Clathrate To Production

Methane Clathrate deposits per USGS

Methane Clathrate deposits per USGS

Original Image

Japan has very little natural source of energy. As a consequence, they have been at the forefront of such things as getting Uranium from sea water (which they have now made practical to do, though it’s still a tiny bit more expensive than land based resources so we don’t actually do it yet).

Their latest seems to be some improved methods for methane clathrate production. Methane clathrate is an ‘ice’ made by combining water ice with methane. It has some ‘interesting’ properties, not the least of which is that if forms at great depth in the oceans where the cold / pressure curve crosses the ice point. So under the ocean there are truly gigantic quantities of methane clathrate. At present, we do not treat these as a ‘resource’ at all. As far as energy reserves is concerned, they simply do not exist. Yet they are there. (Nothing nefarious in that. It’s just how economic reserves is defined. If it’s not economical to use, it does not exist for practical economic purposes.)

How Much?

From a LLNL news posting we have:

Researchers discover ice that resists melting

While performing studies of methane clatrate, a material viewed as a potential energy source, scientists produced a mysterious phenomenon-ice that does not liquefy when heated well beyond its usual melting temperature. The energy stored in methane clathrate deposits on Earth has been estimated at twice that in all conventional hydrocarbon deposits of oil, gas, and coal.

The discovery occurred while researchers-Bill Durham of Lawrence Livermore and Laura Stern and Stephen Kirby of the U.S. Geological Survey-were experimenting with a new method for synthesizing methane clathrate, a solid compound of water and methane occurring on Earth and possibly on the icy moons of the outer solar system. Clathrate refers to the compound’s porous lattice-work structure.

In a project funded by NASA, the team mixed fine, granular ice and cold, pressurized methane gas in a constant-volume reaction vessel that was slowly heated under strictly regulated conditions. Curiously, the scientists found that the ice did not liquefy as predicted when the melting temperature was reached and surpassed. Clathrate was formed only after many hours, with the temperatures inside the reaction vessel reaching above 50° F before the last of the ice was consumed (the researchers never did see melting) as part of the process.

The three scientists concluded that a kind of “chemical armoring effect” accompanying clathrate formation suppresses the melting of the ice. They are hopeful that their new method of producing methane clathrates will pave the way for further experimentation and a better understanding of this phenomenon. Their findings were published in the September 27 issue of Science magazine.
Contact: Bill Durham (510) 422-7046 (

Original Source

OK, got that? MORE than all the other fossil fuels combined. That’s a lot…

But we’ve not been able to ‘produce’ it in any reasonable way. Why? Well, remember the BP oil spill in the gulf? How the “dome” tended to ‘ice up’ and clog? That was methane clathrate ice. And the blowout itself may have been partly due to clathrates. The drilling may destabilize them and result in a giant sudden gasification. A “blow out”. So one of the issues is how to get this stuff out without blowing out.

From this link:

I found this interesting chart:

Gas Hydrates compared to other Carbon Stores

Gas Hydrates compared to other Carbon Stores

There are two very interesting points in it. First, that hydrates so dominates the non-rock carbon sources. Second, that ‘footnote’ that says they left the rocks out as they are 1000 times more carbon. (Yet we are supposed to panic about the small amount of carbon we burn even while the planet recycles vastly more carbonate via volcanoes and subduction zones. Carbon is dominated by the geology, and by gas hydrates, and certainly not people. If you’ve not worked out the geology and the gas hydrate recycling, you’ve got no clue what caused past changes in CO2 or in C12 / C13 ratios. Then, after that, you can approach the question of what’s happening in the soils and ditritus of the world… )

Enter Japan and Canada

In this story:

we have:

Arctic’s ‘fiery ice’ is potential new energy source

The Gazette, 15 November 2010

For the Japanese, drilling down through Arctic permafrost to get at “fiery ice” was much less daunting than boring into the deep sea.

They came up with $48 million — with $3 million from Canada — for an epic experiment in the Northwest Territories that has generated tantalizing evidence, to be detailed in Tokyo this week, that frozen gas hydrates may live up to their billing as a plentiful new energy source.

The Canadian and Japanese team will describe how they got the hydrates to release gas, like bubbles out of champagne. In a world first, the team got a production well to generate a steady flow of gas for six days, fuelling a flame in the Arctic darkness.

“The message is quite clear, you can produce gas hydrates using conventional techniques,” says Scott Dallimore, a senior scientist at Natural Resources Canada, who co-led the project in the Mackenzie Delta.
Over two winters the researchers drilled down more than a kilometre into a 150-metre-thick layer on the edge of the Beaufort Sea at Mallik — the most concentrated known deposit of the frozen fuel in the world.

“It’s a landmark, no doubt about it,” says Ray Boswell, technical manager of the U.S. government’s gas hydrate program. Boswell will be taking close notes Tuesday as Dallimore and his Japanese colleagues describe how the well and hydrates responded as the gas was freed.

Previous experiments have produced gas from hydrates for a few hours. Mallik’s steady, sustained flow for six days “is very good news,” says Boswell, who is optimistic gas hydrates may one day heat homes and fuel vehicles.

So there is a load of it, and they produced gas for several days in their first big test. I’ve bolded some bits:

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 10:41 Takeo Kumagai, Platts

Global estimates “range from merely jaw-dropping to the truly staggering,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Canada is believed to have enough hydrates along its coasts to meet the country’s energy needs for a couple of hundred years.

Japan looks to offshore methane hydrates to cut reliance on energy imports – Japan, which imports more than 95% of its carbon-based fuel needs in the form of oil, gas or coal, has for decades looked for the means to reduce its reliance on foreign suppliers and increase its energy security. It’s one of the reasons Japan, the world’s largest importer of LNG, has been so adamant in staking its claim to the possible gas reserves underneath the waters surrounding the various disputed isles of the East China Sea.

Now, fortune and technology may be smiling on the energy-poor country, with the discovery of an unconventional energy source that could possibly provide it with enough gas to meet its demand for 14 years. Japan, at least, has been working with that hope ever since it confirmed 40 trillion cubic feat of methane hydrates in the southern Sea of Kumano in 2007.

So Japan has a load of it, and they are looking to produce it.

Next month Japan takes another step toward that goal, with the start of a four-month-long site survey for a four-well drilling project that runs from October 2011 to March 2012. If all goes well, a year later the survey and the wells will result in what Japan says will be the world’s first offshore production test of methane hydrates, with commercial output to start by 2018.

However, unlike technologies used in the faster-than-expected development of shale gas in the US, the technology for extracting usable fuel from Japan’s methane hydrates is still in the developmental stage.

In March 2008, for six consecutive days, Japan was able to extract gas from hydrates using a decreasing pressure system to produce 2,000 cubic meters of gas a day, at the Mallik site in Canada’s Beaufort Sea. That represents only a small fraction of the amount of gas Japan consumes daily.

Under current plans, Japan aims to reach a gas output level of around 10,000 cubic meters/day during next year’s production test, but its priority would be given to collect data rather than reaching a certain level of production, according to government officials.

Once Japan completes the first offshore production test in fiscal 2012-2013, the government will scrutinize the collected data in the following fiscal year, with an eye to launch the second offshore output test in fiscal 2014-2015.

After that, the next challenge would be lowering production costs of methane hydrates to make it competitive against the nearly 70 million metric tons of LNG that Japan imports yearly.

If Japan can lower the methane hydrates output costs to the point of offshore production platforms, it could be made competitive against LNG by bringing it ashore via pipelines to its nearest coasts.

Notice that even though there is more of it than anything else in the fossil fuels arena, it all comes down to lowest cost to produce. IFF Japan can get the costs low enough, then all that energy is held to exist as a ‘reserve’, if they can’t, it doesn’t “exist”. The flip side of this is that as OTHER energy sources rise in price (due, perhaps, to depletion) at some point the cost curves do cross and suddenly we have more than double world energy reserves.

Somehow this definitional aspect of energy “supply” is lost on the folks who like to panic about “running out”. We never “run out” of energy, we just change the energy source…

In Conclusion

This implies that even as the current glut of natural gas tails off, there is a gigantic supply just waiting in the wings. I’d not bet on natural gas rising to high prices and staying there any time soon. There can be small seasonal spikes and, due to the costs and monopoly character of pipelines and LNG facilities, there can be local and geographic spikes. But long term there is just a gigantic supply overhang.

Energy shortage? No way…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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64 Responses to Clathrate To Production

  1. Jason Calley says:

    I am surprised by how many people have never heard of methane clathrates.

