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How the Economy Is Changing Clean Energy

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the clean-energy-with-dirty-money dept.

Earth 227

Al writes "The economy has hit green energy technologies hard, but technologies focused on energy efficiency and clean coal are still attracting money. Over the next few years, venture capitalists say that the biggest winners in clean tech will most likely be companies with technologies that improve efficiency. Such ventures often take advantage of cheap sensors, communications hardware, and software packages to monitor and control energy use both in buildings and on the electricity grid. High-capital businesses are now more likely to succeed if they can attract foreign funding. For instance, Great Point Energy, based in Cambridge, which has developed a process for converting coal into natural gas, has attracted $100m in funding from China."

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227 comments

If you ask me... (3, Insightful)

TFer_Atvar (857303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190547)

... the companies that will do the best will be the ones that can maximize their profit with a minimum amount of debt. How cool their toys are doesn't factor into it.

Re:If you ask me... (1, Informative)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190763)

And working with finite resources like coal is a dead end. You will end up with the dirty parts regardless.

Re:If you ask me... (2, Insightful)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192053)

"And working with finite resources like coal is a dead end. You will end up with the dirty parts regardless."

Well, it isn't like these resources are going to 'go away' in any of our lifetimes....so, at this point in time, for reasonably short term (20+) years success and profit, it IS a good business move to work with these.

The smart things to do for a company would be to maximize their profits on finite resources we still have plenty of today....and spend some of that profit on the next generation energy sources, so they can be ready to profit when a switchover is mandated by loss of said finite resources.

Re:If you ask me... (1)

Bwian_of_Nazareth (827437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191057)

You definition of "do the best" seems strange to me. Of course companies need to maximise the profit. Why should they minimise debt is beyond me (if you are talking about maximising net profit and not turn-over, debt is not an issue). You don't even have to say "maximise profit and minimise costs" becase costs are already factored into profit. So you are saying that companies that are doing best are those, that maximise profit. That calls for a Nobel prize in economics. Furthermore you are saying that the coolness of the product does not have impact on profit - your prize is long overdue, man.

Re:If you ask me... (1)

TFer_Atvar (857303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191233)

Probably would've been better to say "minimize debt obligations," as in the amount due to the creditors in each payment period. Lately, we've seen more than a few otherwise healthy companies brought down by debt obligations due to interest rates suddenly going up or things along those lines.

Re:If you ask me... (1)

Bwian_of_Nazareth (827437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191319)

No, the point is - if you maximise your profit, that already includes any debt obligations. So if I say "maximise (net) profit" it also includes optimise cost including cost of debt. Minimising debt may not be the optimum strategy. It is easy to minimise debt - just don't have any. But that may not lead to maximum profit. You may also want to talk about risk but then again - if you talk about middle or long term profit optimisation that includes risk optimisation - again, not minimalisation. World of business is not black and white, debt and cost are not bad things per se. It is the balance of these things that needs to be taken into account.

Re:If you ask me... (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191417)

It is because there is this credit crunch thingy going on which is making it almost impossible for people to borrow money.

Companies that don't need to borrow money to survive are at an advantage over those that do.

Re:If you ask me... (1)

Elektroschock (659467) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191985)

Of course there are different types of companies and associations. What is the difference of a public benefit, a party, and different sorts of companies or a website. An association of people can do whatever they want.

You and your neighbors can e.g. own a cooperative that supplies electricity to your block. And a milk farm won't manufacture tanks and rifles because they are more profitable, just an allocation of free capital to these entities is guarded by greed because that is the essence of capital investment.

Think of Popper: normative individualism. Once these free individuals associate and establish a legal person that legal person, the association or company, can also pursue their own objectives.

If I have money as a capitalist I can do whatever I like with it. There is no rule above me that says I have to maximize returns. There is also no clear destinction between investment and spending. With spending I invest with negative return expectations. E.g. I buy a concert ticket. The concert is over, the money is gone. I buy a house, I live in the house, I sell the house. I buy a car, I use the car, I sell the used car. With investment I spent with positive return expectations. I rent a concert hall and a band, I sell tickets, I make profit. I buy a house, I live in the house, I sell my house, I expect to make profit.

If I have n billions in cash and my personal goal is to go to built more energy-efficient machines who is going to stop me?

The real problem is here a depersonification of capital. Large capital investment is not personal choice but an abstract technocratic choice built around a normative homo economicus, a human model that is not "me" or "you".

Re:If you ask me... (4, Informative)

xelah (176252) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192161)

Of course companies need to maximise the profit. Why should they minimise debt is beyond me (if you are talking about maximising net profit and not turn-over, debt is not an issue).

Because investors don't just care about profit, they also care about risk. Average profit with above average risk is not good.

Debt and profit interact like this (ignoring tax, for now):

Case 1: A company uses 100m of capital, all from shareholders, to make an average of 10m/year of profit. Return to shareholders: 10%, plus annual variation. The company goes bust if it persistently makes less than 0 profit.

Case 2: An equivalent company uses 100m of capital, 50m from shareholders, 50m from 5% debt, to make an average of 10m/year of profit before interest, 7.5m/year after interest. Return to shareholders: 15%. The company goes bust if it persistently makes less than 2.5m/year from its operations, so the risk to shareholders is larger. If profits are a normal distribution - or anything like it - this could be quite a big difference in risk.

