Energy policy discussion thread

by Judith Curry

A few articles that I’ve collected on energy policy.

Examining biofuels policy

Last August, Chemical and Engineering News featured several articles on the topic of biofuels policy, with the lead article titled  Examining biofuels policy.  Some excerpts:

Over the past decade, more than 50 countries, including the U.S., have been scurrying to implement policies to integrate biofuels into the transportation infrastructure in the face of a number of pressing needs—national energy security, a sustainable agricultural sector, job creation in the rural economy, and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to curtail climate change. Producing fuel crops that would meet a country’s domestic fuel needs, revitalize rural economies, and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions appeared to be a one-size-fits-all solution.

With experience and hindsight, experts are taking a more measured view of biofuels and their promise to be affordable, available, and clean. Among the factors under scrutiny are raw materials, environmental impact, social cost, and infrastructure implementation.

“The biofuels business globally would not exist if it weren’t for the mandates,” Reijnhart states. Like the U.S., many countries have implemented a blending mandate, defining the percentage of biofuel that must be used in lightweight vehicle fuel. 

So-called first-generation biofuels—ethanol from corn or sugarcane and biodiesel from rapeseed, soy, or palm oil—are meeting many of the mandates. But an NCB report on the ethics of biofuels production released last April acknowledges that in the rush to meet mandates, the large-scale production of first-generation biofuels presents problems. The report explores and finds instances of infringement of the rights of farmers, farmworkers, and landholders, especially in parts of the developing world. It also finds that some first-generation biofuels have severe environmental consequences, including pollution and the loss of biodiversity.

Unsustainable production is exactly what is happening in the U.S., according to Barbara Bramble, senior program adviser for international affairs at the National Wildlife Federation, a conservation group. She likens the current state of federal policy on biofuels to “a heavy foot on the accelerator of the car without really knowing where we’re going.”

But as the NCB report notes, experts have some concern that corn is a highly inefficient biofuel source with severe environmental consequences. The crop needs huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, which require fossil fuels for their production. The fertilizers exacerbate the environmental damage when they run off the fields, which are concentrated in the central U.S., and into the rivers, eventually causing dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico

Others also blame corn for cramping the development of other biofuels in the U.S. “A sad impact is that we have so much corn that it crowds out the space for [next]-generation biofuels. Who would want to go out on a limb to develop more difficult technologies when corn is so easy?”

Growth Energy, a trade organization that represents U.S. ethanol producers, holds cellulosic ethanol, a second-generation biofuel, in high regard, calling it “the 50-state solution.” “Every state has some form of cellulosic biomass that could be converted into ethanol,” Thorne says. But cellulosic ethanol currently faces a bumpy road to commercialization , with R&D projects still mostly in laboratories. 

Beyond infrastructure, biofuels will still face problems, such as the food-versus-fuel controversy. The most recent flare-up happened in 2008, when biofuels were fingered as the cause of rising food prices. NCB’s Buyx and others point out in various analyses that biofuels appeared to be only one of several factors in changing food prices. High energy prices and a weak dollar seemed to have been more significant.

The food-versus-fuel controversy also questions the use of agricultural land to grow biofuel raw materials. Experts note, however, that agricultural land need not be affected by biofuel production because DOE and USDA have been promoting cultivation of energy crops on marginal land that does not support agriculture.

To ensure that biofuels don’t cause more harm than good, RSB has developed a voluntary standard and certification system for sustainable biofuel production that the European Union has now recognized. The standard requires the entire biofuel production chain to meet various environmental and social criteria, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and not damaging lands with great biodiversity. 

Going forward, Dale says, analyses of biofuels and their effects have to be more thorough to understand in detail their impacts on society and the environment. For the sake of accurate and fair analyses, he emphasizes, the consequences of biofuel production—on the environment, society, or technology—must always be compared with those of fossil-fuel production. If people want to continue to drive and fly and, simultaneously, reduce fossil-fuel consumption, increase national energy security, and mitigate climate change, biofuels are the only option for the immediate future, experts agree. Dale states, “We need to figure out how to produce biofuels correctly and then go do it.”

From oilprice.com

There are several recent articles of interest at oilprice.com:

How the US Shale Boom Will Change the World

A funny thing is happening on the way to the clean energy future–reality is setting in. There is ‘incontrovertible evidence’ about the economic growth and job creating effects of America’s unconventional oil and gas production boom – more than 600,000 jobs directly attributable to shale gas development. Even President Obama is praising the job creating benefits of ‘America’s resource boom’. America is getting its energy mojo back and that is good news but not the entire story.

Which Trends Are Changing the World of Energy

Not easily summarizable, but here are the section headings:

  1. Global competition for energy resources from emerging economies like China
  2. Struggle over energy policy and greenhouse gas emissions around the world
  3. Growth in unconventional oil and gas from shales and oil sands
  4. Uncertainty of environmental regulations forcing power plant retirements
  5. Game changing technology  is turning the energy industry on its head

3000 quads

About a month ago, Tom Fuller started a new blog 3000 quads, which refers to the amount of energy humans are expected to be using by 2075.  He has a report entitled “Energy consumption in the developing world in 2030.”

Two recent posts that I found particularly interesting:

Check out Tom’s new blog and help him develop a bigger readership, which this blog deserves.

JC comment:  let me know if you have spotted any other interesting articles on broad topics of energy policy.

Moderation note:  this is strictly a Heartland/Gleick free thread

356 responses to “Energy policy discussion thread

  1. Dr Curry, you. Need to peruse http://Www.masterresource.org. This blog is loaded with posts regarding energy technology and policies.

    • Not really, that masterresource.org site hosts Michael C. Lynch, who happens to be one of the biggest peak oil skeptics of recent times. When the term “cornucopian” gets mentioned in fossil fuel discussions his name always comes up. His crude oil production forecasts from 1996 have been proved wrong and only creative “hide the decline” accounting have kept him going as a prognosticator.

      This prediction is from his article in 1998.
      http://sepwww.stanford.edu/sep/jon/world-oil.dir/lynch/figure18.gif

      This is the current worldwide crude oil production status, from the authors of a recent journal Nature article on peak oil.
      http://www.washington.edu/news/articles/images/OilProductionCeiling_PhaseShift.jpg

      Lynch was expecting 90 million barrels per day in 2011, while we have been stuck on a plateau of around 74 million barrels per day.

      Watch as Lynch will either try to revise history or he will slowly fade into obscurity as just another failed prognosticator.

      BTW, Don’t confuse Michael C. Lynch, with Michael E. Lynch, who is an oil industry consultant and not a rabid skeptic.

    • I would have ignored mastersource.org had you not attacked it for being maintained by a sceptic. I’ll look at it, read the articles and make up my mind based on the contents.

      Just to make sure that your comment is balanced, can you point me to a comment where you critisize IPCC for it’s failed temperature predictions?

    • Yep, thanks for the recommendation, WHT. Now that ‘peak oil’ is going the way of AGW as a failed hypothesis, this should be a good place to start reading to understand why.

    • A major theme at MasterResource is that human ingenuity is the ultimate resource (Julian Simon), which explains why ‘peak oil’ and ‘peak gas’ predictions have been falsified throughout history. Minerals are expanding, not depleting, resources thanks to ‘resourceship’. Low prices and/or government intervention may reduce supply at any time, but oil supply broadly considered has many decades if not centuries of growth ahead.

      More here: http://www.masterresource.org/category/resourceship/

    • “Just to make sure that your comment is balanced, can you point me to a comment where you critisize IPCC for it’s failed temperature predictions?”

      Perhaps that is a little harder than predicting the decline of an obvious finite resource that can decline by percentage points in a year!

      A temperature change of 0.2 C per decade is considered important in climate science circles, which is an increase of less than 0.01% per year on a 300 K absolute baseline.

      Compare that to typical declines of 5% in reservoir depletion per year and the likelihood of 1% per year with no reservoir replacement worldwide, then you have a model that is much less uncertain.
      .
      BTW, I have the only crude oil production prediction based on a stochastic model of discovery and extraction. This model will nail the crude oil decline over the next several years.

    • “A major theme at MasterResource is that human ingenuity is the ultimate resource (Julian Simon), which explains why ‘peak oil’ and ‘peak gas’ predictions have been falsified throughout history. “

      FYI, Rob Bradley is another one of the Master Resource principals, and you can see how he shows his stripes. Julian Simon has been completely discredited, as the peak oil predictions have proceeded like clockwork in a number of countries since Simon was actively advocating his ideas. The issue is in distinguishing between renewable resources and non-renewable resources. Minerals such as gold are essentially renewable in the sense that they can be recycled over and over, while other resources such as helium and fossil fuel aren’t renewable.

      “Low prices and/or government intervention may reduce supply at any time, but oil supply broadly considered has many decades if not centuries of growth ahead. “

      Yes, you guys will do whatever it takes to “hide the decline” of global crude oil production. That MasterResource thingy is no different than the Heartland Institute in its advocacy goals, which is trying to maintain BAU.

    • “Doomsayers had reasonable grounds for suspecting (that global oil production has peaked) – but failed to address the bigger picture, one which includes technological innovation.

      They simply wanted Doomsday a little too badly.”

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/02/23/peak_oil_is_dead_citigroup/

      AGW cultists = peak oil cultists.

      They want Doomsday to come. They feel guilty on the rest of our behalf … even if we don’t feel guilty and we don’t want Doomsday to arrive. *

      * It will soon enough. The interglacial will end. No matter what.

    • Bruce, That link talks about replacing crude oil with unconventional oil and synthetic hydrocarbons, such as biofuels and synfuel from tar sands and liquified natural gas.

      “Peak Oil thinking was based on the idea that crude oil couldn’t be replaced by unconventional oil and, in time, with synthetic hydrocarbons. We’re now seeing unconventional oil production ramp up, and in a decade the low-carbon synthetic replacements for oil will be in production, too, assuming oil remains at $40-$50 a barrel.”

      No, Peak Oil thinking is that crude oil will hit a production peak and then fall off. To “hide the decline” of that crude oil production peak is what peak oil skeptics rally around. So they replace the accounting of crude with this mix of crude and unconventional liquids, and then proclaim that they somehow won the argument. Yet that is cheating because they redefined peak oil to mean something different than the original roughly bell-shaped production curve that was proposed back in the 1950′s by Hubbert. An analogy would be that if we exterminated the robin population, but the skeptics claimed that the bird population was still healthy. It is really simple accounting, no matter how you want to spin it.

      This entire tactic is actually practicing the same “lying with statistics” that skeptics accuse Mann and company of doing wrt to temperature records. So in a sense, you are inhabiting a Mannian universe of your own choosing. That is some sweet irony and illuminates a hypocrisy in the skeptic of applying any form of scientific method.

      So the lesson to be learned is that climate scientists are right in that AGW is occurring — only the positive slope is uncertain.
      And the academic peak oil theorists and earth scientists are absolutely right in that crude oil production declines are occurring — only the negative slope is uncertain.

      That is really the starting point, and we need to risk mitigate and plan for alternative sources of energy. This will kill two birds with one stone, ha ha.

    • “fracking – techniques being applied to shale gas reserves across the US. The same companies are now using the same techniques on shale oil reserves, with results that in many cases look as promising as the early stages of the shale gas revolution. US oil production is now on the rise, entirely because of shale oil production, as conventional sources such as Alaska or California are structurally declining, and as Gulf of Mexico production is poised for a post-Macondo recovery.”

      10 years the environmentalist said don’t drill in ANWAR, it would take 10 years before oil made it down to the lower 48.

      If environMENTALists hadn’t stopped ANWAR that oil would also be added to the 500,000 bbls a day from the Bakken etc.

    • Norm Kalmanovitch

      http://www.bp.com/sectionbodycopy.do?categoryId=7500&contentId=7068481

      Get your facts straight!
      The most comprehensive statistics on world energy can be found by downloading the entire worksheet from BP world energy statiestics at the above link

      2010 production was 82mmbbls/d which is significantly higher than the 74mmbbls/d that you quote for 2011. was there a 10% drop in energy production last year and can you identify where this drop in production occurred?

      Even more interesting than the production figures are the consumption figures which show that we have been consuming more oil than we produced since 1981!!
      The oil price was stable at$1.80/bbl up to the 1973 war against Israel at which point oil became a political tool and the price shot up to $14/bbl.

      When the Shaw was deposed in 1979 the oil price shot up to $40/bbl which made a lot of previously uneconomical oil prospects very profitable and with the rapid increase in drilling around the world there was a glut of oil on the market and the price started dropping.

      OPEC started cutting back production to keep the oil price up but did so only on the official production statistics while quietly producing oil off the record which they have now been doing since 1981 and still continue to do so today.

      While production figures are carefully monitored no one notices consumption figures which reported as they occur without any fiddling with the figures.

      As well most people don’t know about the reserves contained in secondary and tertiary recovery which are typically double or tripple the initial production estimates.

      Essentially energy policy is completely out of touch with reality because none of the energy economists have any real understanding about oil and gas production and simply direct policy based on misinformation from statistical predictions using faulty numbers; something like your faulty 74mmbbls/d for 2011 oil consumption when even the economist puts oil over 80mmbbls/d.
      http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/06/oil-production-and-consumption

    • Norm works for the oil industry and cannot be trusted. I will show you why.

      “2010 production was 82mmbbls/d which is significantly higher than the 74mmbbls/d that you quote for 2011. was there a 10% drop in energy production last year and can you identify where this drop in production occurred?”

      Norm is either ignorant or more likely is deliberately trying to hide the fact that the 82 figure refers to “all liquids” which includes liquified natural gas and oil. The 74 figure is only crude oil, which is what people are most interested in when they are comparing apples with apples. When I said elsewhere that the BAU interests are trying to “hide the decline”, that is how they do it. Norm and his oil industry buddies will keep adding other liquids to try to hide the decline of the old-fashioned crude oil output. All you have to do is look at the following figure, which is from a refereed Nature article:
      http://www.washington.edu/news/articles/images/OilProductionCeiling_PhaseShift.jpg/image_medium

      “As well most people don’t know about the reserves contained in secondary and tertiary recovery which are typically double or tripple the initial production estimates.”

      This is a flat-out lie. On occasion this will happen, such as in the Kern River in California or Weyburn in Canada, but it is not “typical” at all. For example, no one will ever go for recovery offshore, because it is not worth it. Most reserve growth is caused by conservative initial estimates and those get corrected as the reservoirs mature. This is another typical way that these guys hide the decline, which I have extensively documented.

      “Essentially energy policy is completely out of touch with reality because none of the energy economists have any real understanding about oil and gas production and simply direct policy based on misinformation from statistical predictions using faulty numbers; something like your faulty 74mmbbls/d for 2011 oil consumption when even the economist puts oil over 80mmbbls/d.
      http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/06/oil-production-and-consumption

      No, it is because people like you don’t understand that the conversion to other kinds of liquid fuels is happening right now. The reason that consumption is higher than production is that consumption records can’t distinguish easily between oil and biofuels/ethanol/coal-to-liquids, which are added nearer to the pump where the records become mixed.

      My suggestion is to not knee-jerk believe what BP says. Go to the government EIA site and you can look at the crude oil numbers yourself
      http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=5&pid=57&aid=1&cid=ww,&syid=2006&eyid=2011&unit=TBPD
      which shows 74 million barrels per day of crude oil production.

      And then you can look at the natural gas liquids numbers:
      http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=5&pid=58&aid=1&cid=ww,&syid=2006&eyid=2011&unit=TBPD
      which gives about 8 million barrels per day. Right there you can see the difference between 74 and 82 and the fact that the 74 number has been flat since about 2004.

      What I can’t take about Norm is that he is a relentless liar in this comments section, both concerning oil numbers and also on climate science numbers. Both of these acts are egregious — the former because he has no excuse as an oil industry guy, and the latter because he basically doesn’t know what he is talking about and continues to spout nonsense on AGW issues.

      Why do you fellow skeptics let this stuff stand by Norm? I would be embarrassed.

    • Web and Norm, Aren’t we arguing emotionally here over matters of little long term significance? The US has huge fossil fuel reserves and newly recoverable oil and gas. The gas is huge. Why should we care about who was right on the narrow issue of “peak oil.” Its too narrowly defined to be relevant. It’s really more like the British experience when they “ran out of wood.” Other fuels came along to replace it. The same will be bound to happen here. Natural alternatives that come to mine are nuclear, solar, natural gas, and natural gas. By the way, its now looking like there are even bigger CH4 reserves in methane hydrates. I guess I never understood the hatred of some people, like Web, for the oil industry. It’s not particularly corrupt compared to any other so far as I can see.

    • Well, David Young, you can rationalize this any way you want but the facts are facts.

      “Its too narrowly defined to be relevant. It’s really more like the British experience when they “ran out of wood.” “

      So the British experience is:
      1. They clear-cut forests to make charcoal, so that by the 1700′s it was largely deforested, and they had to go to N.A. and the Baltics to get wood.
      2. They were saved by coal, which propelled the industrial revolution until coal peaked in 1913 at almost 300 million tons per year. Since then it has dropped to 20 million tons
      3. They were saved by North Sea oil, which I have modeled accurately as it follows the oil depletion profile predictably downward.
      http://mobjectivist.blogspot.com/2005/10/uk-north-sea-simulation.html
      4. What next? The unproven natural gas potentially under Lancashire?

      I read the news today oh boy
      Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
      And though the holes were rather small
      They had to count them all
      Now they know how many holes it takes to fill …

      all that David Young spews.

      Methane hydrates? Are you insane?

    • Why not methane hydrates?

      ” Japan began preparatory drilling for seabed methane hydrate production tests in the Pacific Ocean off Aichi Prefecture in central Japan on Wednesday after a one-day delay, officials of Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. said.

      A deep-sea drilling vessel from another state-affiliated organization, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, started drilling in waters about 1,000 meters deep some 70 to 80 kilometers south of the Atsumi Peninsula, the officials said.

      If the project is successful, it would be the world’s first seabed production of methane hydrate, expected to be a new source of energy for Japan.”

      http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20120215p2g00m0dm089000c.html

      And NG liquids are a direct replacement for oil. If you want to make plastics you can use NG instead of oil now that NG is sooo cheap.

    • WebHubTelescope

      You said a mouthful with

      So the lesson to be learned is that climate scientists are right in that AGW is occurring — only the positive slope is uncertain.
      And the academic peak oil theorists and earth scientists are absolutely right in that crude oil production declines are occurring — only the negative slope is uncertain.

      Don’t think you’ll find too many folks that would disagree with that.

      In fact, most of the discussion here and elsewhere has been regarding the “slopes” of the two projections.

      Then there is the question of existing or new technologies, which would extend the curve by adding liquid fuels/feedstocks from coal, a resource that is still much larger than crude oil or the use of natural gas as a motor fuel as well as new, previously unknown deposits, such as shales and bitumens.

      As far as “AGW is occurring”, I think the debate centers around the poorly substantiated and scientifically challenged premise (promoted by IPCC) that most of the observed warming since 1950 has been due to AGW and that this represents a serious potential threat to humanity and our environment.

      Alarmists see rather steep slopes for both future projections heading us for a disaster – while others do not.

      Max

    • Thanks for the link to MasterResource: A free-market energy blog.

      Neither there nor in Professor Curry’s list of topics for this energy policy discussion did I find any mention of the greatest energy source – nuclear energy or nuclear rest mass (E = mc^2).

      Nuclear energy will play a major role in the future. That will be impossible unless federal research agencies like DOE and NASA honestly address the experimental data and observations that falsified cherished, but false, models of nuclei and the Sun over the past four decades (1972-2012).

      Rest mass per nucleon (M/A) is the largest source of energy available. That energy source powers the Sun, controls Earth’s climate, and sustains our lives.

      Just as energy is released when water runs downhill, energy is released when a nucleus fissions, fuses or decays into one with a lower value of (M/A) in the “Cradle of the Nuclides”

      http://www.omatumr.com/Data/2000Data.htm

      The valley of the “Cradle” lies close to Z/A = 0.5, with nuclei having approximately equal numbers of neutrons and protons.

      The lowest point in the “Cradle” is Fe-56. That is the ash of nuclear reactions. Nuclear nuclear energy cannot be released from Fe-56.

      We cannot develop a viable energy policy for the future if DOE and NAS continue to ignore quantitative information on the greatest known source of energy – nuclear rest mass – even after b eing published on the cover of the 1999 ACS Symposium that Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg helped organized:

    • OKM, I agree with all you say except the implication of your “if DOE and NAS continue to ignore quantitative information on the greatest known source of energy – nuclear rest mass”. DoE Secretary Steven Chu is very enthusiastic about the program of approaching your “valley of the cradle” from the low side, deuterium-tritium as currently pursued at Lawrence Livermore Labs. The high side, plutonium-uranium, while well established, is not as safe, as we’ve seen at Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, etc. Nor is it as economical, as the recent revival of interest in fission technology (Fukushima notwithstanding!) is rapidly finding out, with insurance, liability, and the China Syndrome emerging as a serious Sword of Damocles for that industry, along with the much higher containment costs needed to even partially offset those risks.

      There has been much political opposition to the fusion approach, for reasons I for one have no insight into (the bad press of cold fusion perhaps?), but workarounds have been found. Current progress can be seen here.

    • The critical issue is NOT ENERGY policy, but TRANSPORT FUEL policy.

      See The Oil Drum and
      Our Finite World

      January Oil Supply showing crude oil ~production plateaued in 2005 and has been growing less than population growth and economic growth desires. Consequently we had a doubling in oil prices from $25 to $50/bbl by 2005, and then a second doubling from $50 to >$100/bbl by 2010.
      Prices will not come down and major economic growth will not return until we can provide major new/alternative fuel supplies to make up for oil depletion and to provide for per capita economic growth.

      Newt Gingrich was the only candidate in the debates who understood this and advocated a major policy to deal with it.

    • David Springer

      In all fairness to Lynch and the 90 mbpd number actually getting stuck at 74 mbpd that’s a failure to predict the recent recession. It seems to take a particularly nattering nabbob of negativity to presume the recession won’t end and when it does the growth in oil consumption will resume.

      Estimates of economically recoverable reserves are so all over the map it’s impossible to know who’s right. And then you have the mineral oil fringe who thinks it never runs out because the earth just keeps making more in deep underground chemical processes that don’t use organic precursors. Empirically it appears to be a finite resource with exploration and recovery cost on a one-way trip upward.

    • “In all fairness to Lynch and the 90 mbpd number actually getting stuck at 74 mbpd that’s a failure to predict the recent recession.”

      Seriously, some economists with knowledge of energy such as James Hamilton and Jeff Rubin believe that the recession was due to lack of economic growth (i.e. GDP) easily predicted by the peaking/plateauing of oil production. In other words, the recession was a side effect of the plateau, not the other way around.

      Of course, no one can prove this other than by the circumstantial claims of Hamilton who points out that 10 of the last 11 recessions were associated with oil shocks:
      http://ourfiniteworld.com/2011/08/11/recession-we-are-hitting-an-economic-growth-ceiling-caused-by-limited-cheap-oil/
      (go through each one of these recessions and you will see the connections)

      Oil price and GDP is a feedback system,, much like CO2 and temperature is a feedback system for the climate, and it is hard to isolate the two once they start interacting.

