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Tag Archives: Electricity generation

 

The largest power outage that affected 650 million people in India recently was major news around the world. Power outage is common in many countries including industrialized countries during the times of natural disasters such as cyclones, typhoons and flooding. But the power outage that happened in India was purely man-made. It was not just an accident but a culmination of series of failures as the result of many years of negligence, incompetency and wrong policies. Supplying an uninterrupted power for a democratic country like India with 1.2 billion people with 5-8% annual economic growth, mostly run by Governments of various political parties in various states is by no means an easy task. While one can understand the complexities of the problems involved in power generation and distribution, there are certain fundamental rules that can be followed to avoid such recurrence.

The supply and demand gap for power in India is increasing at an accelerated rate due to economic growth but the power generation and distribution capacity do not match this growth. Most of the power infrastructures in India are owned by Governments who control the power generation, distribution, operation and maintenance, financing power projects, supplying power generation equipment, supplying consumables, supplying fuel, transportation of fuel and revenue collection. The entire system is based on the policy of ‘socialistic democracy’, after the independence from the British, though economic liberalization and globalization is relatively a new phenomenon in India. Since every department of power infrastructure is controlled by Government, there is a lack of accountability and competition. Many private companies and foreign companies do not take part in tendering process because it is a futile exercise. Some smart multinational companies set up their manufacturing facilities in India, often in collaboration with Governments to get an entry into one of the largest market in the world. Indigenous Coal is the dominant fuel widely used for power generation though the quality of coal is very low, with ash content as high as 30%.The calorific value of such coal hardly exceeds 3000 kcal/kg, which means more quantity of coal  is required than any other fuel to generate same amount of power. Such coal generates not only low power but also generates a huge amount of ‘fly ash’ (the ash content is the coal comes out as fly ash) causing pollution and waste disposal problems. Large piles of fly ash and age-old cooling towers with a large pool of stagnant water are common sights in many power plants in India. Such low-cost coal does not make any economic sense when considering the amount of fly ash disposal cost and environmental damages. Thanks to research institutions that have developed methods to utilize fly ash in production of Portland cement. The indigenous low-grade coal is the fuel of choice by Indian power industries, though many plants have started importing coal recently from Indonesia and South Africa. Indigenous low-grade coal and cooling water from rivers and underground sources are two major pollutants in India. Water is allocated for power plants at the cost of agriculture. There is a shortage of drinking water in many cities as well as irrigation water for agriculture.

Since most of the power infrastructures are owned by Governments there is a tendency to adopt populace policies  such as power subsidies, free water and power for farmers, low power tariffs etc, making such projects economically unviable in the long run. Most of the State Electricity boards in India are running at a loss and such accumulated losses amounts to staggering figures. The Central electricity authority regulates the power tariff. They calculate the cost of power generation based on specific fuel and fix the power tariff that companies can charge their consumers even before the plant is set up. Most of such tariffs are based on their experience using indigenous low-grade coal and transport cost which are often impractical. Such low power tariffs are not remunerative for private companies and many foreign companies do not invest in large capital-intensive power projects in India for the same reason.

The best option for the Governments to solve energy problems in India is to open to foreign investments and allow latest technologies in power generation and distribution. It is up to the investing companies to decide the right type of fuel, right of equipment, source and procurement, power technology to be adopted and finally the tariff.  India has come a long way since independence and Governments should focus on Governing rather than managing and controlling infrastructure projects. The latest scam widely debated in Indian media is “Coal scam’. It is time India moves away from fossil fuel and allow foreign investments and technologies in renewable energy projects freely without any interference. India needs large investments in building power and water infrastructures and it possible to attract foreign investment only by infusing confidence in investing companies. It is not just the size of the market that is to be attractive for investors but  they also need a conducive, fair and friendly   environment for such investment.

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All existing power generation technologies including nuclear power plants uses heat generation as a starting point. The heat is used to generate steam which acts as a motive force to run an alternator to produces electricity. We combust fossil fuels such as coal oil and gas to generate above heat which also emits greenhouse gases such as oxides of Carbon and Nitrogen. As I have disused in my earlier article, we did not develop a technology to generate heat without combusting a fossil fuel earlier. This was due to cheap and easy availability of fossil fuel. The potential danger of emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was not realized until recently when scientists pointed out the consequences of carbon build up in the atmosphere. The growth of population and industries around the world pushed the demand for fossil fuels over a period which enhanced the Carbon build up in the atmosphere.

But now Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) systems have been developed to capture the heat of the sun more efficiently and the potential temperature of solar thermal can reach up to 550. This dramatic improvement is the efficiency of solar thermal has opened up new avenues of power generation as well as other applications. “CSP is being widely commercialized and the CSP market has seen about 740 MW of generating capacity added between 2007 and the end of 2010. More than half of this (about 478 MW) was installed during 2010, bringing the global total to 1095 MW. Spain added 400 MW in 2010, taking the global lead with a total of 632 MW, while the US ended the year with 509 MW after adding 78 MW, including two fossil–CSP hybrid plants”. (Ref: Wikipedia)

“CSP growth is expected to continue at a fast pace. As of April 2011, another 946 MW of capacity was under construction in Spain with total new capacity of 1,789 MW expected to be in operation by the end of 2013. A further 1.5 GW of parabolic-trough and power-tower plants were under construction in the US, and contracts signed for at least another 6.2 GW. Interest is also notable in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as India and China. The global market has been dominated by parabolic-trough plants, which account for 90 percent of CSP plants.As of 9 September 2009, the cost of building a CSP station was typically about US$2.50 to $4 per  watt, the fuel (the sun’s radiation) is free. Thus a 250 MW CSP station would have cost $600–1000 million to build. That works out to $0.12 to $0.18/kwt. New CSP stations may be economically competitive with fossil fuels. Nathaniel Bullard,” a solar analyst at Bloomberg

