Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new class of ‘honeycomb’ gas separation materials to purify hydrogen rich mixtures like methane (natural gas) for generating electricity via fuel cells.
Traditional methods of gas separation use selective membranes that grab molecules by size. But Northwestern's Professor Mercouri G. Kanatzidis and Gerasimos S. Armatas are using a method of polarization. As the gas mixture of (carbon dioxide and hydrogen) travels through the inner walls of the ‘mesopourous’ membrane, the carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are slowed down and pulled towards the wall as the hydrogen molecules pass through the holes.
One type of membrane consisting of heavy elements germanium, lead and tellurium showed to be approximately four times more selective at separating hydrogen than traditional methods using lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen and carbon. The process is reported to work at “convenient temperature range” -- between zero degrees Celsius and room temperature.
“We are taking advantage of what we call ‘soft’ atoms, which form the membrane’s walls,” said Kanatzidis. “These soft-wall atoms like to interact with other soft molecules passing by, slowing them down as they pass through the membrane. Hydrogen, the smallest element, is a ‘hard’ molecule. It zips right through while softer molecules, like carbon dioxide and methane take more time.”
England, the Birthplace of Coal Power and the Industrial Revolution, will now build Europe's first advanced coal power generation plant based on a gasification process that should provide 90 percent overall carbon capture.
Honeywell's UOP has been awarded a contract by UK-based Powerfuel Power Ltd. to construct a 900 MW plant that transforms coal into a much cleaner syngas which is used to generate electricity.
The UOP Selexol(TM) process technology allows the operator to capture carbon (sulfur, et al) during the process of creating the hydrogen-rich syngas.
The Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant will be built adjacent to the Hatfield coal mining operation (picture) and should start operation in 2013.
Finding a way to talk about Coal Coal is not the future of energy, but it has a future. In recent years it has been the world's fastest growing source of energy, and is likely to gain market share in the years ahead even as renewables grow faster. We cannot just wish it away and there are no easy, short term solutions that satisfy either side of the coal conversation.
If 'Clean Coal' is not possible, then 'Cleaner' coal might be the middle ground. Some engineers are betting on shoving carbon into the ground, and construction of future gasification plants. Other biologists are betting that we can retrofit existing plants with bioreactors of algae/bacteria that 'eat' carbon and produce a usuable hydrocarbon fuel that can be used onsite to generate electricity, or sold as a liquid fuel of biomaterial feedstock.
While the world stumbles through this economic recession, China is not sleeping, it is spending.
Its future success depends on very old world thinking about power and economic growth.
The world economy does not grow only because of digital bytes. Molecules, metals and minerals still matter!
China understands this reality and is taking full advantage of the economic downturn by paying low prices for access and control to much of the world's raw resources.
In the past month, China has made major moves on the global stage including:
- Potential $10 billion funding of Brazil's deepwater reserves via Petrobras - Adding pressure to negotiate favorable iron ore prices (for steel production) with Rio Tinto, and potential $2 billion investment in Australia's Fortescue Metals Group - $25 billion deal with Russia's Rosneft for crude oil access via a East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline by 2011 - Talks with General Electric on carbon gas reduction technologies to address its growth in coal emissions - A signed a memorandum between Ukraine's Chernomornaftogaz and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to build a gas pipeline toward the Odessa gas deposit off the Black Sea - Negotiating Chinese vehicles to be built inside Mexico - China is also addressing domestic water issues with an effort to decouple water use and GDP as it faces shortages in the years ahead. - Working with Ecuador to provide funding on a new hydroelectric plant as a diplomatic effort to gain access to other resources in the region.
The companies have committed $45 million in funding and assets to progress the development of one of the nation's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities, located in Highlands County, Florida.
Yes, it will take years to scale up cellulosic (and algae) energy systems, but the pace of breakthroughs and production focused investments remains one of the most compelling stories emerging in the energy sector.
The Real Transition: Growing Energy by Closing the Carbon Loop The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. But the real question for those exploring the futures of energy is: Will our economy continue to be based on energy that is 'borrowed and wasted' or 'created and recycled'?
