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Mixing Coal and Solar To Produce Cheaper Energy

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the baby-steps dept.

Earth 198

Al writes "It might not please many environmentalists, but a major energy company is adding solar-thermal power to a coal plant and says this could be the cost-effective way to produce energy while lowering CO2 emissions. Abengoa Solar and Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest electrical utility, have begun modifying the coal plant, which is based near Grand Junction, Colorado. Under the design, parabolic troughs will be used to preheat water that will be fed into the coal plant's boilers, where coal is burned to turn the water into steam. Cost savings comes from using existing turbines and generators and from operating at higher efficiencies, since the turbines and generators in solar-thermal plants are normally optimized to run at the lower temperatures generated by parabolic mirrors."

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198 comments

Glad to see the "coalar" tag (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 4 years ago | (#29316849)

as that was my first thought too upon reading the headline =)

Re:Glad to see the "coalar" tag (2, Funny)

Nick Number (447026) | more than 4 years ago | (#29316905)

Do you suppose the technology from the article can be combined with one of these [wikipedia.org]?

Re:Glad to see the "coalar" tag (4, Funny)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317133)

I'm investing in a solar mine in Africa. If it all pans out I'll be rolling in more solar than I know what to do with. The only kinks left are how to transport all the solar I'm expecting to mine.

Re:Glad to see the "coalar" tag (3, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318107)

I wouldn't have thought that would be a problem. I hear it's nice and light.

Re:Glad to see the "coalar" tag (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317227)

A coker-coalar? You should be burned at the stake, or something similar.

Re:Glad to see the "coalar" tag (3, Insightful)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317139)

Coalar energy, let's hope it has the efficiency of coal with the environmental impact of solar, and not the other way around.

who would object? (5, Insightful)

eighthave (319968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29316927)

sounds good to me, donno any environmentalists who would object to burning less coal...

Re:who would object? (1)

TheBilgeRat (1629569) | more than 4 years ago | (#29316971)

Perhaps only the people who live near this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountaintop_removal [wikipedia.org]

Re:who would object? (5, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317029)

Coal doesn't have to be produced by MTR. One can both object to MTR and support reducing the coal consumption of our existing plants. It's not economically realistic to phase out all of our existing coal plants, but if we can eliminate 4/5ths of their coal consumption, that'd be a huge victory.

Re:who would object? (2, Interesting)

TheBilgeRat (1629569) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317119)

Oh, absolutely. I was not dismissing the article off hand, just providing a small proof of who might object. I am all for increased efficency and hybridization. I am still waiting for these to come online more places: http://www.res-energy.com/technology/index.asp [res-energy.com]
Assuming they can get it running as promised.

Re:who would object? (4, Informative)

QuasiEvil (74356) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317259)

Within the US, MTR mining is almost entirely an eastern thing, and for the most part, eastern coal has nastily higher sulfur levels than western coal.

Almost everything out west is either underground mines (as is true for the mine that feeds the Cameo plant in the article) or strip mines out in the middle of flat boring nowhere Wyoming. Compared with the destruction caused by MTR mining, neither of these is particularly objectionable.

Re:who would object? (3, Funny)

Adriax (746043) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318079)

Well that depends. Wyoming residents are pretty divided on the issue.

On one side you've got the Rancher mentality, the people who would love nothing more than to wipe from the face of the earth every native species that competes with/preys on their cattle or someone else's cattle. Strangely enough I work with a couple, at the department of environmental quality.
These people have no problem lopping the tops off the land, be it stripmining, hills, or even the mountains.

On the other side you've got the NOLSies, comprised of NOLS students (who tend not to bathe), rock/ice climbers, and nature enthusiasts.
These people object to any sort of sullying of wyoming's natural landscape, usually because some friend of a friend did a study and found natural gas rigs cause a 2% decline in field mice populations.

Yeah, not much to do around here so people get pissy about the environment, either for or against it...

Re:who would object? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317027)

your answer: its better then coal on its own but might be used as an excuse to avoid making solar/renewable a larger part of an energy plain, such as "we are green, we have coal solar power stations" rather then actually building any wind farms/etc

Re:who would object? (3, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317223)

So?

Embracing a technology that is 50% solar-powered is still better than 0% solar power. Also many people forget that coal and oil ARE solar power - it's the sunlight that fell on our planet ~300 million years ago, and now exists in condensed form. Our challenge is not to stop using ancient sunlight completely, but to use today's sunlight. Converting plants to partial-solar is one step towards that goal.

Re:who would object? (2, Insightful)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317573)

Actually, yes our challenge is to stop using ancient sunlight completely, eventually. Burning fossil fuels as a significant portion of our energy generation produces lots of nasty air pollution (which is bad for human health and the environment, even if you don't believe in global climate change) and almost guarantees a horrible economic crash once the resources finally start to run out (which will be in the not so distant future considering the amount we consume now and the rate at which that consumption is growing). We can't afford to let industry make a token gesture towards solving the problem and use that as an excuse to keep expanding the use of fossil fuels. Sure, we should let them convert old plants over to using this tech (as well as any other "clean coal" tech that comes along) but we should never allow them to build more plants even if they're using this technology in their construction. The others above are right to be wary of the possibility that the coal industry will use this technology as a red herring to distract from the bigger picture.

