There is no energy shortage

US Energy Flows in Quadrillion BTUs

US Energy Flows in Quadrillion BTUs

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A couple of notes about this chart. First, notice how the U.S.A. lives on fossil fuels. Yes, there is about 12% or so of non-fossil at the top (but most of that is nuclear).

A key “takeaway” here is that to convert our economy to renewable energy sources means to substantially replace the entire energy system of the country. Trillions of dollars and decades of time.

Look again at that tiny “Biomass, other” line at the top. That is what would need to be expanded to be as large as the coal, oil, and natural gas lines combined. The compound rate of growth required to do that in any reasonable time period would be staggering. It just won’t happen.

Finally, take a look at the transportation bar in the lower right. Transportation is substantially driven by oil (and oil goes substantially into transportation).

To eliminate gasoline, Diesel, and similar transportation fuels means to change the entire vehicle fleet (except for a few electric light rail commuter trains.) The trains, ships, tractors, combines, and airplanes of the U.S.A. are not short lived assets. Even cars are now “in the fleet” for about a decade.

The cost to replace all these would be gigantic and the time it would take is very long.

Even if we were already selling large numbers of electric cars today, and large percentages of people were buying them, it would take 10 to 20 years to “turn over” the fleet. Longer for the trains, planes, busses, trucks, et. al.

But surely, we must do it, so if it’s a long journey, we’d better start right now!

Well, maybe not…

Energy Shortage, What Energy Shortage?

No, I’m not talking about the fact that matter is just condensed energy (so as long as there is matter there is energy) nor even that everything around us is full of energy, we simply extract work from the difference between energy levels in a source and sink. While those are true, they are not what most people think of when they think of energy. For most folks they think of usable energy in the form of electricity, motor fuels, heat, things that do something they want.

So are we not running out of real, practical, fuels and energy supplies? Won’t sucking up and burning all the oil and coal leave future generations in energy poverty? Are we not squandering our childrens fuels, and future?

Well, no.

There are several problems with the “running out” and “using it all up – horrors!” view of things.

The first is that we measure how much resource we have with a “rubber ruler”, the second: we “run out” for most fossil fuels a lot further in the future than most folks think. And the third is that there are many replacements ready to go today. Let’s look at a few of them. (Though there are actually more energy sources, fossil and otherwise, than we will talk about here!)

Oil, and Hubberts Peak

Are we not at “Peak Oil” so we’ve used up most of the oil?

Again, no.

We actually know how the depletion curve is shaped. It’s basically a bell curve. We might be able to compress the downside a little bit with advanced oil recovery, but not much. This means that the entry time to peak will be about the same as the exit time. Roughly 100+ years from here at a minimum, since we started finding oil about 100 years ago (well, 150 for Drake’s first well). This also implies that once we are at Peak Oil, that peak production will take a few decades to significantly drop.

Hubbert's Peak Oil

Hubbert's Peak Oil

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We will have plenty of time to taper off and there will be no crisis.

But there is more to it than this. First off, we don’t know if we are at Peak Oil or not.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest single oil pool and they have kept their numbers very private. What we do know is that every so often they open the spiggot more and we get more total oil production.

Now remember that “Peak Oil” is not “No Oil” or even “Mostly Used Up”!

It is “Producing as much per year as you ever can”. That is, it’s “Peak Production Rate” not quantity. So until Saudi is running wide open and can produce no more, we are not at Peak Oil.

Add to this the fact that Saudi Arabia has not bothered to drill in most of their land (having a superfield that produced more oil than the world needed, why drill for even more excess production that OPEC would require them to shut in to maintain pricing?) So we really have no idea how far away Peak Oil might be since we never really ramped up the front side of the bell curve at full discovery rate. We are assuming that we are at, or near, Peak Oil based on historic production curves, that may not be representative of real oil in the ground.

But wait, there’s more…

With conventional extraction technology, most old fields have had between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total oil in the field pumped out. Those empty fields are more than 1/2 full, still.

According to the US Geological Survey, “the earth currently has more than three trillion barrels of conventional, recoverable oil resources of which 1 trillion has already been produced” according to Mark Nolan, chairman of ExxonMobil addressing the Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Conference in Sydney during September 2006.

