Hello from the Travel Desk at the Reactor. I am perpetually on the road for work and would like to share some of the ‘engineering’ sights I have seen. While you won’t find many of these sights on a typical “Must-See” list, I think they are interesting and worth a visit if you are in the area.
For example while recently spending some time in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on the southern end of the island almost opposite Taipei; I visited a sugar refinery that has been turned into a museum of sorts.
The History of Sugar in Taiwan
Sugar was primarily introduced to Taiwan by the Dutch, who influenced the island during the 1630s. Though the Dutch soon were forced off the island, growth in sugar production continued to grow eventually booming in the early 18th century. Taiwan’s sugar farms and mills were small scale operations and continued to be, making it hard to keep up with industry pricing. The southern sugar growing regions lagged behind the northern rice growing regions due to this lack of development. When the Japanese asserted control
[caption id="attachment_1674" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Ciaotou Sugar Refinery"][/caption]
over the island in 1895, they set to modernizing Taiwan’s sugar industry. Centered in the southern sugar growing region, the Ciaotou Sugar Refinery was built in 1901 as Taiwan’s first modern sugar refinery. Without modernization of the supply chain, Taiwanese sugar was still not competitive on the world market and was mostly sold duty-free to Japan. In 1946, with return of sovereignty, all of the various sugar companies in operation were merged to form the Taiwan Sugar Corporation. Sugar regained the top spot as Taiwan’s export in the '50s and '60s but then falling back as Taiwan developed manufacturing industries and became a less agrarian economy, eventually leading to the closure of the Ciaotou Sugar Refinery in 1999. The current incarnation of the Taiwan Sugar Corporation – TaiSugar - is still in business but has diversified into tourism, floriculture, biotechnology, retail, and real estate.
Approach and Ciaotou Refinery Grounds
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The refinery is easily accessible from almost anywhere in Kaohsiung by the MRT – Kaohsiung’s train system. From the Ciaotou Sugar Refinery stop, out of Exit #2 it is a short walk past the old Taiwan Sugar Corporation Kaohsiung Headquarters building, and following the signs, to the refinery entrance. The grounds to the refinery are quite expansive, once housing all the Japanese workers and managers along with all the space needed for operation. The wide entrance avenue is lined with palm trees, on one side are the few manager housing units remaining and the other a few shops selling snacks. Beyond the snack shops is a treat for railroad fans – the retired German Diema locomotives sit on what remains of the narrow gauge track. Beyond this are groomed walkways through the grounds and a collection of artwork made by local artists from machinery collected from the shuttered facility.
Description of the Ciaotou Sugar Refinery
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Finally, the main attraction. There are a couple of steel walkways that lead from the raw material sorting area into the main crushing and processing room then into the storage tank farm. There was little decommissioning work done except to clean out the pipes – there are still some tools lying around and some PPE on the shelves. Heat exchangers and motors can be examined freely. There are some signs explaining the process and what each piece of equipment did in the process, but not all are in English. The administrative office, displaying a timeline of office equipment throughout the years (including air raid siren), and a shrine built for the Japanese workers during construction and operation, round out the site.
I found it this site interesting on a couple levels. One was the reuse and display of this old industrial site into a playground for children and center for local artists. The other was to witness a plant of a different time and culture. The landscaping of the facility was beautiful enough to rival many gardens. While I have seen similar landscaping in some tropical locations, this is definitely different than what a plant looks like in the US. This was a good thing for the workers since this might have been their entire world. The company provided housing (still a common practice in some Asian countries) and for a while under Japanese occupation some workers would have even been very far removed from their families. The shrine is also another notable difference. In the States, our factories are opened by CEOs or presidents but there are still many places where a deity is overseeing production.
More great photos: http://thedailybubbletea.com/2009/06/24/kaohsiung-the-ciaotou-sugar-refinery/
Flick Photo Slideshow of the Ciaotou Sugar Refinery
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Standing in the sweltering heat of California's Central Valley and looking out at perspiring reporters makes EnerVault CEO Jim Pape very happy. The more sun the better. He's about to turn on his company's first grid-connected flow battery, which, along with a bank of solar panels, will power the irrigation pump that brings fresh water to the surrounding 300-acre almond orchard. (His video interview was conducted earlier, during the May Energy Storage Association Annual Meeting.)
After all, if you'd developed an iron-chromium redox flow battery by improving NASA's creaky and quaint 70's technology, you'd want to show it off too. He's fighting to become major player in the nascent, global storage industry, which is poised for explosive growth as countries and states like California soon overproduce energy from solar and wind.
The crowd has come to see the flow batteries convert chemical energy into electricity by pumping two electrolytes from separate tanks through stacks of EnerVault's proprietary "Engineered Cascade" technology, which are arranged in stages optimized to the electrolytes' state of charge. This makes them more than 60 percent round-trip efficient.
That's lower than lithium-ion batteries, which are above 80 percent. It's also less than two competitors developing aqueous-hybrid electrolyte storage, Eos and Aquion Energy, which claim about 80 percent efficiency, as they all fight for the energy storage market. But Pape says EnerVault's market edge is cost and simplicity. Since the batteries pump electrolytes from one tank to another through the cell stack, the cost of energy goes down whenever you add more tanks of electrolyte.
Although EnerVault has raised $30 million from companies like French oil major Total, Japanese giant Mitsui, and conglomerate 3M, that’s lunch money for an aggressive grid battery startup. And this will get increasingly pricey.
Jump-starting grid storage
That this project is happening at all is because California regulators had the vision to jump-start the energy storage market. EnerVault, which had been developing their flow battery since 2008, received a boost last year after regulators ordered the state's utilities to start investing in storage — a whopping 1.3 gigawatts by 2020. Having already tested a 30 kW test system for two years, the company is finally out in the real world. As Pape told told Forbes:
When [California Assembly Bill] 2514 hit, that was one of the most amazing inflection point days for employees and investors in a long time.
Funded in part by over $4.7 million from the US Department of Energy and $476,000 from the California Energy Commission, the project is meant to prove the reliability of iron-chromium redox flow batteries for large, grid-scale storage. EnerVault has a lot on the line, because while there are 24.6 gigawatts of total storage projects in operation in the US, only 950 kilowatts come from flow batteries, and none from iron-chromium.
Long-term reliability hampered by any failure is an infrastructure deal-breaker, and the system's electrolyte pumping systems could be an issue. Leading storage developer AES, calling itself technology agnostic, says it prefers "sealed batteries" like lithium-ion, skeptical of new battery companies that don't have a "track record," according to the Technology Review.
EnerVault insists its electrolyte pumping system lasts "several thousand hours" and can be replaced quickly during a malfunction; the low chemical aggressiveness of iron chromium also improves the battery lifespan. But industry fears won't abate until the this project has been running long enough to test those assertions.
Almond growers Steve Zeff and Kenfield Alldrin, the proud recipients of this huge battery, joined the sweating reporters and Federal and State officials as Pape spoke in front of four large electrolyte tanks. The two growers aren't strangers to solar energy. Most of their other orchards already have solar-powered irrigation systems, Alldrin explained. But before this battery was installed, any excess solar energy was sent straight to the grid before it was useless. Now it can be stored and used when needed.
So with push of a ceremonial button, Pape 's 250 kW flow battery began to help the solar panels drive the orchard's irrigation pump.
This is how the system works: the almond trees are watered every day between noon and 6pm, using 225 kW of electricity, but that can be very expensive in the middle of the day.
This is where EnerVault's battery helps. At night when electricity is less expensive, the batteries charge up from the grid. Then in the morning the solar panels top off them off. During expensive peak periods, the trees are watered by both the solar panels and flow batteries, saving a lot of money over a long, hot summer.
EnerVault's costs are also reduced because its systems are easy to assemble with off-the-shelf components arriving in container-sized modules. This makes Pape bullish about success, even though his company is faced with formidable competitors like Tesla. He likes to point out that unlike lithium, the chemicals used in his battery are abundant – and thus very cheap – as well as easy to acquire:
I don’t have to have a factory. All I need to build is the cells and stack – there is no gigawatt factory required. I am going to be the big energy storage guy because the tanks come from a supplier, the pumps come from a supplier. Power conditioning and controls – all arrive at the job site with my cells and stacks, so I don’t have to inventory. I have a very cash efficient business model, with 80% as pass-through.
In the rapidly evolving storage race, technologies will continue to improve. Many battery companies will grow, and others will fail and disappear. With EnerVault's iron-chromium storage system, Joe Pape clearly expects to be a survivor.
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