Friday 14 October 2011

Europe's climate change fear rises

Sunday Age
9 Oct 2011, Page: 10

EUROPEANS believe the dangers of climate change represent a more serious problem than the current financial turmoil, according to a major new poll. The Eurobarometer poll found most people in the European Union consider global warming to be one of the world's most serious problems, with one fifth saying it is the single most serious problem. Overall, respondents said climate change was the second most serious issue facing the world, after poverty.

Connie Fledegaard, European climate commissioner, said: "This is encouraging news. The survey shows that the citizens of Europe can see that economic challenges are not the only ones we face. A clear majority of Europeans expect their politicians and business leaders to address the serious climate challenge now". She said it was striking that the public were even more concerned about climate change than in the run-up to the landmark Copenhagen summit on climate change in late 2009.

The number of people rating climate change as a very serious problem has risen slightly, from 64% when the poll was last conducted in 2009, to 68% this year. When asked to rank the seriousness of the problem, people put it at 7.4 out of 10, compared with a score of 7.1 out of 10 two years ago. People also said there were economic benefits to tackling climate change, with 8 out of 10 people saying that dealing with the problem would provide an economic boost and create jobs. Two years ago, the number was just under two-thirds.

There was also wide support for moving taxation to penalise greenhouse gas emissions and encourage energy efficiency, with an average of 68% of people across the bloc in favour of such a move. However, there was less enthusiasm for people taking personal responsibility for tackling climate change. Only one in five said they took personal responsibility, with more people saying it was for national governments, European Union authorities and businesses. Despite this, most respondents said they had taken action to combat climate change.

Blown away

10 Oct 2011, Page: 12

IN DECIMATING the wind industry in Victoria, the Baillieu government has interfered with the free-market economy to the detriment of consumers. It is private investment capital that is building the wind farms across Australia, with not a cent of taxpayers' money. The electricity produced is virtually free once the wind turbines have been built and is sent to the grid, which keeps the pool price low and prevents coal-fired electricity generators from getting premium prices.

The Baillieu government is, therefore, complicit in a deal to give a commercial advantage to the coal-fired generators and keep electricity prices higher than they need be. In South Australia and Denmark, where wind provides more than 20% of the supply, electricity prices have stabilised. Isn't this government's war on wind farms a restraint of trade and are there not laws against this? Contrast this with the state and federal governments chipping in $150 million to help HRL build a coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley. You get to see how frighteningly little they know about sustainability.

Daniel Caffrey, Traralgon

Solar power tops poll of positive perceptions

10 Oct 2011, Page: 3

Solar energy has a very positive rating in the public's mind, while the nuclear industry and coal-fired power stations are at the bottom when people are asked about their perceptions of energy industries. Coal seam gas, which has become very controversial recently especially in NSW and Queensland, also rates badly. A UMR survey last month found more than 8 in 10 people had a positive view of solar power; only 10% were negative.

Three-quarters were positive on renewable energy. The gas industry also scored positively (61%), but those rating the coal industry favourably outstripped those seeing it negatively relatively narrowly (45-38%). People were equally divided about the oil industry (42% each).

Only 36% viewed the coal seam gas industry in a good light, compared with 41% who were negative. Coal-fired power stations, which have copped bad publicity in the carbon debate, were seen negatively by almost half (48%) accompanied by 34% who had a benign view. The nuclear industry scored 51% negative and 33% positive in the online survey of a nationally representative sample of 1000.

The survey found that 46% of Coalition voters had a favourable view of the coal seam gas industry, while 48% of Labor voters and 55% of Greens supporters were negative about it. Nearly two-thirds said they didn't know much about the coal seam gas industry. But nearly one in three were worried about it, and almost three in 10 were unsure. The survey was commissioned by David Utting Communications. Mr Utting is a consultant to the mining and renewable energy industries and chief executive officer of the Yilgarn Iron Producers Association.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Predicting climate future

Hobart Mercury
11 Oct 2011, Page: 18

HERE'S some good news. The Tasmanian Government, for all its financial woes, has made a longterm investment that the wise money says will pay for itself hundreds of times over.

In 2007 the Lennon government entered a visionary agreement involving eight government departments (four Tasmanian, four Commonwealth), the University of Tasmania, the CSIRO, Hydro Tasmania, the Tasmanian Institute for Agricultural Research, the Tasmanian Partnership for Advanced Computing, and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC (ACE-CRC).

The agreement, which came on the back of an innovative 2001-04 Hydro Tasmania project to model future climate out to 2040, aimed to build a comprehensive picture of how our climate will change over the next century, and to do it at a level of detail that leads the world.

The research group Climate Futures for Tasmania (CFT) seems to have done just this. To Climate Commissioner Professor Will Steffen, its achievement is unique: "There's nothing else like it", he told Climate Change Minister Cassy O'Connor when he visited Hobart in August CFT's success rests in part on the global reputation of climate modeller Professor Nathan Bindoff and the exceptional scientific and computing talent he was able to bring together at the ACE-CRC.