But technology does not stand still. We have developed several sorts of “Enhanced Recovery Techniques” that keep on “finding” more oil in old fields. This leads to the possibility that the front side of the curve to “Peak Oil” may be a bit of a fiction. Hubbert developed his thesis (which worked very well to predict individual fields over modestly long time periods) during a time before our more exotic techniques were developed. The thesis may not hold up over a centuries long time scale where technology changes have plenty of time to change the rules…

BTW, the notion that we can, through improved efficiency, reduce our oil consumption is seriously broken. Jevons paradox explains why. Jevons showed that increased coal efficiency resulted in more coal consumption, not less. Each use becomes less, but the lower cost per use results in many more uses. Basically, I’m willing to drive my 50 mpg compact on a 50 mile commute to work, so I buy a home further from work than if I had a Hummer.

The bottom line is that we need to get over the notion that we can outsmart economics via fiat.

The fact that we may be on Hubberts Peak is a good thing, in that as gas prices rise we will finally start using alternatives. Improved efficiency is good for other reasons, but it will not reduce aggrigate consumption due to Jevon’s Paradox.

What is a Reserve?

So this brings us to the question of what is a reserve? There are at least a half dozen different definitions that encompass different ideas depending on the purpose to which the number will be put. Economists tend to use one set, oil geologists another, and the historical usage is not always the same as today. For example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves

Has a nice definition, but part way down the page notes that in 2007 the Society of Petroleum Engineers came out with a new, and different system. I will be using an older system here, more common with economists than petroleum engineers.

Do you care about what you can pump out and sell today? That would be “Economically Recoverable Reserves”. Do you care about what could be pumped over a longer period of time as prices rise, but using present technology? That would be “Recoverable Reserves”. How about all you think you can get out with reaonably likely future technologies? “Ultimately Recoverable Reserves”. But that still leaves oil in the ground…

Most of the time the popular press is talking about economically recoverable reserves, so what is a “reserve” changes with the price and with technolgy. Basically, if the price rises, we “find” more reserves; and as technology advances, we “find” more reserves. This means that our present belief about what percentage of the “reserves” we have pumped is somewhat broken, especially in a future where oil prices are over $100 / bbl and 50 years of technology improvement have happened.

This could easily move Peak Oil out another 50 years.

We are also drilling in 10,000 feet of water and finding oil in geologic layers that prior theory said were too deep for oil formation. Much of the planet that has been “completely explored” was only explored to a much shallower depth because theory said oil could not exist deeper than that. There is now a whole new “shell” of depth to explore for oil. Who knows what we will find there (but Standard Oil found oil in the Gulf of Mexico at those extreme depths as has Petrobras in Brazil…)

And now, so has BP:

The UPI story on BP and deep oil in The Gulf of Mexico.

The British Petroleum Press Release

But there is another problem with Peak Oil.

We don’t know for sure what process makes oil and there are sound reasons to think that it is still being created in large quantities. For example, the Middle East oil fields have an astounding rate of pumping, yet they have more oil in them now as “reserves” than before the pumping began.

One very good explanation for “why” is the possibility that iron acts as a catalyst to turn CO2 rich rocks, in the presence of H2 propbably from water, into hydrocarbons in geologic subduction zones (which would explain the oil locations in places like Indonesia and coastal California with active subduction zones).

Much as we do it synthetically (heat, pressure, CO2, H2 or water, and metal catalysts – Fischer Tropsch in a nutshell); nature may be doing the same thing. Take a look at how: Oil may come from subduction of rocks.

There are others with related theories and there are other places where reservoirs look to be “refilling” from unknown sources:

New York Times article about the Eugene Island field in The Gulf of Mexico that looks to be refilling.

A very readable summary of the “issues” with the conventional oil theories are at this link:

http://jennifermarohasy.com/blog/2006/11/abiotic-oil-a-note-from-louis-hissink/

And this site is devoted to the abiotic oil thesis:

http://www.gasresources.net/

A bit more eclectic collection of such observations.

