Saturday, May 31, 2008

Energy production and associated water use in Texas

Don't know how many of you caught this article in the Statesman last week, but Prof. Webber's quoted in it quite a bit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tax free weekend on Green Products

Just an FYI for those of you looking to purchase big or small green items in the next few weeks. The State of Texas will have a sales tax free weekend on green products purchased during Memorial Day weekend (May 24th - 26th). Qualifying products are as follows:

1. Air conditioners
2. Clothes Washers
3. Ceiling Fans
4. Dehumidifiers
5. Dishwashers
6. Light bulbs (incandescent and fluorescent)
7. Programmable thermostats
8. Refrigerators

All qualifying products will display the Energy Star logo.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

KiteGen vs Wind Turbine Feasibility in Texas

Wind turbines are limited by the material requirements and wind speeds. The ability to produce electricity comparable to a coal power plant is not feasible with the implementation of wind farms because of the large use of land and material expenses. KiteGen takes advantage of the wind speeds in the troposphere hundreds of meters high through the use of kites since they maximize lift against drag from the wind (KiteGen, 2007). The motion of the kites is controlled at the base.

Installing three KiteGen plants would produce about 3 GW of electricity which is almost equivalent to the electricity produced by the WA Parish Station, the largest fossil fuel plant in the Texas (EIA, 2008). When a KiteGen plant is working at optimal capacity, the carbon dioxide offset is determined to be 2000 pounds for 1 GWh of electricity (DOE, EPA, 2000).

The founders of KiteGen have built a small scale prototype used to model an estimate cost of a 200 kW scale project.

“With a kite area of 50 m2, simulations give about 200 kW power generated with 12 m/s wind speed. A wind turbine of the same power is 40 m high, weighs about 62 t and costs about 900.000,00 Euros (1.4 million U.S. dollars). The expected KiteGen weight and cost are about 8 t and 60.000,00 Euros (93600 U.S. dollars) respectively.” (Canale, Fagiano, & Milanese, 2006)

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restricts wind turbines to a maximum height of 500 ft. Lighting guidelines have also been set forth for wind turbines which can be applied to KiteGen but height requirements will still have to be altered. The height of the kites can reach over 1,000 meters (m), which is equivalent to 3,280 ft. KiteGen power plants reach altitudes at least 6 times greater than current maximum wind turbine height restrictions in place today. A solution to this dilemma is requesting no fly zone permit. These permits are normally issued to areas such as nuclear power plants, oil refineries, and near the president (KiteGen, 2007).

There are many benefits to installing KiteGen power plants. Wind turbines are affected by wind intermittency unlike KiteGen. The high elevations allow the KiteGen system to provide energy at all times during the day except in the case of rain weather. KiteGen uses much less land than wind turbines due to lack of shading, thus, allowing more plant installations in a given area. The FAA regulations may prevent immediate installation of KiteGen, but as soon as the benefits are witnessed, implementation will not be far away. The KiteGen system proves superior compared to wind turbines after considering the cost, land used, material, velocities reached and ultimate energy generated.

Question: What does constitute in this graph?

Hey does anyone know what the giant other constitutes in this graph that I got from one of Dr. Webber's slides? 32% is the largest percentage by far in the pie chart, so what falls under it?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Distributed Generation using Microturbines

Distributed generation refers to the small scale, on-site, production of electricity. Currently, hundreds of sites in the US operate some type of distributed generation equipment, including: reciprocating engines, combustion turbines, microturbines, and fuel cells. Benefits of these local electricity production units include reduced transmission losses, improved power reliability and energy efficiency, and peak load reduction. All of these distributed generation systems have benefits, but the focus of this blog will now turn toward microturbines.


Microturbines in particular have a few additional benefits. By eliminating the need for a gear box and pump, microturbines reduce the number of moving parts and therefore improve reliability. They are also low maintenance because they need no liquid coolants or lubricants. The modularly designed microturbines are versatile because they can be operated in grid parallel or as stand alone as well as be used in remote locations. Of all the distributed generation systems, microturbines offer the widest fuel flexibility by being able to run on natural gas, propane, flare gas, gasoline, diesel, and kerosene. Capstone, a major manufacturer, also advertises that their microturbines can be easily modified to run on waste gases from landfills, water treatment facilities, or agricultural and food processing facilities. In addition, many microturbine applications will make use of the high temperature exhaust gases to generate hot water or hot air thus being characterized as a combined heat and power unit.


However, work is still being done to try to improve the overall efficiency of microturbine systems. One area of research has been aimed at incorporating an Organic Rankine Cycle as a bottoming cycle to provide waste heat recovery and generate additional electricity. An Organic Rankine Cycle is similar to a regular Rankine cycle in that a fluid is boiled then passed through a turbine to produce power. The difference is that an Organic Rankine Cycle uses an organic working fluid such as a refrigerant or some other complex hydrocarbon. These fluids are able to boil at temperatures as low as 350 Kelvin, meaning that they can utilize the waste heat from other sources to generate more power.


By simulating a Microturbine coupled Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) system, I found that the overall electrical efficiency was boosted from 30% to 37% by the addition of the ORC, and the ability to be used in a combined heat and power application can still be utilized. The application of such a system has vast benefits including the reduction of peak demand. As more electricity providers move toward real time pricing and smart meters a distributed generation system could be activated during times of peak demand to reduce the grid load. This allows the microturbine user to avoid the peak prices and would also reduce emissions, grid strain, and transmission losses.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Market Benefits of On-Line Coal Analysis

A number of market challenges are associated with continued electricity generation from coal in the US, such as increasing coal consumption and increasing costs of coal as fuel. Commercially viable technology improvements may be leveraged to enable coal-fired power plants to address such challenges. Through strategically planned technology implementation projects, individual power plants can achieve an increase in overall generation and operational efficiency, thereby reducing coal consumption. My paper focuses on a preliminary study of the adoption of one such commercially available technology: Prompt Gamma Neutron Activation Analysis (PGNAA) for on-line coal analysis. Efficiency improvements gained from implementing this technology at the individual plant level can be translated to meeting the associated challenges of the coal-fired electric power sector. The results of my study determine whether a sector-wide cost-benefit analysis of the implementation of on-line coal analyzers should be recommended.

Due to the preliminary nature of the study and confidentiality of plant operations data, the benefits can only be predicted qualitatively. A quantitative benefits analysis is not within the scope of my study.

My preliminary study concludes that the addition of on-line coal analyzers in a coal-fired generation plant’s coal-handling operations results in significant improvements in overall plant operations. Benefits are realized in the areas of supply chain management through contract surveillance, and boiler optimization, emissions control, and coal blending through enhanced coal quality assessment. The resulting optimizations and cost savings contribute directly to overall plant efficiency. The possibility of realizing such benefits across the coal-fired electric power sector as a whole merits further investigation. Therefore, a detailed quantitative cost-benefit analysis and life-cycle cost estimation study is recommended for individual plants, and this sector as a whole.

Municipal Wastewater and Energy

Municipal wastewater treatment is something most people do not give much thought to. You flush and what happens next is out of sight, out of mind. Functional wastewater treatment and collection systems are one of the most important factors in development and protecting the environment. Quality wastewater treatment is one of the things that separates developed countries from developed countries. Municipal wastewater treatment also consumes a significant amount of energy and is often the largest consumer of energy within municipal government. Fortunately, most municipal wastewater treatment plants (POTWs) can significantly reduce their energy consumption by implementing efficiency measures and generating electricity from anaerobic digester biogas, a renewable fuel. Like most other infrastructure in the US, municipal wastewater treatment and collection systems are in a state of disrepair and require large investments. From an energy standpoint, this presents an opportunity to install more efficient equipment and processes that produce biogas, a renewable fuel. Based on my research, if all POTWs implemented efficient pumping and optimized aeration, POTWs could reduce their energy needs 547 – 1,054 million kWh per year, or 3 – 6% annually. If all POTWs utilizing anaerobic digestion generated electricity with the produced biogas, POTWs could reduce their energy needs 2,320 – 3,480 million kWh per year, or 13 – 19% annually. Reducing POTWs energy consumption reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electricity generation. By fully implementing efficiency measures and generating electricity from all existing biogas, POTWs can reduce CO2 emissions by 1.99 – 2.68 million metric tons annually. POTWs are a hidden source of energy savings and renewable fuel. Any local government or utility wanting to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions should look to their local POTWs and at the least every POTWs in the US should conduct a periodic energy audit to check for potential energy saving and the possibility of energy production.