    • David Springer

      I’ve also pointed out that most of the twen-cen recessions are preceded by rising oil price. It’s pretty stark and hard not to notice. It’s never been about supply & demand. It’s about the global oil cartel taking profits, so to speak. Low oil prices lift sagging industrial economies. After it’s lifted and wallets are fat then soak the rubes by raising oil price sky high. OPEC is a blatant violation of international law against price fixing but they have gotten a free pass since forever. It’s time to end it but it seems like the disruption in oil suppy that would ensue by enforcing the law, militarily if necessary, is more than any of our spineless leaders or the unwashed masses who perpetuate their residency in the halls of power care to risk in setting the ship aright.

    • In fact, accounting for inflation, oil is far cheaper to produce currently than it was for many early decades when it was transported by ox cart to rail heads. Ditto for today’s cost to produce copper or tin from far less concentrated ores relative to older methods. Technology applied to production is a powerful downward pressure on price, however it still can be overpowered by market manipulation.

  2. Well as I am sure Dr Curry could appreciate, if they ever figure out how to transform kudzu into biofuel, the south will corner the market.

  3. The Fuller Brush Man
    Peddled honest wares by door.
    Badger Tom, I’m tired.
    ==========

  4. The most abundant and clean biofuel is methane, both naturally produced and man made. Think about anarobic digestion of waste biomass: sewage treatment, landfills, hog farm lagoons, and wood chip and leaf composting.

    • “FlexEnergy, an Irvine company, showed off a pilot generator Thursday that converts previously unusable methane gas seeping from a Riverside County landfill into 100 kilowatts of electricity. That could be used to help run the sprawling landfill operations or light up more than 100 homes.”

      Wow. 100 homes.

      How many landfills are there?

      “The company envisions its generators being installed at many of the country’s 2,300 currently operating or recently closed landfills. ”

      We are saved!

      http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/14/business/la-fi-landfill-power-20100814

  5. I would read the front page of yesterday’s (2/24/3012) Wall Street Journal regarding the “1603″ program for alternative energy development. A lot of money spent, not much energy and jobs created.

  6. I suspect that there will be huge fights trying to stop the mobilization of shale gas. I await stories that methane leakage will cause cancer and global warming.

    • Shales Gas causes mental illness. In environmentalists. The dichotomy of a clean plentiful fuel that is also carbon based causes their heads to explode.

  7. For myself, this thread may become interesting

    Regarding bio-fuels, one of the most pointed aspects is missing from the opening post:

    the actual value of ethanol-blended petrol for day-to-day use

    Aus has a mandated policy of selling only ethanol-blended standard unleaded petrol from July 1 this year. Premium unleaded petrol will still be sold unblended (if one can find a service station that actually sells it). RON ratings *currently* are 90-91RON for standard unleaded (unblended) and 95-98RON for premium unleaded

    This matters a great deal, since a very significant number of motor vehicles on the roads have internal combustion engines that cannot tolerate ethanol-blended fuel. These engines quickly coke up, hoses and fittings deteriorate rapidly, fuel consumption rises and energy output drops. A search of manufacturers’ websites for the usefulness of ethanol blends for your specific vehicle is absolutely required unless you don’t mind your expensive vehicle dying prematurely

    Purchasing a new or recent second-hand vehicle suitable for ethanol blends may be an option if you have the money. The populace is really pxxxxd-off at the prospect of being forced to buy another vehicle simply for the ability to pour food into it. Pielke Jr’s Iron Law at work

    If you have a high-tech vehicle that absolutely requires 98RON premium unleaded, you have to plan your trips knowing where to refuel in advance, as well as paying the extra 30c/litre. Vehicles that are unsuitable for ethanol blends will work very well on 98RON premium unleaded but the extra cost at the pump is widely much resented; this combined with the difficulty of actually finding a 98RON pump in regional areas is an electoral slow burn

    Yet no Govt mandate ever directly acknowledges this extremely uncomfortable point. I know that a generally unstated aim of such greenie policy is to reduce the population of vehicles in use, but the electorate will not accept this drastic impost on the right to free movement.

    Doubtless some replies to this post will carry on about the virtues of public transport in cities but will never admit that this is unworkable for regional areas with a combined population share of almost 40%

    Political suicide

  8. You’ve posted some homework really worth reading, but, at first glance, I don’t see anything about “smart” grids. Shouldn’t this topic would be near the top of the list?

  9. Hi Mescalero

    Smart grids are important, but nobody’s really moving off the dime in any big way. IIRC, the UN estimated that the world needed to plow about $6.5 trillion into the various electricity grids worldwide (a lot in the U.S. where much of our grid has been untouched since deregulation). And again,my memory’s a bit hazy, but I think it would only take another $1.5 trillion on top of that to make the grid smart enough to help solve a lot of problems.

    But there are also some cool things coming down the road. Have you read about ceramic superconductors and good ol’ fashioned Tesla style wireless energy transmission? I think our definition of a smart grid is going to change fairly quickly–we may actually end up being grateful we didn’t spend the money when everyone was telling us to…

    • You make some interesting points, but it seems to me that we’ll pontificate on this until the sun belches out the big one and shuts us all down (sound familiar to you folks in Canada and the US east coast?). Then what? I think we all know that modernizing our electrical grid will be expensive, but what will be the cost if we don’t modernize? To me, the answer is a well thought out bipartisan plan that can be easily updated to meet current needs and what we anticipate in the future (which would be the updated part).

      I’m all for new technology, and I’m a technology roadmap veteran from way back. It doesn’t take a Nobelist to figure out that a meaningful and marketable technology roadmap for the future needs to be included in a smart grid plan.

  10. Hello all.

    Okay, _Jim’s premise: How can anything be as cheap as ‘pumping it out of the ground’?

    Granted some ‘cracking’/distallation is required, but then so is distillation required for the alcohol fuels. And there is still need for feedstock for other ‘processes’ that require oil/hydrocarbons (plastics, diesel and fuel oils etc)

    I don’t see economically the replacement of normal hydrocarbon ‘sourcing’ being replaced by synfuels in our lifetimes; there is no ‘pushing the string’ to achieve results that are uneconomical in the market place.

    I still recall all the ‘efforts’ started under the Carter Administration regarding energy (I will stop here, but I could go on); I still have lab/test equipment purchased from the company surplus store that bears labels affixed to that gear bearing ‘instructions’ like “No warm-up required; turn off when not in use”, I think that has been the only ‘legacy’ stemming from initiatives at that time.

    _Jim

    .

  11. Developing countries like China and India will burn whatever is available to fuel their economies without giving global warming a second thought. Until we throw off the environmental yoke and start going back to what has always worked our standard of living and quality of life will steadily go down.
    At least here in Canada our Prime Minister seems to understand this even if he doesn’t quite come out and directly say so. How much longer until the rest of the developed world smartens up and gets back to a realistic and optimistic policy?

  12. Mescalero | February 25, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Reply

    You’ve posted some homework really worth reading, but, at first glance, I don’t see anything about “smart” grids. Shouldn’t this topic would be near the top of the list?

    Mescalero, this appears to be as follows:

    (1) An aspect of ‘navel gazing’ (that I would rather not engage in; hourly or every 15 minute usage reporting, I can do that today, myself, w/o a ‘smart grid’.)

    (2) The camel’s nose under your tent; prepare for Time-of-use billing and orienting your life according to the lowest cents/kWH (like dishwasher use, instant-heating water heater use that competes with every other heater during morning prep-time).

    (3) In times of shortage, ‘rolling air conditioner blackouts’ or perhaps auto-setting of indoor temperature will be part of ‘agreements’ many will unwittingly sign agreements allowing the powerco to implement.

    (4) All your power-usage records belong to us. (Take-off on: ‘All your base are belong to us.’)

    So, can you dissuade me that I will not now become ‘slave’ to my appliance usage as opposed to them serving me at my convenience? (And all this because we have cut ‘planning’ of our utilities systems and generating capacities off at the knees.)

    Regards,

    _Jim
    .

    • ‘Smart’. This word, it does not mean what you think it means.
      ==============

    • Jim beat me to the punch, but left out the key ‘feature’ of the ‘smart grid’.

      First a little background. When Obama was running for president, he stated that one of his intentions was to bankrupt the coal companies. He hasn’t succeeded in that yet, but has changed tactics to simply regulate the USE of coal out of existence. Consequently, a large number of existing coal plants will be forced to close down because they are unable to meet new mercury emission regulations. Out west, hydro plants are being destroyed to allow unfettered migration of salmon and other fish. Oil companies are restricted from exploiting known reservoirs and exploration is also restricted. No new refineries have been built in the last 30 years or so. New oil plants are thin on the ground, if there is any such thing. The demonization of ‘fracking’ started some time ago and is continuing apace. The pipeline for Canadian oil was blocked. A new nuclear plant was recently ‘approved’ but with the guaranteed lawsuits, I will not see any electricity from it in my lifetime. Nor will my kids, most likely. Ad infinitum.

      Meanwhile, the base load continues to grow.

      The inevitable result is that the power companies will soon have to implement ‘rolling blackouts’ because they cannot meet the base load under some conditions.

      The environmentalists say ‘Good!’, but have noticed that rolling blackouts mean that when THEIR base station goes off line THEY will be inconvenienced by the blackout just the same as the hoi polli who share it. Not an optimum solution, to be sure.

      So much for the background, enter the ‘smart grid’. Where I live, I am getting one sermon after another from my local power co-op extolling the wonders of a ‘smart meter’. If I agree to have one installed, the power company will have the ability to turn me off, individually, in exchange for my being able to save money on the electricity that they DO supply. Of course this has another VERY desirable (key) ‘feature’, at least from the viewpoint of the nomenklatura, in that when the power company has to ‘pull the plug’ on some users because they can’t meet the load requirements, the nomenklatura, unlike the current situation with rolling blackouts occurring at the substation level, will be inconvenienced not a whit, because THEIR meter will be on the ‘do not disturb’ list at the power company and woe to the power company engineer who ignores it.

      The smart meter is currently being advertised as being ‘optional’. You can bet whatever sweet bippies you may have lying around, including your last one, that the ‘optional’ part will be short lived.

    • Precisely. ‘Smart’ in this application means that a ‘smart grid’ is no longer a reliable grid for the consumer. Some communities presently mandate smart meters.
      ===========

    • The gist of your comment appears to be a concern about privacy. I have similar concerns, but I need to think about this one for a while.

    • Not a concern about privacy as concerned that the smart meters allow the nomenklatura to impose power restrictions on ME, PERSONALLY, without inconveniencing themselves a bit. With the previous system of having to pull entire substations off line to control the load, they would lose their power along with me. With the smart meters the ‘connected’ will NEVER have a power conservation outage and NEVER have to suffer the consequences of their ‘green’ energy policies. You and I will.

  13. Biofuels are simply solar collectors whose conversion efficiency is so low that it may well be negative. Their only saving grace is that with ever larger tracts of farmland being converted from food production to biofuel production they may aid in achieving the stated environmentalist objective of reducing the population of the Earth from around 7e9 to the 5e8 that they consider to be ‘sustainable’.

    • Well put. Note that the following sustainability pioneers are more generous. 5e8 is 500,000,000. The Ehrlichs allow 3 to 4 times that. Still, that leaves 5,000,000,000 to 5,500,000,000 real human beings out in the cold. Perhaps a nice program of “lebensunwertes leben” or ““dasein ohne leben” would do. Or take Farquaad’s policy: “Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.” – (Shrek)

      Ehrlich, P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich. “The Population Bomb Revisited.” The Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development 1, no. 3 (2009): 63–71. http://www.ejsd.org/docs/The_Population_Bomb_Revisited.pdf

      Page 68: “On the population side, it is clear that avoiding collapse would be a lot easier if humanity could entrain a gradual population decline toward an optimal number. Our group’s analysis of what that optimum population size might be like comes up with 1.5 to 2 billion, less than one third of what it is today. We attempted to find a number that would maximize human options – enough people to have large, exciting cities and still maintain substantial tracts of wilderness for the enjoyment of outdoors enthusiasts and hermits (Daily et al. 1994). Even more important would be the ability to maintain sustainable agricultural systems and the crucial life support services from natural ecosystems that humanity is so dependent upon. But too many people, especially those in positions of power, remain blissfully unaware of that dependence.

      As you can tell, I’m getting a bit short on patience with “learned” people telling everyone else that we would be better off with fewer people. CO2 was promising, but didn’t sell well.

    • It occurs to me that our current government bureaucracy is unsustainable.

    • I wish Paul and Anne Ehrlich would hurry up and do their bit to ‘entrain a gradual population decline’. There are clinics in Switzerland.

    • It has been called to my attention that the domain of the url above has “expired”. I know the site was active 12/24/2011.

      However, our Australian cousins have thoughtfully provided a copy. (Quote is in paragraph just before “Conclusions”)
      http://dea.org.au/news/article/the_popul….anne_h._ehrlich

    • The url above was truncated. Let me try something else:
      [url]http://dea.org.au/news/article/the_population_bomb_revisited_by_paul_r._ehrlich_and_anne_h._ehrlich[/url]
      or

      http://dea.org.au/news/article/the_population_bomb_revisited_by_paul_r._ehrlich_and_anne_h._ehrlich
      
    • Then there is this from “The Onion” America’s Finest News Source- satire with more than a molar of truth to it’s bite:

      http://www.theonion.com/articles/scientists-look-onethird-of-the-human-race-has-to,27166/

  14. A few observations on U.S. energy policy:
    1. Food-to-fuel is a bad idea. Marginal (if not negative) net energy production, marginal environmental benefit, soaring corn prices.
    2. Smart grids are demand-side management tools. Basically, we don’t want to build new power plants, just dynamically change the price of electricity and live with it. Also, from a cyber security perspective, a very bad idea. The Chinese are chomping at the bit.
    3. Burning natural gas for electricity is not the best use for this resource. As a petrochemical feedstock, it is much more valuable.
    4. The Interior Department has fast-tracked all solar/wind developments on public lands (which unless you drive an electric vehicle, will not fill your tank). Conversely, Interior has made oil/gas exploration difficult.
    5. You have the NRC Chairman, mentored under two Congressman hostile to nuclear power, casting the only negative vote for approving the first new reactor build in the U.S. Interior Department also helped by putting 1 million acres of land in Arizona off-limits to uranium mining and exploration for 20 years.
    6. We slap our Canadian friends and neighbor in the face by denying the XL pipeline approval. After three years of review, the President didn’t want to be “rushed.” We put a man on the moon in less than eight.

    Welcome to the U.S. Energy Policy, which is mostly managed by the DoD and EPA.

  15. This government is so out of control now they are even levying fines on companies for not using cellulosic biofuel that doesn’t even exist. Once again the consumer ends up paying the price.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/business/energy-environment/companies-face-fines-for-not-using-unavailable-biofuel.html

  16. I’ve always thought bio fuels were a partly a mechanism to counter the hostage-to-oil scenario. Once the infrastructure is in place, the higher oil goes, the more attractive it is to burn food instead of export it (to oil exporting countries no less). I don’t really have evidence for this thinking, but an I right to assume that is in the subtext? Sorry if this is geo-politics instead of energy policy, though I think those two subjects are pretty much bound together in the current world anyway.

    I drove through Williston ND recently, *amazing* boom going on there. It’s like a mini Fort McMurray. I live near one of the larger wind farms in Canada, nowhere near the same fever, but of course the scale is way different.

    Energy has a massive massive impact on pretty much everything. I often wonder how big a coincidence it is the slavery was mostly abolished (world wide) not long after the first steam engine. At very least I give energy a bit more benefit of the doubt before condemning it – both in burning of fossil fuels and ‘wasting’ money finding new sources of it.

  17. If I have read things right, Growth Energy states “But cellulosic ethanol currently faces a bumpy road to commercialization , with R&D projects still mostly in laboratories.”

    I dont think this is correct. See

    http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2012/01/24/poet-dsm-form-landmark-cellulosic-ethanol-joint-venture/

    An alliance between Poet and DSM is now building a commercial plant to produce, initially, 20 million gallons of cellulose ethanol per year, increasing to 25 million in a few years. Production is scheduled to start in 2013. This is completely private project, with no government involvement. They claim the production will be profitable in the first year. With the price of gasoline increasing in the past weeks, this could well be correct.

    If the first plant is successful, there are plans to build something like 25 similar plants to compliment Poet’s existing corn ethanol production. We will, of course, need to wait until 2013, but i might be prepared to put some quatloos on the table that say the project will be a commercial success.

  18. The West has gone mad. We’re supposed to put food in our cars, chicken dung in our tractors, and power our entire civilisation with windmills, which hitherto went out of fashion in the 18th Century.

    Never mind, the Chinese are looking at breeder reactors, and the Indians at Thorium.

    Meanwhile, the North Koreans claim to have achieved fusion. Hmph, well, somebody will, sooner rather than later. ITER may be v. expensive, and Rossi an alleged scamster, but someone somewhere will be sensible about what’s actually needed to power the 21st Century.

  19. If people want to continue to drive and fly and, simultaneously, reduce fossil-fuel consumption, increase national energy security, and mitigate climate change, biofuels are the only option for the immediate future, experts agree. Dale states, “We need to figure out how to produce biofuels correctly and then go do it.”

    if we want to “reduce fossil-fuel consumption”
    NO WE DO NOT WANT TO. THAT IS STUPID!

  20. Hey, mann!
    Bring on the pesticides,a bit of Agent Orange, and while your about it, step up on Feriliser Plus, we’re goin’ in fer biofuel production in a BIG WAY. Way. (Fergit ‘Silent Spring.’ Chuck it down the memory hole… Oh it’s already there :-)

  21. regulations?

    http://energy.nationaljournal.com/2011/12/sizing-up-epas-mercury-rules.php

    The utility MACT that impacts large coal fired power plants is pretty much a done deal, maybe 10% of existing coal plants will be shut down, but the rest are safe as long as the rules don’t change too quickly.

    The boiler MACT, is still being revised. That impacts smaller plants including the majority of Biomass plants, but it appears the EPA MACT is placing a hitch in the giddy-up of some “sustainable” energy projects.

    You should also be glad to know that for a mere $11 billion a year, the Utility MACT will save nearly $60 Billion a year thanks not to direct benefits, but co-benefits, ” These co-benefits comprise 99.996% of the total benefits EPA estimates, and arise not directly from reducing toxic emissions, but from other things that EPA thinks will happen as beneficial side effects.”

    http://energy.nationaljournal.com/2011/12/sizing-up-epas-mercury-rules.php#2138722

    I wonder if those statistics are padded?

    • For U.S. coal-fired plants, about 41-48 tons/year of mercury emissions.
      Forest fires, about 44 tons/year.
      Chinese power plants, 400 tons/year.
      Recurring geological events such as volcanoes and geysers, 9,000 to 10,000 tons/year.

      The EPA has long ago shifted from protecting human health to ideology.

    • Reference please. And if you won’t provide one, then all we can do is look it up om Google Scholar:
      “Global Source Attribution for Mercury Deposition in the United States”
      http://www.deq.state.va.us/air/vamercury/Hg_air_model/Seigneur_Global_contribution_2004.pdf

      See Table 2 where they show 2/3 of Hg is from anthropogenic or re-emitted anthropogenic sources. They have 4000 tons/year from anthro and 2000 tons/year from land and ocean.

      BTW, this paper has over 200 citations so you might want to go through each one of them to find out what the “consensus” is.

    • Webby,
      Modeling results – what a joke! Any wild guesses are better than those modeling results!

    • Sam NC
      Cut the ad hominem attacks.
      If you can’t substantiate with counter evidence/models with data, and references don’t waste bandwidth and our time with foolish comments.

    • WHT, here you go: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v293/n5833/abs/293555a0.html. I don’t have time to review the 21 references attached to this Letter to Nature.

      Pre-eruption, Mt. St. Helens was venting 200 – 1700 kg/day of mercury. I suspect someone has estimated total emission from the eruption itself.

    • How else could anyone estimate that 9000 to 10,000 tons of years come out of volcanoes and geysers other than via a model?

      The way that this would work is somebody would sample emissions from a set of volcanic sites and then extrapolate to a worldwide estimate. That is a statistical model.

      The same would be done with anthropogenic emissions, where scientists and engineers do the same sample and extrapolate estimate.

      Then it boils down to which model do you believe in — the unreferenced model, the model of Seigneur, or some WAG by SamNC?

    • Evidently you don’t know how to interpret the results and instead served up some serious FUD.

      One can see how the volcanic spike contributed in this graphic
      http://img851.imageshack.us/img851/2894/hglevels.gif

  22. Kim:
    ‘Smart.’ This word, it does not mean what you think it means,
    LOL
    ‘Smart.’ Severe enough to cause pain as in, ‘She gave him a smart rap over the knuckles.’ ( He felt it smarting for several days.)

  23. Jim @ 9.38.
    ‘The camel’s nose under your tent.’

    It’s back to the future.
    ‘Gotta get rid of that damned flux!
    (Plato’s words) Get back to the Golden Age, Stupid!

    (I am personally thinking of getting a camel.)

  24. See
    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/project_syndicate/2011/03/the_ethanol_catastrophe.html

    “It is refreshing that Gore has now changed his view in line with the evidence. But there is a wider lesson. A chorus of voices from the left and right argue against continued government support for biofuel. The problem, as Gore has put it, is that “it’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”

    • A chorus of voices from the left and right argue against continued government support for biofuel.

      The argument that if both sides are attacking you you must be doing something right (Clinton, Obama) has always worried me. This seems like an excellent counterexample.

  25. Dr Curry –
    “5. Game changing technology is turning the energy industry on its head3000 quads”?
    I’m assuming this is some sort of typo and thought I would point it out to be corrected.
    Thanks for your great blog.
    Dan

  26. Chief, any port in a storm. Can’t get sound on Plasma animation but re Plan B, aims are no damn good w/out means. Here down under we have a the Green Party with the balance of power. Any Plan C?

    • Chief Hydrologist

      Hi,

      http://www.lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/ – theory is they get the plasmoid geometry right and generate ions striaght into the grid. We’ll see.

      In Oz, we have cheap alternatives. No reason not to get into fuels and waste processing however. We got heaps of the stuff – energy for millions of years.

      And I doubt if the greens will survive the AGW implosion – let’s make sure of it.

    • Markus Fitzhenry

      Beth; Any Plan C?

      We is gonna tie Bob Brown to a tree.

    • Here down under we have a the Green Party with the balance of power.

      Yeah, but do Tasmanian Greens tolerate Glaswegian Reds?

      (Apologies if I got the city wrong. ;) )

  27. John Whitman 10.55pm.
    That’s so corny. LOL. Oh well, we are on a post about ethernol!

  28. Why does diesel fuel and JP4 cost more than gas? I thought diesel was produced and then gasoline distilled from diesel as a purer fuel.

    • “Why does diesel fuel and JP4 cost more than gas? I thought diesel was produced and then gasoline distilled from diesel as a purer fuel.”

      A common misconception is that diesel is a sub-par grade of oil. In practice, it almost always comes from the light sweet crude grades of oil. Currently the best source of diesel for Europe is Libya, and that’s why everyone wanted that conflict ended.
      see http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/68245/edward-l-morse-and-eric-g-lee/the-libyan-oil-tap
      Saudi Arabian oil is actually not very good for diesel as it is a more sour form of crude oil, and requires lots of refining to get it into diesel. The Saudis have promised that they can do it, but analysts have some doubts.
      http://www.investmentu.com/2011/March/new-crude-oil-sources-wanted.html

    • Webby,

      You work inside EPA?

