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PostPosted: Jun 20, 2011 3:08 pm 
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The assumption is that dirty old coal will gradually roll over and die off as it is burdened down with the costs of GHGs. CCS etc will raise costs and reduce efficiencies such that gas will become the fossil fuel of choice before it too eventually is superseded by LFTRs as the main power technology. However I wonder if that picture is too simple.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately on this forum and elsewhere educating myself and being educated and it has struck me that perhaps while the old coal (and other fossil fuels) business model of burn, generate and emit is increasingly threatened there are technologies in development that could change that view. A coal plant redesigned (rather than just retrofitted) could be optimised to produce several revenue streams with very low emissions.

It could be fitted with a Brayton cycle turbine = higher efficiency, desalination possibility.

It could also have its pollution captured by a process like Calera's to turn pollution into cement and aggregates for sale.

http://www.calera.com/index.php/technology/our_process/

An alternative would be the process Doty are working on to produce hydrocarbon fuel from waste CO2 and hydrogen from water.

http://www.dotyenergy.com/Introduction/Overview.htm

There are doubtless others being worked on. The point I'm raising is that it looks as though some clever GHG mitigation strategies will make it through to commercialisation in the not too distant future. If miners and power companies go back to the drawing board they could develop multi-product plants which keep them in the game for power generation while coal costs remain competitive. Is this too outlandish?


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PostPosted: Jun 21, 2011 5:30 am 
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The used nuclear fuel from Light/Heavy water reactors is not really a waste and has a new life in fast or thorium fueled reactors. Similarly the coal, the major fossil fuel till oil came up as a serious rival, is still alive and kicking (even choking us). If and when nuclear confirms its place as the major clean energy, the coal may supplement oil as carbon feed in chemicals. It could also be a feed stock for synthetic carbon fuels as it extends its position from a feed-stock for DME in China and other places. Things are already in the pipeline, though the progress varies with the state of local economies at different places.
China has the widest energy spectrum. There are unsafe coal mines in operation and there are maximum nuclear reactors under construction. Things are similar in rest of the developing world.
China and India (and rest of the developing world) are developing all the energy sources though at different speeds. The "no longer developing" world in Europe and N. America is busy making choices.


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PostPosted: Jun 21, 2011 6:18 am 
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The idea that coal will be phased out because its dirty and produces lots of GhG is completely naive. If anything use of coal is not just growing, its growth is accellerating:

Image

China in particular is growing, two or three coal plants a week, heading for 4+ coal plants a week (2+ GWe/week installed). As long as long as we keep fooling arount with romantic but marginal notions of solar panels and windmills, and cry hell and murder at even mentioning the word 'nuclear', this industrial reality will exacerbate. Other countries will follow the path of the Chinese. India is the next runner up, other Asian countries will follow after that.

This is a nightmare. We're not headed for a nuclear renaissance at all, we're headed for lots more fossil fuels.


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PostPosted: Jun 21, 2011 11:45 am 
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Thanks for the replies - I was subconsciously thinking about US/europe where pressure is being exerted gradually to curb GHG (though the Germans have possibly eased that lately). Cyril R you are spot on with your graph/comments on the world situation and coal isn't about to disappear anytime soon.

I raised this point because I can foresee that these technologies could enable the coal lobby to start changing their image more sucesfully than with CCS because the pollution problem will be 'solved' (with a 100 yr long rollout). Given that nuclear is something a lot of the public is uncertain about selling a reworked coal cycle would be relatively easy and would compete head to head with LFTR for the baseload market. Anti-nuke greens would probably go for it if it works. It's not something we can do anything about except be aware it might happen.

Personally I hope the Calera process does work as it could suck up a lot of CO2 from various sources. I think it works with just the CO2 dissolved in seawater at lower efficiency so it may be a long term GHG capture/ocean deacidifier possibility if it is needed.


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PostPosted: Jun 22, 2011 1:33 pm 
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That's a frightening graph Cyril. Similar ones are the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dio ... atmosphere

Now I'm not a climatologist but I can't help but imagine that the rapid rise of atmospheric CO2 will have some serious consequences, even if they aren't as dire as some alarmist warn. With the inertia of global industrialization and growth largely dependent on fossil fuels and the rejection of coal, I wouldn't be surprised to see atmospheric CO2 reach concentrations higher than 1000ppm by the end of the century, even with these so called emissions agreements. It would appear all emission reduction mitigation will be to prevent future emissions next century, and nuclear power can help with that, but I doubt it will be fast enough to prevent the vast emissions growth over the next five to ten decades.