PHEVs vs. Ethanol

My research paper focused on determining how the cars of the future will be powered: electricity or ethanol from algae. Our economy has become so dependent on cheap transportation that increasing fuel prices are driving up the cost of every other good on the market. With that in mind, it's time we focus on transportation in a future in which oil is neither as available nor inexpensive as it is has been.

I found that PHEVs are not that far off, and that their progress depends greatly on improvements in battery technology. Once batteries have longer lives and are more dense in terms of energy storage, the PHEV age will soon begin. We are going to need more power plants, but aside from those capital costs, the infrastructure will not need dramatic changes to help usher in PHEV technology as our main means of transportation. The downfall is that essentially every car on the road would have to be replaced or adapted. However, as battery technology improves, the costs associated with PHEVs would be expected to drop considerably.

Ethanol has been much maligned recently as well all know. The current ethanol production industry in America relies greatly on government subsidies, but those subsidies won't last forever. Algae-based ethanol has a very promising future when evaluated on its environmental advantages. Right now, the technology is very expensive (~$20/gal), but those costs will come down as more research is done. Every car on the road today is capable of converting its fuel system to accept ethanol on a scale of $100s, but filling stations are not so flexible. It will cost about $34 trillion to convert existing stations to pump ethanol, and an infrastructure that large would be needed to support ethanol as the main transportation fuel. This bill would fall on the shoulders of private station owners as Big Oil has refused to even talk about the conversion costs on several occasions. Ethanol would still require the use of gasoline (the other 15% in E85) and emissions would only be improved slightly over gasoline usage.

When both technologies are compared, it seems that PHEVs are going to be the long-term (~50 years) winner. There will still be a need for an energy-dense liquid-fuel in the future, and algae-based ethanol could help fill that role. PHEVs scale much better than algae-based ethanol.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005

Current U.S. Population Estimate: 303,945,000

Estimated # of TV’s in America: 284,948,438
Average # of hours Americans spend watching TV: 6 hrs. 47 mins.
Total viewing time per day: 644 million hours of television in America

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 was a seemingly innocuous bill made law in 2006 which on the exterior seemed like a bill touting Healthcare Directed Budget Reform. Upon reading the bill, I found that of the 181 pages that make up the document, 7 pages near the center focus on a $10.5 billion dollar money making scheme under the heading: Digital Television and Public Safety.

This bill mandates a transition to digital television which will require each U.S. household to pay an average of about $114 to continue watching television in 2009. This rider bill was important to Congress because it allowed them to offset spending without having to curb the budget and it should be important to American's because it represents $114 in unconventional taxation in 2009 hidden in a bill with a blatantly dubious title.

Looking at the numbers above, you can see that television matters in America, it matters because it represents a captive audience of more than 300 million people. Congress can't let the freedom of sharing sparked by the internet sway that hold. HDTV made possible through DTV technology is a way to insure that Americans continue to watch (and with all of the exciting colors they'll watch with renewed vigor).

Want to find out more? Read the bill yourself. Click the link above and check out my podcast on iTunes.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Armenia: Foreign Relations, Energy, Environment, and Future Security

My podcast was on Armenia's foreign relations and how it has affected its energy status and subsequently its environmental situation.

Armenia is a landlocked country with no fossil fuels (at least none that have been explored due to economic and environmental concerns). For most of its energy- oil and natural gas- it relies on imports from nearby countries.

Here's a brief overview of Armenia-Neighbor relations:
East- Azerbaijan: Nagorno Karabakh War. Doesn't like Armenia. The feeling is mutual. Result: Blockade.
West- Turkey: Armenian Genocide, Nagorno Karabakh War. Doesn't like Armenia. The feeling is mutual. Result: Blockade.
North- Georgia: Break-away territories, internally unstable. Decent relations with Armenia, but likes to pick fights with the Big Guy, Russia. Result: Gas pipeline explosions- gas doesn't reach Armenia (especially hard during the cold winters.)
South- Iran: Ironically, our friendliest neighbor! Result: Gas pipelines, investments in border hydro-plants, electricity sold back from Armenia to Iran, potential crude oil processing plants. Here you are: a seldom heard, "Thanks, Ahmadinejad!"
North of Georgia- Russia: Thinks Armenia needs it more than it needs Armenia. Result: "Helps" out its former Soviet Republic, but can cut its assistance at whim (Gazprom, anyone?). Those problems with Georgia don't help, either.

Needless to say, Armenia is in quite a tough spot. It's energy comes from a few, and instable, sources. It's made it this far, though. (This far being millennia, past conquests and genocide and natural disasters.) But, it's made some sacrifices along the way at the expense of its environment. The 6.8 earthquake in 1988 did a number on Armenia. Its inhabitants cut down a significant portion of its trees for energy use (see previous post, "Yerevan: City or Desert"). The fall of the Soviet Union also left Armenia in shambles. Government officially reluctantly had to restart Metzamor, a nuclear power plant on a fault line. Improper use of Armenia's major renewable energy source, the Sevan-Hrazdan Cascade hydro power plant, significantly dropped Lake Sevan's water level, affecting the fauna and flora of the area, along with the economy which is highly focused on tourism.

Seeing as its relationships with the aforementioned countries are not likely to improve in the near future (many of the issues are out of Armenia's hands, or it doesn't have much leverage yet), Armenia must secure stable and sustainable energy sources. Its capital city, Yerevan, is in the midst of a construction boom and cars are being imported at record rates, making energy increasingly important.

There are options, though. Armenia can work to improve relations with Western countries and organizations to increase investments in renewable technologies (so far, most are going to Georgia because it's not officially in a "war" and investors look at the Caucuses as a whole for investment purposes.) Armenia can also capitalize on its high literacy rate and information technology potential for renewable energy purposes.

Armenia has to take control of its own future. It can't let the fact its neighbors happen to live in areas with oil and natural gas determine its energy, environmental, economic and living standards. Armenia can turn its "disadvantage" into real security and prosperity. Renewable energy offers hope and strength to Armenia, allowing it to take control of its direction through the innovation and creativity it has used for centuries.

Natural Gas Vehicles: Using Argentina as a Roadmap for Success

include I wrote my research paper on natural gas vehicles and their potential for success here in the United States. Natural gas vehicles are vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) . Although technically vehicles could also run on liquid natural gas (LNG), this is impractical based on the energy required to remove the heat in order to condense the gas. Operating a vehicle on compressed natural gas has the benefits of running a much cleaner fuel (less CO2 emissions, generally less NOx emissions), a fuel that is not dependent on the whims of OPEC, and a fuel that is available for fill up using the gas lines in our own homes. The disadvantages of CNGdecreases engine power/torque and gas mileage. However, I found that the gas mileage between the Civic GX (runs on CNG) and a regular 4-door Civic is only 1 mpg in favor of the gasoline vehicle. The power decrease is about 15% for a Natural gas vehicle (NGV). The price of natural gas is cheap enough that you could fill your car up at home with your gas line for $1.30 per gallon of equivalent gasoline.

