Issue: Nov 2012


WILL ADVANCED BIO FUELS OUT PERFORM OIL FROM FRACKING



by Bob Brooks

A recent page one story in the Wall Street Journal states that a “shale-oil boom will help the U.S. overtake Saudi Arabia as the worlds largest oil producer by 2020”. The source for this information is the International Energy Agency which has kicked off worldwide interest in recovery of petroleum via fracking.

While petroleum oil may indeed take on a new position along with natural gas in the
overall energy picture, thanks to fracking technology, it must be considered that the latest developments in bio based liquid energy are also making competitive gains untroubled by fracking difficulties.

If one Googles the subject of problems associated with fracking, it will be clear why many analysts say, “Not so fast”. Leading the list of limitations on fracking is huge use of valuable water and chemicals needed to release trapped oil. As a result of reported billions of gallons of water needed and complaints about contamination of water supplies, petroleum oil fracking interests are under heavy pressure to find solutions to fracking’s environmental negatives.

Needless to say, the build up in use of very large quantities of water for fracking coincides with declining reserves of ground water for agricultural and municipal use ……not unlike the problems with food crop use to make fuel and indirect land use concerns of some bio fuels.. .

This time, however, riding to the rescue is bio fuel made with abundant salt water, solar energy, nutrients, limited land use, and no biomass. Instead, microorganisms that secrete fuel continuously fed with waste CO2 have emerged as key parts of a viable system. A leader in this field is Joule Unlimited, Hobbs, N. Mexico. Joule’s first full scale privately funded production plant, built by the Fluor construction/engineering company is now up and running. Audi recently joined the effort to help commercialize the Joule technology.

Also in the hunt for sustainable, environmentally favorable new fuel is bio oil produced by KiOR, Columbus, Mississippi. KiOR has based its technology on abundant supplies of
southern yellow pine biomass that is in over supply due to decline in the southern paper industry production.
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In effect, while oil fracking promises large increases in U.S. petroleum supply with related U.S. energy security and economic advantages, it does not come without costly environmental baggage. For comparison, bio oil, particularly derived from microorganisms, has insignificant environmental negatives and provides a use
for unwanted CO2.

Based on a study by the Environment America Research & Policy Center Frontier Group (Boston),“A growing body of data indicates that fracking is an environmental & pubic health disaster in the making”, hence, the concern that oil form fracking may become something less than an optimum route to clean energy.

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