Took an excursion to the LaTrobe Valley on Monday. Why? Why, to look at power stations, of course. Why else would you go to the LaTrobe Valley?
"It was some time before dawn on June 15, 1997. That much they were sure of, though peering back through the haze of booze and dope, none of them could recall with any real precision what time it was."
Well, yes. Below is a picture taken from on top of the steam boiler at Loy Yang B. As it happens, and I think you might be quite interested here, the boiler is 20 stories high and hangs from a set of flexible rods. Big rods. It is suspended thus because of the massive contraction and expansion. Think about how a steel urinal goes BANG! when you take a piss on a cold day. Sometimes it fairly makes the toilet lollies jump. Were the boiler merely plonked on the ground, its weight combined with this vast change of shape would cause it to explode like one of those pieces of fruit that are always used for target practice by movie assassins.
The process that turns coal into electricity is alarmingly simple. So simple you could even try it at home sometime, although you might want to be careful when you're digging up the neighbour's pool. It's a bit like cooking: a pinch of this, a pound of that, a little heat, stir, blow, pour and there you have it - a cake. In the case of cooking electricity, it goes a little bit more like this. Coal is dug out of the ground via open cut dredging and scraping. They've been digging coal out of the LaTrobe Valley since 1924 and so far they've exhausted only three percent of the product. Do the maths: eighty-two years times thirty-three means that LaTrobe Valley power stations can be run on coal until roughly 4730, give or take a year. This will please the conservationists. It's black coal that's rich in ash and sulphur and causes acid rain. We, on the other hand, have nice brown coal which has little of either, and only the odd twenty-five percent of moisture which only pumps the odd thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It gets better. Round about 4730, maybe sooner, we will have a viable nuclear program. So, it's all good.
The coal is fed into a pulveriser which smashes it into a talc-like powder, only black. This powder is blown into a burner and ignited by gas jets, but once the burnering starts, the coal itself keeps the process hot. Very hot. 1200 degrees hot. This hot is used to turn oodles* of water into a steam pressure capable of eroding stainless steel pipes. We don't use the steam for that - not intentionally - we use it to turn a turbine that turns a generator that turns out the atomic motion that we in the business like to call electricity. If you don't believe me, stick your fork in your toaster and watch the free electrons zoom up your nervous system and into your heart. Go on. It's like Bart Simpson and the electrified cupcake - it's fun. You'll need to get your partner to hold in the safety-switch while you're doing it. Those in old houses should replace the fuse with a nail.
Can I just add that not much happened in the way of irksome students. The only real hinderance came when we were kicking off earlier than normal from school. We took it for granted that a student who is ALWAYS late for the normal 8:30 classes would never make a bus at 7:00. He didn't, so we took off without him. But not long after, there he was, chasing us up Bell Street in his car and waving frantically, so we pulled over and picked him up. You might say that even when he is early, he is late.
* Not enough people say oodles these days. If you have a blog, do the right thing, will you, and slot it into your next post. Context is important: "Fat Beazley oozed oodles of prolix" works, as does "Rat Howard oodles Janette's hand."