HVO as a Sustainable Superyacht Fuel

As you may know, we own a fairly large boat and that is why I get magazines like BOAT where the focus is on really large boats … superyachts. These are absurd floating palaces and most of them are rented for a week or more rather than owned by individuals for their own use.

Well, perhaps not surprisingly, these fuel guzzlers are targets for environmentalists and energy stewards. So, it was interesting to me that the focus on energy sustainability has made its impact on this segment of the world economy. They are looking seriously at the ways they can be green. After all, they must clean up their image if for no other reason than to let their users feel OK about using them.
This month’s issue of BOAT had a feature article about HVO: Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil. This is deemed better than FAME: Fatty Acid Methyl Ester … aka biodiesel. The way it is made to be environmentally acceptable is by reclaiming deep fat fryer waste oil.

Some of you will jump to the conclusion that this is truly ridiculous because the scale of waste oil availability plus the disperse collection and processing logistics are absurd. We have enough proof that even recycling paper and plastics has proven difficult with less than 10% being recycled. But let’s dismiss our sense of practical reality and do some math.

The amount of canola oil (the most common oil used in deep fat fryers) annually is approaching 2000 million pounds which is about 0.71 million gallons per day. Let’s assume we recycled all of that. After all, that sounds like a big number.

The oil production in the world is about 80 million barrels per day … or about 3,200 million gallons per day. So, if all the canola oil used in the world were recycled into HVO it wouldn’t change the number. It simply doesn’t matter a bit.

Should all superyachts be sail powered? Ironically, that wouldn’t change much since sailing yachts use a lot of the fuel to produce power when anchored. Plus, something most people don’t know … sailboats often have to use diesel engines because the wind is not there or would make the passage difficult.

The obvious question no one wants to ask or answer is why are we using these vessels in the first place? Once we answer that, the optimization of world resources can commence.


FILE – A 1955 file photo of Annette Funicello, a “Mouseketeer” on Walt Disney’s TV series the “Mickey Mouse Club.” Funicello: The original superstar Mouseketeer, she was the picture of wholesome adorableness during the show’s primary run in the 1950s, and she’s maintained that sunny persona throughout her life. She went on to star in several Disney pictures, including “The Shaggy Dog” and “Babes in Toyland.” But she most famously appeared alongside Frankie Avalon in all those beach movies of the early 1960s, along with recording several top-40 pop singles. (AP Photo/ho, File)

I grew up when TV was first introduced and one of the few shows on was the Micky Mouse Club. The fans were called Mouseketeers. Their uniform included the same Micky Mouse ears you can buy in Disney stores today.

I guess you can decide whether this is a good or bad label for those who champion energy and environmental causes. The Wall Street Journal coined this label to describe the recent push to ban safe and reliable tires in the State of Washington in favor of lower carbon footprint, less safe tires:


You can’t make this stuff up. We now have people making laws that ban the safer alternatives in favor of some arbitrary determination that they are better for us all in the long run.

Perhaps this is just the latest move by increasingly desperate climate alarmists knowing they don’t have a lot of time left in their drunken sailor spending on climate saving measures. But, once again all this seemingly altruistic movement to save the planet fails to ask and answer the right questions:

1. If we are worried about tires, we should be thinking more creatively about the fact that they are very hard to recycle and we shouldn’t be driving long distances in the first place. Cluster work/play/live areas make more sense today than ever before. Mixed use eliminates the need for transportation, and when needed, we should be using mass transit with buses and trains.

2. Ruling about incentives or taxes should be based upon proven societal costs and benefits and not about some arbitrary scoring of idealistic objectives that puts the government in the position of picking winners and losers in society.
Haven’t we seen enough of the problems all of this creates already? Objectives tend to change over time and the idea of what is good or bad changes as a result. To prove my point, let me summarize my life in the energy business to see this clearly.

The oil embargoes of 1973 and 1978 taught us all that we were too dependent on foreign oil. We were on a path to use nuclear power until the Three Mile Island accident stopped almost all new nuclear power plant construction. The result was government incentives to switch to natural gas and coal from fuel oil. We then banned natural gas in baseload electric generation to be sure we had plenty for other domestic uses, which further encouraged coal power plants. Then, ten years later, our government removed the ban on natural gas in baseload generation. Now we have banned all fossil fuels and yet have no affordable nuclear options in sight.

