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We have used Hydrocarbon as the source of fuel for our power generation and transportation since industrial revolution. It has resulted in increasing level of man-made Carbon into the atmosphere; and according to the scientists, the level of carbon has reached an unsustainable level and any further emission into the atmosphere will bring catastrophic consequences by way of climate change. We have already saw many natural disasters in a short of span of time. Though there is no direct link established between carbon level in the atmosphere and the global warming, there is certainly enough evidence towards increase in the frequency of natural disasters and increase in the global and ocean temeperatures.We have also seen that Hydrogen is a potential candidate as a source of future energy that can effectively substitute hydrocarbons such as Naphtha or Gasoline. However, hydrogen generation from water using electrolysis is energy intensive and the source of such energy can come only from a renewable source such as solar and wind. Another issue with electrolysis of water for Hydrogen generation is the quality of water used. The quality of water used for electrolysis is high, meeting ASTM Type I Deionized Water preferred, < 0.1 micro Siemen/cm (> 10 megOhm-cm).

A unique desalination technology has been developed by an Australian company to generate on site Hydrogen directly from seawater. In conventional seawater desalination technology using reverse osmosis process only 30-40% of fresh water is recovered as potable water with TDS less than 500 ppm as per WHO standard. The balance highly saline concentrate with TDS above 65,000 ppm is discharged back into the sea which is detrimental to the ocean’s marine life. More and more sweater desalination plants are set up all over the world to mitigate drinking water shortage. This conventional desalination is not only highly inefficient but also causes enormous damage to the marine environment.

The technology developed by the above company will be able to recover almost 75% of fresh water from seawater and also able to convert the concentrate into Caustic soda lye with Hydrogen and Chlorine as by-products by electrolysis. The discharge into the sea is drastically reduced to less than 20% with no toxic chemicals. This technology has a potential to revolutionize the salt and caustic soda industries in the future. Caustic soda is a key raw material for a number of chemical industries including PVC.Conventionally, Caustic soda plants all over the world depends on solar salt for their production of Caustic soda.Hydrogne and Chlorine are by-products.Chlrine is used for the production of PVC (poly vinyl chloride) and Hydrogen is used as a fuel.

In the newly developed technology, the seawater is not only purified from other contaminants such as Calcium, Magnesium and Sulfate ions present in the seawater but also concentrate the seawater almost to a saturation point so that it can be readily used to generate Hydrogen on site. The process is very efficient and commercially attractive because it can recover four valuable products namely, drinking water, Caustic soda lye, Chlorine and Hydrogen. The generated Hydrogen can be used directly in a Fuel cell to generate power to run the electrolysis. This process is very ideal for Caustic soda plants that are now located on seashore. This process can solve drinking water problems around the world because potable water becomes an industrial product. The concentrated seawater can also be converted in a salt by crystallization for food and pharmaceutical applications. There is a growing gap between supply and demand of salt production and most of the chemical industries are depending upon the salt from solar pans.

Another potential advantage with this technology is to use wind power to desalinate the water. Both wind power and Hydrogen will form a clean energy mix. It is a win situation for both water industry and the environment as well as for the salt and chemical industries. In conventional salt production, thousands of hectares of land are used to produce few hundred tons of low quality salt with a year-long production schedule. There is a mis match between the demand for salt by large Caustic soda plants and supply from primitive methods of solar production by solar evaporation contaminating cultivable lands.

The above case is an example of how clean energy technologies can change water, salt and chemical industries and also generate clean power economically, competing with centralized power plants fuelled with hydrocarbons. Innovative technologies can solve problems of water shortage, greenhouse gases, global warming, and environmental pollution not only economically but also environmental friendly way. Industries involved in seawater desalination, salt production, chemical industries such as Caustic soda, Soda ash and PVC interested to learn more on this new technology can write directly to this blog address for further information.

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Chemistry has revolutionized human life and it has affected each and every one of us in some way or other for the past several decades. We were happily using these chemicals in our everyday life without really understanding their side effects.Individuls and companies who invented and commercialized chemical products were keen to offer end products to consumers often without explaining the side effects of such chemicals.They themselves were not fully aware of long-term consequences of such chemicals. Classical examples are Chlorine and its derivatives.