And then there is still another problem with Peak Oil.

What is Oil?

All we have talked about so far is what is named “conventional oil”. There are at least 2 major “unconventional oil” sources that are vastly larger than all of conventional oil. These are the “Tar Sands” (much of which are in Canada) and the “Oil Shale” which covers hugh areas of the United States (along with other parts of the world). The shale is presently not considered an oil reserve of any sort, since nobody can make money off it at present oil prices. Trillions of barrels of oil that exist, but are not counted.

What is a ‘resource’ changes with price and technology.

A resource is something of economic value; it becomes a reserve once folks start using it. Canadian tar sands were not a ‘resource’ 50 years ago, now they are. U.S. oil shale holds a Trillion+ bbl of oil minimum, but is not counted as a resource when prices are below about $100/bbl.

This page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_shale

puts the recoverable shale oil estimate at about 3 trillion barrels. That is about 100 years at present oil consumption rates if all oil consumption was supplied from shale oil. Somehow I don’t feel like I’m running out…

With oil over $100 / bbl the “oil” reserves of the world double or triple…

How much is “ultimately recoverable”? Nobody knows, but it is immense.

This puts us at somewhere around 200 years out before we are really at risk of “running out of oil”… But even this ignores an “oil” source.

Synthetic Oil & “Oil” Products; CTL – Coal To Liquids

Coal can be easily turned to gasoline and Diesel (as done by SASOL in Africa, or Rentech, Syntroleum, and Synthesis Energy Company in the U.S.A.) or into “petro” chemicals as is done by Eastman Chemical company (ticker EMN) today.

See: The SASOL site for more.

And they are not the only ones doing this. The process was invented in Germany prior to the Nazi era by FIscher and Tropsch so it is commonly called FT technology. During WWII, the Nazi war machine ran on FT fuels.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer-Tropsch

During the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970’s, South Africa was threatened with a cut off of fuel from the west. They dug out their history books and SASOL was born. They have been running a modern economy on synthetic oil ever since.

Their economy has benefited from the stable energy costs and foreign exchange retention (i.e. not sending gold to OPEC). They are the most industrially advanced economy in Africa. They are an existence proof that this technology is all that is needed to provide all the “petroleum” fuel products we need, even if we don’t have enough “petroleum”.

All you need to do to make synthetic crude oil is take any material that contains a hydrocarbon component (plastic, paper, biowaste, coal, tree chips, garbage, slaughter house waste) put it in a pressure vessel and cook at high temperature with a little water, and pressure (500 degrees Fahrenheit and pressurized to 600 pounds per square inch, for about 20 minutes). Out comes a synthetic crude comparable to a high quality crude oil.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization
http://discovermagazine.com/2006/apr/anything-oil
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/pdfs/agricultural_waste.pdf

There is a new microwave process that is also being worked on to do the same thing.

Basically, we run out of “Oil Products” long after we run out of oil, since we can use coal or any other carbon source.

BTW, one of my favorites is Rentech (RTK) who have a trash to liquids, such as Diesel, demonstration initiative underway using a FT variation. I don’t think we’re in any danger or running out of trash any time soon…

Periodically OPEC likes to drive oil cost low enough to put the alternatives out of business. Kind of like now… Two countries chose to say “We don’t want to play” and set policies to replace oil with little regard to low prices. One of those we’ve already seen, South Africa with CTL technology. The other was Brazil, which we will look at further down under Biofuels. But first, there is another source for motor fuels. One the U.S.A. has lots of.

Natural Gas & Gas To Liquids – GTL

There are vast quantities of natural gas in America. Several companies have built GTL, gas to liquids, plants. Expect to see more of them. These are basically the same FT technology as CTL plants, but with a different feed stock and slight variations in the first steps. Much of this gas is what is called “stranded gas”. It is not always counted as an “economically recoverable reserve” since it is not economical to build a pipeline to bring it to your heater. But Standard Oil (among others) has started to make small scale GTL plants that can turn this “stranded gas” into motor fuels. One of these is to be mounted on a barge in Nigeria. But there are larger scale projects as well.

