Archive for the ‘environment’ Tag

Carbon Capture Test Called a Success by We Energies

A test of carbon capture technology in Wisconsin shows that – in the perfect world – technology might lessen the impact of coal-burning power plants on climate change. From Journal-Sentinel writer Thomas Content (via the good people at Energy News Network):

We Energies says carbon-capture project works

An $8 million pilot project in Wisconsin successfully showed that carbon dioxide can be captured and kept from being released from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, We Energies and two partners said Thursday.

The project was the first real-life demonstration of technology that uses chilled ammonia to act as a magnet to capture the greenhouse gas and purify it for possible shipment into underground geological formations instead of into the air.

The Wisconsin project, at the Pleasant Prairie Power Plant, was able to grab at least 90% of the greenhouse gas, officials said, and the French company Alstom that developed the technology is optimistic its next test will capture even more carbon dioxide.

(via Energy News Network)

Since this was just a test, the captured carbon dioxide was released rather than sequestered underground. A similar test at AEP’s Mountaineer power plant in West Virginia will be the first full-scale implementation of the technology. Alstom plans to begin selling the technology in 2015.

A few potential problems are already apparent:

  • Ammonia is synthesized from natural gas. This process of ammonia synthesis generates CO2, so using synthesized ammonia to capture CO2 may not result in a net decrease. At the very least, the ammonia synthesis stage needs to calculated into the final reduction of this process for a true measure of the CO2 reduction accomplished through this process.
  • Ammonia happens to be one of the major inputs for commercial agriculture. It is used in creating fertilizer. Reducing the ammonia available for farming will have much the same impact that diverting corn into ethanol production did: reduced availability resulting in higher prices for ammonia and ultimately higher food prices.
  • The process of ammonia capture consumes between 20-25 percent of the energy produced from the coal-burning plant. This, too, has the effect of making electricity more expensive. As David Biello wrote in the Scientific American blog when the company announced the preliminary results of the test earlier this year:

    In other words, capturing that CO2 will cost between $50 and $90 per metric ton, though (Robert) Hilton [Vice President of Power Technologies and Government Affairs at Alstom] believes that scaling up the process and refining it will reduce that cost…

    The problem with the “efficiency of scale” argument made by Mr. Hilton is that he assumes a large-scale deployment of the technology. This is a circular argument, since widespread deployment of carbon-capture technology is dependent on making the technology affordable.

  • It is also important to note that there has to be someplace to but the carbon dioxide after it is removed from the plant exhaust. In this “small” test, over 58,000 tons of CO2 was captured from a small fraction of the total emissions of one power plant. Nowhere in Wisconsin is there anyplace to sequester the captured CO2 from this and other coal-burning power plants in the state. Wisconsin lacks the proper geological formations to use the same underground deep-well injection technique planned for the Mountaineer plant. Sending the gas by pipeline to a neighboring state has been proposed, but there are no plans and no funding to construct such a pipeline.

Even if all those obstacles can be overcome, it still leaves a power generation system in place that is dependent on cheap coal.
For the billions (or trillions) of dollars it will take to test, develop, and implement carbon capture, isn’t it worth at least considering something truly groundbreaking and sustainable, like improved firming capability for wind and solar energy instead?

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LakewoodAlive to host forum on wind energy feasibility in Lake Erie – cleveland.com

From the Sun News (Cleveland):

Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force members will discuss the possibility of wind energy in Lake Erie at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Harding Middle School, 16601 Madison Ave in Lakewood.

The results of the initial feasibilty study were made public in May (see Wind power initiative on Lake Erie passes feasibility test). Estimates for the next stage of the demonstration project – deployment of turbines in a pilot project – range from $77 million to $93 million.

Steinway & Sons Installs World’s Largest Industrial Solar Heating & Cooling System

This comes across my electronic desk courtesy of chloregy. I’m excited about this because I’m a fan of both Steinway pianos and renewable energy, and here’s a story that combines both.

ERS, Inc., a progressive energy engineering consulting firm based in Massachusetts, is currently working with Steinway & Sons to install the largest solar-sourced industrial heating/cooling system in the world at the renown piano maker’s 11-acre manufacturing complex in Long Island City, NY.

