Efficiently Producing Fuels from Waste CO2 and Off-peak Wind or Other Renewable Energy

Updated 8/10/2012

Q-1. What is the net system efficiency from renewable energy to liquid WindFuels?
The mid- term system efficiency should be about 55% (HHV), and higher efficiency will eventually be possible.

Q-2. How expensive must oil be for WindFuels or CARMA to compete?
In some cases only $50/bbl. Read more.

Q-3. How does WindFuels solve the grid stability and energy storage challenges?
The grid stability challenge arises from changes in grid supply not being able to follow the changes in grid demand quickly enough. Wind power is often greater in the middle of the night when demand is minimal. “Clean coal” and nuclear power plants take many hours to turn down, and with most of the good sites for pumped hydropower already developed, there is no cost effective method of storing energy. (See our 2010 ASME paper on Energy Storage.)

WindFuels will only draw power during off-peak hours when there is excess renewable energy available at very low cost. Off-peak power rates are often under 15% of peak rates to encourage more use of it. WindFuels can respond within milliseconds to changes in supply and demand. It will completely solve the grid stability problem by temporarily storing the excess peak grid energy in hydrogen and then converting the hydrogen into liquid fuels (which are easily stored and distributed) at a fairly steadier rate. See our Economics page and our discussion on Stabilizing the Renewable Grid for more information.

Q-4. How are WindFuels nearly 100% carbon neutral?
Absolutely no new fossil carbon is removed from the Earth. All the carbon comes from the effluent CO2 from fossil-fueled power plants. All energy input is from the cheapest renewable resource – off-peak wind.

Q-5. What is CARMA, and what does it offer?
CARMA stands for CO2 Advanced Reforming of Methane Adiabatically. CARMA offers a cheaper way to make standard fuels of all types (jet fuel, gasoline, diesel…) as long as natural gas is cheap.

The only valid objection that has been raised to WindFuels is that electrolyzers are still rather expensive, and this would discourage investors. (Valid is the operative word above. We address other questions further down this page and elsewhere.) Even with current prices for electrolyzers and likely off-peak wind energy prices, the Windfuels process can still produce carbon-neutral fuels for under $2.50/gal, but there is a more competitive option as long as shale gas is cheap. Investors just want to make money as quickly as possible without counting on any incentives from the government for helping to slow global warming, so the CARMA process is more attractive for the next decade.

The CARMA process combines some renewable hydrogen (from off-peak wind electrolysis) with methane, CO2, and water in a synergistic way that provides dramatic benefits (reduced O&M costs and higher efficiency) in what is otherwise a rather conventional Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) process. Conventional GTL releases enormous amounts of CO2. That CO2 release is reduced or even eliminated in the CARMA process, depending mostly on the ratio of hydrogen to methane.

The greater the H2/CH4 ratio, the “greener” the fuels produced, but a greater benefit comes from the flexibility the process affords in input choice. The price of off-peak grid energy sees large fluctuations, and so does the price of natural gas. The CARMA process allows the plant to operate at maximum efficiency over an extremely wide range of input mixes as the markets change.

Over 90% of the input energy could initially come from shale gas, while eventually the input energy could come totally from renewable hydrogen. The CARMA process will be attractive to investors today, and it will begin to drive the electrolyzer industry in the way needed to bring prices down from economies of scale so Windfuels become even more competitive. Many more details are covered in our 2012-ACS paperand the Economics page.

Q-6. Well, the coal’s CO2 is eventually released into the atmosphere, so how can WindFuels have a climate benefit?
That CO2 is being created and exhausted anyway. Almost no fossil power plants have CO2 sequestration, so their CO2 emissions are a reality. Using that CO2 to create fuels means the CO2 eventually gets exhausted, but those fuels would offset the production of deep-water drilling, tar sands, oil shale, and coal-to-liquids fuels; all of which are far more carbon intensive and environmentally destructive than “conventional” oil fuels.

Q-7. Why is 50-60% efficiency something to get excited about?
First of all, WindFuels will beat any other renewable fuel in the market place by a wide margin within 7 years. Secondly, it’s twice as good as any expert thought likely before we showed what was possible.

Q-8. How do you respond to old-timer “experts” who say “Major breakthroughs in energy are impossible” ?
Scientific progress and creativity are hard to predict, but both happen. Who would have predicted commercial jet travel in the 1940’s, or lasers in the 1950’s, or cell phones in the 1970’s, or Blackberries in the 1980’s, or PV installed at under $4/W in the 1990’s?

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” The near-term need for WindFuels wasn’t completely clear until about 2008.

A number of industries have demonstrated the kind of scale-up needed here. They have had the same basic common denominators: high profitability, no resource limitations on raw materials, and sufficient demand or rapidly escalating demand to accommodate growth.

WindFuels will not require large numbers of highly skilled workers outside of factory settings – as in nuclear energy. WindFuels will not require large areas of land and a quintupling of the number of farmers – as in biofuels. WindFuels will not require complex solid-phase separations – as in algae oil and cellulosic ethanol. (One of the first rules in scalable chemical engineering is to avoid solid-phase handling, separations, and processing.)

The RFTS plant is mostly based on the kinds of chemical engineering processes that scaled up at lightning speed between the late-1930’s and the early-1960’s – and transformed modern society.

About 70% of the subsystems and components needed (or very closely related components) are currently in production at the multi-billion-dollar level by multiple, international companies. And there are fairly close relatives of most of the rest of the components currently in production at the multi-billion-dollar level.

Scale-up will require large investments, but they will come because there will soon be no question about the profitability of the WindFuels plants. Scale-up will also take time, mostly because big investments are seldom made quickly. However, scale up of the processes used in Windfuels will be much easier than those in algal oil, cellulosic ethanol, batteries, CSP, hydrogen, PV, geothermal, superconducting transmission, .... Read more.

Q-8. How do you respond to old-timer “experts” who say “Major breakthroughs in energy are impossible” ?
Scientific progress and creativity are hard to predict, but both happen. Who would have predicted commercial jet travel in the 1940’s, or lasers in the 1950’s, or cell phones in the 1970’s, or Blackberries in the 1980’s, or PV installed at under $4/W in the 1990’s?

