• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Seismic activity caused by energy sector operations an issue likely to become more prominent

An article by Reuter’s John Kemp has considered the issue of tremors and earthquakes in relation to the energy sector. A 2015 paper by the US Geological Survey has shown that seismic activity in the US has corresponded closely to the timeframes and locations of drilling and hydraulic fracturing. While cause and effect are not proven, it seems there is little doubt that changes in pressure associated with fluid flows within geological formations trigger seismic events. In the fracking industry, it is the disposal into rock of wastewater, produced in higher quantities than the product gas, which appears to be the cause for seismic events, rather than the fluids used for the fracking itself, which are used in much smaller quantities. While there has been considerable community concern about the tremors and earthquakes, which can occur very frequently, their magnitude very rarely reaches above 5, when damage to the built environment usually begins to occur. This leads Kemp to suggest that energy companies should manage the social impact of seismic activity by running compensation schemes for any damage to buildings, in this way mitigating community concerns. Kemp notes that the issue of seismic activity is likely to become more widespread, as both geothermal power generation and carbon capture and storage schemes are likely to also cause seismic activity, perhaps at larger magnitudes.

Tesla battery for small-scale storage of electrical energy part of trend that will shape power sector

Tesla Motors, the electric car company, has announced it will sell a battery for the storage of electrical energy. The “Powerwall”, which uses standard lithium ion technology, is to come in two sizes: 7 kWh (priced at $US 3,000/€2,679) and 10 kWh (priced at $US 3,500/€3,125), with a guarantee of 10 years. It targets small-scale renewable energy generators, chiefly homes and commercial properties equipped with solar panels, so that electrical energy from peak hours of production can be stored for later use or for when there is an interruption to grid supply. In doing the latter, it will compete with small backup diesel generators, with the price for an installed Powerwall coming in slightly lower than a generator. Industry analysts see the rise of storage capacity as an enormous enabler of the roll-out of renewable energy generation capacity, and there is evidence that the adoption of storage capacity will grow rapidly in industrialised countries. In the US, according to the Financial Times, 62 MWh of storage capacity was installed last year; this year, the figure is expected to be 220 MWh, and prices for storage are expected to fall rapidly. Other companies in the market are AES, Alevo and LG Chem, while car makers Nissan and BMW are also developing technology. The rise of small-scale storage looks likely to affect the wider power sector, even if at present stored domestically-produced renewable energy is more expensive than the grid.

EU companies close to exhausting quota of UN permits; EC flags changes to EU ETS

A report from Reuters has drawn attention to the fact that European companies have almost exhausted their quotas for purchasing UN carbon offsets during the current regulation phase (2013-2020). Companies are allowed to purchase a combined total of 1.57 billion UN carbon offsets, which sell for around €0.50 ($US 0.56) per tonne of carbon permitted to be emitted; after the quota has been reached, companies then purchase carbon permits under the European Commission’s Emissions Trading System, which currently sell for around €7.50 ($US 8.40). The nearing of the exhaustion of UN offsets comes as the EC has agreed to a stabilisation mechanism for the ETS which aims to raise the price for each permit by removing free allowances from the system, forcing greater demand for permits. The mechanism is to be introduced from 2019. It is, in effect, a permanent version of a temporary withdrawal of permits which is currently taking place (unrelated to the UN offsets). The EC is also currently working on a more comprehensive revision of the ETS for the next phase, which will begin in 2021, with an eye to its 2030 goal of reducing carbon equivalent emissions by 40% from 1990 levels.

Rwanda sets ambitious short term power generation capacity goal

The Financial Times has carried an article looking at development of power generation in Rwanda. The government has a highly ambitious target of tripling its generating capacity from the current 155 MW to 563 MW by 2018, with methane harvested from the bed of Lake Kivu being a major source of that power. Various companies have attempted projects to mine methane from the lake over the past decade, but none of the ventures have been a considerable success, with disputes and delays pervading them. A new venture by the company Symbion aims to add 50 MW of generation capacity over the next two and a half years using a more modular approach than previous projects. Other sources of energy include peat from marshlands, and the further deployment of solar panels, but the target of 563 MW appears difficult to achieve. Around 20% of Rwandans currently have access to grid electricity.

Enzyme-based carbon capture technology demonstration brought forward after promising lab results

In interesting news from Canada, the company CO2 Solutions has decided to bring forward operation of the demonstration of its enzyme-based technology to capture carbon from flue gases, after laboratory experiments at the Energy & Environmental Research Center, a not-for-profit division of the University of North Dakota in the USA, suggested that the technology was more cost-effective than benchmark amine-based technologies. The company hopes that by bringing forward the demonstration project, which will aim to capture 10 tonnes of carbon per day from the flue gases of a natural-gas fired steam generator (at 90% capture), it will be able to tap commercialisation opportunities faster. The test facilities have already been installed, and operation will begin this month. The bringing-forward of the operation of the demonstration was decided in agreement with the project collaborators, Husky Energy and the Government of Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative.

HeaterSim releases Heater560 fired heater design software

London-based start-up HeaterSim has released its software package Heater560, which allows for the design of fired heaters according to the American Petroleum Institute’s 560 standard, covering most process heaters. The software can produce general arrangement drawings and cost estimates to go with the design, and aims to reduce design time by 70%. HeaterSim has been developing Heater560 for five years, after founder Leroy Cole saw an opportunity to develop software independent of any heater supplier company – the present industry standard software, FRNC-5, being owned by fired heater supplier Petrochem. Fired heater design engineers from various companies have been testing Heater560 over the past year, and, as Mr Cole told the IFRF’s Patrick Lavery, “instantly see the time savings.” Long-time IFRF member Jacques Dugué has said of the package: “HeaterSim is a welcomed newcomer in the field of fired heater process modeling. Its user friendly interface and ease of use will be appreciated by fired heater engineers who need to check designs quickly.” HeaterSim are offering free trials of their software, with interested parties invited to contact the company.

Glencore adamant its coal assets won’t become stranded

The issue of stranded fossil fuel assets has been receiving more press attention, with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation covering the story of Glencore, Australia’s biggest miner of thermal coal, and its reassurance to its shareholders that it “does not believe it will be prevented from fully utilising its fossil fuel reserves.” The message came from the CEO, Ivan Glasenberg, at the launch of the company’s new sustainability report, in which the company commits to “playing a constructive role in developing public policy for climate change and energy.” Glencore believes that carbon capture and storage and other pollution-limiting technology will ensure that coal is part of the future energy mix along with other sources. In fact, the company expects its exports to increase as demand from Asia increases.

Mott MacDonald chosen to project manage Petershead CCS project

Your Subsea News has reported that Mott MacDonald has been appointed by Shell UK to be the project managers of the front end engineering design phase of its Peterhead CCS project. The project is supported financially by the UK government and aims to convert the existing combined-cycled gas turbine Peterhead power plant, in the north-east of Scotland, into a CCS-equipped plant using storage in the North Sea. It comes after Mott MacDonald worked with Shell on the Longannet CCS project.