Saturday, November 19, 2016

Coal and Crude Oil On the Way Out?


Given the revelations at the annual UN’s COP22 meeting in Marrakech, are coal and crude oil on the way out to be replaced by renewable energy sources?

By: Ringo Bones 

Maybe the American president-elect Donald J. Trump should pay close attention to the “revelations” of this year’s COP22 climate conference held in Marrakech which shows that renewable are increasingly getting more economically viable and coal is on the way out because more and more developing countries are rejecting its use due to the harm it can do to the environment offsets any profit gained. Maybe president-elect Trump should offer America’s coal industry alternative jobs instead. 

International Energy Agency representatives and industry analysts during this year’s COP22 Conference in Marrakech have shown figures that, if current trends continue, in the subsequent decades, renewable could become more economically viable than coal and crude oil due to China and scores of African states choosing to adopt renewable energy infrastructures for power generation. The only fossil fuel that could remain economically viable in the subsequent decades is natural gas – that is if the environmental downsides of fracking are solved. 

Ever since China has adopted renewable energy sources big time since 2005 and the country’s increased impetus to adopt renewable energy sources in the wake of the air pollution threatening to spoil the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the current economies of scale has driven coal and crude oil less economically viable in comparison to large-scale wind turbine and solar power installations. Look like environmentalists around the world could get the most of what they want and, sadly, America’s coal industry could die an ignominious death from an environmentalists’ perspective.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Coal Seam Gas: Not Environmentally Friendly?



Despite its scientifically proven low-carbon credentials, is coal seam gas extraction far from environmentally friendly due to its tendency to cause groundwater contamination? 

By: Ringo Bones 

The energy firm Santos in New South Wales, Australia was picketed back in January 28, 2016 by local farmers due to its coal seam gas extraction schemes contaminating the local farmland’s groundwater source, but the energy firm’s “environmental impact” was already a concern almost two years ago. Back in March 24, 2014, leaks of water containing high levels of radioactive uranium from coal seam gas wastewater pond operated by energy firm Santos in New South Wales put the spotlight yet again on an industry already wracked by controversy. Most concerns over coal seam gas have to date focused on “fracking” – fracturing deep rock strata to get gas in coal seams – but as the incident shows, waste produced by coal seam gas wells and brought to the surface is another major environmental issue. 

According to the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority, the March 2014 incident resulted in the contamination of the groundwater aquifer downstream of the leak that tested 20 times the acceptable levels of uranium for drinking water. This is concerning given the long timescales and effort involved in groundwater clean-up and the fact that the region affected is an area of recharge for the Great Artesian Basin. 

The type of wastewater that resulted in groundwater contamination in this incident – called “produced” or “co-produced” water – is generated in large quantities by all coal seam gas wells and it is usually of poor quality, containing potentially harmful levels of salts, radionuclides, metals and other contaminants. It appears that in this case such water was inappropriately stored in a leaky dam, allowing it to infiltrate and migrate into the underlying aquifer. 

The only viable way to rectify this is to use reverse osmosis to remove the contaminants and release the treated water into local streams but the method can be potentially cost prohibitive in some situations. Some contaminants – such as boron – are harder to remove and are retained in the treated coal seam gas extraction produced water. In some cases, methane can also remain in the water after it leaves the treatment plant, adding concerns of “fugitive emissions” given that methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.  And this methane in the water has resulted in scores of sensational videos uploaded to You Tube where homeowners’ tap water catching fire after a lit match is brought close to a turned on faucet highlighting the environmental concerns of fracking. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Are Diesel Engines More Efficient Than Gasoline Engines?



With the recent Volkswagen emissions measurement scandal, are diesel engines really more efficient than gasoline engines? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Ever since German engineer Rudolf Diesel patented his diesel engine, the industrial world was quick to embrace it with open arms given that your typical diesel engine burn about 25-percent less fuel in comparison to a gasoline engine of similar horsepower rating, not to mention that diesel fuel, as a byproduct of crude oil refinement, is around 4 to 5 times cheaper than gasoline when a barrel of crude oil produces 19 gallons of gasoline and 12 gallons of diesel fuel when it is refined. And given this “ energy utilization efficiency”, diesel engines by their very nature only produce a quarter of the carbon dioxide produced in a typical gasoline engine – which is now of paramount importance in our increasingly climate change conscious world. But sadly, diesel engines are inherently way dirtier than gasoline engines when it comes to oxides of nitrogen and particulate emissions. 

