For 80-year-old Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens the
answer is blowin’ in the wind.
When you imagine of the future of U.S. energy, chances are the
you don’t think of 80-year-old Texas Oil tycoons. At least
you didn’t until T. Boone Pickens began campaigning for the
The Pickens Plan just a few weeks ago.
With oil prices heading towards $5 a gallon in the midst of a
recession, an administration change on the horizon and the
clean-tech debate drawing a great deal of attention and even more
capital, the U.S. sorely needs a high profile spokesperson for
energy policy change. So is Pickens our guy? And is the
timing finally right for some serious energy policy change?
The Pickens Plan calls for a reduction in U.S. use of
foreign oil by 38% in 10 years by greatly expanding wind
power in the center of the country to be used towards electricity
production, thus freeing up natural gas reserves to be used for
transportation. 22% of U.S.
electrical generation comes from natural gas. The plan argues
that if the current 1% (48 billion kWh)
of power converted from wind can be expanded to 20% (960 billion
kWh) then the more than 6.2 trillion cubic feet of natural
gas used annually to produce electricity could be used for transportation starting
with industry vehicles like trucks and buses. Furthermore,
unlike oil, natural domestic gas production can increase and
actually did see a 9% rise
from 2007 to 2008. U.S. natural gas reserves are twice
But why has Pickens chosen to promote his plan at this exact
moment? U.S. dependence on foreign oil has been an issue for
at least 20 years and it’s not as if the other selling points of
his plan—lower CO2 emissions of natural
gas, the need to expand renewable energy infrastructure, and the
potential of wind power in the U.S.—are new to the political
landscape. Environmentalists and many Democrats have been
shouting these points for years. The only thing new to these
ideas is that
Pickens is promoting them. Atop in all, Pickens is a
particularly unlikely renewable energy spokesperson. Besides
being a billionaire oil tycoon, he has been an outspoken supporter
of the Republican party and contributed $5.5 million to help defeat John Kerry elect
George W. Bush in 2004.
It is impossible to talk about the future of energy without giving serious consideration to the role of natural gas as a 21st century resource. And it should not be a surprise! The case made by energy historians is that human civilization has been gradually moving away from dirty carbon rich fuels like wood and coal towards cleaner hydrogen rich fossil fuels of petroleum and natural gas. The next step for civilization is to grow our own energy supplies and reduce reliance on extracting reserves. (But we’re not there yet!!)
Even as leaders from the US and the European Union boldly focus on efforts to get off their ‘oil dependency’ their domestic utility providers, energy giants and chemical companies are opening the spigot for natural gas supplies that often come from the same oil rich regions. Natural gas is arguably the most complicated and overlooked piece of our future energy puzzle.
We now have an updated picture of what is happening inside the United States. The Energy Information Administration has posted a web based presentation looking at expansions to the country’s natural gas pipeline network over the last decade [Link launches web based PPT].
The presentation looks at the last ten years of laying more than 20,000 miles of new transmission pipeline (97 billion cubic ft/day capacity) that has opened up access to new new supplies from Canada and the Gulf Region that feed natural-gas-fired electric power plants, factories and homes. [We will feature Europe’s pipeline in another post.]
Why is this important to the future of energy?
The world’s largest natural gas reserves are of course located within today’s oil-rich nations like Russia, Iran, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabi, Nigeria, and Venezuela.
While The Pickens Plan paints a picture of vast US supplies, they are tiny relative to global production capacities outside US borders. And Europe is already committed to connecting its power plants to resources from neighboring regions.
Coal might be challenged by carbon policies, oil is likely to hit a production plateau—but natural gas might just be getting started as a global industry.
What to Watch: The Petro Product poker hand
Have you ever held natural gas in your hand?
“It ('dry water') looks like a powder, but if you wipe it on your skin, it smears and feels cold” says Andrew Cooper University of Liverpool, UK
Chemists at the University of Liverpool have developed a reliable way of converting methane gas into a powder form in order to make it more transportable.
The researchers use a white powder material made of a mixture of silica and water to soak up large quantities of methane molecules.
Liverpool researchers believe that instead of shipping methane as a 'gas' or 'liquid' (LNG) we can transport it as a powder. It is also possible to use solid natural gas storage being used for electric vehicles that use fuel cells that convert natural gas (on board) into electricity.
Easier method to make store methane in a powder
It does not make sense to store all natural gas as a solid, but the market opportunities are significant. The challenge of methane gas hydrate has been that it is formed at a very slow rate when methane reacts with water under pressure. "To counteract these difficulties we used a method to break water up into tiny droplets to increase the surface area in contact with the gas. We did this by mixing water with a special form of silica – a similar material to sand – which stops the water droplets from coalescing.
This 'dry water' powder soaks up large quantities of methane quite rapidly at around water's normal freezing point."The team also found that 'dry water' could be more economical than other potential products because it is made from cheap raw materials.
Why is this important to the future?
Storing gas as a solid?