The Power of Underpants

As you can tell, I have been very busy lately.   I still have been lurking the same blogs and reading the comment threads so my time isn’t quite reduced to zero.   Recently, an article came out regarding some Ohio State researchers who claimed to have invented a process to burn coal and emit no CO2.   You don’t need to have a lot of chemical engineering chops to be skeptical of a process like that but I was interested enough to investigate it.  Articles with headlines like this were common so it sounded like real progress toward retarding the global warming aspect of the pending progressive economic suicide:

A technology for generating electricity from coal without pollution achieves a milestone.

Chemical Looping May Make Cleaner Coal-Fired Power Plants Possible


Of course every every news source I found made the fundamental assumption that CO2 emission (plant food) is actually hurting something.  Plenty of readers here agree with that premise,  however I don’t see any evidence for that claim.    The mere fact that CO2 can alter climate, does not preclude the possibility that the climate for our existence can improve.  This is beside the point though, a true zero emission technology is hard to argue against in our feelings-are-equal-to-logic world, and if it gets people moving in the right economic direction, I’m on board too.

But we deal with facts here, especially when they are not pleasant to read.  Here is a link to an excellent and complete explanation of the process.    It is described as follows:

    ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 24 04.50

Note that the resulting process on the bottom line looks very similar to the old fashioned process of actually burning coal in a fire pit.  In fact, it is exactly the same, so it leaves one wondering just what “scheme” these people have invented.

From Technology Review

This rather convoluted process has at least two advantages. It produces a pure stream of carbon dioxide that’s easy to capture and ready to be stored underground. And the burning of iron in air also takes place at lower temperatures that don’t produce nitrogen oxide.

So what we have is a process which uses Iron oxide (rust) to transport oxygen to pulverized coal. The Iron is then re-rusted with air, to recycle the material and burn more coal. The process happens slower than simply pumping air through coal so the material burns slower and the scientists separate the CO2 from the water rather than dropping it all into the sky.  In a nutshell, rather than some great technological leap forward, the process is a convoluted way to transport the oxygen to burning coal.   I can’t find anything of revolutionary properties that cannot already be achieved with other technologies.  Separating gasses from the H20 in the emission stream of a standard coal plant and compressing it into a tank, is not technologically challenging.  The emission fraction of CO2 from a standard coal plant is already 99ish percent and if you are putting the Co2 gas into a tank, why not put all of it except the water into it?   Other technologies already produce a more pure CO2 stream than most coal plants (if that is actually important) and do it at a high temperature more standard process.

One would think this would be a near non-story but this isn’t a world where logic trumps sensationalism.  There was plenty of money spent on it though.

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 24 05.24

The government has invested over 3 million and coal/oil companies have invested hundreds of thousands, and both of these groups have direct knowledge that the project cannot actually be successful because it doesn’t address what to do with the carbon dioxide.  Worse, the reduced efficiency to capture, grind and separate the CO2, it actually produces MORE CO2 per watt than standard coal plants.   I suppose that since there aren’t any good alternatives for investing green money, they have to dump the cash somewhere.   It is really too bad that the givernment is stealing it from me in huge wads first, because I could have actually done something with that cash.

You would think that the project would stop there until we had a place to actually put the CO2.   The scientists have shown the capability to burn stuff this way but we have nowhere to put the stupid compressed CO2 gas.  That isn’t how the left thinks  feels.  Instead, our glorious economic superiors are “investing” confiscated money toward actually implementing powerplants with this technology.

In a related advance, Illinois is actually building a carbon capture plant which uses purified oxygen, and apparently puts the CO2 into the ground where in the long run, we won’t actually know what happens to it.

It is unfortunate that we have to look to Hollywood for an explanation of anything, but South Park probably has the most apt description of these particular “clean burning” zero emission technologies:

42 thoughts on “The Power of Underpants

  1. Oh, the sequestration of CO2 underground is going to be a big boondoggle when it escapes and causes a Cameroon type disaster. Someone in gov’t will no doubt blame “Big Oil.”

    1. It goes beyond that Page488. Carbon capture and storage is a truly idiotic and appalling idea. I can’t comprehend how a good scientist or engineer could think it otherwise. But there are many scientists and engineers who will not say that the emperor has no clothes as they know which side their bread is buttered on.

      1. I think most carbonate sediments are formed by the skeletons of little sea/water creatures.

        I’ve never heard much about the natural sequestration of CO2 gas except by volcanoes. That was the case in the Cameroon disaster; a proximate volcano put a lot of the gas under a lake. Then, the lake burped CO2, and it covered the landscape long enough to kill a lot of people and animals (suffocation by lack of oxygen due to the fact that CO2 is heavier than regular air) before the CO2 dissipated harmlessly into the atmosphere.

