ALTERNATIVES TO TRADITIONAL POWER GENERATION: ALUMINUM FUEL, ALGAE BIO-OIL
Mikhail Vlaskin, the Energy of Youth program winner, head of the Energy Accumulating Materials Laboratory of the JIHT RAS, is working on inorganic energy carriers technologies, and on the processing of organic waste and algae biomass into biofuels. The scientist is convinced that the need for new environmentally safe and economically efficient energy supply systems is only increasing, considering the growing anthropogenic environmental impact.
Aluminum has good specific characteristics and reactivity, and using it as a fuel can be one of the promising ways of inorganic energy carriers application. The oxidation of this metal does not generate greenhouse gas emissions, and the solid oxidation product can be returned to the aluminum production cycle. Mikhail Vlaskin is confident that in the long run aluminum fuel can become an alternative to gasoline applied in a number of cases. “Our research team became the Energy of Youth program winner in 2009, and while carrying out the grant works, we performed calculations and theoretical research the results of which were used in the creation and testing of 10 and 100 kW power plants. In these units, aluminum is oxidized in water, with the evolution of heat and hydrogen. The heat and the chemical energy of hydrogen resulting from the aluminum oxidation process are converted into useful electrical energy and heat,” the scientist noted. According to Mikhail Vlaskin, at present his team works on improving the achieved results and developing units for a more efficient aluminum chemical energy conversion process with a lower cost of the produced energy. The latter can be achieved due to the fact that scientists have learned to oxidize aluminum scrap in water, while earlier they had to use fine powders that were more expensive.
Mikhail Vlaskin believes that bioenergy is another promising direction, in terms of primary energy sources. At the moment, he is developing scientific and technical fundamentals for application of microalgae in wastewater treatment and CO2 capture, and working on production of fuel from microalgae biomass using the hydrothermal liquefaction method. To obtain bio-oil from microalgae, a biomass aqueous suspension is heated to approximately 300°C under elevated pressure, which maintains the liquid state of the water. This method of hydrothermal liquefaction provides high energy efficiency and allows the use of wet microalgae straight from the cultivator. The developed method includes processing of the whole algae biomass (lipids, proteins and carbohydrates), which leads to an increase in the output of bio-oil.
The third important area of research of Mikhail Vlaskin is the use of various types of organic waste in power engineering, in particular, of municipal solid waste (MSW). According to the World Bank, the annually generated volume of MSW is about 2 billion tons. In accordance with forecasts by the World Bank and the International Energy Agency, in 2035, its energy potential may amount to more than 20% of the energy potential of coal. Biochar can be obtained from the organic part of solid municipal waste via hydrothermal carbonization, which is an accelerated coalification process.
“Biochar can be sent for combustion to traditional coal-fired power plants, to be used as an additive to traditional coal. This way, it is possible to stop running incineration plants as they are less efficient than coal-fired power plants, when it comes to conversing chemical energy of fuel into electricity,” added Mikhail Vlaskin.
Mikhail Vlaskin is one of the winners of the 2009 Energy of Youth program for promising research and development works, and he received the award for his research on the promising design of thermal power plants for alumohydrogen power generation. The Global Energy Association has been running the Energy of Youth contest since 2004, and 178 young researchers from 67 federal subjects of the Russian Federation have become the contest winners. In 2019, the Association took its youth program to an international level. Now young scientists from around the world, under the age of 40 years and engaged in research and development in the field of energy, can take part in the best research project and implemented idea contest. Each winner will receive grants and personal awards in the amount of one million rubles. Further details and the application submission webpage can be found here. The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2019.