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HYDROSOL Plant Project – Hydrogen power for zero CO2 emissions

HYDROSOL Plant Project – Hydrogen power for zero CO2 emissions

The EU-funded HYDROSOL-PLANT project supported by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint undertaking (FCH JU) has developed a technology that has the potential to produce hydrogen on a large-scale, cost-effectively. This renewable energy could slow climate change and create a sustainable future. The reason for this innovation is that Europe relies on natural gas and fossil fuels from a limited number of countries. These energy sources generate harmful greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change and its devastating impacts.

We are all part of the result of climate change – widely believed to be caused by CO2 emissions –  with 2015 recorded as the hottest year in history. Unless we start relying on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels because the impact of climate change will simply get worse. “We need to intensify our efforts and investments into the R&D of renewable energy now before it’s too late,” says HYDROSOL-PLANT project coordinator Athanasios Konstandopoulos.

“Unfortunately, there is less of a financial and political incentive to develop alternative clean and renewable fuels because of the low price of natural gas and oil,” he explains. The production of green hydrogen is the answer to these complex environmental, geopolitical and economic challenges.” The HYDROSOL-PLANT project has developed a technology that can generate hydrogen from a renewable source without any carbon emissions.

The science behind the HYDROSOL technology

HYDROSOL technology uses solar thermo-chemical engineering to produce hydrogen from water. This involves the following two chemical processes in a HYDROSOL reactor:

  • Oxidation: When steam (H2O) passes through the solar reactor, the active water-splitting material, a metal oxide in a reduced state (MOreduced), splits the water vapour by ‘trapping’ the oxygen (O2) from the H2O (thus adopting an oxidised state) and releasing pure hydrogen H2 gas into the effluent gas stream. The chemical reaction is represented as MOreduced + H2O → MOoxidized + H2 (g).
  • Reduction: In this step, the heat absorbed by the reactor from the Sun is used to drive the oxygen away from the metal oxide (MOoxidized). This chemical reaction (MOoxidized → MOreduced + O2 (g)) produces MOreduced and oxygen in the same reactor where the oxidation process takes place.

This is a cyclical process as MOreduced produced through the reduction process is then re-used in the oxidation process.

The HYDROSOL reactor — tried, tested and enhanced in Spain

The HYDROSOL reactor is made of a ceramic material. From a distance, it looks like a giant catalytic converter from a modern car. Up close, the reactor looks more like an enormous ceramic honeycomb comprised of a multitude of segments. This ceramic material has been designed to absorb solar radiation and reach the high temperatures needed to split water.

Researchers first developed smaller reactors in a series of EU-funded projects. The 3kW thermal reactor developed within the HYDROSOL project received, among other international awards, the EU’s Descartes Prize,the annual award in science given by the European Union, A 100 kWth reactor was also developed within the HYDROSOL-II project. Within the subsequent HYDROSOL-PLANT project, a much bigger pilot reactor is being constructed and demonstrated. It will be installed and used on the solar tower facility of Plataforma Solar de Almeria (PSA) in the south of Spain. The 750 kW thermal solar tower, based on the HYDROSOL technology, is the world’s largest solar hydrogen plant reactor.

During the HYDROSOL-PLANT project, researchers have modified the reactor structure to increase performance. The past projects demonstrated that the technology can produce solar hydrogen under realistic conditions, and now a more robust and productive reactor is being deployed. “The next step would be to develop a plant that is 10 to 20 times larger than this one,” explains Konstandopoulos.

Green hydrogen — the key to a sustainable future

This technology is suitable for large centralized applications — to power a city or to produce important chemicals such as ammonia or methanol. If plants based on the HYDROSOL technology were built in sunny countries, such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, they could supply clean renewable energy carriers (fuel produced from sunlight and electricity) to the rest of Europe. As the potential powerhouse of Europe, the southern European countries could help the continent reduce its reliance on Russia and the Middle East for natural gas and fuel.

“My vision for the future is a sustainable economy that uses a variety of clean energy sources, Not only is a hydrogen future possible, it is likely to start in Europe,” predicts Konstandopoulos. Some vehicle manufacturers have already developed prototype cars that are powered by hydrogen, but “green” hydrogen needs to be produced on a large scale before these prototype cars become widely adopted. Investment in establishing more HYDROSOL technology plants could turn this vision into a reality.

