The cheapest, most plentiful, most environmentally-friendly, most aesthetically satisfying, renewable energy source is wood.
Can we make renewable gasoline from wood?
Wood –> charcoal –> water gas –> hydrocarbons (e.g. octane).
The last step is carried out via the Fischer-Tropsch process . Much of the processing can be done in small portable plants in the forest in order to reduce transport costs of bulky raw materials while reducing pollution impacts on population centres.
Woodchips are already almost competitive with fossil fuels for power generation. The cost of woodchips could be reduced further. The major cost component is interest on capital equipment. Woodchip production costs could be reduced considerably by running a 24/7 operation with three shifts of workers. At present contracts involve a 40 Hour working week . It would be difficult to change in the short term, but it does indicate that, in terms of dollars per megawatt hour, wood can be commercially competitive with fossil fuels .
This needs to be done by a cashed up entrepreneur. Any attempt by government is likely to end in failure; it has to be done as a business opportunity not as a moral duty. By demanding zero emissions by 2050, COP26 has laid the groundwork. Zero emissions must now take precedent over all other environmental considerations. Forget Green Hydrogen, forestry is by far the most commercially viable way of converting sunlight to fuel. It can be done wherever there are plenty of trees.
The Australian forestry sector is one of the most highly regulated and well regarded in the world. Australia has a total forested area of 134 million hectares (Ha), about 17% of the total land mass. Of this plantation is 2 million Ha (1.5% of total forest area) and provides over 87% of total wood production.
But there are some issues as WH points out:
We have 3 huge advantages over the rest of the developed world.
1. We are on the outer fringes of the said developed world,
2. We have a very low population density and
3. We have some very large and under-exploited forests.
Also the descent into chaos may not be all that rapid because the downside of the Hubbert Curve is commonly less steep than the upside. It may well be a decline rather than a collapse.
In summary, any wood-to-petrol solution would very much depend on a stable world order and a business-as-usual situation with regard to equipment and energy supplies, such as electricity, diesel etc. You are wise to be considering this option while we still have time on our side.
And in reply you wrote: “the downside of the Hubbert Curve is commonly less steep than the upside. It may well be a decline rather than a collapse.”
When Hubbert devised his depletion curve I believe that he was committing the ceteris paribus error, i.e., he was assuming a continuation of business as usual on the financial side of the oil industry. In other words he assumed a continuing supply of money to extract oil on the downside of the peak. Many commentators in the oil business think that downward curve will be sharper than Hubbert predicted. Some, for example, think that oil rich countries may be unwilling to export and will begin to keep supplies at home for their own internal consumption. Others believe that now that the “easy oil” deposits are at, or past, their peak and we move onto off-shore, Arctic and other hard-to-get oil deposits the EROI rates (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) will decline substantially, making it very difficult to extract oil at a profit. (This may mean nationalising and subsidzing oil production —yes, even in the good ole capitalist USA, according to some Texas oil men that I read on a blog). This is what the very conservative London Telegraph said a day or so ago:
The world’s energy transition has been botched. Investment in upstream oil and gas exploration has collapsed from $US900 billion to $US350 billion a year since 2014, but investment in renewables has not been enough to close the deficit. There is a massive and untenable mismatch.
The $US86 trillion global economy still runs off fossil energy and will do so for a long time. We have been muddling through until now with legacy fields but these are in decline and there are no new mega-projects to replace them. We are nearing the point in the long commodity cycle when this will come back to bite us.
The vilification and legal harassment of even the best-run oil and gas companies has scared away the capital markets. The rush towards disinvestment has been indiscriminate and premature, hitting the good along with the bad.
I am not sure what will happen to oil supplies from now on— I regularly read oil experts who disagree on this matter. But the lack of investment in new oil exploration and production is really worrying—not to mention the real possibility of disruption of supplies by terrorism, the breakdown of order in certain Middle East countries, or outright war. Hence my suggestion that it is possible that we may not have much spare time in which to get a wood-to-petrol industry up and running.
The word “petroleum” means “rock oil”. I suppose the new product could be called “lignoleum” or “wood oil”.
German car company, Audi, commenced manufacture of carbon neutral fuel, “blue crude”, in 2015. using a very similar process. Their feedstock is CO2 extracted from the air. We would do that part of the process using trees.
Note that 87% of Australia’s total wood production comes from plantation forest. Much plantation forest is privately owned so that it should be possible to set up a prototype facility without it becoming a political issue.