The row over whether diesel engines – as in diesel fueled cars and trucks – are really more environmentally friendly than their gasoline engine counterparts recently came to light in the form of the recent Volkswagen emissions measurement scandal where the famed German automaker was caught by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency back in September 21, 2015 when Emissions Analytics, an internal combustion engine / automotive emissions testing lab recently uncovered that the latest models of diesel fueled Volkswagen cars sold in the United States employ a “cheating software” on its electronic engine management system that automatically reduces the engine’s power output and thus the resulting emissions output when it detect that the car is mounted on a tachometer – a device used to statically test the power output and combustion byproducts of cars under test. The Volkswagen “cheating software” allowed their late-model diesel cars to produce up to 40 times less oxides of nitrogen and particulates in a lab testing setting when compared to being actually driven on the road. 

Whether the “cheating” is deliberate or not, from a scientific viewpoint, diesel engines still produce less carbon dioxide – a potent greenhouse gas and the primary cause of the ongoing climate change – than their gasoline counterparts, but the oxides of nitrogen and particulates produced by diesel engines also have a deleterious effect on our environment and of human health. The oxides of nitrogen produced by diesel engines can promote the formation of smog and increases the acidity of rain and can also do nasty things to our lungs due to its corrosive nature. Particulates that are the byproduct of diesel combustion can increase anyone with a compromised immune system to catch pneumonia. Diesel engines may be more fuel efficient and produce less carbon dioxide than gasoline engines, but clean they are not.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stanford University’s Advanced Aluminum Battery: The Future of Rechargeable Batteries?

With several competing “futuristic” ultrafast-charging rechargeable batteries, is Stanford University’s Advanced Aluminum Battery poised to be the future of rechargeable batteries?

By: Ringo Bones

Technology experts recently quipped that if the advances made in rechargeable battery technology during the past 60 years mirrored that of semiconductors, we would have today rechargeable batteries that could power a mobile phone for a million years on a single charge. Sadly, such technology is still beyond the reach of the current major consumer electronic manufacturers, but recently, prototypes of ultrafast-charging rechargeable batteries that with a minutes worth of charging could either power a mobile phone for a day or drive an electric car for 300 miles are now a prototypical reality.

Lithium ion batteries have been a boon for the modern world in that they’ve replaced the heavier single-use alkaline type batteries in everything from wristwatches to the power supplies of flight control systems in late-model jumbo jets. Unfortunately, these rechargeable cells are already struggling to keep up with our ever increasing energy needs. But a new type of aluminum-ion battery recently developed by graduate students and their professor at Stanford University is not only less prone to bursting into flames than current lithium-ion types but can also be built at a fraction of the price and recharges completely in just over a minute. Best of all, “our new battery won’t catch fire, even if you drill through it” says Stanford University chemistry professor Hongjie Dai.

According to its developers, the Stanford University’s Advanced Aluminum Battery uses a graphite cathode, an aluminum anode and an ionic liquid electrolyte inside a polymer-coated pouch. “The electrolyte is basically a salt that is liquid at room temperature, so it’s very safe” said Stanford University graduate student Ming Gong, co-author of the study recently published in the science journal Nature.

Unlike earlier rechargeable aluminum-ion battery prototypes which generally fails after only about 100 recharge cycles, Stanford’s prototype Advanced Aluminum Battery are composed of aluminum-ion cells that can cycle more than 7,500 times without any capacity loss – that’s 7.5 times longer than your average lithium-ion rechargeable battery in current production. Sadly, Stanford University’s aluminum-ion cell isn’t perfect, yet, as it can produce only about 2 volts per cell – far less than the 3.6 volts per cell that current lithium-ion cells can muster. Plus aluminum-ion cells, at the moment, can only carry 40-watts of electricity per kilogram compared to lithium-ion’s 100 to 206 watts per kilogram power density.

“Improving the cathode material could eventually increase the voltage output and energy density” says Dai. “Otherwise, our battery has everything else you’d dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility and long cycle life. I see this as a new battery in its early days, It’s quite interesting.”

Unlike other competing prototypes, Stanford University’s Advanced Aluminum Battery that has the ability to be charged for 1 minute and yet could store enough charge to power a mobile phone for 24 hours was entirely made possible by a group of graduate students and their professor without a single cent of corporate backing whatsoever. Despite of this feat, Tesla electric car company founder Elon Musk is currently skeptical of the Stanford University’s Advanced Aluminum Battery on whether it will ever be as good – or become even better than – as those ultrafast-charging lithium ion types in current development. Hmm, if only Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk would put his money where his mouth is…

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

StoreDot’s Fast Charging FlashBatteries: The Future Of Rechargeable Batteries?

With the ability to recharge in 60 seconds to power a mobile phone or allow an electric vehicle to travel 300 miles with a 5 minute charge is StorDot’s FlashBattery represent the future of rechargeable battery technology?

