A Discussion with Governor Brian Schweitzer

Earlier today I participated in a conference call with Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana. You'll recall that we previously discussed his plan to convert lots of Montana coal to liquids (and again here). This conference call was at the behest of the Democratic Governors Association, who are organizing a series of calls between Democratic governors and bloggers - and they invited the Oil Drum. Five bloggers showed up, listened to the governor's spiel, and then got to ask a few questions. Here are my impressions.
The governor comes across as energetic, talented, blunt-spoken, combative, dedicated, and able to suffer people who disagree with him only with some effort. He talks freely and fluidly on energy issues, and he started off the call with a thirty minute discourse outlining his views on what the US needs to do, and what Montana is or could be doing to help. He's a new governor, only took office in January, but has focussed on energy issues a lot. (One of his campaign promises was to hold an Energy Symposium, which starts tomorrow).

He outlined his energy achievements as he sees them:

The governor spent a good deal of his time on coal-to-liquids. Montana, he asserts, has 120 billion tons of coal reserves, about a third of the US total. The US has far more coal than Russia (the second largest reserves), which is far ahead again of China and India (which also have big reserves). As we noted earlier, he thinks they should be developed rather than giving the money to "Sheikhs and rats" around the world, who then turn around and fund radical Islam, including Hamas and ultimately Al-Qaeda. He also mentioned several times doing "what is important to maintain our way of life." He sees CTL as a "bridge to the next fuel source" that we cannot afford to do without. He feels strongly that just conserving and trying to move directly to a renewables/hydrogen economy will not be feasible - we'll end up still needing to import lots of oil from regimes we should not be supporting.

He didn't talk about peak oil much. He frames the issue mainly in terms of energy independence. He, like us, has noted the wonderful national leadership on these issues:

If you're looking to Congress to lead, forget about it. This is the best Congress money can buy. There's enough money in big oil to buy Congress for years into the future.
He tried to proactively addressed possible objections before we could raise them. He emphasized that in CTL it's much easier to clean the heavy metals and sulphur out of the syngas than it is to prevent these emissions when burning coal directly. He emphasized the importance of sequestering CO2 at the CTL plants to avoid emitting it to the atmosphere - Montana is blessed, he feels, with geological traps for the purpose - some with left-over oil in need of tertiary recovery, and some empty ones for good measure. Yes, this involves strip-mining coal, but they have had lots of practice restoring the land. There's solid waste, but at least we'll be able to sequester it all in one place (and I guess he's offering his state for the purpose). He has now developed something of a story on the hydrogen input to the process. Recall that we had a good comment stream calling the governor on his earlier claim that new CTL processes didn't require water:

Water needs, traditionally an enormous hurdle, have been all but eliminated with the advent of a process that actually produces water with its excess hydrogen and oxygen.
This is impossible, of course, since coal is mainly carbon, and since chain hydrocarbons are roughly (CH2)^n, the hydrogen has to come from somewhere, with the only likely bulk sources of hydrogen being water or natural gas. What he now says ("get out your calculators, cowboys") is that the lignite coal in Montana contains typically 40% water (by weight? - he didn't specify), and thus has enough hydrogen, together with other unspecified water sources "colocated with the coal", that we shouldn't worry.

In general, he agrees that environmental questions are "fair game", and that these projects should be held to high environmental standards.

One thing I had a problem with was the carbon emission/climate change angle on this. I don't think the governor was untruthful, but I do think he's engaging in a certain amount of misdirection when he talks at great length about the importance of, and the possibilities for, sequestering the CO2 from the CTL plants themselves. A high-yield Fischer-Tropsch type process should be taking most of that carbon currently buried in the ground and wrapping it in hydrogen to put in your and my fuel tank, and those of our trucker friends. Yes, some C will probably be burned to CO2 at the plant to power the process, and hopefully Gov. Schweitzer will be as good as his word about sequestering it, but a good deal is going to end up going out of our collective exhaust pipe rather than staying where it is now.

I used my questions to press the governor on this point. I'm of the opinion that we face a dual crisis here: we are reaching the point where we can see the end of oil, and at the same time, we are reaching the point where we can see that we are starting to make massive, probably irreversible, changes to our climate. The glaciers are in full retreat almost everywhere, the Arctic is melting (with total melting of the summer sea ice possible, though not certain, as early as 2020), the permafrost is melting, and releasing large amounts of methane, which is a very powerful global warming gas, while in the last thirty years, droughts have doubled due to warming, hurricanes are much more intense all over the globe, and are showing up in places they never did before in recorded history. Scientists have been projecting changes in ocean circulation, and lo-and-behold, they are starting to show up, including changes to the North Atlantic Circulation, although major change here was previously thought unlikely this century. There is some possibility of changes in deepwater circulation destabilizing methane hydrates in the ocean, particularly in South East Asian deeps. Oh, and the Greenland ice sheet is now melting much faster than climatologists expected, and the West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse, though again, this was previously thought unlikely. Also paleoclimatological studies have made it clear that in the past the climate abruptly flipped between modes, sometimes with dramatic change in as little as three years. And we are making rapid changes in carbon dioxide, known to be critically important in regulating the temperature of this sensitive climatic system for a century now.