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Britain’s Rugeley coal plant to close this summer

Britain’s Rugeley coal plant to close this summer

Britain’s Rugeley coal plant will close this summer due to worsening market conditions for coal generation, with the potential loss of 150 jobs, operator Engie said yesterday (Monday).

The one-gigawatt plant, located in Staffordshire, is jointly owned by French power and gas group Engie and Mitsui & Co. Ltd. It can provide enough electricity to power one million homes.

A surge in renewable energy production and cheap gas prices have effectively priced coal-fired power plants out of the market in Britain.

Engie commented in a statement :

“Unfortunately market conditions for UK coal plant have deteriorated rapidly in recent years, as a result of a continued fall in power prices on the back of a commodity market decline, and increases in carbon costs.”

Then it added :

“Under such conditions, there is no prospect of the power station recovering its future operating costs.”

Earlier this month, British power producer SSE said it would likely close most of the units at its 1,995-megawatt Fiddler’s Ferry coal-fired plant from the first of April.

Commenting on this event, investment bank Jefferies said it expects more coal plant closures this year in Britain if the relative profitability of burning gas over coal by utilities continues.

According to French newsletter La Lettre de l’Expansion‍​, Engie plans to sell 2.5 to 3 billion euros worth of exploration and production assets, 2 to 3 billion euros of coal-fired power plants, 5 billion euros worth of U.S. plants, and some infrastructure assets, over 2016-2018.

Engie owns five other plants, including the 2GW First Hydro pumped storage facility in north Wales and a 1GW gas-fired power station at Saltend in East Yorkshire.

The demise of Rugeley adds to a growing list of coal-fired plants that have been forced to close. The 2GW Eggborough plant in Yorkshire and Longannet in Fife are slated to close in March, while Ironbridge in Shropshire closed last year and power supplier SSE is to close most of the 2GW Fiddler’s Ferry plant near Manchester.

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SSE set to close most of major coal power plants

SSE set to close most of major coal power plants

Energy company SSE has said yesterday (Wednesday) it expects to close three out of four units at its Fiddler’s Ferry coal-fired power plant in Cheshire, England by 1 April, despite gaining a government capacity contract designed to incentivise back-up plants to stay online.

The 45-year old plant has been loss-making for two years and was forecast to continue losing money until 2020, mainly due to renewable energy and cheap gas prices, which have made coal-fired power plants increasingly expensive to run.

SSE has entered into consultation with staff, with a possible closure which could mean up to 213 job losses. The power plant provides two gigawatts of power to the north-west of England, enough to supply around two million homes with electricity :

“The reality is the station is ageing, its method of generating electricity is being rendered out of date and it has been and is expected to continue to be loss-making in the years ahead”, Paul Smith, managing director of the generation business at SSE said in a statement.

SSE said it would incur a penalty charge of around £33m for breaching the contract by closing the units. But it doesn’t seem to dissuade Paul Smith :

“The fact it makes more sense for SSE to contemplate making a substantial payment in lieu of the capacity agreement relating to Fiddler’s Ferry in 2018/19, demonstrates just how economically challenged Fiddler’s Ferry has become. Its losses are unsustainable.”

However, a fourth unit at the plant will remain open as it has a contract to provide power for the National Grid next winter.

Let’s remind that three months ago, the British government announced the permanent closure of all coal-fired power plants by 2025, as part of plans to lower carbon emissions from the electricity sector, and following strict EU regulation.

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“Projections show that global coal demand will increase 15% by 2040”, says  IEA Clean Coal Centre

“Projections show that global coal demand will increase 15% by 2040”, says IEA Clean Coal Centre

The long-term future of coal as a major energy source is often portrayed as being at risk; however, the picture is more complex than that, according to a new report from the IEA Clean Coal Centre that looks at the effects of regulatory trends on coal-fired power plants and global coal demand :

“More stringent legislation for coal combustion means that in some parts of the world, notably the EU, coal-fired power providers must either construct state-of-the-art, advanced power plants, invest in retrofitting pollution control technologies for existing facilities or shut down plants altogether”, said the IEA Clean Coal Centre in a press statement on the release of the report.

