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Bara goes solar

The other day, I happened to visit ‘Bara’, a popular shopping centre, approximately five kilometres from University Town, Peshawar. To my surprise, I saw about seven to eight shops selling complete solar energy equipment imported from China and Korea.

If most of us install this equipment at our homes, it could solve the energy shortage problem in Pakistan to a considerable extent. A complete package of solar equipment that could run three fans and four energy saving bulbs was being sold for Rs55,000. This package includes a solar panel of 230 Watts, two batteries, a converter, and a controller. In this package, the cost of the solar panel alone is Rs18,000 which is highly cost-effective as compared to its price in the past. The prices of solar energy equipment have come down quite a bit in recent years. One wonders why our government hasn’t promoted the use of solar energy in Pakistan, and why our business community hasn’t ventured into the manufacture of such equipment. The government should have started a vigorous campaign for the use of solar energy in Pakistan.

Air-Cdre (r) Azfar A Khan



Energy potential

Pakistan has enormous resources of renewable and non-renewable energy sources. One of the largest coal fields in Pakistan has reserves of more than 175 billion tones exceeding those in some major oil generating countries.

Pakistan has a great potential for wind energy yet power generation using wind energy is still in the initial stages. About 100,000MW of energy can be generated using solar sources and 41,000-45,000MW through hydel power generation. Despite all these possibilities, power generation in our country is not increasing. Therefore, a rational policy should be developed, placing more emphasis renewable energy.

Wamiq Abrar


Energy of the earth

Geothermal energy is energy derived from the heat of the earth. This energy is derived by drilling special wells in the earth to reach the geothermal hot reservoirs of boiling water and steam, miles below the earth’s surface. The boiling water is then pumped up and the steam is used to heating homes or drive turbines to generate electricity.

Around 30 countries are using this renewable energy resource to generate electricity. In Iceland, 87 percent of all buildings are being heated utilising this energy. Pakistan has great potential for geo-thermal energy. If properly exploited, it can be used to overcome the energy shortage in the country. Generally, geothermal energy can be found where volcanoes exist. In Balochistan alone, there are dozens of volcanoes. We need to make all-out efforts to generate electricity from geothermal sources. We should invite well-established foreign companies to do this job for us and deploy our own engineers and technicians with them to learn from their expertise and become self-sufficient in this field in future.

Air-Cdre (r) Azfar A Khan


Generating energy

The government pays a minimum agreed monthly payment to all power producers for the contract period, even if no power is supplied. This means that if the power plant is not operating, the government would still need to pay the energy bill. In 2008 eight thermal power plants and two nuclear power plants were forcefully shut down for maintenance. But the payments to the thermal power companies were at a fixed rate, creating a $100 million energy deficit. Although fuel supplies and payments to the thermal power plants can be increased to produce more energy, the energy produced will be at a very high cost. Therefore the best option would be to install 5000MW coal power plants in locations that are away from the main population.

Pakistan has the potential to generate 55,000MW of electricity through hydel power. But these plants can take 2-6 years for construction, and with dams there is an additional 2-5 years. The good news, though, is that banks and donor organisations love to fund hydro power projects, because this is clean renewable energy.

Engr H Kaleem


Solution to energy crisis

ACCORDING to energy rules in Pakistan, the government pays a minimum agreed monthly payment to all power producers for the contract period, even if no power is supplied. This means that if a power plant is not operating, the government would still need to pay the energy bill.

In 2008, eight thermal power plants and two nuclear power plants of Pakistan were shut down.

With reduced supply of electricity, Wapda has fewer units to sell and thus has less income in a year. But the payments to thermal power companies was at a fixed rate, creating an energy deficit worth $100 million.

Although fuel supplies and payments to thermal power plants can be increased to produce more energy, with low efficiency the energy produced will be at a very high cost.

Therefore, the best option is to install 5,000 MW coal power plants in locations that are away from population centres, near the port or other transport facility and close to the national grid.

Pakistan can generate 55,000 MW of electricity, which can even be sold to Afghanistan, India, China and Oman. This is because Pakistan’s northern parts rise like a series of steps, which create opportunities for hydel power.

But these big and small hydropower plants can take two to six years to construct, and with dams there is an additional two to five years for filling them. But the good news is that banks and donor organisations would like to fund hydropower projects because this is clean renewable energy, which does not produce any pollution and has a life of 30 to 50 years.