Ok, maybe there's some scientific doubt still on any individual piece of the picture, but the gestalt is starting to look extremely alarming - positive feedback loops are entering the picture and making everything go faster than expected. I don't know about you, but this is all starting to seem like a serious threat to my kids, never mind my grandkids. So how many more decades of cheap hydrocarbon fuel use should we sign up for here? How cheap is our cheap gas going to be really, in the end? How much of that Montana coal should end up in the atmosphere, exactly?

The governor doesn't really have a great answer on this one. He agrees that some of his Montana coal will end up going out vehicle tailpipes under his plan, and he agrees that climate change is a big issue. He feels we need to move to a hydrogen/renewables economy in the long term. But he notes that this is not a problem Montana can solve alone; it needs national leadership which is utterly absent at present, and in any case we are going to have to have some bridge fuel to get us there.

Kari Chisholm at Western Democrat asked what are the barriers to a CTL plant. The governor discussed the fact that although such plants are thought to be profitable as long as oil prices stay above $35-$42, they are very capital intensive and perceived as risky as long as few have been done in the US. (Apparently 12 are under way in China, and there is one little one operating in North Dakota). Thus the governor feels federal loan guarantees will help, and that is now secured courtesy of the recent federal energy bill.

Scott Shields of MyDD asked about the timeline. The governor's view is it will take a couple of years to permit a coal mine in Montana, and three to four years to build a CTL plant. So he thinks 5-6 years minimum before a first such plant could be operating.

One particularly interesting part of the conversation arose when Scott Shields asked what the governor thought would happen to Saudi Arabia if indeed the US achieved energy independence. Since the governor spent six or seven years living in Saudi Arabia in the eighties (installing irrigation systems - he trained as an agronomist and has worked in agriculture most of his life until he got into politics) his views seemed relevant. He outlined how hardline and conservative the Saudi Wahhabists are, and then said:

There will be a revolution in Saudia Arabia, it will be sooner rather than later, and when it happens, the people who take it over are going to make the people who run Iran look like a bunch of liberals.
I bet we'd be able to see that event good and strong even on a Hubbert linearization of Saudi oil production.

Other bloggers present:

A safeguard could be to introduce purchased carbon permits. That way CTL with in-process CO2 capture would have a similar permit cost to petroleum derived gasolene. This is because either way the major CO2 doesn't emerge until the car tailpipe. Without capture the cost would be higher since FT needs some in-process combustion to create hydrogen bonds.  On the other hand biomass-to-liquids (BTL) would have almost no net carbon permit cost and could be way cheaper (say 30% or 40%) at the  pump. The cost penalty would also force coal electricity  generators to change from dirty to clean forms of production. The serious bugs in the system are the need for international standards and the fact that energy costs will rise even further.
40% by weight of water still only gives 0.89 atoms of hydrogen for every atom of carbon. Gasoline requires about 2.25 atoms of hydrogen for each atom of carbon and diesel requires about 2.2. There is still a long way to go.
I get the same answer if we assume the coal was pure atomic weight 12 carbon, and the H20 was molecular weight 18. However, that's not a good assumption, right - lignite is low grade coal with a lot of hydrocarbon junk in. According to this reference, lignite is only 37.8% carbon, 18.8% "Volatile Matter", and 43.4% water. If we assume the volatile matter has basically the right hydrocarbon ratio already, then we have 1.53 hydrogens per carbon in the balance of carbon+water. Now he only needs 0.47 hydrogens per carbon from the "colocated sources" (which I assume to be the rivers and lakes of Montana).
When you consider some of the C is going to have to end up burnt to power the process, he may actually be not that far off balance. Interesting that coal which is so crappy from the traditional view of coal is actually more promising for CTL. Lignite sounds like it's basically compressed peat. Thus I guess that might explain why there's so much of it under the great plains (and Eastern Montana in particular). From the cactus in the picture, and this one here, the "colocated sources" look a little bit sketchy. But maybe this is not representative of Eastern Montana :-)
Lignite is peat that hasn't had enough time to turn into bituminous yet.  As I understand it, most power plant coal is lignite, because it's not particularly good for heating because of its high volatile content.

