Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Energy Power shift to ELECTRON ECONOMY: Jumpstart of Global Economy


It seems like every day there is a new announcement in the news about automobiles powered by fuel cells. The promises are tantalizing, since fuel cells have the potential to very quickly double the efficiency of cars while significantly reducing air pollution.

But what about Data Centers where all your photos, facebook messages, iCloud Data, music from Itunes and Amazon. They are all using large electric power.


These two forces are leading the world toward what is broadly known as the hydrogen economy. If the predictions are true, over the next several decades we will all begin to see an amazing shift away from the fossil fuel economy we have today toward a much cleaner hydrogen future.

I wonder then how we will create a new economic paradigm when our middle east brothers are confronted with dwindling if not vanishing income from fossil economy. I still believe that oil dependence from a finite source is not sustainable on the long haul.

Can society actually make this shift, or will the technological, economic and political barriers keep us bound to petroleum and other fossil fuels for the next century an­d beyond? We will also explore some of the technology in the market today and possibly the future:

 Here are some of the advantages going to Hydrogen economy:
  • There are obvious advantages on shifting towards Hydrogen economy:  First thing that comes to mind is the elimination of polluting air from petrol and cars. Hydrogen when used in cars run by fuel cell, its by-product is water. It is considered clean technology.
  • Hydrogen adds no greenhouse gases to the environment. Electrolysis source of hydrogen and when combined with oxygen to create water and power in fuel cell.
  • Economic dependence on the middle east oil.
  • There are simple technology that could be derived for distributed production of Hydrogen
Debates and insightful brainstorming must be encourage, as we all inhabitants face this dilemma of sharing resources: Sustainable Energy and Clean Water.

A wasteful process

In his study, Bossel analyzes a variety of methods for synthesizing, storing and delivering hydrogen, since no single method has yet proven superior. To start, hydrogen is not naturally occurring, but must be synthesized.

“Ultimately, hydrogen has to be made from renewable electricity by electrolysis of water in the beginning,” Bossel explains, “and then its energy content is converted back to electricity with fuel cells when it’s recombined with oxygen to water. Separating hydrogen from water by electrolysis requires massive amounts of electrical energy and substantial amounts of water.”

Also, hydrogen is not a source of energy, but only a carrier of energy. As a carrier, it plays a role similar to that of water in a hydraulic heating system or electrons in a copper wire. When delivering hydrogen, whether by truck or pipeline, the energy costs are several times that for established energy carriers like natural gas or gasoline.

Even the most efficient fuel cells cannot recover these losses, Bossel found. For comparison, the "wind-to-wheel" efficiency is at least three times greater for electric cars than for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Another headache is storage. When storing liquid hydrogen, some gas must be allowed to evaporate for safety reasons—meaning that after two weeks, a car would lose half of its fuel, even when not being driven. Also, Bossel found that the output-input efficiency cannot be much above 30%, while advanced batteries have a cycle efficiency of above 80%.

In every situation, Bossel found, the energy input outweighs the energy delivered by a factor of three to four.

“About four renewable power plants have to be erected to deliver the output of one plant to stationary or mobile consumers via hydrogen and fuel cells,” he writes. “Three of these plants generate energy to cover the parasitic losses of the hydrogen economy while only one of them is producing useful energy.”

This fact, he shows, cannot be changed with improvements in technology. Rather, the one-quarter efficiency is based on necessary processes of a hydrogen economy and the properties of hydrogen itself, e.g. its low density and extremely low boiling point, which increase the energy cost of compression or liquefaction and the investment costs of storage.

Gasoline and Battery Power Efficiency

T­he efficiency of a gasoline-powered car is surprisingly low. All of the heat that comes out as exhaust or goes into the radiator is wasted energy. The engine also uses a lot of energy turning the various pumps, fans and generators that keep it going.

So the overall efficiency of an automotive gas engine is about 20 percent. That is, only about 20 percent of the thermal-energy content of the gasoline is converted into mechanical work.

A battery-powered electric car has a fairly high efficiency. The battery is about 90-percent efficient (most batteries generate some heat, or require heating), and the electric motor/inverter is about 80-percent efficient. This gives an overall efficiency of about 72 percent.

But that is not the whole story. The electricity used to power the car had to be generated somewhere. If it was generated at a power plant that used a combustion process (rather than nuclear, hydroelectric, solar or wind), then only about 40 percent of the fuel required by the power plant was converted into electricity.
The process of charging the car requires the conversion of alternating current (AC) power to direct current (DC) power. This process has an efficiency of about 90 percent.

So, if we look at the whole cycle, the efficiency of an electric car is 72 percent for the car, 40 percent for the power plant and 90 percent for charging the car. That gives an overall efficiency of 26 percent.


The overall efficiency varies considerably depending on what sort of power plant is used. If the electricity for the car is generated by a hydroelectric plant for instance, then it is basically free (we didn't burn any fuel to generate it), and the efficiency of the electric car is about 65 percent.

Scientists are researching and refining designs to continue to boost fuel cell efficiency. One approach is to combine fuel cell and battery-powered vehicles.

