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Friday, August 3, 2018

Transition from thermal coal exports

Australia exports 200 million tonnes of thermal coal each year.

Japan is the largest importer, importing 80 million tonnes per year. In planning to eliminate its reliance on fossil fuel imports, Japan is looking to CO2-free hydrogen to replace its imports of coal and LNG, used primarily for electricity generation, and oil, used primarily for road transport.

One step in the 20-year transition timetable is to invest in large solar PV installations in Saudi Arabia and construction of a 'hydrogen pipeline" to deliver hydrogen produced by electrolysis to Japan.

Another step is the construction of combined-cycle gas turbine power stations that have integrated gasification plants to convert imported coal to gas to fuel them. These plants can later run on hydrogen when sufficient supply is available.

Australia and Japan could co-ordinate projects in this transition of Japan's energy systems.
One of the benefits of co-ordination is that Australia's industry and workforce has a planned transition in how it prepares energy for export, adapting employment skills and infrastructure as the plan progresses.

Another of the benefits is that part of the infrastructure development is undertaken by Australia, sharing the effort so that Japan can focus its investments on the most efficient technology to use the energy it imports.

The long-term transition would see Australia's coal export terminals replaced with hydrogen export facilities and the fleet of bulk ore carriers replaced with specialised hydrogen shipping vessels. The coal mining workforce would gradually be replaced with a workforce that constructs and operates hydrogen production plants.

During the early years of the transition it may be beneficial to convert hydrogen and coal to methane and make use of existing natural gas pipelines, LNG export terminals and LNG tankers to transport the hydrogen to Japan's existing LNG import facilities.

One benefit for Japan would be to avoid the time and cost of building integrated coal-gasifiers with new combined-cycle gas turbine power stations and fuel cell generators. The gasification can be carried out in Australia before exporting the coal with hydrogen as LNG.

Large-scale solar farms are currently built with inverters that are a significant part of the cost.
The inverters change direct-current electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating-current electricity for distribution on the electricity grid.

Inverters aren't needed when the goal is to produce hydrogen by electrolysis with the electricity generated.

A second income-stream from renewable electricity production will assist farmers struggling with drought near coal-mining regions. Solar PV installations could be designed to be "stock-friendly" for Australian livestock producers, and not copies of European installations where fields are covered with closely-spaced solar panels just above ground level.

Cattle and solar PV systems
Cattle and solar PV systems

The renewable energy generated would be fed to electrolysis units creating hydrogen.
The hydrogen is to be transferred into methanation units that have pulverised coal handling equipment where the hydrogen and coal is transformed into methane, ready for transfer to LNG export terminals.

Thyssenkrupp coal handling system
Thyssenkrupp coal handling system
Gasification technologies
Gasification technologies

See Thyssenkrupp Australia - "Power-to-gas: Storing wind and sun [energy] in natural gas"

Power-to-gas: storing wind and sun renewable energy in natural gas

The 2015 Japanese government report "Overview of Assessment by Power Generation Cost Verification Working Group", Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) explained that renewable energy costs are higher in Japan than in other countries, and showed Australia has a comparative advantage in large-scale wind and solar installations.
"Unit construction costs for solar PV and wind power generation systems in Japan are higher than in other countries. ...Apparent factors behind the cost gap include higher personnel costs, complex topography and FIT scheme introduction backgrounds in Japan." (at pages 8-9)

International comparison of unit construction costs for solar PV generation systems

Related posts:

Australian energy exports

Keeping waste plastic out of landfill


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Consumerism in an ecosystem

Rain forests are centres of great activity that depend on quite small reserves of nutrients.

Plants continuously absorbing sunlight transform water and carbon dioxide into polymers, mainly cellulose, and release oxygen.

On the rain forest floor, a myriad of animals and insect munch their way through fallen leaves and branches, breaking the polymers into water and carbon dioxide. Their waste releases the very small nutrient reserves back into the thin soil layer where they are once again available to the plant community.

Caterpillar eating a leaf
Caterpillar eating a leaf

A productive rain forest ecosystem harboring a great variety of living organisms is a stark contrast to a desert landscape in which far fewer living things eek out a sparse existence.