Using lignite may mean some types of gasifiers might not be usable.

Yes, the elemental analysis of dried lignite and subbituminous coal such as found in Montana here := http://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/b2144/carbon.htm
gives the percent by weight of dry material as :=
Lignite                       64-65% Carbon;  4.2-4.3% Hydrogen; 1.3-1.4% Nitrogen
Subbituminous coal   56-57% Carbon;  3.7-3.8% Hydrogen; 0.93-1.2% Nitrogen

This gives 0.76 to 0.81 hydrogen atoms per carbon atom of dried coal. If you add 40% water the hydrogen content rises to 2.1 to 2.4 atoms per carbon atom. This is indeed close to the theoretically required ratio.

The disadvantage is that the carbon content of the wet coal is 34 to 39%. If the yield figures for coal to liquid conversion usually quoted are for dry high carbon coal then the yields this per ton of mined material will be much lower.

The promise is for a clean process. Let us hope that things have improved a lot but I have memories of the gas works in the UK that provided domestic gas when I was a boy before the discovery of North Sea natural gas. They produced from coal a mixture of about 50% explosive hydrogen and 15% poisonous carbon monoxide piped to houses often with no safety cut-outs. A delay in lighting the gas lamps would produce a bang that would shatter the mantle and scatter uranium soaked silk ash in your face. The gas works always stank. The nitrogen would form ammonia and amines and combine with the sulphur dioxide to give a stench I still clearly remember. Promises will doubtless be made but I wonder if they will be kept.

Unlike using water gas or syngas directly, doing FT or methanation requires that you take the crap out or the catalysts don't work for long.  And at this point, there are no appliances or furnaces that would work on syngas alone.
Where would I find EROEI figures for the Fischer Tropsch process?
Coal-to-Liquids processes are capital-intensive.  See:

In fact, of the Hirsch Report alternatives, it is the most capital intensive of the options, at $66 billion for a 1 mbpd output.

This must take a lot of excess coal burning to drive the system since its mostly endothermic.

The hydrogen production nuclear reactors being discussed will need a 900 deg C process heat for the sulfur-iodine cycle to make hydrogen.  The R&D will focus on a reactor that can deliver that temperature.

Once you have that temperature, you can do carbon + water + heat = hydrocarbons + oxygen and get a product with higher energy density, non-cryogenic, non-volitile, and backfits into existing automotive/jet technology.

Hence, I see nuclear-assisted coal-to-liquids as more promising that a pure hydrogen economy although there will still be greenhouse gases generated at the end use point.


Apart from the technical part, how do you feel about Gov. Schweitzer?

Does he have a realistic view of the situation, does he have enough support in Congress / Dem party, things like that. Will he be able to drive this? Does he have enough money to pay for all this / does he know where to get it, or can he organize that?

And ofcoarse congrats to the TOD team, to get invited! Step forward! You guys are becoming respectable! Good for all of us!


In the hour call, and then background research afterwards, which is admittedly a limited sample, he struck me as a pretty effective guy, who is generally quite savvy. It wouldn't surprise me if he can make it happen as long as the private industry players perceive prices are going to stay high long enough. It may take longer than he thinks - his estimates strike me as lower bounds assuming nothing goes wrong.
So Bartlett vs Schweitzer in 2008?
I guess there is already a Schweitzer for President campaign.
Great post, Stuart!! Is there any significant resistance against his CTL crusade? In principle I'm opposed to carbon-based (and nuclear) substitutes to oil, for the excellent climatological reasons you mentioned, but also because perpetuating our high-energy, consumptive way of living will only serve to complicate & postpone the systme-wide changes we need in land use, agriculture, population distribution, etc. A combination of Energy Descent & renewable energy is the smarter way to go, with special emphasis on local/bioregional food security, but of cours that would be s suicidal position for for any politician to take...
I think Governor Schweitzer should at least be talking up climate change and expressing a commitment to multilateral action to cut carbon emissions. I'd feel a lot better about his push for CTL to make "bridge fuels" if I thought he was committed to real action to cut CO2 emissions, rather than emphasizing "maintaining our lifestyle" and brushing the tailpipe emissions under the carpet.
As much as we might like that, the public is just not quite there. CTL is better than SYHITSAP (Stick your head in the Sand and Pray).
Why do most people believe that we can replace oil with these so-called "alternative energy" sources and "maintain" the lifestyle we have become accustomed too??  

