02
May
07

3 bucks for gas!? Where’s the hurricane?

Now that gas prices have ‘normalized’ (and oil companies are making extreme profits) to inflation-adjusted prices, everyone’s in shock. I’m in shock. $3.09 for a gallon of gas up here!

The good news, if there is good news about this, is that such grumbling by the people gets some others to really investigate alternative fuels. And one big fuel source that’s gone untapped is… coal!

Yes, coal. Shovel it into your steam-driven SUV and drive off.

Or, maybe, use the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert coal into gasoline.

Back in WWII, those industrious Germans had so much coal they had to keep it in hefty bags (thank you Ice-T). Not to mention the flow of oil from external sources was being choked off by the Allies. Fischer and Tropsch devised a method to transform the coal into synthetic fuel. It was brilliant.But, the war ended, and everyone headed back to oil. Why? It’s cheap. It’s really cheap. Considering the energy produced by one gallon of gasoline, there was no reason to use the Fischer-Tropsch process as it was labor-intensive and costly.

Well, guess what. Now that oil is floating around $60 a barrel (thanks Jon), enterprising individuals are attempting to use our naturally-abundant coal resources to make synthetic gasoline.

The biggest stumbling block is the Goracle. Fischer-Tropsch takes dirty, dirty coal and makes carbon dioxide when you burn it, as oil or coal. So the AGW folks are going to be all up in our grill about burning fossil fuels, even thought this would have a dramatic impact on the amount of fuel we use from other countries. Although these same enterprising individuals are thinking about how to capture CO2 emission from power plants and recycling it.

So don’t write off coal as a fuel. Just because it’s a rock doesn’t mean we can’t get oil from it.


11 Responses to “3 bucks for gas!? Where’s the hurricane?”


  1. 1 _Jon
    May 2, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    correction: $60 a barrel.

  2. 2 Cervus
    May 2, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    We’ve had a series of refinery SNAFUs and a demand increase of 2.5-3% year-on-year. Refiners typically plan for a 1.4% increase.

    It’s $3.45 a gallon here.

  3. 3 Doc
    May 2, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I can’t wait to drive to Wyoming this year.

    I fixed the 60$ a gallon/barrel item and also the .gif. I changed it to bitmap and it’s much clearer now.

  4. 4 Brian
    May 2, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Sure makes more sense that turning food (corn) into oil.

  5. 5 Anonymous
    May 2, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    The second half of the equation doesn’t make sense. Carbon (C) is being transmuted into hydrogen (H).

    See Fischer-Tropsch process
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer-Tropsch

  6. 6 joated
    May 2, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    Don’t be so sure that it’s the refiners of today’s oil that are making a killing on the price. Check the taxes you pay at the pump. They’re probably half of the cost of that gallon of gas, if not more.

    You’ll hear lots of whining and see plenty of wringing of hands from capitol hill but none of the politicos will suggest making gas cheaper by lowering the governments’ take.

  7. 7 Darren Duvall
    May 2, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    State, federal and local taxes are less than 60 cents a gallon, even in the highest-tax areas.

    Part of the reason gasoline is more expensive is that you’re now competing with a Chinese middle class the size of our whole country who also want petroleum products and are willing to pay for them. If you think that’s bad, wait until India is fully on-line for petroleum demand, with the dollars/euros/rupee to pay for it.

    The other issue is refinery supply, there have been some local shutdowns in refineries due to fires and accidents, so supply is low at the moment.

    You can ration based on volume, or ration based on price, but when there are too many buyers chasing a finite supply of a good, you’re going to see price increases or shortages, one of the two.

    Anyone think it would be easier for everyone involved if there was just the one blend of gasoline for a given octane level across the country? I don’t care which one they pick, but gasoline is not the same everywhere due to a patchwork of local requirements. It would seem to be more efficient to make a ‘USA Unleaded 87’ blend that works everywhere.

    I will of course defer to anyone who actually works at a refinery.

  8. 8 Doc
    May 2, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks to anonymous– I fixed the second equation. It should be correct now.

    And the increase in demand for gasoline is one factor driving the price. The other is supply fears which has an affect on future prices which eventually make their way to the present.

    As far as Unleaded 87, that would be fine except for changes in vapor pressure at different altitudes. In Wyoming at 7200 feet, our unleaded was 85, and that’s because there’s less oxygen, so the rating had to be different to account for the lack of oxygen. Other than that, it’s pretty much uniform below 1000 feet to have 87 octane.