New Energy Finance, has calculated that the cost of electricity at the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, a project under construction in Southern California, will be lower than that from  photovoltaic power and about the same as that from natural gas  However, in November 2011, Google announced that they would not invest further in CSP projects due to the rapid price decline of photovoltaics. Google spent $168 million on Bright Source IRENA has published on June 2012 a series of studies titled: “Renewable Energy Cost Analysis”. The CSP study shows the cost of both building and operation of CSP plants. Costs are expected to decrease, but there are insufficient installations to clearly establish the learning curve. As of March 2012, there was 1.9 GW of CSP installed, with 1.8 GW of that being parabolic trough” Ref: Wikipedia.

One Canadian company has demonstrated to generate Hydrogen from water using a catalytic thermolysis using sun’s high temepertaure.The same company has also demonstrated generating base load power using conventional steam turbine by  CSP using parabolic troughs. They store sun’s thermal energy using a proprietary thermic fluid and use them during night times to generate continuous power. The company offers to set up CSP plants of various capacities from 15Mw up to 500Mw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renewable Hydrogen offers the most potential energy source of the future for the following reasons. Hydrogen has the highest heat value compared to rest of the fossil fuels such as Diesel, petrol or butane. It does not emit any greenhouse gases on combustion. It can readily be generated from water using your roof mounted solar panels. The electrical efficiency of fuel cell using Hydrogen as a fuel is more than 55% compared to 35% with diesel or petrol engine. It is an ideal fuel that can be used for CHP applications. By properly designing a system for a home, one can generate power as well as use the waste heat to heat or air-condition your home. It offers complete independence from the grid and offers complete insulation from fluctuating oil and gas prices. By installing a renewable Hydrogen facility at your home, you can not only generate Electricity for your home but also fuel your Hydrogen car. The system can be easily automated so that it can take care of your complete power need as well as your fuel requirement for your Hydrogen car. Unlike Electric cars, you can fill two cylinders of a Hydrogen car which will give a mileage of 200miles.You can also charge your electric car with Fuel cell DC power.

Renewable Hydrogen can address all the problems we are currently facing with fossil fuel using centralized power generation and distribution. It will not generate any noise or create any pollution to the environment. It does not need large amount of water. With increasing efficiency of solar panels coming into the market the cost of renewable Hydrogen power will become competitive to grid power. Unlike photovoltaic power, the excess solar power is stored in the form of Hydrogen and there is no need for deep cycle batteries and its maintenance and disposal. It is a one step solution for all the energy problems each one of us is facing. The only drawback with any renewable energy source is its intermittent nature and it can be easily addressed by building enough storage capacity for Hydrogen. Storing large amount of energy is easy compared to battery storage.

The attached ‘You Tube’ video footage show how Solar Hydrogen can be used to power your home and fuel your Hydrogen car. Individual homes and business can be specifically designed based on their power and fuel requirements.

There is a raging debate going on around the world especially in US about the global warming and its causes, among scientists and the public alike. When IPCC released its findings on the connection between greenhouse gas emission and the global warming and its disastrous consequences, there was an overwhelming disbelief and skepticism in many people. In fact many scientists are skeptical even now   about these findings and many of them published their own theories and models to prove their skepticism with elaborate ‘scientific explanations’.   I am not going into details whether greenhouse gas emission induced by human beings causes the globe to warm or not, but certainly we have emitted billions of  tons of Carbon in the form of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since industrial revolution. Bulk of these emissions is from power plants fueled by Coal, oil and gas. Why power plants emit so much Carbon into the atmosphere and why Governments around the world allow it in the first place?  When the emission of Oxide of Nitrogen and Sulfur are restricted by EPA why they did not restrict Oxides of carbon? The reason is very simple. They did not have a technology to generate heat without combustion and they did not have a technology to generate power without heat. It was the dawn of industrial revolution and steam engines were introduced using coal as a fuel. The discovery of steam engines was so great and nobody was disturbed by the black smoke it emitted. They knew very well that the efficiency of a steam engine was low as shown by Carnot cycle, yet steam engine was a new discovery and Governments were willing to condone Carbon emission. Governments were happy with steam engine because it could transport millions of people and goods in bulk across the country and Carbon emission was not at all an issue. Moreover carbon emission did not cause any problem like emission of oxides of Sulfur because it was odorless, colorless and it was emitted above the ground level away from human beings. However the effect of Carbon is insidious. Similarly, power generation technology was developed by converting thermal energy into electrical energy with a maximum efficiency of 33%.This means only 33% of the thermal energy released by combustion of coal is converted into electricity. When the resulting electricity is transmitted across thousands of kilometers by high tension grids, further 5-10% power is lost in the transmission. When the high tension power is stepped down through sub stations to lower voltage such as 100/200/400V further 5% power is lost. The net power received by a consumer is only 28% of the heat value of the fuel in the form of electricity. The balance 67% of heat along with Greenhouse gases from the combustion of coal is simply vented out into the atmosphere. It is the most inefficient method to generate power. Any environmental pollution is the direct result of inefficiency of the technology. Governments and EPA around the world ignore this fact .Thank to President Obama who finally introduced the pollution control bill for power plants after 212 years of industrial revolution.  Still this bill did not go far enough to control Carbon emission in its current form. Instead of arguing whether globe is warming due to emission of Carbon by human beings or not, Scientists should focus on improving the science and technology of power generation. For example, the electrical efficiency of a Fuel cell is more than 55% compared to conventional power generation and emits reduced or no carbon. Recent research by MIT shows that such conversion of heat into electricity can be achieved up to 90% compared to current levels of 35%.Had we developed such a technology earlier, probably we will not be discussing about GHG and global warming now. MIT research group is now focusing on developing new type of PV and according to their press release: “Thermal to electric energy conversion with thermophotovoltaics relies on radiation emitted by a hot body, which limits the power per unit area to that of a blackbody. Micro gap thermophotovoltaics take advantage of evanescent waves to obtain higher throughput, with the power per unit area limited by the internal blackbody, which is n2 higher. We propose that even higher power per unit area can be achieved by taking advantage of thermal fluctuations in the near-surface electric fields. For this, we require a converter that couples to dipoles on the hot side, transferring excitation to promote carriers on the cold side which can be used to drive an electrical load. We analyze the simplest implementation of the scheme, in which excitation transfer occurs between matched quantum dots. Next, we examine thermal to electric conversion with a glossy dielectric (aluminum oxide) hot-side surface layer. We show that the throughput power per unit active area can exceed the n2 blackbody limit with this kind of converter. With the use of small quantum dots, the scheme becomes very efficient theoretically, but will require advances in technology to fabricate.” Ref:J.Appl.Phys. 106,094315c(2009); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.3257402 Quantum-coupled single-electron thermal to electric conversion scheme”. Power generation and distribution using renewable energy sources and using Hydrogen as an alternative fuel is now emerging. Distributed energy systems may replace centralized power plants in the future due to frequent grid failures as we have seen recently in India. Most of the ‘black outs’ are caused  by grid failures due to cyclones, tornadoes and other weather related issues, and localized distribution system with combined heat and power offers a better alternative. For those who are skeptical about global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gases the question still remains, “What happened to billions of tons of Caron dioxide emitted into  the atmosphere by power plants and transportation  since industrial revolution?”.          