The group achieved a resolution in its models unmatched anywhere on the planet. "dynamically downscaled" from global model grid squares 200km across down to 10km squares, allowing it to factor in the impact on climate and weather of local topographical features.

Its success also depends on the quality of the group's peer-reviewed reports that came out in stages over the past year or so, on general climate impacts, modelling methodology, agricultural impacts, water and catchments, and the last one, released last week, on extreme weather events. A third big reason for its success has been CFT's consultation with farm managers, agricultural organisations, local government and other regional interests across Tasmania to ensure its output would be of practical value to those with most to lose from an unstable, unpredictable climate.

The final CFT report provides policy-makers, infrastructure managers and Tasmanians generally with a description of extreme weather ahead that's unprecedented in its detail and resolution. There's good news for heat seekers. If you like your summers warm and long with tropical nights (minimum temperatures above 20C, you'll be pleased to know that Tasmania is going to get many more warm summer days and nights as the century wears on.

By 2100, the report says, most of Tasmania will get around three times as many days with a maximum above 25C. In winter we'll get fewer cold spells and fewer frosty mornings. Sweltering nights don't happen in Tasmania, or so we've always thought. But by 2100 we can expect to get quite a few every summer. Along the North Coast and on Flinders Island, CFT calculates that every year, on average, we'll get as many as 20 nights above 25C.

Here's a sample of what else we can expect as the century wears on:

  • Warm days and warm spells will be especially prevalent in the central North and Midlands, the Derwent Valley and the West Coast around Macquarie Harbour.
  • There will be more frequent and more intense extreme rainfall
  • events mixed together with more dry days. Extreme wet days will increase in the South-West and North-East, while the Central Highlands will get fewer extreme wet days in all seasons. Drying will be most pronounced in the North-West.
  • Extreme rainfall events will become more frequent, consistent with a warmer climate, with recurrence intervals likely to decrease substantially. In some places, an event so extreme that we can currently anticipate it only once in 200 years will happen every 20 years.
  • River flows will fluctuate more, with severe flooding events likely to increase significantly in most major river basins through the 21st century.

With more extreme storms added to a projected sea level rise of up to 14cm in the next 20 years, the incidence of storm tides and surges that we currently rate as 1-in-100 years will by 2030 be doubled, to 1-in-50 years, and will be increasingly frequent as the century progresses. The most vulnerable coasts are in the South-East and those facing Bass Strait. New modelling and analysis techniques produced an understanding of the regional wind hazard across Tasmania at a level of detail not previously possible.

The information has been utilised for a web-based tool to guide emergency services in determining where and how to adapt to future wind hazard and risk. Local government can make direct use of the research by utilising "Climate-Asyst", a tool developed using CFT' data by Tasmanian consultants Pitt and Sherry. There's one other benefit of the CFT research. For the first time. Tasmanians can read descriptions of the physical outcomes of a warming climate where they understand it best in their local area.

Nowhere else in the world is such a detailed picture yet possible. I suspect that the team members who are now looking for work won't have long to wait. They may as a result have to relocate interstate or overseas. After all they've done and might continue to do for this island, that seems a shame. But we can't hide such talent, and heaven knows the world needs them.

Peter Boyer:

Hallett wind farm wins project of the year

Adelaide Advertiser
11 Oct 2011, Page: 11

SOUTH AUSTRALIA's Hallett wind farm is no longer just Australia's biggest, it's also the country's best, according to the Australian Institute of Project Management NSW. Global engineering, construction and services firm KBR won AIPM NSW's Project of the Year award for its management of stage four of the Hallett wind farm development. The project added 63 turbines and 132 MWs to the AGL Energy owned wind farm, equivalent to powering 80,000 homes.

Completed on time and within budget, it increased the wind farm's capacity to 298 MWs. "KBR used its experience on previous wind farms to effectively drive safety and innovation on the Hallett project", AIPM NSW president Paul Campbell said. The Hallett wind farm project also won the category for Construction/Engineering in Excess of $100 million.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Santos LNG project delayed

Sydney Morning Herald
Friday 7/10/2011 Page: 5

PLANS by Santos and its French partner GDF Suez to develop a floating liquefied natural gas project off Western Australia's northern coast appear to be slipping, with the Bonaparte venture not expected to be operational until 2018. But the partners have also flagged that output from Bonaparte, based in the Joseph Bonaparte Basin 250 km west of Darwin, may be increased from an initially planned two million tonnes of LNG a year to "between two and three million tonnes".

The partners are yet to put a price on Bonaparte, which would become the second floating LNG project off WA's coast after Royal Dutch Shell's world-first Prelude development. Submitting referral documents to the federal government's Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Santos and GDF Suez said they expected to make a final investment decision on the development in late 2014.

