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Governments and industries seek comfort from the fact that Global Warming is not directly linked with greenhouse gas emissions and there is no concrete scientific proof yet, linking these two, and think they can carry on the business as usual. Few scientists in the scientific communities also have backed such sentiments. Alternative technologies such as renewable energy technologies are expensive and cannot compete with fossil fuel based  power plants in near terms. Advanced renewable technologies need rare earth materials such as Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, cobalt and lithium that are used in electric vehicle batteries; Neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium that are used in magnets for electric vehicles and wind turbines. Lanthanum, cerium, europium, terbium and yttrium that are used in Phosphors for energy-efficient lighting; Indium, gallium and tellurium that are used in solar cells. The supply of these materials are limited or confined to few countries such as China. These new material also need more energy to mine, process and extract  using only fossil fuel generated power. Transport vehicles such as Hybrid or Electrical cars require a substantial amount of rare earth material such as Lithium for Battery production. The cost of Lithium batteries according to Centre for Transportation, Argonne National Laboratory is:

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Battery type         Base line                       Optimistic              Goal

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High energy          $706/kwh                   $200/kwh           >150/kwh

35kwh                  $, 24,723                      $ 8767

High-power           $, 2,486                       $ 1,095                   $300

100 10A-h cell

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The cost and maintenance of such vehicles are expensive compared to gasoline cars. The looming financial crisis, unemployment and political instability in many parts of the world have overshadowed the problem of greenhouse house and global warming. Governments in power are trying to postpone the issue of global warming as long as possible because they are unpopular among their public, who are increasingly wary of  high energy cost and their household budgets.

Industrialized countries such as US, China, India and Australia have projected their production and use of their coal, oil and gas usage in the future, which are steadily on the rise. Australia’s mining and resources industries are booming with increasing production of Coal, Coal seam methane gas, LNG, Iron ore, copper, Nickel and Gold. Increasing demand by growing economies such as India and China have propelled the production of coal and LNG and other minerals in Australia. The booming mining and shipping industries of Australia have prompted UNESCO to warn Australia about the impending danger of ‘Great Barrier reef’ being destroyed by its busy shipping activities. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. The only living organic collective visible from space, it is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and is a World Heritage listed area.

It boosts the Queensland’s image of sun, swimming and tropical islands, and around 2 million people visit the reef every year, generating more than $2 billion in direct tourism revenue in the area. The mining boom brings revenue but it also brings natural disasters and destruction of its natural wonders. The net effect will be destruction of Nature and displacement of people at the cost of mining revenue. But how long such a boom will last, and if the economies of China and India starts slowing down then, what happens to all the investments and the damage caused?

The above developments paint a grim picture on global warming. The world has witnessed natural disasters causing huge human and financial losses. The natural disasters have costed an economic loss of nearly 13 to 30 billion dollars in the past two years in Australia alone. Yet, people and Governments want a ‘concrete proof’ that man-made greenhouse gases causes global warming and triggers natural disasters. Well, we can carry on such conversation indefinitely till we reach a point of no return. “Wisdom comes from experience; but experience comes from foolishness”.

As the threat of global warming looms large, Governments and Industries are looking for innovative, alternative and renewable energy sources and energy efficiency solutions. But how many alternative energy sources are available and what are their potentials? How to cut our carbon footprint without making larger new investment? How to improve the energy efficiency of the existing systems so that we can increase energy output for the same amount of fuel input and cut the cost of energy? These are some of the fundamental questions Governments and industries are grappling with, for the past few years. We are used to generating cheap energy from coal, oil and gas at the cost of the environment for several decades. We are used to water supply free of cost or at negligible cost for several decades. Governments were able to survive year after year because they were able to supply these two fundamental requirements of the people namely, energy and water at low-cost. But this situation changed swiftly when scientists raised the alarm bells on carbon emission and global warming. Still many Governments, especially industrialized countries with large energy and water usage, are still playing ‘wait and watch’ game, because they cannot afford to increase the tariffs on power and water. Any such increase will make Governments unpopular and their re-election to the office doubtful.

The real alternative to fossil fuels is only solar energy, which is clean, reliable and abundant. All other forms of renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, ocean thermal energy and wave energy are only offshoot of solar energy. The prime source is still the sun and the source of energy is from the chain nuclear fusion reaction of Hydrogen atom. The radiation of this nuclear reaction in the sun has to travel an average distance of 93 million miles to reach the earth, yet it is enough to meet current energy need of  entire humanity by a factor of 20,000 times. But to convert sun’s light and heat energy into Electricity and other useful forms of energy, we need some rare materials which we never used in the past. They are called ‘rare earth materials’ because their available sources and supplies are rare on planet earth. But these exotic and rare earth materials are becoming indispensable in the development of renewable energy products and applications. The future growth of clean energy technologies depend on supply of such rare earth materials.