    Some time back I was wondering whether methane clathrates might be part of a stabilizing mechanism for global climate. Clathrates are only stable under a combination of low temperatures and high pressure. Raise the temp too much or lower the pressure too much and FIZZZZZZZZ. When the earth passes into an ice age, the world’s ocean levels fall over time by hundreds of meters, enough to destabilize any clathrate deposits that were close to the upper pressure range of stability. FIZZZZZZZZ and you get massive amounts of methane outgassing. Would that be enough to start a real greenhouse effect into warming the Earth back to an interglacial climate? As the climate warms, the oceans rise again and the extra methane in the atmosphere oxidizes back to CO2 and gets gobbled up by various biological processes. Methane produced in the deep crust again seeps into the deeper oceans and reforms the clathrates.

    Just speculation of course…

  2. Adrian Vance says:

    Methane is not a “greenhouse gas.” Consult any of the IR absorption charts and you will see this is another lie from the skunks in white coats who are eating Truffles in Barcelona, Caviar in Copenhagen and who knows what in Cancun.

    This also tells us what fools we’ve been with our “Jockstraps in Space” programs going to the moon for a handful of granite chips and never rising higher than 1/4th inch on the scale of a one foot home globe in the “Space Shuttle” which is little more than a Magic Mountain thrill ride for simpletons in spacesuits. The story that one was drunk when he got on the craft had my sympathy as I would be too if I ever were put on that thing.

    America deserves to fail as we demonized DDT and Freon(tm) when they were two of the finest industrial chemicals ever made, but Dupont was happy to see Rachal Carson, Molina and Rowland show up so they could patent new, inferior chemicals while 100 million people died the lingering death of Malaria and every kitchen has a time bomb in it with a refrigerator running with flammable gas in the cooling coils.

  3. Peter Offenhartz says:

    This is very old news. The 27 September date refers to 1996!

    [REPLY: I guess you need a bit of help with your reading skills. The “September” article is an old LLNL article about “how much” cited only for a quantity number and for the “authority” of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. That it’s an older announcement gives it more credibility as it’s not been changed or retracted.

    It also has the interesting ‘background’ on the surprising high temperature stability of the clathrates. Something that matters to the question of “how to produce it?”.

    The “news” in the article (cited in the title and emphasized in the body) is that Japan is going forward with PRODUCTION plans. That has a date of 24 November 2010. i.e. “very recent”. This is very NEW news. AND it has the forward looking statement that they expect volume tests in 2014-2015 and commercial production in 2018. That’s in the future (in case you didn’t notice…) and is useful for making our calendar of future events to watch. So overall, this article has a time span of about 15 years into the past, the present news, and 7 years into the future. That’s called a time line.

    Please spend a bit of time working on your “context” vs “Main Topic” detection skills. You may someday make it out of ‘time out’, but not with erroneous sniping.
    -E.M.Smith. ]

  4. Peter Offenhartz says:

    By the way, Jason Calley may be on to something. According to the phase diagram in the Science paper, methane clathrates are stable at pressures above about 4 MPa (megapascals), which is about 40 atm or 400 meters of oceanic depth. (I’m assuming the temperature at depth is somewhere between zero and 4 celcius.) Have ocean depths changed to this extent over the eons?

  5. Jason Calley says:

    Adrian Vance says: “Consult any of the IR absorption charts and you will see this is another lie..”

    I looked. I’ll be darned! Yes, the absorption bands for methane are up in the shorter wavelengths closer to the near IR, not down where IR radiation from the surface and/or atmosphere would be. I think you are correct — either that, or we are now both confused. :)

    I’ve learned something! Thanks!

    By the way, the wiki page for GHG cites the IPCC as reporting that methane is (short term) 72 times as potent a GHG as CO2. Of course, the IPCC would never publish anything misleading, would they? (sarcasm off)

  6. “Livestock’s Long Shadow” was a UN report that pointed the finger at cows (and other farm animals) as producing ‘dangerous’ levels of methane. So if you are right about Methane NOT being a GHG, then this whole report is bogus.

  7. Peter Offenhartz says:

    Adrian Vance and Jason Calley: Methane (CH4) has a set of exceedingly strong absorption lines centered on (roughly) 1305 cm-1 (8 microns). This is well within the earthglow spectral region; indeed, I think I recall that these lines are in the so-called long wavelength window, where the atmosphere is otherwise transparent, and which is responsible for much of the earth’s radiation. So, yes, methane (by the strength of its lines) is a powerful infrared absorber; its effect, of course, depends on its integrated absorbance, which is rather small because the lines are so narrow.

    I won’t comment on the IPCC’s statement because I don’t know enough, but I have trouble believing that such narrow lines can have much effect on radiative heat transfer.

  8. Adrian Vance says:

    The IR wavelength range thought to heat the atmosphere is between 0.7 microns and 15 microns. In that range methane has negligible absorption, that on the order of nitrogen a gas classified as “transparent” to atmospheric heating IR.

    The “Greens” and grant sucking scientists have been very successful in demonizing carbon and dumbing down science education. Today at Stanford every physics lecture is preceded by a five to 15 minute presentation by an anthropogenic global warming propagandist.

    I was in science education film and publishing for 30 years until I became persona non-grata because I wanted to out the “global warming” fraudsters. I had the proof, but they had the grants. Follow the money. These people have totally corrupted science education and two generations of scientists who are now defective.

  9. Adrian Vance says:

    Methane has two absorption points at about 3.75 and 8 microns that are very peaked, but very thin and the areas under the curves are very small. That is the critical fact.

    Methane also auto oxidizes, hence the glowing flashes of “swamp gas” and converts to CO2 and H2O vapor which are both far greater IR absorbers, especially water vapor, but it is already responsible for 99.8% of all atmospheric heating.

    All of the panic pushing over methane, which now has 1.8 parts per million in air is nothing more than the demonization of carbon in search of something more to tax and a way to control the people. This is a total fraud and panic power politics.

  10. Peter Offenhartz says:


    I am confused by your statement that absorption by methane is comparable to absorption by nitrogen. N2 is a molecule with zero dipole moment, regardless of vibrational state. Its absorption of infrared must therefore take place via a very inefficient mechanism (magnetic dipole?). While CH4 is a very very strong (electronic dipole) absorber. True, the concentrations of the two molecules differ by a factor circa 10^9, but is that enough to overcome the difference in quantum efficiency?

    I am the original author of MOLSPEC, and I can still run calculations with variable concentrations of gas mixtures. So if you have a simulation that you would like me to run, let me know. But it is important to note that the concentration of N2 is pretty well fixed, while the concentration of CH4 (in principle) is variable. So increasing CH4 concentrations in the atmosphere can surely contribute to changes in atmospheric absorption of outbound radiation, and thus affect global energy balance.

  11. Jason Calley says:

    E.M., firstly, my apologies if I have inadvertently swerved the topic to absorption lines of methane instead of the truly noteworthy fact of upcoming Japanese production. I seem to remember that a new LNG production and shipping facility was announced a couple of years ago for the Bahamas. Maybe long term facility for clathrate sources?

    Secondly, I do still wonder what is the deal with methane absorption lines — heck, I wonder what the deal is with ALL the discussed GHG lines. I have come to the point where any time someone implies that “the physics is simple” my hackles go up. the only simple physics I have ever seen is on blackboards, not in the real world.

    Do we KNOW from actual experiment the absorptive and radiative of methane (or CO2) when mixed in the atmosphere? I do not want to be either an idiot or a pedant, but I am not asking “have we made computer models of methane” or even “have we measured pure samples of methane and can infer what a mixture with nitrogen and oxygen would do.” As I say, real physics is far too often not simple… Has someone taken air samples, added appropriate amounts of methane (or CO2) and accurately measured what happens when you put the samples out in the sunshine?

    Pardon me if I am being stupid, but I have seen (on various topics) discussions that go on at great length, where all sides argue in good faith — and extraordinary depth! — but no one has done real experiments. Have we actually measured real atmospheric mixes of gases for real world responses?

  12. Baa Humbug says:

    Jason Calley, go here…………

    scroll down to item 3.) Line broadening.

    There you’ll find experiments of integrated line strengths of CO2 spectra firstly as pure CO2, then mixed with He then mixed with N2 plus more info including Fig. 2 “Optical density of methane at different pressures in the presence of foreign gases”, which may be of use to you.


    p.s. All the more interesting because you will also find an “Open Review” of the paper.

