Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cutting Carbon Consumption

One way to cut our carbon emissions is by harvesting free energy. That, of course, is the idea behind solar and geothermal energy and the dream of tidal power. But there's another source of free energy we've overlooked, even though it's staring us right in the face, day in/day out.

Here's a clue. It goes up in smoke. It's the enormous, untapped heat plumes that come out of industrial smokestacks. Look at a picture of any coal-fired electricity plant. We focus on the smoke pouring out of the chimneys but fail to see the energy that's being lost along with it.

One company in the US has developed an energy scavenging system for smokestacks. It's really little more than a conventional boiler. The emerging gases heat water pipes that produce steam that propel generators that produce electricity. Put another way, it's a no-brainer.

It's estimated that by using power scavenging devices on the largest smokestacks it would be possible to generate about 14% of America's electricity requirements. The best part is that, by putting them on coal-fired generator plants, you recover energy that won't have to be produced by burning more coal. Neat, eh?

Look at Big Oil. There are a lot of smokestacks at refineries. There are also plenty of gas flares, in the refineries and in the oil fields, that burn off unwanted gas. Gas + fire = heat energy, ja? Maybe there's some good reason why they don't use those flares to generate electricity but I've been pondering this for a long time and haven't found any explanation yet.

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