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White Christmas, going … gone

In Germany, we seem to remember White Christmas from fairy tales only. Now there is also scientific evidence that winter snow cover in Europe is thinning. Thanks to global warming, the snow cover decrease accelerated

The research group behind Dr. Fontrodona Bach of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt analyzed snow cover and climate data from six decades from thousands of weather stations across Europe. The researchers found that the mean snow depth, with the exception of some local extremely cold spots, has been decreasing since 1951 at 12% per decade. The researchers recently published their research results in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The amount of “extreme” snow cover affecting local infrastructure has declined more slowly.

The observed decline, which accelerated after the 80s, is the result of a combination of rising temperatures and the impact of climate change on precipitation. The decreasing snow cover can reduce the availability of fresh water during the spring melt, the authors noted.

(Photo: Doris Wulf)

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An inexpensive scalable multi-channel potentiostat

As our preferred reader, you know already what we work on Power-to-Gas to combat Global Warming. We think that giving CO2 a value will incentivize its recycling and recycling it into fuel turns it into a commodity that everyone needs. While the price of CO2 from air is still too high to convert it into combustion fuel, working on the other end (the CO2 conversion) will help to accommodate such high prices. We have now published an research paper that shows how how to reduce the costs of electronic equipment needed for CO2 conversion. For Power-to-Gas as well es for electrosynthesis of liquid fuels, it is necessary to poise an electrochemical potential. So far, only electronic potentiostats could do that. We have developed a software solution that can control cheap off-the-shelf hardware to accomplish the same goal. Since the software controls µA as well as MA, it is freely scalable. By stacking cheap power supplies, it can also run unlimited channels.

Frontcell© potentiostat setup with two channels. From left to right: digital multimeter (in the back), relay board (in front), two H-type electrolysis cells, power supply, control computer.

We tested the software at a typical experimental Power-to-Gas setup at −800 mV and found that the recorded potential was stable over 10 days. The small electrochemical cells could also be replaced by a larger 7 liter reactor treating real wastewater. The potential was stable as well.

The potential of −800 mV controlled by the Frontcell© potentiostat was stable for 200 ml electrolysis cells (left) as well as for a larger 7 l reactor (right).

As instrument control of mass products also makes the chemical processes involved cheap, microbial electrolysis of wastewater becomes economically feasible. Removal of wastewater organics usually occurs at positive electrochemical potentials. Indeed, the software also stabilizes such potentials at +300 mV.

The Frontcell© potentiostat stabilized a 200 ml electrolysis cells at +300 mV for ten days.

The potentiostat is currently available as command line version. We are currently accepting pre-orders at a 50% discount for the commercial version that comes with a graphical user interface and remote control using an internet browser.

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Ammonia energy storage #1

The ancient, arid landscapes of Australia are not only fertile soil for huge forests and arable land. The sun shines more than in any other country. Strong winds hit the south and west coast. All in all, Australia has a renewable energy capacity of 25 terawatts, one of the highest in the world and about four times higher than the world’s installed power generation capacity. The low population density allows only little energy storage and electricity export is difficult due to the isolated location.

So far, we thought the cheapest way to store large amounts of energy was power-to-gas. But there is another way to produce carbon-free fuel: ammonia. Nitrogen gas and water are enough to make the gas. The conversion of renewable electricity into the high-energy gas, which can also be easily cooled and converted into a liquid fuel, produces a formidable carrier for hydrogen. Either ammonia or hydrogen can be used in fuel cells.

The volumetric energy density of ammonia is almost twice as high than that of liquid hydrogen. At the same time ammonia can be transported and stored easier and faster. Researchers around the world are pursuing the same vision of an “ammonia economy.” In Australia, which has long been exporting coal and natural gas, this is particularly important. This year, Australia’s Renewable Energy Agency is providing 20 million Australian dollars in funding.