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” The near-term need for WindFuels wasn’t completely clear until about three years ago.
A number of industries have demonstrated the kind of scale-up needed here. They have had the same basic common denominators: high profitability, no resource limitations on raw materials, and sufficient demand or rapidly escalating demand to accommodate growth.

WindFuels will not require large numbers of highly skilled workers outside of factory settings – as in nuclear energy. WindFuels will not require large areas of land and a quintupling of the number of farmers – as in biofuels. WindFuels will not require complex solid-phase separations – as in algae oil and cellulosic ethanol. (One of the first rules in scalable chemical engineering is to avoid solid-phase handling, separations, and processing.)

The RFTS plant is mostly based on the kinds of chemical engineering processes that scaled up at lightning speed between the late-1930’s and the early-1960’s – and transformed modern society.

About 70% of the subsystems and components needed (or very closely related components) are currently in production at the multi-billion-dollar level by multiple, international companies. And there are fairly close relatives of most of the rest of the components currently in production at the multi-billion-dollar level.

Scale-up will require large investments, but they will come because there will soon be no question about the profitability of the WindFuels plants. Scale-up will also take time, mostly because big investments are seldom made quickly. However, scale up of the processes used in Windfuels will be much easier than those in algal oil, cellulosic ethanol, batteries, CSP, hydrogen, PV, geothermal, superconducting transmission, .... Read more.

Q-9. What do you think about cellulosic ethanol?
Trees, shrubs, and grasses sequester two orders of magnitude more carbon above the ground than is being released annually by burning fossil fuels, and an even greater amount is sequestered in soils. When forests are harvested for cellulosic ethanol, about 20% of the above-ground carbon ends up in the ethanol. (Much is left to decay rapidly on the forest floor. Most is emitted from the cellulosic ethanol plant.) When new land is tilled, much of the carbon that has been sequestered in the soil for centuries is released over the next few years. This “carbon debt” can take more than a century for the biofuels to repay.

The 16 million acres of wildfires in the U.S. in the past two years (2011-2012) has become “the new normal”, largely because of land warming – which is much more serious than global warming. The “food baskets” of the world will be producing less in the future because of “dust bowlification”. There will not be excess productive land available in the future for growing fuels, irrespective of whether or not they seem to be competing directly with food.

Grasslands predominate naturally in regions where rainfall is inadequate to support forests. “Range Fuels” may be a catchy name, but any attempt to produce cellulosic ethanol from most range land will result in a huge release of sequestered carbon and not enough energy to matter. Read more on our Economics page.

Q-10. How can WindFuels compete with tar sands?
Products from heavy oil (such as the tar sands in Alberta) have 60% to 90% greater total carbon emissions than conventional oil and a huge environmental footprint (orders of magnitude greater than that of oil platforms in ANWR). Processing heavy oil requires an enormous amount of natural gas. Tar sands and extra heavy oils (from Venezuela) are abundant, but utilizing them will become very expensive as emissions regulations (to save the planet) become more stringent. The IEA says we need a $50-$60/bbl tax on heavy oil products to have any chance of cutting carbon emissions in half by 2050. WindFuels could be cheaper than heavy-oil products within 5 years.

Q-11. Why does the DOE still not admit to Peak Oil?
Actually, they now do. It’s just some sections of the media that haven’t gotten with the program.

Q-12. Wouldn’t it be better to just replace coal power plants with wind?
Perhaps, if (a) there was a cheap method of storing the energy for when it was needed, (b) there was an adequate transmission grid, and (c) someone would pay for all the wind farms. All of these are show-stoppers beyond a certain point. We agree: put as much wind into the grid as the market will justify, and use the excess off-peak wind to make transportation fuels.

(If you’re not a scientist or engineer, you might want to skip this next one.)

Q-13. How would you boil down your major technical breakthroughs into a few sentences for the general chemical engineer?
To start with, we’ve doubled the efficiency of producing syngas (the feed mixture of CO and H2) from H2 and CO2 by making the RWGS reaction practical. (This requires, among other things, a dramatic advance in cost-effectiveness of gas-to-gas recuperators.) Secondly, we’ve reduced both the energy and effluent losses normally seen in recycling of un-reacted reactants and byproducts in high-pressure FTS processes by an order of magnitude. (This takes too much space to explain further here.) Thirdly, we’ve nearly eliminated the big losses normally seen from isenthalpic expansions in the standard product separations processes. Fourthly, we’ve improved by 50% the efficiency of conversion of low- and mid-grade waste heat to electrical power. See the DORC patent.)

Q-14. How does Doty Windfuels expect to make money?
Here’s our vision in a nutshell.

The world’s appetite for transportation fuels will steadily grow at a rate greater than can be met by conventional fossil fuels and alternatives, so the price of oil will rise steadily until a competitive alternative becomes available. There is currently no competitive alternative. We will be able to make fuels from CO2 and H2O at a much lower price than any other sustainable alternative. Windfuels will be carbon neutral, so the public will embrace them.

We have a very strong patent and proprietary position, as well as an enormous head start. We will probably have no serious competition for at least a decade.

We first need to build a small pilot plant. When it starts producing fuels (two years after funding) we will demonstrate production of more fuels in a few weeks than the total cumulative global production of photosynthetic algal oil and direct solar fuels combined. That comparison will generate enormous media attention, and investors will be beating a path to our doors.

We will begin producing and selling small plants that will make fuels from CO2, CH4, H2Oand off-peak wind energy. No one else will be able to do that, so we will be able to command strong profit margins on these plants.

The payback on the Windfuels plants will be under 3 years. There will be hundreds of thousands of wind farm owners all over the world standing in line to buy them, as fast as we can make them.

We expect be a multi-billion-dollar company 7 years after first funding, and growth will go on from there. The market for the Windfuels plants we’ll be making will eventually be trillions of dollars.

