Archive for ‘New Technology’

November 4, 2011

Fracking operations in Blackpool lined to recent earthquakes – the report finds

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Controversial ‘fracking’ technique linked to resent earthquakes near Blackpool, where UK Company Cuadrilla Resources is working on shale gas extraction.

To access shale gas, drilling must be downwards into the gas-bearing rock, ten thousand feet below the surface, and then horizontally for thousands of feet more when a mixture of water, chemicals and sand is plumed to fracture the rock, under high pressure.

The water opens up cracks in the rock, and the sand grains lodge in them and keep them open which creates space for the gas to travel up and be collected at the surface.

According to the report, commissioned by Cuadrilla, it is “highly probable” that shale gas test drilling triggered earthquakes, one of magnitude 2.3 hit the Fylde coast on 1 April, followed by a second of magnitude 1.4 on 27 May.

Following protests against shale gas drilling Cuadrilla suspended  its operations in June and commissioned a report.

But the report, also said the quakes were due to an “unusual combination of geology at the well site” and conditions which caused the minor earthquakes were “unlikely to occur again”.

Cuadrilla’s chief executive officer Mark Millerchief said for BBC news: “There are procedures we can put in place to practise earthquake prevention”.

Some environmentalists are not conversed in the safety of fracking and they suspect that potentially carcinogenic chemicals could escape during the process and contaminate drinking water sources. Therefore they are they are calling for a moratorium on fracking.

Cuadrilla said groundwater in Lancashire was protected by layers of rock between the aquifers which are up to 300m deep.

In the Statement Charles Hendry, Energy Minister said: “We are committed to the highest standards of safety and environmental protection in all UK oil and gas activities, and we will look at Cuadrilla’s report carefully with the assistance of our independent experts and regulators, before deciding whether hydraulic fracturing operations should resume. This is a potentially important addition to our energy resources, but its development must be done in a way that carries public confidence.”

The Government believes that the potential for unconventional gas is worth exploring as additional energy security and economic benefits; although it’s commercial viability at this stage is still unknown.

In September Cuadrilla announced this week that its tests showed there could be as much as 5.6 trillion cubic metres (200tn cubic ft) of gas in the Bowland shale under  Lancashire .

But according to Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace fracking is a “distraction from the real challenges” and the real energy solutions would be found in using renewable sources, the BBC news published on 02 November.

Cuadrilla’s report can be found on the Cuadrilla website [External link]:

July 27, 2011

Carbon capture and utilisation could contribute in green economy

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Investing in techniques of utilising CO2 is nothing new and converting CO2 into commercially viable products such as bio-oils, chemicals, fertilisers and fuels could offer economic sense and possibility for reducing carbon emissions.

Carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) includes using waste CO2 as a chemical feedstock for the synthetics of other chemicals, as a chemical source of carbon for mineral carbonisation reactions to produce construction materials, and as a nutrient and CO2 source to make algae grow and supply fuels and chemicals.

Unlike US which is spending $1bn on CCU research, including a project at Sandia Laboratories to make synthetic diesel from carbon dioxide, and the German government is putting €118m into a project with Bayer to research the use of carbon dioxide as a raw material; Australia is seeking to manufacture cement using the carbon dioxide from power plants, and in several places around the world, algae is being cultivated that would absorb the gas and used as biofuels, UK currently has no plans for investment in demonstration scale of CCU technologies.

According to a report published by Centre for Low Carbon Futures, Carbon Capture and Utilisation in the Green Economy , CCU can be profitable with short payback times on investment, but UK is lagging behind most developed countries in terms of investment and focus on the technology with the majority of the research funding directed to towards Carbon Capture and storage (CCS).

Peter Styring, a professor at the University of Sheffield, one of the authors of the report said: “The UK government needs to invest in R&D for carbon capture and utilisation and investors need to be made aware of the potential benefits of the technology so that barriers can be brought down. Our report shows that all CCU options could be relevant to the UK and given its business-oriented academic community, the UK could benefit from the commercialisation of the technologies involved.”

