Friday 16 April 2010

Scientists build trap for radioactive isotope produced by nuclear power plants
April 13, 2010

Scientist Mercouri Kanatzidis calls it a Venus' flytrap for nuclear waste. He and colleague Nan Ding have developed a powdery material that traps cesium-137, a prevalent, stubborn radioactive contaminant. Essentially, the material's framework acts as a "very tiny, tiny building with rooms," Kanatzidis said. The cesium enters the building, then bonds to the sulfide walls of the interior. At that point, the building begins "making all the doors and windows smaller so the cesium cannot get out." In more-scientific terms, the flexible sulfide structure contains organic, positively charged ions that can change positions with cesium in a watery solution. That reaction prompts the structure of the framework to close only on the cesium ions, preventing them from escaping.

Kanatzidis, a professor at Northwestern University and a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and Ding, an assistant chemistry professor at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., made the discovery in 2007. They published their work in the journal Nature Chemistry in January. "Nuclear waste is a big issue," Ding said, "and we need new.., mechanisms to get rid of it as soon as possible." Cesium-137 is produced by nuclear weapons testing and nuclear power plants. Scientists believe that cesium-137 is among the most dangerous radioactive isotopes, largely because the soft, silvery-white metal has a half-life of 30 years, easily enters the body and can bring on cancer decades after exposure.

Breakthrough in quest for cleaner energy production

The prospects for cleaner energy has become brighter with a researcher at Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) achieving a breakthrough in the production of hydrogen and carbon black from natural gas using a unique solar reactor. The work of TAMUQ's mechanical engineering assistant professor and Sustainable Energy Research Laboratory principal investigator, Dr Nesrin Ozalp, has already won the Excellence in Environmental Technology distinction from the Offshore Arabia 2010 Environmental Awards.

"We have done the simulations and successfully validated the findings in the lab, and now we are in the process of manufacturing (the reactor) and testing it in real weather conditions," Dr Ozalp told QF Radio's John Bullock in an interview, made exclusively available to Gulf Times. The researcher who has received many honours, was working at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology on cracking natural gas into hydrogen and carbon black, before joining TAMUQ.

"I had the chance to continue and further develop this technology at TAMUQ. Now my research is completely on developing a reactor that can produce hydrogen and carbon black without emitting CO2, regardless of the weather conditions," she explained. If other reactors, made elsewhere, face problems of carbon accumulation on the wall and clogging at the exit, Dr Ozalp's lab model overcomes them with minimised clogging at the exit and complete elimination of carbon particles on the wall. "Currently the research is at the lab scale, but it can be scaled up to industrial scale or to meet the demand of a city like Doha or New York," Dr Ozalp observed.

The salient feature of the solar reactor is an aperture, which she designed drawing inspiration from the human eye's pupil which shrinks and dilates in proportion to the light falling on it. "When the sky is very clear and sunshine is abundant, the opening of the aperture will be small, but when it is cloudy or if it is raining or there is a dust storm, the aperture would open up automatically so as to keep the temperature inside the reactor constant," she said.

Although it sounds very easy, the idea is highly complicated, Dr Ozalp cautioned by pointing out that it involves lots of changes in the fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and thermodynamics warranting a highly advanced control of the system. "But our results show very successful outcomes and we have published a lot on this technology in top journals, including the international journal of hydrogen energy and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' journal of heat transfer," the researcher said. Dr Ozalp believes the technology she has developed at TAMUQ will be applied everywhere in the near future to produce not only hydrogen and carbon, but also electricity.

"Hydrogen can be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine, like the ones used in vehicles, or in power generation instead of natural gas, or as a commodity, whereas carbon black carbon is needed to support the economic demands of the production of tyres, printer ink, pigments and plastics, among many applications," she said.

Dr Ozalp stated that by splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon three times, more revenue could be obtained, apart from replacing the current technology with a cleaner and greener solution that combats global warming. "Right now I have about 10 journal and conference papers on this technology and the results," said the researcher who has been invited to the US in May to give talks at Nasa Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio, and Stanford University's Department of Energy Resources Engineering.

Thursday 15 April 2010

US wind-power industry blowing hot

Adelaide Advertiser
Saturday 10/4/2010 Page: 81

THE wind-power industry in the US showed record growth in 2009, and could see dramatic expansion if there was a national "renewable electricity standard", the American Wind Energy Association said in a report released yesterday. The industry association says more than 10,000 MWs of new wind power were installed throughout the US in 2009, generating as much electricity as three large nuclear power plants. And 14 states are now included in what the industry calls the "GW club", which means they have more than 1000 MWs of wind power installed. One MW is enough to power between 750 and 1000 homes.