The world is debating on how to cut carbon emission and avert the disastrous consequences of global warming. But the emissions from fossil fuels continue unabated while the impact of global warming is being felt all over the world by changing weathers such as flood and draught. It is very clear that the current rate of carbon emission cannot be contained by merely promoting renewable energy at the current rate. Solar, wind, geothermal, ocean wave and OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) offer clean alternative energy but now their total combined percentage of energy generation   is only less than 20% of the total power generation. The rate of Carbon reduction by  renewable energy  do not match  the rate of Carbon emission increase by existing and newly built  fossil power generation and transportation, to keep up the current level of Carbon in the atmosphere. The crux of the problem is the rate of speed with which we can cut the Carbon emission in the stipulated time frame. It is unlikely to happen without active participation of industrialized countries such as US, China, India, Japan, EU and Australia by signing a legally binding agreement in reducing their Carbon emissions to an accepted level. However, they can cut their emissions by increasing the efficiency of their existing power generation and consumption by innovative means.

One potential method of carbon reduction is by substituting fossil fuels with biomass in power generation and transportation. By using this method the energy efficiency is increased from current level of 33% to 50-60% in power generation by using gasification technologies and using Hydrogen for transportation. The Fixed carbon in coal is about 70% while the Carbon content in a biomass is only 0.475 X B (B-mass of oven-dry biomass). For example, the moisture content of a dry wood is about 19%,which means the Carbon mass is only 38% in the biomass. To substitute fossil fuels, the world will need massive amounts of biomass. The current consumption of coal worldwide is 6.647 billion tons/yr  (Source:charts bin.com)and the world will need at least 13 billion tons/yr of biomass to substitute coal .The total biomass available in the world in the form of forest is 420 billion tons which means about 3% of the forest in the world will be required to substitute current level of coal consumption. This is based on the assumption that all bioenergy is based on gasification of wood mass. But in reality there are several other methods of bioenergy such as biogas, biofuels such as alcohol and bio-diesel from vegetable oils etc, which will complement biogasification to cut Carbon emission.

Another potential method is to capture and recover Carbon from existing fossil fuel power plants. The recovered Carbon dioxide has wider industrial applications such as industrial refrigeration and in chemical process industries such as Urea plant. Absorption of Carbon dioxide from flue gas using solvents such as MEA (mono ethanolamine) is a well established technology. The solvent MEA will dissolve Carbon dioxide from the flue gas and the absorbed carbon dioxide will be stripped in a distillation column to separate absorbed carbon dioxide and the solvent. The recovered solvent will be reused.

The carbon emission can be reduced by employing various combinations of methods such as anaerobic digestion of organic matters, generation of syngas by gasification of biomass, production of biofuels, along with other forms of renewable energy sources mentioned above. As I have discussed in my previous articles, Hydrogen is the main source of energy in all forms of Carbon based fuels and generating Hydrogen from water using renewable energy source is one of the most potential and expeditious option to reduce Carbon emission.