He believes that there are real possibilities in CCU, although some of the technology has been developed, some is in the early stage and there are cases where a new chemistry needs to be developed.

In most conversion processes predicted for CCU is expected a high energy input but the report says that this could be provided by renewable energy, especially when wind or solar plants are producing energy at times of low demand.

However, the re-use of  CO2 will probably take years to adopt and suitable cost efficient technology to be developed, knowing that CO2 could be other than waste is worth to be investigated.

July 5, 2011

Is Thorium the right choice for our energy future?

by Jasmina Nikoloska

The question on what our energy future should be based on  is complex.

Currently one of  the biggest environmental concern  is global warming and therefore investing in renewables and sustainable energy sources is reasonable, but could we meet our energy needs without nuclear?

German MPs recently voted 513-79 in favour of renewables, approving plans to shut down the country’s nuclear plants by 2022.

After Fukushima disaster Germany shut down instantly eight of the older reactors but remaining nine reactors will be shut down in stages by the end of 2022.

Their ambition is to double the share of energy stemming from water, wind, sun or biogas to at least 35%.

Some argue that that  if we back up from  nuclear, it would be in favour of the coal, which will directly affect with more CO2 emissions and  more global warming.

According to the latest figures published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), a growth trend of renewables is not strong as it would need to be but unfortunately the use of coal increased for 7%.

With eight new nuclear sites revealed, Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Programme updated and consultation document on  the way on  how potential sites for geological nuclear disposal will be identified and  assessed, it is more than obvious that Britain  is pushing ahead  its nuclear plans.

The Chinese National Academy’s ultimate target is to develop a wholly new nuclear system that will be the future of advanced nuclear fission energy – a nuclear energy, thorium-based molten salt reactor system – Future nuclear technology with thorium?

Thorium - 350

Thorium - 350

India is presently further ahead than any other country in the development of the thorium fuel cycle, but even so the R&D has only progressed on  a relatively small scale.

As with India, Norway’s interest in thorium is because of the indigenous reserves and it is therefore clear why the level of investment and  recent interest has been shown.

For a country such as the UK, with neither thorium or uranium reserves, the incentive for thorium is much reduced, as in both cases it would remain dependent on overseas suppliers.

The thorium fuel cycle presents an alternative option  to the usual uranium plutonium fuel cycle that has long been advocated and researched, but which has yet to be adopted on a commercial scale.

The thorium fuel cycle is claimed to be advantageous in several respects, one of which is that it generates very low quantities of transuranic materials, including plutonium.

Although it is thought  that radioactivity reduction could be significant, still more realistic studies which take account of the effect of U-235 or Pu-239 seed fuels required to breed  the U-233 suggest the benefits are more modest.

Based on National Nuclear Laboratory’s (NNL) knowledge and experience of introducing new fuels into modern reactors, it is estimated that this is likely to take 10 to 15 years even with a concerted R&D effort and investment before the thorium fuel cycle could be established in current reactors and much longer for any future reactor systems.

While the thorium fuel cycle is theoretically capable of being self-sustainable, this is only achievable with full recycle.

According to the NNL economic benefits are theoretically achievable by using thorium fuels, in current market conditions the position is marginal and insufficient to justify major investment.

The conclusion of the NNL’s paper is that the thorium fuel cycle does not currently have a role to play in the UK context, other than  its potential application for plutonium  management in the medium to long term.

With the world’s population due to hit nine billion by 2050, it is unlikely that the pressure to reduce energy consumption is possible therefore we have to highlight every potential energy source.

On the other hand I can see a good point in the Jean McSorley’s, statement, senior consultant for Greenpeace’s nuclear campaign.

“Even if thorium technology does progress to the point where it might be commercially viable, it will face the same problems as conventional nuclear: it is not renewable or sustainable and cannot effectively connect to smart grids. The technology is not tried and tested, and none of the main players is interested. Thorium reactors are no more than a distraction”.

