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A Renewable Boost for Natural Gas

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  • A Renewable Boost for Natural Gas

    The race to transition to cleaner, greener natural gas power plants is getting a boost from an unlikely source—solar energy. A new system developed by the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) converts natural gas and sunlight into a more energy-rich fuel called syngas, which will allow hybrid solar-gas power plants to use about 20% less natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity while also lowering the plant's greenhouse gas emissions.

    The system works through concentrating solar power, which uses a reflecting surface to concentrate the sun's rays like a magnifying glass. In the case of the new system from PNNL, a mirrored parabolic dish directs sunbeams to a central point, where a device absorbs the solar heat to make syngas.

    The four-foot-long, two-foot-wide device contains a chemical reactor and several heat exchangers. The concentrated sunlight heats up the natural gas flowing through the reactor's channels, where a catalyst helps turn the natural gas into syngas. The heat exchangers recycle leftover heat from the chemical reaction gas, increasing the efficiency of the system. In fact, tests on an early prototype of the device demonstrated that more than 60% of the sunlight hitting the parabolic dish was converted into chemical energy contained in the syngas. For the complete story, see the Energy Blog.

  • #2
    Jul 25 2014 by Martin LaMonica - General Electric has developed a way to convert natural gas using a combination of fuel cell and an engine, an approach it hopes will finally result in broad adoption of stationary fuel cells.

    Instead of using expensive platinum or other rare metals as catalysts, GE's fuel cell uses stainless steel, the company says. It generates electricity by flowing fuel through stacks of ceramic plates where a chemical reaction between the fuel and oxygen from incoming air occurs between a positive and negative electrode at high temperatures.

    GE engineers have also taken advantage of another generator in its product portfolio—its Jenbacher gas engine—to squeeze more electricity from the available fuel. The natural gas-to-electricity conversion produces exhaust gases, which contain a mixture of hydrogen and carbon. This synthetic gas, or syngas, is fed into the engine to produce additional power. Combined, GE estimates it can turn 65 percent of the usable energy from natural gas into electricity. Bloom Energy, which also makes a solid-oxide fuel cell, says its fuel cells are about 60 percent efficient. Using the waste heat from this process, GE thinks it can get to 95 percent energy efficiency.


    • #3
      Elisa Wood for White Papers 15 June 2022 - California’s largest RNG microgrid

      Microsoft has contracted with Enchanted Rock to develop a data center microgrid that will use RNG to offset fossil fuels. Plans call for a 100-MW microgrid that will include 224 natural gas generators, each with a 0.45 MW capacity.

      The on-site generators will not actually use RNG — they will be fueled by natural gas — but Enchanted Rock will inject an equal amount of RNG into the grid to offset the natural gas use.

      Enchanted Rock said the RNG supplier can provide enough RNG to cover up to 509 hours of annual generator operating time for up to 99 MW, starting in 2024. The microgrid will provide power to the data center during a grid outage as well as load shedding, demand response and ancillary services. The microgrid will serve two buildings spanning 396,914 square feet.

      State Senator Ben Hueso, a Democrat who represents California’s 40th district, said that he hopes “one day all of California’s roughly 240 data centers will replace their backup power systems with carbon-negative, clean RNG."

      San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has been pushing for more energy independence in the city following an outage in 2019 when PG&E shut off power to 60,000 San Jose residents to avert wildfires.