Monday, September 28, 2009

Carbon, not just for pencils!

Our company is looking into Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology as an area to get involved it.

CCS can be summarized as so:
1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is produced mainly from coal-fired electricity plants, but also from other processes in the Oil and Gas industry. It is also produced by most animals when they breathe and by vehicles during combustion.
2. The CO2 is transported at high pressure to suitable areas to be stored.
3. CO2 is injected into the ground, either into oil/gas reservoirs or into deep aquifers.

There are some large challenges that CCS must overcome before becoming viable. CO2, when mixed with water, becomes carbonic acid which can destroy steel pipelines in months. Because of this, the CO2 is typically “scrubbed” of any water and transported at a very high pressure so it becomes a liquid.

Storage of CO2 is a challenge. If it is just pumped underground into a cavern it can leak out so it is typically injected into a deep underground river (called an aquifer). As discussed above, this will make the water undrinkable, so aquifers of already poor quality are used. However, CO2 can be injected into old oil wells as a way to revive them (called Enhanced Oil Recovery or EOR). This is really great because not only does it allow more oil to be recovered, but it traps the CO2 underground.

The future of CCS is a bit fuzzy. After Al Gore’s movie, a lot of people became aware of CO2 and climate change. So there is definitely a political push to do something with the CO2 created. However, I’m not sure that when the bill comes in, people will want to pay. Capturing CO2 from a power plant will raise the price of power; maybe not a lot, but some. Capturing CO2 will require building thousands of kilometers of new pipeline. Storing it will create some environmental risk.

The reality is most electricity is created by burning fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, gas). Renewables (e.g., solar, biofuel, wind, tidal) will be very difficult to scale up. Even then they will never cover the energy our planet currently uses. The only real scalable alternative is nuclear power, which has an image problem. Nuclear power has no emission, but does create spent fuel rods which are radioactive for thousands of years. To me, it is the same as if you took all the widely dispersed pollution created by a coal-fired power plant and just concentrated it into one rod. One really really dirty rod. That you don't want to touch. Or hide under someone's pillow, even as a joke. (I'm looking at you, Pickles.)

Our company is committed, so we will be entering an exciting few years while we enter this relatively new area. (At least for North America; Europe has be doing CCS for a decade or so now.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 8 - The End

So the wife and I are all pumped up and ready to tackle painting and tiling the kitchen (the final jobs). We go out on Thursday (Sept. 3) and buy all the latest new-fangled painting supplies and the most expensive paint we can (the colour is Celestial). We go home and we mask off the whole kitchen, lay down plastic to protect the floor and counters, and prep the walls.

I just have to say, my wife is a superstar. She painted the whole kitchen and it looks incredible. She painted our bathroom and our front room. Me, after I helped prep the kitchen (how did I get masking tape in my hair?!), I thought to myself: “I cannot imagine trying to put the backsplash tiles up.” While Karen was at home painting (Friday) I was frantically canvasing my office for anyone who knows a tiler. A co-worked recommended the best contractor of the whole job. I gave Uwe, who owns Condor Ceramic Floor Tile with his wife, a call and he said he might have time next week to fit me in.

Of course, there is still one last job which needs to be done, and apparently it is one of the “blue” jobs which only men can do: baseboards. Saturday (Sept. 5) is baseboard day. Did you know baseboards are very long? Too long to fit in a car? While the wife went out for coffee with her friends, I was carrying four 14’ long baseboards home (luckily, the Home Depot is right by our house). Of course, they were the wrong size (too thin). The wife comes home with the car (she got a friend to drop her off at the Home Depot) to pick me up. Apparently being an engineer has its disadvantages. You see, I think 14’ long baseboard + 8’ long car = walking home. The wife thinks 14’ long baseboards + 8’ long car = just let the rest hang out the back, you idiot, it is only 8 blocks away!

Another PSA: did you know corners are not exactly 90 degrees? So the $3 Walmart plastic miter box I had did not really work as advertised. I guess that’s what I get for being a cheap basterd.

Aside: I had a friend, Craig Hagan, who lived with Peter Scott in a house by the train tracks for years in Grande Prairie. We had a few parties there, and somehow, a hole appeared in their ceiling. When it came time to move, Craig used newspaper and toothpaste to try and “patch” the hole. It didn’t work. When two baseboards don’t come together because the $3 miter box is junk, well … let’s just say the wife and I had to take a page out of Craig Hagan’s book.

Flash to the end of the week. Uwe and his lovely wife come to the house Thursday at 9am. They prep the wall, install the tile, and come back the next day to grout. They play with the dogs. Children are laughing, birds are chirping, and in the distance a pan flute plays. The wife hands Uwe a check (less that he quoted!) and the reno is finally done. We are $9,000 poorer but thankful we have a room we can enjoy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 7 - S'ickles

So the reno is done. But I’ll recap, starting last week, on Wednesday.

The cabinets are in, but the kitchen is still a mess. Our electrician (from Amigo Electrical Services) comes out and deals with the wires sticking out (after removed the light above the sink), plus we get him to change all our outlets from sickly yellow to bright white.

Things took a turn for the worse today. I was a work, after having taken Monday and Tuesday off. The wife phones me and says our youngest dog, Pickles, is sick. He is lethargic and puking blood. The plumber (Clearview) is late. This is ironic since they a big sign on their red trucks which says, “On time or we pay you!” Do not use these jerks. You can see their red truck here:

Anyway, I have to come home so Karen can take Pickles to the vet and I can “supervise” the plumber (again, supervise means play video games). This guys is so out-of-shape that he sounds like he is passing a kidney stone as he installs the new plumbing. I’ve never heard so much grunting and groaning and sighing from a tradesman. Dude, do you want some help? Maybe a pillow so you can take a nap and work up some strength?

Oh, and not only was the “plumber” late, but he came in and said we didn’t have the right drain piece. Um, I’m pretty sure Ikea knows what the hell they are doing when they supply a drain with their sink. But apparently the drain they provide is not the right “kind” so he goes out and buys another one (which looks identical to me, but who knows cause I don’t have my degree in plumbology).

In the end, the dishwasher and sink work, so I pay to (way too much) price of $800. By far, the most expensive trademen on this job have been plumbers. Karen comes home and his happy about the dishwasher, but not happy that Pickles has to spend the night at the doggie hospital for observation (spoiler: he is okay now).

Thursday begins with another flaky contractor. Our tile and paint guy comes to the house (late) and freaks out when he sees the glass tiles we chose for the back splash. He warned us against getting glass tile because the paper backing can peel off and it looks bad. This was what he told us. So we specifically chose tile that did NOT have a paper back. But apparently glass tile is really hard to work with. So why didn’t you say that, moron? The wife was like, “Fine, we can pay more, but in anycase, you are here to prep the room for PAINTING, right, like we talked about?” So this idiot, who apparently can’t remember what he told us a few days earlier, mumbles something about needing to go get supplies and storms out.

Karen calls me and we decide to fire him. She phones him and leaves a message saying we’re going with someone else. A few hours later, the Ikea bowl we gave him (to colour match for the paint) appears on our front step.

Of course, now we have to find a couple of lackeys to paint our kitchen. And those couple of lackeys are us. I’ll say this: thank God I know how to do engineering because if I had to do any sort of trade we’d be living in a van down by the river.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 6

Our contractor and his assistant arrived on-time, Monday morning. They smashed out all the cabinets, while our dogs cowered in the corner. I stayed home to “supervise” things, and by “supervise” I mean play video games all day.

When all the cabinets and tile were removed, you could see the sub-floor where the cabinets were. There were 3 layers of flooring (tile, lino, lino), so the contractors made the decision to remove all the flooring. Once that was done, they spent the rest of the day laying our new flooring (TUNDRA white). It looks like whitewashed wood, and it matches our countertop.

They had a table saw out back, for cutting pieces, so it was a very loud day. At the end of the day, they brought all of there equipment inside.

The next day, Tuesday, was the cabinets. They had a table in the kitchen where they assembled the cabinets, and they used air tools to put them together. This was the part I was worried about, because it takes me forever to put Ikea stuff together (for example, our kitchen table took me 4 hours to build). They were done mid-afternoon.

During the day, the dishwasher was delivered by Sears, and the inspector came to review the dishwasher wiring. The inspector literally walk in, went downstairs, walked up, and left. All for the low price of $120.

In the afternoon, the contractor installed the counter top and sink. Finished! We paid him $2500, which included him taking away the old cabinets, the cardboard boxes, and the old flooring. He commented that he was talking to his buddy the night before and he suspects the bottom layer of tile in our kitchen may have been asbestos. Yikes!!

I’ll talk about plumbing, painting and tiling next.