In Argentina, the government has been heavily promoting the natural gas sector since the 1980s. However, this promotion does not include tax incentives or big rebates. The government began by splitting up the state-run company that originally had a monopoly on the natural gas sector. This split injected competition into the market. The government also helped build the first refueling stations. Local manufacturerers also worked to build the parts necessary to retrofit a vehicle to run on CNG. Now, Argentina has the largest NGV fleet at about 15% of personal vehicles.

I believe that we can replicate Argentina's success in the United States with the proper measures. First, we need the government to provide support like the Argentine government. Giving rebates on home-fueling systems is a way that the US government can lend its support. Being the first users of NGV's, the government can make an example of the technology. Supporting the technology in the taxi fleets of large cities is the next step. Finally, exanding the present natural gas infrastructure to include refueling stations can make this technology truly successful.

Environmental Inequality...

Energy inequality is a term used frequently in conversations about the state of black america and the environment. Studies show that minorities bear an unproportional amount of the environmental hazard burden. Statistics can even make a case for using the term environmental racism. All minorities are more likely to live in close proximity of an hazardous toxic waste site then are their white counterparts. African American youth are 3 to 5 times more likely to have asthma, the leading cause of hospitalizations among children, then their white counterparts. Extensive studies have been done that verify that environmental inequality is based most potently on race, not class as some would argue. The EPA has even recognized this inequality and has set up a specialized task force in order to investigate the issue. In 1994 President Clinton signed in executive order to look into Environmental Inequality and the effects it has on minorities. African American children are also more likely to have high concentrations of lead in their blood, one study showed that middle class African Americans are more likely than lower class white children to be effected by lead poisoning. These and many other statistics make the case that Environmental Inequality is a concern that should be addressed by the federal government, starting with the EPA. Something has to be done so that minority communities are preyed on by big companies who need to dispose of their waste. All communities should share the burden of hazardous materials based on population and census data, anything else is racism.

OTEC and Wave Energy Technologies in Hawaii

The primary purpose of my paper was to describe select wave energy and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) technologies from technical, policy oriented, economic, and environment standpoints. Furthermore, my paper discussed and analyzed why these technologies are inherently suited for applications around the Hawaiian Islands. Since 33% of electricity comes from petroleum in Hawaii, raising cost of crude oil has brought light to various renewable energies within the past few years, including ocean energy sources. Therefore, my report demonstrates that Hawaii can meet its goal of 20% renewable by 2020 and 70% renewable by 2030 if the state incorporates select ocean energy technologies into their renewable energy portfolio while still allowing other alternative energies to grow alongside.

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is a process which makes use of the oceans’ natural thermal temperature gradients in order to produce power via Rankine cycle power generation. On an average day, 23 million square miles of ocean seawater absorb the equivalent energy of 250 billion barrels of oil. If 10% of this energy were extracted, that would be equivalent to nearly 5 times the amount of energy the world consumes per day [8]. My findings were that OTEC could prove cost-effective in Hawaii within the next five years. This is so because the cost of petroleum, which accounts for 33% of Hawaii's fuel for electricity generation, will drive diesel power stations to the point where they will be less cost-effective than other renewable technologies like OTEC. Even though the efficiencies of OTEC systems are low, the energy is free, and extremely abundant.

In my paper I discussed two types of wave energy technologies, oscillating water column devices and point absorbers. The oscillating water column (OWC) is a device mounted onshore or as an offshore floating device that produces electricity by the movement of air across a turbine. When a wave approaches on shore, the wave displaces air within the OWC, turning a turbine. When a wave retreats back, air is sucked into the OWC and the turbine spins in the same direction as before. This continuous process produces electricity by converting the mechanical work of the turbine into electricity via a generator. Point absorbers are wave energy devices that take advantage of the elliptical motion of particles resting on ocean surface waves. When any object sits on a surface wave, it moves in the lateral direction as well as in an up and down motion, resulting in an overall elliptical motion. Point absorbers utilize this energy by transfer the up and down motion into a hydraulic piston which pumps water. This pumped water can be utilized to turn a small turbine within the point absorber or to spin a turbine offshore.



Considering the extremely high wave heights around the Hawaiian Islands, wave energy technologies are very suitable. Since the state of Hawaii is an island, it has large coastline perimeter, allowing for vast wave energy technology potential. The following is are the concluding remarks from my paper:

From environmental and economically standpoints, the feasibility of OTEC systems and wave energy technologies is still unclear. As with any new technology that must be implemented on a large scale, this is to be expected. Producing tens or hundreds of megawatts of power in the oceans is a daunting task that requires years of experimentation and cost-benefit analysis. Yet, from a technical standpoint, OTEC systems and the discussed wave energy technologies present themselves as technically feasible alternatives for applications in the state of Hawaii. Hawaii’s large wave heights and underwater temperature differences allow the state of Hawaii to utilize OTEC and wave energies at their advantage, if state government so chooses.

As large and overwhelming as the ocean is, so too is the economic and engineering task of designing large offshore and onshore ocean energy power plants. In order for Hawaii to meet its goals of 20% renewable fuels by 2020 and 70% of its energy mix from renewable by 2030, the state government should first provide for access to federal waters where companies like Finavera Renewables and CETO can test their products year round. This is the first and most crucial step towards launching any large scale ocean energy system within the Hawaiian Islands.

Secondly, a cap and trade system or carbon tax would not be suitable for Hawaii because its electricity mix is far different from the rest of the U.S. Given that 33% of Hawaii’s electricity comes from petroleum, rising crude oil prices is in itself a wakeup call for the alternative energy capabilities that Hawaii possesses. The money spent on a cap and trade system or carbon tax could more aptly be spent on grants for testing on federal lands or offshore. Money spent increasing the efficiencies of these ocean technologies will pay for itself, given that ocean energy power plants rely on large scale production in order to be cost-effective.

Finally, the state of Hawaii should cut down, not punish its producers, on its electricity generation from petroleum in order to create market incentives for other alternative technologies. The truth of the matter is that ocean energy technologies are at least five to ten years away from being cost effective, therefore, it is imperative to allow these technologies to mature and then blossom when the time is apt. In the meantime, more cost-effective technologies like solar and geothermal should be given incentives to grow. Heavy incentives and tax rebates should be given for installed solar capacity on homes and buildings so that Hawaii can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. By allowing different parts of the alternative energy industry to grow with the newly revived OTEC and wave industries, the state of Hawaii can economically make its way towards 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% renewable in the future.

Bio-Butanol

My project was on Bio-Butanol. Butanol is a cousin of Ethanol, both are ethyl alcohols that can be derived from common feedstocks and used for transportation fuel, but my project aimed at proving bio-butanol was better.
Ethanol was originally favored over butanol because the refining process was easier and less energy intensive. however, there have recently been great strides in butanol refining such as the manipulation of the microbes used in the process to make it more economic. Butanol has a higher energy content than ethanol. Butanol is non corrosive, which means that it can use existing infrastructure such as pipelines, and replace gasoline in cars with no new additions. Whereas most companies are looking at a 10% ethanol mix BP is looking at a 16% butanol mix, which means you would use less gas. A by product of the butanol refining process is hydrogen which can be used to fuel the refinery saving energy. The fact that butanol could be shipped in pipelines and not trucked also saves energy that would be used in the production and transport of ethanol.
There are some hurdles to it's adoption. It is not currently economic to produce, there is existing ethanol infrastructure such as refineries, and most of the bio-fuels incentives do not include butanol.
BP and DuPont have partnered to build a large butanol refinery in England. They will actually be refitting an existing ethanol refinery to be a butanol refinery. They are putting a lot of effort into this, as is demonstrated by the fact that they have over 60 butanol related patent applications
My reccomendations are that butanol be included in all future legislation as an equal to ethanol. The government provide incentives to change ethanol refineries into butanol refineries. Generally encourage more poeple to examine butanol as a fuel source. The State Energy Conservation Office of texas and the University of Texas have no current projects involving butanol and this needs to change.
A big opportunity may come in the next year when a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement comes online, which could potentially allow the U.S. market to be flooded with cheap Mexican sugar. If this happens the sugar beet growers in the upper northwest would be out of business. One thing they are considering is to truck the undrefined sugar to a ethanol refinery in Michigan. This would be a high energy input. I suggest that instead they build smaller butanol refineries closer to the fields and use the existing oil and gas infrastructure to transport it.

automobiles and the recent obeisty trends

Since the early 1980's American citizens have gained an average of about 27 or 28 pounds. This is actually quite staggering even though many of the industrialized nations are experiencing the same trends.