Re:who would object? (4, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318027)

WELL AS I SAID (but you apparently didn't bother to read): "this is one step towards that goal". You can not get to the second floor of your house in one leap - you have to take one step at a time. Today 50% solar/50% coal. Next decade 75% solar/25% coal. The decade after that 95% solar/5% coal power plants. Same applies to cars which are 10% electric/90% gasoline hybrids today, but eventually will be 95% electric with maybe a small gasoline generator for long-distance. But I guess shouldn't expect an environmentalist to understand that simple "transitional" principle. They are too busy pushing-over radio towers and then bragging about it - http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/09/04/washington.towers.terrorism/ [cnn.com] I tried to make a reasonable statement, but all I got was a slap across the face. You will not win your cause by pissing-off other environmentalists who are on your side.

I drive an 80mpg hybrid, light my house with 25 watt or lower bulbs, and turn-off the heat in the winter to help reduce my carbon footprint - and then some shitheads named the "Earth Liberation Front" go do this. These earth-worshiping religious wackos harm the cause; they don't help it. I'd like to set fire to every one of their offices, and see how they enjoy having millions of dollars of personal property destroyed.

And if they really believe the AM radio waves are interfering with cellphones (impossible) or intercoms (probably but they are second-class devices anyway), then petition the FCC. That's why that organization exists.

Re:who would object? (1)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318203)

The sad news is that we won't be running out of fuel any time soon. The output from fossil fuel sources will slowly decline over time though. However, there is a fairly little known thing called Fischer-Tropsch process [wikipedia.org] which is a way of converting coal into synthetic petroleum. This process works as long as you're willing to pay $50 USD / barrel for producing it. Since using coal releases about 20x more CO2 than fossil fuels and will not run out for hundreds of years even assuming increasing demand, this is bad news for stopping the use of fossil fuels based on economic reasons.

We have the capacity to keep using fossil fuels for a couple of centuries still, so if we care about the massive self inflicted damage that would cause, we have to stop using dirty fuel sources for that reason, not because it makes economical sense to do so. It doesn't hurt to have cheap available solar cells though.

Re:who would object? (0, Troll)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317055)

sounds good to me, donno any environmentalists who would object to burning less coal.

As long as you don't want them to give up their car, they're fine.

Re:who would object? (5, Insightful)

ciroknight (601098) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317081)

A rabid unshaven hippie environmentalist might bring notice to the fact that this is just spending more money propping up coal, rather than investing the money directly into pure green energy (such as a pure solar thermal power plant replacing the coal burning one). But the fact is, there's no way this money would have went to pure green energy in the first place, so they should really be pleased that they are even bothering to try to green their coal plants at all.

Re:who would object? (2, Insightful)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317197)

I agree, 10 years ago no one was going to try and sell a all-electric car, it wasn't commercially viable. So they designed hybrids instead. The hybrid technology is what has allowed us to build electric cars today. Many "environmentalists" would argue that hybrids are evil because they still emit CO2 but without them we probably wouldn't have the battery tech, regenerative braking, and weight reduction techniques required for all-electrics today. This plant is the same deal. If continuing to burn some coal develops the solar-thermal tech so that it is commercially viable then it is a win-win.

Re:who would object? (3, Informative)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317507)

I agree, 10 years ago no one was going to try and sell a all-electric car.

False [wikipedia.org].

Re:who would object? (3, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317603)

So you link to an article which confirms his claim, and label it "false"? In what universe does THAT make sense?

Re:who would object? (1, Informative)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318009)

So you link to an article which confirms his claim, and label it "false"? In what universe does THAT make sense?

Howso? I linked to an article that notes quite clearly that GM marketed and sold all-electric cars from 1996 to 1999. Hybrids have never been of much interest to GM.

The economics of the EV-1 are hotly contested, given that it was an entirely new platform, and so few were produced. Although I can't confirm the theories that the program was cancelled for political reasons, the allegation is certainly plausible.

Re:who would object? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317627)

How many of those did they sell? They didn't even try to sell it. They designed it specifically to comply with California law, which demanded a zero emissions vehicle available for sale.

Re:who would object? (2, Informative)

madsenj37 (612413) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318003)

From wikipedia, "While customer reaction to the EV1 was positive, GM viewed the program as evidence that electric cars occupied an unprofitable niche of the automobile market, evidenced by their ability to lease only 800 units in face of production costs of US$1 billion over four years." Granted they tried to lease and not sell, but only 800 units leased over four years is small no matter how you cut it. And with only a 55-75 mile range, they only appeal to some urban and suburban dwellers.

