In the future, we will still have CO2 credits. But instead of allowing companies to release CO2 into the air… Credits might allow companies to capture CO2. How is this possible? Because CO2 will not be seen as a pollutant anymore, but rather as a resource.
I am not sure what is so revolutionary about this except painting the situation in bright colours. This tech already exists, but it is not widely used, because we don't have enough clean energy and we still have relatively cheap fossil hydrocarbons.
I get the carbon neutrality hype, but it all includes a lot of machinery and upfront costs. What happens when you need to create enough e-fuel for everybody on the whole planet? Give me numbers!
There is nothing inherently special about this process as carbon just circulates in nature. And this basically only becomes available after we manage to solve green growth and green transformation, which is still a huge question mark, especially regarding materials, not energy. And even after that, a lot of energy is lost in the process, so you actually need abundance of clean energy to sacrifice it when clearing hydrogen, then methane of whatever. Always better to just use electricity, which then does not capture any carbon.
See e.g. https://www.thegreatsimplification.com/episode/19-simon-michaux
Tomas, I think you may be approaching the analysis of the feasibility of this idea incorrectly. Even if I accept all concepts, numbers, and tech at face value, in order for market forces to make this idea a reality, the utility of the energy input must exceed most other uses. I can imagine at the point where this might be cost neutral, there will be many other options to use that excess energy that will make this one look wasteful.
You surpassed yourself to-day Thomas
Very interesting thought!
Not entirely sure on your sources but I believe the price/W in solar panels is usually stated in maximum output while the average power is 2-5x less. That would mean 2-5MW worth of panels to power the 1MW requirement on the plant.
Second thought is that, if methane is mostly used for energy and solar power becomes extremely cheap, methane prices should drop as well, right?
Seems to me the economics on this should be understanding the efficiency of this process as a way to store/transport and deploy energy vs source of energy as it is today. Does that make sense?
Great to see another workable (soon, if really needed) solution to rising CO2/temperature. Trusting in capitalist greed, I doubt this approach will be a big thing this decade. But times are changing - and in one direction. I wonder: a) concentrating CO2 from air seems hard - maybe the first batch of "terraformers" will be installed next to fossil fuel plants? (many of those try to keep their CO2 out of the atmosphere). b) while a) sounds silly, another first use of the process might be to even out the irregular supply of solar power (none at night, too little in winter). c) Burning down energy-rich and expensive H2 to boring CH4 sounds mad, too. But then H2 might not be such a wonderful carrier for energy. While the infrastructure for CH4 use exists and works. And it might be the least wasteful way to get CO2-levels down, (switching to H2 when CO2 levels went back to the levels of .... (I'd say: 2020.)) Though I'd prefer to turn maritime deserts into oases.
Great article as usual. So are you going to launch a startup to implement this ? :)
Emissions and solar. Check out my post here : https://gemenergyanalytics.substack.com/p/where-to-put-solar-for-maximal-emissions
Good article and the summary is correct: Bet on eMethane (and eMethanol and eAmmonia) not on H2. But these eFuels will be made from green H2 so the article is quite confusing and incomplete for non experts, especially when coupled with your "hydrogen is not the solution article". Hydrogen is not the end-user solution, you will not see it in your car or your building as h2 I believe, but it is the intermediate product needed to produce the solution (eFuel, eMethanol, eAmmonia, eMethane). In that way hydrogen can address 1/3 of the global energy problem (steel and other industries, fertilizer production, off-grid and heat & power, and heavy-duty mobility) In all these industries neither batteries or direct electricity is a viable solution. The other 2/3rds of the net-zero challenge will be addressed by direct green electricity and batteries. The h2 carrier will be different (steel=probably direct h2, fertilizers=ammonia from green h2, hd mobility (aviation, shipping, trucks)=efuels (emethanol or other from green h2), heat&power (mostly heat pumps no h2, but also eMethane from green h2). So H2 is in many cases an intermediate product (for the reasons you mention in that article, but the H2 carrier is simply eMethanol or Green Ammonia or Green Methane (as in this example). Furthermore, there are fuel cells and ways (including combustion for that matter) to use eMethanol and eFuels directly at non-water based fuel cells (ht-pem fuel cells or sofc fuel cells). These generate heat and electricity, can use eFuels and don't have any of the water issues. Furthermore, eMethanol means we can use current gas stations, trucks, oil tankers with minimal infrastructure change (trying to change them to do H2 compressed would be crazy). And once you fill a ship with eMethanol it is 100% green (net-zero) not grid-level 40%? green as an EV is today. Methanol packs about half the juice that diesel does, but the fuel cell can be close to twice as efficient, therefore it should be close in terms of tank. Same, for Methane. As for numbers and feasibility, replacing all the oil tomorrow with eFuels (exclude passenger cars) would require about 10% of the Saudi Arabia desert (ballpark calculation) covered with solar, (about $5trillion of solar now), and a lot of CO2 exists to cover the co2 input. Gradually all this can happen, it is cheaper than what covid cost and will solve a much bigger problem, the one of our existence. Also for rough calculations: 1ton H2+7 tons CO2 = 5 tons eMethanol
There is discussion on LinkedIn on this article too: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/olivierguyot_can-we-solve-the-global-warming-problem-by-activity-7087021627195953152-y4jQ
-> Ugo Bardi's blog post: https://thesunflowerparadigm.blogspot.com/2023/07/can-you-solve-global-warming-problem-by.html
The baseline assumption that solar electricity generation is getting cheaper and cheaper, and that its global deployment may well keep up on an exponential curve, is something that can be agreed upon, see for instance the latest report from RMI : https://rmi.org/wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/2023/07/rmi_x_change_electricity_2023.pdf
Now what may sound like a crazy idea, is to use a big share of that solar power to make methane from the air in a kind of "carbon neutral" way.