 

You can see the report here: 2010 National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) report (PDF)

April 8, 2011

Tevatron indicates a new particle challenging the fundamental force of nature

by Jasmina Nikoloska

The researchers at the Fermilab’s Tevatron formally announced a discovery that, according to physicists, could transform all of high energy physics.

The team noticed a pick in their data, an excess of a certain pattern that was not expected, which could be evidence of a new particle. The unknown particle could signal a new fundamental force of nature and the most radical change in the world of physics in our time.

The peak is an excess of particle collision events that produce a W boson accompanied by two hadronic jets. It was in these jets that the unexpected “bump” in the team’s data occurred, showing a particle that the current understanding the Standard Model does not include.

According to the scientists this means that there is less than a 1 in 1375 chance that the effect is mimicked by a statistical variation.

The present analysis is based on 4.3 inverse femtobarns of data. The CDF collaboration will repeat the analysis with at least twice as much data to see whether the bump gets more or less pronounced. Other experiments, including DZero and the LHC experiments, will look for a particle of about 140 GeV/c2 in their data as well. Their results will either refute or confirm our result, scientists say.

Beside the explanation of a new particle, unknown to the standard theory of the fundamental laws of physics, alternative explanation would be that we need to reconsider the theory that is used to predict the background spectrum, which is based on standard particle physics processes.

The number of on-going tests should confirm whether the particle is real or not.

You can read the paper and watch the lecture online.

 

Related articles: Accelerator hints at new particle


March 15, 2011

Future nuclear technology with thorium?

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Energetika.NET – reliable energy news for SEE – China towards new nuclear energy era with thorium Author: Jasmina Nikoloska, Valerija Hozjan

In late January, the Chinese National Academy of Sciences announced its initiative to investigate and develop an entirely new nuclear energy programme using thorium as a fuel.

Currently, nuclear stations in China account for only 2 per cent of the country’s total power generation. According to the NDRC’s (National Development and Reform Commission) nuclear and long-term development plan, by 2020, China’s installed capacity of nuclear power will reach 40GWe and by 2050 it may be increased to 260GWe or more. The Chinese National Academy’s ultimate target is to develop a wholly new nuclear system that will be the future of advanced nuclear fission energy – a nuclear energy, thorium-based molten salt reactor system – within about 20 years.

The thorium molten-salt reactor (TMSR), as the Chinese call it, is a fourth-generation nuclear reactor which uses liquid salt as both fuel and coolant, also known as liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), British news source The Register wrote on 1 February.

Thorium (or uranium-233 produced from it) can be used as fuel in different reactor designs. In USA, for example, thorium was used in the high temperature reactor in Fort St. Vrain, which operated as a commercial nuclear power plant between 1977 to 1989, dr. Igor Jencic from the Jozef Stefan Institute explained for Energetika.NET. There are molten salt reactor designs, which use uranium (plutonium) as fuel; at the same time, some use thorium as fuel. The interlocutor agreed that the current combination of molten salt and thorium fuel was the most promising. He said this was not, however, exclusive Chinese idea. “A molten salt reactor is one of the six possible reactor designs of the 4th generation. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Great Britain, USA, Switzerland, Euratom, China and Russia participate in GEN-IV, where these reactors are being developed. The concept researched and the time spent on individual research depends on the country.” Jencic added that research results within the mentioned project were “public in principle”. “Once specific technological solutions are reached, this might change.”

Breakeven conversion ratio

In Kirk Sorensen’s recent blog entry about the announcement of the new nuclear scheme at the Chinese National Academy of Sciences, he explained that the Chinese recognised that a “thorium-fueled MSR is best run with uranium-233 fuel, which inevitably contains impurities (uranium-232 and its decay products) that preclude its use in nuclear weapons. Dr. Jencic added there were many uranium-233 weapons deficiencies (due to the presence of uranium-232) in comparison with plutonium; therefore the Americans had abandoned such military use in the past. “An air engine was being developed which could (because of the small size or large specific power) be operated by a molten salt reactor. This development most likely had military implications, but it was abandoned by the end of the 50ies.”

