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Tag Archives: Mother Nature

The sun is bright and warm and your roof top solar panels and solar heaters are working hard to generate power and hot water. But the rate of power generated is too small to use immediately. The hot water is not hot enough for your shower. Your 200 watt rooftop solar panel generates only 0.12 kwhrs after 5 hours of hard work. It does not meet your expectations. You expect 200 watts solar panel to generate about 1000 watt.hrs (1kwhr) in 5 hours. It is not happening. You don’t think renewable energy can meet your electricity demand.

There is a strong wind in the island and the wind turbines are rotating faster than usual but there are hardly any people living there. Wind turbine generates good power when the wind velocity is above certain level. But the electricity generated by the wind has no immediate takers.

There is a good rain this year and the dams are overflowing and the Hydro is generating surplus power but not many people are living near the catchment area. The power has to be transmitted hundred of kilometers to the nearby town through a sub-station. When the dams are dry there is hardly any power generation and power supply is rationed to the town.

When there is a demand for power Mother Nature does not offer the resources for power generation. When Mother Nature offers the resource we do not need power. This anomalous situation is the single largest obstacle that is undermining the potential of renewable energy. Of course, the high initial cost and half-hearted approach by Governments to offer subsidies or grants for renewable energy are other factors that add to the anomaly.

The only option to get over this situation is to store the energy 24×7 when it is generated and use them when we need them. It requires good storage technology, automation and information technology that can communicate with Natures energy resources and harness them, store them and deploy them judiciously and intelligently to meet our demands.

Current battery technology cannot be a long-term sustainable solution; it is expensive, requires constant maintenance and replacement, which adds to the expensive initial investment on renewable systems. The best option is to generate Hydrogen on-site when sunshine’s or wind blows and store them under pressure that can be used as and when we need electricity using Fuel cell. It is easier to handle gas than stored electricity in batteries. Batteries are very heavy, has a limited life cycle and poses health hazard and not suitable for large-scale power storage and not sustainable in the long run.

An Electrolyzer can generate Hydrogen from water on site when a sun or wind energy available and they can work from 10% to 100% capacity depending upon the availability of renewable resources. The surplus power from Hydro can be converted into Hydrogen and stored. With so much advancement in information and communication technology, harnessing nature’s energy, storing them and deploying them in a timely manner is not major issue. Hydrogen can bridge the gap between Nature resource availability and human demand. This is what science is all about. We developed science by learning from Nature or duplicating Nature and Renewable energy is nothing different.

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Renewable Hydrogen is the key that can offer us energy independence in the twenty-first century. Fossil fuel usage will still continue for some more time because the world has already invested massively on fossil fuel infrastructures. The stacks are too high for them to switch over to renewable over night. It is the Mother Nature who provided us coal, oil and gas all these years using her manufacturing process under the earth over millions of years. But we human beings exceeded her tolerance limit by emitting greenhouse emission by our rapid growth in population and industrialisation.We failed to discover an alternate fuel in time and continued with an age-old technology with all its inefficiencies. Inefficiencies breed pollution. We were keen to use the heat of combustion by burning a fossil fuel to generate electricity or drive our cars, but paid no attention to the gases released during such combustion. We learnt Thermodynamics and the relationship between heat and work, but failed to understand the consequences of gases of combustion and its impact on our environment.

There are two issues involved in burning a fossil fuel to generate electricity. The heat of combustion is an exothermic reaction and we get a certain amount of heat. Then we convert this heat energy into electrical energy and the overall efficiency of such conversion is about thirty-five percent. Only thirty-five percent of the heat input energy becomes electrical energy and the remaining sixty-five percent heat along with gases of combustion are released into atmosphere. Of course part of this heat is recovered in a commercial plant, but the bulk of heat is released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. We failed to understand the potential of Hydrogen even though we used Hydrocarbon for several decades. We even discovered Urea, the fertilizer that caused ‘green revolution’ in agriculture, using the same Hydrogen present in the Hydrocarbon feedstock. It is time for us to make best use of a fossil fuel to its most potential when we burn each kilogram of fuel. We should burn coal not just with air but also with steam so that we can generate Hydrogen rich gas that can run a gas turbine in a combined cycle or run our cars on roads. Such a conversion will lead to a substantial increase in energy efficiency as well as in greenhouse gas emission reduction. Governments in industrialized countries should make it a mandatory to convert all their power plants to syngas generation as described above. They should also discourage new plants using fossil fuels with punitive power tariffs and encourage renewable energy projects with higher tariffs. Governments can also impose similar tariffs for transportation depending upon the fuel used such as fossil fuel or Hydrogen.