Also, Pakistan can use hydropower and even wind power projects for self-funded pension schemes, where Pakistani citizens can buy shares in a project which would give them a regular income for 25 years.

Wind power is also a good option, since Sindh and Balochistan have good wind rates and there is an opportunity to generate up to 50,000 MW of energy with wind power from that region alone.



Badly needed energy

3200MW of electricity shall be exported to Pakistan from China. This project was offered by Chinese government to Pakistan during the meeting with Shahbaz Sharif and was greeted by him in Xinjiang. According to the Chinese officials, this project could be accomplished within three years.

The Chief Minister mentioned, this tour is not for seeking aid but to collaborate with China in order to invest efficiently. He added about world’s largest solar energy park which will be constructed in Pakistan for generation of 1000MW electricity. With his keen interest Shahbaz Sharif visited many industries of China, manufacturing energy such as power transformers and solar cells. He also visited Xinjiang in order to supervise solar energy power plants and their working followed by Chief Executive officer of TBEA, Mr. Li Jian Hua.

Shahbaz Sharif admired hospitality from Chinese government and talked about the Pak-China relationship. He said China has helped Pakistan in many circumstances which have proved to be substantial in Pak-China relationship. Moreover, by such investments Pakistan will develop economically and provide more jobs for the youth. As exclaimed by the Chief Minister “when our factories and mills will start getting power supply, they will function with full capacity, thus provide job opportunities to the common man.” I believe such investments are very crucial for Pakistani government in order to develop economically. Let’s hope for the best.


Development in Energy Sector

Development in Energy Sector

Amazing energy - Part IV

One huge source of energy is the potential to exploit the difference in water temperature between the surface of the ocean and deep waters. The temperature of the water on the surface of the sea is usually significantly warmer than at the ocean depths. This temperature difference can be productively used for generation of electricity.

The technology, known as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), involves pumping the warmer surface water through a heat exchanger. The heat thus captured is then used to evaporate a low boiling liquid such as ammonia, and the pressure created by the vapourised gas can then be employed to drive turbines for the production of electricity.

For this process to work efficiently, the temperature difference between the surface water and that at the ocean depths needs to be at least 20 degrees Celsius. This difference is commonly encountered in tropical oceans. If the temperature difference is greater than the energy, production can increase substantially. Indeed for every additional degree difference, a 15 percent increase in energy production is obtained. This interesting technology can provide continuous, stable and reliable energy round the clock, unlike wind or solar energy that depend on the weather.

The feasibility of this process has been demonstrated in several pilot plants, and it will soon be commercialised. Lockheed Martin, Vanuatu, Xenesys, Pacific Otec and some other companies are in the process of developing commercial projects at suitable locations where sizeable temperature differences exist between the surface of the oceans and deeper waters. The first plants with a capacity of 10-15 megawatts will be installed by 2014, and will be followed by plants of 100 megawatts or greater capacity.

There have been spectacular advances in solar cell technologies in recent years. One substance that holds great promise is ‘graphene’. This amazing substance is one of several crystalline forms of carbon that include diamond, graphite etc. It is tougher than diamond and yet stretches like rubber. It is about 200 times stronger than steel and about 150 times thinner than a human hair. It is so strong that you could suspend an elephant on a thin strand of this material and it would not break! It consists of a single layer of carbon atoms – one atom thick – in a honeycomb lattice structure. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”.

Normally silicon is used in the manufacture of commercial solar cells. It now turns out that graphene could prove far more efficient in transforming light into energy. This was established in a study carried out at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Spain which found that solar cells made with graphene could offer up to 60 percent solar cell efficiency – this is about four times the efficiency of the present commercially available solar cells. Graphene turns out also to be an excellent conductor of electricity, even better than copper. This is leading to the development of many applications in the electronics industry.

Paper thin computers and televisions are presently under development based on this ‘miracle substance’. Indeed South Korean researchers have created a 25inch flexible touch-screen using graphene. Tomorrow your daily newspaper may be made of it too, which may be instantly updated by pressing a tab on the side. Harold H Kung at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University has reported a method to extend the battery life of lithium ion batteries by 10 times using a grapheme-based anode.

