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Category Archives: Climate change

“The method adopted in Vedanta to impart the knowledge of Brahman is known as the method of superimposition (adhyaaropa) and subsequent negation (apavaada). In the Bhashya, Bhagavatpada says, “The transmigrating self is indeed Brahman. He who knows the self as Brahman which is beyond fear becomes Brahman. This is the purport of the whole Upanishad put in a nutshell. It is to bring out this purport that the ideas of creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe, as well as the ideas of action, its factors and results were superimposed on the Self. Then, by the negation of the superimposed attributes the true nature of Brahman as free from all attributes has been brought out. This is the method of adhyaaropa and apavaada, superimposition and negation, which is adopted by Vedanta.”  (Ref: What are Upanishads? : An over view by S.N. Sastri on Luthur.com)

The analogy that is often used to describe the process of superimposition and negation is that of ‘using a thorn to remove a thorn’. Finally, when the last thorn is removed, the thorn used to remove it is thrown away as well. Similarly, Carbon can be used to reduce carbon emission while power is generated!

Let us consider the issues of Carbon emission and global warming resulting in climate change in the above context. Recent conference in Climate change held in Paris is acclaimed to be a success to the planet earth collectively adopted by 195 countries both developed and developing. In a nutshell they all have agreed to reduce their carbon emissions to limit the global warming to less than 2C or even 1.5 between 2030 and 2050. Is it really practical to achieve the above target given the nature of reduction and the complexity of imposing such a reduction within the time frame? It is a big question mark.

The only practical method to reduce CO2 is by using Hydrogen CO2 + H2-à CO + H2O and then convert CO into a useful product such as Urea NH2CONH2 a fertilizer. Production of Urea requires additional Hydrogen which is again obtained by combustion of fossil fuel resulting in CO2 emission. Moreover, CO2 will eventually be released at the point of usage of urea later. While trying to reduce Carbon emission one will end up with more Carbon emission in the atmosphere.

The carbon emission from power plants can be substituted with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar at a very high cost but how the emissions from chemical plants such as urea or from automobile emissions, steel plants and cement plants be contained? We should also remember that silicon wafer to produce solar panels consume large amount of power which now comes invariably from fossil fuels. There is a long list of such plants emitting Carbon every day from all over the world.

But there is a possibility to reduce emissions substantially by converting CO2 emissions from power plants into a synthetic fuel which can then substitute fossil fuel to continue power generation. The CO2 resulting from combustion of synthetic fuel will be recycled in the same manner mentioned above thus completing a cycle. To convert CO2 into a synthetic fuel we will require Hydrogen either by renewable sources or non-renewable sources. The non-renewable sources for Hydrogen cannot be a long term solution but renewable Hydrogen is very expensive at this stage. Therefore, Hydrogen is the only source which will not only help reduce Carbon emissions but also help eliminate Carbon completely from planet earth. Renewable Hydrogen is the key to decarbonize the planet earth. However, it may be possible to decarbonize the planet temporarily by using Hydrogen derived from fossil fuel without emitting CO2! It is not just a theory but practical because the technology has already been tested! In this process the Carbon will remain in the loop where it will neither be buried nor emitted into the atmosphere but constantly recycled.

 

 

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.We have created a society  that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift” – Albert Einstein.