  13. Adrian Vance says:

    Nitrogen was not a good example, but it coincidentally has two very small absorption points where methane has two tall spikes, but very little area under the curves on the American Meteorlogical chart I am using. And, the two nitrogen absorption points are of much shorter wavelength, hence of much greater energy.

    It is my understanding that perfectly symmetrical molecules, like O2 and N2 are not good IR absorbers where H2O is as it is not symmetrical. CH4 is symmetrical and CO2 is and not as one [O] is bonded to an “S” electron and can be all over the surface and in a resonant position only a fraction of the time.

    Nonetheless, it is inescapable that methane is a very poor absorber compared to water vapor by a factor of 20 and not “a greater greenhouse gas by a factor of 20, 26, 90 or 300,” as claimed by the anthropogenic global warming panic pushers.

  14. Adrian Vance says:

    One of the great problems with discussing methane in the atmosphere is that is auto-oxidizes and especially well in sunlight. Thus, whatever quantity emerges from swamps or thawing tundra is quickly converted to carbon dioxide and water.

    The present concentration of methane in air is 1.8 parts per million. It is so rare it is ridiculous to talk about it as a driver of anything. CO2 is now at about 390 ppm and still very much a trace and by definition insignificant, i.e. of no consequence. But…

    Petroleum and coal that produce 80% of all energy are 84%+ carbon. The control and taxing of carbon would give the elected ruling class more power than anything since the Magna Carta that transferred power from the Kings and Dukes to the people in 1215 AD. It is just that simple.

  15. Adrian Vance says:

    The Hug-Barret paper would seem to be invalid where any increase in CO2 reduces the amount of H2O in air as it is the only gas that can precipitate at the ambient and if we accept the atmosphere is an equilibrium system per Le Chatelier then adding CO2 precipitates water (rain) and reduces atmospheric heating as water is a much better absorber of IR by a factor of six (approx).

    From 1930 to 1970 we increased the CO2 in air dramatically as we geared up for war and then burned Europe and Japan to the ground. During that period the average temperatures went down. This confirms that the atmosphere is a system that can be understood in the light of Le Chatelier.

  16. Chuckles says:

    E.M. Another nice example of ‘what is, and is not, a resource?’

    The stuff is a curiosity until someone comes up with a viable process. At which point, it can suddenly power the entire world for several hundred years, just on the stuff lying around that we’ve tripped over… Better not tell the Malthusians and the ‘Peak’ doomers, they’ll go into a decline.

  17. Peter Offenhartz says:

    I’d like to thank Baa Humbug for the link to the Hug-Barrett paper, and especially the commentary by Peter Dietze. The date on the paper is 2001. Do you know if there has been follow-up? I was especially interested in the discussion of the water/CO2 absorption overlap, which I have noted in my own HITRAN studies. I believe this overlap helps explain why global warming is greatest in the arctic and in other places where water vapor concentrations are low. In effect, rising CO2 matters most where the concentration of water vapor is lowest.

  18. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason Calley: I’m not very worried about topics wandering. Minds go where ideas take them. I consider it a good thing… It’s only an issue when someone with an “agenda” tries to do a “thread hijack” for purposes of pontificating… Besides, I mentioned methane, that makes it “fair game” in any case. Maybe I ought to mention Christmas parties and beer ;-)

    Per Bahamas: There are a lot of “offshore” industries simply because the USA has some stupid laws. I once made a minor bundle on an offshore oil storage company on one of the islands. It existed solely to be able to transship oil without ever touching USA law zones. There is (was?) a thriving business in bringing Diesel to the USA, blending a trivial quantity of ‘bio-Diesel’ into it, collecting the “bio-Diesel blending credit”, then shipping it off to Europe. So for better or worse where oil and LNG are shipped and stored is more driven by legal considerations than practical ones in many cases.

    So my guess would be that it’s a lot easier to get a large transshipment facility approved in the Bahamas than in the USA and you don’t get entangled in a bunch of USA taxes and “excess profits taxes” as was done once… And that would apply whatever the source of the LNG.

    @Adrian Vance:

    Interesting point on the CO2 / water absorption. I’ve pondered the notion that colder rain in this cooling cycle would dissolve more CO2 and ‘counter current strip’ the air of CO2, but had not considered that CO2 would cause the same to water vapor… Interesting…


    Yeah. “Resource Economics” is perfectly rational if you are trying to make production decisions as a company or as a national government with a socialist enterprise; but it completely baffles most folks when they try to use it to predict ultimate production or outcomes.

    Somehow they leap from the notion that we only have “50 years of oil reserves” to the notion that “we only have 50 years of oil”. It all hinges on that last little word…

    The reality is that “50 years reserves” will, in fact, NEVER run out. As you approach the end point, prices rise. This does two things. It cuts demand; so even if it was a hard empty at ’50 years’ prior consumption rate, it now extends beyond 50… and It raises supply as it is now economical to produce oil that was not economic before. That could be finding a new field, or it could be just using nuclear electricity to power the pumps or even steam heat the existing field to get more out. (The original ’50 year’ number being based on the original non-heated extraction methods that leave about 1/2 the oil in the ground).

    There is an amusing thing I’ve noticed. We ALWAYS have a “50 year reserve”. I don’t know why it’s that number, but that is the equilibrium number where reserves stabilize (and by that, I mean the economic reserves, not the actual total quantity of oil in the ground). I’ve got a book from 1919, an engineering text, that says there are only 50 years of reserves of oil left. In 1970 it was 50 years of resrves. In 1990 it was 50 years of reserves. And now? Yup. 50 years of reserves… Care to guess what the reserves of oil will be in 2020? …

    My speculation is that when it’s above 50, no exploration happens. When it’s below 50, you get more exploration, more expansion of existing fields, and maybe a touch of a price rise so folks put in things like steam strippers in old wells. Then you end up back at 50 and that’s longer than anyone cares about, so investment slacks off again… but what I don’t ken is why it’s not, oh, 40 or 20? Perhaps because it can take 20 years to build out a field? Or maybe just because early on the Oil Majors had to report reserves and reported “50” so now it’s a target? But it’s an odd curiosity.

    But back to your point: Yeah, clathrates are a great example. Mostly because the size is so large and it will tend to come as a ‘step function’…

    We’re up to our eyeballs in energy sources and we can never “run out”. All that can happen is minor price shifts as we move from one supply to the other. (My personal favorite is Thorium. Treated as a contaminant in Rare Earth Metals mining. But enough to power the world for about 30,000 years… and it’s ALMOST economical. If only Uranium was not so cheap… and in about 10,000 years when U gets scarce, maybe the price will rise enough ;-)

    How folks turn that “natural abundance” into “running out” I’ll never understand…

  19. PhilJourdan says:

    Ok, Chuckles beat me to the punch line! What fascinates me is the “garbage” that man finds and dismisses/discards until someone has a “Eureka!” moment on how to develop it and use it and it becomes a hot commodity!

  20. Chuckles says:

    I’d put the oil number at thirty years, but I’m equally happy with fifty, and I’d say that, whatever the number, it is the planning horizon of the oil industry?
    When they’ve got X years worth, they stop looking. All the other stuff – efficiencies, increased costs etc is just cherry on the top, or a minor annoyance.
    And yup, reserves in 2020 will be….. you guessed it!

    The Thorium/Rare Earth contaminant thing is very common as well, that one being slightly interesting because the professional alarmists are convinced that Rare Earths are ‘rare’ and fantastically difficult to refine, and simply will not believe they are common as dishwater.
    Again, they have no idea of what a resource is.

    Another contaminant/by product is uranium from gold mining in S Africa. Gold is a common by product from copper mines, and vice versa. If we could just get rid of this yellow rubbish we’d have a beautiful copper deposit here….

  21. Derek Reynolds says:

    Better still, don’t tell the Rockerfeller’s et al, or the whole thing will get swiped and hidden ’til the oil runs out, then it’ll be a case of “Well, we could do ‘this’, but it’s going to cost – the Earth”.

    Maybe Tesla had his baby snatched for the same reason. The control of power, for more power to control.

    Looks like I am going to spend some time reading Mr Vance’s written works. Many thanks.

  22. peter_dtm says:

    And not forgetting that petrol & light diesel are also ‘technically’ bi-products of the chemistry industry. IIRC it was around 1975 that ICI stopped throwing the light distillates away and started selling petrol !

    Which is the other major problem with the current anti-oil stance; we don’t drill for the gasoline ! We drill for the chemical feedstock.

