Monday, August 27, 2007

Russian vs Norwegian Gas to UK - Buying Time.

The reliance of the UK on gas supplies from Russia look set to be relaxed once a new pipeline begins to deliver gas from Norway. I have written about Ormen Lange previously, which is the largest gas-field in Europe, and looks set to bring gas to these shores by next month, well ahead of original predictions that it would not begin in earnest until October. Preliminary flows of gas are to begin this week. The Langeled gas pipeline is connected to the gas depot at Easington in the North-east of England, and at 745 miles (1,200 kilometres) in length, is the longest such sub-sea pipeline in the world. It is expected to meet around one fifth of the UK's demand for gas.

North Sea gas, introduced in the early 1970's to replace the older town-gas, which was produced by heating coal in huge retorts, has now peaked and the UK is a net importer of natural gas. Following all peaks in resource production, the supply will thenceforth inexorably dwindle, and by the end of the decade (just a couple of years from now) half the nation's gas will need to be imported, much of it from Russia. There are other supplies of gas being negotiated from Norway and a gigantic gas-terminal has been built at Milford Haven, off the south Welsh coast, to receive liquefied natural gas from Qatar, in the Persian Gulf, also to the tune of one fifth of the nation's current total consumption of gas.

The owner of British Gas, Centrica, which are also the operator of the Easington terminal, has signed a £5 billion contract with Statol, the Norwegian energy group, to supply its customers with gas. The National Grid and the UK government are lobbying Statol in connection with a second gas pipeline whose destination is a matter for competition between nations, i.e. the UK, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. This is due to open in 2012 to carry gas from the Troll field and could double exports from Norway to the UK (i.e. provide 40% of the total amount of gas used, in conjunction with the Langeled pipeline). Statol will make its decision next month as to who will get it.

Centrica is calling loudly for a much greater investment in the UK's energy infrastructure, and two years ago, before the first stage of the Langeled pipeline, and another one from the Netherlands were built, Britain had the highest gas-prices in all Europe with detrimental consequences for the competitiveness of businesses here. Since then, the price of gas in the UK has roughly halved and the Langeled line supplies coming on-stream next month will buffer the costs of the resource and keep them stable in the short term.

Analysts warn that the coming cold-season will force a test of how the new gas infrastructure operates as a unit in this post-North Sea bounty era. The head of the energy markets EIC, Craig Lowry, said: "There is a big question mark over how much gas will be delivered on any specific day. No one has seen how all these sources of imports interact with each other. It could lead to volatile wholesale gas prices. It's a situation that the UK has never faced before."

True, we used to make all our gas from coal, and we also made most of our electricity from coal. Then the North Sea gas arrived, effectively putting coal out of business, since we could burn that instead to produce electricity as well as using it as the new "gas". This also had the "advantage" from the government's point of view that the militant miners unions could be crushed and the pits closed. The "miners" after all, brought down the Edward Heath administration in the mid-1970's, and Margaret Thatcher was determined this would not happen to her government. UK carbon emissions fell too, since less CO2 is produced when gas is burned per unit of energy than is the case from coal. Now the North Sea gas is in decline, we are relying increasingly on imports of natural gas, using more coal (including re-opening some mines, long closed, in Yorkshire and in South Wales) and ramping-up the use of nuclear power, with a new generation of reactors planned both to replace those due for decommissioning and to expand provision of nuclear energy overall.

The energy mix is changing in the UK, and the gas issue is just one link in the energy chain - the first to be forged, of many.

Related Reading.
"Russian dependence eased as UK receives gas early from Norway", by Tim Webb:


sustain_ability said...

The sea must be channelled to flow from a high tide level to a low tide level, which is the approach of this paper. This involves creating "ponds" in the walls of which equipment is sited to generate energy from the flow.
by A F Stobart BSc.Chem.Eng

This form of energy has been harnessed from Roman times for small milling operations on coastal sites. No part of the UK is further than 70 miles from tidal water. The gravitational energy from the Sun and Moon move sea water up and down in a regular, predictable and constant pattern. Thus Britain is well placed to take advantage of this inexhaustible energy source. To do this either the flow of the tide must harnessed as it moves round these islands [Ref.1]. Or the sea must be channelled to flow from a high tide level to a low tide level, which is the approach of this paper. This involves creating "ponds" in the walls of which equipment is sited to generate energy from the flow. As the ponds will both fill and empty, the equipment must be capable of bi-directional flow. The equipment must also be effective under conditions of flows below it's maximum capability, and have a high conversion of flow energy to mechanical or electrical energy.


These conditions are met by a Water Engine. The operation is that of two weighted floats being alternately raised and lowered by water entering the chamber underneath them, and then draining out of it. The flow is controlled by flap valves. Flow can be in either direction, as may be controlled by the valve programme.

The floats are linked to two sets of hydraulic rams, so that the force of the floats rising and falling is converted to hydraulic oil (or water) pressure. This pressure stream can then be used to power machinery, including electricity generation equipment, heat pumps, and other rotating equipment.

The mechanism is essentially a pressure intensifier. In that the low pressure of a few feet of water is converted into 3-4000 psi hydraulic pressure. The operating range for single units is from 1ft to 10ft head of water, and is thus suitable for large flow, low head, installations in rivers, and for tidal power collection using "ponds". Higher heads can be handled by "cascade" installations of two or more units in series. Though reverse flow is thereby inhibited.