Operating an MSR on the “pure” fuel cycle of thorium and uranium-233 means that a breakeven conversion ratio can be achieved, and after being started on uranium-233, only thorium is required for indefinite operation and power generation, says Sorensen. He also estimated that between 5000-6000 tons of thorium could produce as much energy as the world currently consumes each year.

Future nuclear technology?

Switching from uranium to thorium as the primarily nuclear fuel was one of the promising energy and climate change solutions proposed two years ago as a part of the Manchester Report. Such could lead to cheaper, safer and more sustainable nuclear power.

Jencic added that probability of certain kinds of accidents did not depend on fuel, but on the design (light water reactor, gas cooled reactor, etc.). “It is true that certain kinds of accidents or technological problems, which are the most dangerous with light water reactors, cannot occur, even in theory, with molten salt reactor; the latter have, however, other problems. Again, problems do not depend on fuel (uranium or thorium).” It is true that radioactive waste that occurs when using thorium as fuel is short-lived in comparison with waste that occurs when uranium is used. Thorium waste decays to the level of natural radioactivity within several hundreds of years.
It is supposed that they have been storing thorium from rare-earth mining for years and if this is true, the Chinese will have hundreds of thousands of years of thorium already mined and available for use, according to Sorensen. The Chinese understood that “we need a better stove that can burn more fuel”, as Xu Hongjie, a researcher on the future of nuclear power at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, said in an interview with Wenhui News.

Although the prospects are promising, scientists say that there are still many difficulties to be overcome. But it is clear that China is becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well in other aspects of the fuel cycle.

March 10, 2011

Alternative fuel from everyday life could power cars

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Humans face an unprecedented challenge to maintain their standard of living while reducing the environmental impact of fossil fuels. The rapid introduction of new technologies and if possible changing our consumption habits is essential.

Last March I was writing that a sports carmaker Lotus together with Intelligent Energy is developing new technology to make famous black taxi cars in London greener. The idea is to use hydrogen-powered fuel cells in order to reduce CO2 emissions from transport and hopefully, London’s famous black cabs to use hydrogen fuel cells by 2012

Then is August, Scottish scientists recognised the available potential in the £4 billion local whisky industry, in that by using two main by-products of the whisky distillation process – pot ale, or the liquid from the copper stills, and draff, or the spent grains – it could be possible to develop the next generation of biofuel, Biofuel from Scotch whisky could power cars

Recently I discovered that possibly the main difficulty, in using hydrogen power in cars, storing the fuel, have been overcome.

Hydrogen atoms are so small that they can slip between the spaces in molecules of other materials, and the gas escapes it can be a threat.

Therefore, Cella Energy Ltd developed safe, low-cost hydrogen storage materials. The innovation is based on materials using nano-structuring to safely encapsulate hydrogen at ambient temperatures and pressures which sidesteps the requirement for an expensive hydrogen infrastructure.

According to Cella Energy Ltd web site hydrogen fuels for vehicles you can pump like regular gasoline at room temperature and pressure, safer to use than gasoline or diesel but with zero carbon emissions.                                                                                                                                                      

Also, the microbeads could be used in a regular vehicle, with standard combustion engines, with minimal modifications as a fuel additive that could allow vehicle to meet the Euro 6 emission standards, by helping it to burn petrol more cleanly and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s more, Conservation Magazine published yesterday, that scientists develop technology to turn urine into hydrogen fuel. Generating hydrogen fuel from urine is a promising idea.

Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University, recognising that urine contains two compounds that could be a source of hydrogen: ammonia and urea.

He showed that if an electrode is placed in wastewater and apply a gentle current, and voila: hydrogen gas that can be used to power a fuel cell.

