Carbon capture: Tech conference looks at latest innovationWritten by Saige Albert
Jackson – In mid-September, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead hosted leaders from around the world at the Wyoming Global Tech Summit to talk about technology in many aspects of science today, ranging from information security to medicine.
Among the speakers was Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, who looked at carbon recapture and the potential for the future.
“If we think of it like a bank account, we have to figure out how to literally balance the carbon budget, so I started working on how to put carbon dioxide away,” Lackner said. “If we think of having a carbon credit card on which we are drawing, we’re already on overdraft, or we will soon be on overdraft.”
Lackner said that, whether people believe in climate change or not, carbon dioxide (CO2) is building up in the global atmosphere.
“CO2 literally builds up in the atmosphere like garbage,” he described, noting that some of the CO2 is reabsorbed back into the ocean, but the majority of it persists in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. “As we put CO2 into the atmosphere, we have to get at least half of it back. But in the end, carbon dioxide also produces a disposal problem.”
Currently, the atmosphere consists of approximately 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2.
He added that most climate scientists agree that CO2 in the atmosphere increases by two to 2.5 ppm per year.
“Currently, we put 36 billion tons of CO2 back into the atmosphere, and 15 billion tons adds a part per million,” Lackner said. “Climate scientists will also tell us that when we hit 450 ppm, the planet will also warm by two degrees Celsius.”
To decrease the rate of CO2 being released into the atmosphere, Lackner said that the U.S. must recapture more carbon than we release into the atmosphere.
“Every person uses 30 tons of carbon in their lifetime,” he said. “It’s time to balance the carbon budget.”
In balancing the carbon budget, Lackner noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) touted negative emissions at their recent meetings.
“We have to put back more than we put out because we are in an overdraft situation,” he explained. “We have to make sure we don’t overrun the 450 ppm, and there’s not question we will at this rate.”
If the globe maintains its level of carbon use, before the end of the century, the atmosphere is predicted to hit 800 ppm CO2.
“If we reduce emissions by 10 percent, we have pushed the problem into the future,” Lackner said. “If we got to 30 percent of current emissions, we will push the problem into the distant future, and that’s good for right now.”
Lackner sees huge potential in capturing CO2 from the air to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
“The technology of air capture is technologically and conceptually very simple,” he said. “I have a device that we blow air through, and it takes the CO2 out.”
At the same time, he added that air capture has the potential to actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere below it’s current level, beyond only compensating for future output.
Secondly, Lackner sees potential in completing the carbon cycle by utilizing captured CO2 and hydrogen to make gasoline, methanol, dimethyl ether and more.
“We can make plastic. We can make carbon fiber, and we can use them,” he said. “I can create a circular carbon economy without ever touching fossil fuels.”
Finally, he noted that those using fossil fuels are responsible for returning the carbon removed from the ground from the atmosphere.
“Over the next 20 or 30 years, I think we’ll see regulatory frameworks where dumping CO2 into the atmosphere is outlawed,” Lackner commented.
Two things make carbon capture from air challenging – the fact that CO2 in air is “tight” and there is a lot of water in air.
“There is far more water vapor in air than CO2, and the problem is, anything that binds CO2 loves water,” Lackner explained. “We have to figure out how to get around that problem.”
Additionally, the technology is currently very possible, though he likens the argument against air capture because of the expense to arguments made by locomotive engineers against flight made at the turn of the century.
“It’s not physical law that says air capture of carbon is impossible, it’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s feasible to do air capture.”
At the same time, Lackner noted that the technology is expensive now, but all renewable technologies were initially very expensive.
Currently, estimates with other processes are that capture costs $600 per ton to capture CO2 from the air.
“I think it can cost, practically, $100 per ton, to do air capture,” he said.
He added, “Photovoltaic panel costs dropped 100-fold from 1960 to today. Wind plants have dropped in price 40-fold. We can see that cost will decrease.”
Lackner noted that the CO2 content of air is quite small.
“There is a liter of CO2, or about two cups, in every cubic meter in air,” he said.
They have figured out how to capture CO2 from the air passively, only utilizing wind and natural air movement to capture CO2.
“We use an anion exchange resin, which has the remarkable feature that, when it’s dry, it loves CO2,” he said. “When it’s wet, it gives it back.”
Lackner continued, “We load up the resin, and by the time we reach 40 kilo-Pascal, which is full. Then, we make it wet, either by exposing it to 100 percent relative humidity or spraying water on it.”
Then, the resin is dried and can be reused.
“We need to figure out how to utilize this best,” he said. “It is extremely powerful, and mass production will get us there.”
He further added that he estimated three years before the technology is ready to be readily disseminated.
