Exxon Teams up with Fuel Cell Energy to Capture Carbon from Natural Gas Power Plants

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A few years back, there were major investments being made by the DOE and other parties to develop carbon capture and storage (CSS) solutions for coal plants. At the time, the goal of those systems was to bring down the emissions level from coal plants to a level comparable to cleaner natural gas. To do more than that would have been prohibitively expensive. Many of those efforts, notably the FutureGen, after a long and complex history has now been sidelined, primarily because of cost. But, despite the fact that renewables have made unexpected strides and some scenarios show them providing as much as 80% of electric demand at some point in the future, CCS technology should not be considered irrelevant.

First, in places like India and China, where substantial amounts of coal will still likely be burned for decades to come, CCS will be needed to mitigate the impact. But even in places like the US, where coal is rapidly disappearing, the bar has now been raised. Instead of applying CCS to bring coal plants down to the level of natural gas, it is now being considered as a way to bring natural gas-fired plant emissions down to the level of solar and wind.

Major fossil fuel companies like Exxon and Shell are making substantial investments in CCS, in the hope that ultra-clean natural gas plants will continue to operate, not just as a bridge fuel, until something cleaner comes along, but as a source of energy demand that will provide them ongoing revenues for decades to come. According to Shell’s scenario planning, natural gas will continue to provide 25% of electric power right through the end of the century. While solar and wind command most of the attention, it’s difficult to see an economy the size of ours getting by without some level of natural gas for the foreseeable future. If we are to meet our commitments under COP21 however, those plants will need to be essentially carbon-free.

That puts an announcement that came out this past week into context: Exxon-Mobil announced a joint research effort with Fuel Cell Energy, to attempt to bring a very promising, and potentially affordable means of capturing carbon dioxide from natural gas power plants, while actually producing additional power in the process.

Fuel Cell Energy has been working for some time to exploit a unique feature of their molten carbonate fuel cell which allows it to take in carbon dioxide instead of air and concentrate that CO2 while still producing power. This offers the promise of an affordable carbon capture system. While originally conceived as a solution for coal plants, they found common ground with Exxon-Mobil who has been developing a portfolio of options to sequester emissions from the natural gas plants that they hope to keep supplying in the years ahead.

Last week’s announcement marked an increased commitment on the part of the two companies to move towards the development of a pilot scale demonstration.

G7 Leaders Up the Ante on Climate Action

(3BL Media/Justmeans) When the leaders of the world’s largest economies, United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, and Italy, otherwise known as the G7, met last week to discuss the global economy, climate and energy were high on the agenda, given the heightened level of concern and the major climate talks coming up later this year in Paris.

The group took a bold step, pledging to completely phase out greenhouse gas emissions by the century’s end, and to cut somewhere between 40 and 70% by 2050. Can they back it up? Not by themselves. These seven countries currently represent about a third of the world’s GHG emissions. That means they can have a significant impact, but they can’t do it without help, especially from rapidly growing economies like China (now the #1 emitter), India (#4) and Russia (#5). That will not be easy, considering that even among those in the G7, consensus did not come easily. Both Canada and Japan pushed back before finally agreeing to sign on to the statement that said, “We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.”

However, if the goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees or less, the goal of eliminating emissions by the end of the century is not enough. Even the 40 to 70% cuts mentioned by 2050 will fall short, even at the higher end, according to some sources. The carbon calculus shows that we have used up about two-thirds of the total emissions limit of around 3,200 gigatonnes that must be maintained if we hope to keep the climate from spinning out of control. At the current rate of emissions, we will run through that in the next 27 years. That’s a frightening thought when you consider that, at this point, the rate is still going up (albeit more slowly than it was a few years ago). That trend has to be dramatically reversed if the goal is to be met. Keep in mind that most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for a hundred years or more, so even when we stop emitting, it will take a while for the concentration to begin falling. It also means that when we stop, we need to stop for good, or at least the next hundred years. Given the way that these emissions accumulate in the system, the sooner we act, the better.

Tomorrow's Engineers Push Fuel Economy Limits in Shell Eco-marathon

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week I wrote a guest post on GM's Fast Lane blog on the future of transportation. The post examined some concept vehicles that GM has been testing that can communicate with each other enabling them to move down the road in synchrony, like a flock of birds or a school of fish might. This would not only improve safety but could also speed things up quite a bit while saving energy at the same time.

Over the weekend, I took another peek into the future as a visitor to Shell's Eco-marathon in Houston. Even if the slick little cars I saw quietly parting the sultry Houston air do not represent the shape of vehicles to come (though I suspect some will), I'm pretty sure I saw some of tomorrow's engineers and innovators in action in the paddock area, working feverishly to get their cars ready to compete. The students designed and built the cars entirely themselves, though they were allowed to work with mentors. The contest goal was to achieve the highest fuel economy.

There are two vehicle categories: prototype and urban concept and six eligible fuels: gasoline, diesel, ethanol, gas-to-liquid, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell.

The event goes back to 1939, when two shell engineers wagered over who could build the most fuel efficient car. The winner managed a respectable 49 mpg. This year's winners did quite a bit better.

Montreal's Université Laval’s Alérion Supermileage team took the top spot in a gasoline-powered car that achieved a fuel economy of 2,824 miles per gallon with their prototype vehicle. That would allow you to circle the globe at the equator on a little under 9 gallons, though I can't say it would be a particularly comfortable ride. As impressive as that sounds, it did not top the record set by the same team last year which was 3,587 mpg.

The urban concept category also saw a repeat by last year's champs, Mater Dei High School of Evansville, Indiana, who did manage to set a record in that category of 901 mpg.

All together some 126 teams participated from 5 countries. This was the Americas version of the event which also has counterparts in Europe and Asia. The 94 prototype vehicles consisted of 63 combustion type (including ethanol, diesel and GTL), and 31 electric (including fuel cell). There were also 32 urban concept vehicles.

Sustainability in the Spotlight

We all love to find out that our favorite actors and movie stars are also committed to the environment. Hollywood has its fair share of greenies. Woody Harrelson is a committed vegan eco-hero, and used to run an organization called Voice Yourself to promote sustainable, organic living.

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