The decision target date is at the tail-end of previous guidance from Santos of a sign-off in 2014, while only last year Santos was aiming for an approval in 2013. Bonaparte LNG will involve a floating LNG processing vessel moored over the Petrel, Tern and Frigate gas fields. In addition to LNG there should also be condensate production. The gas fields have a CO₂ content of up to 5.2%, considerably lower, Santos and GDF Suez say, than in the nearby fields being developed by Inpex Corp and PTTEP.

Unlike land-based LNG plants, floating ventures cannot reinject the greenhouse gas. The CO₂ needs to be removed, and disposed of, from the gas before it can be converted to LNG. Santos and GDF Suez said they would formulate a proper greenhouse gas abatement strategy at least a year before Bonaparte became operational. GDF Suez has already paid Santos $US200 million as part of a 2009 farm-in deal and has to pay the Adelaide-based company a further $US170 million upon the final investment decision.

Economic slowdown hits carbon storage

Adelaide Advertiser
5 Oct 2011, Page: 65

THE number of carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects globally fell in the past year and the technology is threatened by the financial crisis, a new report has found. The Australia-based Global CCS Institute's annual report says there are 74 large-scale integrated CCS projects around the world, 14 of which are operating or under construction. That is down from 77 a year ago.

CCS involves storing greenhouse gases underground rather than leaving them in the atmosphere as emissions. The United Nations recommends it as essential in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, to limit temperature increases to 2C by 2100, but the International Energy Agency says 1500 large-scale CCS projects are needed by 2035. The global temperature is predicted to rise by 3.5C, wreaking havoc on human wellbeing, a Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in Beijing heard last month.

There are eight large scale projects in operation globally and six under construction. Another 11 large-scale projects were put on hold or cancelled in the past year. The most likely reasons were they lost financial support as they were deemed uneconomic and the uncertainty about whether carbon reduction policies would be introduced. The developments were occurring against a backdrop of a softening global economy, a lack of carbon price incentives in major emitter regions and largely static government support, institute chief executive Brad Page said.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

US firm to 'mine' lithium from geothermal plant brines

3 Oct 2011

A US company is looking to geothermal power plants as a source of valuable metals such as lithium which is crucial for manufacturing electric vehicles and portable electronics like smart phones. Its success could better position the US in the fast growing electric vehicle (EV) and broader battery markets. The US supplied roughly 75% of the world's lithium through the late 1990s, but now that figure is now closer to 5%. Worldwide lithium production is currently dominated by Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. But that could all change.

California based Simbol Materials says that it has begun producing 'the world's highest purity' lithium carbonate for use in electrolytes for EV batteries and other energy storage applications. The company has opened a demonstration facility near the Salton Sea in Imperial Valley, California, that can extract lithium and other components of lithium-ion batteries from the wastewater of geothermal plants. This is the first facility of its kind in the US, though other companies operate two similar ones in Japan and China.

'For the US, this is a nice move forward in lengthening the supply chain for the components that go into electric vehicles,' Simbol's CEO, Luka Erceg, tells Chemistry World. Simbol taps a nearby geothermal power plant for its brine by-product, which is laden with metals. After removing silica, Simbol's end product is a pristine brine that is loaded with lithium, manganese and zinc. 'Once we have separated out the metal we want, we have got it in a chloride form and we start the conversion to the products that the market wants,' Erceg says. But such separation is no simple task. The brine that Simbol works with contains half the periodic table. 'We can surgically extract the elements that we want, and that is where we differentiate ourselves from the majority,' Erceg says.

Proprietary processes
Simbol's proprietary processes involve membrane separation, absorption media and direct precipitation techniques. 'These are all very conventional tools in a chemical engineer's toolkit, but what we have done is develop processes and specific materials that help us more efficiently do these separations,' Erceg explains. Not only is brine based production of lithium economical because it integrates directly into existing geothermal power plants, it also eliminates traditional methods of invasive mining or evaporation ponds that require significant land, water and energy use. Additionally, it produces virtually zero waste.

The process could be applied to other geothermal plants, although some have far lower concentrations of lithium. But, theoretically, Erceg says it could replace all other forms of lithium mining because it is significantly cheaper than building or expanding new solar evaporation processes and plants. The geothermal plant supplies power to free the brine, excess steam, condensate and CO₂ that Simbol uses in its processes. The US Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the US produces less than 15% of the world's lithium, but it is the largest importer of lithium carbonate. Worldwide consumption of lithium carbonate is about 125,000 tonnes annually, and the US consumes roughly 8000 tonnes a year.

