An old friend and colleague of mine Charlie Martin recently wrote one of his patented uber-science geek pieces about a new (well really a highly refined old) process called Gas To Liquid.
Seems Shell Oil has refined the coal-to-liquid process that dates back to World War II to be able to create diesel, kerosene (jet fuel) or gasoline from natural gas.
Without getting into the highly technical specifics, which I frankly don't completely understand anyway, this is huge for a number of reason.
First and foremost because as clean burning as natural gas is, it has a number of disadvantages which mostly have to do with shipping. To move natural gas you first have to turn it into a liquid. To do that you have to either put it under high pressure or make it very cold. Both are dangerous and difficult to transport, meaning that for the most part, it isn't shipped overseas. If a pipeline infrastructure isn't in place to move it, in most countries it's simply "flared off" — burned at the refineries as a waste gas.
This new process means it can easily be converted into a liquid which can be shipped where ever it's needed.
The best part is the price. Charlie tells me that so long as oil is over $20 a barrel this process is economically feasible. Since oil is currently hovering around $100 we're talking about a significant savings.
The problem of course, is actually political, not scientific.
The fuel produced by this process is actually cleaner burning than that which is produced from crude oil as natural gas (methane) has very little in the way of impurities. However, to the environmental movement, the goal is not low emissions, it's no emissions.
That this process could save millions, make countries which have hitherto depended on supplies of oil being shipped across oceans energy independent and help to reduce oil spills is irrelevant.
That there is far more natural gas in the world than oil is likewise irrelevant.
It's still burning something.
The environmental movement is so invested in this wind/solar fantasy that nothing else is considered an option.
The problem there is neither wind nor solar is technically or economically viable. The electricity to power the electric cars they so prize has to come from somewhere (and let us not even get into the pollution created in the production of lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries or the attendant recycling difficulties) but wind and solar simply will not work.
This new process could quickly free us from dependence on people who do not like us for our energy. Unfortunately it is more than a little unlikely Shell will ever be allowed to build one of those plants in the U.S. Those who worship at the altar of the Church of Global Warming and its prophet Al Gore cannot admit they are wrong or that anything but wind and solar are an answer. To do so would be to violate one of the basic commandments of their faith "Thou Shalt Not Allow Others to Burn Dead Dinosaurs (but it's OK if you do it since you're spreading the faith and that's what's important)."
I say it's unlikely, but that's not entirely true. I think people are getting tired of the environmental movement and their constant barrage of "no" to drilling, building, refining, mining and every other "ing" which would bring energy prices down. There's going to come a point, and I think fairly soon, when environmental activists are liable to get tarred, feathered and run out of town on a chuck of oil pipe and we'll finally get back down to the business of building this nation.
All IMHO, of course.