Last year, an international consortium announced plans to build a $10 billion combined wind and solar plant. Although most of the 9 terawatts in the project would go through a submarine cable, part of this energy could be used to produce ammonia for long-haul transport. The process could replace the Haber-Bosch process.

Such an ammonia factories are cities of pipes and tanks and are usually situated where natural gas is available. In the Western Australian Pilbara Desert, where ferruginous rocks and the ocean meet, there is such an ammonia city. It is one of the largest and most modern ammonia plants in the world. But at the core, it’s still the same steel reactors that work after the 100 years-old ammonia recipe.

By 1909, nitrogen-fixing bacteria produced most of the ammonia on Earth. In the same year, the German scientist Fritz Haber discovered a reaction that could split the strong chemical bond of the nitrogen, (N2) with the aid of iron catalysts (magnetite) and subsequently bond the atoms with hydrogen to form ammonia. In the large, narrow steel reactors, the reaction produces 250 times the atmospheric pressure. The process was first industrialized by the German chemist Carl Bosch at BASF. It has become more efficient over time. About 60% of the introduced energy is stored in the ammonia bonds. Today, a single plant produces and delivers up to 1 million tons of ammonia per year.

Most of it is used as fertilizer. Plants use nitrogen, which is used to build up proteins and DNA, and ammonia delivers it in a bioavailable form. It is estimated that at least half of the nitrogen in the human body is synthetic ammonia.

Haber-Bosch led to a green revolution, but the process is anything but green. It requires hydrogen gas (H2), which is obtained from pressurized, heated steam from natural gas or coal. Carbon dioxide (CO2) remains behind and accounts for about half of the emissions. The second source material, N2, is recovered from the air. But the pressure needed to fuse hydrogen and nitrogen in the reactors is energy intensive, which in turn means more CO2. The emissions add up: global ammonia production consumes about 2% of energy and produces 1% of our CO2 emissions.

Our microbial electrolysis reactors convert the ammonia directly into methane gas − without the detour via hydrogen. The patent pending process is particularly suitable for removing ammonia from wastewater. Microbes living in wastewater directly oxidize the ammonia dissolved in ammonia and feed the released electrons into an electric circuit. The electricity can be collected directly, but it is more economical to produce methane gas from CO2. Using our technology, part of the CO2 is returned to the carbon cycle and contaminated wastewater is purified:

NH3 + CO2 → N2 + CH4

 

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Fuel Cells Have the Potential to Become the Best Green Energy Alternative to Fossil Fuels

Global warming is – as the name already suggests – a global concern. It causes problems such as sea level rise, more frequent and more severe strms, and longer droughts. Thus, it global warming concerns all of us. To best fight global warming, adopting green energy in your life is the best viable solution.

Green energy is getting more attention today. It helps to reduce our carbon footprint and thus curbing the global warming. Increasing carbon footprint is the main cause for rising temperatures. Moreover, investing in green energy is also a business case generating steady revenue stream without marginal costs. Hence, many governments promote the use of green energy by providing subsidies and teaching people its benefits in their life.

There are many ways green energy is produced, for example, solar energy, wind energy, the energy produced through bio-waste. Fuel cells are a major breakthrough in this regard. They have impacted the production green energy in many ways. They are also convenient to use. As their fuel (hydrogen, methane …) is produced by using electrical energy, they can use a wide range of green sources to produce energy.

What Are Fuel Cells?

A fuel cells is a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. The process combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce water& electricity as main products. Fuel cells are somewhat similar batteries. The main difference is that a fuel is supplied without a charge-discharge cycle. Like batteries, fuel cells are portable and can be used with a variety of fuels like ethanol, methanol, methane, and more.

