Wyoming to Partner with Idaho National Laboratory
(LARAMIE, WY) - “The state of Wyoming has teamed with a leader in the energy research industry to study how available technologies could add value to and improve markets for the state’s energy resources. The Wyoming Business Council, Idaho National Laboratory (INL), and the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources have partnered to research the viability of transforming the state’s raw energy resources into higher value products.
The study will particularly focus on Hybrid Energy Systems (HES), which combine two or more complimentary resources, such as fossil, renewable or nuclear, to produce a variety of energy products that have much higher values than the commodities alone, for example, transportation fuels, chemical feedstock and electricity.
Hybrid Energy Systems combine raw energy resources with innovative conversion facilities to attain greater efficiency of resource use and plant utilization, resilience to varying market conditions, more efficient deployment of capital, and better stewardship of fossil resources and renewable energy resources like wind and solar.”1
KYNF recently spent time with INL assets working on the variants of these Hybrid Energy Systems. While the research is a fascinating step in developing economically feasible systems that alleviate waste output, the Wyoming public needs to be aware of the variable models for such systems.
Current HES research at INL focuses on the concept that it is possible to take multiple power production sources and recycle their waste output, often into a useable secondary fuel. KYNF recently saw intriguing examples of this like INL’s high temperature electrolysis (HTE) research. Using this in the context of an HES model, hydrogen technology is used in conjunction with a separate waste output, like carbon from a coal plant. In the more impressive concepts, the waste that would be distributed to the atmosphere is recycled in a closed cycle.
These systems additionally have the capacity for general energy efficiency. In one sense, variable energy sources used in conjunction can supplement each other as needed. An example of this would be pairing renewable energy with coal. Most renewable sources fall victim to environmental fluctuations, like solar or wind. This situational reality continually hinders the progression of renewable energy investments. The argument persists that renewables cannot maintain a stable energy grid, and as such, hybrid systems provide an immediate solution. In another fashion, using HTE as an example, the model can respond dynamically through direct conversion to electricity in periods of high demand, and hydrogen conversion to alternative fuels in periods of low demand.
While the best of intentions drive these remarkable technologies, nuclear interests are clinging onto the hope of creating the illusion of a closed, clean energy cycle. HTE requires its namesake: high temperatures. Specifically, upwards of 1000° Celsius. In the HES models that KYNF was shown, coal and systems like HTE were coupled with INL’s proposed heat source: a nuclear power plant. Of all the energy sources available in the world, the only one that continues to maintain a radioactive waste output that lasts over 100,000 years is nuclear energy. Consequently, the closed, clean energy cycle is potentially a farce.
In every proposition shown to KYNF, the wording is clear: renewable or nuclear. This front end heat generator has been designated to one or the other. While renewable heat sources like solar are offered as potential candidates for the heat generation in these systems, most contend that nuclear is a superior, more reliable choice. While we can focus on the myriad issues with nuclear energy, the issue at hand for this discussion is waste. The environmental glory of the ideals behind HES rides on the notion that one can improve energy output while closing it into a cleaner, contained cycle. Current nuclear reactor designs maintain absolutely no effort toward minimizing waste output. With this in mind, the greatness behind HES seems betrayed.
Of further concern is that Wyoming’s foundation for the study is primarily economic. As Bob Jensen of the Wyoming Business Council states, “This study is a preliminary, in depth look at how Wyoming could better utilize the abundance of energy resources we have in the state to produce higher value energy products that could diversify and optimize our energy assets. This would potentially translate into more efficient use of resources, job growth, and ultimately an increased revenue stream for the state.” This focus is worrying as HES technology has the capacity to do so much more than economically streamline energy for our state. It is a feasible step toward cleaner energy practices, and if we forget this focus, than the idea can be tragically corrupted. How will this corruption rear its ugly face? Economically expedient and readily available open cycle nuclear reactor designs. Not renewable energy, not closed cycle nuclear energy, but likely GEN III reactors that will compromise the integrity of HES environmental benefit.
This is by no means a nail in the coffin for HES. Vast potential exists in corralling energy interests into something that is economically feasible. Something feasible, yet also an environmentally minded progression for Wyoming’s energy model. It is on the citizens of Wyoming to inform their representatives that their support for these programs hinges on this environmentally minded approach. Write your representatives. Express your concerns, and notify them that these studies have great potential if the fast track of economic expediency doesn’t corrupt them first.
1Joint press release from Wyoming Business Council and Idaho National Laboratory –March 23, 2012