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View Diary: Sunday Train: Unleashing the Political Power of Bio-Coal (128 comments)

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  •  Coal Fuel Cells (5+ / 0-)
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    corvo, US Blues, Odysseus, BruceMcF, 6412093

    Instead of burning coal in "internal combustion" (and external exhaust) engines, we can start to strip its energy in fuel cells. They're already reaching 60% efficiency (extracted energy / total energy content), which is far greater than the 30-35% efficiency of a (top performing) coal burning plant. That's like cutting coal in half for the same energy. Combined heat and power tech can increase the efficiency to 85%, coming up on slashing coal to 1/3. And the tech is just getting started. It's theoretically possible it could reach into the 95% range that combined cycle gas turbines presently get.

    The tech also allows direct capture of the waste stream (Greenhouse gases, radioactive elements, no soot), and minimal water. A scalable demo plant already costs only $570K per gigawatt, instead of $billions per gigawatt for nukes - to say nothing of the operating costs, especially while using 1/3 or less of the coal.

    In fact the system is so efficient and closed that it seems possible to actually be the fabled "clean coal". Some of the abundant energy it produces could be redirected into sinking the carbon byproduct into a solid chemical instead of Greenhouse gases. And the solid perhaps stored in the mines from where the coal came - if the geochemistry etc is found to be stable. Perhaps it can even be used as building material, if the toxic (eg. radioactive) parts are withheld - replacing other material (especially Greenhouse villain concrete) that pumps extra gases into the Greenhouse.

    The highly managed chemistry of the fuel cell means we can carefully route the various components to their most useful (or least harmful) destinations. Instead of burning ancient carbon sinks on a huge bonfire under a big kettle like we've been doing since millennia ago, before we used up our quota of filth in the sky.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:22:29 AM PDT

    •  Yes, as I've discussed further above ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DocGonzo, Bronx59

      here. DCFC are the end game, as engineer-poet makes clear. The ability to also use biocoal in conventional thermal coal plants allows for a more rapid ramp-up, but fuel cells combine much greater efficiency and much greater flexibility in terms of fine grained control of how much power you dispatch at a given point in time, so the economics would strongly favor DCFC if we rapidly ramp up Wind and Solar power capacity.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:54:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Bio-Coal Is a Battery (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF

        Bio-coal pulls CO2 from the air along with solar energy, though it releases both when burned. It's a battery, a conduit, not really an energy source like plain old coal (which though a conduit too, connects to a distant and lost past of accumulated sunshine).

        The hard part of politicking bio-coal into popularity is that most people will think it's too complicated, when there's so much plain old coal in the ground. While the leverging of vast existing coal processing and generating infrastructure is important to people even more bought into digging up plain old coal instead of making complicated new bio-coal.

        But new tech like fuel cells and sequestration chemistries gives us a chance to switch over the fuel source along with the generating tech. Like the excitement about the "hydrogen economy", which also reroutes our fuels into storage tech rather than energy sources, the high tech's sophistication gives a chance to market the shift in fuel.

        I hope that all the ways we are pursuing Greenhouse reductions pay off in lots of ways to convince different people. Most all of us have to change in lots of ways, and offering something better is the quickest way to get people to go along.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:28:50 PM PDT

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        •  The ethanol example suggests that ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DocGonzo

          ... the hard part is getting it going, which is why the premise for this whole thing is Democrats in some relevant taking advantage of a political breakthrough to get this started.

          Since we could see the first biocoal produced within two years of a program passed, if the program is started, it will be possible to run on it actually producing "energy in our state, for our state" in the very next election.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:44:48 PM PDT

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          •  Ethanol Makes It Harder (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BruceMcF

            Ethanol for fuel in the US is a well-known debacle. It was a subsidy programme for Upper Midwest farmers that cost more in imported energy than it produced domestically. It was premature to deploy before the bulk of the crops (cellulose) could be made into fuel, and while the ethanol wore out engines quicker.

            That scam makes it politically harder to do it right, now that the reputation is well known.

            I think it's going to take a lot to get over all the accumulated boondoggles on the landscape.

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:22:53 PM PDT

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            •  Is that an issue ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              DocGonzo

              ... for keeping the system in place once the ball has started rolling, or is that an issue in getting the ball rolling?

              The focus of this essay is on political sustainability and momentum, it hasn't looked at how to get the premised political breakthrough. If what you are talking about is headwinds to getting it going, you're helping me draft a future essay.

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              by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:00:13 PM PDT

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              •  Yep (0+ / 0-)

                I posted some stuff about tech in this diary discussion, including the post about coal fuel cells that started the subthread with you. But in the subthread I've been trying to stick to your diary point about how we actually get people to do what must be done before it's too late, which requires politics.

                So yeah, I'm talking about the problem the ethanol fuels legacy presents in getting really sustainable biofuels rolling. I don't see what political breakthru will get past all that's already in place keeping us unsustainable.

                Except $150 oil barrels, or maybe a natgas bubble bust. By then it'll be too late. In 10 years the only hope will be large scale fusion powering direct atmospheric CO2 cracking, but all the energy already stored in the oceans (along with acidic carbon) will mean it's too late to do anything but slow and lessen the inevitable. Which will likely overwhelm already stressed places with WMD. Too late.

                "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

                by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 09:12:40 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  So, what is the big hurdle created by the ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... ethanol policy? And how broad a shadow does it cast?

                  How does it hurt:
                  (1) Windpower
                  (2) Photovoltaic Solar Power
                  (3) Consumer Thermal Solar Power
                  (4) Electric Rapid Rail
                  (5) Electric light rail and trolley buses
                  (6) Electric bikes & Neighborhood Electric Vehicles

                  (7) Indeed, I don't actually see what the actual problem that it poses for getting the policy in this essay.

                  I can see how it can tangle up developing actually ecologically sustainable, renewable liquid biofuels, but don't really see any major problem that follows from those not being in a position to take a leading role.

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                  by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 01:02:10 AM PDT

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