The Amy H Remley Foundation  
   
     
 

Newer Technologies

Policy Incentives

There are five policies which encourage energy ventures which can be labeled as "renewable": tax credits, subsidies, research grants, so-called renewable portfolio standards and green pricing programs. Renewability does not assure non-polluting of the atmosphere nor of land or water or the environment, it merely means that the energy source material can be replenished in a relatively short time period. Only wind and solar energy technologies offer true zero-emission attributes, alongside hydroelectric and geothermal energy generation which impact the land and often water also. Even the placement of wind turbines and solar panel "farms" are considered by many to pollute the landscape, while having lesser impact upon man other than depriving man the use of the land for supplies of food, clean water and air to sustain life.

The words used to determine eligibility for the incentives are open to political abuse.

Caveat

Two new (October, 2010) independent scientific studies commissioned by Bird Life International, and the European Environmental Bureau and Transport & Environment cast doubt on the EU's policy of promoting biomass as fuel for heat and power generation, and biofuels for transport.

The first study, carried out by Joanneum Research, identifies a major flaw in the way carbon savings from forest-derived biomass are calculated in EU law as well as under UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol mechanisms. It concludes that harvesting trees for energy creates a 'carbon debt': the carbon contained in the trees is emitted upfront while trees grow back over many years. The true climate impact of so-called woody biomass in the short to medium term can, as a result, be worse than the fossil fuels it is designed to replace.

"The EU is taking out a sub-prime carbon mortgage that it may never be able to pay back. Biomass policy needs to be fixed before this regulatory failure leads to an ecological crisis that no bail out will ever fix", commented Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy at Bird Life International.

The second study, by CE Delft, examines the full climate impact of the main biofuels used in Europe. In particular it looked at the impact of the expansion of agricultural land into environmentally sensitive areas when food production is displaced by fuel crops, a process known as indirect land use change (ILUC). The report, based on analysis of several EU Commission-sponsored research projects and other international model studies, found that most current biofuels are as bad as fossil fuels for the climate once ILUC is taken into consideration. The study proposes concrete ways of correcting current greenhouse gas balance calculations to fully account for indirect land use change related emissions.

"As long as the EU refuses to take the full climate impacts of biofuels into account, its climate strategy for transport is doomed to failure." said Nua Urbancic, Policy Officer at Transport & Environment, the sustainable transport campaigners. "If left unchanged, biomass for energy policy will soon be in the same dire and confused state as biofuel policy is today", added Pieter de Pous, Senior Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau. "This can be avoided if the Commission and industry are ready to face up to these facts and develop the necessary measures that will ensure bioenergy policy will actually make a positive contribution to fighting climate change".

Together, current EU policy on biomass and biofuels risks severe environmental impacts across the globe, and a carbon debt that could take centuries to pay off. The three groups are calling on the EU to come forward with mandatory sustainability criteria for biomass and to incorporate indirect land use change calculations into the existing sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioenergy.

However, as scientists world wide emphasize, the problem often overlooked concerns the total greenhouse gas equation involving not only carbon dioxide but also for example nitrous oxide and methane in context of what happens naturally and what happens as man changes it to meet a perceived need. Forested areas take decades and even centuries to regenerate themselves – so many more times the time taken to incinerate it for electricity. (A time measured in days or months compared to the decades or centuries). As an energy source there is a time gap in which regeneration can occur. Moreover, as a forest, its innate consumption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce cellulose for wood and rootstock ceases when clear cut for fuel to power electricity generation. The saving of greenhouse gas emissions by burning biomass instead of fossil fuels saves far less than that taken from the atmosphere by the forest to grow cellulose for wood and rootstock so that the net result is to release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere not less. Converting forests to agricultural use to grow crops for biomass often produces more greenhouse gas as nitrous oxide as well as the carbon dioxide cost to bio engineer the crops or to fertilize their growth yield for fuel.

Of course, the oxygen vented from leaves of the forest also ceases on being clear cut and diminishes air quality and is made worse as power station smokestacks vent toxins into the air in place of the natural oxygen production.

