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How to dam the wind

May 6, 2010

The major hindrance to wind (and solar) power is that they are inconstant sources.  Wind power is available only when the wind blows (and, then, often in great excess), but not when it does not.  By comparison, hydroelectricity is always available because you dam the river and release the water through the turbines as you need it.  But, you cannot dam the wind, so it is a source that you have no control over.

I have seen various solutions to this problem – batteries, of course, but batteries are insufficient at our current level of technology.  A poster to this blog once suggested using wind power to pump water back into dams.  Yesterday, Popular Science reported on a new process developed by a German/Austrian team that uses excess electricity generated from wind and/or solar to create methane.

“When the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, excess power is siphoned off and used to split water through electrolysis. But rather than storing the hydrogen gas for use in fuel cells — technology that, while potentially game-changing, is not widely employed — a simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and carbon dioxide is used to generate CH4, or a synthetic version of methane.  That methane can be stored in existing natural gas facilities for use when renewable fuel sources are having an off day. Those supplies could also be used as a heat source during cold winters or burn in natural gas powered car engines. The synthetic methane does release carbon emissions into the air, but since the CO2 used to make the synthetic methane is pulled from the atmosphere rather than the ground, the process only returns the carbon it initially pulled out.”

I will say that it is an intriguing idea, but I can’t support it at this point.  I don’t think it is a good idea to destroy an even more precious resource – water – to create fuel.  However, I am admittedly ignorant on the details of the process.  If I am wrong – if, in fact, the water is not destroyed and is somehow reintroduced back into the ecosystem at some point, I will change my mind.

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