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Houston Area Recycling Proposal - a Sustainability Engineered Project.
by Charles H. Tankersley (e-mail) (about)
Principle Mechanical Designer (retired), Parsons Engineering Corporation, Power and Petrochemical Division (SIP)
Chairman, Research and Development Division (active), Agro-Biogenics Corporation

To begin with:

Houston, Texas is often called the energy capital of the world. Perhaps we can rename the City and the whole of Southeast Texas the Pollution capital of the world, too. Houston is the dirtiest city in one of the dirtiest nations in the world, running neck to neck with China for the title of the most pollution emissions. The mayor of Houston, Bill White, in his terms in office and working closely with the City Council, has quietly done what he can to turn Houston green but their efforts have met with little public support. The Mayor and City Council have managed to reduce the amount of landfill required for domestic trash pick up. The few who are in compliance now separate the paper, aluminum cans, plastic into a green bin for recycling, place yard and garden wastes in bags for collection for composting, and heavy trash is sorted piles for recycling. The household wastes that remain are placed in a bin to for transport to the landfill that is greatly reduced, which saves the valuable land for better uses. In addition, the Mayor and City Council has be able to partially reduce the energy bill for running the City's offices by installing Photovoltaic Cells on some of the city buildings, thus saving taxpayer dollars.

Interestingly, this proposal is an offspring of an earlier My Earthbound Space Station Proposal. Both are Sustainability Engineered Projects and were begun prior to the publishing of the Democratic Party's platform and energy policy and prior to Borack Obama's successful campaign for President. However, these proposals are in complete agreement with both the energy policy and campaign proposals of the new President. In fact, this proposal will also go a long way toward securing our energy distribution system from terrorist attack and helping to relieve our dependence on foreign oil. It is much the same as we who served in the military were taught; dispersing of our resources, i.e., spread out to make a smaller target. By putting enough power generation at the point use (5 KW at each home) makes transmission lines easy to protect from storms while making it impossible for anyone to disrupt the entire grid by blowing up a central coal, gas, or atomic power plant. This system is also a lot less costly to build, maintain, and operate than any coal, gas or atomic power plant and is much cleaner, by its very nature, far, far less polluting.

Now is the time for the citizens and private businesses to take up the challenge. It is time to cut into the high cost of energy and to reduce the pollution that threatens the health of us all. Not only can the individual take steps to save energy, by working with the energy power companies, help Houston regain and retain its energy capital title while reducing pollutions and promoting Houston as a public health center for the world. The technology exists today to convert much of our trash into energy. For a far less price-tag then it takes to drill for new oil or to build a new atomic power plant, we can turn each household into a small power plant and fuel producer rather than remaining only an energy consumer. New research shows that municipal waste can supply up to 20% of our transportation fuel requirements. The new concept which Purdue University researchers call a flexible carbon-to-liquid fuel process, would require no additional crops and use primarily wastes as the feedstock. Details for this may be found with the ScineceDaily report, "More Flexible Method Floated To Produce Biofuels, Electricity".

This is the object of HARP! It is time for all Houstonians and citizens of Harris County to harp on the major energy companies in the Houston Area to join in this project. Let the people HARP on the power and energy companies to contribute a portion of their resources to build and maintain photovoltaic cells on rooftops, not only produce the power for homes, but to produce hydrogen and to collect the methane gas produced within the septic tank - sewer system that can run fuel cells . On average, the power companies charge $300 per month per household, give or take a little. Many would willingly continue to pay that amount for the power company to provide and maintain a very safe 5 KW power generation system on the property, providing credit is given for the access power that is placed into the grid. It can be done today, the technology already exists, and the price tag is becoming more and more reasonable each day. Mankind, in the modern society, cannot completely replace need for fossil fuels or atomic power, but man can conserve these valuable resources and reduce the polluting emissions dumped into the atmosphere each day. By working together, using all resources, Americans can save the American way of life through conservation, efficiency, and alternate energy. It is also a major step to improve our environment and our economy, it is just a matter of common cents and common sense.