Biomass.

Biomass is the burning of organic matter – typically agricultural crops, grasses and wood (from trees and wood waste) – to produce heat for electricity generation (distributed energy). Often the meaning of the word is extended to domestic trash, tires and toxic gas from dump sites. Click to view the Energy Justice .net Fact Sheet on Biomass Incineration.

Burning biomass, unlike solar and wind, produces significant carbon dioxide emissions (about one third more than coal and three times that of natural gas). These emissions, it is suggested, might be balanced out by planting new crops, which take up carbon dioxide as they grow. The carbon emission to carbon uptake ratio, the location of the two processes, and the effects on local soil and water quality, are important issues that must be considered in determining what forms of biomass could be sustainable. For biomass to be a significant source of low–carbon emitting renewable energy, crops must be grown with little cultivation and fertilizer, be transported only over short distances, and be grown and harvested in a way that does not degrade the land. Grasses – such as switch grass and big blue stem – are low impact possibilities for biomass. If produced and used correctly, biomass could possibly contribute to U.S. distributed energy needs. According to a recent NREL study, accepting the increased carbon emissions, biomass incineration could produce 17–28% of U.S. electricity by 2020.

However, the logistics and costs of handling vast quantities of this type of fuel are often underestimated. The impact of trucking hundreds of loads each day, the fuel those trucks consume energy and the GHG consequences are material offsets to prospective "benefits". Pollution of groundwater by leachate from storage piles of the material and risk of fire to such piles either by lightning or spontaneous combustion are largely un–controllable. Furthermore, the time to grow trees for wood is measured in years whereas incineration takes a minute fraction of that time – on those terms it cannot be a sustainable alternative fuel for electrical power generation. Previous assumptions about burning trees were that the younger fast growing trees sequestered more carbon than the older ones. Recent studies in Canada and Alaska indicate that the opposite is true. Older trees store more carbon than younger ones and it takes a minimum of 20 years of new growth till the younger trees begin to sequester carbon and at least 100 years before the forest sequesters what is lost through clear cutting and the soil disturbance associated with it. Much of the carbon held in a forest is held in the humus in forest soils.

Moreover, recent research has revealed that burning of biomass releases gaseous toxins harmful to humans into the atmosphere for us to breathe. Microscopic particulates emitted by the thousands of tons in biomass combustion is very damaging to human biology. Not only damaging to those with existing breathing difficulties but also producing birth defects.

The economics of biomass burning are totally distorted and out of phase with normal “free–market” economics. Recent federal grants and subsidies in the so–called “Stimulus Package” are the cause of the proliferation of these plants. There are many people looking to make lots of money quickly. Plants that are begun in 2010 and are completed by 2013 will recover about 30% of their capital costs, courtesy of the American taxpayer. Corporations can also claim zero carbon emissions simply because the EPA rules omit counting the emission of CO2 in biomass burners. Any combustion of organic matter produces CARBON DIOXIDE and WATER.

A fundamental problem with using biomass for electricity generation or fuel substitutes for hydrocarbon fuels is the serious impact upon forests. Forests inhale carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, exhale oxygen and convert the carbon into wood fiber. Cutting forests either to provide fiber as biomass or to clear land for cultivation of crops to manufacture fuels like ethanol, releases carbon dioxides into the atmosphere. First carbon dioxide is no longer absorbed to create wood and roots of the forest, and second conversion into chips for burning releases the carbon as carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere consuming energy for the conversion in the process. The cleansing of ground waters and air by forests is interrupted. The increased run off and pollution of ground waters by excess fertilizers applied to stimulate crop growth for bio fuels seriously degrades ground waters which are becoming the scarce resource of the century.

Bio Fuels (portable energy).

When refined from corn for example; in spite of the exhortation of the government for oil companies to increase the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline, even if all our corn output was used for ethanol, it would cut petroleum consumption by just 10%–12%.

