More Solar Flares Shed Light on Grid Failure
In early 2011, Energy Digital reported on a massive solar storm and the potential threat it posed to satellite and electrical grid infrastructure. Luckily, civilization made it through without disruption to the telecommunications and power network we have come to rely on. But don’t get too comfortable, because we’re not out of the “storm” just yet. This week, another massive solar flare lit up skies around the world with dazzling aurora borealis, but shed light on an eminent threat.
While this week’s solar flare wasn’t strong enough to do any real damage, a reported flare just a week prior that fortunately ejected from the other side of the Sun, thus missing Earth entirely, was strong enough to have caused extensive damage to satellites and energy grid transformers had it headed toward Earth instead. The scary part is that governments and utilities companies—who are now taking the threat very seriously—are nowhere near prepared to deal with the aftermath of such a devastating solar flare.
"Geomagnetically-induced currents on system infrastructure have the potential to result in widespread tripping of key transmission lines and irreversible physical damage to large transformers," a 2009 report(pdf) by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) and the U.S. Department of Energy says.
"If the solar storm of 1921, which has been termed a one-in-100-year event, were to occur today, well over 300 extra-high-voltage transformers could be damaged or destroyed, thereby interrupting power to 130 million people for a period of years," Joseph McClelland, director of the Office of Electric Reliability at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at a May 31 House Energy subcommittee hearing on the issue.
"The U.S. society and economy are so critically dependent upon the availability of electricity that a significant collapse of the grid precipitated by a major natural or man-made EMP [electro-magnetic pulse] event could result in catastrophic civilian casualties," Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) said at the same hearing.
Unfortunately, there are not enough transformers stockpiled as replacements in case of solar flare induced grid-failure and the issue has become a top priority for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as NERC. However, there is “grid”-lock between the organizations as to just how far the federal government should extend its authority in regard to solar flare protection. While utilities businesses have invested billions over time into protecting transformers and other grid structures against lightning, there has been little private investment to safeguard against space weather. That will need to change, and fast, as NASA is predicting that 2012 through 2014 will see incredibly high solar activity. While NASA can detect solar flares 24 hours prior to them even taking place, there is still a relatively short window of opportunity—roughly a few days—from detection to the time it hits Earth.
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The Department of Homeland Security has funded the Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) modular replacement transformer design to be used in emergency scenarios such as a solar storm. The unit will be field tested in 2012. However, Richard Lordan, senior technical executive with EPRI fears that that these actions are still very lacking in cogent policy parameters. "What would be the appropriate deployment strategy? How many are needed? Who owns them? Who maintains them? And who determines when an event is severe enough to warrant deployment?" he says. "These conversations are going on."
One thing’s for sure, if you are a business owner linked in any way to grid infrastructure, then this issue should be a priority for you as well. The private sector needs to be taking a more active role in preparing for the very real threat posed by solar flares. If preparation is placed solely on the shoulders of the government, then I fear we will not be ready when the big one does hit.
Itronics successfully tests manganese recovery process
Itronics - a Nevada-based emerging cleantech materials growth company that manufacturers fertilisers and produces silver - has successfully tested two proprietary processes that recover manganese, with one process recovering manganese, potassium and zinc from paste produced by processing non-rechargeable alkaline batteries. The second recovers manganese via the company’s Rock Kleen Technology.
Manganese, one of the four most important industrial metals and widely used by the steel industry, has been designated by the US Federal Government as a "critical mineral." It is a major component of non-rechargeable alkaline batteries, one of the largest battery categories sold globally.
The use of manganese in EV batteries is increasing as EV battery technology is shifting to use of more nickel and manganese in battery formulations. But according to the US Department of Interior, there is no mine production of manganese in the United States. As such, Itronics is using its Rock Kleen Technology to test metal recoverability from mine tailings obtained from a former silver mine in western Nevada that has a high manganese content.
In a statement, Itronics says that its Rock Kleen process recovers silver, manganese, zinc, copper, lead and nickel. The company says that it has calculated – based on laboratory test results – that if a Rock Kleen tailings process is put into commercial production, the former mine site would become the only primary manganese producer in the United States.
Itronics adds that it has also tested non-rechargeable alkaline battery paste recovered by a large domestic battery recycling company to determine if it could use one of its hydrometallurgical processes to solubilize the manganese, potassium, and zinc contained in the paste. This testing was successful, and Itronics was able to produce material useable in two of its fertilisers, it says.
"We believe that the chemistry of the two recovery processes would lend itself to electrochemical recovery of the manganese, zinc, and other metals. At this time electrochemical recovery has been tested for zinc and copper,” says Dr John Whitney, Itronics president.
“Itronics has been reviewing procedures for electrochemical recovery of manganese and plans to move this technology forward when it is appropriate to do so and has acquired electro-winning equipment needed to do that.
"Because of the two described proprietary technologies, Itronics is positioned to become a domestic manganese producer on a large scale to satisfy domestic demand. The actual manganese products have not yet been defined, except for use in the Company's GOLD'n GRO Multi-Nutrient Fertilisers. However, the Company believes that it will be able to produce chemical manganese products as well as electrochemical products," he adds.
Itronics’ research and development plant is located in Reno, about 40 miles west of the Tesla giga-factory. Its planned cleantech materials campus, which will be located approximately 40 miles south of the Tesla factory, would be the location where the manganese products would be produced.
Panasonic is operating one of the world's largest EV battery factories at the Tesla location. However, Tesla and other companies have announced that EV battery technology is shifting to use of nickel-manganese batteries. Itronics is positioned and located to become a Nevada-0based supplier of manganese products for battery manufacturing as its manganese recovery technologies are advanced, the company states.
A long-term objective for Itronics is to become a leading producer of high purity metals, including the U.S. critical metals manganese and tin, using the Company's breakthrough hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, and electrochemical technologies. ‘Additionally, Itronics is strategically positioned with its portfolio of "Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies" to help solve the recently declared emergency need for domestic production of Critical Minerals from materials located at mine sites,’ the statement continues.
The Company's growth forecast centers upon its 10-year business plan designed to integrate its Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies and to grow annual sales from $2 million in 2019, to $113 million in 2025.