Environmental impacts of oil shale production

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Land use in the oil shale industry is extensive for both surface and in situ oil shale extraction and can impact the biodiversity of any production region. Furthermore, the disposal of both solid and liquid waste needs to be carefully managed and may require the use of additional land.

It is reported by the European Academies Science Advisory Council that the waste produced occupies as much as 25% more volume than the extracted material. Although, real word evidence backing this up is limited. Pollutants in the waste can be a cause for concern as some are toxic and/or carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing), for example sulphates, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This waste may need pre-treatment before going to a landfill, especially as there is a risk of it leaching through the soil at the extraction site and at other stages in the process. Landfilling waste also comes at a cost.

Projects need to comply with legislation both on land use and wildlife on the site. For example, in 2010 the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Greater Sage-Grouse was warranted for listing as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. This grouse is found on land with oil shale and tar sands. In the US a significant proportion of oil shale sites are located in or next to conservation and wilderness areas and scenic sites.

The actual process of surface mining affects the runoff pattern in an area, and thus groundwater levels may have to be managed to prevent contamination. The effect of this may affect the surrounding land, which may be very detrimental if it is forestry or agricultural land. Experience from other mining industries could be used to mitigate the impacts of surface mining of oil shale. For the in situ oil shale mining the surface impacts are lower. There is some concern over the impact of run-off and fugitive dust emissions from transportation and storage of products and waste. Impacts will also be caused by the drilling of holes for heating and wells for oil or gas extraction. Once the project is completed, surface mining process will require remediation, which would be costly, and in situ projects would require the plugging of any holes and wells drilled. Infrastructure such as piping, roads and so on may need to be construction to support the oil shale project, which would have a footprint and require an environmental impact assessment.



WiFi Technology – Shaping the Green Home Energy Sector

-Jacqueline Allen

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The UK Government has committed to achieving an ambitious target that will require the entire country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Part of this plan is that by 2020 every household will be required to install a smart meter that monitors energy use and communicates with suppliers in order to not only collect data but make the necessary adjustments. Riding on the coattails of this surge in energy optimism, however, are individual homeowners and consumers looking to help to lessen the blow that is caused by necessary heating and cooling costs.


How Home Automation Decreases Energy Use


Service providers are beginning to develop technologies that allow homeowners to connect numerous aspects of their homes wirelessly to their smart devices. This means that, as different industries such as the home sector, internet providers and smart technology companies continue to invest in the innovation of home automation, consumers will continue to see an increase in their ability to fully automate all of a home’s functions. This includes, but is definitely not limited to, the ability to adjust heating and cooling systems remotely and also the ability to manage their energy consumption by controlling things such as the lights.


What to Know About Smart Thermostats


Perhaps one of the greatest innovations that have been introduced into the energy sector in recent years is the smart thermostat, which is aiming to transform and optimize both energy use in the UK as well as utility bills for homeowners and renters alike. Smart thermostats such as the Nest Learning Thermostat, the Honeywell Lyric T5 and the Ecobee3 provide people with the ability to more easily control their heating and cooling systems by using integrative WiFi technology, apps and a network of sensors. The goal is to reduce consumption and optimize the process when it’s in use. The sensors work by detecting whether or not someone is home and defaulting to an “away” mode that saves energy.


Saving Energy and Money


These types of technologies are what consumers really want and need out of tech innovation. A smart thermostat that can not only help reduce your carbon footprint but also lower your monthly energy bills is the perfect mixture of sustainability and practicality. It works, in a financial sense, to lower the costly energy bills by only turning on when someone is home or when it has been activated to do so remotely. This means that, in a cold winter, there won’t be the need to heat a home all day long, wasting energy and money. Someone with the app downloaded can remotely turn on the heat while they’re driving home, ensuring that their home will be warm but won’t be wasting energy when it’s not needed. Ecobee has released statements that their thermostat can help save up to 23% on heating costs.


Innovations for Different Heating Techniques


As the industry evolves, more companies are beginning to develop different technologies to fit various different heating styles, marking a big shift in the UK and European markets as most older homes can rely on radiators to heat a home. Tado, for example, has come out with a thermostat that fits onto a radiator and not only works in the same way as the others but also measures humidity and air quality which can help to optimize ventilation. Not only does this improve the health of an entire home and the people living in it, but it can also help to save on additional energy and heating costs.


Looking Ahead


The government’s commitment to a sustainable future seems to be causing a ripple effect of social consciousness in which consumers are eager to engage with technology that benefits them while also benefiting the environment. As smart technology and integrative WiFi capabilities continue to evolve, consumers will find themselves with more choices and green options that will only continue to improve over time.


Around the World in Natural Gas Consumption and Production

Around the World in Natural Gas Consumption and Production.jpgThe recent news that Qatar will be leaving OPEC in the very near future has sparked conversation among energy experts about what the future of oil will look like. It is clear from the slow break down of this once almighty organisation that oil is not what it used to be. Qatar’s main reason for leaving OPEC was in order to spend more time developing its natural gas production. Whether this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth remains unclear. But, what we can be clear about is that natural gas is on the rise.