    • Sam, Have you finished high school yet?

    • Why then would they say this a Buzzle.com “The making of ULSD is similar to the regular fractional distillation performed for producing conventional diesel fuel. The only difference is further refining of the separated diesel fuel to reduce sulfur content. In comparison to gasoline production, making of diesel fuel is less expensive, as it requires less refining steps. However, the high price of diesel fuel is due to the successive filtration stages, which are performed to remove the pollutants”
      “A closer look at how diesel fuel is made will make you realize that the time and expenditure incurred on refining diesel is much less as compared to the same required for refining gasoline. This turns out to be the driving factor when it comes to the fact that diesel is much more inexpensive than gasoline”.

    • I worked in Saudi Arabia and what you said:
      “Saudi Arabian oil is actually not very good for diesel as it is a more sour form of crude oil, and requires lots of refining to get it into diesel. The Saudis have promised that they can do it, but analysts have some doubts”

      Any oil analyst knows that Saudi Arabia produces multiple types of oil not just sour. Which analyst are you referring to?

    • Chief Hydrologist

      Hi,

      Gasoline and other products are refined from crude oil by fractional distillation. The smaller chain molecules distill off at lower temperatures – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractional_distillation

      Crude oil delivers products such as gas or diesel fuel dependent on the source but within a narrow range – http://www.petrostrategies.org/Learning_Center/refining.htm

      Sour crude has more sulphur impurities – that need to be limited in some markets.

      Prices are determined by supply and demand.

    • In Europe the demand for diesel fuel has been much higher than in US. That has resulted already years ago to the result that simple low cost refineries produce too little diesel fuel in comparison to gasoline and heavy fuel oil. Consequently costly investments have been made to increase the yield of diesel. That has been done using heavier and lower cost crude oil and converting through various techniques heavy fractions to diesel.

      At the same time there has been also oversupply of gasoline in Europe leading to exports to US where the relative demands have been different.

      The old wisdom was that the lighter the more valuable meaning that gasoline is more valuable than diesel, but that’s not true anymore in Europe and less and less true also elsewhere.

    • The old wisdom was that the lighter the more valuable

      Fast food stores will be thrilled. ;)

    • in my part of the world, northern Oz, diesel is 10cents/litre cheaper than gasoline

  29. Pretty obvious that the policy for risk mitigation (definition : The action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.) is exactly the same for climate change as it is for fossil fuel depletion.

    Production returns from hydraulic fracturing differ completely from those of conventional oil and natural gas extraction. The lifetime is much shorter, which is intuitively obvious when one considers that the extraction comes out of dispersed fractured areas and not larger highly porous reservoirs. Not to say that we won’t see returns, but the number of wells drilled will completely swamp anything we have yet seen, and will not come close to matching past production efficiency from conventional sources. This is the same for natural gas and the hydraulic fractured shale oil from the Bakken.

    As for coal, there are few high-grade coal reserves, such as anthracite, left in the USA. Progressively more coal is available as bituminous and lignite, but these have progressively worse energy return on energy invested (EROEI), both from hydrocarbon density considerations and in the amount of processing required.

    The USA may be fortunate in some ways, but since fossil fuels are sold on a global market, and fossil fuel depletion is hitting world-wide, other countries will likely lead the way for alternatives.

    So for risk mitigation, the USA will have to look for other sources of energy than fossil fuels, such as nuclear and renewables. That is why the risk mitigation is exactly the same for fossil fuel depletion as it is for AGW. Both issues are addressed by transitioning off of crude oil and other fossil fuels. The only difference is that the transition is voluntary for AGW, but it is a non-optional requirement for fossil fuel depletion. (If you want to say that the free market will take care of it, fine with me as I am a theorist at heart and free-market capitalism is nothing but an untested theory for the long term — much like the GHG theory)

    Bottomline, we will go through this transition whether climate skeptics like it or not. We should start preparing for this sooner rather than later to reduce the severity, seriousness, and pain that comes from dealing with depletion that we will eventually encounter. That is the definition of risk mitigation.

    • Web makes a simpleton’s assessment of what should be done without any realistic consideration of the impact to the US economy. What he/she suggests should be done as a part of an overall energy strategy that initially includes increasing US fossil fuel production in order to achieve energy independence. Over the long term the US does need to greatly reduce the use of fossil fuels, but that is NOT an immediate need.

  30. ‘WHT – Bottomline, we will go through this transition whether climate skeptics like it or not.’ and ‘(If you want to say that the free market will take care of it, fine with me as I am a theorist at heart and free-market capitalism is nothing but an untested theory for the long term’

    Stop worrying I know where you can centuries worth of good ole cheap black coal. Give this broad a call, nice lady too, writes lovely poetry

    http://hancockcoal.com.au/go/about-hancock-prospecting/board-and-senior-management

    As for capitalism, it’s been untested for 6,000 years. Of course, it was before your time, so couldn’t have been so, just like the MWP. Jeez, you blokes are getting desperate.

  31. 3000 Quads

    “Europe’s fleet of cars averages 35 mpg, while America’s average is about 22 mpg. (Higher fuel prices incentivised innovation among car manufacturers and frugal prudence in European car buyers.) If we could magically raise our average mileage to European levels the amount of energy we would save would be more than 10 quads.”

    Yes. And America would have to have many more diesel cars.

    And what do diesel cars do better than gasoline cars?

    “Diesel emissions contain more than 40 known and probable carcinogens, including fine particulate matter, commonly called soot.”

    • More bad news:

      “Modern diesel cars also produce more NOX emissions than gasoline, which in turn creates a greenhouse gas and pollutant called ozone which can harm the lungs.”

      But there is good news:

      “But NOX emissions also destroy a powerful greenhouse gas called methane”

    • But there is good news

      But there is even better news

    • Vaughan, the article is 7 years old. This one is from this month.

      “Though diesel vehicles have improved significantly in recent years thanks to particulate filters and urea injection, the gases emerging from their tailpipes still aren’t as clean as those from the equivalent gasoline car.

      With particularly tight regulations on clean air, particularly in states like California, that requires carmakers to spend even more ensuring their cars are clean enough – and that cost is pushed on to consumers.

      Some manufacturers, knowing this, simply don’t bother importing the wide range of diesels they sell elsewhere in the world, as the limited sales couldn’t justify the extra cost.”

      http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1072420_are-diesel-cars-less-relevant-than-ever-in-the-u-s

      Remember, 10,000$ subsidies for electric cars will never solve anything except save rich people 10,000.

    • Thanks for spotting that the article I linked to was 7 years out of date, Bruce. I gather the bottom line is that diesel for passenger vehicles is not economically viable. Since truck operators seem to prefer diesel, where’s the cutoff and what factors matter? Size? Annual mileage? Other?

    • Vaughan, diesel is “uneconomical” because of government regulations that resulted from environmentalist lobbying attempts to destroy the coal power industry.

      PM2.5 was made the evil substance of the decade.

      Once PM2.5 was “certified” as a mass murdering substance, then diesels were screwed.

    • An attack on particulates would, without exemptions, send a skewer through the truck transport business, bus transportation and virtually all heavy machinery. Locally, I’m particularly irked by the fish and chips flavored smog trailing behind the eco-chariots driven by the free-range organo-macrobiotic-warmistas who shake their firsts at me for wanting to drive anywhere near the speed limit. Ever consider a bit of injector maintenance?

    • Mark F

      Particulate filters for all diesel driven trucks, heavy construction machines, buses, etc. are already becoming standard in many European countries. Some are combined with NOx converters, as well.

      This has not been a major economic stumbling block there.

      Max

    • Mark F

      But I would agree that switching to abundantly available shale gas as a motor fuel (ex. Australia) is an even better plan.

      Max

    • No reason to move to diesel for economy reasons. I regularly drive a variety of different models in UK and they nearly all get 50+ mpg. A few years back diesel engines were far superior to petrol for consumption, but the gap is shrinking fast. I am now disappointed if I don’t average at least 45 mpg with petrol.

      You’d need to get used to slightly harder suspensions though…US consumers seem to like wallowing around and using a lot of energy heating up the springs not making the car go along. In Europe we prefer a less nauseating firmer ride that also helps fuel economy.

    • I regularly drive a variety of different models in UK and they nearly all get 50+ mpg

      Your trusty bicycle would presumably get that, Latimer. What are the others, solar powered roller skates?

    • @vaughan

      Here’s the different models I’ve driven in the last 12 months. I did about 300 similar miles in each and kept records of the mpg achieved. all did better than 45 mpg

      Ford Fiesta (62 mpg!)
      Hyundai Hi20 (55 mpg)
      Hyundai Hi30
      Fiat 500
      VW Polo
      Nissan Micra
      Vauxhall Polo
      Vauxhall Astra

    • Latimer Alder -

      Are you using imperial gallons for your calculations? It would explain why you seem to be getting unbelievably good mileage.

    • So tell me, I should know. Is a pint in an English pub an eighth of an Imperial Gallon? Maybe that’s their secret.

      I believe the Germans have dranken from litre steins for at least a century. Maybe that’s their secret.
      ================

    • An English newspaper reported (last summer) that the VAT tax on fuel was around 60%. This, while 4 liters of petrol ran around $10. Cheers!

    • @kch

      Yes. I am using Imperial Gallons. Only sort of gallons we use. If you uppity Colonials hadn’t rebelled some time ago, you too could still be using them :-)

      And yes, a pint is 1/8th of a gallon. And VAT and excise duties on petrol are enormous.

      Even with good consumption the fuel cost per mile works out at about 13p (18 cents??). That is why there is a strong incentive in UK to better and better fuel economy

  32. I’ve been following energy commodity prices for the last few years and it tells us a lot about energy policy and our opportunities here in the US. Natural gas prices have fallen dramatically to about $0.50 per gasoline gallon equivalent. Oil prices of course continue to rise. It seems to me there is huge opportunity to switch our transportation fuel to natural gas. It is very easy to convert the existing fleet. There is a great gas pipeline infrastructure that makes it relatively easy to get gas stations converted. The impact on economic growth would be immense. If people could “fill their tanks” for $10 instead of $80, they would have an effective large increase in pay that would go into investment or spending. Our natural gas reserves are huge and growing. It is amazing that the Federal government is doing nothing in this area. In addition, natural gas has much lower carbon emissions than gasoline or deisel. Even the carbon fixated should be supporters.

    • David, you are 100% correct.

      The problem has been political, rather than technical or environmental.

      Opening up the vast shale gas reserves (lead article) requires granting permits for fracking operations. These operations have been done safely and routinely for several decades, but because of one suspected recent problem, where proper precautions were not taken, the greenies (whom the current US administration likes to coddle) are up in arms and trying to block ALL fracking permits.

      And (again to please the “greenies”) the administration is hung up on pie-in-the-sky “zero net carbon” energy solutions (solar/wind or ethanol) – although fortunately they haven’t carried this to the same absurd extremes as the UK with its windmills.

      Solution: Get the politicians out of the way.

      Max

    • Solution: Get the politicians out of the way.

      Politics (from Greek πολιτικός, politikos “of, for, or relating to citizens”)

      Politeness

      Nope, still not seeing the connection. ;)

  33. Thanks for all this stuff on the “Big Picture”. I am working on a series of reviews of the “Small Picture” that relates to Florida only. My first effort was a guest post on “Brave New Climate” and my next post will be based on a week long visit to a 2.7 GW nuclear power plant,
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/05/15/solar-power-in-florida/

  34. Global competition for energy resources from emerging economies like China

    The problem I suggest is a lot deeper and entwined with the western assumption of business,and is a problem for the economists.

    An interesting quote from the recent discovery of the Bretton woods transcripts was from Keynes,that the problem of trade surpluses was unsolvable when the exchange rate was artificially fixed.

    As a problem the artifical currency prices from a number of emerging economies are askewed to give a pricing advantage to their own manufacturers.

    This has resulted in the export of manufacturing from developed economies to developing at both fiscal cost to the developed countries ( less taxation etc) ,and envirionmental cost to the developing countries,where best price is foremost and labour is cheaper then new technology.

    I would be interested in an economists perspective.

  35. Judith Curry

    Thanks for some interesting stuff.

    The C&EN article quotes Arthur Reijnhart, general manager of alternative energies and fuels development strategy at Shell.

    “The biofuels business globally would not exist if it weren’t for the mandates”

    .

    Indeed (because it doesn’t make economic sense otherwise).

    And he could have added: ”and the (taxpayer funded) subsidies”

    This is a good example of how things get screwed up when the government “mandates” something (supposedly for the “common good”).

    As the article points out, food prices have soared. This hits the poorest of the poor hardest.

    A few big corn farmers make a killing, as do the processors.

    The impact on global climate will be next to zero: Even if ethanol percentage quadruples to 40% of total and motor fuel use grows with estimated population growth, the calculated net reduction in atmospheric CO2 by year 2100 would be 9 ppmv and the impact on global temperature would be an imperceptible 0.07°C.

    [With higher engine efficiency standards it is most likely that the motor fuel growth will be less than population growth, so the total effect on our climate of switching to ethanol would be even less.]

    And it’s all paid for by the U.S. taxpayer.

    The “ethanol of the future” will come from bio-mass and a pilot plant is being planned, again with US taxpayer funding ($105 million). As Paul Bryan, director of DOE’s Biomass Program is quoted:

    “We feel it’s appropriate for the government to assist in getting those pioneer plants built and running so that the marketplace can then see a reduced risk level and help make private investment flow.”

    So the plant owners and operators will make a few bucks. But how “appropriate” is it really, as far as a measure to reduce global warming? We never see any cost/benefit numbers, do we?

    And the reason is quite simple: there is no perceptible temperature impact from any of these government mandated and sponsored schemes, because we are unable to change our planet’s climate no matter how much money we throw at it

    Max

  36. Judith Curry

    The Oil Price article on U.S. shale oil and gas is very interesting.

    This vast resource is a much better bet IMO for covering US demand of the next few hundred years than the ethanol schemes described in the C&EN article.

    It just takes a US administration with the courage and common sense to not stand in the way of developing this new resource.

    In a way, it’s a shame that the Keystone pipeline project was squelched – it could have eventually played a role in transporting shale oil, as well.

    Max

  37. http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

    Stuff on nuclear plans of China. Since China will be out of coal in 35 years at this rate of consumption, nuclear is one of their solutions.

  38. Judith Curry

    this is strictly a Heartland/Gleick free thread

    THANK YOU!

    Max

  39. Jeez, Marcus, not a gallows tree!

  40. Chief dear,
    We will meet at the blockades.
    (Not so much a cow girl as a lean and mean red headed Scot.:-)

  41. Thijs J. Aarstma

    Interesting article you posted.

    Dr. Michel makes sense. Burn the biomass “as is” to replace coal (or other fossil fuel), but don’t spend all that money (and energy) trying to make a motor fuel out of it.

    And don’t convert food to fuel – that’s silly for several reasons as he points out.

    He points out that algae are also not much better as a source, but I know that Exxon-Mobil, for example, has work going on in this area (I suspect with some government subsidies).

    His conclusion: “go electric” – sounds good, but there are still major problems with all electric cars (the hybrids are a bit better).

    I’d say a better bet for countries like the USA that have gigantic reserves of shale gas is use natural gas as a motor fuel, possibly combined with electric as a hybrid (at least until economically viable all-electric cars can be developed).

    Max

  42. “Nobel Prize winning biochemist says ALL biofuels are “nonsense.”

    I am extremely skeptical when I read this sort of thing, with “Nobel Prize winning” (think Linus Pauling) and “nonsense” (what isn’t?) combining to be a real turnoff.

    Three paragraphs into Hartmut Michel’s article I was even more skeptical as he did the math for the photon efficiency of biofuels. With 122 petawatts worth of photons hitting the surface of the Earth 24/7, who gives a capybara’s buttocks about efficiency? Merely capturing one in every 8,000 of those photons would replace all the power stations in the world!

    But as he worked through the numbers, comparing the efficiency of second generation biofuels with that of photovoltaics when all conversions, land use, and transportation costs were taken into account, he won me over. All I can add to his math is that all biofuels are complete and utter nonsense.

    The bottom line of Michel’s math is that there is simply no comparison between second generation biofuels and photovoltaics.

    The MIT/Stanford Venture Lab was established in November 1990. Today it is one of 30 worldwide chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum, Inc. Almost exactly two years ago I attended one of their monthly meetings, this on one “Biofuels 2.0.” The panelists, CEOs of various biofuel companies, were all optimistic about the future of a revival of biofuels. Yet one got the feeling of attending a zombie revival meeting where either science or the government or both would step in with a solution to the problem of turning zombies back into productive members of society.

    Hartmut Michel’s analysis merely attached concrete numbers quantifying my qualitative feeling two years ago that this revival meeting had no future. Without a change of area the panelists were condemning themselves to perpetual zombiehood.

    • As ever it takes a chemist to rein in the wilder fantasies from ‘soft sciences’ like Crimatology by going back to basics.

      Chemistry is an experimental science. Chemists get down and dirty to see what is actually going on, not what they hope or think or dream might be going on. And their experiments are replicable and reproducible.

      This is in stark contrast to Crimate ‘Scientists’ who label simulations run on untested models as ‘experiments’ . And wave the idea of ‘being consistent with’ theories as proof of those theories. While concealing their methods and data.

      They need to clean up their act and start to do some real science before they will have much credibility among hard scientists

    • It’s always very difficult to tell how far one should trust optimistic statements by research groups and companies developing new technologies. All forms of renewable energy technologies have seen countless examples of promises that a real breakthrough is just here and our company will bring it to market in a year or perhaps two. Unfortunately 99% of that is unjustified hype.

      Finland and more specifically the governmental research center VTT (my employer 1980-99) has been one of the few institutes in the world that has worked on that without interruption since the Second World War, when they started to develop locally produced gasifiers for cars to replace gasoline. No research group of a small country like Finland can compete in size with some big projects in US, but the long tradition has created quite a lot of knowledge.

      The major Finnish (or Swedish/Finnish) forest industry companies UPM and StoraEnso have joined national and international collaborations that aim in developing technologies for combining biofuel production with paper manufacturing in the expectation that the combined processes would have better economies than concentrating on fuel production alone. There has certainly been progress but reaching competitiveness may take still a long time. The final value of the approach will of course depend on relative success in comparison with other developments and also on the rate of meeting difficulties in satisfying the demand of oil products from crude oil and other fossil sources.

    • There has certainly been progress but reaching competitiveness may take still a long time.

      Especially if the competition is moving even faster.

    • That’s the “relative success” in my text.

      I have the feeling that all too often people fail to identify factors that are fully visible and that are virtually certain to give the advantage for one of the competitive solutions. Being “too rational” may work against innovativeness but some rationality is mostly of value.

      The opposite approach is trying to find out persistent sources of competitive edge and to build on those.

    • Thanks Pekka
      See The Biomass Foundation for books, resources.
      See Tom Reed’s efficient Woodgas-Stove
      Swedish engineer Johansson continued the gasifier development – System Johansson Gasifier. His designs are available thru Carbo Consult in South Africa

    • David Springer

      @David Hagen

      Syngas generators are interesting but pretty much only useful for remote outposts with lots of wood or for tinkerers. Way too many issues make them expensive to operate. Wood/biomass has to be pre-processed to get a full clean partial combustion. Ashes need to be continuously removed. Fresh fuel continously added. The gas is highly toxic as unlike natural gas (which is almost pure methane) syngas is mostly carbon monoxide. There are tars and particulates in syngas that vastly reduce the service life of internal combustion engines requiring cumbersome water filtration systems. Throttle response is poor and startup time is long.

      All of these issues have solutions but in toto they are just far too much to make it more than an engaging hobby for the garage-shop tinkerer.

    • David Springer

      @hagen

      That said about syngas I did actually investigage the feasibility of a fixed installation to produce it. I burn a lot of brush, deadwood, and stuff like that in open fires every year. Tons and tons of it. It’s a waste but it’s no good for anything else and I need to dispose of it. So it occured to me that I could turn it into syngas. I have chippers/shredders to preprocess it for combustion in a syngas generator, a supply of fuel which I could expand by offering to clean up unwanted biomass from neighboring places and I have equipment to haul it back to my place 5 tons at a whack. I reckoned I could produce the gas, clean it up, and compress it into 5 gallon propane cylinders of the type everyone uses for their outdoor gas BBQs. I could offer these for sale at a premium price to a great number of eco-loons who live in nearby Austin, Texas.

      Alas, it was the toxicity of the gas which ultimately made me decide against it. I just didn’t like the thought that almost certainly some adult or child would manage to inhale enough to damage their already small, underpowered brains or even kill them even if it was only used outdoors as propane replacement in BBQs. Something as simple as putting the BBQ away in a garage or outdoor shed without completely turning off the gas or with a leak would make that garage or shed a death trap.

    • David Springer: Good post. Perhaps you may have also shot down natural gas as a fuel for cars.

      You wrote: “Something as simple as putting the BBQ away in a garage or outdoor shed without completely turning off the gas or with a leak would make that garage or shed a death trap.”

      Substitute natural gas and car as appropriate:

      “Something as simple as putting the car in a garage or outdoor shed without completely turning off the gas or with a leak would make that garage or shed a bomb.”

    • @David Springer
      You might find the SGJ gasifier interesting from a pragmatic commercial point of view. It is clean enough that Caterpillar is willing to support its engine warranty on syngas from a SGJ gasifier!

    • Reading today’s local newspaper Helsingin Sanomat I noticed that UPM had a full page add, where they tell about a industrial scale (100000 t/year) biofuel production plant that they are building. According to the add this is the first plant to produce high quality biofuels from wood or more precisely from a side product of a pulp mill

      More on that from UPM pages

      http://www.upmpaper.com/en/Papers/paper-news/Pages/UPM-to-build-the-world%27s-first-biorefinery-producing-wood-based-biodiesel.aspx

      http://www.upm.com/EN/ABOUT-UPM/Businesses/Biofuels/biorefinery-investment/product/Pages/default.aspx

    • David Springer

      @Dixie

      You misunderstood me. Methane (natural gas) is fine for internal combustion engines. It’s clean to start and it burns clean. It takes a very high concentration (at least 5%) in normal air to be combustible so it isn’t particularly dangerous storing it in a garage as there isn’t enough volume in the tank to reach over 5% concentration in the air and maintain it for long in a drafty garage or shed. No more dangerous than having natural gas piped into and around your home for the furnace, clothes dryer, refrigerator, and stove. It’s also not particularly toxic to breathe in low concentration.

      Syngas on the other hand is mostly carbon monoxide which if breathed at a concentration 500 times less than the combustible mixture ratio will kill you so even a tiny leak is extremely hazardous. Syngas is deadly stuff if you breathe it. Unless treated it’s also odorless and tasteless. Dr. Kevorkian could do well with a small syngas generator.

    • David Springer

      @David Hagen

      Update your gasifier bookmarks and give me a link to where I can buy a SGJ gasifier and a link to Caterpillar where they warrant running their gasoline engines with one. I suspect the gasifier company is out of business (if it ever was) and that Caterpillar warranting it is nonsense. But I stand willing to be corrected as I didn’t spend more than two minutes (which is usually sufficient) trying and failing to verify your claims. All I found was you making the same claim on another blog last July.

