New Green Drop in replacement for Heating Oil

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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,635
Northern NH

I have been following this individual and his process for 10 plus years. he had a small plant in Gorham Maine but could not attract funds to scale it up. He then went up to Old Town Maine and partnered with a pulp mill to grab his base stock from the black liquor stream that is normally fired in recovery boiler to heat the pulping process and recovery chemicals. He also worked with U Maine at the site but the pulp mill shut down and the new owner apparently is uninterested in the partnership. At the time they were saying that in order to scale the process up, the pulp mill was too small and production facility would be in the billion dollar range. There was a subsequent attempt at building a biofuel plant in East Millinocket Maine, but the developers were mostly into creative financing with government money.

There is a lot of funding from the US government being offered to Maine and other northern regions to turn low grade wood into high value materials and it looks like they are going to be getting a chunk of it. The market for low grade wood dried up when biomass power subsidies dried up and were transferred to solar and wind projects. There are other firms like Ensyn http://www.ensyn.com/ensyn-fuels-inc.html that sell a heating oil replacement for #4 oil but its tricky stuff to handle (I managed a project to do their first commercial conversion in North Conway NH). Its not a drop in replacement and requires a entirely stainless steel fuel storage and heating system plus it degrades quickly. It also cost more than dino fuel but the added cost is offset by selling RINs to the oil companies that are required to buy them (very similar to ethanol)

The government also invested hundreds of millions in Range Fuels in Georgia owned by tech investors to make cellulosic ethanol from wood wastes. It went bankrupt once and then refunded again by the US government and then went bankrupt again. The tech investors reportedly walked away with a profit by creative financing.

Ultimately all the biofuel concepts out there have suffered from the same fundamental issue, the technology is well known, its just that the price of crude oil is so cheap its not competitive. Throw in carbon credits and the math may change. Hopefully this one is different if its truly a drop in replacement for home heating oil.

One of the other issues is if someone goes to all the trouble to process the wood, there are a lot of higher value chemicals that are available from the process that far more valuable than heating oil. The problem is most of those chemicals cost more to make than their dino equivalents.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
1,507
SE North Carolina
I hope it is viable. I lived across the river from the Old Town mill for 5 years. Watched as it shut down, change hands, and basically was bought by the state. I haven’t followed it for 10 years now but this seems like some good news to come out if it. I wonder why they won’t disclose the location of the new plant.
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,635
Northern NH
Usually they go looking for the best place with tax incentives. The logical place was the East Millinocket site as it had the best wood reclaim handling system in the state plus a biomass boiler. Last thing I knew the town had bought the plant site and paying for it by having a contractor scrap the mill site with the exception of the newer recycling buildings at the front of the site. I think the Millinocket site is stripped now but its the most logical as the Golden Road runs right to it and with it is access to a near infinite amount of low grade wood.

The other aspect is to colocate it with a large sawmill and use the scraps to make the bio oil.
 

JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
It's always going to be difficult to create in days what took nature millions of years to do. I don't think refined biofuels are ever going to be cost competitive.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,315
Downeast Maine
It's always going to be difficult to create in days what took nature millions of years to do. I don't think refined biofuels are ever going to be cost competitive.
They will in the absence of fossil fuels.

@peakbagger I can't read the article without a subscription, but how is the fuel zero emissions? Does burning the liquid somehow not emit carbon?
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,635
Northern NH
Its not zero emissions, with any biofuel there are emissions but the argument if the low grade wood is left rotting in the woods that it will give off the same amount of CO2 when it rots as when it burned. Biomass is basically a natural solar collector. It collects sunshine and uses it to convert CO2 and H20 into potential fuel. Unfortunately the efficiency of natural photosynthesis is reportedly 0.5%. The key is that stored carbon under ground is not being pumped up to add to the amount of CO2 in the air.
 
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JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
They will in the absence of fossil fuels.
Not if there are cheaper and better alternatives. Solar panels plus a heat pump will be cheaper in the long run than trying to keep an old oil burner going on biofuels. Biofuels will never match the volume of petroleum production and will probably never be affordable in comparison. When you think about the infrastructure involved in producing and transporting liquid fuels vs electricity I think it becomes clear that eventually everything will go electric.
 