Q-15. Do you have a working demonstration?
Not yet, but we have a lot of preliminary experimental data, and more will be coming quickly. We have developed the necessary innovations, and within the past we have year simulated the plant in great detail (through secondary separations) using commercially available chemical engineering process software. These simulations confirmed that are earlier manual-analytical approach was spot-on. However, we are a small company with a limited R&D budget. The demonstration plant that is planned will require additional funding.

Q-16. How certain are you that your simulations are correct?
The WinSim Design II software has been well validated in thousands of similar simulations in the petrochemical and chemical process industries over the past two decades. We’ve collaborated with outside experts in the field during our entire research and development process.

We waited to release the information until enough time had passed that we could be comfortable with our patent positions. So we have released more information in greater detail than any other alternative energy company we’ve ever seen. Many design details and calculations are available for any and all members of the scientific community to assess and critique, and at this point our designs have been thoroughly scrutinized by thousands of interested scientists and engineers. No one has yet found a significant error or oversight. Naturally, we have hundreds of pages of additional detail that is proprietary. Much of this too has been reviewed by outside experts. (Some critics described perceived problems, but none of their technical challenges have proven to be valid.)

Q-17. Chemical processing plants have a reputation for being dirty. Won’t the same apply to WindFuels plants?
The inputs to the WindFuels process don’t contain noxious contaminants as seen in fossil fuels (especially in heavy oils). For example, the sulfur and heavy metals contents will be at least 10,000 times lower. That, along with the numerous process advances, make 100% recycling practical. Emissions will be similar to those seen at major highway junctions.

Q-18. Have you published WindFuels papers in peer-reviewed journals?
We’ve published eight peer-reviewed technical papers and given a number of presentations at international scientific conferences. Read more...

Q-19. Why not just stop with your hydrogen production from off-peak wind energy and use it in fuel cells?
One of the main reasons hydrogen will not be used in much of the transport sector is that the density of energy storage in hydrogen is less than 10% that in jet fuel or gasoline. (Hydrogen storage tanks must be very large and heavy.) Few informed people today think there is any another plausible long-range alternative than sustainable, carbon-neutral, liquid-hydrocarbon fuels for air, rail, ship, and truck transport – nor for a large fraction of private transportation. After a decade of intensive development, fuel cells are still ten times more expensive than internal combustion engines.

Q-20. Are there any limitations to the types of chemicals that can be made from WindFuels?
Not really. Some of the products coming directly from the FTS process will be ethylene, propylene, and methanol, which today serve as the basic building blocks for most chemicals. Of course, some other inputs will sometimes be required (like nitrogen, salt, etc.), but the point is that fossil fuels are not essential for any chemicals.

Q-21. What do you intend to do next at Doty Windfuels?
Proceed with experiments and demonstrations as expeditiously as possible. We expect to be producing WindFuels plants and selling them to wind farm owners within five years. Ultimately, we intend to license the WindFuels technology to all qualified, interested companies at reasonable fees. Read more.

Q-22. Won’t it be extremely costly and difficult to build long CO2 pipelines from the coal power plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio to the wind farms in Texas, the Dakotas, and other high-wind states?
There’s plenty of CO2 produced in the high-wind states: The most wind-blessed states are the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, and Kansas. All of these states have at least 80% of their power derived from coal, and there are lots of bio-ethanol plants being built there, which release enormous amounts of CO2.

But that is not all the wind that is available in the U.S. There are also other excellent wind resources throughout America. For instance: the major industrial regions of Western New York, Western Pennsylvania, Northeast Ohio, Northwest Indiana, Northeast Illinois, Eastern Wisconsin, and all of Michigan are all within 200 miles of the extraordinary winds available on the great lakes. This map from the DOE shows the projected wind potential at 50m across America.

The amount of CO2 being released from point sources in the U.S. (coal power plants, cement factories, ammonia plants, biofuels refineries, other industrial sources) is sufficient to make twice as much transportation fuel as we currently consume.

It will not be difficult or costly to transmit electrical power a few hundred miles from wind farms to the RFTS plants, and it will not be difficult to lay CO2 pipelines a few hundred miles long (at least if they don’t cross more than one state border). The total amount of coal currently consumed within 350 miles of high-wind areas in the U.S. (and not requiring more than one state border crossing) is about 400 million tons per year. The coal and gas power plants in these areas generate enough CO2 to make nearly half the transportation fuels consumed in the U.S. Longer CO2 pipelines and power lines would eventually be needed, but work on the CO2 pipeline infrastructure is already underway for enhanced oil recovery– and eventually for sequestration. Over 3500 miles of CO2 pipelines have already been built, and the CO2 is currently available from them at over 120 bar, 97% purity, for only $30/ton. Further purification to the level needed for the RFTS plant will add under $15/ton. See the pages under Economics for more information on the CO2 market.

Q-23. How do the water demands for WindFuels compare to those for biofuels and nuclear?
At least an order of magnitude less. The WindFuels plant design simulations have assumed dry cooling. It should also be noted that reverse-osmosis (water purification) processes have become much cheaper in the past six years, and they’ll get cheaper yet over the next six years.

Q-24. Most of the world is not blessed with good wind resources. How realistic will it be for Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), nuclear, and Geo-thermal to make renewable liquid fuels using your RFTS process in places like India, China, Africa, and Iceland?
Glad you asked. CSP and enhanced geo-thermal still have a long ways to go before it will be practical for them to compete with wind in a Class-4 (or better) wind site, but progress is being made. We’ve shown that a substantial improvement in thermal conversion efficiency will be possible where both good geo-thermal and CSP resources are available fairly close together – within about 20 miles of each other. More details on this can be found in our DORC ASME paper.

There is another possibility, called dry reforming, for making liquid fuels using CO2, methane, and high-temperature CSP. Our analysis shows it won’t compete with WindFuels in North America, but it might eventually make sense in some countries.

Nuclear energy can be used if nuclear power plants can be built at affordable prices. Energy from new nuclear power plants in the U.S. will be 2-6 times more expensive than off-peak wind for at least the next decade.

