Re: [asa] A greener way to get electricity from natural gas

From: Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
Date: Mon Dec 07 2009 - 01:21:30 EST

Some comments below, because this is just the sort of thing I personally
love - but it's also interspersed with reasoning I can't abide.

On Sun, Dec 6, 2009 at 11:46 PM, Rich Blinne <rich.blinne@gmail.com> wrote:

> http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091203101422.htm
>
> ScienceDaily (Dec. 3, 2009) — A new type of natural-gas electric power
> plant proposed by MIT researchers could provide electricity with zero carbon
> dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, at costs comparable to or less than
> conventional natural-gas plants, and even to coal-burning plants.
>

Sounds great. Of course news like this more and more sounds like product
announcements and corporate press releases to my ears, so I try not to get
my hopes up.

> But that can only come about if and when a price is set on the emission of
> carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases -- a step the U.S. Congress and
> other governments are considering as a way to halt climate change.
>

What a load of utter hooey. It's like saying "We have this great new miracle
technology, totally legal to use. But it can only be used if congress passes
a carbon tax law!" Unless there's some crazy law that bars retrofitting
power plants to produce 0 CO2 - which, for all I know, there is. Governments
produce a lot of nutty laws.

But chances are a company can elect to build these plants utterly without
government, much less federal government, encouragement. Yes, they may be at
a particular disadvantage in one sense (cost to build/run this plant versus
another plant), but if their claims about their technology are true, they'd
also have certain advantages. There are good reasons why there's a variety
of power plant solutions available and in force even now, despite the fact
that "pulverizing coal" is always the cheapest option.

But let's go on. In fact, something very interesting is noted in this
article that I'd like to draw attention to. My emphasis added.

> Postdoctoral associate Thomas Adams and Paul I. Barton, the Lammot du Pont
> Professor of Chemical Engineering, propose a system that uses
> solid-oxide fuel cells, which produce power from fuel without burning it.
> *The system would not require any new technology, but would rather combine
> existing components, or ones that are already well under development, in a
> novel configuration (for which they have applied for a patent).* The
> system would also have the advantage of running on natural gas, a relatively
> plentiful fuel source -- proven global reserves of natural gas are expected
> to last about 60 years at current consumption rates -- that is considered
> more environmentally friendly than coal or oil. (Present natural-gas power
> plants produce an average of 1,135 pounds of carbon dioxide for every
> megawatt-hour of electricity produced -- half to one-third the emissions
> from coal plants, depending on the type of coal.)
>

Wait a second here. Adams and Barton claim to have come up with a technology
that will supposedly allow the creation and retrofitting of electric power
plants to produce 0 CO2... and the first thing they do is *put a patent on
it?*

That makes me smile.

>
> Absent any price for carbon emissions, Adams says, when it comes to
> generating electricity "the cheapest fuel will always be pulverized coal."
> But as soon as there is some form of carbon pricing -- which attempts to
> take into account the true price exacted on the environment by greenhouse
> gas emissions -- "ours is the lowest price option," he says, as long as the
> pricing is more than about $15 per metric ton of emitted carbon dioxide.
>

It's the cheapest option, so long as the tax is high enough. I sincerely
hope this is not the qualification needed for that whole "at costs
comparable to conventional natural-gas plants, and even to coal-burning
plants" line at the start. With the right taxes in place, *I* can give you a
power plant that's cheaper to run than existing natural-gas and coal-burning
plants. I'd need a lot of treadmills. Also gerbils.

> Such a pricing mechanism would be put in place, for example, by the
> Waxman-Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act" that was passed by
> the U.S. House of Representatives in July, through its "cap and trade"
> provisions. (A corresponding bill has not yet reached the floor of the U.S.
> Senate.) If the program becomes law, the actual price per ton of carbon
> would vary, being determined through the free market. [RDB Note: Before
> people scream socialism look who's funding this below. See also:
> http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/opinion/06diamond.html "My friends in
> the business world keep telling me that Washington can help on two fronts:
> by investing in green research, offering tax incentives and passing
> cap-and-trade legislation; and by setting and enforcing tough standards to
> ensure that companies with cheap, dirty standards don’t have a competitive
> advantage over those businesses protecting the environment. As for the rest
> of us, we should get over the misimpression that American business cares
> only about immediate profits, and we should reward companies that work to
> keep the planet healthy."]
>

Rich, socialism does not mean "big business gets screwed". Businesses can be
utterly complicit in socialism, and even reap rewards. Take a good look at
Google's relationship with China. Socialist country, but my, is their
relationship ever cozy.