So what matters is not profit, but risk-adjusted profit....and leverage increases risk. In theory, shareholders should care because they adjust the leverage themselves (owning 1000 of the share capital in case one, or 500 of the share capital and 500 of the debt in case two, is equivalent). However, the tax system encourages debt by taxing profit AFTER interest. This is a BAD thing, and may have contributed to our current mess, because it decreases shareholder returns in case 1 more than in case 2, encouraging otherwise pointless risky behaviour.

A ticket to tax Hell . . . (2, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191123)

... the companies that will do the best will be the ones that can maximize their profit with a minimum amount of debt.

. . . that would normally be a very economically sound business plan. However, governments are now in the process of bailing out businesses that have minimized profit, with maximum debt, and are "too big to fail."

So who gets to pay for that?

"Ah, Mr. Bond, I was expecting you. I see that you have again made a tidy profit. I will forgo any unfeasible sharks-with-lasers-aimed-at-your-crotch death machines. Instead, I will simply tax you to death."

Wealthfare (5, Insightful)

zogger (617870) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192103)

That is the new governmental hybrid business model. Private profits, but public debt socialism for the same guys.

IMO, "too big to fail" should translate into "too big to be allowed to exist in the first place".

why wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190555)

www.lincolncomposites.com the future of clean burning gas storage vessels. look it up we probably made the ngv tank that is on your cities busses.

Innovation and Risk? (0)

Suisho (1423259) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190585)

Frustratingly, I still do not understand clean coal. To me, its like a clean bomb, vs. a dirty bomb. Its still does damage, maybe not as much, but it is still harmful.

I think right now, it is going to be frustratingly hard to get people to fund in more innovative risky product development. vs trying to improve on existing infrastructures. Saying you'll make a product better is much more likely to be funded than trying to create a completely new product. The risk is less associated with improvement is less, and the probability for getting ROI is higher.

Re:Innovation and Risk? (4, Insightful)

AaronW (33736) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190755)

In many areas of the country clean coal won't work since the geology isn't right for storing the captured CO2. Additionally, there currently are not even any working demonstration plants, only talk of plants that could be converted. The sheer amount of CO2 produced from coal is also a huge problem. It would require massive pipelines to dispose of the CO2 from areas that don't have the geology for storing it, and then there's the danger of a fissure opening up somewhere and the CO2 escaping, which would be deadly. As I see it, the only long term methods of reducing CO2 are renewable and nuclear. The only reason clean coal is happening is because the government is throwing money at it and all those coal producing states and the votes they represent. There has not been a single demonstration that clean coal actually works.

Gah - energy was mentioned so the nukes come out (2, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190857)

If we had civilian nuclear plants that were good at producing electricity I would agree with you. Unfortunately in nearly every case we have a compromise dual use plant that produces very expensive electricity along with the weapon materials. Pebble bed is an exception and might just work well - but can you really see the USA buying such technology from China, South Africa or Germany once it is proven? It will be home grown Westinghouse 1960s white elephants painted green or nothing.

There is also a vast amount of utter bullshit surrounding nuclear. The lobby is not happy with saying they have low CO2 emissions, they lie and say "zero emissions" and also pretend that waste at every step does not exist. If you ignore everything outside of the reactor, ignore all waste products and assume you never need to refuel nuclear is "clean" - but then under those conditions so is the sort of coal use with no pollution controls that gave London it's famous green fogs a bit over a century ago. Nuclear has to be considered over the entire process - and if it's going to be used as more than the nice side of the bomb we need to put in a hell of a lot of work to improve designs before building a lot of the things. It's possible, but private enterprise has only been interested in trying to sell old designs to fleece the taxpayer. We should be building prototypes first instead of some mad rush to force large quantities of money into the pockets of those pushing the hard line.

Remember that Carter and Thatcher both were in favour of nuclear power and both knew what they were talking about - and they both had to cut back on the lame duck nuclear projects their countries had been conned into.

dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190989)

I suspect I am dumber for reading that.

Most reactors do not make bombs.

Re:dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191083)

I cut my losses at the end of the first paragraph.

Re:Innovation and Risk? (4, Interesting)

NReitzel (77941) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191197)

Let's see... We can't have nukes, because nuclear waste is dangerous for thousands of years and is produced in tonnes by reactors.

But "clean coal" is ok, because CO2 can be stored by deep well injection. And unlike nuclear waste, it's dangerous forever, and produced in millions of tonnes by power plants.

I guess sequestered CO2 is better than nuclear waste because giant clouds of killer gas are more "natural" than that awful "atom" stuff. After all, look at the area around Chernobyl, and compare it to the scenes around Lake Nyos.

Oh, and while we're at it, lets consider the number of coal miners killed each year. Too bad we can't ask them about "clean coal" technology.

Re:Innovation and Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191249)

Don't forget about the radioactive materials in coal (and oil). Instead of storing it in easy to track barrels, we blow it into the air and let the wind deal with it.

Re:Innovation and Risk? (2, Interesting)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191613)

I think one of the reasons people are more afraid of nuclear waste than CO2 is that after you're irradiated, you know you'll die, but are still alive for some time and aware of the fact you will die. (Regardless of the actual chance of that happening, which is extremely low.) People really fear being confronted with their mortality. That's why they are afraid of cancer and flying, but not so much of road accidents where you die instantly.

Re:Innovation and Risk? (3, Interesting)

Tuoqui (1091447) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191951)

Actually...

You can take the 'waste' from the reactor and re-enrich it (a process that is also used for creation of nuclear weapons unfortunately) and turn it into fuel-grade material again although you do lose some mass in the process.

