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Synthetic Fuels Could Replace Entire U.S. Need for Crude Oil

By - Source: Princeton University | B 58 comments
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Synthetic fuels may become an interesting out of our dire need for more crude oil to power our vehicles.

Scientists at Princeton University found that a combination of coal, natural gas and non-food crops could form a synthetic replacement for today's gasoline. The scientists said that it could replace virtually our entire need for crude oil and make the United States independent for oil imports. They also said that synthetic fuels "could be used directly in automobile engines and are almost identical to fuels refined from crude oil."

The news gets even better as synthetic fuels are less harmful to the environment and would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, the researchers estimate. Of course, there are downsides as well. One of them is the time frame of implementation: The time required to create a synthetic fuel supply and distribution infrastructure would be about 30 to 40 years, Christodoulos Floudas, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton, estimated.

And then there is cost. The adoption of synthetic fuel would cost about $1.1 trillion. According to the EIA, the United States is currently importing about 317 million barrels of crude oil per month at a cost of about $28.5 billion per month. At this level, the synthetic fuel cost represents the cost of crude oil imports of about 39 months.

 

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  • 22 Hide
    bak0n , December 8, 2012 9:06 PM
    The time required to create a synthetic fuel supply and distribution infrastructure would be about 30 to 40 years.

    Talk to me in 60 years when I'm dead and its still not out.
  • 22 Hide
    livebriand , December 8, 2012 9:39 PM
    I'd rather we spend the money on renewables, rather than unsustainable and still polluting synthetics like this.
  • 22 Hide
    azraa , December 8, 2012 10:14 PM
    livebriandI'd rather we spend the money on renewables, rather than unsustainable and still polluting synthetics like this.


    Totally agree with this guy.
    And this applies to the power grid AND vehicle usage.
    Synth fuels will have a drawback from the biological point of view and they will produce pollution anyway. (IE: id rather consume electricity than chopping down entire forests for crops to be sown, the soil weakens and industrial giants dont give a shit)

    Electrical cars need to be focus no. 1 to the energetic research of USA.
    Larger scale solar plants needs to be a priority
    On the other hand, I do not oppose thermonuclear power.
    Sure it is dangerous, but we live in the 21st century and there are many proofs that it is safer than ever, any scientist could say that. Physics and the engineering behind it are well known by now.

    We need anything but oil and coal generating our power.
Other Comments
  • 22 Hide
    bak0n , December 8, 2012 9:06 PM
    The time required to create a synthetic fuel supply and distribution infrastructure would be about 30 to 40 years.

    Talk to me in 60 years when I'm dead and its still not out.
  • -3 Hide
    A Bad Day , December 8, 2012 9:20 PM
    Quote:
    The news gets even better as synthetic fuels are less harmful to the environment and would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, the researchers estimate.


    Quote:
    combination of coal, natural gas and non-food crops


    Coal: Need this be explained?

    Natural gas: Although it's a cleaner fuel than oil or coal, the issue is the gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing. There had been many reports of wells leaking toxic liquid waste (often times contaminated with heavy metals), or leaking so much methane into the watertable that it blows out the water pumps in the surrounding area. Methane is also a much stronger heat trapper than carbon dioxide.
  • 10 Hide
    aaron88_7 , December 8, 2012 9:30 PM
    As long as my future car can fly I really don't care what kind of fuel it uses.
  • 8 Hide
    A Bad Day , December 8, 2012 9:31 PM
    EDIT: And what non-food crops are going to be used? Will fertilizers, pesticides and diesel-powered farming equipments be used from seed-planting to harvesting? Will it encourage farmers living next to or in rain forests to cut more trees to make more farming land?
  • 22 Hide
    livebriand , December 8, 2012 9:39 PM
    I'd rather we spend the money on renewables, rather than unsustainable and still polluting synthetics like this.
  • 7 Hide
    RealityClash , December 8, 2012 10:12 PM
    Or if the government wasn't full of corrupt/uninformed idiots then hemp would still be legal and today's cars would run on sustainable and environmentally friendly biofuels made from hemp which is what Henry Ford's first cars were originally designed to run on and we'd have never been in this mess where we're both running out of fossil fuels and killing the planet.

    Either way I guess this would still be a step in the right direction :) 
  • 18 Hide
    freggo , December 8, 2012 10:12 PM
    " are almost identical to fuels refined from crude oil."
    vs.
    " synthetic fuels are less harmful to the environment" and "cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent"

    If they are virtually identical then how can one be less harmful and cut emissions by 50%

    No matter what you put into a combustion engine, it is never going to be as efficient as an electric motor nor can even the most powerful V8 product the low end torque that an electric motor produces.

    You want great 0-60 times... go electric.
    And if you absolutely need a combustion engine, then feed it Hydrogen.
    BMW has shown that it can be done, and talk about a clean exhaust; no more suicides in the garage !

  • 6 Hide
    everygamer , December 8, 2012 10:13 PM
    Setting up the manufacturing/distribution for this is 1.1 Trillion. What would the cost per gallon of the synthetic fuel be. Just because it can be used, does not mean that it is cheaper to produce. If it is more expensive per gallon, then there would be no economic drive to use it.

    This is the same reason that other fuel sources have not replaced gas up to this point, because the energy to cost ratio of gas is just that much more than the other solutions. Example, Ethonol costs more to make, and we get less energy from it, so you need more ethonol to get the same work at a much higher cost.
  • 22 Hide
    azraa , December 8, 2012 10:14 PM
    livebriandI'd rather we spend the money on renewables, rather than unsustainable and still polluting synthetics like this.


