ABOUT ME

T-cell ALL survivor since November 2008. Allogeneic stem cell transplant survivor since June 2010. Leukemia can be successfully treated and cured. I'm proof!
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http://jdchasfaith.blogspot.com/2010/02/begin-blog.html or click on "I Beat Leukemia" above to read my latest post.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Florida Renewable Energy



This is an editorial blog post about renewable energy. It is mostly opinion-based with facts presented on the basis of common sense and some research. I am presenting my views, opinions, and ideas here. The post is not intended to be a complete representation of the topic. If you want more credible and in-depth information on what I've posted here, there are numerous internet search engines at your disposal.

I am very interested in renewable, or clean, energy in the production of electricity. If I can survive potential complications from my leukemia treatment, I would like to start a new career in that lucrative field. Before I begin, I want to reveal a MAJOR pet peeve that I have on renewable energy. First, it is scientifically immoral to use the word energy in that context. Anyone who has taken a basic physics class knows that energy can not be created or destroyed. I can't stand to see the phrase "create energy" in a renewable energy article. For the remainder of this post, I will be referring to renewable energy as clean "electricity."

Every day I read and study topics of clean electricity from all over the world, not just the U.S. and Florida. I enjoy reading stories of new solar plants, wind farms, hydroelectric plants, or anything that doesn't involve releasing carbon into the atmosphere. In addition to clean electricity, I enjoy reading articles on carbon capture and new methods of removing CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the air. As a result of keeping current with developments in these fields for years, I have become fairly knowledgeable of what is "good" and "bad" in those new developments.

Solar plant recently completed at Walt Disney World. Courtesy News13
First,  I am positively certain that to stop rising CO2 levels and the resulting effects on the climate two things must be implemented: Stop the artificial release of CO2 in the atmosphere, and remove the excess that's there and put it back in the ground. Easier said than done, but not impossible.

 Fifty Years From Now?

I believe our use of fossil fuels, mainly natural gas and oil, will not change within the next fifty years at minimum. However, I do believe that the use of coal to produce electricity will stop well before then if carbon capture doesn't become more cost-effective soon. The U.S. government is gearing toward mandating new coal power plants to have carbon capture systems.  I expect China, which is also a heavy coal user, to possibly stop all coal burning within the next fifty years, as well. This article explains my reasoning:

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/with_trump_china_stands_along_as_global_climate_leader/3057/ 

Automobiles will continue to run on gasoline for at least another fifty years until electric and alternative-fuel vehicles finally take over. Other industries that require fossil fuels such as steel, plastics, concrete, etc. will also continue to release carbon dioxide well into the future.

So, high amounts of CO2 from human activity will continue to be released into the air for many years. That's not going to change. Our society and economy is too reliant on fossil fuels. The only logical thing to concentrate on now, in reversing the effects of rising CO2 levels, is to develop alternative fuels to replace fossil fuels and develop cheap and effective methods to capture CO2 and put it back in the ground. Biomass, organic material from plants and animals, could do both.

Biomass "Could" Reduce CO2 Levels Drastically If Managed Correctly

Biomass from plants is one effective method to capture CO2 and lock it up. One way of utilizing biomass for carbon capture involves planting trees and lots of them. The trouble with this method is that it takes years, even decades, for them to have any effect on CO2 levels. Another form of plant biomass which is being researched vigorously is algae. 


Biomass is also considered an alternative fuel. One form of  "environmentally-friendly" electricity is to burn plant biomass in power plants. This method would only "recycle" CO2, not get rid of it. Trees, plants, algae, etc. could absorb large quantities of CO2 during their lifetime.  However, when that plant matter is burned in power plants, most of that CO2 goes right back into the atmosphere. This is why biomass is called "carbon neutral." Biomass can reduce our usage of fossil fuels, though, and that could ultimately reduce new CO2 emissions. Two reasons explain further. One is that biomass does not take carbon from under the ground and add it to the atmosphere like fossil fuels do. The second one is that for more biomass used, the less fossil fuels have to be consumed to produce the same output. Now if, by some miraculous scenario, we stopped using fossil fuels and started solely using biomass for power and biofuel production, it would have a profound impact on lowering CO2 levels in the air. This is because no carbon would be taken out of the ground anymore, and the natural processes of removing CO2 from the air, in excess of biomass, would start to lower atmospheric CO2 levels dramatically. I'm not saying this scenario is likely, I just wanted to clarify my reasoning. See this diagram, also:


Effects on CO2 levels if all fossil fuel usage stopped








 Florida Can Do Better!

So, what's the story of clean electricity in Florida? Well, in my opinion it could improve drastically, especially in the solar field. Florida does have some large solar plants. It could have many more and could rival California's solar. The state receives more sunshine during the cooler months of fall and winter than any other time of year. Also, photovoltaics are more efficient in cooler weather. Florida could produce a massive amount of photovoltaic solar electricity between the months of October and April if more plants were built. As far as the warmer months of May through September, Florida could still produce solar power, but the frequent afternoon clouds and storms in the summer, the reduced efficiency of photovoltaics in hot weather, and the supply/demand fluctuations from air conditioning makes solar photovoltaics unreliable as a major power source. Solar thermal would be more effective and practical in warm weather. One such plant already exists in Martin County, and it's operating fairly well.