Chlorine is a common chemical that is used even today in many countries to disinfect drinking water in water treatment plants. Their usage is sill continued though they found that Haloethanes, which are formed by the action of Chlorine on decayed organic leaves in water storage, causes cancer (carcinogenic). DDT is another chemical that was used widely as a pesticide, known as “atom bomb of pesticides”,  until their side effects proved deadly for human beings and to the environment. It was officially banned in USA in 1972 by EPA, though it is still continued in some third world countries. Bleaching powder in another example of powder disinfectant ( a popular form of disinfectant used on roads in India when  prominent political leaders visit municipalities; though they are only chalk  powder with no traces of residual Chlorine).

A whole range of dyes known as coal-tar dyes derived from coal  were used in many applications including ‘food colors’, later substituted by petroleum-based organic chemicals. These ‘food colors’ are now substituted with ‘natural organic colors’ such as vegetable colors derived from vegetables and fruits. Industrial chemicals, both organic and inorganic have caused serious environmental damages all over the world for several decades, but Governments, companies and EPA did not realize the deadly consequences of some these chemicals for a long time. The ‘Bhopal Gas tragedy’ in India is one such grim reminder of such consequences.

Chemicals are not natural products even though one can separate them into various organic chemical molecules but some of the consequences of such separation and usage are not fully understood. Many natural herbs have outstanding medicinal values and when consumed in a Natural form, it has absolutely no side effects and they show tremendous therapeutic values. But when you isolate certain molecules from such herbs (Alkaloids) and used as a drug, they can cure a disease but at the same time, they create many side effects. Nature offers such drugs in a diluted form that is quite compatible to human beings. One such example is ‘Vinblastine’ and “Vincristine’, anti-cancer drugs derived from a herb called ‘vinca rosea’.

Of late there is awareness among companies, people and Governments about Green technologies that can help protect the environment. Greenhouse gas and global warming is one such issue. When Petrol or Diesel, an organic chemical known as Hydrocarbon is burnt, it not only generates power but also emits greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide and oxides of Nitrogen, that cause globe to warm. We were happily burning away such fossil fuels until scientists raised an issue on emission of ‘greenhouse gases’ in recent past. When we deal with chemicals and chemical reactions, the molecule is transformed into a new molecule and often such reaction cannot be reversed.It is not a physical change but a chemical change. When we convert water into steam, we can get back water by condensing steam; but when you convert Chlorine into PVC (Poly vinyl chloride) plastic, there are environmental consequences and reversing PVC into Chlorine gas in not easy, though it is technically possible with environmental consequences.

One has to observe and learn from Nature what is good and what is bad when developing a new technology, because such development will not only affect the environment but also many generations to come. When Nature teaches how to turn sugar into Alcohol by fermentation using air-borne microorganisms, we should follow Nature to make alcohol. We know how to turn Alcohol into PVC, but we do not know how to make biodegradable PVC from Alcohol. Companies call it ‘Green Chemistry’, but not until we can make a biodegradable PVC. Human knowledge is imperfect and we can learn ‘Green chemistry and Clean Technologies’ only from Nature and not by deviating from the path of Nature.

Majority of current power generation technologies are based on thermodynamic principles of heat and work. Heat is generated by  chemical reactions such as combustion of coal, oil or gas with air or pure oxygen. This heat of combustion is then converted into work by a reciprocating engine or steam turbine of gas turbine. The mechanical energy is converted into electricity in power generation and as a motive force in transportation. The fundamental principles remain the same irrespective of the efficiencies and sophistication we incorporated as we progressed. The efficiency of these systems hardly exceeds 30-40 of the heat input, while the remaining 60-70 heat is wasted. We were also able to use this waste heat and improved the efficiency of the system by way of CHP (combined heat and power) up to 80-85%.But this is possible only in situations where one can use both power and heat simultaneously. In a centralized power plant such large heat simply dissipated as a waste heat through cooling towers and in the flue gas. This is a huge loss of heat because a substantial part of heat of combustion is simply vented into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases. If ‘greenhouse gas’ and ‘Global warming’ were not issues of concern to the world, probably we would have continued our business as usual.