Wind now generates more than 35,000 MWs of power in the US. The three top wind-power states are Texas with 9405 MWs installed, Iowa with 3670MW and California with 2723MW. The American Wind Energy Association advocates for a nationwide renewable electricity standard, a policy that would require utilities to procure a set amount of power from renewable sources like wind and solar by a certain date. AWEA wants a national target of 25% by 2025.

California and 29 other states have their own renewable standards, but wind advocates are calling for a US wide federal policy. California's Renewable Portfolio Standard, established in 2002, calls on utilities to procure 20% of their power from renewable resources by 2010. "When the RPS MetOcean law was passed, that really spurred developer interest in the state," said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association. "There are a lot of projects in the works and we expect about 800 MWs to be installed in 2010."

Later this month, federal officials are expected to rule on Cape Wind, a controversial project off the coast of Cape Cod which, if approved, would be the largest offshore wind farm in the US. The project is backed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and renewable energy advocates, but is opposed by native American tribes who say the wind turbines would disturb ancestral underwater burial grounds and spiritual ceremonies.

France helps Italy up nuclear power generation
10 Apr 2010

Europe's largest atomic energy producer, France, says that it will cooperate with Italy more closely to increase nuclear power generation in its southwestern neighbor. France was ready to share its nuclear power expertise, said French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday. During their meeting at the Elysee presidential palace, seven agreements were signed to bolster cooperation in the nuclear sector.

France's Areva, the world's biggest nuclear reactor maker, signed a memorandum of understanding on reactor projects with Italian engineering group Ansaldo Nucleare. A statement from Areva said the company will contribute to the development of new nuclear industrial skills in Italy. Last year, the two European nations signed a partnership agreement bringing together major industrial players from both countries for Italy's plan to build the new reactors.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Full steam ahead for energy

Canberra Times
Wednesday 7/4/2010 Page: 15

A geothermal energy company has struck the environmentally friendly equivalent of oil in South Australia's south-east, in doing so putting the Federal Government on track to meet its green energy targets. Panax Geothermal's drilling rig at its Salamander-1 geothermal well in the Otway Basin near Penola has hit steam. Geothermal energy is heat from the earth's crust that has zero emissions and is an environmentally sustainable, natural resource ready for electricity production. Unlike other renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, geothermal energy is continuous rather than reliant upon the weather.

Panax Geothermal managing director Bertus de Graaf said yesterday's announcement meant the company was one step closer to having a demonstration power plant in operation by May 2011, subject to the results of Salamander-1. "This has shown there is a reservoir that can flow and the temperature projections have been confirmed, so we were more or less spot on.., so far so good," he said. South Australian Premier Mike Rann said the hot sedimentary aquifer project was the most advanced in the country.

"South Australia's Otway Basin contains what geologists call anomalously high heat flows relatively close to the national electricity grid," Mr Rann said. "This means successful projects in the Otway Basin are mach closer to the electricity grid than the hot rock geothermal projects now being explored in the remote far north of the state." The Government hopes a success could eventually lead to renewable geothermal energy being tapped into the national electricity market. Dr de Graaf said the quality of the reservoir would be determined by mid-May. Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson welcomed the breakthrough.

At the well's official opening last month, Mr Ferguson said geothermal was the clean equivalent of a coal-fired power station. "The early growth is going to be in wind power but the real breakthrough we need is in areas such as geothermal because it's baseload reliable power that is akin to a coal fired power station," Mr Ferguson said. Dr de Graaf said the renewable energy sector was being let down because there was no price on carbon and a discrepancy in the price of renewable energy certificates. Panax Geothermal shares closed 1.5c higher at 14c yesterday.

Infigen offloads its French assets

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 7/4/2010 Page: 55

AUSTRALIAN wind farm developer Infigen Energy has sold its French assets for $104 million to a European renewable energy fund, in what is the first step towards clearing debt and fast-tracking key Australian projects. The sale of the "non-core" business comprising 52MW of operational wind farms to ILP will result in an estimated accounting loss of $4.25 million.