Re:who would object? (1)

Al Dimond (792444) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318043)

Well, sort of. Regenerative braking has been used in electric vehicles since the early days of motorized transportation. Check Wikipedia. In addition to the examples they mentioned I'm pretty sure the GM EV-1 used one, too. As far as battery tech goes, there are plenty of incentives to work on it. Weight reduction has long been important in all types of vehicles. Hybrids cars are pretty complicated in their own right and a lot of the research has been toward making the more complicated powertrain work well, but they allow some of the efficiency improvements of electrics in-city while (1) still getting decent highway range and (2) not needing any new infrastructure.

I'm not saying hybrids are evil or useless, and I'm sure that some important tech for electric vehicles has matured through their mass production. On a pure technological level I don't think they contribute much to electric car development. The really good thing as far as EVs go is that they might allow a charging infrastructure to develop gradually, and thus make research into fast charging a more urgent commercial concern. I don't see an analog to that here. It's a win for efficiency, which is great, but I don't see much else.

Re:who would object? (1)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317665)

The trick isn't whether or not money was spent developing this technology. The trick is in deciding where this should be implemented and what it means for the future of coal as a technology. Sure, it makes sense to implement this, and any other feasible clean coal technology, in older plants as those plants aren't going to go away for a long time. However, what we shouldn't be doing is allowing the coal industry to use this, or similar, technology as an excuse to build new plants or lobby for a decrease in effort to develop alternative technologies. I think that's what people have an issue with here. Of course, the realist in me says that economic and national security reasons might end up justifying the construction of a small number of additional coal plants in the time-frame before those alternative technologies mature to the point where they can be implemented. But, that should be kept to an absolute minimum as those kinds of pressure, as long as they aren't strong enough to destabilize the country, will serve to accelerate the alternatives.

Re:who would object? (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318067)

Exactly it. Bemoaning that they should have spent the money on pure-solar instead woud be ridiculous, given the facts.

The company from TFA owns a coal power plant. It was very expensive to build, and still has a lot of life span left. The odds of them suddenly saying "lets tear down this money-making plant right now and build a solar plant instead" is nil to none.

Spending money improving the green credentials of the plant is the best anyone should expect of them. If it turns out to be aa good business decision, here's hoping other energy companies follow suit.

As an aside, it's worth pointing out that the method they're employing should work with any type of power plant that uses steam to turn a turbine, not just coal. That accounts for most of the world's electricity supply, including all fossil fuels and nuclear.

Re:who would object? (2, Insightful)

TheGreenNuke (1612943) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317115)

I don't object to burning less coal, I object to burning coal. It puts Uranium and Thorium into the air. Population radiation exposure is greater form a coal fired plant than a nuclear plant.

Re:who would object? (1)

TheBilgeRat (1629569) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317251)

From wiki on aplha decay (the type U238 goes through):
Alpha particles have a typical kinetic energy of 5 MeV (that is, â 0.13% of their total energy, i.e. 110 TJ/kg) and a speed of 15,000 km/s. This corresponds to a speed of around 0.05 c. There is surprisingly small variation around this energy, due to the heavy dependence of the half-life of this process on the energy produced (see equations in the Geiger-Nuttall law).
Because of their relatively large mass, +2 charge and relatively low velocity, alpha particles are very likely to interact with other atoms and lose their energy, so their forward motion is effectively stopped within a few centimeters of air.(my emphasis)

yes, coal is "bad", but not nearly as bad as the far left makes it. There has to be transition-we cannot completely ignore our largest deposits of easily obtainable energy.

Re:who would object? (2, Insightful)

TheGreenNuke (1612943) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317317)

Thats great for U-238, but there are other isotopes. The thing is, coal puts them in the air, nuclear keeps them contained. And you missed the part about how the US has large stockpiles of Uranium. More than enough to power us through the next few millenium, more is we use breeder reactors.

Re:who would object? (1)

TheBilgeRat (1629569) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317411)

Nuclear has its role to play also. And U238 makes up 99% of all uranium isotopes. I realize we have large stockpiles of Uranium, and even more of thorium. I was merely trying to deflect the danger of uranium in coal plant effluent. Like many have posted, every little bit helps. It's going to be a lot easier to accomplish the hybrid coal plant than it is to restart nuclear plant construction at the moment.

Re:who would object? (3, Informative)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317701)

Actually, the numbers I've seen don't support the idea that there is enough Uranium in the ground to last, quite, that long, especially at current prices. However, there is that much uranium in small particles spread throughout the world's oceans. Should the price of uranium go up by a small amount, it will be cost effective to implement the more expensive technology needed to tap that source. Also, since fuel prices are a minuscule percentage of the total cost of operating a nuclear power plant, the price of the electricity should see, virtually, no increase.

