugot, Fiat and VW make great engines which are more economical, better torque and longer life than the Otto cyclical petrol engines.
    Natural gas powered vehicles will never be viable. In the compressed form not only is the efficiency greatly reduced compared to petrol but the range of the vehicle for Australian driving makes no sense. LNG is too costly and would not pass safety requirements in cars or for public handling.
    Natural gas has its place for peak power from gas turbines but is not economic for base load power.
    Coal to liquids (CTL) has a place for the future to supply diesel and heavy oils. Many of the coals have been tested. Coal at Millmerran in Qld gives a yield of over 30% when distilled at 400C. The remaining can be either hydrogenated to increase the yield to over 70% or burnt in a power station. At Millmerran there is already a sophisticated privately owned power station of 840MW capacity.
    However, a better proposition would be extract oil from the very large oil shale deposits in Queensland. In the 1980’s when the oil price was around $30/barrel there was a pilot plant built near Rockhampton. It should be viable now- higher oil price and better technology. Oil shale has a long history in Austrlia (eg Northern Tasmania, Blue Mountains NSW, Wolan Valley NSW, Mittagong area etc)

  3. cementafriend:

    Our current government worries about next week’s poll figures; long term planning doesn’t go past the election next year. I can’t say that the opposition are much better. Neither side seems to have either the technical knowledge nor the ability to listen to it when offered.

    Converting our current coal fired stations (esp. the brown coal one) to more modern ones with higher efficiency (44% v 38/9%) would result in greater CO2 emission reduction than any possible outcome with wind turbines. Natural gas/shale oil gas would give even more savings from its 60% efficiency of conversion, but with higher maintenance and overall cost for electricity. Combined heat and power units even more so because of even higher efficiency, but few parts of Australia want or need lots of heat.

    As for cars etc. you are undoubtedly correct. Diesels are more efficient than petrol engines, turbo diesels more so. That’s why many european countries have encouraged adoption of diesel for 40 years. An idle thought suggests that a Hybrid using a natural gas turbine (efficiency 35% v 25% for diesel) would be worth looking at.

    In the 1980’s when the oil price was around $30/ barrel the cost to produce shale oil was around $40-45/barrel BEFORE tax. Since much of the cost of petroleum products is due to tax, it is unlikely that shale oil will be wanted for some considerable time, barring emergencies.

    CTL technology is very nice, but I’ve always had my doubts about the cost of using hydrogenation.
    The alternative is the well known Fischer-Tropf process used in WW2 and since the 1970’s in South Africa (as SASOL). It is apparently quite competitive around $60-70 per barrel. The Germans used brown coal as a feedstock. I’ve heard adverse comments about quality, but they did supply some good enough for aeroplane fuel, so that might be just a matter of refining.

    All it needs is a rational long term plan for fuel production and use. Somehow I can’t see that and our current politicians getting anywhere.

  4. Pretty much every vehicle in Perth that does more than 30,000 km/year is LPG or CNG powered. Per litre, LPG is just under half the price of regular petrol. This is in the almost complete absence of ex-factory LPG cars, and the conversion costing $5,000+.

    The data shows LPG/CNG vehicles are significantly safer than petrol vehicles. If the tank is punctured, the gas just vents to the air rather than pooling on the surface as petrol does.

    Australia imports 50% of its oil requirements and exports 40% of it’s natural gas production, which means there is substantial opportunity for substituting oil imports with NG.

  5. Philip Bradley Says:
    November 23rd, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Agree Phillip, LPG is still the most cost effective transport fuel available to the general public. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, our ubiquitous taxi fleet here uses LPG and they wouldn’t do that if it wasn’t the most cost effective fuel. That’s not to say that the position will not change as the changes in excise laws take effect.

    Here in Victoria LPG is currently slightly more than 50% of the price of unleaded petrol. Diesel (a lower ranked fuel) is more expensive than unleaded petrol. This happens, we’re told, because of SE Asia’s need for Diesel. Presently there is also a price premium for Diesel vehicles.

    From what I can glean one of the major disincentives for the Government in promoting general public use of CNG is the difficulty in taxing the fuel. This is at least partly because CNG can be conveniently compressed directly from the reticulated NG mains.

    I run two LGP (dual fuel) vehicles, they have their limitations towing being one, Australia wide availability of LPG being another but for me they have provided reliable and economic transport.

  6. Returning back to the Archibald paper:
    He suggests coal as a base for portable energy (if I can put it like that) partly because we have lots of coal, including grades that are not really mineable, and existing technology and infrastructure for getting it. Converting it to diesel is economic above $70 per barrel of oil.