Before we start analysing who uses the most natural gas and which countries are the top producers, it is a good idea to have a basic understanding of what natural gas is and where it comes from. First of all, you should know that natural gas is a fossil fuel. This means that it is created over millions of years and, as a result, there is a finite supply.


Natural gas is formed when decomposing plant and animal matter are heated and crushed by the pressure of the Earth over the course of millions of years. The energy that the plants absorbed from the sun during their life is stored in the chemical bonds that make up the gas. The gas is then extracted through wells that are drilled in areas where there are gas deposits.


The main gas that forms natural gas is methane, which stays in the atmosphere for a lot less time than carbon dioxide. The problem with methane, however, is that it is very effective at trapping heat, meaning its potential for causing global warming is far higher than that of carbon dioxide. As a result, the use of natural gas is far from ideal for a world that is trying to bring down the global temperature. Nevertheless, scientists are looking to natural gas a bridge between traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. While the methane is a problem, the energy source is still cleaner that oil or coal.


So, where does all of this natural gas come from? Well, we know that Qatar is ramping up its production of natural gas and it currently sits at number two on the list of natural gas exporters. First place goes to Russia, while Iran, Turkmenistan and the USA take third, fourth and fifth. If Qatar is looking to become the number one exporter of natural gas, it will have a mission on its hands if it wants to overtake Russia. Russia currently supplies around 40% of all of the EU’s natural gas imports, with many countries are 100% dependent on Russian gas.


Fortunately, there are plenty of other countries that import natural gas. Japan, for example, is one of the world’s top consumers of natural gas, but it produces virtually nothing itself. This is a troubling situation for any country to be in, as a lack of domestic energy can lead to energy security issues. Russia, Iran and the USA are also big consumers of natural gas, but this is less of a concern given that they are able to supply themselves with the energy source.


It is unlikely the world will ever be entirely dependent on natural gas, but the energy source plays an important role in the immediate future. Increased usage of natural gas instead of coal could reduce air pollution and provide a cleaner way of meeting peak electricity demand.

Energy Storage – Novel Technologies

Energy Storage – Novel Technologies.jpgBattery storage technology has long been considered too costly at present to be a viable storage technology. However, recently costs for batteries have declined and are projected to fall. Vanadium Redox flow cells have been successfully used in Japan and the US for wind energy storage due to their high efficiency.

If the use of electric cars becomes more widespread, electric car batteries could be used for storage of electricity generated from wind power. At night vehicles could be connected to the grid and at times of peak demand vehicle owners could be paid for discharging their batteries.

Presently the deployment of electric vehicle charging and ‘pure’ battery technology is still in the early stages and would need significant investments in an exchange information system integrated into the grid. Large scale deployment of electric vehicles and willing participants in the scheme would be needed. It is highly unlikely that this would occur in the mid-term, if at all.

Also, hydrogen storage is in the development stages and is technically viable. Excess wind energy is used to generate hydrogen via electrolysis. Then at peak times hydrogen could be converted into electricity using a fuel cell or combustion turbine.

Magnets can also be used to store electric flow. To date, this technology has only been used for short-term storage. The two most widely developed technologies are Super capacitors and Super Conducting Magnetic Energy Storage (SMES).

One of the most interesting storage options is the use of residential water heaters. Using a smart device fitted to the water meter, the heater will switch on or off depending upon electricity load in the grid system. The stored hot water could be used at peak times to reduce overall peak load.


What happened to Hydrogen Technology

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Hailed as the future of clean energy, hydrogen was, at the turn of the century, the fuel that was going to power us forward. Fast forward to the present day and there are more electric vehicles than hydrogen powered cars on the roads, and the big news stories on renewable energy mostly have to do with solar and wind energy. What happened?

As with most new technology, hydrogen fuel cell technology was an expensive endeavour. Promising as an alternative fuel, there were just so many technical limitations that had to be overcome for its widespread adoption into common use technology. When it comes to vehicles, there is still potential for hydrogen, and we are seeing initiatives to build out and support a network of refuelling stations which would allow for a gradual transition to hydrogen fuels.

Instead, electric cars, and hefty government incentives for the same, have come along and allowed this technology to grow. Its adaptability into our daily routine was as easy as running an extension cord to your car every night, and though range can be an issue, you don’t have to worry about finding a specialist fuelling station as long as there’s an electricity source nearby.

Range, however, does still limit many electric vehicles and there is a push for a more elaborate recharging infrastructure. Despite the hype surrounding battery-electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are still set to be one of the most important automotive key trends in the years to come.

Battery technology has severe limitations in terms of its durability (typical batteries will not perform well the older they get) as well as for many convenience of a quick charge (again without impacting the battery’s overall life). Continued investment in hydrogen infrastructure could see refuelling stations with turnaround times of minutes as opposed to hours (for electric charging) and could replace gasoline.