Re:who would object? (1)

TheGreenNuke (1612943) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317973)

the numbers I've seen don't support the idea that there is enough Uranium in the ground to last

In the ground maybe not, but lets not forget the enormous amount that has already been mined and not used.

Re:who would object? (2, Informative)

Scubaraf (1146565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317377)

The risk of uranium in the air is not that it will release alpha particles that will travel miles and kill people. The problem is that the uranium will be inhaled or ingested, become incorporated into people's bodies, and then release alpha particles that are very likely to interact (as your post correctly indicates they will) with the molecular constituents of cells. Exposure to external alpha-emitters is safe, but internalization can cause cancer (or be acutely devastating, depending on the dose - see Litvinenko and Po-210, an alpha-emitter). That and the fact that thorium and uranium are toxic heavy metals independent of their radioactivity.

Re:who would object? (0, Troll)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317789)

Do you even know what you're talking about? Alpha particles are weak. Even if you swallowed uranium, the alpha particles couldn't pass through the cell walls to cause any damage to the DNA. You can play with alpha particles all day long and not even so much as a skin rash.

Perhaps if you had been talking about beta or gamma particles, then your post would have been "informative" but as it stands now it's just... to quote Penn & Teller... "bullshit"

Also: Don't coal plants have mandatory filters to remove all the soot from their exhaust? Yes. What comes-out is basically just water vapor - they are cleaner than your home's personal natural-gas heater (which foolishly has no filtering).

Re:who would object? (2, Insightful)

TheGreenNuke (1612943) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317897)

Alpha particles can do significant damage if the alpha particle producing decay occurs inside the body. He does know what he's talking about. So play with alpha producing particles all day long, but make sure you clean those hands good before you eat and ingest them. It's also not recommend to swallow uranium, but go for it if you'd like.

And last I checked, a filter was not 100% effective, otherwise it wouldn't be a filter, it would be solid metal.

Re:who would object? (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318177)

>>>a filter was not 100% effective

Actually most filters and catalysts are extremely effective. On cars they reduce the CO, NOx, and HC to just 1/25,000th the pollution of a 1970 pre-catalyst car. Those located on coal plants, being millions of dollars more expensive and advanced than your car's filter/catalyst, probably get it down to 1 millionth as much.

Or 99.999% effective. You get more radiation gardening than you do from a coal plant.

Re:who would object? (3, Insightful)

bucky0 (229117) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317579)

There are all kinds of nasty things in coal. You're neglecting all the other (fun!) isotopes that are stored in coal (decay products from heavier materials that are nasty) as well as things that are chemically nasty (arsenic and mercury for one).

I'm not a member of the far left. I'm a physicist. I've worked at some labs with a significant amount of historical radioactive contamination and have had to read up a lot on the subject. It *is* bad. Really really bad. There are isotopes that are (chemically) remarkably similar to calcium. What happens if those chemicals get put into your bones?

Don't extrapolate information like that from wikipedia. Read one of the many articles on the subject. Anyone who has any bit of intelligence will agree.

Re:who would object? (0, Flamebait)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317243)

Burning less coal is like eating less cyanide: sounds great in theory, but in practice you're still dead.

Coal is incredibly bad for the environment: both mining it and burning it. The proposal will burn less coal per year, but will delay the total shutdown of coal-burning power plants - so you have the same toxins spread over a longer period.

Re:who would object? (1)

parlancex (1322105) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318047)

You don't? I can't go a month without seeing at least one anti-nuclear power protest where I live.

Environmentalists (2, Insightful)

treeves (963993) | more than 4 years ago | (#29316941)

Why would it not please them...if they are rational?
But maybe the answer is contained within the question....

Re:Environmentalists (4, Insightful)

amorsen (7485) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317219)

According to the article we're talking at best 15% less coal burned per unit electricity, with no way to scale beyond that. Great for the power plants where it is viable, but definitely niche. Doesn't change the fact that we should stop building coal fired plants and decommission the existing ones.

Re:Environmentalists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29318105)

According to the article we're talking at best 15% less coal burned per unit electricity, with no way to scale beyond that. Great for the power plants where it is viable, but definitely niche. Doesn't change the fact that we should stop building coal fired plants and decommission the existing ones.

Coal is NOT going away. The USA is the Saudi Arabia of coal.
There's no* "green bullet" that will change the way that power is produced in the USA.
And even if there was, it isn't going to happen overnight.

Solar assisted coal plants are a good bridge what we have now
and the mix of solar/geothermal/wind/etc that we want to have tomorrow.

*Mostly because nuclear is a non-starter

Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (4, Informative)

dfetter (2035) | more than 4 years ago | (#29316945)

It turns out that you can turn CO2 into fuel by exposing it to a titanium oxide catalyst in the presence of sunlight. In a closed cycle, this would be a carbon-neutral way to go. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/03/23/carbon-dioxide-fuel.html [discovery.com]

Re:Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (4, Informative)

piemonkey (1628149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317153)

It turns out that you can turn CO2 into fuel by exposing it to a titanium oxide catalyst in the presence of sunlight.

