Friday, June 3, 2011

Old Bessie’s Last Days

What you see here is the most polluting power station in the United States. It was built in 1917, and commissioned a few years later. It generates 175 MW, which it delivers to two counties. It is known as Old Bessie.

From a bit different view.

At the bottom left, you see a part of the coal bed, above which is the coal handling area. Directly in front of the hoppers is the stack. To my knowledge, the hoppers are a part of the sulfur removal system, and indicate that Old Bessie has undergone at least one retrofit.

Here is another photograph which shows the coal bed.

Old Bessie will be decommissioned in late 2012, due to the fact that a new power station is being built nearby. This new power station will provide 3 1/2 times as much power, to be delivered to five counties, with near-zero carbon emissions.

It does this by means of a gasification system. The coal is pulverized, and then introduced to pressure, steam, and a chemical cocktail; something like a giant espresso machine. Most of the carbon is removed at this point, and sent to the pits, where it is sold off for asphalt manufacture. The liquid is piped to an evaporative column and refined to its component gases. Mercury, sulfur, and other contaminants are removed at this point. The gases are mixed with other chemicals, and are then known as “syngas.” It is this syngas which fuels the boiler, which powers the generator. This particular unit is equipped with two HRSG’s.

This is the fourth power plant that I’ve worked on, although my background is more in refineries and chemical plants; the third coal-fired power plant.

The first power station where I worked was a gas-fired peaking station. I worked mainly instrumentation there.

The second was a marvel of modern science which marked the introduction of Japanese technology in the United States; the second of its type in North America, as they had built one two years earlier in Southern Alberta, Genesee No. 3. An engineering model for the Genesee unit:

There a quite a few innovations here. At almost every part of the plant there is some type of new technology which had never before been seen in the US.

At 790 MW, this is the first of the large-capacity supercritical boilers of its type in the US. It utilizes a spiral waterwall rather than the conventional vertical waterwall. It is designed for sliding pressure operation, unlike the conventional super-critical units built in the US. There are a number of sensors along the waterwall which direct a rotating water cannon, enabling it to knock off slag on the fly.

The water treatment system employs a different type of chemicals, which was developed in Germany. The burner is designed with lower stoichiometric ratio, specifically for the low-sulfur bituminous coal of the Powder River Basin, which is classified as a severe slagging fuel. It produces lower NOx content. It exceeded anticipated efficiency during the testing phase.

The turbine is different. It was redesigned to be more efficient. The vortex nozzle is of a newer design, resulting in increased efficiency. 10 – 15 % of the efficiency of the turbine is a direct result of the redesign of the last stage blade. This required the introduction of newer types of steel, which required a few innovations in its manufacture. An overlay method of welding is required for the main bearings rather than the traditional sleeve method. The valves also require high-chromium steel. The axle of the turbine undergoes such severe stress during the start-up phase that it warps. There’s no way around it. Another device at one end bends the axle back into true on the fly.

There is also a urea pad there which produces ammonia on-site (an American technology).

The air quality control systems (AQCS) employ various designs based on the Japanese technology, including an SDS structure with a lime slurry. A portion of revision 9 of the prints was finalized according to my specifications.

I also worked in the turbine area, on the cooling system, and on the hydro-testing.

The second coal-burner that I worked on was of similar design. That one drew water from Lake Michigan, cleaned it up for use in the boiler, and then returned it later. It was engineered for zero particulate emissions, and is currently one of the 10 cleanest coal-fueled power plants in the nation.

I fractured my knee while I was there. They told me that it was a sprain, and I put ice on it twice a day. I went to work for five days on a broken knee until they finally sent me in for an MRI and discovered the fracture; and let me be clear about this-- I’m not some blowhard that stands around giving lectures all day-- I actually work for a living. That earned me the nickname of “Iron Will.” That seems to have followed me. I didn’t care for it so much at first, but now I’ve warmed up to it a bit.