Q-25. What do you see as the greatest challenges in making WindFuels a reality?
The “not invented here” attitude at many institutions may limit their enthusiasm. Most Green Tech research and funding institutions have already fully committed their resources and focus to what seemed to be the best alternatives a few years ago. In spite of the fact that biofuels can only supply a small percentage of the world's fuels, the biofuels community may be very reluctant to admit that there is a better alternative. The DOE seems reluctant to acknowledge the spiraling costs of nuclear, microalgae, shale oil, cellulosic ethanol, sequestration, coal, and CTL; and some at the DOE will have a hard time admitting the “Hydrogen Program” needs to be re-directed to a “WindFuels” program.

Most energy scientists and engineers focus very narrowly on one particular aspect of a particular resource or alternative. Very few are comfortable doing system-level analyses of complex chemical plants, and few are willing to support anything that has not yet been advocated by high-level officials at the DOE.

There hasn’t been a new oil refinery built in the US in over 30 years, so there are very few chemical engineering programs with the expertise needed in novel, complex plant simulations to provide the kind of support needed quickly.

Q-26. What size of a global investment are you talking about to cut global oil and gas usage by 60% over the next 50 years?
The near-term (2 to 10 years) investment would be quite modest, as there will be no shortage of off-peak wind energy for the next decade. However, to replace 60% of global oil and gas with WindFuels over the next 50 years will cost trillions of dollars, but businesses will embrace it because it will be profitable and enduring. The IEA has recommended CO2 be taxed at over $80/ton (or $300/ton-C). That would amount to $2T per year – and it (in itself) would not produce any more fuel. That would also amount to a tax of $30/bbl for conventional oil. For synfuels from heavy oil and coal, the tax would be over $50/bbl and $60/bbl respectively with current processes.

Q-27. How much of your process is commercially proven, and how much is high risk?
We’ve simulated all the critical processes in WindFuels in great detail using commercial, well validated software. Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis (FTS) fuel production (chemically, the most complex part of the WindFuels system) was used by the Germans during WW-II and in South Africa during the blockade of the Apartheid regime. Several major breakthroughs and a number of minor improvements have allowed us to double the RFTS system efficiency over what was seen in related demonstrations a few years ago. We’ve published and patented many of the critical scientific and engineering details. We don’t think any part of it classifies as “high risk” from a scientific perspective, though we admit there are managerial, funding, competitive, technological, and market risks.

Q-28. You’re starting with water electrolysis. Isn’t that very inefficient and extremely expensive?
Commercially available electrolyzers have achieved 84% efficiency, and laboratory experiments have exceeded 94% efficiency. Yes, they’ve been expensive, but the DOE projects their price will drop by a factor of six over the next decade and efficiencies will steadily improve. Read more.

Recognizing the initial capital cost of the electrolyzers might be a deterrent, we have developed a bridging technology we call CARMA, as discussed earlier under question 5. This will process takes advantage of the currently low natural gas prices to make the initial fuels (although not fully carbon neutral) more cost competitive. The goal is to include some natural gas in the Windfuels FTS system. As the price of natural gas goes up, more electrolyzers will be added to supply renewable hydrogen. The expectation is that the fuels will eventually be fully carbon neutral.

Q-29. Are WindFuels better than CO2 sequestration?
WindFuels will be the quickest technology to stop the growth of coal power plants because of the strong stimulus WindFuels will provide to the growth of wind energy. The wind energy during periods of peak demand will go to the grid, and excess during off-peak periods would go to WindFuels. We have already seen that wind energy has stopped the growth of coal in the U.S. and northern Europe. When WindFuels come online in any country, the growth of coal in that country will come to an abrupt end. The price of grid energy will even drop enough to begin shutting down the less efficient coal power plants. The wind resources are sufficient to enable this scenario in North America, China, Russia, Northern Europe, Northwestern Africa, Australia, Brazil, and some other countries.

Sequestration, on the other hand, at existing power plants will be very expensive. It would increase consumer power bills by 60-80% in many cases and reduce the efficiency and output of coal and natural gas power plants, requiring more fossil power plants by 30-40% to come online. Recent peer-reviewed studies have shown that pumping very high pressure CO2 into most of the types of formations that could hold it for centuries will likely cause seismic activity.

, on the other hand, will cause no additional burden for consumers, and actually serve to make current power sources more competitive, so there will be no public resistance to their development. Since WindFuels will be market driven, they will grow as quickly as the industry can scale up, and any support from government will be embraced by the power industry and consumers.

Because WindFuels will be market driven, it can quickly cut the use of ultra-high-carbon options, such as coal-to-liquids, tar sands, and shale oil – which, without WindFuels, would be supplying a large fraction of our transportation fuels within 20 years.

WindFuels could eventually utilize CO2 from the atmosphere rather than from power plants, but it may be three decades before taking CO2 from the atmosphere is affordable. (We return to this issue in more detail in question 36.)

We agree that CO2 separation should be required on all new power plants, whether coal, natural gas, or biomass; and retrofitting should be implemented on some existing power plants. The CO2 should be either sold to WindFuels plants or sequestered. CO2 separation processes will now be justified on many existing coal plants within 400 miles of WindFuels plants because there may be a good market for their CO2. Also, future fossil-fueled power plants within 400 miles of WindFuels plants may want to buy the waste O2 from the WindFuels plants for oxy-combustion to simplify their CO2 separations.

The fastest growing source of CO2 emissions in the U.S., Brazil, and some other countries is from bio-ethanol production. The amount (mass) of CO2 released at the process plant making ethanol from corn is similar to the amount of ethanol produced. The amount of CO2 released when making cellulosic ethanol is more than twice the amount of ethanol produced. Separation of this CO2 from the exhaust streams is much easier than in existing power plants, and the penalty in plant efficiency is much less. Hence, CO2 separations should begin with bio-ethanol plants and new fossil-fuel power plants. The current global CO2 release from bio-ethanol plants is over 60 million metric tons per year and growing rapidly. Emissions from bio-ethanol will likely be more than will be practical to sequester and utilize in WindFuels for at least the next 15 years.