      I spend a considerable amount of time a couple years ago looking into gasifiers and there was nothing near commercial on the market at the time and nothing near economical. An interesting hobby and in an emergency or similar situation syngas is better than no gas but that’s about as far as it goes.

    • David Springer re SJG See:
      Guenther A. Freudendahl
      Carbo Consult & Engineering (PTY.) Ltd.
      P.O. Box 1397
      Cramerview
      2060 Johannesburg, South Africa
      See contact details
      info [at] carboconsult [dot] com

      Carbo Consult received the Frost & Sullivan 2010 award:
      Carbo Consult scoops F&S technology innovation award
      I expect they are still active and need to get their web site fixed.
      Note on bioenergy list
      http://gasifiers.bioenergylists.org/taxonomy/term/46

    • Fuel shortages tend to concentrate attention on sustaining transport. See:
      Chapter 3 – Recent Swedish experiences with operation of vehicles on wood and charcoal gas

      As shown in Table 3.1 the introduction of gasifier operation was quite rapid. From less than 1000 vehicles operated on gas in 1939, the number increased to over 70000 in 1942. This rapid introduction would probably not have been possible if there had not been an active interest in the technology since the twenties with a few hundred vehicles in operation during the thirties.

      3.7.3 GASIFICATION

      The basic principles of gasification have been under study and development since the early nineteenth century, and during the Second World War nearly a million biomass gasifier-powered vehicles were used in Europe.

  43. V P (Descartes, c’est vous?) @ 4.47pm

    May I say, Vaughan, you get a lot of things wrong :-)

  44. seems to me that what our American cousins need is their very own entrepreneur

    http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/2/20/the-entrepreneur.html

    “Biofuels have been attracting a minor surge of media interest recently, after Friends of the Earth published a report claiming that they probably produce more greenhouse gases than they save.”

    Old saying from the Cleckheaton Massive ‘Until you can f**k up like a Eurocrat, you can’t f**k up at all’

  45. WashPo has endorsed shale gas as a climate technology. This is splitting the greens, so weakening them politically. Alternatives are the enemy of decision. Paralysis by analysis. Fine by me.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/is-the-fight-against-global-warming-hopeless/2012/02/17/gIQAhRAXaR_story.html

    • Poor devils: ‘must end with phasing out energy from fossil fuels. Once they see a bit of cold, they’ll see enduring warmth as something other than ‘hopeless’. For ‘hundreds of years’ they say.

      Promises, promises.
      ===========

    • David Springer

      @wojick

      “fine by me”

      Meeting future energy needs probably isn’t as worrisome for you as for others. Your expected remaining lifespan is about the same as a tank of diesel in my tractor.

    • DS, I believe he believes that energy will be available. His concern is about the debate that will allow us to use it.

      Keep the right front wheel in the furrow.
      ===============

    • David Springer

      Kim, I believe his concern is book sales. Forget the furrow and follow the money.

  46. VP @5.34 AM.

    Not even close.
    Think, man, think. :-)

  47. Thorium as the feedstock for nuclear energy is high on both India’s and China’s wish lists. Compared to uranium, it is safer, less radioactive, and can’t produce bombs. There is far more thorium than uranium.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/01/india-thorium-nuclear-plant

    • David Springer

      There are no known materials that can economically be employed in liquid flouride thorium reactors (LFTR, pronounced ‘lifter). The problem is the combination of high neutron flux and chemical corrosion. The former embrittles metal like stainless steel which can withstand the corrosive action of 1000F liquid salt and anything that can withstand the neutron flux is destroyed by corrosion. The long and the short of it is there is no suitable material from which can be fashioned the plumbing and pumps to keep the very complex chemistry of the reactant just right to keep the reaction going. Until some suitable material is invented this is a showstopper for thorium reactors. There’s been some rather unpromising results in pipes made from an exotic, expensive-to-produce hybrid of copper and graphite. Nothing is really close. This is essentially the same problem in hot fusion – no known material can withstand the reaction chamber environment long enough to be economical and there’s nothing even on the edge of the radar screen which promises to solve the problem.

      LFTR has been around for 50 years. A research reactor at LLNL was run for 10 years in the 1960′s. The problems and the cost of operation are well characterized and nothing has changed in the meantime. This is pure pie-in-the-sky.

    • Oak Ridge ran the Molten Salt Reactor experiment for about four years. One and half years full-power equivalent at about 8 MW. ORNL was on their way to solving material issues before it was shut down.LLNL never had a molten salt reactor.

      I would study the molten salt fuel cycle a bit more before saying whether you can make bombs from its by-products. I would merely offer that if it was attractive, the U.S. would have been down that path some time ago.

    • There are also other alternatives for using thorium like the high temperature pebble bed reactor concepts studied in Germany in late 1980′s. The molten salt reactor was studied in US partly because it gave some promises for allowing for a proliferation resistant full fuel cycle. The thorium cycle does not produce plutonium but it produces uranium 233 which can be used in bombs thus the idea is to make the fuel cycle such that extracting U-233 becomes difficult at all stages of the fuel cycle.

    • If I’m not mistaken, the Chinese lead the world in pebble bed technology. I expect them to franchise the plants worldwide and to recover the pebbles.
      ============

    • David, there is no longer a need to use fluoride salts. Fluoride was only chosen as 35Cl undergoes neutron capture to 36Cl and thence to very corrosive sulfur.
      Until recently there was no way to cheaply purify 37Cl from the normal 35/37Cl mix. However, using thermal separation and then laser separation offers the ability to make very cheap pure 35Cl.
      This may make chloride salt reactors viable.

    • David Springer

      arcs & sparcs

      sorry about that – for some reason I always say Livermore and I always end up getting corrected to Oak Ridge – I suppose I’m a nuclear research facility bigot – they all look alike to me

      I guess I’m lumping the MSR in with the MSBR to get the ten year number

      According to wikipedia Gen IV MSR reference design is supposed to go online in 2040. The smart money is betting on biofuels before then.

    • Brunel beat you to the idea of using Partly evacuated tubes 150 years ago.with his Great Western Railway

      tonyb, I got around to checking out the link to the Brunel vacuum tube and it doesn’t describe anything like my tunnel. His tubes were 15 inches in diameter, my tunnels are 100 m in diameter in order to contain the traffic while displacing enough air. (Smaller than that should work and might have advantages, though probably not much less than 20 m diameter.) How would a train fit in a 15 inch tube? “Honey, I just shrank the train.”

      The vacuum in his tube served to propel a 15-foot long piston along the tube that hauled the train along its track. The train itself was outside the tube (obviously), and had to be mechanically connected to the piston inside the tube. This required a slot running the entire length of the tube. Not even remotely like the tunnel I was proposing. Also his maximum speed was 68 mph, I’m proposing several thousand mph. And whereas his trains ran along the ground mine float in the air at an altitude of several km. Different idea altogether.

    • Vaughan

      Of course trains didn’t fit inside the 15 inch pipes. It was more the general principle of evacuation that I thought you would be interested in.

      The larger the tube the greater the expense and chance of things going wrong. Your 20m one sounds more feasible than a 100m one although I’m not saying it would work or be practical. Just that the idea -like Brunels-is interesting.
      tonyb

    • David Springer

      You can make bombs from thorium reactor byproducts. It’s just really, really, really expensive to concentrate the desired fission products. Off the top of my head I can’t say for sure what the problem is but I believe it’s two species of plutonium, one good for bombs the other crap for bombs, that are so close in atomic weight that separating them is exceedingly difficult while in uranium reactors the plutonium isotope of interest isn’t accompanied by enough of the other species to cause the difficulty.

    • No quite, that applies to the uranium cycle, 239Pu is weapons grade, where as 240Pu causes pre-ignition in the pit. So reactors that are designed to make military grade plutonium are only cooked for a short time, stopping 239Pu capturing a second neutron.
      Using thorium one gets bomb grade 233U and also some 232U which is a gamma emitter with a shortish half-life.
      This make working with fissile and bomb making 233U quite entertaining

    • David Springer

      You can also make dirty bombs from spent thorium fuel and you know what they say, “If Allah gives you lemons then make lemonade.” Credit where credit is due though. It’s definitely a smaller proliferation and storage problem than many other reactor types. It all comes down to economical operation. If you can’t build and operate at a profit then it isn’t sustainable. The low cost and abundance of thorium reactor fuel is often mentioned but it’s not very significant. Fuel in a conventional reactor is only 16% the operating cost and falling with small but steady incremental process improvements. So even if thorium reactor fuel was free it can only go so far in making the undertaking economical.

      And even if it was economical, the United States doesn’t have a big problem generating electricity economically. It has a problem with liquid transportation fuels and all the electricity in the world isn’t going to solve that. There isn’t enough niobium to make all the wheel motors. There isn’t a battery with a high energy density at reasonable cost. Passenger/cargo aircraft will never go electric. The electrical grid in the U.S. can barely manage peak loads now and would need to at least double in capacity to put a significant dent in transporation fuel. You can’t go vertical adding more grid capacity you have to widen the footprint on the ground which means eminent domain taking of land and homes for more power lines at impossibly high political and economic cost. More efficient superconducting transmission lines are no closer after 40 years of trying than fusion reactors.

      And even if everything were to work out economically for thorium it will be at least 30 years before they would be operating in the black. About 20 years before the commercial reactors go into service and about 10 years of operating profits taken up in paying off the construction cost. If, in 30 years, something better has come along that generates electricity for less then your shiny new nuke that hasn’t paid for itself yet becomes obsolete and never turns a profit.

    • David,

      You give valid arguments telling, how difficult the problems are, but then you offer as solution something new that appears out of blue in 30 years. What could that be?

      I’m not particularly optimistic on any solution. The oil crises of the 1970′s led to many energy research programs in US, in Europe, and elsewhere. Some development has certainly occurred, but how much in comparison with what you describe concerning the needs of transportation?

      What are we going to do when the oil production cannot satisfy demand at reasonable prices (and unreasonable prices help through reducing transportation services essentially)?

    • There isn’t enough niobium to make all the wheel motors.

      Not a problem yet, but likely to become one as you say. Remy is planning ahead for this situation. Remy’s motors dispense with rare earths.

      There isn’t a battery with a high energy density at reasonable cost.

      Electric vehicles are too new to predict battery price trends, though given the history of technology it seems a safe bet that current battery prices aren’t going to stay where they are.

      Longer term, for long-distance travel between major cities I’d like to see partially evacuated tubes carrying flatcars that you drive your car onto at one end, one car per flatcar (so you effectively rent the flatcar for the duration of the trip). The flatcar is then sealed with a large lid over the whole of your car, passes through an airlock (completion of “boarding” process), is accelerated steadily throughout the first half of the trip, then everything is done in reverse to get you back off. During both halves your car faces backwards so that the high deceleration in a braking emergency will press the passengers into their seats.

      Suggested rough numbers for the US:

      * 100 tubes each carrying two-way traffic,

      * tunnel lengths ranging from 200 to 3000 miles,

      * flatcars spaced 10 seconds apart in each direction when running at full capacity;

      * acceleration one-third g, possibly reduced substantially during the middle of the trip as needed to meet safety specs.

      So for a 1000-mile trip, assuming constant acceleration and matching deceleration, we would have from tunnel entrance to exit (not counting getting from the boarding location to the tunnel, which might be several miles) :

      * Time: 24 minutes

      * Mid-trip speed: 5,000 mph.

      (Hope I got that right, let me know if you catch a major error.)

      (So you’d be well aware of any curvature of the tunnel either laterally or vertically. In particular following the curvature of the Earth would decrease your weight while an arc sharper than that could render you weightless. The 10-second flatcar spacing would translate to a spacing of around 15 miles between consecutive flatcars at mid-trip.)

      These figures grow with the square root of the distance, so 250 miles would take 12 minutes at a maximum speed of 2,500 mph while 4000 miles would take 48 minutes with a maximum speed of 10,000 mph. (18,000 mph is needed for complete weightlessness if traveling parallel to the Earth’s surface.)

      These fast times and speeds won’t be achieved of course if the acceleration is not maintained throughout.

      InterVehicle Regenerative Braking (IVRB). The bulk of the momentum for the acceleration portion is acquired from the vehicles passing in the other direction, which are decelerating by the same amount. Momentum is transferred by massive spinning boost-brake discs on the median strip fluid-coupled to the passing flatcars to boost the accelerating lane while braking the deceleration lane. Additional roadside discs symmetrize momentum transfer to avoid flatcars acquiring any vertical angular momentum (yaw), and are coupled under or over the flatcars to the median-strip discs (the median-strip discs themselves are self-coupling as far as their ability to transfer momentum between the two lanes is concerned).

      Friction and other losses are made up with a motor on each disc to keep it running at the optimum speed for that position in the tunnel.

      Assuming a toll model, all users pay the same for the tunnel’s basic operating costs. In addition users of the more heavily traveled direction pay extra for costs attributable to unequal traffic in each direction (a weakness of IVRB), which may motivate coach class to find travel times where the directions are more balanced leaving business class (who have tighter schedules) to support the cost of any remaining imbalance.

      Flatcar support (wheels, wings, maglev, etc.) should vary as a function of speed, with some sort of high-speed-rail technology near the ends and airborne in the middle, facilitated by the high speed (the vacuum is only partial so wings work) and the reduced weight (though the mass won’t have changed, to sneak in a bit of physics there).

      Vertical heights of each tunnel along its trajectory to be negotiated by the communities through which it passes. Those tunnels that can route themselves to impact the fewest communities should experience the fewest objections. Possibilities vertically range from underground (very expensive to tunnel) to hundreds of feet in the air, with curvature most constrained near the middle of each tunnel.

      Benefits:

      1. Much faster than air travel: no wasted time driving out to and then parking at airports, checking in, getting through security, awaiting boarding, boarding, awaiting takeoff clearance, spending 5 hours to travel 3000 miles, then much of the same thing at the other end.

      2. No baggage carousels and lost baggage, which is effectively all carry-on, either in your back seat, or preferably confined to your trunk for safety and with you at all times. You put it in your trunk when you leave home and then forget about until you arrive at your final destination.

      3. IVRB + less air friction –> more efficient –> lower fuel costs –> cheaper transport.

      4. No dealing with rental agencies: you drive off at the destination in your own car.

      5. The boarding process can be either simple or elaborate. A big city might have several tunnels terminating in various points in or near the city, and a good number of boarding locations a few miles from the tunnel entrances and serving all of them. You drive to a boarding location and onto a flatcar, and from then on work on your laptop or watch the flatcar’s TV as though you were at a drive-in movie theater until it lets you out at your requested destination. In the meantime the flatcar traveled by rail or joined a flatcar train on a regular highway to get to the requested tunnel entrance, and did the reverse at the other end. For a city having multiple tunnels to different distant cities, each boarding location could serve all of those tunnels.

      6. No restrictions on cellphone use once on the flatcar. This beats both highway driving (cellphones forbidden the highway patrol) and plane travel (forbidden by the FAA).

      7. Lower security costs. The 10-second spacing makes tunnels less attractive as a terrorist target than a plane, or even one of today’s highways! If a portion of a tunnel is blown up or suffers earthquake damage, only a few flatcars in the immediate vicinity need be affected as the bulk of the traffic can be decelerated suitably, with only the nearest flatcars needing to decelerate at say 10G or higher — even 40G need not be fatal. Fewer flatcars would be involved in such an incident if there was no acceleration during the middle third of the trip, trading off safety for travel time, which could vary by tunnel according to what makes the most users of each tunnel happy. This would reduce today’s airport security to that of ordinary highways, or less given that there are no human drivers to hand out speeding tickets to. This would make skyscrapers, football stadiums, and even today’s conventional highways more attractive terrorist targets than the tunnel system.

      8. Quieter transport. Except for rail noise if maglev is not used at the ends, the system should be very quiet because what little energy is needed to operate it can come from electric motors, the fluid coupling should be no noisier than that of a car with automatic transmission, the partial vacuum will neither generate nor transmit much noise, etc. Since airplane engine noise is the primary reason for locating airports well out of town, tunnels could originate at more central locations in major cities, much as railroad stations have done for nearly two centuries, but with even less noise than trains.

      9. Safer than highway driving. If for the sake of an estimate we suppose about 10,000 people a year die on long interstate trips that they would have taken in the tunnel system had it been available, then for tunnels to be as dangerous, that many would have to die in them per year. Even at 10,000 mph, sufficiently few would die in a catastrophic tunnel failure that it would take a great many such catastrophes per year to arrive at 10,000 deaths per year. Properly managed, the tunnel system should be able to equal or better the airlines’ excellent safety record. And wildlife such as deer on highways would be better off too.

      10. Solves the mobile fuel problem for both cars and planes. For the latter, the 100-tunnel 10-second-spacing number for the US was chosen so as to approximately accommodate the bulk of current domestic air traffic while simultaneously dispensing with enough of its many disadvantages to make most travelers prefer tunnel travel.

      11. All electric so no pollution from the only practical mobile fuel today, carbon-based fuels. The power grid is another question, but mobile fuel is harder.

      12. No need to watch the fuel gauge while worrying about the distance to the next gas stop, just like on a plane. But each flatcar should have a toilet, just like on a plane.

      13. No need to elect a designated driver when returning to your home city from a big party. Each flat-car could have a mini-bar.

      14. Flexible scheduling of tunnel construction: build the easiest tunnels first, at relatively low cost compared to the whole system, to try out the idea.

      Just a thought. Peter Gleick seems not to like the idea of transporting pure clean fresh water by tunnel so his arguments against that might also apply to transporting impure unclean disgusting automobiles by tunnel. Or not, one would have to ask him.

      “Mommy, which interstate travel was worse? In the 19th century by stagecoach or the 20th century by planes and cars?”

    • Geezus. The roads must roll, eh?

    • Vaughan, This is an interesting idea. I wonder what the costs of construction would be.

    • I wonder what the costs of construction would be.

      Compared to what? ;)

    • To answer my own question, I would compare this to the construction, operating, and maintenance costs of both the interstate highway system and domestic air travel, at least for the parts serving the tunnel’s routes (I’m not proposing complete replacement of either, certainly not yet anyway).

      We should also add in the costs of 10-20 thousand US deaths per year on long-distance road trips at the approximately $10M per life value suggested by this article. Over a ten-year lifetime for such a project that alone accounts for a trillion dollars..

      There are two costs of the tunnel system to be considered: that of the 100 tunnels needed to make a worthwhile contribution, and that of the first two or three pilot tunnels to try out the idea. If the first is too large by an order of magnitude then there’s probably not much point in embarking on even one pilot tunnel. So let’s focus on the 100-tunnel project.

      Assuming 100 tunnels averaging 1000 miles each, that’s 100,000 miles. If it’s worth spending a trillion dollars to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, and another trillion over ten years to save a few American lives as indicated above, we ought to be prepared to spend two trillion dollars on making our lives as pleasant as we made the lives of those Iraqis miserable. (We were much better equipped to do that than the Baathist Party.)

      But there are also the various operating costs for both driving and flying. Fuel for domestic flights came to $31B this year, a trifling third of a trillion dollars over ten years, but I bet you could scrounge around and get that up to a trillion dollars with things like automobile fuel and airline security and all sorts of insurance costs.

      So assuming three trillion dollars for ten years, for the sake of argument, it boils down to whether we could build a mile of tunnel for $30 million.

      By way of perspective we can ask what a rural 4-line highway costs per mile. According to this site it’s $8 million, with the urban counterpart costing five times that. Since considerably more than 90% of the tunnel system is likely to work like rural highways, $10 million is a reasonable estimate for traditional mixed-urban-rural highways.

      So the question becomes, can a 2-lane tunnel of the kind I envisage be built for only three times the cost of a traditional 4-lane mixed-urban-rural highway? (Bear in mind that some of the cost of a tunnel will be in fighting its way out of the city, assuming the tunnel endpoints are located like main train stations rather than airports.)

      Good question. Wish I could answer it. Some of the commenters here are more qualified than I to estimate these sorts of things. (What would a mere logician know? :) )

      Note that you don’t have rubber pounding on road surfaces that are subjected to precipitation, freezing temperatures at night, direct sunlight by day, and all the other hazards of an open-air transport system. The operating elements of these tunnels are molly-coddled by comparison: thanks to the partial vacuum, they’re not even subjected to as much oxidation! Moreover we have no idea of the spacing or materials cost of the “massive disks” implementing IVRB, which could be ridiculously high or ridiculously low depending on wear, tolerances, etc. One would have to do a very careful engineering analysis to come up with even a ballpark estimate of whether 2 lanes of tunnels could be constructed as cheaply as 4 lanes of traditional mixed-urban-rural highways.

      And that’s still ignoring the other benefits I listed. What is the value of a transport system that doesn’t emit CO2? (Ignoring the CO2 created by the electric grid.) Or the value of the convenience of being able to get from point A to point B in a fraction of the current time when the points are 200-4000 miles apart, with much less hassle?

      What would Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Larry Ellison pay for that? Their net worth might not add up to anywhere near a trillion, but how about their companies and other companies like them?

      When you have a $15 trillion economy that hates to wait in security lines, pretty soon you’re talking about a lot of money.

      The world GDP for 2012 is estimated at $82 trillion.

      No reason why something that turns out to work for the US shouldn’t work for the rest of the world.

      If we start out by budgeting $60 million a mile for the first 200 mile prototype (since prototypes can’t hope to be built for the cost of the production model), that’s a $6 billion experiment. By looking at how far it got and what cost savings could have been had in retrospect, we would then have a better basis for deciding whether more prototypes are worth building.

      Rome was not built in a day, nor its famous roads.

    • I slept on the problem of how to make a tube cheaply that communities would not object to. In the morning it was obvious: several concentric mylar tubes all about 100 m in diameter, inflated from outermost to innermost to respectively 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 atmospheres of air, or even less—there might be enough rigidity even starting with 10% above atmospheric pressure rather than 100%. Furthermore this can be decreased as the external air pressure decreases with altitude. The rest inside the tubes is whatever partial vacuum suffices to allow the flatcars to travel at 5000 mph without breaking the sound barrier while still providing enough air to ride on using wings above and below the flatcar in the manner of a biplane,

      The pressure differentials are chosen to create enough tension to make the tube rigid, just like blowing up a balloon with air but with internal balloons to reduce the pressure in stages while maintaining rigidity.

      Each meter length of such a tube displaces 7500 cubic meters of air weighing over 9 tonnes at sea level and 5 tonnes at an altitude of 5 km (5.6 km is where the pressure is half an atmosphere). Assuming a typical flatcar spacing of a kilometer at 5 km up, that comes to 5000 tonnes of lifting power per flatcar and everything inside the tubes needed to transfer momentum between passing cars. Three km of tube could support a modern freight steamer.

      The only reason to maintain more than a km of spacing between flatcars is safety: no traffic pileups if anything breaks, and not a worthwhile terrorist target. Since 100 km of mylar tubes can easily be stretched 0.1%, even 100 m of tube is somehow destroyed, that segment including its belts (but not any flatcars!) can simply be disconnected and parachuted away. The gap is then closed up by pulling the remaining ends together, a repair job accomplished in essentially the time it takes the two ends to each travel the 50 m to the middle of the gap, which will involve the 50 km on each side of the gap making that 50 m trip in inverse proportion to their distance. (Air pressure makes closing the gap harder than it sounds, that’s a nice engineering problem.)

