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New Process Takes Energy From Coal Without Burning It

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the easy-to-clean dept.

Earth 365

rtoz writes "Ohio State students have come up with a scaled-down version of a power plant combustion system with a unique experimental design--one that chemically converts coal to heat while capturing 99 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in the reaction. Typical coal-fired power plants burn coal to heat water to make steam, which turns the turbines that produce electricity. In chemical looping, the coal isn't burned with fire, but instead chemically combusted in a sealed chamber so that it doesn't pollute the air. This new technology, called coal-direct chemical looping, was pioneered by Liang-Shih Fan, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of Ohio State's Clean Coal Research Laboratory."

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365 comments

Bullshit (-1, Troll)

sexconker (1179573) | about a year ago | (#42974669)

This is bullshit because of reasons. Also, "clean coal" lol.

Re: Bullshit (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974685)

I love reasons! Care to share?

Re: Bullshit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974823)

Me too. Reasons are the best.

Of course I'm skeptical of anything that's "new & improved" because everything from soap to breakfast cereal has been labeled as such. But there is always hope ... and change ... oh well, that ruins that.

Re: Bullshit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974841)

EErrrr, Co2 Pollution? NNoooo. But then, how would the West have a multi $billion climate change industry without a little missleading and conflicted interest information with beief based decision making coupled on top?

Works for me, Solyndra and the German renewables industry. LMAO

Re: Bullshit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975299)

mmm, oatmeal reason cookies.

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975025)

This is bullshit because of reasons. Also, "clean coal" lol.

It seems there are deniers on both sides of the environmental debate. Sorry if science and engineering trump your politics.

Re:Bullshit (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#42975231)

Coal isn't clean though. This would clean up the side of the equation where you're burning it. But, it would do absolutely nothing for the mining aspect of it. Which is a huge mess as it stands. If you want to burn things for energy, you're better off starting with something like trees which are mostly carbon neutral as it is.

Sure, it's technically clean if you ignore the incredible damage that it reeks on the landscape, but it's definitely not clean in a practical sense.

Re:Bullshit (2)

dbIII (701233) | about a year ago | (#42975319)

But, it would do absolutely nothing for the mining aspect of it

Maybe it will. I haven't read the article but there have already been trials where coal is burnt in-situ via using horizontal drilling and air injection. Apparently that works so long as you have full control of all the air getting in.
Also, (as I keep telling the fanboys here of 1970's nuclear who don't have the merest clue about developments since), there is not really such a thing as a "clean" industrial process - that's just stupid PR. All you can do is aim for less impact so you get a net benefit.

Scaling is the Key! (4, Insightful)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about a year ago | (#42974671)

Sounds nice, except for the 'combusted in a sealed chamber' bit. How is this going to scale up so they can feed 100 tons/hr through the plant cycle? That is the question.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (5, Interesting)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year ago | (#42974793)

just build it bigger!

Or if that can't be done economically, just build millions of little ones!

Oh that's not economically feasible either because each one requires a lot of labor to build? Hmm.... *thinks*

Ok let's just forget about the whole thing and go nuclear.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (0)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42974905)

Oh that's not economically feasible either because each one requires a lot of labor to build? Hmm.... *thinks*

That's a so simple one you don't need to be an engineer, even a CEO can answer to that: buy or build a plant into a lower wages country [slashdot.org].

(grin)

Re:Scaling is the Key! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975055)

Maybe we should start burning C-level executives instead of coal.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975109)

Your hatred is a compelling argument. You are an amazing person with much to contribute to the world.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (3, Informative)

toejam13 (958243) | about a year ago | (#42975039)

It isn't expensive when all of the senators and representatives from coal burning states insert major tax credits (read: corporate welfare) into bills to pay for such boondoggles. Eventually, such things get passed and we all pay for it.

You should read up on how the federal government subsidies coal liquefaction. It is a complete and total scam.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (4, Insightful)

hairyfeet (841228) | about a year ago | (#42975175)

No matter how you slice it you're still left with an assload of carbon that has to go SOMEWHERE so what are you gonna do with it? Frankly that's always been the problem, what to do with all the waste that is left over. TFA I notice is awful light on the details about what EXACTLY if left after this chemical burning, is it a paste, a gel, powder, maybe i missed it but I couldn't find any clear answer on that.

But at the end of the day that is still hundreds of tons of waste you are gonna have to put somewhere, the big question is where because as we saw with Yucca flats pretty much any place you pick is gonna have NIMBYs coming out the woodwork so what are you gonna do with it? This is why I've always supported the new nuclear reactors with reprocessing, it lets you re-use as much as possible until the waste is much smaller and has a much lower half life but no matter how you slice it the stuff left over is gonna have to be put somewhere.

