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Solutions Looking For A Problem: Nitrogen Lasers and Carbon Molecular Sieve

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Posted on : 08-03-2012 | By : Mr. Green | In : Carbon Molecular Sieve
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Carbon Molecular Sieve and Producing Nitrogen Lasers

 

First invented in 1960 the laser was first called the solution looking for a problem.  More than fifty years later lasers have become an invaluable part of human technology. Today uses for lasers range from being used in material processing endeavors such as laser cutting, welding, and bending, to reading bar-codes when you purchase something at a store, to being used by the military as a  targeting sight, and even being used to do surgery (laser eye surgery being the one of the most common).

As technology has improved many different types of lasers have been developed.  One of the more common types of lasers developed was the nitrogen laser.  This laser uses nitrogen as a medium and an electrical discharge to create its beam.

Nitrogen lasers are particular useful in handling material processing functions for example they are good at cutting metal.  However material processing functions require that lasers be efficient and cost effective and that is where nitrogen generation systems play an important role.

In order for the laser to function it needs pure nitrogen (between 97%-99.99%).  The most common type of technology used in purifying nitrogen is membrane technology.  This method is able to produce nitrogen up to 99%.  However if that amount of nitrogen purity is not enough to generate a laser.  Depending on what you are using the laser for the nitrogen may not be purified enough.

In order to get the purest form of nitrogen a PSA system and a carbon molecular sieve is needed.  The PSA system, air compressor, and carbon molecular sieve work  when the air compressor forces compressed air into the PSA system.  Naturally compressed air is composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and less than 1% of various other gases, the same air that makes up the air in our atmosphere.

Once this air enters the PSA system the carbon molecular sieve adsorbs all of the oxygen and other gases, the nitrogen is able to pass by because it is not attracted to the carbon molecular sieve and it is then guided into a storage tank (See our earlier article on adsorption with carbon molecular sieve).  Once the carbon molecular sieve reaches its adsorption capacity it can be regenerated so that it can be used over and over again.

The end result of this is process is that you have now produced nitrogen that is between 99%-99.99% pure.  This highly pure form of nitrogen is useful for cutting through tougher and thicker metals.

 

Sources:

http://www.thefabricator.com/article/lasercutting/a-case-of-the-gas

http://inventors.about.com/od/lstartinventions/a/laser.htm

http://www.megacarbon.com/techlit/carmolsiv.pdf

Will Switchgrass Be Fueling Your Car?

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Posted on : 15-12-2011 | By : Mr. Green | In : Biofuel Industry, Cellulosic Ethanol, Ethanol Industry, Industry Issues
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Switchgrass Has Great Alternative Energy Potential

 

Switchgrass is a type of wild prairie grass that grows abundantly in the United States.  It’s so abundant that the only four U.S. states you can’t find switchgrass are California, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington.  At the turn of the 20th century an increased number of scientific studies have found that switchgrass could be used  to make biofuels, biogas, and cellulosic ethanol.  These alternative fuels can be made cheaper and more energy efficient.  As more research continues to improve the energy output of switchgrass, and because its very durable and abundant, switchgrass makes a strong economical choice for an alternative fuel.

Economically speaking switchgrass is a highly adaptable strong crop that’s already abundant.  Switchgrass has great longevity, it can resist floods and droughts,  it can grow in poor soil (sand and gravel based soils have supported switch grass), and it can grow in versatile climates (see the map above).  Furthermore it requires a small amount of herbicide and fertilizer which decreases the cost to grow it as a crop.  Switchgrass is also non-edible so producing it and worrying about whether or not the crop should be used as fuel or food is no longer a part of the debate.

Switchgrass doesn’t require a lot of water to grow it either.  Mariano Martin, a doctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon found that switch grass uses less than a gallon of water to produce a gallon of fuel that is made from switchgrass.  Oil by comparison used 1.5-2.5 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of oil based fuel.

Switchgrass is energy efficient too.  The USDA along with mid-western farmers experiment on growing switchgrass as a crop.  Crops were grown on fields between 7 and 23 acres in size and produced between 5 and 11 metric tons of grass bales.  Furthermore 13.1 megajoules of energy were produced for every megajoule of oil based energy consumed, when the switchgrass was converted to ethanol.  That’s 540% more energy produced by switchgrass than what is needed to produce it.

