Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

What do you know about Chlorine?

Chlorine: From toxic chemical to household cleaner

Few chemicals are as familiar as table salt. The white crystals are the most common food seasoning in the world and an essential part of the human diet.

Sodium chloride is chemically very stable – but split it into its constituent elements and you release the chemical equivalent of demons.

The process is brutal. Vast amounts of electricity are used to tear apart the sodium and chlorine atoms in salt molecules through the process of electrolysis. It happens at vast industrial sites known as chlor-alkali plants, the biggest of which can use as much electricity as a small country.

Which is why the price of both chlorine and sodium tend to track the price of electricity very closely.

It also explains why Industrial Chemicals Ltd’s chlor-alkali plant in Thurrock, Essex, is right next to an electricity substation.

David Compton, ICL’s chief chemist, shows me a huge mound of pure white salt. It comes, he tells me, from the rock salt deposits buried under Cheshire, in the north of England, a resource that was first mined by the Romans. And it’s at least as pure, he says, as the salt you sprinkle on your dinner.

It is mixed with water in huge basins to make a concentrated brine, which is pumped into a big industrial barn that contains what looks like a giant chemistry set.

A series of huge tanks are connected by a web of pipes painted in different colours, all leading back to a big black tank. This is the business end of the process, the electrolyser.

It exploits an equivalence between chemistry and electricity that was first codified by Michael Faraday. Sodium and chlorine are both highly reactive – bring them into contact with each other and an electron passes between them, gluing them together to become salt. Reverse the process – by creating an enormous electrical current in the opposite direction – and you can split them apart again.

Inside the electrolyser, the brine is fed into a series of cells each separated by a membrane. Chlorine gas is produced at one electrode, and hydrogen gas – split off from the water molecules in the brine – at the other, leaving behind a solution of sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda.

Chlorine is named after the Greek word for “green”

Until fairly recently the process used mercury as one of the electrodes. This produced chlorine-free sodium hydroxide, but released tiny traces of mercury, which is very toxic, into the environment. So mercury cells are gradually being phased out around the world.

Inside ICL’s laboratory, Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London, hands me a fragile-looking glass balloon. It is an evil-looking greenish-yellow colour.

“That’s chlorine,” says Professor Sella, with a wicked grin, “one of the most ferociously aggressive materials out there.”

I grasp the bulb of lethal gas more carefully.

Andrea describes chlorine as aggressive because it is very reactive. That makes it extremely useful, but also very dangerous. It takes its name from its sickly colour – chloros is the Greek word for green.

As all chemists know, you need to be very careful with chlorine. Its reactivity makes it very toxic. If you inhale chlorine, it reacts with the water in your lungs, converting it into powerful acids. The effects can be horrific, as the World War One poet, Wilfred Owen, witnessed first-hand.

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

In his poem Dulce et Decorum Est, Owen describes the effects of the deadly chlorine gas used by both the German and British armies during World War I. It was particularly effective as a chemical weapon because it is heavier than air and, on still days, would collect in the trenches.

Gas-masked men of the British Machine Gun Corps during the first battle of the Somme

“Drowning” very accurately describes what happened to soldiers who were exposed to the gas. Their bodies responded to the irritation caused by the acid by filling their lungs with liquid. Many died from suffocation.

But while chlorine may have been put to some dastardly uses over the centuries, its reactivity has also been incredibly useful to humanity. It means chlorine is relatively easy to incorporate into other materials and often makes compounds more stable.

“That’s because,” says Andrea with relish, “chlorine hangs on like grim death to the atoms it bonds with.”

One of the best examples is polyvinylchloride, or PVC, which consumes a third of chlorine. This incredibly versatile and durable plastic celebrated its centenary last year. PVC crops up everywhere – packaging, signage, old-fashioned vinyl records, the leatherette effect of many car seats.

But it is the construction industry that is by far the biggest end-user of this plastic. Over 70% of PVC ends up in everything from drainpipes to vinyl floors, roofing products to double-glazed window-frames.

“We call it the construction polymer,” says Mike Smith, chlorine market expert at the consultancy IHS.

“Chlorine also goes into construction in other forms,” he adds. “Polyurethane, which is a great insulation material.”

And that has the odd consequence that the demand for chlorine rises and falls in line with property booms and busts.

And because the supply of sodium is inextricably tied to that of chlorine, it has an even odder consequence. A collapse in the housing market – as Spain suffered in recent years – can make it more expensive to manufacture staple products like soap and paper, which rely on sodium.

But PVC is just one of chlorine’s many industrial applications. Chlorine is one of the most versatile and widely used industrial chemicals.