But like coal or hate it we are gonna end up having to use at least some of it because our power needs have gone nowhere but up and this at least sounds like the waste is in solid form instead of gas which will make handling and disposal easier, if not politically then at least physically.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (4, Funny)

tsotha (720379) | about a year ago | (#42975219)

TFA I notice is awful light on the details about what EXACTLY if left after this chemical burning, is it a paste, a gel, powder, maybe i missed it but I couldn't find any clear answer on that.

Maybe it's diamonds. Boy, are those Belgian airport thieves going to be pissed.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (4, Interesting)

vidnet (580068) | about a year ago | (#42974805)

The part that worried me was more the fact that CO2 was still produced, it was just contained within the chamber (the benefit of their technique seemed to just be less/no air space required in the chamber).

Sequestering CO2 is not simple, and is currently done mostly by pumping it into used oil fields. It's not certain whether these costs were factored in.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (4, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | about a year ago | (#42974899)

Coal is 84% carbon, 10% oxygen, 4% hydrogen, and 2% nitrogen (or so). Short of nuclear fission or fusion, you're going to get carbon and oxygen out of it no matter what you do.

The question is how much energy you get out. If this process were twice as efficient (in terms of CO2 per MW) then it would still be a worthwhile improvement wouldn't it?

Re:Scaling is the Key! (4, Informative)

trout007 (975317) | about a year ago | (#42975063)

You are forgetting the other part of the reaction. Air is 78% Nitrogen and 21% Oxygen. In this reaction the Iron removes the Oxygen from the air before it gets into the reactor. So no Nitrogen in the reactor means NOx and no Nitrogen gas to remove from the waste stream.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (5, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42975073)

Sequestering CO2 is not simple, and is currently done mostly by pumping it into used oil fields. It's not certain whether these costs were factored in.

Sequestering it is a lot simpler if you can simply draw if off the top of the CLOSED chamber rather than trying to scrub it out of the stack.
You've got half the battle won already.

What to do with it long term is another problem. But its a problem you would have anyway, so having the CO2 handed to you all
contained is better than where we are today.

Besides coal ash, it appears CO2 is the only by-produce that is not recycled back into the feed-stock.

But, hey, Clean Coal stories have to be knocked down immediately. We can't have it prove even partially successful under any
circumstance. /rollseyes.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (2)

r0xtarninja (966463) | about a year ago | (#42975205)

Sequestering = storage. That "other problem" you speak of is what gp was referring to. But pedantry aside, tech like this, gasification and other clean coal plans do solve some pieces of the clean energy puzzle and shouldn't be simply cast aside with a flippant "clean coal lol" comment.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (3, Informative)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#42975129)

Sequestering CO2 is easy. You just don't have a clue how it works. The CO2 is pumped into abandon oil fields at VERY high pressures. This actually results in a return of the field to oil production, as the CO2 forces out more oil. The hydrostatic pressure at that depth is so great that it forces the CO2 into its liquid form. It's not going to suddenly escape to the surfaces, it's miles down and under unfathomable pressure. If we had an earthquake strong enough to crack that, we'd have far more to worry about. Like the really nasty gasses getting released from natural fissures or the earth splitting asunder.

RTFA-ing is the Key! (4, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year ago | (#42974851)

The researchers are about to take their technology to the next level: a larger-scale pilot plant is under construction at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, AL. Set to begin operations in late 2013, that plant will produce 250 thermal kilowatts using syngas.

From 25 kw to 250kw
Sounds like they're scaling it up.

Re:RTFA-ing is the Key! (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#42975203)

Not sure where this process generates syngas. I think you are confusing two different technologies.

Re:RTFA-ing is the Key! (5, Informative)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about a year ago | (#42975285)

RTFA, the process is designed to work with two of the already commonly available forms of fuel to power companies, crushed coal and coal derived syngas.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974887)

I don't necessarily agree with scaling anymore. At least, scaling to the size of modern power plants. I'd rather we have MANY MANY smaller power plants scattered around than the larger ones we currently integrate.

As this is chemical, and not combustion, (yes yes, sealed chamber...) it should not take up as nearly as much land as required by current plants. Also, just think of all the job creation all those small power plants will require!!!

Re:Scaling is the Key! (3, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42974927)

Sounds nice, except for the 'combusted in a sealed chamber' bit. How is this going to scale up so they can feed 100 tons/hr through the plant cycle? That is the question.

The key to the technology is the use of tiny metal beads to carry oxygen to the fuel to spur the chemical reaction. For CDCL, the fuel is coal that’s been ground into a powder, and the metal beads are made of iron oxide composites. The coal particles are about 100 micrometers across—about the diameter of a human hair—and the iron beads are larger, about 1.5-2 millimeters across. Chung likened the two different sizes to talcum powder and ice cream sprinkles, though the mix is not nearly so colorful.

