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Another Look At Hydrogen

September 23, 2014

A book published in 2002 predicted that a hydrogen economy would redistribute power around the earth.

Its title included the headline: “When there is no more oil.”

The book, The Hydrogen Economy, was much ado about nothing.

Aside from the diatribes against big oil, etc., the book was a fantasy.

It also blundered by omitting a very important issue: How do we economically produce and distribute hydrogen?

This, together with cost, will continue to plague the introduction of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), as the automobile industry revs up its PR machine to tout their introduction.

Toyota Demonstration FCV

Toyota Demonstration FCV

The book wasn’t alone in making dire predictions, as U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in 2003, “Looming energy and environmental challenges demand results in the development of hydrogen-powered automotive systems in the next two decades.”

There are four problems with FCVs that use hydrogen for fuel:

  • Producing hydrogen, and then transporting it to fueling stations if produced centrally
  • The cost of building hydrogen fueling stations
  • Storing hydrogen on the vehicle
  • The cost of fuel cells

While hydrogen is abundant in the universe, it is nearly always combined with some other element, such as in the case of water (H2O) and Methane (CH4).
In the case of water, it can be separated using electricity. In the case of methane it can be produced by steam reforming.

Most hydrogen today is produced at refineries using steam reforming.

It’s technically possible to produce hydrogen with either of these process locally, but at an increased cost.

Since hydrogen can’t be transported in natural gas pipelines, as it corrodes the pipe, it must be transported by truck to the fueling station, usually a cryogenic truck, if it’s produced at a central location.

When hydrogen is produced centrally for use in an FCV refueling station, it must be cooled to form a liquid. Refrigerating hydrogen uses approximately 25% of hydrogen’s energy content, which is one of the energy losses incurred with this scenario.

Steam reforming at refineries also results in CO2 emissions.

Using electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen requires large amounts of electricity, which would require building new power generation plants if large amounts of hydrogen were to be produced using electrolysis. Power plants also emit CO2.

There are approximately 160,000 gasoline stations in the united States.

Assuming that only one-third as many hydrogen fueling stations would be required to cover the country so that FCVs weren’t range restricted, approximately 50,000 hydrogen fueling stations would need to be built across the United States.

At $500,000 per fueling station, it would cost approximately $27 billion.

According to the Department of Energy, there are currently only 12 hydrogen fueling stations in the United States, and 10 of these are in California, and probably convenient for movie stars.

Obviously, any FCVs sold or leased in the near future would be in California, and be very range constrained.

Storing hydrogen on FCVs is usually accomplished under pressure to minimize volume, using special 10,000 or 5,000 psi containers. Some prototypes have used cryogenic vessels, similar to thermos bottles, to store the hydrogen.

In either case, storage consumes considerable space and raises safety concerns in people’s minds. Thus far, there have been no safety problems, as hydrogen evaporates into the air very quickly.

Metal hydrides can also absorb hydrogen and be used for storage. The Toyota FCV uses what it terms a hydrogen absorbing alloy tank, that has the characteristics of metal hydrides. Tank size is still a problem, but weight is apparently reduced, and shape is far more flexible.

Fueling is safe and simple. I saw it operate at the hydrogen fueling station near Washington, DC.

Finally, the cost of fuel cells is still several times the cost of an internal combustion engine, and five times the cost of Lithium-ion batteries, as used in EVs. The exact cost of fuel cells remains hard to determine, but even with major progress in reducing costs, they remain very expensive.

One must wonder why there is so much emphasis being placed on FCVs.

They are being touted as zero emission vehicles, but producing the hydrogen to power them emits CO2.

Why go to the expense and trouble of reforming natural gas when it could be used directly in internal combustion engines? Reforming natural gas to produce hydrogen is very inefficient and wastes energy.

If the country is going to go to the expense of creating new fueling stations, why not build natural gas fueling stations, which would allow the use of natural gas directly?

And why the rush to replace internal combustion engines that are more efficient and less costly?