I worked on the condenser units, the water treatment system, and on a part of the SDS system (AQCS) as part of the start-up crew.

I was encouraged by one of the older field engineers that I was working with to submit my resume to the company as field engineer (we had a somewhat lengthy discussion on the chemical properties of lime vs. chalk one day). He offered to give me a good reference. I determined for myself that I wanted to work at one more coal-burner before I did. Taking Old Bessie offline will mark my one.

I know a little bit about clean coal technology.

I know about what’s in place now, and I know something about what’s coming up.

The use of target-specific ionic liquids (TSILs) will become more common as the need to reduce carbon emissions becomes more urgent. The abstract from two papers on the subject follows here:

Performance of nitrile-containing anions in task-specific ionic liquids for improved CO2/N2 separation

Mahurin, S. M. Lee, J. S. Baker, G. A. Luo, H. Dai, S. 2010-01-01

This work explores the performance of a series of ionic liquids that incorporate a nitrile-containing anion paired to 1-alkyl-3-methylimidazolium cations in tailoring the selectivity and permeance of supported ionic liquid membranes for CO2/N2 separations. The permeance and selectivity of three ionic liquids, each with an increasing number of nitrile groups in the anion (i.e., two, three, and four), were measured using a non-steady-state permeation method. By predictably varying the molar volume and viscosity of the ionic liquids, we show that the solubility, selectivity, and permeance can be optimized for CO2/N2 separation through controlled introduction of the nitrile functionality into the anion. Of the three nitrile-based ionic liquids studied, 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium tetracyanobor...

Design and Evaluation of Ionic Liquids as Novel CO2 Absorbents

Maginn, Edward 2007-07-15

This is the final report for project DE-FG26-04NT42122 'Design and Evaluation of Ionic Liquids as Novel CO{sub 2} Absorbents'. The objective of this 'breakthrough concepts' project was to investigate the feasibility of using ionic liquids for post-combustion CO{sub 2} capture and obtain a fundamental understanding of the solubility of CO{sub 2} and other components present in flue gas in ionic liquids. Our plan was to obtain information on how composition and structure of ionic liquid molecules affected solubility and other important physical properties via two major efforts: synthesis and experimental measurements and molecular simulation. We also planned to perform preliminary systems modeling study to assess the economic viability of a process based on ionic liquids. We accomplished all the milestones and tasks specified in the original proposal. Specifically, we carried out extensive quantum and classical atomistic-level simulations of a range of ionic liquids. These calculations provided detailed information on how the chemical composition of ionic liquids affects physical properties. We also learned important factors that govern CO{sub 2} solubility. Using this information, we synthesized or acquired 33 new ionic liquids. Many of these had never been made before. We carried out preliminary tests on all of these compounds, and more extensive tests on those that looked most promising for CO{sub 2} capture. We measured CO{sub 2} solubility in ten of these ionic liquids. Through our efforts, we developed an ionic liquid that has a CO{sub 2} solubility 2.6 times greater than the 'best' ionic liquid available to us at the start of the project. Moreover, we demonstrated that SO{sub 2} is also extremely soluble in ionic liquids, opening up the possibility of using ionic liquids to remove both SO{sub 2} and CO{sub 2} from flue gas. In collaboration with Trimeric Inc., a preliminary systems analysis was conducted and the results used to help identify physical properties that must be optimized to enable ionic liquids to be cost-competitive for CO{sub 2} capture. It was found that increasing the capacity of the ionic liquids for CO{sub 2} would be important, and that doing so could potentially make ionic liquids more effective than conventional amine solvents.

That’s the sort of thing that I’m talking about.

You don’t have to do the chemistry yourself. There are other people more knowledgeable that are working on it. I get it with an MSDS sheet and a spec sheet.

I also know a bit about the system that TSILs require. I have a pretty good idea of how the chemicals will enter the system and how they will be monitored (by the pH level of the outflow, the same as with the SDS). I already know this system. A few of the specifics remain a range of options.

