Saturday, 15 March 2014

Clean Coal and Gassy Money and Wasted Energy

by Anthony Cox

NECESSARY: University of Newcastle Professor Behdad Moghtaderi says a
$30-million research grant paves the way towards cutting methane emissions.
Clean coal or CO2 capture is a failed idea. Retired metallurgist John Harborne described why in a 2009 article at Online Opinion.

Basically the energy required to extract the CO2 from the coal is about the same as produced by the burning of the coal and the waste takes much more room to bury than was created by the coal which was mined.

This hasn’t stopped huge grants been given to university researchers to explore the technology afresh. The latest grant is $30 million, the biggest grant ever received at Newcastle university and one of the largest single research grants in Australian grant history. This grant is not for capture of CO2 but to capture methane, CH4, and then to change CH4 into CO2 and then to release the CO2 into the atmosphere.

The lucky researcher, and why wouldn’t he be smiling , Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, said “greenhouse gases still needed to be reduced.”  Professor Moghtaderi further said “methane and carbon dioxide were greenhouse gases but the latter was the lesser of two evils as methane was 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

This frail justification initially depends on the existence of global warming and ignores the fact that the rate of increase of global levels of CH4 is both falling and below IPCC predictions. Even the IPCC is of the view that a catastrophic release of CH4 is unlikely.

In addition the opportunity cost of this huge grant has created discontent amongst other researchers at Newcastle university. One such researcher noted:
I had lunch with some Uni people the other day, including some senior academics.  One of them, a senior professor involved in the approval process, was explaining to us how difficult it is for research applications to gain grant money these days.  Even good applications are routinely turned down.  They have to be very, very good or even superb or exciting (in their view) to get approved for grant money.  There are just too many applications for the funds available. $30m is an absolute huge amount.  That same money could easily fund 60 - 100 small to medium research studies that could look at 'useful' things for humanity.  When I was involved in some Uni research, years ago, we would be happy to get any money, sometimes only $5000, to do a small study.  You can't do research on your own funds, the Uni won’t allow you to use their equipment or facilities or staff.  That's because of insurance and Admin. wouldn't get their cut of the money (which can be substantial, like 10-25%).  So Prof. McMillan, the executive and Admin. would love this grant.  Doesn't matter that the research is crap - the money is good.  Prof. Moghtaderi should know that gassy mines already pump out methane for safety reasons.  They could mix that pumped out air/methane with natural gas and burn it in a small electricity-power station, if they are so concerned.  They don't need taxpayer and mining industry money to fund this !@#$%^!”
This final point is not quite true. Some underground mines, which all have varying degrees of “gassiness”, obtain permission to build small onsite power stations using the CH4 extracted from the coal seam.

None however have permission to sell in commercial quantities the huge amounts of CH4 they extract. Nor do they want to. Gas is an energy competitor and how the coal mines dispose of their excess gas enables them to reduce their CO2 tax burden.

What the mines do is place a pipe into the gas deposit which is usually above the coal seam and then the lower specific gravity of the gas carries it up the pipe. No fracking required!

What happens next is a national scandal. That gas coming up the venting pipe is burnt. The pipes are called flares or “candles”. At one mine in the Hunter valley there are 3 of these candles each 20 meters wide. They have an ignition switch above ground and they burn 60000 litres of CH4 per second!

Another less gassy mine is gearing up to burn 10,000 litres per second.

I haven’t done an energy conversion for that but it is sickening.

A brilliant energy source going up in smoke due to Green taxes, opposition to fracking and industry pig-headedness.

In the meantime Professor Behdad Moghtaderi is going to spend his $30 million in developing other ways to waste this energy source.