Net sale proceeds of about $14.7 million, after debt repayment and transaction related costs, will be used to strengthen the company's Australian development pipeline. In South Australia, this pipeline includes the proposed 450MW project at WoakWine and another 177MW one at Lincoln Gap.

Infigen Energy already has a strong track record of wind farm development in the Limestone Coast region with the Lake Bonney wind farm, which comprises Lake Bonney 1 (80.5MW), Lake Bonney 2 (159MW) and the near-complete Lake Bonney 3 (39MW). Turbines are being commissioned for the Lake Bonney 3 development, which is due to be completed this month.

The sale of the French business will provide additional cash for equity investment in the pipeline, managing director Miles George said. "This is consistent with redirecting our future focus to the Australian renewable energy market, which is poised for strong growth over the next 10 years," he said. Infigen Energy also terminated the sale of its German assets because of lower "currently achievable prices, given the subdued state of European economies and capital markets". The company is in "the final binding bid phase" of its US asset sale process.

T. Boone Pickens Bringing Wind Power Plans to Minnesota
Apr 9, 2010

Oil magnate T. Boone Pickens gave up on his ambitious plan to build the world's biggest wind farm in the Texas panhandle long ago, but he never completely lost his interest in wind power. In January, Pickens announced a plan to cut the Texas wind turbine order in half to 334 GE-branded turbines. Originally, half of the turbines were supposed to go to a wind farm in Minnesota, and half were supposed to go to Canada. But now the all-American billionaire has nixed the Canada plan and decided to send all of his turbines to Goodhue, Minnesota--a plan that will create a 78 MW wind farm capable of powering 31,000 to 70,000 homes.

Earth2Tech reports National Wind will most likely develop the project, which will eventually sell electricity to Xcel Energy Energy. If everything goes as planned, the wind farm will go into operation next year. But we can't be too sure--Pickens has shuffled his plans around so much in the past that we're hesitant to say anything is a done deal. In any case, Xcel Energy still needs to get permission from state utility regulators to buy electricity from the Pickens project, and National Wind also has to contend with local residents concerned about the noise and health impacts of the turbines.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Wind power grid could meet all electricity needs
Apr 06, 2010

Offshore wind turbines, if spread out and connected to a power grid, could potentially produce enough electricity to meet global needs, says a new study. A grid that connects turbines could eliminate the unsteadiness that is currently wind power's biggest drawback, according to the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. "Making wind-generated electricity more steady will enable wind power to become a much larger fraction of our electric sources," said lead author Willett Kempton, director of the University Of Delaware's Center for Carbon-free Power Integration.

The researchers from the University of Delaware and Stony Brook University looked at five years of wind speed data from 11 monitoring stations - - buoys and towers - - along the U.S. East Coast from Florida to Maine. They used this data to estimate the power output from a hypothetical five-MW offshore turbine. Each turbine, when operating individually, showed the expected power ups and downs, reflective of local weather patterns.

"But when we simulate a power line connecting them, called here the Atlantic Transmission Grid, the output from the entire set of generators rarely reaches either low or full power, and power changes slowly," the study says. "Notably, during the 5-year study period, the amount of power shifted up and down but never stopped." The authors recommend a coordinated approach for siting and connecting wind turbines, noting that electricity generation is now primarily a state matter. Currently, no wind turbines are located in U.S, waters, but several East Coast projects have been proposed.

Panax geothermal strikes steam in SA
April 6, 2010

A geothermal energy company has struck the environmentally friendly equivalent of oil in South Australia's southeast, in doing so putting the federal government on track to meet its promised green energy targets. Panax Geothermal's drilling rig at its Salamander-1 geothermal well in the Otway Basin near Penola has hit steam. At the well's official opening in March, federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson revealed the government's pledge to meet renewable energy would fall short if geothermal power was not realised. "The government set a target of 20% renewable energy by 2020," Mr Ferguson told reporters at the site in the Otway Basin. "That's pretty challenging because at the moment (only) about 8.2% of our energy actually comes from renewables."

Mr Ferguson says wind power is not reliable, whereas geothermal is the clean equivalent of a coal-fired power station. "This (geothermal energy) is where we have to make the breakthrough otherwise we will find it challenging to actually meet 20 per cent," Mr Ferguson said. "The early growth is going to be in wind power but the real breakthrough we need is in areas such as geothermal because its baseload reliable power that is akin to a coal-fired power station." The company plans to have a demonstration power plant in operation by next year, subject to the results of Salamander-1. Panax Geothermal's geothermal exploration has been bolstered by a $7 million federal government grant.