Enter wind and solar fueled by low interest rates and government subsidies with no ability to produce reliable electricity without batteries or some other form of electricity storage believing that will scale up to the modern world standards of an advanced economy at the same time we laud cryptocurrency miners who gobble electricity and produce no essential good or service.

All along the way we still ship goods around the world, fill the skies with frivolous travelers, and clog our roads with both. Climateers tune in and cheer as their favorite characters parade on stage.

Most of us have grown up and understand mouse ears are a costume … fun for a day but not real.  And, unlike Annette Funicello, these climateers are just not wholesome or cute.

Fascination with Shiny Pennies

I do love freshly minted coins, especially pennies … copper is so pretty before it tarnishes. That’s why we lacquer coat things to preserve something closer to the original brightness, but even then it pales in comparison to freshly produced copper.

I guess then it shouldn’t be such a surprise that seemingly new ideas enjoy focus, as if they were truly answers to key issues. I read today that atmospheric aerosols have moved from the shiny penny status to an outright ban once technically savvy people took a closer look. But, to those who don’t know, don’t care, or perhaps don’t understand … the idea seemed wonderful.

Hydrogen seems to have some level of shiny penny status, at least for a while and until people start to pencil out the real costs, and once people realize the NOx implications that I have covered in prior blogs. The blog today is about ammonia … another shiny penny.

The modern world is well aware of ammonia and uses it in commercial refrigeration, so when people think about alternatives to HCFCs it certainly is a candidate. The latest idea I saw in MIT Research would have you believe it is a cheap source of hydrogen.

Does anyone ever look at basic stoichiometry before they make such claims. Ammonia is NH3 which means it has three atoms of hydrogen for every atom of nitrogen, but nitrogen has an atomic weight of 14 so it is 14 times heavier. That means ammonia only yields about 3/14 of its weight to hydrogen, and that assumes 100% conversion just a bit better than 20%. Therefore, your starting price for hydrogen is five times the cost of ammonia used as a fuel, and then you have to pay for the production of it along with that fuel cell mentioned in the article.

Why didn’t anyone talk about these details in that article? Because it is a shiny penny.

Shiny pennies result in wasting billions of dollars … maybe we never thought about them that way.

We should …

Are Engineers Wrong to Solve Production Problems when asked?

As I repeatedly remind people, we engineers love to solve problems … it is the very reason we became engineers.  Sometimes though, we fail to remind those who pose those problems to us that there may be a better solution than solving the problem.

The famous story of an engineer in the dark ages who faced being executed by guillotine comes to mind.  There were two men ahead of him and as the guillotine was released it failed to decapitate the first man.  By law then, he was freed.  The second man experienced the same failure and was released. But the third man, an engineer, studied the two mechanical failures and pointed out there was a kink in the chain holding the blade.

While not as obvious, I believe we are all too prone today to praise engineers for solving problems.  Better still, we celebrate those who write books and coin phrases that we all can use to discuss our challenges.

With that as a preamble, consider this recent posting by GreenBiz:  ‘Endineering’ solves a missing link for the circular economy | GreenBiz  You will have to admit that this is on point for what it endeavors to do.  The graphic above highlights this seemingly holistic perspective.

But there is something very similar to my guillotine analogy here that seemingly escapes everyone.  The first and most important question isn’t what you do at the end of life but why life began for something in the first place.  Yes, it is terribly important to “offboard” at the end of life … just as it was essential to “onboard” customers in the first phases of product introduction.

Did anyone carefully consider whether the product or service should be invented/perfected/offered in the first place?  Yes, packaging is out of control … check your trash to find any food in it anymore.  It is all packaging.  Amazon is quickly moving away from cardboard boxes where they can.  But still, think about it when you bring the trash out to the curb the next time.

I applaud the concept of circularity and especially the elegance of endineering.  It resonates in my problem-solving heart.  But we are still not asking the right questions, I think, because we are afraid of them.  Plus, this new concept of endineering is the perfect answer to critics of this or that because the culprit companies can now spend years and countless millions of shareholder dollars chasing the perfect circular design.

