Title:
Maritime Hydrogen or Hydrocarbon Production Facility
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention relates to a maritime facility for the production of large quantities of hydrogen or hydrocarbons, consisting of a plurality of interconnecting modules of two designs. The first module design (a generating module) converts the linear motion of wind into electrical energy. A second module (a refining module) converts the electrical energy into chemical energy stored in the form of hydrogen or hydrocarbons. Each module can also serve as a docking port for a detachable transport vessel, and all modules are interconnected using a plurality of ridged inter-modular trusses of a standard design that also permit the transfer of stress loads, electricity, gases/fluids, and control commands between all modules.



Inventors:
Pieraccini, Stephen Attilio (New York, NY, US)
Application Number:
12/203266
Publication Date:
03/04/2010
Filing Date:
09/03/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
48/61
International Classes:
C10L1/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
PO, MING CHEUNG
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Stephen Pieraccini (623 Benton Road, East Meadow, NY, 11554-5402, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A mobile maritime facility for the economical production of large quantities of hydrogen or hydrocarbons; said maritime facility comprising a plurality of interconnecting modules, including: said modules of first design comprising a wind turbine and means for converting the kinetic energy of wind captured by said wind turbine into electrical energy; said modules of second design comprising refining apparatus, means for converting said electrical energy via said refining apparatus into chemical energy stored in the form of hydrogen or hydrocarbons, and means for controlling the operations and communications of said facility; and inter-modular trusses comprising means for interconnecting said modules to form said maritime facility, providing stability and permitting transfers between said modules.

2. The module of claim 1a, wherein said wind turbine is of vertical-axis design.

3. The module of claim 1a, wherein said wind turbine is of horizontal-axis design.

4. The module of claim 1b, wherein said refining apparatus produces hydrogen, expressed as H2, as the output product.

5. The module of claim 1b, wherein said refining apparatus produces methane, expressed as CH4, as the output product.

6. The module of claim 1b, wherein said refining apparatus produces gasoline, expressed as —CH2—, as the output product.

7. The module of claim 1b, wherein said refining apparatus produces methanol, expressed as CH3OH, as the output product.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

Not Applicable

FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH

Not Applicable

FIELD OF INVENTION

This invention relates generally to a power plant, and more particularly to a maritime facility for the production of large quantities of hydrogen or hydrocarbons.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Our society has numerous and well-known methods to meet its demands for energy, covered under innumerable patents, each of which has associated advantages and disadvantages. We should begin with a cursory review of the prevalent sources of non-renewable energy, including the combustion of various types of carbon-based fossil fuels (primarily coal, oil, and natural gas) and nuclear energy.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States produced/imported and consumed 101 quadrillion British thermal units of energy in 2007:

Sources of EnergyConsumption of Energy
BTUsBTUs
(quadr)% Total(quadr)% Total
Coal22.90722.7%Commercial18.43018.1%
Natural Gas23.71823.5%Industrial32.32131.8%
Nuclear8.5218.4%Residential21.75321.4%
Petroleum39.00638.6%Transportation29.09628.6%
Renewable6.8006.7%Total101.600100.0%
Total100.952100.0%

These energy sources are widely used and accepted, with a vast and convenient supply, distribution, and consumer infrastructure, low marginal costs, and tax incentives to encourage development. However, off-setting these benefits are a range of problems associated with these non-renewable energy sources.

    • 1. There are substantial pollution issues associated with nuclear energy and the combustion of carbon-based fossil fuels (including air pollution, water contamination, ground pollution, and radioactive waste). There is also inconclusive evidence suggesting that the combustion of carbon-based fossil fuels is contributing to an increase in average global temperatures (global warming), which if correct may have an adverse impact on climate, agriculture, sea levels, and social stability around the world. Finally, there is considerable environmental damage incurred during the extraction, refinement, and transportation of these fuels.
    • 2. There are also well-known economic and political problems associated with these energy sources, particularly with oil. Approximately 12 million net barrels of oil per day were imported into the United States in 2007, contributing significantly to our net current account deficit. In addition, our reliance on imports requires partnerships with countries and organizations that do not view the United States favorably, and are directly or indirectly subverting our national interest.
    • 3. As the categorical name states, these energy sources are not renewable. Although we have enough proven reserves to last for some time, there will eventually come a point of increasing marginal costs for the recovery of these reserves, resulting in instability as energy costs begin to rise and economic resources are reallocated. In fact, recent prices in the spot and forward markets for oil and natural gas, along with an analysis of current and future production capacity, suggest that the time of permanently higher costs has already arrived.
    • 4. Despite its potential to be cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient than carbon-based fossil fuels, nuclear energy also has its own unique political issues. People simply do not want such plants located near them for fear of accidental radioactive discharges and air, water, and/or ground pollution. Nuclear energy contributed 8% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2007.
    • 5. As a result of concerns regarding the environmental impact of non-renewable energy sources, there is a growing movement to force energy providers to incorporate some of the so-called “external” costs (through pollution credit trading mechanisms and/or carbon taxation), which will further increase costs for producers and ultimately consumers.

