‘Clean Energy and Water Technologies’ is now a social enterprise based in Melbourne, Australia. The purpose of this enterprise is to introduce a zero emission technology developed and patented by Ahilan Raman, the inventor of the technology. A 25 Mw demonstration plant will be installed to show case the above technology. This platform also used as a blog will publish articles relevant to Zero emission technologies for power and Zero liquid discharge technologies for water industries.
As the threat of global warming looms large, Governments and Industries are looking for innovative, alternative and renewable energy sources and energy efficiency solutions. But how many alternative energy sources are available and what are their potentials? How to reduce our carbon footprint without making larger new investment? How to improve the energy efficiency of the existing systems so that we can increase energy output for the same amount of fuel input and cut the cost of energy? These are some of the fundamental questions Governments and industries are grappling with, for the past few years. We are used to generating cheap energy from coal, oil and gas at the expense of the environment for several decades. We are used to water supply free of cost or at negligible cost for several decades. Governments were able to survive year after year because they were able to supply these two fundamental requirements of the people namely, energy and water at low cost. But this situation changed swiftly when scientists raised the alarm bells on carbon emission and global warming. Still many Governments, especially industrialized countries with large energy and water usage, are still playing ‘wait and watch’ game, because they cannot afford to increase the tariffs on power and water. Any such increase will make Governments unpopular and their re-election to the office doubtful.
The real alternative to fossil fuels is only solar energy, which is clean, reliable and abundant. All other forms of renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, ocean thermal energy and wave energy are only offshoot of solar energy. The prime source is still the sun and the source of energy is from the chain nuclear fusion reaction of Hydrogen atom. The radiation of this nuclear reaction in the sun has to travel an average distance of 93 million miles to reach the earth, yet it is sufficient to meet current energy requirement of entire humanity by a factor of 20,000 times. But to convert sun’s light and heat energy into Electricity and other useful forms of energy, we require some rare materials which we never used in the past. They are called ‘rare earth materials’ because their available sources and supplies are rare on planet earth. But these exotic and rare earth materials are becoming indispensable in the development of renewable energy products and applications. The future growth of clean energy technologies depend on supply of such rare earth materials.
Fourteen elements and related materials were selected for a criticality assessment by US Government department of energy. Eight of these are rare earth metals, which are valued for their unique magnetic, optical and catalyst properties. The materials are used in clean energy technologies as follows. Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, cobalt and lithium are used in electric vehicle batteries. Neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium are used in magnets for electric vehicles and wind turbines. Samarium is also used in magnets. Lanthanum, cerium, europium, terbium and yttrium are used in phosphors for energy-efficient lighting. Indium, gallium and tellurium are used in solar cells. The materials were selected for study based on factors contributing to risk of supply disruption.
Though usage of such material is relatively small, it is anticipated that the growth of clean technologies will require a substantial quantity of these materials. Currently China is endowed with almost 95% of such rare materials in the world. These materials are available in the form of ores and minerals under the earth. They have to be mined, processed and extracted in a pure form so that they can be used in developing clean energy products of the future. We will discuss about such products and technologies in our future articles. The anomaly is the energy required to mine, process and extract these rare earth materials require energy and such energy has to come only from the sun. It is once again Nature that comes to the rescue of human beings at such critical junctures.
Nature has a wonderful way of capturing Carbon and recycling it through a process called ‘carbon cycle’ for millions of years. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were restricted within certain limits when it was left to Nature. But when human being started burning fossil fuels to generate power or to run cars, the GHG emission surpassed the limit beyond a point where global warming became an issue. The GHG level has increased to 392 ppm level for the first in our long history. Many Governments and companies are exploring various ways and means to reduce greenhouse emissions to avoid global warming. Some Governments are imposing taxes on carbon emission in order to reduce or discourage such emissions. Others are offering incentives to promote alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Some companies are trying to capture Carbon emission for sequestration.
While we try to capture Carbon and store them underground, there are many potential commercial opportunities to recycle them. This means the Carbon emission is captured and converted into a commercial fuel such as Gasoline or Diesel or Methane so that future sources of fossil fuels are not burnt anymore. But this is possible only by using ‘Renewable Hydrogen’. Hydrogen is the key to reduce carbon emission by binding carbon molecules with Hydrogen molecule, similar to what Nature does.
When NASA plans to send a man to Mars they have to overcome certain basic issues. Mars has an atmosphere with 95% Carbon dioxide, 3% Nitrogen, 1.6% Argon and traces of oxygen, water and methane.Nasa is planning to use Carbon dioxide to generate Methane gas to be used as a fuel and also generate water by using the following reaction.
CO2 + 4H2-----CH4 + 2 H2O,
2H2O-------2H2 + O2
The water is electrolyzed to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen using solar power. The resulting Hydrogen is reacted with Carbon dioxide from Mars to generate Methane gas and water using a solid catalyst. This methanation reaction is exothermic and self sustaining. How this can be achieved practically in Mars in those conditions are not discussed here. But this is a classical example on how the Carbon emission can be tackled to our advantages, without increasing the emissions into the atmosphere. There are several methods available to convert Carbon emission in to valuable products including gasoline. The reaction of the methane with water vapor will result in Methanol.
2H2 + CO-------- CH3OH
On Dehydration, 2CH3OH ----- CH3COCH3 + H2O.Further dehydration with ZSM-5 Catalyst gives Gasoline 80% C5+ Hydrocarbon. Gas to liquid by Fischer-tropic reaction is a known process.
Carbon dioxide is also a potential refrigerant to substitute CFC refrigerants that causes Ozone depletion. Carbon recycling is a temporary solution to mitigate Greenhouse gas emission till Hydrogen becomes an affordable fuel of the future. It depends upon individual Governments and their policies to make Hydrogen affordable. Technologies are available and only a political will and leadership can make Hydrogen a reality.