I think we're going to have to plan around a world with 1000pp

Andrew Wright wrote:
I raised this point because I can foresee that these technologies could enable the coal lobby to start changing their image more sucesfully than with CCS because the pollution problem will be 'solved' (with a 100 yr long rollout). Given that nuclear is something a lot of the public is uncertain about selling a reworked coal cycle would be relatively easy and would compete head to head with LFTR for the baseload market. Anti-nuke greens would probably go for it if it works. It's not something we can do anything about except be aware it might happen.

Coal companies aren't the least bit interested in CCS except as a PR stunt. It costs way too much and the geography needs to comply. If you forced coal companies to pay for the emissions, they would shut down and become nuclear power companies. In places where the government is fond of funding these sorts of things some CCS plants might pop up, but only where the geography was compatible. At the very best CCS can only be expected to slow the growth of emissions a tiny percentage.


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PostPosted: Jun 22, 2011 2:24 pm 
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dezakin - I agree with your arguments, including about CCS, though I'll call it conventional CCS. This is the process of capturing the CO2 and dealing with it as gas by pumping it into old oilfields etc. It's a straight cost overhead to the coal plant and would make it uncompetitive. A good thing if those utilities did decide to move over to nuclear, hopefully LFTR.

The interesting point is that Calera is developing and marketing a process designed (they claim) to cost less than CCS to retrofit and to give higher sequestration/carbon benefit plus a revenue stream. The Doty process is likewise looking at taking waste CO2 and turning it into fuels. Others are probably looking at similar ideas. It will depend on how much revenue these strategies can generate but 'green cement' and 'green fuels' will help coal plants (if the technology does make it through R&D).

I hope some of these processes do work as mitigations as they will be needed. Cyril's graph and the 1000ppm world you postulate are plenty scary. AGW - CO2 atmospheric effects may not be accepted by all but it looks as though ocean acidification is a lot more measurable and already playing out negatively. That's why Calera got down to work. My view is we're taking chances and we ought to take some precautions as by the time we really do find it it will be too late.

Rolling out LFTR to modify the trends by mid-century will be a big challenge. Hopefully by the time it's through the R&D stage in various countries there will be a much more favourable consensus to deploy it rapidly. The price of energy derived from the mix of carbon taxes, peaking fossil fuels and costly wind etc. will be a big mind changer by then I trust.


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PostPosted: Jun 23, 2011 11:09 am 
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If the reports of Peak Coal and that over the past 10 years there have been massive downgrades of coal reserves....in extreme cases to zero in Germany for a particular grade....unlikely for most countries.

It seems the figures being submitted as reserves were pie in the sky and in many cases less reliable than Middle East oil reserves.

Google Coal Resources and Future Production (2007)


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PostPosted: Mar 12, 2012 1:35 pm 
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Much as I'd like to grumble about coal use and AGW in support of LFTRs, I keep looking back on the atmospheric CO2 content in earth's past and noting that the times when it was this low all had MAJOR glaciations, even to complete coverage. All "snowball Earths" seemed to be due to such loss of GHGs.

We need MORE CO2, not less. Gaia cries out to her latest children (us!) to save her planet from CO2 deficiency. We need to pump it back up to ~ 1000 units rather than the low 300ish level that it is today.

;)

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PostPosted: Mar 12, 2012 3:26 pm 
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The coal used to be in the air - but at that time it was tropical throughout most of the world. So if we put the coal back we get a similar situation. Today the sun puts out more heat than it did hundreds of millions of years ago, so it could be worse.

A bit more warming isn't bad, but how far do we want to push our luck? Double coal use? Triple? Quadruple? Tenfold increase? This is what we will need at least to get a good standard of living for 10 billion people. There are various positive feedback loops that might runaway on us. The Arctic will be ice free in summer before 2020. That means less reflective ice and more heat absorbing ocean. Bunch of permafrost melting releasing CO2 and methane, makes it worse too. Also, over a billion people are completely reliant on melt water rivers for their freshwater supply. If the land ice melts it could be tough for them - imagine going without water for a month. They'd all die.