      While they’re closing the gap, the next few flatcars can simply fly through the gap, where air pressure will have jumped from partial vacuum to the half-atmosphere pressure at 5 km up, no doubt breaking the sound barrier in the process but hopefully not the flatcars or their passengers (who are facing the rear, remember) if they’re suitably streamlined for that eventuality (they have wings so they’ll have more than enough lift to traverse the gap without losing altitude and more than enough momentum to maintain 99% of their velocity while in the gap). Modulo getting the many details right, none of which currently seem insuperable to me, that’s even safer than I’d been thinking before, as well as less disruptive to traffic.

      To keep things light, rather than the massive disks I proposed for the momentum transfer, use lightweight belts that pass around regularly spaced pulleys. The cars hop from belt to belt, so no losses from the fluid coupling I was proposing before, and only longitudinal forces need be applied to the belts because these are AirBorne Cars, ABC. (Or AirBoatCars since 3 km of tube has the 15,000 ton displacement of a modern freight steamer but with air in place of ocean.)

      Since very little energy is needed to run such a system, one may as well run the same number of flatcars in each direction, regularly spaced for maximum efficiency and simplicity. Load is kept balanced by scheduling loads in order of time criticality, namely business class, coach, and cargo, with dummy loads when there’s no cargo for one of the directions, somewhat in the manner of an ordinary elevator but much more horizontal.

      The load balancing for the two directions means that gravity inside the tubes ceases to be an issue, just as it is for counterbalanced elevators, and the whole thing floats in air like a boat but a few miles up. Flashing lights should warn planes to stay away from the tube, while highway patrol can consist of a few fighter jets outside the tunnel tasked with reducing or eliminating terrorist attacks and warning off stray private planes, paid for from the tunnel system revenues. The tunnel has more than enough carrying capacity to support a lightweight narrow airstrip on top running the full length of the tunnel with emergency vehicles in the form of small planes that can land anywhere along the top of the tunnel to handle the emergency. Except at its endpoints the tunnel should never need to deviate more than 5 degrees from horizontal, and that only to climb to say 5 km in 50 km of length. Landing on the nonhorizontal portions should be done uphill, with takeoff after turning around as on the tiny Kegelsugl airstrip halfway up Mt Wilhelm in New Guinea.

      Gotta run, more later if I come up with anything.

    • Vaughan

      Brunel beat you to the idea of using Partly evacuated tubes 150 years ago.with his Great Western Railway
      http://www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/_events/atmospheric_railway.php

      This ran for several years on the railway my house overlooks, here on the South Coast of England.

      Unfortunately the rats ate the leather pipes causing it to be abandoned but apparently it was a highly efficient means of transport for the short trime it ran. The sea wall he bult for it shows no sign of sea level rise in the intervening 150 years :)
      tonyb

    • Thanks, tonyb. Glad to hear Brunel did it 150 years ago and not 5 years ago or he might have been owed royalties (not that such a system couldn’t easily bear that cost). Anyway that was for cars on rails, not wings — that was decades before the Wright brothers.

      Meanwhile it occurs to me to replace all but the outermost of the mylar skins I was proposing above with 10 cm or so of structural foam, just porous enough to maintain a pressure gradient going from say 20% above the external air pressure at the mylar smoothly down to the partial vacuum on the inside of the foam tube, with just enough leakage on the inside to maintain the gradient (with a perfect inner seal the pressure would very slowly equalize across the foam and create a pressure step at the inner seal).

      There are then no steep pressure gradients anywhere except between the outer mylar skin and the atmosphere, hence no buckling forces strong enough to overcome the intrinsic rigidity of the foam other than at the outside, where that pressure discontinuity operates the same way as for a party balloon.

      All air, no helium or dangerous hydrogen, which would only add at most a percent or so to the overall buoyancy, most of which derives from the partial vacuum inside. The pressure needs to be quite low in order not to break the sound barrier at 5000 mph, but still high enough to provide aerodynamic lift at that speed.

      This choice of materials and location for the tube would seem to overcome most of the obstacles such as construction cost and community objections, in much the same way as planes do but without the hazards of their pollutants (noise and exhaust). It’s kind of a blend of road (private vehicles), rail (carried by flatcars), air (with wings), and sea (in a tube floating in an ocean of air.

      Storms would present a hazard, at least for the portion near the ends below say 3 km — higher up is smoother.

    • (My 2nd response to tonyb’s link to the 150-year-old Brunel tunnel is here. (This subthread is getting a bit too long to keep track of.)

  48. While waiting for unicorn intestinal gases to power the US economy, President Obama halts the Keysone XL pipeline.

    In the print edition of this NY Times article is a wonderful map showing the thousands of miles of pipelines which cross above the Ogallala aquifer in multiple states, and the proposed route of Keystone XL, which cuts across a Nebraska corner of the Ogallala. Yet writer/activist Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in the first sentence about the proposed route crossing the “pristine acquifer.” The NYT loves whatever Obama does.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/sunday-review/drawing-the-line-at-power-lines.html?_r=2&hpw

  49. OT, but I have heard a rumor that today is Judy’s birthday. If this is true, then I would like to wish our brave and intrepid hostess, the happiest of birthdays!

  50. From the article in Judith’s post:
    “Over the past decade, more than 50 countries, including the U.S., have been scurrying to implement policies to integrate biofuels into the transportation infrastructure in the face of a number of pressing needs—national energy security, a sustainable agricultural sector, job creation in the rural economy, and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to curtail climate change. Producing fuel crops that would meet a country’s domestic fuel needs, revitalize rural economies, and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions appeared to be a one-size-fits-all solution.”

    And that list illustrates why the whole thing is such a shambles. The first rule of making sound policy is that no single policy can deliver multiple objectives – and if you try, it generally ends up delivering nothing, or even having negative effects.

    Politicians are suckers for this kind of sales spiel, but scientists especially ought to know that there are no magic bullets for complex problems.

    To run through the above objectives, ‘national energy security’ would best be served by utilising domestic energy reserves plus expanding nuclear capability. This has nothing to do with ‘a sustainable agricultural sector’ though – and I’m not even sure what that term means. ‘Job creation in the agricultural sector’ runs counter to the economic efficiencies that deliver cheaper and more available food. The ‘reduction of carbon dioxide emissions’ has been elusive in the production of biofuels. Biofuels have also conflicted with other environmental objectives such as reducing the amount of land required for crop production and the preservation of natural vegetation and animal habitats.

    All policies have costs as well as benefits, and policy objectives often conflict. That means the objectives have to be prioritised, and undesirable effects may have to be mitigated by other means. Biofuels is a classic example of how a ‘silver bullet’ can become a dum dum which leaves behind an awful mess.

  51. Scientific American – January 2012

    Advances Section, Page 22

    Interview with J. Craig Venter
    CEO, Synthetic Genomics

    “Pond Scum to the Rescue”

    “The man who first sequenced the human genome and designed the first synthetic cell explains why simple algae — and some genetic engineering— may hold the key to our future.”

    I’ve been following Venter for years and have agreed with him all along that genetically engineered organisms are the key to the future. Actually I’ve believed that since 1987 when I read the book “Engines of Creation” by K. Eric Drexler published the year before. The roadmap, milestones, and timeframes laid out in Engines has come to pass almost perfectly as predicted. It started out predicting that hypertext and a global network would transform the way we store, correlate, and access information. It said this was a necessary pre-condition for synthetic biology because there was far too much information in too many disparate fields for the current system to handle it all.

    Mark my words. Before two more decades have passed governments will be restricting how much CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere rather than how much can be emitted. In the coming era of synthetic biology atmospheric carbon is the construction material of choice for a zillion different things (including fuels) that can be manufactured by genetically modified organisms under programmed control. Synthetic fuels that are drop-in replacements for fossil fuels isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

    • David, Amen!! I too have been following Venter. You are absolutely right. CO2 is a vital chemical for our wellbeing, and what we have to learn how to do, is to recycle it. And the most promising way to do this is some form of genertically modified organism.

    • Heh, the guilt, and the taxes, are backward.
      ================

    • David Springer

      Kim,

      Yup.

    • Tinder & spark for revolt. Red pepper & dynamite. No wonder the world is rocking on its foundations.
      ============

    • David,

      I’m also a fan. Drexler has a new book out this year – ‘Radical Abundance’, about new technologies and ‘changing the conversation about the future’.

    • Before two more decades have passed governments will be restricting how much CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere rather than how much can be emitted.

      Huh? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve read on this thread except for the troll that posted here. We only know how to add CO2, we have no idea whatsoever how to remove it. Why would any government tell us not to do something we obviously can’t do?

    • David Springer

      Ignorant people don’t know smart from stupid. Try to follow along. Once we can engineer synthetic organisms to build stuff for us the construction material of choice is carbon and the source of it is air. You ever seen anything built out of wood, Vaughn? The wood is primarily carbon and the tree pulled that carbon out of the air. You can build zillions of things out of carbon compounds. Carbon is amazingly flexible. Air is a universally available source of carbon but it isn’t infinite. We don’t have anywhere near too much of it now and in the near future we’ll be pulling it back out to build durable goods.

    • CH, the cost of carbon capture from the atmosphere has been studied since the 1970s, and has been found to be intrinsically high. The entrepreneurs cited in your article, starting with Lackner, who are trying to part naive venture capitalists from their money by pitching their carbon capture methods, conveniently don’t mention this little fact, and merely claim that carbon capture is easy, with the tacit assumption that it can be made economical.

      Well, if you don’t mind paying several hundred dollars to extract a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere then yes, it’s easy, in the sense that it’s a problem you can solve by throwing enough money at it.

      The problem with the business models of these entrepreneurs is that they’re proposing to make their money by selling the CO2 they capture. This would make sense if CO2 was fetching more on the market than it costs to extract it. Currently it fetches around 1% of that cost, since there are far cheaper ways of producing CO2.

      Fort Knox contains 1.28 x 10^31 atoms of gold. Picture them spread uniformly through the atmosphere and estimate what they’re worth reassembled as gold ingots, net of capture cost. Is your estimate positive or negative? (Think: would gold prospecting pay off if Nature had not already concentrated some of the gold in very localized regions of the planet?)

      Now consider Lackner’s problem, which substitutes carbon for gold. The atmosphere contains 1.53 x 10^41 atoms of carbon, which actually are spread uniformly through the atmosphere. Estimate what they’re worth reassembled as lumps of coal, net of capture cost.

      Logically the pitch of these entrepreneurs should be more convincing to a venture capitalist if the end product were gold ingots instead of lumps of coal. The reason it isn’t is because venture capitalists have more experience with the costs of assembling gold ingots from atoms of gold than they do with assembling lumps of coal (or less valuable cylinders of CO2 for that matter) from atoms of carbon. Were they to transfer their centuries of experience with gold prospectors to these carbon prospectors the scales would fall from their eyes.

      A fundamental obstacle with every method proposed to date is that the cost of materials to implement it so dwarfs the value of ten years of CO2 production by that method as to make any venture based on that method an economic disaster.

      More success can be had with CO2 scrubbers at the source, at least for stationary if not mobile power plants. But David Springer’s idea of the government telling CO2 cleaners of that kind to stop between now and 2032 ignores the numbers. Fifty years from now, maybe, but twenty, most definitely not.

    • Ignorant people don’t know smart from stupid.

      What a coincidence, David. The very thought I had when I read your comment. :)

      You ever seen anything built out of wood, Vaughn?

      You ever seen a business plan, Davd? :)

      Carbon is amazingly flexible. Air is a universally available source of carbon but it isn’t infinite. We don’t have anywhere near too much of it now and in the near future we’ll be pulling it back out to build durable goods.

      Having some experience myself with business plans for carbon capture, I’ll be happy to review yours. Remember to include the cost of goods sold for your process equipment, product lifetime, rate of CO2 captured, purity, and estimated market value at that purity. You can skip your competition and barriers to entry.

    • Markus Fitzhenry

      Wrong Vaughan,
      Remember to include the cost of goods sold for your process equipment, product lifetime, rate of CO2 captured, purity, and estimated market value at that purity’

      Process equipment is a capital expense and depreciated over it’s quantitative life.

      Depreciation is a financial expense not a GOGS. How many of your CC projects were launched?.

    • Vaughan, trying to remove CO2 from the atmosphere must be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. Even if we menage to remove some CO2 (ignoring the stupidity), what will stop the oceans (and other reservoirs) from outgassing to try to restore the equilibrium? From the seasonal CO2 cycle we know that the response is very fast.

    • purveyor of the monstrously obvious

      well duh – you said it couldn’t be done – you didn’t ask how much it costs – you’re asking me to be practical now – Vaughan old biddy – I’ll put it to you straight – let the market decide and caveat emptor.

  52. I have been a lurker here for quite a while. Although a bit OT I’ll put it out there anyway:I just ran across this at WUWT.
    “Today is Dr. Judith Curry’s birthday, (she’s 39, according to GISS adjusted data)”. Happy Birthday Doc, and thanks for all the time you put in here. I learn something every time I visit here.

  53. I’m not an environmental alarmist but I’m objective and what I’ve read about horizontal fracking gives me pause. Predicting undergroung crack propagation is an art not a science. There will inevitably be cracks that go too far and connect underground gas reservoirs with underground aquifers. There also tend to be a great many undocumented, abandoned holes in the ground from either fossil fuel exploration or water wells. These are especially frequent where shale gas is found because that’s also prime territory for finding oil. These are ready-made connectors between shale gas and aquifers.

    There is a fresh water crisis already brewing in the U.S. and we really can’t afford to be polluting any aquifers. We’ll be running out of fresh water for agriculture and sanitation before running out of fossil fuel. We’ll probably be running out of phosporus for fertilizers before either of those but I digress. The moral of the story is don’t count on shale gas to be the hero. Coal maybe but not shale gas IMO.

    • “Predicting undergroung (sic) crack propagation is an art not a science.”

      Actually, fracture propagation is very much science; theory, lab work and field evaluations all say that fractures propagate horizontally, and not thousands of feet vertically which would be required to reach aquifers.
      Ask Jennifer Miskimins, PhD in Petroleum Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

      http://www.postindependent.com/article/20091207/VALLEYNEWS/912079998/1083&ParentProfile=1074

    • David Springer

      Mistakes are made. It’s inevitable. It occasionally happens with conventional vertical well fercrisakes. I suggest you seek a second opinion from a doctor without a vested interest in the industry.

    • David Springer

      http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/02/18/fracking-could-work-if-industry-would-come-clean/

      Studies I’ve read mention not only rogue vertical fractures and unknown abandoned well holes but say an even larger problem is flaws in the well casing. Every shale well, because they are so deep, passes through aquifer layers. The vertical sections have a known rate of failure and there well be a great deal more of these and they must resist more and more hazardous chemicals on the way down and the way back up. There are even problems with spillage and seepage in above-ground holding/disposal areas for the fracking chemicals.

      So maybe I shouldn’t have prediction of frack crack propagation an art. It’s a science but it’s far from a perfect science and like they say there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. And I didn’t say it was going to fail I said don’t count on it riding in like a white knight to save the day.

    • “Actually, fracture propagation is very much science; ”

      The oil industry players have always been cherry pickers on telling society what they do and do not know. I can buy that they can technically do whatever needs to be done to extract something in a cost-effective and probably low-risk fashion.

      But when it comes to actually admitting to the overall scarcity of these resources, we all know that they do not want to disclose that information They obviously have a good scientific understanding based on all the seismic processing they have done over the years; yet since the oil industry is largely private companies or nationalized kingdoms they don’t have to divulge much. FOIA doesn’t apply.

      So on the one hand, they have good science when it comes to technology, but they substitute FUD when it comes to helping to advance scientific policy. I have yet to find a case of any oil industry sponsorship of a scientific document describing in detail an accounting of potential fossil fuel reserves. This task has been left to academics and a few retired industry types.
      This is a perfect example of a sin of omission.

    • david, as a pennsylvanian it appears the greater problem is the old wells and the simple proliferation of so many new wells in close proximity. the actual fracking takes place in strata many thousands of feet below the aquifers, with many diverse strata in between, it’s hard to think crack propagation will be a big problem. serious problems with fracking as opposed to conventional drilling of which I am aware are a Wyoming (?) case with a tight sand formation much closer to the surface, and an Arkansas (?) case with induced seismicity.

  54. Some back of the envelop numbers.

    The USA generated 2,133 TWh per year of electricity from coal last year and 838 from 104 nuclear power stations.

    Approximately 1,000 million tons of coal per year is burnt in US power stations.

    Replacing base load of coal power would require; 1.991 trillion kilowatt-hours per year,

    The Westinghouse AP1000 has a guaranteed output of 1000 MWe (actual power output 1100 MWe).

    Replacing all coal fired plants in the US with AP1000’s requires 220 plants at 85% active.

    Easy peasy.

    The only problem is that the US uses 370 million gallons of gasoline per day.

    Gasoline has about twice the energy content of coal; 24 and 48 MJ/Kg respectively

    As fresh water is used for important stuff, only sea water is a viable resource.

    Distillation needs 10 kWh of energy per cubic metre of seawater processed or ton of water.

    39 kWh of electricity and 8.9 liters of fresh water are required to produce 1 kg of hydrogen at 25°C and 1 atmosphere pressure. So one ton of sea water can produce 112 kg of hydrogen at a cost of 4,400 kWh.

    The carbon content of coal presently burnt in power stations is about 70%.

    Gasoline has a C:H ratio of 4:9 and a mass ratio of 48:9.

    One ton of coal and 0.15 tons of hydrogen give 0.85 tons of liquid hydrocarbon or about 300 gallons of gasoline.

    So for 150 kg of hydrogen we need 4,700 kWh for electrolysis and 15 kWh for desalination. Coal to liquids was an energy cost of the Bergius process is about 10 kWh per ton.

    So 1 ton of coal + 1.5 tons sea water + 5 MWh gives 300 gallons of liquid fuel

    One 1000 MWh reactor can generate 60,000 gallons of liquid fuel per day from 166 tons of coal and 250 tons of water.

    As the US uses 370 million gallons of gasoline per day (about 800,000 tons).

    To supply all the gasoline in the USA requires 1.2 million tons of coal and 2 million tons of seawater.

    It would require 6,200 1,000 MWh nuclear power stations.

    https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/mragheb/www/NPRE%20402%20ME%20405%20Nuclear%20Power%20Engineering/Restarting%20the%20USA%20Stalled%20Nuclear%20Renaissance.pdf

  55. Energy policy is a “national” and not a “global” policy issue. I don’t know what percentage of the readers at this site are from the US, but I approach this issue from a US perspective.

    US policy on energy, unfortunately has not been oriented with US interests in mind as the primary long term objective.

    The US is very fortunate as compared to China (and most other large economies) in that we do have local sources of supply that will allow us to be energy independent if we elect to develop those sources. The actual debate, (which many choose to pretend to ignore) is whether the development of the US’s domestic energy resources today are in the long term best interests of the country or not.

    The current president (who I voted for last time) has decided to side with those that believe the use of fossil fuels is a net long term harm and has discouraged the development of domestic resources. This has been largely without overtly publicizing that the reasons for the refusal. It is very bad US policy economically.

    The US should develop the capability to be energy independent at will. These resources should be developed in as environmentally “clean” a manner as reasonably possible, but they should be developed. The demand for fossil fuels will continue to increase worldwide because the alternative sources simply are not as efficient today. That will change over time, but not in the near term. It is probably several decades away.

    Newt says much about energy policy that is nonsense, but he is correct that we should develop a much greater domestic production capability. That would create many jobs in the short term and would provide for greater national security over the longer term. The very long term risk of potential harmful climate change should be at most a secondary consideration.

    Happy birthday Judith!

    • “The current president (who I voted for last time) has decided to side with those that believe the use of fossil fuels is a net long term harm and has discouraged the development of domestic resources. This has been largely without overtly publicizing that the reasons for the refusal. It is very bad US policy economically.”

      Are you really that naive? The president is not going to straightforwardly say that the conventional crude oil reservoirs are a thing of the past. That is not in his best interests politically because it will have direct impact on everyone that hasn’t had their bubble burst yet. And it will only serve to fortify and cement the positions those that want to maintain BAU. The “energy independence” argument is a wishy-washy compromise to keep the citizenry in a state of hazy optimism.

      “Newt says much about energy policy that is nonsense, but he is correct that we should develop a much greater domestic production capability. “

      Yes, and Santorum thinks we can continue to pillage the environment, because that’s what his dominionist theology demands (I don’t pretend to understand that armegeddon junk, but apparently lots of people believe in it).

      Isn’t this a great political topic? Either politicians want to evade serious discussion, or they are stark, raving mad.

    • Web I disagree with your conclusions and I wish US politicians would better communicate a clear message on the issue of climate change.

      The UN and you are promoting scientifically weak conclusions to push an agenda that is not in the US’s best interests to follow.

      The US “needs” to be self sufficient in its supply of energy and we can be by 2020 if we work on the issue.

      The US uses 20 B barrels of oil per day

      The US produces 7 million barrels of oil per day

      The US used to produce 10 million per day

      The US should raise production back to 10 million per day

      The US should turn natural gas to methanol to make up about an additional 5 million per day and can make up the rest from Canada and Mexico and with additional efficiency (natural technology improvements)

      We should not follow a “green agenda” that leads the US to economic ruin.

      We can take care of the environment and our national interests.

    • I could care less what you think the USA should do. The objective of this blog and what I have blogged on wrt oil, is to reduce uncertainty in estimates of future climate, and in my case, oil availability.

      What you wrote concerned knowledge of the current situation, and that knowledge is severely lacking within the populace. You said I presented “scientifically weak conclusions”, yet you probably can’t back that up, because like all the climate skeptics, you dont have an alternative model.

    • Web

      Since this post is about energy policy, and I offered specific recommendations regarding energy policy that Imo make sense for the US. Many people, apparently like yourself fear uncertainty in regards to the climate that is tied to the release of CO2. That has lead to energy policies that threaten the economic national security of the US.

      If you disagree with my recommendations please state why you believe they are economically unsound.

    • We should not follow a “green agenda” that leads the US to economic ruin.

      Boy, if I read that in a scientific journal, Rob, I’d say the author was using loaded language to promote policy. I’d then want to know the numbers that showed that “green agenda” (whatever that loaded term means) costs so much more than what it would cost the US to add 3 million barrels/day to its current production as to lead to “economic ruin.”

      Your “economic ruin” line is the “if you don’t vote for me I’ll hunt you down and kill you” argument. Not unlike the argument “If you accept that quasicrystals are real you will destroy chemistry as we know it.” that nearly destroyed Dan Shechtman’s career. And so on.

      You’re no scientist, Rob. Not only do scientists not talk that way, they don’t even think that way.

    • Rob, The knee-jerk reaction that I am a “green” is annoying.
      Listen buddy, I go through all the math because I can’t stand the wild-assed agreements and head-nodding that the run-of-the-mill environmentalists participate in. I want to check for myself what the numbers say. And this is not your typical 1+1 arithmetic that the garden-variety skeptics pride themselves in, either. This is full-on probability distributions, with convolutions, uncertainty propagation, etc.

      The self-proclaimed engineers on this commenting blog, like yourself, Rob, and randomengineer, P.E., Latimer, and Chief are totally nauseating. Scientific poseurs are so easy to pick out, and Vaughan called you on it, ha ha.

      Shechtman dealt with Pauling by sticking to the science and depending on key support from colleagues like Cahn to perservere. Like Pauling, you guys are impediments to progress, annoying detritus that occasionally has to be flicked off.

