by Anthony King
The race is on to reuse waste as energy in the most effective way possible. Combined heat and power is an old idea for saving fuel with a new imperative to slash emissions. Innovative furnaces based on biofuel systems will generate heat and power from waste materials with near-complete efficiency and very low emissions.
The old mantra of waste not, want not, goes for energy as well as food. The less energy we waste, the lower will be our carbon emissions.
It may come as a surprise to learn that around half of total energy is wasted in conventional ways of producing heat and electricity from fossil fuels. But there is another way to generate both electric power and heat in what is called “combined heat and power” (CHP), or cogeneration. Quite apart from using fossil fuels, it opens the door to bring more bioenergy from waste material into the energy mix. This kind of material is often overlooked as a resource but it has significant potential.
‘This is a way to produce heat and power at the same time,’ said Martin Stroleny at Greenovate Europe, a Brussels-based network that supports sustainable technologies and green innovation. ‘It can save up to 40% energy compared to conventional power-only systems.’ He is part of an EU funded project called SmartCHP, which is designing a new engine that can turn biomass into heat and electricity.
The work involves modifying a diesel engine so that it can handle bio-oil, instead of diesel. The project scientists and engineers have been working on the nuts and bolts of the machine for the last two years.
The idea is to first use a machine (a fast-pyrolysis plant) that can turn organic waste such as olive kernels, but also forestry and agricultural leftovers, into a bio-oil. The greenish bio-oil can then be routed down either of two paths. The oil can be fed into a modified diesel engine to generate electricity, or, if heat is required, into a flue gas boiler.
‘We can generate heat and electricity at the same time,’ explained Stroleny, ‘And the system is very dynamic.’ This means the production of heat can be dialled up on a chilly winter day, but then dialled down during warmer summer days. It is also a great solution to balance the energy grid and complement more variable renewable energies such as solar or wind.
The engine that the project is designing will be suitable to provide heat and power to hotels, hospitals, schools and even some industrial buildings. ‘We can help them decrease their energy and heating costs, as well as improve overall energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,’ said Stroleny.
In the past few months, the team scored a significant success when it put together its CHP unit in a lab and ran it on bio-oil for 500 hours. ‘This is actually a world’s first,’ said Stroleny. ‘The first time that somebody managed to run a CHP unit on biofuel for such a length of time.’
For now, the various parts of the machine such as the diesel engine, flue gas boiler and smart controller are being developed and tested in a lab. The project is still working on the best way to put them all together and make the CHP unit as efficient as possible. Full-scale testing is likely to occur in 2023.
It will also evaluate different biological feedstocks to go into the machine, such as olive kernels from Greece, miscanthus crop from Croatia or forestry waste from Sweden. SmartCHP is carrying out a market assessment in different countries, to support the commercialisation of these new machines.
CHP generates power and heat at the site of the school or hospital itself. This makes it especially suitable for heating and powering buildings in remote locations or even in places that are not connected to an electricity grid, such as islands.
BLAZE is another European project that is plugging away at developing more efficient and flexible technologies for returning leftover biomass as combined heat and power services. Engineers here are developing CHP systems capable of converting industrial, food or timber waste and other biomass into energy.
This process produces a gas for fuel, but this is not combusted in an engine or gas turbine. Instead, the gas is fed into a fuel-cell, a battery-like device that converts chemicals in the gas into electricity and heat. The system then feeds electricity into the electricity grid, to help balance the loads and possibly to make up shortfalls if the inputs from wind or solar power taper off.
‘The challenge is how to convert biomass waste in an efficient way, without emissions, and also at low cost,’ said Professor Enrico Bocci at the University Guglielmo Marconi, who leads the BLAZE project. Later this year, CHP machines will be put through their paces. The hope is for electrical efficiency of close to 50%, and an overall CHP efficiency of 90% – meaning that 50% of the energy available from a fuel gets converted into usable electricity and 40% into heating.
The system will take in all sorts of wastes, which might generate tar, particles, sulfur and chlorine compounds that could interfere with the unit. To avoid such problems, it will turn waste into gas at around 800°C and treat it, before feeding the gas into the fuel cell, converting fuel plus oxygen into electricity and heat at temperatures of around 700°C, with very low emissions. The gas can also flow into a burner to allow for more heat to be generated.
A pilot power plant will be assembled in Italy towards the end of this year and tested up to May 2023. ‘We will achieve double the electrical efficiency of biomass CHP plants with zero emissions from our pilot programme,’ said Bocci.
‘When the price of energy increases, people and companies will look for alternative solutions to fossil fuels,’ he added. There is also a dire need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels for geopolitical and climate reasons. But it is not possible to replace fossil fuels only with renewable electricity from solar and wind, said Bocci, and as long as there is life there will be biomass.
BLAZE is a first demonstration of this technology that can convert leftover biomass highly efficiently and with low emissions and costs.