Solar power – in the form of photovoltaic (electrical) generation – will have to improve quite a bit in its efficiency before it is feasible for this climate (the Northeast US). But using concentrated solar power (CSP) for heating applications is another animal altogether. I remember reading an article some years ago about a demonstration project that successfully used solar-hot water for 100% of its water and living space heating. In Maine. (Memory is a funny thing, and not to be trusted altogether, but I want to say it was conducted by or with the University of Maine.)

Year-round, even on cloudy days, even in the depths of winter. In Maine. I believe they kept a natural gas option open as a backup plan, but it was never needed.

I took another look at solar hot water systems recently, as they are eligible for the new renewable energy home improvement tax credit. The solar water heating systems are fairly simple, really: A solar “collector” transfers heat energy to a heating coil containing water or a water-ethylene glycol mix (antifreeze). Tubing with that heated fluid is coiled inside a water storage tank, allowing the heat to transfer to the water. It’s very similar to a conventional hot water heater and tank setup, except the energy to heat the water is coming from the coil, instead of a natural gas burner or electric heating element. (Here’s a nice writeup from Popular Mechanics a few years ago, subtitled Help your country and your wallet – install a solar hot water heater.)

The environmental system installed at Steinway & Sons takes these principles a step farther, using CSP to heat the transfer fluid to over 300ºF. The system heats not only the hot water at the plant, but also the work space. In the summer months, the solar collector uses a separate mechanism to provide air conditioning. The system is expected to pay for itself in five years. (According the the article on PM, typical savings for home hot-water heating systems is 20-40%.)

Climate control in the Steinway plant is critical. The assembly of these instruments require high degree of precision with regard to temperature and humidity control. The company’s deployment of this system speaks volumes about the capacity and reliability of CSP heating and cooling.

As a Steinway fan, I am thrilled that the company has taken this step. As a renewable energy booster, I am through the roof.

A cure for colony collapse disorder? – Ars Technica

Spanish researchers believe they have found the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, a worldwide problem which resulted in huge numbers of previously healthy bee colonies to suddenly sicken and die.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Microbiology Reports may clarify things, as a team of Spanish researchers report the cause of the colony collapse disorder, and also suggest a cure. The researchers isolated the parasitic fungi Nosema ceranae from a pair of Spanish apiaries, while finding none of the other proposed causes—Varroa destructor, IAPV, or pesticides. With the identification of the invading pathogen, the team treated other diseased colonies with fumagillin—an antibiotic—and observed a complete recovery of the colony.

via A cure for colony collapse – Ars Technica.

With this vector identified, the apiarists (bee scientists – new word for me too!) can take steps to manage the causes – including better hygiene to prevent infection and obviate the need for antibiotics.

Hello world!

Some explanation about myself: I am not usually this serious, but I take energy independence really seriously. So I am going to try really really hard to be serious on this blog. My goofy side is on display enough places anyway.

Anyway: about me. I’m concerned about the environment, but don’t consider myself an environmentalist – and definitely not a tree-hugger.

I’m concerned about the possibility of global warming, but I don’t know enough to say either “We need to act NOW” or “It’s all a lot of hand-waving.” Kind of the same way I feel about UFOs – I know enough to say I don’t know.

The T. Boone Pickens plan to replace the fuel for our vehicles with natural gas (hopefully, produced domestically) and replace natural-gas-powered power plants with renewable (specifically wind) energy strikes me as bold, visionary, and incomplete. More on that later. To sum up: it’s a good place to start a discussion about national energy policy.

I am encouraged by the effort underway by elected offficials in Cuyahoga County to assess the feasibility of
commercial-scale wind generation in Lake Erie, but concerned that they’re missing the larger picture. More on that later, too. To sum up: should county government be trying to pick the winner in the renewable energy lottery, and is the goal to lessen dependence on coal-fired plants for generation or to reinvigorate NE Ohio’s manufacturing sector? Those goals aren’t entirely compatible.

Anyway, here’s my point: reasonable people can disagree, hopefully without being disagreeable. If climate change is real, if energy independence deserves to be a national priority, if refocusing national energy policy on renewables is a sound strategy for economic growth or environmental protection or both then Americans ought to be able to find some consensus on  those issues. Note that I said “consensus,” not “agreement.”

So here we go!