The $100M spent by the coal lobby over the past few year has convinced many consumers that “clean coal” is a reality. The fact is, the total amount of CO2 sequestered from coal plants in the US by 2015 is likely to be less than 0.04% of the amount of CO2 they’ll release.

The DOE has announced funding for three big carbon capture projects that were expected to begin operating in 2012. The total cost of these projects will be $1B, with over 60% coming from the DOE. These projects are expected to be capturing CO2 at a combined rate of about 6.5 Mt/yr by 2013. The projects selected for funding were low-hanging fruit – an ethanol plant, a methanol plant, and a steam-methane reformer – no power plants. The captured CO2 will be used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) – which means it is not being sequestered – its half-life in the ground is only 15 years. The CapEx for this capture is not very high – only about $10/t-CO2. The operating cost is under $25/t-CO2. For comparison, the CapEx for real CO2 sequestration projects using CO2 from power plants and pumping the CO2 into formations that will hold it for centuries is about $30/t-CO2, and their operating cost is about $40/t-CO2. At $70/t-CO2, sequestering the emissions from point sources would represent an enormous economic burden – about $300B dollars per year in the U.S.

WindFuels can provide the market needed to make CO2 separation happen quickly, and WindFuels can stop the growth of tar sands. This would dramatically reduce CO2 emissions.

All sequestration ideas make the energy challenge worse, while WindFuels will address both the energy and the climate challenges. Oil and gas account for over 60% of the global fossil CO2 emissions.Replacing petroleum and natural gas with WindFuelsTM reduces greenhouse gases more than eliminating coal. Neither will happen quickly, but we have to think long range. Read more.

Q-30. I’ve taken a close look at your cost estimates for WindFuels, and they look low? Can you explain briefly?
We’re glad you’re checking us. Yes, at first glance it might look like our estimates of the cost of wind energy are too low. First of all, keep in mind that for the next 12 years or more there will be an abundance of very cheap off-peak grid power in areas where a lot of wind farms are being built. WindFuels will be providing a market for this off-peak energy and thus providing a strong stimulus to the wind energy market. See our Economics page and our discussion on Stabilizing the Renewable Grid for more information.

The simplest industrial reference point is to note that the capital cost in recent GTL plants contributes about $0.20/gal to the cost of the fuels produced. Of course, our CARMA plants will be much smaller, so capital costs per gallon will be somewhat higher, but we have a number of innovations at various stages of the patenting process that will dramatically reduce the costs of the CARMA plant. More details can be found in the papers presented at recent ASME and ACS conferences, though of course many details remain proprietary.

Q-31. Will WindFuels compete with Coal-to-Liquids (CTL)?
Yes. Synfuels from Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) currently have twice the carbon emissions of conventional oil. Typically, one kilogram of coal will yield about 0.3 kg of diesel and 2.2 kg of additional CO2, which is released at the synfuels plant. Sasol (the biggest name in CTL) is the largest point source of CO2 emissions in the world.

The latest published studies we’ve seen indicate oil needs to be above $100/bbl for CTL with partial on-site sequestration (perhaps 65%) to compete. Those estimates are still dated and hence optimistic. We expect oil will need to be above $170/bbl for CTL with full sequestration to compete a decade from now. Any estimate of energy-related costs published before the BP oil-rig disaster on April 20, 2010 is probably of very little value. Judging from the recent volatility in commodities markets, it may be another year before it will be possible to make many energy cost projections with accuracy better than 25%. The best recent study we’ve seen on future oil prices is one from 5/2012 by the International Monetary Fund projecting the price of oil in current real dollars will be $180/bbl in 2022.

Q-32. T. Boone Pickens wants to replace our natural gas electric power with wind power and convert our cars to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). Could that work?
You aren’t going to convince the companies that own the natural gas (NG) power plants to power down their plants prematurely unless the price of NG triples. Even with the increased availability of shale gas, we would see the price of gas in the U.S. increase quickly if we tried to use it for more than a very small segment of transportation (such as airport buses). Until WindFuels plants begin to come online, the growth rate of utilization of wind in the grid will be limited by transmission and storage costs.

There are a number of additional factors.

1. There won’t be much fuel-cost savings for CNG vehicles 8 yearsfrom now. (The rapidly growing international trade in liquefied natural gas, LNG, will entice US producers to begin exporting LNG to this lucrative market. This will drive the price of NG up.)

2. Upgrading existing gasoline service stations to be able to re-fuel CNG vehicles would cost about $400K per station. Few station owners will do this just to service a few CNG vehicles in their area.

3. CNG vehicles have lower performance, less driving range, and less trunk space,than liquid-fueled vehicles, so consumers will be reluctant to buy them. (Of course, CNG vehicles would be much more attractive to most consumers than electric vehicles or hydrogen-fueled vehicles.)

CNG has made small inroads into fleets of trucks and buses in the U.S, where their ranges stay close to central re-fueling stations. Encouraging more usage here makes sense. However, converting all our long-haul trucks to CNG would increase our use of NG by 25%, which would require an unrealistic increase in domestic production.

US NG resources are nothing close to limitless, as the advocates would have us to believe. The latest official estimates indicate that if we could recover all possible and probable gas resources (most of which will be quite expensive), they would be sufficient to supply all our energy demands for about 15 years – and nothing beyond that. Another useful number is that total U.S. resources are less than 4% of global gas resources.

WindFuels, on the other hand, by offering improved profitability for wind energy in areas far from where grid power is needed, will enable massive growth in wind for decades. But wind will not shut down existing natural-gas power plants in a free market for many years.

The amount of energy potentially available from domestic wind resources over the next century exceeds that from natural gas by a factor of 50, and wind is 20 times cleaner!
Case closed.

What about electric vehicles (EVs), or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)?

Pure electric vehicles will never be the first choice for most consumers in the Western Hemisphere as a primary vehicle due to their range restrictions. With pure EV, traffic jams and unexpected errands will result in more cars running out of power. A 40-mile range is not acceptable for most drivers. (Remember, you simply can’t stop in somewhere for a quick recharge.)