The gasoline-powered vehicle is still the most cost-effective form of transportation, with the possible exception of CNG and LNG vehicles.

It would appear that FCVs are toys for the rich, and for those who want to demonstrate their environmental credentials, even though they are misguided in that regard.

We have an abundant supply of oil and natural gas, so there is no need to stop using them for powering our vehicles.

FCVs are cool and sexy, but not very useful.

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Asia Doubles Down on Coal

September 19, 2014

While the EPA is issuing regulations that will result in fewer coal-fired power plants in the United States, Asian countries are ramping up their use of coal.

Most people are aware that China and India are building large numbers of new coal-fired power plants, many of them Ultra-supercritical plants that are far more efficient than plants built in the United States. Ultra-supercritical plants have a thermal efficiency of 45%, compared with most plants in the United Sates that have a thermal efficiency of 33% HHV.

Approximately 75% of all proposed new coal-fired power plants in the developing world are to be built in China and India, which is consistent with the size of their populations when compared with other countries:

  • China: 1,360 million
  • India: 1,240 million

For reference, U.S. population is approximately 318 million.

But what most people are not aware of is that other Asian countries are also building new coal-fired power plants. The population of some of these countries is large, and when taken together are significant.

  • Indonesia: 250 million
  • Pakistan: 185 million
  • Bangladesh: 150 million
  • Philippines: 100 million
  • Vietnam: 90 million
  • Thailand: 64 million
  • Burma: 51 million
  • Cambodia: 15 million

What these countries have in common with China and India is the need for economic growth, as each have GDP per capita comparable with that of India ($1,516) or lower than that of China ($6,070). For comparison purposes, U.S. per capita GDP is $51,163 and the EU’s is $32,507. Note: GDP data is from United Nations.

Indonesia is perhaps the most interesting of these other Asian countries.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, but also has a large Hindu population centered in Bali. The government has pursued policies that encourage the peaceful inclusion of the Hindus on Bali, and except for the 2002 bombing in Bali by terrorists, the policies have been successful. The government pursued and killed those who were behind the bombing.

Bali, Indonesia Photo by D. Dears

Bali, Indonesia Photo by D. Dears

Indonesia plans for an additional 100,000 MW of new power generation capacity by 2035, while increasing its share of coal from 44% in 2011 to near 60% in 2035.

Indonesia also has significant reserves of natural gas, but plans not to use natural gas for power generation, preferring instead to export it as LNG, thereby improving its balance of payments.

Other countries in this grouping plan similar increases in coal-fired generation:
Thailand to add 55,000 MW by 2035, 35% of which will be coal.
Philippines to add 41,000 MW, mostly coal, which increases coal’s share to over 55% by 2035.

Vietnam to add 30,000 MW of coal-fired power plants by 2035.

For comparison, a typical nuclear power plant is rated 1,000 MW.

Overall, the IEA estimates that by 2035, half of all power generation for the ASEAN-10 will be coal-fired, compared with only one-third today. (The ASEAN-10 includes Singapore, Brunei, and Laos which are in addition to the earlier list, but does not include Pakistan or Bangladesh.)

The IEA estimates that the ASEAN-10 will increase its power generation capacity from 176,000 MW today, to 460,000 MW by 2035, of which 40% will be coal-fired. While the plans of individual countries may imply a greater increase than that projected by the IEA, the IEA has assumed some individual plans may not materialize.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to push a wet noodle, forcing reductions in CO2 emissions by requiring the closure of coal-fired power plants in the United States.

The Obama administration and EPA’s stated goal is to cut total U.S. CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.

CO2 emissions with 80% cut

CO2 emissions with 80% cut

This requires cutting per capita emissions from around 16.6 tons today, to 2.3 tons in 2050, where 2.3 tons was the level of per capita U.S. CO2 emissions in 1900, over 100 years ago, when there were very few automobiles, no commercial airplanes, no tractors and fossil-fueled power equipment for growing the food we need, no TVs, few electric lights, or any other electric-powered equipment, such as refrigerators or air-conditioning.