David Summers, who directs the Missouri University of Science and Technology's rock mechanics and explosives research center, says Simbol's work represents a 'logical' development. 'Increasingly, lithium is being used for batteries and the market for that is growing,' he says. 'If we can produce this stuff domestically, we achieve a certain measure of independence...not held to a degree hostage by those who supply the product.' The company's current demonstration plant will be followed by commercial-scale plants that will produce lithium, manganese and zinc. It expects to break ground in late 2012.

Spain's round-the-clock solar power plant
3 Oct 2011

(CNN)--Typical solar power plants stop working when the sun sets, but a new one in southern Spain, called Gemasolar, can stay awake all night. "During the day we capture the energy of the sun and we store that energy into a tank", said Santiago Arias, a mechanical engineer who helped put Gemasolar into operation. "Then, whenever we want, regardless if it is day or night, we convert that energy into electricity".

Located just outside the quaint village of Fuentes de Andalucia, Gemasolar bills itself as the world's first commercial-scale concentrated solar power plant (CSP) that uses molten salts receiver technology. 2,650 large mirrors called heliostats direct the suns rays to a receiver at the top of Gemasolar's 450-feet tower that shines like a beacon during the day. The stored energy can generate electricity for 15 hours without the sun shining and according to Arias the plant can provide 19.9 MW of power, enough for a town of about 100,000 people.

From the receiver the salts are heated to enormous temperatures; around 250 to 300° Celsius when it's considered relatively cool, but when the molten liquid is pumped up the tower to soak up the sun's heat directed to the receiver, the temperatures exceed 500° Celsius. Those energy-storing salts are a combination of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate and are so hot that they are always in a liquid form. According to Arias each pound of molten salt is able to store up to three times the amount of energy that can be stored in oil, an energy-store that is used at other CSP power plants.

At twilight, the plants heliostats are rotated into a horizontal position, as if to get a night's rest, but the remainder of this solar plant keeps working. When the salts cool, they release energy that is used to produce steam, which turns turbines and generates electricity that is transferred to a general grid hookup at the plant. The $325 million plant began production last May and is a joint venture, between the Spanish engineering and construction firm Sener that owns 60% and investment partners from Abu Dhabi's Masdar energy company.

The official inauguration is set for October 4, due to be led by Spain's King Juan Carlos and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. By the end of 2012 Gemasolar expect to reach 70% of full capacity. That, says the owners, is a rate of producing electricity comparable to conventional power plants and a rate they hope will make the plant very competitive.

However this plant, and Spain's solar industry, still gets government price subsidies for the electricity it sells. "Our vision is that those subsidies will disappear soon", Arias said. "By constructing plants we are reducing the cost. At the same time, the gas prices, the oil prices, we are sure that they will go up, so there will be a certain time that we don't need any subsidy at all". Arias can't say exactly when, but he's sure this commercial-scale solar plant providing electricity around the clock will help.

Farasan Island cradle of Saudi solar power generation
4 Oct 2011

JIZAN-The Kingdom's first solar-powered electricity-generating plant, located on Farasan Island and launched on Saturday, marks the beginning of a new era in the country, Ali Saleh Al-Barrak, President of Saudi Electricity Company, said in a speech at the event. The 500 kW plant, which will save transferring the equivalent of 28,000 barrels of diesel fuel to Farasan Island, is an example of ongoing efforts to address the Kingdom's ever-increasing need for electricity, he said.

The plant, inaugurated by Dr. Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al-Suwayid, Undersecretary of the Governorate of Jizan region, has been linked with Jizan area's main distribution network, which annually produces about 864,000 kW, Al-Barrak said. Setting up the facility, which was constructed according to an agreement with Showa Shell Sekiyu, a Japanese company, is part of the Saudi Electricity Company's work to introduce clean energy in the country, he said.

Jun Arai, President of Showa Shell Sekiyu, said at the event that the plant would help conserve the natural beauty of Farasan Island. His firm, which financed setting up the plant and built its structures, machinery and photoelectric panels, will own it for 15 years before it is transferred to the Saudi Electricity Company, Arai said. Khalid Bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih, Saudi Aramco's President and CEO, and Shigeru Endo, the Japanese ambassador to the Kingdom, also attended the event on the island, which is in the southwest corner of Saudi Arabia, about 50 km off the Jizan coast. Establishing the plant is part of the country's effort to address its need for more energy, Al-Barrak said. Since 2006, annual growth in demand exceeded 8%, peak loads jumped from 23,000 MWs to 48,000 MWs and the same growth rate is expected to continue in the next decade, he said.

Growth in household and industrial consumption has created a need for the Saudi Electricity to build more power-generating plants and created a challenge for Saudi Aramco to secure fuel it needs in the coming years, he added. As part of its efforts to help meet those needs, the Saudi Electricity Company has approved several studies and research projects relating to clean energy and selected several places as possible sites for harnessing wind power, Al-Barrak said. There is also ongoing coordination with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, and King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, he added.--SG/SPA