Tag Archives: Intermountain Generating Station

survivals gameboard

Getting it done, doing it right

Environmental risks stack up floor to ceiling when you are in the business of hard rock open pit mining. If you start messing with underground salt domes and something goes wrong, you are in a Fukushima without the hazardous radiation Armageddon mess.

The lithium mine on Thacker Pass in Humboldt County Nevada will remain in operation until 2070. When finished the 18,000 acres will undergo a process of remediation. There is a lot to be concerned about, and we have to get this right.

In Delta, Utah there are a different set of worries. Using salt caverns to store diesel, gasoline, hydrogen, and natural gas all could make trouble. Nearby earthquake faults, relatively active, could damage a dome and trigger all manner of environmental mayhem.

Extracting lithium from ore requires the use of sulfur dioxide. Same stuff found in common car batteries. For safety trains will bring the separate components for making sulfur dioxide to Winnemucca, each separate part is then trucked to the processing facility up at the mine where it is mixed before the start of the manufacturing process. Evaporation ponds are more common to lithium refining, extracting lithium from ore with sulfur dioxide has proven harder to scale commercially. In October 2022, about 18 months from now construction will be complete, processing will begin, and we’ll soon know if this is going to pencil out. The world needs this to work.

The technological leap in Delta, Utah is no sure thing either. Timeline is longer, the experimental Mitsubishi turbines won’t be ready to start spinning until 2025. Over the next 48 months a large scale electrolyzer will begin producing hydrogen from water, separating and storing the green hydrogen in the salt domes while releasing the two oxygen molecules harmlessly into the atmosphere. This bit of magic has never been attempted at scale and there are a million ways this can go off the rails. All living creatures on earth have a dog in this hunt, we need this new technology to work.

Mitsubishi will first try to spin the turbines using a blend of 30% hydrogen with 70% methane. The combustion process is complex, hydrogen burns hotter, the turbines and exhaust gases create new challenges. To fuel with pure hydrogen special stainless intake and exhaust manifolds will need to be designed, metallurgically refined turbine blades capable of withstanding the heat generated by the hydrogen will be installed. Engineers are working to zero out nitrogen oxide exhaust gases created in the combustion process. Mitsubishi is confident this technology can work, it’s just that nobody has done it yet. There’s a first time for everything.

It’s what is underground…

The 18,000 acre mine on Thacker Pass is potent environmental problem solver. Imagine the thousands of offshore oil platforms scattered across thousands of miles in the Gulf of Mexico all being safely shutdown. Imagine the fossil fuel operations in West Texas, Eastern New Mexico, Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, Louisiana and Oklahoma all no longer being needed. Mining for other metals will be necessary, the electricity for this new century isn’t cost free, but it will be cleaner, the atmosphere will begin to heal, we have a path, we can do this right.

In the United States there remain about 75 coal fired generating stations to shutter. Job losses will devastate the communities where these facilities and workers are located. As of now without salt domes adjacent to a power station the cost of repowering with hydrogen doesn’t pencil out. The energy transition is a term of art for the creative destruction the climate emergency has unleashed. Our fragile politics is that red flashing light on our dashboard. The fossil fuel industry isn’t going to go quietly. Not here, not anywhere, those working on the transition have to build out a new energy system and build out a glide path for all the businesses and people disrupted by this change.

An arctic blast knocks Texas out. In the Atlantic the Gulf Stream is stalling. All around the world promised targeted reductions in carbon dioxide are missed. The urgency of our circumstances keeps confronting us. The mine up on Thacker Pass, the salt domes in Utah offer us a way forward, a chance to work mankind’s magic. Traveling between California and Colorado getting a firsthand look at the efforts that are underway, the work being done. We are in a climate emergency, the world is responding, the efforts give hope, we have a path, a way to walk this crisis back, there is still much to do.

sexy salt cavern talk

This is the beast of central Utah. This is a voracious coal fired one-thousand-eight-hundred-megawatt (1800 MW) climate emergency inducing power station. Broke ground in 1981, went online in 1986. Most of the electricity for the last 35 years has been destined for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power some 600 miles to the south.

Delta, Utah is the biggest town in Millard County. Milk cows outnumber the towns 3500 citizens, and not by a few but by a lot. This is Great Basin Desert. This piece is called the Sevier Desert with a river of the same name running from north to south out into a miles wide sink. To the west you’ve got Sawtooth and Swase Mountain, Whirlwind Valley and Swasey Bottom. East there are the Church, Canyon and Gilson Mountains. You got Fool Creek Flat and Oak Creek Sinks scattered beneath the picturesque steep terrain. Much of the Sevier Desert is less scenic, dryer. Beyond the hay fields and dairies is a parched desolation that displeases the eye.