    I am sure that most people conned into cutting back on their fossil fuel use would be horrified to realise just what a small part of the Oil industry gasoline production really is; and just how much of their everyday life is totally dependant on Oil based products !

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    I think you may be a bit off on some of the dates, but yes, the use of petroleum has a long history of finding a use for the “waste product”.

    The earliest Ford cars had a dual fuel carburettor. It was first designed for alcohol as that was a common fuel. Then someone discovered that this “waste product” from making kerosene for lighting could be used in an engine. Thus “gasoline” was born and they put on the duel fuel carb as gasoline was cheaper than alcohol.

    That lead to the “waste product” of “light oil” that was too heavy for Kerosene lamps and too light for lubrication and way to heavy for Gasoline engines… so Dr. Diesel (who’s engine was invented to run on PLANT oils, in particular peanut oil) re-jiggered his engine to use this “waste product”… (eventually we developed catalytic crackers ‘cat crackers’ to turn the heavier fractions into gasoline).

    The explosion of production of Gasoline and Diesel then lead to too much kerosene being left over (as we’d moved to electric lights). So when the aviation turbine came along it was designed to use this cheap “waste product” of Kerosene…

    The earliest “petrochemicals” were made from “coal tar” and “coal oil” along with some coal gas ( eventually resulting in the terms “producer gas” and “synthesis gas”). When coal got a bit expensive, most of them converted over to petroleum (though Eastman Chemical EMN still uses coal) and we started calling the products “Petro”-chemicals.

    But ‘petrol’ was well in use as a motor fuel long befor 1975 and was not then thought of as a ‘waste product’. That was more like 1910-30 IIRC.

    At any rate, the Arab Oil Embargo of about 1973-4 caused a big ‘re-think’ of using oil for electricity and petrochemical production (at least in the USA) and most all the ‘oil’ generation facilities were converted to either natural gas or coal. At the same time, our domestic “petro”chemical industry cut over to making things from Natural Gas as we were up to our eyeballs in the stuff. So from about 1980 to date we’ve made most of our “chemicals” from natural gas, not oil. (Other countries will have different histories depending on relative availability of the different feed stock options.)

    But we could use any of: coal, oil, natural gas, trees, garbage, anything with carbon in it. (“soylent chemicals” anyone?…)

    FWIW, Rentech RTK has a pilot plant making chemicals from trash and Syntroleum SYNM has one using chicken processing waste. So this isn’t a theoretical…

    But yes, I can think of no field of endeavor that better illustrates the truths of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and “Everything is a resource” than the history of motor fuels and “petro”chemicals…

    Oh, and another honorary mention goes to Ford for using plastics made from peanuts (and perhaps soy?) in the earliest cars they made. Ford and George Washington Carver were modestly close friends and both worked together to demonstrate plant based plastics. IIRC it was various knobs and a rear rumble seat door that were made that way.

    Ah, yes:

    says it was soybeans. And that Carver made a workable synthetic rubber from the Goldenrod weed.

    Another person who realized that EVERYTHING is a resource… just not always a reserve…

  24. peter_dtm says:


    ah yes – UK v USA manufacturing/industrial history

    Imperial Chemical Industry – ICI used to flare off or just throw away the ‘light’ distillates until – probably the Arab embargo – then they just burst on the scene; literally form nowhere as a petrol station (gas station) owner operator and supplier. Some accountant finally did the maths and showed it was cheaper to make the distillate waste into ‘petroleum spirit’ and dispense it to the public. They could have saved money even if they had given it away free !

    Have a look at SASOL in South Africa as well; taking a WWII German technique to convert almost coal (brown coal) into Petrol and Diesel. The waste product from that process (which was a strategic sanctions busting operation in Apartheid SA) was Synthol – which was then sold on as Marine bunkers – Redwood 300 ‘light bunkers’ at the time costing some $400 per ton; waste product from SASOL costing some $10 per ton to get to SA ports sold at .. $390 of course !. The early 1990’s break even for SASOL was Brent oil at $30-$40 per bbl. Needless to say it’s a roaring commercial success; taking a ‘waste’ *not quite coal* mineral…….

    And of course here in the UK we used to ‘make’ gas from coal – Town Gas – the ‘waste’ product from that went to steel works …. until North Sea gas arrived in the late 70s

    As you say; most things that are considered ‘waste’ are highly valued in some other time/place.. (guano anyone … ?)

  25. E.M.Smith says:

    Peter Offenhartz
    I believe this overlap helps explain why global warming is greatest in the arctic and in other places where water vapor concentrations are low. In effect, rising CO2 matters most where the concentration of water vapor is lowest.

    I think you will find this article covers the arctic issue rather well:“arctic-report-card-update-for-2010”/

    As seen in this graph:

    we’re just about the same place we were in the late 1930’s, so there isn’t really anything spectacular to explain. Just the regular cycling of the PDO / AO / AMO et. al. No CO2 hypothesis needed at all.

    So yes, the Arctic does change more than the equator. You can see that each December and July … Doesn’t mean much, though.

    There isn’t any “Global Warming”. There is a simple cyclical process. (Take a look at the ever increasing ANT-arctic ice and it’s pretty clear there is nothing “global” about polar changes…) But if you place your starting point right in the bottom of the cold half cycle of 1950-80 or even 1960-90 you can get what LOOKS LIKE a warming trend, but that’s just fooling yourself with thinking that a 30 year average of weather is a trend when it isn’t anything but a half of a 60 year weather cycle.

  26. Baa Humbug says:

    Could this paragraph from the article above be correct?

    “Now, fortune and technology may be smiling on the energy-poor country, with the discovery of an unconventional energy source that could possibly provide it with enough gas to meet its demand for 14 years. ”

    14 years? Seems hardly worth the effort. Typo maybe?

  27. Baa Humbug says:

    Peter Offenhartz

    Hi Pete
    Unfortunately my laptop fried during recent floods (stupid me left in on the ground next to my bed, o’night floods engulfed it) and took with it about 8Gb of articles, peer reviewed papers etc.
    The date of the paper is irrelevant I believe. If you noticed at the link I provided, it refered to counter papers by Houghton Shine and Braterman and I’m almost certain RealClimate had something on this. All points of view are worth exploring. Some Google time I guess.

    Adrian Vance on December 1, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Mr Vance, what you say sounds very much like the Miskolczi hypothesis, is this correct?

    Oguzhan (oggi) Tandogac

  28. boballab says:

    If you go back far enough in time, “Oil” as we call it was nothing but a nuisance that sometimes got in the way of people drilling water wells. At that time the “Fuel Oil” in use was Whale Oil and it was used in lamps. When the numbers of whales started to decline and people didn’t want to go back to candles someone remembered that nuisance substance sometimes caught on fire.

    That is what kills me about people that harp that the Government needs to fund and direct the R&D into new energy technologies: One of the greatest, if not the greatest, energy technologies came completely from private R&D and all because people didn’t want to use candles.

    Before the 1850s, Americans often used whale oil to light their homes and shops. When whale oil became scarce, people began looking for other oil sources. In some places, oil seeped naturally to the surface of ponds and streams. People skimmed this oil and made it into kerosene. Kerosene was commonly used to light America’s homes before the arrival of the electric light bulb.

    As demand for kerosene grew, a group of businessmen hired Edwin Drake to drill for oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania. After much hard work and slow progress, he discovered oil in 1859. Drake’s well was 69.5 feet deep, very shallow compared to today’s wells.

    Drake refined the oil from his well into kerosene for lighting. Gasoline and other products made during refining were simply thrown away because people had no use for them. In 1892, the “horseless carriage” solved this problem since it required gasoline. By 1920 there were nine million motor vehicles in this country and gas stations were opening everywhere.

  29. OzWizard says:

    One more historical energy story: Prior to the Curie’s discovery of radioactivity, the only use for Uranium ores was as a yellow pigment in the glazing of pottery.

    So, when is a resource not a resource? Only for so long as mankind has not recognized – and technological development has not released – its potential.

  30. Pingback: Tweets that mention Clathrate To Production « Musings from the Chiefio --

  31. Paul Hanlon says:

    So far, everything I’ve seen about Methane Clathrates concern clathrates found on the sea floor. What about under it.

    Around any of these seeps, there’s also a lot of other matter spewing out. We also have millions upon millions of tons of dust and debris raining down from meteorites, from land runoff, and dead fish, etc.