Fourteen elements and related materials were selected for a criticality assessment by US Government department of energy. Eight of these are rare earth metals, which are valued for their unique magnetic, optical and catalyst properties. The materials are used in clean energy technologies as follows. Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, cobalt and lithium are used in electric vehicle batteries. Neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium are used in magnets for electric vehicles and wind turbines. Samarium is also used in magnets. Lanthanum, cerium, europium, terbium and yttrium are used in phosphors for energy-efficient lighting. Indium, gallium and tellurium are used in solar cells. The materials were selected for study based on factors contributing to risk of supply disruption.

Though usage of such material is relatively small, it is anticipated that the growth of clean technologies will need a substantial quantity of these materials. Currently China is endowed with almost 95% of such rare materials in the world. These materials are available in the form of ores and minerals under the earth. They have to be mined, processed and extracted in a pure form so that they can be used in developing clean energy products of the future. We will discuss about such products and technologies in our future articles. The anomaly is the energy required to mine, process and extract these rare earth materials need energy and such energy to have to come only from the sun. It is once again Nature that comes to the rescue of human beings at such critical junctures.

 

Coal is the single largest fuel used for power generation all over the world, due to its abundant availability and established infrastructure and technology. However, greenhouse gas emission poses a significant challenge in continuing the usage of coal as prime fuel. Currently, Natural gas is favored as fuel for power generation and number of LNG (liquefied natural gas) plants have been set up in many parts of the world. Coal seam methane gas is another potential source that competes with natural gas. Basically, Methane is the major constituent of such gases in the form of Hydrogen  and they are suitable for both combustion as well as for gasification for power generation. Countries who are endowed with large deposits of coal such as Australia, South Africa, Indonesia have advantages in clean coal technologies and in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. There is an opportunity for coal-fired power plants to continue their operations, if they can solve the greenhouse gas emission and other pollution problems associated with coal. Number of companies are now re-evaluating clean coal technologies such as IGCC and carbon capture and reuse.

As we have seen in previous articles, Hydrogen is the key in developing clean coal technology of the future. That is why, gasification technology such as IGCC (Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle) is gaining importance over combustion technologies because that is the only way we can introduce a Hydrogen molecule in the combustion by way of ‘Syngas’. By introducing Hydrogen, we not only can improve the thermal efficiency but also use the heat of combustion to the most by combined cycle with reduced GHG emission. It also facilitates the usage of existing and known power generation technologies such as, steam turbine and gas turbine, as well as, new technologies such as Fuel cell and Hydrogen turbines.

Coal in the form of pumpable liquid (CWS –coal water slurry) is another key milestone in developing a clean coal technology. Countries like China and Indonesia have been using coal water slurry for power generation successfully. Finely powdered coal is mixed with water in the ratio of 60:40 along with dispersant such as Lignosulfonate as additives to make a finely dispersed, viscous liquid that resembles heavy petroleum oil, ready for combustion. It is easier to handle pumpable oil than a solid coal.

A novel products called ‘colloidal coal water’ (CCW) is a finely dispersed colloidal coal in water with additives such as surfactants and dispersants with specific formulating agents leading to certain rheological properties is a key development in clean coal technology. The coal water slurry now used does not have long-term stability and storage properties like colloidal coal water fuel. The work is under development and it is expected that such finely dispersed colloidal coal water mix resembling a liquid hydrocarbon may be named as ‘liquid coal’ for all practical purposes will become a low-cost fuel in the future power generation.

This ‘colloidal coal liquid’ can be easily gasified or used as liquid fuel for combustion equipment such as boilers and also serve as precursor for a number of chemical product synthesis as downstream products. The emitted Carbon dioxide can be captured cryogenically and separated in a pure form for potential application such as ‘Natural Refrigerant’ and to synthesize number of chemical products. Clean coal can become a commercial reality provided we re-evaluate the coal preparation, gasification methods and to contain emitted carbon into a useful product of commerce.

