Pollution reduction for power generation has tended to seek a cure to symptoms

Posted on December 07, 2015
Posted By: Luigi Brambilla

When looking at what is achievable in reducing energy costs, carbon and other emissions from power generation, it is important to firstly recognise that current clean technology integration varies significantly on a country and even regional basis. This is perhaps best illustrated when looking at the agreed legislative processes at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). UNFCCC segregates nations into three categories, Annex I and Annex II and Non-Annex I parties. Annex I countries are expected, based on COP 21 agreed text at the time of writing, to agree to achieve an 80% reduction on carbon emissions by 2050.

Annex II Parties are required to provide financial resources to enable developing countries to undertake emissions reduction activities under the Convention and to help them adapt to adverse effects of climate change.

Non-Annex I Parties are mostly developing countries where the Convention emphasises activities that promise to answer the special needs and concerns of these vulnerable countries, such as investment, insurance and technology transfer.

The variance in meeting emissions targets between developed and developing countries has been well-documented, and reflects the historical imprint those nations have had in causing climate change, but also the current technological advancements within those nations. Power generation and the variances in how energy is generated largely mirror that variance.

Underpinning the need to remove carbon is the constant legislative and ethical pressure to reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths globally each year. Air pollution triggered by the burning of hydrocarbons constitutes an environmental and public health challenge the world over; costing Europe alone more than £1.5 trillion a year - equating to about a tenth of the GDP of the continent.

Financing the clean power transition

In the developed world, the transition to a low carbon economy in the power generation market requires a leap from highly inefficient and polluting power generation to carbon neutral renewables. However, even within a power system with a high integration of renewables, thermal power plants are still a necessity, required to provide power when renewable sources are not available (ie when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing).

As the global energy industry looks to strike a balance between providing consumers with a continuous and optimised power supply, while decarbonising the energy mix, one of the biggest challenges is to finance environmental upgrades to thermal generators.  This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that thermal power plants face reduced operating hours as a result of the increasing dominance of renewables, which means margins are already squeezed without accounting for costly hardware upgrades or even total replacement of assets.

Therefore, solutions such as fuel emulsions that improve green credentials at little capital or operating expense by working within existing infrastructure are likely to be highly desirable.

For the last 100 years fuel emulsions have long been associated with efforts to enhance the performance of all combustion engines and burners powered by any type of hydrocarbon fuel, fossil and synthetic. However previous attempts to unlock this game changing technology’s potential have been stifled by technical issues, predominantly due to its inability to provide economy, efficiency and most importantly, stability (i.e. the separation of fuel and water). 

Significant advances in fuel emulsion technology have now been made, triggered by investment in R&D into new technologies and techniques, with innovators encouraged by the ‘demand side pull’ of new international anti-pollution regulations. The result has seen the development of water infuel emulsions able to provide surety in eco-efficiency and stability for mainstream markets.

Fuel emulsions reduce many negative environmental impacts caused by the combustion and burning of hydrocarbon fuels, including oxides of nitrogen (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) (through improved fuel economy) and particulate matter (PM). In developed nations, fuel emulsions can act as a ‘bridging’ technology that supports the transition to a new generation fleet that is dominated by renewables and supported by the most efficient thermal power plants.

For utility companies, so keen to optimise operational costs, certified emulsified fuel delivers further savings through economies of scale, as the technology can be produced by an ongoing process (not batch by batch) for any type of hydrocarbon fuel on any type of engine of any size, including burners.

As well as reducing environmental impact, emulsified fuel also provides an additional economy from the very efficient oxidation (burning) of hydrocarbon fuels – which in turn reduces CO2 and other pollutants. For developing nations, this improved fuel economy is particularly advantageous as it offers an opportunity to reduce costs in isolated areas where grid power is unavailable or unreliable - typically where power is provided to areas at premium through diesel fired generators. By supplementing fuels with water-in-fuel emulsions, costs can be reduced considerably for owners/operators. This is because fuel emulsions lower the flame temperatures of engines and significantly aid the fuel to burn more effectively, therefore improving energy efficiency by up to 8%.

In addition to working within isolated areas, a significant range of climatic conditions can be accommodated – for example the winter mix can prevent diesel from freezing to as low as -30c. And while fuels can be produced in limitless quantities through processing installations or as an integral part of an engine by adding a small water tank, tiny emulsifier tank and a small static mixer.

Third party validation for the highest standards

When combined with any standard fuel and water, SulNOx’ fuel emulsions work by lowering flame temperatures in combustion engines to significantly reduce the production of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and also substantially increase the surface area of the fuel droplets to provide for a far more efficient fuel burn, thereby drastically reducing particulate matter (PM) by over 90%. This combination of effects provides for up to an 8% improvement in energy efficiency.

To provide third party accreditation and explore further capabilities for its technology, SulNOx has established a partnership with Cambridge University’s Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology Department (CEB). This project will research scientific data aimed at maximising the potential of its eco efficiency technology.

The company is also working with Lloyd’s Register, the leading technical and business services organisation and classification society, on a cooperation that will see Lloyd’s Register provide rigourous testing, technical support and consultancy services.

Cambridge University’s scientific excellence, matched with the global reach and expertise of Lloyd’s Register, will ensure the highest standards of assurance to confirm the remarkable results SulNOx technologies have achieved in the field of fuel emulsions.

While we rightly focus upon the development of energy efficiency technologies to underpinning the development of new innovative renewable energy sources, air pollution from transport and energy provision is a clear and present danger now. Given that it poses such a pervasive public health and environmental challenge, industry and regulators should certainly not be prevented from being visionary as we look ahead to a lower carbon and other emission economy.

However, it would be folly to ignore the fact that for large chunks of heavy industry, particularly in the developing world and in frontier markets, hydrocarbon based fuels will be used for combustion for many years to come.

Regardless of the technological development of power generation emulsified fuels offer an important transitional solution to reducing energy costs, carbon and harmful pollutants over the coming decades.

Authored By:
Having worked at various Italian chemical companies, Mr. Brambilla joined General Electric in 1997. In 2000, he founded his own company "Eco Energy", which provided HFO emulsion to thermal power companies. From this Brambilla founded Nistad Group (Norway) and subsequently Eco Energy Italy Srl, holdings senior positions including board member, CEO and chairman. In 2013, he became a founding member of SulNOx Fuel Fusions PLC and acts as chief technical

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