March 31, 2011

Japanese radiation reaches Britain raising doubts about Britain’s nuclear programme

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Two days ago, Scotland was on radiation alert after traces of iodine-131 were found in the air in Glasgow and Oxfordshire.

Although, the Health Protection Agency said there was no public risk, “significantly below any level that could cause harm to public health”, sill the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency increased checks for the substance.

Also, low levels of contamination had already been detected across the United States and Europe since Japan’s Fukushima plant was damaged by a tsunami caused by the earthquake on March 11.

However insignificant the level of radiation for humans are at these point it highlights how far radioactive material can travel on the winds and how vulnerable we would be if there was a serious radiation leak thousands of miles away.

But been lucky not being in an earthquake zone and not suffering the secondary consequences of the tsunami, also having different design of nuclear power plants, does it mean that we could believe that nuclear can be safe, even with strengthen safety procedures!?

This raises concerns and suspicions on Britain’s nuclear programme and plans to double nuclear power capacity by 2025, building new generations of nuclear power plants.

A study led by Sir David King, scientist, showed that the industry is better equipped to manage the decline and decommissioning of existing nuclear plants, rather than set up new ones. If Britain is to deal with its nuclear waste, as well as build new reactors, then more waste must be recycled.

Doug Parr, the green campaigning group’s chief scientist at Greenpeace, thinks that by reprocessing nuclear waste and turning it into fuel, it is created even more nuclear waste “than you would otherwise have to deal with anyway.”

According to Sir David King, nuclear power seems to be the safer energy so far.

”Even hydroelectricity has caused more fatalities”, he said. The catastrophe that hit Japan was “an extremely unlikely event”. He pointed that the safety systems kicking in correctly, acting exactly as supposed so, in those circumstances.

But, could we rely only on renewables to meet our energy consumption demand, without nuclear?

The latest figure shows that it is possible for more than 80% of Europe’s power to come from clean, renewable sources. “It simply isn’t necessary to take on the risks inherent with using plutonium” – according to Doug Parr.

Anti-nuclear campaigners here insisted any radiation in our atmosphere should set alarm bells ringing. Even Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg warned that new nuclear power plants could be too expensive and risky.



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 14, 2011

SuperGrid is a synergistic bridge which will create Europe’s future

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Energetika.NET – reliable energy news for SEE Zubaidah Razak: SuperGrid is a solution for transmitting energy overseas Author: Jasmina Nikoloska

Ten ministers from northern and western European countries, representatives of the Offshore Grid Initiative and the European Commissioner for Energy assembled in early December 2010 to discuss a project known as SuperGrid. Their gathering resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding to develop this offshore electricity grid enabling interconnection between continental, offshore and British energy resources.

SuperGrid is an ambitious project that could secure the feeding of renewable energy generated offshore into the grid and delivery to where needed.

PHOTO: Jasmina Nikoloska

From 19 to 21 January, at the Synergistic SuperGrid for Transmitting Energy Overseas 2011 event in London, leading industry representatives, ministries, associations, solution providers and investors got together to extensively discuss insights into SuperGrid development, pathways to achieving efficiency and seeking upcoming opportunities in Europe and abroad.

Energetika.NET spoke with Zubaidah Razak, managing director at InnoQube, the organiser of Synergistic SuperGrid for Transmitting Energy Overseas 2011.

In your opinion, how important is this event in promoting the SuperGrid project and can it help to push faster the development of grid infrastructure and regulatory framework?

I would even say that there are lot of an events related to SuperGrid, based on the event I am organising – Synergistic SuperGrid for Transmitting Energy Overseas 2011. It is important and beneficial to have these three days, because we have a lot of people from different industries and backgrounds: the operators, the solution providers, the government. Planning for the event was done diligently, and we are getting good feedback from people who now understand much more. Compared with other events that only touch a little bit, we are having very good coverage.

Do you believe that SuperGrid is a synergistic bridge which will create Europe’s future?

Definitely, of course! We need something to connect, so SuperGrid, I would say, is the only thing that will help the European Union ambition to promote and to share energy among Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so SuperGrid is a solution.

This conference is coming to an end: What does your future hold?

Based on the feedback we received, as well as what we heard, and understanding more about this project, our plan is to fine-tune to get much more coverage in the development of SuperGrid, because we also want to contribute and help by organising the next event aiming at 2020-2050.

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 17, 2011

Scientists linked increased flooding with climate change

by Jasmina Nikoloska

This week’s journal Nature published the results of two studies that find link between greenhouse emissions and the observed increase in extreme rains in the Northern Hemisphere as well the increased risk of flooding in the United Kingdom.

In the autumn 2000 were the highest rains in England and Wales since records began in 1766 and now the scientists say they are almost certainly caused by climate change.

UK’s wettest period affecting more than 10.000 homes and more than a billion pounds damage, so this paper shows that we already have climate change and it is not something that will happen in the future.

The results are based on a ran computer models of the atmosphere as it actually was, and parallel models of the atmosphere as it would have been without the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that had accrued from human activities..

A research team led from Oxford University came to a conclusion that the emissions substantially increased the odds of a flood occurring in 2000, with about a doubling of the likelihood.

If the risk of floods is increasing, policymakers will have to be ready to respond but unfortunately in the UK, the government has already made its mind by having cut the flood defence budget by 8% earlier this month.

However, there will be always someone how doesn’t agree with how the results are carried out.

Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish “sceptical environmentalist” told BBC News that society had to look at where and how people lived.

“But is the right way to handle future flooding by focusing on climate change? The answer is no – that’s an incredibly expensive way of making extreme flooding very slightly less likely in 100 years.

“We should focus on the simple ways – making better protection, making sure people don’t settle on flood plains, and that we have some places where rivers can naturally flood as they did in the past.” – published yesterday on BBC News web site.

Written by Jasmina Nikoloska

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.

February 9, 2011

By changing our consumption habits towards more sustainable future

by Jasmina Nikoloska

The population growth is inseparably related to human consumption habits, but we have to understand that a rapid rise in consumption is our most pressing environmental issue not the number of people.

In some societies there is a political, religious or cultural norms that has impact on the family planning.

But, I will agree with the Professor Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University in California on his view that “we would like to see a gradual decline in population, but a rapid decline in consumption habits”.

I think if we start to use our resources wisely and reasonably, we could think our way out in favour of the environment and manage to sustain successfully.

Could we control our consumption needs and is it possible each of us to achieve a sustainable life for sustainable future?

The temptations are at every corner, the life still that we present shape our place in the society.

The consumption rate in developed courtiers is several time higher than in the developing word.

But financial poorer nations aim to increase its living standard and often that is by emigrating elsewhere.

Each such relocation of a person to a country with high consumption raises world consumption rates.

Fred Pearce made a good point in his article Consumption dwarfs population as main environmental threat (Article history)Even if we could today achieve zero population growth, that would barely touch the climate problem — where we need to cut emissions by 50 to 80 percent by mid-century. Given existing income inequalities, it is inescapable that overconsumption by the rich few is the key problem, rather than overpopulation of the poor many”.

Maybe thinking and hopping that focusing on new technologies could save us from ourselves, prevent us to see the bigger picture!?