Human activity might be viewed as damaging and harmful to the environment, and though this is sometime a reasonable observation, it does not have to be.

Consumers supporting producers and discarding obsolete items provide a level of economic activity to engage people and allow their participation in economic and social life.

That discarded items accumulate and are not reprocessed is a problem that can be solved.

Steel and aluminium can be reprocessed more or less indefinitely. Demand for new steel and aluminium eventually declines in economies as the accumulated volume being recycled meets more and more of demand.

Collecting municipal waste, then sorting, recycling and reprocessing at large central plants has been a fairly universal approach for some time. New technology may allow for some waste material to be reprocessed at or near the point of origin, reducing the cost and complexity of large-scale collection and sorting.

Many waste items that are compounds of only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen can be completely decomposed into a gaseous fuel and may be substituted for natural gas in space heaters and hot water systems.

There is no need for waste materials to accumulate and degrade the environment. Creative solutions can be found. Many creative solution exist but simply aren't well known, hence the word "found" rather than "developed".

Energy in the Future

One creative solution that does not exist but may be developed is a business model and technology for virtually unlimited energy at little or no cost.

One possibility is a process to transform materials from one nuclear structure to another that is commercially viable and that generates energy as a byproduct. The energy byproduct can be distributed for a nominal charge.Transforming nuclear waste into safe, naturally occurring and valuable isotopes is a possible additional benefit.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Australian energy exports

Japan intends to establish a "hydrogen pipeline" to replace its existing imports of energy from Australia and elsewhere.
Hydrogen is the key to energy security and the fight against global warming

To speed up the development of a "hydrogen pipeline" for Japan, Australia may be able to adapt existing energy infrastructure for the purpose.

Hydrogen produced by renewable energy creates a number of challenges for special-purpose overland transport and shipping. An interim processing strategy can skip over these challenges and re-use existing infrastructure, saving time and money. A little chemistry explains how this can work...

When hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide to form methane and water, the energy content in the methane is about the same as the energy that was present in just the hydrogen:

CO2 + 4H2 → CH4 + 2H2O

In the above reaction half of the hydrogen combines with oxygen from the carbon dioxide to form water. The other half of the hydrogen combines with the carbon from the carbon dioxide to form methane. This is known as the "Sabatier reaction". It is used commercially by Audi to create "e-gas" for its Compressed Natural Gas vehicles.

Natural gas is essentially methane with smaller amounts of other gases such as carbon monoxide and ethane. Methane made from hydrogen can be transported through natural gas pipelines and shipped as LNG - liquefied natural gas - from Australia to Japan using existing LNG terminals and LNG tankers.

When methane is combined with water to form hydrogen and carbon dioxide, the energy content in the hydrogen is about the same as the energy that was present in just the methane:

CH4 + 2H2O → 4H2 + CO2

In the above reaction oxygen from the water combines with carbon from the methane to form carbon dioxide. All the hydrogen that was part of both the methane and water is separated. This is known as "Steam Methane Reforming". It is widely used in industry to manufacture hydrogen from natural gas.

The carbon dioxide produced in the above reaction may be liquefied in Japan and returned to Australia on the empty LNG ships that delivered the methane.

This allows the carbon dioxide to be re-used indefinitely in Australia to convert hydrogen to methane for shipping to Japan using existing natural gas pipelines, LNG terminals and tankers.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Coal burns up research millions

If an industry needs to separate CO2 from different sources the first place to look is existing suppliers and projects that use their technology.

Reinventing the Wheel

Reinventing the wheel
"...the investment in research programs will yield industry
applicable technologies and methodologies in the near term."

Australian governments are spending millions to find out how to separate CO2 from different sources. This process is commonly referred to as "reinventing the wheel".

Why this is so remains an unexplained mystery.

"...our capture research has also made progress on several fronts. CO2CRC won a competitive $1.2 million grant from the NSW government’s Coal Innovation Fund to develop cost-effective carbon capture technology at the Vales Point power station in NSW. The plant has been relocated from the closed Hazelwood power station in Victoria to Vales Point and is currently being modified to use both solvent and membrane technologies. The funding enables us to combine the advantages of both solvent absorption and membrane gas separation methods of capturing CO2, while overcoming the drawbacks of both technologies.