Carbon neutral biomass is becoming a potential alternative energy source for fossil fuels in our Carbon constrained economy. More and more waste –to-energy projects is implemented all over the world due to the availability of biomass on a larger scale; thanks to the increasing population and farming activities. New technological developments are taking place side by side to enhance the quality of Biogas for power generation. Distributed power generation using biogas is an ideal method for rural electrification especially, where grid power is unreliable or unavailable. Countries like India which is predominantly an agricultural country, requires steady power for irrigation as well as domestic power and fuel for her villages. Large quantity of biomass in the form of agriculture waste, animal wastes and domestic effluent from sewage treatment plants are readily available for generation of biogas. However, generation of biogas of specified quality is a critical factor in utilizing such large quantities of biomass. In fact, large quantity of biomass can be sensibly used for both power generations as well as for the production of value added chemicals, which are otherwise produced from fossil fuels, by simply integrating suitable technologies and methods depending upon the quantity and quality of biomass available at a specific location. Necessary technology is available to integrate biomass gasification plants with existing coal or oil based power plants as well as with chemical plants such as Methanol and Urea. By such integration, one can gradually change from fossil fuel economy to biofuel economy without incurring very large capital investments and infrastructural changes. For example, a coal or oil-fired power plant can be easily integrated with a large-scale biomass plant so that our dependency on coal or oil can be gradually eliminated.

Generation of biogas using anaerobic digestion is a common method. But this method generates biogas with 60% Methane content only, and it has to be enriched to more than 95% Methane content and free from Sulfur compounds, so that it can substitute piped natural gas with high calorific value or LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). Several methods of biogas purification are available but chemical-free methods such as pressurized water absorption or cryogenic separation or hollow fiber membrane separation are preferred choices.

The resulting purified biogas can be stored under pressure in tanks and supplied to each house through underground pipelines for heating and cooking. Small business and commercial establishments can generate their own power from this gas using spark-ignited reciprocating gas engines (lean burnt gas engines) or micro turbines or PAFCs (phosphoric acid fuel cells) and use the waste heat to air-condition their premises using absorption chillers. In tropical countries like India, such method of distributed power generation is absolutely necessary to eliminate blackouts and grid failures. By using this method, the rural population need not depend upon the state-owned grid supplies but generate their own power and generate their own gas, and need not depend on the supply of rationed LPG cylinders for cooking. If the volume of Bio-methane gas is large enough, then it can also be liquefied into a liquified bio-methane gas (LBG) similar to LNG and LPG. The volume of biomethane gas will be reduced by 600 times, on liquefaction. It can be distributed in small cryogenic cylinders and tanks just like a diesel fuel. The rural population can use this liquid bio-methane gas as a fuel for transportation like cars, trucks, buses, and farm equipment like tractors and even scooters and auto-rickshaws.

Alternatively, large-scale biomass can be converted into syngas by gasification methods so that resulting biomass can be used as a fuel as well as raw materials to manufacture various chemicals. By gasification methods, the biomass can be converted into a syngas (a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon monoxide) and free from sulfur and other contaminants. Syngas can be directly used for power generation using engines and gas turbines.

Hydrogen rich syngas is a more value added product and serves not only as a fuel for power generation, but also for cooking, heating and cooling. A schematic flow diagram Fig 3,  Fig4 and Fig 6 (Ref: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Review) shows how gasification of biomass to syngas can  compete with existing fossil fuels for various applications such as for power generation, as a raw material for various chemical synthesis and as a fuel for cooking, heating and cooling and finally as a liquid fuel for transportation. Bio-gasification has a potential to transform our fossil fuel dependant world into Carbon-free world and to help us to mitigate the global warming.

Batteries have become indispensable for energy storage in renewable energy systems such as solar and wind. In fact the cost of battery bank, replacements, operation and maintenance will exceed the cost of PV solar panels for off grid applications during the life cycle of 20 years. However, batteries are continued to be used by electric power utilities for the benefits of peak shaving and load leveling. Battery energy storage facilities give the dynamic benefits such as voltage and frequency regulation, load following, spinning reserve and power factor correction along with the ability to give peak power.

Fuel cell power generation is another attractive option for providing power for electric utilities and commercial buildings due to its high-efficiency and environmentally friendly nature. This type of power production is especially economical, where potential users are faced with high cost in electric power generation from coal or oil, or where environmental constraints are stringent, or where load constraints of transmission and distribution systems are so tight that their new installations are not possible. Both batteries and fuel cells have their own unique advantages to electric power systems. They also contain a great potential to back up severe PV power fluctuations under varying weather conditions.

Photovoltaic power outputs vary depending mainly upon solar insolation and cell temperature.  PV power generator may sometimes experience sharp fluctuations owing to intermittent weather conditions, which causes control problems such as load frequency control, generator voltage control and even system stability.  Therefore there is a need for backup power facilities in the PV power generation.   Fuel cells and batteries are able to respond very fast to load changes because their electricity is generated by chemical reactions. A 14.4kW lead acid battery running at 600A has greatest load gradient of 300 A/sec, a phosphoric-acid fuel cell system can match a demand that varies by more than half its rated output within 0.1 second. The dynamic response time of a 20kW solid-oxide fuel cell power plant is less than 4 second when a load increases from 1 to 100%, and it is less than 2 msec when a load decreases from 100 to 1%.  Factory assembled units provides fuel cell and battery power plants with short lead-time from planning to installation. This modular production enables them to be added in varying increments of capacity, to match the power plant capacity to expected load growth. In contrast, the installation of a single large conventional power plant may produce excess capacity for several years, especially if the load growth rate is low.  Due to their multiple parallel modular units and absence of combustion and electromechanical rotary devices, fuel cell and battery power plants are more reliable than any other forms of power generation. Fuel cells are expected to obtain performance reliability near 85%. Consequently, a utility that installs a number of fuel cell or battery power plants is able to cut its reserve margin capacity while maintaining a constant level of the system reliability. The electrochemical conversion processes of fuel cells and batteries are silent because they do not have any major rotating devices or combustion.  Water requirement for their operation is very little while conventional power plants require a massive amount of water for system cooling.