That's the question I would have posed to these politicians.

My guess is that the enlightened politicians (not an oxymoron, BTW) know that we won't be able to maintain the same lifestyle, but they also know that it would be political suicide to say it out loud.  So, they push what they think are the right policies and lie a little to keep the voters from branding them as conspiracy theorists.
Yes I'm sure you're right.

Personally, I'm hoping we can find a Churchill type figure who has the guts to tell the truth about what needs to be done even when it's not politically popular, and yet is none the less an energetic savvy pragmatic figure who recognizes that reality is messy and can do what it takes to get things done. For me to support a politician wholeheartedly, I want them to be talking reality about both climate change and peak oil rather than just opportunistically talking about the currently politically popular part of the problem. At some point -- the crisis is not ripe yet but it will come to this -- we are going to urgently need a leader who can give the speech that's the energetic equivalent of "I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, sweat, and tears", and "we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender" It is noteworthy that Churchill spent many years warning of the threat of Hitler and German rearmament when to do so condemned one to ridicule and powerlessness.

I am not sure Governor Schweitzer is made of that kind of stuff, though I hope I may be proven wrong. The Bush administration knows just enough about real leadership to want to fake it, but it does not actually have the good character that it so desperately wants to convince us of. Bush is a cowardly and heartless man at the core; he's just playacting at being a brave and decent human being. I deeply, passionately believe in the western democratic tradition, for all it's many faults and it's decrepit and corrupt condition today. Nations are not temporary affairs that can change in a decade or two, but rather deep cultural currents in the affairs of humanity who's spirit persists for centuries or even millenia. I do have faith that we can still produce great leaders when the times require them (and if it proves that we cannot, we will deserve everything that happens to us).

I am, in your wonderful phrase, a "militant empiricist". I want a leader firmly in touch with reality also. I do not see how our lifestyle can possibly be maintained through the 21st century, and I do not want a leader who is rushing to assure me that it can. In the final analysis, I do not think what is important about the western countries is our material lifestyle. What is truly important, the thing that distinguishes us from Al Qaeda, is our democratic tradition and our humanistic values, and I want a leader who is going to talk about how we maintain those as we face the "converging crises of the twenty first century".

Gov. Schweitzer is certainly right not to expect help from Washington in the short run.  Rather than wait for the perfect candidate, we need to start NOW.  It needs to start on a local level - and then you're into "retail" politics.

Here in Oregon, Gov. Kulongoski directed that California's vehicle emissions standards be adopted, over objections of a Republican-dominated state House of Representatives.  He did it by executive order rather than wait for legislation.

But, especially for a non-incumbent politician, selling any concept that requires sacrifice or even change by voters requires a degree of crisis we haven't reached yet.  I'm all too familiar with this problem, having once run as a sacrificial lamb in a state legislative race, on a "We need energy efficiency and renewables" platform.  The first in-your-face issue for any candidate is, do I say what I believe, or what I think they want to hear?  

The guiding observation that formed my thinking was an acquaintance who also believed whole-heartedly that we should consume less, and save the environment.  Thinking that all conscientious citizens should feel the same way, he set up shop a few years ago to sell solar and energy efficiency equipment for homes and small businesses -- and went broke.  I decided to talk about things that can fly in today's economic & political environment.  [we'll get plenty of opportunity to talk about rationing, crisis, sacrifice, etc. later.]

But there are things that can be done politically to move in the right direction.  Build awareness of PO and GW - start in the schools.  Let everybody know how many of their hard-earned dollars go out of the area - to pretty unsavory characters - to purchase energy.  To everyone, promote how many new jobs your efficiency, renewables, & alternative fuels projects create, and how such projects improve the regional "balance of payments" and energy security/independence.  Use the word "efficiency" in lieu of talking about "conservation".  [Why give an opponent an excuse to brand you as a tree hugger, you may need the logger (or ex-logger) vote.]

Structure your programs so no up-front investment is needed, through subsidies, incentives/tax credits, and low cost financing.  Concentrate on cash-flow-positive ideas that can be promoted as no-up-front, no out-of-pocket cost ways to save energy. This eliminates the most common excuse: "I don't have the money for this".  [Looking forward to the day when times get tougher, eliminating the "I don't have the money for this" excuse is also the first step to facilitate mandates such as more stringent building codes.]  Find a way to raise money for projects with tax-free government-guaranteed "energy security" bonds.  For efficiency projects in buildings, use savings cash flow to pay off public financing.

For the subset of people who are genuinely aware of Peak Oil, Global Warming, etc., you can promote more aggressive ideas selectively.  You won't give the Sierra Club the same speech as you give to the Rotary or Chamber of Commerce.

