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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Practical Energy

The requirement statement for practical energy -
The answer is surprisingly simple.

There are 4 or 5 processes that do more-or-less the same thing in slightly different ways. Each was designed with a different purpose in mind, but that doesn't mean they can't be used for other purposes the designers hadn't considered.

Bioenergy, waste-to-energy, renewable energy storage as synthetic natural gas, biogas and synthetic natural gas from coal are different ways of doing the same thing.

Synthetic natural gas can be used to store energy, to generate electricity on demand, and as feedstock in manufacturing processes. Synthetic natural gas can also be manufactured for export in the form of LNG.

It can be made from 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent fossil fuel energy, or some combination of both renewable and fossil energy. This allows a transition to a 100 percent renewable energy future, achieving the  above requirement statement: ensuring reliable, affordable and clean energy.

The underlying process combines carbon dioxide, water and energy to create methane and oxygen:
CO2 + 2H2O → CH4 + 2O2
  • Photosynthesis by plants and algae to create biomass that methanogenic bacteria convert to methane is one way of doing this with solar energy.
  • Waste-to-energy can use methanogenic bacteria to produce methane using the solar energy embedded in the waste.  
  • Electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen that is reacted with carbon dioxide to make methane is another way of doing this with solar PV systems and wind turbines.
  • Biomass can be converted to methane in high temperature superheated water reactors. The thermal energy to do this can be from concentrated solar thermal energy, or from reaction with either oxygen or hydrogen created by electrolysis of water.
  • Biomass can be converted to methane in very high temperature gasifiers that create carbon monoxide and hydrogen that is reacted in a separate step to create methane. The energy for this high temperature process can be obtained by burning a portion of the feedstock in air. 
In each of the above processes that use biomass to produce methane, coal can be used in place of some or all of biomass.

When there is sufficient solar PV and wind turbine generating capacity, hydrogen can be produced whenever electricity supply exceeds demand. This hydrogen can be reacted with carbon dioxide to make methane for generating electricity whenever demand exceeds the supply.

With sufficient renewable energy generating capacity, synthetic natural gas can be manufactured for export - providing completely renewable energy to importing countries via existing LNG export, transport and import infrastructure.

Curiously, coal is presently being converted to synthetic natural gas in the most environmentally 'unfriendly' option available - burning a portion of the coal in air to create carbon monoxide and hydrogen that is reacted in a separate step to create methane. This technology has been criticised for its high level of carbon dioxide emissions and water usage.

Coal could be converted to methane by reacting it with hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water with electricity from solar PV systems and wind turbines. It can also be converted to methane in high temperature superheated water reactors. The thermal energy to do this can be from concentrated solar thermal energy, or from reaction with hydrogen created by the electrolysis of water.

This is most suitable for low-grade lignite such as that found in Yallourn Valley in Australia that consists of 50 percent or more water. With this process it can be converted to high-value synthetic natural gas, avoiding the need for coal seam gas.

Its use can be gradually phased-out as renewable energy generating capacity increases to the stage where it can completely replace it.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Taking the blinkers off energy policy in Australia

The "Resources and Energy Quarterly" by the Office of the Chief Economist for March 2017 has the following Table of Contents:
About this edition 5
Resource and energy overview 6
Steel 25
Iron ore 33
Metallurgical coal 42
Thermal coal 51
Gas 61
Oil 73
Uranium 82
Gold 89
Aluminium, alumina and bauxite 97
Copper 113
Nickel 121
Zinc 127
Trade summary charts 133
Appendix 142

Renewable energy doesn't get a mention.

This oversight is the foundation on which opportunities for Australia's economic development are missed.

Two of the energy resources that are included - thermal coal and natural gas - are shown to have outlooks that aren't very promising in the case of coal and are at risk from high domestic production costs and low-cost competition in the case of gas.

Thermal coal exports for example are shown to decline in value by $5 billion per year to about $15 billion per year, though volumes are supposed to remain the same. Not all Australian coal mines will be commercially viable with this outlook that is actually describing export prices falling by 25 percent.

Australia's thermal coal export volumes and values

Natural gas exports as LNG are shown to have a large increase in capacity coming onstream at the same time as an even greater increase in U.S. LNG export capacity - with the U.S. exporters able to source feed gas at much lower prices than Australian exporters.