There are different types of fuel cells. But the most popular ones are hydrogen fuel cells that provide a wide range with only some of advantages as follows:

  • The cells are more efficient than conventional methods used to produce energy.
  • They are quiet – unlike, for example combustion engines or turbines
  • Fuel cells eliminate pollution by using hydrogen instead of burning of fossil fuels.
  • Fuel cells have a longer lifespan than batteries because fresh fuel is supplied constantly
  • They use chemical fuels that can be recycled or produced using renewable energy which makes them environmentally friendly.
  • Hydrogen fuel cells are grid-independent and can be used anywhere.

How Do Fuel Cells Work?

A fuel cell produces power by transforming chemical energy into electrical energy in reduction-oxidation processes, much like batteries do. However, unlike batteries, they produce electricity from external supplies of fuel to the anode and oxidants to the cathode. Fuel cells are capable of producing energy as long as the fuel required to produce energy is supplied. Main components of fuel cells are electrolytes that allow for ion exchange. They aid the electro chemical reaction.

Hydrogen, ethanol, methanol, and methane are used as a source of energy. Methane, which is extracted from the subsurface, can be transformed into hydrogen rich stream. With an abundance of the hydrogen in nature, fuel cells seem to be the most viable technology that helps to produce green energy at large scale and at the most affordable cost.

Fuel cells are all set to become the most reliable source of green energy in the near future. They are fuel efficient, so businesses can make the best use of them. At Frontis Energy, we offer a unique selection that helps you build and improve your own fuel cells – be it for research and development or for production.

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What is the need of renewable energy sources?

Currently, we are using coal, oil, and gas as our energy resource. They are known as fossil fuels and when burned, they release heat energy that can be turned into electricity. Unfortunately, they cannot be replenished. This form of energy can also be harmful for the health and also a degrading factor for the entire health of the world. People today are turning towards the use of renewable energy for it is an energy source that is less harmful for the environment and for our health.

There are different renewable sources of energy in use today like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Wind turbines and solar panels are becoming an increasingly common sight to be used as energy resource. Some of the other forms of clean energies are geothermal, and energy from biomass. These are effective solutions for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the use of fossil fuels.

Here are the best benefits of a renewable energy source –

It ensures less global warming

Different human activities are overloading the atmosphere with various harmful gases and other emissions. These gases act like a blanket that result in a web of significant harmful impacts. Increasing the supply of renewable energy would allows the replacement of carbon intensive energy sources with to reduce green house gas emissions.

It improves the public health

Air pollution from using coal and oil is linked with breathing problems, heart attacks, cancer and neurological damage. Most of the negative impacts come from the air and water pollution. Wind, solar, and hydroelectric systems will generate electricity with no associated air pollution emissions.

It is better to use the inexhaustible energy

Strong winds, sunny skies, heat from underground water, and abundant plant matter will provide constant supply of energy. Renewable energy provides a significant share of electric needs, even after accounting for potential constraints.

There are many of economic benefits

Renewable energy is supporting thousands of jobs. Solar panels need workers to install them; wind farms need technicians for maintenance.

There are a lot of reasons for moving towards the use of renewable energy for now and in the future. But there are some limitations also with the use of such energy resources. It is thus advisable to contact the support experts of professionals dealing with the use of green house gases for energy production.

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What is Green Energy? How will renewable energy power the future?

Together with water, energy is the most valuable resource we have. It powers different industries.  Energy provides a system with the ability to perform work and without it, industries cannot function. Using green energy for manufacturing in growing economies is not only more sustainable but can also save money. Green energy is the energy that can be harnessed without harming the environment. This source of energy is environmentally friendly releasing very little toxic compounds into our atmosphere.

Green energy is defined as renewable energy since it is not exhausted at the source. It is also referred to as a clean energy due to the lack of negative impacts on the environment. To keep the planet clean it is important to use such alternative energy sources. One prominent example is the energy obtained from the processing of waste materials to make the environment cleaner. These materials normally pollute the environment by increasing the amount of waste material and toxic substances on the Earth’s surface.

Why use renewable energy?

It is critical to use renewable energy for reducing the global carbon emissions. Investments into such green energy have increased gradually as the cost of technologies fall and efficiency continues to rise. These are the reasons why renewable are rapidly making their way up the agenda –

Growing Price Competitiveness

Non-renewable sources of energies like fossil gas, oil, or coal, threaten power plant operators & end users, because of the insecurity of marginal costs. The price of gas fluctuates across regions, in a cyclical, though unpredictable fashion.

Renewable energy prices, on the contrary, have been continually decreasing. There have been significant price drops in solar over the last decade and the prices for onshore wind also drop significantly.

Long-term Certainty

Renewable have been heavily encouraged by policy makers and direct as well as indirect subsidies. This has driven down the costs during early deployment. The wind or solar farms are usually constructed for up to 25 to 30 years of operation, and even longer for hydro power plants. Thus, renewable continues to generate electricity for a very long time while their efficiency continues to increase.

Energy Security

The majority of non-renewable sources are concentrated in certain regions, whereas renewable energy can be domestic. This helps nations to reduce their dependencies on imported sources. The energy independence thus plays a significant role in addressing our energy needs by replacing foreign energy imports with clean electricity.

It is important to manage diminishing fossil fuel reserves and climate change is the biggest challenge the world is facing today. People are moving from non-renewable energy use to green energy to save the world for the future but also to save money. Clean energy development is vital to combat global warming and to limit its most devastating effects.

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What is the need of Fuel Cell Technology?

Fuel cell technology is one of the best alternatives to fossil fuel combustion because it reduces air pollution affecting the health of millions. Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen from air to produce electricity with water being the final product. While the fuel, hydrogen, can be obtained from water, engineers use natural gas to produce most of today’s hydrogen. Nonetheless, a global hydrogen initiative of scientists and engineers has plans to look into renewable and environmental-friendly ways of producing hydrogen in the future.

Fuel cells have various advantages compared to conventional power sources like the internal combustion engines or batteries.

These are the benefits of fuel cells –

  1. Fuel cells have higher efficiency than diesel or gas engines.
  2. Fuel cells work silently and they are ideally suited for use within buildings like commercial constructions.
  3. Fuel cells such as hydrogen fuel cells eliminate pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.
  4. Fuel cell also eliminates greenhouse gases for example, when clean electrolysis of water is used.
  5. Fuel cells do not require conventional fuels like oil or gas (though they can use them) and thus reduce the economic dependence on oil-producing countries.
  6. Fuel cells generate electricity that can be distributed and be grid-dependent.
  7. Stationary fuel cells can be used to generate power at the point of use for small and medium decentralized power grids.
  8. High temperature fuel cells produce process heat that is suited to co-generation applications.
  9. Unlike in batteries, the operation time of fuel cells can be extended by increasing the amount of fuel.

Like a battery, a fuel cell has two electrodes which carry charges from one electrode to the other. The reaction in a single fuel cell produces only about 0.7 volts. However, if the cells are stacked and connected in in series, their voltage increases and they can be used in cars. Scientists and engineers are developing fuel cells that run on wastewater. These so-called microbial fuel cells use microbes to break down organic matter in the wastewater. This fuel cell technology is still requires cost optimization and performance improvements to become fully competitive.

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Fresh CO2 − Now Even Cheaper!

Hurry up while stocks last, you may want to add. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a waste product from the combustion of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. It is almost worthless because it finds little use. However, technologies such as power-to-gas or electrosynthesis of methanol are able to convert CO2 directly into a valuable, albeit cheap, product. This increases the commercial interest in CO2 and ultimately the filtering from the air becomes economically interesting. That is, filtering CO2 from the air is now more than just an expensive strategy to fight global warming. Recently, a detailed economic analysis has been published in the journal Joule, which suggests that this filter technology could soon become a viable reality.

The study was published by the engineers of the Canadian company Carbon Engineering in Calgary, Canada. Since 2015, the company has been operating a pilot plant for CO2 extraction in British Columbia. This plant − based on a concept called Direct Air Capture (DAC) − formed the foundation for the presented economic analysis. It includes the costs from suppliers of all major components. According to the study, the cost of extracting a ton of CO2 from the air ranges from $94 to $232, depending on a variety of design options. The latest comprehensive analysis of DAC estimated $600 per tonne and was published by the American Physical Society in 2011.

In addition to Carbon Engineering, the Swiss company Climeworks also works on DAC in Zurich. There, the company has launched a commercial pilot that can absorb 900 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year for use in greenhouses. Climeworks has also opened a second plant in Iceland that can capture 50 tonnes of CO2 per year and bury it in subterranean basalt formations. According to Daniel Egger of Climeworks, capturing a ton of CO2 at their Swiss site costs about $600. He expect the number to fall below $100 per ton over the next five to ten years.

Technically, CO2 is dissolved in an alkaline solution of potassium hydroxide which reacts with CO2 to form potassium carbonate. After further processing, this becomes a solid residue of calcium carbonate, which releases the CO2 when heated. The CO2 could then be disposed of underground or used to make synthetic, CO2-neutral fuels. To accomplish this, Carbon Engineering has reduced the cost of its filtration plant to $94 per ton of CO2.

CO2-neutral fuel, from carbon dioxide captured from the air and electrolytic hydrogen.

Assuming, however, that CO2 is sequestered in rock, a price of $100 per ton would translate into 0.2 cent per liter gasoline. Ultimately, the economics of CO2 extraction depend on factors that vary by location, including the price of energy and whether or not a company can access government subsidies or a carbon trading market. But the cost per ton of DAC-CO2 is likely to remain above the real market price of CO2 in the near future. For example, emission certificates in the European Union’s trading system are around €16 per tonne of CO2. If CO2 extraction technology were to gain a foothold in markets where carbon can be sold at DAC price, then DAC would of course become economical. Conversion into useful products product such as plastic or fuel could help to include the DAC premium. Alberta seems a great location because its oil is of low quality and comes at high production costs. Moreover, the size of the DAC plant suggests this is done best in Canada, given the size of the country. Albertans may want to reconsider their business model.

At Frontis Energy, we are excited about this prospect. CO2 is accessible everywhere and DAC is helping us convert it into methane gas. Power-to-gas is perfect for this. However, there would still have something to happen. $100 per ton is already good (compared to $600), but to be able to economically place a product like methane on the market it should be more like $10 per tonne:

CO2 economy of power-to-gas with electrolytic hydrogen. Cal, California, EOR, enhanced oil recovery.

Sure, we always complain, but we still cannot wait to see how the price of DAC continues to fall and wish Carbon Engineering to Climeworks all the best. Keep it up!

(Photos: Carbon Engineering)

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What is bio energy? Why do we need bio fuels for energy production?

Bioenergy is the form of energy that is stored in the biological matter or ‘biomasses. It is available in abundance in our world and it is the world’s most important source of renewable energy. Biomass is a versatile source of energy that is used for the production of heat, power, and transport fuels. Biofuels also have the potential to significantly mitigate global warming, also known as climate change. Bioenergy and biofuels encompass energy products derived from plants or animals or organic materials.

Biodiesel, for example, does not only have a positive impact on the environment, it also improves economic activity. As part of our energy mix, biodiesel is not meant to replace fossil fuel but contributes to energy security and benefits local communities.

Good reasons to use biodiesel:

The ease of use

One of the main reasons to use biofuels is that it can be used in combustion engines of vehicles and that it integrates well into existing infrastructures without the need to make changes. It is the fuel that can be stored, burned and pumped the same way as petroleum diesel fuel. It can also be used in pure forms.

The form of energy is providing security

 Energy security of supply as well as affordability rank highest among consumers, as well as in the industry. The economic risks for the biofuel industry are, as for all commodities, energy price hikes, which can disrupt the supply of fossil fuels as fuel becomes an overall limited resource.