Work the special interests, such as the building trades.  Tell the IBEW about efficient lighting retrofits that need to happen.  Talk to sheet metal workers about heat pumps.  Talk to plumbers about solar hot water.  Talk to carpenters about buildings with advanced insulation concepts.

Tell the entrepreneurs that they need to be leaders and first adopters, so they can sell patented ideas, products, and franchises to the rest of the world.

But to really make this fly requires the right political environment.  Maybe Katrina and Rita weren't such a bad thing, in some ways. They are a preferable trigger for change to fighting wars over resources.

Stuart, Again awesome job. I wonder why Jerome A Paris from Kos wasn't there.

When I was in Washington DC this summer I saw a geology exhibit about the water content of different types of rocks. I had never even considered the idea of all that water trapped inside common rocks. But it must take a lot of energy to extract that water - can someone explain exactly how the mining process can turn a positive EROEI by using water contained in the coal to add hydrogen.

Is it just a matter of a large upfront investment to make the equipment to do this or are there large ongoing energy inputs to get access to the water?

Essentially, some of the coal feed is converted to CO2 to breakdown the water.  In an optimized plant, the hot product gases are used to preheat the coal and drive off the water and/or for boiler feedwater preheating.  Any unreacted fine coal particulates in the product are usually removed and used as boiler fuel.
So what would have been solid matter waste actually gets converted to usable energy to steam off the water? I guess that makes sense. I hope the CO2 can be sequestered at Schweitzer says. I wonder if ideas like that will be used to sell the program at first and then discarded if they cost much in time or money...
    I repeat the requests above about the EROEI for F-T and for CTL.  Until there is a better idea about EROEI for these processes, there cannot even be an intelligent discussion about how far to push them.
    In any case, to tag the obvious onto the comments about scaling down the amount of energy used, even CTL has a far lower energy yield than anything we now use, implying powerdown at some level.
It's probably very variable, but probably high enough to be useful. This reference suggests an EROEI on coal itself of 25 - probably lignite is only half that because it's btu value/ton is only half of good coal. This paper gives a 50% exergetic efficiency for Fischer-Tropsch conversion of biomass (and it sounds like lignite might be closer to biomass than anthracite). So that would give an overall EROEI in the ballpark of 6. Thus the issues will more be the climatic ones and the Hirsch gap (not being able to scale it up as fast as oil might deplete).
According to Sasol's publications, 60% thermal efficiency or EROEI for CTL.  I doubt CO2 sequestering will make economic sense -- unless you happen to be in need of it for enhanced oil recovery.  Don't forget that you need to compress the CO2 and compressors are extremely energy intensive.  
Guys, eyes on the ball here.
Water is cheap. Shutting down a farm and using the water is cheap. Steel is expensive. Also, we import steel in both simple forms and products like cars. We export water to the Gulf of Mexico, etc.
I think its great TOD is invited to these things - PO is getting real attention.
I didn't know the energy bill has loan guarantees for ctl. Since the cost pencils out at $40 vs. $60 oil, the market will quickly bring the plants into existance. Naturally environmentalists will complain, but with the governor pushing, will likely be quickly overcome in such a conservative state.

CTL is the first half of this century's solution. Additional coal demand for ctl will further push coal prices, already up 2x over eighteen months but still much less than oil on a heat basis (otherwise ctl would not pencil out). These higher prices will provide the push for the second part of the solution.

Coal reserves for liquid fuels, nukes for electricity, fast nukes to generate new nuclear fuel. Of course, while fossil fuel prices might be high enough now, politics are not yet ready for nukes - for this, we must wait for rolling blackouts as ng becomes unavailable/unaffordable. This will quickly change public opinion, probably soonest in CA and FL, where enormous dependency on ng has developed recently and where, by coincidence, there are already nukes.  For example, San Onofre, ten miles from where I live, has two nukes on Camp Pendleton, a military reservation; there is ample room for a dozen more.

Just 400 nukes would be sufficient to replace our existing coal generators, and 100 more would then be sufficient to replace our existing but aging nukes. I suspect the US could easily meet Kyoto with such a plan.  As an aside, China seems about to make a deal with Australia for nuclear fuel supply, so they are already moving forward - and, considering GW, not before time.

Another thread talks about the instability of politics. I think resistance to refineries, ctl plants, and nukes will change overnight when prices reach a tipping point.