Generation of heat by combustion of hydrocarbon is one example of a chemical reaction. In many chemical reactions, heat is either released or absorbed depending upon the type of reaction, whether it is exothermic or endothermic. Sometimes these chemical reactions are reversible. It may release heat while the reaction moves forward and it may absorb heat while it moves backward in the reverse direction. By selecting such reaction one can make use of such energy transformations to our advantages. One need not release the heat and then release the product of reaction into the air like burning fossil fuels.

Ammonia is one such reaction. When Hydrogen and Nitrogen is reacted in presence of a catalyst under high temperature and pressure the reaction goes forward releasing a large amount of energy as practiced in industries using Heber’s process. The heat released by this reaction can be converted into steam and we can generate power using steam cycle. The resulting Ammonia can further be heated in presence of a catalyst by external heat due to endothermic nature of the reaction and split into Hydrogen and Nitrogen.  However, such heat can be supplied only from external sources. One University in Australia is trying use the above principle by using solar thermal energy as a source of external heat. The advantage of this system is power can be generated without burning any fossil fuel or emitting any greenhouse gas. One can use a renewable energy sources such as solar thermal and also use Ammonia as a storage medium.

Ammonia is a potential source of energy to substitute fossil fuels. However, such Ammonia is now synthesized using Hydrocarbon such as oil and gas. The source of Hydrogen is from synthesis gas resulting from steam reformation of a Hydrocarbon. Hydrogen can also be derived from water using electrolysis using renewable energy source. In both the above cases, renewable energy is the key, without which no Hydrogen can be produced without a Hydrocarbon or an external heat is supplied for splitting Ammonia.

Ammonia can also be split into Hydrogen and Nitrogen using external heat.  The resulting Hydrogen can be used to generate power using a Fuel cell or run a Fuel cell car. Nitrogen also has many industrial applications.Thereoefore ammonia is a potential chemical that can substitute fossil fuels in the new emerging renewable economy.

Those who studied chemistry and conducted laboratory experiments in universities will be familiar with precautionary measures we take to avoid  accidents. Aprons, gloves, goggles and fume cub-boards with exhaust fans are some few examples of protective measures from flames, hot plates and fumes. The blue color of the flame represented the degree of hotness of the flame from Bunsen burner; the pungent smell pointed to the ‘Gas plant’ that generated ‘water gas’ for Bunsen burners. The familiar smells of chemicals would bring ‘nostalgic memories’ of college days. Each bottle of chemicals would display a sign of warning ‘Danger or Poison’. We could recognize and identify even traces of  gases or fumes or chemicals immediately. Those memories embedded deeply in our memories and I vividly remembered even after few decades I left university.

I could smell traces of Chlorine in the air even at a distance of 20 miles from a Chloroalkali plant in sixties, when air pollution controls were not stringent. People who lived around the factory probably were used to live with that smell for generations. Many families had not breathed  fresh air in their life time, because they have not breathed air without traces of chlorine.They lived all their lives in the same place because agriculture was their profession. Many people developed breathing problems during  their old ages and died of asthma and tuberclosis.The impact of these fumes cannot be felt in months and years but certainly can be felt after decades especially at old ages, when the body’s immune system deteriorates. Bhopal gas accident in India is a grim reminder of  such tragedy of chemical accidents and how they can contaminate air, water and earth and degrade human lives. But we learnt any lessons from those accidents?

During experimental thermonuclear explosion in the desert of Australia by then British army, people were directly exposed to nuclear radiation. Many of those  who saw this explosion developed some form of cancer or other later in their life .They were treated as heroes then. After several decades of this incident, many exposed to this experiment are now demanding compensation from current British government. But have we learnt any lessons from those incidents? Many politicians still advocate ‘Nuclear energy as a safe and clean energy’. Yes, until we meet with an another accident!