See: http://www.qp.com.qa/qp.nsf/web/bc_new_projects_gtl

That gives a bit of an idea what the potential is for GTL.

A recent advance in the technology of natural gas recovery (from what are called “tight shales”) has resulted in a glut of natural gas and prices below $4/ unit when just last year they were about $15 / unit; so expect to hear much more about natural gas alternatives. There are also very large depostis of natural gas stranded in Alaska. We were almost ready to build a pipeline to bring that gas to the “lower 48” when this price collapse from tight shale gas came along. Basically, we will be using natural gas for decades (centuries?) to come. And it can be used in vehicles. Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (ticker CLNE) is building natural gas stations and converting trucks and cars to run on the fuel today.

But wait, there’s more…

Beneath the ocean there are deposits of natural gas in the form of a composite of water and natural gas called a ‘clathrate’. Like a stable kind of ice. No body is sure how much there is (it is a stable solid when cold and under pressure, like in the deep ocean) or how to get it out; but it is just sitting there and the quantities are known to be gigantic.

From: https://www.llnl.gov/str/News1196.html

“The energy stored in methane clathrate deposits on Earth has been estimated at twice that in all conventional hydrocarbon deposits of oil, gas, and coal.”

but from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_clathrate

we have that current estimates are lower at only:

Recent estimates constrained by direct sampling suggest the global inventory lies between [...]1 quadrillion to 5 quadrillion m3. This estimate, corresponding to 500-2500 gigatonnes carbon (Gt C), is smaller than the 5000 Gt C estimated for all other fossil fuel reserves but substantially larger than the ~230 Gt C estimated for other natural gas sources. The permafrost reservoir has been estimated at about 400 Gt C in the Arctic, but no estimates have been made of possible Antarctic reservoirs. These are large amounts. For comparison the total carbon in the atmosphere is around 700 gigatons.

In any case, there is one heck of a lot of it…

Next we will have an audience with King Coal.

Old King Coal

So how much coal is there?

The known coal deposits in the U.S.A. alone will last about 250-400 years and maybe more, so we have plenty of time to continue business as usual while we ponder what to do next.

U.S.A Coal

U.S.A Coal

Original Map with more options shows where coal is in the U.S.A.; by my eyeball measurement it’s about 1/4 of the country.

The years of reserves varies with the price so the ‘life time of reserves’ is somewhere between 250 years and 400 depending on what price is used and what you assume for burn rate. It also ignores that much coal is left in the ground in some kinds of mining, such as pillar and room, and could be recovered by other techniques. It also ignores the mountains of coal tailings that are piled all over from prior mining where coal with a bit too much dirt in it was just tossed aside. This is presently being converted to liquid fuels on an experimental basis with decent success.

The USGS map is somewhat conservative in that I know of at least one large peat field that they have left off the map. Every so often someone driving past tosses out a cigarette and sets the land on fire… (near Stockton). We don’t think of peat as a fuel here…

But eventually 400 years will pass. Surely that’s just moving doom a bit further out! So it’s not my kids, nor my grandkids, but it’s my (great) x 10 grandkids!

Well, no… We can just use nuclear power.

The Nuclear Option

Nuclear has about a 10,000 year lifetime from the Uranium in present mines on land before we have to get fancy. With known proven technologies we can move that out to a few million years+. No, that is not a typo…

Sidebar: There is more energy in the Uranium in a given mass of coal than there is in the carbon. A major reason for thorough coal ash recovery and flue gas scrubbing ought to be the recovery of that U resource. We throw away a few thousand tons of U each year in this way. This would extend our U resource from about 10,000 years to over 20,000 years; but nobody seems to care much about the impending shortage of U based energy supply 10,000 years from now …

If that’s not enough, we can move on to Thorium of which there’s more than Uranium. 2 to 4 times. It is already working in nuclear reactors today. India has a program (and lots of Th but not so much U) Also we can use it in our present reactors if desired. Thorium Power Inc does that (stock ticker THPW)

See: Thorium 101 from Thorium Power Corp.

and: Thorium technology publications from Thorium Power Corp

So, for Uranium we have about 10,000 years worth in mines on land. Thorium somewhat more; though folks have not bothered looking for it much. I make that 20,000 – 40,000 years+. So, maybe in 39,900 years you can give me a call? No?