“As we fast forward, we need to convince the public that CO2 disposal is also necessary,” Lackner said, noting that there is a challenge in disposing of captured carbon. “Negative emissions is going to be a huge, huge business opportunity in the future, and I’m pretty sure air capture technologies will be a part of that future.”
Improvements for efficient water use aided by technological tools in the fieldWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“I don’t believe there is a silver bullet for solving the world’s agricultural problems, but technology could be a key player,” notes Trimble Navigation Marketing Director Chris van der Loo.
Food security, production costs and other challenges continue to increase as the world progresses towards a projected global population of 9 billion people by the year 2050.
“We live in an age of advancing technology, which we can use as one of the key elements to help feed the world and improve food availability for the masses,” he explains.
Van der Loo works specifically with agricultural water solutions at Trimble, which include land forming, water drainage and irrigation technology systems.
Shaping the land
“Starting with land forming solutions, we have the ability to go out and get a highly accurate, three-dimensional model of the surface of a farmer’s field. From there, we can do some analysis and look at the contours of the field,” he explains.
By assessing low-lying areas or steep slopes, producers can determine water runoff and soil erosion patterns. Next, they can determine which modifications would improve irrigation or drainage in the field.
“We will then do minimal cut-fill or earth work design for that field,” he continues.
With GPS technology, machinery can be controlled to precisely move dirt and create a specified surface pattern within the field.
“We can get a variable slope field with minimal disturbance of the topsoil to ensure that water will run off as efficiently as possible without ponding in the field,” he says.
Further technology can be used to establish water drainage systems in growing areas.
“Using old laser technologies, a drain gets put in at a constant slope, which means there is a variable depth between the surface of the field and the drainpipe. This means nutrients are not being taken up evenly by the crop within the field,” van der Loo comments.
Using newer GPS technology, producers can install the drainage system with variable slope to optimal depths, allowing roots to absorb as many nutrients as possible.
“Another technology occurring right now in the drainage world is the use of controlled drainage where structures are placed at the ends of the drainpipes to hold water back, particularly over the winter months, to ensure that nitrates and other nutrients are not being drained out of the soil when there are no crops in the field,” he adds.
In the case of drought, similar technology can be applied to hold water in the soil, keeping it available for crops.
“When we talk about irrigation, there are multiple pieces of data that can contribute to how much water can be applied or needs to be applied over a field for what a crop truly needs,” continues van der Loo.
Topography information, for example, indicates where water may run off or pool, depending on high or low lying areas of the land.
“Another piece of data is soil characteristics. More water will be held in heavier soils, and there will be more water available to the crop in lighter, sandier soils,” he comments.
Electromagnetic mapping can provide producers with information about soil variation and combined with physical soil samples from specific locations, a prescription can be created for variable rate irrigation.
“We can put technology on a center pivot that allows us to control each nozzle independently and ultimately allows us to apply a specific application depth, defined by management zones within the field, based on what the crop actually needs,” van der Loo remarks.
This can help to ensure that crops receive sufficient water throughout a field, as well as ensure that crops are not over watered, causing saturated soils or leeching of nutrients.
“We are seeing a value added to farmers who are growing potatoes,” he shares as an example. “Uniformity of a potato from a moisture perspective is really important because they are stored. If we have too much moisture in potatoes, we end up with rot at the storage facility.”
In New Zealand, dairy farmers are using variable rate irrigation to prevent ponding in fields where the cows graze, and in Texas, producers are using the same technology to make efficient use of their water in cotton fields.
“By optimizing water application based upon underlying soil conditions and topography, we are seeing yield increases in grains, in some cases 15 to 20 percent, just by not over-watering or under-watering the field for what the crop really needs,” van der Loo states.
Combining various technologies within their fields, producers can potentially use water more efficiently while increasing yields and profitability.
“Farmers run a business. They have to increase farm production to stay competitive. Regulations are changing and water quality is anther driver for putting technology into this space,” says van der Loo.
Hydrokinetic generator has worldwide implicationsWritten by Saige Albert
Cody – With energy available in flowing waters in irrigation canals across the United States and around the world, Meeteetse native Tony Griffin came up with a novel invention to harness that energy and convert it to electricity.
“Growing up farming and ranching, electricity was one of the biggest costs, and it’s one that you really have no control over,” says Griffin. “We patented a paddle-wheel driven machine that will turn a generator, irrigation pump or whatever you want to run with water power.”
Griffin says he tried to figure out a way to harness the energy of water for a long time.
“I messed with a lot of prototypes,” he comments. “It is easy to make a paddle wheel and make it turn things, but it is problematic in the maintenance.”