We live in a technological world where fuel and power play a critical role in shaping our lives and building our nations. The growth of a nation is measured in terms of fuel and power usage; yet there are many challenges and uncertainties in fuel supply and power generation technologies in recent past due to environmental implications. Fossil fuels accelerated our industrial growth and the civilization . But diminishing supply of oil and gas, global warming, nuclear disasters, social upheavals in the Arabian countries, financial problems, and high cost of renewable energy have created an uncertainty in the energy supply of the future. The future cost of energy is likely to increase many folds yet nobody knows for certain what will be the costs of energy for the next decade or what will be the fuel for our cars.  Renewable energy sources like solar and wind seem to be getting popular among people but lack of concrete Government plans and financial incentives for renewable, are sending mixed signals for investors. Recently number of solar industries in Germany are facing bankruptcy due to withdrawal of Government subsidies. Wind energy in India has got a setback due to withdrawal of Government financial support. Renewable industries are at their infant stages of  growth both technologically and financially. These industries will face a natural death in the absence of Government supports and incentives.

Individuals, small businesses and industries are unable to plan their future due to above uncertinities.In a globalised world such problem have to be tackled jointly and collectively. But that too looks unlikely due to ideological, political and social differences between countries. In the absence of any clear path forward, a common man is left with no alternative but find solutions for himself. Individuals can form small groups to produce their own fuel and generate their own power. There has never been a right moment in our history for such ventures. It can be easily done by people from rural areas especially in farming communities. They can set an example and rest of the country can follow. This will also help preventing mass migration from rural areas to cities, especially in China and India. They neglect their farms and migrate to cities to work in electronic industries for a better life.

The farming communities can form  groups and generate their own ‘Biogas’ or ‘Bioethanol’  from a common facility to fuel their cars and power their homes without any Government incentives and political interefernces.Making ‘Bioethanol’ from cane sugar molasses, beet sugar, corn, tapioca or sorghum on a small or medium scale is a  straight forward method. Fermentation and distillation is a well-known technology. It is controlled by Government excise departments for revenue purpose but Government can certainly allow farms or people to make their own ‘Bioethanol’ for their cars. Farms can generate their own Biogas’ from manure, agriculture wastes,  food waste, and waste water treatment facilities and generate their own power and supply biogas for heating and cooking for their communities.

Governments should allow people to make their own choices and decisions instead of controlling everything especially when they are unable to solve a problem. Countries like India should encourage farming communities in groups to set up their own ‘Bioethanol’ and ‘Biogas’ plants and allow import of  flex-fuel cars for Ethanol blends of various proportions. Alcohol has been a a’taboo’in many countries for several years but with current uncertainties with supply of  fuel and power, Government  can certainly remove such ‘taboo’ by highlighting the value of ‘Bioethanol as a source of fuel.Goevernments  can forgo their excise revenue by allowing people to make their own fuel. Alternatively they should offer incentives and subsidies for renewable energy developments. They cannot refuse both and still hope to continue in power because people will sooner or later  throw them out of power. After all Government are elected by people to address their problems.

Dirty coal is still a popular choice for power generation around the world, irrespective of the status of the country, whether industrially advanced or backward. The abundant availability and cheap cost, makes coal more attractive from investor’s point of view; they care less for the environment, while Governments turn a blind eye to all the emissions and pollutions. It is a question of survival for millions of people who work in coal mines and industries. It is one of the toughest challenges many Government are facing. Take for example India; about 65% of power generation still comes from coal. The import of coal increases year after year and there is no immediate solution in sight. Indian coal is a low-grade coal with very high ash content. Each coal-fired power plant generates a huge amount of fly ash and they stockpile them; supposed to be used in the production of Portland cement. It is a big business.

China and Indonesia too uses coal as a major fuel for power generation. But they have come out with an innovative and pragmatic method of using coal. They use coal-water-slurry (CWS), a finely pulverized high  grade coal (calorific value 5100-6100Kcal/kg) in water. They use some chemical additives that make the slurry a homogeneous fluid, similar to a Hydrocarbon such as Heavy fuel oil (HFO).The advantage with CWS is it can be easily pumped and injected into a furnace or boiler using ceramic nozzles, obviously to avoid erosion due the abrasive nature of coal, just like firing diesel or heavy oil. According to the literature, 1.8 -2.2 tons of CWS is equal to 1 ton of Heavy fuel oil (HFO) and it costs about the same. It cost only US$ 62 million to retrofit an existing coal-fired power plant with CWS system and the yearly savings are estimated at US$ 41 mil per year, an attractive rerun on investment.

The beautiful aspect of this method is it generates Hydrogen rich Syngas according to the following chemical reaction.