The coal and iron oxide are heated to high temperatures, where the materials react with each other. Carbon from the coal binds with the oxygen from the iron oxide and creates carbon dioxide, which rises into a chamber where it is captured.

They ran this for 9 days straight. They only stopped because they were tired. Scaling it up probably is not that much of a problem.
The bigger problem might be obtaining both the fuel and the oxidizers in quantity economically.

Coal powered that finely would be rather dangerous, because it has so much surface area. Exposure to air, any spark could set it
off. Handling it would require special care never to let it flow around or accumulate around the crushers. They might have to
make it in a slurry just for safety, then waste more heat drying it before use.

TFA shows them handling bottles of it, and even then they are wearing masks.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (2)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about a year ago | (#42975053)

Coal is routinely pulverized in order to get it to flow with preheated air through the burners and to provide a large surface area to volume ratio for efficient heating and combustion. 100 micrometers is 0.1 mm, small but not microscopic. This is a typical grain size produced by the pulverizer mills.

You really don't want any sort of small powder to get in your lungs. Coal is not particularly dangerous.

Coal contains small amounts of mercury, but not much more so than most other natural ores. The problem with mercury in coal is that we are burning coal that took millions of years to accumulate in the space of a few centuries, so it releases mercury back into the environment faster than nature can sequester it.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#42975027)

This is the kind of science that will save us from Global warming. I know how grand Solar and wind seem grand, but they aren't powering shit yet. Germany is the shining start of renewable energy right now, and they have 20 old school coal fired plants scheduled to be built in the next few decades. We have a LOT of coal. If there's a clean way to use it, we sure as hell better try. It's going to get used one way or another, and 99% efficiency with easy CO2 sequester seems like a pretty smart way to do it.

Re:Scaling is the Key! (4, Interesting)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about a year ago | (#42975119)

<quote>This is the kind of science that will save us from Global warming. I know how grand Solar and wind seem grand, but they aren't powering shit yet.</quote>

Wind is powering all sorts of "shit" in Europe. Denmark is pushing about 28% penetration of wind into their power market and many of the surrounding countries have penetrations of 10-20%. And they are building a hell of a lot of offshore wind farms.

Just because the U.S. is slow to get off its ass doesn't mean the rest of the world is.

Winds light and variable (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#42975275)

In an electric power market that substantially depends on wind, what happens during periods when winds are calm? Does the instantaneous price of electric power double?

Re:Scaling is the Key! (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about a year ago | (#42975283)

Re: scale up so they can feed 100 tons/hr through the plant cycle?
Sure they can, South Africa did it http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/coalpower/gasification/gasifipedia/6-apps/6-3-5-1_sasol.html [doe.gov]
Everything old is new again- 'green' is paying out to the private sector like a state under sanctions :)
The US has had local tech to clean coal releasing only CO2 and water at a fair market price but does seem committed to replacing its old generation capacity :(
What is left on the grid will be very costly :) Expect cuts to supply too as regions are dropped for areas that can pay more :)

Oh Rly? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974677)

Well I'll let the scientists peer review this one. But cool.
Though to debbie downer this it still doesn't bring back the virginia mountains that were destroyed for coal.

Re: Oh Rly? (3, Funny)

pollarda (632730) | about a year ago | (#42974815)

What Virginia mountains? I don't know what you are talking about, I don't see any....

Re: Oh Rly? (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | about a year ago | (#42974971)

What Virginia mountains? I don't know what you are talking about, I don't see any....

If you're in Virginia, you've probably been to Walmart. Seen the customers?

You keep using that word... (3, Informative)

Kenja (541830) | about a year ago | (#42974683)

combust:
Verb
1. Consume by fire.
2. Be consumed by fire.

Re:You keep using that word... (4, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42974849)

A better word might have been "oxidized" but the good professor probably was trying not to confuse the journalism major
who wrote the story with words too big for their tiny world view.

Lots of CO2 is produced, but it is retained in the chamber and captured, and oxygen and coal are fed in continuously.
They operated it for 9 days straight.

Re:You keep using that word... (1)

MBCook (132727) | about a year ago | (#42974915)

This is a university press release. They probably talked to him and and asked him questions until he put it that way, because "if we say chemically oxidized no one will know what we're talking about". I bet he doesn't use that word in the paper.

Re:You keep using that word... (1)

gutnor (872759) | about a year ago | (#42974853)

If you really want to be pedantic, your definition is chemically wrong (and the summary actually mentions chemical combustion). Combustion is basically, just an oxydation. Depending how strong/rapid the oxydation is, it is called fire or not.