Ford Motors and Airstream are developing a concept vehicle powered by a hybrid fuel cell drivetrain named the HySeries Drive. Ford claims the vehicle has a fuel economy comparable to 41 miles per gallon. The vehicle uses a lithium battery to power the car, while the fuel cell recharges the battery.

Tesla is in the process of completing its full electric car into car market sooner than we expected.


Sustainable Future:  An electron economy

In an electron economy, most energy would be distributed with highest efficiency by electricity and the shortest route in an existing infrastructure could be taken. The efficiency of an electron economy is not affected by any wasteful conversions from physical to chemical and from chemical to physical energy. In contrast, a hydrogen economy is based on two such conversions (electrolysis and fuel cells or hydrogen engines).

The Swiss-based fuel-cell engineer and entrepreneur Ulf Bossel coined the term and concept “electron economy”

“An electron economy can offer the shortest, most efficient and most economical way of transporting the sustainable ‘green’ energy to the consumer,” Ulf says. “With the exception of biomass and some solar or geothermal heat, wind, water, solar, geothermal, heat from waste incineration, etc. become available as electricity.

Electricity could provide power for cars, comfortable temperature in buildings, heat, light, communication, etc.

“In a sustainable energy future, electricity will become the prime energy carrier. We now have to focus our research on electricity storage, electric cars and the modernization of the existing electricity infrastructure.”

Will we see a jumpstart in our economy?  Will there be a massive "Hoover like Project for Electrons" - a real transformation of our economy?  Will building a Renewable Electron jumpstart our weak global economy. US must have to lead if it has to see "global changes " ahead of us!

According to Ulf,  A number of factors are contributing to this emerging consensus that we build a Renewable Electron Economy:
  • We need to rapidly reduce our net emissions of greenhouse gases to near zero.
  • We are dangerously dependent on a depleting source of fossil energy, oil, for transportation and agriculture.  Oil deposits are also found in only a few places in the world, which creates trade and political imbalances, while renewable energy has a more balanced geographical distribution.
  • Levels of local, visible and sensible (non-GHG) air pollution in rapidly industrializing nations (mostly China but also India) from fossil fuel use have been reaching levels that demand rapid action on the part of governments to maintain public health in the near future.
  • Most of the world’s economies are in a “Great Recession” and, if one believes as did the economist John Maynard Keynes that government stimulus is key in shortening and ameliorating the effects of economic downturns;  the building of the public works and infrastructure required in the Renewable Electron Economy are productive uses of tax-payer money and government debt financing to spur demand and incentivize private investment.
  • In addition to economic stimulative effects that would jumpstart our economies, the building of a Renewable Electron Economy would help create a focus and sense of overarching purpose or direction for economic activity (productive investment and work) where one now may be lacking.

 Additionally and importantly, clean, efficient methods of energy storage, like thermal storage, pumped storage, and various types of batteries are all key to creating a largely renewable energy system. 

 A Renewable Electron Economy can be brought closer to realization by the use of highly efficient electrical end-use devices as well as the harnessing  of natural energy flows directly (daylighting, natural and solar cooling and heating) where possible.

Renewable Electron Economy describes the transfer of most end-use of energy (transport, industrial processes, energy use in the home) to electricity and the generation of that electricity via renewable means.  Additionally and importantly, clean, efficient methods of energy storage, like thermal storage, pumped storage, and various types of batteries are all key to creating a largely renewable energy system.

 The substantial energy losses associated with the use of hydrogen as an energy storage medium (60-75% losses) are huge in comparison to the use of batteries or other electricity storage methods (10-25% losses) and would not improve much due to the energy required to isolate, compress, store, and then generate electricity in a fuel cell.

Dr. Bossel concluded, as have other analysts, that we would need to build a lot less clean electricity generation (50-70% less) if we were to run vehicles and other devices directly off electricity rather than using hydrogen as a form of battery.

Furthermore, and in this there is even more widespread agreement, biofuels have shown themselves to be a potential nightmare if they become a major source of fuel for transportation and mechanical devices. 

The production of biofuels from purpose-grown crops rather than wastes competes directly with food production and forest preservation for land, water and other resources; by comparison renewable electricity generation has a much smaller total ecological footprint.

We have already seen the near catastrophic effects of industrial biofuel production in Indonesia where higher-carbon forests are cut down to plant palm oil plantations.  The demand of the wealthier countries for mechanical energy competes directly with the needs of less developed countries for food energy.

Most vehicle internal combustion engines are somewhere in the area of 20-30% efficient; the most efficient internal combustion engines are the multi-story diesel engines in some large ships which convert at best 50% of the energy in diesel fuel to mechanical energy.

By contrast, mid-sized to large electric motors are around 90% efficient with some approaching 95% efficiency; taking into account mechanical losses and battery losses, an electric vehicle turns 65% of the energy input into it into locomotion while an internal combustion vehicle hovers around 20% efficiency or less.

 Biofuels also create local air pollution where they are burned which the consumption of renewably generated electricity does not.   While the carbon emissions of grid electricity in some areas can diminish some of the environmental advantages of electric vehicle use, the future belongs to electric drive, the expansion of which should function as a stimulus to clean up the grid more quickly.

The Electron Economy: Why is this concept useful?

The obvious may be happening in front of you but in the not so obvious future generations of railways and electric mobile personal cars (Have you seen the futuristic personal cars on the movie minority report?)  There are obvious infrastructures that need to be developed way ahead before we see gas stations with charging stations, sensor-linked highways, monitor your kids school via your Iphone; sensor-linked bus arrival, BART schedules and connect to your real time traffic. We need a reliable and smart "Electric Grid" infrastructure. Smart Railway infrastructures.

Look around us and you see transit bus,  Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf roaming on your streets and not to mention solar panels on your neighbor's roof. It is true that we already partially live in an electron economy as much of the energy we use comes to us via electricity. The areas where electricity is not the primary energy carrier are transport and heating, so an advancement of the electron economy would mean advancing the use of electricity in these areas where feasible and desirable. 

The primary focus of the electron economy concept is largely the transport sector but could also have applications in heating applications as well.

The concept is useful because it highlights how theoretical and actual energy efficiencies will eventually favor electricity over its two competitors within the arena of clean energy solutions: biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells. Currently, in the marketplace of ideas in places such as 

Treehugger or in the mainstream media, it appears as though it is a horserace between these alternatives, that it is just a matter of taste or arcane insight into technology that favors the choice of one over the other.

And as indicated above, biofuels and even hydrogen may have a place in a sustainable energy future but they are not nearly as well developed nor as efficient as electricity and electric motors.

BUCKYPAPER from Carbon Nanotube MATERIAL

Even in the area of heating, where electricity has historically been more expensive and less efficient than the use of combustible fuels, the use of induction heating in cooking and ground-source heat pumps in space heating are two examples of how largely electric-powered solutions can either compete with or surpass heating from combustible fuels in the area of efficiency.

Key Technologies for More Energy Efficient, Carbon Neutral Living
Listed below are some of the key technologies that will help us achieve energy independence and carbon neutrality more quickly.
1) Heat pumps: ground source, air source, hybrid and with bore hole thermal energy storage
2) Super-glass (low emissivity, selectively coated, insulated) and super-windows
3) High-R Insulation and structural insulated panels
4) Efficient Fluorescent and Efficient LED Lighting
5) Fiber-optic solar lighting and advanced skylights for daylighting
6) Intelligent building, lighting, and appliance controls
7) Light-colored and “cool-colored” building and paving materials (that reduce the heat island effect of the built environment and building heat loads)
’8) Solar thermal water and space heating
9) Variable Frequency Drives (electronically adjusting pump and fan speeds to energy demand)
10) Weatherproofing and tighter building envelope standards (with testing)
11) Radiant heating (using water rather than air as the heat transfer medium in a building)
12) Induction cooktops, convection ovens and electric infrared grilling

  • Passive House + Energy efficiency: 

Energy consumption is reduced by more innovative and intelligent products and by intelligent process integration.
In most cases this needs some additional investment, but these are cost-effective as a rule. The products needed can be produced near the customer. This gives rise to employment and innovation.

The Passive House concept is a comprehensive approach to cost-efficient, high quality, healthy and sustainable construction. The concept is easy to understand:
  1. Contemporary construction is quite airtight, therefore the air replacement from infiltration is not sufficient. Ventilating by opening windows is not a convincing strategy either. Getting a sufficient volume of fresh air is not just a question of comfort, but a requirement for healthy living conditions. Therefore mechanical ventilation is the key technology for all new construction as well as refurbishment of existing buildings. Mechanical ventilation will work in all cold and all hot climates since in an airtight house, the heating and cooling energy required will be significantly less.
  2. Even though mechanical ventilation systems raise initial investment costs, if designed efficiently they will reduce energy costs significantly, eventually paying off the initial cost. Ventilation units suitable for Passive Houses allow for an economic operation.
  3. Now we explain the central "trick" of the Passive House concept: The fresh air needed is entering the room anyhow. If one could use this air to cover the heating load, without increasing the mass flow, without recirculated air, without noise and without drafts - then the ventilation will pay off a second time.
  4. This concept of "fresh air heating" is only possible in a building with superior thermal insulation, just like a Passive House. For experts: This is the defining requirement; the maximum heat load should be lower than 10 W/m² , allowing the fresh air to carry the heat load.
Passive Houses require superior design and components with respect to:
  • insulation
  • design without thermal brigdes
  • air tightness
  • ventilation with heat recovery
  • comfortwindows und
  • innovative heating technology

The Passive House is a perfect example for what can be done with really energy efficient concepts: The energy consumption of Passive Houses is just some 10% compared to the average of the building stock, but the comfort in the buildings is even better. This has been proven by monitoring of Hundreds of built Passive Houses.

The continuing push towards deregulation, which still has ideological momentum despite bitter experiences in California at the beginning of the decade, does not promote the building of new infrastructure, let alone a new, replacement clean power infrastructure that would reliably produce power. 

And of course, generating electricity does not necessarily release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere..

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