Background Information:

Much has been said, pro and con, concerning global warming and the Energy policies of the past decades. To the detractors, global warming is a natural cycle and our us of fossil fuels contribute little or nothing to the problem. Their main argument is to drill more and burn more to line their pockets with gold. However, Scientists have studied the situation extensively and have, in time, convinced many of their colleagues and doubters to join the band wagon. Global warming is real and is a man made disaster on many fronts. Despite the many cutbacks in funding and the many attempts to curtail the validity of their reports, the EPA has a very detailed report on the causes and effects of Global Warming. Because of the problems, the EPA has established a partnership program that invites both local governments and private industry to join in the efforts to combat the causes of global warming. The HARP-SEProjects is dedicated to the promotion of this partnership for the City of Houston, Harris County, and the many Energy Companies, both petrochemical and power, operating throughout Southeast Texas.

While the EPA has been gathering the data on the pollutions and cataloging their causes and effects, the United States Department of Energy has been gathering, sponsoring, and cataloging all the advanced research on the many forms of energy available to mankind. This includes nuclear fission and fission and the many forms of alternate energy. The DOE work also sponsors and catalogs the research for the handling and proper disposal of the wastes for all forms of energy produced. It is clear that the civil servant engineers and scientists, in cooperation with our Universities and private research facilities have been active and productive. With the world wide environmental and energy crisis becoming critical, the time for talk has ended and the time for action is at hand. The crisis now demands that we put as much effort to solve this problem as we put into sending a man to the moon in the 60's.

A comprehensive energy policy for this first decade of this 21st century has been non-existent. We have become more and more dependant of foreign oil to the point that more than 60% of our oil is imported. The only solution offered by the Bush Administration is to drill more holes in environmentally sensitive regions and along our coasts or to burn more coal and build more nukes. However, behind the scenes, alternative energy has been researched and developed to the point that it has become a factor in the energy picture. What is needed, then, is simply an energy policy which takes this research into account and begin using the already available technology to supplement and conserve our natural fossil fuel reserves. It is time for us to stop talking and turn to action. A comprehensive energy policy will include conservation of our natural resources, improved efficiency in the use of these natural resources, and the use of alternatives to our natural resources. In an effort to outline a realistic energy policy, the Oil Patch Democrats presented Links to presentations that were made at the Energy Caucus at the Texas Democratic Party Convention, June 6, 2008. This is a major study by a number of prominent authorities in the Energy industry and needs to closely reviewed by all connected within the energy industry and within government, regardless of their party affiliation.

Schema I: Installation of Hybrid Solid Oxide Fuel Cells.

  • Engineering process:
  • Rather than spending the millions to construct coal or gas fired power plants, at a far less cost, the power company can install pre-designed turnkey SOFC / Gas Turbine Hybrid units at each of their many sub-stations. In fact, it is possible to install two or several at many of these sub-stations. These units are produced by Siemens, one of the biggest names in the Power Industry. Two systems have been installed and successfully tested, one is a 220-kW hybrid system with a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) generator integrated with a micro gas turbine demonstrated at the University of California, Irvine and sponsored by Southern California Edison and the other is a 300-kW SOFC/gas turbine hybrid system demonstrated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There is no question that with these systems, our electric power would be better served, with both economic and safety issues being improved.

  • Approximate costs excluding management and accounting cost for grid utility costs.
  • Will need to be supplied by Siemens at a later date.

  • Benefits:
  • It seems that one of the first targets any advocacy would want to do is to attack our energy infrastructure. This can be done in many ways, raising the price of or cutting off our supply of imported oil altogether, and by destroying our refineries and generating plants. Ever since the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, the United States has spent billions to safeguard the whole of our energy infrastructure. Yet, one step which would, in the long run be far less expensive would be to disperse our power generating system throughout the entire population. Not only would this help safeguard our power infrastructure but would actually help overcome the power losses of the distributed energy through the long high voltage transmission lines, thus saving considerable money for the power companies.

    One additional benefit that would have been that when added the many Houstonians who suffered through extensive power outages following hurricane Ike, when coupled with the Schema II, far less down time. In fact, the individual SOFC at 5-KW is about the same as was the portable gasoline engine powered generators so many of us were forced to buy in order to save our food supply. And, the very fact that the SOFC operates at 50% to 60% efficiency, and the hybrid units at 80% to 90% efficiency would reduce the carbon footprint for power generation by a factor of two to three times.

Schema II: Installation of individual homestead Solid Oxide Fuel Cells.

  • Engineering process
  • The heart of the system that will produce the electricity to run the many appliances; lights, refrigerator, computer, TV, radio, Air Conditioning, fans, heaters, stoves, all the things that we use electricity to make our lives comfortable is the Fuel Cell. For illustration, the choice here is the Solid Oxide Full Cell produced by Acumentrics. As an alternate is the Siemens SOFC. Both are nearly ready for the market place and both will likely sell for about the same price. The Acumentrics 5000 system come ready with all the 'stuff' needed to tie directly into the home's Electrical circuit right after the utility company's meter and can put 5 kW of electricity into the home or back fed into the grid. One might wish to install an uninterpretable power supply (UPS) on the house side, right after the SOFC tie-in, however, this is not necessary and would add cost. A UPS unit, designed specifically for this purpose, is also supplied by Acumentrics. This connection point is placed so that it can send any excess electric energy we have back into the commercial electric grid to provide credit to the home owner for economising his energy and can become a source of profit for the home owner. Our government has mandated that the utility companies must pay you for any electricity you supply back to the utility system. This varies from state to state and locality to locality, but still! Find out more here with our Government-DOE and with /DSIRE. One point to keep in mind, at the current time the Acumentrics 5000 is still in the testing and demonstration mode, a unit selling for $175,000. However, one can expect that price tag to be much lower, perhaps in the $2,000 to $5,000 range, when the unit goes into production for the consumer. Siemens has forecast their fuel cell to be priced at the $400 per kilowatt range which translates into the $2,000 for a 5 KW fuel cell.

  • Approximate costs excluding management and accounting cost for grid utility costs.
    • One SOFC, turnkey with Inverter and heat exchanger, $2,000 to $5,000.
      Siemens promises $400 per kilowatt.
      Acumentrics suggests around $800 per kilowatt.
    • Installation labor including concrete pad, $1,000
    • Annual maintenance, Sulfur filter and labor, $1,000

  • Benefits
  • Once the SOFC is installed, it needs fuel. Hydrogen is the fuel of choice, but the SOFC is the one fuel cell type that can operate on many different fuels. Later, Phase III will be designing and installing Bio-digestion units to produce Methane and Alcohols, which can also be used for automobile and lawn mower fuels, to use in the SOFC. SOFC's operate on most any fuel, Methane, pipeline natural gas, Methanol and Ethanol, jet fuel, gasoline, you name it. A possible and recommended fuel would be syngas. It is interesting to note, too, that the Japanese have developed ceramic filter through Nanotechnology that will let Hydrogen (H2) through but reject Methane, H2O (steam), and Carbon Monoxide (CO), that remains in the pipeline stream after reforming This makes it easy to supply the SOFC with pure Hydrogen, thus extending it lifespan to well beyond the 50,000 to 100,000 hours of full and active electricity production. There is one more advantage to using the SOFC. Not only does the fuel cell produce electricity at about 50% efficiency, doing so while reforming many different and easily available fuels, it has an exhaust temperature of about 800° C (1472° F). This exhaust heat can be used to drive a Sterling Engine Generator and be use for heating the home and and water. This will increase the efficiency of the fuel cell to 80% or better. By doing this simple thing, with the efficiency so high, we have already reduce the normal carbon dioxide emissions by more than 50% even though we are using only natural gas for our Fuel Cell's fuel.

Schema III: Photovoltaic Cells.

  • Engineering process
  • Today, there is also a major push to electrify our homes with solar power and wind power. Although these are on the market now, they are very expensive. The federal government and state governments have tax breaks, low cost loans, and grants in place as incentives to encourage home owners to invest in solar and wind power. The big problem, however, is beyond the costs of these system; solar power is available only when the sun shines and wind power is available only when the wind blows at a constant 8 mph or above. For those times when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, either a connection to grid or an elaborate battery system is required. Solar power could be valuable as a source of Hydrogen through hydrolysis of water. The wind turbine is really not practical in Harris County since the average wind speed is too low most of the time. For the hydrolysis of water, one might like to look at Distributed Energy Systems equipment for this purpose. They actually have entire solar/hydrolysis/hydrogen systems for this purpose. If one would like he could install a 200 cubic foot pressure tank in the natural gas feed just before the attachment to the SOFC and after the gas meter the Hydrogen gas and the natural gas are compatible. The pressure tank would need to be designed for about 200 psig with a safety valve set for somewhat lower than this pressure. As the pressure in the tank increases, it would quickly shut off the flow of natural gas into the tank. In addition to using the tank to receive natural gas and hydrogen, the gases produce with anaerobic digestion in Phase III can be be transported to the tank. The bio-gases produced are compatible with hydrogen and natural gas.