Conventional methods, which use chains and sprockets or belts and pulleys, are unable to withstand the aquatic environment, but Griffin realized that utilizing a strong, waterproof, permanently lubricated system, he could develop a system to harness the energy from flowing water in irrigation canals.
“So we started making prototypes, and they worked,” he mentions.
From the beginning
“The very first was around 2007,” says Griffin, remembering his initial design, which used a power takeoff (PTO) shaft that turned a generator.
Griffin mentions, however, that when utilizing a generator, it is necessary that the rotations per minute (RPMs) of the shaft be constant, which requires that the water flow be regulated.
“We had two different models and ran those,” he says, “but we aren’t going to consider them because they were really heavy, really expensive and have to be run at a certain RPM.”
With his latest design, the permanent magnet generator runs as fast as the water flows and is much lighter and more economically feasible.
How it works
“The very old-fashioned paddle wheel was used in rivers many years ago, and that was, at the time, the only way that farmers could grind their grain – by using the force of water flowing down rivers and streams,” explains managing director of Tecnolog s.a. Edgar Gerber. “Tony built a more efficient way to use a paddle wheel. That is basically all it is – a paddle wheel turning by the force of the stream.”
Gerber also explains that the system is hydrokinetic, rather than the commonly used hydroelectric.
“Hydroelectric means there must be a drop of water,” he continues. “Kinetic means force. Hydrokinetic is using the force of flowing water. This is why Tony’s technology is different, and that is the novelty of this situation.”
In Griffin’s generator, as water spins the paddles, a rotor with a permanent magnet spins around a stator, called a smart drive, creating wild alternating current (AC) electricity, or electricity without a ground.
“We rectify the electricity to DC (direct current) so we can control it,” says Griffin. “Wild AC has to be controlled and the best way to do that is to rectify it to DC.”
Additionally, by transmitting electricity in the DC form, Griffin notes that less is lost in transmission. After transport, the electricity is turned back into AC using an inverter.
The faster the wheel turns, the more electric generation is possible, within certain limits. The current model produces 400 volts of AC electricity.
“We use the same generator they use for wind in a different way,” says Griffin. “We know that it doesn’t produce below five RPMs or above about 1,700 RPMs because the magnet goes by too fast to saturate the coil.”
While the basic design of Griffin’s generator is set, he notes that they will continue to attempt to improve the generator, evaluating aspects such as paddle design and the number of smart drives that system utilizes.
“The smart drives are really powerful, especially when we rewire them,” he adds. “We also invented a way to stack them.”
The Griffins also decided to patent the system.
While Griffin initially hoped to utilize his generators on U.S. irrigation canals with the potential to power center pivot or sprinkler systems, he has found that regulatory hurdles have proven difficult.
Griffin’s wife Amanda says, “The Federal Energy Reserve Commission has said that irrigation canals are exempt from a lot of regulations, but you have to apply for an exemption.”
She adds that the necessary documentation for an exemption includes mapping and drawings that can be expensive to obtain and would have to be done through irrigation districts, because they own the canals.
“In other systems, they have to clean the water, pipe it and move the water through a turbine, but our system isn’t doing anything to the water, and we aren’t even using their structure,” Amanda explains. “It’s been frustrating.”
With the hydrokinetic generator ready to be tested and used, Gerber says that he already has permissions to install the systems in irrigation canals in Peru.
“Peru is one of the very few countries in the world where we do not have the state involved in avoiding development,” Gerber says. “We don’t have all kinds of permits and regulations.”
Gerber says that the water is country- or state-owned in Peru, and the authorization to use water flowing in canals is all that is needed. The only conditions are that they do not overflow, or waste, the water, and that the resource isn’t polluted.
“Other than that, we have permission to do whatever we want with it,” Gerber says.
As a result, Griffin’s latest generator will be shipped to Peru to be installed in their canals. He has also allowed Gerber’s company the rights to use his patent to build more generators.
The implications of supplying electricity to small villages that have never had power before extend beyond just turning on the lights, and Gerber explains that Griffin’s technology has incredible potential to improve the quality of life for the people of rural Peru.
“There are other applications that are a consequence of electricity,” says Gerber. “One is refrigeration. Refrigeration is very important for food preservation, but also for medical purposes – you can store medicines that require refrigeration.”
Griffin also mentions that by bringing power to hospitals, numerous lives could be saved in the country each year.
“Another very important item is education,” Gerber adds, noting that with satellite technology, education is readily available. “If you have no power, you have no satellites, and no education.”
Information transfer, such as news and information about Peru, can also be shared more readily by satellite, thus connecting the country’s rural communities to information that is not otherwise readily available.