Ok, then I’ll give you the trump card now…

Uranium is not renewable, but it is functionally unlimited. This clever scientist in Japan made a polymer that absorbs it from sea water at a price of about $150 / lb. Not competitive with the land based U by a few dollars, so not counted as an “economic reserve” today; but certainly cheap enough to make cheap electricity. And if we powered the whole planet on sea water U, we would extract slightly less each year than washes into the ocean via erosion… We run out of energy when we run out of planet. Literally. See:

How the Japanese do it

and:

What some Greens think

We could even do it with a fleet of ships a fraction of the size presently used for petroleum.

and / or just google “Uranium polymer adsorption japan” for more examples. (both adsorption and absorption are good search terms… why? “Why? Don’t ask why. Down that path lies insanity and ruin. -E.M.Smith”)

So I make that about a few billion years before we might have an energy problem with non-renewables. Call me in 1,000,000,000 years and we’ll work on it…

There is no energy shortage and there never will be. We run out of power when we run out of planet. Honest.

There is a politically induced shortage of dirt cheap liquid motor fuel. Nothing more.

Biofuels

What if we step away from non-renewable fuels and want to put a renewable fuel in our gas tank? How well will that work? Won’t it make poor people starve?

The notion that producing biofuels causes starvation is also a broken idea. I’ll cover that in a future posting that I will link back to here. Just remember that the classical problem in agricultural economics is how to reduce output to support prices. We have plenty of capacity to grow crops. For now, I’ll just say that while turning corn kernals into biofuel is mostly just a political gift to the U.S. Farm Belt, there are plenty of ways to make biofuels that are much more efficient and do not consume “food”.

In particular: Brazil and sugar cane. Brazil was the second country to tell Opec to go pound sand and chose energy independence. They have had a dynamic and growing economy ever since. They, too, have an advanced technological society. Cosan is a large player there (stock ticker CZZ) and makes hugh quantities of cane sugar, much of which is converted to ethanol. Flex fuel cars are the norm there. In fairness, they recently discovered a lot of oil off their cost (PBR is the ticker for the oil company- Petrobras) but the ethanol mandate began during the embargo years when they had no oil.

We can easily make similar biofuels. (No, not the corn/food to fuel kind, that is a political solution…). Verenium (stock ticker VRNM) along with a couple of others are doing start up scale cellulosic ethanol. Petrosun Energy (PSUD) and Origin Oil (OOIL) are both doing algae oil biomass. Algae yields a couple of orders of magentude more oil / acre than corn. It’s just a matter of cost (profitable at oil over $100/bbl, not so much with oil under $50/bbl). To the extent we have excess corn kernals, sure, convert them to ethanol as a form of farm price support. Beats paying them not to plant anything…

There is also the fact that we can only eat a small part of the plant. Every year billions of tons of inedible waste is buried in land fills (see those piles on a street near you) and plowed under at farms around the world (“rice stubble” was traditionally burned off in the field creating great smoke problems; later propane powered burners were developed to get rid of the stuff with less smoke.) This can be turned to “oil” by several means, but one I’ve not yet mentioned is pyrolysis. A decent write up is here:

A very nice slide presentation from the USDA by Jennifer Holmgren of UOP and Robert C. Brown of Iowa State U. (1 MB pdf).

It is already being done, including a project in Darwin, Australia to turn ‘green waste’ into oil.

And it can be fed on municipal garbage.

A view directed at forest products (a 1.3 MB pdf) from www.forestbioproducts.umaine.edu

It can even be done in a way that is “green” and “CO2″ sequestering.

And there is also the wiki page.

Then there is bioDiesel.

This fuel can be made from virgin oil, like soybean oil, or from used cooking oil (or any other animal or plant fat or oil). Lots of used cooking oil is just disposed of in land fills. It would make much better sense to run it through a refinery and into our trucks. To the extent that we can grow more oil than we need to eat, feed it to the bioDiesel process. Again, it beats paying farmers to grow nothing as a price support program. Eventually, I expect the orders of magnetude more production per acre of algae to win out, but that will be a few years from now. At that point we have ‘closed the loop’ with oil.

Contrary to popular belief, petroleum did not come from dinosaurs. The profile of molecules in it shows that it most likely formed in shallow seas from algae. When we are using algae pools to make oil for bioDiesel, we have just compressed the natural cycle by a few million years and are more directly putting sunshine in our fuel tanks. The sun runs down in a few billion years, so I’m not so worried.

Realize that this is not a ‘pie in the sky’ solution. It is all shown to work. We have production ponds growing algae that are being turned into bioDiesel right now by Petrosun.

The only question is can it compete on price with Saudi Oil? If we had any brains at all, we would take the Brazil Solution to heart and tell OPEC to go pound sand, we are replacing them with pond scum… All we lack is the political will to do it.

We can grow enough oil for all the needs of the U.S.A. in a land area about the size that we presently use for sewage treatment and coal electric generation. You get an order of magnitude or two more tons / acre out of algae than from other ‘crops’.

Don’t like algae? Try trees.

Cold regions can grow poplars and warm places eucalyptus at about a 50 tons/acre yield. Think about that for a minute. The average driver goes about 12,000 miles per year. At 24 mpg that would be 500 gallons. At 6 lbs / gallon that’s 3000 lbs. 1.5 tons. Even with yield losses, you would only need about 1/10th of an acre to feed a car. That is less than many folks have as a back yard (20 x 105 feet or about 6 x 32 meters). Just turning our yard waste (often put in landfills) into fuel would make a big dent in our fuel needs.

RTK Rentech has a facility in the Los Angeles area turning garbage into motor fuels. They also produced the fuel used by the U.S. Air Force to demonstrate synthetic jet fuel and to certify aircraft for it. At least the USAF has clue. Hopefully it will survive the new regime.

Why don’t we do this? Look at the price of oil. $50/bbl as I write this. Hard to get financing when your biz model can blow up every time a very price inelastic commodity has a price break down because Saudi Arabia opens the tap or China decides to buy less oil during the Olympics. We need to stabilze our domestic market and isolate it from international manipulation.

I’m all for making OPEC go pound sand

The easy way to do this is to tax imported OPEC oil such that it is over $80/bbl and to exempt domestic and NAFTA energy from taxes. You will be up to your eyeballs in non-OPEC energy and liquid fuels in no time flat… But our government puts taxes on all fuel sources and discourages them all while leaving the OPEC leverage on prices intact.

To me, it looks more like our government is trying to run a tax scam based on the way it was done in England long ago. Lust for power, money, and control has been with us since the beginning of time… See the history of the Hostmen and coal taxes in England for example:

Coal Tax Post

Coal Tax Post

A description of the old English Coal Tax posts.
http://www.internalcombustionbook.com/Hostmen.php

Other Renewable Energy Supplies

If we want to, we can use the other more traditional renewable energy sources. I’m not going to cover traditional hydroelectric since most of the best sites already have dams on them and many of the undammed rivers ought to be left free running for other reasons. But we will look at some other sources, water or otherwise

Can we all agree we need to develop renewable energy?

No, we don’t.

We need to implement renewable energy where it is cost effective. It’s developed already. From here on out it is incremental improvement largely aimed at cost reduction. I’d expect a few breakthrough moments are still in the wings, but the heavy lifting is done.

Solar

Solar


The whole US can be run off of the sunshine on a small (relatively) part of the Mojave. About 100 miles on a side. Now look at the Sahara… And all it takes is using established technology like:

http://www.stirlingenergy.com/projects/solar-one.asp

Australia is the proposed site for a thermal tower system that solves some of the storage problems. It has a solar collector air skirt over hot land and a central tower with small turbines inside. See:

http://www.enviromission.com.au/IRM/content/technology_technologyover.html

Or any one of dozens of other solar technologies that are already developed and proven. It’s not about development, it is all about cost and implimentation of what is already developed. (storage is an issue but solvable at a price via any/all of pumped water, compressed air, thermal storage, flywheels, batteries, etc.) Solar runs out when the sun runs down. Call it a few billion years.