The Volt is a small compact car, costing over $40,000. Whether the reduced operating costs can ever actually recover the up-front cost is questionable, especially once you factor in additional interest on the more expensive car. A study by Carnegie Mellon severely challenged the viability of the Chevy Volt.

The cost savings per mile are much less than the EV advocates claim, as they still often assume an electricity cost of $0.04/kWhr when the current average residential rate is $0.12/kWh (equivalent to gasoline at $1.20/gal). If you drive the Volt 8500 miles per year (and you won’t be able to drive it much more than that without being left stranded), and gasoline is $4.70/gal, your annual fuel savings is $700.

John Peterson has some of the best expertise and insights into the battery and EV markets. We highly recommend his articles, which are available here: http://seekingalpha.com/author/john-petersen/articles

Q-34. Why do you want to make diesel and gasoline, when it’s easier to make methanol from CO2 and H2 ?
The strongest argument is the economic one. Because it’s easy to make methanol from coal or natural gas, methanol is the cheapest fuel available. However, it’s not a good fuel because of its low energy density, high toxicity, high vapor pressure, and high corrosiveness. The CARMA and Windfuels plants must compete with fossil options to be market driven. It could be three decades before wind-to-methanol could compete with coal-to-methanol. Some studies have concluded the combination of wind-to-methanol followed by methanol-to-gasoline would be cheaper, but our analysis shows otherwise – because of the importance of achieving high efficiency, the complexity of methanol-to-diesel, and the significance of many innovations we have made in RFTS. We go into more detail on the FTS Perspectives page.

Q-35 How likely do you think it is that there will be a better alternative than WindFuels for transportation in the next four decades?
On a scale of 0 to 10, about 0 in the US. In countries where neither good wind nor wave resources are available, the best option may be dry reforming – if both methane and excellent solar resources are available. This is a process in which high-temperature concentrated solar power (above 1100 K) can be used to make liquid fuels from a combination of methane and CO2. There are lots of challenges with this process, and we don’t see it being competitive unless oil is above $200/bbl for many years. Moreover, the carbon in the fuels it produces will probably be only about 40% from the CO2. The rest will be from the fossil methane.

Q-36. If wind energy is so much cheaper than solar energy, why has solar received more attention (from investors, the media, and the DOE) than wind?

Wind has been at a strong disadvantage with respect to solar because solar can often work well without energy storage. (The peak electrical power demand is at the same time the sun is shining strongly.) There hasn’t been a good energy storage solution until now – WindFuels. Also, the best wind resources are not close to where most electrical power is needed. (People would rather live in a sunny area than a very windy area.)

Q-37. Why not just take CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester the carbon from power and biofuel plants?
Because it would cost too much. All the promise of carbon neutrality does nothing if the process is too expensive to deploy.

Presently, the technology to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere is in its infancy. Our analysis indicates using CO2 from the atmosphere would increase the cost of WindFuels by 40%.

WindFuels could eventually utilize CO2 from the atmosphere rather than from power plants, but it may be four decades before CO2 from the atmosphere competes with CO2 from smokestacks. In the meantime, WindFuels can cut the use of shale oil and eventually help reduce the rise in the price of oil. This helps the economy while doing more for the environment because it would be implemented much faster.

Q-38. Why focus on ethanol? Isn’t it less desirable than some other fuels?
We initally focused on ethanol, propanol and butanol because they are the least toxic fuels known and our simulations showed they could ultimately be made from waste CO2 at higher efficiency than other fuels. Also, next-generation small engines optimized for mixtures of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol will be able to achieve higher efficiency, lower noise, and much lower emissions than diesel engines. (See, for example, recent works by RJ Pearson, of Lotus Engineering.) The mid-alcohols are fully compatible as oxygenates and extenders in all current gasoline engines. Contrary to what ethanol detractors say, it is not difficult to store, distribute, or dispense ethanol, and it is not bad for modern engines.

At this point in time, we expect our first demo will be for gasoline deisel, and jet fuel production, as the catalysts for such are better developed. We’ll eventually be able to make virtually all fuels and chemicals efficiently from waste CO2 and wind energy, including diesel, alcohols, lubricants, other automotive fluids, plastics, and fertilizers.

Q-39. Can WindFuels help solve the global food crisis?
Yes. Demand for use of food for fuels will be reduced, and some WindFuels plants will make renewable fertilizers.

Q-40. Do we need to eliminate our use of fossil fuels?
No. The planet can easily handle some responsible use of fossil fuels for many centuries. It’s not yet clear whether the long-term goal for global CO2 emissions should be under 4 GtC/yr or under 2 GtC/yr (gigatons fossil carbon per year). However, global fossil carbon emissions increased by 30% in the past decade; and in spite of token (and poorly considered) efforts by the DOE to reduce emissions, the rate of increase has been accelerating. The trend of the last few years would put global fossil carbon emissions at over 15 GtC/yr by 2020. The severe drought of 2012 in the U.S. will be “the new normal”.

Q-41. Do we risk running critically low on any fertilizer component (phosphates, ammonia, potassium, sulfur, etc.) when we cut our use of fossil fuels by a factor of three?
Not in the next few centuries, though phosphate fertilizers may become fairly expensive within six decades.

Q-42. Where can I find more technical information on your RWGS CARMA and RFTS WindFuels process?
We have a WindFuels Primer, and a slightly more detailed explanation. Eight peer-reviewed technical papers and three pending patents are currently available for download.

Q-43. What are the unique benefits of WindFuels for the United States?
America has abundant wind energy resources – far beyond what we can use for electricity. America is also emitting a lot of CO2 from coal power plants – which can be recycled into fuels to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and our total CO2 emissions.

America can go from importing petroleum to exporting carbon-neutral fuels and chemicals within 35 years. WindFuels can be the basis for the biggest economic expansion in the US since the post WW-II boom.