The quarterly report makes a courageous projection of rising volumes and value of Australian LNG exports even though noting some daunting obstacles:
  • Australia is not immune from supply-side competition. The United States will make the largest contribution to new capacity. The cost competitiveness of US exporters will largely be determined by the cost of their domestic gas, for which the reference price is Henry Hub. Henry Hub prices averaged US$3.0 per million British thermal units over the first quarter of 2017 (A$3.80 a gigajoule). 
  • While Australia's LNG exports are projected to rise, the capacity utilisation of Australian LNG export projects is expected to decline. The price competitiveness of Australian producers is one factor affecting the outlook for exports. Proximity to Asia will be an advantage, although the Panama Canal expansion in 2016 has lowered shipping costs from the US.
  •  A large cost for Australia's LNG plants is feed gas. The three LNG export terminals on the east coast — which are largely fed by CSG from Queensland’s Surat and Bowen basins — tend to have relatively high costs for feed gas. Unlike LNG ventures using gas from conventional reservoirs, LNG operators on the east coast will need to drill hundreds of new wells each year to maintain CSG production, with costs of over a million dollars per well.

Australia has an advantage with ample renewable energy resources to overcome the poor outlook for coal and the high-risk outlook for natural gas.

With the price of coal projected to decline to about $2 per gigajoule, and the cost of coal-seam gas likely to exceed the export price of LNG from US exporters, it is increasingly attractive, if not imperative, to export natural gas made from cheap coal and renewable energy.

Several processes are available to achieve this.

The bottom line is that these processes change 1 gigajoule of coal valued at perhaps $2 into 4 gigajoules of natural gas worth $32 by adding 3 gigajoules of renewable energy.

Available systems to make synthetic natural gas from cheap wet lignite and brown coal

Supercritical Water (SCW) Gasifier for Coal/Biomass

Monday, March 27, 2017

Australian gas industry operates in the dark

APPEA deleted the above Tweet - here is an image as it appeared on 27 March 2017

APPEA deleted the above Tweet too - here is an image as it appeared on 27 March 2017

What happens when your offer innovation advice to the Australian gas industry
What happens when your offer innovation advice to the Australian gas industry

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Energy cost savings in industry

Increases in energy costs are a signal for industry to audit its energy use and survey new plant that lowers energy use.

The abalone industry in South Australia in December 2016 received quotes for electricity supply at almost double its previous contract price:
Yumbah Aquaculture at Port Lincoln, on South Australia’s west coast, received an electricity contract quote for $1.35 million, $650,000 more than its current $700,000 contract.
Also in December 2016 the South Australian State Government announced a program to assist large businesses to audit energy use and invest in energy saving measures -
The 2016-17 Mid Year Budget Review provides $31 million over two years to help large South Australian businesses manage their electricity costs.

The Energy Productivity Program will be available to businesses that use more than 160MWh of electricity each year to incentivise investment in energy saving measures.

The funding will be available for businesses to undertake energy audits of their facilities to determine where efficiencies can be made.

The audits will also make recommendations about technology or infrastructure upgrades that could be carried out to reduce cost and grants will be available to implement the those recommendations. 
One area to examine in an energy audit at Yumbah Aquaculture is the circulation of  water from sea level up to its abalone growing tanks and back into the sea. The energy needed for pumps to raise water by, say, 20 metres is the same as the energy that is available when the same volume of water falls by 20 meters. Adding a micro hydro generator on the outflow from abalone growing ponds could generate almost as much energy used by the pumps to raise the water.

The value of the energy savings may make it worthwhile to invest in a micro hydro generator.

The food processing industry in Victoria has received quotes for natural gas with prices more than doubling in just a few years.
Echuca-based food processor Kagome expects to pay $3.6 million for gas this year, up from $2.4 million last year, despite plans to use less gas. Kagome employs more than 200 people. 
Natural gas is the dominant form of energy use for the food processing plant at KAGOME Australia
Natural gas is the dominant form of energy use for the food processing plant at KAGOME Australia
Kagome Australia's processing plant receives about 4,000 tonnes of tomatoes each day during the harvest period of 70 days. Natural gas is used to evaporate water from the tomatoes for the production of tomato paste.

Evaporating 1,000 tonnes of water from 4,000 tonnes of tomatoes each day can use an enormous amount of energy. This isn't necessary but it depends on how it is done.

