First, geologic sequestration of CO2 (carbon capture and storage (CCS)) is an essential technology for coal and coal/biomass to liquid fuels, as it is for coal and coal/biomass to power generation (Chap. 2). The discussion of this subject in Chap. 2 applies here as well. Most of the technologies discussed in this chapter have been demonstrated to be technically ready for commercial deployment.
However, for implementation with coal at the required scale, these technologies are not yet fully robust, cost-reduced, and optimized. The financing hurdle remains very serious, primarily because of the volatility of the energy markets; but deployment is also impacted by uncertainties over climate-change policy and by lack of full-scale commercial demonstration. The energy market uncertainty is illustrated by the price of crude oil between 2005 and 2009, and its over three-fold price collapse in 4 months. These projects have a multi-year time line from planning to operation, and each one requires funding from $1 billion to over $5 billion in capital. In this climate of uncertainty, they are faced with what is often been referred to as a "valley of death" in getting from here to a commercially viable industry. This transition will require certain and durable policies, predictable pricing, and a number of commercial first-mover projects combined with geologic storage of CO2 that start the technology down the commercial learning curve to robustness, to process optimization, and to significant cost reductions. These commercial first-mover projects would have a major R&D component associated with them to focus on solving issues and problems identified and develop specific improvements. Learning-by-doing at a commercial scale is an important component of reducing cost, increasing operability, and providing engineering data to improve the next generation of processes. This would further develop the technologies, quantify their relative economics, and reduce the risk associated with their commercial deployment if they continue to show economic competitiveness. An aggressive program of commercial first-mover plants demonstrating these technologies integrated with CCS is critical to developing a tool-chest of robust technologies that can be applied when and where needed.
The U.S. consumes about 12 million barrels per day of liquid transportation fuel. To replace 25% of this fuel consumption with liquids from coal would require about 550 million tonnes of coal per year at 2 bbl liquids per tonne conversion efficiency. Current U.S. coal production is about one billion tonnes per year, which would require a 50% increase in U.S. coal production. In addition, we would need about 60 plants of the 50,000 bbl/day scale at a cost in excess of $250 billion.
As for biomass, 450 million tonnes of dry biomass per year could provide about 1.8 million bbl/day of transportation fuels. As noted above, 400 million tonnes (AR)/year of coal plus 450 million tonnes(dry)/year of biomass could produce up to four million bbl/day of liquid fuels (gasoline equivalent) which would be effectively zero carbon transportation fuels along with decarbonized electricity if geologic storage of the CO2 is used. At the plant scale evaluated here, about 400 plants would be required. This is largely driven by the diverse nature of biomass, limiting plant size. Both of these scope estimates indicate the massive scale of our current transportation fuel consumption, the challenges of replacing a major fraction of it and of reducing CO2 from it. Achieving major success at this goal will require major gains in vehicle efficiency along with adding zero carbon fuels to the system.
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