The well's proximity to the National Electricity Market Management Company grid (NEMMCO) also means the project could power thousands of homes without needing new grid connections. The Penola Project is the first geothermal well in Australia to test a Hot Sedimentary Aquifer (HSA), which extracts hot water from an existing aquifer or HSA reservoir. Panax Geothermal has a measured geothermal resource of 11,000 petajoules at the Penola Project which has the capacity to deliver hundreds of MWs of zero emission power. The project covers an area of 493 square kilometres and is part of Panax Geothermal's larger Limestone Coast Geothermal Project, which covers a total area of 3,127 square kilometres. Panax Geothermal's focus is on exploring existing reservoirs containing hot geothermal fluids which have fewer risks than hot fractured rock geothermal projects and a much shorter development time.

Carbon capture a "diversion"

Monday 5/4/2010 Page: 23

ANOTHER to support a more vigorous push into renewables is professor Stefaan Simons, one of the world's leading experts in low-carbon technologies. Professor Simons addressed a Santos-sponsored event in Adelaide last week. His message is that the focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a "dangerous diversion" that is stalling the transition to renewable energy sources and a highly efficient, low-carbon energy system.

Professor Simons is a specialist in the chemical engineering at the University College London and director of its Centre for CO2 Technology. He is currently on a global research fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering that includes time at Australia's Co-operative Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, which is leading research into CCS.

However, he says CCS research (which accounts for more than half of the funds promised by the Australian government for clean energy technologies) is soaking up time, resources and funding that could be better applied in securing a low carbon future. He says CO2, capture is not fit for post-combustion at a large scale and therefore most existing fossil fuel plants but the real problem lies in technical and legal issues around storage. There will be a role for CCS, he says, but not as broad as its supporters make out.

"I challenge our energy policymakers to reassess whether large-scale deployment of CCS makes sense and whether we should continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source, or use these fossil resources to produce higher value forms of energy and chemicals.

"We could then replace fossil fuel electricity production with that from renewable sources, at the same time reducing the need for CCS. We also need to mature our thinking, our innovation and our chemical industry so that CO2 becomes a valuable resource, rather than a waste product in need of disposal."

This, Professor Simons says, could provide an opportunity for Australia to use its expertise in coal and gas to lead in the development of to new and existing chemicals from CO2, so that CO2, becomes a valuable feedstock rather than a waste product. "It needs new business models, and policy and market support. If the coal and gas industries do not change, where will they fit into a renewable energy driven society?"

Gas glut sparks concerns among 'clean coal' backers

Monday 5/4/2010 Page: 3

A LOOMING natural gas glut is raising fears that investment in "clean coal", seen by some as the saviour of our coal and power industries, will be put on the back burner. Amid ballooning gas supply and with possible falls in gas prices, a big supplier to utilities says investors could shy away from backing carbon capture and storage (CCS), which involves burying power station emissions underground.

Philippe Paelinck, director of CO2 product at Alstom, a global supplier to utilities, called the gas bubble the biggest threat to the development of carbon capture in the next five years. "I think if you look at the main threat to GCS in the coming five years, it is really gas," Mr Paelinck said last week in Sydney.

In the past two to three years, global gas reserves have surged after technological advances and increased demand made "unconventional" reserves commercially viable. Soaring demand has also increased the world's yearly supply of liquefied natural gas by 50% in the past two years. In Australia, this trend has manifested in the coal seam gas boom, which has attracted tens of billions in investment dollars from the world's oil giants.

"All of a sudden gas becomes a lot more available at an affordable price," he said. "If you have low gas prices, there will be a clear temptation - it's already there - to switch to power generation from gas." Alstom produces power generation equipment for both fossil fuel and renewable power stations. It is backing several CCS projects in Europe and America.

In Australia, which generates more than 80% of its power from coal, gas is expected to meet a growing share of generation needs, with investment in gas plants expected to cost $15 billion in the next decade. Consecutive governments have talked up the potential of CCS as a solution to cutting carbon, but the technology requires hefty subsidies to be economic.

Mr Paelinck said making "clean coal" viable depended on significant investments in the developed world, as emerging nations such as China were not pouring enough funds into the technology: "If we don't develop CCS because of gas in the US and in Europe, we won't have any CCS in the rest of the world - that's the problem."