The Ergosphere
Saturday, September 24, 2005
 

Anatomy of a press release

I've been relentless in my condemnation of the fuel ethanol industry for overselling its benefits while ignoring its costs.  The Panda Group appears to be one of the few producers trying to get it right:  instead of using scarce natural gas or LPG to run their stills, they are going to be using methane derived from animal manure.  The press release states that the bio-gas will realize "an energy savings equivalent to 1,000 barrels of oil per day."

Taken at face value, this looks good.  1000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) at 6.1 GJ/bbl is 6.1 TJ (5.8 billion BTU), equivalent to about 5.6 million cubic feet of natural gas.  Each day, it will spare enough gas to heat more than a hundred homes over a typical winter, totalling the needs of about 42,000 homes over a year.  But that's the best news in it.

The first bit of bad news is the mis-statements.  The plant is stated to be able to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol per year, which is claimed "will replace the equivalent of 2.4 million barrels of imported gasoline per year."  This claim is exaggerated.  Ethanol is not a 1:1 replacement for gasoline; a gallon of ethanol has energy equivalent to roughly 0.7 gallons of gasoline, so the plant's annual output will only replace about 1.7 million barrels of imports.  This error should never have passed the company's fact checking.

The second bit is what was not done.  On page 2, the release states "The Panda Group is a privately held company that has built over 9,000 MW of electric generation at a cost of $5 billion."  That's about $550/kW, indicating that it is gas-turbine (possibly combined-cycle) rather than steam-turbine.  The company certainly has expertise to build and operate co-generation facilities with their ethanol production.  But a search of the web for "Panda Group" and "cogeneration" turns up nothing from them.

This is a significant oversight.  I took a look at the GE web site, and found documentation for the LM-2000 series of gas turbines.  Gas equivalent to 1000 BOE/day is about 90% of what would be needed to run an LM-2500+ turbine at continuous full power; the electric output would be about 30.5 megawatts.  If the production could be sold at 5¢/kWh, it would be worth about $13.4 million/year.  The conversion of energy to electricity would require more fuel to meet the 5.8 billion BTU requirements of the ethanol plant, so the potential exists to generate up to 48.5 megawatts of electricity with the addition of an 18 megawatt LM-2000 turbine.  This could meet the electricity requirements of roughly 48,0000 homes; all it would require is some more biogas.

But this was not part of the plan.  Panda Group, there is still more waiting to be done.  You appear to be up to the task.  Are you willing?

 
Comments:
I saw this article by way of slashdot. I'm not sure if it is totally new.
 
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