Dr. E. Gerald Meyer was born in Albuquerque, NM and attended Carnegie Mellon University (B.S. in 1940 and M.S. in 1942), and the University of New Mexico (Ph.D. in 1950). He was a laboratory chemist for the U.S. bureau of Mines, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (as a naval officer during WWII), and the Research Division of New Mexico Tech before returning to complete his graduate work. He was on the faculty of the University of Albuquerque (1950-92), and New Mexico Highlands University (1952-63) where he was successively department head, and dean of graduate studies and research. In 1963 he was appointed professor and dean of arts and sciences at the University of Wyoming, and in 1976 vice president for research. In 1990 he retired and is currently emeritus professor and dean and works part-time. Dr. Meyer has served as State Science Advisor, as president of Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences, of the Associated Western Universities, and the Laramie Regional Airport Board. He chairs the ACS Rocky Mountain Regional Meeting, is past president of the American Institute of Chemists, is past chair and councilor of the ACS Wyoming Section, and has served and continues to serve on the ACS national committees. Dr. Meyer is a consultant to government agencies and industrial companies, refining process he invented and patented. He is listed in several Who's Who editions: in the World, in America, in France and Industry, in Science and Technology. He has competed in the last three Nation Senior Olympics (5K and 10K road races), rides a Harley, and is Vice Mayor of the Laramie, Wyoming.
"Hydrogen Economy": The Good, the Bad, The Ugly
Much has been written about the “hydrogen economy” with the theme that with the substitution of hydrogen for gasoline the nation can (a) reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and (b) have a pollution-free transportation fuel. That is "the good". There is, however, the matter of transporting, distributing and storing. With hydrogen these are very difficult problems to solve. In addition there is the problem of utilizing hydrogen in a vehicle which means either the traditional combustion system or a new fuel cell system. The former may not pose serious problems, but the latter does as fuel cells currently do not have the power, the reliability, and the stability needed. Further the cost of the fuel cell system is very much above that of the gasoline system it is to replace. That is "the bad". Hydrogen production is "the ugly". Current hydrogen production of about 9 tons/yr. must be increased some eighteenfold just for current use. Further, hydrogen is a secondary energy type and must be produced with a primary energy type. Hydrogen, unlike electricity the other secondary energy type, requires a substrate for its production. The two possibilities are hydrocarbons, and "hydrooxygen" (water). The former produces CO2 along with hydrogen so that fossil fuel pollutant it not eliminated. The latter must either be thermally dissociated or electrolyzed, and if fossil fuels are not to be used the only alternative is nuclear energy. The hydrogen economy concept is fine, but the realization will be very very difficult.
Coal Refining: A New Technology Utilizing Our Most Abundant Fuel
Coal is the most prevalent fossil fuel in the U.S. (and in the world) with a resource of some 6500 quads as compared with oil at 180 quads and gas at 210 quads (and fissionable uranium oxide at about 180 quads). In the U.S. in 2000, 3.02 quadrillion watt-hours of electric energy were produced. Of this electric generation, coal fueled 56.3%, oil fueled 2.4%, gas fueled 9.6%, hydro fueled 8.4%, and nuclear energy fueled 23.4%.Thus coal and nuclear account for almost 80% of the electricity generated in the U.S. With coal so prevalent clean coal technologies are important both economically and environmentally. Coal refining is one such technology. It is similar to oil refining in that the coal is hydrodisproportionated to produce a slate of products including, char (about 40%), an "oil" (about 35%) and naphtha, BTX, sulfur and ammonia. Since about 85% of the sulfur and 70% of the nitrogen originally in the coal are recovered as saleable products, the resultant char may be burned without pollution controls. As with an oil refinery the coal refinery may be tweaked to change the various product yields. It also has three end-use configurations, all three of which can produce very high purity diesel fuel. One configuration, which has unusually high returns (IRRs), is coupling the refinery with an Integrated Gasifier Combined Cycle (IGCC) electricity generator. The technology will be discussed including energy and material balances, flow charts and schematics, and the three end-use configurations.
