Monday, February 4, 2013

All of the Above Energy, except for …


Chase Power Development, LLC of Houston, TX has announced that it is ceasing operations. The company was attempting to permit and build the Las Brisas power plant in Corpus Christi, TX. Las Brisas, anticipated to cost $3 billion and create 1,300 direct and 2,600 indirect jobs, was a planned 1,320 megawatt plant with circulating fluidized bed boilers that would use petroleum coke as its primary fuel source. The petroleum coke was to be obtained from three local refineries. Chase Power CEO Dave Freysinger was quoted in the Corpus Christi Caller as saying that the project succumbed to overwhelming USEPA regulations on carbon-based fuel permitting requirements and emission standards for petroleum coke. Opponents of the plant claimed it would emit toxic chemicals and fine particles into the air.

The Technology

Las Brisas was to have incorporated circulating fluidized bed combustion technology, widely used in the electricity generation industry. The following description from the Las Brisas Energy Center web page explains the process depicted in the accompanying flow diagram:

Fuel Input

Fuel and limestone are fed into the combustion chamber of the boiler while air (primary and secondary) is blown in to “fluidize” the mixture. The fluidized mixture burns at a relatively low temperature and produces heat. The limestone absorbs sulfur dioxide (SO2), and the low-burning temperature limits the formation of nitrogen oxide (NOX) – two gases associated with the combustion of solid fuels.

CFB Boiler

Heat from the combustion process boils the water in the water tubes turning it into high-energy steam. Ammonia is injected into the boiler outlet to further reduce (NOX) emissions.

Cyclone Collector

The cyclone is used to return ash and unburned fuel to the combustion chamber for re-burning, making the process more efficient.

State-of-the-Art Air Quality Control System

After combustion, lime is injected into the “polishing scrubber” to capture more of the (SO2). A “baghouse” (particulate control device) collects dust particles (particulate matter) that escape during the combustion process. Activated Carbon Injection (ACI) will be installed upstream of the fabric filter to enhance the removal of mercury and HAP’s [i.e., Hazardous Air Pollutants].

Steam Turbine

The high-pressure steam spins the turbine connected to the generator, which converts mechanical energy into electricity.

Transmission Lines

The electricity produced from the steam turbine/generator is routed through substations along transmission lines and delivered to distribution systems for customer use.

All of the Above Energy?

The White House website links to a document titled “Obama Administration Record on an All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy.” The document states:

The President is committed to an all-of-the-above strategy that expands production of American energy resources, like oil and natural gas; increases energy efficiency to save families and businesses money at the pump; and develops cleaner, alternative fuels to reduce our oil dependence.

The document also says that the US “need[s] to take control of our own energy future by out-innovating and outbuilding our global competitors.”

What are some recent innovations that might have applied to the now-defunct Las Brisas plant, which it would seem, due to its underlying oil-based fuel, might have been part of the all of the above energy strategy?

Petroleum Coke

Petroleum coke, according to the US Energy Information Administration, is a coal-like material produced as part of the petroleum distillation process. “Petroleum coke has uses in the electric power and industrial sectors, as fuel inputs or a manufacturing raw material used to produce electrodes for the steel and aluminum industries. In 2011, the refining industry supplied 132 million barrels of petroleum coke with most of it subsequently consumed as fuel.”

US Patent 7,901,473, “Pre-burning, dry process methodology and systems for enhancing solid fuel properties,” was granted to CoalTek, Inc. (Tucker, GA) in March 2011. Inventors Jerry Weinberg and colleagues developed “a dry electromagnetic process technology … that can be controlled and monitored to selectively alter and enhance solid fuel properties for the application in question. Specific changes include altering the mechanical structure and chemical composition of solid fuels such as coal, coal coke or petroleum coke, increasing the BTU/lb to optimum levels, decreasing all forms of sulfur, and decreasing ash, while maintaining the BTU/lb of the fuels. A new family of solid fuel designer coals not found in nature can be produced via these methods and apparatus.”

Their invention not only increases the heat content (Btu/lb) of the fuel, but also decreases sulfur (and hence, sulfur dioxide emissions) and ash (reducing the amounts of fly and bottom ash that must be removed from the flue gas or boilers and subsequently disposed of, and the amounts of fine particulate matter produced. More on this in a future post.)

Carbon Emissions Trading & Offsets, Sequestration, and Reduction

This is an active area of innovation and patenting. In the last five years the following inventions (and there are many more in this area) have been approved by the US Patent Office.

Carbon Trading & Offsets

Bank of America makes it easy for commercial entities to do their part to help stop global warming. US Patent 8,214,258, “Systems, methods and computer program products for a comprehensive environmental benefit program associated with a commercial credit card,” issued in July 2012 to Jeffrey Pauly and David Vogel. “Systems, methods, and computer program products are provided for a comprehensive environmental benefit program associated with purchases made by a corporate entity and, more specifically, purchases associated with a commercial credit card. According to embodiments herein disclosed, environmental impact data, such as ecological or carbon footprint data may be determined based on the purchases made by a commercial entity using the commercial credit card and, in some embodiments, purchases made through other purchasing channels. In addition, environmental advisory data, such as suggestions for environmental improvements, environmental educational information or the like may be determined based on the purchases. Additionally, environmental rebates, such as carbon offsets may be determined based on the purchases/purchase amounts and customized based on commercial entity preferences.”

This is a business method patent using ‘computer program products’ (i.e., software). Is this patent good because it helps save the planet? Is it bad because it is owned by a large corporation? Or bad because it’s a business method patent and some folks have the notion that they shouldn’t be allowed? Or bad because it’s software and other folks have the notion that software patents are the death of innovation? It makes my head explode pondering this quandary.

Carbon Sequestration

US Patent 8,308,911, “System and method for atmospheric carbon sequestration,” from November 2012, issued to inventor Michael Cheiky and assigned to Cool Planet Biofuels, LLC. (Anyone remember the early 70s when the rage was global cooling and a new ice age? Just wondering.) “This invention relates to systems and methods for converting biomass into highly inert carbon. Specifically, some embodiments densify the carbon into anthracite-style carbon aggregations and store it in geologically stable underground deposits. The use of certain embodiments yield a net effect of removing atmospheric carbon via the process of photosynthesis and converting it into hard coal, which can be stored in underground beds that mimic existing coal deposits which are known to be stable for thousands of years.”

Carbon Reduction

US Patent 7,919,290, “Bio-recycling of carbon dioxide emitted from power plants,” issued in April 2011 to John Offerman and Hugh McTavish; they retained ownership of the patent. Their invention “provides a method to decrease emission of carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuels or other hydrocarbons and to enhance the efficiency of methane production from anaerobic biodigesters. The invention involves feeding carbon dioxide from the exhaust gas of hydrocarbon fuel combustion to an anaerobic biodigester where biomass is anaerobically fermented to produce methane. Carbon dioxide is an electron acceptor for anaerobic fermentation, and thus some of the carbon dioxide is reduced to methane, which can again be used for fuel. In this way, at least a portion of the exhaust gas CO2 is recycled to form fuel methane instead of being released into the atmosphere. Thus, the net CO2 emission from burning a given amount of fossil fuel is decreased. Adding carbon dioxide to an anaerobic fermentation also increases the efficiency and amount of methane production in the fermentation.”

We will explore toxic emissions and fine particulate matter reductions technology that might have played a role at Las Brisas in an upcoming post.