We human beings identified the presence of  chemicals in Nature and used them for our scientific developments. We identified fossil fuels as ‘Hydrocarbons’ and burn them to generate power and to run our cars. We emit toxic gases and fumes every second of our lives, when we switch our lights on or start our cars.Imagine the amount of gases and fumes we emit everyday all over the world by billions of people for several decades. It is a simple common sense that we are responsible for these emissions and we contaminate the air we breathe. Nature does not burn Hydrocarbons everyday or every month or every year. In fact Nature buried these Hydrocarbons deep down the earth like we bury our dead.

Can people who breathed Chlorine for decades and died of asthma or tuberculosis prove that they died due constant inhalation of Chlorine emitted by the Chloroalkali plant? The Court and Authorities will demand ‘hard evidence’ to prove that Chlorine emitted by Chloroalkli plants caused these diseases. We use science when it suits us and we become skeptics when it does not suit us. They know it is almost impossible to prove such cases in our legal system and they can get away scot-free. The same argument applies to our ‘Greenhouse gas emission’ and ‘Global warming’.

We contaminate  our air, water and earth with our population explosion, industrialization and our life styles. Yet, major industrialized countries are not willing to cut their emissions but want to carry on their ‘economic growth’. But these countries got it completely wrong. In chemical experiments, one can draw conclusions by ‘observations’ and ‘Inference’. Inference is a scientific tool and not a guess work. From overwhelming evidences of natural disasters occurring around the world one can ‘infer’ that human activities cause these disasters. Nature is now showing this by devastating ‘the business and economic’ interest of nations because that is the only way Governments can learn lessons. They don’t need ‘harder evidence’ than  monetary losses. According to recent reports:

“The monetary losses from 2011’s natural catastrophes reached a record $380 billion, surpassing the previous record of $220 billion set in 2005. The year’s three costliest natural catastrophes were the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan (costing $210 billion), the August-November floods in Thailand ($40 billion), and the February earthquake in New Zealand ($16 billion).

The report notes that Asia experienced 70 percent, or $265 billion, of the total monetary losses from natural disasters around the world—up from an average share of 38 percent between 1980 and 2010. This can be attributed to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as well as the devastating floods in Thailand: Thailand’s summer monsoons, probably influenced by a very intensive La Niña situation, created the costliest flooding to date, with $40 billion in losses.”

There is so much discussion about Hydrogen as a source of clean energy because, it is the choice of Nature. Nature has provided us with fossil fuels which are Hydrocarbons, chemically represented by CxHy, Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. In the absence of Hydrogen in a Hydrocarbon, it is nothing but Carbon, which is an inert material. The Hydrocarbon gets its heating value only from the presence Hydrogen atom. The natural gas, now considered as the cleanest form of Hydrocarbon is represented by the chemical formula CH4, containing 25% Hydrogen by weight basis. It represents the largest Carbon to Hydrogen ratio at 1:4.This is the highest in any organic chemicals. In aromatic organic compounds such as Benzene, represented by C6H6, the Hydrogen content is only 7.69%.Even in Sugar which is an organic compound from Nature, represented chemically as C12H22O11 has only 8.27% Hydrogen. But Bioethanol, derived from sugar represented by C2H5OH has almost 13% Hydrogen.  Ethyl Alcohol known as ‘Bioethanol’ derived from sugar is blended with Gasoline (Hydrocarbon), for using as a fuel in cars in countries like Brazil. Brazil is the only country that does not depend on imported Gasoline for their cars. The same Bioethanol can also be derived from Corn starch. But the starch should first be converted into sugar before alcohol is derived; that is why it is more expensive to produce Bioethanol from starch than from cane sugar molasses. The climatic conditions of Brazil are more favorable for growing Cane sugar than corn.  Brazil is in a more advantageous position than North America, when it comes to Bioethanol. US is one of the largest consumer of Gasoline.US has imported 11.5 million barrels/day of oil in 2010.It has used 138.5 billion gallons of Gasoline (3.30billion barrels) in 2010) according to EIA. (US Energy Information Administration) It is estimated that Brazil’s sugar based Alcohol is 30% cheaper than US’s corn-based Alcohol. Brazil has successfully substituted Gasoline with locally produced alcohol .They also introduced ‘flexible fuel vehicles’ that can use various blends of Alcohol-Gasoline. Most of the Gasoline used in US has 10% Ethanol blend called E10 and E15, representing the percentage of Alcohol content in Gasoline. Brazil is the largest producers of Bioethanol in the world. Both Brazil and US account for 87.8% of Bioethanol production in the world in 2010 and 87.1% in 2011.Brazil is using Bioethanol blends of various proportions such as E20/E25/E100 (anhydrous alcohol) (Ref: Wikipedia). Almost all cars in Brazil use Bioethanol blended Gasoline and even 100% anhydrous Bioethanol are used for cars. Brazil has set an example as a ‘sustainable economy introducing alternative fuel’ to the rest of the world. The ‘bagasse’ from cane sugar is also used as a fuel as well in the production of ‘Biogas’, which helps Brazil to meet sustainability on renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation. The above example is a clear demonstration of sustainability because natural organic material such as sugar is the basic building block by which we can build our Sustainable clean energy of the future. The same Bioethnanol can easily be reformed for the production of Hydrogen gas to generate power and run Fuel cell cars. Many companies are trying to use chemicals such as metal Hydrides as a source of Hydrogen. For example, one company successfully demonstrated using Sodium Borohydride for Hydrogen production. Many companies are trying to find alternative sources of Hydrogen generation from water, including Photo-electrolysis using direct solar light and special photo catalyst materials. We know Nature produces sugar by using sun’s light, water and carbon dioxide from air by photosynthetic process. Can man duplicate this natural process and generate Hydrogen at the fraction of the cost by simply using water and sun’s light? The race is already on and only time can tell whether our pursuit for cheap and clean Hydrogen can become a commercial reality or just stay as an elusive dream.

