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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wind turbines complement coal, natural gas and liquid fuels

New German technology converts 2 gigawatt-hours of off-peak electricity from wind turbines into hydrogen in its first year of operation. (See E.ON Wind Energy Gas Storage GmbH)

For private households the “Wind-to-Hydrogen” product can be obtained as a mix of 90 % natural gas and 10 % regenerative hydrogen.

This technology competes with battery energy storage. The commercial value of hydrogen and oxygen from off-peak wind energy has to be weighed up by investors against the cost of storing this off-peak energy in batteries for resale at a higher price during peak periods.
Wind farm energy to hydrogen and oxygen
Wind energy to hydrogen and oxygen

There are opportunities to expand the market for hydrogen and oxygen from low-cost off-peak electricity generated by wind farms:
  • Oil refineries consume a vast amount of hydrogen to produce transport fuels. At present refineries use natural gas to make hydrogen.
  • Oxygen from wind turbine electrolysis units can cut the reliance on air separation plants making oxygen for use in coal gasification. (The process of gasifying coal and municipal or crop waste with pure oxygen also lowers the cost of separating carbon dioxide - itself a valuable product in the emerging algae-oil industry and traditional markets such as fertiliser manufacture.)

The Purox process was developed by Union Carbide in the early 1970's

Air may be cheap but from a thermal-efficiency perspective it's expensive because only one fifth of air is oxygen with nitrogen forming the remaining four fifths. Gasifiers that use air as the oxidizing gas have to heat up five times as much air than one using pure oxygen as the oxidizer and separating carbon dioxide from large volumes of nitrogen is an expensive process.

In the mid-1970's pure oxygen was produced by the fractional distillation of liquid air, a process which is energy intensive and technologically challenging.

Obsolete technology and the end of poverty

With the coal lobby flogging obsolete coal-fired power technology as a solution to poverty it must be time to dust off the factories that made incandescent light bulbs, black and white televisions, MS-DOS computers and all the other clapped-out technology so lovingly cherished and then discarded by advanced economies.

Clapped-out technology to fight poverty!

Radio Technology Museum, New Jersey
Radio Technology Museum, New Jersey

Monday, July 13, 2015

The coal industry needs better advice from business analysts and chemists

While the coal industry invests in political lobbyists and advertising agencies its future grows dim.

Sales volume is not a measure of success

Producing ever increasing volumes of any commodity at steadily falling prices is a well-trodden path to oblivion. The Australian fine merino wool industry has "been there, done that."

Australian thermal coal price

Peabody Energy share price chart

Innovation that reduces efficiency is misguided

"Leading edge" super-critical coal-fired power stations are far less efficient than modern gas-fired power stations. This technology is obsolete having been overtaken by rival technologies.

How an industry can lift the return per kilogram of carbon

To remain viable an industry needs innovation that lifts the return per unit of production. Coal gasification is a step in this process. The energy market is not the only game in town.

Farming needs stable supplies of fertiliser, one of which is urea. Urea is manufactured from carbon dioxide, sells for around $350 per tonne and has 200 kilograms of carbon in each tonne (ref: Chemical Portal).

Contrast this with thermal coal that sells for around $80 per tonne and has 610 kilograms of carbon in each tonne (ref: Coal conversion statistics.)

Urea price per tonne chart

Urea is made from carbon dioxide

The coal industry doesn't appreciate the commercial potential of carbon dioxide.

Algae can manufacture 1,000 kilograms of edible oil that contains about 750 kilograms of carbon from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. Algae consume 2.75 tonnes of carbon dioxide to make a tonne of edible oil. Prices range from $1,000 to $5,000 per tonne.
"Nutraceuticals are various products that range from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and herbal products, to processed foods and beverages. With the correct blend of enriched nutrients using custom selected micro-algae as a source, Algae.Tec is able to deliver specialty high value oils, antioxidant-rich products and supplements, as well as edible oils and pigments, which provide a variety of health benefits. This approach is a sustainable alternative to current feedstock options, for items such as Omega-3s, which are derived from static fish supplies. The Algae.Tec advantage provides both a quality and consistent product that meets the needs of many nutraceutical applications." (Source: Algae.Tec website)

Edible oil price chart