It’s naive to think that the Asian nations will forego economic development, merely because President Obama, representing the richest nation on earth, says they should, so as to prevent increased CO2 emission.

The foolhardiness of this administration’s efforts to cut CO2 emissions is readily seen when the onrushing steamroller of new Asian coal-fired power generation is taken into consideration.

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Keeping an Eye on Mideast Oil

September 16, 2014

The resurgence of radical Islamist terror, as ISIS or ISIL, could represent a threat to Mideast oil. (ISIL refers to the Levant, an area encompassing Lebanon and those around it in the eastern Mediterranean.)

What are some of the factors we should be aware of?

First, what is their strategy?

Is it:

  1. To finish off Assad and secure all of Syria along with the portions of Iraq they already control, and consolidate their holdings as a Caliphate, to ensure a long-term base of operations? Where Caliph means successor to the Prophet Mohammed.
  2. To extend their control of Iraq to include Baghdad and all of the oil-rich areas in southern Iraq, thereby opening the gateway to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia?
  3. To overthrow the House of Sa’ud and become the center of the Islamic World by controlling Mecca and Medina, the holiest places of the Muslim religion, with the intent of uniting all Muslims in their cause?

Or, is it a combination of these?

Given that ISIS has already secured enough wealth to support its operations, a strategy to capture more oil fields would seem inappropriate, especially those in Kuwait and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. This would include avoiding a frontal assault on the Kurds, who control some of the rich oil fields in northern Iraq.

The Kurds are capable fighters who can defend their territory, especially when it involves their core enclave which is in mountainous, difficult to attack terrain. But they lack the modern equipment, as well as sufficient manpower for an offensive campaign much beyond Kirkuk or Mosul.

Beneath the surface of any strategy is the undercurrent of religion. First there is the divide between Sunni and Shia that dates back centuries. Then, within the Sunnis there is the extremely conservative Wahhabi sect, that views itself as the protector of the Muslim religion, and historically was given that role by the House of Sa’ud.

A History of Saudi Arabia, The Kingdom, by Robert Lacey.

A History of Saudi Arabia, The Kingdom, by Robert Lacey.

The Wahhabi’s have given financial support to radical Islam in the past, though it’s unclear whether they will support ISIS: They could see that their interests continue to lie with supporting the House of Sa’ud.

There is also the tribal nature that still exists throughout the region, more so in the Arab world than in Iran.

Currently, Iran, which is predominantly Shia, is backing the Baghdad government which is also Shia. Iran is a formidable military power, and could probably prevent ISIS from taking control of Baghdad and southern Iraq if ISIS pursued that strategy. Iran’s direct military involvement in Baghdad and Southern Iraq would, however, be contrary to US interests.

But what about oil?

The oil fields of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are 200 and 500 miles, respectively, from ISIS controlled Iraq, and would require ISIS to first have control of the cities along the Euphrates River, south of Baghdad, in order to gain access to Kuwait or Saudi oil fields.

A thrust through the desert west of the Euphrates isn’t likely, because of the terrain and that their forces would be exposed.

While ISIS might like to overthrow the House of Sa’ud, it’s unlikely it will be part of an early strategy.

But there are opportunities for ISIS to inflict damage on Saudi Arabia’s ability to produce oil, and thereby hurt Western economies.

Saudi security forces recently rounded up 80 militants who were said to have plans for terrorist activities.

There is the long-standing friction between the Shia population, which dominates the eastern, oil rich, province of Saudi Arabia, and the Wahhabi sect: Disgruntled Shia could be a source of terrorists. Disaffected Sunnis from within Saudi Arabia might be recruited as terrorists, as might other individuals from nearby Yemen or Bahrain.

