Monday, March 12, 2007

Coal to Electricity sans Combustion

While enviro-evangelists Gore and Suzuki preach doom and gloom, Ontario proceeds with plans to transition coal-fired plants to natural gas and go nuclear long-term. Meanwhile, multi-nationals advance prototypes of clean energy generation based on coal-fed fuel cells.
Read about General Electric's test of its gassified-coal solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC). Potential efficiency of over 50% is claimed vs. 35% for coal-fired plants.
Another article claims Siemens' pilot unit has a projected 90% efficiency. These articles include interesting quotes from a manager at the US National Energy Technology Laboratory: In January's Technology Review, Mr. Surdoval says, "I do believe GE has established new state of the art." A couple of months later in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, he says, "...the type of fuel cell that Siemens created is the most efficient of all."
The SOFC technologies which are designed to run on gassified coal are called distributed co-generation with carbon dioxide capture and storage (sequestration). Prototypes are scalable, and according to an April 07 article in Mechanical Engineering Magazine, megawatt systems will be online in 2012.
The International Energy Agency claims nearly one quarter of the world's energy is produced by coal. With China and India economic expansion, such use is expected to increase 30% by 2015 and 60% by 2030. Carbon dioxide spews into the atmosphere wherever coal, oil, or gas are burned to generate heat or electricity. Only wide-scale adoption of new coal technologies can curtail toxic emissions and climate change. Even 90% percent coal effecinecy, however, won't cut it in Europe and North America, let alone in Asia if coal gassification and carbon dioxide sequestration costs aren't acceptable -and if there aren't international phase-in agreements.

An Australian firm may be first to domestic market with a natural gas fuel cell unit targeted at lighting and heating homes. Indeed, 2008 & 2009 could be the years that "distributed generation" and CHP (Combined/Heat Power) register on investor and consumer radars.

An undated snapshot of fuel cell R & D in Ontario indicates the Province supports a variety of new energy initiatives. The March 07 issue of IEEE Magazine takes an outside look at Ontario's electric generation capacity and its long-term plans. More locally, world-class fuel cell work is well underway: UWO in commercializing a bio-fuel cell which uses a micro organisim, and Sarnia/Lambton going mobile this spring with hydrogen powered golf carts.
On the stationary front, there is an opportunity for London Hydro to become an early adaptor of coal-fed fuel cell generators. With appropriate planning and reserve build-up, the Great Southwest gets economic advantantage with uninterrupted electricity supply.
Monitor Canadian clean energy engineering at the h2fcc site.

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