In the search for alternative fuel sources, AAPG member Paul Comet says he has a low-tech answer.
In the process, the AAPG member thinks his idea could help ease a few other small problems.
Such as: global climate change, waste management and the United States’ dependence on imported oil.
Comet (pronounced Ko-MAY) like some others, promotes synfuel generated from waste.
Any organic waste material will do, but Comet, who teaches environmental science at Houston Community College, says agricultural waste offers the best and most plentiful source.
Using the Fischer-Tropp method, dissolved organic waste is steam-heated to become synthetic gas, which in turn is passed over a cobalt iron catalyst and converted to diesel.
Comet says it’s a simple twist on an old technology.
Germany used a similar process to convert coal to diesel during World War II. The German patents have been used in South Africa for years.
“It’s extremely profitable, especially when oil is $20 or more a barrel,” Comet says.
The problem with the original method is that coal adds to carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.
“If we use waste, which is returned to the atmosphere anyway, there is no net increase in emissions,” Comet said.
“There’s less profit, but less damage.”
A Workable Idea?
AAPG member David Vance of Arcadis in Lexington, Ky., one of several who have reviewed Comet’s paper on the subject, says that “it could be a workable idea.”
“It will kill two birds with one stone -- waste management, which in its own right is an issue, and it does yield energy,” Vance said.
Vance says some pilot projects in the eastern United States employ the same basic technology using poultry waste. That provides a richer, consistent feedstock, he added.
Both men acknowledge major obstacles would have to be faced, not the least of which would be persuading Americans to convert to synfuel.
The U.S. petroleum and automobile industries are pillars on the nation’s economy, and both tend to be conservative and slow to change, Comet admits.
But Comet’s vision is global.
For starters, he believes cars could be manufactured to be more energy efficient, while fossil fuels still could be used to manufacture plastics and other materials “which would stay on the ground instead of going into the atmosphere.”
Should emission credits be used as an incentive, the United States could become proactive in reducing emissions, he said.
Comet is among those who believe global warming is a real possibility, and he believes that geoscientists “should err on the side of caution.”
Importantly, Comet thinks the oil industry is the best source for the huge amounts of capital needed to realize the change.
Waste management is not as glamorous as using geology to search for oil and gas, and the technology is not new and exciting, he said, but “it is a valid path to pursue.”
Vance points out, however, that infrastructure is a major problem for petroleum-industry involvement in such a vision.
In terms of expertise, the petrochemical industry may be better equipped to pursue Comet’s ideas,” Vance said.
But Comet is not dismayed.
“We could see something similar to the past, with gas works in each town,” Comet said. “I have talked to some large waste disposal companies and they agree it’s feasible.
“It’s not crazy.” he said, “it’s do-able.”