United Nation’s panel on climate change (IPCC) recently confirmed that climate change is real, it is man-made and it is irreversible and if nations do not act now then they will have to face catastrophic climate events in the future. They were categorical and unequivocal in their statements this time. They have come to this conclusion because science has not demonstrated how to   capture carbon emission and sequester them under the earth using current technologies. Scientists neglected carbon emissions while generating power using fossil fuels for decades because they had no idea what would be the consequences of such emissions in the future. It is a clear example how a human mind has a limited capacity to conceive an idea “holistically” but has a capacity to satisfy human needs temporarily without knowing the unforeseeable consequences. When human beings interfere with Nature in the name of Science there are consequences to face and a price to pay because Nature is nothing but the manifestation of the highest intelligence. A real science can be no further than asserting this truth. Ignorance when combined with greed can be a deadly combination and the consequences will be costly and to be paid dearly by generations to come. Carbon emission and climate change is one such issue. Science has improved human life on earth in so many ways but at the same time they also have created many side effects which can be identified only after decades of their use. When they are identified it is often too late and causes irreversible damage to system or nature. Any irreversible change human beings cause in Nature will have its own consequences. Science has shown Carbon is the backbone of all organic matter on planet earth whether it is DNA of a human being or a glittering diamond from deep under the earth. The same Carbon reveals the age of a skeleton of a Dinosaur  buried millions of years ago. Science is a powerful tool but it also has two sides, benign and malign. The power to discriminate between the good and bad is the fundamental pre-requisite of science. Carbon plays an indispensible role in the natural world due to its unique atomic structure and ease with which it can build molecules especially with hydrogen. That is why hydrocarbon is playing such an important role in human civilization and it is not easy to substitute it with another candidate without a long term research and development work. But we have a very short time to discover a substitute for hydrocarbon which can serve our current purposes. Few nuclear power plants around the world can satisfy the growing demand for the electricity without any carbon emission but their long term consequences are unknown. The result of a thermo-nuclear explosion over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the grim reminder of such consequences. When earth converts organic matter into a fossil over a period of millions of years deep under the earth, it gives us a clue why Nature has buried them and not left them on the surface of the earth. But that did not deter human beings from digging them out and burning them to generate heat to meet their temporary energy needs without realizing the long term consequences of such actions. Many technologies have become obsolete over a period of time for various reasons but some of them lingered long enough to create long lasting consequences and there are many evidences in history to emphasize this truth. Power generation using fossil fuel is one such clear example of a technological bungle. It only confirms the inadequacy of human knowledge.  It also reveals the temporary nature of such inventions stemming from temporary nature of human life. Science also has changed dramatically in the last few decades and it no longer serves the original purpose of unraveling and understanding the mysteries of Nature but caters and serves to the greed and dominance of selected rich and powerful people and the nations in the world. Science has become a tool to create material wealth and power rather than to understand nature and apply them into our lives in a compatible way and to enrich human life. These experiences have taught one important lesson. Any scientific discovery when applied in real life must be “holistic” and be compatible with Nature and should follow Natural laws. When science becomes a wealth creating tool then any knowledge born out of such science can only serve to create wealth often at the cost of Nature. That is why rich and powerful corporate and nations spend billions of dollars in such wealth creating discoveries rather than on discoveries that address human problems of the world that may not return their investment in time. The anomaly is more they invest on wealth creating science more damage they cause to earth and human life. Such discoveries serve only one purpose namely “the wealth creation “. Wealth and power has overtaken science and knowledge. Climate change has become a serious issue and it is absolutely clear that CO2 in the atmosphere has increased to the current level for the first time in millions of years and human beings have contributed greatly to this increase. Yet, nations around the world are unable to come to-gather and agree on how to reduce such emissions. The only way to solve this issue is to use Science as a tool which created this problem in the first place. When steam engine was invented it was considered as the dawn of industrial revolution: when electricity generation using electro-magnetism was invented it was hailed as a land mark in scientific development. When power was generated using fossil fuel to accelerate the industrial growth very little attention was paid to the carbon emission. When huge quantities of sea water was used to cool the cooling towers in fossil fuel powered or nuclear power plants very little attention was paid to the discharge of effluent in to the sea. When large desalination plants were set up to quench the thirst of oil rich countries very little attention was paid to the toxic discharge of effluent in to the sea. What was missing in all the above developments was the negligence of Nature by discharge of emissions or effluents into the Natural world. We have taken Nature for granted and treated her with great indignity and contempt. Few decades ago Scientists were able to make remarkable discoveries using only their mind as a tool and theorizing certain concepts. They were abstract in nature but were validated whenever applied in practice. There were no big investments by Governments or companies on scientific discoveries, no Intellectual property portfolios, no personal ownership, no disputes on infringement as to who owns and what. Today scientific inventions and intellectual properties are the biggest assets and monopolies of few corporate and nations.  