2C + O2+2 H2O ——– 2H2+2 CO2 when the mixture is subject to Gasification instead of mere Combustion.

The combustion efficiency is about 96-99% and the boiler efficiency of more than 90%. It generates less Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen oxide emissions and good for the environment compared to conventional coal-fired power plants. It is a good technology that needs the attention of Governments especially India, China and Indonesisa.Even coal rich countries like US, Australia should focus on this technology apart from their persuasion such as carbon sequestration.

In fact this will open new avenues for India and China to switch over to Hydrogen economy without making large investments. The coal water slurry fluid has a property similar to a Hydrocarbon as shown below.

Density 65-70% ,Viscosity -1000Cp, Size d< 50 microns, Ash content <7, Sulfur<0.5%. It is easy to handle a liquid than solid coal. pulverized coal is pneumatically conveyed and fired in rotary cement kilns for so many years. There is nothing new about it. Similarly coal water slurry can be a game changer for  the power industry,  if it is combined with Gasification and combined cycle;  it will lead  into Hydrogen based power generation industry using Fuel cell such as Molten Carbonate Fuel cell (MCFC). I believe there is a clear opportunity for the Governments and private industries  to seriously look into CWS technology which I believe, is a ‘precursor’ for Hydrogen economy of the future.

There is a myth that electric cars will eliminate Greenhouse gas emission and reduce the global warming. Electric car will not reduce the greenhouse emission because; you still need electricity to charge your batteries. Companies promoting electric cars are now planning to set up their own battery charging stations because, customers have to charge batteries of these electric cars every now and then. Otherwise, they will not be able to drive their electric cars continuously.  There is no battery currently in the market that can last more than 28 hours between the charges, though many companies are trying to develop superior batteries. One company claims a Battery(electricity) of 300whr/kg, for their LLithium-ion polymer battery, much superior than other batteries, which can run 600kms, with 6 minutes charging. Though, new batteries such as semi solid Lithium-ion battery, based on the principle of ‘flow batteries’, are promising, it is still, a long way to commercialization. President Obama  has set a set a target of 1 million electric cars in US roads, by 2012.It is estimated that US has to produce about 40 billion dollars worth of domestically produced batteries. A lithium-ion battery which weighs less and stores more energy is the promising technology. But Lithium resources are limited. Battery is the heart of an electric car. These electric cars do not emit smoke, or make noise like petrol cars. But, these two factors alone are not sufficient to substitute traditional fossil fuel powered international combustion engines.

It is also true, that electric cars can cut green house emission to an extent, where fossil fuel consumed cars are replaced with electric cars. To that extend, the fossil fuel consumption by these cars are reduced. But the power to charge the batteries will still have to come from the common grid. Unless the power generation technology using fossil fuels is changed, there will be no dramatic greenhouse gas emission reduction by introducing electric cars. Alternatively, if cars are built on Hydrogen based fuel either using a conventional Internal combustion engine, or by using Fuel cell, then a substantial amount of greenhouse emission can be eliminated. However Hydrogen generation should be based on Renewable energy source only. Whichever way one looks at it, renewable energy is the key. Those Governments and companies who do not invest in renewable energy technologies and systems, now, will have to pay a heavy price, in the future. But even those companies investing on renewable energy technologies, should look beyond current technologies and systems. The best starting point for these industries will be to substitute ‘storage batteries’ with ‘stored Hydrogen’.

It is much simpler to install PV solar panels or wind turbines, and to generate Hydrogen on site, from water. One can store Hydrogen in fuelling stations, and fuel the cars. Honda was the first entrant into this market, who was focusing on fuel cell technology, using compressed hydrogen gas. Alternatively such Hydrogen can be generated from ‘Biogas’ generated from biological wastes and waste treatment plants. All necessary technologies are currently available to make it happen. Governments can try to promote small townships with Hydrogen fuel stations, and show case such models to the rest of the country or other nations to follow. This will help nations to reduce their greenhouse emission and at the same time, they can become self-sufficient in their energy requirements. They no longer have to depend on polluting oil and gas, from few Middle East countries. Countries like India with impressive economic growth heavily depend on oil imports and any slight fluctuation in oil prices can easily upset such growth. It is time Governments around the world take a serious look at Hydrogen, as their alternative energy source. It is just not good enough to promote renewable energy technologies, but they have to develop generation, storage and distribution technologies for Hydrogen. What is needed at this hour is, ‘will, determination and leadership’ on the part of the Governments, like US, China and India, that can set an example for the rest of the world by investing in Hydrogen economy.

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