This article deals with the present energy mix and tries to discover how the future energy mix should look in order to be sustainable and significantly reduce environmental impact, for example reduced CO2 emissions. It should be less dependent on the fossil fuels, have increased reliability, have fuel cost with reduced price fluctuations and be able to successfully meet the future demand for energy that just gets larger and larger as world energy requirements increase with the new lifestyle choices.
Gordan Feric | Engineering Software
For many years, fossil fuels have been the only and main option and/or choice when it comes to providing heat to various heat engine type operating devices used for the purpose of power generation. Until the present time, there has been no need to be concerned with the combustion products and their environmental impact.
It has been known for years that fossil fuel reserves are large and that the world demand for fuel should be somehow easily satisfied.
One of the hypothetical fuels would be hydrogen. Using hydrogen as the ultimate fuel would be beneficial because there are no CO2 emissions. All of a sudden, one can realize the full potential of hydrogen and consider what the challenges are in having safe, reliable and sustainable hydrogen generation, storage, distribution and use.
In the environment, hydrogen cannot be found as a pure element. Hydrogen is one of two basic elements contained in water. Therefore, it needs to be extracted from water in order to be used. Here is an interesting fact when it comes to dealing with hydrogen, 70% of our planet is made of water. In water, roughly one tenth is hydrogen. Therefore, 7% of our planet consists of hydrogen. The challenge and the question are just how to get to hydrogen from water and get it used as a safe and reliable fuel in order to meet the future energy demand.
When it comes to power generation, currently used technologies require high amount of capital and it takes lots of operation time to fully recover the invested capital. Therefore, the intent of this article is not to make any radical changes to the currently employed technologies that would jeopardize the already made capital investments.
New technologies require even more capital in order to enter the commercial arena of power generation in order to have commercially viable operation. It becomes very difficult and cumbersome to start introducing such environmentally friendly technologies into the commercial operation.
An idea of coupling existing technologies with the new ones becomes a way of moving forward -- enhancing the environmental merit of the technologies already in use with the ones that have environmental superiority, but very high capital requirements. For example, coal fired power plants could get fitted with CO2 capture and storage technologies in order to make their operation meet the new standards and make them environmentally compliant.
In summary, this article analyzes the current energy mix and how it is structured -- fossil fuel fired/based, renewable energy and nuclear energy power generation -- and what needs to be done in order to have a future energy mix based on hydrogen as the main fuel. In order to accomplish the stated objectives, this article goes over the currently used fuels and evaluate their environmental impact primarily in terms of CO2 emissions, see how the current CO2 emissions levels could be reduced by using CO2 emissions capture technologies that are being developed and see how carbon free and/or carbon lowered levels fuels could be generated, stored, distributed and used in a safe and reliable manner and what possible existing and new markets could be. Finally, a new balanced and sustainable energy mix scenario would be proposed.
In a series of energy conversion issues that are independent of each other, but related to the energy mix structures and issues this article addresses topics such as:
- Current energy mix and assessment of the environmental merit of presently used technologies
- Future power generation technologies
- Future fuels
- Commercialization of new energy technologies
- Balanced future energy mix
- Exploring new energy demand, trends and markets
This article puts emphasis on indicating how the future energy mix should be structured in order to be self sustainable. This article objective is not to deal with specific numbers and demonstrate what the costs and revenues would be for the proposed scenarios.
Furthermore, the purpose of this article is to provide initially enough information and ideas so that the AltEnergyMag.com members and visitors can get engaged in a constructive, productive dialog and exchange of ideas enriching the original articles’ content and providing additional ideas and solutions resulting in an achievable and commercially viable and sustainable energy mix. Therefore, the AltEnergyMag.com members and visitors are encouraged to contribute to this article as much as possible in order to shake up the original article and help find the optimum solutions with the shortest development and deployment path for having sustainable energy mix down the road.
With the noticed increase in the ambient temperature due to the greenhouse effect, emissions of CO2, something needs to be done with the energy mix in order to avoid further increase of the ambient temperature and its potentially bad impact on the environment.
Even before it was difficult to introduce new technologies and have such new technologies get ready for commercially viable operation when competing with already commercialized technologies. Now, commercialization of new technologies gets even more difficult due to the requirement for huge capital investments, fuel price fluctuation, environmental compliance etc.
By introducing hydrogen in the future energy mix, it gets easier to meet the ever increasing energy demand, satisfy the demand for energy on the go and initially contain and over a long run reduce the emissions of CO2. By having hydrogen present in the energy mix, it speeds up the introduction of the renewable energy in the energy mix -- it is not so easy to integrate directly the renewable energy into the grid type operation because the output is subject to the weather conditions, unpredictable power output.