Re:You keep using that word... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42974933)

Combustion [wikipedia.org]

Combustion (pron.: /kmbs.tn/) or burning is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat and conversion of chemical species.

Combustion is exothermic oxidation (0)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#42975307)

"Conversion of chemical species" is just another term for "reaction", and "production of heat" through a reaction is the same thing as "exothermic", and a shorter term for "chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant" is "oxidation". Thus to put it even shorter: combustion is exothermic oxidation.

We should be doing that now (0)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year ago | (#42974707)

Normal coal burning plants could collect all their exhaust as well. It would cost part of their energy output, but not all

Re:We should be doing that now (2)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#42975015)

Normal coal burning plants could collect all their exhaust as well. It would cost part of their energy output, but not all

The problem is the other gasses after passing through the combustion chamber, which you may not want to pay for compressing and sequestring. The 78% nitrogen in the atmospheric air will still be there after burning and will contribute to the increased cost.

I wonder if the extra cost of pulverizing the carbon to 0.1mm particle size is a proper offset for the CO2 separation cost from air based combustion.

Also, since the oxygen is delivered bound to iron, the total energy generated but this process will be smaller... unless (or "even if"?) you decide to reoxidize the reduced iron by burning it again

Re:We should be doing that now (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year ago | (#42975059)

I wonder how you would go separating oxygen from nitrogen before combustion, then burning the coal on pure oxygen, though I suppose that is the process described in the article.

huge costs (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974717)

"New technologies that use fossil fuels should not raise the cost of electricity more than 35 percent, while still capturing more than 90 percent of the resulting carbon dioxide. Based on the current tests with the research-scale plants, Fan and his team believe that they can meet or exceed that requirement"

good luck selling that

Um, WHY? (0)

russotto (537200) | about a year ago | (#42974739)

The basic idea is to burn coal with rust in an oven, then capture the CO2. Why not just burn coal and air in an oven and capture the CO2? The hard part is surely the CO2 capture, not the burning.

Re:Um, WHY? (4, Informative)

foniksonik (573572) | about a year ago | (#42974813)

There is no burning. Apparently that is the key innovation. The chemical reaction between the coal dust and the rust pellets releases the CO2 in a very controlled manner with the CO2 being separated cleanly rather than mixed up with smoke aka carbon molecules. That must make the CO2 capture much much easier.

Re:Um, WHY? (2, Informative)

russotto (537200) | about a year ago | (#42974835)

There is no burning. Apparently that is the key innovation.

Coal is oxidized to produce CO2 and heat. That's "burning", regardless of whether you use air or iron oxides as the oxidizer.

Re:Um, WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975017)

The smart part is that they don't have to deal with the 79% non-combustible part of air - nitrogen etc. in the enclosed chamber.
Carbon dioxide can be compress easily for storage (vs nitrogen)

Re:Um, WHY? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974935)

Why not just burn coal and air in an oven and capture the CO2

Because only part of the air gets converted to CO2. Most of the air is nitrogen, and only ~21% is oxygen. Even if you have complete conversion of the oxygen to CO2 (not going to happen), you'd end up with exhaust gas that's mostly nitrogen with some carbon dioxide mixed in. This nitrogen/carbon dioxide mix is difficult to deal with. To do anything with the CO2 you'd have to separate it from the nitrogen and residual oxygen, which gets complicated and expensive.

The hard part is surely the CO2 capture, not the burning.

Exactly. This new method attempts solve that by separating the CO2 generation stage from the air-using stage. If you could effectively separate them, you'll get a pure CO2 stream in one half of the reactor (which if you can keep closed you can pump off into storage tanks) and you'll keep the nitrogen/depleted-oxygen mix in the other half of the reactor, away from your pure CO2.

The way it works is to use iron oxide as an oxygen shuttle. The iron oxide pellets grab oxygen from the air half of the reactor, and are then transferred as a relatively gas-free solid to the coal half of the reactor, where they give up their oxygen to produce a relatively pure stream of CO2. The pellets are then separated from the coal ash and transferred as a relatively gas-free solid back to the air half of the reactor, where they are recharged with oxygen. If you engineer it right, you could conceivably make it a continuous feed operation, where you shuttle the iron oxide beads back and forth through airlocks, keeping most of the CO2 in the sealed reactor where it can be pumped off as a comparatively pure gas.

Re:Um, WHY? (2)

trout007 (975317) | about a year ago | (#42974977)

I think it is because when you burn in air (Mostly Nitrogen) you create NOx compounds. When you burn your exhaust gas contains lots of nitrogen which you have to remove the CO2 from to process. It seems they are using rust as a way to take the oxygen out of the air first so when it reactions with the carbon you get pure CO2 which can easily be compressed without having to deal with Nitrogen and it's oxides.

