One step forwards may mean taking two steps back!
Some of the most promising and interesting energy alternatives aren’t revolutionary ideas. We all know about windmills and waterwheels and that they have been around for centuries.
Today, a variety of improvements, including innovative turbine designs, are transforming ancient machines into cutting-edge pieces of technology that can help satisfy everyone’s energy needs.
There’s a new/old process, one that you probably don’t know much about and its gaining popularity and may join wind and hydropower to increase renewable energy. The process is known as gasification, a set of chemical reactions that uses limited oxygen to convert a carbon containing feedstock into a synthetic gas, or Syngas.
It sounds like combustion, but it’s not. Combustion uses an abundance of oxygen to produce heat and light by burning. Gasification technology uses only a tiny amount of oxygen, which is combined with steam and cooked under intense pressure. This starts a series of reactions that produces a gas mixture composed primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.
This syngas can be burned directly or used as a starting point to manufacture fertilizers, pure hydrogen, methane or liquid transportation fuels.
Believe it or not, gasification has been around for decades and Scottish engineer William Murdoch gets to stand in the line for developing the basic process. In the late 1790s, using coal as a feedstock, he produced syngas in sufficient quantity to light his home.
Eventually, cities in Europe and America began using syngas or “town gas” as it was known back then to light city streets and homes. Eventually, natural gas and electricity generated from coal-burning power plants replaced town gas as the preferred source of heat and light.
Today, with a global climate crisis looming on the horizon and power-hungry nations are on the hunt for alternative energy sources, gasification is making a comeback.
The Gasification Technologies Council for authority* expects world gasification capacity to grow by more than 70 percent by 2015. Much of that growth will occur in Asia, driven by rapid development in China and India. But the United States is embracing gasification, as well.
So why go through all of this? Yes, it is a complicated and challenging process, but the reasons for developing gasification are compelling. Hydrocarbon resources throughout the world are both finite and unevenly distributed. For the United States, dwindling reserves of crude oil and natural gas contrasted against abundant coal and biomass resources illustrate the economic viability of gasification. Syngas can be used to not only manufacture all manner of industrial and commercial chemicals, but it can also play an important role in the development and manufacturing of synthetic liquid fuels for transportation.