Moreover, distillation cannot remove the water from ethanol which can cause major damage to automobile engines not specifically designed to burn ethanol. Because the water content of ethanol also risks pipeline corrosion it must be shipped by the more expensive energy consuming means of truck, rail car or barge, as opposed to using pipelines. It takes more than one gallon of fossil fuel to produce one gallon of ethanol. Ethanol is 20% to 30% less efficient than gasoline, making it more expensive per highway mile. It takes enough corn to feed one person for a year (450 pounds of corn) to produce the ethanol to fill one SUV tank. The corn must be grown, fertilized, harvested and trucked to ethanol producers, all of which adds to fuel costs and carbon emissions. In addition, considering the environmental balance, 1,700 gallons of water are consumed to produce one gallon of ethanol.

Ethanol is so costly that Congress has enacted major ethanol subsidies, about $1.05 to $1.38 a gallon, which is no less than a tax on consumers. A second tax is levied in the form of taxpayer handouts to corn farmers) to the tune of $9.5 billion in 2005 alone). Ethanol production has driven up the prices of corn–fed livestock — and thus prices of beef, chicken and dairy products — as well as prices of products made from corn, such as cereals. As a result of higher demand for corn, other grain prices, such as soybean and wheat, have risen dramatically. The U.S., as the world's largest grain producer and exporter, passes these higher grain prices on in the worldwide food market. Click to view the EarthJusice.net fact sheet on Cellulosic Ethanol .

At best, the policy of using bio fuels to replace gasoline is a questionable knee–jerk. The millions of gasoline consumers, who fund the benefits through higher fuel and food prices, as well as taxes, are relatively uninformed and have little clout. Moreover, the demand for fuel crop space is leading to the burning off of tropical forest areas to clear land for fuel crops, which increases GHG generation by both the burning and denying the forests their traditional role of absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing GHG emissions into the atmosphere.

Fuel Cells.

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, with water and heat as its by–product. As long as fuel is supplied, the fuel cell will continue to generate power. Since the conversion of the fuel to energy takes place via an electrochemical process without combustion (electrolysis), the process is clean, quiet and efficient – two to three times more efficient than fossil fuel burning. Click to view the Energy Justice.net fact sheet on Hydrogen and fuel cells see also White Paper by FuelCell Energy, Inc.

No other energy generation technology offers the combination of benefits that fuel cells do. In addition to low or zero emissions and fuel portability, benefits include high efficiency and reliability, multi–fuel capability, citing flexibility, durability, salability and ease of maintenance. Fuel cells operate silently, so they reduce noise pollution as well as air pollution and the waste heat from a fuel cell can be used to provide hot water or space heating for a home or business.

There are many uses for fuel cells – right now, all of the major automakers are working to commercialize a fuel cell car. Fuel cells are powering buses, boats, trains, planes, scooters, forklifts, even bicycles. There are fuel cell–powered vending machines, vacuum cleaners and highway road signs. Miniature fuel cells for cellular phones, laptop computers and portable electronics are on their way to market. Hospitals, credit card centers, police stations, and banks are all using fuel cells to provide power to their facilities. Wastewater treatment plants and landfills are using fuel cells to convert the methane gas they produce into electricity. Telecommunications companies are installing fuel cells at cell phone, radio and 911 towers. The possibilities are apparently endless with hydrogen in abundant supply and process technologies becoming more efficient as time passes.

Hydrogen is potentially the most abundant and inexhaustible energy source available. However it cannot be harvested or mined or pumped from the ground. To isolate it as the energy carrier that it is, one has to break the bonds to other elements to which it is attached in nature. Unlike electricity which does not "keep", hydrogen can be stored or moved from place to place for use for work as a compressed gas, or as a super chilled liquid or in suspension with metal hydrides. Remember that hydrogen is the basis of all the so–called hydrocarbon fuels we depend upon today. Hydrogen burns easily. Isolating hydrogen requires the application of energy to sever the bonds. The inherent value of hydrogen as fuel lies in extending the lifetime and versatility of electricity.

Renewable Electrolysis.