That's just another form of solar power, it's just you're using the sunlight to produce fuel rather than electricity. If it's more efficient than solar electrical generation (very possible) then it's a good idea, it's bound to be more efficient than biofuels, but whether it's more efficient than solar water heating, I don't know.

You'd probably need a concentrated source of CO2 for that, so it would either reduce efficiency, by using some energy to concentrate CO2, or would use existing power plants outputs, meaning it's not carbon neutral.

Everyone should read this http://www.withouthotair.com/ [withouthotair.com]

Re:Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (1)

ArbitraryDescriptor (1257752) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317403)

But if one were to siphon off the CO2 output from the Coaler plant described, could you further increase efficiency of the boiler by running the exhaust through the solar/TiO2 system and feeding it back into the boiler?

Car Analogy... car analogy... like a Turbo charger*?

*I don't know how a turbo charger works :(

Re:Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (1)

Icegryphon (715550) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317215)

going to have to mine to get that titanium

Re:Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (1)

Nick Number (447026) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317359)

going to have to mine to get that titanium

But, being a catalyst in this reaction, it should be re-usable.

The important questions are how this type of generator compares with photovoltaics in terms of the energy it takes to manufacture, the environmental impact of its manufacture, operational lifetime, and energy output per unit of area.

Re:Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317367)

So? there is not power process that doesn't involve mining at some point.

Converting CO2 to methane and using it as a power source is frigging cool.
I hope this ramps up. We could actually take CO2 out of the atmosphere to return us to pre-industrial age levels.

If we can do that, then burn all the coal you want.

Re:Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (1)

lobiusmoop (305328) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317355)

Interesting. I'd soulike to know how efficient this is in storing solar energy (any less than the 10-15% now possible via solar cells. Also, what are the production costs and can it be scaled up, or is this destined to remain in the lab?

Ultimately, nature has a million-year R&D advantage over us - plants are the only true carbon-neutral solar fuel collectors really over a full product life cycle.

Re:Pre-heating good. Coal, not so much (1)

flyingrobots (704155) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317957)

You know...plants do it, why can't we? I love it.

What part of "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" do you not understand?

Why would it not please environmentalists? (4, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29316953)

Why wouldn't environmentalists be happy with this? I consider myself one and think this is great news. Too many people focus on 100% solutions. You don't need to eliminate 100% of coal in the short term. Reducing coal consumption by 80% or so by having solar provide heat during peak hours (daytime) would still be a huge benefit.

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317061)

This is actually kind of nice, Coal can provide the base load while the solar power helps during peak hours.

Why Would Environmentalists Not Be Pleased? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317209)

There is a reason we environmentalists would not be pleased with this, still produces CO2. The CO2 will still lead to global warming and lead to acid rain; all while lining the pockets of BIG coal along with their big supporters in the Republican and Libertarian parties with gold. The only way to go is a 100% solution of solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and tidal. All of those solutions will be a better benefit towards the environment as it is totally carbon neutral and does not leave any radioactive waste.

Only the willfully ignorant and those who will benefit such as the greedy energy producing executives along with their blind, Republican and Libertarian sheeple will be pleased about using any fossil fuel based technology for energy.

Re:Why Would Environmentalists Not Be Pleased? (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317363)

Sometimes insisting on that last 20% means sacrificing the other 80%.

We can get the 20% later. In time these plants will be phased out, and by then, we should have a better long-distance transmission grid and cheaper power storage. And, in fact, that 80%-ish reduction in coal that this tech could bring about is actually a bigger difference than it may seem, because by reducing coal demand, we'll begin phasing out subbitumenous coal and lignite (the dirtier kinds). In 15-20 years, I hope to see fossil fuels mainly taking up a "reserve" power role, making up for shortfalls in renewables, rather than being a primary generation mechanism in their own right.

And, FYI, IMHO, hydroelectric power is anything but green (moreso in some places than others, mind you). It's utterly devastated the Colorado River ecosystem. Tidal can also be really problematic. I am a fan of solar, wind, and geo, though.

Re:Why Would Environmentalists Not Be Pleased? (4, Insightful)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317559)

Don't forget nuclear. Be a fan of nuclear power if you want to be green. We need to start building new feeder/breeder reactors. They can use the waste of the previous generation of plants as fuel with a much reduced waste footprint. Combine that with the small area and resistance to adverse climate and it makes a good compliment for other "green" energy.

Wind IMO is not that great for large scale deployment, to unreliable. Though it would be quite acceptable over time for tasks that don't require constant power, such as water purification or hydrogen electrolysis.