The effects of this trend have been felt in many areas. By far, the industry hit the worst has been the health care industry. Because of the additional risks that obesity brings on, it could almost be considered the second or third worst moral killer in the US. Another example of a moral killer would be the habitual smoking of cigarettes. One area also affected is the automobile industry when one considers the cost increase of energy.

There has been an influx of literature recently dealing with the subject of obesity and energy. Studying these research projects and updating them to reflect current EPA estimates on fuel consumption, I have determined that Americans could be wasting up to about one billion extra gallons of gasoline per year due to their weight gains. This is really just a drop in the bucket... 0.8 percent of the total consumption, to be sure.

Since this is a relatively small number, I tried to find a way to make it sound significant. This total amount of fuel wasted would have kept about 3.5 billion dollars in American's pockets. Still, we have chosen to go out to eat and pay double. Also, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would last a whole half a day if we were as collectively thin as we were twenty five years ago. This may not seem like much, but I doubt there is a commanding general in the military today who wouldn't take all he could get. Plus, it could just make the difference in case of a severe supply disruption. I'm sure that if there were such a disruption, conscientious rationing would occur across the board. This would allow the SPR to be maintained even longer. Looking at it this way, we can see that this energy consumption actually becomes a matter of national security. Therefore, we should try to curb this however possible.

It is very difficult to attribute this recent putting on of weight to mental or genealogical disabilities. Therefore, since obesity has sweeping effects on energy, security, and economics, we should implement policies to help curb our diets. Pun intended.

I recommend giving all automobiles maximum load limitations and equipping them with sensors that can tell when this load has been exceeded. During the next fuel stop, the vehicle will then assess an additional tax if a violation has occurred. This would be a flat, nonlinear tax. A similar pilot program is already being implemented in several states. Although, the pilot program, already approved for testing and funding by the government, will track vehicle via GPS to determine vehicle miles traveled (VMT). When this vehicle is refueled, a radio frequency is transmitted to the pump and the pump assigns a linear tax dependent on the VMT.

My recommendation seems a little less 'big brotherish,' if that is a word. Still, this would not solve the problem totally. Neighborhood arrangements have to be changed and people have to be changed. The second is the most difficult part. However the method, there should be a slogan that goes along with these new sin taxes reading "get fit America." Since shaping up our bodies will simultaneously shape up our economy, security, and energy consumption, this may begin positive trends that lead to even more shaping up. This is simply a natural tendency when one feels as if he or she owns the resolution.

Photovoltaic Viability in China

Over the past 30 years, China has undergone exponential growth unmatched by any other country in a similar compressed time frame. To accommodate such amazing industrialization, China’s electricity generating capacity has been forced to expand rapidly. The source of this expansion has largely been derived from increases in coal fired power plants. The result has been dramatic environmental issues that not only affect China’s continued industrial expansion, but also the health of Chinese citizens.

My project explored the history of China’s electrical expansion via coal fired power plants and the resulting environmental issues. I included a brief summary of alternative energy solutions which could displace coal as a generation source (wind, solar, biomass and hydro). I didn’t include nuclear as that technology is still in its infancy in China. The focus of my paper was on photovoltaic generation as an alternative source of electricity generation. I found that there had been two main barriers for photovoltaic to naturally grow (without government assistance via policy) in China – the low cost of subsidized coal electricity and the location of good solar intensity (east) and population density (west). Although China is currently the 3rd largest manufacturer of photovoltaic panels, approximately 90% of the panels are exported from the country – very little of the panels are retained for domestic generation.

My recommendation was that the Chinese government should pursue policy actions that will incentivize growth in photovoltaic generation in China. China can implement this policy using a number of different vehicles (RPS, feed-in tariffs, tax credits, subsidies, direct investment, etc). The best vehicles will be to use a feed-in tariff in addition to direct funding of photovoltaic projects. This would include building a pilot plant in the western part of the country to assess the viability of photovoltaic generation for long distance transmission. Further, the government should help domestic Chinese solar manufacturers be more competitive in solar technology by increasing IP protection and by direct R&D grants. By increasing the amount of photovoltaic generation in China, the country will experience decreased reliance on goal generated electricity which will benefit the environment. Further, by stimulating the growth in photovoltaic generation, the Chinese economy would be benefited.

biomass to hydrogen

Today a significant market for hydrogen exists. It is used widely as a chemical feedstock and for processing fossil fuels. The current avenues for hydrogen production include steam reforming or gasification of fossil fuels, water electrolysis and biomass to hydrogen processes. We will continue to use fossil fuels for hydrogen production, but we may find that this feedstock is not economical because of rapidly increasing prices for fossil fuels and because fossil fuels contribute to climate change. Unless a virtually infinite source of energy is found, water electrolysis will remain infeasible as it is very energy intensive. Biomass to hydrogen processes are effective, but rely on catalysts, which have some associated problems and are not optimum for all applications.

I am researching a novel, non-catalytic method of producing hydrogen from biomass. This method, partial oxidation fuel reforming, relies on heat recirculation in a bed of inert porous media. The heat recirculation from the hot exhaust gases to the cold reactant gases through the porous media is used to react extremely oxygen starved mixtures, which produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide as well as normal combustion products, water and carbon dioxide. In order to study this process, my group performs physical experiments and numerical experiments. We run three different sets of codes for numerical experiments including a code that models the porous media reactor, a code that models a free, premixed flame and a code that finds the equilibrium mixture of the reactants at constant pressure and without heat loss.

This project focused on equilibrium computations as a means to select the fuels with the best potential for conversion to hydrogen. Equilibrium calculation is not best for this application (see Smith and Missen 1982 for a discussion on the applicability of equilibrium calculations), but its weakness in this regard is also its strength. Equilibrium is general and applies to all processes that occur with the same thermodynamic conditions, so the results of this study not only pertain to my experiment, but all processes that occur under the same thermodynamic conditions.

I selected fuels for equilibrium study based on the following criteria:

1. What thermodynamic data are available?

2. What fuels have the strongest potential for production?

3. What fuels can be made from waste streams?

4. A strength of our reactor is that it can accept unprocessed fuels and impurities. What fuels take advantage of this strength?

5. Another strength of our reactor is that it can accept a variety of feedstock and mixtures of feedstock. What fuels take advantage of this strength?

6. Are there fuels that offer significant benchmarking opportunities?

Based on the answers to these initial questions, I chose to investigate cottonseed oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, pyrolysis oil, algae oil, ethanol and methanol.

Equilibrium analysis showed that there is little difference in hydrogen production potential between the set of fuels I chose to study. This is important for my research because it means I should decide on fuels to study based on economic and practical considerations. Because the results show that each of the fuels produce hydrogen with similar efficiency, I will focus my efforts on algae oil. Algae has the greatest potential for production does not need to be grown on arable land. As mentioned above, these results are general, so claims that any of these sources of biomass should be preferentially used for hydrogen production should not be heeded.

The trucking industry & a contest of diesel alternatives

Although heavy trucks (i.e. diesel tractor-trailers) make up a little over 1% of the total number of vehicles in the US, they travel about 4.5% of total vehicle miles and consume nearly 15% of total fuel in equivalent-gallons-of-gas. Heavy trucks are an integral part of the American economy and log well over 100 billion miles a year distributing goods and commodities throughout the country. So when it comes to replacing petroleum-based fuels, the freight transportation industry should be given leading priority.