Q-44 What about hybrid engines, ultra-light materials, smaller cars? Won’t these do more than new fuels?
They’ll help, but they won’t do as much as truly carbon-neutral liquid fuels. One study (John M. Polimeni) has even concluded that just improving mileage would increase CO2 emissions because usage would go up faster. While usage may not increase that quickly, the point is still important. If people can afford to drive more, they will. Only increased fuel prices, carbon neutrality in the fuels, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) will reduce the CO2 emissions from cars. See question 33 for some more comments on PEHVs.

Q-45. The grid is interconnected, and there are always coal plants producing power, so how can it make sense to use grid energy to make liquid fuels, even if the conversion efficiency is 60%?
We partially answered this question in some of the earlier responses (see questions 6 and 29).

A. When WindFuels come online in any area, they will stimulate rapid build up of wind energy, and the growth of coal in that region will come to an abrupt end. The price of grid energy will even drop enough to begin shutting down the less efficient coal power plants.

B. WindFuels will only draw power during extreme off-peak hours when most of the energy on the regional grid is coming from wind, nuclear, and hydro, so it will be very clean.

Windfuels will stop the growth of the high-carbon fuels, like tar sands, coal-to-liquids, deep-water, and very heavy oils.

Q-46. I’ve heard there’s lots more oil to be found. Shouldn’t we just start drilling for it?
That seemed to be the popular opinion before April 20, 2010. The BP oil-ring disaster has changed everything.

All previous projections assumed deep-water oil would be providing much of the growth in oil production. While some new deep-water projects that are at advanced stages will undoubtedly go forward again, it’s now hard to imagine many new deep-water projects getting approval by corporate boards (forget governments and regulators) – at least before oil has been over $150/bbl for several years.

There’s a little more of conventional oil (the stuff we’re used to) yet to be developed and discovered in America. Recent US Geological Survey estimates (which are double the estimates of eight years ago) are that even with full-out off-shore drilling we would have enough recoverable domestic oil (60B bbl) to supply all our oil needs (without imports) for only 9 years, and two-thirds of that will be quite expensive and take many decades to recover. (read, deep-water and the Bakken formation).

It is “penny-wise but pound-foolish” to consider draining our very limited conventional (easy) resources over the next 10 years. Our great-grandchildren may need them for a true emergency far more than we need them today. We simply must get accustomed to $6 to $12/gal gasoline for most of the next three decades.

If we have reduced our CO2 emissions sufficiently 30 years from now (from WindFuels), some remaining conventional off-shore oil could then be tapped for a true emergency without much concern about its effect on the climate.

Q-47. What do you think about other ideas for sequestering CO2 – like spreading crushed silicate rocks over the desert, or making cement from natural dolime?
A number of other sequestration ideas have been advocated, but none seems likely to be cost effective. One that has received far more attention than it deserves is grinding certain igneous rocks into fine sand and dusting them over hundreds of thousands of square miles of the deserts. Many abundant magnesium silicates, such as olivines and serpentines, are in a higher energy state than their carbonates and thus they will naturally (but extremely slowly) react with CO2 to form the solid carbonates. We calculated that it would take several hundred thousand years to see any benefit. Naturally, there would be adverse environmental effects, both at the enormous rock quarries and in the deserts, as most of these magnesium silicates poison soils from their high chromium and nickel contents.

A variation on the above theme that avoids spreading the dust over deserts and speeds up the reaction from hundreds of thousands of years to days is pulverizing the sand to an extremely fine powder (micron sized) and reacting it in carbonic acid at over 150oC and pressures above 100 bar. This would prevent poisoning of the deserts, but it would be much more expensive than other sequestration options.

Another idea that has received far too much attention is finding a miracle method of separating dolime (an admixture of CaO and MgO) from igneous rocks (where it is often present in small amounts) and using that to make Portland-like cement. No one yet has a clue as to how to significantly improve on the current process (firing carbonates, such as limestone, or calcite) to get the CaO needed to make Portland cement.

The ideas proposed by Constantz, CEO of Calera Corporation, for making cement actually increase total CO2 release. Ken Caldiera has begun to expose the problems with this plan and others are also beginning to speak up: http://cleantech.com/news/4327/you-say-caldera-i-say-caldiera

It is possible to make cements with significantly lower total CO2 emissions based on magnesia (MgO), phosphates, and fibrous fillers that have fully adequate structural properties for many purposes. There is a great article here:

Unfortunately, magnesium-based cements are 2-3 times as expensive as Portland cement. All of the recent formulations are proprietary and the reports are always by people either with vested interests or with very limited understanding of the chemistry and processes, so it is not really possible to tell how much CO2 emissions reduction they could lead to. Perhaps the biggest question is how much would costs of their feedstocks increase if they were to be used at very large scale.

Q-48. What motivated you the most to begin development of WindFuels: an attempt to provide a fuel source, or an attempt to reduce global carbon emissions?
I’ve been active in both energy and environmental science and engineering for nearly 4 decades. For about 2 decades, I’ve been deeply concerned by what I saw as an absence of real scientific leadership toward practical solutions of either mega-challenge. I haven’t looked at either issue independently, and I’ve always kept practicality and competitiveness uppermost in my thinking. I was never a fan of carbon sequestration or hydrogen, because neither went to the root of the problem – the need for clean, renewable energy. For a while, I thought cellulosic ethanol and microalgae had a lot of promise – until I looked at the details of the science and engineering for myself (instead of accepting what others, who were not doing the needed calculations, were saying).

I realized that we at Doty had a unique combination of skills that needed to be focused on looking for real solutions outside the boundaries of existing DOE programs. (This is difficult for most researchers to do because the DOE doesn’t fund unsolicited proposals. They always specify exactly what they want to fund.) So in early 2007, we decided to make the needed commitment. The solutions didn’t come in a single flash, but most of the key pieces were largely worked out (from a large number of flashes) over the first year. (One of the major flashes of inspiration came when I saw the most spectacular meteorite I’d even seen, while driving home from a Christmas eve service in 2007. No relationship between the insight and the event. Just an interesting coincidence.)

