Synthetic fuels can replace petroleum

Synthetic fuels can replace petroleum

The energy crisis is not a new term. However, the new energy test that has been constantly frustrating has made the academic community realize that whether it is solar energy or biomass energy, it is not the principle but it is inefficient (or has obvious side effects) that cannot truly replace crude oil.

Recently, a research team at Princeton University discovered that the use of synthetic fuels made from coal, natural gas and non-food crops could help the United States eliminate its dependence on crude oil.

The study believes that synthetic fuels not only have economic benefits but also have environmental benefits. If the United States can produce liquid fuels from non-food crops, carbon dioxide will be absorbed during plant growth, which will result in a reduction of up to 50% in cars. GHG emissions.

Synthetic fuel does not need to change the car engine

Synthetic fuels are chemical energy. They are new fuels that are synthesized by chemical changes in several energy sources. Synfuels can be used directly without any modification of gasoline and diesel generators, which is different from many biofuels. For example, ethanol. Ethanol needs to be mixed with regular gasoline or requires a special engine to operate.

Prior to Princeton’s proposal for synthetic fuels, bioethanol has been put into commercial use, and this biofuel, which uses crops (sugar cane, corn) as raw material, has indirectly pushed up food prices — OECD estimates that by 2017, the European Union, the United States, and Canada 14% of the arable land will be used to plant biofuel-producing plants, which will squeeze more planted area of ​​food crops.

Christodoulos Floudas, a professor of chemistry and bioengineering at Princeton University, led a team of researchers who reviewed the state of fuel in the United States in a series of academic papers published last year. They believe that American cars can abandon oil. Switch to synthetic fuels.

Its core content is the use of high-carbon feedstocks such as coal and switchgrass (a common grass species in North America) and the use of high-temperature and chemical means to produce gasoline and other liquid fuels.

This technique, called "Fischer-Tropsch", was developed in Germany in the 1920s to convert coal into liquid fuel. The entire chemical reaction process is very complicated: the raw material is heated to 1000-3000°C and gasified to carbon and hydrogen. Through the Fischer-Tropsch process, gases are converted into hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbon chains are catalyzed by nickel or iron and eventually produce a variety of products including fuels, waxes, and lubricating oils. The above products are usually produced from crude oil.

Previously, researchers at Purdue University in the United States have developed a device that can accurately determine how coal and biomass are decomposed in the reactor. This is called a gasifier project - it involves a lot of agricultural waste and other Biomass or coal turns into gas and then converts it into liquid fuel. By adding hydrogen to the reactor, production of finished products can be increased and carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced, creating a sustainable synthetic fuel. This is the technology pioneered by Agrawal, a professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University.

On the technical level, Princeton’s research team has increased the recycling of CO2, thus reducing the amount of waste gas emitted by the plant. One of the researchers, Richard Baliban, said that over the years, engineers have done a lot of improvements to increase the efficiency of the Fischer-Tropsch process. However, the cost of building a plant based on a synthetic fuel plant is high and the price of synthetic fuel is high, which limits the large-scale deployment and application. But with the rise in oil prices, synthetic fuels are becoming more and more maneuverable.

The Princeton Research Group stated in an article published in the July issue of the American Society of Chemical Engineers that the establishment of 130 synthetic fuel plants could meet the nation's demand for automotive fuel. The paper's lead author, Josephine Elia, assessed the three raw materials: coal, natural gas and biomass.

Cost approximates crude oil 95 USD/barrel

In order to avoid giving up food production on farmland and abandoning food production (which would damage the food supply), researchers only included perennial forage, agricultural waste and forestry discards within the scope of the study. In its planning plan, the factory layout is close to the raw material supply and fuel market. The program also takes into account external cost factors such as water supply and the electrical energy required to operate the plant's equipment. Through analysis, the research team recommended the construction of 9 small, 74 medium-sized and 47 large-scale factories that produce 1%, 28% and 71% of synthetic fuels respectively. Most of the factories will gather in the central and southeast regions of the United States.

The researchers also found that the largest share of the cost of synthetic fuels came from plant construction costs, followed by non-food crop purchase costs and electricity. They estimated that the national average production cost of synthetic fuel is equivalent to the price of crude oil at 95.11 US dollars a barrel. Of course, the cost varies across regions. The production cost of the synthetic fuel industry Kansas is roughly equivalent to the price of crude oil at $83.58 per barrel.

Floudas said that if raw materials do not use biomass, only coal and natural gas, the cost will be significantly reduced, but doing so will have an adverse effect on the environment. "If you want to reduce carbon emissions by 50%, then you have to use non-food crops in part."

Synthetic fuels are cleaner than petroleum fuels in many ways. In a synthetic fuel plant, heavy metals and sulfur pollutants in petroleum fuels can be extracted before the product leaves the factory. Floudas said synthetic fuels will also reduce the carbon emissions of on-road motor vehicles. If synthetic fuels are used, although they cannot be completely eliminated, there is still an opportunity to reduce the carbon emissions of these vehicles.

Floers's research team also found that because of the economic differences in the production of raw materials, synthetic fuels are competitive when compared with gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel, but this competitiveness also depends on the price of crude oil. According to the data provided by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2/3 of the US’s consumed crude oil is used in transportation. The EIA said that 45% of the US’s annual crude oil consumption depends on imports.

“Our goal is to produce sufficient fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by about 50%. The question is not only whether synthetic fuels can be produced, but also whether it is cost-effective to produce synthetic fuels. In any case, our answer is positive. ."

Floridas said that the above problems are neither easy nor too quick to solve. A realistic approach is to gradually promote the use of synthetic fuel technology. According to his calculations, it will take 30-40 years for the United States to fully accept synthetic fuels, and it is not necessarily a cheap fuel. However, at least synthetic fuel does not have to grab farmland with grain—carbon-rich raw materials such as switchgrass, and the wild fire is not exhausted. Wen _ Yan Yimei

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