Capture projects were also significantly enhanced in October when we installed our proprietary capture skid at the Otway National Research Facility. The capture plant has been designed for use in offshore natural gas applications, with varying percentages of CO2 content. It has been made to be robust, small and efficient, and will also applicable to different capture requirements in the future.

These developments are the result of our deep commitment to cutting-edge research. In 2016-17 we extended our research base through the opening of several new Australian CCS Research Laboratories Network (CCSNet) facilities.

In September 2016, we opened new capture, CCS modelling, and storage laboratories at The University of Melbourne.

The $7.56 million facility was opened just 12 days after the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Darren Chester MP, opened CCSNet’s $2.3 million analytical laboratory at Federation University.

And, in November, the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, opened our $5.04 million storage research facilities at the Australian National University.

As CCS research gains momentum, we also remain focussed on ensuring government and key decision makers understand the value that CCS has to Australian emissions reduction and national energy security. Our detailed and costed retrofit studies, submissions to government and presentations to senior decision makers were well received by governments.

With the commitment from staff, the collaboration of our research partners and the support of our members and the community, CO2CRC has reached a pivotal point where the investment in research programs will yield industry applicable technologies and methodologies in the near term. Thank you for sharing our vision for CCS.

Tania Constable
Chief Executive Officer
CO2CRC Annual Report 2016/17

Monday, July 9, 2018

Keeping waste plastic out of landfill

The March 30, 2018 report by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation describes the fall in the price of waste plastic following Chinese import restrictions for packaging.

There is a relatively small drop in the price for Plastic - HDPE ($575/tonne during 2015-2017 to $500/tonne in 2018), a larger drop in price for Plastic - PET ($575/tonne during 2015-2017 to $375/tonne in 2018) and a substantial fall in price for Plastic - mixed ($325/tonne during 2015-2017 to $75/tonne in 2018).

One avenue that raises the value of waste plastic is to convert it to methane and use it with natural gas.

A number of projects are underway to convert renewable energy to hydrogen and inject that hydrogen into natural gas distribution pipelines.

The wholesale price of energy delivered via that method is about $10/GJ. The retail price is about $35/GJ.

One tonne of methane can be made from about 875 kilograms of plastic waste and 125 kilograms of hydrogen. The energy content of this methane is about 55 gigajoules. At $10/GJ its value is $550.
Steam Hydrogasification in a hydrogen environment

The 125 kilograms of hydrogen made with renewable energy has an energy content of about 15 gigajoules. It contributes about $150 to the $550 value of the tonne of methane.

Put another way, 875 kilograms of plastic waste adds $400 to the value of the hydrogen that is to be injected into natural gas pipelines. This lifts the value of plastic waste to about $455/tonne: more than the $325/tonne price for Plastic - mixed during 2015-2017 and substantially more than the $75/tonne in 2018.

Using hydrogen to produce of methane is the subject of a number of research papers and patents.

The availability of hydrogen that is intended to be injected into natural gas pipelines means that this established body of knowledge is increasingly likely to find commercially viable applications.

Some References

  1. Hydrogasifcation of biomass to produce high yields of methane, U.S. Patent 4,822,935 April 18, 1989
  2. Production of Substitute Natural Gas by Biomass Hydrogasification, M. Mozaffarian, R.W.R. Zwart, Netherlands Energy Research Foundation, ECN, April 7, 2008
  3. The steam hydrogasification reaction, which researchers at the University of California, Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology engineers began developing in 2005, has been found to be 12% more efficient, with 18% lower capital costs, compared to other mainstream gasification technologies, September 15, 2011.
A different process is helpful if, for instance, you want to upgrade biogas - a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane - to be suitable for injection into a natural gas pipeline. One method is to separate the carbon dioxide from the biogas.

