Synthetic can help fuel transport future: scientist


The future of freight transport fuel will reside in several sources and electricity by itself may not carry the full load for a very long time, a leading Australian scientist has predicted. <br /><br /> Speaking at a Business Spectator webinar on synthetic fuels and gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology today, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) research scientist Dr Nick Burke says they will be part of a mix that will include oil and that diesel engines can be expected to rule freight transport for many years to come. <br /><br /> “This isn’t a golden bullet, this particular technology,” he says of the synthetic option that he and colleague Dr Valerie Sage have been working on.

By Rob McKay | October 27, 2011

The future of freight transport fuel will reside in several sources and electricity by itself may not carry the full load for a very long time, a leading Australian scientist has predicted.

Speaking at a Business Spectator webinar on synthetic fuels and gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology today, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) research scientist Dr Nick Burke says they will be part of a mix that will include oil and that diesel engines can be expected to rule freight transport for many years to come.

"This isn’t a golden bullet, this particular technology," he says of the synthetic option that he and colleague Dr Valerie Sage have been working on.

"The future of the energy and transport fuels mix is going to be quite diverse, I think.

"Don’t anticipate that natural-gas derived transport fuels, or even other feedstock transport fuels to be making up 100 percent of the transport fuel mix into the future.

"There will be elements of elements of natural-gas derived transport fuels, probably coal and biomass, and oil into the future."

Asked by moderator and Climate Spectator Editor Giles Parkinson whether synthetic fuels would be in competition with electric propulsion, Burke says the latter would be unable to be used in long-range transport "in the foreseeable future".

"What we’ve got here is something that can fill that gap," Burke told the Shell-sponsored online event.

"Maybe in the longer term, electrified vehicles in transport will evolve to the point where they will power a lot more of our transport but in the short- to medium-term, for long-range transport particularly and even for medium-range transport, it will be based on hydrocarbon combustion engines, at least partly."

Earlier, Sage had said that synthetic fuels derived from methane or natural gas would be purer and burn more efficiently than refinery diesel.

She says that there would be no need for changes to diesel engines for the use of such fuel as their production process was the same as for refinery product.

"They are much cleaner as they have less particulates," Sage says.

"They are considered ‘premium diesel’."

Burke added that the addition of aromatic compounds would be the similar for both gas-derived and oil-derived fuels.

Though noting that costings were difficult, the scientists put synthetic fuel break-even price might be reached when a barrel of oil cost about $80-$100, though future economies of scale and other niche applications might bring that down.

In order to advance its capability in gas processing research in general, and in GTL in

particular, the CSIRO has established a new $5 millionSynfuels and Catalysis Research Facility (SynCat) in Perth.

Its objectives are:

· Minimise greenhouse gas emissions and energy demand of the GTL process

· Improve the conversion and selectivity of the process towards synfuel products thus

· improving overall efficiency

· Improve commercial viability by reducing GTL plant footprint, operating and capital

· investment costs. This could translate into the development of small, modular,

· transportable plants, suitable for small operation

· Build capability to create a global centre of expertise to support the Coal-To-Liquid, GTL and LNG industries in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.

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