The market isn't going to do squat.  What is required is someone with $3-4 billion dollars to invest who is OK with not seeing any income for 8 years and a 5 year payback after that.  Like it or not, that sounds like a government to me.
You could be right. The government has already decided to provide loan guarantees for ctl. Rolling blackouts are clearly coming, and when they do the public will demand the government do something, and do it now. Loan guarantees, promises to accept spent nuclear fuel and/or reprocess it, streamlined permit approvals, and siting on military installations are just some of the government help that will be forthcoming when people find nothing happens when they turn the switch.

Of course, little will happen now because the public does not yet think nuclear power is needed. Politicians rarely lead where the public is not ready to go because of their interest in remaining politicians. Nevertheless, they can turn on a dime to follow changes in public opinion, as happened after Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

As to new nukes, expect a number of announcements between now and this spring.  The total number will be well beyond the Energy Bill load guarentees.  Probably the best time politically is after the public has had a couple of huge heating bills.

They'll be BEGGING for it.

As to reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, check my article here:


It sure looks a LOT cheaper than burial in Yucca Mountain and could fuel our current fleet for a decade.

Enjoyed the article. I suppose if the actinides could be recycled with fuel into standard reactors you would have proposed that. The biggest problem is that the anti-nukes don't want a waste solution - they like the 100+ spent nuclear waste sites around the country (located at each reactor) to remain as is, fueling the public's nuclear fears and thereby blocking new plants.

Reid might think Nevada votors will be more likely to continue electing him as long as he fights YM, as opposed to allowing any waste into the state (it has always seemed odd to met that at the same time Nevada was fighting a repositary, they were lobbying for more underground testing. Exploding bombs were apparently better than stored waste in engineered containers high above the water table.)

Re: "positive feedback loops are entering the picture..."

Yes, this is a big problem. We are making large changes in the Earth's carbon cycle on short timescales. Terrestrial carbon sinks (eg. the Amazon, Western Siberia) are becoming sources. Less summer ice in the Arctic annually decreases winter ice formation. Decreased albedo there causes more warming which promotes more melting, etc.

We are a long way from having any viable CO2 sequestering program in place but that's only part of the problem as you point out. Generally speaking, very largescale CTL programs to achieve energy independence are a climate change nightmare.
As far as I know the South African Company Sasol is the only company worldwide doing coal to liquids on a commercial basis.  They are generating 160,000 BPD of synthetic crude from coal in South Africa (according to their website www.sasol.com )  They are STUDYING the feasibility of 2 X 80,000 BPD projects in China.  Nobody is doing anything in CTL on this scale elsewhere in the world (that I know of)

This company makes a lot of money (I know, I own their stock), but they benefited from governmnent subsidization for a long time - Moreover, they continue to benefit from government subsidies that allow the CTL syncrude to compete on with imports in South Africa.  

Think about how long it took for the Canadian Tar sand business to get to 1 million barrels per day, then translate this into trying to ramp up CTL (assuming we ignore the environmental problems) to many millions of BPD in the US and you quickly see the problem.

Coal to liquids, yes.  Coal to gas has been done quite a bit.  Coal gasification is the basis for GE's clean coal tech; they use entrained bed gasifiers and water-shift reactors to produce H2 for turbine generators.  And there are being built FT plants to produce diesel from natural gas.

As far as ramping up, it takes 4-5 years to build one of these things.  And you need around 25 to get 1 mbpd. At a wild-assed guess, there is probably the engineering and construction capability worldwide to work on maybe a dozen simultaneously.  These type of plants will help ameliorate oil depletion, but in no way could they replace oil.  As a matter of fact, if China's already ordered ten of these things the U.S. is going to be fairly far down the list for equipment availability.

Methanol plants don't need scaling up and development and research. We already build huge methanol plants. We would just have to build more, along with the coal to gas plants we also know how to make.
We lack the steel, not any other resource, to replace our total oil consumption in about twelve months. Even though we would have to drastically increase our production of coal, we could do that in parallel with building the methanol plants, and the railroads, and the new plants for bulldozers for coal mines. Draglines are cheaper but take a while to build.
But steel production would require that we build both blast furnaces and rolling mills and extrusion mills and these are not off the shelf items. When I say three years for oil independence, it's steel that is the bottleneck. Even the skilled labor to do build this stuff can be produced faster than the massive pieces of steel for steel mills.
More than just steel.  For gasifiers you need large compressors and drivers, large valves, large motors, control systems, etc.  All these things have multi-year delivery times with present demand.  A lot of this stuff is no longer made in the U.S., even a lot of the steel fabrication has gone overseas.  A crash program in anything would spend the first ten years just building the necessary factories.