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SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,315
Downeast Maine
Not if there are cheaper and better alternatives. Solar panels plus a heat pump will be cheaper in the long run than trying to keep an old oil burner going on biofuels. Biofuels will never match the volume of petroleum production and will probably never be affordable in comparison. When you think about the infrastructure involved in producing and transporting liquid fuels vs electricity I think it becomes clear that eventually everything will go electric.
Bio fuels are for more than heating. There are millions of engines on this planet run on diesel which is not going to be easily replaced by electricity. #1 heating oil is little more than dyed diesel and is almost identical to jet fuel. I'm sure there are people crunching the numbers, but currently I don't see it being economically or environmentally feasible to just replace every diesel engine with electric motors and batteries. Perhaps this will change in the future, but for the time being bio fuels could easily fuel the "legacy" equipment, trucks, and passenger vehicles out there.
 

JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
for the time being bio fuels could easily fuel the "legacy" equipment, trucks, and passenger vehicles out there.
I've seen no data suggesting biofuels could scale anytime soon, if ever, so it could not be done "easily". In the meantime companies are already developing electric Semis, heavy equipment, buses, trucks, etc. From what I can see electric vehicles are advancing much faster than any biofuel projects. I expect ocean going ships and long haul jets to be the last holdouts to transition to electric.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,315
Downeast Maine
I've seen no data suggesting biofuels could scale anytime soon, if ever, so it could not be done "easily". In the meantime companies are already developing electric Semis, heavy equipment, buses, trucks, etc. From what I can see electric vehicles are advancing much faster than any biofuel projects. I expect ocean going ships and long haul jets to be the last holdouts to transition to electric.
Why couldn't it be scaled? There are electric semi concepts for LTL shipping, but not for long haul trucking. There's even an electric plane that shuttles folks around islands in the Pacific Northwest. Bio-fuels have already been figured out, the issue is cost. You can even run some older diesel engines directly only used vegetable oil. Electric is far more expensive than diesel infrastructure currently, it is only slightly affordable due to government incentives, much like the only reason fossil is affordable in North America. Across the oceans diesel fuel is four times more expensive than in the US, if not more. At those prices, suddenly diesel made from vegetable oils or wood pulp becomes much more attractive.
 

JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
Why couldn't it be scaled?
" In order produce enough biodiesel to convert our entire transportation needs to soy biodiesel, we would need to plant 2.8 billion acres of farmland in soybeans. In the US, roughly 302 million acres of land is now used for growing crops, with the majority of that actually being used to produce animal feed for the meat industry. "

There are electric semi concepts for LTL shipping, but not for long haul trucking.
Tesla Semi is targeting 500 miles of range on a charge. Recharging can take place while loading/unloading and on breaks.

Electric is far more expensive than diesel infrastructure currently, it is only slightly affordable due to government incentives, much like the only reason fossil is affordable in North America.
Electric is cheaper than diesel without incentives. Ask anyone who drives an EV.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,315
Downeast Maine
" In order produce enough biodiesel to convert our entire transportation needs to soy biodiesel, we would need to plant 2.8 billion acres of farmland in soybeans. In the US, roughly 302 million acres of land is now used for growing crops, with the majority of that actually being used to produce animal feed for the meat industry. "


Tesla Semi is targeting 500 miles of range on a charge. Recharging can take place while loading/unloading and on breaks.


Electric is cheaper than diesel without incentives. Ask anyone who drives an EV.

Maybe it's cheaper for a Nissan Leaf, but not when you are traveling thousands of miles at a time. If it were so cheap and easy, then the industry would have switched, even for a $0.001 saving per mile. Bringing up the acreage is silly because bio-fuel stock crops have different requirements than fields of soybeans or corn. There is also the consideration of green energy for the EV's and the acreage needed for solar panels or wind.

Battery tech is yet to catch up to bio-fuels, but maybe it will. When batteries don't require lithium and nickel then maybe the market can support battery EV's on a large scale. Currently it's just for early adopters.

Personally I love EV's and would rather see silent propulsion win over loud combustion engines, but the infrastructure is already there to handle liquid fuels. A green "drop in" replacement like mentioned in the OP makes way more sense considering the millions of diesel engines already existing. What about all the carbon already sequestered on these existing platforms? Perhaps the engines and vehicles could be recycled, but at what cost and carbon footprint?
 