In fact, ammonia and urea hold their hydrogen atoms less tightly than water does, so less energy is required to split them off.

Professor Botte’s technology has also the potential to be used in locations where a lot of people come across, for example an office building with 200 to 300 workers could generate 2 kilowatts of power.

Although, that’s not enough to power the building, it is a step forward in finding way to use human wastewater as an effective alternative to fossil fuels.

Illustration: Corbis Images

March 3, 2011

Shale gas drilling a controversial energy alternative

by Jasmina Nikoloska

In my article Could shale gas become a new energy source for Britain’s energy needs? I’ am writing about UK plans to investigate and introducing shale gas drilling techniques, in a field near Blackpool in Lancashire.

Shale gas is nothing uncommon for the energy industry; it is the actual methodology and techniques for its extraction and use that are new. A US engineer, George Mitchell, developed the current technique, known as “hydraulic fracturing”.
To access shale gas, drilling must be downwards into the gas-bearing rock more than 3 kilometres below the surface, and then horizontally for thousands of metres more with a mixture of water, chemicals and sand being pumped in under high pressure to fracture the rock.

The water opens up cracks in the rock in which the sand grains then lodge, keeping them open and creating space for the gas to travel up and be collected at the surface.

While shale gas extraction in Britain is still in developing stage, the technique has already revolutionised US energy market.
But, environmental concerns have been raised in US related to several pollution incidents and potential contamination of water with methane, all of which were supposedly caused by shale gas drilling.

Also the quantities of water that would be needed during the process can’t be ignored.

The Tyndall Centre, a climate change research body, estimates about 2,500-3,000 horizontal wells spread over some 140-400 square kilometres would need to be drilled using some 27 to 113m tonnes of water in order to sustain production levels equivalent to 10% of UK gas consumption.

Mark Miller, chief executive at Cuadrilla Resources, the company responsible for shale drilling in UK, told MPs at the select committee hearing into shale gas that 99.8% of this is pure water bought from local supplier United Utilities. The rest is made up of two chemicals: a fluid to reduce friction inside the pipe and an unspecified additive, the Guardian wrote on Tuesday 1 March.

Miller also confirmed that only about a third of the water mix is recovered during the initial period, with at least half remaining underground and he believes that the solid rock in top of the aquifer would prevent the water mix contaminating it.

On top of it, the Guardian reveal that the results of the first attempt to extract shale gas in the UK using a controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, will be kept secret for four years.

It was confirmed by the Government that according to the oil and gas practise it is not unusual for the industry to keep some information confidential for a period, in these case till 2015.

Energy companies are very much interested in exploring Europe’s potential for shale gas, because any kind of gas is a relatively carbon-friendly alternative to oil, and it could significantly affect the energy market.

 

Written by: Jasmina Nikoloska

February 24, 2011

Brazilian scientists see new source of renewable energy in atmospheric humidity

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Believing that electricity could be generated from the air, Brazilian scientists are working to discover the processes involved in the formation and release of electricity from water in the atmosphere.

Contrary to the previous belief that water droplets in the atmosphere were electrically neutral and remained so even after coming into contact with the electrical charges on dust particles and droplets of other liquids, the latest evidence has shown that water in the atmosphere really does pick up an electrical charge, Wired UK reported on 27 August 2010.

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston by study leader Fernando Galembeck, PhD, from the University of Campinas (Brazil), who confirmed that laboratory experiments had proven “hygroelectricity”, or humidity, which meant that “water in the atmosphere can accumulate electrical charges and transfer them to other materials it comes into contact with”.

It might sound hard to believe, but a team of scientists from the university is working to develop suitable devices to capture electricity from the air, and then eventually to use it to power houses and businesses.

Although the research is still in its early stages, Galembeck presented…

See more: Brazilian scientists see new source of renewable energy in atmospheric.

February 18, 2011

Generating energy from nuclear fusion – Is it possible?

by Jasmina Nikoloska
Nuclear fusion is the natural process of converting hydrogen into helium at temperatures of 10-15 million Kelvin, providing enough energy to power the Sun and stars.