To tackle the issue, I surveyed a variety of diesel fuel alternatives, rated them in five pertinent categories (greenhouse gas emissions, feedstock renewability, energy content, and supply-side and production-side infrastructure change requirements), and pit them against each other in a contest of sorts. The fuels and technologies with the highest scores were recommended to be sought after while all the low scoring fuels were recommended for abandonment. And as a civil engineer, I delved into a realm of technology that I know very little about; I wouldn’t be surprised if some fundamental flaws exist in the analysis. However, I feel any direction in this muddled domain is at least, in a sense, some direction home.

In doing my preliminary research, I found a mess of alternative options with no clear winner, and, in fact, no clear anything (hence the contest). Diesel replacement options are so disjointed and unclear, it’s no wonder little advancement has been made. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 outlined a plan to replace 30 percent of US petroleum-derived fuels by 2010 – a plan that was pushed back two decades in 2007. Even two of the qualifying fuel options outlined in the act are natural gas and coal-derived fuels – options that do nothing for carbon emissions, maybe a little for energy independence, and would seem to simply buy a little time.

Fortunately, the DOE runs a program called the 21st Century Truck Partnership. Unfortunately, it seems they’re waiting on a 22nd Century Truck Partnership to evolve before even thinking about replacing petroleum diesel – the program has goals to improve engine efficiency, reduce aerodynamic drag, make trucks use less fuel while idling (yeah, idling), and to convert trucks to hybrid technology. In a recurring US energy policy theme, these options are not actually based on alternative fuels and will do little more than buy some extra time. It is time to point our policy makers in the right direction and we can start by smoothing out some of the confusion in choices.

Thanks for a great class,
Brent


Carbon Capture and Storage

Coal is a major contributor to US carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In 2005 the US emissions from fossil fuel energy production were approximately 5.9 billion metric tons of CO2. Coal is responsible for approximately 2.1 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions or approximately 36% of US total CO2 emissions[i].

Given coals position in the US energy portfolio any attempts by the US to pursue significant reductions of CO2 emissions will require a solution for coal fired power plants. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) presents a viable approach to significantly reducing overall US CO2 emissions through the capture of CO2 from large point sources and the storage of CO2 in geological formations rather than the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

CCS represents an attractive and viable approach to reducing CO2 emissions because:
  • The technologies/ methods for carbon capture at source points and transportation currently exist and can, in some cases, be retrofitted to existing power plants
    The technologies/ methods for carbon capture are capable of removing 90% to 99.9% of the CO2 emissions produced by source points[ii]
  • The source points of CO2 emissions are highly concentrated allowing for a more manageable roll-out of CCS solutions, when compared to the application of new technologies for mobile CO2 emitters such as the millions of automobiles currently on US roads. Of the total CO2 emissions resulting from electricity generation approximately 2.1 billion metric tons, or 49%, originated from approximately 1,715 large CO2 point sources.”
  • The 100 largest CO2 point sources account for 39% of total annual CO2 emissions; 79% of these are coal fired power plants. The 500 largest CO2 point sources (29%) account for 82% of annual emissions; 78% of these are coal fired power plants”[iii]
  • The abundance of geological formations across the US which are theoretically capable of storing carbon and the proximity of storage reservoirs to major CO2 source points. “Formations studied to date contain an estimated storage capacity of 3,900 GtCO2 with some 230 candidate geologic CO2 storage reservoirs”[iv]. Moreover, 95% of 500 largest CO2 point sources are within the 50 miles of candidate reservoirs[v]
Challenges facing the adoption of CCS include:
  • The existing technologies/ methods involved carbon capture have not been applied on the commercial scale required for the electricity generation industry
  • The high cost of building/ retrofitting power plants with carbon capture technology along with the reducing in power plant efficiency due to the energy requirements of carbon capture technology. Ultimately, these costs are passed onto the consumer in higher cost of electricity when compared to existing coal fired power plants
  • The investment in a US wide carbon transportation infrastructure required to apply CCS on a commercial scale required for the electricity generation industry

[i] Annual Energy Outlook 2008 (Early Release), Energy Information Administration 2008
[ii] The Future of Coal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2007
[iii] Carbon Dioxide Capture and Geologic Storage, Global Energy Technology Strategy Program 2006
[iv] Carbon Dioxide Capture and Geologic Storage, Global Energy Technology Strategy Program 2006
[v] Carbon Dioxide Capture and Geologic Storage, Global Energy Technology Strategy Program 2006

Silicon Plant Expansion

Solar energy is growing profoundly as the price of fossil fuel rises. On April 21, 2008, the price of oil hit 117 dollars per barrel. For this reason, people are looking for alternate sources of energy to lessen the heavy usage of fossil fuel. I was intrigued by the huge increase in both capacity and price for polysilicon the last few years. Recently, there were so many well-known polysilicon companies undergoing plant expansion process to double or triple their production capacity. Companies around the world such as Timminco Limited, Wacker Chemie, and Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) are building additional silicon plants or expanding their facilities because silicon is interconnected to the use of solar power capturing. Therefore, my paper introduces solar energy and investigates the supply and demand of silicon. Next, it analyzes how the silicon production capacity is increased to meet the energy needs in the United States. Finally, it forecasts the demand, supply, and price for the polysilicon industry.
The technical section of the paper mentions the process to produce polysilicon. Newly invented equipment such as Siemen reactor and fluidized bed reactor (FBR) are discussed. The polysilicon industry is emphasized since it has transformed from a semiconductor industry to have a main focus on the PV industry. The forecasting of polysilicon is further evaluated, where the limiting factors of the supply and the changing in polysilicon company structure to remain competitive in the market are discussed.

Feasibility of Algal Biodiesel

I chose to research algae based biodiesel, and run a life cycle analysis for the requirements to replace 500 million gallons of diesel, about the amount used by a city the size of Austin anually, within the giuidelines given by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. It was interesting for me as an engineering major to read policy, something I had not ever done before this project. Algae oil is still very expensive, one of its main detractions, and there are problems upscaling the technology for large scale use. One of the problems with large scale production of algae biodiesel is the land required for algae growth. Even using photobioreactors, rather than ponds, the land required for replacement of 500 million gallons was near 9 square miles.

I made several assumptions. Algae can be grown using CO2 from flue streams, which makes it more environmentally sound, and the nitrogen and phosphorous needed for nutrients can be aquired by pairing it with streams from waste water treatment facilities. This actually helped the case for land requirements, because multiple algae systems could be set up around several different waste water facilities. Overall, even including transportation from production sites to the pump, the life cycle analysis was extremely favorable energetically. Definitely something that should be looked into as a system of fossil fuel replacement.

Energy Ethics

A post of mine on April 20th (The Role of the Frontier Myth on our Energy Policy and Technology) conveyed the basic thesis of my research paper. The current situation, essentially, is that our society operates according to a set of assumptions in which progress is achieved by economic growth with the support of new technology. The fixation on new technology and belief in salvation through science distracts America from discussing and developing a set of ethics for how to use energy in the first place.

On the last day of class, Professor Webber said that he believed that what sets humans apart from the rest of nature is how we use energy. If we accept this premise, then it becomes clear that whether we succeed or fail as a civilization is largely dependent on whether we use energy appropriately or not. It is not simply a question of developing “sustainable” energy. We can misuse so-called renewables as badly as we have fossil fuels.

The defining human challenge of our civilization in this age is to become aware of how the various myths and underlying ideologies of society affect our assumptions about energy and growth and progress. Awareness can empower society to make more informed choices with regards to our energy policies and technologies. A grassroots response by informed citizens, already begun, is the only way to generate the necessary leadership in government, industry, and business in order to effectively redirect America’s inertia. Social movements require time; it is essential that we increase the level of debate in society around these issues.