Energy for the Twenty First Century
In 1998 the United States used 91.0 Q (Quads; a quadrillion BTU) and produced 69.2 Q. We exported 4.4 Q (coal), and therefore imported 26.2 Q (mostly oil). As a nation we consumed 37.1 Q of petroleum and produced 13.2 Q. A Quad of is 176,000,000 barrels of oil, so last year we import 23.9x 176MM = 4.2 Billion of bbls of oil. At about 20 bucks a bbl that is 84 billion U.S. dollars sent overseas each year. This is not sustainable scenario either in terms of world supplies or our balance-of-trade. What are the alternatives? First, (let's hear the howls) petroleum products are too cheap. As a result that we have adopted a life style that is profligate in its use of petroleum products particularly gasoline. And things are getting worse rather than better. Second, while coal is by far most abundant fossil fuel resource in the U.S. (and the world), we have not adopted any national policy to emphasized the use of coal. Now, ore howls; coal is "dirty" produces oxides of sulfur and nitrogen and carbon. That is conventional wisdom, and while true to a degree, an aggressive R&D program could vastly improve things. But we are not talking about fossil fuels for the long term, only the intermediate term, a way to get from here to there. There is nuclear energy, which of course has taken a bum rap. In fact, however, the U. S. resource of 235U is about the same as that of oil and gas, and so a breeder system is needed for the long term. There is the hydrogen system, but it, like the electron system (electricity), requires a primary energy source. But these are all centralized systems. There are other choices but requiring significant societal changes. They will be discussed in terms of "cradle to the grave" scenarios.
Green Chemistry and Coal
Coal is the most abundant energy source in the world. In the U.S., 94% of the fossil fuel reserves are coal. The coal in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming has a greater energy value than all the oil in the Middle East. Today coal is used to produce well over half of the nation's electricity. However, coal has a low hydrogen content, is a solid, has much variability, and contains potential pollutants. To reduce the difficulty of using coal, certain specialized shipping methods (unit trains) are used, boilers are built for each type of coal, the pollutants Sox and Nox are removed after combustion by scrubbing and catalytic conversion. Thus, coal usage typifies conventional processing methods. Is there any "green" technology for processing coal? We believe the answer is "yes": the Charfuel Process. The Charfuel Process concept is simply, why not apply the principles of oil refining to coal? In oil refining, the crude petroleum is hydrocracked thermally and catalytically to produce a slate of products (naphtha, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, heating oil, fuel oil, asphalt, coke), the total value of which is greater than the cost of the crude oil plus the cost of refining. Also, refining removes pollutants such as sulfur. Thus, oil refining is actually both a value-added technology and a "green" technology as it both increases the value of the raw material and eliminates the pollutants in the raw material before sending the products to market. The hydrocracking of coal is a more difficult chemical process due to the chemical nature of coal, but it has been accomplished using the patented Charfuel Process. The technology involves heating powdered coal with an internally produced, hydrogen-rich gas at a very high rate to about 850 degrees C at a pressure of about 33 atm and limiting the hydrocracking reaction to a very short time (about 40 ms) before quenching. The resultant (solid) char and gases are then separated; the condensables, an "oil", are removed; and the noncondensable gases are treated as in an oil refinery, removing the sulfides as sulfur and the nitrogen as ammonia with the remaining gas (mostly methane) being subjected to a partial oxidation to produce hot CO and H2, which are used to heat the coal and provide the reducing,hydrogen-rich gas for the basic hydrocracking of the coal. The slate of products includes naphtha, BTX, oil, sulfur, ammonia, methanol, and char. The value-added multiple is nearly two. The principal products, the oil and char, can be mixed to form a fluidic fuel that can be shipped through a pipeline. It is uniform regardless of the starting coal and has a heat value of 7200 kcal/kg. Further, it has 85% of the sulfur and 70% of the nitrogen removed, which eliminates scrubbing and catalytic conversion. Therefore the Charfuel Process of refining coal like the process of refining oil is both a value added to technology and a "green" technology. Such processes are the modern basis for national economic development.
So You Want To Be an Entrepreneur
There was a time not so long ago when a degree in chemistry (particularly an advanced degree) meant working as a chemist in an industrial, academic, or governmental laboratory. A really daring individual might venture into chemical sales, or do R&D in nonchemical industry, or even work in a chemical plant. Indeed a graduate degree required a level of "purity" that eschewed anything but the most orthodox of chemical endeavors. While such orthodoxy is not to be condemned, in today's world it cannot claim the life work of every chemists. So what about being a chemical entrepreneur? There is, after all, a Division of Small Chemical Business right along side the Division of Organic Chemistry, and the Division of Physical Chemistry, etc. In fact, what about being an entrepreneur in a field only peripherally related to chemistry? Dr. Jerry Buss did just that. After getting his chemistry Ph.D. he went into real estate (while working as a chemist) and ended up owning the Los Angeles Lakers and the Forum in which they play. But while being an entrepreneur isn't for every chemist, it is a very attractive possibility for those who (a) have a really salable idea (not necessarily a fine idea, but salable one), (b) can write a business plan and present it orally, (c) can raise some capital, and (d) is prepared to make some life-style sacrifices along the way. The results can be greatly rewarding both in terms of sense of accomplishment and a nice stash of cash for collecting art or buying that fancy Harley or traveling or (even) passing along to the kids.
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