Re:Why Would Environmentalists Not Be Pleased? (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317903)

More important, an inexpensive 80% solution will have a far greater impact than a more expensive 100% solution, for the same money invested. If it costs the same to coal plants in the country with solar-thermal tech as it does to replace half the coal plants with pure solar-thermal or photovoltaic, then you're better off with the 80% solution. The hybrid approach eliminates 80% of solar usage whereas the 100% solution only eliminates 50%. But any practical person can see this.

The problem with environmentalism is that it has traditionally been a bastion of idealists, and idealists are not necessarily very practical people. However, this is changing.

Re:Why Would Environmentalists Not Be Pleased? (1)

EXrider (756168) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318005)

As a person that lives in a region powered mostly by coal, this whole lets tax the fuck outta coal cap & trade bandwagon annoys the shit out of me. I'm sure it doesn't concern all you hippies living out on the East and West coasts with your fancy solar, wind and wave power, your energy will be relatively cheap in the foreseeable future. Oh well, screw everyone else for our agenda! Right?

Explain exactly how places like Southern Indiana for example, are going to be able to completely replace coal fired plants with wind [windpoweringamerica.gov], or solar [nrel.gov] power. I don't see it being viable, EVER, especially not with current technology. Throw the extra demand on the grid due to everyone plugging their electric cars (that btw, are woefully inefficient in northern climates, especially if you like premium features like... heat and defrost) in, and it becomes even more unrealistic!

I'm all for nuclear power (which AC treehugger above doesn't even acknowledge as a "green" source of power), but even with that; assuming you can get a nuclear plant approved and built in a reasonable amount of time (which you can't with current retarded legislation), where the hell is the funding going to come from for that? The economy is shit right now, all we need is more taxes and higher energy costs, which raise the cost of pretty much everything else produced. Guess where most of your corn comes from?

Re:Why Would Environmentalists Not Be Pleased? (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318237)

Perhaps Indiana and the other midwest states could declare the law "nullified" due to unconstitutionality. Just because Congress passes a requirement that Midwest plants tax carbon does not mean the states have to enforce it - I can not lay my hand on any part of the Supreme Law which gives Congress that power.

On the contrary it seems quite clear that the power is reserved to the states exclusively.

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317265)

Well, since the goal is to retrofit existing coal plants to make them more efficient, it sounds good to me.

Though it is hardly a replacement for building new nuclear or fully solar thermal plants in the long run.

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (3, Informative)

markdavis (642305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317299)

>Reducing coal consumption by 80% or so by having solar provide heat

The article says:

"At the most, the contribution from solar power at existing plants will probably be no more than 10 to 15 percent of the electricity produced." "For the Colorado project, the share will be more like 3 percent"

Although I agree with the spirit of what you said, it is not THAT much contribution by solar :)

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317463)

I see no reason why it couldn't be expanded, however. They're starting small, and that's fine, but it would seem like the upper bound is to have solar provide 100% of the power on sunny days (during peak hours), and coal provide the rest. Sort of like SEGS in California, which provides 90% with solar and the other 10% with natural gas.

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (1)

canajin56 (660655) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317391)

Why would they object? The Nirvana fallacy. If you could convert the USA to 99.9% solar, and one single coal plant in the entire country, environmentalists will say "This is an imperfect solution, so it should be scrapped so we can save that money for when we find a 100% green solution"

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317397)

At beast, it would reduce comsumption by 15%.

Is that beteer then building a 500MW Industrial Solar Thermal plant?
Beats me, but it is something to be considered.
Not that I'm against a 15% reduction in coal use.

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (1)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317737)

Personally, I look at this as a good solution to the problem of existing plants that can't be gotten rid of right now because the alternatives aren't ready yet. I would only have issues if the coal companies tried to use this tech as a way to justify the building of new plants or to lobby for a reduction in spending on alternative technologies. I can see why people would be justified in being wary of the coal industry's intentions here.

Re:Why would it not please environmentalists? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317753)

I never understood why traditional power plants need cooling ponds or cooling towers. Couldn't they just use the heat from low pressure steam to pre-heat the water before it goes back into the boiler?

Come on people... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317159)

The solution is nuclear freaking power. Even China realizes this now.

We've been in the Atomic age for 60 years now and still don't have a majority of our energy from nuclear energy. It's such a disgrace.

Re:Come on people... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317351)

right china, they have all their environmental problems under control it seems so why not model their solutions to energy too? Good call AC

Re:Come on people... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317399)

No, the point is that China realizes the extent of their environmental problems and is moving to nuclear power in order to remedy it. It also has a nice side benefit of moving towards energy independence.

What was your point again?

I have been after ritter and owens about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317239)

A small group of us have been pushing this concept for the last 4 years on Ritter( and before him, Owens; what a waste that was). The idea is simply that a retro-fit on an existing coal plant will get us to lower the costs of solar thermal collectors. Once these are going up in place on older plants, it will be much easier to convert these plants to Natural gas as well. The idea is that we take advantage of a lot of equipment that is not shot.

