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Potential Application of Sustainable Technologies

Question:

Discuss about the Potential Application of Sustainable Technologies.

Answer:

Introduction:

Solar energy was initially used for the passive heating which influenced the design of public buildings and homes around the world. It has been used in construction works for centuries but its demands fell in developed countries due to the rapid increase in the usage of fossil fuels. With the dawn of the industrial age, this technology was abandoned in lieu of cheaper fossil fuels. Solar energy has been used to heat water in many areas where traditional power sources are absent. Many industries still depend on solar energy for their business applications.

William Adams discovered that electricity was generated when selenium was exposed to light in 1876. Although usage of selenium was not efficient, it proved that light energy can be converted into electrical energy. Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chaplin and Gerald Pearson discovered that sufficient energy can be generated to move electrical parts without any external power sources if selenium was replaced with silicon (Kalogirou 2013). The cost of making these solar cells was the only hurdle in making this technology available to everyone. With rapid innovations in the 21st century and the usage of silver wires in the circuit, the cost has reduced sufficiently for industries to incorporate the technology I their industrial processes.

  • To investigate a sustainable technology that can minimize the effects of air pollution
  • To analyse the technology and justify if it can be termed as a sustainable technology or not
  • To provide recommendations for further inclusion of sustainable technologies in the proposed situation

The scope of the report can be applied to industries which are preparing to incorporate sustainable sources of energy instead of unsustainable sources that harm the environment in the long run.

The case study that has been taken into context here is regarding the cement industries in New Zealand.

The cement industries that has been taken as an example for the case study are Milburn New Zealand Ltd, Lee cements Ltd and Golden Bay Cement. All cement industries use the same basic raw materials such as Limestone, Alumina and alkalis. These raw materials are crushed and reduced to powder at the quarry site. These raw materials are then mixed to form a grounded powder that contains a unique composition of silica, calcium carbonate, aluminium and oxides of several compounds (Mikulčić et al. 2016). These compounds are burnt with the help of coal to create clinker. Recycled oil is also burnt in several cement factories in New Zealand. The fine powder is then dried and passed in a kiln to start the chemical reactions At 800 degrees Celsius, the calcium carbonate breaks down into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and other particulates are some of the atmospheric emissions that are created from the manufacturing process of the mentioned industries. The kiln operation is the major contributor of the pollution as it uses coal as a medium of heat and release nitrogen oxides as well as carbon dioxide in the process (Ahmad et al. 2018).

The burning of fuels is the major contributor for the carbon dioxide emission (a greenhouse gas). Every ton of cement manufacturing generates one tonne carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Another issue is the generation of sulphur dioxide. One ton of cement manufacturing contributes about 1000g of Sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. Also, nitrogen oxide is also created while burning fossil fuels in the manufacturing process (Mikulčić, Vujanović & Duić 2013).

Cement industries also generate liquid effluents and solid wastes but in this scenario, the atmospheric emissions are taken into context.

Carbon dioxide is released during the production of cement in the calcination process. Fossil fuel combustion is used to generate electricity. According to energy reports from 1993, the emission of Carbon dioxide from the industries of New Zealand was equal to 0.62 tonnes from the process of calcination and 0.45 tonnes from other processes. The industries were responsible for 3 percent of the total carbon dioxide emission in New Zealand.

During the industrial revolution, the usage of coals in industries sky rocketed. The level of air pollution escalated during foggy conditions and the formation of smog happened often around the urban landscape where the majority of the industries were located. The death rates in the urban areas increased and traffics were disrupted due to fog conditions.

Solar energy can be used in several ways in the manufacturing of cement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and conserve non-renewable resources.

Research and development by LafargeHolcim in collaboration with Paul Scherrer Institute showed that synthetic high grade gas can be created by processing low grade feedstock (with high carbon content) with high powered solar heat. This gas can be used in the manufacturing process of cement in the industries of New Zealand to substitute fossil fuels and reduce carbon footprint. The feasibility of the technology was investigated in PSI’s high lux solar research centre (Amrina & Vilsi 2015).

Solar energy can be also used in the cement manufacturing with the help of a process called STEP. This process is highly convenient as it reduces the carbon dioxide emission to zero while providing extra benefits such as reduced production costs. The technology will be further discussed in the following sections.

