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WUSTL Establishes Advanced Coal Technology Research Consortium

Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) has established the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization. The consortium will foster work to explore co-combustion of coal with biomass or combustion of coal in pure oxygen, both of which can lead to reductions in carbon emissions. Other studies of approaches to carbon capture and storage also will be a part of the consortium’s work.

The new consortium will receive support in the form of research partnership commitments of $5 million each from Arch Coal and Peabody Energy and $2 million from Ameren, to be paid over five years.

The biomass aspects of the research of the consortium will help to address Missouri’s mandate that renewables constitute a fraction of the source of electricity generated in the state.

The consortium will operate under the umbrella of the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES), which the University established in June 2007.

The University also will announce the establishment of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization at a news conference 8 December in Hong Kong at the Second International Symposium on Energy & Environment, organized by WUSTL’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy.


Henry Gibson

It is widely thought that the use of coal produces more CO2 per unit energy delivered to the customer than does gasoline. This difference is reduced or even eliminated by two major factors. Only 100 gallons of oil fuel is delivered for every 123 gallons that enter the refinery, and the gasoline is used very inefficiently by automobile engines compared to the efficiency of coal burning in power plants. The efficiency of the electric transmission system is frequently better than automobile transmissions.

Coal should be carefully processed before turning into clean combustion gas to remove some of the valuable chemicals and plant fertilizers that it contains. Coal-Oil was once a lamp fuel still confused with Kerosine from crude oil.

Eventually electrical production should mostly come from nuclear reactors instead of coal and the coal used to produce liquid fuels.

There are large ship engine type electric generators that turn at low speed and can burn any kind of fuel efficiently including some types of crude oil but also even coal gas and coal tars. These engines have an efficiency of over %50 percent, and their higher manufacturing costs over steam turbines can be recovered because of the higher efficiency where gas or liquid fuel is available or can be made from coal for example. It requires several of the largest of these machines to produce the power of the largest steam turbines, but the engines are at least %15 more efficient and the multiple units allows efficient load matching and the failure of a single machine can be mostly hidden by overloading the remaining machines at lower efficiency. The machines can be BLACK started without grid power to supply limited parts of a failed grid and restart steam plants. One company seldom runs their power plant with about twenty smaller but similar machines, and sells little power, just their ability to start quickly to other power producers who may lack capacity due to failure or higher loads.

Energy recovery from the exhaust and engine cooling heat, with systems that are also used also for geothermal electricity generation, can add a few more percent to the efficiency. This Still process was invented about a hundred years ago, and is identical in purpose to the combined cycle gas turbine generators.

It is not widely known that most of the cost of nuclear reactors and the power produced by them is the cost of the high pressure steam generator and the high pressure steam and water piping, heat exchangers and pressure containers.

The energy from nuclear reactors is very cheap when the steam system is eliminated. Pebble bed reactors are an example of this. Such low cost heat at high temperatures can be used to produce hydrogen that can be used to turn captured CO2 into methanol and other liquid fuels at a lower cost than $100 dollars a barrel. Limestone can be mined for its CO2 content that can be released by the high temperatures to make methanol if a more convenient source of CO2 is not available.

Rubbia-Reactors (ADS) can use the remaining 95 percent of the energy in used reactor fuel and also the three times more abundant thorium, so their raw fuel costs can be less than nothing for their first hundred years of operation. Almost all of the present so called nuclear waste can be eliminated by using it up. The uranium in the ocean can be extracted at far lower cost than $100 oil equivalent when Australia and Canada run out of uranium in a few hundred years. The Rubbia-Reactor reduces the need for raw uranium by a factor of over one hundred for each kilowatt-hour of heat produced.

There is enough U238 in storage from the enrichment plants for much over a hundred years of full US electricity from Rubbia Reactors. Since all of the collected waste fuel rods from all power reactors would fit in a ten foot deep basement of a large SuperStore with room for an effective layer of radioactive shielding above it, The waste from similar power production of Rubbia-Reactors would fill less than a foot. Each pound of waste from a Rubbia-Reactor represents 10,000,000 KILO-WATT-hours of heat or about 3,000,000 pounds of coal. The waste from RubbiaReactors has no plutonium in it that can be diverted to weapons, and it contains no other fissionable material, but it can be used, when properly contained, to perfectly sterilise all water supplies and all sewage released. Even all storm overflow sewage can be perfectly sterilised.