We are not there yet, but researchers and engineers in Europe are moving towards the day of optimal combined heat and power. It will provide multiple benefits.
‘There will come a time when you can take your biomass waste and put it in a small, low-cost reactor and generate electricity, heat and chemicals, with no emissions,’ said Bocci.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Greenpeace tells Big Oil to stay clear of Congo’s carbon bomb
The world’s largest oil and gas companies are urged by Greenpeace to sit out a major oil and gas auction in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the end of July. In letters sent to oil companies worldwide, Greenpeace warns of an ominous auction at the expense of biodiversity and global climate. The massive auction – fiercely opposed by local communities – overlaps peatlands and several Protected Areas.
Yesterday, DRC’s Oil Minister Didier Budimbu announced the auction covers 27 oil and three gas fields, exceeding the government’s decision in April, potentially without a legal mandate. The April plan encompassed an area more than 240,000 km² – an area about 300 times the size of Nairobi. The decision came only five months after the signing of a $500 million deal at the COP26 to help protect DRC’s forests with the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).
“This auction not only makes a mockery of DRC’s posturing as a solution country for the climate crisis – it exposes Congolese people to corruption, violence, and poverty that inevitably come with the curse of oil, as well as more heat waves and less rains for all Africans, said Irene Wabiwa, International Project Lead for the Congo forest campaign at Greenpeace Africa.
In a field trip last week to four of the designated oil blocks, Greenpeace Africa’s forest campaigners collected testimonies from local communities that were all shocked about the prospective auction of their lands to oil companies. Some communities, such as those living around the Upemba national park, see the prospective oil exploration as a direct threat to the lake they rely on for generations and are planning to resist it.
In a letter sent to oil and gas companies in Africa, Europe and the US, Greenpeace warns of oil blocks overlapping carbon-rich peatlands. In a recent article, Prof. Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds notes four blocks overlapping peatlands that store 5.8 billion tons of carbon – that is equivalent to more than 15 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021. According to the International Energy Agency, any new fossil fuel project today would undermine reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and this auction would be particularly toxic.
“The international community and the Congolese government must end the neocolonial scramble for African fossil fuels by restricting oil companies’ access to the DRC, focusing instead on ending energy poverty through supporting clean, decentralised renewable energies” added Irene Wabiwa.
Contrary to repeated claims by Minister Budimbu that none of the oil and gas blocks to be auctioned lies within Protected Areas, official maps show that nine do. The Minister acknowledged his miscommunication on 13 June. Following the augmentation of the auction, the updated number of blocks overlapping Protected Areas may be as high as 12.
It remains unclear which oil companies are planning to bid in the auction. In a petition launched by Greenpeace with local and international partners, almost 100,000 people call on Congolese President Felix Tschisekedi not to sacrifice the rainforest to the oil industry.
Greenpeace Africa calls on governments in the continent to put the interest of their people over the greed of rich nations and their multinational corporations by accelerating investments in renewable, clean and decentralised energy. And urges all oil and gas companies to refrain from participating in the neocolonial scramble for African fossil fuels.
Waste incineration and ‘recycled carbon fuel’, putting stokes in the renewable energy wheel
Today the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) – European Parliaments’ lead committee on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) – called for the Member States to take measures to ensure that energy from biomass is produced in a way that minimises distortive effects on the raw material market and harmful impacts on biodiversity, the environment and the climate. To that end, Member States shall take into account the waste hierarchy and the cascading principle.
As part of the measures, it requires the Member States to terminate support for the production of energy generated from the incineration of waste if the separate collection and the waste hierarchy obligations outlined in the Waste Framework Directive have not been complied with.
Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator: “Although a step in the right direction, the proposed criteria is a weak qualifier, given that, at incineration plants, the ‘biodegradable waste’, is never combusted without fossil-derived materials present. Thus, it remains possible for ‘renewable energy’ to be generated while emitting large quantities of fossil-derived CO2. Incineration plants are already the most carbon intense source of power in some Member States”.
Vähk added, “We call for the criteria for the use of wastes to be improved so that no support for renewable energy is offered for the combustion of mixed waste”.
The committee also has decided to keep recycled carbon fuels – i.e. potentially plastic based fuels – as part of the Renewable Energy Directive, allowing non-renewable energy sources to contribute towards the EU renewables targets. A recent study showed that plastic-derived fuel produces higher exhaust emissions compared to diesel.
Lauriane Veillard, Policy Officer on Chemical Recycling and Plastic-to-Fuels: “Why does the European Parliament keep recycled carbon fuels as part of Renewable Energy Directive, when the definition itself recognizes the non-renewable sources of these fuels? This is greenwashing and will strongly undermine efforts to decarbonise the transport sector. We call on co-legislators to fully exclude the use of fossil based-fuels as part of the RED.”