Like healthy citarettes (0, Troll)

jamesl (106902) | about a year ago | (#42974749)

Al Gore said ...

The coal and oil companies have spent in the United States alone a half a billion dollars in the first eight months of this year promoting a lie that there is such a thing as "clean coal." Clean coal's like healthy cigarettes -- it does not exist. It could theoretically exist. The only demonstration plant was canceled. How many, how many such plants are there? Zero. How many blueprints? Zero.
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/09/28/172379/gore-clean-coal-cigarettes/?mobile=nc [thinkprogress.org]

Re:Like healthy citarettes (-1, Troll)

Mashiki (184564) | about a year ago | (#42974791)

Don't worry. Obama has made sure that it was technically impossible for any type of coal plant to exist, enjoy those soaring energy costs, perhaps you guys can follow europe. You know, where people are now cutting down trees to heat their homes because it's too expensive to heat them by any other means.

Re:Like healthy citarettes (2)

toejam13 (958243) | about a year ago | (#42975005)

Except that the United States has the benefit of cheap methane (CNG). Regionally, you also have cheap hydro in the NW and TV, cheap wind in the upper prairie states and cheap solar in the sun belt.

Coal is only cheap when you exclude the environmental and related health costs. The heavy and radioactive metals expelled as particulate matter are a major source of cancer. The nitrogen oxides expelled are a major contributor to acid rain. People are sorta forgetting those issues in the whole CO2 debate. Last I checked, chemotherapy wasn't cheap.

And many areas in the US have restrictions on wood burning. Unless you're talking about a pellet stove with catalytic converter which is fairly darn clean as far as burnin' wood goes as is often exempt from burn restrictions.

Re:Like healthy citarettes (1)

Mashiki (184564) | about a year ago | (#42975143)

You realize that a decade ago, europe had access to cheap CNG too. And now it doesn't. And many places in Europe also have restrictions on wood burning as well, and it's now gotten to the point where local governments are no longer enforcing laws on it because the options are 'let people freeze to death' or 'let them illegally cut wood.' Just keep those ideas right going along, never mind that there's a million people in Germany that can't afford electricity because of green energy projects either. Or that people in Greece are clear cutting forests for basic fuel so they can keep warm, and cook dinner now.

Things are just peachy!

More like the nicotine patch ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975253)

Coal is only cheap when you exclude the environmental and related health costs. The heavy and radioactive metals expelled as particulate matter are a major source of cancer. The nitrogen oxides expelled are a major contributor to acid rain. People are sorta forgetting those issues in the whole CO2 debate.

And other people are sort of ignoring that the excitement over this potential new process is in part based on the claim that it will not expel the radioactive metals and the nitrogen oxides.

You are offering denier logic. You merely deny the possibilities of science and engineering to hold onto a different set of political beliefs.

Re:Like healthy citarettes (4, Insightful)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about a year ago | (#42974843)

We already burn a crap load of coal for our electricity. Wouldn't it be great if we worked to make it clean-er ( at least in terms of soot and mercury released into the air)? There isn't much on the horizon that could replace coal over night. We should try to find something will all due haste, but it wouldn't hurt to get the low hanging fruit. Its pretty much what Obama is doing now and its a sensible approach.

Re:Like healthy citarettes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974991)

Ok, Barack Obama is metrosexual. Maybe he's even had a couple bisexual experiences. But he's not a fruit.

Re:Like healthy citarettes (1)

sdguero (1112795) | about a year ago | (#42975087)

We already burn a crap load of coal for our electricity. Wouldn't it be great if we worked to make it clean-er ( at least in terms of soot and mercury released into the air)?

I'm no expert on coal power plants but I'm pretty sure we already do that with scrubbers.

There isn't much on the horizon that could replace coal over night. We should try to find something will all due haste, but it wouldn't hurt to get the low hanging fruit.

Maybe not on the horizon but there is certainly something that has been around for 50+ years that could replace coal overnight. It's called nuclear power.

Its pretty much what Obama is doing now and its a sensible approach.

Is he? I feel like its more about politics than actually solving anything. Instead of pumping money into "green" start-up companies that inevitably spread the wealth among their executives and then disappear in a puff of smoke, the federal government could subsidize the building of a smelter capable for manufacturing a reactor vessel. Last I read, the only country with the facilities to manufacture those is Japan and they currently have years of back orders. I also haven't heard anything about solving the nuclear waste storage problem out of this administration. Getting the waste problem sorted out, subsidizing the construction of a facility with the ability to make containment vessels, squashing all the red tape involved with new plant construction, and decommissioning some of the older nuclear power plants is the most sensible approach to getting us away from oil and coal in my eyes.

Re:Like healthy citarettes (1)

toejam13 (958243) | about a year ago | (#42975237)

I'm no expert on coal power plants but I'm pretty sure we already do that with scrubbers.