One way to evaporate 1,000 tonnes of water that does use an enormous amount of energy is to simply put batches into large cauldrons with gas burners beneath them. Allow the tomatoes in the cauldrons to simmer until the desired volume of water has evaporated.

This way requires 2,257 gigajoules of thermal energy that converts 1,000 tonnes of water into steam. If this heat energy is supplied by natural gas costing $9 per gigajoule, the daily energy bill would be about $20,000 and the total bill over the tomato harvest period of 70 days woul be about $1.4 million.

There are several other ways to perform the same process using much less energy.

For instance, the energy needed to convert 1 kilogram of water into water vapour is 2,257 kilojoules. The same amount of energy can be recovered when that kilogram of water vapour is condensed back into water.
Mechanical Vapour Recompression (MVR)
Mechanical Vapour Recompression (MVR)

The mechanical vapour compressor uses a very small amount of electrical energy to transfer a very large quantity of heat energy from the condensing steam back into the cauldron of tomatoes where it boils off an identical amount of water.
The cost saving of this method is all of the natural gas used in the inefficient method of converting 1,000 tonnes of water into water vapour. This method also produces distilled water while continually recycling the latent heat of evaporation in the water vapour as it condenses back into water.

The condensed water produced may have some value too as a pure, distilled by-product.

Equipment using this method is commercially available. One type is marketed as "forced circulation evaporators". These are for concentrating fruit paste (tomato paste, peach paste, apricot paste and etc.) and some other products with high viscosity. Another type is marketed as "falling film evaporators". These are for concentrating products with low viscosity, for example: fruit juice, milk etc.

The value of the energy savings may make it worthwhile for Kagome Australia to invest in a forced circulation evaporator and eliminate the need for natural gas.

Another option for Kagome Australia is new technology that makes renewable natural gas from wet biomass - such as tomato plants - collected during  crop harvesting...

Monday, March 13, 2017

Even more ways for energy storage

When people think 'energy storage' batteries often are the first option that comes to mind.

A battery that has been discharged down to 25 percent of its capacity may hold, say, 3.6 gigajoules of electrical energy. 'Recharging' the battery, adding more energy, could increase the energy stored to, say, 14.4 gigajoules of electrical energy. This is the same as 4 megawatt-hours of electricity.

Another option for energy storage doesn't need a battery.

Think of brown coal as a 'battery' that has been almost completely discharged.

The amount of brown coal that can deliver 3.6 gigajoules of electrical energy - if it is burned in a coal-fired power station - contains about 380 kilograms of carbon.

Instead of burning the brown coal, energy can be added, in a similar way a battery can be 'recharged', so that it can deliver 15.5 gigajoules of electrical energy when needed - if it is burned in a combined-cycle gas turbine power station.

There's no need to understand the chemical reactions in a battery when it is being charged and discharged. There are many types of batteries and the chemicals and chemical reactions in each type are quite different.

When renewable energy is stored by adding it to brown coal, chemical reactions also take place, and achieves the same result as recharging a battery - but without the need for the battery.

Simplified process flow diagram of the supercritical gasification system developed by Gensos.
Simplified process flow diagram of the supercritical gasification system developed by Gensos.

Available systems to make synthetic natural gas from cheap wet lignite and brown coal

Supercritical Water (SCW) Gasifier for Coal/Biomass

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fossil fuel energy is unreliable

Natural gas power is increasingly unreliable in Australia.

A simple law of physics explains why natural gas power stations are unreliable:
6 gigajoules of natural gas are needed to generate 3.6 gigajoules of electrical energy in a combined-cycle gas turbine power station.

Each 3.6 gigajoules of electrical energy (which is 1 megawatt-hour or 1 MWh) has a price of about $50 in the Australian Energy Market Organisation's National Electricity Market.

The natural gas used to generate this electrical energy costs about $9 per gigajoule in the Australian Energy Market Organisation's Wholesale Gas Market.

The result:
It costs about $54 for the natural gas used as fuel to generate each megawatt-hour of electricity. This has a wholesale price of only $50.

Rising domestic gas prices

In terms of production costs, over the last decade the finding and development costs for the petroleum industry have increased six-fold. And, in the three years to 2013, total Australian finding and development costs averaged $4.16/GJ, which was 2.7 times the average for the three years to 2007. These rising costs are partly explained by the fact that unconventional gas production involves significantly higher capital expenditure than that of conventional off-shore wells, given that CSG requires multiple wells to be drilled in order to access equivalent volumes of gas.