A considerable effort is being directed at developing better batteries and other energy storage systems. Existing batteries often fail because of the damage caused to the electrodes in them over a period of time by the movement of ions. A new electrode (made from nano-particles of copper hexacyanoferrate) has been developed by Stanford researchers and uses nanotechnology to construct an open structure for the electrode. This permits ions to move in and out without damaging it. The electrode seems to be a wonder material for use as a high-voltage cathode.

Novel ways are also being developed to utilise wind energy. In many parts of the world we find large windmills, each with three huge blades generating electricity. These wind turbines are not very efficient since about half the air does not go through the blades but around them, with a resulting loss in their capacity to generate electricity.

FloDesign, a US based company, has now developed a new generation of wind turbines that rely on the design used in jet engines. These turbines have propeller blades that are much smaller but produce more electricity as the air is directed through the turbine by a surrounding shroud. Small turbines that will produce 10 kilowatt power will be initially manufactured and they will then be followed by megawatt capacity turbines.

A problem associated with micro wind turbines is that they must work well in both light and high winds, for instance under stormy conditions when they should not spin too fast. In the case of the larger wind turbines, the design of the blades takes care of this problem, making them stall under very high speed wind. This is done through sensors that send signals to attached computers which in turn adjust the turbine speeds. This is too expensive a solution. However, nature is often the best teacher. The stability of dragonflies even under high wind conditions provided critically important clues.

The dragonfly is very stable in its flight, even under high wind speeds. This is due to the special design of its wings which are thin and flexible, and have small protrusions on their surfaces. These protrusions create a number of swirling vortices that contribute to the extraordinary aerodynamic stability of the dragonfly. Based on this, the Akira Obata of Nippon Bunri University in Japan has invented a micro turbine which is far better than those available previously.

Pakistan needs to concentrate on solving its energy problems by utilising its existing resources of coal, water, wind, and the recently discovered shale oil and shale gas.

A reader has rightly pointed out that all the electrical appliances produced in Pakistan are ‘energy inefficient’. For example our fans, tube-well motors and roadside workshop machines use heavy starting current and also consume much more electricity than American, European, or even Chinese appliances.

When one considers the millions of fans, tube-well motors and road side workshop motors in the country, one gets some idea of how much energy is being wasted because of the improper enforcement of quality standards, particularly those relating to energy efficiency, in those industries that manufacture such motors and appliances. Similarly most of our vehicles, especially locally manufactured bodies of trucks and buses, are energy inefficient.


The writer is the president of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and former chairman of the HEC. Email: ibne_sina@hotmail.com