Several hundred billions are spent on patents, trademarks and copy rights to stamp their authorities and ownerships. But where such knowledge came from? Who pays for the consequences of ill -conceived scientific discoveries that prove disastrous in the long run? Who can sue them when such technologies are passed on to several generations without knowing their long term consequences? Science is now suggesting methods to address carbon emission using various renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass etc. But these methods often use capital intensive equipments to use such energy even though Nature provides them free of cost. Such equipments also require large energy input to produce which again comes from fossil fuel maintaining the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. The investment on renewable energy has come down by nearly 70% according to latest news and many countries are gearing up to step up their fossil fuel production in the name of “energy security” simply because they have become “addicted “to old ways of living. In fact there is too much at stake for these countries and they are stubbornly sticking to old ideas. Science has become useless in addressing climate change because it is no longer about science but about nation’s security and maintaining material wealth of the citizens of a particular nation and the popularity of politicians among the ignorant masses and  winning their elections and holding to their power. Sun is the only source of energy on the planet earth and all other forms of energy such as wind and biomass etc are only by-products of sun.  Current power generating technologies heavily depends of conversion of thermal energy into electrical energy and the source of thermal energy is by fossil fuel or nuclear. Recently light energy from sun is converted directly into electrical energy using photovoltaics. They also use thermal energy of the sun using solar concentrators to generate power in conventional way using turbines. But high initial cost, lack of energy storage technologies and intermittent nature of renewable sources increases the cost of energy compared to conventional coal fired power and alternative energy has created an uncertainty in the power industry. Energy industry is now at the cross road and it has divided people into two categories; one group accepts science of global warming and climate change and advocate substituting fossil fuel with carbon free energy sources and another group express skepticism over climate science and support fossil fuel energy sources in order to continue and maintain the industrial growth and employment. If countries like US and Australia who have rich deposits of high grade coal and depend heavily on coal based power plants and industries then they have an option to increase the efficiency of coal utilization by way of emission reduction. For example they can reduce carbon emission substantially using gasification technologies. In fact, under certain special conditions it is possible to generate syngas from coal with highest Hydrogen content (even up to CO: H2 ratio of 20:80).This will increase not only the calorific value of syngas but also reduce carbon emission. Companies like GE, USA are developing special gas turbines for syngas with high hydrogen content. Alternatively conversion of coal into synthetic natural gas (SNG) can reduce the carbon emission without dispensing with coal completely. Renewable hydrogen is a potential long term substitute for fossil fuel both for power industry and transportation. But it requires special handling due to its high explosive nature and it is often easier to handle it with a mix of hydrocarbon such as Methane or Carbon monoxide. Fuel cell is an emerging technology that can use hydrogen for power generation as well as for transportation. However it requires expensive catalysts and they are currently confined to smaller applications in power industry. Fuel cell opens up a new way to generate electricity by simply stripping electrons from a hydrogen atom with Platinum and allowing the resulting proton exchange by special membranes in a cell converting chemical energy into an electrical energy. It is certainly a breakthrough in power generation but there is a long way to go before commercializing them on larger scale. It seems Carbon will continue to play an important role for years to come due to its unique nature in the natural world. But high carbon intensity fuel such as coal and current methods of direct combustion will have to be abandoned and substituted with SNG or Syn gas with high hydrogen content by gasifying coal. By this way hydrogen can be introduced into the current energy mix without substantial deviation from using coal while maintaining the carbon emission well within the limit. However a long term strategy will require complete substitution of fossil fuel with renewable hydrogen or with completely a new method of electricity generation such as Fuel cell without using a thermal energy.  Electricity is nothing but a flow of electrons and techniques that are currently used in Fuel cell such as proton exchange membrane should be developed using low cost catalyst and materials on a much larger scale to substitute fossil fuel completely. It is clear that power generation technology should be delinked with using carbon source or combustion for that matter. Combustion of hydrogen electrochemically is an elegant solution but lot of research and development is required. But the stark reality is climate is already changing and the climate change is irreversible and we have to use science to adopt our lives to the changing climate in the future. We cannot capture the carbon and bury them under the earth as Nature does because Nature has not taught us how to do it in a short span of time. The impact of climate change can be minimized or averted depending upon how fast carbon emission is reduced using new technologies. Climate change is an important lesson from which the scientific community should learn how not to interfere with Nature without a complete understanding of it. Sun shine and clean air are not just for rich and powerful but to the entire humanity on the planet. Any scientific discovery should be “holistic” and compatible with Nature and easily accessible to all human beings. Solar and biomass are emerging as alternative technologies to tackle climate change but these simple and holistic solutions were in fact practiced for decades in rural India. Farmers in India feed their cattle with cellulosic fibers (polysaccharides) as a feed and use their waste in the form of “solar” dried cakes (cow dung cakes) as a fuel that has a calorific value of 2100kj (Wikipedia). They also use the waste to generate Methane by anaerobic digestion. These technologies are not new but the challenge is they should to be built on large commercial scales to meet the demand of the growing population in a holistic way. Industrialized countries are now trying to convert the same cellulose (polysaccharides) into industrial alcohol instead of converting corn starch. When plants grow by photosynthesis using sun, it generates starch, lignin, cellulose as well as fatty acids in oil seeds.  It is important to understand that Nature provides them as food for human beings and animals and not as a raw material to generate fuel or energy and that is why “holistic solutions” are the key for the survival of science and technology as well as humanity in the future.