SANTOS July 2, 2015
Public Submission to ACCC East Coast Gas Inquiry

Natural Gas price in the U.S. - 1 million BTUs = 1.055 gigajoules
Natural Gas price in the U.S. - 1 million BTUs = 1.055 gigajoules

The projected US exports of around 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or about 140 million tonnes of LNG is almost double the projected Australian exports of 85 million tonnes of LNG per year.

1 metric ton liquefied natural gas (LNG) = 48,700 cubic feet of natural gas.
1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is about 20 million tonnes of LNG.

Given the much higher cost of producing coal seam gas in Australia, the ramping up of US LNG exports to 2020 is likely to bring the enthusiastic expansion of coal seam gas in Australia to a sudden end.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

LNG exports and heatwaves drive up energy costs

The Australian Government's LNG export policy - with no reservation for industry and residential consumers - has resulted in a 250 percent increase in the cost of natural gas since 2014. The resulting $8.60 per gigajoule price for natural gas makes efficient, low emission combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power stations like that at Pelican Point, South Australia, quite costly to run compared to a high emission low efficiency (HELE) coal-fired power station.

The raucous noise over renewable energy in South Australia and the upsurge in government members spruiking high emission low efficiency (HELE) coal-fired power stations is most likely a deliberate distraction from this fiasco that is the government's "sell-it-all" LNG export policy.

AEMO Short Term Natural Gas Trading Market Quarterly Average Price

Gladstone LNG plant places a demand on gas from NSW and elsewhere

Energy Action | Feb 19, 2016

Gas flows on the Moomba-to-Sydney gas pipeline has supplied NSW with gas since 1976. However, according to data from the Australian ­Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the flow was reversed in December for the first time as the third of three gas export projects being built at Gladstone powered up.

New Moomba Gas Supply Hub launched

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has today announced the launch of the newly established Moomba Gas Supply Hub and two additional trading locations at the Moomba to Adelaide pipeline and the Moomba to Sydney pipeline, which are now open for trading.

The Moomba Gas Supply Hub follows the successful introduction of the Wallumbilla Gas Supply Hub (GSH), established in 2014 to enhance the transparency and reliability of gas supply by creating a voluntary market that offers a low-cost, flexible method to buy and sell gas at interconnecting transmission pipelines.

Gas and LNG Market Outlook, January 2017

National Australia Bank

The exposure of eastern Australia to LNG export markets will have far reaching implications for domestic gas use.

Wholesale prices are likely to increase significantly and some questions remain over availability of commercially recoverable gas from Queensland coal seam gas fields.

Higher wholesale gas prices are likely to spill over into electricity markets by increasing fuel costs for peak load open cycle gas turbines.

Higher gas prices are already flowing through to large domestic customers, with reports that contracts are being offered well in excess of current netback export parity prices.

The price of gas for residential customers in Australia’s five largest cities could increase by more than 50% by 2020.

Boyne Smelter to close cells, cut production after power price spike

Tegan Annett | 21st Jan 2017, Updated: 23rd Jan 2017
Gladstone Observer

IF nothing changes in Queensland's electricity market, 40 aluminium-producing cells at Boyne Smelter will be closed.

That's the message from general manager Joe Rea who says it will result in jobs lost and leave the Boyne Smelter down 45,000 tonnes in aluminium production.

The price hike was driven by high electricity demand in response to very hot weather conditions in Queensland. He said on January 18, a new demand record was set at 9,357MW exceeding the previous record of 9,097MW.

Queensland moves to reserve gas for domestic use

Matt Chambers | 26th Jan 2017
The Australian

Gas producers have voiced alarm at Queensland’s move to earmark a small patch of new exploration ground for domestic use, although former federal resources ministers and previously staunch domestic gas reservation opponents Ian Macfarlane and Martin Ferguson have changed their position and now back the move.

Queensland Resources Minister Anthony Lynham yesterday announced the release of 58sq km of exploration ground in the onshore Surat Basin with the “strict” condition that any gas produced must be used in Australia.

The Queensland Resources Council, which counts both the big gas exporters and some big gas users (such as Incitec Pivot, Rio Tinto and Glencore) among its members and is now run by Mr Macfarlane, applauded the move.