Areas where the technology can play a part in the scenario

In the quest for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Researchers from George Washington University developed a manufacturing process of cement that produced zero emissions of carbon dioxide. Moreover, the proposed manufacturing process will be cheaper than conventional methods. The process developed to eradicate the mentioned scenario is described as STEP process or Solar Thermal Electrochemical Production process. The technology incorporated in this process has the capability to reduce the carbon dioxide levels to pre-industrial times. More than 50% of carbon dioxide emissions occurs in the development of lime from limestones (Feiz et al. 2015). The process involves the removal of 2 oxygen atoms and 1 carbon atom (decarbonation) from Calcium carbonate (limestone) to calcium oxide (lime). The rest of the carbon dioxide is generated from the kiln reactors where coals and other fossil fuels are burned to create heat for decarbonation.

The STEP process helps in resolving this problem by using solar energy instead of fossil fuels. The heat generated from the solar energy helps in melting the limestone as well as help in its electrolysis process. Generally, limestone is separated into carbon dioxide and lime as the by-products (Izumi 2013). In the process of electrolysis, a current is passed through the limestone to create lime and a combination of carbon and oxygen atoms (which depends on the temperature of the process). If the electrolysis process is conducted below 800°C, the limestone converts into lime, one carbon and two oxygen atoms. If the process is conducted above 800°C, the limestone forms into lime, carbon monoxide and half oxygen molecule (½O2).

The proposed solar technology is highly sustainable. The sustainability of solar technology for industries in New Zealand has been analysed in detail with the help of Quadruple Bottom line methodology.

Instead of producing carbon dioxide, the cement industries in New Zealand can use this technology to reduce carbon dioxide and create graphite and oxygen which can be kept in storages as solid carbon. The carbon monoxide can be used in pharmaceuticals, plastics and fuels. High throughput and low energy is accomplished by utilizing this technology.

Unlike carbon dioxide, the oxygen and carbon atoms does not pose a risk to the environment. The by-product carbon monoxide can be utilized in several industries which use hydrocarbons, purify nickel and produce fuels (Ghosh 2014). The final product lime is left as a slurry below the vessel which can be removed easily as it does not react with other products.

With the adoption of the new technology in the cement industries, new jobs will be generated. Operating the facility and managing the equipment will need extra hands which will decrease the unemployment rate in the nearby areas. If the new solar technology is highly efficient, it will be less expensive than the conventional methods of manufacturing cement.  This will in turn reflect on the electricity bills of households and businesses who will have lesser bills than using the energy generated from fossil fuels (Lewis 2016). Using solar energy more and reducing the use of non-renewable energy source will also boost the health conditions of the local communities.

The proposed solar technology or STEP process in this context is cheaper than the traditional process of manufacturing cement. Researchers have analysed that after manufacturing lime and carbon monoxide from limestone, traditional methods have generated 70$ per tonne. With the incorporation of the proposed technology, the cost to produce lime becomes -230$ per tonne after selling the carbon monoxide by product. Moreover, the carbon monoxide which is produced in this process can be sold lower than the market value. The analysis is not comprehensive as the value of reducing the carbon dioxide emission is not considered here (Zhu et al. 2014). But it provides a rough estimation that the proposed technology is economically better than the existing technologies.

The demand of electricity in New Zealand is expected to rise around 1.2% per annum which put immense pressure on the government as well as other institutions to opt for cheaper alternatives. New Zealand has always opposed Nuclear power adoption strongly which puts the proposed technology at an attractive place. Highly incentivised solar power, fall of natural gas and coal demand and moving towards renewable energy sources are the key factors in determining the sustainability of the technology in terms of governance aspects (Lattimore 2013).

Recommendation for incorporation of the proposed technology

According to researchers, this solar powered technology (STEP process) can be extended to other industries where the conversion of limestone into lime takes place. Industries which are involved in removing phosphates, softening water, smoke stack cleaning, producing sugar, paper, glass and purifying aluminium and iron can incorporate this technology (Rahman et al. 2013).

Current research on the mentioned solar technology includes commercialization by scaling up the process. A huge solar thermal plant named Gemasolar has taken up this technology and is operational. As electricity prices are expected to reduce in the coming years, more solar thermal plants as well as cementing industries are expected to follow this trend (Devabhaktuni et al. 2013).

To compensate for the problem of sunlight fluctuations and night operations, molten storage of salt constituting thermal energy is being researched upon for operations to continue during odd hours. Research is also conducted on finding a similar alternative to lithium carbonate which is used as electrolyte in the STEP process. This research is not that significant due to the fact that lithium carbonate is not a recurring cost because it does not get consumed in the process.