“It is a real workhorse,” says Mike Smith, adding that much of the chemical industry would be impossible without it.

Something like 15,000 different chlorine compounds are used in industry, including the vast majority of pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals.

Often chlorine is used during the production process and doesn’t actually turn up in the final product. That’s true of the production of two vital elements.

From a battered cardboard box Andrea produces a cylinder 15cm long and 3cm wide, encrusted with crystals of a beautiful silver-coloured metal. It is, he tells me, titanium.

Titanium is the basis of much of the paint industry. It is used in hi-tech alloys for aircraft and bicycles as well as in dental implants and chlorine is an indispensable part of the purification process.

Similarly the incredibly high-purity silicon essential for the production of computer chips and solar panels is only possible thanks to a process that uses chlorine.

But it was chlorine’s cleansing power that led to the first commercial applications of the element. Its efficacy as a disinfectant was discovered thanks to an early 19th Century effort to clean up the gut factories of Paris.

The “boyauderies” processed animal intestines to make, among other things, strings for musical instruments. A French chemist and pharmacist called Antoine-Germain Labarraque discovered that newly-discovered chlorinated bleaching solutions not only got rid of the smell of putrefaction but actually slowed down the putrefaction process itself.

Within a few decades chlorine compounds were being used to disinfect everything from hospitals to cattle sheds as well as to treat infected wounds in patients. Chlorine is credited with deodorising the Latin Quarter of Paris, until then infamous for its terrible stench.

The early advocates of chlorine did not know how chlorine worked, they just knew that it helped clear the “miasmas” thought to spread contagion.

It would be half a century before the microbes that chlorine destroys would be identified.

Chlorine is used around the world to treat water to ensure it is safe to drink.

It is the basis of many disinfectants and a key ingredient of the bleach you use to clean surfaces in your home and to purge any microbes from your toilet bowl.

It is also used to keep swimming pools free of bacteria, hence the distinctive smell.

But here’s something you probably didn’t know, and if you are a regular swimmer, may not wish to know. That smell isn’t chlorine, at least not the element. It is actually a chlorine compound called chloramine, which is created when chlorine combines with organic substances in the water.

So what are those organic substances? We are talking about sweat and urine.

So if you’ve ever noticed that the “chlorine” smell is stronger when the pool is full of kids, well now you know why.


Monday Moaning

Electricity – isn’t it wonderful?

The title is from The Guardian.

Electricity is a feature in most of our lives, unless you happen to be a nomadic herder in some remote corner of the planet.

We can’t do without it.

But really we are a bunch of hypocrites.

We want electricity, but we don’t want pollution and global warming; we want electricity, but we don’t want to upset the environment with dams; we want electricity, but we don’t want nuclear reactors making it; we want electricity, but we don’t want unsightly wind farms in our backyard.

You can’t have it both ways!

You either have electricity and the encumbrances, or you don’t.

Fukushima, more disastrous than Chernobyl

Fukushima, more disastrous than Chernobyl

Oil and gas fired electricity produces hot house gases and pollution. Hydroelectric schemes flood great swathes of land and displaces peoples (often indigenous peoples). Nuclear electricity is just plain dangerous, too stupid to even contemplate; just look at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

So we’re back to windfarms, which merely mess up the lovely view we have of the planet. Off-shore or on-shore, they seem to be the only viable solution… but are they?


Not in our backyard!

The making of these vast wind generators requires rare earths, and where are the rare earths found? In countries that have dubious scruples about mining them, back to pollution on a huge scale damaging the land for millennia.

When you boil it all down, there is no answer.

But there is… REDUCE our dependency on electricity, REDUCE our usage.

We make ‘green’ cars that use electricity, but we still have to generate the electricity and often it is with the very oil that we’re trying to save by making ‘green’ cars. It’s a vicious circle. My question is, are ‘green’ cars really green, or are we just sweeping the oil and coal under the carpet?

Man needs energy to cook, to travel, to work. The increase in population means that we need more energy.

The paradigm must change.

Instead of making more and more energy, we have to learn to use the energy we already have/make in more efficient ways.


Excess electricity can be sold to the grid

The use of solar energy must increase.

An example, and one that can be implemented tomorrow, all new houses and commercial buildings have to have solar panels; including those under construction.

“But the expense!” They’ll all cry in unison. To hell with the expense, we are trying to save the planet.

The next step, would be that solar panels must be fitted to all houses and buildings built in the last five years within five years.

We can’t dally about this, it’s not a matter for governments to discuss and spend years making a decision; it must be done NOW!

No procrastination!

We have to put the brakes on for fossil and nuclear fuels. We have to stop destroying people’s lives and natural habitats.

We have to find alternative solutions. If we don’t, there won’t be a need for solutions, because we will be extinct.




London’s cooking waste to fuel power station

Thames Water and 2OC in deal worth £200m over 20 years to turn ‘fatbergs’ clogging capital’s sewers into energy for sewage works and homes

Chips in a deep fat fryer. Thirty tonnes a day of ‘fat’ waste will be collected from leftover cooking oil supplies at eateries and manufacturers, fat traps in kitchens and pinchpoints in sewers to fuel the power plant. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian

Cooking waste from thousands of London restaurants and food companies is to help run what is claimed to be the world’s biggest fat-fuelled power station.

The energy generated from the grease, oil and fat that clogs the capital’s sewers will also be channelled to help run a major sewage works and a desalination plant, as well as supplying the National Grid, under plans announced by Thames Water and utility company 2OC.

The prospect of easing the financial and logistical problems of pouring £1m a month into clearing the drains of 40,000 fat-caused blockages a year is being hailed by the companies as a “win-win” project. Thirty tonnes a day of waste will be collected from leftover cooking oil supplies at eateries and manufacturers, fat traps in kitchens and pinchpoints in the sewers – enough to provide more than half the fuel the power plant will need to run. The rest of its fuel will come from waste vegetable oil and tallow (animal fats).

The deal, worth more than £200m over 20 years, has made possible the building of the £70m plant at Beckton, east London, which is financed by a consortium led by iCON Infrastructure. It is due to be operational in early 2015. No virgin oils from field or plantation crops will be used to power it, says 2OC.

The plant will produce 130 Gigawatt hours (GWh) a year of renewable electricity – enough to run just under 40,000 average-sized homes, say the planners.


Read more

Read more

Monday Moaning

Pee Power

Urine-Powered Generator Could Change Lives

We’ve talked about park lamps fueled by dog poop, and now a group of teens in Africa have developed a generator that runs on urine.

Yes, there’s a bit of an ick factor any time we’re talking bodily functions, but in areas where electricity is at a premium or not available at all, this innovation could make a huge impact on folks’ quality of life. If you’re reading this on a computer, chances are electricity doesn’t feel like a luxury, but for millions of people the lights don’t come on at the flip of a switch.

While turning the lights on might not seem like a big deal, we take electricity for granted in so many other ways, like heating and cooling our homes when the weather is sweltering or freezing. Or in hospitals, where electricity saves lives by powering medical equipment.

How it Works

The generator – showcased at this year’s Africa Maker Faire – was developed by:

  • Duro-Aina Adebola, age 14
  • Akindele Abiola, age 14
  • Faleke Oluwatoyin, age 14
  • Bello Eniola age 15

urine-powered generator

One liter of urine can produce six hours of electricity in their generator using an electrolytic cell to separate the hydrogen from the urine. The hydrogen moves through a filtration system and liquid borax, a system that purifies the hydrogen gas so that it can power the generator.

Six hours of pee power means folks in rural and developing areas can generate their own electricity without petroleum products. Can you imagine the impact this could have if researchers could scale it up, so whole cities could run on pee power?

Images via Maker Faire Africa

Source: Green Upgrader


If four kids can do it, why hasn’t it been done before?

Of course, that wouldn’t be profitable for the oil companies, would it?

This technology needs to be exploited immediately for the benefit of the planet; to hell with the oil companies and their profits.

Imagine that, six hours of light from a litre of pee. How many billions of litres of pee, both human and animal, go to waste each year?

With this technology coal, gas, oil and nuclear generated electricity would be a thing of the past.

It is vital to the survival of the species.


Change the World Wednesday – 8th Feb

A sure sign of frustration

I am up, got coffee and at the keyboard, what more can you expect?

Yes, I’m ready and raring to go, but then I find I can’t…

I am frustrated.

You all know that I look forward to CTWW on a Wednesday and never fail to participate. I have participated in each and every one since the inception.

But today’s, I can’t, I can’t go, I can’t rare, all I can do is sit here numbly with my coffee and stare at the screen.

This week’s Change the World Wednesday is a great one and none-the-less commendable, if you exercise a lot or use a lot of electricity or have a lot of electrical appliances.