Scrubbers are typically only required for new plants. Existing plants have very liberal grandfather policies that exempt them. So many companies will simply upgrade existing facilities to keep the grandfather clause. It isn't unlike tearing down a house, save for one wall, then building a new house and then saying it is a 100 year-old house.

 

Maybe not on the horizon but there is certainly something that has been around for 50+ years that could replace coal overnight. It's called nuclear power.

Traditional nuclear power facilities are expensive. Not to mention that you have to build them in the Styx to appease the NIMBY folks, so you suffer a lot of transmission losses. Thorium reactors might offer a solution. Same with micro reactors that can use a sealed fuel container shipped from a factory. But GE and Westinghouse are still pushing for their latest super-sized traditional reactors.

Re:Like healthy citarettes (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year ago | (#42974909)

This wasn't your main point, I know, but I know more than one person who claims that so-called "electric cigarettes" are not unhealthy at all.

Other factors to consider (5, Interesting)

SketchOfNight (1010207) | about a year ago | (#42974755)

How does the lack of pollution from the process compare against that generated from the acquisition of the coal?
  Is it possible/practical to convert an existing coal power plant?
  Is there an appreciable energy/pollution cost to produce the fine powder coal used in the process?
  How much energy is consumed or how much pollution is produced in transporting the coal to the reactor?
  Is the process itself efficient in regards to the energy output when compared against the total energy costs?

I'm sure there's a lot of other things that don't spring to mind instantly, but I'm certainly not an expert on any of this. Doubts notwithstanding, this is pretty cool.

No emission-less (5, Informative)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year ago | (#42974761)

Its not emission-less. If you read his presentation from 2008 you'll see that the C02 is the byproduct of the reaction that is is used to transfer heat to the steam boiler. The C02 still gets generated as before, just now it can be more readily sequestered - assuming that you want to spend the money on that part of the equation.

Coal Direct Chemical Looping Retrofit for Pulverized Coal-fired Power Plants with In-Situ CO2 Capture [doe.gov] (PDF - but why the hell in this day and age do I need t tell you that? Can't you just look at the link?)

Re:No emission-less (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974809)

Who said it was emission less? The hyperlink phrase, you know the underlined part, even says that the process captures 99% of the CO2 produced. That means it 1) produces CO2, 2) captures 99% of the CO2 produced, and 3) allows 1% to escape. No where does the article claim that it is emission less.

Coal Direct Chemical Looping Retrofit for Pulverized Coal-fired Power Plants with In-Situ CO2 Capture [doe.gov] (PDF - but why the hell in this day and age do I need t tell you that? Can't you just look at the link?)

Apparently some of us can't.

Re:No emission-less (4, Insightful)

Raptoer (984438) | about a year ago | (#42974877)

Even if you don't sequester the carbon and just put it out a smoke stack you're still at an advantage over normal coal burning. One of the major problems with coal burning is not the CO2, but the fly ash that contains heavy metals and causes respiratory problems. This process allows for those heavy metals to be contained in the coal ash which is kept within the plant. Depending on the concentration of metals in the ash it may be economical to mine the ash.

Additionally since the CO2 is pure it can be used industrially without having to distill out the nitrogen that you would if you got it from regular burning.

Re:No emission-less (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974937)

The ash is sold to make masonry products. This is one of the reasons why bricks often have a slightly higher radiation signature than background.

Sounds like rubbish (2)

Gorobei (127755) | about a year ago | (#42974769)

So it captured 99% of the CO2 in a vessel. Great! Now what does it do with it? Vent it to the atmosphere for zero gain?

Or use some magic zero energy cost process to convert it to chalk or something? Guess the article was missing that.

This is like Sasha Cohen's Hoverboard invention - it's a plank that real scientists can figure out how to levitate. Can I have venture capital?

Re:Sounds like rubbish (2)

foniksonik (573572) | about a year ago | (#42974875)

99% of the CO2 as a pure gas. That pure CO2 can be converted to methanol (at what cost?) ala:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=turning-carbon-dioxide-back-into-fuel [scientificamerican.com]

If not commercially viable as fuel stock it could be used for a variety of applications that adulterated CO2 can not.

Re:Sounds like rubbish (2)

Gorobei (127755) | about a year ago | (#42974969)

Spend energy to convert CO2 to another fuel. Great. That has nothing to do with the article unless "unadulterated CO2" is something important. Unfortunately, "unadulterated CO2" is not exciting: it's cheap and hardly more useful than adulterated CO2.

Thanks for playing.

Re:Sounds like rubbish (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975169)

Boy for that level of snark you'd think you would have something more like a point.