Another method available if you have a quantity of hydrogen that is to be injected into the same natural gas pipeline is to convert the carbon dioxide that it is in the biogas into methane with the hydrogen. This avoids both the overhead and cost of separating the carbon dioxide from the biogas. It also dodges the limitation that the quantity of hydrogen that can be safely mixed with natural gas should be no more than 10 percent: the hydrogen gets converted into methane.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Three-eighths of a coal power station

Some notable milestones to pass on the way to 100% renewable energy are one-quarter, one-half, and three-quarters renewable electricity generation.

The average CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour for all electricity generated at each of these milestones might be 660 grams, 440 grams and 220 grams respectively.

But they could be much less.

We'll look at the halfway milestone to see why this is so:

At this milestone, one-half of all electricity is delivered from renewable energy sources with no fossil-fuel CO2 emissions - solar PV and solar thermal, wind farms, hydroelectric including pumped hydroelectric storage, and battery storage.

The other half of electricity is delivered from fossil fuel power generators. These power plants are only dispatched at times when total demand exceeds the total capacity of all the available renewable energy sources.

These fossil fuel power plants may have average CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour of electricity of 880 grams.
Average CO2 emissions and efficiency of a coal-fired power plant
Average CO2 emissions and efficiency of a coal-fired power plant
In this case the average CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour for all electricity generated at the halfway milestone will be 440 grams: (Zero for the half from renewable energy sources plus 880 grams for the half from fossil fuel power plants) divided by two.

It isn't necessary for the CO2 emissions from the electricity generated by fossil fuels to be nearly this high. They can be reduced to three-eighths of 880 grams per kilowatt-hour of electricity.

A way of doing this allows the use of power plants that are far more efficient than coal-fired power plants, are far cheaper to build, and are able to start more quickly in response to increases in demand.

A further advantage is that they use only three-eighths of the coal to generate each kilowatt-hour of electricity so the cost of mining and transporting coal for electricity generation is cut to just three-eighths of the cost with the less efficient, more expensive coal-fired power plants.

This way of supplying electricity at the halfway milestone reduces the average CO2 emissions for all electricity generated to just 165 grams: (Zero for the half from renewable energy sources plus 330 grams for the half from fossil fuel power plants) divided by two.
Average CO2 emissions and efficiency of a combined cycle power plant
Average CO2 emissions and efficiency of a combined cycle power plant
The reduced quantity of coal for fuel for the combined cycle power plants can converted to methane by a reaction with hydrogen. The hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis using excess renewable energy generated whenever total demand is less than the output of renewable energy sources.

A coal-fired power plant that is emitting 880 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour burns coal containing 240 grams of carbon for one kilowatt-hour of electricity. Coal containing just 90 grams of carbon (three-eighths of 240 grams) is all that's needed for a combined cycle power plant to generate a kilowatt-hour of electricity.

Coal may be converted directly to methane by reacting it with hydrogen:

Hydrogen - A Key to the Economics of Pipeline Gas from Coal, C. L. Tsaros, Institute of Gas Technology, Chicago, Illinois

The objective in manufacturing supplemental pipeline gas is to produce high- heating-value gas that is completely interchangeable with natural gas - essentially methane.

The basic problem in making methane from coal is to raise the H2/C ratio. A typical bituminous coal may contain 75% carbon and 5% hydrogen, a H2/C mole ratio of 0.4:1; the same ratio for methane is 2:1. To achieve this ratio it is necessary to either add hydrogen or reject carbon. The most efficient way is to add hydrogen. The hydrogen in the coal can supply about 25-30% of the required hydrogen, but the bulk must come by the decomposition of water, the only economical source of the huge quantities needed for supplemental gas.

In the second, or direct, method, methane is formed directly by the destructive hydrogenation of coal by the reaction:
C + 2H2 → CH4

There is a steadily growing list of commercially available systems to produce hydrogen using excess renewable energy:
Clean and Low-cost Hydrogen for Industry
The Sunfire steam electrolysis system, based on solid oxide cell (SOC) technology, promises lower onsite hydrogen production costs compared to legacy technologies. The ability to supply steam directly to the electrolysis module is unique and maximises efficiency.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

National Energy Guarantee and known pitfalls

A Japanese study released in October 2017 warns of costly European policy mistakes when investment in renewable energy is increasing.