Collective and Individual WEEE Take Back

New York City Council and Mayor Bloomberg recently came into an agreement over amandatory electronic waste (e-waste) take back law. My paper looked into the responsibility of the consumer, government and manufacturer to provide take back services for electronics.

Bloomberg's statement was the following:
“Look, nobody’s more in favor of recycling, and the reason that we focus on electronic equipment is there’s a lot of very heavy metal chemicals in electronic components that if you just put in a garbage dump they don’t just go away with time the way paper would and some of the other things that get thrown away. Organic materials go away. These really pollute and they pollute badly. The trouble with this law that the City Council passed is that you hold the manufacturers responsible for the public to recycle and the manufacturers can’t do that. They don’t sell directly to the public in many cases, they sell to wholesalers, and the wholesalers, you’re not holding them responsible, but also it’s the [consumer's] responsibility.”
- NYTIMES

Bloomberg advocates more of an individual take back system without requirements. Individual take back is when the manufacturer holds responsibility for taking back electronics. Collective take back is handled by the local government and the government sells the recyclable/reusable/remanufacturable products to the original manufacturer or competing remanufacturers in order to pay for the services rendered.

A study at Syracuse maintains that individual e-waste take back allows the manufacturer to monopolize the remanufacturing industry, while collective take back allows for a competitive remanufacturing industry to develop, and even results in higher profits for both sides in some scenarios. I also argued that instituting take back laws and requiring that manufacturers be financially responsible for the disposal and take back of their products will encourage better design. There exist numerous techniques for phasing out harmful materials as well as designing products so that they are much more quickly dismantled and that reusable parts, recyclable parts, and hazardous parts are all organized and sorted for safe and swift handling.

Additionally, a lot of individual take back, takes place through consumer awareness of programs. These require that the consumer mail the company or return to a retailer. In a survey of 21 NYC residents, only 5 out of 21 respondents had made use of the retailer take-back system. The recycling rate of computers (a toxic waste) at HP is about 15%. For comparison, the recycling rates for automobile batteries is 99% (a toxic waste) and plastic soft drink bottles (not so toxic) is 31% (EPA).

The decided upon legislation requires that companies take back items that customers return, but does not incorporate city collection. This individual take back is not as preferable to collective take back from an economical, design, manufacturer investment, and customer participation standpoint. From the survey, about 75% of respondents affirmed that the most desirable take back method is a sorted bin outside of their home or apartment. The city should offer such a measure, especially with the analog to digital TV switch fast approaching (NYTIMES comment). Individual take back is a slow and limited option, and will be especially useless if Bloomberg does not approve the targets being set by the council in the future.

Sustainable Development

I really enjoyed working on this project, mostly because of the use of new technology to express ideas, and also because the topic is so close to my heart. I took a look at various forms of energy in different parts of Africa, their effects, and the future possibility of renewable energy use in West African countries.
Here are the most interesting (or troubling) things I realized while working on the project:

1. Africa's Energy Demand is expected to stay about the same, according to the EIA, over the next 17 years, or so. African population however, is expected to grow at a rate of about 3% (UN).
So for a growing population, Africans are expected to rely mostly on the same amount of energy, which can be interpreted to mean there will be no noticeable development in African countries over the next 17 years or so.

2. Situations differ from country to country, that is why I decided to look at West Africa. However, most of what is being done in the African renewables sector is in the southern and eastern regions. Meaning a lot can still be leveraged in West African Nations.

3. I am Nigerian, and this project sometimes relied on simple things that I know from growing up there. It was an eye opener for me to think about how many people had access to electricity; how many people had to spend money (up to thousands of dollars in some cases, believe it or not) on diesel or petroleum for electric generators, How expensive and scarce petroleum can get in an OPEC country, or how people rely on polluting and unhealthy sources of energy, like fire wood or kerosene for cooking, or kerosene for lamps.

4. It was disturbing that poor countries had to pay so much for energy. On 5/3/08; CNN reported that the people of Sierra Leone had the most expensive cost of gasoline in the world, ($18!). Eritrea, a smaller East African country was also on the list, paying more for a gallon of gasoline than the United States.

Beyond all these factors, reading the stories, and papers that discussed renewable technologies brought a new sense of hope to me. Africans are making little strides towards sustainable development. Thankfully, we have the resources (most except wind) to do so. I hope I get to be a part and see these changes in my lifetime.

How CO2 Regulations Will Affect the Texas Electric Grid

I was interested in quantifying some of the effects that CO2 emissions regulations would have on Texas's electric grid, specifically in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region. I look at some of the features of command and control regulations, a CO2 tax. or a cap and trade system, then I show results of a model I created to add a CO2 cost to each generation facility in ERCOT and look at how the CO2 cost affects plant dispatch, CO2 emissions, and electricity cost.

I have a lot of results in graphical form that would take too much space to explain here, but the gist is that at relatively low CO2 prices, the price of natural gas for fuel will keep coal-fired plants cheaper to operate, so coal-fired facilities will remain running all the time as base load generation, albeit with much smaller profit margins. It takes a very high CO2 price to result in switching from coal to efficient natural gas for base load generation, and this threshold CO2 price is pushed higher by high natural gas prices. So if CO2 regulations cause a shift towards natural gas-fired generation, and this increased natural gas demand drives up natural gas prices, then electricity costs go up from both the added CO2 cost and the increased natural gas costs. Of course we would also be switching to more renewables, but until these sources make up a large percent of total generation (they were 3% of generation in 2006), the effect on electricity prices will be minimal.

There isn't enough room to explain the assumptions behind the specific values I calculated, so if you are interested, I hope that you take a look at my report. It's relatively long, so if you're short on time, the results section is the best part.

One point that I omitted from my report for conciseness is how the supply chain location where a CO2 tax is applied will affect its impacts on the electricity industry. If the CO2 tax is levied upstream at fossil fuel suppliers, fossil fuel based electricity generators will see this cost as increased fuel prices, which are a market traded commodities. Thus, upstream application of a CO2 tax would affect electricity generators similarly to a regime where CO2 is traded on its own commodity market (i.e. cap and trade). I read some economics oriented reports arguing that upstream application should more cost-effectively reduce emissions, but this approach could reduce the economic viability of technologies such as carbon dioxide capture and sequestration (CCS) that significantly reduce emissions rates without decreasing fuel use. Do we regulate at the source of the carbon, or the source of the emissions? I think the source of emissions makes more sense, but one could argue either way.

Latin America Energy Integration

Honestly, I was not expecting obtain the results I got. When I started thinking about what topic choose for my paper term I decided to research something globaly and oriented to Latin America. Regarding that there are common characteristics and each country has similar needs. Thus at the end I decided to know and learn about the current conditions to integrate Latin America's Energy Resources.

After analyzing each country I found several interesting facts. First of all, I found that in Latin America are countries that their economies are not Oil dependance such as Costa Rica. Instead of Oil, its 80% of the economy is based on Renewables. Moreover, I obtained that NGas is one of the most resources that are not been exploited properly.

On the other hand, Latin America has a lack on infrastructure. There are not pipelines to conduct Oil or NGas among nations. Solar and Wind Technology are not developed, not even consider as a percentage of their sources forms. Hydroelectric powers are coomon in developing nations due to the natural diversity.

To achieve an Energy Integration it is needed a regulatory framework. Therefore, I research and I found that there are a couple of proposal that referes a Sub-Regionals integrations. For example, the first sub-regional zone could be PetroCaribe, this zone would involve countries such Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, etc that are very close and their economies could be compared and integrated due their similiarity, such as sugar cane, hydro, etc.

The second zone could be, Petro Andina. This zones would include countries of the north of South America, Central America and Mexico. This zone are two main economies, Mexico and Venezuela. This Sub-region could integrate and distribute Oil, Gas and Rnewables among each other.