To help alleviate the problems associated with non-renewable energy sources, there has been significant effort invested in developing renewable energy sources. Although some of these methods are considered environmentally benign or “green,” even these energy sources have so far produced their own limitations:

    • 1. The first of these methods harnesses the kinetic energy of falling water. However, although technically non-polluting, the construction and use of hydroelectric dams causes extensive damage to the environment and population displacements as water levels rise behind the structures. There are also few practical places for dams, limiting the overall amount of energy that they can supply. Hydroelectric energy therefore contributed only 2.4% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2007.
    • 2. In some geologically active regions of the world, it is economically competitive to use geothermal energy to drive steam turbines for the production of electricity. While it can be an ideal local solution to the demand for energy, there are few regions of the world where it is feasible to use such an energy source, and the United States itself has almost no such regions. Geothermal energy therefore contributed only 0.3% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2007.
    • 3. A third renewable energy source is the conversion of sunlight to electricity by either photovoltaic cells or steam-driven turbines. In addition to being very expensive, both of these methods are also sporadic—the sun does not shine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the location of such plants. For our society to rely significantly on solar energy, power plants with capacities of several times projected demand would be needed, with surplus energy stored in (expensive) storage facilities to supply consumers when skies are overcast or at nighttime. As a result, these energy sources will always remain relatively expensive due to this significant limitation. Solar energy therefore contributed only 0.1% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2007.
    • 4. Of all the renewable energy sources, wind currently is the furthest along the road to commercial viability. However, even here there are limitations currently imposed for the “harvesting” of wind.

Due to the minimal energy density of wind, a large region must be devoted to the installation of a “farm,” which may encompass many square miles and include dozens or hundreds of very large rotors. There are limited regions where the wind blows with enough regularity for it to become economically reasonable to situate such a farm, especially in the absence of tax credits or other taxpayer-sponsored incentives for producers and consumers.

The construction of these huge wind turbines are themselves very expensive, with capital costs consuming between 75% to 90% of the cost of a typical wind energy project. The current generation of horizontal-axis wind turbines is also reaching the upper limits in potential size, as the mass (and cost) of the wind turbines increase as the cube of their proportions while their power ratings only increase as the square of the blades' sweep areas, leading to diminishing returns on investment.

These projects (both the construction of the wind farm and the construction of the infrastructure needed to connect it to the power grid) invariably attract significant opposition from local groups wherever they have been proposed.

There is also a new body of research implicating proximity to land-based wind turbines in a number of health disorders (migraines, equilibrium issues, etc.), caused by the low frequency noise and vibrations emitted by these structures.

Wind energy therefore provided only 0.3% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2007.

Finally, all of the energy sources described above (renewable as well as non-renewable) require the purchase or lease of property on which to drill and mine for resources, refine the products, and/or locate power plants. This process is subject to considerable regulatory, environmental, legal, and political review, which necessarily increase costs with no benefit to the consumer. Assuming that the necessary approvals are eventually granted (after the years and millions of dollars it typically takes to complete reviews), the property must be maintained and rents, taxes, and royalties continuously paid, further increasing costs while again adding no value for the consumer.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the objective of this invention is to overcome the problems outlined above by creating a maritime facility for the production of large quantities of hydrogen or hydrocarbons from a non-polluting, renewable, and freely available energy source at the lowest cost possible.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The patent or application file contains at least one drawing executed in color. Copies of this patent or patent application publication with color drawing(s) will be provided the Office upon request and payment of the necessary fee.

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of a generating module, comprised of the apparatus necessary to convert wind energy into electrical energy.

FIG. 2 shows a simplified flowchart representation of the apparatus and processes resident in the generating module that is necessary to convert the linear motion of wind into electrical energy.

FIG. 3 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the refining module, comprised of the apparatus necessary to convert electrical energy into chemical energy stored in the form of hydrogen or hydrocarbons.

FIG. 4 shows a simplified flowchart representation of the apparatus and catalytic processes resident in the refining module, in particular to convert electrical energy into chemical energy stored in the form of hydrogen (H2).