    But he is really saying that a shortage of liquid fuel is coming, which will affect politics, economics and food prices. Even the eventual and inevitable adoption of nuclear power won’t change that. Coal seam gas will supply some of the shortfall, but experience in the USA is that it is being diverted in electricity generation to replace coal (and oil), and into petrochemicals as feedstock.

    Coal seam/natural gas is mainly methane (+some ethane) which requires cryogenic technology for bulk transport. How economic, or safe, is its use in a very high pressure vessel in the average motorcar I don’t know. LPG is mainly butane (+some pentane) which requires cooling to around 0 ℃ for it to be handled as a liquid. Sure the LPG tank in a car is at a high pressure because the tank isn’t insulated or cooled, but a lot is kept as a liquid by that pressure, which won’t be anywhere as high as needed with methane to get the same range. There are problems with distributing either across our wide brown land.

    We have to admit that our current standard of living is based on access to cheap energy in the form of electricity and liquid fuel (for portable uses). An electric or nuclear car is not likely to be a complete answer. Of course people can use electric cars for short distance travel around cities, but who will persuade a farmer or a semi-trailer driver that they must use batteries? Portable i.e. liquid fuel, is the only current answer.

    Of course technology could change that in the distant future. We could “re-engineer” our cities so everybody there gets around on a battery boosted pushbike as in the Greens fantasies, but out where food is grown will require/demand liquid fuel. That might be some future form of chemical battery using liquid generated by (nuclear) electricity, but liquid it will be simply because of the constraints of power weight ratios.

    THe problem of declining petroleum availability could be overcome with coal to liquid processes. What is scary is that the World is passing into a cool stage which will bring massive problems. There will be a huge demand for food, and Australia might well be able to benefit if we were prepared. Sadly I think that our current elite are incapable of doing so.

  7. The whole debate will be moot if Rossi’s ECAT works as claimed. I’ve read a good proportion of the published ‘cold fusion’ papers and I have no doubt there is a real energy generating phenomena there. Although no one is really sure what causes it. In the absence of a sound theoretical base, I though it would be only a matter of time before someone came up with a commercially viable design by trial and error.

    The Greens aint going to be happy.

    Ed note: Saw these couple of links on the subject – Discover Magazine says –
    Big Idea Bring Back the “Cold Fusion” Dream – then Forbes had this –
    Cold Fusion Gets a Little More Real [Updated]

  8. Bob in C, yes taxis use LPG because it is cheaper per/km over the life and mileage operation in a major city. The main reason it is cheaper because there is less fuel excise (tax). The tax used to be zero, I think it is now 5c/l and due to go to 12.5C by 2015. Diesel in Australia for domestic vehicles has more tax than petrol (which is about 38c/l), that puts it at a higher cost (but offset by higher efficiency). In Europe the tax on diesel is less than petrol and diesel costs less to produce from crude oil.
    The Greens in Australia want to increase the tax on diesel because they have that stupid idea about carbon and its supposed radiation absorption. In reality, natural gas (CH4) has a greater greenhouse gas output (if one is concerned about that) than LPG (a mix of propane C3H6 & butane C4H8) which in turn is greater than petrol (around C8- octane), or diesel (average about C12 and in range C10-C15). Water vapor (H2O) from combustion has about ten times the LW radiation absorption of CO2. The higher the proportion of C (calculated as elemental C) the lower the greenhouse gas (LW radiation absorbing)
    Some oil companies such as Shell are pushing natural gas and LNG because they have declining reserves of crude oil but have increasing reserves of NG (shale gas, coal seam gas) and they the expertise and capital (billions) to exploit it. Oil companies BP, Shell, Esso, Amooco, Total etc made a huge hash getting into coal mines in the 1980, and early 1990’s, poor labor relations, lack of understanding of mining, and no chance of oligarchy
    A few of the intelligent and honest greens (not many) are beginning to realise that the oil companies have been using them. There is concern about CSG, shale gas (both nonsense if properly engineered) and fugative methane (which is absolute nonsense because a) methane absorbs about one fifth LW radiation compared to CO2 and b) methane does not burn in the atmosphere)
    Most politicians around the world are technically incompetent, naive, and some are plain corrupt.

  9. @cementafriend

    “Total etc made a huge hash getting into coal mines in the 1980, and early 1990′s, poor labor relations, lack of understanding of mining, and no chance of oligarchy”

    Ain’t it the truth ? 🙂

    BP was especially embarrassed – at huge cost they bought almost every low-grade exploration licence and marginal mining lease they could find. The Q’ld Govt was particularly grateful for all that money paid for properties later relinquished after many $m spent on pointless exploration

    Arrogance and hubris reigned like “days of thunder”. Expert geological advice went unheeded and at the worst, was punished by retrenchment (What do you mean, the coal’s not there ? That must be your fault, you’re sacked !)



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