While there could be attacks on pipelines and other infrastructure, the holy grail of any attack on Saudi oil production would be a successful attack on Abqaiq.
Nearly all of Saudi oil production is processed through Abqaiq, primarily to remove hydrogen sulfide and volatiles from the oil.

A terrorist attack on Abqaiq failed in February, 2006. If it had succeeded, and severely damaged the facility, it would have cut the world’s oil supply by about 10%.

It would appear as though ISIS’ immediate strategy will be to unseat Assad, take control of all of Syria, and consolidate its gains, while using its Caliphate to attack Western interests in the Mideast, and also the European and United States homelands.

If the initial strategy is successful, ISIS could then pivot and focus on Saudi Arabia.

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Preparing For A Carrington Event

September 12, 2014

The physical security of the grid has become an important issue.

It’s also emerging as a bureaucratic football, with little action taking place.

The attack on the Metcalf substation in California was a wakeup call that homegrown terrorists could bring down the grid.

It’s been recognized for years that a nuclear device, exploded high in the atmosphere, could create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could shut down the grid and also destroy unprotected electronic devices.

Recently, it’s been recognized that a large magnetic solar storm, similar to the 1859 Carrington solar storm, could also bring down the grid with the potential for destroying society as we know it. See Geomagnetic Storm.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held a technical conference in April, 2012 to address the issue. Experts from the government and industry explored the probable outcome of a Carrington-like event, with disagreement over how devastating a collapse of the grid might be.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), which reports to FERC on reliability issues, said the collapse of the grid would occur in such a way that induced currents wouldn’t destroy transformers or other equipment. This was vigorously contested by most of the other participants of the technical meeting. There are 300 high voltage transformers that are in danger of a Carrington-like event.

High Voltage Transmission Lines, Photo by D. Dears

High Voltage Transmission Lines, Photo by D. Dears

NERC recently delivered to FERC a mammoth, 800-plus-page plan, providing the details of how the industry will respond to physical security threats.

Important objections to the report were made by NERC’s stakeholders. The comments of Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), seemed to indicate that NERC was proposing that everything needed to be protected … a bureaucratic, rather than a technical response.

The BPA said, “Will we need security walls constructed to be as impervious as those of a maximum security prison? The list of potential risk mitigation barriers is endless, as is the cost of building and maintaining elaborate barriers for facilities that cover acres of ground.”

This type of bureaucratic response by NERC places all Americans in danger, because little will actually get done.

The Battelle Memorial Institute, a private, nonprofit research institution in Columbus, Ohio, prepared a response that was focused on results.

It’s obvious that every installation on the grid, i.e., all the transmission lines, all the distribution lines, all the HV transformers, all the substations etc., can’t be fully protected, all the time.

A Carrington-like event will almost assuredly occur sometime in the future … perhaps next week, next year, or perhaps not for a hundred years. See End of Civilization as We Know It.

However, a physicist, Pete Riley, recently estimated that there was a 12% chance that a Carrington sized solar storm could hit the Earth in the next ten years.

This is a huge probability, given the risk.

Congress needs to step in and insist that an organized approach be taken by FERC to achieve a reasonable level of protection, especially for the most serious threats.

Given that the 300 HV transformers are common to both a Carrington-like event and to physical attack by terrorists, it would seem that protecting them, or providing back-up units, could be given the highest priority.

Prioritization is key to getting something done. See End of Civilization as We Know It Part 2  for the first step in prioritization for other than the 300 HV transformers.

There may be some other specific physical installations that require a high priority, but trying to protect everything results in nothing getting protected. Trying to protect everything is a fools errand … typical of bureaucracies with their CYA and obfuscation approach to problems.

This is not a political issue

It is an issue of survival, and is worth people writing to Congress to express their concerns about the issue. Everyone can copy or link to this article, if needed for technical support, when contacting their Senators and Representatives.

 

Note: This may be the first time that any of my articles have called for people to contact Congress. This is a near term, if not immediate, existential threat.

