Monday, February 02, 2009

It's a Gas.

A new study concludes that half of all households in the U.K. could be heated by biogas, as generated from waste food or sewage. The gas itself is methane, and would be piped to the national (gas) grid in sufficiency to provide 15% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. In the longer run, it is concluded by Ernst and Young, such biogas could provide up to half of Britain's domestic gas heating... yes, things begin to get a bit nebulous in these quotations. I believe that 40% of Britain's total energy is provided by natural gas (for heating and electricity generation), about another 35% for transport, mostly cars, and roughly 40% of the total amount of energy goes for space-heating, so that might equal 20% of the grand total?

In any case it is a good portent. We do need to focus on renewable sources, but the engineering involved will be massive. As I have alluded before, the jury is still out regarding anthropogenic climate change, but either way, fossil fuels are in limited supply and so the same action - of using less of them - satisfies both agenda.

Sir Richard Budge ("King Coal" as he is dubbed deservedly) is a man to be admired. He has opened a formerly closed (Thanks Maggie!) coal mine in Yorkshire - a scene of dispute of the worst industrial strife in British history; ignoring the Tonypandy riots in South Wales - and adjacently, has planned to implement a combined-cycle power station, which generally gets 56% of the thermal energy recovered rather than the 36% that is dictated by the thermodynamic Carnot Cycle limits, and is also "clean". This, at any rate is his intention.

His company, Powerfuel, has requested planning-permission to build a 900 MW plant, with low-emissions, i.e. "clean-coal", fuelled from the Hatfield colliery, which he unsealed in 2009, funded by Russian investors. I use the world "unsealed" deliberately because Margaret (Maggie) Thatcher's government inaugurated the sealing of the mines with concrete as a demonstration of force against the trade unions who, although I am a socialist, were asking for trouble... sadly it is the population of this country in general that paid the price for both the union militants and Thatcher's unabating worship of monetarism - a kind of academically discredited economic policy that has brought the world to the pivot of bankruptcy.

As I note, it is a combined cycle (IGCC) - that's Integrated, Gasification, Combined Cycle - plant, which first gasifies the coal dust and converts it to synthesis gas (a mixture of H2 and CO) which is burned at high efficiency. The consequent CO2 is separated out and can then be "sequestered" in some way - possibly it could be fed to algae and the resulting yield used in a thermal gasification process to provide more "syngas".

However, not that it matters much, as I have already made the point, Dr John Theon, who was apparently James Hansen's boss - the main climate change/anthropogenic CO2/global warming protagonist - has come clean that he isn't convinced that this theory is right. I keep an open mind on this - I am not a specialist in atmospheric chemistry, but I am a well qualified physical scientist and I can understand many original papers when I read them and do the sums - but Theon alleges that data has been "cherry picked" to fit the whole picture, and that the "models" which is all they are, a mathematical "fit" inside a computer may give particular results according to a given algorithm; i.e. other models will give different predictions. Theon says, "They have resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists. This is clearly contrary to how science should be done. Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy."

Now, the latter is an extremely significant point. We are projected to invest billions of whatever currency prevails in carbon capture and sequestration, and yet it is not absolutely clear whether letting that element in the form of its most highly oxidised state - CO2 - into the atmosphere will fry the planet or not. But, burning less carbon in the form of fossil fuels is paramount, because we are going to run out of cheap and readily availabile amounts of them sooner not later. Either line of argument (resource considerations or global warming) takes us to the same conclusion.

Related Reading.


Yorkshireminer said...

You know how to push all the right buttons to get me angry. Pie in the sky too little too late. In 40 years time maybe, we are so far behind the curve that there is no way we will be able to get anything like this going, to even think of taking over from the falling gas production in the North Sea. What the hell has C02 emissions got to do with it. I have just been reading Matt Simon's book “Twilight in the Desert” man is that frightening, if you have got no oil or gas because production has dropped off a cliff C02 emissions will fall anyway and this piddling little effort will certainly not add any appreciable amount.
I like the word unsealed, what are they doing opening a vault, When my pit was closed they built a conveyor from the pit mound too the shaft and back filled them with the help of a mechanical shovel. That didn't take them long I can assure you. I know Hatfield and if they did put a concrete cap on the shaft that only proves to me that the whole bloody miners strike was politically motivated. Which by the way I have known for a long time. Sealing in a good energy source and throwing the British economy to the international energy Barons is treason in my eyes, the stupidity will most likely bankrupt the country . I only hope that when Attila dies I can get into the mortuary one to check if there is a pair of ball under that skirt and secondly to drive a stake through her heart. The Bastard was past her sell by date the day she was born. Every time I see her ugly puss, I reach for a cross and check to see if I have still got the bag of garlic hanging around my neck. God almighty how I detest her. She is the classic example of what Keynes said that men are lead by dead economists, and the one she had been worshiping had been dead for over 200 years.
Ordered your book by the way Chris, last of my Christmas book tokens, it had better be good, or I will be demanding my money back from you. Just finished reading Niall Ferguson's “ The Accent of Money” well worth the read not as good as Galbraith's work but from a different perspective.

Deep Regards

Yorkshire Miner

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

I guess as usual the problem is the lead-in time; the engineering etc. which can't be installed overnight exactly. As we have commented before if we'd started finding these oil/as alternatives 30 - 40 years ago we would be further forward.

As we have also noted, I am hardly likely to defend Thatcher; you were there on the ground during the miner's strike, which was undoubtedly politically motivated - the final play-off between the trade unions and the right-wing parties.

"Unsealed" is deliberate, and you describe what was done more graphically. I also remember you telling me that the roads underground upwell over time and would need to be "dug" again, so that unsealing is no tribvial matter.

Yes, I agree, if the consequences of monetarism, breaking the unions through breaking British industry and rendering inaccessible a good useful intrinsic energy source are the economic and social ruination of this country, there could reasonably be a charge of treason made.

What scares me is how fast that decline is moving toward us. The DTI think that there will be some recovery by mid-2010, but who knows? I think we are in that Long Emergency situation described by Jim Kustler.

I hope you like my book - it;s a black comedy about the screw-up that has been made of what was once the envy of the world as a university stem... no longer! I knew people abroad who will no longer send students over here because of declining standards" as they see them.

I'll add those books you mention to my reading list - another good one is "The Welfare State We're In" by James Bartholemew which describes another legacy from Thatcher, i.e. the benefits culture, the seeds of which were sown when she moved 2 million from the unemployment register onto invalidity benefit (now incapacity benefit) with the result that in some households 3 and now 4 generations have never worked. What will the government do with all of them when it can no longer afford to keep them?

Deep Regards too, Dave... I thought you'd respond to this one!


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