Therefore, they can eliminate water quality problems created by the conventional plants’ thermal discharges. Air pollutant emission levels of fuel cells and batteries are none or very little. Emissions of SO2 and NOx in the fuel cell power plant are 0.003 lb/MWh and 0.0004 lb/MWh respectively. Those values are projected to be about 1,000 times smaller than those of fossil-fuel power plants since fuel cells do not rely on combustion process. These environmentally friendly characteristics make it possible for those power plants to be located close to load centers in urban and suburban area. It can also cut energy losses and costs associated with transmission and distribution equipment. Their site near load centers may also cut the likelihood of power outage.

Electricity is produced in a storage battery by electro-chemical reactions. Similar chemical reactions take place in a fuel cell, but there is a difference between them with respect to fuel storage. In storage batteries chemical energy is stored in the positive/negative electrodes of the batteries. In fuel cells, however, the fuels are stored externally and need to be fed into the electrodes continuously when the fuel cells are operated to generate electricity.

Power generation in fuel cells is not limited by the Carnot Cycle in the view that they directly convert available chemical free energy to electrical energy than going through combustion processes.  Therefore fuel cell is a more efficient power conversion technology than the conventional steam-applying power generations. Fuel cell is a one-step process to generate electricity, the conventional power generator has several steps for electricity generation and each step incurs a certain amount of energy loss. Fuel cell power systems have around 40-60% efficiencies depending on the type of electrolytes. For example, the efficiencies of phosphoric-acid fuel cells and molten-carbonate fuel cells are 40-45% and 50-60%, respectively. Furthermore, the fuel cell efficiency is usually independent of size; small power plants run as efficiently as large ones. Battery power systems themselves have high energy efficiencies of nearly 80%, but their overall system efficiencies from fuel through the batteries to converted ac power are reduced to below 30%. This is due to energy losses taking place when one energy form is converted to another

A battery with a rated capacity of 200Ah battery will give less than 200 Ah. At less than 20A of discharge rates, the battery will give more that 200 Ah. The capacity of a battery is specified by their time rate of discharge. As the battery discharges, its terminal voltage, the product of the load current and the battery internal resistance gradually decreases. There is also a reduction in battery capacity with increasing rate of discharge. At 1-hr discharge rate, the available capacity is only 55% of that obtained at 20-hr rate. This is because there is insufficient time for the stronger acid to replace the weak acid inside the battery as the discharge proceeds.   For fuel cell power systems, they have equally high-efficiency at both partial and full loads. The customer’s demand for electrical energy is not always constant. So for a power utility to keep adjustment to this changing demand, either large base-load power plants must sometimes run at part load, or smaller peaking units must be used during periods of high demand. Either way, efficiency suffers or pollution increases. Fuel cell systems have a greater efficiency at full load and this high-efficiency is retained as load diminishes, so inefficient peaking generators may not be needed.

Fuel cells have an advantage over storage batteries in the respect of operational flexibility. Batteries need several hours for recharging after they are fully discharged. During discharge the batteries’ electrode materials are lost to the electrolyte, and the electrode materials can be recovered during the recharging process. Over time there is a net loss of such materials, which may be permanently lost when the battery goes through a deep discharge. The limited storage capacity of the batteries implies that it is impossible for them to run beyond several hours.

Fuel cells do not undergo such material changes. The fuel stored outside the cells can quickly be replenished, so they do not run down as long as the fuel can be supplied.   The fuel cells show higher energy density than the batteries when they run for more than 2 hours. It means that fuel cell power systems with relatively small weight and volume can produce large energy outputs. That will give the operators in central control centers for the flexibility needed for more efficient use of the capital-intensive fuel cell power plants.

In addition, where hydrogen storage is possible, renewable power sources can drive an electrolysis process to produce hydrogen gas during off-peak periods that will be used to run the fuel cells during peak demands. The usage of storage batteries in an electric utility industry is expected to increase for the purposes of load leveling at peak loads, real-time frequency control, and stabilizing transmission lines. When integrated with photovoltaic systems, the batteries are required to suppress the PV power fluctuations due to the changes of solar intensity and cell temperature. The fact that the PV power outputs change sharply under cloudy  weather conditions makes it hard to decide the capacity of the battery power plants since their discharging rates are not constant. For a lead-acid battery, the most applicable battery technology for photovoltaic applications to date, the depth of discharge should not exceed 80% because the deep discharge cycle reduces its effective lifetime. In order to prevent the deep discharge and to supplement varying the PV powers generated on cloudy weather days, the battery capacity must be large. Moreover, the large battery capacity is usually not fully used, but for only several days. Fuel cells integrated with photovoltaic systems can give smoother operation. The fuel cell system is capable of responding quickly enough to level the combined power output of the hybrid PV-fuel cell system in case of severe changes in PV power output. Such a fast time response capability allows a utility to lower its need for on-line spinning reserve. The flexibility of longer daily operation also makes it possible for the fuel cells to do more than the roles of gas-fired power plants. Gas turbines are not economical for a purpose of load following because their efficiencies become lower and operating costs get higher at less than full load conditions

Fuel cell does not emit any emission except water vapor and there is absolutely no carbon emission.  However, storage batteries themselves do not contain any environmental impacts even though the battery charging sources produce various emissions and solid wastes. When an Electrolyzer is used to generate Hydrogen on site to fuel the Fuel cell, the cost of the system comes down due to much reduction in the capacity of the battery. The specific cost of energy and NPC is lower than fully backed battery system.

