Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why are there no GTCC plants doing CO2 sequestration?

Rod Adams makes an excellent point here. Go down a bit. 11th paragraph:
If it is relatively easy to capture the CO2 from an IGCC [Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle coal-burning plant], why wouldn't we start working to prove that assumption by capturing the CO2 from at least several of the existing GTCC (gas turbine combined cycle) plants that use natural gas as their heat source?
CO2 sequestration for coal-fired powerplants is held out as the major way that America will reduce it's CO2 emissions significantly over the next two decades. But, CO2 sequestration requires a lot of tinkering with the plant. An IGCC is nice for efficiency, but is not required. Several other really serious pieces of equipment are required, however:
  • Sequestration costs big money. Since you really don't want to unnecessarily sequester 4 times as much nitrogen as CO2, you seperate that nitrogen and vent it. Since you don't want to seperate nitrogen from the exhaust gas (you'd have to cool it), you seperate it from the incoming airstream. Thus, the air filter on an ordinary plant is replaced with an expensive and energy-hungry plant with cryogenics, multiple turbines, and heat exchangers galore.
  • The exhaust must be compressed and liquified to inject it into the ground. Most of the heat must be removed from the exhaust in order to compress it. In a normal coal-fired powerplant, a large fraction of the waste heat is rejected by simply venting the exhaust into the air. In a CO2 sequestrating facility, you need a big heat exchanger and a cooling tower to do that work. Oh, and a larger fresh water supply.
Rod is right, the economics of all this stuff could be proved out on an GTCC plant, or even a plain old combustion turbine fired by nearly anything. I think it's pretty obvious that the carbon-burning electricity producers (coal and gas) benefit from deferring the installation of CO2 sequestration equipment. And, no better way to defer installation than to defer development until after the development of a brand-new burner technology (IGCC) which will take a decade or two to roll out.

So, they talk about sequestration while they defer it as long as possible.

Interestingly, one of the side effects of concentrating the oxygen in the gas being burned is that the operating temperature increases, which could improve efficiency. Unfortunately, combustion turbines already run at temperatures higher than the melting point of the turbine blades... and probably cannot be run hotter. My guess is that exhaust CO2 will be cooled, recirculated and recompressed, and then used to dilute the oxygen in the incoming stream to lower flame temperature.

[Update: check the comments on this post. Harry Jaeger makes some nice points.]

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Teddy Bear Tea

I took my daughter to the Ritz-Carlton's Teddy Bear Tea today. $184 for a few dried-out finger sandwiches and a bunch of chocolates, a teddy bear, some singing, and a chance to get pictures with... a person-sized teddy bear. I couldn't help but think of how tasty a $184 dollar dinner can be. Or how fun the local production of "'Twas the night before Christmas" had been the day before.
Children of all ages gather for a favorite family tradition at The Ritz-Carlton. Guests enjoy a fun-filled afternoon in festive surroundings featuring a storytelling Teddy Bear, a pianist, hot cocoa, tea, a selection of tea pastries and mini finger sandwiches, and a Christmas candy and sweets buffet table. Each child takes home a teddy bear and photo as souvenirs. $75 per guest, $65 for children 12 years and under, exclusive of tax and gratuity. For additional information or reservations, please call (650) 712-7040.
I could wonder how the Ritz-Carlton could end up serving crud for such an expensive lunch. Stories from Teddy may have happened before we got there, 10 minutes late. But why bother with these specifics? A more important question is: how did I ever end up in such a travesty?

I did ask, several times before going, what exactly this "tea" entailed. Martha was nonspecific. Since the other folks going were all in one of Martha's mother's groups, I knew essentially no-one. I'm antisocial as it is; dropping me into a mother's group without something to specifically contribute to the proceedings turns me into a stone wall. I went because I was led to believe that the event had already been paid for, Martha could not attend as she had a cold, so, I might as well see what we paid for. Instead, I got a 3-digit bill. I think the lesson here is to (a) ask for specifics beforehand, which I did, but then (b) refuse to go when specifics are not provided.

From Kathleen's point of view, there was: (a) nothing to climb on, (b) nothing to legitimately squish with her fingers, (c) nothing with which to draw on herself, nor stickers, fake tatoos, or dress-up clothes, (d) no pool, and (e) no kids singing or doing something else to be emulated. Even a desert wasteland would at least have had rocks to turn over.

If anyone from the mother's club reads this, let me get in a last word: it's not you, it's me. Given something specific to do and at least some semblance of DIY flair, I can have a great time with y'all. But I'm never going to convincingly pull off an hour of small talk.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ISS does not smell like old feet

I work with Ed Lu, who is a former astronaut who spent 6 months in the ISS, without taking a shower. I asked the obvious question, didn't you and everything else just stink?

No. Ed says that the air conditioning/purification system was ridiculously good, so much so that the only time you ever smelled anything was when you opened a food packet. Even then, the smell was whisked away pretty quickly.

I asked if there was problems with vapor from breathing condensing all over the interior of the spacecraft walls. Apparently not. The thing has hot spots as well as cold spots, and heat pipes to balance it all out, and lots of insulation over that. Apparently stuff doesn't freeze. Given that the thing is cold soaked in sub-liquid-nitrogen temps 45 of every 90 minutes, I'm amazed. I was expecting a story of two-inch-thick ice sheets on the interior walls.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The US is building more wind power than coal

I've just read this report from the DOE, and though it doesn't talk about windpower at all, I find it quite exciting for wind's prospects.

The conventional wisdom has been that the small size of the turbines (generally about 2 MW each) and the unreliability of both the wind and the turbines makes it improbable that the bulk of our power needs can be met with wind.

Meantime, the installed cost of windpower has been dropping, and is now at something like $1300/kilowatt of peak capacity, and coal-fired powerplants have been getting more expensive ($2200/kilowatt), and gas-fired powerplants have been getting more expensive to run (they remain cheap to build at $600/kilowatt). That doesn't explain everything, but check out this statistic from the DOE report:

From 2000 to 2007, the U.S. built an average of 293 MW/year of new coal-fired capacity. In that time, wind build rate went from essentially nothing to... about 4000 MW in 2007! Holy cow, that's an order of magnitude more build than coal!

Now I understand that, like the long Nuclear Pause, there has been something of a moratorium on new Coal for a (shorter) while. And, I'm told there are lots of coal-fired plants in planning right now. But just for scale, note that the EIA projects that the U.S. needs 6000 kW/year of new capacity for the next couple decades. Even assuming a 33% utilization rate, wind is within an order of magnitude of producing ALL of that new capacity, right now.

It's no longer a question of whether wind can ever dominate coal... it's a question of whether coal can come back! Look at figure 2 in the DOE report, and project a growth curve for windpower at 1300 MW/year in 2007 rising to 3200 MW/year in 2012. Why is my 2007 wind number small? Because you have to divide windpower by 3 to account for the wind not blowing much of the time.

Anyway, what you see is that wind will outpace coal again in 2008, but coal will win in 2009 and 2010. But after that, all this new wind capacity is going to meet most of the need for new capacity, reducing the need for new coal plants (and greatly increasing the need for long distance power lines at the same time).

And, by the way, there are about a dozen new nuclear plants in the works, perhaps half of which will come online in 2012 or thereabouts. They'll eat even more of the demand that would otherwise go to coal.

Here's a satisfying question to ponder: what year will U.S. coal production peak, not from lack of supply, but from lack of demand?