Amazing Energy – Part III

Wind is an important source of energy. There are about 200,000 wind turbines operating in the world, with the largest of about 75,000MW in China followed by USA (60,000MW), Germany (31,000MW), Spain (21,000MW) and India (19,000MW). The world’s electricity generation capacity from wind has been increasing rapidly (about 20 percent annually) with China racing ahead of others. Electricity from wind turbines contributes to 28 percent of electricity production in Denmark, 19 percent in Portugal, 16 percent in Spain, 14 percent in Ireland and eight percent in Germany. A programme to generate electricity from wind on a large scale was begun in 2001 and the wind mapping of the country revealed that 20,000MW of electricity could be produced in the Sindh (Katti Bander-Gharo-Hyderabad region) and Balochistan coastal areas. By now Pakistan could have been producing over 5,000MW of electricity. However, under subsequent governments the prices were negotiated upwards by corrupt government officials thereby driving away potential investors, and no significant progress could be made. The sea can be a good choice for installing floating windmills since wind speed on the sea is greater than on land. Moreover floating windmills do not utilise valuable land that can be used for agriculture or other purposes. Hence, there is a strong case for building windmills a few miles away from the shore. Since the blades are quite heavy, they can make the structures top-heavy and unstable so that they can easily topple easily in rough weather. The challenge has, therefore, been to stabilise them so that they can operate safely under very rough sea conditions. A consortium of US universities and companies, ‘DeepCwind’ was formed to address this problem. On June 13, under the Offshore Wind Accelerator Project (of the Clean Energy States Alliance) the first offshore floating wind turbine was inaugurated. It supplies electricity to the grid, thereby opening vast new vistas of energy production on the seas. A floating wind farm demonstrator project is also to be installed off the coast of Japan based on Statoil’s Hywind spar-buoy turbine. The Norwegian group is carrying out a feasibility study for the pioneering design which has been successfully produced in Norway since 2009. About 75 percent of the universe is made up of hydrogen. Its fusion at high temperatures leads to the heat and light that warm and illuminate our planet. Hydrogen is, therefore, an obvious and excellent source of energy. This is apparent from the fact that the ‘energy density’ of hydrogen is almost four times that of kerosene. Water could be a huge and cheap source of hydrogen if we could find some way to efficiently and economically cleave the hydrogen-oxygen bonds of the water molecule. Nature already does this very beautifully during the process of photosynthesis using certain enzymes. These enzymes are, however, not available on a large scale as they are unstable if they are removed from their natural environment. We have a large amount of sea water on our planet, and this could be a huge source of clean energy, since burning of hydrogen results in its reconversion back to water. Scientists have been struggling to develop ways to cleave the hydrogen-oxygen bonds present in water in order to produce hydrogen. Certain metal catalysts such as platinum can do this but they are expensive. Now scientists at UC Berkley’s chemistry department have succeeded in developing a molybdenum catalyst that is 70 times cheaper, and may be used at the industrial level for hydrogen production. So cars are being developed that can use hydrogen as fuel, instead of petrol. Networks of hydrogen filling stations have been set up in USA, Europe and Japan, and the use of hydrogen to power car engines is growing rapidly. Many buses in Japan already run on hydrogen. Nature is a great teacher and humankind continues to learn from it. Carrying out the photosynthetic process artificially in high yields and with good efficiency has been a golden grail in science for researchers. Can the common spinach that we eat dinner be a solution? Amazingly, the answer is yes! Now scientists at US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee have shown that the process of photosynthesis can be copied to produce hydrogen by the action of sun light on a membrane prepared from a spinach protein. Once the process is demonstrated to be commercially successful, you may one day drive a car on hydrogen derived using spinach. One problem with hydrogen is its storage. Liquid hydrogen has to be stored at -253 degrees celsius, which is expensive and cumbersome for use in cars or other appliances. A British company Cella Energy has come forward with a new way in which hydrogen can be used. They have developed a hydrogen fuel using nanotechnology in which hydrogen is stored on microbeads as a hydride compound. It can be used in cars without any modification to the engines, and can be filled from normal petrol pumps. The hydrogen has been developed as pellets and also in the form of a tissue. The cost to produce it is about $1.5 per gallon, making it cheaper than fossil fuels. The development of this exciting synthetic fuel is being kept a secret by the scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford who were involved in its development. Another new source of hydrogen is waste water. The water discharged from our toilets has a considerable amount of organic material in it. This can be decomposed using certain electrochemically active bacteria to produce hydrogen in excellent yields. The process is conducted in ‘microbial electrolysis cells’ (MECs), and the hydrogen produced from them can be burnt to generate electricity directly from waste water. A small electrical input (0.2 volts) is needed in this process. This is met by extracting energy from the ionic differences between sea water and fresh water. So such processing plants need to be located near the sea side so that one has availability of large quantities of sea water. This exciting work was done by Bruce Logan and colleagues at the Hydrogen Energy Centre in Penn State University, and represents a process for waste water treatment that generates electricity from the hydrogen produced. There is urgent need in Pakistan to utilise wind energy resources along with our coal, water, shale and methane resources. For this we need to have people with a vision and dynamism to execute projects within the next two years. It is hoped that the present government will not let time slip by, as our industry lies devastated by the power failures and high cost of energy. The writer is the president of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and former chairman of the HEC.Email: ibne_sina@hotmail.com

Amazing Energy – Part II

The energy captured by leaves on our planet by the process of photosynthesis is about 100 terawatts – about six times the annual power consumption on our planet. Scientists have been trying to learn from nature and develop ‘artificial leaves’ for a long time – devices that could employ sunlight to split water into its elements, hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen thus produced can then be stored in fuel cells and used for energy production.

MIT professor Nocera and coworkers have now developed a material which works like a leaf. When the artificial ‘leaves’ are placed in water under sunlight, and connected to a fuel cell, it can supply enough electricity for a day for a small household in a developing country. The artificial leaf is claimed to produce 10 times more energy than a natural leaf.