The idea of capturing CO2 is basically a result of chemical compounds/processes that turn CO2 into Sodium Bicarbonate or Baking Soda. If you put it underground in places with high Sodium content you'll end up with it converting to Baking Soda as it tries to escape.

Re:Innovation and Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191451)

Actually they do have a small demo plant operating in Germany, however it is not the size of a normal plant,
http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3628912,00.html

Re:Innovation and Risk? (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191711)

"clean coal" is like saying that we can bury nuclear waste to make "clean nuclear" - Except it is probably safer and more feasible to bury the nuclear waste, than to try to bury CO2.

Re:Innovation and Risk? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191835)

Well, it is a clean bomb vs. dirty bomb.

I just got done reading the Great Point stuff and frankly am shocked that W and team did not push this (hopefully Obama will fund this). It would still leave us CO2, which really sux. BUT, the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere from a power plant would be less AND all the other pollutants(mercury, sulfur, nitroxs,etc) would be gone. Basically, this would allow a power plant to convert from Coal to Natural Gas. Now, take that a step further. In an ideal powerplant, they would use Solar Thermal to be the main drive and then use the natural gas to provide backup. That approach would allow for cheap power with a much lower output of CO2. But again what is missing in this picture is that right now, coal is transfered all over via trains (inefficient). Using natural gas, we have pipelines running all over, which is more efficient. But again, where would this take us? Why it would move us rapidly off oil based cars over to either natural gas cars or better electric cars.

The problem that you are having is that you think that something like this would be the end goal. This is a goal of getting us there. We will continue to burn fossil fuel for sometime. Even now, it is expensive to build a nuke. Likewise, we need our AE boosted, but it will happen SLOWLY (sadly). Great Point could get us off importing oil, clean up our coal emissions (which is not just dirty, but heavy CO2 emissions), and move us towards electric cars. This is a win-win-win. Sadly, China sees it and we do not. Whats more, I bet that china will insist on the IP behind it and will run away with the idea.

"Clean" coal (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190597)

Pfft! Yeah right. Pull the other one.

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

MadCat221 (572505) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190669)

Clean coal is a myth. [thinkprogress.org]

Re:"Clean" coal (0, Flamebait)

angelwolf71885 (1181671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190759)

pperintly you twist hvent hurd of this thing mde from col called COAKE witch hs been used for few centrys by blacksmiths its mde from coal.. its burns hooter and clener then coal.. i wish the retarted tree huggers wuld shut thir mouths nd stop pushing this the world is gunn dround bull shit.. nd lso relize if we rediuce crbn emishions nture cn scrub them out.. plints breth in co2 nd ut o2 -.-'

ignorant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190823)



You would do a better job making your case if you spelled correctly.

Seth

Conservation of matter & Conservation. (1)

Tatarize (682683) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190851)

Coal burns all the way through. You get so much CO2 in the air and so much ash for every bit you burn. There's no changing that. It's conservation of matter. You could catch the CO2, but then it just screws up the ground water table and doesn't really help, because nobody would do it and it just adds another storage problem (we see how well they store the ash).

Out of curiosity are you a cleverly constructed parody of a dumb ass or a real one. Real ones typically aren't that dumb.

Re:Conservation of matter & Conservation. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191787)

then it just screws up the ground water table

I can just picture some hillbilly with well digging equipment: "Hee hee! I knew stealing these Mt.Dew concentrate pouches from the ol' fast food job would pay off. Watch out maw! I'm going in!"

Soda-water from the tap, who'd a thunk it?

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190841)

Pfft! Yeah right. Pull the other one.

Funny. Nearly every other post here is about converting coal to some other form of cleaner energy. So are you wrong or is everyone else?

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190853)

The use of coal, no matter what you convert it to, will never be clean.

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190919)

The use of coal, no matter what you convert it to, will never be clean.

Define "clean". Is nuclear "clean"? Wind power (kills birds and blocks the view)? How about solar (must cut down trees or cover grass to install)?

So tell me, please: What is "clean" energy by your own definition? Is your problem with coal or just energy in general?

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190943)

All those things are much cleaner than coal. It is only for backroom politics we still depend on the stuff.

How about solar (must cut down trees or cover grass to install)?

Yep, lots of trees and grass in the desert. But jeeze! The iguana population is gonna explode with all the shade.

Is your problem with coal or just energy in general?

I don't understand the question.

Re:"Clean" coal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191723)

It is only for backroom politics we still depend on the stuff.

Oh please spare me this bullshit.

We [world] already have thousands of coal plants operating and there is no way solar, wind and wave power could replace them overnight and even then it wouldn't be worth it because they cost significantly more then it does to continue running the coal plants.

Pull your head out your ass.

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192021)

All those things are much cleaner than coal. It is only for backroom politics we still depend on the stuff.

How about solar (must cut down trees or cover grass to install)?

Yep, lots of trees and grass in the desert. But jeeze! The iguana population is gonna explode with all the shade.

Is your problem with coal or just energy in general?

I don't understand the question.

OK, you got me. Solar power is good for deserts. Now, how about the other 75% of the US where they are ALSO putting up solar? How about all the trees that are cut down to run the wires from the deserts to the cities?

And if all those other energies are much cleaner than coal, why are you not down at your state capitol telling those hippies that are protesting the proposed nuclear plant to shut the hell up?!!? No, instead, you are here with them telling me how bad coal is and that you will oppose coal no matter how clean we can get power from it because... well, it's coal. It's evil!

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192069)

Define "clean".

