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Posts Tagged ‘coal’

Clean Energy Finally Gaining Steam

March 5, 2010 7 comments

Finally, somebody said what I’ve been waiting to hear, “… no member of the public has ever been injured by a nuclear power plant in the United States, nor has any nuclear worker died of a radiation-related incident…”, a statement made by Patrick Moore today in the LA Times. This is exactly what I’ve been talking about. People got all hyped up with the accident at Chernobyl (which happened under extremely rare circumstances, by the way) and decided never again to trust nuclear power. There is your proof that nuclear power is clean and safe, despite what people want to think about it. How many people have been killed in coal mines, or in natural gas or oil rig explosions?

We do have renewable energy sources right now: wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, etc. But they are not yet efficient or widespread enough that they can sustain our energy economy. Nuclear power is our next step to clean energy. People need to get over their preconceptions and accept that there is nothing wrong with nuclear power, it has been around for over 50 years now and the technology is well developed and widespread. They want to get rid of greenhouse gases, why not get rid of the big coal powerplants?

The extra money that we would save by getting rid of coal power could be put into research and development of nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies. I think that the big thing that people worry about is spent reactor fuel. Obviously, more reactors would mean more spent fuel. But it would also mean more funding for reprocessing research and storage facilities.

I believe that we are less than 50 years away from seeing reliable fusion power become a reality. When it does, we won’t need traditional nuclear fission reactors anymore, so you can do away with that waste. There is enough nuclear fuel on this planet to last us a long time, much longer than fossil fuels, which are running out fast. Our energy economy needs an overhaul, we’re not in the 1900’s anymore. Maybe coal and oil power was a bright future back then, but now, over 100 years down the road, supplies are running out and we’re seeing the repercussions of living this way. We can’t stay stuck in our ways just because we don’t want to change. The good times with fossil fuels are a thing of the past, now it’s time for us to grow up and move on to bigger and better things.

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Home Bi-generation

Generator

It is a known fact that the modern internal combustion engines in automobiles have a fuel-to-wheels efficiency of only about 25%, maybe a little more in the newer hybrid vehicles. In fact, if you are interested in the physics of this I found this article very interesting. The main opponent here is friction. It’s been proven that most of the energy that is converted from fuel in an internal combustion engine ends up as unusable heat. Ever wondered why cars and trucks need that big ol’ radiator in the front? It has to be large enough to remove 600 Horsepower worth of heat from your 200 Horsepower engine, because that is about how much energy is going to be lost as heat at maximum power. Obviously the modern internal combustion engine, though reliable and popular, is not very efficient at producing tractive power.

If our homes need both heat and power, why don’t we just generate them both ourselves.

If we turn the numbers around here, we realize that the internal combustion engine is actually quite efficient at producing heat. If you live in an area the gets cold winters, you might know first hand that automotive engines can produce a good amount of excess heat. I’ve had the window down in my little car in the middle of winter and been perfectly comfortable (even a little warm), while the engine coolant temperature remains unaffected, as if boasting that I can’t cool it down. See where I’m going with this?

If our homes need both heat and power, why don’t we just generate them both ourselves. We have gas heaters with the potential to make electricity, and we have gas generators that make excess heat. A single generator in every home could be used for heat, energy, and other things. The real question here is: would this be more expensive? I guess the answer depends on what kind of device we use. I wouldn’t use an internal combustion engine, they are too loud, inefficient, and not really designed for that length of service. Gas turbines are reliable and great for constant-speed, constant-load applications, but they too are loud and somewhat inefficient, especially on a smaller scale. I think for this one we should go with the proven prime-mover of our energy market: steam. A steam boiler can provide electrical power through a turbine and generator without too much noise or excess waste. The turbine could also provide rotary power for other devices like air conditioning and water pumping. Heat could be distributed through steam pipes and convectors, transferred to a hydronic heating system, or exchanged through a forced air radiator. A loop could even be provided in the system to heat water. Most homes already have a furnace of some sort installed in them, I see no reason that a generator couldn’t take the place of it.

But what about the efficiency of this whole scheme? Well, if we think about the efficiency of the power generated by a coal-fired power plant, which is only about 33% as noted here, it’s not much better than an automotive engine, not to mention energy losses in transmission and various other parasitic losses. With heating boilers becoming increasingly more efficient, up around 95%, I see no reason that a bi-generation system could not be even more efficient while providing cheaper power, heat, and other utilities. This is definitely not a solution to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, but there is huge potential here for individual power. Also, the existing power transmission grid could be used as a buffer, feeding into the grid when generating, and consuming from the grid when not.

Maybe this is not something that every house and every building in the world should be doing, but for places that are far from other utilities, like cabins, mountainous areas, and deserts, there is some serious potential. Perhaps the urban areas should get their heat and power from a power station, and smaller suburban and country homes should make their own. Just my thoughts, what do you think?


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