    The biggest variations you have is gasoline cuts with ethanol to reduce emissions. It may be a cleaner burning blend, but the energy difference is substantial. You’d look to lose about 10% of your range on a tank of gas with an ethanol cut.

  9. 9 Anonymous
    May 4, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Darren Duvall
    Not really. As altitude increases, need for octane level decreases. It isn’t economically efficient to provide the more expensive product to higher altitudes, e.g. at 5000′ in CO, gas is 86 octane. In ski towns (8000′), it is less than 86.
    That said, you are right in general that as each local municipality imposes it’s own unique laws, the cost increases greatly for refiners to run a special batch for that area. As refinery capacities tighten, I would imagine that the refiners would have less time to deal with the smaller batches, so those areas are the ones that won’t be getting shipments of gas on time.🙂

    Darren Duvall said
    “It would seem to be more efficient to make a ‘USA Unleaded 87’ blend that works everywhere.”

  10. 10 Anonymous
    May 5, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    You are correct – Germans produced aviation grade gasoline from coal during WWII. Following WWII, the U.S. found the plans for these processes and built an FT plant in Missouri. (Actually they built several different types of plants.) Enough fuel was produced to fly a plane to the plant from St. Louis. Also enough to operate a train. Almost all of the data from the operation has been lost including invaluable maintainence data. Only some of the BOM monthly reports remain.

    During the mid to late 60’s and 70’s a number of pilot plants were built in the U.S. to test variations on the German processes, as well as some new approaches, all funded with Federal and state funds. Some of these operations were highly successful, if not economic at the time. When Regan came into office, All work was stopped, just as demonstration processes were being designed from the pilot data. The United States lost the experts trained in the operation and design of these facilities.

    The last of these pilot facilities was a successful underground coal gasification operation located in Wyoming. The environmental cleanup for this operation was completed in 2005 and was completly approved by the State of Wyoming.

    Several coal gasification processes have gone commercial and are doing well. Also to be noted are the three Sasol plants located in South Africa.

  11. March 23, 2008 at 12:29 am

    We have a political oil problem, not a supply problem.

    We are not using “fossil fuels” – there is yet a vast supply of abiotic oil, right here within the USA, so WHY do we import a product we have so much of? We do not need to import so much as a single drop of oil sourced from outside our national borders.

    The false Idea that we have reached the “other side” of (“peek-a-boo”) peak oil is total nonsense. It is what it always was, a marketing argument for ridiculously high prices. And a Big LIE!

    We need a US Congress willing to SERVE We the people, once again.
    We need legislation to break the strangle hold oil companies have on refineries.
    They need to be one or the other, not both.
    Those who produce oil need to be barred from owning and running refineries.

    Those oil companies that continue the preposterous importation of oil need an incentive to STOP: 90 days to BEGIN pumping American Oil from American soil or they are forever barred from EVER pumping oil from American ground sources.
    The US Congress can set up a brand new oil company, one that will and does, with profit sharing checks going directly to those Americans on disability, or on Social Security.

    We need protection from predatory pricing tactics: A FIXED floor price on every barrel of oil. Oil is profitable as low as $30.00 a barrel. We can set that as the lowest possible base price, and let the REAL market take it from there.

    We need to clearly identify the source of oil. We do this with every other product; we can and must do this with American sourced oil as opposed to foreign sources.

    We need a $30.00 tax levied on all imported oil. No imported oil gets sold or used here for less then $60.00 per barrel. A $10.00 per barrel tax can immediately be used to provide continued funding of Social Security and Medicare for the disabled and retirees.

    We can and need to SOLVE our problems, not accommodate or continue them.

    Nuclear Warfare out of the Middle East is hardly a sound environmental policy result.
    Environmental groups need to be judged by the results they seek to impose. We need to know more and more about why does what they say seem to assure ridiculously high prices and profits for the oil companies.

    WHOSE side are they ON?!


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My name is Doc. Welcome to my blog. If you're visiting from another blog, add me to your blogroll (and I'll happily reciprocate). I have a Ph.D. in Chemistry and live in Wisconsin. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. My email is docattheautopsy at gmail. (No linking to deflate the incredible spam monsters).

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