FIG. 5 shows a simplified flowchart representation of the apparatus and catalytic processes resident in the refining module, in particular to convert electrical energy into chemical energy stored in the form of methane (CH4).

FIG. 6 shows a simplified flowchart representation of the apparatus and catalytic processes resident in the refining module, in particular to convert electrical energy into chemical energy stored in the form of gasoline (—CH2—).

FIG. 7 shows a simplified flowchart representation of the apparatus and catalytic processes resident in the refining module, in particular to convert electrical energy into chemical energy stored in the form of methanol (CH3OH).

FIG. 8 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the inter-modular truss.

FIG. 9 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the transport vessel.

FIGS. 10 and 11 show perspective and top views, respectively, of one configuration of the maritime facility, comprised of sixteen generating modules, three refining modules, and forty-two inter-modular trusses arranged as a centered hexagonal lattice. Also depicted are two transport vessels.

FIG. 12 shows a schematic configuration of modules and inter-modular trusses comprising the maritime facility, that of a centered hexagonal lattice.

FIG. 13 shows a different schematic configuration of modules and inter-modular trusses comprising the maritime facility, that of an equilateral triangular lattice.

FIG. 14 shows the global distribution of ocean wind speed and wave heights as observed by the QuikSCAT satellite's microwave radar on Aug. 1, 1999. As seen in the images, economically viable oceanic wind speeds (>7 meters/second) were found globally.

DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The present invention will now be described in detail with the aid of the included figures.

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of a generating module, comprised of the apparatus necessary to convert wind energy into electrical energy. It includes:

    • A buoyant toroidal member that forms the basic structural support component of the module (1-1). It also accommodates the functional apparatus of the module.
    • Six anchorage points (1-2) on the toroid for the connection of inter-modular trusses, arranged radially at 60° intervals around the central vertical axis. They are thus arranged to facilitate the assembly of the maritime facility in either centered hexagonal lattice or equilateral triangular lattice patterns.
    • A vertical support column (1-3) centered about the central vertical axis, affixed to the toroid, and stabilized by guy wires (1-4).
    • A generator apparatus (1-5), preferably a direct-drive, permanent magnet, gearless, d/c-wound generator for simplicity and efficiency, affixed to the top of the vertical support column.
    • A vertical axis H-rotor wind turbine (1-6) affixed to the generator apparatus. The module can use any of various vertical axis wind rotor designs, but for illustrative purposes is shown with an H-rotor capable of feathering the vertical blades.
    • The propulsion apparatus (1-7) centered near the module's center of mass capable of rotating 360° around the central vertical axis and affixed to the vertical support column.
    • A docking apparatus (1-8) located at the base of the vertical support column to permit the docking of the transport vessel.

Of course, the components shown are only one possible embodiment of the module, as any design or combination of components that accomplish the same function can be used, depending on the cost/efficiency of each design.

As outlined in FIG. 2, the rotational energy provided by the wind rotor is directed to the generator, and the electricity produced is thereafter directed through the electrical regulation apparatus to other apparatuses within the maritime facility. Surplus electricity is directed to an on-board battery apparatus to help balance fluctuations in energy production, and emergency electricity production can be satisfied by a fuel cell apparatus using previously electrolyzed hydrogen (produced in the refining modules).

FIG. 3 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the refining module, comprised of the apparatus necessary to convert electrical energy into chemical energy stored in the form of hydrogen or hydrocarbons, as well as other components to control the operations of the maritime facility. It includes:

    • A buoyant toroidal member (3-1) that forms the basic structural support component of the module. It also accommodates the functional apparatus of the module.
    • Six anchorage points (3-2) on the toroid for the connection of inter-modular trusses, arranged radially at 60° intervals around the central vertical axis. They are thus arranged to facilitate the assembly of the maritime facility in either centered hexagonal lattice or equilateral triangular lattice patterns.
    • A vertical support column (3-3) centered about the central vertical axis, affixed to the toroid, and stabilized by guy wires (3-4).
    • A communications dome (3-5) affixed to the top of the vertical support column containing radar, radio, and satellite communication apparatuses.
    • The propulsion apparatus (3-6) centered near the module's center of mass capable of rotating 360° around the central vertical axis and affixed to the vertical support column.
    • A docking apparatus (3-7) located at the base of the vertical support column to permit the docking of the transport vessel.

Of course, the components shown are only one possible embodiment of the module, as any design or combination of components that accomplish the same function can be used, depending on the cost/efficiency of each design.

As outlined in FIG. 4, the electrical energy supplied by the generating module is used to break the covalent bonds of water, providing hydrogen as the output product.

