Monday, May 12, 2014

Bad News for Nuclear - Natural Gas from Sludge

Subtitle:  Steam Hydrogasification Places Upper Limit on Natural Gas Price

One of the arguments made by nuclear power proponents is that nuclear is very profitable when natural gas prices are high.  They maintain that natural gas prices have been high in the past, and although low at the moment, the prices will rise again.  On this basis, they maintain that nuclear power plants should be built and operated now.  

It is interesting to consider the problem.  Natural gas in large quantities causes the price to drop, which is not news but is basic economics of supply and demand.   For many decades, natural gas wells produced an adequate supply and the price was low.  But,
Waste Treatment Plant - source: EPA
conventional gas wells began to have production declines and the gas price increased.  Then, a fairly new technology was applied, hydraulic fracturing, and more natural gas is available today from shale formations.  Natural gas prices is once again very low, at approximately $4 per million Btu - US prices.   Overseas prices are somewhat higher.  

Recent research conducted by Dr. Chan Park of University of California at Riverside shows promise in producing methane from the sludge from waste treatment plants.  See link.   I was privileged to hear Dr. Park make a presentation a few months ago to chemical engineers, in which he described the research, the current status, and the encouraging economics and yields.   The process was evaluated by the US Department of Energy, DOE, who had this to say:

"The steam hydrogasification reaction, which CERT engineers began developing in 2005, has been found to be 12 percent more efficient, with 18 percent lower capital costs, compared to other mainstream gasification technologies when evaluated by the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy."

Dr. Park has patented the process, which turns any carbonaceous material including waste from yards, wood, food, sewage sludge, into transportation fuels or natural gas (methane).   The pilot plant stage is completed, and the demonstration plant is now in process.  An agreement with the City of Riverside, California, has been reached in which raw material, sludge, will be provided from the waste treatment plant.  

With further development, Dr. Park's SHG process (steam hydrogasification) will produce commercial quantities of methane.  The process is renewable, the feedstock is virtually free, and as long as people eat and excrete, the sludge will be available.  

The natural gas from the process would be priced at approximately $7 per million Btu, as I recall Dr. Park's presentation.  That places an upper limit on natural gas pricing, which effectively eliminates the hopes of the nuclear power advocates for ever being able to compete in the electricity market.  

i have no commercial interest in the SHG process, nor any agreement with Dr. Park.  I would invite any readers who are interested to contact Dr. Park, especially those who might want to invest.   This is a technology that is sound, based on fundamental chemical engineering principals, and has great promise.   Contact information can be found at the UCR website: see link

The greatest benefit, though, is it puts another nail in the nuclear coffin. 

See previous article on Nuclear Power Plants Cannot Compete: (see link)

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

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