        Atmospheric CO2, combined with H2O, creates a mild acid that percolates down through rock and creates all kind of mineral formations, but that nothing to do with the sequestration of CO2 gas underground.

        Except for volcanoes, I can’t imagine why CO2 would naturally sequester underground given that the gas is naturally a by-product of life forms at the surface of the earth.and in the oceans (in the oceans it would just percolate to the top and be released to the atmosphere.)

        1. You may be right.

          Check the solubility product constant (Ksp) of calcium carbonate or ask any knowledgeable geochemist if sea water is saturated with calcium carbonate. That will give you the answer.

          1. We seem to be posting at cross purposes. It seemed you were talking about natural sequestration of CO2 gas underground, so that is what I addressed. I get your point about natural “sequestration” of CO2 as calcium carbonate in the sea, but that wasn’t the original conversation.

          2. Page488,

            1. CO2 in air dissolves in sea water.

            2. CO2 in sea water reacts with Ca++ ions in sea water to produce CaCO3 (calcium carbonate)

            3. Thus, CO2 from air is naturally sequestered as CaCO3 deposits.

        2. It should have been obvious from my previous posts, but let me state this plainly; I was not ever talking about the natural sequestration you point out in 1, 2, and 3 – we’re all aware of that. I was talking about the intentional underground sequestration of CO2 gas by people. Period.

    2. How about using the “waste” heat for district heating a greenhouse and using the CO2 to increase plant production.

      The purpose being to teach people that CO2 is plant food. Actual useful production is incidental.

  2. Maybe climate science has caused me to and I am sure others to default to suspicion of all claims made in the fields of “green” energy and related fields. So I was immediately skeptical on reading of this “promising” process. As you said, it is just a convoluted way of burning coal with oxygen supplied in a two step process rather than the direct application of good old combustion. So it seems likely that the process is less efficient than direct combustion with air and the only possibility of this process being viable is if it lends itself to radical increases in the efficiency of CO2 capture and storage when compared to capture in a direct burning scenario. As for the burning of the iron in air to regenerate the iron oxide, when I read that the burning takes place at a lower temperature, I immediately think reduced Carnot efficiency.

  3. Thanks, Jeff, for your insight into the games scientists and bureaucrats play.

    This game had been played back-stage for sixty-four years (64 yrs) before finally surfacing as Climategate in late Nov 2009 (2009 – 1945 = 64 yrs).

    What a sad state of affairs for humanity!

    – OLiver K. Manuel
    PhD Nuclear Chemistry
    Postdoc Space Physics
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  4. The cleverness of the iron oxide process lies in the fact that “air” is a mixture of (mostly) nitrogen and (some) oxygen, so that the effluent from burning coal is mostly nitrogen, not, as Jeff stated, mostly CO2 and H2O. The iron oxide process strips O2 from air, and hence the effluent from burning really is mostly water and CO2, equivalent to burning coal using pure oxygen. The process thus reduces the cost of capturing CO2. This should be obvious to every reader. Maybe not!

    1. Peter,

      I stand corrected! It still doesn’t justify implementation though when there isn’t any sequestration technology available.

      1. Sequestration is great as long as it is done according to Hammurabi. You store non-perishable foods (e.g. grain) in the “Fat” years so that the people will not starve in the “Lean” years.

    2. You are right, Peter, oxidizing iron will strip O2 from N2.

      But why strip O2 from N2 before combustion? There must be many more simple ways to strip CO2 (the combustion product) from N2.

      1. While there are indeed zillions of ways of stripping CO2 from a gas stream, the relative cost of the various processes is what determines the choice (but you already know this). I would guess that using iron might well be cheaper, but I have no special knowledge. I do know that direct use of pure oxygen has been considered for “clean coal burning” (and, I think, rejected), so I assume the iron oxide process is cheaper (or potentially cheaper) than using straight O2. But then I don’t know about the economics of liquefying oxygen, either.

  5. A truly useful breakthrough would be the invention of a process that turns waste CO2 into carbon nano-tubules and sheets — raw materials for manufacturing of products.

  6. I think Robert Austin brings up the most important problem — the fact that a lower temperature means reduced thermal efficiency in generating electricity, even ignoring what I expect would be significantly increased parasitic losses. This means that more coal would need to be burned for each unit of electrical energy produced, and therefore more CO2 produced. It seems that the whole project forgot that the goal of burning coal is to produce electricity.

  7. The energy density is important factor for effiecency as well as temperature differential. Some of this can be handled by cost of materials such as better insulation or rust proof ducts, economizers, and stacks, some by other means. In the end, it amounts to extra capital and/or decreased total effiecency. One of the problems is that these articles almost never have the start to finish of the train or cradle to grave costs.

