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Mon Sep 5, 2016, 12:00 AM

Um, how much hydrogen could the $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar thermal plant produce?

This weekend, while catching up on my reading, I came across a carbon dioxide splitting/hydrogen thermochemical cycle of interest.

I have a long term interest in thermochemical hydrogen cycles, and have probably, over the years, read a few hundred papers about them.

The particular paper I was reading was this one: Applicability of an Equilibrium Model To Predict the Conversion of CO2 to CO via the Reduction and Oxidation of a Fixed Bed of Cerium Dioxide (Luke J. Venstrom et al Energy and Fuels, 2015, 29 (12), pp 8168–8177)

The chemistry of this system works like this: Small cylindrical porous particles of cerium dioxide (aka cerium (IV) oxide, CeO[sub]2[/sub], roughly 3-5 mm in length and 5 mm in diameter, are heated to 1200[sup]o[/sup]C, whereupon a fraction of the CeO[sub]2[/sub] is reduced to Cerium(III) oxide, Ce[sub]2[/sub]O[sub]3[/sub], dicerium trioxide. In this process oxygen gas is released.

After the oxygen is removed - and this paper is on the subject of how one might do that - one of two things can be done.

The first is that carbon dioxide, the dangerous fossil fuel waste that is now - as of 2016 - accumulating in the planetary atmosphere at a truly astounding rate - can be passed over the Ce[sub]2[/sub]O[sub]3[/sub] at which time the carbon dioxide is reduced to carbon monoxide whereupon the Ce[sub]2[/sub]O[sub]3[/sub] is reoxidized to CeO[sub]2[/sub]. The CeO[sub]2[/sub] in this case is thus a catalyst; it is returned to its original state. Thus the net reaction is this:

2CO[sub]2[/sub] <-> 2CO + O[sub]2[/sub]

The second is that water in the gas phase, steam, can be passed over the Ce[sub]2[/sub]O[sub]3[/sub] where upon it is reduced to hydrogen gas, whereupon, again, the Ce[sub]2[/sub]O[sub]3[/sub] is reoxidized to CeO[sub]2[/sub], and again he CeO[sub]2[/sub] in this case is thus a catalyst.

The net reaction in this case is:

H[sub]2[/sub]O <-> H[sub]2[/sub] + O[sub]2[/sub]

Note that one of the world's most practiced industrial reactions - the reaction by which the bulk of the world's hydrogen is currently produced is the water gas reaction:

H[sub]2[/sub]O + CO <-> CO[sub]2[/sub] + H[sub]2[/sub]

In this sense, the two paths each represent a path to hydrogen gas, which is useless as a consumer fuel, despite much bull to the contrary thrown around insipidly for the last three or four decades, but is very useful as a captive intermediate for the production of ammonia, and, in some places, liquid fuels ranging from gasoline to diesel to dimethyl ether and other related chemical products normally produced from petroleum.

Mixtures of carbon monoxide and hydrogen have a special name, "syn gas." Using "syn gas" in the golden age of chemistry in which we live, we can make pretty much any industrial scale organic chemical we want.

Now for the fun part. The authors of the paper cited in the opening text write the following:

The cerium dioxide (ceria, CeO2) thermochemical metal redox cycle is a promising approach to split water and carbon dioxide using concentrated solar radiation because of the favorable thermochemical properties of ceria.

I mean no criticism of the authors of this fine paper to state that I expect - I hope - they are being disingenuous when they write this line of bull. Science is poorly funded these days, and let's face it, in this cockamamie world if one wants to get a grant, one is better positioned if one puts the word "solar" in the grant proposal.

These papers about solar hydrogen have been flying around for decades and the number of concentrated solar plants on this planet producing industrially meaningful quantities of hydrogen is zero.

Here, for instance, is a link to a paper I randomly pulled up from my files that was published 51 years ago: Solar Energy Volume 9, Issue 1, January–March 1965, Pages 61-67.

Fifty years later, the world's largest solar thermal plant is in California's Mohave desert, the Ivanpah solar thermal plant.

Here are some excerpts from the Wikipedia page about this plant, which pulls few punches - despite the insipid worship of all things solar - on what a grotesque failure this huge piece of garbage has been:

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a concentrated solar thermal plant in the California Mojave Desert, 64 km (40 miles) southwest of Las Vegas, with a gross capacity of 392 megawatts (MW).[5] It deploys 173,500 heliostats, each with two mirrors, focusing solar energy on boilers located on three centralized solar power towers.[5] Unit 1 of the project was connected to the grid in September 2013 in an initial sync testing.[6] The facility formally opened on February 13, 2014,[1] and it is currently the world's largest solar thermal power station.[7][8]

"A gross capacity of 392 megawatts..."

Below we'll take a look at the actual power this plant produces, and compare how many Ivanpah solar plants would be required to match the power output of a 1000 MWe nuclear plant.

First let's look at the cost of the plant:

The project was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel.[9] It cost $2.2 billion; the largest investor in the project is NRG Energy, a power generating company based in Princeton, New Jersey, that has contributed $300 million. Google has contributed $168 million.;[10] the U.S. government provided a $1.6 billion loan guarantee,[11] and the plant is built on public land. In 2010, the project was scaled back from the original 440 MW design, to avoid building on the habitat of the desert tortoise.[12]

And the land use:

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System consists of three solar thermal power plants on a 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) tract of public land near the Mojave Desert and the California—Nevada border in the Southwestern United States[17] near Interstate 15 and north of Ivanpah, California.[18] The site is visible from adjacent Mojave National Preserve, Mesquite Wilderness, and Stateline Wilderness.[18]

The plant has never produced enough electricity to meet its contractual delivery requirements which afford it the right to sell electricity to PSEG and SCE for $200/MWh, $50/MWh higher than the retail delivered residential cost of electricity in California.

The plant, by the way, is required to burn dangerous natural gas every morning to start up. The waste from the dangerous natural gas is dumped indiscriminately into the world's favorite waste dump, the planetary atmosphere. The plant has burned approximately 1.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas in its three years of operation.

The power output for the entire facility can be calculated from the data in the table at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, which includes data up to June of this year - the mirrors at the plant went out of alignment in July causing one of the three towers in the plant to catch fire, whereupon the two billion dollar piece of crap was shut for a few weeks.

I have taken the liberty of converting these totals, given in MWh of electricity (solar) into units of average continuous power for the periods listed in the table, in order to give a sense of scale.

In the first month of operation, January 2014, the plant produced an average continuous power of 14 MW, and it did not approach 100 MW until the month of June 2014, when it produced 89 MW of average continuous power. For the entire year of 2014, it was the equivalent of a 47 MW power plant.

Since coming on line, the plant has produced more than 100 MW of average continuous power in only three months: In April of 2015, it produced 104.59 MW of average continuous power; in June of 2015 it produced 107.68 MW of average continuous power; and in February of this year it produced 100.08 MW of average continuous power.

Overall, during it's entire history it has been the equivalent of a 61.11 MW power plant.

Thus, at 2.2 billion dollars in cost, with 1.6 billion dollars represented by loan guarantees by the US government, in order to produce as much power as a 1000 MWe nuclear plant, we would need 16.4 of these disasters, and the cost would be $36 billion. The land area required would be 265 square miles of desert.

The big difference between a nuclear plant and this piece of expensive and useless crap is that the nuclear plant would 1) actually work, 2) would operate for about 60 - 80 years and 3) would not require burning huge amounts of dangerous natural gas to start up, and 4) would not require redundant plants, fueled by dangerous fossil fuels to support it whenever the sun went down. The nuclear plant could produce all of the power of the 265 square miles of solar plant in a moderate sized industrial building.

It is interesting to note, that the cost of educating an (out of state) nuclear engineer at the University of California at Berkeley is roughly a quarter of a million dollars - a fact that sticks in my mind as my two sons are of college age, one in college, and one about to enter college. The $1.6 billion loan guarantee, which may need to be paid since the plant is technically in default on its contract since it has never met its contractual obligations to deliver electricity, is enough to pay for the full educations of 7,500 engineers, not that we give a shit about paying for engineering educations in this country.

By the way, the cerium spitting cycle would be better served by using nuclear heat, which is certainly accessible given recent advances in materials science and which is more reliable.

It is interesting to note that [sup]144[/sup]Ce is a fission product - unimaginative people with very small minds call this isotope "nuclear waste - with a 284 day half life, decaying through [sup]144[/sup]Pr to give stable [sup]144[/sup]Nd. Properly isolated, it could put out significant heat.

It is certainly conceivable to isolate Ce isotopes from continuously fueled fluid phase reactors, not just the famous molten salt reactors that many people are hyping, but from some of the aqueous solution phase reactors of the type originally built and designed by Enrico Fermi. As I recently learned, somewhat to my surprise, 17 examples of these reactors operated at Los Alamos for a period of roughly 20 years from the 1950's through the 1960's until the early 1970s. None of them required 4000 acres of land; all of them in fact, operated in small rooms. They were cheap to build, easy to operate, and apparently very reliable. It is said that Fermi would take breaks from his theoretical studies during the Manhattan project years to go play with one that he built every afternoon. He liked to operate it himself; it is said he'd never let the technicians operate it, since he was fascinated with it, and wanted to be absolutely certain of all of its operating features and thus insisted that he run the thing himself to be aware of everything the reactor did. (It was used to develop an understanding of some of the basic physics of fission, including cross sections of important nuclei.)

So how much hydrogen could the $2.2 billion dollar solar thermal plant at Ivanpah produce? Not enough to count, that's for sure. We sank a trillion dollars into the solar energy industry in the last ten years with the result that we have now tripled the rate at which new carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere as compared to the rate in the 1970's. The solar industry - at least if you believe that the ends justify the means as opposed to believe that the ends are irrelevant and only the means count - is a grotesque and expensive failure.

Enjoy the labor day holiday.

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Reply Um, how much hydrogen could the $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar thermal plant produce? (Original post)
NNadir Sep 2016 OP
progree Sep 2016 #1
NNadir Sep 2016 #2
progree Sep 2016 #4
kristopher Sep 2016 #3
Massacure Sep 2016 #5
NNadir Sep 2016 #6
progree Sep 2016 #7
NNadir Sep 2016 #8

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Mon Sep 5, 2016, 02:13 AM

1. I didn't read the whole thing, but I noticed this error:

The plant has never produced enough electricity to meet its contractual delivery requirements which afford it the right to sell electricity to PSEG and SCE for $20/MWh, $5/MWh higher than the retail delivered residential cost of electricity in California.

$20/MWh = 2 cents/KWh

[div class="excerpt" style="background-color:#CEF6FE;"]Residential electricity rates in California average 15.34¢/kWh, which ranks the state 8th in the nation.

I don't know if it changes the "big picture" of what you are saying, will have to study it some more, which I don't have the time to do for maybe a week (humongous tax issue). I would love to spend more time with it, but I can't.

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Response to progree (Reply #1)

Mon Sep 5, 2016, 06:30 AM

2. Thanks, I apparently have typos there. I will correct the numbers.

The Wikipedia link has the correct number, $200/MWh.

I'll correct it in the original text. I was writing this piece rather late a night; it had been a long day.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #2)

Tue Sep 6, 2016, 12:01 AM

4. No problem. I posted something about 1/2 as long last night that had about 4 errors like that

that took quite awhile and many re-readings after posting to notice them all. Who knows how many (in my posting) that I didn't catch.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Mon Sep 5, 2016, 12:52 PM

3. Monju and the nuclear fuel cycle

Last edited Mon Sep 5, 2016, 01:59 PM - Edit history (1)

Monju and the nuclear fuel cycle
SEP 4, 2016

Media reports that the government is finally weighing whether to pull the plug on the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, due to the massive cost needed to restart the long-dormant facility, should come as no surprise. Once touted as a “dream reactor” for an energy-scarce country that produces more plutonium than it consumes as fuel, Monju has been a nightmare for national nuclear power policy for the past two decades. The sole prototype reactor for this kind of technology has been in operation a mere 250 days since it first reached criticality in 1994. It has mostly been offline since a 1995 sodium coolant leak and fire. Its government-backed operator has been declared unfit by nuclear power regulators to run the trouble-prone reactor, and the education and science ministry, in charge of the project, has not been able to find a viable solution.

More than ¥1 trillion in taxpayer money has so far been spent on Monju, and maintenance alone costs ¥20 billion a year. Restarting the reactor under the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s new safety standards would cost another several hundred billion yen, including the expense of replacing its long-unused fuel as well as its aging components — though there would still be no guarantee that it would complete its mission of commercializing fast-breeder reactor technology.

The Abe administration may think that writing off the ill-fated costly project, even with the projected ¥300 billion cost of decommissioning the facility over 30 years, will help win more public support for its policy of seeking to reactivate the nation’s conventional reactors — most of which remain idled in the wake of the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 plant — once they’ve cleared the NRA screening. Public concerns over the safety of nuclear energy remain strong after the Fukushima disaster, with media surveys showing a large portion of respondents still opposed putting the idled reactors back online.

If it is going to decide to decommission the Monju reactor, however, the government should also rethink its pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle — in which spent fuel from nuclear power plants is reprocessed to extract plutonium for reuse as fuel. Monju, which runs on plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, has been a core component of the program. As Monju remained dormant for more than 20 years, the government and power companies have shifted the focus of the policy to using MOX fuel at regular nuclear power plants. The No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, which resumed operation in August, runs on MOX fuel. The government apparently thinks the Monju program is no longer essential to the policy.

But the nuclear fuel cycle itself has proven elusive...

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Sep 6, 2016, 12:40 AM

5. Piggy backing on your thoughts about hydrogen...

I've never really understood the fascination around using hydrogen as a transportation fuel. Come to think of it, I don't really understand the point of fermenting corn into ethanol either. Wouldn't it be easier to gasify agricultural waste (corn husks, turkey offal, cow shit, whatever), and then run that syngas through a Fischer-Tropsch reaction?

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Response to Massacure (Reply #5)

Tue Sep 6, 2016, 08:39 PM

6. You are on to something; and so are many of the world's scientists.

The literature is full of papers on the subject of the gasification of biomass, both in the presence and absence of water. In the presence of water, either subcritical or supercritical, the processes are often called "hydrothermal" gasification.

One can get a sense of the scale of this work by going on google scholar and entering the words "hydrothermal" and "biomass." I got 57,000 hits. The word "hydrothermal" is usually used in subcritical situations where at least some of the water is in the liquid phase, usually under pressure to significantly raise the boiling point of water.

Supercritical water is sometimes referred to as "SWO" supercritical water oxidation.

SWO processes give syn gas, of varying quality.

There are also pyrolytic processes, in which biomass is heated in a vacuum to its decomposition point. Historically this was how methanol was discovered by the "destructive distillation" of wood. This is why one can still hear methanol referred to as "wood alcohol."

There is also - and this is a very important process I think - carbon dioxide driven reforming. In this case biomass is heated in a carbon dioxide atmosphere wherein carbon dioxide is reduced to carbon monoxide. The controlled addition of hydrogen made either by the water gas reaction or by thermochemical hydrogen cycles - there are many examples of these - can be used to make syn gas, which again, can be used to make, well, anything.

There is also partial oxidation in oxygen. Many of these processes are already industrial. A very interesting approach to this partial oxidation is "chemical looping" in which a metal oxygen carrier is used as an oxidant, resulting in very high and contained concentrations of carbon oxides, monoxide and dioxide, which can then be utilized synthetically.

An issue in these processes are the formation of asphaltenes, which as the name sounds, is tar. Much work has been done on the cracking of asphaltenes, which are also found in petroleum, particularly heavy oils. They are, obviously, a huge constituent of "tar sands."

From my perspective, I'm not totally against biomass asphaltenes, since their use in road pavement and roofing and other applications represent sequestered carbon, carbon fairly well permanently sequestered as opposed to all those stupid "sequestration" dumps people are always talking about, either as EOR (enhanced oil recovery) schemes or as, simply, dumps. Like so called "renewable energy" they have not worked, are not working and will not work.

The scientific community is largely moving away from CCS, carbon capture and storage, to CCU, carbon capture and utilization. There is no intrinsic reason why carbon capture need involve dangerous fossil fuels; it is worth studying for its applications to biomass.

In general the above described processes have some major drawbacks, the low energy density of biomass compared with dangerous fossil fuels, the need to transport them, the corrosive nature of some of the inorganic species, in particular alkali metals, but other metals, silicates, sulfur compounds and phosphorous residues. This is a challenge for materials scientists - and I am very proud that my youngest son, a high school senior, is considering a career in materials science - but we have made significant advances in addressing them.

One of the journals I regularly read is the ACS's Energy and Fuels. The journal contains a large amount of material about the disgusting and deadly fuels coal, oil and natural gas that the so called "renewable energy" industry couldn't live without, although some of it is worth reading, but it also contains more and more material about biomass processing.

Our fear and ignorance has put us in a very dangerous place such that as we wait around for the "renewable energy" miracle that never comes, just like people wait for Jesus to come back and save us from our sins, we are rapidly approaching a point at which it will become necessary not merely to stop dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but rather to find ways to remove it.

This is an extremely challenging engineering and thermodynamic problem, and may actually have no solution, I regret to say. However, it is my opinion as I reach the end of my life, that if there is a route to doing this, it will and must involve biomass. Direct engineered capture from the air will involve huge amounts of energy.