With the installation of Griffin’s hydrokinetic generators in Peru’s irrigation system, the advantages seem endless.
Gerber emphasizes, “Electricity brings a lot of benefits.”
Technolog s.a. carries power generation history
Lima, Peru – Edgar Gerber, managing director of Tecnolog s.a., stumbled on Tony Griffin’s hydrokinetic generator when he was surfing the Internet, saying, “It was by accident, really.”
But the company has its roots in power generation.
“We’ve been a power generation business for 66 years,” says Gerber. “We manufacture boilers – from small to very large.”
He explains that their boilers utilize steam to drive turbines, which turn a generator to generate power, and they serve a number of very large customers around the world, including General Electric. Their boilers generate as much as 30 megawatts or more.
“We have been in the power generation business for a long time, and we see a very good possibility of generating power using irrigation canals that we presently are using only to irrigate,” Gerber mentions. “The potential for these canals is enormous.”
UW hydrologist investigates return flow systemsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“In Wyoming, we generally make an assumption that 50 percent of the water applied in flood irrigation will actually return to the stream, but we don’t really know how that varies from basin to basin, from field to field or the timing of that process,” notes University of Wyoming (UW) Watershed Hydrologist Ginger Paige.
In the late 1980s, a large study was done on the New Fork River in the Upper Green River Basin, and scientists determined that nearly 70 percent of the water returned to the stream, with a large portion of that return flow occurring late in the season.
“That’s probably the most comprehensive study in Wyoming on return flow,” she comments. “The question is, how does that process vary from basin to basin?”
With graduate students Niels Claes and Bea Gordon, Paige and fellow UW scientists Scott Miller and Andy Parsekian have been investigating water flow for almost two years in the Upper Wind River Basin’s East Fork watershed on the Spence and Moriarity Wildlife Habitat Management Area that is run by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“We’re doing an intensive water balance and field-scale study to try and quantify return flow to Bear Creek within the East Fork watershed. Return flow is an important part of the water balance in Wyoming,” she explains.
Although it is still too early in the study to draw conclusions, the research team is beginning to understand where the potential flow paths are and where they are currently happening.
The New Fork River studied in the 1980s is located in an alluvial basin, which fills up with water and slowly drains over time. The East Fork River being studied now is located in a glacial till and fine loam system.
“In East Fork, we have the other end of the spectrum. If we can figure out how to model processes in both of these systems, we will have two endpoints to try to figure out how these systems behave in terms of return flow under flood irrigation,” Paige says.
Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation for the creation of the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics at UW, university researchers have been able to take advantage of high-end equipment for gathering data.
“This project is co-funded by the UW Water Resources Program and the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics,” she notes. “We also received some additional funds from the Walton Foundation through the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at UW.”
Tools such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electrical resistivity tomography (TMR) allow scientists to image water and water movement under irrigation, which can be coupled with information about stream flow, precipitation and evapotranspiration to create a big picture concept of the return flow process.
“In this case, we are also using both a scintillometer and an eddy covariance flux tower to directly measure transpiration off of the fields,” she adds. “We have some preliminary data, but putting all of the pieces together and really understanding how it changes with time will be one of the factors we have to delve into.”
Data collected from this project will begin to reveal how much water flows through the stream, how much water is consumed by vegetation and how much is lost to groundwater.
“The equipment we are employing altogether in this field is great because we are able to actually look at changes using the NMR and deep-water storage. That’s really hard to do. We always make these assumptions about where the water is going. Now we are getting some very good, detailed measurements on how much water is being consumed by plants by measuring the flux of water vapor off of the field,” she explains.
Nearing the halfway point of the project, the team is finding that the East Fork is a dynamic system with many potential flow paths.
“Although there are not a lot, we do get components of overland flow, but we also see the large heterogeneity in the system. We have springs that appear sort of in the middle of the irrigation system, and we’re looking at what the connections are between the springs and the irrigation,” Paige comments.
One of the biggest challenges of the project turned out to be the beaver population, which wreaks havoc on stilling wells and stream gauges.
“We end up with a lot of beaver, which are very beneficial for riparian areas and healthy watersheds, but when we are trying to measure flow in the stream, they are a pain,” she laughs.
However, she also states, “I think we’ll find information that’s of use to the state but not harmful to irrigators. I think it’s a win-win in terms of the ability to get a better handle on what’s going on with these processes. It’s fun, investigative hydrology.”
Solar systems grow as alternative to windmillsWritten by Gayle Smith
Glenrock – Not many ranchers can say they haven’t experienced a time when they drove through a pasture to check cows, only to find all of them huddled around the tank fighting over that last drop of water. With thirsty cattle mulling about, trying to find an alternative way to get them water either by hauling it, using a pump jack or moving the cattle takes valuable time.