By: Ringo Bones


During the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show – CES – in Las Vegas, Nevada, an Israeli firm called StoreDot demonstrated a newfangled battery technology that can power a mobile phone with just a 60-second charge and a bigger version that could drive an electric vehicle for 300 miles (480 kilometers) on a 5 minute charge. With such capability, StoreDot’s FlashBattery technology could represent the future of rechargeable battery technology where battery recharging of electric cars and other electric vehicles could be as fast as the time it takes to fill up with gasoline in your local gasoline filling station. According to StoreDot, their newfangled FlashBattery represents an evolutionary step forward of the current ubiquitous lithium ion batteries. 

Lithium ion batteries have been traditionally used for powering most portable devices and electric vehicles. While exhibiting relatively slow charging and discharging capabilities, over time, these chemical processes reduce the lithium battery’s ability to retain energy. Yet StoreDot has succeeded in isolating and maximizing the charge transfer rate and has enhanced it to heighten the superior characteristics of the FlashBattery.  

Lithium ion batteries contain inorganic compounds in the battery’s cathode, typically comprising metal oxides or polyanions which are continuously recharged by the insertion of lithium ions. This process limits ionic conductivity, thereby reducing the power density and shortening the battery’s life expectancy. Moreover, the electrolyte used in lithium ion batteries is highly volatile and flammable, posing a severe risk to consumers, critical especially in electric cars.

StoreDot’s groundbreaking solution for their FlashBattery design is a hybrid architecture using a unique hybrid multifunction electrode (MFE), StoreDot’s FlashBattery combine two types of energy storage solutions, incorporating the high-power rapid-charging capability of current super capacitor technology with the high energy storage ability and low self-discharge rate of current lithium ion batteries.

This optimized charging ability is achieved through an innovative electrode structure containing proprietary organic polymers with legacy lithium metal oxide components on the cathode end that trigger reduction-oxidation chemical reactions. This solution causes ions to flow from a modified anode to a modified cathode at a speed that could not be attained through existing lithium ion battery technologies. Together with a proprietary separator and electrolyte, this new architecture delivers a high current and low internal resistance with enhanced energy density and a prolonged battery life. 

While some battery manufacturers were able to improve only one of the following properties – either an increase in capacity, fast charging or extended battery life – StoreDot’s novel technology has optimized all three simultaneously, in addition to enhancing its safety. StoreDot’s organic compounds and newfangled proprietary battery architecture provide 4 times more charge / discharge cycles compared to any existing rechargeable battery, increasing the number of cycles from 500 to 2,000. Using compounds that are less likely to metalize during these cycles, StoreDot’s FlashBattery eliminates the risk of an internal electrical short almost entirely, which significantly prolongs battery life expectancy.

Specially designed for high current charging, StoreDot’s FlashBattery contains, in addition to lithium, non-flammable organic compounds encased in multi-layer safety-protection structure that prevents over voltage and heating and is therefore considerably safer than traditional lithium ion batteries. Containing their proprietary electrolyte which is an ecologically-friendly material, the FlashBattery meshes polymers and metal oxide together, resulting in an increased electrode stability and SEI performance at high temperatures.

Comprising carefully engineered organic molecules with high chemical stability, FlashBattery compounds can be tuned to match a variety of applications. The FlashBattery demonstrates rapid reduction-oxidation activity optimized compounds that increase the absorption of lithium ions and their counter-ions. In contrast to other batteries that contain toxic polluting heavy metals like cadmium, lead or mercury, StoreDot’s materials leave a minimal environmental footprint. And from a manufacturing engineer’s standpoint, StoreDot’s organic and polymer electrode’s raw materials are readily available thus reducing the overall cost of the battery.   

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Anode-Less Rechargeable Batteries: The Future of Rechargeable Batteries?


Even though it is an integral part of a rechargeable batteries construction for proper operation, could eliminating the anode improve current rechargeable batteries performance by leaps and bounds?

By: Ringo Bones 

Though not quite anode-less yet but a rechargeable battery manufacturing company called Solid Energy Systems is currently developing a nearly anode-less lithium ion rechargeable battery and has recently exhibited a working prototype during the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Given the already widespread acceptance of the lithium ion rechargeable battery in mobile phone and hybrid / electric vehicle applications, Solid Energy System’s concept takes the strengths of the current technology much further by reducing the space taken up by the anode since it takes up most of the space in current lithium ion rechargeable battery configuration. 

Solid Energy System’s nearly anode-less rechargeable battery concept could last twice as long as current lithium ion rechargeable batteries, while offering a 1,200 watt-hour per liter energy density. Designed with an ultra-thin metal anode, this configuration improves the cell-level energy density by 50-percent over current designs using graphite anodes and 30-percent improvement over silicon-composite anodes. Once marketed and used on current mobile devices, it could make them operate twice as long between recharging times. 

