the way we live

google renewables

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yesterday abc news was reporting that everyone’s favorite search giant, google, is venturing into the utility business.  with a goal of making renewable energy as cheap as coal, google announced they plan in invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research, design, engineering, and implementation of three different renewable systems: solar thermal, geothermal, and high-altitude wind.  google’s rationale for the move is two-fold: first, google’s servers use an incredible amount of energy themselves and investing in renewable resources to meet these power demands makes good business sense.  second, according to google, they recognize the reality of the seriousness of climate change and they feel that they have both the brain power and the money to change the way we live.  regardless of their motivations, a company like this investing heavily in renewable energy research and development is extremely commendable.  if google can, in fact, manage to develop technology that reduce the cost of renewable energy into the range of coal it would be a huge positive for the world around us.

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28 November 2007 - Posted by | green, society, technology, urban planning

2 Comments »

  1. During the past 35 years, working with two of the five giants in chemical engineering of the 20th Century, Dr.s Frank J. Soday and Donald F. Othmer, I have designed a number of alternate fuels plants using coal and municipal solid and wet wastes to make clean-burning utility fuel gases. Dr. Soday was a world recognized authority on gasification and Dr. Othmer was the founder and co-editor of the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, the most referenced work in its field.

    Recently I submitted a proposal to Google for a massive plasma gasification project, which would meet all of the criteria for renewables cited by Google in its announcement, and then some. The project proposed would also reduce air, water and earth pollution while reducing the cost of power to a minimum. The R.O.R. (rate of return) on investment would be more than 50% every year.

    Since I have not received a response from Google, I must assume that their announcement was public relations hot air.

    Comment by Andre E. Thorn Bacon | 4 December 2007 | Reply

  2. There are more than 1,100 landfills in the U.S. where biodegrading municipal solid wastes produce methane. As a greenhouse gas methane has been reported to be eight to twenty-three times more potent than carbon dioxide. Some of the methane produced is captured for use; however, for the most part it is exhausted into the atmosphere. Worldwide some 20 to 70,000,000 tons of methane are exhausted to the atmosphere. Most of it coming from advanced industrial countries.

    The fastest growing portions of solid wastes are e-wastes. E-wastes are considered dangerous as certain components of some electronics contain materials that are hazardous, depending on their condition and density. The hazardous content of these materials pose a threat to human health and environment. Discarded computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, fax machines, electric lamps, cell phones, audio equipment and batteries if improperly disposed can leach lead and other substances into the soil and groundwater.

    There is a technological solution to the problems presented by wastes in landfills. It is plasma gasification. [Note: Full description of plasma gasification can be found by entering HowStuffWorks in a search engine, then typing plasma gasification in the search window at the HowStuffWorks site.] Plasma gasification using temperatures hotter than at the surface of the Sun melts materials, both organic and inorganic, into their basic constituents, producing a fuel gas from carbon-based organics and an inert, unleachable slag from the inorganics. Thus, without sorting, screening or disassembly, any thing up to a meter in diameter can be gasified and reduced to its basic constituents. At what cost?

    The initial cost can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars; however, the gross return on investment for each world-scale plasma gasification system can easily exceed a billion dollars a year. For example, the recent value of 1 kilogram of gold recovered from 5 tons of electronic wastes was quoted at $22,000.00 [Note: Put “Theres Gold In Them Thar Smelly Hills” in your search engine to read about the values in landfills.] A world-scale plasma gasifier has the capacity to convert 3,000 tons per day of wastes to valuable materials. Should only 500 tons of this capacity be used to convert e-wastes, then the return on this conversion would be $2,200,000.00 per day or $803,000,000.00 per year. This does not count the iron, steel, aluminum, copper, lead, silver, platinum or zinc that would be recovered along with the gold from e-wastes and from general municipal solid wastes. This is a much more energy efficient way to mine metals than deriving them from virgin ores.

    Other sources of revenue from plasma gasification of municipal solid wastes are sales of electricity made in excess of the requirements for operation of the plasma gasifiers. This will range between 215 and 360 megawatt hours 24 hours per day. The amount of electricity to be sold depends upon the use of both fuel gas from wastes at landfill plant sites and methane produced from wastes through biodegradation at such sites. Carbon dioxide from fuel burning is captured for various uses.

    The physical uses of carbon dioxide are use as a refrigerant as dry ice, as a gas to fill inflatable boats, in pellet guns, as an inert atmosphere, in fire extinguishers, as aerosol propellant, and in beverages. Combine with ammonia carbon dioxide is used to make urea, which is used in industry to make more than 5,000 products. It is used to make semicarbazides (used in pharmaceuticals), barbituates, sulfamic acid, cattle feed supplement and fertilizers.

    Distillation systems act as steam condensers in place of cooling towers for the combined cycle electricity generators in the plasma gasification system. This will produce 7,900,000 gallons of distilled water per day at sea level.
    Waste water from waste treatment plants can be distilled with the sludge from the waste treatment plant going to plasma gasification.

    The slag from plasma gasification has a definite value also.
    If the approximately 400 pounds of slag from a ton of gasified municipal solid waste is blown by compressed air as it exits the gasifier, it is converted to rock wool. Rock wool is a superior insulator, which sells for more than $1.00 per pound. Three thousand times 400 equals 1,200,000.
    On an annual basis, rock wool from plasma gasification selling at $1.00 per pound would bring in a gross revenue of $438,000,000.00.

    There is also the possibility of using plasma gasification of wastes to make ethanol at least cost. A ton of solid waste will produce enough fuel gas (used as synthesis gas) to make 60 gallons of ethanol. Obviously, the solid waste does not have to be planted, cultivated, fertilized, harvested and transported to and ethanol plant to be sold. Solid waste is delivered to a landfill, where a fee is charged for its taking. In practice, all of the potentialities of plasma gasification would be realized. Together with that realization would be an improving air, water and earth environment, and less dependence on foreign fuels.

    What I suggested to Google was the acquisition and merger of two public companies. One owns the patents to a superior plasma gasification system. The other owns and operates more than 200 landfills. There would be no necessity to change the management of these companies, only redirect their efforts. The idea is to make a more robust bottom line for the merged companies, benefitting new investors.

    Comment by Andre E. Thorn Bacon | 6 December 2007 | Reply


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