The future is now…

A couple of stories caught my eye this week. The first, in the US Sewage Could Provide Fuel of the Future. The second, in the UK sewage is providing the fuel of the present. OK, so that isn’t really a fair comparison as the fuel of use is not the same in each case. In the US they are talking about hydrogen and in the UK methane. What links them though is the underlying process: anaerobic digestion. This process takes biodegradeable wastes and uses bacteria to break down, consume and so reduce the amount of solid waste that needs to be disposed of. As a byproduct of this process, biogas is produced. Biogas is typically 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide and has mostly been used in the past for onsite combined heat and power production. The resulting heat and electricity is then used to reduce the energy demand of the waste treatment process.

UK's first ever bus to run on human and food waste launched

(Image source Geneco 2014).

Where the stories diverge is in the utilisation of the biogas produced. To produce the fuel for Geneco’s bio-bus in the UK, the biogas is ‘cleaned-up’. This means that the carbon dioxide is removed and a small amount of propane added to the gas to produce a suitable transport fuel. This isn’t the whole story in the UK, at their Avonmouth plant this cleaned-up or upgraded biogas is also being injected into the national gas grid making it available to consumers to use to heat their homes or cook food beginning the process of greening the gas grid.

In the US the biogas is being utilised in a 300 kW molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) to produce heat, power, and hydrogen. It’s the hydrogen that is the fuel of the future of the headline. The hydrogen generated at the US plant will be compressed and used to fill up fuel cell powered vehicles (FCVs) at an onsite public hydrogen refueling station. But when will this future be? It could be closer than you think as Toyota plan to launch their new FCV, the Mirai, to the public next year.

JReedJames Reed

Senior Lecturer in Renewable Energy
Sustainable Environment Research Centre
University of South Wales

Advertisements
Posted in Anaerobic Digestion, Biogas, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, James Reed, Methane, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Online short course on hydrogen energy

Hydrogen energy and related technologies have the potential to play a large role in our future energy supplies and systems. As part of the Low Carbon Research Institute’s (LCRI) Welsh Energy Sector Training (WEST) project, the University of South Wales has developed a short online course investigating the current and future roles of hydrogen, hydrogen related technologies, and the characteristics of hydrogen. The course will suit anyone with an interest in energy related topics. On completion of the course (10 hours total time), you will receive a 1 credit continuing professional development accreditation. To register on the Fundamentals of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells course, go to https://www.westproject.org.uk/content/hydrogen. The course is free to people who live or work in the convergence region of Wales.

Baglan Hydrogen Research Centre

The LCRI Programme works with industry, particularly SMEs, to develop new industry-relevant technologies that will provide business opportunities and help Wales deliver its low carbon agenda.

The main objective of WEST is to develop skills to aid the utilisation and uptake of new technologies developed through the LCRI industrial research programme. This will ensure that industrial research is disseminated through both traditional educational streams as well as directly to industry through Continuing Professional Development.

JReedJames Reed

Senior Lecturer in Renewable Energy
Sustainable Environment Research Centre
University of South Wales

Posted in Hydrogen, James Reed, Teaching | Leave a comment

How to drive a car without a blindfold.

Operating an anaerobic digester can be similar to driving a car with a blindfold on. As long as you are driving in a straight line and you don’t waggle the steering wheel too much you should be ok. The problem comes when you have a bit of play in the steering and you now don’t know which direction your wheels are pointing. If you have a wide enough road to drive on that doesn’t matter so much, you can weave fairly safely from side to side without hitting anything. However, space is limited and you will run out of road eventually, crashing your car and costing you money and perhaps your health!

For a digester, the steering is the feedstock and your direction is the stability of the digester. The quality of your feedstock may vary without you realising, and if you aren’t monitoring the key process intermediates such as the level of volatile fatty acid (VFA) you can’t be  sure which direction you are travelling and you may crash. If the VFA levels increase sharply, this will eventually lead to a drop in the digester pH, which in turn will lead to the digester crashing. What you need to do is lift the blindfold and take a look inside the digester itself.

Traditionally, VFA is measured off line, and sporadically if at all, with operators relying on pH measurements to tell them which direction they are travelling. Unfortunately, by the time the pH of the digester has dropped the damage is done. What is needed instead is a way to measure VFA levels on-line to allow the operator to see which way they are going. Enter near infrared spectroscopy.

NIR Calibration Figure

Figure 1: Performance parameter determination with FT-NIRS (The solid line indicates values derived from standard laboratory analysis, the dashed line indicates values derived using FT-NIRS. Source: Reed et al., 2011)

FT-NIRS is a non-destructive analytical technique that can be used to determine key performance parameters for anaerobic treatment processes. FT-NIRS can be used to gather on-line, real-time data about the operating state of an anaerobic treatment process from feedstock properties to digestate. In-situ probes can be used to measure spectra at different stages of the process; feedstock, digestate, cake, liquor. These spectra can then be used with previously produced calibrations to provide real-time measurements of parameters (Figure 1) such as total and volatile solids, biological methane potential, volatile fatty acids, bicarbonate alkalinity, carbon/nitrogen ratios and more. The measurements gained though the use of FT-NIRS can then be integrated into the plant’s process monitoring system to provide the operator with real-time information about the stability of the digester (Reed et al, 2013). This now means that the operator can see which way they are going and avoid crashing, improving plant flexibility, and allowing optimisation of biogas yields.

References:

Reed, J.P., Devlin, D., Esteves, S.R.R., Dinsdale, R., Guwy, A.J., 2011. Performance parameter prediction for sewage sludge digesters using reflectance FT-NIR spectroscopy. Water Research, 45(8), pp. 2463 – 2472.

Reed, J.P., Devlin, D., Esteves, S.R.R., Dinsdale, R., Guwy, A.J., 2013. Integration of NIRS and PCA techniques for the process monitoring of a sewage sludge anaerobic digester. Bioresource Technology, 133, pp. 398 – 404.

JReedJames Reed

Senior Lecturer in Renewable Energy
Sustainable Environment Research Centre
University of South Wales

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

UK AD & Biogas Industry Awards 2014

Wales Centre of Excellence for Anaerobic Digestion

Wales Centre of Excellence for Anaerobic Digestion

At the University of South Wales, our Sustainable Environment Research Centre is home to the Wales Centre of Excellence for Anaerobic Digestion. We are proud to have been shortlisted for the 2014 UK AD & Biogas Industry Awards in two categories; ‘Making the most of Digestate’ and ‘Best Supporting Service’.

Since 2008 the Wales Centre of Excellence for Anaerobic Digestion has been providing support and technical services to the AD industry, industry stakeholders, policy developers and regulators. Our aims are to facilitate the development of a robust anaerobic digestion infrastructure within Wales, to foster innovative solutions that maximise the environmental and economic benefits of the process and products, and to encourage long term growth of the industry.

JReedJames Reed

Senior Lecturer in Renewable Energy
Sustainable Environment Research Centre
University of South Wales

Posted in Anaerobic Digestion, Biogas, Energy, James Reed, Methane, News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fuel Cells in the Real World Part 2: Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells

The image of a fuel cell vehicle driving on streets producing only water vapour as waste epitomises the public perception fuel cells. At the heart of these vehicles is Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) technology, which continues to dominate the fuel cell market in terms of numbers of shipments sold. PEMFCs operate at lower temperatures (70-120°C) relative to other types of fuel cells and have an electrolyte made of a solid polymer (such as Nafion) which conducts protons. Due to these characteristics and the sensitivity of the platinum electrodes to fuel impurities, PEMFCs generally require very pure hydrogen as a fuel source. However, the relatively low operating temperature, exceptional power density and scalability (Watt-sized to MW sized systems) makes PEMFC technology extremely versatile, which is why it is so popular and dominant within the fuel cell industry. Like Part 1 which looked at Solid Oxide Fuel Cell systems, the following gives a very brief overview of emerging PEMFC industrial developments and highlights the sheer diversity of PEMFC applications. More information can be accessed by clicking the relevant picture.

Hyundi FCEV                   Toyota FCEVForklift FCEV                          moped FCEV truck FCEV                  horizon FChymera FC                     hymera2 FCballard FC                                cekatec FC

The most familiar use of PEMFC technology the general public (and all fuel cells) is in fuel cell vehicles (FCEV). Hyundai (1) are leading the commercialisation of automotive PEMFC systems with the ix35 series production already underway. Toyota also plans to begin series production of an FCEV for market launch in 2015. Series production of the FCV-R concept (2) unveiled at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show is expected to begin soon.