During dismantling, battery power plants require a significant amount of care for their disposal to prevent toxic materials from spreading around. All batteries that are commercially viable or under development for power system applications contain hazardous and toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, sodium, sulfur, bromine, etc. Since the batteries have no salvage value and must be treated as hazardous wastes, disposal of spent batteries is an issue. Recycling batteries is encouraged and not placing them in a landfill. One method favoring recycling of spent batteries is regulation. Thermal treatment for the lead-acid and cadmium-containing batteries is needed to recover lead and cadmium. Sodium-sulfur and zinc bromine batteries are also required to be treated before disposal.

Both batteries and fuel cells are able to respond very fast to system load changes because they produce electricity by chemical reactions inside them. Their fast load-response capability can nicely support the sharp PV power variations resulted from weather changes.  However, there are subtle different attributes between batteries and fuel cells when they are applied to a PV power backup option. Power generation in fuel cell power plants is not limited by the Carnot Cycle, so they can meet high power conversion efficiency. Even taking into account the losses due to activation over potential and ohmic losses, the fuel cells still have high efficiencies from 40% to 60%. For example, efficiencies of PAFCs and MCFCs are 40-45% and 50-60% respectively. Battery power plants, however, themselves have high energy efficiency of nearly 80%, but the overall system efficiency from raw fuel through the batteries to the converted ac power is reduced to about 30%.

A battery’s terminal voltage gradually decreases as the battery discharges due to a proportional decrease of its current. A battery capacity reduces with increasing rate of discharge, so its full capacity cannot be used when it discharges at high rates. On the other hand, fuel cell power plants have equally high-efficiency at both partial and full loads. This feature allows the fuel cells to be able to follow a changing demand without losing efficiency. The limited storage capacity of batteries indicates that it is impossible for them to run beyond several hours. The batteries when fully discharged need several hours to be recharged.

For its use in PV power connections, it is as hard   to estimate the exact capacity of the batteries. In order to prevent the batteries’ deep discharge and to supplement the varying PV powers on some cloudy weather days, the battery capacity should be large, but that large capacity is not fully utilized on shiny days. For fuel cells, they do not contain such an operational time restriction as long as the fuel can be supplied. Thus, the fuel cell power plants can give operational flexibility with the operators in central control centers by utilizing them efficiently. As intermediate power generation sources, fuel cell power plants may replace coal-fired or nuclear units under forced outage or on maintenance. For the PV power backup the batteries’ discharge rate is irregular and their full capacity may usually not be consumed. So, it is difficult to design an ideal capacity of the battery systems for support of the PV power variations and to economically run them. Instead of batteries fuel cell power plants show diverse operational flexibility for either a PV power backup or a support of power system operation.

 

At the outset it may sound odd but in reality water and energy are two sides of the same coin and both industries  have a great impact on global warming. Take such as, power generation industries. Two basic requirements for any power plant are fuel and water. It does not matter what kind of fuel is used whether it is a coal based power plant, liquid fuel based plant like Naphtha, and gas based plants using piped natural gas or LNG. We will  consider only power generation involving conversion of thermal energy into electrical energy. Currently more than 80% of power generation in the world is based on thermal power including nuclear plants.  All thermal power plants use steam as the prime motive force to drive the turbines, gas turbine is an exception but even, in gas based plants the secondary motive force is steam using waste heat recovery boilers, in combined cycle operations. The quality of water for conversion into steam is of high quality and purer than our drinking water. The second usage of water is for cooling purpose. The water consumption by power plants using once through cooling system is 1 lit/kwhr, and by closed circuit cooling tower, it is 1.7lit/kwhr. Only about 40% power plants in Europe for example use closed circuit cooling towers  and the rest use only ‘once through’ cooling systems. The total power generated in 2010 by two largest users US and China, were 3792Twhrs and 3715 Twhrs respectively. The total world power production, in 2008 was 20,262 Twhrs, using following methods. Fossil fuel: Coal 41 %, Oil 5.50%, Gas 21%, Nuclear 13% and Hydro 16%.Renewable: PV solar 0.06%, PV thermal 0.004%, Wind 1.1%, Tide  0.003 %, Geothermal 0.3%, Biomass &others 1.30%. (1Twhrs is = 1,000,000,000 kwhrs)(Ref: Wikipedia).

The above statistics gives us an idea on how much water is being used by power generating plants in the world. Availability of fresh water on planet earth, is only 2.5% (96. 5% oceans, 1.70% ground water, 1.7% glaciers and ice caps, and 0.001% in the air, as vapor and clouds).The world’s precious water source is used for power generation, while millions of people do not have water to drink. The cost of bottled drinking water is US$ 0.20 /lit, in countries like, India. This situation is simply unsustainable. The prime cause of this situation is lack of technology to produce clean power without using water. The power technology we use today is based on the principle of electromagnetism invented by Michael Faraday in the year 1839. That is why, renewable energy is becoming critically important at this juncture when the world is at the cross-road.

Many countries are now opting for seawater desalination to meet their water demand. Desalination again is an energy intensive process. For example, 3-4 kwhrs of power is used to desalinate 1 m3 of water. This power now comes from fossil fuel fired thermal power plants, which are often co-located with desalination plants, so that all the discharge from both the plants can be easily pumped into the sea. Since the world is running out of fresh water, we have to look for attentive source of water. In countries like India, the ground water is being exploited for agricultural purpose and power generation and the ground water is getting depleted. Depleting water resources is a threat to agriculture production especially when  countries depend only on monsoon rains. Unabated emission of greenhouse from fossil fuel power plants and transportation causes globe to warm. Draught and water scarcity threatens food security. It is a vicious circle. Recent delay in onset of monsoon rains in India have caused   grave concern for Government and the people of India. Shortage of power and water has compounded the problem for farmers and suicide rate among the farmers is increasing at alarming rate in India.