So the answer is "yes". :) We were looking for a way to produce carbon-neutral fuels and a way to reduce greenhouse emissions that wouldn't hurt the world economy.

Q-49. How can I get involved and help make WindFuels a reality sooner?
Contact your congressman. Contact a DOE program manager or a GreenTech investment fund manager that you know. Tell them to check out our website.

Q-50. What is the best single, comprehensive introduction to the science of sustainable energy?
The recent book by David MacKay, “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air”. It’s available for free download here:

Of course, it has limitations. Most notably, MacKay didn’t know about WindFuels, and the book is somewhat focused on what he thinks will work best for the UK. There are a few other minor problems, especially when it comes to some of the economics, but overall, it’s sound, accessible, and comprehensive.

Q-50. Why are you still worried about global warming when some data show there hasn’t been much for the past decade?
Indeed, an article in Science (Oct 2, 2009) concludes there wasn't much global atmospheric warming over the previous decade. Also, Prof. David Rutledge (CalTech) argued that only the surface temperature records over the oceans can be trusted, as most of the land temperature records have been heavily distorted by warming from increased urban energy utilization (fossil and nuclear). His analysis, with the unreliable data excluded, shows global warming over the last four decades to be considerably less than the widely accepted value.

Most of the excess heat absorbed by the CO2 has been going into deeper waters in the oceans because of changes in ocean currents. The decrease in solar output has also been significant.
However, the most recent studies paint a much bleaker picture. Two of the best recent studies are:

Joe Romm, Nature, Dust-Bowlification, Oct., 2011:

and Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures (BEST), July, 2012. http://berkeleyearth.org/analysis/
(This one was partly funded by right-wing political organizations.)

This graph from the above mega-study sums it up:

The biggest oversight in most studies of global warming has been exactly that – the focus has been more on “global” warming than on “land” warming. The biggest impact of climate change on civilization will be come from rapid desertification or “dust bowlification”, which is already beginning to impact the health and living standards of billions of people by causing higher food prices. Biofuels are only worsening the impact of land warming. Of course, there will also be many other tragic, consequences of climate change, including polar bears going the way of the mammoth.

The only option is to switch to sustainable, carbon-neutral non-biological transportation fuels.

Q-52. How can you be so sure the price of oil won’t crash again, as it did in 2008?
None of the conditions that allowed the price of oil to crash in 2008 are present in the world today. The major oil producers now understand this market is extremely inelastic, and they have the discipline to limit production when necessary. The Saudis are not investing $200-300B over the next 5 years in oil, gas, and chemicals production so they can drive the prices down. Rather, they are positioning themselves to take full advantage of their limited resources over the next 60 years.

Total oil production can continue to increase slowly because of increases in the “non-conventional oil” – deep water oil, tar sands, GTL, biofuels, etc. But these very expensive, high-emissions alternative sources cannot keep pace with the growing demand. The 3 billion people in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and other developing countries without cars can now (or will soon be able to) buy gasoline-powered cars for $3500. That is a game changer from the demand side.



If we take carbon out of the air, make fuel, and burn that fuel (releasing the carbon into the air), then the net effect on CO2 in the atmosphere is zero.

The smokestacks are dumping CO2 into the air. We'll take that CO2 and make fuels. The net effect of our fuels is zero carbon, since that CO2 was already being emitted into the air.

The Germans used FTS to synthesize fuel in WWII. What we're doing isn't all that new, we're just getting the feedstocks (H2 and CO) from wind, water, CH4, andCO2 rather than using coal.
America did it with cars, TV's, computers, and cell phones. We can scale up production of WindFuels fast enough to avert both economic and environmental catastrophe.
Zero net emissions.
Most competitive fuels.
Most climate benefit.
Energy storage solved.
Most scalable.
Zero waste.
No biomass.
No hype.
No grid connectivity issues.

Peak Oil? Most oil producers are running out of oil very quickly, and will have to cut production within 3 years. The oil trade will be almost totally under the control of the following ten countries in 2015:
Saudi Arabia,
United Arab Emirates,

Chem-E Techno-jargon:

RWGS: Reverse Water Gas Shift (the name goes back a full century), a method for making CO and H2O from H2 and CO2.

RFTS: Renewable Fischer Tropsch Synthesis, a process for making chemicals from renewable CO and H2.

Recuperator: A device for transferring the maximum amount of heat from one gas stream (often at low pressure) to an isolated gas stream (often at high pressure).

Wood pellets for use in heating stoves have recently been selling at 7 times what most cellulosic waste cost in 2000.


Many of the good wind zones have already saturated their local electricity markets. Even wind isn't profitable without a market to sell the electricity to! But we can use that energy to make WindFuels, and pipe them to wherever they will sell.

WindFuels would require roughly 11/4 gallons of water for every gallon of fuel produced. A nuclear power plant averages 400 - 700 gallons/MWh.

(~40 gallons of ethanol = 1 MWh)


The idea that new oil projects will be able to produce oil for $60/bbl from a good field (such as in Iraq) is not realistic. Security issues alone make this a non-starter. Project costs have tripled in less than five years.
The only substantial coal-CO2 sequestration project in the U.S. was recently terminated.
Sequestration of the huge CO2 and other emissions from making fuels from tar sands, oil shale, or coal will not happen for decades.  

Even if sequestration of upstream CO2 (that from production) of current synfuels were implemented, they would still be no better than conventional oil, and the planet cannot handle its CO2.

We encourage any expert within the field to review our process. So far, thousands have looked us over and found no significant errors or oversights. If you see a problem, contact us and let us know.
All current synfuels are much worse for the planet than conventional oil. Enormous amounts of CO2 are released in their manufacture, and it’s not being sequestered.
The U.S. has more abundant wind resources than any other country in the world.
As recently as late 2006, the DOE was projecting that oil would average below $40/bbl until 2025. No-one was looking for a sound solution that would cost $70 - $90/bbl. We believed the DOE was wrong, and we developed an answer that works with today's energy market.
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