And the third zone would include Brasil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru. The name of this zone would be Petro South. Basically this zones are defined based on the actual International Agreements: MercoSur, ALADI and the ANDEAN community of nations.

To integrate Latin America as a region would provide stability, creation of jobs, technology sharing, sustaibable development, reduction os emissions, and so on. Therefore, the legal framework is already set, the current agreements could encourage and facilitate this integration, the disposition is there, the only thin is measing is to start working.

Nuclear Reprocessing

For my paper, I looked into the plausibility of restarting a nuclear reprocessing program for recycling spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants. I picked this topic because I feel as though it could be something that will be a subject of debate in the near future. Thus far, Yucca Mountain- the underground geological nuclear repository- has been if not a disaster, certainly a headache for the nuclear industry and politicians alike. About 12 billion has been thrown into the project, but it keeps getting snagged in incorrect lead times and political opposition. What's worse, the DoE is going to require at least another 40 billion before the project is completed and they're currently lobbying for another 20 billion on top of that in order to enlarge the repository that Nevadans are furiously fighting against. This arguable fiasco, coupled with the rising cost of oil and gas makes me believe that the American ventures into nuclear energy will go in one of two ways; we will either extricate ourselves from the technology altogether or we will heavily look into reprocessing in order to reduce our overall nuclear waste volume in order to make Yucca a more feasible project.

Approximately 97% of the "waste" from nuclear power generation is still valuable uranium and plutonium material. The fuel does not deplete like an empty gas tank or a dead battery, but rather gets to the point where the amount of heat generated is not enough to justify keeping it in the reactor versus reloading with fresh fuel. However, by recapturing the uranium and plutonium material and reusing them in newly fabricated fuel can substantially reduce the overall nuclear waste as well as reduce the need for environmentally detrimental uranium mining.

However, America has long been opposed to reprocessing in the country, and not without reason. The mixed oxide fuel from reprocessing is potentially useful in the fabrication of nuclear weapons. The bottleneck in technology for countries trying to develop nuclear weapons is the capability to extract uranium and plutonium, much like in reprocessing. Also, the economics of developing reactors that would take reprocessed fuel as well as setting up the reprocessing infrastructure is costly, enough to make it fiscally undesirable. However, as gas prices increase, Yucca Mountain is perpetually mired in debate, and coal keeps earning the publics disdain for being environmentally dirty, the picture may change...

I enjoyed having the opportunity to research and report on this topic and I hope that other people will find it a decent read. The fiscal comparison of Yucca vs reprocessing was a very quick calculation using the numbers quoted in the newspapers of late, but one that I hope will stir some concern about just how expensive the repository is, and how this number is not translated well when many people talk about the cheap operating and fuel costs of nuclear power.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Climate Change

I spent the last month looking into climate change and the data behind the issue, primarily to see if and how climate change indicator data are used and/or mis-used to tell a story by anyone with an agenda. Of course, it would be naive to think that someone who is using this data does not have an agenda. But I wanted to see for myself how the "raw" data can be manipulated.

I first learned that if you want to get your hands on climate change indicator data, also known as proxy climate indicators, you can go to the NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (ncdc) webpage and find a wealth of data that can be downloaded in spreadsheet form and plotted for your own purposes. I found that claims were made about some of the data that were used by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), namely that the data were plotted and used to tell a story about rapidly warming ambient conditions. In fact, I became a skeptic, after reading that so called major weather anomalies in temperature occurred over the last 1400 years that were not reflected in the record as told by the IPCC. But when I did the plots for myself, I found that these events did appear in the record, but they became pretty insignificant in comparison to the recent (last 150 years) trend. I only truly believed that the recent warming, which approximately starts in the mid-1850s, was significant compared to every other timeframe for which a decent record can be constructed after I performed this exercise knowing I left out no data.

What I found is that anyone armed with a laptop and Internet access can obtain spreadsheet form climate data and make the plots and interpret them for themselves pretty easily. This cuts out the middleman (i.e., Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Fox News) interpreting these things for you. You will be overwhelmed at the many different forms of data out there and available in raw form, including temperature anomalies, CO2, etc... See for yourself. It's actually kinda empowering to know you can do this without relying others to tell you that things may be changing.

Carbon Capture and Storage

Coal is the most abundant fuel we are currently using. It is also very cheap compared to fuels such as oil. Also it is a well established source. As a result I decided to do my project on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in order to investigate cleaner ways to use this abundant fuel. I taled about different technologies for CCS such as flue gas desulphurization facilities (PC+FGD). integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC). Than I briefly reviewed storage technologies such as storage in geological formations, deep saline aquifers and coal seams, oceans, and ecosystems; and using magnesium and calcium are mentioned. It was important to look at retention time for carbon dioxide since possible leakage would defeat the purpose of mitigation by CCS. Safety issues were important in possible leakages. It was then determined that 99% CO2 stored in geological formations will be retained in a 1000 period. The retention of ocean storage of CO2 is approximated to be 30-85% over 500 years, while mineral carbonation storage won’t be subject to leaks. It was also determined that the additional fuel cost for CCS technology is evaluated to be around 25-30%, while an extra initial installation and implementation cost exists. I finally mentioned the importance of government bipartisan action and also further education of people along with their support. I also recommended using existing environmental scheme to create a regulatory base with necessary incentives.

Gas Hydrates

Gas hydrates are an ice-like structure that can contain particles in them -- namely methane.  They exist wherever temperature and pressure conditions are right, which on land is permafrost regions, and off-shore at certain water depths.  The amount of methane contained in gas hydrates is massive.  For example, there is a gas hydrate deposit offshore South Carolina that contains 30 times the annual US natural gas consumption.  And that's just one deposit.  The US coasts are lined with gas hydrate deposits, so there is tons of energy potential.  The problem is, though, hydrates are solids, AKA impossible to produce.  So there are different methods being investigated on how to produce these methane hydrates.  One way injects steam to raise the temperature of the deposit and cause the gas to dissociate and therefore become producible.  Another way is injecting an inhibitor that shifts the thermodynamic properties of the hydrate.  Similarly, this causes the methane to dissociate.  A third way lowers pressure to encourage methane dissociation.  Personally, I think this method has the most potential and the best economics.  A well is drilled past the hydrate, and produces free gas below the hydrate deposit.  As the free gas is produced, the pressure in the rock decreases, and the methane dissociate, effectively feeding the free gas zone.  I like this method because nothing has to be injected (steam or inhibitor).  This has to help the economics and energy ratio of the project.  Inhibitors such as methanol are expensive, and injecting steam requires energy to create the steam.

Hydrates are known in other contexts such as petroleum drilling and production operations as a nuisance.  Especially in deepwater conditions, they can plug pipelines and threaten drilling well control.  Also, hydrates could have some global warming implications.  As sea levels rise, hydrates in permafrost regions are released to the atmosphere.  Methane, as a green house gas, then could encourage further global warming create a positive feedback.  

I think as energy demands increase, production from hydrates is a very real possibility.  There are currently no economic hydrate projects, but the government is actively funding research.

How concrete can reduce carbon emissions and energy consuption!

For my podcast I looked at how high volume fly ash can reduce carbon emissions and energy use. Cement production uses a fair share of energy and emits a lot of carbon dioxide emissions. For the whole U.S. cement manufacturing accounts for a small fraction of 1% of energy use, and about 1.5% of carbon dioxide emissions. So, I compared two mix designs of concrete, one using just cement, water, and aggregate. The second mix used fly ash, cement, water, and aggregate. If you use as much fly ash as possible to maintain the same strength needed, you can reduce carbon emissions and energy use by 53% in cement manufacturing. Then I compared the concrete needs in a typical highway. 1100 tons of carbon dioxide are emitted per mile of highway made with the traditional mix design I considered. This could be reduced to 510 tons of CO2 per mile with high volume fly ash concrete. The best thing about using high volume fly ash is that its a waste product that already exists! Currently less than 40% of fly ash waste is reused according to the EPA, and in the Coal Combustion Products Partnership has a goal to have 50% of coal combustion by products reused by 2011. With current needs for concrete all over the country I believe we can do better!