    Anytime one sees the sea floor, it is invariably caked in mud. Have any studies been done I wonder, into the likelihood that clathrate deposits have been covered over by this mud.

    As your map shows, all of the discoveries to date are close to land. But to my mind, there’s nothing unique about the geology there that means these are the only places where clathrates can be found.

    We know it can’t be temperature that causes them to form, so it must be the pressure, and we don’t see bubbles at the surface where there are major seeps, so it must be staying on the sea floor. What we’ve found so far could be just the tip of the iceberg.

  32. E.M.Smith says:

    @Baa Humbug:

    Unfortunately my laptop fried during recent floods (stupid me left in on the ground next to my bed, o’night floods engulfed it) and took with it about 8Gb of articles, peer reviewed papers etc.

    Hoipefully you haven’t tossed it yet….

    The disk drive is hermetically sealed and ought to survive any flood. I’ve recovered some by just transplanting the whole drive (after mild cleaning). Others have had the electronics die and a simple electronics transplant revived them ( easier back when there were not 2000 kinds of disks and it was easier to find the same make / brand of disk as a ‘donor’..)

    If all else fails, these folks have worked well for me on several “hopeless” cases:

    They can even get inside the disk package and read the platters directly if need be (though that costs more).

    It was as simple as dropping the disk / laptop in a box, shipping it with billing info, and getting back the recovered data.

    No relationship other than a VERY satisfied customer.

    (I was Director of Information Technology and folks would bring in all sorts of ‘work laptops’ they had dropped, run over, fell in the lake, etc. We had one burned in a fire then irrigated by the fire department – and those folks recovered the data.)

  33. Adrian Vance says:

    “Miskolczi hypothesis?” Sorry, I am not aware of it, but make no claim as I have simply drawn from very obvious absorption charts which few others seem to consider.

  34. E.M.Smith says:

    Baa Humbug

    Could this paragraph from the article above be correct?

    “Now, fortune and technology may be smiling on the energy-poor country, with the discovery of an unconventional energy source that could possibly provide it with enough gas to meet its demand for 14 years. ”

    14 years? Seems hardly worth the effort. Typo maybe?

    That’s what was in the original. I noticed it too. My guess is just that it’s 14 years from that one play. If you look at the map at the top of the article you will notice LOTS of dots for clathrate around Japan…

    @Adrian Vance:

    Spencer has a good write up on the Miskolczi hypothesis:’s-2010-controversial-greenhouse-theory/

    basic idea is that earth and atmosphere balance in radiation of IR so have a constant greenhouse effect.


    Yes, great bit of history. The “whale oil energy shortage”. As a footnote: Whale oil continued to be used as an essential lubricant additive in automatic transmission oil. About the same time as the Arab Oil Embargo, we had a crash of whale populations and a ban on whaling. It was then that the oil of the Jojoba plant was found to be almost identical to whale oil in lubrication…

    and this “useless desert weed” became a significant product…

    @Sandy Rahm:

    Thanks! Nice to know someone likes what you do… and I’d have never discovered them talking about me, not on my own at least. But all I do is speak the truth plainly and simply. (Though I’ve noticed a few folks don’t like plain and “simple” truth… ;-)


    Until a couple of years ago (when it got replaced) I had a front tooth cap made with Uranium… It was a kind of stainless steel base with a ceramic layer on it. The Uranium ceramic was the right hardness and made it just the right ‘not quite white’ to match my other teeth 8-(

    My dentist (in about 1970 when it was installed) told me it ought to be good for about 15 years then would need replacing. I had it replaced in about 2004? but not because there was a problem with the tooth. Just that the gums were letting a little bit of the upper edge show (as they had receded a bit with age). He also told me it was “a little bit radioactive, but nothing to worry about”… so I didn’t worry… But there are times I wish I’d taken a particle count on it, being the curious sort ;-)

    As I understand it, Uranium Yellow is still sometimes found in ceramics.

    @paul hanlon:

    As I understand the thesis, a lot of the clathrate is under the mud. The notion is that much of it comes from biological sources (on land) that wash out to sea and are buried, then decay anaerobically to make methane, that then makes clathrates as it hits water. The ‘bottom mud’ in the middle of the ocean accumulates very very slowly, so is thought to allow the decomposition of the organics prior to burial, so less clathrate formation (while huge amounts of organics can wash out to sea at a river mouth and be buried un-oxidized… which also implies the ‘dead zone’ near the mouth of the Mississippi River may be quite normal…)

    There are some flies in the ointment of that theory, such as the possibility that methane of non-biotic origin may make the clathrates… In which case there could be gigantic deposits of the stuff under the deep oceans. That we’ve found colonies of life that live on methane seeps implies it’s been around for a few millions to billions of years and that implies it isn’t all just random river deposits…. and some of those colonies are quite deep in the oceans.

    So “yes and no”… There are hints at loads of it further down and nobody as drilled there to find out (and we may well never be able to drill 10 miles down…) but the present theory implies more will be near the shore anyway (good for us as we can drill there easily).

    But I figure we’ll find out when we run out of the near shore stuff… in about 1000 years… ;-)

    FWIW, methane clathrate forms anytime there is methane and water mixed and the pressure / temperature product is below the ‘ice point’ on the phase diagram. That can be in the ‘darned cold’ of space or the ‘high pressure’ of the ocean deeps.

    The diagram here is of interest:

    (The wiki has a broken diagram that implies it only forms below 0 C … not like they might have an agenda or anything…)

  35. boballab says:


    Another little tidbit of useless knowledge was something I saw a couple months ago about the lubricants used in Satellites: Whale Oil.

  36. Adrian Vance says:

    Spencer is non-committal regarding Miskolczi. It looks like a “Gaia” type hypothesis and confusing.

    My point is that CO2 is a “trace gas,” not a very good absorber of IR energy from sunlight and insignificant by definition thus, end of story. But…

    With carbon responsible for 80% of all energy the control and taxing of carbon would give the elected ruling class more power than they have ever had and that is what they seek by corrupting science. This is not the first time they have done that for political power.

    The Tuskeegee Syphalis study, Eugenics, DDT and Freon(tm) demonizations are all corrupted science scandals. Anthropogenic global warming is just the latest of these attempts to commit fraud while wearing a white coat.

    CO2 absorption was first determined by Tyndall in 1857. It was studied again by Arrhenius later in the 19th century and others in the light of quantum mechanics since then, but with some lying about results, i.e. Hansen, Mann, Jones, et al.

  37. Malaga View says:

    Adrian Vance
    Anthropogenic global warming is just the latest of these attempts to commit fraud while wearing a white coat.

    Your comments, insights and wisdom on this thread are wonderfully educational… please don’t stop!

  38. Moliterno says:

    Great wandering discussion of clathrates, resources and energy history.

    I have one minor correction regarding the invention of aviation turbines to use a surplus product. Aviation turbine fuel is actually the highest value fuel per pound because it has to remain liquid at extremely low temperatures. These aviation distillates are perfectly good lamp fuel or diesel fuel but are more expensive because they must have very little higher melting point components. The finished fuel must have a “cloud point” (where crystals of higher melting point components start forming) below its lowest expected storage temperature, which can be below -40 at altitude.

    Aviation fuel also has to have a relatively high flash point to prevent explosion hazards in partially empty fuel tanks. Because of these extreme operating ranges, aviation fuel only can be made from a very narrow range of certain crude oils and commands a significant premium.

    Do you want to fly on an airplane that uses leftovers for fuel?

  39. Adrian Vance says:

    I have a blog at the “Two Minute Conservative” which is a database of 1,000 300 word pieces written for radio and TV talk show hosts or opinion page editors as well as dinner table conversationalists seeking to infuriate liberals. Input “global warming” or “CO2” to the search routine in the upper left corner and you’ll get lots of ammunition on this subject. Try it on other topics like “taxes,” “economics,” etc. and your spouse will not be able to take you anywhere.

    I also have the website that presents signed petitions, source pieces and a $25 “experiment,” actually demonstration, that proves AGW is bullshit.

    And, at you can see the full disclosure website for my soon-to-be-awarded patent on butanol production with algae and all the CO2 these nitwits are talking about pumping into old marine oil well for gazillions of Dollars while I can make motor fuel with it cheaply.

  40. TSUVash says:

    I think Methane Clathrate and other gas hydrates have been on Japan’s radar for quite some time, to the point where it has even invaded their science fiction lexicon, as a next step in worldwide fuel usage.

    I know that I had never even heard of it or its potential until I bumped into it out of the blue watching a Sci-fi anime series some years ago.