In any case coal is very dirty with lots of particulate matter and heavy metals, in fact half the periodic table is flung up the air. That's demonstrably bad for us. Even with modern pollution controls its still flying nasties in the air at thousands of tonnes levels. With nuclear power we get that factor 2 million improvement in energy density that will put off the problem indefinately, even with a high standard of living for everyone.


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PostPosted: Mar 13, 2012 5:25 pm 
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There is a little explored alternative -- replacing coal plants with more efficient coal plants. Changing efficiency from 33% to 43% for new, established-technology ultra super critical pulverized coal plant reduces fuel mining and CO2 emissions. Peabody Coal estimates it could save 1.5 Gt of CO2 per year.


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PostPosted: Mar 13, 2012 6:49 pm 
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robert.hargraves wrote:
There is a little explored alternative -- replacing coal plants with more efficient coal plants. Changing efficiency from 33% to 43% for new, established-technology ultra super critical pulverized coal plant reduces fuel mining and CO2 emissions. Peabody Coal estimates it could save 1.5 Gt of CO2 per year.


This is what China is doing. They're building only high efficiency plants now. Their coal use, however, has not reduced. Indeed, it has grown, grown I say, it is growing ever faster. It's skyrocketing.

Efficiency can be used to make China's economy more competitive, allowing it to produce more, using more coal.

By the time all exisiting coal plants have been replaced with newer more efficient coal plants, we'll need twice as many coal plants. Those savings in CO2 are relative to a larger increase; it doesn't mean total coal use will be reduced. In fact, coal plants last a long time, so if we build new now we'll use more coal by 2050, guaranteed. New coal build now just gives China the exactly wrong message: China, keep building coal plants, we're doing it too. A moratorium on new coal build and a phaseout plan for existing coal plants (to prevent these from being used longer than their design lifetime) is needed.

In a world with 10 billion people at reasonable standard of life, we'll need at least ten times the energy we use today, even with the best of efficiency efforts. We'll need something a lot better than a 30% increase in efficiency. We'll need to stop using fossil fuels in electricity generation altogether. This can be done by replacing ageing coal plants with nuclear plants. Gen III now, LFTRs later.


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PostPosted: Mar 14, 2012 9:57 pm 
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Direct carbon fuel cells could greatly increase the efficiency of coal. Greater than 60% efficiency is possible with potentially lower cost per installed MW of capacity than standard coal plants. Carbon dioxide capture is also easier with the direct carbon fuel cell.
2003 direct carbon fuel cell workshop has a few good presentations on the technology.
http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/03/dcfcw/dcfcw03.html


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PostPosted: Mar 15, 2012 1:05 am 
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Even if you reduce the cost of collection of CO2 by tapping the exhaust of coal burning plants, the energy for re-conversion to a fuel will be more than that available after conversion. The opening post refers to storage of renewable energy by production of hydrogen when the wind or solar energy is available. The capital costs for this are going to be higher than nuclear even if the science and technology are easier.
Suspended matter, sulfur and other pollutants from coal are probably more and immediately harmful as compared to carbon dioxide. The coal is best used in chemical plants for production of chemicals or liquid fuels after the peak oil. This use of coal should be extended for as long as possible.
Renewable energy, collected as hydrogen, is best used in fuel cells.
overall efficiency and cost will decide the usage of Direct Carbon Fuel Cells.


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PostPosted: Mar 19, 2012 4:16 pm 
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Jagdish, love the phrase "no longer developing world".

I read an article over at The Oil Drum that said Alaska alone has 5000 gigatons of coal. I fear unless somebody develops something better we may go with the path of least resistance and burn lots of coal. In fact I remember when the president gave speeches talking about "clean coal" not that long ago.


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PostPosted: Mar 19, 2012 7:34 pm 
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The question isn't will coal make a comeback - it is beating the pants off of every other alternative today. We tend to look only at what is happening in the US and Europe - but the world is a lot bigger.

The real question is can we beat coal - that is be lower cost than coal and be deployable at a pace of 2-4 GWatts/week. And how many coal plants will be built while we get this going.


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