Though details of the National Energy Guarantee policy are still under discussion, the Japanese study is worth checking so that Australia doesn't fall into any of the pitfalls it warns of.

This is an extract with some of the warnings in the Japanese study.

The Ways Forward for Japan EPCOs in the New Energy Paradigm
October 2017
Renewable Energy Institute, The Ways Forward for Japan EPCOs in the New Energy Paradigm (Tokyo: REI, 2017), 76 pp.
Executive Summary
Japan electric power companies(EPCOs) have essentially been focusing on their domestic market so far. Yet, business opportunities also exist overseas. ... Critical to successful internationalization of Japan EPCOs business will be their ability to deploy cost efficient Renewable Energy (RE).
To make their way through this new energy paradigm, Japan EPCOs have the chance to learn critical lessons from their European peers.
European EPCOs have already faced similar challenges to those Japan EPCOs are now confronted with. And European EPCOs have failed to adapt quickly. Japan is lagging behind, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it means that Japan EPCOs may benefit from their European peers painful experiences.
Struggling, several European EPCOs posted record losses and saw their market capitalization collapse in recent years. They were victims of low wholesale electricity prices resulting from sluggish electricity demand and dramatic expansion of wind and solar power with lower marginal cost, leading to overcapacity and pushing fossil power plants out in the competitive market merit order. (page 1)
Key Challenges Faced by Japan’s EPCOs
Global Annual Change in Electricity Generation 2010-2016
In the past two years RE accounted for the majority of new power capacity globally driven by dramatic cost reductions in wind and solar, and globally for the past three years the increase in RE electricity generation has been higher than the increase in fossil electricity generation. (Page 15)
European EPCOs Failed to Adapt Quickly
These overall negative performances result from the European EPCOs failure to quickly adapt to the energy transition, at the generation level especially. While electricity consumption stagnated, significant expansion of close to zero marginal cost wind and solar power, in which European EPCOs did not sufficiently invest, took place in Europe. The latter helped lowering wholesale electricity prices due to the merit order effect. At the same time, conventional power capacity did not significantly decrease which combined with stagnating electricity consumption and the expansion of RE resulted in overcapacity further reducing wholesale electricity prices (Chart 31). European EPCOs conventional power plants were thus outcompeted due to their higher marginal costs and suffered from low wholesale electricity prices, thus significantly affecting European EPCOs profitability. (page 26-27)
In Europe, several EU Member States including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK, notably, have introduced rewards for making capacity available, in the form of capacity mechanisms. However, capacity mechanisms are considered problematic because they risk distorting electricity markets. Inappropriate designs of mechanisms may for instance result in existing uneconomic power plants receiving financial support and disturbing the transition to a low-carbon economy – a failure. 31  The UK and Germany offer telling examples of far from perfect capacity mechanisms. (page 28)
In Germany, from this year 2.7GW of largely inflexible and high-emitting lignite capacity will be placed into an emergency stand-by reserve, only to be used as back-up when required for a period of four years, after which these plants will be permanently retired. 33  This comes at an estimated cost of €1.6 billion to the German government to compensate for lost revenues from the electricity market during these years of security stand-by. 34
These flawed designs are unsurprising insofar as it has been found that many of EU Member States did not adequately assess the need or cost-effectiveness before introducing such mechanisms. 35
In addition, it has also been recognized that capacity mechanisms implementation must be accompanied by appropriate market reforms. 36
Thus, before adding gigawatts of new conventional power plants and/or pushing for the implementation of a capacity mechanism in Japan, Japan EPCOs should thus be well aware of these painful lessons learnt in Europe (page 29)
31   European Parliament, “Capacity mechanisms for electricity – May 2017” (accessed 28 August 2017)  
33   The Economist Intelligence Unit, “Is Germany’s Energiewende cutting GHG emissions? – 20 March 2017” (accessed 31 August 2017)
34   Overseas Development Institute, Rethinking Power Markets: Capacity mechanisms and decarbonisation (London, United Kingdom: ODI, 2016), 46 pp
35   European Parliament, op. cit. note 31
36   Ibid.