New research focused on increasing energy outputs of switchgrass are also being conducted.  The Department of Energy recently inserted a gene called Corngrass1 (CG1), which is used in corn, into the genetic makeup of switchgrass.  The gene keeps switchgrass in a juvenile state, making it easier to breakdown.  The genetically modified switchgrass yields more than 250% more starch, and it also makes it easier to extract polysaccharides and convert them into fermentable sugars.

As the technology for converting switchgrass into fuel advances; production of alternative based fuel increases.  As I mentioned in a previous article about cellulosic ethanol there are, as of Spring 2011, 38 cellulosic ethanol plants that have been constructed or are under construction in the U.S. and Canada.  9 of these plants plan on producing ethanol by using switchgrass as a feedstock.

Moving towards a brighter future, switchgrass promises be a great new source for producing alternative energy and fuel.

 

Sources:

Location of Switchgrass in North America: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=PAVI2

USDA and Midwest Farmer Experiment: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=grass-makes-better-ethanol-than-corn

Corngrass1 Research http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111118151414.htm

Carnegie Mellon Research http://www.thebioenergysite.com/news/10009/fuels-from-grass-researchers-explore-alternatives

13X Molecular Sieve Purifies Medical Oxygen, Saving Lives

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Posted on : 07-12-2011 | By : Mr. Ethanol | In : 13X, Air Separation, Industry Issues, Molecular-Sieve-Mavens
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Oxygen Therapy Relies on Purified Oxygen

On earth oxygen occupies approximately 21% of the air in our atmosphere (the other 78% is nitrogen and 1% is argon, carbon dioxide and other gases).  In medical situations you may need a higher concentration of oxygen than what is available in our current living conditions.  This is where 13X molecular sieve and Lithium LSX are used, they purify oxygen.  13X and Lithium LSX do this by adsorbing nitrogen, argon, and the other gases from natural air leaving you with pure oxygen.

Oxygen is the third most common element found in the universe (only hydrogen and helium are more abundant) and it is the element that is most commonly associated with life on our planet.  Technology has allowed us to make oxygen industrially but it can also be used medically.  Higher purities of oxygen are needed in the medical world for both chronic conditions and emergency medical situations and 13X molecular sieve and Lithium SLX both play crucial roles in purifying oxygen so that they can be used medically.

Oxygen in the medical world is primarily used in oxygen therapy.  Oxygen therapy helps treat chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with the most common COPD being emphysema.  Pure 100% oxygen has also been shown to be able to stop the onset of cluster headaches so long as pure oxygen is administered before the peak of the attack occurs.  Cluster headaches are medically believed to be one of the most painful experiences a human being can endure and pure oxygen can help release the tension of the blood vessels that are constricting the nerves, thus relieving a person from tremendous pain.

Oxygen therapy can be essential in saving lives during emergency medical situations and is frequently used during resuscitation. Oxygen tanks and liquid oxygen are usually used during these situations and the oxygen stored in these devices must be purified, which again is the responsibility of molecular sieve.

One of the most common devices used for medical oxygen purification is an oxygen concentrator, which is type of portable oxygen generator that can be used at home as well as in a hospital.  These devices use either 13X molecular sieve or Lithium LSX to purify their oxygen.  The difference between Lithium LSX and 13X is that the Low Sodium X in Lithium LSX has been lithium exchanged.  Both are used in portable oxygen generators but Lithium LSX is used in smaller generators while 13X is used in larger generators.

The oxygen generators range from 100 liter/minute to 3 liters/minute and can be found everywhere from hospitals to MASH units in Iraq or Afghanistan to someone afflicted with COPD. Technology in the medical world has improved to the point that some of these pressure swing units that purify the oxygen can be made so small that they can be worn on a belt, inside a backpack or be plugged into a 12 volt power source.  They can also run on lithium batteries or be plugged into a 120 volt source allowing them to run in a home, field hospital or a domestic hospital.

13X molecular sieve and Lithium LSX have improved our quality of life by allowing oxygen to be purified and used for various forms medical treatment.  This life saving technology is available due to the abilities of  molecular sieve and the scientists and engineers who continue to improve our way of life.

Ethanol Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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Posted on : 30-11-2011 | By : Mr. Green | In : Biofuel Industry, Cellulosic Ethanol, Ethanol Industry, Industry Issues
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Ethanol Produces Less GHG Emissions Than Oil

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important  because it helps to keep our atmosphere clean and helps to prevent climate change.   Since the Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide emissions, the largest human contribution to the increase of greenhouse gases has skyrocketed.  One of the ways greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced is by using ethanol as a fuel.  Here is some background on greenhouse gases.

