In fall of 2011, the Department of Energy released its Quadrennial Technology Review which had the goal of establishing “a framework for thinking clearly about a necessary transformation of the Nation’s energy system.” The report outlines six strategies for addressing the nation’s energy security, economic competitiveness and environmental impacts of energy: increase vehicle efficiency, electrify the vehicle fleet, deploy alternative hydrocarbon fuels, increase building and industrial efficiency, modernize the grid, and deploy clean electricity. A 3- minute video summarizing the six strategies outlined in the QTR is available. The report provides and up-to-date overview of “today’s energy landscape” and energy challenges and describes and prioritizes the technology adoption and innovation that will support each strategy.
Archive for the 'Suggested Reading' Category
Earlier this year I learned about a book published in 2007 by Gwyneth Cravens titled, The Power to Save the World: The Truth about Nuclear Energy. Interestingly, I was already reading this book and discussing it with friends in the days leading up to the March 11th Japan earthquake. The knowledge I gained reading this book enabled me to react to this disaster from a more informed perspective. In this book, Ms. Cravens describes her journey within the US as she traces the path of uranium from its origins to its processing into fuel pellets, and ultimately to its finale as nuclear waste. Dr. Richard (Rip) Anderson, an expert in nuclear risk assessment, leads her through this enlightening journey.
On March 15th, days after the Japan Nuclear Disaster, Ms. Cravens appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation as a panelist for a program titled Assessing The Future Of Nuclear Power In The U.S.
What features of coal will enable it to remain part of our energy portfolio well into the future? How can coal be acquired and/or burned in a more sustainable manner? These are questions addressed in an article titled Dirty Coal, Clean Future in The Atlantic Magazine’s December 2010 issue. The article summarizes the pre- and post- combustion technologies being investigated, with much of the doing and learning occurring in China – a fossil energy “laboratory”. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“For the coal industry, the term “clean coal” is an advertising slogan; for many in the environmental movement, it is an insulting oxymoron. But two ideas that underlie the term are taken with complete seriousness by businesses, scientists, and government officials in China and America, and are the basis of the most extensive cooperation now under way between the countries on climate issues. One is that coal can be used in less damaging, more sustainable ways than it is now. The other is that it must be used in those ways, because there is no plausible other way to meet what will be, absent an economic or social cataclysm, the world’s unavoidable energy demands.”
One of the pre-combustion technologies mentioned in the article- a.k.a. coal without carbon – is underground coal gasification.
Additional Resources on Underground Coal Gasification (UCG):
Fire in the Hole This Science & Technology Review article describes how underground coal gasification may provide a secure energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
I have started reading this 2008 book by David MacKay, a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge in preparation for a book club discussion and want to share this finding with you!
The author wants his book to be read so it is available for FREE as a pdf download and also in a browser friendly format online! A 10-page synopsis is also available for download. And you are free to use all the material, including images and graphs, except for the cartoons and the photos with a named photographer.
Although the book is focused for the most part on the UK’s energy demand and supply what I like about this book is the attention given to NUMBERS (both for the UK and for the globe).
“We need simple numbers, and we need the numbers to be comprehensible, comparable, and memorable.” - David McKay
In keeping with the fossil energy theme for this month’s blog postings below is an excerpt from a chapter titled Sustainable Fossil Fuels?
“Take the known reserves of fossil fuels, which are overwhelmingly coal: 1600 Gt of coal. Share them equally between six billion people, and burn them “sustainably.” What do we mean if we talk about using up a finite resource “sustainably”? Here’s the arbitrary definition I’ll use: the burn-rate is “sustainable” if the resources would last 1000 years. A ton of coal delivers 8000 kWh of chemical energy, so 1600 Gt of coal shared between 6 billion people over 1000 years works out to a power of 6 kWh per day per person. A standard coal power station would turn this chemical power into electricity with an efficiency of about 37% – that means about 2.2 kWh(e) per day per person. If we care about the climate, however, then presumably we would not use a standard power station. Rather, we would go for “clean coal,” also known as “coal with carbon capture and storage”– an as-yet scarcely-implemented technology that sucks most of the carbon dioxide out of the chimney-flue gases and then shoves it down a hole in the ground. Cleaning up power station emissions in this way has a significant energy cost – it would reduce the delivered electricity by about 25%.
So a “sustainable” use of known coal reserves would deliver only about 1.6 kWh(e) per day per person.
We can compare this “sustainable” coal-burning rate – 1.6 Gt per year – with the current global rate of coal consumption: 6.3 Gt per year, and rising.
Our conclusion is clear:
Clean coal is only a stop-gap.
If we do develop “clean coal” technology in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must be careful, while patting ourselves on the back, to do the accounting honestly. The coal-burning process releases greenhouse gases not only at the power station but also at the coal mine. Coal-mining tends to release methane, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide, both directly from the coal seams as they are exposed, and subsequently from discarded shales and mudstones; for an ordinary coal power station, these coal-mine emissions bump up the greenhouse gas footprint by about 2%, so for a “clean” coal power station, these emissions may have some impact on the accounts.”
I encourage you to check out this resource which can help you and your students to view our energy future in a more realistic light.