    The setting for the show is a future vision of Earth as a barren apocolyptic land where humanity survives in domes. The suggested cause of the devestation is an accident that set off a chain reaction of explosions in the worlds methane hydrate supply, which had become the main worldwide energy source.

    Thus, to me, this recent news has the eerie air of something that is only joked about or used in a fictional sense slowly becoming reality before your eyes. :)

  41. E.M.Smith says:


    You do a pretty good job of describing the modern “specification” for Jet-A, but that does not mean the modern spec was the reason for the initial choice of it as a fuel.

    A turbine can run on anything from methane (as is done with substantially the same GE engine as is used on Jet aircraft when GE sells a ‘turbine” generation plant) through gasoline to kerosene and on to Diesel oil.

    They accept most commercial fuels, such as gasoline, natural gas, propane, diesel, and kerosene as well as renewable fuels such as E85, biodiesel and biogas.

    And they have for a very long time:

    n 1950, designer F.R. Bell and Chief Engineer Maurice Wilks from British car manufacturers Rover unveiled the first car powered with a gas turbine engine. The two-seater JET1 had the engine positioned behind the seats, air intake grilles on either side of the car, and exhaust outlets on the top of the tail. During tests, the car reached top speeds of 140 km/h (87 mph), at a turbine speed of 50,000 rpm. The car ran on petrol, paraffin or diesel oil, but fuel consumption problems proved insurmountable for a production car. It is on display at the London Science Museum.

    So it wasn’t the turbine itself that determined the fuel to use. But how about ‘energy per unit mass’? Or, as you put it:

    Aviation turbine fuel is actually the highest value fuel per pound because it has to remain liquid at extremely low temperatures.

    (I’ll ignore that you confound the two orthogonal issues of BTU/lb and liquidity at low temps)

    Well, from here:

    We have a table that lists

    Fuel type	          Gross MJ/L	 MJ/kg	
    Conventional gasoline	        34.8	44.4[11]	
    Diesel(*)	                38.6	45.4
    Avgas (high octane gasoline)	33.5	46.8	
    Jet fuel (kerosene based)	35.1	43.8	
    Liquefied natural gas        	25.3	~55	

    Hmmm… at 43.8 Jet Fuel is lower per kg than auto gasoline at 44.4, Aviation gasoline at 46.8, and Diesel at 45.4. And “way lower” than LNG at about 55.

    So it looks like that “highest fuel value per pound” isn’t it.

    And it’s not the “must stay liquid at low temperatures” or we’d be using Aviation gasoline for jet turbines (as Avgas was very well understood and widely distributed just prior to the Jet Age beginning…). Avgas stays liquid longer than Kerosene does (though both work well for all practical expected temperatures. )

    While it would be quite workable to make an airplane that ran Diesel in the turbine, it would want a fuel line heater and fuel tank heater as is done on cold weather trucks. Not much of an issue, really. I don’t think there would be much trouble making an airplane to run on Diesel… because…

    Oh, wait, it’s been done since at least the era of the Zeppelin

    A number of manufacturers built diesel aero engines in the 1920s and 30s; the best known were the Packard air-cooled radial, and the Junkers Jumo 205, which was moderately successful, but proved unsuitable for combat use in World War II.

    The first successful diesel engine developed specifically for aircraft was the Packard radial diesel of 1928-29, which was laid out in the familiar air-cooled radial format similar to Wright and Pratt & Whitney designs, and was contemporary with the Beardmore Tornado used in the R101 airship. The use of a diesel had been specified for its low fire risk fuel. The first successful flight of a diesel powered aircraft was made on September 18, 1928 in a Stinson model SM-IDX “Detroiter,” registration number X7654 (presently owned by Greg Herrick, and based near Minneapolis, Minnesota).

    Entering service in the early 1930s, the two-stroke Junkers Jumo 205 opposed-piston engine was much more widely used than previous aero diesels. It was moderately successful in its use in the Blohm & Voss Ha 139 and even more so in airship use. In Britain Napier & Son license-built the 205 as the Napier Culverin, but it did not see production use in this form. A Daimler-Benz diesel engine was also used in Zeppelins, including the ill-fated LZ 129 Hindenburg.

    and is enjoying a comeback today as Avgas is becoming harder to find:


    SMA engines, located in Bourges, 150 km south of Paris have designed a four-stroke, air-cooled, turbo-diesel aircraft engine from the ground up, the SR305-230. SMA’s engineering team came from Renault Sport (Formula 1). The 230 hp (170 kW), 305 cubic inch (5.0 liter) jet fuel engine first obtained European certification in April 2001, followed by US FAA certification in July 2002. It is now certified as retrofit on several Cessna 182 models in Europe and the USA, and Maule is working toward certification of the M-9-230.

    plus similar activities in Germany, the USA, and elsewhere. Clearly using Diesel in aircraft is not all that hard to do…

    Per “flash point”, see the use of Avgas (which has a much much higher “flash point”). A fairly easily handled issue, IMHO, though I’d rather be in a Diesel. And to the issue of “cloud point” I’m very familiar with it as I drive a Diesel. For about $400 you can get a kit that routes waste engine heat past the fuel line, fuel filter, and into the fuel tank. End of issue. Commonly available on cold weather trucks (where it costs more) and frequently installed on bio-Diesel vehicles in North Dakota for obvious reasons…

    So yes, they are both things for the engineer to consider, but are simple and easy to “fix”. Easily dominated by a small difference in price per gallon of fuel as a design goal (witness the present push to swap from Avgas to Diesel based on cost and availability).

    BTW, now we can make aviation kerosene from ANY crude in the world. All that changes is the amount of cat cracking and reformation you must do. So that makes it more economical to use some crudes over others, but “any crude will do”. You can see this in the fact that every major oil company offers turbine fuels despite using crude from all over the planet. The latest wrinkle was when the EPA decided that cyclic hydrocarbons made more “soot” than straight chains so folks got to find ways to open the rings or they swapped to crudes with more paraffinics to begin with.

    The process is pretty simple. Get the chain length you want (crack or reform) and now you get to open the rings too; fractionate (distill into fractions), and if you need to, you can freeze out any stuff that will make too low a cloud point.

    You can even do this starting with chicken fat or garbage (as has been done by Rentech RTK and Syntroleum SYNM) or coal (as has been done by Sasol SSL).

    So I’m having trouble buying your argument…

    But yes, the current turbine fuel spec says low volatiles, low cloud, straight chains. Could just as easily be made “Diesel with a heater” or “Avgas with a fuel bladder / vapor control”. And that could still be run in the turbines…. (though you would need some minor changes in the fuel handling system).

    And per riding in an aircraft using “leftovers” for fuel:

    Yes, I’d be quite happy to do so. And I’ve done it.

    I don’t care what fuel it uses, even old chicken grease, as long as the fuel / engine system has been designed to handle it “I’m good with that”…

    (Friend had a Cessna with the ‘auto-gas’ placard on it. Ran good on ‘left over’ auto gas too… And I’ve been up in balloons running on ‘left over’ butane from the oil refining business. I’ll not mention the more “interesting” stories ;-)

    Now think back on the start of the Jet Age. They had these turbines that would use ANY of the common fuels, and they had a lot of Avgas experience and distribution. Plus it has more BTU/ pound… and they went to Kerosene because…????

    How about because war demand for Avgas was quite high and they had this Kerosene fraction that at that time was hard to crack to Avgas but worked just dandy in the turbine as-is…

    THEN comes the “fuel spec”… and then much later comes the “modern fuel spec”… long after the kerosene decision was made.

  42. E.M.Smith says:

    @Adrian Vance:

    Love that Butanol system. Very well done!

    If you ever go commercial, I’m interested in helping.

    For those not familiar with it, Butanol is an alcohol that can be just put in your gasoline tank and used as is. It is made by a few very handy bacteria.

    What Adrian’s system has done is solve some of the ‘culturing’ problems. Other folks fed them expensive feeds, and he’s feeding them algae that grow in the same tank. Leaves out a whole slew of steps / costs. Then he has a neat fuel separation step using cold instead of distillation. Just well done, sir! (Though I think the ground source cooling will not work well in the “sun belt”… but for anything North of Oklahoma it ought to be fine, modulo the seasonal impacts).

    FWIW, you can grow enough Algae to power the whole of the USA on a square roughly 100 miles on a side. It would disappear in the Mojave desert… Though better would be to distribute the process near coal power plants and gas turbines (as algae are CO2 limited, you really want that CO2 feed..) In that use, the “space” needed is about the same as we presently use for sewage treatment. In other words, hardly worth noticing.

