Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Alternative Fossil Fuels Have Economic Potential, Study Shows

Date:
October 8, 2008
Source:
RAND Corporation
Summary:
Alternative sources of fossil fuels such as oil sands and coal-to-liquids have significant economic promise, but the environmental consequences must also be considered, according to a new study.

An oil lease in the foothills of Alberta. Alternative sources of fossil fuels such as oil sands and coal-to-liquids have significant economic promise, but the environmental consequences must also be considered, according to a new report.
Credit: iStockphoto/Don Wilkie

Alternative sources of fossil fuels such as oil sands and coal-to-liquids have significant economic promise, but the environmental consequences must also be considered, according to a RAND Corporation study issued October 8.

The study by RAND, a non-profit research organization, provides a review of coal-to-liquids and Canadian oil sands technologies, considers possible impacts on fuel costs from future limitations on carbon dioxide emissions, and compares costs of the alternative fossil fuels to conventional petroleum fuels in 2025.

"With concerns about high and unstable world oil prices, there is strong interest in developing alternative fuel sources," said Michael Toman, lead author of the report. "Oil sands and coal-to-liquids represent economically important options for expanding global fuel supplies that can ease upward pressures on oil prices."

However, Toman said, current methods for oil sands production require large quantities of water and can harm local water quality, though technical advances are lessening these pressures. Development of oil sands also can cause large-scale disturbances of land and habitat.

Both resources also represent potentially significant sources of carbon dioxide emissions; carbon dioxide is the key greenhouse gas driving global climate change. Total carbon dioxide emissions from production and use of oil sands are about 20 percent higher than conventional petroleum, while total emissions from production and use of liquid fuels from coal are about twice the emissions of conventional fuels.

Emissions of carbon dioxide from producing oil sands and liquid fuels from coal can be reduced to levels comparable to conventional petroleum by investing in equipment to capture and pump the carbon dioxide into long-term underground storage. The technical and economic feasibility of large-scale carbon capture and storage is currently under study, but has not yet been demonstrated.

"Because the potential environmental impacts are considerable, decision makers need to assess the economic and other benefits of alternative fossil fuels relative to these environmental concerns," Toman said.

Production of Canadian oil sands is commercially established and currently is greater than 1 million barrels per day. Substantial oil-sand reserves exist, with Canadian reserves second only to Saudi Arabia in volume. The study concludes that oil sands likely will remain very competitive with conventional petroleum, even after accounting for the costs of emitting or capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions.

Modern coal-to-liquids technology is currently being developed, drawing upon a sizable experience base in key industrial processes, including several decades of production in South Africa using older technology. Large-scale commercial production of coal-to-liquids would require large quantities of coal, but U.S. and global coal resources are quite adequate for meeting potential demand, according to the RAND report.

The future cost of liquid fuels from coal also appears to be reasonably competitive with conventional petroleum, provided: (1) oil prices do not fall back to pre-2006 levels for extended periods; (2) there are further improvements in coal-to-liquids technology as production volumes grow; and (3) carbon dioxide limitations do not impose too large a cost burden on liquid fuels from coal relative to conventional fuels.

Costs of carbon dioxide limitations would be moderated if carbon dioxide storage proves to be technically feasible and relatively low-cost on a large scale.

"The most important constraints for oil sands are the local environmental impacts and demand for water," Toman said. "Since major investments in coal-to-liquids become more likely if environmentally sound carbon capture and storage can be commercialized at relatively low cost, the future expansion of this fuel source will be strongly influenced by future private sector and government initiatives to support such commercialization."

"However, even with carbon capture and storage deployed, neither alternative fuel offers a path toward large long-term reductions in total carbon dioxide emissions to limit climate change," Toman said. "There will still be a need to develop lower-carbon fuel options, such as fuel synthesized from a mixture of coal and sustainably grown biomass."

The study was funded by the National Commission on Energy Policy.

Other authors of the study are Aimee Curtright, David S. Ortiz, Joel Darmstadter and Brian Shannon. The report, "Unconventional Fossil-Based Fuels: Economic and Environmental Trade-Offs," is available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR580/.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by RAND Corporation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

RAND Corporation. "Alternative Fossil Fuels Have Economic Potential, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 October 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081008091123.htm>.
RAND Corporation. (2008, October 8). Alternative Fossil Fuels Have Economic Potential, Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081008091123.htm
RAND Corporation. "Alternative Fossil Fuels Have Economic Potential, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081008091123.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

AP (July 23, 2014) 'Ray' the robotic parking valet at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany lets travelers to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot before heading to the check-in desk. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Boeing Ups Outlook on 52% Profit Jump

Boeing Ups Outlook on 52% Profit Jump

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 23, 2014) Commercial aircraft deliveries rose seven percent at Boeing, prompting the aerospace company to boost full-year profit guidance- though quarterly revenues missed analyst estimates. Bobbi Rebell reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Europe's Car Market on the Rebound?

Europe's Car Market on the Rebound?

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 23, 2014) Daimler kicks off a round of second-quarter earnings results from Europe's top carmakers with a healthy set of numbers - prompting hopes that stronger sales in Europe will counter weakness in emerging markets. Hayley Platt reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

Reuters - US Online Video (July 22, 2014) Ten years after releasing its initial report, members of the 9/11 Commission warn of the "waning sense of urgency" in combating terrorists attacks. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins