Tag Archives: china alternative energy

What is Masdar City?

I was able to volunteer at the Cleantech Forum 2010 in late February. There I became familiar with Masdar, the lead sponsor. Masdar is located in the heart of the global oil and gas industry, Abu Dhabi, but it’s all about renewable energy and sustainable technology. In short, their mission is to turn Abu Dhabi in to an international hub for renewable energy and support the development, commercialization and adoption of sustainable technologies. Their four integrated business units (Masdar Institute, Masdar Carbon, Masdar Power and Masdar City) are all cutting edge, but I’d like to focus on what they call the “physical embodiment of Masdar,” Masdar City.

The thought is to create a place for innovators and entrepreneurs to test energy science, city design, sustainable development and environmental architecture. The focus is not only on test and design, but also on making an alluring place to live and work. If your creating the city of the future and money is not an object(budgeted at $22 billion), why not reach for the sky? They have!

Masdar City will be powered by 100% renewables, it will be zero waste, zero carbon and it will have a sustainable water system. Transportation, materials, foods…all sustainable. They are going all out and the level of detail is amazing. From the orientation and width of the streets to the wind cones (shown in the Masdar Headquarters photo above) that naturally ventilate interior spaces to the retractable shades (shown below) covering City Plaza, nothing was overlooked.

Transportation is beneath the city, leaving the ground level open for pedestrians. The transportation system includes a light rail and a Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) system that a transports up to 4 adults to any PRT station at the touch of a button.

The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology(MIST), developed in cooperation with MIT will be at the heart of the R&D in Masdar City. It will eventually be home to 600 master’s and PhD students, with over 100 faculty members. MasDar City with also be the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquarters and host operations for companies like GE and BASF.

They are currently in Phase One of seven, which focuses on MIST. This means that first residents will be students testing new technologies, while being test subjects themselves. I would encourage you to learn more about Masdar City.

Source: http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/index.aspx

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Wind Will It End?

Please forgive me for the cheezy post title, but if you choose to read on I think you will see it is relevant. When we discuss the challenges facing wind energy we hear about the intermittency and storage issues, destroying the visual landscape, lack of transmission and even the dangers posed to birds. Many people also raise valid concerns regard whether or not wind can be economically feasible without government subsidies, regulations and mandates. A recent Scientific American article shows that wind proponents should also worry about the challenges we don’t hear about every day.

Not surprisingly, a lot of these less discussed challenges are coming from wind’s competitors. The Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy believes wind producers should fork over the funds needed to expand the transmission infrastructure from the areas of the country where wind energy is produced (the Midwest) to the areas with the highest energy demand (the East Coast). While this seems like a reasonable idea on the surface you should be asking yourself who is this Coalition?  Turns out the Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy is made up of East Coast utilities.

Closer to home we have players in the natural gas game demanding that wind developers be held responsible for some of the costs associated with running backup natural gas generators. These generators are essential in providing electricity when the wind slows down and is unable to produce the needed amount of electricity. As before this appears to be a reasonable suggestion. Why shouldn’t wind energy producers help foot at least part of the costs generated when a gas turbine is turned on to make up for a decline in wind energy? At the same time this seems like an attempt by the natural gas industry to increase their competitions costs and help keep natural gas competitive on price.

Anyone who is familiar with the wind industry understands the large role played by the government. While people can certainly debate whether the government should be involved at all and if so to what level, nobody can deny the importance of politics in the past or in the future. In my podcast I touched on the concerns Senator Charles Schumer raised regarding the spending of stimulus funds on projects that were creating more jobs in China than in the United States. Now Schumer and three other Senators proposed a plan that would prevent federal grants being issued to any project used blades or turbines manufactured outside of the U.S. opponents of the Senators’ plan claim that the U.S. cannot afford to slow or limit the growth of the wind industry because it will only put us at risk of falling behind Chinese and European manufacturers. They also point out that Schumer and his colleagues are simply trying to funnel jobs to their states and the number of jobs going overseas has been exaggerated. As with most things in politics the number of jobs being created in and outside of the United States differs significantly depending on who you talk to and before you know it the whole issue has taken a nasty turn towards “he said, she said”-ville.