There is so much discussion about Hydrogen as a source of clean energy because, it is the choice of Nature. Nature has provided us with fossil fuels which are Hydrocarbons, chemically represented by CxHy, Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. In the absence of Hydrogen in a Hydrocarbon, it is nothing but Carbon, which is an inert material. The Hydrocarbon gets its heating value only from the presence Hydrogen atom. The natural gas, now considered as the cleanest form of Hydrocarbon is represented by the chemical formula CH4, containing 25% Hydrogen by weight basis. It represents the largest Carbon to Hydrogen ratio at 1:4.This is the highest in any organic chemicals. In aromatic organic compounds such as Benzene, represented by C6H6, the Hydrogen content is only 7.69%.Even in Sugar which is an organic compound from Nature, represented chemically as C12H22O11 has only 8.27% Hydrogen. But Bioethanol, derived from sugar represented by C2H4OH has almost 11.11% Hydrogen. That is why Ethyl Alcohol known as ‘Bioethanol’ derived from sugar is blended with Gasoline (Hydrocarbon), for using as a fuel in cars in countries like Brazil.

Brazil is the only country that does not depend on imported Gasoline for their cars. The same Bioethanol can also be derived from Corn starch. But the starch should first be converted into sugar before alcohol is derived; that is why it is more expensive to produce Bioethanol from starch than from cane sugar molasses. The climatic conditions of Brazil are more favorable for growing Cane sugar than corn. That is why Brazil is in a more advantageous position than North America, when it comes to Bioethanol. US is one of the largest consumer of Gasoline.US has imported 11.5 million barrels/day of oil in 2010.It has used 138.5 billion gallons of Gasoline (3.30billion barrels) in 2010) according to EIA. (US Energy Information Administration)

It is estimated that Brazil’s sugar based Alcohol is 30% cheaper than US’s corn-based Alcohol. Brazil has successfully substituted Gasoline with locally produced alcohol .They also introduced ‘flexible fuel vehicles’ that can use various blends of Alcohol-Gasoline. Most of the Gasoline used in US has 10% Ethanol blend called E10 and E15, representing the percentage of Alcohol content in Gasoline. Brazil is the largest producers of Bioethanol in the world. Both Brazil and US account for 87.8% of Bioethanol production in the world in 2010 and 87.1% in 2011.Brazil is using Bioethanol blends of various proportions such as E20/E25/E100 (anhydrous alcohol) (Ref: Wikipedia). Almost all cars in Brazil uses Bioethanol blended Gasoline and even 100% anhydrous Bioethanol are used for cars. Brazil has set an example as a ‘sustainable economy introducing alternative fuel’ to the rest of the world. The ‘bagasse’ from cane sugar is also used as a fuel as well in the production of ‘Biogas’, which helps Brazil to meet sustainability on renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation.