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Hawthorne Redux

September 9, 2014

Editorials and articles designed to inspire more efficient use of electricity repeatedly cite examples of how different groups have used electricity more efficiently.

An example of such an article appeared in the September issue of EnergyBiz, though there are dozens of similar articles in a multitude of publications.

The article in question, Smart Cities, Smart Utilities, referenced an effort to reduce electricity usage in buildings by establishing teams in each building who would educate others on the importance of turning off lights when rooms were empty.

Results were impressive, with participating buildings reducing their usage of electricity by 6.2%.

Other examples of studies showing reduced use of electricity include where utilities have offered special programs to their customers for conserving electricity.

Invariably, those who participate in the program, usually a very small percentage of customers, achieve significant reductions in their use of electricity.

All of these experiments are touted as demonstrating it’s possible to make large reductions in the use of electricity.

What’s never mentioned in the publications touting energy efficiency are two factors that affect the outcome of the studies:

  • In instances where customers participate in a study, they are already predisposed to demonstrating that savings are possible. They are evangelists.
  • In cases such as the Smart Cities, Smart Utilities article, the results are skewed by the Hawthorne effect.

The Hawthorne effect refers to studies made at the Western Union Manufacturing plant in Hawthorne, Illinois.

While, by modern standards, these studies are antediluvian, much can still be learned from them.

Simply stated, the Hawthorne studies were designed to establish that improved levels of lighting would result in the improved production of relays.

The production of relays produced by test groups, one a control group, the other subjected to changes in lighting, were monitored to see whether the output of the second group increased as lighting was improved.

Surprisingly, the output of both groups improved. It wasn’t just that the lighting had improved, it was that the increased attention given to everyone resulted in greater output.

Whenever an article touts improvements in the use of electricity from a study, care should be given to the conclusions being reached.

There is the myth that usage of electricity can be improved by 40 or 50%, and these studies are intended to support that myth.

Pinocchio. Photo by D. Dears

Pinocchio. Photo by D. Dears

There may have been improvements in energy efficiency, but these improvements were probably overstated because of the two effects described above.

The evangelists are the people who tend to participate in the studies undertaken by utilities, and they want to prove that the usage of electricity can be reduced.

In situations where the spotlight is on participants, they will all demonstrate improvements merely because of the attention being given them.

While the use of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and LED lighting have had a demonstrable effect on reducing the use of electricity, the pseudo scientific studies, reported by publications having a vested interest in reducing the use of electricity so as to cut CO2 emissions, should be viewed with some degree of skepticism.

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Economic Failure of Climate Change Movement

September 5, 2014

What have been the economic impacts of the drive to cut CO2 emissions?

Without attempting to add up all the money spent by the government on grants, and all the money it spent on subsidies, what has been the effect of individual efforts … specifically, in the energy arena?

FutureGen was supposed to establish that Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plants could generate electricity economically while providing for the capture of CO2.

The original project was cancelled, then re-instituted as FutureGen 2, to establish that it was economically viable to capture CO2 in existing coal-fired power plants using an oxygen-rich combustion technology.

Without waiting for FutureGen, a few companies attempted to build IGCC power plants. And while they can generate electricity, they have been economic dinosaurs.

Each project has resulted in cost overruns. While this may not be unusual for new technologies, each IGCC power plant has cost nearly as much to build as a nuclear power plant, or around $5,500 per KW.

Tampa Electric decided not to build a second IGCC power plant because it was uneconomic.

In short, IGCC power plants have been an economic failure.

In contrast, any new ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant could have generated the same amount of electricity at a much lower cost … while also providing CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) if desired.

John W. Turk, only U.S. ultra-supercritical power plant. Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.

John W. Turk, only U.S. ultra-supercritical power plant. Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.

FutureGen 2, designed to capture CO2 from existing coal-fired power plants, is also failing, as each partner waffles in its support.

Any attempt to capture CO2 from existing coal-fired power plants is economically unjustifiable, as it not only increases costs, but also reduces the output of any plant in which the process is installed, by around 30%.