This almost endless process has inspired a vigorous world-wide research programme, aimed at harnessing fusion energy for human needs.

Seemingly a perfect energy source to supply the world’s energy needs for millions of years to come, nuclear fusion in and of itself generates no carbon dioxide emissions or harmful waste, and poses no threat to a surrounding human population.

But to exploit this energy from nuclear fusion on Earth is different and more difficult; much more efficient fusion reactions than those at work on the Sun would have to be selected, in this case, those between the two heavy forms of hydrogen: deuterium (D) and tritium (T).

Despite the progress achieved in fusion experiments, no device has yet made more energy than it consumes: Fusion has only been achieved by putting far more energy into a system than the fusion itself produces.

Fusion on Earth occurs under specific conditions at very high temperatures, greater than 100 million Kelvin, from a very hot gas or plasma of hydrogen in a controlled environment using a powerful magnetic field.

In order to harness fusion energy, scientists and engineers are learning how to control very high temperature plasmas.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Research Reactor (ITER), in southern France, is a multinational research and engineering project designed to prove the scientific and technological feasibility of a full-scale fusion power reactor. It is an experimental step between today’s studies of plasma physics and future electricity-producing fusion power plants.

It is designed to produce approximately 500 MW of fusion power sustained for more than 400 seconds. ITER will be the first fusion experiment with an output power higher than the input power.

The ITER project faces funding problems; a shortfall of building costs in 2012-2013 of 1.4 billion euro is expected to be covered by European Union research funds. This raises concerns among scientists working on other research programmes, who argue that the proposal could “rob researchers of vital funds”.

The original plan was to build the bones of the experiment in 10 years for a budget of 5 billion euro. Many now expect it to be in the region of 15 billion euro, Time’s Ecocentric published recently.

The Joint European Torus (JET), at Culham Science Centre, Oxfordshire, UK, investigates the potential of fusion power as a safe, clean and virtually limitless energy source for future generations. The largest tokamak in the world, it is the only operational fusion experiment capable of producing fusion energy.

While JET represents a pure scientific experiment, the reactor-scale experiment ITER is designed to deliver 10 times the power it consumes. The next foreseen device, DEMO, is expected to be the first fusion plant to reliably provide electricity to the grid.

If successful, this will offer a viable alternative energy supply within the next 30 to 40 years.

Written by: Jasmina Nikoloska for Energetika.NET
February 16, 2011

Supergrid for transmitting renewable energy where it is needed

by Jasmina Nikoloska

From January the 19th to 21st, in London, leading industry, regulators, ministries,  associations, solution providers, investors, get together to discuss wide visions into Supergrid development.

The Supergrid is an ambitious project that could ensures renewable energy generated offshore can be fed into the grid and brought to where it is needed.

Europe is starting to build an “electric economy”. Electricity grids will no longer be seen as a national resource. They will become international corridors of trade bringing renewable energy generation from northern marine and southern solar generation to where is needed.

The primary fuel sources for this transition to renewable generation will be wind, solar and marine energy and that will drive to a low carbon future.

Although some technical difficulties are overcome there is still log way to go in implementing the Supergrid project.

Now is technically possible to transmit electricity efficiently and cheaply from distant locations at sea or in the desert to the urban areas, but the software to support the design and management of a DC (direct current) power grid simply does not exist.

The questions remains of a unifying the European energy market, that is probably necessary if we want these project to work.

Let’s not forget about policy and regulatory framework. It is clear that UK government and nine other countries bordering the North Sea stands up for the Supergrid with signing the Memorandum an agreement in early December 2010.

But we still can’t see investment on table and clear regulatory framework arranged between the countries that will produce trade or use renewable sources through Supergrid.

However, the Supergrid innovative is a positive thinking and a way to achieve energy efficiency as well reduces our dependence on fossil fuels.