What are greenhouse gas emissions?

Greenhouse gases refer to a number of different elements that can absorb infrared radiation.  In our atmosphere the most abundant of these elements are water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide, and methane.  Greenhouse gases effect the temperature of the Earth, without them we would not survive, but they can also make a planet uninhabitable.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, but it is not the hottest planet in the solar system.  The average temperature on Mercury is 167 degrees Celsius (by comparison the average temperature on Earth is  7 degrees Celsius), but Venus is hotter with an average temperature of 460 degrees Celsius.  The reason why Venus has a higher average temperature is because Venus has the most greenhouse gas of any planet in our solar system.  These greenhouse gases trap the suns rays heating the surface of the  planet, turning it into a furnace.

Fuel and oil are some of the largest contributors to GHG emissions.  Using ethanol in place of oil based fuel has been shown to reduce GHG emissions.

Yale University’s Journal of Industrial Ecology found that  ethanol has 59%  fewer GHG emissions in the Life Cycle Analysis compared to oil based gasoline.

Argonne National Laboratory documented ethanol reduced GHG emissions in 2007 by ten tons.  Argonne also predicted a bright future for ethanol stating that switch grass could reduce emissions by 94% and that stover and wood crops could reduce emissions by 100%.

Another large contributor to GHG emissions has been industry processes.  Ethanol and oil both fit into this category.  Compared to oil though ethanol has reduced production emissions by 59% by switching from coal fired plants to natural gas and alternative energy powered plants.

As we move further into the 21st century new technology and alternative energy sources will be needed.  Ethanol is one of the few economically viable alternatives to oil based energy today which is why it is important that myths around it creating more GHG than oil be debunked.

 

Sources:

http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/mercuryfact.html

http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/venusfact.html

http://icsusa.org/pages/icsusa-articles/november-2010.php

www.growthenergy.org

 

 

The Future of Fuel…Cellulosic Ethanol

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Posted on : 23-11-2011 | By : Mr. Green | In : Cellulosic Ethanol, Ethanol Industry, Industry Issues
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Non Edible Plants and Municipal Solid Waste Can Be Turned Into Fuel

Cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel that is made from plants that are non-edible.  For example wood chips, corn stover,  switchgrass, and municipal solid waste can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol.  Basically, its turning waste into ethanol, which is then turned into fuel, or in other words your garbage has the potential to power your car.

Cellulosic ethanol can be produced by using either the Cellulolysis Process, which uses enzymes to break cellulose down into simple sugars so they can be  fermented, or by using the Gasification Process which turns raw material into carbon monoxide and hydrogen so they can be fermented.  After fermentation takes place the resulting substance is distilled and turned into ethanol.

The process of producing cellulosic ethanol makes it more efficient than producing  ethanol from grains and much more energy efficient compared to producing oil.  The amount of energy saved on producing cellulosic ethanol could reduce green house gas emissions by 85% when compared to reformulated gasoline.

Over the past decade researchers and scientists have been working to develop the technology that will allow the U.S. to produce cellulosic ethanol at commercial volumes.  Towards the end of the 2000’s decade technology had reached the point where construction on cellulosic ethanol plants could begin.    As of Spring 2011 there are over 38 cellulosic ethanol plants now constructed or under construction in the United States and Canada.  The bare minimum quantity of ethanol produced at each of these plants 250,000 gallons a year.  Large scale commercial volumes are expected to start being met at the end of this decade.

Raw material to produce cellulosic ethanol is also abundant and local.  In the United States there is over 1 billion tons of biomass available which could be used to produce between 80-100 billion gallons of ethanol.  In addition to that the United States throws away 323 million tons of material that contains cellulose, all of this material has the potential to be converted into ethanol.

Studies on converting Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) into cellulosic ethanol are underway.  Demonstration plants have been constructed, but the potential to convert MSW into fuel is great.  In California 51.3% of its MSW contains cellulosic biomass which means over 50% of the waste in California has the potential to make ethanol.  This large amount of cellulosic biomass in California’s MSW makes it the single largest source of biomass for the entire state.

Cellulosic ethanol has been called the great green hope to replace petroleum and at its current pace it is looking to do just that.

For more information on cellulosic ethanol and how the technology was developed to produce it watch the video below.

Sources:

http://goo.gl/ya4Mp

http://www.growthenergy.org/

http://goo.gl/dSBCS

http://www.ucei.berkeley.edu/PDF/EDT_015.pdf