“Globally, this seems to be one of the worst summers in recorded history. The global average temperature for May was the second hottest ever since 1880 – the year records were first compiled – US National Climatic Data Centre (NCDC) has said. Only 2010 witnessed a worse May. The NCDC said such a hot May was never recorded in the northern hemisphere.
No scientist will pin it on human-induced climate change – it is scientifically untenable to do so – but many affirm that these extreme weather phenomena is along predicted lines of rise in global temperatures

For India, the looming possibility of El Nino dulling the monsoon rains in July-August only means things could get worse. There is half a chance that the El Nino phenomenon will pick up intensity and hit the tail of the monsoon. Thirteen of the 20 times El Nino has been recorded, it has dimmed the intensity of the monsoon, causing widespread drought.
Already, the northwest region of India has suffered a rainfall deficit worse than the rest of India.
But the misery of rising heat is being felt worldwide with “normal weather” systems in disarray. If large areas of the western Himalayas in Uttarakhand have suffered raging forest fires, so has the US – more than 8 lakh hectares have been engulfed in flames. The March-May period for the US has been the hottest ever. Brazil is in the midst of its worst drought in five decades with more than 1,000 towns suffering. Heavy downpours and unheard of hail has hit China and flash floods have ravaged crops in Ethiopia. The Eurasian snow cover extent has been recorded at its smallest ever for the month of May since such records were maintained for the first time in 1967. The cover was 2.67 million sq km below average in May,the USNCDC said. The southern hemisphere, where winters prevail at the moment, too has recorded extremes like never before. The Australian winter has been exceptionally cold, with the fifth coolest winter minimum temperature in over half a century of record keeping. The Antarctic sea ice extent has gone above the 1979-2000 average. In contrast, the Arctic sea ice recorded a much smaller than average extent for the same period”. (Ref: The Economic Times).

The global warming has caused many natural disasters such as recent bush fires in Colorado springs in US  destroying more than 300,000 houses  and  heavy storms in Washington causing  power black outs  for days together in sweltering heat. No country is immune to global warming and sea level rising. How the consequences of global warming will manifest in different forms affecting human beings  and other lives is yet to be seen in years to come.

That is why distributed energy systems using Hydrogen as an alternative fuel is an important step towards sustainability. One can generate Hydrogen from water, using renewable energy source like solar or wind, and store them for future usage. The stored Hydrogen can be used to generate power, as and when required, at any remote location, even where there is no grid power. The water is regenerated during this process of power generation using Fuel cell which can be recycled. There is no large consumption of water and there is no greenhouse emission. It is a clean and sustainable solution. The same stored Hydrogen can also be used to fuel their cars in the near future!

All forms of renewable energy sources are intermittent by nature and therefore storage becomes essential. Energy is used mainly for power generation and transportation and the growth of these two industries are closely linked with development of energy storage technologies and devices. Electrical energy is conventionally stored using storage batteries. Batteries are electrochemical devices in which electrical energy is stored in the form of chemical energy, which is then converted into electrical energy at the time of usage.

Batteries are key components in cars such as Hybrid electric vehicles, Plug-in Hybrid electrical vehicles and Electrical vehicles – all store energy for vehicle propulsion. Hybrid vehicle rely on internal combustion engine as the primary source of energy and use a battery to store excess energy generated during vehicle braking or produced by engine. The stored energy provides power to an electric motor that provides acceleration or provides limited power to the propulsion. Plug-in hybrid incorporates higher capacity battery than Hybrid eclectic vehicles, which are charged externally and used as a primary source of power for longer duration and at higher speed than it is required for Hybrid electric vehicles. In Electric cars, battery is the sole power source.

All electric vehicles need rechargeable batteries with capacity to quickly store and discharge electric energy over multiple cycles. There are a wide range of batteries and chemistries available in the market. The most common NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) used Cathode materials called AB5; A is typically a rare earth material containing lanthanum, cerium, neodymium and praseodymium; while B is a combination of nickel, cobalt, manganese and/or aluminum. Current generation Hybrid vehicles use several Kg of rare earth materials.

Lithium ion battery offers better energy density, cold weather performance, abuse tolerance and discharge rates compared to NiMH batteries. With increasing usage of electrical vehicles the demand for lithium-ion batteries and Lithium is likely to g up substantially in the coming years. It is estimated that a battery capable of providing 100miles range will contain 3.4 to 12.7 Kegs of Lithium depending upon the lithium-ion chemistry and the battery range. Lithium -ion batteries are also used in renewable energy industries such as solar and wind but Lead-acid batteries are used widely due to lower cost.

The lithium for Cathode and electrolyte is produced from Lithium Carbonate which is now produced using naturally occurring brines by solar evaporation with subsequent chemical precipitation. The naturally occurring brine such as in Atacama in Chile is now the main source of commercial Lithium. The brine is a mixture of various chlorides including Lithium chloride, which is allowed to evaporate by solar heat over a period of 18-20 months. The concentrated lithium chloride is then transferred to a production unit where it is chemically reacted with Sodium carbonate to precipitate Lithium Carbonate. Chile is the largest producers of Lithium carbonate.

Though Lithium ion batteries are likely to dominate electric vehicle markets in the future, the supply of Lithium remains limited. Alternative sources of Lithium are natural ores such as Spodumene.Many companies around the world, including couple of companies in Australia are in the process of extracting Lithium from such ores.

