Founder & Chairman , General Biofuels

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Is it possible to avert global warming by replacing "fossil coal" with biocoal?

To reverse global warming we need to eliminate approximately 7 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually. Worldwide coal consumption is 7 billion tons. This generates approximately 20 billions tons of CO2. Replacing about 2.5 billion tons of fossil coal with the carbon neutral biocoal will eliminate 7 billion tons of CO2 emissions thus solving the global warming problem. Is it possible to create biocoal that is cost competitive with "fossil coal"? What will it take to do so?

  • Feb 7 2012: How does this differ from the Karrick process? "It is a little-known process called Low Temperature Carbonization (LTC) that was perfected in the 1920's by Lewis Cass Karrick, who was an oil shale technologist at the U.S. Bureau of mines."

    "After months of talks between Karrick and patent broker Leo Romney (and on the very day in 1929 that Standard Oil...) offered Karrick the position of vice-president and chief engineer, plus one third of the stock in the 'Oil & Gas Development Company'"

    "Federal anti-trust lawyers advised Karrick not to sign with Standard Oil. They believed that the Cartel intended to suppress his patents until they expired and the country had run out of oil. Only then would the implement Krarrick's LTC technology---particularly the underground gassification of coal."

    There is a fascinating article on this in Infinite Energy Magazine (you can get in touch with them---maybe get a copy of the article) Nelson, R.A, 2002, "Oil from Coal---Free the Kerrick LTC process," Infinite Energy, 8, 46, 34-39. The oil is free because the oil is paid for just by the 3,000 cu feet of coal-rich gas and the highly desirable char used in making steel from each ton of coal.
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      Feb 7 2012: except the karrick coke is not good enough for today's blast furnaces. iron production requires high quality coke, produced at much higher temperatures.
  • Feb 6 2012: Yes. By a long yard. It takes approximately 4MW to run a plant producing 250,000 MT/yr. Add in the fuel costs for harvesting crops etc. At 22GJ/MT, this plant will produce fuel with energy value of 5,500,00 GJ and consume approximately 200,000 GJ. So, yes.
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      Feb 7 2012: do you have a resource for that? i suppose, based on what you said here, that the technology uses dried plants to make charcoal.

      i have some doubts, because there are methods to make pellets or brickets out of grass or sawdust. it sounds cheaper, but still not economic as of now. (i.e. more expensive than, say, natural gas.) this charcoal seems to be a more sophisticated, higher quality product, but also more expensive. so it seems even less marketable.

      i would like to see some fact sheets about that technology, especially focusing on ROI, prices, etc.
      • Feb 7 2012: In order to achieve market parity with Coal economics in terms of $/GJ I believe we need the following:

        Biomass at $10-20/dry ton
        Conversion Process $20-25/MT
        Capex of $200/MT

        I believe this is doable. High yielding grasses combined with mechanization can deliver biomass economics. Torrefaction and other processes borrowed from the mining and/or paper & pulp sector can deliver the right conversion processes. Not sure if the Capex piece is doable. I believe that is the key challenge.
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          Feb 7 2012: then you actually have the answer to your question. to get competitive bio coal, you need to bring the prices down to the level you just said.

          as i researched, hay for example sells for USD 50 there, or USD 25 equivalent here, still higher than the target.

          converting at that price also needs R&D.

          so go ahead, and good luck :)
  • Feb 12 2012: No, the problem is much more complex than that. Humanity needs to seriously address its aquatic thermal contribution, just as aggressively as the atmospheric CO2 accumulation, because the DOW or cold 'deep ocean waters' are the greatest conductor of thermal energy on the planet. It has become greatly weakened by humanities massive unnatural aquatic thermal contribution, which has turned into a world wide low level thermal accumulation. There are many cost effective methods of addressing this matter, but we need to consider it, or nothing will ever be done.
  • Feb 7 2012: Linda: you are right that old and new coals both release CO2. However, in the case of new coal, the CO2 has been absorbed by the plants to begin with and then released - so it is CO2 neutral. In case of fossil coal we are burning carbon that was sequestered millions of years ago. BioCoal is part of the current carbon cycle and neutral, fossil coal is not. It is additive to the carbon cycle.
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    Feb 7 2012: Fossil coal is aged biocoal.
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      Feb 7 2012: that is the problem with it. carbon dioxide from the past.
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        Feb 7 2012: So old coal is worse than new coal? Coal releases CO2 doesn't matter if it is new or old.

        Carbon is carbon. When mixed with oxygen becomes CO2. It's how it works.
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          Feb 7 2012: absolutely. i'm kind of troubled by the fact that our schools and our media fails to educate us not even on the most basic level.

          the atmosphere is full with CO2. there are millions of millions of tons of it. the problem is that its concentration determines temperature. we don't want neither any less nor any more.

          CO2 is in circulation. growing plants take CO2 out of the air, and build their bodies from the carbon. dying animals and plants (and of course, combusted ones) release carbon back to the atmosphere. so as long as we don't kill much of the plants and animals, the CO2 released and taken are the same. at the end, plant combustion is solar energy.

          enter the fossils. fossils are dead plants buried under ground, so their carbon can't go back to the atmosphere. they were taken out of this circulation hundreds of millions of years ago. and we prefer to keep it that way, because if we release all this back, the climate might change, and we are screwed.

          if it was in the air back then, why is it a big deal? well, yes. in periods, earth was warmer, nothing wrong with that actually. but such changes used to happen slowly, spanned over hundreds of thousands of years. if we manage to put that CO2 back in the atmosphere in a mere 50 or 100 years, the biosphere might not be able to react in time, and massive extinction might happen. life will probably survive, but 90% or even 99% of the life forms could disappear. whether mankind can survive that, is an open question. but it will surely be a drop in quality of life.

          so that is the major difference between bio and fossil. bio carbon is taken from the atmosphere, so we can freely release it back. fossil is "extra".
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          Feb 8 2012: This is where the LFTR can save the planet. Place them on the coastlines of arid regions and the by product waste heat (~ 30-40 C) can be used for low pressure desalination combined with the power generated to pump fresh water over the deserts and grow savannas and forests terraforming the region. This would actively reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere without adding to it. Totally reversing global warming in decades and making previous desert areas of the planet habital and able to be used for food production.

          This is just one way LFTR technology can change the future of civilization forever by saving the planet instead of killing it.
  • Feb 7 2012: Would you describe the biofuel process that eliminates carbon dioxide emissions?
    • Feb 7 2012: It's the use of biomass that delivers a carbon neutral fuel. Plants have sequestered carbon and when the fuel is burned Co2 is released. Making these fuels part of the Carbon cycle. Fossil coal releases CO2 that was sequestered millions of years ago.
  • Feb 6 2012: Any form of biomass or organic waste can be heated under pressure and without oxygen and turned into coal. This is how charcoal is made.
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      Feb 6 2012: and you claim that the energy content of that coal is higher than the energy required to produce it? by how much?
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    Feb 6 2012: what is biocoal? how do you make it?