Re:Sounds like rubbish (1)

toejam13 (958243) | about a year ago | (#42975075)

You could use it as feed for algae or other CO2 consuming organisms. Except that currently, the costs for such recapture systems are prohibitive. And in the end, the carbon still ends up in the atmosphere - you just get another fuel cycle out of it.

What happens to the carbon dioxide? (2, Insightful)

kasperd (592156) | about a year ago | (#42974797)

Maybe they can capture the carbon dioxide, but what are they going to do with it afterwards? Put it in a container and bury it underground? The carbon dioxide will still be there, and the only way to get rid of that is through another reaction, which most likely needs energy to happen.

Another important question is the efficiency. Are they able to produce the same amount of electrical energy from each ton of coal as traditional methods? If their efficiency is worse, then I am very unimpressed. If their efficiency is better, then that may be a more interesting story than that of capturing the carbon dioxide.

Re:What happens to the carbon dioxide? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974903)

New potential way to use CO2 to produce semiconductors and additional energy at the same time! ---> http://phys.org/news/2012-05-lemons-lemonade-reaction-carbon-dioxide.html

Re:What happens to the carbon dioxide? (1)

hackingbear (988354) | about a year ago | (#42974949)

The CO2 can be fed to algae tanks to continue another energy production process. It would be easier than doing the same with traditional coal plant if the CO2 is clean and not mixed with ash etc.

Re:What happens to the carbon dioxide? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974959)

Maybe they can capture the carbon dioxide, but what are they going to do with it afterwards?

Well, off the top of my head: carbonated beverages [coca-cola.com]. Or fire extinguishers [fire-extinguisher101.com]. (I get that the CO2 will eventually be released from these applications, but they are already in addition to coal-fired plants.)

Re:What happens to the carbon dioxide? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975023)

They can store that CO2 in dell under ground wells. That way when we turn on the tap we'll get free seltzer water.
                            In all seriousness what is the solid effluent like and does it clean up easily? The idea sounds wonderful but we need a lot more information. I also wonder if a similar process could not be applied to leaves, scrap wood and lawn trimmings or perhaps plastic waste.

CO2 has industrial uses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975045)

Carbon Dioxide has lots of industrial uses. It makes a good solvent. This sounds like it will lend itself to easy cleaning of sulfur and metals rich coal. If this process becomes a cheap way of making industrial CO2, I will consider it successful.

Re:CO2 has industrial uses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975235)

If these uses include releasing it into the atmosphere, then we can consider this all an exersize in futility.

weasel words (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974799)

Old process (burning):
Inputs: coal, oxygen
Outputs: heat, CO2

New process:
Inputs: coal, oxygen
Outputs: heat, CO2

So they found a fancy way of oxidizing coal and producing heat from that (with a reaction that sounds a bit like on in a steel mill). Probably great and highly efficient but one of the end products is still CO2 (like with good old fashioned, non-fancy, burning). This is not a closed loop, not 'green' in the sustainable sense, only in the (possibly) more efficient sense.

Efficiency is the key flaw (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974807)

This process is basically iron refining from oxide then (to be implemented) using the pellets of hot iron to boil water. Not what I would call thermodynamically efficent. It also looks likely to suffer from the jamming issues that have plagued pebble bed reactors. Note that, critically, they have not shifted the heat to a medium that would allow electricity generation. Iron pellets aren't going to power turbines any time this century.

Re:Efficiency is the key flaw (5, Informative)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#42975135)

It's 2.5% less efficient than a normal coat power station.
Normal plant: 36.43%
This thing: 33.93%

It actually produces 10% more power from the turbine, but the supporting pumps, fans and compressors need to be powered.

Great! (1)

no-body (127863) | about a year ago | (#42974867)

So the CO2 san be safely captured and preserved for future generations on this planet.

Re:Great! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974997)

pure CO2 has uses. Normal you have to clean the CO2 for other uses (there are uses of CO2 in the real world). This gas is pure CO2. So they can make money of other uses of it. All the CO2 they been pumping into the ground would cost to much to clean. That is why it is being pumped into the ground.

Sloth Pit anyone? (1)

PenguinJeff (1248208) | about a year ago | (#42974895)

In the early 90's I remember reading a Poular Mechanics or maybe Scientific America talking about cheapest ways of getting hydrogen for fuel cells. One method mentioned was using coal in a Sloth Pit. Something about adding water with it and shacking it to release hydrogen gas or something.

I think I figured it out (2)

trout007 (975317) | about a year ago | (#42974941)

Reading between the lines the difference is you aren't getting air into the reactor. So you don't have to heat and separate the Nitrogen. It says the iron pebbles are exposed to air in the reactor but I don't think that is entirely accurate. I think they are exposed after they give up their oxygen to the carbon and are still hot but outside of the actual reactor. This would provide an easy way to chemical way to separate the oxygen from the nitrogen. So the only gaseous byproduct is pure CO2 not CO2 mixed with Nitrogen which is harder to process.