  • Approximate costs
  • Benefits

Schema IV: Anaerobic Digestion.

  • Engineering process
  • This program may also be described as a partial re-use or alternate use of the old septic tank that many of us oldsters grew up with. The next question is what is the schema? let's first look at Civil engineering. It seems that all Civil Engineers are taught, early on, that each person, regardless of sex, age or economic situation, produces about 50 cubic feet a day of methane gas. Since Methane gas contains only one carbon and four hydrogen's, why not contain and use it, when burn by any method, produce one carbon dioxide and two, count them, water units, call molecules. The carbon dioxide is natural, that is, it is produced in nature regardless of what we do. So, the first thing we need is to go back to the old septic tank, modify it so it is gas tight, and save all the gases produced, carbon dioxide and methane are the primarily gases that are produced. Next we need to separate the carbon dioxide from the methane and what ever gases that remain. The remaining job is to transport the methane to the key element of our schema, the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell, known, henceforth, as the SOFC. The SOFC is capable of using any fuel to convert chemicals into energy. That means it can burn Hydrogen, Methane, Propane, gasoline, alcohol, or any other acceptable hydrogen producing organic compound into electric energy.

    • The engineering process begins with a 1500 Gal Polyethylene two chambered Septic Tank. Physically, most will fit into a concrete pit about 6 feet wide, 6 feet deep, and 20 feet long, allowing several feet at each end for connecting the inlet and outlet piping. There are a number of manufacturers available, each with drawings and details. However, these commercial septic tanks will require some alterations for our purposes.

      On the inlet piping end an emulsifier of some sort will be required. This will be a tank about two feet in diameter and three feet tall with a cone shape at the base leading into a 6 inch plastic pipe with a 6 inch gate valve. The top will need to be fitted gas tight and have a 1/2 hp electric motor to drive a shaft fitted into the tank with blades to emulsify grass clippings, twigs, and garden waste. A water connection will be needed to supply enough water to allow for a light emulsification paste. After the emulsification of the grass clipping, etc., the gate valve is opened to allow the mixture to flow into the inlet piping of the septic tank

      A connection will need to be added to the top of the septic tank to collect the gases produced. The gas should be piped through a small compressor to a holding tank that is pressure rated at about 300 psig. The tank can be the same tank used to hold the natural gas for the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell used in the program one option. Although the fuel Cell can operate well with the raw gases, methane, carbon dioxide, and water vapor, that come from the septic tank, it would be advisable to include equipment for removing the CO2, moisture, and any sulfur dioxide that might carry over. This will help preserve the holding tank from corrosion.

      for the outlet end, the piping should not be tied into a lateral field, but rather go directly into the existing city sewer system for transport to our existing sewer treatment plants. This will insure the most healthy disposal of our household, yard, and garden wastes. Of course, in the County, where a sewer system does not exist, then it is proper to install the laterals in a manner as prescribed by the local and state laws.

      Finally, the septic tank pit will need a platform installed over it and a 6 foot by 20 foot roofed enclosure might be built over the gas generating septic tank. This enclosure would be able to house the electrical equipment described for programs one and two. It would also be the terminal point for the grid lines coming to, or in this case away from the home for credit.

    • Approximate costs
    • Benefits

    Schema V: Syn-gas Generation.

    • Engineering process
    • This program deviates from the first three in that it is a city run schema. Already the city collects heavy trash once a month and regular trash and garbage once a week. Some of this trash and garbage is quite unsanitary. Rather than placing it in a landfill, the city would pass it through a gas generator to be partially burned in the presents of high temperature steam to produce syn-gas, a mixture of Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Hydrogen, Methane, sulfur dioxide, some steam, and a few other trace gases. This gas can then be "purified" by means used to commercially treat natural gas for use in pipelines for distribution to the users. This would, in effect "sanitize" the trash and garbage and at the same time save millions in land fill costs for the city and the tax payer.

    • Approximate costs
    • Benefits