As an alternative, many producers are looking into solar power as a water source for their livestock.
“These systems have been around 25 to 30 years now,” says Scott Blakeley, owner and certified pump installer of Pronghorn Pump and Repair, which is based in Glenrock. “They have improved these systems every year they have been out. Every element of the system has been improved and made more efficient.”
Blakeley says using a solar powered system for watering livestock can add up to less costs checking water. He points out one ranch, where he switched over the traditional windmill systems and pump jacks to solar-operated watering systems.
“There can be a tremendous savings in man-hours, and pickup and fuel expenses, by using a solar powered watering system. At this particular ranch, they had one man who did nothing for eight hours each day but check windmills. With this new system, he only has to check them once every three days,” he explains.
Blakeley says a big factor in how often the systems need to be checked is how many water sources are in the pasture.
“If it is your sole water source, it needs to be checked fairly frequently,” he says. “In the western states we tend to have a lot of sun, but if you live in an area where there is a lot of fog, you may have some trouble.”
“The solar pumping systems aren’t magic,” cautions Blakeley. “They just seem like they are. The only thing you hear when you walk up to a solar pumping system is the water running into the tank. The solar panel absorbs the sun’s energy, which is diverted through a controller to the solar pump. The pumps throughput is determined by the amount of power. There are a lot of variables involved. It is somewhat a complex calculation, but it always starts with the end result - how much water you need.”
When a producer is interested in a solar watering system Blakeley asks a series of questions to determine what type of system to install. Some important variables include the elevation of the pump location, how much water is needed and when, depth of well and location.
“Animals drink a different amount of water everyday, and a different amount each month,” he adds.
“The solar watering system can pump different amounts of water,” Blakeley says. “When I put in one of these systems I calculate how much water is needed and determine how much water the well can produce. I determine this by how many gallons or tank-fulls can be produced per day, not how many gallons it can pump per minute.”
“Every solar pumping system is job specific,” he adds. “The size of the pump and the size of the solar array is determined by the amount of water needed daily. It is helpful to physically test the water source to determine how much water it can potentially pump. We physically measure the water level while we pump it, so we know what the drawdown level is.”
Blakeley also encourages producers to have a storage system that will hold at least three to four days of water.
“Producers need to have extra storage for the days that are overcast and the panel may not be operating at its full potential,” he says.
Some producers also have a battery backup system to run the pump for some time.
“I think it is more efficient to have some additional water storage rather than a battery backup,” says Blakeley. “It is a key element in this system.”
Most of the storage systems are above-ground steel tanks that vary in size.
“If you are utilizing one of these systems during the winter, you may want to install an underground storage tank to keep the water from freezing,” he says.
“Some of the solar pumps can also be installed with a backup generator,” continues Blakeley. “We have some systems that operate on solar power during the day. Then, in late afternoon, there is an auto start switch on the generator that kicks on to power it through the night. In the early morning it shuts off and reverts back to solar power automatically.”
The solar-powered watering systems can also operate using a float or pressure system. The electronic float is built into the solar control to stop the motor when the water reaches a certain level. If a pipeline will be used, Blakeley says they have to calculate for the additional lift.
“We have one system where water is pumped a mile away to some other tanks,” he explains. “They can lift from different levels, depending upon how many cattle will use the water source at any given time.”
Blakeley says producers may have to consider changing their rotation based on how deep they can pump water from.
“Wells up to 300 feet are very viable. When they are deeper than 300 feet, it gives you a more limited supply,” he explains. “A solar array is about equivalent in price to a 120-foot-deep windmill.”
In addition, Blakeley says producers can also purchase mobile units they can utilize at multiple well sites.
“You can move these from well to well and use the same power source,” he explains. “They also come in different sizes, and you can buy smaller mobile units to supply a whole ranch.”
An advantage of using a solar-powered system is it is a standalone power system that can provide water in remote areas.
“It does not need electricity to operate,” says Blakely. “Because these systems are not connected to electricity, they also tend to not draw a lightening strike. On one of the premium solar panel systems they simulated a hailstone hitting the solar panel at 120 miles per hour. Overall, they hold up well to hail, but they don’t withstand bullet holes very well. It might be something to consider, if you plan to use it on public lands.”
Blakeley encourages producers to insure their systems, which can typically be done through a farm or ranch insurance policy.
“Solar watering systems can also really benefit the environment,” he adds. “There is less use of a pickup or ATV checking them, and there is less pollution. If you use a generator to power your water source, you will have less expense in buying a generator and servicing it.”