In the 1980's two machines were built and reported on by ETSU [Refs.2,3,4,] but since then only two small test machines have been built. he mechanisms are simple and robust, and in volume production should be comparable in cost with other hydropower equipment. Maintenance should be simple, and given good construction parameters, the equipment should have a long life. For example all parts in contact with sea water could be made of fibreglass or other non corroding materials.

A major cost however is the construction of the ponds. Three approaches can be considered for Tidal energy collection. The estuary approach , the Shoreline approach and the open sea approach . Both the last two envisage additional energy income being generated from Wind and Wave energy and from fish farming. The open sea approach is similar to that being pioneered by Tidal Electric off Cornwall, but using Water Engines, and adding the additional income generating items mentioned above. For estuary and inshore installations the hydraulic power could be piped ashore, have hydraulic accumulators included for some energy storage to help iron out demand peaks and troughs, and the driven items, heat pumps, generators or other machinery mounted well away from sea water.


The Estuary and Shoreline approach benefits from the possibility that initially all power developed by Water Engines would be collected by an hydraulic main, and taken on shore. Where a central generating or other energy using facility could be set up, well away from the sea. Given suitable materials of construction the Water Engines could just act as pumps, delivering sea water under high pressure into the hydraulic main. In a similar manner to the London Hydraulic Power Company, which at its height in 1930 supplied 8000 machines with power through 186 miles of pipes.[Ref.5] Or Bristol's Avonmouth Docks, which were originally powered by hydraulics. [Ref.6] There are of course many inland applications for water engines, in locations with heads of 3m and below. But sadly while Eire has surveyed such sites, [Ref.7], the UK has only done surveys down to heads of 3m. Not below. [Ref.8]


A major potential application for Water Engines is to drive heat pumps. The major energy advantage is that while electricity generation may give 60-65% of the Tidal Energy as usable power, a direct driven heat pump, which excludes electrical machinery, "adds" to the energy output to the extent that for every 100 units of hydro energy available, up to perhaps 250 units of heat energy can be delivered by a heat pump system. The "extra" energy coming from cooling the sea.

sustain_ability said...

Green algae to the rescue

Isaac Berzin, a rocket scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is using algae to clean up power-plant exhaust, saving greenhouse gas emissions and satisfying energy needs.

The idea occurred to him three years ago, although it is not exactly new (see below). He bolted onto the exhaust stacks of a 20 MW power plant rows of clear tubes with green algae soup inside. The algae grew happily, gobbling up 40 percent of the carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, and as a bonus, 86 percent of the nitrous oxide as well, resulting in a much cleaner exhaust.

The algae is harvested daily and its oil extracted to make biodiesel for transport use, leaving a green dry flake that can be further processed to ethanol, also a transport fuel (but see “Ethanol from cellulose biomass not sustainable nor environmentally benign”, this series).

GreenFuel, the company set up by Berzin in Cambridge Mass., has already attracted £11 million in venture capital funding and is conducting a field trial at 1 000 MW plant owned by a major southwestern power company. GreenFuel expects two to seven more such demo projects, scaling up to a full production system by 2009.

One key to success is to select an alga with a high oil density – about 50 percent by weight. Algae are prolific and can produce 15 000 gallons of biodiesel per acre, compared to just 60 gallons from soybean. Berzin estimates that a 1 000 MW power plant using his system could produce more than 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. But that would require a 2 000 acre farm near the power plant.

Greenfuel is not alone in racing to make oil out of algae. Greenshift Corporation, an incubator company based in Mount Arlington New Jersey, licensed a CO2-scrubbing screen-like filter developed by David Bayless, researcher at Ohio University. A prototype is capable of handling 140 cubic metres of flue gas per minute, an amount equivalent to the exhaust from 50 cars or a 3-megawatt power plant.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) had a research project from1978 to1996 on creating renewable transportation fuel with algae making use of waste CO2 from coal fired power plants. The project, led by NREL scientist John Sheehan, was funded at $25.05 m over the 20-year period, compared to the total spending under the Biofuels Program over the same period of $459 m. It resulted in a collection of 300 species of green algae and diatoms, now housed in the University of Hawaii and still available to researchers. Although some technical and economic problems remained to be solved, it was estimated that just 15 000 square miles (or 3.8 m ha) of desert (the Sonoran desert in California and Arizona is more than 8 times that size) could grow enough algae to replace nearly all of the nation’s current diesel requirements, and algae use far less water than traditional oilseed crops.

Researchers also suggested using algae to clean up Salton Sea in Southern California, into which more than 10 000 tons of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers are discharged annually. The idea was to use some 1 000 ha of pond system to grow algae such as Spirulina with the sea water, harvest the algae biomass and convert that into fuels, while the residual sludge could be recycled to agriculture for its fertilizer value. An estimate suggests that such a process could mitigate several hundred thousand tons of CO2 emissions at below $10/ton CO2 equivalent.

But it is perhaps the algae’s potential for carbon-capture that makes them most attractive, and it is as yet almost untapped.

energybalance said...

Both very interesting comments. I have written about making biofuels from algae before and although I believe the technology still needs to be fine-tuned, it does seem to solve two of the major environmental problems we have - namely, absorbing excess CO2 not just letting it go into the atmosphere, and producing synthetic fuel as petroleum begins to run-short.

I like the idea too, of harnessing our natural benefit of surrounding seas and their tides.

Many thanks,