  43. Adrian Vance says:

    Butanol is a 100 octane fuel right out of the “must” and the first step cooling, to 10 Celsius degrees will work anywhere if you dig no more than five feet in the US.

    Butanol has 1/14 the the volatility of octane and will not catch fire in a crash. It is fire that kills a major fraction of those in auto wrecks.

    My calculations say we could produce enough butanol for the entire US in a square 14 miles on a side anywhere south of St. Louis, as the system is under pressure and the algae growth accelerated with that and solar heating.
    But, I propose setting up many small, swimming pool sized facilities as they are affordable to small enterprise, save all the shipping and are strategically indestructible so dispersed. My patent application was accelerated by the Defense Department so we may see it happen and I hope to be flying a private jet powered by butanol.

    You may also want to see my SCAF patent application website at as this solves the water shortage problem, enhances agriculture and our ability to supply three times our present population with water without drilling one more well. This application is in trouble, but I think I can pull it through. Wish me luck.

  44. DirkH says:

    on December 2, 2010 at 9:50 am Adrian Vance
    “Spencer is non-committal regarding Miskolczi. It looks like a “Gaia” type hypothesis and confusing.”

    I think what Ferenc Miskolczi says is “If the atmosphere wanted to maximize the greenhouse effect, it need not wait for us to emit CO2, because there is already another GHG available in abundance, namely water vapor” – but it would be wrong to say that this expresses a Gaia-like belief system. Only because a system maximizes or tends to maximize a certain feature does not mean it is a Gaia-like entity. A meandering river tends to maximize its length; this doesn’t mean that we presume some kind of river god.

    Ferenc Miskolczi developed his theory to conform to measurements of up- and downwelling radiation at NASA. A testable consequence of the theory would be a constant optical density of the atmosphere; and a Susan Soloman paper has described a drop of water vapor in the past decade (while CO2 was rising).

    For me it looks like Miskolczi is right so far, and there has been no rebuttal by the AGW climatologists by now, even though Gavin Schmidt boasted he would let some grad students write a rebuttal as an exercise – nothing came after that comment! So maybe it’s not so easy to rebut, even if you have all the AGW grants in the world.

    I think the AGW scientists don’t want to mention Miskolczi, hoping his theory will simply be forgotten…

  45. Adrian Vance says:

    By “Gaia-like” I meant to say he was attributing some kind of intelligence or selection process to the atmosphere which is “Gaia-like” where the Gaia hypothesis suggests Earth is alive.

    We do not understand awareness. Is it a consequence of a great number of cells with each reacting microscopically to some part of the problem? Or, is it the product of an etherial soul as suggested by the well-documented previous lives case? As a three year-old I had recollections of having been a farmer in the 19th century telling people about my farm in 19th century terms such my grandparents thought I was possessed and called a physician! They frightened me so badly I quickly forgot about it and have only one small vision remaining. Who knows?

  46. E.M.Smith says:

    @Adrian Vance:

    I’m just obsessing on an irrelevant nit.

    You say 10 C (that’s about 50 F) while I remember our stability point in ground temps to be 56 F around here. Clearly not enough to be a significant issue. At most you would need a heat pump to move all of 6 F (or nearly nothing).

    At best, it’s inside the actual temperatures needed and / or you can capture some ‘winter cold’ for use in the summer.

    In no way does it impact economic viability, just some minor engineering choices.

  47. Adrian Vance says:

    I’m sure you are correct. I worked from the sources who probably average the numbers from the two borders. In any case we use earth chilling as a heat sink to reduce the cost to be zero degrees Celsius where the product butanol can be decanted without going all the way freezing. This means our product is energy positive unlike ethanol which takes 10 Calories for every Calorie it produces when burned.

  48. Moliterno says:

    Sorry for my lack of precision regarding my assertion that Aviation fuel is the highest value per pound. I meant economic value, not heating value. I have often wondered when aircraft would make the change to LNG for fuel since is has the highest BTU value per pound at 24,000 vs 20,000 for kerosene. Hydrogen is best at 60,000 but its cost and flammability is prohibitive and always will be.

    Only trouble with using LNG is the losses on the ground due to boil off because you cannot afford the weight of pressurized fuel tanks. And fire hazards would be pretty extreme.

    You are correct in your statements that you can make aviation kerosene from any crude, but all those processes add cost and that is why it is so expensive.

    I am a little puzzled that you didn’t understand my comment about wanting to run on leftovers. You can’t pull over when your fuel filter clogs up because your line heater craps out, so I would never fly in a plane that would certainly lose engine power whenever the fuel heater fails. And the FAA would never certify the design or fuel, but that is another subject altogether.

  49. E.M.Smith says:


    Could you please just google a key term or two before making bald assertions that are just not true?

    Try “aviation fuel heater”, for instance. You will find it’s fairly common.


    Fuel Cool Oil Cool (FCOC)

    The volatility (ability of evaporate) of fuel may be increased by heating it. This is particularly important if fuel is supplied from wing tanks where it has been exposed to low temperature soak at altitude.

    The hot oil from engine heats up the cool fuel and in the process cools itself off, thus reducing the number of oil cooling components in the platform.

    Fuel heater

    If additional fuel heating is required, the fuel heater is able to do this by the use of high pressure compressor gas.

    So yes, the FAA would certify it and has certified it.


    a directory of aircraft parts and repairs providers:

    Aero Kool Corporation An airframe and engine component overhaul facility: air cycle machines, air starters, fuel heaters (engine), heat exchangers, oil coolers, oil tanks, refrigeration packs, regulators (oil temperature), scavenge pumps (lube oil), water separators, pneumatic valves, electro pneumatic valves, and electro mechanical valves.

    Oh, and per “fuel value” vs “dollar value”, from:

    we have jet fuel at the refinery at $2.355 / gallon.


    puts unleaded at $2.36 and heating oil at $2.45 (Diesel is just #2 heating oil with added taxes and a slightly finer filtering done on it, unless you are in a low sulfur mandated place then it’s had a sulfur scrub too, so it will the same price or higher than Heating Oil).

    So from an “at the refinery” cost basis, Jet Fuel Kerosene is about the same cost as Gasoline and a dime cheaper than Diesel / heating oil.

    So no, jet fuel kerosene is NOT expensive as a fuel.

    At one time, about 50 to 60 years ago, it was expensive to turn one ‘cut’ into another, so whatever was in shortest demand was cheapest. With modern cat cracking and reforming, it’s pretty much a ‘dollars per BTU’ thing, modulo some minor seasonal limits to total refining capacity.

    (They only turn over the refinery to making “so much” of each cut and if demand for, oh, heating oil, is surprisingly high it will rise in price as they are not going to shut the refinery down to change over more equipment right when demand is highest).

    So I’ll say it one more time: Back in the 1940s we had high demand for Avgas, Auto gas, Diesel and Heating Oil, but little demand for Kerosene. It was in over supply and fairly cheap. Now, after 70 years of design optimization and building out the whole aviation fuel infrastructure to use it AND with modern cat cracking / reforming / hydrotreating there just isn’t any incentive to change over to any other fuel, but we could EASILY do it if we wanted to do so.

    For Avgas, demand has gotten so low that many refiners simply don’t make it any more. (The death of private aviation at the hands of over regulation is pretty much doing it in) so the guys who are still flying are converting to any of: Auto gas, Kerosene, or Diesel where possible. (Mostly limited by FAA regulations and NOT technology) with a few folks running Ethanol though they have to plancard the aircraft “experimental” and not fly anywhere urban. PITA that…

    Could you please stop digging your hole now?

    And you’ll not likely see LNG airplanes for the simple reason that the tanks are too large and they must either be pressurized (heavy / expensive) or cryogenic (heavy / expensive). Not to mention that keeping ice off the wings (where fuel tanks typically live) is already hard enough without making them a cryogenic surface too… Heck of a lot easier to just turn it into gasoline ( zeolite catalyst) or kerosene.

    Though that didn’t stop the Russians from making an experimental one (but notice the size and placement of the fuel tank…)

  50. Moliterno says:

    I certainly didn’t intend to “get over” on you by challenging your assertion that turbine engines were developed to take advantage of a surplus product. However, I do have a lot of professional pride and I’m pretty careful not to bloviate. FWIW, I made a small fortune figuring out how to run mass produced diesel truck engines on used transformer oil, used motor oil, natural gas and landfill gas.

