Those climate change deniers at Exxon

My, they really do seem to be insistent upon being allowed to boil the planet, don\’t they?

Gene scientist Craig Venter has announced plans to develop next-generation biofuels from algae in a $600m (£370m) partnership with oil giant Exxon Mobil.

That\’s one heck of a lot of money to be putting into pure research (for that is what this is).

It\’s also an entirely sensible way for them to spend their money.

I\’ve never really understood why there is this call for companies like Exxon to invest in wind or solar: they simply aren\’t their area of expertise. Sure, they\’re a large company with pots of cash, but they bring no added value to those sort of renewables.

However, algae can indeed be tweaked to produce something akin to crude (the experimentation here is in how to scale up such known processes) which can then be fed through the standard refinery and distribution network: exactly where they do have some value to add.

I wonder what the reaction is going to be from various greens. Will any of them applaud this? Or condemn it?

15 thoughts on “Those climate change deniers at Exxon”

  1. I don’t think it’s “pure research “. As in “pure science”, the “pure” refers to the purity of motive – that is to say, the science is intended purely to advance the interest of the chaps doing it. This research is meant to have wider social or economic advantages – to wit, to make money for Exxon – so it is “applied research”.

  2. I wonder what the reaction is going to be from various greens. Will any of them applaud this? Or condemn it?

    Today’s Times:

    Greenpeace was sceptical yesterday. Robin Oakley, a climate change campaigner, said: “It fits their business model of finding something you can put in a car.”

  3. “It fits their business model of finding something you can put in a car..”

    Well, d’uh!

    Luckily, that coincides with their customer’s desires, which are also to have something to put in a car.

    Sorry, Greenpeace. No-one wants to walk or cycle everywhere. That’s just a fact of life you are going to have to get used to….

  4. The thing here is, the problem isn’t making fuel. That is easy. Any old hydrocarbon will do, really. The problem is, how much energy you have to put into the system to get the fuel out.

    Fuel is stored energy. You can’t get more energy out of it than you put into making it, unless you’re lucky and find some underground that the Earth spent millions of years putting energy into. That is, oil is the result of all those plants storing energy then getting buried and the energy concentrated. That’s why it’s such a good energy source. You don’t need to put energy in to make it, because that was already done millions of years ago by the sun and some plants. All you need do is pump it out of the ground.

    So these algae need to be fed as much energy as you plan to get out of the fuel later, plus some considerable extra amount for losses in the process. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, even for algae.

    Tim adds: Yes, true, the energy input here is called “sunshine”.

  5. You need a fuck of a lot of sunshine to power a jumbo jet, Tim.

    Tim adds: Sure. Luckily, we’ve got a fuck of a lot of sunshine. Hundreds and hundreds of times total human energy usage. The trick is being able to convert it to the form where we can store and transport it…..

  6. Greens.

    They will be perpetually unhappy until mankind is reduced to living in caves and eating bark (‘sustainably’ collected and organic, of course).

  7. Luckily, we’ve got a fuck of a lot of sunshine.

    Thermodynamics. It’s not concentrated anywhere. That’s why we have the ancient Earth to thank for concentrating it millions of years ago. It’s not just a converting problem. It’s a collecting problem.

    Tim adds: Err, yes, thus the research into ways to do it efficiently….

  8. Tim adds: Err, yes, thus the research into ways to do it efficiently….

    Which is inherently limited by collecting area. According to the godly Wikipedia, the energy content of jet fuel is 35MJ/litre. Insolation in the Sahara (best we can do) is about 4ooW/2, which is about 400J/s/m2.

    So presuming 100% efficiency- (and you’re not going to get anything close to that, are you?), 1000 m2 of algae bathtub will create a litre of jet fuel equivalent every 35E6/400/1000 seconds, which is one litre every 87 or so seconds.

    You wouldn’t need pumping facilities, you could have some guy standing there filling an oil can from a spigot at that rate. Doesn’t look like very hopeful, does it?

  9. umm, if it takes 1000 m2 of sahara insolation (a new word for me) at 100% efficiency just to produce roughly 500 litres of jet fuel equivalent every 12 hours of sunshine … how come people are also saying we could power the planet with an area the size of Austria? How many 1000 m2 are there in Austria, compared to how many 500 litres of jet fuel equivalent in the world’s daily energy requirements?

    Tim adds: Not sure about the jet fuel but area in Austria is 83,872,000 (ie, 83 million) pieces of 1,000 m2.

    Global oil consumption is around 80 million barrels a day (right order of magnitude at least).

    So if each 1,000 m2 piece of land can be used to make one barrel of oil then we’re about there….for oil alone, that is.

    Barrel of oil is 42 US gallons…160 ish litres.

    So if each 1,000 m2 area can make 500 litres in a day of jet fuel, ie three barrels of oil (not right but close enough for this sort of shit) then we can make three times current global oil usage from an area the size of Austria.

    (Yes, yes, I know, efficiency and all, but this is simply to illustrate scale.)

    Oil appears to be about 35% of total energy usage globally.

    Looks like we’re actually about there then on that calculation………

  10. Greenpeace was sceptical yesterday. Robin Oakley, a climate change campaigner, said: “It fits their business model of finding something you can put in a car.”

    They really should all be lined up and shot, the lot of them.

    Exxon is trying to find a clean way to wean us off oil, and they hate them for it. It’s not nearly hair shirted enough.

  11. Well, a square kilometer with our algae sludge at full 100% pelt will manage 5000L in 12 hours (the sun doesn’t stay overhead either, but let’s not let physics get in the way). A fully fueled 747 carries 183,500L.

    183500/5000, carry the eleventy-two…

    Criminy, it’ll take little more than a month to fuel one jumbo! We’re cooking with gas here!

    This isn’t a future with much flying in it, is it?

    Tim adds: Er, 100 hectares to a km2, 10,000 sq metres to a hectare. So 1,000 (must be, 1,000m2 times 1,000 is one million m2 and a sq km has 1,000 m by 1,000 m to make the same 1 million sq m) x 500 litres per 12 hours for a km2. ie 183500/500,000 is three jumbos a day.

  12. Personally I like the idea of these guys.
    Especially if they can be made in a modular fashion (as described in the article), and bought by startup energy companies for local energy production with the possibility of scaling up as demand increases.

    Who will need such a concept as a ‘national grid’ then?

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