Intermountain Generating Station

I have been traveling through Delta for many decades. North of town the Intermountain Power Station had never caught my eye. The smokestack towers 700 feet high is visible from 20 miles away. There is a direct current high voltage powerline that run from the plant to Los Angeles. Buried underground is a natural gas pipeline that runs from Wyoming to Delta then to Las Vegas, connecting with oil fields in Bakersfield. Union Pacific Railway hauls diesel, gasoline, and coal here. This is a major energy hub, a vital piece of America’s energy system.

Los Angeles Department of Power and Water has been under orders to decarbonize. Unwilling to renew a purchase agreement with Utah’s Intermountain Power Station the managers with offices in Salt Lake City found there were no takers for power produced from coal.

California’s effort to decarbonize forced Utah, the owners of the power station to adapt. In 2017 a decision was taken to retrofit the coal powered turbines with a pair of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power System (MHPS) turbines capable of being fueled by natural gas and then green hydrogen.

Injection Well/Salt Cavern Below

Below the Sevier Desert there is a rare series of salt dome formations. Magnum Development in 2010 had initially bought rights from the state of Utah to expand and develop the below ground caverns to store fossil fuel.

The caverns purpose is being reconfigured. This initiative is called the Advanced Clean Energy Storage (ACES) project. “ACES is planning to use four types of clean energy storage technologies including renewable hydrogen, compressed air energy storage, large scale flow batteries and solid oxide fuel cells.” The scale of this project is enormous. “A single cavern can contain enough pressurized hydrogen to produce 150,000 megawatt hours of energy. You would need 40,000 shipping containers of lithium-ion batteries for the same megawatt hours.” Magnum expects to develop 100 such storage salt caverns.

Let’s talk about green hydrogen. It is created from water that is run through an electrolyzer. As more and more solar and wind turbines have been deployed across the American West there occur times when there is excess power that ends up wasted. The surplus energy will be diverted to an electrolyzer for making carbon free hydrogen. The hydrogen is stored adjacent to the power station to use anytime the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. Proximity to the power station, not needing to transport the gas is key.

Remember Moore’s Law is in effect here even though in this instance it isn’t about doubling the number of transistors on a circuit board every two years, but instead is describes the decreasing cost of capturing energy by sun and wind, and how those costs predictably decrease each year. Since 2010 renewable energy costs have gone from $2.00 a watt to $0.20. A decade ago, the cost of making electrolyzed green hydrogen while technically possible remained cost prohibitive and out of reach.

What about all those good paying coal mining jobs in Wyoming? Come to Delta is my suggestion. Can’t find work here try Thacker Pass in Nevada where the new lithium mine is breaking ground. To send energy from Delta new powerlines will help distribute more power to more markets across the American West. Maybe hire on as a high power line worker, drift the Great Basin, live in a travel trailer, breathe fresh air, take weekends off, live day to day in a world without traffic.

Several important pieces to the energy puzzle are found here in Delta. First, green hydrogen is expensive to move where the cost of sending electricity across the grid is not. Then a lithium battery that can only store energy for a short period of time can’t compete with green hydrogen that can be stored indefinitely until the electricity is needed. Yes, you can make green hydrogen anywhere but you because of the salt domes you can store it for a fraction of what it would take to fabricate storage tanks. Delta doesn’t look like much but for a small town with nothing to do there is a lot going on.

Biden Graffiti Sentiments Abound

I’m driving across Nevada, then on into Utah on my way to Denver and this is what I’ve found going on out here. Mitsubishi has been in the business of building hydrogen fueled turbines to power rockets. That’s why they were awarded the contract. The engineering is complex, hydrogen powered turbine blades are subjected to much higher temperatures, and it is the solution to this problem that engineers are step by step solving. The new hydrogen powered turbines go online in 2025, mixing 30% hydrogen with 70% natural gas. Metallurgical development will continue, blades that withstand the heat created by burning 100% green hydrogen will be manufactured then not the entire turbine, but just the high heat blades will be retrofitted by 2040. One of green hydrogen’s byproducts is nitrogen oxide, it isn’t carbon, but it isn’t benign, and research is underway to remedy this issue.

Once the pandemic is brought under control, I’m intending to walk the sidewalks of Delta, Utah and speak to people, find out how much they know about the role their town is playing in the effort to clean up our atmosphere, walk civilization back from the precipice, to find out if they understand that they are making a life right there in the heart of one of the leading solutions to one of the world’s greatest problems. Heck, I’d buy them a drink if I could, but they’re Mormon’s and the moderately faithful don’t drink in public.