People don't know and don't realize that throught the entire hstory of life on earth, plants and animals have always needed to ingest naturally radioactive food in order to live and that people experience 50 atoms exploding in every kilo (2#) of their body every second from potassium alone. This explosion produces a very high power X-ray. Animal and plant bodies know how to heal any of this damage just as a cut is healed. There is more than a million times less danger from nuclear power than from automobiles.

It is estimated that a ton of coal can be mined in Australia for $2.50 or at some mines in the US at $5.00 compared to the recent market prices this makes coal perhaps a hundred times cheaper than speculatively priced crude oil which itself can be extracted in some places for under $1.50 a barrel. It is very usefull to use coal in a cleaner way.

The low cost of coal makes the efforts to achieve efficiency seem economically unviable. Coal delivered to a power plant at no cost could only reduce the price at the meter by 20 percent at most. This means in a contrary sense that doubling the capital and operating costs will not cause the price of electricity to double, but it also means that if efficiency is sacrificed for cheaper equipment and operation there can be a cost saving to the customer.

All real costs of electric power are now obscured by the ENRON invention of extortion through deregulation. The continued step of time of day pricing is just a further example of extorting money from a captive consumer group. Both power production companies and power transmission and sale companies know that even with the high price of natural gas, electricity can be generated from it at less than 10 cents a kilowatt-hour including capital costs.

There is about 35 kilowatt hours of heat energy in a gallon of gasoline, and if this is used in a small portable generator, it might produce 3.5 kilowatt hours of electricity for less than a dollar per kilowatt-hour now in fuel costs. The natural gas that power companies use costs about ten times less than gasoline at $3.50, and their turbines generate electricity as much as four or five times more efficiently. At five dollars a ton and 10,000 btu per pound and the low efficiency of one pound of coal per kilowatt-hour, the coal energy in a kilowatt-hour is worth one forth of a cent. At the average high contract price of thirty dollars a ton the cost of coal per kilowatt hour is $0.015. This is roughly what the extra cost to the power company is if your decide to plug your electic heater in for an hour late at night; the capital and operating costs are being spent whether you use the additional power or not.

Power companies once offered a declining rate for additional use because the generators and transmission system were already in service and under used. This is why car charging at night can be cheap, and in California it might pay to have a big set of lead acid batteries that charge at night and you need to charge your car from it in the day time. Or you could run your air conditioner. Better yet if you have natural gas service, use a Honda home cogeneration system to charge the car when electricty is more expensive than the fuel for the generator.

One way to effect a higher efficiency and lower cost is to not generate electricity at a central power plant, but to have cogeneration units at every home and business or at least have cogeneration plants in every neighborhood. This means that the heat that central power plants waste can be used with an immediate reduction in CO2 release of %40 for the same power and heating produced.

Both Honda and Capstone have sold tens of thousands of Cogeneration units for homes, businesses and factories. Computer control and power electronics allow the easy use of cogenerators in homes even. The earth should be used in addition and in combination with ground source heat pumps for highest efficiency. "Clean coal" may involve the maufacturing of gas which is piped to individual or commercial users.

In the future there may be some debate if gas pipelines or electric power lines should be built into neigborhoods. This may just involve converting coal to methane and putting it into the existing natural gas pipes, or it may involve new pipes for cheaper syngas or a mix of two pipe systems. Methanol could be produced and delivered by tanker truck to large remote users, but methanol could even be used in homes. People forget that natural gas was, and in some places remains, a waste gas once sold at cheap prices or just flared. This is still done with the dilute methane mix produced at land fills even though there are cheap ways of removing much of the contained CO2.

You can actually make your own natural gas from any food sold at your local grocery store. There are many small systems in India that do just that with mostly food wastes. There is no reason why a computer automated system with many multiple pumps and buried barrels could not work for a rich US person who is also tempted to use solar cells. Corn has gotten much cheaper recently. ..HG..

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