Emissions are no greater than input.

Is nuclear "clean"?

Nope. It's a lot cleaner than coal, though.

Wind power (kills birds and blocks the view)?

Intelligently-executed wind power does not kill birds. I personally find the windmills quite attractive, so the latter is subjective. The most efficient wind turbines are vertical types built where they do not have to be erected into the air to be driven. You are attacking a straw man by tilting at windmills.

How about solar (must cut down trees or cover grass to install)?

There's not very many trees or much grass in the desert, where solar is most applicable.

If you want people to think you are intelligent, you will have to make some better arguments.

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190859)

GP is correct - "clean" coal is no more real than fusion power (as mentioned in another post)

Re:"Clean" coal (5, Interesting)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191105)

According to BBCs Horizon, the UK spends more on ring tones than the world spends on fusion research.

In terms of energy we are screwed, but at least we have custom ring tones.

Re:"Clean" coal (1)

Tuoqui (1091447) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191975)

Easy way to get funding for fusion research... Just make something like the LHC Rap [youtube.com] a ringtone for fusion power.

Improvements in efficiency (2, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190601)

There have been a number of ads by IBM lately pushing the idea that their new line of computers is needed to redesign the nation's electrical grid, claiming that half the power never makes it to any light bulb.

In other areas power companies will actually buy you the new CCFL bulbs if you pay the tax on the bulb.

The push for efficiency is long over-due.

But realistically, will the replacement of a an entire power grid really save more than it costs? Is it really necessary?

Wouldn't more energy be saved by taxing long haul trucking out of existence and putting the money into a resurgence of rail freight?

Re:Improvements in efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190643)

Who would want neon lights... or did you mean CFL?

Re:Improvements in efficiency (2, Insightful)

Daswolfen (1277224) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191847)

Cold Cathode Florescent Lighting (CCFL) is currently used to backlight most laptops. I know that neon is a type of CCFL, and that you are attempting humor. However one can not help to think that you expected it to fail because you posted anonymously (Yes.. I see the Canadian football league reference).

Back to the lighting subject. We would be better served to switch to LEDs rather than CCFLs because less power is used and less waste after they are at end of life.

Re:Improvements in efficiency (1)

ThePeices (635180) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190711)

Well, when your grid ( and im assuming the US one ) is running right to its limits, something needs to be done. You have no real room for failure, look at the last chain reaction of outages there were. Increasing capacity of the grid will increase efficiency (to a point of course). But you gain from less losses, and increased reliability...how much did the last major grid outage cost you, as a country?

The electrical grid is a critical piece of infrastructure for any economy. If you dont invest in it correctly, it will come round and bite you in the proverbial.

Re:Improvements in efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190745)

Well, your premise is wrong. The US lost already 10% of its economy and will lose at least 5% more before the economic depression ends. That means 15% of the economy will be wiped out.
So, with 15% less economic activity, you will be freeing at least 20% of your overloading electric grid.
That means we are back to 1960's as far as need of national electric grid expansion.

The geek dream is over. Now we are back to 1940's and all the geeks must learn how to work in the fields to get their own food. Jocks are back to power, geeks were responsible for the economic failure (Warren Buffet said that) and they must pay with their lives for this fault.

Re:Improvements in efficiency (1)

Daswolfen (1277224) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191929)

Jocks are back to power, geeks were responsible for the economic failure (Warren Buffet said that) and they must pay with their lives for this fault.

Umm.. no. The geeks are the one who will get us out. And Warren Buffet is such an authority. His company was just downgraded along with GE. The politicians, greedy wall street 'investors' and the banks got us into this. I suggest you start with them.

Re:Improvements in efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190731)

claiming that half the power never makes it to any light bulb.

Oh, I'll bet it's way more than half that never makes it to a lightbulb. I mean, there are other things connected to the grid than just lights, you know.

Re:Improvements in efficiency (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190799)

Great- so with CFLs instead of putting carbon in th air we put mercury in the earth. Yeah, that's at best a sidegrade, at worst actively worse. If they really wanted efficiency they'd push for LEDs- bright, cheap, low polution to make, highly efficient, and they never burn out.

Re:Improvements in efficiency (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191449)

You get more mercury from the extra coal required to power an incandescent bulb than you do from a CFL bulb.

My local borough council provides facilities for recycling CFL bulbs so the mercury doesn't get released into the environment, and I believe a lot of other councils do that as well.

I think it will be another few years before LEDs are ready to replace CFLs.

Re:Improvements in efficiency (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191863)

Actually, CFLs have a higher energy cost of production than incandescents, due to their more complex shape and increased quantity and variety of materials. If you turn an incandescent off when you're not using it, you probably have a good shot at having a similar lifetime energy consumption (given how fragile both incandescents and CFLs are; the former to vibration, as is common in California where I live, while the latter succumbs to voltage spikes or especially from brownouts in record time.

LEDs are much more expensive than CFLs OR incandescents. I don't know why that is. They do burn out, though. A car headlamp lasts about 3,000 hours, give or take; an LED driven at high brightness lasts about 6,000. The practical difference is that the halogen loses half its brightness halfway through its lifespan, and the LED doesn't care how many times it is power-cycled. It also costs about an order of magnitude more in most situations, but just look around and buy them on sale! I got a 4W LED spot for $3 and it's a great reading lamp, very directional and doesn't bother anyone else. Has about as much light as a 40W incan and is more directed with no heat to speak of.