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JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
Maybe it's cheaper for a Nissan Leaf, but not when you are traveling thousands of miles at a time. If it were so cheap and easy, then the industry would have switched, even for a $0.001 saving per mile.
It's new technology, it will take time for adoption to spread. No one is traveling thousands of miles without stopping, the max is 11 hours or about 600 miles. Most do much less than that.
Bringing up the acreage is silly because bio-fuel stock crops have different requirements than fields of soybeans or corn.
It's not at all silly, it's a direct example of the magnitude of change needed to accomplish what you're suggesting. Soybeans are the main source of biodiesel currently.

There is also the consideration of green energy for the EV's and the acreage needed for solar panels or wind.
It's much less, and a lot of it can be on existing rooftops.

Battery tech is yet to catch up to bio-fuels, but maybe it will. When batteries don't require lithium and nickel then maybe the market can support battery EV's on a large scale.
Lithium is cheap, plentiful, and only makes up about 2-4% of a lithium battery. Nickel is also abundant. Plus there are other versions of lithium ion which don't use nickel at all, like LiFePO4.

Currently it's just for early adopters.
I think we're past the early adopter phase, you can buy them for less than $40K, and they are outselling similar vehicles in the same market segment. Example:

1604330987738.png

Personally I love EV's and would rather see silent propulsion win over loud combustion engines, but the infrastructure is already there to handle liquid fuels. A green "drop in" replacement like mentioned in the OP makes way more sense considering the millions of diesel engines already existing. What about all the carbon already sequestered on these existing platforms? Perhaps the engines and vehicles could be recycled, but at what cost and carbon footprint?
I think I've outlined why a green "drop in" replacement isn't viable. The infrastructure for EV's is already in place, the grid is everywhere, all we need are more high power connections, which are rapidly being built.

1604331273964.png

Vehicles always get recycled at the end of life, and they can also get converted to electric, which more and more people are doing. I converted a Fiero, two lawn tractors, and an Attex 6x6.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,635
Northern NH
Lot of options for biofuels but they are generally subsidy dependent. Depends on what district votes the most and in what state. The mandatory ethanol blending for gasoline is pretty well universally regarded as a major backdoor farm subsidy. Throw enough subsidies at waste biomass and that becomes a source of liquid fuels. Look into pyrolysis technology and it can be applied to just about any natural cellulosic waste product, Ensyn does that. Add in the Fisher Tropsch developed by Nazi Germany in WW2 when they were short liquid fossil fuel and the chemistry is well known. About the only limitation is the waste stream going in, its got to be predried and of relatively uniform size in order to make a reliable product stream. Too wet and the water vapor makes dilute product streams that need to be concentrated. I have not seen the latest process that the Biofine owner is advocating but back when he was in Gorham Me, he did pyrolysis to drive off the higher volatiles like lignins and alcohols while leaving char (unburned carbon "coal"). The trick to the process was selling both the high value primary products and the byproducts like char. I was at a plant out west once doing some work and their wood boiler was not very efficient and they produced a lot of char which to them was unburnt fuel. They ended up selling it to marihuana growers for soil amendments. So what was waste to be disposed of became a revenue stream. One of the big potential secondary markets for char which could explode soon is burying it for sequestration of carbon in the soil.
 
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SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,315
Downeast Maine
I've read about some processes that use essentially "mulch hay" or otherwise low value grassland plants to create the bio fuel instead of woody plants. Don't really have to do much to "farm" those kinds of plants. The char can be sold as charcoal or buried like you mentioned to help future fuel stock growth.
 

JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
You always need to factor in the energy and cost inputs vs work energy produced. Instead of putting extra steps and costs into turning bio mass into a liquid fuel which needs to be transported before being burnt in an ICE at maybe 30% efficiency it might be more efficient to simply burn the bio mass with minimal processing in a large combined cycle generating plant to charge a 90% efficient EV. I haven't done the math but I'm fairly sure the entire energy chain of bio diesel will be less efficient than bio mass generated electricity. It's the same reason it makes more sense to burn NG in combined cycle generating plants than in vehicles.
 

JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
Regarding trucking costs ARK Invest research firm expects automated electric trucking to not only beat conventional trucking but rail as well.