I'm not sure that "biomass" is really "renewable energy" inasmuch as we have a big problem with the phosphorous cycle we're ignoring even as we ignore climate change or offer stupid and expensive band aid proposals that sound wonderful to airheads, but have proved useless to address it. (I'm of course referring to the damned fool fantasies about solar and wind energy.) However, since biological systems are self replicating and involve huge surface areas, they're our best shot, and in combination with uranium, plutonium, thorium and, to a lesser extent the actinides neptunium, americium and curium, they really are our last best hope.

Sometime ago I wrote a fun little riff elsewhere giving my thoughts on biofuels and their relation to nuclear energy: Better Chemistry, Better Biofuels?: The Glycerol Glut, Solketal, and other Floating Ideas. This is not the original site on which I wrote the article, but these people have seemed to copy it with attribution, which is fine with me.

Thank you for asking a very intelligent question. There's plenty of stuff to read on these points, if you look.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Sep 6, 2016, 10:04 PM

7. The Price of Solar Is Declining to Unprecedented Lows


(e.g. utility-scale is $2/watt installed, and bulk purchase power agreement (PPA) prices for solar is 5 cents/Kwh, though the rule of thumb in the power industry is 3 to 4 cents/Kwh for bulk PPAs, so hasn't yet come down to the price of conventional sources by this measure)

Anyway, something you might want to comment on when you have some spare time. It is in Late Breaking News, so might not last there long since seems like an analytical piece (if so, violates LBN rules)

I haven't read the Scientific American link, so don't know whether the issue of intermitency is discussed there

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Response to progree (Reply #7)

Tue Sep 6, 2016, 10:44 PM

8. Solar is still and always will be useless.

"Unprecedented lows" ignores the fact that all solar energy systems require a redundant system.

If I have a car that get's 900 miles per gallon but works only two hours a day, and I have a job delivering all of Amory Lovins' books to Walmart that requires me to drive ten hours a day, whatever money I spend on the 900-miles-per-gallon car is making my life more expensive, not less expensive.

My whole adult life I've been hearing "solar energy is reaching unprecedented low prices" and for my whole adult life, solar PV electricity has not, once, produced two exajoules in a single year.

I'm not young.

In my life time, world energy consumption rose from less than 300 exajoules per year to 570 exajoules.

The main reason that solar prices are so low is because many Western (JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!) solar energy companies are going broke, because, um, in China, there are no regulations in disposing for solar energy wastes. To make one ton of solar (polysilicon) crap, one must dispose of four tons of tetrachlorosilane.

For example, here's an excerpt from a IEEE (Institute of Electronics and Electric Engineers) trade journal, IEEE Spectrum.

When the photovoltaics industry was smaller, the solar-cell manufacturers got their silicon from chipmakers, which rejected wafers that did not meet the computer industry’s purity requirements. But the boom in photovoltaics demanded more than semiconductor-industry leftovers, and many new polysilicon refineries were built in China. Few countries at the time had stringent rules covering the storage and disposal of silicon tetrachloride waste, and China was no exception, as some Washington Post reporters discovered.

The paper’s investigation, published in March 2008, profiled a Chinese polysilicon facility owned by Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co., located near the Yellow River in the country’s Henan province. This facility supplied polysilicon to Suntech Power Holdings, at the time the world’s largest solar-cell manufacturer, as well as to several other high-profile photovoltaics companies.

The reporters found that the company was dumping silicon tetrachloride waste on neighboring fields instead of investing in equipment that could reprocess it, rendering those fields useless for growing crops and inflaming the eyes and throats of nearby residents. And the article suggested that the company was not alone in this practice.

Solar Energy Isn't Always As Green As You Think

This, I'm afraid, is merely the tip of a very, very, very big iceberg. And the fact that the iceberg is melting rapidly because the solar industry hasn't done shit to address climate change, will not make any of this indiscriminate release of millions of tons of polysilicon byproducts like silicon tetrachloride go away.

It is fortunate that this industry, the solar industry, is tiny and insignificant on a scale that matters. If it ever got to ten exajoules per year - it won't - it would represent another huge disaster for the second and third world to satisfy the bourgeois fantasies of westerners who are clueless about humanity and just don't give a shit about humanity in any case. As it is right now, cadmium miners and lanthanide miners in China, working respectively for the solar manufacturing industry and the wind turbine manufacturing industry are suffering rather in the same fashion as coal miners suffered in earlier generations. It's another case of the poor having their health rot so smug rich people can declare themselves "green."

The world will, of course, never run out of silicon, but it will run out of gallium, germanium, indium, tellurium and probably cadmium (after its poisoned as many people as lead and mercury has poisoned). This fact calls into question whether the so called "renewable energy" industry is, in fact, "renewable."

It isn't.

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