However, the belief that clean coal technology is even remotely viable prohibits me from being anything approaching a liberal. It’s simply not a part of their agenda. It makes me hated among progressives. While telling me that they love “Science” so much, they really don’t seem to have much of a grasp of it on a practical level.

Nevertheless, I believe in what I do. It coincides with my concept of good stewardship.

I am in the business of making the world a better place. That’s what I do.

And anyone that doesn’t like it can kiss my ass.


lindsaylobe said...

What a contrast to ‘Old Bessie’. We are in dire need of that technology here in Victoria where our power is largely dependant on the use of brown coal of which we have massive reserves.

previous post.................
On the question of libertarian views in politics I think the USA puts more emphasis on nationalism and the inevitable evangelistic fervor to espouse a pride in ones country than most other countries. There is the sense no candidate can ever stray too far away from the ideal that the USA is seen as a liberator of nations in alignment with the nations much cherished idea of their freedom.
There seems to be lack of recognition that other nations also claim such a sovereign pride and that the respective histories are both good and bad with nothing particularly remarkable about the USA notwtstandibg it is the world’s super power. But like all that come before it that decline in influence is inevitable. One gets the impression over here there lacks any real debate about a rational way ahead obscured by the tendancey to revert back to this idealistic nationalistic fervor and greatness of the past which is not shared elsewhere in the globe even among your allies. This nationalistic fervor obscures rational debate about the social issues and the fair progress of your systems, capitalism and in framing a coherent foreign policy.
Best wishes

Mercutio said...

I would be surprised if there weren't already some introduction of these technologies into Australia.
Succinctly, there are three models: the Japanese model, which entails large-capacity boilers and highly efficient equipment; the German model, which involves reuse of residual heat and multiple fuels; and the (current) gasification process is an American technology developed by Honeywell (Selexol is the brand name).
The US had experimented with developing a replacement fuel for gasoline with coal during the WWII era.
At least two other gasification plants will begin being built here next year; one in northern Indiana, and one in West Virginia. It looks like they plan on piping the syngas around as a fuel for other power plants. I'm not sure as to what manner of process would be involved in a retrofit for an older model for the newer fuel.
I can tell you that one of the test fuels for the prototype for the Genesee unit was an Australian coal.

In our usage, libertarians favor a restricted government. Most are strong federalists, meaning that they support a more republic, ie decentralized, form of government.
Libertarians are often seen as either wildly liberal or wildly conservative, when in fact they are neither.
There are quite a number of regulations which are particular to the states.
For example, in Iowa, I have to pay a 5 cents deposit on any bottle, glass or plastic. In Michigan, it's 10 cents. But there are only about 8 states that have such a regulation.
Helmet laws for motorcycles are another thing that's left up to the states, and what constitutes the minimum of auto insurance. In Florida, every must have $50,000 of health coverage for the other motorist in case of an accident. In Texas, persons who can demonstrate personal holdings of $50,000 cash value are exempt from laws regulating the minimum coverage.
And on and on.

I'm not so sure if the US places more emphasis on nationalism, or if this was just a product of the Bush years. I don't remember the same kind of thing going on when the troops were in Bosnia.
I have noticed that the war protesters remain conspicuously silent upon having a Democratic President.
It rather demonstrates their character, I should think.
I'm really not so interested in foreign policy myself. My own position is that we should try to get along with others, and do the right thing; but that's not about to happen.
More often than not, foreign policy is decided by resource allocation; diplomats to rob them peaceably, and soldiers if they happen to make a fuss about it. But it all works out the same. One way or another, the corporations must be fed.
But no, the real dialogue eludes us, such as, "How much is truly the responsibility of the government to do?" Instead we idle ourselves with issues of handouts and histrionics, a nation of impoverished souls.
I have traveled widely. I wandered from my place long ago.
And if I had ten minutes to tell you what substitutes for honor and dignity among this people, you would be aghast.
Nevertheless, most of the people here are a good and decent folk. It's better to take them as individuals than groups.

lindsaylobe said...