The above example is a clear demonstration of sustainability because natural organic material such as sugar is the basic building block by which we can build our Sustainable clean energy of the future. The same Bioethnanol can easily be reformed for the production of Hydrogen gas to generate power and run Fuel cell cars. Many companies are trying to use chemicals such as metal Hydrides as a source of Hydrogen. For example, one company successfully demonstrated using Sodium Borohydride for Hydrogen production. Many companies are trying to find alternative sources of Hydrogen generation from water, including Photo-electrolysis using direct solar light and special photo catalyst materials. We know Nature produces sugar by using sun’s light, water and carbon dioxide from air by photosynthetic process. Can man duplicate this natural process and generate Hydrogen at the fraction of the cost by simply using water and sun’s light? The race is already on and only time can tell whether our pursuit for cheap and clean Hydrogen can become a commercial reality or just stay as an elusive dream.

 

 

 

Our modern civilization has been shaped by oil or Hydrocarbons for several decades to such an extent that there is no immediate substitute for petrol, the world can count on. In fact the world has been complacent about the availability of Hydrocarbon, its applications and its future. Political leaders have competed with each other to make sure that their supply of oil and gas is guaranteed as a  matter of national security. Some countries even waged wars to secure oil fields. This situation is getting worse, as the supply of oil and gas are becoming uncertain and supplies dwindling. Each and every human being in the world is affected by oil and gas in one way or other, irrespective of the size, geography and rate of industrialization. The main reason for this situation is, the contribution of hydrocarbons made in the field of power generation and transportation.

Currently more than 80% of power generation comes from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. The entire transportation industry all over the world depends on oil and gas. The petrochemical industry’s contribution to our modern civilization is tremendous. It encompasses a whole range of industries whether it is fertilizers or plastics and resins or chemical industries or drugs and pharmaceuticals or cosmetic and toiletries and so on. These major industries determine the progress, civilization and industrialization of a nation. Countries who have vast resources of oil and gas are one of the richest countries in the world, even though these countries have no other resources. Countries with vast population and resources have to depend on oil and gas imports for their industries and transports. Countries with vast mineral resources cannot run their mines without power or transportation.

It is time we look at why oil and gas has become such a critical components in the progress of a nation and how this situation can be overcome. The two major technologies, which depend upon hydrocarbons, are power generation and transportation. Both these technologies use heat as a primary energy. In power generation, heat energy is converted into mechanical energy and then to electrical energy. In transport industry, the heat energy of the fuel is converted into mechanical energy. In petrochemical industry; oil and gas are converted into various chemical products by various chemical reactions and processes.

If we closely look at the Hydrocarbon molecule, one thing is obvious. In a Hydrocarbon molecule, Hydrogen atoms are attached to carbon atoms. A simple example is, Natural gas or Methane gas, represented by chemical formula CH4. Four Hydrogen atoms are attached to a carbon atom, which actually imparts the heat energy (heat content) to the molecule. Without Hydrogen atoms, it is nothing but carbon. If we look at the heat value of Natural gas and Hydrogen, one will understand that Hydrogen has got a higher heating value. What is more interesting is there will be no greenhouse emission (carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide) by combusting Hydrogen. It is only water that is the byproduct of combustion of Hydrogen. If we can generate power or drive a car by combusting a Hydrocarbon, then why not combust Hydrogen to generate power or drive a car using the same combustion process? Even if one considers Hydrogen as too dangerous to handle, a mixture of a minor part of biogas or natural with Hydrogen should solve the issue. It is certainly possible and only Hydrogen can replace oil and gas. We can use a combustion technology we knew for decades or use Fuel cell technology that we start using recently with Hydrogen. It is a clean technology and it does not emit smoke or make noise. Whichever way we looks at it, only hydrogen can replace Petrol. Sooner it does, better for the world.

 

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