Other vehicles employing PEMFC technology include fuel cell forklifts. The GenDriveTM PEMFC developed by Plug Power is used to power forklifts and numerous other materials handling vehicles (3). These are used at BMW Manufacturing’s 4.0 million square feet South Carolina plant, which is home to North America’s largest fuel cell forklift fleet. Lightweight PEMFC vehicles in development include the scooter series by APFCT (4), who are seeking partnerships with motorcycle manufacturers globally to take part in a prospective 3,000-strong fuel cell scooter demonstration in order to help the technology reach mass production. From light to heavy-duty, PEMFC technology is also at the heart of the Tyrano Class 8 heavy-duty truck developed by Vision Industries (5). Total Transportation Services signed for the purchase of 100 of these vehicles last year.

Away from transport, Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies have developed a range of portable PEMFC systems ranging from the Mini Pak hand held USB fuel cell charger (6) to the 200W Hymera portable power system (7). Their range of products also extends to stationary systems, which include the ECOBOX-MR, a range of 1-10kW PEMFC systems available for remote area or back-up power applications (8). A much larger stationary PEMFC system has been developed by Ballard. The 1 MW ClearGenTM system (9) continues to sell a small number of units per year and Ballard commissioned a 1 MW system at the headquarters of Toyota USA at the end of 2012.

Finally, the CEKAtec PEMFC powered drinks trolley (10) is an example of a PEMFC application that does not instantly come to mind. Conventional battery-powered trolleys did not have the energy density to last for the long distance train journey services provided by Swiss Federal Railways. Therefore, a PEMFC unit was designed to provide power to the drinks trolley and is currently being trialled on the Zurich–Berne route. The new PEMFC powered trolley can provide enough power for around 120 espressos, has twice the runtime of the conventional system, and is smaller and half the weight.

Fuel cell principles and technology are taught through lecturing and practical sessions as part of the new BSc Sustainable Energy Science degree at the University of South Wales.

CLaycock Christian Laycock

Research Fellow and Lecturer in Materials Chemistry
Sustainable Environment Research Centre
University of South Wales

Posted in Christian Laycock, Fuel Cells, News, PEMFC | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The beautiful complexity of climate

The statistician George Box said that ‘essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful’. Depending on your point of view it is all too easy to get stuck up on the first part of that statement, ‘all models are wrong’ without paying attention to the rest of it. As scientists or even just people going about our lives, we interpret the world around us through the use of models and the assumptions that go with them. These models are not perfect, but hopefully they are useful, or have ‘skill’. That skill allows us to understand and interact with our environment and even to project forward our assumptions about how the world works, to try to understand the consequences of actions or choices that we have made, are making, or will come to make.  Dr Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at NASA recently gave a TED talk on how models can be developed even for highly complex systems such as the Earth’s climate with enough skill to answer some of our questions and even pose new questions about about our environment and our relationship with it. It’s 12 mins, but well worth the time, especially in full screen.

 

JReedJames Reed

Senior Lecturer in Renewable Energy
Sustainable Environment Research Centre
University of South Wales

Posted in Climate Change, James Reed, Modelling | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

At the beginning of the week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report carried out by it’s working group 2 titled, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. In this report they detail the risks that have arisen and those we will face in the future as a result of human induced climate change. In particular they note that risks from a changing climate come from three interconnected areas; vulnerability (lack of preparedness), exposure (people or assets in harm’s way), and hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these areas can then be targetted for smart actions to reduce risk either through adapting to the risks, or by utilising technology such as sustainable energy devices to attempt to mitigate and limit future climate change and reduce risks in the future. Their video below summarises the findings of the report and delivers their key message.

The future risks from climate change will depend on the amount of warming that takes place and our ability to limit that through reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. The new report details that warming from our past emissions is already affecting the climate and impacting on life across the globe, with measurable impacts on agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods. Increasing amounts of warming due to our increasing emmisions of greenhouse gases may produce irreversible effects on our climate making adaptation difficult and costly. Therefore, it is in our best interests to develop and make use of low carbon, sustainable solutions to energy production and waste treatment now, to limit the risks we face in the future.

JReed James Reed

Senior Lecturer in Renewable Energy
Sustainable Environment Research Centre
University of South Wales

Posted in Climate Change, James Reed | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment