Taking a Look at Synthetic Fuels

molecule Taking a Look at Synthetic Fuels

Here’s a short follow-up to my piece on synthetic fuels the otherday, in which I mentioned that I would be driving up to San Jose foranother “Craig Shields…At Your Service” session.

I spent the day with Dr. David Doty (http://www.dotyenergy.com/), the developer of a proprietary set of processes for formulating liquidfuels from off-peak wind energy, water, and carbon dioxide. Soon afterhe and his wife (also incredibly sharp), met me at the appointed placeand time and exchanged a few pleasantries, we launched into afascinating discussion on the issues associated with each of the majorforms of energy generation and storage available now and for theforeseeable future. 

I listened to their viewpoints on how even things that sound good tome (like CSP with molten salt) won’t scale and come down in costeffectively.  I’m not sure I’m completely onboard with all of this —after all, the businessman in all of us tends to pull forward the factsthat stand in the favor of our own ideas. Having said that, this was aterrifically compelling presentation — particularly when we got into apotential solution to all this: Doty’s unique and patented approach tosynthetic fuels.

I suppose you could say it’s similar to what the “ammonia as fuel” folks are talking about, but

a) using CO2 (a greenhouse gas, but more difficult and expensive toacquire in high concentrations than atmospheric nitrogen), and

b) aimed at developing using a much higher-grade (energy dense) fuel.  

His presentation makes a great deal of sense in terms of thechemistry and thermodynamics, and he’s gotten the endorsement of some of the other top researchers in the field.?

Of course this still leaves us burning hydrocarbons, even if they’recarbon-neutral. But, as a pragmatist, I often ask myself: Even if wehave millions of electric passenger cars on the road soon, how longbefore we have electric Class 8 trucks? Electric airplanes?  In myestimation, this approach to eco-friendly liquid fuels may be a solution with a great deal of impact on our civilization for a century to come.

Yet we need to acknowledge that skeptics will dismiss the idea out of hand, given that so many other attempts to develop synthetic fuelsscaleably and cost-effectively have failed outright -  or at leastlanguished in obscurity and unmet expectations.   “You must run intopeople who write you off as a crackpot or a charlatan,”  I ventured.  Doty smiled graciously.  “Only once or twice a day,” he grinned.