Under the proposed scenario, the future energy mix would be self sustainable and have many advantages over the presently used energy mix.
In the proposed energy mix, renewable energy (solar, wind and hydro) and nuclear energy would generate hydrogen in a safe and reliable way. Such generated hydrogen would be safely stored, distributed and made available for use. After the successful and safe use, hydrogen would turn in water, when combined with air/oxygen and the hydrogen natural cycle would repeat itself meaning that water and contained hydrogen just cannot get depleted. By using hydrogen more and more, dependence for fossil fuel would start to go away and having less and less emissions of CO2 would start to bring down the ambient temperature and bring certainty back to the mankind.
Energy Mix Benefits
Therefore, the current energy mix needs to be changed so that is self sustainable down the road.
In such a proposed energy mix, power generation technologies and systems could be operational at their optimum and design conditions working 24/7 no matter what the actual load requirements are. When load requirements go down, the power surplus is used to generate more hydrogen that will be used as the fuel when energy demand goes up. For the first time, the mankind could produce environmentally friendly fuel and have it stored for future needs -- such a move would be beneficial when dealing with fuel price fluctuations.
In remote areas that have no access to the centralized power grid, distributed power generation could be the answer. When hydrogen powered fuel cells computer applications become available, the living standards go up immediately for local communities. By having wireless Internet connection, such communities enhance the value of their life in no time -- access to information, education, e-business etc.
Having reduced emissions of CO2, reverses the global warming effect and potential climate change, resulting in bringing back certainty and prosperity on worldwide basis.
As it can be seen, positive change spreads through many areas and has a positive impact on all the parties involved.
Sustainable energy mix is very important for the mankind. Synergy between power generation and computer industries is huge and hydrogen can play a big and important role in moving forward and having the new and future energy mix ready for commercial operation.
Good energy mix is so important for the well being of the society and when successful and sustainable, it can make wonders in terms of additional progress and prosperity. It becomes such a powerful force that provides an overall big push guaranteeing success.
The success of each society is based on having a sustainable energy mix.
Long time ago, when the energy mix was set up and operating parameters defined such as system reliability, availability and net cost to the end user, coal was chosen as the primary fuel for base load operation. In addition to coal, nuclear energy is used for base load operation while hydro energy and natural gas fired gas turbines are used for peak load. Renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal) is slowly entering the commercial arena for power generation.
Due to the pricing scheme, it is difficult to make commercially viable operation of new and advanced technologies. In order to speed up their introduction in to commercial operation, the Government needs to provide incentives and/or breaks. In a way, under the current power generation conditions, technologies end up being pitched against each other in order to be able to achieve commercially viable operation. Advanced technologies do not get to have a fair share and require more and more capital investment up front to compete with the existing technologies that are already in place.
Over the years, since the energy mix is based on coal as the fuel, emissions of CO2 have become a big problem by themselves. Therefore, the employed energy mix needs to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions and in other words dependence on the fossil fuels.
The amount of CO2 emissions can be reduced and mitigated by using CO2 capture and storage technologies. By doing this it would impose additional costs on the power generation industry. Therefore, a new and innovative way of capturing and storing CO2 emissions and using fossil fuels with less carbon needs to be found. Using renewable energy to liberate hydrogen from water and couple it with meeting the demand for energy on the go could do it -- hydrogen powered fuels cells could be the answer meeting the commercialization requirements. In such a proposed scenario, hydrogen powered fuel cells applications would operate off the grid resulting in a different pricing scheme. Such a flexible pricing scheme would generate enough revenue to make the operation profitable and commercially viable. It would not require Government incentives and/or breaks and would provide an opportunity for the both Government sponsored R&D work and power industry companies efforts to finally result in commercially viable operation.
Therefore, a complex commercialization effort needs to be put in place capitalizing on the synergy of both computer and power generation industries when meeting the demand for energy on the go. As a result, the mankind would be able for the first time to generate and use fuel/hydrogen that cannot be depleted and when used there are no CO2 emissions and it is fully environmentally compliant.
In order to make this work, safe, reliable, generation, storage, distribution and use of hydrogen needs to be present under all the conditions all the time.
Demand for Energy on the Go
Since the early 1990s, the computer industry has made a huge impact on the lifestyle. Today, Internet is more and more important and provides a backbone for instant communication on the worldwide basis, news coverage as the stories develop, access to the right information in no time, e-commerce etc. There are all kinds of computer devices -- PCs, notebooks, laptops, iphones, all kinds of electronic gadgets etc. It is obvious that the life standards have risen. It is no longer good enough just to be wirelessly connected to the Internet where batteries, that have a limited up time, are the main source of providing energy. Now, the requirement is to have wireless connection to the Internet on the go for more than just a few hours of operation -- there is a desire to charge once a week and/or even once a month such energy hungry devices.