1> why not focusing on simply generating and selling more electricity? (reason: not easy to store?)
2> why not focusing the usage of the extra electricity (negative selling price, not easy to store, when production capacity is far above demand, ...) to simply power for instance the Climeworks carbon capture & storage ?
(reason: there would still be an economic model and demand for methane/electrofuels?)
3> the gas pipelines can be re-used yes, but methane or LNG (liquefied natural gas) transport oversea is not the most efficient / environmental friendly, see for instance: https://yle.fi/a/74-20041290
4> One reason mentioned in the older interview https://cleantechnica.com/2022/08/29/interview-with-terraform-founder-casey-handmer/ of Terraform Industries founder, Casey Handmer, would be to make the US fracking/shale oil extraction completely obsolete in term of business model: the billions of $ poured to no end there, would go instead to make methane out of the air... (but why not use those billions for 1 & 2 above instead?)
While we wait for July update on https://www.terraformindustries.com/ , I can't resist to highlight the following from Terraform home page:
We expect several further speedbumps when it comes to the mechanics of material transport and solid/gas reactions, but at this point we’re confident that if we can’t make this work at near our planned costs then there’s something very wrong with humanity’s understanding of physics.
I'm going to push back on what I'm guessing Mr. Pueyo already considers the weakest part of his argument: that we'll run out of CO2. This would only happen if a significant portion of CH4 were used for processes that do not create CO2. The vast majority of CH4 is used for transportation, electricity, or heat generation, which of course is powered by CH4 + O2 → CO2 + H2O. So that CO2 ends up right back in the atmosphere. Less than 10% of CH4 is used as a chemical feedstock.
But even of the 10% being used as a chemical feedstock, 90% of it still turns into CO2, because it's being used for fertilizer! That process is (1) CH4 + H2O → CO + 3 H2, (2) CO + H2O → CO2 + H2. The other 10% is used to make methanol (a lot of which, of course, ends up being oxidized back to CO2, but I'll admit that not all of it does). So that's maybe 1% of your CO2 that's not coming back to you.
CH4 not used in plastic-making. It's the other components of geological natural gas -- ethane, propane, butane, and the alkenes -- that end up being used in plastics. Petrol and recyclable plastics are also much better feedstocks for making new plastic. Now in theory, if you had nothing but CH4, you could use it to make plastic -- but that would presume a total ban on oil & gas production and the total, utter failure of the plastic recycling industry. Barring that, you're going to get your CO2 back.
Tomas, would love if you could get Doomberg to review your assumptions in this piece.
My intermediate concerns with solar are intermittency, inadequate storage and aging transmission lines. I'm in favor of a mix of solar and nuclear.
(Apologies if this has been discussed below, didn't run through the entire comments section, too long already)
When electricity becomes that cheap to produce with solar (presumably W/Kg and area efficiency of solar panels will also increase at a slower rate), what use cases will really be left for methane?
-Automotive will not need it
-nat gas is already being banned for newly installed building heating where I live. District heating may be able to use it in dense areas, where infrastructure is in place?
-Air travel can't use it (all sorts of problems there)
-Electricity generation at night when the direct solar panel/wind energy just so happens to be insufficient? (baseload nuclear, pump storage and some innovative short-term storage solutions can take care of it soon)
-Shipping may be able to use it in nat. gas engines?
- Maybe store energy across the seasons by pumping it back in to nat gas reservoirs to be used just in the few dark winter months at higher latitudes?
You mentioned land, but you didn't say much about it. Solar panels replacing farmland and forest land reduce the amount of food and wood available and the amt of CO2 extracted by plants. Already solar energy is being gobbled up in some places for crypto mining and data centers, which use hugely more energy than homes and cars. Where will all these panels be located?
Great post. It is a stop gap, but with population decreasing, it may last further than would expect.
Does land on which to place all these solar panels become a constraint and environmental issue. Water vapor in the desert is present but in small amounts that might make location an issue
Electrical transmission efficiency is also a limiting factor. How does this affect the scheme