The one issue with this site is that it will be shut down in about a year or so. At that time, the collectors will have to be moved to another plant. The nice advantage of this, is that new approaches will be thought through on how to hook in the AE.

The other part that is not being mentioned is that this can also be used with geo-thermal. The west has LOADS of somewhat easily accessed heat in the ground. Combine this with potter drilling and we are looking at a nice way to quickly convert old coal plants into Solar and geo-thermal. Keep in mind that many of the coal plants in America have been around since the 50's through the 70's, are about 100 MW, typically located CLOSE to communities, AND have lots of land around them (they were dirty). OTH, the new GW coal plants go in a LONG WAYS AWAY from cities. There is a much larger transmission lose in the lines. By using the older plants, we take advantage of closeness and not needing to provide GW of power.

Why is land necessary? (1)

BUL2294 (1081735) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317429)

From TFA...

What's more, the only coal plants that can be augmented by solar are those in sunny areas with enough nearby land to accommodate the mirror arrays.

Why couldn't a small array be put on the roof of a landlocked coal plant? Granted, the smokestack would cause relatively small shadows in parts of the array as the sun moves across the sky, but as long as the array is large enough to work with (say) 10% failure, then wouldn't a small array still be useful?

Re:Why is land necessary? (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317617)

I'm guessing the roof of a coal plant ends up being covered with a layer of decidedly non-reflective soot.

Re:Why is land necessary? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318179)

coal plants are not allowed to release "soot" and besides, soot is unburned fuel! The coal plant near me has mechanical and electrostatic scrubbers to remove the particulates; and, chemical scrubbers to remove the sulpher dioxide.

Does not make any sense?? (1, Insightful)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317453)

This does not make any sense to me. A coal plant has scads of waste heat at high enough temperatures to preheat any amount of water. Exactly where does solar heat fit into this picture? It seems like an expensive way to heat water and as a consequence, let more hot coal gas get away.

Re:Does not make any sense?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317947)

I think you're misunderstanding thermodynamics.

Yes, coal power plants have a lot of waste heat. Unfortuantely, the waste steam isn't quite hot enough to do anything useful.

The innovation here is that solar heat is used as a secondary heat source. Although the overall amount of coal burned will presumably stay the same, they'll be able to heat more steam with the same amount of coal, thus producing more power, and raising the overall efficiency of the operation.

If your power plant's located near a population center, or an industrial facility that could make use of free boiling water, the thermodynamic efficiency of the plant skyrockets, given that you're putting the waste heat to good use.

This technique is known as cogeneration [wikipedia.org], and has limited use in the US dating back over 100 years. Most buildings in New York City are heated using a public steam system fueled by seven cogeneration plants (although these plants produce enough heat to heat the city, NYC still needs to import a great deal of electricity from a nuclear plant upstate).

Elsewhere, cogeneration is much more prevalent; approximately 55% of Denmark's electricity is generated as part of a cogeneration scheme.

Re:Does not make any sense?? (2, Informative)

ThreeGigs (239452) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317983)

A coal plant has scads of waste heat

Let me fix that for you:

A coal plant has scads of low quality waste heat

Don't forget, your waste heat is what's necessary to condense the steam on the other side of the turbines. You *must* have some waste heat, otherwise there's no heat differential, thus no mechanical work can be extracted.

Re:Does not make any sense?? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318205)

I seem to recall that the exhaust temperature was cool enough that the liquid cooling water was returned to the river.

It's about money (1)

zhilla2 (1586095) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317539)

Step 1 in saving the environment in the short run should probably be spending money on reducing pollution where it also brings reasonable savings, as the effect on nature is cumulative on the world.
And less coal used means less need to dig it out, which means less coal miners in the long run. "In [USA] 2006, 72 miners lost their lives at work, 47 in coal mining", "an average of 21,351 injuries per year between 1991 and 1999". Which means this actually saves lives, not to count expenses of compensations to those hurt or families of killed.

Displeased Environmentalists (5, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317563)

If it displeases environmentalists, it will be because it's still really bad for the environment. Using solar to preheat the water instead of more coal to preheat it just admits that solar is a more effective tech for generating energy than coal is. Any coal still burned is still polluting the Greenhouse, creating huge and unmanageable costs just a little down the road (and downwind, the typical "coal is clean" illusion).

They should just convert the entire plant to solar. But coal is too subsidized for them to abandon it, and its lobbyists have too tight a chokehold on the government for solar to have an equal shot at economic efficiency.

Re:Displeased Environmentalists (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318037)

no, coal is a more effective tech for getting energy. It does show that it is a cleaner tech.
The energy density from coal is higher.

The area for get equal power from a Industrial Solar reactor(it's 24/7 as opposed to panels) is pretty high. We should be building the like gang busters, but there may be a space issue where the coal plant it. Ultimately, the long term plan needs to be a on getting rid of them.

