Archive for the 'Capturing Carbon' Category

Duke Energy 2050 Vision | Online Challenge

I recently learned about this interactive online “Energy Challenge” by Duke Energy where users create a plan to meet the energy demand of  a carbon constrained world in the year 2050. Duke Energy aggregated data from across its entire U.S. service territory and created a visual representation of its service area and power generating facilities which sets the stage for the user who is tasked with making choices about how to meet a growing energy demand while working towards CO2 reduction goals.  Choices that can be made by the user include: building new power plants, including solar and wind farms, upgrading existing power plants to produce more energy, retrofitting existing plants to reduce emissions, closing inefficient power plants and implementing energy efficiency programs.


As users make decisions, such as retiring a set of aging coal plants or adding a wind farm, they get instant feedback regarding cost (in billions of dollars), impact on CO2 emissions (tons per year) and the extent to which their plan meets the predicted energy demand for the year 2050.  The energy demand meter displayed on the right side of the screen makes it easy to visually monitor the extent to which a decision helps to meet energy demand and the extent to which this demand is met through non-renewable energy sources, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

Duke Energy intends for this tool to “demonstrate the trade-offs and cost implications of choosing an energy generation mix that will meet future energy demand while minimizing CO2 emissions and keeping costs as low as possible.” I could easily see small groups of students competing to see which group can come up with a strategy that reduces CO2 emissions, meets projected energy demand for 2050 and costs the least amount of money.

To learn more about the game, click here.

One Indiana science teacher created a worksheet to accompany this game that could be used with your students.

If you have your students play this game, please share your experience by leaving a comment!




Energy, Water and Land: National Climate Assessment

The National Climate Assessment “provides an in-depth look at climate change impacts on the U.S. It details the multitude of ways climate change is already affecting and will increasingly affect the lives of Americans.”  Chapter 10 of the report is devoted to exploring the connections between energy, water and land as understanding these connections “can improve our capacity to predict, prepare for, and mitigate climate change.”

The report is organized around three key messages:
1. Energy, water, and land systems interact in many ways. Climate change affects the individual sectors and their interactions; the combination of these factors affects climate change vulnerability as well as adaptation and mitigation options for different regions of the country.
2. The dependence of energy systems on land and water supplies will influence the development of these systems and options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their climate change vulnerability.
3. Jointly considering risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities associated with energy, water, and land use is challenging, but can improve the identification and evaluation of options for reducing climate change impacts.

Each chapter of the report includes interactive graphics as well as figures and graphics that can be downloaded for use in the classroom.  Check out the interactive version of Figure 10.4 that shows the energy production by source, amount of water withdrawn by key sectors and land cover type for each region of the US along with projected climate change impacts. This figure provides an at-a-glance view of water, energy and land use that can be used by students as they consider how projected climate impacts might influence each of these sectors in their region.

The report also includes examples of energy, water and land connections by exploring the following technologies and the corresponding energy-water-land tradeoffs in more depth:

  • shale gas and hydraulic fracturing
  • solar power generation
  • biofuels
  • carbon capture and storage

So the next time you ask students to critically evaluate the various energy sources used by society, encourage them to also consider the role of water and land in the mining and acquisition of energy sources, the generation of electricity, and the manufacture and delivery of transportation fuels.



“Algae”, biofuels and carbon capture

Photo credit: NREL

I was excited to see cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) featured in a recent energy-related article in the News and Observer.  Asheville entrepreneur aims to harness cyanobacteria’s photosynthetic prowess details the work of Phytonix, an Asheville-based company that has  engineered cyanobacteria to use carbon dioxide and sunlight to produce n-butanol instead of sugar! According to the article, “current methods of producing butanol use petroleum as a feedstock and emit carbon dioxide in the process. Because the Phytonix approach uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock, it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Thus, in addition to producing biofuels, these microscopic photosynthetic organisms also serve to capture carbon from the atmosphere or other concentrated source. The scientist behind Phytonix, Bruce Dannenberg, is said to envision his “facilities being located near sources of carbon dioxide, such as ethanol refineries, oil and gas production plants, cement factories or breweries.” And power companies like Duke Energy are also turning to photosynthesis  and exploring technologies to capture CO2 from the flue gas of coal-fired power plants. 

There is an algae-based system for CO2 capture at Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant (a coal-fired power plant) located in Kentucky along the Ohio River. This project is a collaboration between the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research and the University of Kentucky Department of Biosystems and Agriculture Engineering.  According to Duke Energy, “while the primary focus of the project is to demonstrate how to use algae to reduce CO2 emissions produced by coal-fired power plants, the project also focuses upon studying the production of biofuels and other bioproducts from the algae to demonstrate the economic feasibility of using algae to capture CO2.”  