For CTL, GTL, methanol, sour crude refineries, etc, etc, you will indeed need all that heavy equipment and big reaction vessels.

But you'll have to bid against us for it.  Our nuclear power plants get big pumps from Scotland, Germany, and Japan, valves from the US, valve operators from the US and UK, control panels from Spain and Canada.  There are only four countries to get reactor vessels made - two shops in Japan, Korea, France and Spain.  Just the new domestic nukes we're working on will clog up our suppliers and push delivery times.

A similar situation exists for fabrication of new oil&gas drilling rigs, both on and offshore, according to Simmons.

What this tells me is that we'll see a big expansion of heavy industry in the US and elsewhere to meet this revived demand.  Steel production is certainly part of it.  We'll need big forges - that's our critical need.

And lots and lots of pipe.

Mining companies can't get large tires. The eight foot high ones, and bigger. It would be faster to build the factories to make them yourself. No shit.
But the big pieces of steel for steel mills have to be cast and forged and machined by big machines, that have to be first cast and forged and machined. That takes time while the factories reproduced themselves.
America built 137 aircraft carriers between 1942 and 1945, Japan built 13. The ratio would be the other way now.
I dunno. Our capacity to build aircraft carriers was not very large in 1940, but according to your post, we started turning out nearly 4/month by 1942. The main thing is we still have the ore, so speed is a matter of national priority. If oil causes a recession, there will be plenty of labor, even if untrained. Note that a lot of factory workers during the war were women, who did not have much experience making steel or aircraft carriers.
A little off topic, but did anyone catch the Greenspan speech on Oil and energy issues? It is a long speech, but in classic Greenspan Fedspeak fashion, he really doesn't say much.
I did, pretty good read. It seems he was saying that high prices are here to stay but don't worry cause it won't effect us as much and the market will fix everything.

In other news, does anyone know who or why someone dropped 24 million shares of Exxon today at about 1PM? Seems a little strange?
It's disappointing that only Stuart and I have referred to climate change on this thread. Stuart made sure he included a large body of text with multiple links on the subject. He explicitly made the connection between CTL, CO2 emmissions and climate change. And yet, no one speaks about it.

So, what's the problem? In the best case, solving the peak oil problem also entails mitigating the climate change problem. I have some ideas about this lack of attention, including
  • TOD contributors have not studied the climate change problem and it's connection to greenhouse gas emissions
  • Climate change is considered "off-topic" or uninteresting (the over-specialization problem)
  • Climate change is just too overwhelming to talk about (like an elephant in the room)
  • Climate change is not regarded as a serious problem or is too far off in the future to be of real consequence now (some kind of denial)
Perhaps some TOD folks could tell me why they don't seem to consider or post on this issue as we talk about solutions to our future energy needs.
Well, comments suggesting nukes to replace coal should be credited with substantial CO2 credits, and I think this would be true even if all the coal was then used for ctl, assuming the CO2 produced in the process is sequestered, which seems relatively easy (as opposed to sequestering the CO2 coming out of a coal-fueled electric generating plant.)
Somebody else worried there is not sufficient manufacturing capacity to fabricate needed ctl components. We had little warplane and tank mfg capacity when Pearl Harbor was attacked, were producing truly copious numbers within two years. Of course, passenger car production went to near zero - maybe ford and gm could make ctl components, considering people don't want their cars. Even if US mfgrs can't/won't tool up, Asia would respond quickly to demand, whether we are talking about ctl or nuclear components.
Dave, you already seem to know the answer to why discussion of global warming and climate change is an unwelcome diversion to the techno fix speculations that seem to flow so freely on this site re. peak oil. The implications of the positive feed back loops already in motion for a run away scenario is too much for the optimistic outlook required here at TOD. The subject more suits the mood at Jay Hanson's dieoff.com. Sorry, but most people just need to cling to a happier prognosis, rather than face the possibility that homo sapiens may be an evolutionary mistake.
Only speaking for myself, but:

  1. We're screwed with climate change big time no matter what we do now.  We should have started decades ago to reduce CO2.

  2. There is no chance in hell of reducing hydrocarbon fuel usage from where we are right now.  We could be scrubbing CO2 from power plants and sequestering it for some additional money, but it's obviously just not going to happen with the government and businesses we've got.  On the other hand, I think peak oil is right now and peak gas follows shortly, so declining hydrocarbon fuel usage in the future is going to happen.  The U.S. is going to decline much more rapidly than the world average, since we use so much more per capita.  Our CO2 emissions are going to go down pretty soon no matter what.