    • Vaughan
      It is interesting that you believe yourself capable to determine how ALL “scientists” talk or think. In retrospect, don’t you have to acknowledge that was a spurious claim? BTW, I claim to be an engineer and economist who wrote a comment on a post about “energy policy”. My comment was appropriate for that discussion.
      When I read about the UN’s “Agenda 21” that was adopted in 1992 that identified a goal to:
      “Cooperate in research to develop methodologies and identify threshold levels of atmospheric pollutants, as well as atmospheric levels of greenhouse gas concentrations, that would cause dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system and the environment as a whole, and the associated rates of change that would not allow ecosystems to adapt naturally;”
      This was in 1992, BEFORE there was data to suggest that there was a concern about human released GHG’s posing a risk to the climate. Imo- that was the beginning of the establishment of a political agenda or set of goals that has inhibited the US from being energy independent.

      As to the US being taken down a path toward economic ruin. While I agree that fossil fuels are a finite resource, I do not agree with Web over the timing of depletion or that “peak oil” is particularly important. Imo, it is “peak fossil fuel” that is critical.
      The failure of the US to reach energy independence is in a large part a byproduct of a portion of the population wishing to enact the Agenda 21 and fearing the release of CO2 and to the maintaining of the environment to the detriment of the US being energy independent. Much of the robustness of the US economy is based upon the concept of low cost energy. The current rate of rise of energy costs leads to higher than desired unemployment levels which leads to lower revenues, which leads to huge budget deficits which leads to an overvalued currency, which leads to an ultimate massive devaluation of American currency or “economic ruin”.
      I actually do agree with Web that the US needs to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as reasonably possible. I do not think the issue is properly tied to cAGW and do think there are adequate fossil fuels for many decades. The question is whether those resources are exploited as soon as possible and thereby avoiding a dire economic situation, or not.

    • @web hub telescope

    • @web hub telescope

      ‘And this is not your typical 1+1 arithmetic that the garden-variety skeptics pride themselves in, either. This is full-on probability distributions, with convolutions, uncertainty propagation, etc’

      Hey folks. Ain’t that cute! Little Webbie’s managed to finally overcome his painful natural shyness and innate modesty to tell us that he’s been doing Really Difficult Sums.

      If he carries on like this, in a few years time perhaps he’ll be as successful as his role model..Uncle Peter Gleick.

    • Web
      So now you are also an expert on what and why the president is going to talk about? LOL

      You write- . “The “energy independence” argument is a wishy-washy compromise to keep the citizenry in a state of hazy optimism.”

      Web- you are simply WRONG, as you have been on much regarding the topic of energy. You focus on peak oil, when peak fossil fuel is what matters. Focusing on energy independence is in the US national interest and is something that will be important for the next 100 years.
      Why do you believe it is a bad idea? Please try to respond with something coherent. Achieving energy independence does NOT preclude the development of alternative forms of energy in parallel. But it is a sound national economic policy for the US to implement today.
      When you write things like : “pillage the environment, because that’s what his dominionist theology demands” what are you writing as? That is not science based, economics based or even rational.

    • Chief Hyrologist

      Nobody gives a rat’s arse. You say it’s not fair that suddenly it is not peak oil anymore but peak fuels? It was always that but you are an obsessive loser who just keeps making the most idiotic of assumption that lead to the most stupid of results. For instance – ‘rainfall variability solved’ – what you have is a probability distribution at a location that is wrong in the area of most interest being extreme events. Of course there are all the other locations as well – going to do pdf’s of all of them? It has been done – but this still does allow prediction at all. All of your other calcs. – slopes, wind, oil wells, etc. – have about the same level of accuracy and non interest. You are a hopeless loser who has wasted years on repeating the same useless procedure time and time again. It is just so absurd – and then you top it off with a line of flaming trollery that simply shows your ignorance and misplaced arrogance. You are an idiot.

    • This is great news. They can’t find anything wrong with the math so I am a happy camper.

      Chief especially, I work on one of his disciplines, working to improve on the research of Dr.K from Greece, and he comes up with goose eggs. Thanks for that because I now understand how Dr.K is approaching the problem and it does seem to coincide with my thinking. It’s cool stuff.

    • Chief Hyrologist

      Webby – there is no such thing as peak energy. This was obvious 15 years ago when I looked at it. I didn’t need to waste my life writing a 700 book about it because it is a non-problem. No one cares about your book and no one is going to read it because you are an obnoxious and delusional troll with negative net credibility. You focus obsessively on one aspect of a problem with no comprehension of a picture that is essentially an operations research question – optimisation of human welfare through maximisation of multiple and sometimes competing objectives.

      Your contributions are utterly worthless and even if true in some detail – no one cares because you are such an obnoxious troll. Usually, however, your solutions are laughably naive. You are awesomely clueless – such vast mistakenness is a wonder of the modern age.

      You are a lunatic. I don’t know about Greece but I keep telling you that stochastic analysis is standard practice in both Australian and US hydrology. Dr K at least has a long tail for extreme events. What you have is a delusion. The only reason to assume stochasticity – it doesn’t actually happen in real life as everything in the real world as opposed to your alternate universe is deterministic – is to anlayse for extremes. But unless you actually understand something about the processes at play – it is very misleading. Who knows maybe they don’t have regimes in Greece – but it is certainly the case that ENSO and the PDO influence rainfall in America, Australia, Indonesia, China and Africa. In fact I think it might be crazy wrong – I seem to have recollection of something about Crete, ENSO and the slow decline of the Minoan civilisation – http://www.clim-past.net/6/525/2010/cp-6-525-2010.html – but then civilisation is not in your vocabulary aye?

      Dr K says it is not predictable because of stochastic variability and fits a particular stochastic model to prove it. You fit an absurd curve to data from a graph at a point and say that you have solved rainfall variability? The former might be considered politely because it might be a useful method – but it still – as with all the stochastic exercises in hydrology – doesn’t give any idea of the underlying physical processes and is profoundly lacking in predictive capability. The latter (yours) is just laughable.

      You think you can do better than me in my field after 30 years of study. I can look at sea level pressure at the poles and predict winter storms, I can look at sea surface temperature in the Indian Ocean and predict seasonal rainfall in Australia and Africa, I can look at sea level pressures in the Pacific and predict seasonal to decadal influences in rainfall over much of the world. What can you do? Absolutely nothing at all because you understand nothing at all – you apply a method to data that you don’t understand. It is about as dumb as a computer. You are a lard arse know nothing loser.

      Robert I Ellison
      Chief Hydrologist

    • Good thing you are worried about future energy supplies, which makes you a peak oiler!

    • Chief, thanks for the vote of confidence. To generate that much enthusiasm must mean something.

    • Chief Hydrologist

      Webby,

      Your comprehension skills are pretty ordinary. Energy is something best left to the market without government input.

      So no – I am not worried at all.

      Cheers

    • Rob, If you disagree with my oil production predictions, please state them, as you called them “scientifically weak”. You can find a prediction on the Peak Oil Wikipedia page under the scenarios graph as the Oil Shock Model.

      This is where policy starts, because it is all about planning for the future in the ongoing scenario of flat crude oil production.

    • Web

      It is not peak oil that is important, it is peak fossil fuel. That is why we are not yet in an emergency. That does not mean the issue should be ignored, but it also does not mean that inefficient alternatives should be put into use.

    • Smart thinking there bub, marginalizing the most amazingly concentrated and practical form of energy that mankind has ever harnessesd, just so you do not have to admit that the peak oil theorists were right.

      They called it peak oil for a reason.

    • Yes– the reason they called it peak oil vs. peak fossil fuel is simple–it was a flaw in their reasoning. It is peak fossil fuel that matters

    • OK, Then go look up Peak Coal for Pennsylvania and Peak Coal for England.

      For anthracite coal in Penn, the classic curve
      http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/c1147/fig3b.gif

      And for England, from the public data sources
      http://www.fromthewilderness.com/images/052504_coal_peak_figure3.jpg

      Then what you do is go look up what prof David Rutledge from CalTech is doing with his own sideline research into coal production.

      Are you seriously trying to argue that coal does not deplete, and that is why you want to call it peak fossil fuels?

    • Web

      How about actually responding with a relevant point that has something to do
      with what I have written?

      I wrote that the US should seek energy independence.

      You made a ridiculous statement about my being naïve and then when on to criticize Santorum (whom I do not support for other reasons) but you failed to actually address anything that I wrote with anything meaningful in response.

      Now you write about coal. That is another portion of total fossil fuel availability and it needs to be considered in that manner. It is total fossil fuel reserves that matter and not a single element of the total. Is that too difficult for you to grasp?

      How about you address the reasoning you have to write that energy independence for the US is a wishy washy compromise vs. my opinion that should be a priority for policy makers? Can you do that?

    • Ringo, This is like water off a duck’s back to me. You want peak fossil fuel so I give you examples of peak coal. I assume you will want peak peat moss next?

      Oops I mentioned Santorum cuz someone mentioned Gingrich. Pardon me for exposing a guy who has no chance of winning in response to another guy who has no chance of winning.

      You really have no idea of what you want from me anymore other than my take on energy independence. I study the statistics of the environment because our environment is the only place we can extract energy from, yet there is enough uncertainty to make it a challenging topic. As I also wrote a book on this topic, if you want to get my take, you might want to read it. The book is split into two parts. The first part is on characterizing the decline of fossil fuel reserves, and the second half is about characterizing what other options that our environment can give us. The running theme is that we are forever fighting entropy and the characterization of the disorder in our environment is critical in gaining any leverage. This is the take of someone that has always looked in awe at what the environment provides but is not willing to give up and suggest suggest instead that we can make some sense out of it. It’s over 700 pages, split half and half, so if you want to get reading, go ahead. I am not going to duplicate all that using this android.

    • Web

      I tried to have a reasonable exchange with you, but you fail to respond to the topic of discussion and then respond to calling me Ringo. Are you a child or just a fool?

      I suppose I simply made an error by assuming there was some substance behind your views and that there might be something to be gained by an exchange with you.

      I have consistently said you are wrong in framing the issue as peak oil as opposed to correctly framing the issue as peak fossil fuel. You on the other hand 1st write about oil, then coal, but seem unable to comprehend that the issue is the total potential supply of fossil fuel vs. the total long term demand. There is NOT an imminent shortage of total fossil fuels on the horizon, but one that will have to be addressed over the long term.

      I offered a very specific suggestion to the subject of the thread- energy policy. You on the other hand made a nonsense reply with zero substance as to why you believe energy independence is not important from a US perspective.

    • Chief Hyrologist

      You don’t really get anything do you? You filter everything through yur ego. It is just mazing to watch. For instance – Dr K says that rainfall is unpredictable – i.e. there is no probable maximum precipitation – because it is all stachastically variable and it fits a specific function. You use a probability distribution that you decide is a better fit and declare that everything is solved fot all time notwithstanding that the erstwhile fat head(tail – I always get these 2 mixed up) has disapeared.

      Stochastic analysis is the first topic in hydrology 101 – we then move on. You are such a f…ing w…ker.

    • Your scientifically weak conclusion is that peak oil is a critical issue when peak fossil fuel is the critical issue. Your green agenda is being against the development of domestic US fossil fuel resources.

      Read your book, you have got to be kidding. Based on what I have read from you at this site, it is difficult to find a reason to even read your blog comments.

      I have consistently said you are wrong in framing the issue as peak oil as opposed to correctly framing the issue as peak fossil fuel. You on the other hand 1st write about oil, then coal, but seem unable to comprehend that the issue is the total potential supply of fossil fuel vs. the total long term demand. There is NOT an imminent shortage of total fossil fuels on the horizon, but one that will have to be addressed over the long term.

      I offered a very specific suggestion to the subject of the thread- energy policy. You on the other hand made a nonsense reply with zero substance as to why you believe energy independence is not important from a US perspective.

      BTW- Gingrich had been mentioned in earlier comments by someone else who had advocated his positions. I specifically mentioned what policy of his I believe makes sense and why. I pointed out details for a suggested US policy. Try pointing out where you disagree with the specifics of that suggested action plan and why.

      When you can do that it might be worth reading what you have written.

    • To Ringo and the Dingo:
      That’s what makes me different from you guys.
      I will actually look at what Dr.K has done and try to improve on it.
      I actually take a stab at a comprehensive oil depletion and energy analysis and try to make sense out of it with specialized math.
      I would only take offense and shrink like a violet if you actually found something wrong with the deeper analysis. That’s how open access research is done, you sink or swim based on the technical content.

      FWIW, and as if it really matters, I summed up my energy policy on the first day of the thread:

      http://judithcurry.com/2012/02/25/energy-policy-discussion-thread/#comment-176613
      So for risk mitigation, the USA will have to look for other sources of energy than fossil fuels, such as nuclear and renewables.

    • the dingo meets a drongo and eats his homework

      What you did was be a little troll reiterating an absurd claim that you had solved rainfall variability. That is a bit astonishingly egotistic that you could spend 5 minutes on stuff that people spend lifetimes on – but let look at it rationally. So what you did was take a graphed probability distribution of rainfall at a point source – and fit a curve to it. Right – stunning breakthrough. People have been fitting curves to probability distributions of rainfall for many decades. Do you have any point that is at all – well – anything really to suggest that you have solved rainfall variability?
      I suggest you haven’t understood Koutsoyiannis – and I believe he did as well. You have perhaps gone half a step – if you recall? Koutsoyiannis seems to be exploring ideas of ideas of determinism at one scale or stochasticity at another. It takes me sometimes weeks or months to understand a paper – but I am working through a random walk on water. The thesis emerges from the toy model of infiltration – which seems to be an amusing little system with deterministically chaotic properties – much as the reference to Poincaré’s three body problem suggests. So we have a system that is diverging as a result of poorly resolved initial conditions – where determinism is the better approach in the short term and probability better in a longer term. Much as weather is predicted deterministically and climate assumed to be a long term statistical property.

      I don’t believe this is necessarily a physical reality as much as a pragmatic one. I believe – down to but not including the quantum level – in Laplace’s demon.

      ‘We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.’
      —Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities

      The Koutsoyiannis method is a probabilistic approach to a system with known but uncertain deterministic dynamics.

      You on the other hand dredged up your curve fitting and call it an improvement without having a clue about anything. The oil schlock is the same thing. Something that is known dressed up as something else profound in 700 pages of text that no one wants to read. You are a tragic obsessive and I vacillate between being profoundly annoyed at your silly delusions and arrogance and thinking that you are autistic and I should be kinder.

      Robert I Ellison
      Chief Hydrologist

    • Rob Starkey

      I was intrigued to see you use the phrase ‘peak fossil fuel.’

      What sources of energy would you define as being in that group and are there any further ones likely to be added in the forseeable future?
      tonyb

    • Tony B

      I think you know what composes fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas, coal, tar sands, etc.

      I do not foresee it as likely that new sources (defined here as a previously unknown type of fossil fuel) will be discovered, but it seems very likely that additional sources of current fuels will be discovered.

    • Chief is having problems accepting applications of statistical mechanics and in its essential building blocks of Boltzmann/Gibbs and maximum entropy.

      I made an argument based on observations and intuition that rainfall buildup is a potential energy argument. This translates to a Boltzmann/Gibbs probability with a large spread in the activation energy. The large spread is modeled by maximum entropy — we don’t know what the activation energy is so we assume a mean and let the fluctuations about that mean vary to the maximum amount possible. That is the maximum entropy activation which is proportional to a mean rainfall rate — the stronger the rate, the higher the energy

      That becomes the premise for my thesis. The thesis being that I can predict the probability of a given rainfall rate within the larger ensemble defined by a mean. You may not like it, but scientists are always presenting theses of varying complexity. Mine happens to be rather simple and straightforward. Dr.K was on exactly the same track but he decided to stop short of making the thesis quite that simple.

      What this has to do with the theme of this thread on energy policy, I have no idea, but as it relates to Chief’s obsession with my reasoning strategy of extracting the simple from the complex, and the fact that it angers him, I thought I would elaborate. It’s always nice to be able to practice laying out a cogent argument.

    • Rob

      I’m just trying to get a picture of all the known types of fossil fuels. Tar sands are unknown in the UK and Shale gas is still untested. Presumably this constitutes the whole ‘etc’ when added to oil, coal, gas as regards fossil fuel

      Did you give anywhere the total known recoverable eneregy in a form we all might understand for example, Barrels of oil equivalent?.
      tonyb

  56. Phil Carson had a post on whats up in Michigan in regards to renewable energy this week-
    “Michigan regulators: renewables cost less than coal
    Commission ties renewables to jobs, growth”

    http://www.intelligentutility.com/article/12/02/michigan-regulators-renewables-cost-less-coal&utm_medium=eNL&utm_campaign=IU_DAILY2&utm_term=Original-Member

    The Michigan Public Utilities Commissions report is an interesting read.
    “REPORT ON THE

    IMPLEMENTATION OF THE P.A. 295

    RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARD

    AND THE COST-EFFECTIVENESS

    OF THE ENERGY STANDARDS”

    http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mpsc/implementation_PA295_renewable_energy2-15-2012_376924_7.pdf

    The report notes the charges that have been added to customers bills to cover the costs of the standard-
    “The Act allows providers to recover the incremental costs of compliance with the renewable energy standard requirements through a Commission-approved surcharge on customer bills. Section 45 of the Act limits the retail rate impact (surcharge amount) of the renewable energy standard to the
    following:

    (a) $3.00 per month per residential customer meter.

    (b) $16.58 per month per commercial secondary customer meter.

    (c) $187.50 per month per commercial primary or industrial customer meter………….”

    I thought it might be interesting to look
    into the details of a few of the RE projects that have been approved in
    Michigan. I have a 6.12 kw PV system in CA so looking into what Consumers
    Energy (Jackson, Mich zip code 49201) PV program
    http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/efile/docs/15805/0261.pdf seemed like a good idea.

    In order to entice customers to go with PV in Consumers service area their
    experimental program calls for “a payment of $0.65 for each kWh of energy
    that their solar system produces.” for residential customers. “Commercial
    systems will make up approximately 1.5 MW of the total program size; phase
    1 and 2, and individual commercial systems are limited to 150 kW.
    Consumers is requesting approval of contracts that make up 836.6 kW of
    commercial solar installations in phase 1. Commercial customers will
    receive a payment of $0.45 for each kWh of energy that their solar
    generation system produces.” It looks like the
    levelized costs for this PV program will be greater then $500 MU.

    I used Sharps solar calculator to see what the output would be for a
    system of my size in Jackson, Mich- 6557 kwh/year (south facing, 20 degree
    tilt). My actual output has been a lot more- 9044 kwh/year.

    I haven’t looked at a wind project that Consumers has signed yet in any
    detail- “i) Consumers Energy and HeritageGarden Wind Farm I, LLC.; and
    (ii) Consumers http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/efile/docs/15805/0244.pdf .
    A brief review of Exhibit B “Energy Purchase Price Schedules” indicates
    that the residents of Michigan will be getting a much better return on
    their investment with wind compared to PV.

  57. When discussing energy issues, I’ve found the following graphic usefull:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USEnFlow02-quads.gif

    It’s amazing how much energy is lost and puts in perspective sources – I’m not sure if there is a more current version of this.

  58. When estimating “proven oil reserves” (and probably any energy source reserves) estimators have to assume current technology and the price for example the price of a barrel of oil. In the early 1980s when oil was in the $2o – $40 range, oil companies would cap wells that became too expensive due to water injection,feild depletion etc.

    These fields/wells with some remaining oil would not be counted as a proven reserve.

    At $100 a barrel and more oil companies will reopen previously unprofitable fields and go after more difficult sources (tar sands etc.)

    The point here is that determining the amount of oil left is dependent on the price and technology to retreive it. I’ve been very skeptical over the years as many books have come out claiming that we’re running out of oil.

    • When DOE made about 10 years ago new estimates on the global ultimately recoverable amount of oil it raised the earlier recovery estimates by 66% telling that half of that increase was based on development from the time when the earlier assumptions were made to the technology of that time and the second half based on likely further development. For many parts of the world and for US in particular reopening old wells was an important factor in the estimates. I don’t think that there would be good reasons to say that the estimates of that time would be seriously outdated.

      For gas the situation is different as the potential of shale gas was not estimated to be as large as present thinking tells.

    • I worked in oil supply and planning in the middle east. I’m mostly familiar with what happened there during the 1980′s. Since oil there is much more plentiful and much easier to tap we would shut down mediocre wells quickly and open new sources as required. Most of the constraints were logistical – e.g. number of holding tanks, number of berths for tankers, etc. Saudi Arabia could produce and deliver to market in the 12-13 million barrels a day range if all went well. That’s about double of all oil produced in the US.

    • Tom,

      Your experience is one small piece in the overall picture.

      One factor is also that the production in the 48 states of US declined and in very many cases ended earlier than in most other locations. Therefore little technology for enhanced recovery was not available at the time of the original closure. Another factor is the size and other properties of oil fields. In super giant fields the share of oil left after initial production period is typically smaller than in small fields.

      It’s true that the estimates made around year 2000 had less information about old fields elsewhere than about fields in 48 states. Thus the estimates on additional recovery were less reliable.

      Another point has always been the readiness to invest. It appears quite possible that the production cannot keep up with demand for long due to lacking investments. Balance will always be obtained but at what price?

      On the other hand it’s perhaps not so bad that lacking investments lead to gradually worsening balance as that may lead to smoother transition to other solutions than maximal investments that keep up the supply up to a very sharp drop in availability.

    • From Wikipedia:
      Saudi Aramco has both the largest proven crude oil reserves, at more than 260 billion barrels (4.1×1010 m3), and largest daily oil production.[12] Headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

      My experience was with the largest producer of oil. We shut in 100′s of wells knowing they would be reopened when the price increased. Models predicting future oil reserves are have about the same reliability as climate models.

    • Here’s a link showing a windmill killing a vulture.

    • OK, then name a model and show how it is wrong, if you think they are so unreliable.

    • Chief Hyrologist

      Name a model and show how it is wrong?

      http://www.pnas.org/content/104/21/8709.full

      You are a pissant progressive idiot.

    • Chief said:

      “http://www.pnas.org/content/104/21/8709.full
      You are a pissant progressive idiot.”

      FWIW, when I wrote “Name a model and show how it is wrong?”, I was asking about this statement:

      “Models predicting future oil reserves are have about the same reliability as climate models.”

      As far as I can tell no one uses atmospheric and oceanic simulations to predict fossil fuel reserves. Perhaps they do in whatever part of the world you live in, but not in my universe.

    • I was referring only to DOE in the above message, but US Geological Survey may have had a larger contribution to those estimates.

    • Pekka,

      I took a look at your web site and you stated:

      The economics of wind power has improved slowly, and has led to competiveness under most favorable conditions.

      It’s been estimated that there are about 14,000 abandoned wind power machines in the US. It seems all the government subsidies go to building new wind farms and none to cleaning up rusting eyesores that are beginning to make parts of the world look like : a bad war of the worlds” movie set. (H/T Delingpole).

      I can send you picture of one farm on the Big Island of Hawaii that has desecrated one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Do the economics you cite factor in the cost of removing this blight. All studies I’ve seen show wind to be not even close in competiveness unless government subsidies are added – that’s called cheating!
      If wind power is competitive then why are windmill companies failing once they loose government subsidies.
      Solar i has even worse economics.