Actually, today more and more people are willing to go to the nature or just be on the road with no restrictions applied and even work and live without being connected to the grid and are ready to pay a premium price for such lifestyle and availability of the energy on the go. Computer industry allows people to do so and right now the only limitation for not doing so is not being able to get their hands on energy on the go.
On the other side, this is a perfect opportunity for the energy people to fully commercialize and deploy new technologies that have been under development for many years and which just cannot enter the commercial arena of operation because of the too high capital investment and cost to the consumer when compared with already commercialized technologies. As people say, a new demand and/or service that needs to be taken care of provides an opportunity for a technology that just cannot be commercially viable in the traditional operational environment.
For an energy professional as well for an end user such scenario looks promising and encouraging.
Here is a final though that needs to be spelled out. There is a big difference between transportation and computer energy requirements. The computer industry requirements are not as demanding as the ones of the transportation industry. There is no need to build an entire new supply infrastructure. For the computer industry needs, hydrogen contained in cartridges can be sufficient to provide such lasting energy source. Such cartridges can be bought in advance and/or delivered by express mail. Therefore, such approach is less capital hungry providing lower risk and better and faster return on investment having to serve a huge market on the large and worldwide scale.
In the environment, hydrogen cannot be found as a pure element. Hydrogen is contained in water. Therefore, it needs to be extracted from water in order to be used. Here is an interesting fact when it comes to dealing with hydrogen, 70% of our planet is made of water. In water, roughly one tenth is hydrogen. Therefore, 7% of our planet consists of hydrogen. The challenge and the question are just how to get to hydrogen from water and get it used as a safe and reliable fuel in order to meet the future energy demand.
Hydrogen can provide heat required for heat engine operation -- combustion process. Also, hydrogen generates dc when in an electrochemical process in a presence of the electrolyte. Furthermore, hydrogen is the first element in the Periodic Table. It is a very precious element and could have a huge impact in engineering application for the purpose of the power generation industry. In engineering applications, it could change the ways of being used as the fuel and serving different energy markets with specific needs.
Before hydrogen starts being used in the energy mix, it needs to be demonstrated over and over that it can be generated, stored, distributed and used safely and reliably with no serious threat to the public and its safety. Such a demonstration on large scale is very important for the purpose of the new and future energy mix that needs to be based on wide use of hydrogen resulting in being fully environmentally compliant and having commercially viable operation.
Hydrogen as the fuel has the potential to serve different energy markets and just cannot be depleted. It brings certainty to the mankind and prosperity.
Hydrogen as the fuel brings hope to the power generation industry and mankind. It brings together power generation and computer industries and makes it very easy when it comes to the commercialization of hydrogen power fuel cells engineering applications. It pulls all sorts of renewable energy technologies and makes their commercialization much easier. Hydrogen storage and distribution technologies also get a push. Overall, it creates a positive and powerful chain reaction in the power generation and computer industries resulting in being fully environmentally compliant.
Thanks to hydrogen and its potential, the future does look bright and sky is the limit when it comes to the possible engineering applications and benefits.
Hydrogen Generation, Storage, Distribution and Use
In the transitional period, hydrogen could be generated by reforming natural gas -- methane. Also, it could be generated from coal. However, the best way of generating hydrogen would be by using renewable energy (solar -- photovoltaics, wind and hydro) and nuclear energy to liberate hydrogen from water.
When it comes to solar energy -- photovoltaics, there are many ways how it could be structured to lower the financial burden for capital investment on the utilities. Home owners could help as well as commercial building owners by installing the solar panels on top of their homes and buildings. In such a proposed arrangement, they get free electricity from the utilities and offset the need for the capital investment on the utilities part. The utilities use the surplus of electricity to generate hydrogen on the spot and get a chance to sell it in a higher cost energy market when meeting the demand for energy on the go. Private industry’s and Government buildings can participate in similar programs as well. The more roof and general land areas get covered with solar panels, the better for everybody.
Need for capital investment when installing solar panels is huge and this idea would help bring down and spread across the society the capital investment requirements.
When it comes to the use of hydrogen, it can be used for combustion in heat engines -- gas turbines, cylinder type engines etc. -- or in fuel cells, direct energy conversion.