Those big bailouts of Wall Street were not "capitalism" either, in case
anyone was wondering. Though the examples of businesses that are engaging in
all manner of 'efficiency/environmental' solutions without any nudging from
the government is, of course, encouraging.

Again, there's something downright funny about the contrast of that line
about "it's not just about immediate profits" and the patenting - unless, of
course, they're just patenting the process to keep someone else from doing
so, and plan not to make a profit from their invention (or worse, withhold
the technology from, say.. third world countries that are in a more dire
situation when it comes to paying for these things). The usual schpiel about
keeping the planet healthy continues to bother. I also enjoy the mention of
how "the actual price per ton of carbon" would be "determined through the
free market". The actual price of another product will be determined by the
free market, after we finish arranging the penalty taxes.

>
> Natural gas already accounts for 22 percent of all U.S. electricity
> production, and that percentage is likely to rise in coming years if carbon
> prices are put into effect. For these and other reasons, a system that can
> produce electricity from natural gas at a competitive price with zero
> greenhouse gas emissions could prove to be an attractive alternative to
> conventional power plants that use fossil fuels.
>
> The system proposed by Adams and Barton would not emit into the air any
> carbon dioxide or other gases believed responsible for global warming, but
> would instead produce a stream of mostly pure carbon dioxide. This stream
> could be harnessed and stored underground relatively easily, a process known
> as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). One additional advantage of the
> proposed system is that, unlike a conventional natural gas plant with CCS
> that would consume significant amounts of water, the fuel-cell based system
> actually produces clean water that could easily be treated to provide
> potable water as a side benefit, Adams says.
>

Sounds good. Still sounds like a product ad, but that's the way things are.

>
> How they did it:
>
> Adams and Barton used computer simulations to analyze the relative costs
> and performance of this system versus other existing or proposed generating
> systems, including natural gas or coal-powered systems incorporating carbon
> capture technologies.
>
> Combined-cycle natural gas plants -- the most efficient type of fossil-fuel
> power plants in use today -- could be retrofitted with a carbon-capture
> system to reduce the output of greenhouse gases by 90 percent. But the MIT
> researchers' study found that their proposed system could eliminate
> virtually 100 percent of these emissions, at a comparable cost for
> the electricity produced, and with even a higher efficiency (in terms of the
> amount of electricity produced from a given amount of fuel). Next
> steps: Although no full-scale plants using such systems have yet been built,
> the basic principles have been demonstrated in a number of smaller units
> including a 250-kilowatt plant, and prototype megawatt-scale plants are
> planned for completion around 2012. Actual utility-scale power plants would
> likely be on the order of 500 megawatts, Adams says. And because fuel cells,
> unlike conventional turbine-based generators, are inherently modular, once
> the system has been proved at small size it can easily be scaled up. "You
> don't need one large unit," Adams explains. "You can do hundreds
> or thousands of small ones, run in parallel." Adams says practical
> application of such systems is "not very far away at all," and could
> probably be ready for commercialization within a few years. "This is
> near-horizon technology," he says.
>

See, this sounds good. But the skeptic in me is detecting distinct notes of
"please invest in our company!"

Overall, it's promising news on the research front, mixed in with a dash of
nonsense political talk and unintentional humor. With luck, something will
come of it.

>
> The research was partly funded from the *BP-MIT Conversion Research
> Program*
>
> Journal Reference:
> • Adams II et al. High-efficiency power production from natural gas with
> carbon capture. Journal of Power Sources, 2009;
> DOI: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2009.10.046
>

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Received on Mon Dec 7 01:22:09 2009

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