Despite such measures and the latest commitment to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at COP21 in Paris late 2015, thermal coal demand will continue to grow to 2040 led by China and India and, to a lesser extend, southeast Asian countries, the report concludes :

“By 2040, forecasts indicate that the share of coal in global primary energy will decline to 24% (from 30% in 2014). But projections show that global coal demand will increase 15% by 2040, as total energy demand grows”, said the IEA Clean Coal Centre.

Yet this growth will vary greatly between regions. In OECD countries, coal demand is forecast to decline, particularly in the US where electricity generation from coal-fired power plant is expected to fall by about a third over the next decade, “due to increased regulation and competition from other fuels”, said the IEA Clean Coal Centre :

“Conversely, coal demand in developing countries is forecast to increase by about one third by 2040 with significant growth in south east Asia, India, Africa and Brazil”, continued the IEA Clean Coal Centre, adding that “coal demand in China is expected to peak in 2030”.

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Energy giant Cluff abandons Firth of Forth coal gas plan in Scotland

Energy giant Cluff abandons Firth of Forth coal gas plan in Scotland

Cluff Natural Resources has shelved plans to drill for unconventional gas under the Firth of Forth and will shift its focus to projects outside Scotland.

The energy giant had planned to build the UK’s first deep offshore underground coal gasification (UCG) plant at Kincardine in Fife, but its plans were put on hold last year in November ahead of the Scottish government imposing a moratorium on UCG over environmental concerns.

Cluff said it had now stopped all expenditure related to the project.

The company, which holds nine UCG licences across Scotland, England and Wales, claimed the £250 million scheme (€336m) could generate £603m (€810m) for the economy and create 1,000 jobs.

In a statement, Cluff commented its decision :

“While the company is confident that the evidence in relation to UCG will result in the moratorium being lifted, it has stopped all expenditure related to the Kincardine project and is now focusing its attention outside of Scotland, in particular the north-east of England, where the company believes the political situation is more favourable with regards to UCG and considerable support exists for investment in energy and industry with a view to regeneration.”

UCG is an unconventional method of producing gas from coal seams deep underground.

Its supporters argue it is a new and cleaner way of extracting the estimated 85% of the world’s coal reserves that are too deep to mine using traditional techniques.

On the other side, its opponents explain Fife would be used as a testing ground for the largely untried process, which could have consequences if toxic gases leak into Fife’s rising mine water.

According to Dr Harry Bradbury, founder and chief executive of UK clean energy company Five Quarters, this process results in 20% of the CO2 produced from traditional coal mining.

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Britain has closed its last coal mine

Britain has closed its last coal mine

On Friday, 18 of December, UK Coal closed Britain’s last deep-cast coal mine, Kellingley Colliery, 50 years after it opened. 450 jobs are expected to be lost.

The closure of the North Yorkshire mine marks the end of an era, given Britain’s coal industry was at the heart of its economic growth in the early 20th century, when it employed some 1.2 million people at nearly 3,000 collieries.

Underground coal mining has become unprofitable in Britain, however, because of fierce competition from cheaper markets such as Colombia and Russia, falling domestic demand and a government drive away from carbon-intensive coal power generation.

UK Coal was placed into administration in 2013 after struggling with rising costs, hefty pension liabilities and strong competition from cheaper coal imports.

At the same time, a government push to move away from coal in Britain’s energy mix, has also been a blow to the industry.

In November it announced plans to close its coal-fired power plants by 2025, becoming the first major economy to put a date on shutting coal plants to curb carbon emissions.

Coal-fired power plants provided around one-third of Britain’s electricity last year but many of its ageing plants are due to close over the next decade due to tightening European Union environmental standards and as weak electricity prices make them uneconomical.

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Germany to set out climate action plan by mid-2016

Germany to set out climate action plan by mid-2016

“Germany will lay out a climate action plan for 2050 by the middle of next year, and is talking to industry groups and trade unions about ways to end coal-fired power generation”, its Environment Minister said yesterday (Monday).

Global leaders clinched a breakthrough deal in Paris on Saturday to transform the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy within decades in a bid to arrest global warming.