Gentlemen. (0, Offtopic)

James Skarzinskas (518966) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190617)

Gentlemen.

bugs (2, Interesting)

plopez (54068) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190631)

I read about how coal could be converted to methane via bacteria.

here's a quick example.

http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2003/bnlpr091103b.htm [bnl.gov]

This is one way to convert coal to a cleaner form of energy. However there are implications since there is a question as to who owns the energy: coal companies or gas companies?

So to create cleaner coal we just may need to pump some bugs and other chemicals into the ground but we also need to sort out some legal and policy issues.

Re:bugs (1)

The Wooden Badger (540258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190767)

Coal to methane, interesting. Methane is kind of implicated in the odor of flatulence, but it comes from it's own charcoal filter. I guess it should be odorless then?

Re:bugs (1)

Quothz (683368) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191677)

I guess it should be odorless then?

Methane is odorless, yes. The smell second-most commonly associated with it, the smell of an unlit gas range, is added for safety.

Re:bugs (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191455)

In Britain we converted coal to gas up until about 50 years ago when we discovered a gas field in the North Sea.

Re:bugs (1)

radio4fan (304271) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191683)

In Britain we converted coal to gas up until about 50 years ago when we discovered a gas field in the North Sea.

Yes, but not to methane.

The old 'town gas' produced from coal was a mix of:

        * hydrogen 50%
        * methane 35%
        * carbon monoxide 10%
        * ethylene 5%

wiki entry on coal gas [wikipedia.org] .

It was poisonous, and the production process was an environmental nightmare.

Re:bugs (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191771)

The bacteria have to produce a lot of CO2 in the process of converting coal to methane, because the C:H ratio for coal is 1:1 at best, whereas for methane it is 1:4. The extra hydrogen has to come from somewhere, or the extra carbon has to be discarded. In the case of bacteria they most probably do the equivalent of coal gasification, converting coal and water to CO2 and extra hydrogen to produce methane. This doesn't change the fact that a lot of CO2 must be produced in this process, which negates any environmental value it had. Using bacteria instead of normal industrial processes is just an inefficient way to make it trendy.

The legal issues you mention don't exist, and the whole idea of gas companies having some kind of monopoly on gas products regardless of where it's derived from is utter nonsense. You exhibit the bogus American way of thinking that a successful company is somehow entitled to the profits of imitators.

Re:bugs (1)

Tuoqui (1091447) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192087)

I'm not sure that is entirely the case.

The question is does this conversion to METHANE increase the efficiency overall? I mean does going from Coal to Methane double or quadruple the power burning it produces? Is CO2 created from methane conversion more easily contained/controlled/captured than say burning coal? A popular idea for capturing CO2 is to convert it into Sodium Bicarbonate which has been featured as an idea on Daily Planet on the Discovery Channel a few times. Maybe burning the coal wholesale would be difficult to achieve such with? Maybe it filters out sulfur and stuff out of the coal as well which makes burning it less than ideal due to other pollution-ary concerns?

Gas? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190633)

Extracting gas from coal is 19th century technology.
How does "natural" gas differ? Does it not result in more carbon dioxide being released?

Re:Gas? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191871)

Less. Ch4 burns quite cleanly vs. coal or even oil. There are few if any byproducts.

clean coal != clean! (3, Interesting)

UltraAyla (828879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190667)

Clean coal doesn't exist. Saying it is a clean energy form is like saying fusion is a clean energy form: regardless of whatever merits you can come up with for the system, carbon capture and sequestration (clean coal), like fusion, has no working plants (and probably won't for at least a decade) and is more a gimmick for public support and research funding than anything else. Money would be better spent on the efficiency efforts mentioned and commercially viable forms of clean energy that can be bought in the market today.

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190735)

so you logic is: clean coal doesn't work becuase there are no working plants, so lets not put the inital captial into making any working plants?

Bravo....

Please by all means invest in your solar panels that cost $10 a watt. let me know how the goes for you.

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190843)

No, the logic is: "clean" coal doesn't work because there's no such thing. The plants aren't the only part of the process.

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190945)

ok if you want to argue semantics fine, but processes for burning coal without emissions are well understood even if they aren't implemented

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190965)

What do you mean "without emissions"? If it doesn't go into the air, where do you think it goes? Are you even aware of how many tons of byproducts are involved?

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

UltraAyla (828879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192121)

I may not have made it clear there, but that's not quite the logic. The logic is that we have an environmental crisis and limited time and resources to put into fixing it. We have technologies that can help us get off of it now for far cheaper than CCS, while CCS is going to be a good decade before anything is viable. The argument is that we should spend as much of our limited capital on the proven technologies while letting the technologies that aren't as likely to help immediately get less funding. If you look at our federal budgets, it has been the reverse with CCS getting the vast majority of the research budgets (until recently) due to its hipness in faux-environmentalism.

FYI - CCS plants are far more expensive than solar

Re:clean coal != clean! (0, Flamebait)

angelwolf71885 (1181671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190781)

your a retard.. you ever her of this mzeing stuff called COKE its mde from coal hs been used for centrys by blcksmiths burns hotter and cleaner the col.. will yu tree hugging obam supporting idiots plz shut the fuck up till u know wht your tlking bout..

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190863)

Clean coal doesn't exist. Saying it is a clean energy form is like saying fusion is a clean energy form: regardless of whatever merits you can come up with for the system, carbon capture and sequestration (clean coal), like fusion, has no working plants (and probably won't for at least a decade) and is more a gimmick for public support and research funding than anything else. Money would be better spent on the efficiency efforts mentioned and commercially viable forms of clean energy that can be bought in the market today.

So all of the other posts here explaining technologies that convert coal to another, cleaner form of energy are all wrong, and you are right? Even if it's something as simple as taking the scrubber technology we've had since the birth of the space program and attaching that to smoke stack to remove the CO2... it doesn't exist, right? (how do all those space guys breath?)

Guess you are the only smart one here, as usual.

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190909)

In space they can dump it overboard. Got a place to put all that CO2? Check out the raw tonnage you're dealing with before you answer.

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190935)

In space they can dump it overboard. Got a place to put all that CO2? Check out the raw tonnage you're dealing with before you answer.

Um... where is all that CO2 now? We are not creating it, we are releasing it. How bout we put it into plants, the way nature intended? Maybe we could put into your Mountain Dew. There's a thousand other uses for CO2.

Or, is your problem not with coal and CO2, but something else [ncpa.org] :

Scientists at Columbia University are developing a carbon dioxide (CO2) scrubber device that removes one ton of CO2 from the air every day, says the Heartland Institute.

While some see the scrubber as an efficient and economical way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, many environmentalists oppose the technology because it allows people to use fossil fuels and emit carbon in the first place.

According to Columbia University physicist Klaus Lackner, who is leading the research team:

        * Producing a large number of CO2 scrubbers can keep to a minimum any rise in atmospheric CO2 without the economically painful elimination of inexpensive energy sources.
        * This technology would allow people to use fossil fuels, which they will be using anyway, without destroying the planet.

Environmental activist groups such as Greenpeace have consistently opposed similar technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration, because they do not address what they see as the root of the problem, says the Heartland Institute.

"This is just one more piece of evidence that environmentalists aren't concerned about solving a problem," said Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. "Every problem, as they see it, is one way to restrict people's lifestyles, and if you come up with a technological fix that can solve a problem but doesn't require sacrifice and lets us go about our business the way we were before, they're not happy about it, even if it solves the problem."

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190993)

...such as carbon capture and sequestration...

And just how much more coal do you have to burn to do all that?

Shall we stop here, or should we go into the hazards of mining and transport and it's associated contamination also?

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192035)

...such as carbon capture and sequestration...

And just how much more coal do you have to burn to do all that?

Shall we stop here, or should we go into the hazards of mining and transport and it's associated contamination also?

Very little energy is used to capture and sequestration. Not that it matters since your next question makes me ask:

Is your problem with coal because it releases CO2 and other pollutants or because of the methods we use to mine it?

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190957)

CO2 isn't toxic, so who cares if your storing 10000000 tons of it?

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191875)

(how do all those space guys breath?)

They don't, they breathe. In any case, making those scrubbers is a high-energy-cost activity and would be a net loss. Instead, you use the CO2 output to produce Algae, a process already tested by the USDOE at Sandia National Labs [nrel.gov] , where they were able to capture over 80% of the CO2 output in the algae. Then you can in turn make the algae into biodiesel and fertilizer, fixing some of the carbon and getting a second use out of the rest. In other words, your idea is stupid, and slashdot is a stupider place for having to hear it - but there is a similar, working solution.

Re:clean coal != clean! (1)

UltraAyla (828879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192143)

We certainly have technology to capture CO2, but not on the scale of a powerplant. We also do not know the proper technology for sequestering it safely for 1000s of years. And the energy required - my goodness. It requires an extra coal plant for every two coal power plants you want to sequester just to power the sequestration process.

I never said sequestration didn't exist. I said safe (I'm adding this part), cheap, carbon capture for power plants does not exist yet and is not worth our while compared to the alternatives we have already developed or which are only a few years out with research funding

Old article, old tech, and yet still no prototype (4, Interesting)

fluffy99 (870997) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190677)

Great Point Energy has been unsuccessfully trying to drum up investors since 2005. Andrew Perlman is not a scientist, but is better described as an adventure capitalist. In venture capital, you don't actually have to have a technically sound idea. You just need to convince investors that you have some magic formula for creating a profitable business and they give you money. They still do not have a working prototype that shows a positive return on energy. They are only drawing up a proposal for a $100m plant for China. China has not committed to any funding.

Clean energy? (1)

zblack_eagle (971870) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190703)

The economy has hit green energy technologies hard, but technologies focused on energy efficiency and clean coal are still attracting money

Green energy technologies are generally expensive niche products. Ignoring nuclear power because of controversy, green electricity generally isn't generated on a comparable scale to old fossil fuel power. It likely could be. Pouring money and research into it would make it more feasible.

Clean coal isn't green energy. "Clean" coal attracts money because rationalising it as clean coal helps maintain the entrenched coal generated electricity industry at the expense of the promotion and development of potential competitors. Entrenched industries lobby more effectively than emerging competition.

And improving energy efficiency isn't about green energy at all, it's about reducing energy usage whether its green or not. It doesn't threaten any industry and all it requires of existing production is research and maybe some slight retooling.

Re:Clean energy? (4, Insightful)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191741)

Ignoring nuclear power because of controversy (...)

Ignoring the only proven alternative to coal, as in one that is supplying a significant percent of electricity in several nations (over 50% in some cases), only because some dimwits don't understand physics or engineering, is extremely stupid.

Power plant licensing (5, Insightful)

dj245 (732906) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190707)

I work for a company that is retrofitting 30-40 year old steam turbines at coal power plants. Its such a difficult and expensive process to get a new power station built (of any fuel) that the power companies want to keep these coal plants running for another 40 years. You can blame the NIMBY folks, or the environmentalists that require environmental study after study before ground is broken.