Beautiful glass windows that can produce electricity have been developed by Sony! Dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC) are incorporated in the material used to produce the power. In another development a Norwegian company EnSol has invented a film that can be sprayed on window glasses, thereby converting them instantly into solar panels! The film has metal nano particles incorporated into it in a composite matrix.

Another really exciting development in solar technologies is the invention of paints that can generate electricity, since solar cells are embedded within the paint. Swiss scientists have improved the efficiency of the now famous Grätzel solar cells to 12.3 percent. They used porphyrin and cobalt to achieve this high efficiency, thereby mimicking the property of photosynthesis used by plants. The cells have a greenish tint reminding us of how chlorophyll present in leaves converts solar energy.

Advances in solar cell technologies include the production of flexible solar cells. They are cheaper to produce than the standard silicon based solar cells and may alter the way we generate solar energy. Developed by the Swiss Federal Laboratories, they have an efficiency of about 18.5 percent (similar to that of conventional solar cells) and a new start-up company FLISOM has been formed to produce and market them. These cells will be incorporated on roll-out transparent sheets that can be placed on windows and walls, to absorb light and provide electricity.

Based on such technologies, aircraft are now being manufactured that can fly just powered by sunlight! A carbon-fibre ultra-light unmanned aircraft was flown a couple of years ago at a height of 5,000 ft for over 14 days to set a new world record for the longest duration flight powered by solar cells. Manufactured by Qinetiq, it was powered by thin lithium ion batteries which were charged during the day by an array of solar cells installed on the wings. The power thus stored even allowed the aircraft to fly at night, and can thus be flown continuously for months. The Germans too have built a solar-powered aircraft that can fly in the stratosphere at a height of 15 kilometres for years continuously. The aircraft ‘ELHASPA’ made its maiden flight two years ago to demonstrate the viability of the technology used. These High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) aircrafts are expected to replace satellites as they can be manufactured at only one percent of the cost of manufacturing satellites; they can perform most of the functions of expensive satellites at a small fraction of the cost.

Another source of energy that is undergoing rapid development is from biological sources. Biodiesel can be produced from algae grown in open ponds or fermentation tanks in excellent yields. This avoids the use of precious land for growing oil producing crops. Such land can then be used for growing food crops. Those algae that have high oil content (such as the blue-green algae) can be grown in large vessels, and then harvested for their biofuel content. Since the cost of biofuels from algae remains high, intensive efforts are under way to discover new algae that can produce high quality biofuels at low cost.

One factor that contributes to the cost of biofuels is the process of extraction of the precious oil. Now scientists have developed certain genetically modified blue green algae which produce so much oil that it starts oozing out from the cell spontaneously, and can be readily collected. The process of extraction can hence be avoided.

Another important source of biofuels is cellulose. This is the most common organic material on our planet; cotton is about 90 percent cellulose while wood contains up to 50 percent cellulose. Indeed plant matter, including grass, comprises about 33 percent cellulose. This is the main component of the primary cell wall of green plants.

Certain bacteria have been found to have an appetite for cellulose and degrade it readily to two very desirable biofuels, butanol and isobutanol. This represents a major breakthrough by scientists at the US Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Centre (BESC). Isobutanol is a very attractive biofuel because it can be used directly in car engines without any engine modification and has similar heat value as standard petrol. Once the product is successfully developed commercially, you may be driving cars on ‘grassoline’ instead of ‘gasoline’ – a biofuel produced from grass!

Pakistan needs to invest in a major way in the field of biotechnology as it has tremendous industrial potential. The National Commission of Biotechnology was established to promote this important field, and projects of over one billion rupees were funded. However, the previous government systematically destroyed the science and technology programmes initiated by me, and stopped all the programmes of biotechnology and nanotechnology. It is hoped that the new government will re-initiate these programmes with a sense of urgency since five years have already been lost.

Another important source of energy is wind. There is potential to produce at least 20,000MW of electricity in the area in Sindh located between Kati Bander, Gharo and Hyderabad. We should commence large-scale wind turbine production within the country to solve our energy problems, in addition to switching over to coal and hydro-based electricity generating plants.

The writer is the president of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and former chairman of the HEC. Email: ibne_sina@hotmail.com