According to Solid Energy Systems, the “secret” in boosting energy storage lies in swapping the conventional electrode material – graphite – for a thin sheet of lithium metal foil, which can store more lithium ions. Other battery manufacturers have been trying to use lithium-metal electrodes in rechargeable lithium ion batteries for decades with only a limited success. Solid Energy seems to have solved a couple of key problems which have caused such batteries to either stop working after a few charges or burst into flames. Current carbon anode cell energy density is at 600 watt-hour per liter while silicon anode cells offer energy densities of around 800 watt-hour per liter, while Solid Energy Systems’ near anode-less cell offer energy densities of around 1,200 watt-hour per liter. 

Solid Energy Systems’ solution to make nearly anode-less rechargeable batteries to be as reliable as current lithium ion rechargeable cells without dying only a few recharge cycles or suddenly bursting to flames is via the use of both solid electrolyte and a liquid one. The solid electrolyte is applied to the lithium-metal foil, the ions don’t have to travel through this thin material, so it doesn’t matter that they are moving relatively slowly.
Solid Energy Systems’ prototype nearly anode-less battery can be recharged 300 times while retaining 80 percent of its original storage capacity – closer to what you would need in portable electronics. It also works at room temperatures whereas competing lithium-metal battery prototypes operate at temperatures too hot to be practical. As of late, most other companies investing in Solid Energy Systems’ newfangled batteries to become an economically viable commercial product are electric car / hybrid car companies with plans to use the newfangled rechargeable battery design in their electric cars. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Can There Be Nuclear Reactors That Consume Their Own Radioactive Wastes?


With mankind’s energy demand slated to double in the next 30 years, will a nuclear reactor that burns its own radioactive wastes provide an answer? 

By: Ringo Bones 

With coal burning power plants that emit excessive carbon dioxide no longer viable in our increasingly climate change conscious global village, is there a power plant that provides reliable safe and competitively priced energy with the extremely low carbon dioxide output of traditional nuclear fission power plants? If Leslie Dewan gets her way, there will probably be – and lots of them. 

Leslie Dewan CEO of TransAtomic Power already has plans for a “carbon neutral” energy generating power plant sans the risk and waste disposal problems of current nuclear fission power plants. Dewan was also named Time magazine’s 30 people under 30 that changed the world in 2013. Leslie Dewan got the idea of a nuclear fission power plant that consumes its own long-lived nuclear wastes back in February 2010 together with TransAtomic Power co-founder Mark Massie while working on her white-paper finishing her PhD in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Dewan and Massie turned to a nuclear fission power plant technology developed but never commercialized in the 1950s due to its relatively high initial building cost in comparison to competing designs - i.e. the  light-water fission reactors that comprise 99-percent of commercial power plants that had been in operation for over 50 years. The TransAtonic Power's WAMSR or Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor - can burn spent nuclear fuel safely in a liquid salt reactor instead of a traditional light water reactor similar to the design used in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant that went into a tragic meltdown after the March 2011 tsunami.

TransAtomic Power's WAMSR or Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor, it is way safer than current nuclear fission power plants – even from a defense analyst’s / counter-terror analyst’s point of view – because the uranium fuel assembly used to start WAMSR is “too diluted” to be used in a uranium-235 based nuclear device. On the long-lived radioactive waste issue, WAMSR produces only 20 to 30 kilograms of long-lived atomic wastes a year – like the “notorious” neptunium-237 which has a half-life of 2.2-million years (it still contains half of its radioactive strength after laying around for 2.2-million years) that can still be fashioned, with some skill, into a crude nuclear bomb. 

This is way less than a conventional commercial light-water nuclear reactor which generates 20 to 30 tons of long-lived highly radioactive wastes in a typical year of operation. Speaking of the long-lived radwaste issue, commercial light-water nuclear fission power plants currently in operation have a current stockpile of 270,000 metric tons worth of long-lived radwastes whose permanent disposal is still in Limbo. Would TransAtomic Power’s WAMSR plant provide a viable solution?

Unfortunately, TransAtomic Power currently only has 3.5-million US dollars in government funding, way less than the billions of dollars of “subsidies” rubber-stamped by “conservative politicians” at Capitol Hill to conventional commercial light-water reactors currently in operation in strategic areas in the United States. In economic viability terms, TransAtomic Power’s WAMSR nuclear fission power plant only has half the operating cost per megawatt generated when compared to conventional commercial light-water nuclear fission power plants. If Uncle Sam green-lights Dewan and Massie’s proposal, it would take 8 to 10 years to open a Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor and probably just a few years to solve the United States’ high-level long-lived radioactive waste disposal and future energy problems.