  3. 2) means to me that we are going to have to use coal gasification, wind power, conservation, hybrid cars, EOR, nukes, more railroads, just about everything to avoid Kunstler-land.  These things take a long time to build and are expensive, and we pissed away our lead-time. Suggestions like upthread of building 400 nuke plants (a trillion dollars of investment) in twenty years are unfortunately just fantasies. The possibility of maintaining our standard of living went bye-bye a long time ago.

  4. The governor is pushing wind power, coal gasification, and CTL.  He wants to start something and that's what he's got to work with.  it's so late that actually doing something counts for a lot.  Even if sequestration only buys us a century or two that's probably cool, since most of the oil will be gone by then IMO.
I think there's a danger in reasoning like "We're screwed with climate change big time no matter what we do now". I think it's very likely true that we've in set in motion something that there's no way to stop. But chances are excellent that there are choices that will make it much worse versus less bad. The climate probably has a number of different stable modes it could settle in, and we'll pick one based on how much climate relevant stuff we eventually do. The further away that mode is from the climate we know and love, and the faster we flip to it, the more likely we are to be miserable.
Probably I wasn't clear enough.  I think that from here on out we don't get to make any choices.  There are nothing left but forced moves to avoid a Kunstler-type outcome.  CO2 emissions are going to go down because the avaiable hydrocarbon fuel is going to go down.  We cannot build CTL, nuclear plants, wind power, etc fast enough to keep up once cheap oil and gas starts really declining.  The factories for the components don't exist, the construction expertise doesn't exist, and the money for the investment doesn't exist (in the U.S. at least).  If someone decided to convert 10% of U.S. power generation to wind over the next ten years to reduce CO2 you couldn't do it.

If you think that we have more like 15-20 years until the decline curve gets steep then more choices may be possible.  I just doubt it.

I agree with most of your points, especially on the long timeline to change over systems.

However, on C02: emissions from oil will go down soon, emissions from natural gas will go down a bit later. When those decline, we're left with a lot of coal, which is far worse from a C02 standpoint. I'd guess that C02 and other emissions from burning coal will increase substantially for a number of years. We probably have many years left of increasing greenhouse gases, even while oil and NG decline.

There is an additional source of momentum to whatever degree we have begun to (and will continue to) affect climate through CO2 emissions. In terms of effect on radiative balance (and thus on greenhouse forcing) the effect of CO2 is logarithmic in concentration. The reason for this is that the aborbtion lines presented by CO2 are pretty much saturated. Less concentrated infrared (greenhouse) absorbers can still present linear dependency.

Shorter term, this argues for a degree of fatalism. Turning back forcing terms through reduced CO2 emissions becomes exponentially difficult. Longer term, it might add that much more weight to precautionary approaches. If we are going to choose boldly and/or act quickly and well, an emphasis sooner than later on nuclear and renewables and efficiency seems called for.

Sadly, I also feel that environmental concerns will wilt in the face of any serious energy shortage.  We, as a nation, will indeed be begging for nukes, coal, anything that keeps the TV on.
TVs are cheap to run. SUVs, Air con, hair dryers, are what I'm worried about. Especially the hair dryers.

Small TVs perhaps.  A big screen can take something like 250 watts.

Perhaps in the winter you won't care quite as much - it just heats up the home a little so the furnace doesn't have to work quite as hard.  In the summer it is the opposite though - the AC fights against the thing and has to work harder.

I cannot speak for the others, but I view it as essential that we deal with this as well.  Those on the right will make insulting comments about enviro-freaks or whatnot, but peak oil will ultimately force us to confront this issue.  In the long term, all fossil fuels will be gone, of course.  The solutions that we adopt will determine how quickly we get the problem under control, and whether we can do so without burning every last drop of oil.
Off the top of your heads, does anyone know of a single historical example where a sudden climactic or environmental shift was seen to be in the making and an entire society responded by changing their liefstyles before it was too late to avert serious consequences?  How about just enough of the society to make a meaningful difference?

As we look down each barrel of the shotgun presently aimed at our collective noggins (hydrocarbon-based energy depletion and human induced climate change), I see people advocating pulling trigger #1  -- more of the same on the hydrocarbon consumption side which, of course, leads to them also pulling trigger #2 -- little serious concern about drastically curtailing burning hydrocarbons as a fuel soure and thereby radically slowing the rate that we pump carbon into the atmosphere (see the former).

If I am reading these tea leaves correctly, the present moment is shaping up to be yet another example of how we could not stop a runaway train...though we fully understand why it is about to jump the tracks!

Diamond's book has some (seventeenth Century Japan comes to mind - was about to run out of wood, instituted serious rationing program, survived and prospered).