    Totally agree with this guy.
    And this applies to the power grid AND vehicle usage.
    Synth fuels will have a drawback from the biological point of view and they will produce pollution anyway. (IE: id rather consume electricity than chopping down entire forests for crops to be sown, the soil weakens and industrial giants dont give a shit)

    Electrical cars need to be focus no. 1 to the energetic research of USA.
    Larger scale solar plants needs to be a priority
    On the other hand, I do not oppose thermonuclear power.
    Sure it is dangerous, but we live in the 21st century and there are many proofs that it is safer than ever, any scientist could say that. Physics and the engineering behind it are well known by now.

    We need anything but oil and coal generating our power.
  • 6 Hide
    waikano , December 8, 2012 10:17 PM
    If it makes a synthetic gas that wouldn't replace the need for diesel, this country runs on Diesel not gas. The only real thing that runs on gas are our cars (well except mine which run on diesel) Everything else is diesel. As far as a clean renewable energy that can replace the need for diesel made from crude oil look no further than Bio Diesel made from Algae...it will be here before the 30-40 year timeline for this synthetic gas.
  • 0 Hide
    waikano , December 8, 2012 10:36 PM
    Azraa there's a few problems with Electric cars the biggest being they don't go very far. Sure they are great for most commuters, but not for distance trips...this on the other hand

    http://www.hybridcars.com/news/trident-iceni-biodiesel-car-offers-nearly-69-peak-mpg-or-200-mph-speed-50490.html

    Goes 2000 miles between fill-ups well as long as you are cruising around 70mph.
  • 3 Hide
    azraa , December 8, 2012 10:45 PM
    waikanoAzraa there's a few problems with Electric cars the biggest being they don't go very far. Sure they are great for most commuters, but not for distance trips...this on the other hand http://www.hybridcars.com/news/tri [...] 50490.htmlGoes 2000 miles between fill-ups well as long as you are cruising around 70mph.


    Yeah well, thanks for pointing that out. It sure is THE major problem with that solution.
    HOWEVER, thats why I mentioned that Electric Cars should be a research priority (and by this I mean involve federal funds to push and stimulate Universities doing this, and give rewards to the companies that go the same way)
  • -1 Hide
    A Bad Day , December 8, 2012 10:48 PM
    livebriandI'd rather we spend the money on renewables, rather than unsustainable and still polluting synthetics like this.


    Two issues:

    The first issue is that renewable energy is heavily politicized. Some of the companies that Obama's administration heavily invested in caused some major controversy when they went bankrupt.

    The second issue is that there's a relatively poor demand. Most housing developers/contractors have no interest because solar panel installation increases the prices of homes. In one county where the council was planning on passing a bill to require mandatory fire sprinkler systems for all residential houses, the contractors protested against it.

    Some homeowners, like my parents, see no need because it would take a decade for the solar panel installation's cost to be recovered, and by that time, they would've moved out of the house.
  • 0 Hide
    computernerdforlife , December 8, 2012 10:52 PM
    I use fully synthetic engine oil and I check my engine oil bi-weekly to make sure it says full. (I'm not talking about gas that you get at a gas station). The cost for the oil that is compatible with my engine is Mobil 1 Full Synthetic at about ~$100 which is double the price of non-synthetics out there but the quality is much more reliable between oil changes. My point is that if it's better than what i'm using now, i'll take the temporary alternative that actually makes my car run on a daily basis. Good news is good news, even in small doses.
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , December 8, 2012 10:57 PM
    hey, at least it's not another article about apple written by some retard...
  • 12 Hide
    krogtheclown , December 8, 2012 11:02 PM
    Lets not forget what electric is produced by, that is mostly coal eletric plants. Electric cars are great and the future but we still have to make the electricity. Nuclear power is a must!
  • -1 Hide
    digiex , December 8, 2012 11:09 PM
    This article is best suited for Tom Swift Science fiction story.
  • 3 Hide
    memadmax , December 8, 2012 11:20 PM
    They've been trying the synth fuel thing since the discovery of gasoline........
  • 0 Hide
    waikano , December 8, 2012 11:29 PM
    And the Coal is probably delivered to said plants via Diesel (Boat, Train, Truck)
  • 0 Hide
    teh_chem , December 8, 2012 11:32 PM
    computernerdforlifeI use fully synthetic engine oil and I check my engine oil bi-weekly to make sure it says full. (I'm not talking about gas that you get at a gas station). The cost for the oil that is compatible with my engine is Mobil 1 Full Synthetic at about ~$100 which is double the price of non-synthetics out there but the quality is much more reliable between oil changes. My point is that if it's better than what i'm using now, i'll take the temporary alternative that actually makes my car run on a daily basis. Good news is good news, even in small doses.


    The reason why synthetic oil is ~double the price of standard oil is because it generally takes more time before it breaks down. Synthetic oil provides zero performance or functional advantage over standard oil--regardless of what the marketing says. If you change your oil ever 3k miles with standard oil, or every ~5k miles with synthetic, there will be zero functional impact on your engine over the lifespan of the car.

    From a conservation standpoint, synthetic makes sense (one would use a lower volume of synthetic oil over the lifespan of a car than standard oil, so we're not consuming as much or generating as much waste), but it has no functional benefits over standard oil, except you don't have to change the oil as frequently.
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