It is obvious each of these parties (Senators, utilities, the natural gas industry) and their actions are motivated through their own self-interests, but it should be just as obvious that we cannot simply dismiss these legitimate concerns simply because we do not support the people raising them. In a perfect world we would be focused on finding solutions for the “natural” problems facing wind instead of creating additional artificial roadblocks. In that same perfect world everyone would be working towards the common goal of creating clean renewable energy and the traditional utility, natural gas and coal industries would be okay with that. Reality is the world isn’t perfect and the future of wind energy is hardly certain. For the wind industry to continue its impressive growth they will have to learn to be just as focused on navigating the wonderful world of politics and viciously competitive energy industry as they are with coming up with solutions to their storage issues.

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Combustible Ice in China as new energy source

What is Combustible Ice?  Combustible Ice is also known as Methane Gas Hydrate, or Methane Clathrate, or fire ice.  It is a clathrate compound which is formed from water molecules under high pressure and low temperatures.  These water molecules form an ice like cage that encapsulates a gas molecule, in this case, methane [1]."combustible ice"

China’s western Qinghai provincial governor Luo Huining said on March 6th 2010, that they will see increased explorations for the emerging “combustible ice” clean energy.   The Qinghai Porvince recently found in September 2009, that it is sitting on a quarter of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau reserve.  This reserve is estimated to equal at least 35 billion tones of oil which could supply energy to China for the next 90 years [2].  China plans to spend $100 million in the next 10 years on research for Methane Hydrate.

The total resources for combustible ice were estimated to be twice as large as the total coal, oil and natural gas reserves in the world [3]. But according to a study done by BP exploration, the current Methane hydrate reserve is less than the total coal and oil reserve together, but more than the natural gas reserve [6].  According to a study done by USGS, it is an estimated more than 1,300 trillion cubic feet of methane gas is off of North and South Carolina coasts in the form of Methane hydrate [4].

combustible ice resource map

So what makes this combustible so special? Approximately one cubic meter of “combustible ice” equals 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas [2]. It is considered a cleaner energy because when burned, it only puts off water and CO2. It does not have any SOx or NOx emissions.  Since the gas is held in crystalline structure, it is a lot denser than typical methane gas.  Also, methane clathrates are stable at a higher temperature (−20 vs −162 °C) than LNG, there might be some interest in converting natural gas into clathrates rather than liquefying it when transporting.

But this “emerging energy source” can come at a cost.  Right now it is not economical to extract and too expensive, about 8 times compared to the natural gas in China today (1$ per cbm compared to 0,125 $ per cbm)[3].  The extraction and mining of the combustible ice can be environmental damaging as well.  When burned, it still would be releasing CO2 into the atmosphere which is not really solving the greenhouse gas situation.  If not handled properly, when brought to the surface, the methane escapes from the “ice” and if not burned goes into the atmosphere.  This is not good because methane is much more potent as a green house gas goes than CO2 and can cause more damage than CO2.  Then again look at nuclear energy, it has environmental harmful nuclear waste, but we use it as a clean energy today.  So with more research to be done, this CombustibleIce could be used as a source of energy in the near future.

[1] http://www.ornl.gov/info/reporter/no16/methane.htm

[2] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2010-03/06/c_13200033.htm

[3] http://www.leonardo-energy.org/drupal/node/901

[4] http://marine.usgs.gov/fact-sheets/gas-hydrates/title.html

[5] http://www.cctv.com/program/Nature&Science/20050620/102404.shtml

[6] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V62-4BMTJ4G-1&_user=108429&_coverDate=08%2F31%2F2004&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000059713&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=108429&md5=4a34c5663c1680c34a753fdfcec4c5b4#toc5

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