I could be wrong.

While interesting the chem method creates GHG (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#42974945)

The Iron Oxide beads are mined and processed, using coke and various other carbon-creating materials.

To adequately measure the GHG (or climate change gasses) we have to consider the cradle to grave carbon impacts of all the constituent components, from mining to use to final process to usage.

This might be useful in crowded Chinese cities, where the source pollution is high at point of use (e.g. home and industrial heating and power usage), but does nothing per se to alter the total environmental impact of the use of coal itself.

Kind of like how electric cars, if run off of coal or oil power plants, do nothing to reduce emissions, except at point of vehicular usage.

The problem we all face, both in China and the rest of the industrialized world, is that we are overloading our GLOBAL systems with too much carbon or fossil fuel emissions. It doesn't matter if we do it in the coal regions of the US or China, it still puts too much energy into the climate systems, and accelerates extreme weather conditions worldwide, such as massive storms, dust bowls growing to TX CA and FL, and things like that.

Nice try. Good for a polluted Chinese city choking on its own pollution, but not good enough to deal with the source PROBLEM.

(caveat - based on my reading of the various papers by Chinese scientists in peer-reviewed journals and their own internal numbers, which we all know they fudged)

Re:While interesting the chem method creates GHG (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#42975111)

The iron is not a consumable. It is just used to carry oxygen and is re-used.

The problem I see is its much more expensive and reduces the amount of usable energy in the coal. More coal is consumed. You've captured all the CO2 but you still also need to spend more money to deal with it long term.

Re:While interesting the chem method creates GHG (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#42975165)

Good points. But it goes back to the whole system energy usage, and where that energy comes from.

I'm far more impressed by a recent soon to be published article on Chinese usage of windows - they lose a lot of energy in heating due to their usage of non-optimal window pane design.

WON'T WORK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42974963)

Expensive system that does not scale to commercial power size at all.

And right there.. first word... expensive... means we won't do it.

money > all

Polluted air is cheap. (for the power companies direct profits) They only do what they are forced to do.

Theres dozens of ways to make coal burning 100% clean. BUT they all have the same problem.
More expensive than doing it the plain ol burning way. And we won't do any of them at all outside of lab table examples.

What we NEED to invent is a new human who gives a fuck about more than profit right now at the cost of everything else long term.
And replace all of our politcians and ceos with them.

Good luck with that tho. That'll take a few hundred years to even get going.

Re:WON'T WORK (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#42975099)

Not only does the system cost a lot of money, it also produces less power per unit of coal.\

There's also the cost of dealing with the captured CO2 as well. If you don't want to spend even more money storing it somewhere you'll have to let it go. There's also more CO2 to get rid of, because it's a less efficient system.

Pure oxygen.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975041)

The principle is similar to that of using pure oxygen to combust coal - the CO2 produced is nearly 100% - which simplifies carbon capture compared to the 20%CO2 / 80% N2 mixture typically got from burning in air. (see also ie google "pure oxygen carbon capture")

Instead of using pure O2 they use iron(III)oxide as the oxidant. The reduced iron(III)oxide (as Fe(II)oxide or Fe) can be re-oxidised by air in a separate chamber.

The actual process seems to have been very poorly communicated to the journalist (and in general) -possibly because english is the inventor's second language?

As others above I would doubt the overall efficiency would be as good as current methods - the system is complex - and seems to need energy extraction from both gaseous extracts from both the "reducer" and "oxidiser" chambers (eg see "Process Flow Diagram" in http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/09/CO2/pdfs/5289%20Ohio%20State%20chemical%20looping%20(Li)%20mar09.pdf ) - not my problem thankfully.

Re:Pure oxygen.. (1)

trout007 (975317) | about a year ago | (#42975241)

Thanks for the link. That is exactly what I thought was going on but the journalist didn't understand. It is basically putting the oxygen plant at the power plant.

I'm not a chemist but will the combuster portion where they burn the iron to make iron oxide create NOx?

I love the quote in the article (1, Insightful)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#42975065)

“Unfortunately, it also produces carbon dioxide, which is difficult to capture and bad for the environment"
Without carbon dioxide, the carbon cycle wouldn't exist and all plants and animals would die.

Without "Burning" but it's "combusted" ? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975157)

Last I checked, burning is combustion.

Nor do I understand what the hell is advantageous about it. They admit to oxidiation of the hydrocarbons (ie, burning), heating it to high temperature, and the release of CO2 gas. So exactly what is so great about it?

This I would call "clean coal". (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42975265)

All else is BS.

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