While much focus is on cars, road transport accounts for much of the world’s trade and battery-electric trucks are not yet the solution. With a focus on range and power, hydrogen fuel-cell technology may be able to fill this void and spill over to the consumer automotive sectors as a result.

UK to Join the Geothermal Energy Sector

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Let’s start this article by examining exactly what is geothermal energy. Essentially, geothermal energy comes from the heat that the earth naturally produces. It is a clean and sustainable form of energy and is extracted from shallow ground all the way down to the point where magma is formed.

The temperature in shallow ground remains consistently between 10-16 degrees Celsius. This heat can be extracted using geothermal heat pumps and used to heat and cool buildings. Technologies are fast developing to maximise what we can do with geothermal heat.

In the UK, the country’s first geothermal electricity plant has just sprung into action. It is located in the United Downs Industrial Estate in Cornwall, in the south of the country and is expected to provide sufficient energy to power 3,000 homes according to Geothermal Engineering Ltd.

Geothermal has received accolades by those in the know, including the US Department of Energy, which claimed that geothermal power is a vital and clean energy resource. It went on to sing its praises further by explaining that one of the key elements that makes this energy source so promising is its ability to supply power 24/7 without emitting any greenhouse gases.

Currently, geothermal energy is responsible for a mere 0.4% of the energy mix in the United States. However, with more and more research being undertaken in this area, there is little doubt that the US and other countries will try to increase this percentage in the coming years. The UK has already taken its first step to introducing geothermal energy.

Down in Cornwall, there are plans for two geothermal wells, which will be drilled into granite rock. The deeper of the two will plunge a staggering 4.5km below the surface of the earth.  Water will be extracted from the deeper well and will emerge at a temperature of approximately 190 degrees Celsius. This water will then be fed through a heat exchanger when it reaches the surface in order to extract the heat from the water. Then, it will be sent back into the ground where it will heat back up again. This will work in a continuous cycle and the heat that is extracted will be converted into electricity and transmitted to the National Grid.

The managing director of Geothermal Engineering Ltd has high hopes for the geothermal sector in the UK. He explains that the geothermal resources in the country remain largely untapped and that they have the potential to provide up to 20% of the country’s electricity and heat energy in a sustainable and reliable way.

As coal plants are rapidly closing, more energy is needed from somewhere and geothermal seems as good a source as any from which to extract it.

The geothermal plant in Cornwall has received around £18 million in funding from a range of sources, including over £10 million from the European Regional Development Fund. Other sponsors include the British Geological Survey, GeoScience Ltd and the University of Plymouth Sustainable Earth Institute.


There is no doubt that the earth has to reform its energy consumption habits and it needs to do so fast. Tapping into yet another clean and sustainable energy resource is excellent news for anyone concerned with the future of our planet as it takes us one step closer to an emissions free future.

Bigger Means Better for Wind Power

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There are big things going on in the world of wind power – quite literally. Wind turbine manufacturers are quickly understanding that when it comes to wind turbines, bigger is always better. But, what about the turbine needs to be bigger?


There are two ways to make a wind turbine bigger in a way that will increase the amount of wind power it can generate. The first is to give it bigger blades. When the blades cover a larger area, the capacity of the turbine is increased. Option number two is to make the turbines taller. This puts the blades higher up in the atmosphere where the wind is steady and more reliable. This will mean that the blades are turning more often.


Unfortunately, making wind turbines more efficient is not quite as simple as making everything bigger. When turbines are made bigger, they also need to be made more resilient, without being heavier and less effective. The stress a strong wind can place on a wind turbine can be extreme. There are also a number of non-technical problems that need to be considered, such as loss of view, the effect on big birds, transportation and maintenance issues etc.


Wind power is increasingly moving out to sea. Here, very few limitations exist. The land is barely in sight so views and shadows become unimportant. In a way, the sky is the limit so is it up to the engineers to see how big they can make these energy generating machines.


It is little surprise that energy companies are trying to capitalise on the idea that bigger is better when it comes to generating wind power. This year, GE Renewable Energy announced their investment of a staggering $400 million into a new mega turbine called the Haliade-X. This turbine is expected to be the biggest and most powerful in the world and should be ready for installation in 2021.


To give you some perspective on this new monster turbine, currently, the average height for a wind turbine in the USA is between 142 and 152 metres. The Haliade-X is going to be around 260 metres. On top of that the rotor diameter of the turbine is going to be roughly double the size of the average. This is good news as the greater the diameter of the rotor, the more wind it can harvest. Even the blades are going to be record-breaking, measuring in at about 100 metres in length (that’s around the same length as a football field).


If all goes well, this is a trend we should see continuing in the long term. The Haliade-X is more than just a vanity project. Bigger turbines means a steadier and more reliable harvest of energy, which means easier integration into the grid.


So, what does this mean for the future of wind power? ONe of the main problems with wind power is that it is not reliable. It is often subsidised with the use of natural gas plants or other sources of energy. When we have giant wind turbines that produce a steady flow of reliable energy we are going to be able to reduce our dependence on other energy sources. In the near future, wind power could crush all of its competitors as turbines keep getting bigger and bigger.