This week unplug your exercise routine by using no power. No treadmills, ellipticals, gyms, TV, music, or anything powered to assist in exercise. Make your workout Eco-friendly … and, as always, let us know all about it.
Or …

If you’re not really into exercise, please consider it. In the meantime, take a look at your daily routine and choose one activity which uses power and accomplish it without power. Some examples might be preparing a meal without the use of the stove, washing dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher, visiting friends and family instead of watching TV, etc. And oh yes, we want to know all about it (you’ll get points for creativity).

…but I don’t.

I don’t exercise. I should, but using a treadmill with a walking stick is a tricky exercise I would imagine, since I have never attempted the feat.

I don’t use a lot of electricity, I don’t have many electrical appliances and my stove is gas.

My only contribution this week is that the weather has been so hot here in Rio de Janeiro is that I have turned off the electric shower head. This is our 8th day running with a minimum temperature of 37ºC (94º+F for our American cousins who haven’t realised they are the only ones in the world who haven’t converted), it hasn’t broached 40 yet, but that is coming. The water from my roof tank is hotter than the electricity makes it. If I want cold water, I have to use the garden hose because that gets water straight from the street.

*Puts on thinking cap*

Creativity, she wants creativity… Okay, here goes.

Any time's the right time...

I am a carnivore; yes, I know that for many of you that will be a failing. But, apart from that I am a man who enjoys his beer. Beer o’clock is an essential time of the day.

Instead of going home to watch TV and have a snack after work (I arrive home about 7:30pm). I’ll go to the botequim  (neighbourhood bar), have my snack there while watching their TV. Well, Raimundo will have the TV on for other freguês (regulars) so I’ll watch too. That way my TV is turned off and I am visiting friends too. It’s a bit like having your cake and eating it as well.

Government Warning: Married men, do not attempt this trick in your own home. It can lead to fatal injuries or, minimally, certain aspects of conjugal life to be severely rationed.

…and now a word from our sponsor.

Cow poo!

Yes, on Make you Fink on Friday I am discussing that essential ingredient cow poo and how it affects our lives. Be sure not to miss it!

Make you Fink on Friday

A Chain Reaction

Reduce Footprints finds Our Tiny Planet and spreads the word. I go an visit Our Tiny Planet and find my Fink on Friday post.

I just had to pass this on, it’s great lesson in a nutshell.


Monday Moaning

Industrial Revolution in England

The world has become energy dependent. It started with coal and the Industrial Revolution and its still used today. Then came oil and the available energy increased; so our dependence. The miracle of electricity further increased our dependence until it was total. The modern world cannot live without energy.

Coal and oil were used to generate the monstrous demand, then came atomic energy, hailed as the environmental answer to belching tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Huge hydro-dam projects were the solution. Now the trend is toward wind farms with gigantic turbines blotting the landscape.

The modern wind farm

But man’s insatiable need will be his undoing. Coal and oil produce carbon; nuclear energy causes death and destruction (the Fukishima story hasn’t been played out yet, there is still the final act); Hydro power has drowned great swathes of nature, land and people; killing habitats, not to mention the detrimental socio-economic impact. Wind farms are not immune from problems either, reports of farmland becoming arid for miles behind the turbines as well as the damage caused by their support infrastructure, roads, pylons, etc.

But the turbines cause an even greater damage; not directly, but in their manufacture. This is an aspect that is not widely known; the public are not told.

The huge turbines need magnets.

Let’s take a moment to discuss their manufacture.

Nd-B-Fe magnetslook innocuous enough

The magnets are made of Neodymium-Iron-Boron alloy (Nd2Fe14B) which, thanks to its tetragonal crystal structure, is used to make the most powerful magnets in the world.

Where does this wonderful material come from?
One of the places is China, Inner Mongolia to be exact.
What are the ramifications for the Chinese whose land is destroyed, polluted and rendered useless and dead by the extraction and processing?

The lake of toxic waste at Baotou, China, which as been dumped by the rare earth processing plants in the background.

“The distinctly dirty truth about the process used to extract neodymium has been uncovered: it has an appalling environmental impact that raises serious questions over the credibility of so-called green technology.

The reality is that, as Britain flaunts its environmental credentials by speckling its coastlines and unspoiled moors and mountains with thousands of wind turbines, it is contributing to a vast man-made lake of poison in northern China. This is the deadly and sinister side of the massively profitable rare-earths industry that the ‘green’ companies profiting from the demand for wind turbines would prefer you knew nothing about.”

Quote and image from: Mail Online Read the rest of the sordid story. You’ll be shocked beyond belief.

What’s ‘green’ for the rich is death and misery for the poor.

No matter what man does to produce the energy we have become so reliant on, so dependent on, we can’t do it without some adverse impact on the planet.

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