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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Good Energy, Bad Energy

Discussion about energy is riddled with value-laden beliefs.
  • Renewable energy is "clean" / Fossil fuel energy is "dirty".
  • Fossil fuel energy is cheap and reliable / Renewable energy is expensive and unreliable.

Energy is just energy

Energy - converting carbon fuels to non-carbon fuel
Converting carbon fuels to low- and non-carbon fuels

The chart "Energy" shows that three different fuels -
  • Two samples of syngas created from two different raw materials contain identical quantities of chemical energy.
  • Two samples of methane created from the same two raw materials contain identical quantities of chemical energy, and 
  • Two samples of hydrogen created from the same two raw materials contain identical quantities of chemical energy.

One of the two raw materials is cellulose. This is a renewable energy resource produced from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide by photosynthesis in plants.

The second of the two raw materials is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. This is a non-renewable polymer made from fossil carbon resources. It is the plastic from which many disposable drink containers are made.

Both of these raw materials are compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Each can be transformed into -

  • Syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen - where all of the carbon in the raw material remains in the resulting fuel,
  • Methane  - where half of the carbon in the raw material remains in the resulting fuel and the other half may be separated in carbon dioxide, and 
  • Hydrogen  - where none of the carbon in the raw material remains in the resulting fuel and all of it may be separated in carbon dioxide.

The processes for transforming these two raw materials into any one of three different fuels can be applied to any raw material containing carbon, such as coal, lignite, natural gas, energy crops, organic waste, plastics and paper.

A variety of technologies exist for each of these three fuel transformations. Technologies also exist for separating and storing carbon dioxide.

The Question for Political Leaders

A question our political leaders and industry leaders need to answer is why these technologies are being ignored and are not being actively implemented? A further question is why are unproven and unneeded technologies being developed that substantially delay the time when we will see carbon capture and storage in everyday use?

Additional Information Sources

Department of Primary Industries, Victoria

"Capture technologies include: Pre-combustion capture refers to taking the primary fuel (e.g. coal) and converting it into gas. The gas produced is chemically altered to CO2 and hydrogen. The CO2 is separated from the hydrogen, compressed and transported to a suitable storage site."
Source: State Government of Victoria, Department of Primary Industries Carbon Capture and Storage - Questions and Answers

Department of Energy, U.S.

"An advanced integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant, which will convert coal fuel into hydrogen to generate enough power to support 160,000 homes, and a chemical plant that will produce nitrogen-based fertilizers. The plant will also capture more than 90 percent of the CO2, which means that the fertilizer and power produced by the project will have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than those produced by conventional facilities, including those using natural gas.

Approximately 2.6 million tons per year of CO2 will be transported via pipeline to Occidental Petroleum’s Elk Hills Oil Field, located less than 4 miles away. With oil fields as the CO2 injection site, HECA will enable oil production to be increased, while storing CO2. Michael Peevey, President of the California Public Utilities Commission, has said: 'They have developed an innovative business model that improves the economic viability of the project. HECA intends to ramp up the facility to produce more electricity during peak hours of need in order to maximize the energy and capacity value of the plant. This is an example of the kind of creative thinking we will need to solve the climate crisis.'

'The HECA project underscores the significance of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage—the creative combination of business drivers and environmental responsibility.  It demonstrates how carbon capture technology will help us fully develop and use our vast domestic energy resources in a sustainable way.' 
The project will create more than 2,000 construction jobs over 3 years and approximately 100 permanent operational positions."
Source: U.S. Department of Energy 9 July 2012  Power Plant Will Produce Clean Power, Increase Domestic Oil Production

Australian Coal industry seeks 15-year policy reform delay

Why is Australia to spend over $1 billion on CarbonNet and take 15 years developing new Carbon Capture technology ----
 ---- when proven technology has existed for decades in the USA?

A Possible Reason for the Coal Industry to Delay Pre-Combustion Carbon Capture

Post-combustion Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)  provides a justification to continue construction of coal-fired power stations. It holds out a promise of one day being able to reduce emissions of such power plants.

Once a coal-fired power plant is constructed, the coal industry is guaranteed a customer for at least 40 years.

Gasification of coal with pre-combustion Carbon Capture eliminates the reason for constructing any new coal-fired power stations. Once converted to gas, the fuel can be used in high-efficiency combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power stations. In addition a number of toxic components of coal such as mercury can be economically removed when the coal has been converted to gas.

The demand for coal would go down when natural gas prices fall. There would be no guaranteed demand to provide fuel for new coal-fired power stations.

A gas-fired power station achieves 60 percent thermal efficiency, much higher than the 40 percent for advanced coal-fired power stations. This difference also results in lower demand for coal.