Governments should encourage renewable energy projects such as solar and wind   to generate Hydrogen from water as centralized power plants and distribute DC (direct current) by rural electrification. If the country side is electrified using this system then, agriculture, business and industries can thrive in rural areas. Direct current (DC) distribution net work can be installed in rural areas and encourage people to use energy-efficient appliances such as Direct current air-conditioners with energy star ratings and tariffs. Governments can bring about these changes by adopting a ‘carrot and stick ‘policy to encourage renewable and discourage fossil fuels.

Solar energy is the key from which all other forms of energy emanate such as wind, geothermal and ocean thermal energy conversion system.  It is of paramount importance to increase the efficiency of renewable systems and improve energy efficiencies of appliances we use. It is simpler to use LED bulbs using a Direct current generated by Renewable Hydrogen. It is once again the Mother Nature that can come to the rescue of human beings through solar, wind and water to generate clean energy for the twenty-first century.

Energy generation and distribution is no longer a business or revenue issue but a moral and ethical issue for Governments. It is only people who can bring about such sweeping changes by electing the right Government who can care for the environment. The future generation will judge us only based on what kind of environment we leave them behind.

Coal is an important fuel that helped industrial revolution. It is still a main fuel for power generation in many parts of the world. It is also an important raw material for number of chemicals and they directly compete with Hydrocarbons such as Naptha.It is abundantly available and it is cheap. We are still able to generate electricity at 5 cents per kwhr using coal. But, now we are entering into a new phase of energy generation and distribution, due to changing environmental and climatic issues of the twenty-first century. We need completely a new fuel to address these issues; a fuel that has a higher heat content, which can generate more power per unit value of fuel, and yet, generates no pollution. It is a challenging job and the world is gearing up to meet these challenges. They affect the world because any issues about energy impacts each and every one of us. Many industrialized countries around the world are reluctant to sign an agreement that compels them to cut their greenhouse emission to an acceptable level set by UN panel of scientists.

Governments such as US, China and India are reluctant to sign such an agreement because their economy and growth depends upon cheap energy, made from coal. Such an agreement will be detrimental to their progress, and the leaders of these nations are not ready to sign such an agreement. They also understand that world cannot afford to continue to use coal as they have used in the past. It is simply unsustainable. It is a precarious situation and they need to carefully plan their path forward. On one hand, they need to keep up their industrial and economic growth, and although they need to cut their emissions and save the world, from catastrophic consequences of global warming.

A simple analysis of the fuel will show that Hydrogen is a potential energy source for the future. It has energy content at least five times more than a coal for a unit value. Coal has an average heat content of 5000 kcal /kg while Hydrogen has an average heat content of 39,000 kcal/kg. Coal has a number of impurities such as ash, sulfur, phosphorous, other than carbon. Burning coal will emit greenhouse gases with toxic fumes that have to be removed. Therefore, these industrialized countries are now looking ways to generate Hydrogen from coal; that too at a cost which will be comparable to other current fuels such as natural gas. It is not an easy task because natural gas is formed by Mother Nature over several hundred thousand years. It is readily available and there is no manufacturing cost except processing cost. We are used to free energy from Mother Nature. This is the crux of the issue.

