188.8.131.52 Liquid and gaseous fuels
Coal, natural gas, petroleum and biomass can all be used to produce a variety of liquid fuels for transport, industrial processes, power generation and, in some regions of the world, domestic heating. These include petroleum products from crude oil or coal; methanol from coal or natural gas; ethanol and fatty acid esters (biodiesel) from biomass; liquefied natural gas; and synthetic diesel fuel and di-methyl ether from coal or biomass. Of these, crude oil is the most energy-efficient fuel to transport over long distances from source to refinery and then to distribute to product demand points. After petrol, diesel oil and other light and medium distillates are extracted at the refinery, the residues are used to produce bitumen and heavy fuel oil used as an energy source for industrial processes, oil-fired power plants and shipping.
Gaseous fuels provide a great deal of the heating requirements in the developed world and increased use can lead to lower GHG and air-pollution emissions.
Realizing hydrogen as an energy carrier depends on low-cost, high-efficiency methods for production, transport and storage. Most commercial hydrogen production today is based on steam reforming of methane, but electrolysis of water (especially using carbon-free electricity from renewable or nuclear energy) or splitting water thermo-chemically may be viable approaches in the future. Electrolysis may be favoured by development of fuel cells that require a low level of impurities. Current costs of electrolysers are high but declining. Producing hydrogen from fossil fuels on a large scale will need integration of CCS if GHG emissions are to be avoided. A number of routes to produce hydrogen from solar energy are also technically feasible (Figure 4.20).
Figure 4.20: Routes to hydrogen-energy carriers from solar-energy sources.
Hydrogen has potential as an energy-storage medium for electricity production or transport fuel when needed. The prospects for a future hydrogen economy will depend on developing competitively priced fuel cells for stationary applications or vehicles, but fuel cells are unlikely to become fully commercial for one or two decades. International cooperative programmes, such as the IEA Hydrogen Implementing Agreement (IEA, 2005f), and more recently the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (www.iphe.net) aim to advance RD&D on hydrogen and fuel cells across the application spectrum (IEA, 2003g; EERE, 2005).
Hydrogen fuel cells may eventually become commercially viable electricity generators, but because of current costs, complexity and state of development, they may only begin to penetrate the market later this century (IEA, 2005g). Ultimately, hydrogen fuel could be produced in association with CCS leading to low-emission transport fuels. Multi-fuel integrated-energy systems or ‘energyplexes’ (Yamashita and Barreto, 2005) could co-produce electricity, hydrogen and liquid fuels with overall high-conversion efficiencies, low emissions and also facilitating CCS. FutureGen is a US initiative to build the world’s first integrated CCS and hydrogen-production research power plant (US DOE, 2004).