free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 183. DIRECT CARBON FUEL CELLS (DCFCs)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


James Fraser is the author of the The Energy Blog, one of the Internet's best resources on energy R&D. From time to time, we talk about new technologies here on POD, but we also have other fish to fry. So if you want the real details on what's happening in energy R&D, Jim's blog is the place to go.

On Dec. 3, Jim posted on an interesting new technology called Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFCs) being developed by SRI International. From their announcement:
DCFCs convert the chemical energy in coal directly into electricity without the need for gasification. SRI's new DCFC technology has several potential benefits. It produces electricity at a competitive cost from a variety of fuels including coal, coke, tar, biomass and organic waste. In addition, it is two times more fuel-efficient than today's coal-fired power plants, resulting in reduced carbon dioxide emissions. The process produces almost pure carbon dioxide, which can be contained in a concentrated stream and easily captured for downstream use or disposal.
And from Red Herring:
Unlike hydrogen and methanol fuel cells, SRI's carbon fuel cells use no catalyst or costly noble metals like platinum. That again cuts costs, and should increase reliability, said Mr. Dubois.

Finally, the technology makes it easier to capture carbon dioxide. Current legislation doesn't require the capture of carbon dioxide, but "the world is going in that direction," said Mr. Dubois. Such legislation would give SRI's fuel cells a competitive advantage because sequestering carbon dioxide from traditional coal plants is a complicated and costly process, and SRI could significantly lower that cost, he said.

If carbon-dioxide-capturing costs are included, SRI's technology could cost up to 50 percent less than current plants, he added. That could also assuage some environmentalist concerns, as no carbon dioxide emissions would be released into the atmosphere.
-- by JD


At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 5:47:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are DCFCs scaleable for transport?

This technology would appear to be an interesting development in coal based electricity production... as such, an answer to carbon dioxide emissions but not an answer to the coming peak oil transport fuel problem.

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 7:06:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Electric rail, electric auto are the future of transportation. We are going to need alot of extra electricity production to support them. Any way to use coal more efficiently and cleaner is very important.

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 10:45:00 AM PST, Anonymous AlbertusMagnus said...

And it works on biomass, eh? I wonder if it works on *any* biomass? Could we combine it with, for instance, our sewage treatment plants? How about with regular old organic garbage?

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 2:44:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Electric rail, electric auto... yeah no problem if there was a concerted effort to implement these oil deduction stratedies before we reach the peak. The lead times involved with these technologies is not going to prevent economic disruption from a transport fuel crisis.

I agree that the total electrification of our energy systems is probably the wisest long term policy, however it is obvious that certain countries will not make the adjustment in time. The USA comes to mind... and its central role in the global economy disturbs me.

In Sydney, where I live, the urban electric train network is running at its limits at peak commuting times... to imagine that it could cope with a MASSIVE increase in demand over the next 10 years due to rising fuel costs is wishful thinking. There are NO electric vehicles on the market in Australia, no car manufacturer even considering them! I would buy one tomorrow if I could!

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 4:20:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is all true. We don't know how the transition will play out. There are too many variables to consider. At the far end you have the extreme doomer arguments there is absolutely no replacement for oil. At the other extreme you naive optimists who think some new technology will save or that enough new oil will be discovered. People that frequent this weblog I think tend to be in the middle. We want to dimiss the extreme doomer argument. Many times that leaves us trying to demonstrate that the current technology exists to transition us from oil when that time comes. We are willing to acknowledge that the transition may be difficult, maybe very difficult. We are also willing to acknowledge that there could be major changes in lifestyles and economic disruptions. I don't think there is any doubt, though, that if we past peak and price rises, we are going to enter a crisis period that will be comparable to WWII. As many resources as possible will be marshalled to solve this problem. Things will happen at a much quicker pace than we are used to - byy necessity.

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 4:30:00 PM PST, Blogger Dukat- said...

I don't think there will be a problem with the tranistion from conventional cars to electric cars. For an electric car, you don't need to buy a new one, many people on the internet have converted their conventional cars into electric cars for an average of under $2000. The batteries they are currently using are bulky, all we need is better battery technology.

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 5:02:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Carpooling to work will be a very widespread activity until public transport is scaled up. I reckon at least half of all urban car miles are probably either on
commutes to work or very short trips that can be replaced with bicycling and walking. Since the average number of car occpants here in Sydney is 1.1, carrying four people in each car could conceivably cut a quarter of our private automobile fuel use, or even more. Add to that more walking and bicycling to the shops, and you have enough capacity to carry through until public transport is extended and electric cars become more common.

