Gerry Brownlee lignite , carbon sequestration and EROEI

I’ve been doing some homework for an article on lignite. It’s fascinating. Gerry Brownlee came out with an (unqualified) “800 year’s worth”, but perhaps he is just bolstering Greg Visser, who actually spoke of 600 years worth of lignite-to-urea (at present rates of consumption – always the catch). Or maybe he is comparing it to Maui gas, and extrapolating a straight-line comparison with that. Who would know?

For the record; fuel oil has 40 – 50 megajoules/kg, petrol has 35 (ish), coal has 24, and lignite a mere 15.

Then you have to sequester the carbon. Oh dear. It’s been tried in mines, but open-cast ?  Not that I can find. A ton of lignite contains the same amount of carbon as a ton of coal, which – in theory  – would take 25% of the energy in that ton of coal, at best, to sequester. Some say 50%. So for lignite, a ton gives you  62.5 % of the energy of a ton of coal, while still requiring that 25 or 50%. Doesn’t leave much to be driving with, does it?  So Brownlee’s claim can be somewhat tempered, even without adding in  exponential growth in demand.

So it’s probabl;y like this;  They (Solid Energy) get their foot in the door so they have ‘existing use’ and ‘current agreement’  arguments if carbon gets tougher to offset (which it must). They do that by getting the farming lobby onside (hence urea) and getting established.

The real idea, though, is the desperate hope that society can continue ‘Business as Usual’ by transferring from imported oil, to lignite-derived diesel. The hope is clearly a non-starter. Last time that was tried, was Germany in WW2. Minus the sequestration.

They lost. But the important thing to note, really, is that the fiscal world couldn’t cope with $147-a-barrel oil, and that if we ramped there slowly, it may not be able to cope with much over $120. Long before any lignite turns into diesel, Business as Usual is dead.  What a waste of time……

For newbies here: EROEI is ‘energy return on energy invested’. If it takes a barrel of oil, to pump process and proffer a barrel of oil…’s not worth doing. At ANY price. We have cherry-picked the best oil first, and now we are into the last half. It is deeper, sourer, scattered-er,  in other words the EROEI per barrel is declining.

Once, 100:1 was common, we’re down to 15:1 now, and dropping. It is reckoned that 8:1 is the bottom line for Business as Usual. Lignite, at ‘mine mouth’, is 6.5…….  Hydrogen is a minus……

Makes you think, dunnit?


One Response

  1. Give Brownlee credit. In his own way he is trying to deal with a changed world. The poli’s can sense the something has changed. Even the last administration occasionally gave out signs that they knew the future required adaptaton.

    A CTL (Coal To Liquids) plant is a logical way of coping with expensive fuel in the future. It would give NZ more options, wouldn’t it? It made sense to Birch and Muldoon with the Gas To Gasoline (Motinui) syntroleum plant thirty years ago. It didn’t pan out then either, precisely because the world economy had shifted and no longer necessarily rewarded a nation for its physical resources.

    I struggle to decide what is more futile or destructive – building highways feeding into Auckland or a lignite processing industry in Otago / Southland?

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