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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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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?”.          

Biogas is fast becoming a fuel of the choice for rural economy in many parts of the world because large number of agriculture and farming communities lives in rural area. Most of these countries depend on imported   Diesel, LPG and Gasoline for their industries, agriculture, transportation and cooking. Countries like India with large population spends a huge amount of foreign currency towards import of petroleum products, making it more vulnerable to the fluctuating oil and gas prices in the international market. However, there is an increasing awareness in India recently about the importance of generating biogas as an alternative energy source to fossil fuel because 70% of the Indian population lives in rural areas. With an estimated cattle population of 280 million (National Dairy development Board 2010) there is a potential to generate biogas at 19,500 Mw.

The following calculation is based on the costing details provided by successful case studies of community based Biogas plants in India. One community based biogas plant has 121 families consisting of 5 members per family as stake holders. They supply cow dung at the rate of 4.50 Mt/day for 365days in a year and generate biogas by an anaerobic digester, designed and constructed locally. Biogas is supplied to all the stakeholders every day for 2 hrs in the morning and for about 2 hrs in the evening for cooking. This is equal to burning 3025 kgs of wood/day (121 families x 5members/family x 5kg wood per member= 3025 x 4000 kcal/kg= 12.10 mil Kcal/day= 48.40 mmBtu/day).The piped natural gas in India is supplied now at the rate of $16/mm Btu, which means the plant is able to generate revenue worth $774.40 per day. But each family of 5 members are charged only Rs.150 per month or 121 families are charged 121 x Rs.150= Rs.18, 150/month ($363/month). The family members also supply milk to co-operative dairy farm which has also contributed to set up the biogas plant. Total cost of the project is $43,000 of which Government subsidy is $20,000, Dairy farm contribution $ 16,000 and the stake holders $7000.The economic and social benefit of this project is enormous. The economic benefit by way of fuel savings, revenue from the sale of vermin compose and by way of Carbon credit amounts to Rs.48,94,326 ($97,926/yr).(source:SUMUL).

The above case study clearly shows how successfully India can adopt bioenergy as an alternative to fossil fuel in rural areas. We have already seen how biogas can be enriched to increase its methane content and to remove other impurities by way of water scrubbing as shown in the figure. The purified and dried biogas with Methane content 97% and above can be liquefied using cryogenic process by chilling to -162C.The liquefaction of biogas is energy intensive but it is worth doing  in countries like India especially when there is no natural gas pipeline network.BLG (liquefied biogas)  is an ideal fuel for industries with CHP (combined heat and power) applications with energy efficiency exceeding 80% compared to conventional diesel engine efficiency at 30%.By installing LBG service station and catering to transport industry, India can cut their import of crude oil while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions.

Producing LBG also leads to a renewable fuel available for heavier vehicles. The fuel can be stored as LBG on the vehicle, which increase the driving distance per tank. The need is that the vehicle is running frequently, otherwise LBG will vaporize and CH4 will be vented to the atmosphere. LBG is in liquid form only when the gas is stored on the vehicle. When it gets to the engine it is in its gas phase. When LBG is delivered to remote fuel stations or storages it is transported in vacuum insulated pressure vessels. One such manufacture of these semi-trailers is Cryo AB and the dimensions of a standard equipped semi-trailer, suitable for Nordic logistic conditions, is shown in Figure 13.

This trailer is optimized for the transportation of LNG/LBG and has a tank capacity of 56,000 liters (~33,000 Nm3 LBG). It is vacuum insulated and the heat in-leakage is less than 0.9 % of maximum payload LBG per 24 hour. The maximum payload is 83.7 % filling rate at 0 bar (g) (=19,730 kg). The source of heat is the surrounding air and the heat in-leakage raises the pressure of the LBG. The maximum working pressure is 7.0 bar (g). If this pressure is exceeded gas is vented to the atmosphere through a safety valve. (Cryo AB, 2008)

Fuel station technology:

There are three different types of fuel station available, using LBG as a feed stock:

– LBG refueling station

– LCBG refueling station

– Multi-purpose refueling station

LBG stations fuel LBG to vehicles equipped with a cryogenic tank while LCBG stations refuel CBG. LCBG stands for liquid to compressed biogas and LBG is transformed to CBG at the refueling station. Multi-purpose refueling stations are able to fuel both LBG and CBG, and consist of one LBG part and one LCBG part. (Vanzetti Engineering, 2008a) There are a number of companies in the LNG business working with the development of fuel stations using LBG as a feedstock. The presented data in this text is based on information from three different companies; Cryostat, Nexgen fuels and Vanzetti Engineering.