Alternatively, as outlined in FIGS. 5 through 7, the electrical energy supplied by the generating module is used to break the covalent bonds of carbon dioxide (to supply a source of carbon) and water (to supply a source of hydrogen), and to recombine the carbon and hydrogen into one of a variety of hydrocarbons as the output product, depending on the catalytic processes used.

Also, due to the turbulent environment in which the maritime facility will be operating, the (in all likelihood unmanned) facility will need extensive self-monitoring and remote-execution capabilities. Given that this module also controls the operations of the maritime facility, the components envisioned as necessary to self-monitor and remote-execute include:

    • Sensory processing devices to interpret feeds from production apparatuses, stress monitoring devices, communications devices, digital video devices, GPS, radar, radio, sonar, and telemetry devices.
    • Computer controlled devices to command all mechanical and electrical systems of the maritime facility.
    • Navigation devices coordinated with GPS receivers to determine location and plot vectors to desired coordinates using the propulsion apparatus.

Computer capabilities have not evolved to the point where the maritime facility would have the ability to independently make decisions. As a result, it will also need to communicate real-time with a centralized location via radio or satellite. The maritime facility will need to record and transmit “sensory” data of its environment to allow for timely decision-making, and will therefore require the capability to accumulate, process, and transmit data of production volumes, stress loads, telemetric, radar, sonar, digital video, and radio devices. These sensory devices will monitor important variables and warn if any fall outside of predetermined tolerance limits. Safety devices positioned throughout the facility and controlled by this module (such as circuit breakers, shut-off valves, emergency venting valves, and in extreme situations, explosive bolts to disconnect entire modules) will be necessary to allow corrective measures to be directed remotely.

FIG. 8 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the inter-modular truss, comprised of a buoyant horizontal structural member (8-1) with anchorage points (8-2) on either end of the horizontal member. These anchorage points affix to those found on the toroidal members of the generating and refining modules. They also permit the exchange of electricity, gases/fluids, and control commands between all modules.

FIG. 9 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the submersible transport vessel, comprised of a hull (9-1), two propulsion apparatuses (9-2) capable of rotating 360° around any axis, two control planes (9-3) for controlling the pitch of the vessel, and two docking apparatuses (9-4) to permit docking to the underside of the maritime facility.

FIGS. 10 and 11 show perspective and top views, respectively, of one configuration of the maritime facility, comprised of sixteen generating modules, (10-1) three refining modules (10-2), and forty-two inter-modular trusses (10-3) arranged as a centered hexagonal lattice. Also depicted are two transport vessels (10-4).

FIG. 12 shows a schematic configuration of modules and inter-modular trusses comprising the maritime facility, a centered hexagonal lattice.

FIG. 13 shows a different schematic configuration of modules and inter-modular trusses comprising the maritime facility, an equilateral triangular lattice.

FIG. 14 shows the global distribution of ocean wind speed and wave heights as observed by the QuikSCAT satellite's microwave radar on Aug. 1, 1999.

CONCLUSIONS AND RAMIFICATIONS

The unique and innovative concepts behind the design of the present invention will minimize the total cost of producing energy, and will help to maintain a competitive advantage against current and future market participants.

    • The use of wind as the ultimate source of energy eliminates the cost of seeking, extracting, and refining the mineral deposits required by fossil-based and nuclear sources of energy. It also eliminates the potential for rising energy prices caused by the scarcity of fixed natural resources, as wind is unlimited, renewable, and freely available.
    • If the selected output product for the maritime facility is methane, gasoline, or methanol, then (a) existing distribution networks can be used to get the products to market, (b) the consumers of the product will not need to modify or replace their existing equipment that use conventional fuels, and (c) the cost of fuel will be permanently disassociated from the inequality of global mineral distribution and the resultant supply constraints controlled by others. It will instead be a function of the manufacturing and maintenance cost of these maritime facilities, which should over time decrease due to efficiencies of scale. These output products also solve the problem of storing energy harvested from wind until the time and place of consumption.

There are also unique benefits to a mobile maritime facility:

    • It is known that the energy density wind varies with the cube of its velocity. It therefore follows that positioning a wind turbine in regions of consistently higher average wind speed will improve its efficiency dramatically. However, there are few regions on land where wind blows with enough regularity to make the installation of large wind farms economical, and fewer regions still where it is politically acceptable to do so.
    • In contrast, a free-floating maritime facility that continuously follows the strong oceanic wind patterns greatly improves the efficiency of energy extraction from wind. There are certain ice-free regions of the oceans that would be ideal locations for such facilities, as seen by QuikSCAT satellite's microwave radar in FIG. 14. Information from such satellites can be used on a near real-time basis to predict the optimal locations for the maritime facilities.
    • Following regions of consistently higher average wind speeds will permit a significantly smaller wind rotor to extract the same energy from wind, leading to significant reductions in design, manufacturing, operating, and long-term maintenance costs.
    • Expenses are also reduced because a free-floating facility eliminates most legal, environmental, political, and property tax costs that are associated with land-based energy production facilities. Wind on the open seas also lacks private property status, and does not require rental payments to property owners for use of an asset.

The innovative decentralized modular design of the facility also has significant advantages:

    • Repeatedly using the same components throughout the facility reduces costs. For example, the use of one inter-modular truss design, one toroidal member design, or one propulsion apparatus design throughout the facility reduces development, manufacturing, operating, and maintenance costs.
    • Combined with the repeated use of identical modules, this should enable very significant savings due to efficiencies of scale.
    • The size of any facility can be scaled according to the market demands for the output product, as dozens of modules can be connected as one facility. Additional modules can be added to an existing facility at their marginal cost rather than requiring the construction of an entirely new plant to increase capacity. Malfunctioning modules can also be replaced at their marginal cost.
    • Additional modules can be added to existing facilities without requiring the reconfiguration of the facility's operating systems, as most production systems and devices are self-contained in each module.
    • The simple design of the facility should enable it to be both automated and unmanned, further decreasing costs. Numerous such facilities can then be monitored and controlled from one centralized location.

Other unique features of the facility also help to lower the total cost of energy production:

    • Existing rather than proprietary technology can probably be licensed to minimize development costs. However, in order to maintain a competitive advantage against other market participants, proprietary long-term research and development will continue in key areas, such as (a) reducing the voltage requirements for water electrolysis, (b) eliminating desalination requirements for electrolysis, (c) improving the efficiency of wind turbine design, (d) improving yields in the catalytic processes, among others.
    • The use of wind as a source of energy eliminates pollution control and other external costs. The only significant waste products of the production process, brine and oxygen, are not considered pollutants and are both equalized later in the hydrogen energy life cycle. Even if the output product is a hydrocarbon, there is no net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere as it is consumed, as the carbon was originally extracted from the atmosphere during the production process.
    • The use of corrosion-resistant or corrosion-proof materials (plastics, fiberglass, carbon fiber, honeycomb core composite laminates, neoprene, aluminum, galvanized steel, stainless steel, titanium, marine paint, etc.) throughout the facility, while perhaps marginally increasing up-front manufacturing costs, will significantly reduce long-term maintenance and downtime costs.
    • The wind rotor and generator can be designed to counter-rotate relative to each other via a transmission. This will decrease the tendency of the module's body to gyroscopically counter-rotate if the rotor and generator were to rotate in the same direction. In addition, an equal number of generating modules rotating clockwise and counter-clockwise can be connected to minimize the tendency of the entire facility to rotate about its center of gravity.
    • The partial submersion of the maritime facility and transport vessel will allow them to avoid most of the turbulence and stresses associated with surface wind and wave activity, simplifying the design and maintenance of these facilities.
    • Inter-modular truss anchorage points located at 60° intervals around each module's torodial member eliminates the need for multiple truss sizes and designs. Moreover, the geometric pattern formed produces a strong and stable structure able to withstand significant stresses.
    • A vertical-axis wind turbine of any given power rating is more economical than a horizontal-axis wind turbine of the same rating, since the mass of the latter grows disproportionately to its power output as the output requirements increase.

To summarize, the present invention will accomplish the objectives by:

    • eliminating environmental degradation by exploiting an environmentally benign energy source and converting it to usable energy without the need for extracting and refining mineral deposits or the emission of pollutants or contaminants;
    • improving the United States' economic performance by creating new U.S.-based jobs in a new U.S.-based industry, reducing cash transfers and the repatriation of profits to foreign third parties, lowering U.S. trade deficits, and expanding the U.S. tax base;
    • mitigating the instability that will be caused by rising energy prices due to the inequality of global mineral distribution and the resultant supply constraints controlled by others, as previously discussed;
    • eliminating the problem of an inconsistent supply of environmentally benign energy at the production site over time, as previously discussed; and
    • minimizing the cost of producing energy, as previously discussed.

Although the descriptions above contain many specifics, they should not be construed as limiting the scope of the invention, but merely as providing illustrations of some of the presently preferred embodiments of this invention. Thus the scope of the invention should be determined by the appended claims and their legal equivalents, rather than by the examples given.