Once again, certain components of such an energy mix may not have the best characteristics, but when tied into a unique system structure, the resulting structure is far superior over the presently used energy mix. For the first time, the mankind can generate hydrogen, fuel, and even create a surplus for the future use!
There will be many challenges in hydrogen generation, storage, distribution and use to be solved, but there is no doubt that both power generation and computer industries are ready to move forward and have more than enough resources, experience, knowledge and technologies to get such an energy mix up and running.
In summary, good days are ahead of us and the future does look bright.
Impact of Ambient Temperature Increase on the Energy Mix and Environment
Increase of the ambient temperature has bad impact on the atmosphere too. As a first indication, one can notice that both north and south poles would start melting and shrinking and as a result worldwide sea level would start to go up causing all kinds of problems to the worldwide population -- potential damages are unbelievable.
As a result of ambient temperature shift, there would be a big movement of people as well as animals looking for acceptable living conditions -- big migrations would take place. Certain species just would not be able to cope with it. This would create a total chaos on a worldwide scale.
However, it is believed that mankind does have sufficient resources, tools and technologies to deal with the above depicted challenges and potential problems and/or damages.
As people say, when there is a problem, use it as an opportunity to bring to light a better and improved energy mix that would be superior to the one already in place -- be less dependent on the fossil fuels, emit less emissions of CO2 etc.
It is believed that the timing is perfect and that the challenge imposed by an increase of the ambient temperature can just bring the best out of the technologies that are about to enter commercial arena created by the synergy between power generation and computer industries. Hydrogen fuel would be the primary fuel in the new energy mix relying heavily on the renewable energy to generate hydrogen that could be used to power widespread fuel cells applications.
It is worthwhile to notice that the coal and gas fired power plants should be fitted with CO2 capture and storage technologies. Once the ambient temperature gets under control, it might be crucial to have both coal and gas fired power plants present in the new energy mix as well as have access to the stored CO2 quantities in order to offset potential additional decrease of the ambient temperature. Plants of all kinds need CO2 and the mankind needs to be able to have control over the amount of CO2 present in the atmosphere -- equilibrium of CO2 needs to be present at all the time.
Initiatives and Regulation
It is believed that the Government is the largest stakeholder in putting in place such a sophisticated energy mix. The Government’s role is to come up with a good plan where the roles of all other stakeholders are precisely defined and spelled out including all the safety and reliability measures. Initially, the Government and the private industry can participate in a cost sharing program, while later when the proposed energy mix becomes sustainable only the private industry takes over and gets financially responsible for developing, maintaining and expanding such energy mix -- the Government becomes a passive player overseeing the actions taken and making sure that the rules are followed and applied.
When developing such an energy mix, it is important that the timing, when particular components become available, is fully honored -- making sure that there is no major time slippage. Also, it is important to have contingency plans in place so that proposed energy mix can move forward with less sophisticated components ready if the ultimate design of such components is not ready and having passed successfully crucial demonstration and safety testing.
All legal and safety measures need to be considered so that in case there is some kind of malfunction, any kind of litigation can be avoided or kept at the minimum possible level.
Again, it is the Government’s role to make sure that all the bases are covered and that such an energy mix moves forward and gets fully deployed and is ready to enter commercial arena of operation. In a way, there is not much time left before such an important energy mix gets in operation to help cope with environmental issues that need to be addressed.
Also, the Government’s role is to make sure that such an energy mix is regulated to some degree due to the overall importance of the energy mix and that pricing at various levels is determined up front before selling and buying takes place. For grid operation, it is a pretty much fixed price scenario, while when it comes to dealing with the demand for energy on the go market, the price scenario is not so strictly fixed because it is an off grid operation. However, the Government needs to define the playing conditions and always try to make sure that the consumers’ rights are protected.
An energy mix of such importance and spanning over multiple industries has never been put in place before what requires caution and due attention.
Getting such energy mix developed and put in place will require lots of effort, but if done correctly it will pay off for many years to come. Such experience gained could be proved to be very beneficial when dealing with similar future projects of similar nature and importance for the mankind.
His engineering experience of over 20 years includes performing analytical modeling and computer modeling of physical properties, power cycles, power cycle components/processes and compressible flow, conducting conceptual design, analysis and evaluation of various energy conversion systems for power and propulsion applications.
Also, his engineering experience includes working on the commercialization of advanced energy conversion systems.
For a number of years, Gordan Feric has worked as an R&D engineer with Engineering Software developing and providing anywhere, anytime engineering e-material, e-solutions, e-courses and e-seminars for energy conversion fundamentals and energy conversion systems offering accelerated engineering e-learning and innovation.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
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