(504e) Changing Biomass, Fossil, and Nuclear Fuel Cycles for Sustainability
The energy and chemical industries face two great sustainability challenges: the need to avoid climate change and the need to replace crude oil as the basis of our transport and chemical industries. Those challenges can be met by changing and synergistically combining the biomass, fossil, and nuclear fuel cycles.
? Biomass fuel cycles. Conversion of biomass to liquid fuels avoids the release of greenhouse gases; but, U.S. biomass resources are only sufficient to produce ~5 million barrels of diesel-oil equivalent per day. However, if outside sources of heat and hydrogen are provided to biomass fuel-production plants and the biomass is used only as a fuel (a reduced-carbon source) and chemical feedstock (not as a source of energy for processing or for hydrogen production), ~12 million barrels of diesel oil equivalent per day can be produced. That quantity of oil could meet our national demand for liquid fuels.
? Fossil fuel cycles. Fossil fuels when burnt release greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In the production of liquid fuels (gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel), the releases of greenhouse gases from the production and processing facilities (refineries, coal liquefaction plants, shale processing facilities, etc.) are 30 to 100% of the releases from burning the liquid fuels in cars, trucks and aircraft. If heat and hydrogen for production and processing are provided by non-greenhouse-emitting energy sources, the total greenhouse impacts of fossil-based liquid fuels are drastically reduced. Similar strategies are possible in the production of electricity
? Nuclear fuel cycles. Nuclear energy can provide the stationary greenhouse-neutral heat and hydrogen for alternative biomass and fossil-fuel cycles. However, this requires the development and commercial deployment of high-temperature reactors that have significantly different fuel cycles. It also requires a multitude of other changes in the nuclear fuel cycle.
For sustainability in energy, the carbon-based chemical industry, and liquid fuels production, the three fuel cycles (biomass, fossil fuels, and nuclear) must be both modified and integrated together. While none of these fuel cycles by themselves can address these challenges, they can together meet our sustainability goals.
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