    • Is there something inconsistent in the statement that wind power has reached competitiveness under most favorable conditions and in that some old plants in US are out of order and not worth repairing.

      Someone from Australia could tell whether it’s true that wind power has a highly competitive production cost on some favorable locations in Tasmania as I have been told by people who have visited such sites. That may well be a very exceptional case, but somewhat less is likely be enough with modern plants.

      Unfortunately you are probably not able to read my Finnish language pages which would give a better view of my thoughts on the status of various energy solutions, most of what I have written on the English pages concerns rather different issues.

    • Pekka,

      I have respect for you and your knowledge about energy and energy policy. I amm suggesting you take a look at some of the damage these so called green energy projects cause to the environment. For example here a short story about the Hawaii wind mill farm:Here is more on windmills in Paradise:
      Andrew Walden of American Thinker explored nearly 2 years ago the demise of the 37-turbine wind farm at Kamaoa Wind Farm in Hawaii: “Built in 1985, at the end of the boom, Kamaoa soon suffered from lack of maintenance. In 1994, the site lease was purchased by Redwood City, CA-based Apollo Energy. Cannibalizing parts from the original 37 turbines, Apollo personnel kept the declining facility going with outdated equipment. But even in a place where wind-shaped trees grow sideways, maintenance issues were overwhelming. By 2004 Kamaoa accounts began to show up on a Hawaii State Department of Finance list of unclaimed properties. In 2006, transmission was finally cut off by Hawaii Electric Company.California’s wind farms — then comprising about 80% of the world’s wind generation capacity — ceased to generate much more quickly than Kamaoa. In the best wind spots on earth, over 14,000 turbines were simply abandoned. Spinning, post-industrial junk which generates nothing but bird kills.”
      In Europe local groups are forming against windmills because they destroy property values and cause low frequency sound illnesses. If you put the windmills in remote locations like the Kamaoa lifecycle costs go through the roof. Maybe this works in Tasmania but show me all the numbers.
      Solar power in California where I live is establishing huge solar farms covering huge swaths of land in fragile desert environment. greens – Sierra club et al have given these plans a free pass.

    • Tom,

      There’s also a quite dramatic video of a failing wind turbine in Denmark

      What happened was due to the failure of the brake of the turbine and people knew to expect something dramatic.

      There’s no doubt that wind power has severe limitations, but from that doesn’t follow that it would not be a reasonable part of the energy system in some cases. None of the early wind power plants has been profitable when all costs are taken into account. Much of the construction is difficult to justify as a necessary part of developing the technology. There’s a huge number of rather worthless wind turbines around Germany as there are in California.

      The conditions that determine relative competitiveness of various energy technologies varies hugely, something profitable in one location is very far from that in another. The present problem is that availability of oil is really getting gradually more and more tight. The general trend is of its price is almost certainly rising although there may be strong ups and downs on the way. Conventional crude oil is a finite resource in a really meaningful sense and alternatives for that have all their problems and limitations, if not soon in total resource base then in difficulties of increasing the production volumes rapidly or through environmental constraints.

      Something must be done and getting significant results must start soon if we are to avoid shortages. The largest problem right now is that we don’t have even good ideas on where the solution could be. That’s so bad, because the volumes are so large that reaching the required level of production in any new technology is likely to be very difficult. Fortunately the urgency has not been as severe as thought around 1980, but even so the problem is very real.

    • Pekka

      I am Australian and assure you that there are no Australian wind ‘farms’, existing or proposed, that are remotely competitive with conventional power sources. The only reason they exist at all is that their construction is frequently subsidised, their distribution costs are paid for by others, and output is mandated to be purchased by power distributors at a (high) fixed price. These extra costs are hidden in taxes and consumers’ power bills.

      The claims of competitiveness are always based on excluding these hidden costs.

    • Johanna,

      Have you specific knowledge on Tasmania. What I have been told is due to exceptionally persistent and strong winds on some areas of Tasmanian cost which would make the cost of wind energy less than half of that an a more normal good location.

      I don’t remember at all whether the data referred to major wind farms or just a few plants.

    • Markus Fitzhenry.

      Perkka;
      Currently, there are two operating wind farms in the State – Woolnorth Wind Farm in the State’s North-West and the Huxley Hill Wind Farm on King Island.

      There are a number of privately owned wind turbines in the State; including a 225 kilowatt (kW) wind turbine located on the Nicholas Poultry Farm and two wind turbines on Flinders Island with a combined generation capacity of 80 kW.

      Additionally, there are a small number of Tasmanians with distributed renewable energy generators, based on wind, solar photovoltaic cells and rubbish tip methane.

      Woolnorth Wind Farm
      The 140 MW Woolnorth Wind Farm site is located on the historic ‘Woolnorth’ grazing property on the far north-west tip of Tasmania. The three stage project was completed in May 2007 and is the biggest wind farm operating in the southern hemisphere. Woolnorth Wind Farm is owned and operated by Roaring 40s Pty Ltd – a partnership between Hydro Tasmania and the China Light and Power Group.

      Huxley Hill Wind Farm
      The Huxley Hill Wind Farm is located on King Island and was the second commercial wind farm to be established in Australia. Hydro Tasmania owns and operates the Huxley Hill Wind Farm.

      Commissioned in 1998, the Wind Farm originally consisted of three 250 kW Nordex wind turbines. In 2003 the Wind Farm was expanded with the addition of two new 850 kW Vestas turbines, bringing the Wind Farm’s total installed capacity to 2.45 MW.

      The Wind Farm is a significant contribution to King Island’s electricity system, now accounting for 35 per cent of the Island’s electricity generation capacity and saving some $1 million per annum on the alternative of full generation by diesel fuel.

      The wind turbine generators on King Island are restricted to providing a maximum of 70 per cent of the Island’s energy needs at any one time, because of the inherent variability in wind and the inability of the wind turbines to independently manage system frequency and voltage.

      Nichols Poultry Wind Turbine
      Blowing in the Wind Pty Ltd own and operate a 225 kW wind turbine at the Nichols Poultry Farm in Sassafras. The electricity generated by the wind turbine is used to supply the Farm’s processing plant and when it is not needed on site, power is fed back into the State’s electricity grid.

      Nichols Poultry expects that the installation of the wind turbine will reduce the Farm’s energy bill by about 60 per cent and capital investment in the project is likely to be returned in about three to five years.

      Renewable Energy Proposals in Tasmania, Wind.

      Roaring 40s’ proposed Musselroe wind farm, which is in the final stages of turbine procurement, will provide an additional 129 MW of electricity generation capacity to the State.

      The Musselroe wind farm site is in the north east of the State, 100 kilometres north-east of Launceston and 20 kilometres north of Gladstone. Subject to economic viability, the Musselroe project will proceed as a 60 turbine wind farm. The project also includes the construction of a transmission line to connect the wind farm site to Tasmanian electricity grid at Derby.

      The installation of wind turbine generators on Flinders Island and further wind development on King Island are also currently being investigated.

    • I decided also check, what I can find from the web.

      I couldn’t find any economic data, but I found the capacity factor 39% for one wind farm (probably Woolnorth, but I didn’t make notes on that). That’s not quite what my memory tells that I have been told, but that’s certainly very high in comparison with other land based wind farms. That could make wind power competitive if the cost of additional power from alternative sources is as high as it often is. Tasmania has a lot of hydro which may lower the price level, but may also increase the value of wind power through low-cost regulating power (possible near zero additional cost from regulation).

    • Pekka:

      Further to Markus’ post, perhaps the example of the King Island windmills is worth analysing in more detail. King Island is smack in the middle of the Roaring Forties, and is about as consistently windy as anywhere you are likely to find around Australia.

      The King Island array is a supplement to existing diesel powered generation. King Island is a tiny, remote island with a population of less than 3,000. Conventional power from a coal or gas fired plant is not available. Diesel generation will still be required, especially as KI produces high quality dairy products, which rely on reliable electricity to run milking machines etc. The Hydro Tasmania 2011 Annual Report states that a suite of renewable energy programs including wind and biodiesel are being implemented at a cost of $40.9 million, supported by the Commonwealth and State governments and electricity supplier Hydro Tasmania. The report does not disaggregate the wind component, but the other measures are minor and probably comparatively inexpensive.

      That is a subsidy of around $14,000 per resident from taxpayers and other electricity users. It does not cover maintenance and depreciation, nor does it remove the requirement for maintaining the diesel generation plant. The stated aim is to reduce the usage of diesel fuel and reduce C02 emissions. It is in compliance with the requirements of the government’s ‘sustainable energy’ policy.

      The link to the Annual Report is here:
      http://www.hydro.com.au/annual-reports/2011/contents/ecosystems-heritage/page03.html

      This is the kind of economics that underpins the much vaunted ‘wind revolution’ in Tasmania.

    • Isolated islands are often economically most favorable locations for wind power. King Island appears to be too small for large wind power plants and therefore perhaps not optimal, but favorable winds at low altitudes are likely there and may make the cost of smaller plants as well lower than the fuel cost of diesel generators.

      One very common problem in estimating the profitability of renewable energy solutions is in the comparison with tariffs rather than with the avoided cost of alternative solutions. In the case of King Island the tariff is obviously subsidized both without wind energy and with it. Thus the correct profitability is better than what tariff would tell in this case, but the error is much more often done in the opposite direction through comparison with high residential tariff although the actual avoided costs are perhaps only half of that or even less. (For solar generation of electricity in Finland the avoided cost may be about one quarter of the domestic tariff.)

    • Pekka:

      Sorry, I can’t follow your reasoning here – forgive me if I’m being dense.

      My point is – $40.9 million is being spent on additional infrastructure (which will then have to be maintained and will depreciate in value) for a tiny community which already has a perfectly adequate electricity supply system. The people who live there already pay for the electricity they use, which I agree is probably subsidised to some extent by the government owned supplier (Hydro Tasmania) because of the cost of transporting fuel and the small population.

      But they will still use the existing system, plus somehow the $40.9 million investment has to be paid for. In a user pays system, that means $14,000 for every man, woman and child on the island just to recoup the capital cost, on top of what they already pay in electricity bills. That’s not going to happen, even if they have to send a couple less ships a year carrying diesel to the island as a saving. So it’s a straight redistribution of wealth from other Hydro customers and taxpayers to the people building the windmills and supplying biodiesel.

      And the sole rationale for doing it is to reduce CO2 emissions and the use of diesel. It’s economic lunacy and an absurd waste of other people’s money in pursuit of magical thinking about ‘renewable energy’. For a few million, they could upgrade the diesel plant or build something better if that becomes necessary. It just doesn’t make sense to me at all.

    • Johanna,

      I didn’t check the actual numbers of that case. The cost of $40.9 for the additional infrastructure sounds quite a lot. The wind turbine(s) cannot be a big part of that. Thus the question arises on the full content of the project. That power companies subsidize heavily some customers situated in remote locations in common in most parts of the world and $14.000 per person is not at all exceptional for such support related to the construction and maintenance of the local distribution.

      My point is only that the total cost of wind power may be in favorable cases less than the avoided cost of alternatives. That’s not particularly common but that happens. Based on what I had heard I thought that the case of Tasmania might be one strong case as the winds are exceptionally favorable there. That alone is, however, not enough for the profitability and i know too little of the other factors to judge. This discussion and the data I have been able to find from the web have not changed this. I still don’t know enough to judge.

    • Pekka:

      I agree that subsidies of this magnitude are not unusual – indeed, in a large and thinly populated country like Australia they are common, and often much larger. They apply to a range of basic services such as electricity and telecommunications.

      My point is, the subsidies, such as they are, are already in place. We are now getting an additional layer of massive subsidies paid for by taxpayers and other customers for no reasons except ideological ones. Does anyone seriously think that the 2,750 or so residents of King Island, who are mostly farmers, contribute even measurably to world C02 output?

  59. The market will eventually recognize that those hydrocarbon bonds were much too lovingly formed to waste merely for the energy within them. We need those bonds for feedstock with which to house us, to clothe us, and to store all our ‘stuff’.
    ==============

  60. Absurd but true: some fail to realize that few things are more heavily regulated than the production and distribution of energy.

  61. Too much money has been spent on Wind, Solar and Ethanol.
    The unfair subsidies and tax credits have prevented necessary investment in Clean Coal and Nuclear.

  62. Quiz for the day…who said it?

    “I like stuff in the ground—metals, hydrocarbons, oil, even natural gas. There are obviously powerful technical reasons depressing the price for natural gas. But it’s the premium fuel. It burns cleaner and better than any other hydrocarbon, and it sells at the lowest ratio of heat equivalent to oil in 50 years. It is about 15% of the enrgy-equivalent oil price. It is sold at parity from to time over the last 30 years. This is a dazzling opportunity.”

  63. “Quiz for the day…who said it?”

    What’s your point? Anybody can Google that and find that is was Jeremy Grantham, who then said in the next paragraph:

    “We are running out of low-cost oil, out of cheap copper.”
    http://online.barrons.com/article/interview.html#articleTabs_article%3D2

    My suggestion to John M is that playing these kinds of FUD games doesn’t work here. It may work on your local talk radio program but not here.

  64. The neo-Mals don’t want any energy source that works. They want modern civilisation to fail. There are enough comments to that effect in their works.

    There was a good review in ‘Psychology Today’. Describing the enduring appeal of apocalypse bs, the author describes some rats clearing a cage of the competition.

    “How does this relate to the popularity of notions that the world is about to end? Think for a second. Every millennial end-of-the-world movement has a hitch. We’ll all be broiled, fried, or caught in the crossfire of apocalyptic battles and plague. WE’LL be wiped out. But not the true believers. They’ll be saved. And they’ll have a fresh new world, a world purged of us, a world they can turn into their own private paradise.

    “Apocalypse-beliefs, I suspect, are land-clearance and land-grab dreams in disguise-dreams left over from our time as beasts.

    “Now for a few closing suspicions. One of the most popular apocalyptic belief systems of the last 30 years has been the idea that we humans are bringing the destruction of the planet. The greenhouse-gas scenario is partly a scientific hypothesis and partly a deeply appealing myth. Climate-change-beliefs are a secular expression of an antique pattern…perhaps an instinctual pattern. They are a new way of saying that the end is coming and that only the believers will be saved. Only those who’ve embraced the right god or the right philosophy will survive. Only they will know the truth behind the new world order. And they will do more than remain alive, they will come out on top. They will flourish and thrive.

    “Are the climate change believers right? Or will they force us to cripple our civilization so badly that the second great civilization we’re competing with today-the 2,200-year old empire of China-will come out on top?”

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-genius-the-beast/200912/why-the-world-will-end-in-2012

  65. Fossil fuels are a backwards, climatically dangerous, unsustainable and ultimately doomed source of energy.

    There should be a gradual switch to nuclear and renewables starting now rather than the current obsession with tearing up ever less accessible fossil fuels. Leave the coal in the ground. We can always use another day if needed when we have better technology (eg carbon capture) or can prove it would be safe to release.

    • Markus Fitzhenry.

      Lunatic.

    • Yes and save some oil for petrochemical uses where it is much more valuable. And of course use it to bootstrap high tech alternative energy schemes. Otherwise from all appearances it looks like we want to burn the oil as fast as we can, with no consideration for an eventual transition. The allegory is either Jack and the Beanstalk or Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Use wisely as Thomas Fischbacher recommends.

    • “Yes and save some oil for petrochemical uses where it is much more valuable.”

      exactly, it’s stupid to just burn through it out of short-term convenience

    • Web said, “Yes and save some oil for petrochemical uses where it is much more valuable. And of course use it to bootstrap high tech alternative energy schemes.”

      Definitely, but a “drill baby drill” policy does have an impact on the markets, a push, real or just testing the waters into synfuels, impacts the markets. My biggest issue is that current policy is telegraphing moves and picking winners. Ambitiousness is not a bad thing for energy policy because it opens for doors for entrepreneurship and keeps speculators on the sidelines.

      Uncertainty about future regulation requirements and “if they build Coal, we will bankrupt them” leads to the kind of cluster $$#& we have going on right now.

    • I really wonder about saving the oil for petrochemicals. In a future where we’ve solved the energy problem, wouldn’t it be trivial to switch to coal?

    • “Saving oil for petrochemicals” is a great over-simplification.

      Only a tiny percentage of current crude consumption goes direct to “petrochemical feedstocks”, and that’s only economical because it builds on of the fuel refining infrastructure. More and more petrochemical feedstock is being sourced from natural gas liquids anyway. Saving oil for petrochemicals is classic “tail wagging the dog” thinking.

      Besides, it would completely destroy our political system. How can you buy votes by releasing “strategic” petroleum reserves for Dow Chemical’s benefit?

    • All I read are more short-sighted comments. Fishbacher crystallized the short-term convenience mindset very well with this explanation:

      “Ultimately, the absurdity of their argument becomes clear when it is condensed to “sustainability is just one problem among many, and we are the better at solving problems the stronger our economy—so we need to use up resources fast to get rich fast so that we can afford to address the problems caused by us using up resources fast.” Reminds me of a painter who lived in the village I grew up in. He was known to work very swiftly, and when asked why he always was in such a hurry, wittily replied: “but I have to get the job done before I run out of paint!” “

      http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/this-weeks-finds-week-314/

      This is a race pitting depletion against technology with no predictable outcome. Many a movie script has been written with this premise in mind. I am getting into the rhetorical side heavily, as my main interest is in getting the quantitative numbers accurate — but let me just suggest as another allegory that this situation is analogous to the Apollo 13 incident, where thinking how to solve a problem used up the oxygen that the astronauts needed to solve the problem of using up the oxygen. That is what we have to do, concentrate on solving the problem with the juice we have left.

    • Chief Hyrologist

      Nothing but junk science and junk culture. We will burn the oil as fast as we need to to maintain maximum growth in global economies. Nothing you do or say will make the slightest difference and that is all to the good. Whatever it is that you are advocating – we want nothing to do with it.

      We stand for scientific progress, economic growth, free markets, individual freedom, democracy and protection of the weak against the strong or against the collective. This is the true spirit of liberal enlightenment that is our western heritage. You on the other hand stand for economic contraction and draconian population controls. You are pissant progressives with the moral sense of a slime mould.

      No apologies for the rhetoric at all – it is just the truth.

      Robert I Ellison
      Chief Hydrologist

  66. Norm Kalmanovitch

    global ethanol production of 85 billion litres is equivalent to about 1 million barrels of oil per day. The Saudis can add this much oil production with just the turn of a tap but to produce this much ethanol has removed 6.5% of the world’s grain from the global food supply and with a population of seven billion this leave a lot of people without food!
    Not a single person has died from global warming in the past decade because the world has been cooling since 2002; (at least according to the raw monthly HadCRUT3 data) but how many people have died from starvation because of the Kyoto Protocol and measures such as ethanol production using food as feedstock for its production??

  67. Farming is one of the most significant technological development of humans- it allowed towns and cities to be created.

    This thread has to do with using farming technology to make something that could replace gasoline [or other portable sources of energy] to use for transportation needs.

    Perhaps it’s possible that instead growing crops on the land to make biofuels, we could grow crops in the ocean?

    Farming is essentially making “crops” easier to harvest- instead harvesting them wandering around and finding them “in the wild”, one grows them in a particular location. And making biofuels is essentially artificial “fossil fuels”.

    In the “wilds of the ocean” there a biological process which creates methane hydrates.
    Could it be possible to *farm* methane hydrates- grow methane hydrates in locations where it is easier to harvest the crop. A problem with methane hydrates is the difficulty to harvest it. So grow them in a manner in which it is easier to harvest.

    Another aspect of land farming is one improves the crop- breed better corn, wheat, etc. Use Irrigation. Keep weeds from growing, etc.
    Methane hydrate deposits are younger than fossil fuel deposits- the dramatic difference in sea level during your interglacier period- where sea levels rose over 100 meters, indicate that some methane hydrates deposits
    developed in less than 10,000 year period. If you farming methane hydrate, you want faster growth than say 1000 years. So one need finds ways increasing the production yields of this “crop”.

  68. The big energy issue is the fight over EPA’s mercury MACT, which may shut down 20% of thevUS coal plants, mostly the old ones.
    http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/211241-business-groups-launch-legal-capitol-hill-attacks-on-epa-mercury-rule

  69. Geoff styles discusses oil price drivers: http://energyoutlook.blogspot.com/

    • With Bill Clinton you knew he wanted a second term, with Obama there is less certainty, it seems he doesn’t want to serve this country for another 4 years. This lack of ambition, is a very good aspect which is mostly ignored.
      It seems a given we will have over $5 per gallon by summer- and using the strategic reserve will be tempting- and that could make it even higher.

    • it seems he doesn’t want to serve this country for another 4 years.

      So gbaikie, if you were president and decided you didn’t to serve a second term, would you run anyway or hand off the baton?

    • “didn’t to” –> “didn’t want to”

    • “So gbaikie, if you were president and decided you didn’t to serve a second term, would you run anyway or hand off the baton?”

      I can’t be a US president. And normally, to be president it takes a lot of time and effort and determination to be a President. And that is problem. It would better if we didn’t get only people who focus a lot of their life in order to be a president- because that tends to give us “certain personalities” and I think we would better off with more diversity in terms of Presidents.
      And that was a reason Obama was elected [it to some extent this idea was reflected this desire of the US population]. The simple fact that Obama has dark skin is not everything [or even a significant part] of what I mean by “diversity”.
      Though the issue of simply having a Black President was probably a stronger desire- mainly for symbolic reasons or to send message.

      Having a president which choose to serve one term- is good in terms sending message or “changing the culture”. Therefore “running away” could be something I think has value. There problems with the idea, first you if declare that is your intention, you essentially making yourself a lame duck president for a significant portion of your first term. And if don’t make this known, then many people could feel betrayed- as they want you to serve a two terms and are counting on it.
      Therefore, I think I would make it a campaign issue- run on this issue, so that there wasn’t this sense betrayal.
      Obama didn’t run on this issue, but he did mention it as sort of his intention- a perhaps for him that was enough warning [though it's not how I would do it].
      So generally I think it would better if more presidents were to chose to only served one term. And certainly think Congess should generally only serve a term or two. I’m not impressed with the large number of aged senators, who imagine there a special breed of human- nice to have older people serving, but not people who spend their entire lives doing it, only ending their term when they die.

  70. cui bono @ 1.54 pm.

    Ah, the old ‘Apocalypse Now?,’ ‘Next Year?’
    ‘Whenever?’ scenario.

    Thanks fot the paper, CB.

  71. Did I miss it, or does everyone ignore all the “work” that nature has done for us in making coal and oil from long dead and buried organic matter- esp. removing the water from the chemical structures and compacting- that we have to pay to get from biofuels today. Cutting ahd schlepping your own wood make this painful point…

    • @pete

      An excellent point.

      +Lots

    • Pete,
      I concur that harvesting downed oak trees can be lots of work. It’s been a dry and warm winter in my neck of the woods. Rather then let the termites feast on a few downed (storm related damage) oaks I am harvesting the wood. I definitely don’t need a gym to burn off a few calories. My in-laws are thrilled with the oak as it works great to heat their home. Their alternative heat sources have gone through the roof price wise (propane over $3.00 gallon and electrical energy at $.33 a kwh for a marginal kwh).

      You can tell the economy is tough by the number of folks that liberate downed oak branches that happen to fall close to a road………………… The liberators are aware of the lower energy density in pine as those branches are usually left behind.

