May 13, 2006
Novel energy options
Algae is harvested daily and squeezed for oil from which biodiesel can be produced. The remaining green pulp can produce ethanol. The Berzin system saves pollution control costs for power plants and in fact produces an additional profit. In this report, Berzin claims that “just one 1,000 megawatt power plant using his system could produce more than 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. That would require a 2,000-acre “farm” of algae-filled tubes near the power plant. There are nearly 1,000 power plants nationwide with enough space nearby for a few hundred to a few thousand acres to grow algae and make a good profit”. Here’s more information.
Hydrogen, another energy option for the future, is considered “perfect” by environmental purists. The reasons are not far to seek: it can be endlessly extracted from the atmosphere and when burnt it combines with oxygen and leaves nothing but water vapour. But costs of making hydrogen are prohibitive. There are also safety issues to be addressed. Most of all storing hydrogen is not easy or cheap. Before hydrogen can fuel vehicles, these hurdles have to be overcome.
The work of an Australian research team led by a scientist of Indian origin, Dr Sukhvinder Badwal, has a novel way of addressing these problems. According to this report, “CSIRO Manufacturing and Infrastructure Technology has developed a device the size of a small, domestic microwave oven that runs on mains power or from a solar panel to extract enough hydrogen per day from water, to power a family car for up to 150 kilometres.”
The process of course, is nothing but good old electrolysis but the appeal is in reliable, decentralised turn-key production of hydrogen -even at home- using any source of energy. This obviates hazardous and expensive transportation of hydrogen to refill gas stations.
In the end, the only pure energy source there is in this world,is what came first: solar. Its promise has seduced -and, exasperated- researchers for centuries. Problem is it is widely diffused and unevenly available, calling for concentration and storage systems.
It is not surprising that Australia takes the lead in harnessing two energy sources it has in abundance: solar and natural gas. The latter, though plentiful, is not dense enough to serve transportation needs. In an effort to harness both these to advantage, Australia’s CSIRO has installed 200 tracking mirrors to concentrate solar energy to a receiver in a tower, where temperatures of 1000 deg.C are reached.[Picture] Using that and water, natural gas is enhanced by up to 26%. CSIRO has christened this Solar Gas. It’s advantage is its higher energy density, that make it attractive for storage and use in vehicles.
As for land requirement to produce Solar Gas, figures quoted are even more astounding than those for algal farms. This report says: “...the solar tower now running at Newcastle is sufficiently efficient to generate, in theory, all of Australia’s electrical needs from a 50 sq km site located in the continent’s remorselessly dry and sunny desert zones.”
India with its solar advantage must begin its walk down these new paths for a secure energy future.
[Inputs for this story came from readers Lakshmi Narayanan and Kris Rallapalli]