The derating is even greater if any carbon capture technology is applied to NGCC power plants.

Previous articles have shown how PV roof-top solar is destroying the grid and why wind energy is bad for the United States. See, Save The Grid and Why Wind Energy is a Bad Idea.

Both are uneconomic while providing no real energy benefit.

Storage, for use with wind and solar, which is not required for natural gas, nuclear or coal-fired power plants, is very expensive; costing, on a per KW basis, two to five-plus times as much as building a natural gas power plant.

Electric vehicles, EVs and PHEVs, are uneconomic, costing much more than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles. In addition, expensive charging stations must be installed to support the uneconomic investment in EVs and PHEVs, a double whammy. Or in economic terms, throwing good money after bad.

EVs are being promoted as zero emission vehicles, even though the electricity used to charge their batteries comes from sources that emit CO2.

Inevitably, there will be the claim that these alternatives create jobs, but the jobs created merely offset the jobs lost in comparable products. For example, jobs building wind turbines offsets the jobs lost from building NGCC or coal-fired power plants.

And if more jobs are created building wind turbines, it’s creating hidden unemployment, because the wind turbines are less efficient than NGCC or coal-fired power plants.

Actually, at least two studies have shown that for every green job created, 2.2 in one study, or 3.7 jobs in the other study, were destroyed.

These attempts to cut CO2 emissions have had a negative effect on the economy.

Adding the money spent by the government on grants and subsidies to promote these inefficient alternatives, compounds the damage done by fighting climate change.

Attempts by the EPA and the Obama administration to promote these alternatives have been economic disasters, wasting tax payer dollars and harming American industries and families with higher costs for electricity.

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A Proposal for Replacing the EPA

September 2, 2014

The year we moved to Cleveland, was the year the Cuyahoga River caught fire.

Leading up to this event, our country had seen fresh water lakes and rivers being polluted, and cities being subjected to air pollution and smog.

Few questioned the importance of clean air and clean water: Few people objected to the work the EPA was undertaking.

For the next two or three decades, the EPA accomplished great things.

Air Quality Improvements compared with GDP and Population Growth

Air Quality Improvements compared with GDP and Population Growth

There came a time, however, where the law of diminishing returns set in, and few actual improvements were made. And today, with 16,000 employees, the EPA has been transformed into a political organization, on a mission that has little to do with the environment, and all to do about control over the American economy and Americans.

While the EPA in Washington DC, was growing, comparable, independent environmental protection organizations were being implemented in each state. These state-centered environmental protection agencies or departments, have developed to the point where they are fully capable of maintaining the environmental gains that have been made.

This is at the heart of a new proposal by Dr. Jay Lehr, Science Director, Heartland Institute, to transform the EPA.

In essence, to devolve the EPA so its functions are assumed by the environmental agencies in each of the 50 states.

His proposal envisions a five-year transition, where the duties of the EPA are transitioned to the state environmental agencies, overseen by a committee of the whole, composed of representatives from each of the 50 state environmental agencies.

The committee of the whole would review all existing regulations and their relevancy to existing legislation, working with Congress to clarify or eliminate regulations not supported by legislation.

The 50 state environmental agencies have the talent to do the job without 16,000 EPA activists overseeing them.

It’s envisioned that this new structure, with the committee of the whole defining environmental needs, and the 50 state environmental agencies overseeing the regulations for their states, would improve the effectiveness of environmental protection, while saving 80% of the existing EPA’s budget.

Quoting from Dr. Lehr’s proposal, “It’s time for the national EPA to go. The path forward is now clear and simple: A five-year transition from a federal government bureaucracy to a Committee of the Whole composed of the 50 state environmental protection agencies.”

This proposal is logical and rational. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction calling for the EPA to be eliminated. It explains why trying to “fix” the EPA is a bad idea.

The complete proposal is available at http://heartland.org/sites/default/files/lehr_-_replacing_epa_0.pdf

 

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