This article will focus on the multi-purpose station and since the three companies’ designs are very similar, only a general description will be presented.

The reason why the multi-purpose station is chosen is because LBG could be a good alternative for heavier vehicles. Here it is assumed that these vehicles already are available and in use on a large extent. The refueling station assumes to be situated in conjunction with one of the frequent roads in India, not in vicinity with the gas network. The following requirements lie as a background for the design:

– Possibility to fuel both LBG and CBG

– One double dispenser for CBG; one nozzle for vehicles (NGV-1) and one nozzle for busses (NGV-2)

– One single nozzle for LBG

– Expected volume of sale: 3000 Nm3/day

– Pressure on CBG: up to 230 bar (200 bars at 15°C)

The standard equipment on the multi-purpose station consists of a storage tank for LBG, cryogenic pumps, ambient vaporizer, odorant injection system and dispensers. (Cryostat, 2008a)

There are three types of cryogenic pumps:

– Reciprocating

– Centrifugal

– Submerged

Reciprocating pumps are able to function at very high pressures and are used for the filling of buffer tanks and gas cylinders. Centrifugal pumps are able to produce high flow rates and are used for the transfer of cryogenic liquids between reservoir tanks or road tankers. (Cryostat, 2008b) A submerged pump is a centrifugal pump installed inside a vacuum insulated cryogenic tank. This tank is totally submerged in the cryogenic liquid, which makes it stay in permanently cold conditions. (Vanzetti Engineering, 2008b)

A sketch over a multi-purpose station can be seen in Figure 14. LBG is stored in a vacuum insulated cryogenic vessel and LBG is delivered with semi-trailers. The volume of the storage tank is usually designed to match refilling on a weekly basis. The transfer from trailer is either done by gravity or by transfer pumps, the latter significantly reducing transfer time. (Vanzetti Engineering, 2008a) From the LBG storage tank the station is divided into two; the LBG part and the LCBG part.

The LCBG part consists of a reciprocating pump, an ambient vaporizer and buffer storage. The reciprocating pump sucks LBG from the storage tank and raises the pressure to around 300 bars, before sending it to the ambient high pressure vaporizer. CBG is then odorized before going to the CBG storage and the dispenser. The buffer unit is gas vessel storage, with a maximum working pressure of 300 bar, enabling fast filling of vehicles. (Nexgen Fueling, 2008)

The LBG part only consists of a centrifugal pump that transfers LBG from the storage tank, through vacuum insulated lines, to the LBG dispenser that dispense LBG at a pressure of 5-8 bar. (Nexgen Fueling, 2008) Some LBG dispensers are supplied with a system for the recovery of the vehicle boil of gas. (Cryostar, 2008a) To reduce methane losses all venting lines are collected and sent back to the higher parts of the storage tank, to be reliquaries by the cold LBG. (Heisch, 2008) (Ref: Nina Johanssan, Lunds Universitet)

Economics of LBG: The LNG trucks averages about 2.8 miles per gallon of LNG, equating to about 4.7 miles per DEG. Table 5 compares the energy content, fuel economy and DEG fuel economy. The greenhouse emission is completely eliminated by using LBG.

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.

Chemistry has revolutionized human life and it has affected each and every one of us in some way or other for the past several decades. We were happily using these chemicals in our everyday life without really understanding their side effects.Individuls and companies who invented and commercialized chemical products were keen to offer end products to consumers often without explaining the side effects of such chemicals.They themselves were not fully aware of long-term consequences of such chemicals. Classical examples are Chlorine and its derivatives.

Chlorine is a common chemical that is used even today in many countries to disinfect drinking water in water treatment plants. Their usage is sill continued though they found that Haloethanes, which are formed by the action of Chlorine on decayed organic leaves in water storage, causes cancer (carcinogenic). DDT is another chemical that was used widely as a pesticide, known as “atom bomb of pesticides”,  until their side effects proved deadly for human beings and to the environment. It was officially banned in USA in 1972 by EPA, though it is still continued in some third world countries. Bleaching powder in another example of powder disinfectant ( a popular form of disinfectant used on roads in India when  prominent political leaders visit municipalities; though they are only chalk  powder with no traces of residual Chlorine).

A whole range of dyes known as coal-tar dyes derived from coal  were used in many applications including ‘food colors’, later substituted by petroleum-based organic chemicals. These ‘food colors’ are now substituted with ‘natural organic colors’ such as vegetable colors derived from vegetables and fruits. Industrial chemicals, both organic and inorganic have caused serious environmental damages all over the world for several decades, but Governments, companies and EPA did not realize the deadly consequences of some these chemicals for a long time. The ‘Bhopal Gas tragedy’ in India is one such grim reminder of such consequences.

