Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Alternative Energy, My Way.

A recent casual chat with dear brother Altimet has led to this particular blog post on what we today, in hype, refer to as alternative energy. Apparently he wanted to hear, or rather read, my views on it.

So here goes.

Alternative energy is essentially a term that is used to describe any source of usable energy that replaces the conventional fuel, usually fossil derivatives, with matching efficiency but lesser the undesired effects. This includes any but petroleum-based and coal; solar energy, biomass, wind energy, tidal wave and hydroelectric. A related term would be renewable energy - a variety of replaceable energy sources in continuous manner without having the worry of depletion, and it is wise to note that most alternative energy sources are also renewable.

The depletion rate of fossil fuel and the concern over energy supply security has increased attention over biomass energy worldwide. This as well affected Malaysia in a way that dependency to fossil fuel has to be carefully monitored and reduced in time so that the nation would not be facing quite a headache when soon the price for fossil fuel hikes again due to fast depletion of the mentioned energy source. Throughout many researches that have been (and some are still, like mine) conducted in many academic institutions and government/private organizations, possible sources of renewable and alternative energy are discovered and thoroughly studied in order to prepare the country for a gradual change towards using other than fossil fuel as to generate everyday power.

Among the alternatives are hydropower; power that is derived from moving water, hence its name (hydro means water). Power is generated by allowing moving water to travel through certain mechanisms, from the classic watermill that utilizes a wheel or more that is rotated by the movement of water to an even more complicated engineering device, like a hydroelectric power plant that utilizes a turbine or more to generate electricity when rotated by flowing water. This has been widely used in Malaysia to generate electricity and has successfully lowered the nation's dependency on coal and gas power plants.

Solar power is another potential renewable and alternative energy source that has been long carried out in Malaysia though only at small capacity for home and small industries, if not for electricity generation, as water heating energy. Though wind and tidal wave energy generation methods are less likely to be applicable in Malaysia, the country receives a great amount of radiant light and heat from the sun along the year, proving the enormous advantage of solar heat engines and photovoltaic apparatuses to be installed and fully utilized as an alternative to electricity and fuel.

A recent development and excitement in the development and future applications of hydrogen, methanol and nuclear energy that are and soon to be introduced in the country have somewhat sparked a new vision for renewable and alternative energy interests, though in this case nuclear energy cannot be classified as renewable but only alternative energy to fossil fuel, for uranium and plutonium that are the main fuel are elements of the earth that deplete over continuous consumptions. Hydrogen fuel is a great way to replace fuel for internal combustion engines while methanol is as well to jet fuel, but both are highly reactive to heat and could as well be sources of great fireball show if not handled carefully.

And here comes biomass and gasification of biomass, that is my current research.

Due to the depletion of fossil fuel and the concern of energy supply security, biomass energy has attracted increasing attentions worldwide as a highly potential alternative energy source as to warily decrease the long-dependency towards conventional hydrocarbons. Biomass is biological material commonly derived from plant matter, structurally composed with cellulose, hemicelluloses, lignin, extractive and inorganic matter. Chemically, biomass is composed of chains of hydrocarbons; a mixture of organic molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, usually including atoms of oxygen, nitrogen and micro-quantities of other atoms, usually alkali and metals often found in functional molecule groups.

In Malaysia, the most abundance biomass resource is palm oil waste from the byproduct of oil extraction; empty fruit bunch (EFB), exocarp, mesocarp fiber, shell and palm oil mill effluent (POME), and from routine pruning and replanting; oil palm fronds (OPF) and trunks, currently produced at a rate of 9.9 million tons per year with a yearly gradual increment of 5%. Recent interest in oil palm EFB as an alternative energy source has caused further interest in the use of OPF as a biomass fuel feedstock. Even though there have been many studies involving other oil palm components, very little attention has been given to OPF. The scarcity of information on OPF is also a challenge in understanding OPF thoroughly as a possible source of biomass energy. So far, OPF has no widespread commercial value other than being utilized as raw material for wood-based industry and as supplementary ruminant feedstock, if not laid to rot in between rows of oil palm tree in the plantations.

Promising outcomes from previous studies have been convincing on the potential of utilizing OPF as gasification feedstock. However the lack of understanding on the characteristics of OPF and its during gasification have led to the crucial necessity of having a study conducted to establish a clearer picture on how OPF can be thermally manipulated optimally into being valuable biomass energy source for the production of synthesis gas from gasification rather than being worthless residues.

Gasification is a method of extracting energy from organic materials by means of thermo-chemical process that converts carbonaceous matter such as coal, petroleum, biofuel and biomass into end product of synthesis gas, mainly hydrogen and carbon monoxide, through a high temperature reaction with controlled amount of oxygen, usually lower than the stoichiometric amount needed for the matter to fully combusted, hence the overall process made to run in incomplete combustion settings. Synthesis gas or syngas itself is a fuel and can be utilized in internal combustion engines, both spark-ignition and compression types, and also in turbines to generate electricity. Other than syngas, the end products of gasification are generally condensates, tar and ash with sometimes small amounts of chars.

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Blue flame from syngas clean burning. I achieved this at trial #47 after endless rows of sleepless nights, skipped meals, occasional series of depressions and numerous insights into just giving the hell up. Finally, it worthed the efforts.

My view into Malaysians' awareness towards renewable and alternative energy has grown positive over time. Many and many of us have slowly changing into manipulating these sources around us as to lessen our hangs onto petroleum-derivative fuels that day to day increase by the pennies due to reservoir depletion while the demand grows skyrocketing as car manufacturers produce more and more automotive vehicles by the minute. Growing concerns on pollutions have also increased, and sustenance of the environment has now been seen as a critical mandatory as to provide a better, cleaner and greener surrounding for today and the future generation.

As technology and knowledge increase in the minds of the human race, renewable and alternative energy today have been taken very seriously as to replace fossil fuel in the name of the environment, financial effectiveness and energy efficiency. Given enough time and encouragement, it is not impossible for humans in bigger groups to turn their views into utilizing these sources of energies made available around them at an even larger scale.

I dream of a cleaner future. I dream of efficient power generation. I dream of less emission. I dream of many things, and I am on my way into turning them into reality. As I slowly make my way towards it, through many challenges and failures, I will continuously share my experiences with my dear readers, and all I ask for are a bit of support and encouragement, and believe me that one day my team and I will be able to introduce a completely efficient system to produce renewable and alternative fuel with lesser the emission for a better, greener and cleaner days in the future.

That day, I will be the happiest man in the world :)

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