I'm in the business, and the cost of electricity is going to continue to rise pretty spectacularly. Most of the plants built in the past 15 years or so are natural gas, which is now expensive and continuing to rise in cost. Many of plants built in the 60's running on cheap fuel are getting near their end of life. Some are being retrofitted but many aren't worth it. Nobody can build a nuke plant these days and coal is equally taboo. Few people are studying engineering so the manpower is also getting scarce. Its not a crisis yet but most of the power industry is aged in thier 50s and 60s.

We aren't in a crisis yet, but in another 10 years its going to start getting ugly.

Re:Power plant licensing (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 5 years ago | (#27190923)

Few people are studying engineering so the manpower is also getting scarce. Its not a crisis yet but most of the power industry is aged in thier 50s and 60s.

A lot of that is really due to management shifting to an emphasis on economics and a phobia about paying wages even when they are under one percent of operating costs. I was in the power industry at 24 and was one of the three technical staff under 50 years old in my division of around a hundred scientists, engineers and technicians. (That was 15 years ago so now things have devolved to "crisis maintainance" aparently - if it blows up it gets fixed, otherwise it gets ignored). Of course I could only be employed on short term contracts (1 week at a time) due to a hiring freeze. As each person retired they were not replaced. Problems solved 20 years ago resurfaced and had to be solved all over again because nobody had been there to get the answers passed on. This sort of thing happened just about everywhere in the power industry.

There already has been a bit of a crisis (didn't most of the east coast of the USA black out once?), just not a daily one. National grids damp the effect of one enormous stuffup taking a unit or even an entire power station offline.

Re:Power plant licensing (1)

TFer_Atvar (857303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191235)

I dunno. Manpower issues seem to resolve themselves to a certain extent. As demand for a profession rises, the salaries of those in the profession also rise. This attracts more people to the profession, thereby meeting demand. Of course, there's usually a few years of lag time, a la the 1990s boom in IT salaries, but it resolves itself and everyone can go back to being broke again.

Re:Power plant licensing (1)

joebagodonuts (561066) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191785)

If we used LESS power, wouldn't the approaching crisis be lessened, perhaps averted?

Just sayin'...

This mindset, where we can (and must) always consume, and always consume MORE. It just might kill us.

Re:Power plant licensing (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191829)

You can blame the NIMBY folks, or the environmentalists that require environmental study after study before ground is broken.

For which you can blame the power industry, since if they had just fucking kept things clean on their own, none of this shit would be necessary.

I will fight to the death any attempt to put a coal, oil or natural gas burning power plant anywhere. They are destroying the biosphere and putting more of them in is hastening our own demise. If the energy industry wants to be responsible and put in some cleaner power plants, then perhaps it will see more support. Don't act like these people don't have a valid agenda - they would like to have breathable air be a free resource. So would I, so I guess I'm one of them.

I'm in the business, and the cost of electricity is going to continue to rise pretty spectacularly.

The cost of electricity is enormous already. The problem is that instead of only the consumers of energy paying, we all pay, with our lives. Coal-burning power plants in the USA alone put out more nuclear material every year than all the nuclear tests, accidents, and even bombings combined. We can find out-of-compliance power plants as fast as we can pay people to climb their smokestacks and sniff their outputs, so I won't believe for one tenth of one second that most plants are trying to limit their output. They are not and any description of them as doing so is disingenuous.

We aren't in a crisis yet, but in another 10 years its going to start getting ugly.

Ten years is more than enough time for motivated individuals to move out into the boonies and go onto some alt power (wind and hydro being the prime candidates) and start growing some of their own food for the various disasters coming down the pike. History is repeating itself more closely than I would have imagined, and it looks very much like another Great Depression is coming. The midwest is already turning into a dust bowl again, the storms are on the rise year by year. Personal savings is below zero for the first time since the G.D. You think the energy crisis is going to be a big deal? I don't think there's going to be enough people (and corporations) to purchase it for it to be a problem. Have you seen any news reports about the shanty/tent towns starting to crop up around the US? They're peopled by citizens...

Please! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190749)

My grandfather held a patent on converting coal to natural gas, it expired!

Nothing new there, only gullible consumers that want to believe coal can be clean. It can't!

Don't plants (and trees) like to consume CO2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27190979)

I'm no scientist, nor an engineer, so I appreciate that there's complexity here that would require more intelligence than I bring to the subject, but I still can't stop myself from thinking "don't plants consume CO2?"

Rather than pump it into the ground, or whatever, why not build greenhouses next to the coal plant? Unless I'm sadly mistaken, most plants would be quite happy to bathe in a CO2-rich atmosphere. The product? Oxygen! I'm pretty sure we can safely pump oxygen into the atmosphere (or recycle that and use it for more combustion).

There's nothing really bad about CO2 (can you imagine beer without the bubbles?), the problem seems to be more one of balance. In the past, we've tended to just dump our waste (who am I kidding, we *still* dump our waste!). The challenge will be to find ways to manage waste better, whether it's CO2, banana peels or empty spring water bottles. Once we manage the waste, we can probably burn pretty much all the coal we like.

That's not to say I'm in favour of coal, it's just that I'm pretty sure the emissions are the problem, not the combustion.

Enviro (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191059)

Enviromentalist hippie chicks are fucking hot. Just smoke a joint, rip off clothes, hop in some water, scrub, discuss art, smile, and fuck.