The Foundation is indebted for the co-operation of the DOE - NREL and particularly to Darlene Steward et. al. and NREL/PR-560-47547 from proceedings of the HTAC meeting February 11, 2010. (Note that 1kg H2 is equivalent energy to 1gal gasoline. The Florida location is not suited to the competitive Pumped Hydro or Compressed Air Energy Storage technologies.) To see the presentation given on February 11, 2010; click here: Renewable Electrolysis.

Note: Some of the manufacturers approached in regard to larger static fuel cells have their business models tuned to using natural gas as their energy source, which is perfectly reasonable in view of the availability of natural gas in the market place. Their process requires natural gas to be reformed into hydrogen and then the hydrogen is the energy source for the fuel cell, as opposed to electrolyzing separation of hydrogen from water. However, a manufacturer offers a 1 MW PEM hydrogen fuel cell at a cost of about $4million.

A very good source on Hydrogen technologies is Technical Report NREL/TP-560-46267, September 2009 by Darlene Steward et al - Click here to read Darlene . Essentially, hydrogen energy electrolysis and storage offers an opportunity to harness supply side generation capacity which is not used in the absence of storage. Efficiencies suffer where plants are forced to ramp down to accommodate both seasonal and daily cyclical reduced demands. When this is complemented by progressive expansion of clean energy generation by wind or solar PV arrays transition from GHG intensive fossil fuels to clean technologies can be made.

For example, the scope for supply side increases in efficiencies from the four coal fired plants of the Crystal River Energy Complex (CREC) has a potential for 29.56% or 683 MW(e), rising to more than 800 MW(e) including the current nuclear facility - based upon 2008 data. Today's achievable Round Trip energy efficiencies ( H2 hydrolysis thro' fuel cell) are estimated to be between 40% and 47%. Another significant issue is the ability to site PV arrays with Renewable Hydrolysis close to a substation near to a conurbation center, say Orlando or The Villages already connected to the CREC would enable transition to higher supply side efficiencies, at significantly lower costs, in an infinitely environmentally preferable manner, and be beneficial instead of harmfully to human health than, say, adding nuclear generating capacity.

See also News Items on this website dated 23 September, 23 October and 27 October, 2010.

Hybrids.

Hybrid traction is when a prime combustion or electric motor meld with each other to operate in a manner enhancing fuel efficiency for a given type of journey. Most vehicle manufacturers have models on the market or in advanced development. The interaction between the motors is computer controlled to allow efficiencies to be controlled for safety and comfort.

Buildings.

Energy efficient building designs allow for energy capture from the environment – the sun, air and rain water – such that energy may be stored for later use when not immediately consumed in the function of the building. These features exist together with efficient peripheral insulation above, under and around the building which also are normally connected with utility services. Charges are made by the utility service providers making supply to the building, and can give credit when excess energy generated in a building is taken by the utility service for use elsewhere for their operations.

Choices for cooling, heating and equipment power distribution are usually computer automated according to internal and external ambient conditions and as intrinsic demands are experienced. Wind, Solar, and fuel cell technology can be employed within such building designs.

The building surrounds are designed to take advantage of xeriscaping native plant species and hydroponic techniques to conserve energy and be more easily maintained.

News and Views
News Items

November 30, 2013
On environment, shortsightedness costs Florida big.
Scott Maxwell, Taking Names.
read more

October 9, 2013
Fuel Cell Today analysis.
The Fuel Cell Industry Review 2013.
read more

September 25, 2013
Fuel Cell Today analysis.
The Potential for Fuel Cell Prime Power in Japan.
read more

August 1, 2013
Duke Energy to cancel proposed Levy County nuclear plant.
read more

May 22, 2013
Fuel Cell Today analysis.
Electrolysers for Renewable Energy Efficiency.
read more

March 13, 2013
Beyond Electricity: Using Renewables Effectively.
read more

September 24, 2012
Sewer Systems Legal Filing.
read more

February 1, 2012
Fuel Cell Today update.
read more

January 13, 2012
Sewer Agenda.
read more

December 23, 2011
Scientist: Water account overdrawn.
read more

Novemver 14, 2011
Submission to the Citrus County Commissioner, 14 November, 2011.
read more