One bike at a time...

The podcasting project was by far one of my favorite assignments all of college. I think it really forces you to take all the proper steps of a research project because you are forced to think in terms of multimedia. To explain further:

normal steps for student research project:
-get a bunch of books
-read a really small portion of them
-try and come up with original idea
-use sources for quotes, but be sure not to plagiarize
-throw something together the night before

steps for podcast research project:
-come up with idea, theme, purpose
-think of ways to use all types of media
-research some in the normal manner
-go out and get all your pictures, footage, etc
-get inspired for further detail
-spend a lot of time editing
-end up with a really good project

I think because the podcast involves many different forms of media - it is hard not to do a good job. Because if you really put the time in to get your background stuff done, you are invested and want to do a good job.

I really hope y'all take the time to subscribe to our ETP podcasts - I know all of us put a lot of time into our projects. And if you ever get the chance to make a podcast again, take it!

Cow Power: Policy Incentives, Barriers and Recommendations for Biogas Production

For my final paper I wrote about the policy issues that promote and limit the production of biogas in the United States. This research is an extension of my current research on the energy potential and air quality benefits of converting animal waste to biogas. When talking to people about my research I often get asked why biogas production isn't more common if it has so many benefits. This report seeks to answer that question.

The main barriers to widespread biogas production is the cost of the equipment, lack of knowledge about the technology, and lack of infrastructure for the distribution of biogas. Currently in the United States there are no federal financial incentives exclusively for the production of biogas. Loans and grants are available through programs promoting renewable energy only. I found few such programs in my research. The situation is nearly the same at the state level.

A big incentive for biogas production in some states is interconnection legislation and net metering laws. Electrical utilities, in some instances, have made it difficult for small generators to sell their electricity to the grid. Some utilities require that small generators buy liability insurance before they can connect to the grid and by offering them wholesale prices for their electricity. Some states have passed legislation that allow electricity producers up to a certain capacity connect to the grid without purchasing liability insurance. In addition, laws have been passed in some states that allow the generator to be credited, at the retail price, for the excess electricity they produce. This makes biogas production and use (to generate electricity) much more attractive.

Sweden has succeeded in producing 0.3% of their annual energy use from biogas (Biogas in the US only accounts for 0.001% of total energy consumption in a year). In my paper I also studied policies in Sweden that have led to the widespread production and use of biogas. From this analysis I determined that the best way increase biogas production in the US is through policies that promote both biogas production and use. Such policies should provide funding for biogas enterprises, create state level educational agencies focused on biogas production, create environmental standards and renewable energy quotas, and create the infrastructure for biogas use.

Safer Energy Choices for the US: Worker Fatality Comparison of Traditional and Renewable Energy Sources

We have heard so much in this class and in the media about the effects of our energy choices on the environment and I have to wonder why we don’t hear at least a little more about the direct effects petroleum and coal use have on our health and life. My project – a podcast – addressed the fatalities in the coal and petroleum industry and compared them to what we currently know and can project for solar and wind energy generation. I now sort of wish I had written a paper because there is so much to cover on this topic that I am very passionate about. I learned a lot about my topic that I wasn’t able to cover in the podcast but I also learned a lot about the technology involved in making a podcast (which I was completely ignorant of beforehand).

I first became concerned with these energy related fatalities when my boyfriend began working at a consulting firm about three years ago. In short, the firm does risk consulting for major companies like BP, Total, Shell, the government, etc and I now know there are many explosions (and reasons for them) the public never hears about. And there are many, many risks the general public would never think of. You can see some of this for yourself if you do a little searching online. The site http://www.texascityexplosion.com/ even provides some video of the depositions given by BP industry execs pertaining to the Texas City explosion. I obtained permission to use this in my podcast, but I didn’t use it because of time constraints. I didn’t know it was okay to significantly exceed the eight minute limit.

I chose my topic because I don’t understand how we can ignore the people in the world who suffer for the choices we make. This is a very complex problem; coal and petroleum do a lot of for us because of their energy density. And until recently most people didn’t think we had any other choices with which to fuel our lives. Much of the energy we use has been for developing medications, powering our hospitals, etc. In short, we need a lot of energy. But we also use a lot of energy that we do not need. And now, with all of the controversy surrounding the environmental and supply (“peak oil”) arguments for the development of renewable energy and all of the complexities involved in national security, I think we should focus more than we have thus far on the indisputable, direct impact of our energy choices. People die in significant numbers in mine collapses and in petroleum refineries. The numbers may not seem high when one considers how much energy we get from the coal that is mined and the petroleum that is refined. But I have to wonder: why should these people die when there are other options?

In the podcast I covered fatality statistics for the coal and petroleum (energy, not chemical) industries and gave the current and some projected statistics for solar and wind energy. I felt I didn’t have time to cover the fatalities that result from the air/water/soil pollution from coal and petroleum use. This is a documented and very real problem, though our government does not think our health warrants a greater change in industry standards (http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/interference/epa-particulate-matter.html).

I found that the coal industry provides concise, easy to understand and accessible data on mining fatalities. They are updated daily. Also, the petroleum industry is nowhere near as transparent. I did what I could with what the Bureau of Labor Statistics provided, though you may be surprised at how inaccurate these are if not accessed by an experienced statistician who specializes in this. The stats do not directly reflect the number of contract workers who die in a refinery (or any) accident. Apparently, all 15 people who died in the BP Texas City Refinery disaster were contract workers.

My data for the solar and wind industry were mostly based on information I got from the BLS representative. The best statistics for solar and wind energy fatalities are not published on the BLS website and fall under a category that has only been around for four years. I also made conclusions based on how large scale production of PV panels and wind turbines could affect industry fatalities.

You can see more details on my conclusions on all of this by watching my podcast.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Energy associated with food waste

Excluding the transportation and disposal (landfills and transportation to them) of food in the United States, approximately 6 % of total energy consumption in the United States is related to the food cycle. Food is wasted in several sectors along its path from production to consumption: from the agriculture sector to manufacturing and processing to the food sales and service industries to the residential sector.

Approximately one-fourth of the total energy associated with the food cycle is wasted along the path from poor crops to manufacturing losses to uneaten leftovers at restaurants to disposal of once edible or still packaged food in the home. This energy loss is 1.5 % of the total energy consumption in the United States, and which consequently leads to about 1.5 % of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Some of these losses are unavoidable such as the processing of meat and poultry where inedible portions are removed or fruit and vegetable rinds. But most of the waste is food that can be salvaged. Ways to reduce food waste include smaller portions in restaurants (specifically fast food restaurants, which grew by 8 % from 1995 to 1999), farm gleaning and donations to food banks from wholesale markets.

Polices can change such as changing fruit and vegetable standards from aesthetically pleasing to edible or not edible. Communities can change and are changing. Some communities have separate disposals of recycling, composting and regular waste disposal. Requiring residents to pay for their portion of waste leads to an increased consciousness of what people waste and what they recycle. But we must remember, even recycling requires energy.

When trying to tackle energy issues and climate change, look no further than the food you are tossing in the garbage.

Gusher of Lies author at Book People on Sunday

This Sunday Robert Bryce, author of Gusher of Lies, will be speaking at Book People. I've heard Robert Bryce speak before in my government class last semester and on the radio this morning. I was disappointed by some of his statements, mainly about peak oil. In my class he told us that the US does not have to worry about peak oil because we are rich enough to secure all of the petroleum we need.

I think the Book People talk would be an interesting event to attend to see some different opinions about the state of energy in our country. The talk is at 3 PM. You can see more information on this website.