Battery 8hrs and Hydrogen 2 months autonomy24hrs batery storage modelBattery 10hrs and Hydrogen 17hrs autonomyBattery 8hrs and Hydrogen 2 months autonomy172 hrs (one week) battery autonomyAfrica- Australia conference

Most of the renewable energy projects that are now set up around the world are grid connected with feed-in power tariff arrangement. People can generate their own electricity by solar/wind to meet their demand and supply the surplus power to the grid at an agreed power rates. They can also draw power from the grid if there is any short fall in their production of renewable energy. It is two-way traffic. There is an opportunity for people to generate revenue by sale of surplus power. It is an incentive for people to invest on renewable energy and that is why the investment on renewable energy has steadily increased over a time. But this is not the case with many developing and under developed countries. The situation is still worse in many islands where there is no centralized power generation at all or power distribution through grids. They depend on diesel generators. Even to transport diesel from mainland they have to use diesel operated boats. They have no drinking water even though they are surrounded by sea. I happened to visit a remote island in PNG few years ago and saw the plight of those people first hand. They live in absolute poverty and nobody cares to offer them a solution. Their voices are never heard and permanently drowned in the deafening roar of the sea.

The problems of supplying clean power and water to these remote islands are not only political but also technical and commercial in nature. One has to use only commercially available systems and components which are meant for a single or three-phase grid connected power supplies. Even though renewable energy sources basically generate only direct current (DC), one has to convert them into alternate current (AC) for easy distribution and to use appliances which are designed for AC operations. Isolated communities like islands can use direct current and also use DC operated appliances because they are commercially available and they are more efficient. Anyhow most of the house appliances need DC supply and AC/DC converters are commonly used for this purpose thus sacrificing efficiency in the process. They also need better storage solutions because they are not connected to the grid and they have to necessarily store power for several days. Some of these islands are connected with inefficient wind turbines backed by diesel generators. It is an absolute necessity to incorporate a long-term storage capabilities in the system if one has to offer a continuous power and clean water. If the wind velocity is not enough (during off seasons) or if there is no sun (cloudy) for days together and if there is not enough storage capacity, then all the investment made on the project will be of no use. Any half-baked solutions will not serve the real purpose.

There are also commercial problems because a well designed system will cost more, which will eventually increase the power tariff. Unless the Government subsidizes the power   sufficiently, people cannot afford to pay for their electricity or water. It requires a careful planning and community consultations to set up a ‘stand alone renewable energy projects in islands’. Governments in the pacific islands should act with great urgency because there is also a risk of inundation by sea level rising due to global warming.

We are in the process of designing a solution to provide such islands with clean power, clean drinking water and even wireless connectivity for schools so that children can get education. It may sound ambitious but it is the first step one has to take into long journey of sustainability and self-reliance by these isolated communities. There is a good possibility that such island may one day become completely independent and self-sufficient with clean power and water.

The same solution can be implemented in other countries too. Many countries have necessary infrastructure to generate and distribute power yet they suffer regular power cuts and black outs due to inefficiencies in their system.

Our proposed solution can provide uninterrupted clean power and water because the system will have long duration centralized energy storage. We have made a detailed analysis of various alternatives available for the above purpose using Homer hybrid solution software. The solution proposes a PV solar with storage solutions using battery bank as well as Fuel cell back up. The solution also proposes a long duration of storage ranging from few hours up to a fortnight .It is a standalone system with complete energy management and suitable for remote operations. The solution can also incorporate wind turbine in addition to PV solar depending upon the site and wind velocity profile.

The model is to supply clean power and drinking water for 600 families with an average 3 people in a family. The system will supply power at the rate of 1.50kwhrs/day/person (1800 x1.5 = 2700kwhrs/day) and drinking water at the rate of 200 lits/day/person (1800 x 200 lit/person= 360,000 lits/day).The power for a desalination plant will be 1980 kwhrs/day. The system is designed for a total power generation capacity of 4680Khwhrs/day.

The model is based on battery storage as well as based on Hydrogen storage with varying durations. Comparative analysis is shown in the figures.

The first window is based on PV solar with  2 months Hydrogen autonomy.

The third window is based on PV solar with battery storage 5 days and Hydrogen 17hrs autonomy.

The fourth and fifth window is based on PV solar with battery 12hrs and Hydrogen 17hrs storage autonomy with varying panel costs

The sixth window is based on PV solar with 172 hrs (one week) battery autonomy.

The resulting analysis indicates that a centralized Hydrogen storage with Fuel cell back up offers the most economical solution even though the power tariff is higher than a system with battery storage. The investment for long duration battery storage is almost double that of Hydrogen based solution. The cost can further be reduced if and when the Electrolyzers as well as Fuel cells are manufactured on mass scale. The added advantage with this system is it can also provide Hydrogen fuel for Fuel cell cars and boats substituting diesel. One day it may become a reality that these isolated islands can become completely self sufficient in terms of water, fuel and power with no greenhouse gas emissions. This solution can be replicated to all the islands all over the world.

Note:

The above system can also be installed in many developing countries in Africa which is an emerging market. An Africa-Australia Infrastructure Conference  will be held in Melbourne, Australia on 2-3 September  2013 and it will offer a platform for Australian companies to invest in Africa on infrastructural projects.

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