Chemicals are not natural products even though one can separate them into various organic chemical molecules but some of the consequences of such separation and usage are not fully understood. Many natural herbs have outstanding medicinal values and when consumed in a Natural form, it has absolutely no side effects and they show tremendous therapeutic values. But when you isolate certain molecules from such herbs (Alkaloids) and used as a drug, they can cure a disease but at the same time, they create many side effects. Nature offers such drugs in a diluted form that is quite compatible to human beings. One such example is ‘Vinblastine’ and “Vincristine’, anti-cancer drugs derived from a herb called ‘vinca rosea’.

Of late there is awareness among companies, people and Governments about Green technologies that can help protect the environment. Greenhouse gas and global warming is one such issue. When Petrol or Diesel, an organic chemical known as Hydrocarbon is burnt, it not only generates power but also emits greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide and oxides of Nitrogen, that cause globe to warm. We were happily burning away such fossil fuels until scientists raised an issue on emission of ‘greenhouse gases’ in recent past. When we deal with chemicals and chemical reactions, the molecule is transformed into a new molecule and often such reaction cannot be reversed.It is not a physical change but a chemical change. When we convert water into steam, we can get back water by condensing steam; but when you convert Chlorine into PVC (Poly vinyl chloride) plastic, there are environmental consequences and reversing PVC into Chlorine gas in not easy, though it is technically possible with environmental consequences.

One has to observe and learn from Nature what is good and what is bad when developing a new technology, because such development will not only affect the environment but also many generations to come. When Nature teaches how to turn sugar into Alcohol by fermentation using air-borne microorganisms, we should follow Nature to make alcohol. We know how to turn Alcohol into PVC, but we do not know how to make biodegradable PVC from Alcohol. Companies call it ‘Green Chemistry’, but not until we can make a biodegradable PVC. Human knowledge is imperfect and we can learn ‘Green chemistry and Clean Technologies’ only from Nature and not by deviating from the path of Nature.

A safe and clean water supply is becoming a scarce commodity in many parts of the world. With growing   population and rapid industrialization, the demand for water has increased dramatically. This in turns pushes the demand for energy and fossil fuels resulting in further increase in global warming. According to WHO (World Health organization) specifications, a clean and safe water should be free from pathogenic organism such as bacteria and virus, and also the TDS (Total dissolved solids) levels should be below 500ppm (parts per million). Unfortunately such quality water is not readily available from surface or ground water. The water stored in catchment area for supply of drinking water to cities requires certain chemical and biological treatments before it can meet WHO specification.

In many smaller cities especially in developing countries such treated drinking water is not available. NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Satellite or GRACE orbiting earth in tandem, two satellites are able to measure the water storage on ground and below across the world. The NASA data shows that most of area in Northern India will be facing a severe shortage of water in the near future because farmers are pumping ground water   at an alarming rate. The ground water is getting depleted faster than it is being replenished. The water table has gone deeper and deeper and many of the pumps they used five to ten years ago cannot pump water anymore because the water levels have gone so deep. States like Punjab, supposed to be ‘wheat bowl of India’ are facing water shortage. Farmers who have used 100 feet bore well are now digging their bore well up to 900 feet. To make the situation worse, many of coal-fired power plants are licensed to meet the increasing power demand in India. Both quantity and quality of water has a direct impact on energy demand and global warming. The rainwater which replenished the ground aquifers are unable to match the water sucked by these pumps. About 114 million people living in Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana including the capital city of Delhi are facing water shortage.

The likely alternative for these states is to desalinate the seawater from the west coast of India and pump them all the way to Delhi, which are thousand of kilometers from the coast. The increasing economic growth of India has increased the demand for power, often based on coal. Power industry is one of the largest users of water. Plants located on coastal are able to use seawater for their ‘once through’ cooling system and for boilers. But the plants located inland have to use only surface water like rivers. They cannot use ‘once through’ system, but use a closed circuit cooling systems where they have to store large pool of hard water.

It is a vicious cycle. Water shortage increase the demand for power and power shortage increases the demand for water. Desalination is the only alternative but it is a very energy intensive and a costly solution. Changing climate, global warming, deforestation, and water shortage are ominous signs of Nature’s fury against human greediness.

When countries like Australia set up their largest desalination facilities, the country experiences the heaviest rains in decades with flash flooding in many parts, making politicians wonder whether their water management decisions are right. Unfortunately Science cannot solve our greediness only human beings can learn lessons from Nature and take right decisions.

 

 

We live in a carbon constrained world where carbon emission is considered as the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century. We unearthed fossil fuel which Nature buried for millions of years and burnt them for our advantage to generate power and to run our cars. Scientist pointed out that the unabated emission of greenhouse will cause the globe to warm with dire consequences. However this came as an ‘inconvenient truth’ to industries and Governments around the world. The economic consequences of stopping fossil fuels weighted more than the global warming. Governments were in a precarious situation and unable to take a concrete policy decision. Popular Governments were not willing to risk their power by taking ethical decisions and opted for popular decision to keep up their growth. Then the financial crisis became an issue, which has nothing to do with greenhouse emission or global warming. Yet, the economic and industrial growth stumbled in many developed countries and unemployment skyrocketed. Governments are caught in a situation where they need to take a balanced view between an ethical decision and economic decisison.The overwhelming evidence of global warming and their consequences are slowly felt by countries around the world by natural disasters of various sizes and intensities.

Some scientist suggested that there is nothing wrong using fossil fuels; we can continue with greenhouse emission without risking the economic growth by  capturing  the carbon emission and burying  them underground. Carbon sequestration and clean coal technologies became popular and more funds were allocated to them than renewable energy development.Countires like India and China are not in a hurry to discontinue fossil fuels but continue to make massive investments on coal-fired power plants. They neither tried to capture carbon nor bury them, but continue to emit carbon claiming that it is their turn of economic growth and right to emit carbon emission. The chief of UN panel on climate change headed by an Indian has no sayin the matter.Politicians push scientists into the background when the truth is inconvenient to them.

How feasible in the carbon sequestration technology and what is the cost? Even if we can come up with a successful technology of capturing carbon and burying them underground, there will be a cost involved. This cost will invariably be passed on to the consumer which  will  eventually increase the cost of energy. Constraining carbon emission without incurring a cost can only be a dream. Capturing carbon emission is nothing new; Carbon dioxide is absorbed by solvents like MEA (Monoethanolamine) in many chemical industries. The absorbed carbon dioxide can be stripped free of solvent and the solvent can be recycled. This carbon dioxide can be treated with Ammonia to get Urea, a Fertilizer. But the source of Hydrogen can come only from renewable energy sources. That is why ‘Renewable Hydrogen ‘is the key to solve global warming problem. We can produce Urea from “captured Carbon” and ‘Renewable Hydrogen’ so that we can cut a real quantity of greenhouse emission. Carbon recycling is a sustainable solution than Carbon capturing and burying. Countries like India who depend upon import of Urea for their agriculture production should immediately make Carbon recycling into Urea production mandatory. It is a win situation for everybody in the world.

The science and technology of Bioethanol production from starch or sugar is  well-established. Brazil leads the world in Bioethanol production with a capacity of 16,500 million liters/yr followed by US with a capacity of 16,230 million liters/yr.India produces merely 300 million liters/yr as the fifth largest producer in the world.US consumes about 873 MM gallons of oil/day of which about 58% is imported. The US forecast for 2025 import of oil is 870MMgal/day and the President wants to replace imported oil from the Middle East by 75% -100MMgal/day. (Ref: Environmental Protection Agency,Cincinnati,Ohio).

Currently bulk of the Bioethanol is produced in centralized plants. This is because an economical plant requires a production rate of 40-55 MMgal /day. Transportation of raw materials to long distance is uneconomical. Countries like India can substantially increase their sugar production and encourage small-scale distilleries for the sole purpose of replacing imported oil. Large scale Bioetehanol production involves fermentation of molasses; a byproduct of sugar industry.Bioethanol can also be produced directly from cane sugar juice or from starch such as Corn or Tapioca.

Molasses is diluted with water and inoculated by addition of yeast and other nutrients. The fermentation takes about 24 to 30 hours till the fermented broth has an alcohol content of 7.5 to 9.5% by volume. The fermented wash is then distilled in a separate distillation column. This alcohol which is 95-96% is known as rectified spirit. The rectified spirit is further passed though a Molecular sieve to remove moisture and to concentrate alcohol to 99.8% by volume. A spent wash of about 8 lits are generated per liters of Bioethanol.The spent wash will have a BOD (biological oxygen demand) value of  45,000ppm.This can be subject to Anaerobic digestion to generate ‘Bio  gas’ with about 55% Methane value and the liquid BOD will be reduced to less than 5000ppm. This Biogas can be used to generate power for the process. This process is economical for a production of Bioethanol 40-55MMgal/day.

But in countries like India the sugar cane molasses are available in smaller quantities and the sugar plants are scattered. Small scale distillery can adopt ‘Per-evaporation’ method to concentrate ‘Bioethanol’.The advantage with ‘Perevaporation’ is the process is not limited by thermodynamic vapor-liquid equilibrium. The distilled alcohol with 96% alcohol can be separated by Perevaportion into streams containing Bioethanol 99+% and alcohol depleted water.Perevaporation is a membrane separation process and it serves as an alternative to distillation and molecular sieve and saves energy. The membrane process can be suitably designed for alcohol enrichment as well as dehydration and easily adoptable for smaller production of Bioethanol.

Such process allows production of dehydrated Bioethanol which are suitable to use as a fuel in cars as a Gasoline blend without any engine modification. Production of Bioethanol from cane sugar molasses is cheaper than from corn starch. Countries like India should promote Bioethanol as an alternative fuel to gasoline and cut their oil imports.

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.

Photovoltaic  solar industry has started expanding in recent years in US and Europe and the rest of the world also started following. Still solar energy is considered expensive in many parts of the world for various reasons. In most of these countries, energy is predominantly managed by Governments with age-old technologies and transmission systems. Coal is still the major fuel used for power generation and distribution and their infrastructures are old and inefficient. Transmission losses, power pilfering, subsidized power tariffs and even free power for farmers, are some of the issues that compounds the problems. Energy and water are considered more of social issues rather than business issues. For example in India, frequent power failures are common  and sometimes people do not have power even up to 8 to 12 hours  a day, especially  in country sides. Standby diesel generators are integral part of an industry or business. The heavily subsidized power supply by Government from coal-fired power plants is  underrated. The average power tariff in India is still less than $0.07/kwhr.But the reality is they will be using diesel generated power for equal several hours in a day  and the cost of diesel power varies from  $0.24 up to $0.36/kwhrs, almost in par with solar power. The average power cost will amount to $0.18 to $0.20 /kwhrs.

Any slight increase  in oil price will have a dramatic effect in energy cost in India and their balance of payment situation.Governments are in a precarious situation and they have to make a balancing act between subsidizing the energy cost and winning the elections. They often subsidize the power resulting in heavy revenue losses for Government run electricity boards. Most of the electricity boards in India are in red. People are used to low power tariffs for several decades and any increase in the tariff will make the Government unpopular. Greenhouse effect and global warming are secondary issues. With an average economic growth rate at 7% year after year, their energy requirements have gone up substantially. They may need several hundred thousands of MW power in the next 5 to 10 years. They have opened up energy sector to private only in recent years.

Renewable energy industry is relatively new and there are very few large commercial-scale solar and wind power plants in India. Majority of residents and businesses cannot afford high cost of PV solar installation. Even if they install, there is no ‘power- in tariff’ mechanism by Government where consumers can export surplus energy at a higher tariff to the grid. With current power failures lasting 8-12 hours/day, such mechanisms will have no value. The situation is the same in many Asian countries.

The solar panel costs are high due to lack of local production of silicon wafers, batteries and inverters and most of them are still imported. State electricity boards do not have funds to buy power at higher tariffs. Import duties and taxes on imported components are still high making renewable industries uncompetitive against cheap coal-fired,  subsidized power cost of $0.07/kwhrs .India requires massive investment on renewable energy industries. But most of the power projects which are under planning stage or under implementation are based on either coal or oil or LNG.There is no sign that India will soon become a major player in renewable energy.

In PV solar projects, the cost of storage batteries are higher than the solar panel during the life cycle of 25 years. If the life of a battery is 8 years then you will need 3 batteries during the life cycle. For example, if you use 100 watts solar panel with a life span of 20 years, the initial cost of solar panel may be $300 which will generate an average power of 140 watt.hrs /day. If you plan to store 5 days energy using a battery, you will enquire 5x 140= 700 watt.hrs battery, costing about $175.If you have to replace batteries 3 times during the life span of 20 years then the cost of battery is 3×175= $525.You have to add operation and maintenance cost, in addition to it. Therefore, your investment on batteries is 1.75 times more than solar panels. This cost will substantially add up to your energy cost.

In most of the Asian countries where they cannot export surplus power to the grid, they have to rely only on batteries. This high cost of stored energy is not remunerative because they cannot export this surplus to the grid at a higher tariff. This situation is not likely to change at least in the short-term.

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