CLEANTECH: Curbing Emissions with Natural Gas Efficiency Technologies

By Published On: March 13, 2009

Natural gas--through new technology--may become cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient. The Gas Technology Institute (GTI), a private, non-profit research and education organization, is working with California agencies, gas utilities, and private commercial sponsors to develop technologies that aim to help the state achieve landmark clean energy goals. State utilities and businesses are facing myriad laws, regulations and regulatory challenges that are affecting the way we live and work--from mandated carbon and fossil fuel reduction goals to energy efficiency requirements and escalating renewable energy targets. The development of energy-efficiency technologies is one of the most important and cost-effective ways that we can lower energy consumption, reduce energy costs, and control greenhouse gas emissions. More than 45 percent of California’s electricity comes from natural gas-fired power plants. Currently, natural gas feeds about 41,000 MW of California’s electricity. Industrial processes and residential use account for about 55 percent of the natural gas consumed in California. Natural gas costs have been very volatile the past decade, creating a serious challenge for California in meeting the vigorous energy, environmental, and sustainability goals that define our path forward. Natural gas will continue to generate the bulk of baseload electricity in California. By leveraging our broad portfolio of technologies, GTI strives to enhance the environmental performance of the energy sector and to contribute new climate change solutions that will increase energy efficiency, encourage the use of less carbon-intensive fuel, and speed the implementation of “climate change solution” technologies--including renewable energy, such as biomethane and hybrid solar thermal/natural gas systems. Some examples include: – SuperBoiler--an advanced, 94 percent efficient gas-fired boiler that offers significant performance improvements over alternative technologies with a smaller footprint and half the weight of conventional boilers, while also reducing the demand for fresh water. The boiler burns the fuel in two stages, using controlled combustion to reduce smog-forming emissions by 95 percent. The payback for a SuperBoiler is about 18 months. One of these novel boilers is being used to pasteurize juice at a bottling plant in Southern California. SuperBoiler research is co-funded in California by the California Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and Sempra. It is also one of the cleanest technologies to reach the marketplace with ultra-low nitrogen oxide emissions. This boiler has applications in the food, paper, chemical, and steel industries, as well as larger commercial and institutional buildings such as hospitals and universities. -GTI plans to add a solar component to further reduce natural gas use. -Recovery and utilization of biomethane. Methane resources are estimated at 125 billion cubic feet a year, a quantity that could grow over time with expanded use of digesters that could handle agricultural and other waste materials. The current supply of biomethane could displace over 900 million gallons of diesel fuel annually if fully utilized as a vehicle fuel. The project converts biomethane to up to 13,000 gallons per day of liquefied natural gas at a landfill in Northern California, creating a promising renewable transportation fuel. This will help California attain both fossil fuel and greenhouse gas reduction goals. -A water heater project funded by the California Energy Commission could optimize the entire water heating system in a California home, including the tank, piping, and vent system. Households with gas-fired water heaters constitute over 80 percent of the 12.3 million homes in the state, consuming 2,111 million therms per year. With an advanced water heater and distribution piping system, an average California household could see its annual natural gas usage for water heating drop from 204 to 133 therms, for a savings of 35 percent. -Cleaning up methane is the subject of a CEC research grant in which GTI will study the biogas at Gills Onions, an onion processing plant in California that is using new technology to help reduce energy costs. Gills is using a direct fuel cell to generate electricity from gas produced by an anaerobic digester utilizing onion wastes and juice. GTI will demonstrate high-sulfur biogas cleaning and conditioning designed to the stringent gas quality specifications of the fuel cell, thus improving the economics of the project. -By Susan Patterson, California Project Development Coordinator, Gas Technology Institute, (916) 476-6112 Edited By:

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