A two part video about algae CO2 capture and this Duke Energy project was produced by the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research and Reveal: University of Kentucky Research Media:

Algae CO2 Capture Part 1: How it Works (5 minutes)

Algae CO2 Capture Part 2: Imagining the Future (5 minutes)

A Photo Gallery is also available.

Here is some additional reading related to Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant photobioreactor:

CO2 recycling using microalgae for the production of fuels, March 2014
This article from the journal Applied Petrochemical Research describes the demonstration project at Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant.

Duke, UK use algae to eat CO2 and make new stuff, Nov 8, 2013
This article is not available in full but this link includes access to a 1 minute video titled “Algae Eat Emissions at East Bend Power Plant.”

CAER Scientists, Duke Energy Demonstrate Algae-Based Carbon-Capture System, Nov 2013
This article is from University of Kentucky News.

Ky. power station to implement algae carbon capture project, Dec 2011
This article is from Biodiesel Magazine.






Generation Technologies Assessment from EPRI

When I address the topic of electricity generation with teachers and students, a key message I aim to to convey is that every energy source used to generate electricity has its advantages and disadvantages.  This knowledge is key to evaluating both renewable and non-renewable energy sources for their potential to provide electricity to a growing population and in doing so  promotes critical thinking about electricity generation in the 21st century.

Coal, coal w/carbon capture and storage (CCS), natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar, are all sources for electricity generation.  The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently published  an Assessment of Relative Benefit / Impact webpage that visually ranks each energy source from more favorable to least favorable with regards to the following criteria:

Construction Cost
Electricity Cost
Land Use
Water Requirements
CO2 Emissions
Non-CO2 Emissions
Waste Products

Details are also provided about each of the above criteria and, by clicking on the energy source of interest, the user is taken to a summary page that further details the extent to which this energy source is used to generate electricity.  The Electric Generation Technologies by Region page shows the energy sources used to generate electricity in your region compared to the national average.  You can also compare the energy sources used to generate electricity in your region to those of other regions of the country.

Carbon Capture Utilizing Direct FuelCells

FuelCell Energy, Inc., a manufacturer of ultra-clean, efficient and reliable power plants, announced earlier this month that it had received $3 million  from the U.S. Department of Energy to evaluate the use of Direct FuelCells ® (DFC®) to”efficiently and cost-effectively separate carbon dioxide (CO2) from the emissions of existing coal-fired power plants.  Efficient and cost-effective carbon capture can then lead to sequestration of this greenhouse gas, preventing its release into the atmosphere.”

For those of you interested in teaching your students about fuel cells and their underlying chemistry, you may find it useful to teach about fuel cells in the context presented above: how might fuel cells be used to mitigate CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants?

Perhaps start by introducing the basic parts of any fuel cell.  The Smithsonian Institution provides a nice overview of fuel cells on their website.

A two page pdf is available from FuelCell Energy, Inc that describes and diagrams the “unique chemistry of the high efficiency carbonate fuel cell.”  In this case, CO2-containing flue gas from coal-fired power plants is utilized as oxidant for the DFC® cathode.  Natural gas, propane, or syngas can be used as the fuel cell anode feed to provide H2 needed to complete the electrochemical power generation cycle.

To learn more about carbonate fuel cells and other types of fuel cells under development visit the DOE’s EERE website.

Fuel Cell Energy also has an 8 page white paper(pdf) about Fuel Cell Technology.

The website HowStuffWorks has a three minute video about fuel cells.

Carbon Stabilization Wedge Game

This small group activity was developed by the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton Universityto convey the scale of effort needed to address the carbon and climate situation and the necessity of developing a portfolio of options.” By the end of the exercise, students should understand the magnitude of human-sourced carbon emissions and feel comfortable comparing the effectiveness, benefits, and drawbacks of a variety of carbon-cutting strategies including nuclear power. The students should appreciate that there is no easy or “right” solution to the carbon and climate problem.  Students will learn about the technologies currently available that can substantially cut carbon emissions, develop critical reasoning skills as they create their own portfolio of strategies to cut emissions, and verbally communicate the rationale for their selections. Working in teams, students will develop the skills to negotiate a solution that is both physically plausible and politically acceptable, and defend their solution to a larger group.”  Accompanying Slides and Graphics are available for download as well.

This game and its creator was also highlighted in chapter 2 of the recent NOVA special, Power Surge which can be viewed online in under 13 minutes.

DOE’s Fossil Energy Video Gallery

DOE’s Fossil Energy Video Gallery contains short videos pertaining to carbon capture and storage (CCS), geological sequestration of carbon, and gasification technology among others.

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