May 17, 2020

A Profitable, Clean Tech Solution to Grid Congestion in China

Green Tech
Norsk Hydro
4 min
As China's economy rapidly grows, the energy sector faces two major challenges: an imbalance of supply and demand and a lack of distribution and transmission infrastructure.
As China's economy rapidly grows, the energy sector faces two major challenges: an imbalance of supply and demand and a lack of distribution and tra...

As China's economy rapidly grows, the energy sector faces two major challenges: an imbalance of supply and demand and a lack of distribution and transmission infrastructure.

As by far the largest wind power market in the world (with 63 GW installed capacity), China gets more than 30% of its wind market's revenue from federal subsidies—an exceptional amount of support from the government that has adversely caused a massive oversupply issue. In 2011, abandoned wind power amounted to over 10 billion KWh, exceeding 50 percent of the industry's profit. Much of that energy was wasted, mostly positioned near farms lacking sufficient distribution/transmission infrastructure capable of moving excess energy to areas of higher demand.

Heavy Industry for Heavy Power Offtake

Due to the large demand for electricity to power large manufacturing facilities, many companies opt out of expensive utility power to produce electricity using on-demand generation techniques.

Unfortunately, wind power is not currently an option for most energy-intensive industries, because wind farms are mostly located in remote areas, lacking labor and other resources to transport the power. Building the necessary transmission cables to do so could cost an upwards of billions of dollars.

Hydrogen generated power, however, offers a prime opportunity for the country's large facilities.

Clean Hydrogen: A New Fuel Infrastructure

Hydrogen manufacturing, using electrolysis, has been implemented at many large power generating stations throughout the world. First researched and implemented by Norsk Hydro of Norway in 1923 at a large hydroelectric facility, hydrogen generation using a power generating facility’s extra power became a highly profitable means of utilizing what would otherwise be a wasted resource.

In China, hydrogen creates an opportunity to monetize an asset that currently is nothing but a financial burden. Rather than curtailing wind capacity (shutting down turbines when over-producing), onsite hydrogen generating plants could be implemented to utilize the energy created by free wind power. Wind farms’ extra electrical capacity can be stored as hydrogen gas for later use as demanded and converted from H2 into electricity by a fuel cell. This system can range in size from a few kilowatts in capacity (for a residence) up to several megawatts (for a town or grid substation).

As fuel cell technology continues to advance, the Chinese could very easily create the fuel supply for a completely clean and cutting edge energy infrastructure.

Hydrogen Economy in China

One of the biggest barriers to a hydrogen economy is that it necessitates a large amount of energy to create the fuel. Hydrogen is 100 percent clean when burned and extremely energy intensive (about 3x more powerful than natural gas by mass). Unlike natural gas, however, hydrogen is not readily found in nature and must therefore be processed using energy-intensive mechanical or chemical processes, driving up costs. (An average hydrogen producing electrolyser needs about 4.5kWh of electricity to produce 1 m3 of hydrogen gas).

Therefore, producing hydrogen may require the use of electricity generated from unclean sources like natural gas, coal, nuclear, etc. The environmental opportunity that presents itself to China's wind energy market for creating a new revenue stream via hydrogen is exceptional. The glut of renewable energy capacity could potentially create a significant amount of high value, clean hydrogen gas at minimal expense. Operating costs would be limited to the inexpensive maintenance of facilities, while the cost of excess wind to power the generation of hydrogen would amount to zero.

A Long-Term Investment

A separate concern with hydrogen networks is the initial capital requirement for a roundtrip hydrogen system to create, store, and convert hydrogen back to electricity. Per unit of energy, a hydrogen system is more expensive than electricity generating equipment for natural gas plants or other fossil fuel plants. That’s why it is especially beneficial to look into pathways leading to the direct use of hydrogen gas in the chemical, fertilizer and mechanical industry.

Beyond the environmental benefits and the economic incentive of a zero operating cost fueling infrastructure, hydrogen systems have an extensive lifetime that could last past 50 years (over 20 years for fuel cells). That long-term payoff makes a hydrogen generating system a much more attractive option for solving a supply/demand imbalance for large scale energy systems compared to the alternatives.

Considering these new opportunities, China could change the face of its remote and rural communities. With a large supply of hydrogen fuel, the applications in energy, transportation, and chemical/industrial/manufacturing will undoubtedly raise standards of living and generate growth, minus the environmental destruction that usually coincides with economic expansion.

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Oct 19, 2020

Itronics successfully tests manganese recovery process

Scott Birch
3 min
Nevada firm aims to become the primary manganese producer in the United States
Nevada firm aims to become the primary manganese producer in the United States...

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.

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