    I know well how to heat fuel to make it work and various workarounds to start engines on one fuel and transition to another under load.

    Note that when you calculate the price per pound and not per gallon, jet fuel kerosene is at a premium to diesel. This is always the case because jet fuel kerosene can be used in any diesel engine and is part of the mix of commercial diesel fuel and is blended to lower the pour point of diesel for cold season operation.

    I still maintain that you would be foolish to rely on a fuel heating system routinely to save a few cents per gallon.

    Finally, although I agree with your general premise that the creativity of the human mind will overcome the apparently limited resources of whatever we happen to be using, I think turbine engine development for aviation is a poor example. Turbine engines were developed for aviation because they had a great power to weight ratio advantage over reciprocating engines. There is also a great advantage in reduced number of moving parts and mean time between failures. Once the machinery was commercialized, it was us engineers job to minimize the fuel cost and then we looked for the fuel that was most easily available and required the least amount of tank weight and system weight.

    Gas turbines for power generation were developed to exploit the lowest cost fuel available, natural gas. It probably won’t be long before the container ship lines put LNG tanks in to replace the marine diesel they use for their turbines. But perhaps I can leapfrog LNG to install small modular nuclear reactors instead. The Chinese and Koreans are way ahead of us already in commercial nuclear power and they will not give up nuclear opportunities to subsidize windmills and green fairy tales.

  51. E.M.Smith says:


    LNG is already being used… on LNG carriers:

    since they already have the ‘tankage’ issue under control.

  52. Moliterno says:

    Yeah, the LNG carriers use the boil-off for propulsion and eliminate the need for recompression and refrigeration.

  53. DirkH says:

    Adrian Vance
    “By “Gaia-like” I meant to say he was attributing some kind of intelligence or selection process to the atmosphere which is “Gaia-like” where the Gaia hypothesis suggests Earth is alive.”

    That’s how i understood you. Again – complex systems often maximize or minimize certain features; it is a consequence of the rules in the system, not the presence of a being or an intelligence. A market has its rules designed to maximize the number of trades that can occur; this doesn’t mean the market has its own intelligence. A sine wave oscillator is designed to resonate at a given frequency; maximizing a peak in its output spectrum – again, not an intelligent process or entity, but the result of the rules that exist in that system. And from what i read by Miskolczi, i find no attribution of intelligent processes in the atmosphere; just a description of rules and the effects they produce. Maybe it was his way of describing this system that confused Dr. Spencer or you.
    Link to abstract of his paper; paper itself is paywalled, 18 GBP :-( – but the abstract sounds rather sober to me.

  54. Gilbert K. Arnold says:

    As a geologist once employed in the mining industry and now employed in the Natural Gas exploration business. I remember from my Economic Geology classes that any mineral deposit was just that “a mineral deposit”, when it became economical to produce it, it became an “Ore deposit” and further became a commodity. So at the present time, methane clathrates are a “mineral” deposit. When the technology develops sufficiently to produce the stuff at a profit then it will be come a valuable commodity.

  55. Baa Humbug says:

    @E M Smith
    Re: My fried laptop
    Thankyou for the advice, I wasn’t aware. I’ll pull out the drive and follow your advice.

    @A Vance
    I wish you luck and healthy success.
    p.s. Don’t change when you have that lear jet, you never know what you’ll change into.

    O.(oggi) Tandogac

  56. Adrian Vance says:

    Well, I probably don’t have enough time left in this life to become a real prick or do any great damage. I would like to take a few friends to Lisbon and have a few days of Fado and great food, buy a Ferrari and live where I can let it out to about 150 mph, but aside from that have no ambitions where I could cause much trouble.

  57. Brian H says:

    I agree; Adrian is being very peculiar about this. M. simply used a common rhetorical device, and somehow Adrian is off on a Gaia hunt. Seems like a case of low reading comprehension, to me. Engineers can sometimes get a bit literal-minded; maybe he’s one a thim.

    EM Smith;
    About “everything is a resource”, have a boo at . The only thing holding it back, I think, is the NIMBY prospect of hundreds of garbage trucks delivering unsorted waste and leaving empty. Its output is electricity, syngas, and a bit of aggregate suitable for inclusion in road asphalt, etc.

  58. E.M.Smith says:

    @Brian H:

    Ah, yes, the plasma torch approach. Works fine.

    Yes, folks are easily put off by the notion that recycled garbage is clean. Yet they eat recycled manure and drink recycled pee every day. Just that the recycling was done by the bugs in the dirt. Oh Well.

    I really think a whole lot of folks would benefit from a 1 semester class in Farm Life where they were put on a recreation of a 1700’s era farm and told “This is Reality. Deal with it.”

    A whole lot of Fluffy Brained beliefs get flushed “right quick”. Things like: You want bacon in week 10? Put the manure on the beans what we’ll be feeding that that pig for the next 9 week… You want water? Lets talk about digging a hole a ways away from the barn…

  59. P.G. Sharrow says:

    The reality of living from a pile of dirt is no fun. Daylight to dark work, 6+ days and no vacation. I have done it from hand labor subsistence as a kid to large commercial farm.
    Anyone that wants to go back to muscle power is a whole pile of bricks short of a load!

    It’s kind of like the people that think that a few million person population can recreate and operate modern civilization. It takes several million just to do the electronics industry.

    The real workers just quietly get things done and the armchair posers loudly tell everyone how it should be done. pg

  60. Chuckles says:

    P.G. S, Mush truth in what you have said there.

    There are two types of work –

    1. Altering the position of objects at or near the earth’s surface.
    2. Telling other people to do so.

    The first is unpleasant and badly paid, the second pleasant and highly paid. Most problems start when the second group thinks they can do without the first…

    Particularly to be feared is the return of the dark age. As Pournelle has noted, they occur when we no longer remember that we were once able to do something. Much of western education and current governmental action seems focused on proving this.

  61. PhilJourdan says:

    E.M. Smith

    Yes, folks are easily put off by the notion that recycled garbage is clean. Yet they eat recycled manure and drink recycled pee every day.

    Yes, but they do not THINK about it and do not see the “man behind the curtain”, so it does not exist to them!

    Best way to create a vegetarian is to show them a meat packing plant.

  62. P.G. Sharrow says:

    I’ve spent time working in a slauterhouse / meat packing plant also made bacons, hams and sausages etc. Believe me it was much nicer then doing it in the field and on the kitchen table.

    I think city people have no concept of the blood, gore and stink of making meat edible even under the best of conditions.

    It was not the most pleasant work to be doing specially if you raised the animals, but I do like to eat. pg

  63. E.M.Smith says:

    I was raised in “farm country” by a Dad who grew up on a farm with an Amish parent. You do your own chores.

    I’ve “prepared” fish, chickens, small furry things. I’ve “assisted” with cows (from ‘on the hoof’ to ‘in the freezer’).

    I’ve done in a few gunny sacks of Frogs. (Nice big bull frogs with really delicious legs… It’s not just the French who know what tastes good ;-)

    And I’ve gone hunting.

    It’s never pretty.

    I’ve made sausage in my own kitchen. (So I know what’s in it ;-) and I’ve toured a ham smoke house operation. (Didn’t have room to make my own, or I would. You just can’t get a really decent dry ham any more. At least not for any kind of decent price; and around here not without a week or three of searching. I’ve given up.)

    Between the family heritage, my Dad and Mom having lived through the Great Depression, living in a Mormon town, and reading just about everything Heinlein; well “be prepared” doesn’t even come close…

    Worst and funniest at the same time was when my Dad was demonstrating the fine art of removing the head from a chicken… and the damn thing got away from us and started running around the back yard. Didn’t stop ’till it had made a royal mess by pumping it’s blood out everywhere as the neck flopped around.

    City folks think it’s just a silly saying “Like a chicken with it’s head cut off.” But it isn’t. They have a ‘hind brain’ down in the hips that drives the legs and they just go into full on run when not inhibited by the head.

    Almost as bad: Plucking 2 pheasants on the back porch. Started dry plucking. Then someone got the bright idea to try scalding the feather first so it would be easier to pluck.

    I hate the smell of hot wet feathers to this day…

    Yeah, given my ‘druthers I’ll have it packaged in plastic, please…

    But if I don’t get it my way, well ….

    (Though if I had to grow my own, I think I’d eat a lot of farmed fish. Much easier to prepare, very efficient with feed, and I don’t like to pet them…)

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