Manufacturers produce battery cells from anode, cathode and electrolyte materials. All lithium-ion batteries use some form of lithium in the cathode and electrolyte materials, while anodes are generally graphite based and contain no lithium.   These cells are connected in series inside a battery housing to form a complete battery pack. Despite lithium’s importance for batteries, it represents a relatively small fraction of the cost of both the battery cell and the final battery cost.

“Various programs seek to recover and recycle lithium-ion batteries. These include prominently placed recycling drop-off locations in retail establishments for consumer electronics batteries, as well as recent efforts to promote recycling of EV and PHEV batteries as these vehicles enter the market in larger numbers (Hamilton 2009). Current recycling programs focus more on preventing improper disposal of hazardous battery materials and recovering battery materials that are more valuable than lithium. However, if lithium recovery becomes more cost-effective, recycling programs and design features provide a mechanism to enable larger scale lithium recycling. Another potential application for lithium batteries that have reached the end of their useful life for vehicle applications is in stationery applications such as grid storage.

The supply chain for many types of batteries involves multiple, geographically distributed steps and it overlaps with the production supply chains of other potential critical materials, such as cobalt, which are also used in battery production. Lithium titanate batteries use a lithium titanium oxide anode and have been mentioned as a potential candidate for automotive use (Gains 2010), despite being limited by a low cell voltage compared to other lithium-ion battery chemistries.” (Ref: Centre for Transportation, Argonne National Laboratory)

Usage of power for extraction of Lithium from naturally occurring brines is lower compared to extraction from mineral sources because bulk of the heat for evaporation of brine is supplied by solar heat. However Lithium ion batteries can serve only as a storage medium and the real power has to be generated either by burning fossil fuel or from using renewable energy sources. Governments around the world should make usage of renewable power mandatory for users of Electrical vehicles. Otherwise introduction of Lithium ion battery without such regulation will only enhance carbon emission from fossil fuels.

 

The first few hydrogen atom electron orbitals ...

The first few hydrogen atom electron orbitals shown as cross-sections with color-coded probability density (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hydrogen is well-known as a potential source of clean energy of the future. But it is not available in a free form; its generation from   water using Electrolysis requires more energy than, a free Hydrogen can generate.  It requires about 5kws power to generate 1 m3 Hydrogen gas, which means, it requires about 56 Kw power to generate 1 Kg Hydrogen using water electrolysis. But 1Kg Hydrogen can generate only about 15-20 Kw Electricity using a Fuel cell. This anomalous situation makes Hydrogen generation using water electrolysis uneconomical for clean power generation. That is why most of the Hydrogen is now generated by steam reforming natural gas. Another reason for using natural gas is, to cut the cost of Hydrogen and also, to make a smooth transition from fossil economy to Hydrogen economy using existing infrastructures. Power generation and transportation using Hydrogen and Fuel cell has been commercially tested, proven and ready for deployment. However, we still have to deal with emission of greenhouse gas during steam reformation of natural gas due to the presence of carbon atom in natural gas.

Meanwhile, one American company recently announced a break-through technology that will generate free thermal energy from atomic Hydrogen using a patented process. The inventor of the process claims, when atomic Hydrogen is allowed to react with a specific Catalyst, Hydrogen atom undergoes a transition to a new atom called “Hydrino”, releasing energy while the electron in the atom shifts to a lower orbit close to proton. It was believed so far that the electron in Hydrogen atom is at its lowest level (ground level) and the closest to proton. This is the first time somebody claims that there is a lower state than the ground state  in Hydrogen atom and the amount of energy released in this transition to ‘Hydrino”,  is  in between by an uncatalyzed Hydrogen atom by combustion and nuclear energy. Unlike nuclear energy, this energy is non-radioactive. But the energy released by this process is more than 200 times than energy released by Hydrogen atom by normal combustion. The reaction does not create any pollution or radio-active materials as by-products. The process has been tested, verified and certified by scientists in few  laboratories and universities.

The above process offers great hope to generate a clean, non-polluting energy at the lowest cost. The ‘dihydrino and Hydrogen is separated and Hydrogen is recycled back to continue the process while’dihydrino’ has other potential commercial applications. The inventor has named this power as “Black power” as he hypotheses that such phenomena explain the presence of “dark matter” in Galaxies. According to quantum mechanics, the energy level of a normal Hydrogen atom is at its ground level as its minimum level (N=1), but its energy level increases at higher states such as N=2, 3, 4.When the energy level jumps from higher (excited state) to a lower level, it emits energy in the form of photon of light (Quanta).The spectrum of such emission matches the ultraviolet light of the sun. Since sub-quantum atoms are non-radioactive, the inventor claims that he is duplicating the above process of Nature by a catalytic thermal process in the state of Plasma using a specific Catalyst.

If such a large thermal energy is released by formation of ‘Hydrino’atom in the above process, then such energy can be used to generate Hydrogen by conventional water electrolysis at a fraction of the cost.

Then, Hydrogen economy can become a commercial reality and the above technology has a potential not only to generate power at fraction of a cost of the fossil fuel but also to generate a clean and non-polluting power. The inventor has also hypothesised a “grand new unified theory” of atom as the basis for the above invention. Mainstream scientists have always have been reluctant to support such “free energy” theories but, when someone can prove the process of generating an excess energy (more than 200 times than the theoretical energy released by an exothermic chemical reaction) and it is non-radioactive then mainstream scientists may be sidelined by world community. It is always possible to prove something unique without any theory   and come out later with a theoretical explanation to satisfy the scientific community. Many discoveries in the past were by mere accidents and one should have an open mind to look into any new concepts without any bias, especially if the discovery can resolve serious problems of humanity at  times  of crisis.

 

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