Impacts Of Nuclear Waste Disposal
Nuclear energy has long been regarded as an excellent option to provide the electricity needed to heat and light our houses. Without emitting greenhouse gases, it can produce electricity. But following several horrific accidents at nuclear power facilities throughout the globe, people are becoming increasingly aware that, if not handled wisely, nuclear power poses a severe threat to our way of life.
The storage of nuclear (radioactive) waste has also raised safety and health concerns. Fortunately, functioning nuclear power facilities now have extreme safety measures in place, making them much safer than they once were. However, they continue to produce tonnes of hazardous trash every year. The Utility Bidder greatly emphasizes the efficient disposal of nuclear energy waste.
In order to ensure that all nuclear waste is disposed of safely, carefully, and with the least amount of harm to human life possible, nuclear power plants and other businesses must adhere to several essential and stringent regulations. Nuclear waste disposal, also known as radioactive waste management, is a significant component of nuclear power generation.
However, the amount of radioactive waste left behind from nuclear power plants is relatively tiny compared to the waste produced by other energy-generating techniques, such as burning coal or gas. However, it can be expensive, and it must be done perfectly.
Nuclear waste is often stored in steel containers that are placed within a second concrete cylinder for disposal purposes. These shielding layers stop radiation from entering the environment and endangering the environment around the nuclear waste or the atmosphere.
It is a pretty simple and affordable means of keeping very hazardous compounds. For example, it doesn’t require special transportation or storage in a particular spot. However, certain risks are associated with the disposal of nuclear waste.
Because the by-products of nuclear fission have long half lifetimes, they will remain radioactive and dangerous for tens of thousands of years. It indicates that nuclear waste might be exceedingly volatile and harmful for many years if something happens to the waste cylinders in which it is kept.
That makes it relatively simple to locate hazardous nuclear waste, which means that if someone were looking for nuclear waste with bad intentions, they might very well be able to find some and use it. That is because hazardous nuclear waste is frequently not sent off to particular locations to be stored.
The question of storage is another difficulty with nuclear waste disposal that is still under discussion. Due to the difficulties involved in keeping such dangerous material that would remain radioactive for thousands of years, many alternative storage techniques have been considered throughout history. Among the ideas considered were above-ground storage, launch into space, ocean disposal, and ice-sheet disposal. Still, very few have been put into practice.
Only one was put into practice; ocean disposal, which involved discharging radioactive waste into the sea, was adopted by thirteen different nations. It makes sense that this practice is no longer used.
The potential impact of hazardous materials on plants and animals is one of the main worries that the globe has regarding the disposal of nuclear waste. Even though the trash is often tightly sealed inside enormous steel and concrete drums, accidents can still happen, and leaks might occur.
Nuclear waste can have highly detrimental impacts on life, such as developing malignant growths or transmitting genetic defects to subsequent generations of animals and plants. Therefore, improper nuclear waste disposal can significantly negatively affect the environment and endanger millions of animals and hundreds of different animal species.
The most considerable worry is the harmful consequences radiation exposure can have on the human body. Radiation’s long-term effects can potentially lead to cancer. It’s intriguing to realize that we are naturally exposed to radiation from the ground underneath us just by going about our daily lives. The “DNA” that ensures cell healing can change due to radiation.
Problems can occasionally arise when transporting nuclear waste from power plants. Accidents still happen and can have catastrophic consequences for everyone nearby, despite all the precautions taken while transporting nuclear waste. For example, if radioactive material is contained in subpar transportation casks, a minor bump or crash could cause the contents to leak and impact a large area.
People frequently scavenge for abandoned radioactive nuclear waste, a severe issue in developing countries. People will willingly expose themselves to potentially harmful quantities of radiation in some nations because there is a market for these kinds of scavenged products. Sadly, radioactive materials can be pretty volatile and lead to various issues.
People who scavenge these materials wind up in hospitals and may even pass away from complications brought on by or connected to the radioactive materials. Sadly, once someone has been exposed to radioactive materials, they can then expose other individuals to radioactive materials who have not chosen to go scavenging for nuclear garbage.
Accidents happen, even though careful disposal of nuclear waste is frequently emphasized. Unfortunately, there have been many examples throughout history where radioactive waste was not disposed of properly.
That has led to several terrible events, such as radioactive waste being dispersed by dust storms into places where people and animals lived and contaminating water sources, including ponds, rivers, and even the sea. Animals that live in or around these places or depend on lakes or ponds for survival may suffer catastrophic consequences due to these mishaps.
Also, drinking water can get poisoned, which is terrible for locals and others near the disaster’s epicenter. Nuclear waste can eventually enter reservoirs and other water sources and, from there, go to the houses of people who unknowingly drink high radioactive material.
Severe accidents occur extremely infrequently but have a significant impact on a large number of individuals. That is true even if it only seeps into the ground. There are examples of these incidents from all over the world and from all eras.
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