Re:Enviro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191087)

It's fine if you're gay, but there's no need to mod this flamebait

Coal into natural gas? (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191143)

You know Sid's Civilization: "You found... FISHER TROPSCH in scrolls of ancient wisdom."

Because that's what Fisher Tropsch is, ancient. I don't deny the novelty of Great Point Energy's process, but why did it take 70 years between Fisher-Tropsch and this technology? Lack of lobbying^Wmotivation, I guess.

Re:Coal into natural gas? (2, Informative)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191705)

Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is currently uneconomical, and producing hydrocarbons through this process and then burning them in engines generates much more CO2 than burning oil, because some of the coal has to be used to generate the extra hydrogen present in gasoline:
C + 2 H2O = CO2 + 2 H2

That's odd (2, Insightful)

magus_melchior (262681) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191221)

I thought the idea of "clean coal" was finding a way to store the CO2 to prevent it from screwing with the climate. This "coal-to-gas" does nothing towards this goal, so I don't see how one would call it "clean coal" other than the obvious lack of sulfur or mercury.

Shock and awe (3, Interesting)

Knowbuddy (21314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191393)

If you enjoy being depressed, you may want to read "The Next Bubble [harpers.org] ", an article in Harper's by Eric Janszen from February 2008. He predicted this green bubble over a year ago, and it's a pretty grim prediction:

Supporting this alternative-energy bubble will be a boom in infrastructure--transportation and communications systems, water, and power. (...) Of course, alternative energy and the improvement of our infrastructure are both necessary for our national well-being; and therein lies the danger: hyperinflations, in the long run, are always destructive.

Sound something like recent legislation? Then comes the bad news:

The next bubble must be large enough to recover the losses from the housing bubble collapse. How bad will it be? Some rough calculations: the gross market value of all enterprises needed to develop hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, nuclear energy, wind farms, solar power, and hydrogen-powered fuel-cell technology--and the infrastructure to support it--is somewhere between $2 trillion and $4 trillion; assuming the bubble can get started, the hyperinflated fictitious value could add another $12 trillion. In a hyperinflation, infrastructure upgrades will accelerate, with plenty of opportunity for big government contractors fleeing the declining market in Iraq. Thus, we can expect to see the creation of another $8 trillion in fictitious value, which gives us an estimate of $20 trillion in speculative wealth, money that inevitably will be employed to increase share prices rather than to deliver "energy security." When the bubble finally bursts, we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry. FIRE, meanwhile, will already be engineering its next opportunity. Given the current state of our economy, the only thing worse than a new bubble would be its absence.

Yes, you should read the whole article. It'll take some time, but you'll come away with a better understanding of how our global economy works these days.

ObCredit: I found this article via Memestreams [memestreams.net] .

Re:Shock and awe (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191849)

Increasing our grid-based electrical output is not the solution. We could probably halve our residential use just by adding insulation to houses and replacing light switches in certain rooms with timers. On the other hand, if we started installing inexpensive grid-tied wind generator systems at houses around the country, there would be no major regulatory hurdles to cross. It doesn't work everywhere, but we should be doing it every place that it will. The idea that we should continue expanding eternally is a stupid one at best.

Re:Shock and awe (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192019)

You mean that R&D in alternative energy and efficience improvements will be overfunded by careless investors that may lose their risky investments ? What is the bad news again ?

clean coal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27191453)

... sounds as believable as a hooker who claims to be a virgin

Gym Station (1)

jlebrech (810586) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191463)

I heard of a Gym that would save X% on energy bills due to the floors having peizos, and maybe the resistance on the bikes having dynamos. Could that be trialed on a greater scale?

Re:Gym Station (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191779)

No. The idea of using human activity to satisfy our energy needs is 100% pure idiocy. Otherwise the steam engine would have never been invented.

Coal to gas is a century old technology (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191687)

Germans used a coal to oil process to satisfy 70% of their liquid fuel needs during the World War II. The process was initially invented at the beginning of the 20th century. See this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergius_process [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer-Tropsch_process [wikipedia.org]

Converting coal to methane is very similar in principle. However, you need an abundant source of hydrogen. The cheapest source of hydrogen right now is natural gas, mainly composed of methane, so the circle is closed. The only feasible carbon-neutral source of hydrogen is the electrolysis of water, which is currently much more expensive than getting it from natural gas. This could change with cheaper energy e.g. from nuclear power plants, but that would make clean coal pointless.

They are trying to market something that is well known and currently uneconomical but recently got trendy among the chemically illiterate. "Hey, what if we could make natural gas from coal? Natural gas is better for the environment, right?" - yes, but you have to get that extra cheap hydrogen from *somewhere*. Industrial chemistry is not about possibilities, it is about profits.

Not so natural (1)

Nephrite (82592) | more than 5 years ago | (#27191887)

developed a process for converting coal into natural gas

I sense a disturbance in the Force.

No, Its the price of oil (3, Insightful)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | more than 5 years ago | (#27192025)

The 'economy' didn't hit all these green energy projects, the plummeting price of oil did. Few, if any, of these projectcs are remotely competitive with oil/nat gas under $75 and in many cases still higher - and even with substantial subsidies and tax breaks.

As we saw with ethanol, energy 'policy' is just another boondoggle of lobbyists and special interest groups seeking government funds so they can make some bucks. Wind, solar, clean coal and so on all live off the government teat to one degree or another. Would they even exist without those tax breaks and direct funding?

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