Re:Displeased Environmentalists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29318071)

"Using solar to preheat the water instead of more coal to preheat it just admits that solar is a more effective tech for generating energy than coal is."

That is a very misleading statement. Actually, it's pretty inaccurate, but I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Just because the solar input to the plant's steam cycle -- as feedwater preheating -- turns out to be very efficient, it does not mean that the solar input would be sufficient to replace the other fuel being used in that steam cycle.

still not clean (4, Insightful)

beckett (27524) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317593)

There have been many attempts of late to greenwash coal, this solar project and the "clean coal" concepts being the most recent incarnation. Even if 100% of coal plants can be made 100% carbon neutral, where do they get the coal from?

in December 2008, a 40 acre ash pond in tennessee [nytimes.com] broke through its walls and flooded millions of gallons of coal ash, potentially far worse than the Exxon Valdez. This is one of the largest environmental disasters that has happened in the US, and there has been little to no national coverage about this accident.

There are a lot of heavy hitters in the coal industry that want to put the best possible face on coal (e.g. Montana), and it is alarming that 'mountaintop removal', the laziest way to get coal, is frequently not discussed when considering how green a coal plant can be.

Preheat (0, Troll)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317703)

Kids, you can't pre$VERB. Pre- is for events. But let's pretend that you can. Preheat would mean before heat... what the summary describes is HEATING the water. When you put water in a pot and place that pot on a stove, and turn on the element to boil the water... you are heating the water. There's no need to add pre-. When you walked to the store yesterday, you didn't postwalk to the store... you walked. If you plan to walk to the store, you are not going to prewalk... you're just gonna walk.

Would you say "I'm going to pre-open this door so I can walk through it"? No, you'd leave off the pre-. Even if you open the door five years before you plan to go through it, you'd just be opening. Nothing magical about it. Adding pre- contributes nothing. It's just ignorance and pretension. Commonly used/accepted != right.

Don't add pre- to things just to make it sound more technical.

Pre- is for delineating what happened before the event. Every day before 9/11 would be pre-9/11. The steps you take before you heat the oven would be preheating. Once you turn on the oven, it is heating. You are now in the era of the oven heating.

|*turn on oven*|*oven is hot*

Preheating would be everything to the left of *turn on the oven*.

So instead of "preheat the oven to treefitty". It should be "set the oven to treefitty. While the oven is heating, do steps B, C and D".

Hit reply to post some lame excuse about "language's change over time get use 2 it at, LoL". i won't read it. Use your karma to "bury" my comment if it makes you feel better about being ignorant. i'm OK with that. OR - Learn what words actually mean and how they should be used (and not).

Re:Preheat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317861)

Ok, no excuses, it's just that no one but you cares.

Re:Preheat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29317875)

Makes no sense. Indeed, the solar power would be used to do some initial heating, not all of the heating. So pre- looks quite reasonable. If they just wrote "the solar power is used to heat the water", wouldn't you wonder why any coal is still needed? It does the bulk of the heating, so the solar power indeed merely pre-heats. Has nothing to do with "kids".

wrong (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318085)

the fact that it was water and not ice proves the water was, in fact, pre-heated. Now you are adding MORE energy to get it even warmer, but it had been heated before it got to the stove.
If the was open for you when you expected to opem it your self, it's preopened. I.E> opened before you expected it.

Makes perfect sense (3, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 4 years ago | (#29317945)

When I make a cup of tea in the microwave, I can put in a cup of cold water and set the timer for 3 minutes, or I can fill from the "hot" tap, put in a cup of warm water, and set the timer for 2 minutes. Using solar to preheat the water means less coal burned for unit power. Even if you weren't trying to reduce your "carbon footprint", this is still an excellent thing to do.

Spray-painting coal green isn't green energy (1)

leftie (667677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29318243)

Running some water through reflected sunlight before said water is heated by burning coal isn't solar energy, either.

Stawman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29318279)

This whole it may not make environmentalist happy thing is BS.

Sure, environmentalists will have a healthy debate about how to educate people and make sure 'coalar' if you will is actually a cost effective way to drop CO2 emissions fast (it may or may not be)....

Coal does need to go away. It is that simple. We can't instantly stop burning coal, however. We need to phase it out.

Solar Thermal boosting a coal plant sounds reasonable if there is actually enough power collected to drop the amount of coal burned.

CO2 capture and solar production of Algal fuel from coal plants is also a good idea.
(Algal fuel production requires concentrated CO2 sources)

CO2 is a problem people and we need to focus.
Nuclear, Hydro, Solar, wind, CO2 capture + solar reformation. Replacing coal with natural gas. Its all part of the puzzle.

What makes people angry is people characterizing environmentalists as uninformed because other people put words in there collective mouths or people who claim the earth isn't warming or coal can be clean enough (ie: as clean as say natural gas) .. it won't be and that is not clean enough.

We need a mix of short and long term thinking.
All in all, GW is dire and the options are complex.

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