While Germany’s green energy campaign has earned it the reputation of a leader in environmental policy, critics say it needs to set a timetable to scrap coal power if it is to meet its own ambitious long-term climate targets :

“It is completely clear that we need to exit fossil energy sources by the middle of the century”, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said, adding Germany needed to ” find a way to cushion the social impact in some regions”.

The German government is due to decide on a climate action plan for 2050 by the summer of 2016 and will give more concrete details on a coal exit then.

Last year, Europe’s largest and most dynamic economy generated more than a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power.

But at the same time the phase-out of nuclear power has increased its reliance on brown coal, the dirtiest of all energy sources, which is cheaper than low-emission gas-powered plants.

Faced with opposition from unions in coal-producing states, Germany dropped a proposal to impose penalties on the oldest and most polluting coal-fired power plants in July. Instead, it will set up a coal-fired electricity reserve.

The coal sector accounted for around 44 percent of electricity generated in Germany in 2014.

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Sweden sets goal of fossil-free economy

Sweden sets goal of fossil-free economy

By 2030, Sweden plans to become a fossil fuel-free country and wants be one of the world’s first fossil fuel-free welfare states.

Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation Kristina Persson, dubbed the “minister for the future” by the government, said the goal can be achieved by breaking the link between economic growth and increased emissions :

“Since the mid-1990s, Sweden is one of few industrialised countries that has managed a decoupling of economic growth and GHG emissions, creating a rising economy paired with falling emission levels”, said Kristina Persson.

The Swedish government explained greenhouse gas emissions are down 22 percent from 1990 levels. Swedish gross domestic product grew 58 percent during that time. That’s far less, however, when weighed against major economies like the United States.

EU member states are obligated to use renewable resources for 20 percent of their energy consumption by 2020. Eurostat, the region’s statistics officer, reported Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden were the only three in the bloc to reach their targets ahead of schedule.

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Europe’s largest insurer Allianz to pull funds out of coal businesses

Europe’s largest insurer Allianz to pull funds out of coal businesses

Allianz will withdraw investment from coal companies over the next six months, a top executive told German state broadcaster ZDF on Monday.

The Munich-based insurer, which manages €2 trillion worth of assets, is divesting from mining firms and utilities that get more than 30% of revenues or power from coal.

Chief investment officer Andreas Gruber said it would double investment in wind power to €4 billion over the next few years :

“We will no longer invest in mining companies and utilities that generate more than 30 percent of their sales or energy creation from coal”, Mr Gruber commented.

The financial giant is the largest asset manager yet to announce its departure from the most polluting fossil fuel.

It follows French counterpart Axa, which in May committed to sell €500 million worth of coal holdings, and Norway’s $900 billion sovereign wealth fund (€846m).

An estimated US$2.6 trillion (€2.4tn) worth of funds had committed to fully or partially divest from fossil fuels by September.

The moral case for cutting ties with the climate-damaging sector has got a boost from coal’s recent crash in value. A slowdown in demand growth from China has driven global coal prices down to half their 2011 level.

Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said at a webcast briefing on Tuesday those who bought coal shares in 2013 would today have lost 75% of their investment.

The Allianz Group employs 147,000 people and operates in over 70 countries, according to its website.

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UK’s coal plants to be phased out within 10 years

UK’s coal plants to be phased out within 10 years

Britain aims to close its coal-fired power plants by 2025 under plans announced today (Wednesday), becoming the first major economy to put a date on shutting coal plants to curb carbon emissions.

Instead, the country will look to nuclear and natural gas-fired power plants to complement intermittent renewable energy.

Indeed, gas plants emit almost half the amount of carbon dioxide per megawatt of power generated as coal plants :

“It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations”, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said.

However, if coal power plants are able to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) before 2025, they would not be closed.

Around a third of Britain’s electricity came from coal-fired plants last year but many of the 12 still operating are old and due to close over the next decade under tightening European Union environmental standards.

British power producer Drax announced in September it would halt investment in the country’s only coal power station carbon capture and storage (CCS) project when it is completed.

German utility E.ON operates a 2 gigawatt (GW) coal-fired plant in Nottinghamshire, England, which is fitted with pollution-reducing technology that means it could still be running in 2025 under current legislation.

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