    • David Springer

      I never let any of my own oak go to waste. That’s fireplace wood for the thick stuff and kindling for the small. I generally get windfalls when the occasional 60mph winds blow through. I have Mountain Juniper growing out of my ash. I’m still working down a pile of logs I cut 8 years ago. It’s not bad for bonfires. A bit on the hot smoky fast burning spark spitting side for a fireplace. It occured to me go around with my flatbed scarfing up oak in the Austin burbs on the couple days a year when tree trimmings can be put out on the curb but I think it’s more work than its worth as there’s not really any decent logs just 3-4″ stuff at best that takes a lot of trimming. Nobody around here cuts down oak unless it’s a goner already except for a few rare trees that are in the way of new construction. I live on a lake with about 300 miles of shoreline. I have a barge and suitable work boat and could probably collect two tons of nice clean dry driftwood every day with a couple of teenagers tossing it from shore to barge and never run out. That might be profitable now that I think about it for the wood content but probably far more profitable selling it for landscaping. Hmmm… keep that idea under your hat! ;-)

  72. Chief Hyrologist

    ‘From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step.’ Friedrich Heyak

    Who the hell is Gleick and why should I care? Of course it is a battle – it is one of the turning points of human history and we have been here before. The last time collectivism triumphed 500 million people died. This time the price would be much higher. There are enemies – and they know who they are – in a cultural and social war that we must win. To do that we have to know what is at stake and start to fight back in a coherent way. Not simply respond to every wild argument but consciously forge a battle plan.

    If we surrender freedom – we are at blame. If we allow socialism to triumph piecemeal – we are at blame. If we allow democracy and the rule of law to falter -we are condemned by our inaction and condemn the future to a world of pain.

    We are liberal in the true sense of the word. Sons and daughters of the scientific and cultural enlightenment. Defenders of free markets, science, democracy and the rule of law – the war is with the purveyors of junk science and junk culture. Science, engineering and free markets have provided us with limitless opportunities. The enemy constantly argues limits in a world that needs to overcome the limits that blights existence for many. They argue that if we don’t turn from our profligate ways the world is doomed.

    The reverse is true – if there is no rich and economically stable future then we risk descent into a dark age. Televisions, cars, phones, clean water, sanitary systems, health care, washing machines – these are the important issues and the trappings of 21st century culture. Goods for all is good for all. The challenges are great and require great discipline and not adventures in social and economic management.

    The world is not warming notably as a result of CO2 – the models are nonsense. Is it not clear how and why ‘solutions’ are chosen? They have been overconfident and now will suffer the consequences. Pride goeth before a fall after all. What is left? Only the wheedling of an enemy staring defeat in the face.

    What the true liberal must now present is an optimistic narrative – protecting human freedom, enabling scientific development, fostering democracy and the rule of law, managing economies with the hard won old virtues of not overspending, not printing money and not keeping interest rates artificially low.

    Can we win this battle? I think rather that it would be difficult to lose – but the potential is always there and always to be guarded against.

    Robert I Ellison
    Chief Hydrologist

    • David Springer

      Chief Hyrologist | February 27, 2012 at 1:06 am | Reply

      “‘From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step.’ Friedrich Heyak”

      Hyrologist?

      From the saintly single Catholic woman to the buxom latin sex kitten is often but a step. ~Selma Hayek

      Not sure why I wrote that but it somehow seemed appropriate.

    • fix the grungin' typo

      I have that effect on people. The grunging typo was fixed – but now I’m fixated on Selam Heyak.

      Selma – oh Selma – http://www.freakingnews.com/Salma-Hayek-with-Beard-Pics-43361.asp

  73. Latimer Alder – the gallon – it were the Pilgrims who brought the containers holding one gallon to these shores. They stopped in europe on the way, so blame the euros. The containers held alcoholic beverages, either during or after the voyage. I’ve forgotten which – wine or beer?

  74. The label ‘liberal’ has been taken over by the advocates of collectivism, not laissez faire, rule of law and contract; instead creeping authoritarianism by those in the clique. So also, protagonists of the far left distort earlier meanings of ‘freedom’, not ‘freedom to’ but ‘freedom from’ … ‘Hey stupids, you need us shamans, (Plato speaking,)you need us to protect you from catastrophe and that damned flux. .

  75. It’s Dr Curry’s Birthday? Another one in in the “WIN” column….. Don’t forget to get a CO2 Indulgence for the candles….

  76. Junior has an article about the cost of gasoline vs the GDP and I wonder if that is a valid way to track it. My response would have been the following if he didn’t require using accounts that lead to identity theft:

    “Is this a matter of gasoline moving from things we want to things we need? That would mean people are choosing to buy other things when that is an option. If the remaining needful consumers’s income is well indexed to the GDP then no problem. Otherwise I’d need to see the pain index chart for remaining a gasoline consumer.”

    Energy policy should not destroy efficiencies of scale or we’re going to create yet another group of have-nots.

    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-economically-significant-are-us.html

    • The interview is interesting. Craig Venter tells why he is involved in this but tells also how big the hurdles are and that even in the best case it will take time to reach the stage of meaningful production. Algae is certainly one of the alternatives of most potential, but still at an early stage of development.

      I gave in a message links to a project of UPM. That’s of much nearer term interest but as it stands that doesn’t offer potential for really large scale expansion. The economics is not likely to be very strong and even that requires availability of a low cost side stream from a pulp mill. The same side stream might be used at lower cost as fuel for a boiler to produce power and process steam. The value of the diesel fuel produced may be high enough for reaching fair profitability or perhaps not. Right now the answer may depend more on EU policies concerning transportation fuels than other and more real advantages.

    • David Springer

      re; size of hurdles according to Venter

      He’s just managing expectations.. Smart money is very careful to not build expectations so high that the perception of failure is assured. The strategy is called “under promise and over deliver”. For instance if Mitt Romney had not run around calling Michigan his home state and presuming he was going to win easily he wouldn’t be in such a pickle right now. He’s statistically tied with Santorum and now even a modest win will be viewed as a failure. If he doesn’t bury Santorum in Michigan he’s in trouble. Now he’s spent many millions more dollars than his campaign had anticipated in Michigan in a frantic effort to at least win a majority of delegates there. Santorum meanwhile is still basically driiving around in his pickup truck running a shoestring campaign and staying even with Romney with pennies on the dollar in campaign cash.

    • David Springer

      re; development time for biofuel

      Stretch goal is 10 years, 20 expected, 30 on the outside. It’s an engineering problem at this point not a problem requiring basic discovery. Engineering problems can be characterized with time/cost estimates. Discovery problems cannot. For instance discovery of a room temperature superconductor that’s cheap & malleable would be tranformational w/regard to energy & transporation. No one knows if it’s even possible let alone how long it might take. Samo samo with cold fusion, hot fusion, photovoltaic, solar thermal, and others. This is the only transformational technology where there’s no discovery required. It’s a matter of slogging through a mountain of experiments acquring the needed biological data. All the experimental tools are tested & working. So now it’s just a matter of time and money. Venter’s 65 years old so I’m pretty sure he’s banking on getting this done before he’s dead so I’d wager he has a fairly high internal confidence level of getting it done in 10 years or less. He’s had an amazing run since I noticed him in the late 1990′s that’s for sure and while past performance is no guarantee of future performance it’s the best indicator there is.

  77. http://gigaom.com/cleantech/algaes-big-break-exxon-craig-venter-launch-600m-algae-fuel-effort/

    Algae’s Big Break: Exxon, Craig Venter Launch $600M+ Algae Fuel Effort

    Last year, genomics pioneer Craig Venter said if oil companies didn’t want to invest in his biofuels technology, then no problem: He would happily develop a solution without them. Looks like that won’t be necessary — ExxonMobil has just announced that it will invest more than $600 million in a new photosynthetic algae biofuels program with Venter, including more than $300 million for his startup, Synthetic Genomics.

    The investment announced this morning will support an estimated five to six years of research and development. Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D for Exxon’s Research and Engineering Co., said in a call with reporters that it will likely take billions of dollars in additional investment to commercialize the technology for distribution in Exxon’s existing infrastructure. Within 5-10 years, Jacobs expects the project to be producing “large quantities” of transportation fuel.

    –more at link

    Now tell me, who the f**k is going to invest trillions in evacuated tunnel trains, next generation nukes, or anything like that when this is undoubtedly on the horizon, will arrive sooner, and be far superior to anything of the other far more costly alternative energy solutions.

    With a suitable GM cyanobacteria approximately 10% of the Texas panhandle (currently used for nothing more than cattle grazing, windmills, and oil wells) given over to biofuel farming (which uses brackish or otherwise non-potable water) can supply 100% of the liquid fuel consumption in the United States.

    It’s only a matter of time. Nature (billions of years of evolution) has already done the heavy lifting. It’s just a matter of cutting and pasting the appropriate assortment of existing genes together into an organism that suits our needs. Exxon-Mobile says 10 years. I give it 20 years. A new generation of nukes takes 30 years. Replacing our transporation fleet with a new fuel source will take 50 years.

    It’s biofuel or nothing. Fortunately biofuel is solely a matter of engineering and the costs are low enough that private will suffice git ‘er done. No new world order required.

    The best part of this is that biofuel is going to be far less expensive than light sweet crude at $15/bbl as if we’ll ever see $15/bbl LSC again. What we need to move civilization forward isn’t a more expensive replacement for fossil fuels. We need a less expensive replacement and no one should want to settle for less. Synthetic biology is the next transformational technology and it’s going to be more transformational to the human condition than metallurgy, electronics, mass production, or pretty much anything except perhaps a written language.

    • World moves a bit in 2 1/2 years.

      http://oilandglory.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/10/20/trouble_in_the_algae_lab_for_craig_venter_and_exxon

      Should be fun watching the algae industry deal with the anti-GM fanatics.

    • David Springer

      re; dealing with GM fanatics

      The Mexican border is about 20 miles south of Venter’s La Jolla facility. I’ve been there. The Mexican Baja is really nice and I’m sure Mexico would welcome the relocation. In fact Venter already has a related venture going with Mexico because, you see, Mexico has lots of sun and seawater which, aside from air, are the two main ingredients for growing algae. This is something the eco-loons can’t block.

    • David Springer

      John, did you actually read Levine’s article? The only problem between Exxon and Venter are that Exxon thought an extant strain of algae could be economically useful. Venter told them up front he didn’t think so and it turns out Venter was right and it cost $300 million to prove it. In the meantime in separate (non-Exxon) research Venter hasn’t skipped a beat in working towards the fully synthetic solution. When the Exxon partnership was formed Venter had yet to produce a viable synthetic genome. He reached that milestone in 2010 and claims his gene splicing process now routinely produces mega-base sequences from digital specifications.

    • Yes I did read it.

      What I read is that Exxon holds the purse strings and is unwilling so far to buy into the “synthetic” genome approach. And the whole reason he partnered with Exxon was that he realized he had no idea how to commercialize the stuff.

      Attempting to export this to Mexico would still lead to some fun times with respect to eco warriers.

    • David Springer

      Thanks for posting this interesting up-date on Exxon-Mobil’s fuel from algea project. This sounds very encouraging.

      It shows how the much maligned oil giant is doing more to “solve the CO2 emission problem(?)” than government regulation or taxation.

      Max

    • Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but when I click on the link I get an article from July 2009. And the oldest comment is from 2010.

      The article linked to by John M suggests that David Springer’s post dated touchdown dance may not be justified.

      I wouldn’t call it an update anyway, unless I am missing something (which is always possible).

    • David Springer

      David Springer | February 27, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=can-algae-feed-the-world-and-fuel-the-planet

      This article is less than six months old and is the update to the 2009 article a link to which appears further down in the thread.

  78. Coal has a lot of problems in terms of pollution. Natural gas, by comparison produces no soot or fly ash waste (which at present no one knows what to do with), 1/7 or so of the nitric oxide pollution, a tiny to nil amount of mercury, and ½ the CO2 (if you care about that). It is the biggest win-win. The EPA solution of tightening the screws on coal plants to make them sparkling clean is simply not going to work, but switching to gas would be a miracle in terms of the environment.

  79. Judith Curry

    Don’t know if you caught this one about China and shale gas.
    http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/China-Pursues-Shale-Gas-as-a-Cleaner-Alternative-to-Coal.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+oilpricecom+%28Oil+Price.

    It appears that China has inferred possible recoverable shale gas resources equaling those of the US, so this could become a big deal, both as an alternate to coal (purchased from Australia, etc.) for electrical power plus as an alternate to oil (purchased from the Middle East) as a motor fuel.

    Max

  80. Interesting piece by a middle-of-the-road economist, warmist, and energy-market expert on why it’s a bad idea to promote “alternative” energy on any basis other than reducing CO2:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-14/making-wrong-case-for-renewable-energy-commentary-by-severin-borenstein.html

  81. To this point, a surreal thread of no practical use (oh well, what did I expect ?)

    Pratt’s tube fantasies sound like Freud on mescaline

    CH blew his bottom off, big time (probably the 4XXXX). Rationality is dead, CH, sooo yesterday

    Webbie was actually rational for a whole paragraph (wherein he pointed out accurately that both oil conglomerates and desperado Kingdoms will NOT release accurate information on oil resources and reserves for public examination – national security, you know) but soon slipped off into troll land again under the impossible strain of trying to remain sane

    Johanna and Pekka exchanged some rational views on Tasmanian wind power, especially King Island in the constant 40′s gales … but Johanna is right: not only is King Island completely insignificant in population terms but diesel backup generators are used constantly to safeguard against intermittent and random loss of wind power (I’ve worked there on the scheelite deposits, so I have hard, practical experience)

    And, of course, no one addressed my point way upthread on the practical unsuitability of large chunks of existing national transport fleets for bio-fuels. The expense of changing this together with the sullen refusal of the populace to co-operate by throwing away $$$, is too uncomfortable even to admit. Pielke Jr is correct

    • cant walk and chew gum

      I was about to reply out of politeness – but the post was trivial. I always use E10 because it is a much better fuel and is a good use for sugar cane. As for E10 myths – http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=9019279&contentId=7038421

      All cars post 1986 – the introduction of unleaded fuel rules – can use E10.

    • cant walk and chew gum

      that’s post 1986 in Ostraya

    • Markus Fitzhenry

      The manufacturers of my Range Rover tell me I have to use Premium only.

      I don’t mind the extra cost, I get more zing out of it than a car that uses regular or E10 juice. All the bloody speed cameras along the Bruce cost me fair bit but. :-)

    • I drive both my Misubishi Pajero and Ford Falcon on E10 – both 4L sixes. You have twice the power of my Pajero – but I bet my Ford beats it on power for weight and drivability.

    • Utter nonsense – and not trivial “All cars post 1986″

      Try, as an example, the extremely popular Golf 77TSI. Runs on minimum 95RON, preferably RON98, and VW expressly state that E10 destroys the engine, hoses and fittings rapidly. Many more vehicles are like that (even the lowly 1997 Suzuki Cino cannot tolerate E10)

      The only triviality is in your lack of practical research. What a dope you are. I believe you can’t walk and chew simultaneously

    • CH

      As an example, the Golf 77TSI is recommended by VW only for 95-98RON unblended (ie. no E10) and pisses on the Falcon for both consumption and driveability. But, bluntly, that’s not hard to do

      Stay off the 4XXX, mate

  82. I’ll place this commemt at the end of the thread in the hope someone will pick it up.

    When a wind farm co talks about their proposed wind farm supplying say 50000 households, what energy needs are those households assumed to have that can be satisfied?

    For example all their electrical needs including water heating and electric ovens -both huge consumers of power?

    Is there some accepted definition of what the rather vague phrase ‘supplying the needs of 50000 households’ actually means?

    tonyb

  83. All gasoline engines manufactured for sale in the United States are warranted for operation using 10% ethanol blend. Ethanol is an octane booster and performs very well in modern high compression engines. It burns clean and leaves no deposits. 100% ethanol is the official fuel of the Indianapolis 500 Racing League which formerly ran methanol in racing vehicles.

    Primary problems with ethanol are incompatibility with some materials which precludes use in some older engines and its affinity for water. Long term fuel storage can lead to excess water in the fuel which can cause performance problems for vehicles without a fuel filter incorporating a water separator.

  84. Michael Lynch

    Since some above have referenced my forecasts (notably Webhubbletelescope) as inaccurate, friends suggested I correct the record. My forecast was quite accurate, however, some peak oilers have convinced themselves that the figure refers to crude+condensate only, which is false and a rookie mistake. Few forecasts focus on that subset of liquids: it’s like saying automobile production has peaked by ignoring SUVs, etc.

    • Lynch can’t deal with the situation and will keep moving the goalposts. His big claim years ago was that reserve growth would occur. That would mean that a reservoir producing crude would continue to grow and produce more crude past the anticipated expiration date. Now he wants to redefine his original claims by suggesting that extremely low-grade sources of fossil fuel needing energy intensive extraction techniques will provide the reserves.

      That’s apples and oranges. You start out with a big juicy apple and when that goes down to the core, you switch to eating the orange rind. Note the bait and switch. Lynch and Yergin have everyone believing that the orange rind is the best part of the apple. Most sane people stand back and just marvel at the audacity of the claims.

      The topic of peak oil was always about preparing to adjust to alternatives when finite resources of crude started to get too expensive. The concept is intuitively obvious but psychologically demoralizing. It means we have to start mitigating and adapting to a new paradigm. Lynch was wrong and Hubbert was right.

  85. Michael Lynch

    Gee, WHT, you redefine the question from total petroleum to crude and condensate, then say I’m moving the goalposts. Funny.
    And I haven’t changed my argument about reserve growth at all; reserve growth is so well established I’m shocked you would raise the issue. Do you have any evidence that it isn’t occuring in conventional fields? And in what sense was I wrong and Hubbert right?

    • Lynch doesn’t want to convey the notion that petroleum comes in varying grades very similar to a mineral ore. Unfortunately and in certain ways it is worse than an ore — in that the high quality crude can migrate over millions of years and thus pool up in these incredibly valuable reserves, which can’t happen nearly as easily with valuable solid mineral deposits. So the problem is that instead of a continuum like a conventional ore, there is a huge step down in quality between the highly concentrated crude oil reservoirs and the secondary sources of petroleum from the shales and sands. These other sources are highly dispersed and require significantly more energy to extract, and that’s why they call these “unconventional” sources. As an analogy, one can also try to count the amount of uranium dispersed in sea-water to indicate that the reserves of uranium are higher than they are, but it only takes a moment to determine that this is someone selling snake oil for our current situation.

      So this is no great shakes as a mystery. All that is needed is for the consultants and lobbyists to admit that conventional sources of oil have become more scarce and that we see that reflected as higher prices. That is the peak oil conundrum. However, Lynch will continue to redefine the goal posts and maintain a second set of books to “hide the decline” of world-wide crude oil production levels — this to keep his consultancy clients fed with the misdirections that they need to keep BAU going.

      What we also have to realize is that Lynch also shoots completely from the hip. I have all his reserve arguments documented in my book, where I completely deconstruct all his reserve growth and creaming curve graphs with mathematical arguments. I doubt that Lynch will even want to acknowledge this as he prefers to work in these kinds of forums, where he can keep the level of FUD high.

      “And I haven’t changed my argument about reserve growth at all; reserve growth is so well established I’m shocked you would raise the issue. Do you have any evidence that it isn’t occuring in conventional fields? And in what sense was I wrong and Hubbert right?”

      I would ask Lynch if he understands the well excepted terminology and the theory behind hyperbolic and exponential decline of conventional oil fields. I have this all well documented, including a theory for reserve growth as a level of epistemic uncertainty on the original estimates of a reservoir’s ultimate capacity. What Lynch wants to suggest is that these fields can produce long term gains instead of the fractional offsets that occur from the original hazy estimates.

      Lynch has no answer for someone that approaches the analysis from an uncertainty quantification perspective. As anyone that reads this blog realizes, we do this to place margins of errors around scientific estimates. In the case of crude oil, the errors are around M.K.Hubbert’s original oil depletion estimates (Hubbert never referred to it as peak oil). Lynch will continue to draw plots of “oil” that include liquified natural gas and who knows what else, to keep the facade going that production levels of crude are increasing — even with these continually increasing oil prices that we are experiencing.

      The “hide the decline” of crude oil depletion being practiced by the mainstream BAU machine makes the “hide the decline” of Mann look like child’s play.

  86. Web, nearly everything you say is irrelevant or confused. The issue was whether or not you were misrepresenting my track record based on a graph from 1998 by claiming it represented crude plus condensate, not total petroleum. Shales and sands are not at issue. Can you point me to your book? I would love to see the documentation for your claims.

  87. Michael Lynch

    A lot of patience, it’s over 700 pages. But has it been published? There is no name on the document. And while you present a number of mathematical arguments, you are apparently much less familiar with the oil industry. I will mention your work in my book, albeit briefly. And we have probably exhausted the topic for this website.

    • Just so everyone knows, Lynch is part of the team of oil industry villagers that work to actively prevent knowledge from escaping the inner circle.

      The benefit in doing a scientific analysis is that one can cast aside all the jargon and concentrate on working out the bean-counting problem. That’s all there is to it, working out how to count beans in a volume of space and extrapolate how long they will last.

      I can safely say that quantifying oil depletion is much easier than climate science. That is why I find it so amazing that no one has done this before, and why I decided to compile the volumes.

    • Michael Lynch

      Ah, so you’re anonymous to avoid a visit from the Men in Black.

    • There are only a couple of options. Oil industry analysts are either incompetent and can’t derive something as simple as a Hubbert depletion curve from first principles, OR they have done all the calculations but would rather not release it.

      It’s hard to believe that an industry that practically invented advanced seismographic and maximum entropy statistical estimation techniques could not do such an estimate. On the other hand, it is rather obvious that they have absolutely no fiscal or strategic incentive to say anything. So we have to go with the second option. They will make money in extraction regardless if they inform anyone outside their realm. As crude oil gets scarce, the price goes up and they will still make money. Who could of thunk of such a brilliant financial strategy!

      The only people that have spoken up at all have been retired oil industry types such a Hubbert, Deffeyes, Laherrere, and Campbell. All these guys have intuition but they lacked the mathematical skills to put all the pieces together in a quantifiable non-heuristic manner.

      I would like to see Lynch dig out a reference to a model of fossil fuel depletion that is comparable to a full climate science model, let alone comparable in scope to some garden-variety economic model. So Lynch can laugh and act like this is some sort of folly, but the reason people do basic bean-counting math is because it is the perfectly sane and sensible analysis to perform.

  88. Discussing energy policy has the potential to be perhaps more constructive than the religious wars, but it would be helpful to stick to facts rather than beliefs. In Ontario we have had a big push for green energy, with a big decrease in coal for electricity. Along with our history of 50% nuclear generated power (VERY expensive, especially when buried costs surface later, as they have here), and very small hydro-electric base, we have seen our residential rates go up rather steeply (and they look likely to continue to do so). However, as any trivial effort at research will show (e.g. see http://www.hydroquebec.com/publications/en/comparison_prices/), current Ontario prices are NOT the most expensive in North America. E.g. Boston is 23% more, Calgary is 35% more, etc. For those who do think the precautionary principle should play a big role in decisions about energy policy, in terms of limiting life cycle CO2 emissions, some form of carbon tax does not have to cause as much havoc as some believe.

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