Proposed developments for the technology

The proposed developments for this technology is to increase the efficiency of solar output. Researchers from University of Tokyo and CNRS has developed solar panels that can be attached to balloons operating at high altitudes. This development can help the cement factories which utilize solar power to work at maximum efficiency without worrying about weather conditions (Kaddatz, Rasul & Rahman 2013). The balloons are proposed to be deployed at a height of 20kms which are way above where clouds reside.

If the balloons are deployed from a cement industry, the illumination will be more intense at upper levels of the atmosphere as the sky loses its blue colour. The concentrated solar energy can result in more conversion of solar power and generate more yields.

Conclusion

To conclude the report, it can be stated that the potential application of the sustainable technology has been discussed properly in the above report.  The related problem of the cement industry has been taken as a scenario and a relevant technology has been discussed that can eradicate the issues. Carbon dioxide emission is becoming a severe problem which needs to be addressed by institutions and people in a collective way.  The inclusion of renewable sources of energy in particular industrial processes can help curve this emissions effectively. Emissions from the cement industries have been a major problem for the past few years as the trend of adopting environmental friendly ideas are gaining traction. To address this issue, solar energy which is abundant in nature is proposed for the following scenario and a proposed technology has been identified that can be incorporated with the mentioned industry.

The new solar technology has been analysed with the help of Quadruple Bottom line method to justify its sustainability and recommendations have been proposed for further incorporation of effective sustainable technology into the scenario.

References

Ahmad, S., Malik, M. I., Wani, M. B., & Ahmad, R. (2013). Study of concrete involving use of waste paper sludge ash as partial replacement of cement. IOSR Journal of Engineering, 3(11), 06-15.

Amrina, E., & Vilsi, A. L. (2015). Key performance indicators for sustainable manufacturing evaluation in cement industry. Procedia CIRP, 26, 19-23.

Devabhaktuni, V., Alam, M., Depuru, S. S. S. R., Green II, R. C., Nims, D., & Near, C. (2013). Solar energy: Trends and enabling technologies. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 19, 555-564.

Feiz, R., Ammenberg, J., Baas, L., Eklund, M., Helgstrand, A., & Marshall, R. (2015). Improving the CO2 performance of cement, part I: utilizing life-cycle assessment and key performance indicators to assess development within the cement industry. Journal of Cleaner Production, 98, 272-281.

Ghosh, S. N. (Ed.). (2014). Advances in cement technology: critical reviews and case studies on manufacturing, quality control, optimization and use. Elsevier.

Izumi, Y. (2013). Recent advances in the photocatalytic conversion of carbon dioxide to fuels with water and/or hydrogen using solar energy and beyond. Coordination Chemistry Reviews, 257(1), 171-186.

Kaddatz, K. T., Rasul, M. G., & Rahman, A. (2013). Alternative fuels for use in cement kilns: process impact modelling. Procedia Engineering, 56, 413-420.

Kalogirou, S. A. (2013). Solar energy engineering: processes and systems. Academic Press.

Lattimore, R. (2013). The New Zealand economy: an introduction. Auckland University Press.

Lewis, N. S. (2016). Research opportunities to advance solar energy utilization. Science, 351(6271), aad1920.

Mikulčić, H., Cabezas, H., Vujanović, M., & Duić, N. (2016). Environmental assessment of different cement manufacturing processes based on Emergy and Ecological Footprint analysis. Journal of cleaner production, 130, 213-221.

Mikulčić, H., Klemeš, J. J., Vujanović, M., Urbaniec, K., & Duić, N. (2016). Reducing greenhouse gasses emissions by fostering the deployment of alternative raw materials and energy sources in the cleaner cement manufacturing process. Journal of cleaner production, 136, 119-132.

Mikulčić, H., Vujanović, M., & Duić, N. (2013). Reducing the CO2 emissions in Croatian cement industry. Applied energy, 101, 41-48.

Rahman, A., Rasul, M. G., Khan, M. M. K., & Sharma, S. (2013). Impact of alternative fuels on the cement manufacturing plant performance: an overview. Procedia Engineering, 56, 393-400.

Rahman, A., Rasul, M. G., Khan, M. M. K., & Sharma, S. (2015). Recent development on the uses of alternative fuels in cement manufacturing process. Fuel, 145, 84-99.

Zhu, Y., Wang, B., Liu, X., Wang, H., Wu, H., & Licht, S. (2014). STEP organic synthesis: an efficient solar, electrochemical process for the synthesis of benzoic acid. Green Chemistry, 16(11), 4758-4766.

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