True – one cannot generalize. It was a long time ago that Bush said ‘I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.’
Not many people like talking about moral philosophy to pose the question what I ought I to do- since I think there are many ways to goodness. Herein I think lay the westernized fallacies as to how to tackle the issue as to what one ought to do – always a call to action and not to meditation/ contemplation. For what can be intuitively appealing to one – such as the use of regular meditation/ thinking / prayer – with the fruits to equip one to act calmly and rationally might not work for others with a disposition (gift) to a more practical persuasion. We have this peculiar westernized idea one can only ever be right by virtue of another being wrong whereas what is often the case is we are occupying a different positions on the elephant’s anatomy- viewing differing world views from our perspective. Sitting on the other side of the elephants back helps you see the reverse side of the same coin so to speak where thinking, praying, insights etc are only things that will change anything or mean anything – including of course the option to do nothing which sometimes can also be what the best course of action.
Consequentlists (who I have some empathy for) say we should only act in a way that brings about the best consequences. This may be of appeal since it ties in more with the idea of a practical application for our ideas/ thoughts which are considered irrelevant until transformed into action. Hence you think about the best outcome according to the consequences and put those thoughts into actions whether they are liberal or whatever.
But this is a flawed philosophy because we can’t definitively always determine what will be always be the best outcomes and what will bad or adverse regardless of whether or not they convincingly transform us at the time. Intention is also important but it is not always enough in its own right to secure a good outcome- but it can be helpful so that it is the intention of the laws or persons is to………….
I am more inclined to the idea of acting in a way that relieves suffering and known harm to show respect / reverence to all life whilst recognizing there are many different ways to do this at various levels and that by implication that involves a defense of individual rights. But as I said at the outset there are many different ways to goodness.
Best wishes

Mercutio said...

I am inclined to agree.
However, I believe that there is a 'core' of goodness which is universal in its extent.

Recently in your comments section, I had given the example of Schrodinger's cat. I really feel that it is often overused, and I didn't feel quite comfortable doing it; but it wasn't until a couple of days later that I found a better example.
Suppose I am in a completely darkened room. What I see will be complete darkness.
Now, suppose that room were suddenly lit up with non-ionizing radiation. What I would see would still be a completely darkened room.
This is what I was referring to as one of the three basic errors of instrumentation; that of the loss of mechanical transference. You see, every instrument must have some form of readout which conforms to the human senses. The process of transferring that energy confers a loss.

I believe that such notions as consequentialism and distributive justice, etc., have much the same fallacy at their base; ie that they presume to have adequate information beforehand, and do not take into account unknown variables.
For example, hydroelectric power is carbon neutral, and so seems to be a good thing. However, it has been shown that species depletion occurs as much as 300 miles upstream of these facilities. We simply do not know all that this species depletion entails.

Definitely, character and predilection color our views on what acts might constitute pragmatism. But I am inclined to believe that actions do not define our character, but rather demonstrate it; ie that action is a product of character, and not vice versa.
From time to time, Geo. F Will write something which might be considered worthwhile; roughly three times a year.
I remember one of his columns from long ago where he drew the distinction between values and virtues.
Succinctly, (in his view) virtues are a thing to be strived for, honed, and never quite fully attained; while values are a thing that comes quite easily -- one need do no more than merely to have an opinion on a matter.
Through some mechanism, our society has observed the ascendancy of values, and at the expense of virtues. We would rather not apply ourselves, but rather take something for cheap.
These people are like a fruit with a hidden worm. The portion which is wholesome has already been consumed.

Now, as to what that core of goodness might be, I seem to be much better at tracing its outline than painting its portrait. Still working on it though.

I had hoped to have a more thoughtful response for you, and I am terribly sorry, but I am sorely pressed for time.
But thank you for the thought-provoking comment.