Hydrogen is the most abundantly available element on earth; yet it is not available in a free form. It is available as a compound, such as, joined with oxygen forming   water H2O molecule; or joined with Carbon forming Methane CH4 molecule.This Hydrogen should be separated in a free form, and this separation requires energy. How can coal, which is just a Carbon, generate Hydrogen?  It requires an addition of water in the form of steam.  When coal is gasified with air and steam, a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon dioxide is generated, known as Syngas (synthesis gas).

2C + H2O+O2  ———  2H2 +2 CO2

The syngas is separated into Hydrogen and carbon dioxide using various methods using their difference in densities. The Hydrogen can be stored under pressure for further use. Research work is now under way to capture carbon dioxide for sequestering. Carbon sequestration is a method of capturing carbon dioxide and storing it in a place where it cannot enter the atmosphere. But the technical feasibility and economic viability of such a system is yet to be established.

Carbon sequestration is a new concept and the cost of sequestration can potentially increase the cost of energy derived from Hydrogen despite the fact, Hydrogen has energy content five times more the carbon. However, there is no quick fix for our energy problems, and we have to reconcile to the energy cost will increase in the future but eventually cut the greenhouse emissions. These developed countries should at least show to the rest of the world, how they plan to cut their emissions and their action plans; such disclosure should be subject to inspection by UN panel. In the absence of any concrete mechanism, it will be impossible to stop the global warming in the stipulated time frame considering the fact that a number of coal/oil/gas-fired power plants are already under implementation.

Carbon is the backbone of an organic life on earth. Every life from the smallest microorganism to human beings is made up of carbon. A cycle  called ‘carbon cycle’ that decomposes carbon into carbon dioxide which is used to synthesis Carbohydrates by the  process known as  ‘photosynthesis’ in presence of water and sunlight, as described in the following equation:

6CO2+ 6H2O   + sunlight →  C6H12O6 + 6O2

The oxygen generated during the above process and carbohydrates sustains life of animals and microorganism on earth. These lives consume oxygen and carbohydrates and releases Carbon dioxide by respiration into the atmosphere. The released carbon dioxide breaks down carbohydrates and other organic matters and regenerates carbon dioxide for reuse by animals and other lives. Not all organic matters are decomposed and part of it is stored as carbon biomass in the roots of plants and other organic matters and buried under earth. After millions of years these organic matters turns into fossil fuels under pressure and higher temperature. Carbon is distributed on earth, in water and in atmosphere. Due to increase in population and industrial growth over several decades the carbon dioxide increased gradually in soil, water and atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is also released by natural events like volcanic eruptions.

But the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased rapidly after industrialisation, when industries unearthed buried fossil fuels and burnt. In fact we are burning carbon at a faster rate than it is regenerated. It is purely man-made and it increases the presence of carbon dioxide both in atmosphere as well as in oceans. The rapid increase of green house emission started 240 years ago when industrial revolution started. The consequences of this unabated greenhouse gases due to combustion has caused ‘global warming’ with many consequences.

As I have mentioned in my previous articles, power generation and transportation are the two major industries that emit bulk of the greenhouse emission. Both industries use age-old technologies of combustion. The world has been complacent about fossil fuels and grossly indifferent to industrial pollution for decades. Global warming is looming as the biggest threat of the twenty-first century, yet we are not acting. Politicians deny global warming and they want to carry on the business as usual, at the peril of the future generations.

Powerful countries like US, China and India are reluctant to pass a unanimous resolution to set target for carbon emission, while smaller nations remain as powerless onlookers. These powerful nations can drag the rest of the world with them to face the wrath of the Mother Nature with disastrous consequences for their inaction.

It is quite obvious that world have no choice but switch to cleaner energy sources and leave the fossil fuels buried deep under the earth. A new paradigm shift in the way we generate energy and use them is the key for the survival of mankind. We need to develop Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source and Government should encourage innovations in such technologies, while they simultaneously price carbon. In the absence of a concrete legislation and mechanism to penalize polluters, industries will continue to use fossil fuels. A simple cost benefit analysis will show that taxing on polluters and simultaneously introducing renewable technologies will benefit the world in the long run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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