We shifted from an Agricultural to Industrial society, by tapping 'stored energy' locked up in the chemical carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal, oil and natural gas. And this system is shamefully inefficient at every level from electric power generation to the mechanical engines that power our transportation sector.
If the Industrial Age was based on a high value energy 'input', low value energy 'output' (waste), the 21st century could be shaped by our efforts to close the loop of chemical energy cycles using biology (chemistry, et al) to return to a high value energy product from that waste.
Efficiency is widely considered the 'low hanging fruit' for improving the energy sector.
And while it is tempting to seek out gains via some mass market consumer push with hybrids and new lightbulbs, the greatest near term returns are to be found within the utility sector (electricity power generation) and among power hungry industrial clients.
Rocky Mountain Institute's consulting arm RMI ERT has identified US opportunities to 'close the electric productivity gap' around tremendous cost and carbon savings.
Fortune may favor those who see carbon as a resource for making things, and not the demise of human civilization.
Carbon Sciences (Santa Barbara, CA) is another company focused on 'growing energy' using bio-derived conversion processes. It is betting its future on bioenergy systems patterned from Mother Nature: Harness and 'protect' the 'biocatalysts' (enzymes) that have molecular pathways designed to eat carbon dioxide (CO2), bind it with hydrogen to form liquid hydrocarbons. Just like oil!
The biofuel can be blown up in a combustion engine, converted into electricity via a fuel cell, or used to create bio-plastics. It will take a few years for CS to move from its March '09 demonstration to pilot to full scale production as they confront the challenges shared by all bioenergy startups: lowering costs, improving reliability and scaling. Let's not hype these advanced bio energy companies, but if society is going to invest in an energy system that has true disruptive potential - biology provides a compelling platform. We should be paying attention to startups like Carbon Sciences.
Video clip from MoneyTV with new President, Byron Elton
One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage.
And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'. The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption. Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.
Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
The day when anyone can create a stunning 3D Augmented Reality simulation is getting closer. Last month, General Electric's innovative AR media campaign to promote its 'Smart Grid' platform helped to push Augmented Reality out into the masses by giving users a chance to try it at home using a printable marker download and webcam.
The Clinton Foundation has announced a plan to help the City of Los Angeles retrofit 140,000 street lamps with more efficient white-light LEDs that offer longer lifetime, lower energy use and less 'light polllution' that restricts night sky views.
The Outdoor Lighting Program of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) will be the largest LED street lighting retrofit project ever undertaken by a city to date. The City expects to reduce its electricity use by approximately 40,500 tons a year equal to taking '6,700 passenger vehicles off the road every year.' The Foundation expects the city to save save a total of $48 million over a seven year period, and reduce carbon emissions by 197,000 tons.
A National Model for Saving Electricity & Night Sky Views?
Researchers at US Los Alamos National Laboratory (LLNL) have confirmed a unique energy phenomena known as 'carrier multiplication' via nanoscale sized semiconductor crystals that could improve the efficiency of solar cells by squeezing more energy out of inbound photons.
Traditional solar cells absorb a photon of light that releases an electron to generate an electrical current. Any excess energy from the photon reaction is wasted as heat or vibration. The notion of 'carrier multiplciation' rests on the idea that we can get multiple electrons released from a single photon by forcing electrons into a more confined space.
This idea was observed several years ago, but has been criticized as a phantom phenomena via a process known as 'photoionization. Now a research team led by Victor Klimov has confirmed that semiconductor crystals designed at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) can channel this excess photon energy into a group of tightly packed electrons, leading to a more efficient solar cell.
The team did not release statements about commercialization or scalable efficiencies. “Researchers still have a lot of work to do,” Klimov cautioned. “One important challenge is to figure out how to design a material in which the energetic cost to create an extra electron can approach the limit defined by a semiconductor band gap. Such a material could raise the fundamental power conversion limit of a solar cell from 31 percent to above 40 percent.”