Florida does have some other major clean electricity producers. In addition to some big solar plants, there are a few large biomass plants including one in Gainesville and one in Auburndale, two small hydroelectric plants in the panhandle, and several waste-to-energy incinerators throughout the state. There are many smaller biomass and landfill gas plants as well. Added together, the electric output of all this clean electricity is extremely low in comparison to the enormous electrical demand of the state. Florida has much room for improvement and could do better supplementing solar with a more practical and reliable type of clean electricity: Biomass.

Biomass plant and animal feedstock (trees, forest/logging waste, citrus waste, urban yard waste, sawmill waste, human/animal waste, etc.) is plentiful throughout most of the state. The areas of the state in which biomass is not plentiful can look into using algae. Biomass can be used to produce biofuel oil, gas, even hydrogen. 

Courtesy WPTV


This news story reveals the amazing reproductive capabilities of algae:
http://www.wptv.com/news/region-martin-county/emergency-declared-over-algae-in-martin-st-lucie-counties

Algae can be a cheap, quick, and effective form of biomass, and it can absorb CO2 quite effectively.  Algae farms can be sited near fossil-fueled power plants to capture carbon from those plants' emissions. A facility near the farms can then process the algae into biofuel where it can either be turned into oil or turned into an energy-rich gas. This gas can be used for co-firing in those same fossil-fueled power plants. The CO2 is, therefore, recycled over and over. Not only that, but the use of fossil fuels in those plants would decrease significantly while still producing the same amount of electricity.  Algae, in my opinion, is a great type of renewable fuel because of the fact it can recycle CO2 quite rapidly. However, biomass from trees or other plant waste, is not so great, unless it can use a type of plant that grows extraordinarily fast.  This could be done using invasive plant species...


Invasive Plants for Biomass?

Air Potato Vine

Elephant Ear

Paper Mulberry trees with five months' growth after being cut down to the ground




One thing I would like to see in the future of Florida biomass is the use of existing invasive plant species. Off the top of my head I can think of a few species that could be very effective in recycling CO2 in a short time span. They are melaleuca trees, bamboo, air potato vine, kudzu, paper mulberry trees, elephant ear, water hyacinth, hydrilla, and australian pine trees. All of these plant species thrive in Florida with minimal or no care. They also grow fast and are capable of absorbing large quantities of carbon dioxide in a short period of time.  Farms could be developed to cultivate these plants as long as strict controls are in place (to avoid allowing them to spread off site.) Some of those invasive plants could also be used to treat water discharged from sewage treatment plants. The nitrates and phosphorus in that water would cause the plants to grow even faster. When harvested, the biomass could then be turned into a cheap, carbon-neutral biofuel. 

Animal and Human Waste

Florida's large agricultural industry also includes livestock (beef, dairy, pork, and poultry.) Dairy, poultry, and pork farms create a large amount of manure which eventually creates methane. Depending on how large the farm is, this methane could be processed and burned to create a substantial amount of electricity. Sewage treatment plants also create methane which could be used to produce electricity. Trash in landfills, also considered a form of human waste, creates methane. Several large landfills in the state already capture landfill gas and use it to produce electricity. However, if all sewage treatment plants and landfills in the state were mandated to use the methane they produce to generate electricity, a substantial amount of renewable electricity would be added to the grid. This would, possibly, prevent a new fossil fuel plant from being built in the future.

Pyrolysis 

I am more in favor with biomass being turned into a gas or liquid fuel by pyrolysis rather than it be left as a solid fuel to be directly burned. The reason is that less CO2 would be released, and the remaining solid components after pyrolysis is complete could be turned into a useful soil additive. Also, before burning, the biomass feedstock must be dried which is a long and energy-intensive process. Pyrolysis, an energy-intensive process as well but not as much, heats biomass in the absence of oxygen to create a liquid fuel or synthetic gas similar to natural gas. Pyrolysis could be more energy-efficient by using waste heat from power plants. The implications for biofuel use in Florida is huge! It could be used to create electricity, carbon-neutral crude oil and fuel, and numerous environmentally-friendly consumer products all while reducing the use of fossil fuels and cutting the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere.

What About Burying It?

One method of putting carbon back in the ground that's really not well-known is to bury biomass. If fast-growing plants, like the ones I mentioned earlier, could be harvested and buried deep in the ground on a daily basis, that would provide an instant, cheap method of carbon capture. The material could be shredded at the farm and either be buried on site, transported a short distance to another site and buried, or buried in old phosphate mines/pits. If buried deep enough, the biomass would not have access to oxygen preventing the creation and release of carbon dioxide. Another method of carbon sequestration that could work in Florida is to bury bulky woody material (logs and stumps) from fast-growing plants in large lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, or the Gulf of Mexico. The carbon from that dense woody mass would remain in the water for centuries. In addition, the woody material would provide new shelter and habitats for fish and other marine life.


 Final Thoughts

Biomass, along with more solar, could make Florida an enormous clean-electricity-state. The value of biomass could potentially be extensive. If utilized properly and efficiently, it could help reduce the release of CO2 significantly and keep more fossil fuels in the ground. After all, the main goal of preventing climate change is to keep carbon in the ground. The methods of biomass usage I've mentioned could be used throughout the world, not just Florida. If more governments, companies, and people would be willing to develop these methods, it could drastically cut CO2 levels in the future before the effects on Earth become more extreme. 

 The ideas and opinions I have posted here are copyrighted and are my personal property.