Economic development is possible via the use of biofuels

The increase in investment in biofuels will result boosts economic growth, especially for local markets involved in its production and processing. It means that there will be more job opportunities and the developing countries realizing this market opportunity will benefit hugely from the economic growth resulting from global energy demand

Greenhouse gas and emission reduction

Appropriate methods of biofuel production can mitigate significant amounts of greenhouse gases which are currently produced from fossil fuels. It leads to the potential of addressing the important challenges regarding fuel quality and emission. Biodiesel is also the successful alternative to compete with the rigorous emission.

It helps in energy balance

The energy balance refers to the ratio of how much energy is required to produce, manufacture, and distribute of fuel compared to the amount of energy that is released when fuel is burned. Biofuels generally improve the energy security and the energy balance through domestic energy crops.

It is recyclable and biodegradable

Biofuel is less toxic as its attributes make it less likely to harm the environment and cost less damage. It is safer to handle than petroleum fuel due to its low volatility. The recycled oils create multiple benefits to a thriving market and benefit hugely to the growing economies.

But the use of biomass faces criticism due to its costs, both economically and in terms of its energy carbon balance. It is expensive compared to other forms of low carbon energy, for example, natural gas. It drives up the cost of wood in other markets, for example in manufacturing and construction. Finally, it sometimes fails to deliver greenhouse gas savings over meaningful timescales relevant to the climate change targets. When managed sustainably, biomass is an essential part of the portfolio of renewable energy technologies, delivering low-cost carbon heat and power.

Some of the environmental benefits of bioenergy

  • It helps the reduction of pressure on finite natural resources
  • The release of greenhouse emissions gets reduced significantly with the use as fossil fuel addition or even substitution
  • The removal of the need for specialist food crops
  • Reduction of landfill waste and associated issues
  • Provision to thermal, electrical, and mechanical energy services
  • The handling of contaminated wastes
  • The removal of carbon from wastes
  • The increase of reservoirs and terrestrial carbon sinks
  • The reduction of dryland salinity and protection of ground water supplies
  • The maintenance of logging sites
  • The return of land into production with enhanced biodiversity

There are also other forms of energy that are being considered sources of energy for future use. For example, hydro-electric energy is used for peak and base-load power production, while nuclear power can deliver base-load power. Each of the technologies faces planning and cost barriers that are likely to stunt the future growth. Biomass is already an affordable form of energy that will meet the energy demands of the future.

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You Can Have the Pie and Eat It

In Paris, humanity has set itself the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. Most people believe that this will be accompanied by significant sacrifice of quality of life. That is one reason why climate protection is simply rejected by many people, even to the point of outright denial. At Frontis Energy, we think we can protect the climate and live better. The latest study published in Nature Energy by a research group around Arnulf Grubler of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, has now shown that we have good reasons.

The team used computer models to explore the potential of technological trends to reduce energy consumption. Among other things, the researchers said that the use of shared car services will increase and that fossil fuels will give way to solar energy and other forms of renewable energy. Their results show that global energy consumption would decrease by about 40% regardless of population, income, and economic growth. Air pollution and demand for biofuels would also decrease, which would improve health and food supplies.

In contrast to many previous assessments, the group’s findings suggest that humans can limit the temperature rise to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels without resorting to drastic strategies to extract CO2 from the atmosphere later in the century.

Now, one can argue whether shared car services do not cut quality of life. Nevertheless, we think that individual mobility can be maintained while protecting our climate. CO2 recovery for the production of fuels (CO2 recycling that is) is such a possibility. The Power-to-Gas technology is the most advanced version of CO2 recycling and should certainly be considered in future studies. An example of such an assessment of the power-to-gas technology was published by a Swiss research group headed by Frédéric Meylan, who found that the carbon footprint can be neutralized with conventional technology after just a few cycles.

(Picture: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Land of Cockaigne, Wikipedia)