"In our view, the combination of electric and autonomous technology will increase productivity and lower the costs of trucking dramatically. During the next five to ten years, ARK expects autonomous electric trucks to reduce the cost of trucking from 12 cents per ton-mile to 3 cents, undercutting rail prices with the help of lower electricity and maintenance, as shown below. Trucks already offer faster and more convenient door-to-door service, so lower costs overall could be a significant blow to rails. "

PDF report, not sure the link will work properly

 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,315
Downeast Maine
I hope electric does work out, the less noise and emissions out of large trucks the better. Bio fuels appear to be a stop gap measure while electric storage technology can be developed.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,635
Northern NH
A minor quibble from a former biomass power guy. There really are no combined cycle biomass power plants. A combined cycle plant usually implies a gas turbine running at very high burner temps discharging very hot exhaust into a Heat Recovery Steam Generator and then the resultant steam is run through a steam turbine that exhausts to lowest thermal well available. There have been attempts at running a gas turbine on biogas but as far as I know there is no running plants of any size. There is firm in British Columbia that has sold some small units for heavily subsidized high profile applications that burn cleaned biogas in reciprocating engines but the gas still is too dirty for a turbine. The last big biomass plant I worked on was the highest power output biomass plant in the Northeast, 75 MW and probably the most expensive biomass plant built in the US and that is a bubbling fluid bed under a conventional boiler. The cycle efficiency of a power plant is directly related to the peak gas temp and biomass just does not burn that hot due to the moisture going along for the ride. It still is impressive, I got to stand in the bottom of it and look up 11 stories up to the superheated pendants.

That said the best concept I has seen for liquid biofuel was laid out by a research group based in Rumford Maine about 10 years ago. They would install satellite processing plants with a basic fast pyrolysis system at each plant to make a crude liquid product,. Each satellite plant would be located in an area with low grade wood that would be transported from a 50 mile or less radius. The crude oil would be shipped via tanker to a central plant where it would be refined into numerous high value products worth a lot more than transportation fuel. This cuts down on the transport. The standing joke with a large biomass plant is once the wood gets out of 50 miles radius, the amount of diesel used to ship it starts to exceed the btu content of wood. My proposed trick was to put a CNG fueling station at each satellite plant and run the trucks on CNG which has a lower CO2 profile. It was grand plan but would cost a couple of billion to implement. Back in the Bush administration when we were "running out of oil" (dont hear much about the Hubbert Curve these days ;) ) the DOE was seriously looking at a concept like this to displace liquid fuels. They were eyeing the entire northern forest along the US Canadian border. I think the economic target was around $200 a barrel but think they would be closer to $300 to start.

Far better doing offshore wind on the coasts, inland wind and solar where it makes sense with distributed storage and demand management. The other one that folks do not talk about is geotthermal. The Yellowstone super volcano formation has gigawatts of potential power to be tapped with proven technology and it may not be a bad idea to cool things down.
 
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JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
Thanks for the details. I just assumed biomass could be done with a combined cycle system but you clearly pointed out the flaw in that thinking.
 

ABMax24

Minister of Fire
Sep 18, 2019
1,229
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Here's a different way to look at this, take garbage and create fuel from it. This way there is 2 income streams, you get paid for disposing of the waste, and paid for the fuel you produce. Obviously this wouldn't produce enough to fuel everything, but if it could get rid of the waste plastics problem that would be a huge milestone.

There is a pilot plant already running producing about 1000 liters an hour, and we are supposed to get a full scale plant in Grande Prairie.

 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,635
Northern NH
The question to burning trash including waste plastics is it better to sequester the carbon associated with the trash in landfill or burn it and reduce landfill volume ?. BTW, there is also a pilot plant in Groveton NH that converts waste plastic to heavy fuel oil with the same rational, they are targeted at getting rid of agricultural plastic used to cover hay bales. VT really only had one major landfill and the owners charge a bundle since they have a monopoly. Groveton NH is about 45 minutes east so they would haul in agricultural plastic from VT and convert it to a #4 fuel oil substitute in place of landfilling it. The waste plastic fuel has little or no sulfur which currently is a bonus as low sulfur fuel for shipping is in demand.
 

JRP3

Burning Hunk
Sep 17, 2007
239
Seems as if recycling should be the best way to handle plastics. Though there are microbes which can eat plastic that doesn't sequester the CO2.
 

ABMax24

Minister of Fire
Sep 18, 2019
1,229
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Recycling sure doesn't seem to work that well, there's definitely a lot recycling that does occur and more that could happen, but there are some products that require virgin material.

The other argument is if we are going to burn fossil fuels anyway why not have a portion of that come from waste plastic and send no plastics to landfill. In theory less oil would need to be drilled for and extracted for the purpose of making fuel.