Whichever way you look at it, single-occupant commutes will be extremely rare a few years after the peak, even in small cars.

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 5:09:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The WHO is projecting a massive die-off of humans from the loony-bird flu. It affects only doomers, leaving persons of intelligence and competence to carry on despite the loss of their fellow humans. This will decrease the demand on fossil fuels so much that global warming will be solved, and peak oil will not happen for at least a millenium.

At Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 5:16:00 PM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

and the dead doomer bodies can be used as biomass in DCFCs!!!

At Wednesday, December 7, 2005 at 4:11:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

*sigh*... this avenue for discussion quickly degenerates to a moronic level...

popmonkey and the previous poster, get a life, or more importantly don't lower the tone to flippancy. That reduces you to the worst doomer on dieoff.

Roland, from your remarks I assume you live in the inner urban area of Sydney? Do you think that the scenario you describe will be practical for the satellite areas of Sydney... say western suburbs, central coast etc.? Many people live in areas where walking to shops etc. is not possible. Still if your point is to refute an instant calamitous "dieoff' you're preaching to the converted.

I believe that a serious campaign must be launched immediately in Sydney to extend and consolidate public transport based on PO awareness. We can drop the doom histrionics and stick with the certain transport crisis, this is exactly the message Kjell Akelett described to me over a beer here in Sydney a couple of weekends ago. I also agree with Bob Hirsch, measures must be implemented BEFORE peak, a market based solution will be devastating.

dukat, you're dreaming if you think that there will be no problem converting car fleets to electric on a timescale that will mitigate the peak oil transport fuel crisis.

At Wednesday, December 7, 2005 at 5:09:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

I also agree with Bob Hirsch, measures must be implemented BEFORE peak, a market based solution will be devastating.

anon, there is a risk here that Hirsch himself points out -- the risk of mitigating too early (see 2. and 15. in Appendix VI of the Hirsch report). For example, what if you build a new mass transit system to service the outskirts of Sydney, but nobody uses it for years and years because the price of oil doesn't rise enough to justify switching? It's the risk of wasting a big pile of money (private or public) on a fiasco people won't use. That's what happened with Jimmy Carter's "synfuels" program in the 70s and 80s. It turned out to be a porkfest where the oil companies burned through billions of dollars of taxpayer money and produced nothing of any value.
In the near-term, less costly approaches like car pooling, switching to scooters or moving closer to town/shopping pose less risk.

At Wednesday, December 7, 2005 at 2:22:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Yes anonymous, I do live in inner Sydney, but carpooling is even more sensible for those who live far from work. If you live in the inner suburbs you're probably close enough to bicycle or walk to work, but further out the distances require a car. Carpooling is even better in the outer suburbs than in the inner suburbs.

In many streets every second person will be working in the city each day, so the sensible thing would be to arrange a carpooling system with those in your street, driving whosever car gets the best mileage.

At Friday, December 9, 2005 at 12:14:00 PM PST, Anonymous AlbertusMagnus said...

anon, there is a risk here that Hirsch himself points out -- the risk of mitigating too early (see 2. and 15. in Appendix VI of the Hirsch report).

JD, this time I have to disagree with you...not literally, as Hirsch does in fact say that...but in spirit. Hirsch goes on to point out that the risks of mitigating too early are far less consequential than the risks of mitigating too late.

I have to agree with Hirsch...begin mitigation instantly. I'd much rather be too prepared than not prepared enough.

At Friday, December 9, 2005 at 10:02:00 PM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

anon #6: christ dude, it was a joke, and a pretty funny one if i say so myself.


i'm with albert magnus in regards to mitigation. mitigating early at this point is good for other reasons such as getting climate change under control. mitigating in the right way, that is.

and as i see it the worst that can happen is we lose some money and some politician doesn't get re-elected...

At Monday, February 13, 2006 at 2:53:00 PM PST, Blogger Rebecca Necker said...

I think it is premature to rule out the possibility that this technology could be used directly for transport. I can well imagine one of these Direct Carbon Fuel Cells being fed with coal dust from a bag where the petrol tank used to be. Maybe when you go to the filling station, you get a brick of coal, or a new bag to replace the empty one.


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