    Thre is another problem not mentioned yet. That is the solids problems. Years ago I looked at wet oxidation processes. What the sales force wanted to hide was that the impurities, TDS, would determine overall costs. They can poison or fill reactor space such as the iron oxide activation sites. Coal has known TDS problems. Without enough run time and analyses, it is still a pig in a poke. In fact, it makes me wonder if the reason a record was set is that TDS does cause problems which limit effeicency and runtime. In which case, the logistics of keeping one on-line means having 2 of these expensive low energy density combustion trains driving up costs and ineffeicencies even more. (bad spelling warning).

  8. If “concerned environmentalists” are worried about deep well injection of fracking fluids causing earthquakes, I wonder how they’ll feel about a pressurized gas being liquified and pumped into the same geologic structures on a scale higher by orders of magnitude.

  9. I have the feeling that unless the iron oxide is in massive excess this process will result in a partial oxidation of the coal, producing carbon monoxide.
    This is very nasty stuff. It binds, irreversibly, to haemoglobin and is a killer.

    1. As far as I know, the reaction of CO with hemoglobin is fully reversible. After exposure to CO, your body doesn’t need to make more hemoglobin, but just replace the HbCO with HbO2 via exposure to oxygen.Of course, exposure to too much CO will drive out the O2 and kill.

      1. Peter,

        You have some chemistry in your backround, what do you know about carbon sequestration? I’ve read plenty on it (over a year ago) but I really think this might be the key to elimination of the C02 issue. If you look at limestone (CaC03) deposition rates from deep history where CO2 was highly concentrated, the growth rates were amazing. They vastly outpaced anything we could intentionally output today.

        1. Sorry, Jeff, I don’t know. However, CO2 is widely used in oil and gas drilling, and pumping CO2 underground is an old technology, As I understand it, sequestration of CO2 is perfectly feasible IF (and it’s a big IF) the geology is right. The technical/financial problem is that coal-burning power plants are rarely located in suitable geological regions, and long-distance transport of CO2 is apparently economically infeasible. But I think “clean coal” technology is worth funding. From long experience I know that most R&D money is a complete waste, but every so often somebody discovers something that pays for the waste many times over. So I don’t worry too much about the waste.

          Yes, I’m a chemist, of the physical variety, and I specialized in quantum mechanics/computer software/molecular mechanics/ and a lot more!

  10. The loss of credibility in “scientific” pronouncements from our government and the decline of confidence in the United States are the consequences of a well-intentioned decision made after the United Nations was established on 24 Oct 1945 to save the world from possible nuclear annihilation by:

    1. Putting the common welfare of mankind ahead of national or ethnic interests, but

    2. Failing to acknowledge our Creator as the ultimate authority and UN leaders as trusted servants – not rulers – of the people.

    I finally got a pdf file with links that work. So here’s the rest of the story on the rise and fall of the age of

    _ a.) Scientific enlightenment and
    _ b.) The United States government.

    With deep regrets,
    – Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

    1. Today there is a ray of hope from the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology:

      On Wednesday 6 Mar 2013 at 10:00 am the Subcommittee on Environment will hear testimony from Drs. Judith Curry (Georgia Tech), William Chameides (Duke University), and Bjørn Lomborg (Copenhagen) on “Policy-Relevant Climate Issues in Context.”

      The first and last are credible climate scientists. William Chameides is a Dean and a member of the NAS. The hearing will be Webcast live:

      I wrote to wish them success – “not just for the future of science – but also for the future of civilization !

      The integrity of science and constitutional government became a serious issue in 1946, when

      a.) Fred Hoyle published misinformation about the Sun’s origin, composition and source of energy, and

      b.) George Orwell moved to the forsaken Scottish Island of Jura, although dying of tuberculosis, to write “1984″ and warn society about the tyrannical government that has now almost completely engulfed our planet.

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel

      1. Formation of the United Nations on 24 Oct 1945 brought many benefits to society – reduction in the threat of nuclear annihilation, nationalism, racism, etc. – but hiding information on the source of energy (E) [1,2] stored as mass (m) in cores of

        a.) Heavy atoms like Th, U, Pu
        b.) Planets like Jupiter and Saturn
        c.) Ordinary stars like our Sun
        d.) Galaxies like the Milky Way

        Prevented world leaders from being able to meet the basic needs of society.

        – Oliver K. Manuel
        Former NASA Principal
        Investigator for Apollo
        PhD Nuclear Chemistry
        Postdoc Space Physics

        PS – By coincidence, it looks like the snow falling here in Missouri today should blanket Washington, DC in time for the House Subcommittee hearing tomorrow on “global warming !

        1. ”Neutron Repulsion”, The APEIRON Journal 19, 123-150 (2012):

        2. “Yes, the Sun is a pulsar,” Nature (submitted 12 Dec 2012):

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