That ironically should be a key clue to our error here: we are going around in circles, rather than deciding whether we should be in this circus of endless pursuit of the circular solution.  We need “out of the circle” ideas much like we learned that solving some puzzles requires out of the box thinking.  We are inside these circles admiring the process.  We need to pull back to see that being inside the circle is our problem.



There are times when the merits of scoring our ability to do something seems arbitrary and frankly, not very helpful. For example, I still remember our son Stephen getting a report card in preschool warning us that his “cutting skills” were conspicuously deficient. Having never seen this on any standardized testing, I wasn’t alarmed, but our teacher conference included specific guidance on how Susan and I could work with him in this area. I think he turned out just fine … that physical skill simply has not proved to be a key to his social, academic or spiritual success.

I grew up in an educational system where everything was graded … even my gym classes. I was a klutz and a geek so my physical skills were abysmal. My idea of success in those areas was to just NOT be the last person picked when we chose up sides for gym games like dodgeball, basketball, or softball. I almost flunked rope climbing … one Tarzan like Fabio-looking guy climbed the rope as if he was simply pulling it in rather than lifting himself off the ground.

It is ironic that I chose to run track and cross country to get rid of my excess nervous energy in high school and for no other reason. I found that running made me more able to settle down and do my homework. Because these were afterschool events, I also rode my bicycle to school on those days … more exercise … with the eventual impact that I became quite fit. I was still a klutz, but over my high school years, I eventually moved to the middle of the pack. Needless to say, I was never offered an athletic scholarship to college.

The highest level in my high school sports hierarchy of course was the quarterback of the football team. Girls swooned over him. He also had a convertible car since he worked after school at a job in a garage. He seemed so much like he had it all. The tall players naturally gravitated to basketball, cross country, and tennis. The short ones naturally chose gymnastics since the smaller frame made it much easier for them to perform their routines. Some of course also chose soccer for the same reason.

Even though I felt bad about my physical abilities, I never felt anyone was practicing racism or exclusion when they picked their teams. No team captain in their right mind would pick a white male for the sprints if they had a black male available. It is no surprise to me that the Olympic level 100 yard dash is dominated by Jamaicans and the marathon by Ethiopians. It is not a surprise that professional basketball teams are also dominated by blacks.

It makes me a bit crazy to hear corporations proclaim DEI initiatives when professional sports teams would never have token players to satisfy some arbitrary quota. It also makes me wonder why nobody is complaining of the professional athletes who command hundreds of millions of dollars for doing so little to help others or make this world a better place.

Don’t get me wrong … I get it that it is only recent history when there was no “color barrier.” I do remember when baseball forbade black players. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on Opening Day, April 15, 1947 but black players were in the NFL 27 years before that. I don’t believe we should exclude people based upon any attributes except excellence. Excluding excellence is simply stupid.

People who operate at statistically rare levels can scare us a bit. I still remember my college engineering classes where all Chinese or Japanese classmates were in a very different intellectual category. We called them the “curve busters” because our grades in college were curved. One of my chemistry exams was so hard that we mortals got Cs with scores of 6 out of 100, a B was 8 out of 100 and an A was anything above 20 … and all the Asians had scored 70 and higher.

On a similar note, my wife always reminds me that nobody gets the complete package. We all have gifts in some areas and deficits in others. Grading and meritocracies let these gifts produce value because they are recognized and nurtured. Grading helps individuals recognize their gifts and aids in them finding a path in life most suited to them. Perhaps what bothers those who want everyone to have equal outcomes in life is that they want it because financial success tends to coincide with those who are meritorious or lucked out on the gene pool (e.g., beauty pageant contestants).

So, it is ironic that we now have a new form of racism. We are not valuing meritocracy and therefore want to do away with things like grades and standardized testing. This has pushed some women, blacks and others into higher level jobs than what their abilities would suggest. Filling these key positions based upon some arbitrary attribute has no bearing on professional performance outcomes, discourages the more capable whites who are now deemed privileged with that being the reason they are so good. White privilege may indeed still be present in our society, but promoting anyone to a level they are not fit to perform in makes no sense.

Yes, keep score of the attributes leading to success. It is also terribly important to rethink success in this modern crazy world. But, arbitrarily defining success so that it must include some percentage of this or that is crazy. Corporate America is waking up to this fact … albeit slowly … facing the reality of the statement:

Go woke … go broke!