Wave

Wave


Wave / tide. The actual power available varies a lot with the local wave action, but it is generally quite large. An area of about 100 x 3 miles on the active Pacific coast would power all of California’s electrical needs with existing machine designs (about 1/10 of the U.S. population). Our coastline is far far longer than that. 1000 miles for the west coast?

A similar 1000 x 3.7 mile surface of ocean waves would provide roughly all the energy needed to entirely power the U.S.A. peak electrical demand (calculated based on the model 1 MW plant described at OPTT) using developed technology such as this, from Ocean Power Technologies ( OPTT ):

http://www.oceanpowertechnologies.com/

There are several other vendors of competing systems including the Pelamis system.

http://www.pelamiswave.com/

Wind

Wind


Wind is presently competitive with Natural Gas fired electricity and pushing on coal in the American Plains. T. Boone Pickens proposed putting in about $10 Billion of wind farm. While the whole of the U.S. could be powered by the wind in the area to the east of the Rockies and west of the Mississippi with lots of room to spare, storage is an issue just like for solar and frankly, while I like the looks of windmills I’m personally bothered by the air pressure variations and noise. I’m also not fond of the tendency to murder birds and bats…

Geothermal

Geothermal

Geothermal. “Lots”. Depending on how you define it, it’s highly variable. Is a ground source heat pump ‘geothermal’? It is certainly a good idea… Powering Iceland and parts of California today, among others. The amount is more than needed for the whole world. It’s mostly a matter of how much you want to spend to drill deep enough.

Trash. One of my favorites. We can easily turn our trash and lawn clippings into liquid motor fuels (gasoline and Diesel) for our existing cars. My best estimate is that what I “produce” each year on my fractional acre is about what my cars eat. I don’t think we’re running out of trash any time soon. This is proven technology in production in the Los Angeles area trash system.

But what about hydrogen as an energy source?

Show me the hyrdrogen wells. Hydrogen is more of a battery than an energy source. Generally speaking, you must get the hyrogen from some other primary energy source and that source is better used directly (or directly turned into motor fuels) rather than taking the efficiency losses of conversions into hydrogen then back to useful energy later. Their may be some breakthrough in direct solar to hydrogen gas formation, but don’t hold your breath.

What about “Negawatts” and Conservation?

You can not starve yourself to a full stomach.

Efficiency improvements are valuable for their own reasons (mostly cost reductions) and I am all for them; but it is a fallacy to think that conservation creates more energy or will reduce total consumption.

http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/jevons-paradox-coal-oil-conservation/

(For those who would assert that Jevons has somehow been proven wrong via some paper study, I would point to the existence proof of the Arab Oil Embargo. After that happened, the U.S. auto industry was almost destroyed as America ran to the small fuel efficient Japanese cars. A decade later (after much of the fleet had turned over to those fuel efficienct cars) were were right back on track to record fuel consumption. People moved further out into the suburbs to get a better home cheaper, and let their efficient car carry them further to work on a longer commute.

Just as Jevons Paradox would have predicted.

The driving force behind conservation as “negawatts” is the notion that we are running out of a scarce resource and need to stretch out the limited, scarce resource. Yet any proposition of the form “We are running out of energy” or “We must conserve” or “Efficiency will save us” is just fundamentally broken.

As we’ve seen above, we have no limited scarce resource to conserve.

But won’t these energy systems take a lot of resources and aren’t we running out of stuff to build things with? Well, no. I have another posting that covers that in some depth:

There is no shortage of “Stuff” and there never will be.

My Conclusion

Notice that there are at least a half dozen technologies listed above that can power the entire U.S.A. Either forever or for several hundred years. We are drowning in energy choices (and I haven’t listed several others). Many of these energy sources are available elsewhere on the planet in equal sizes (or sometimes greater). The planet as a whole, and each part of it, has more energy than it could ever use, with a large number of relatively affordable options available in most places. For there to be an “energy shortage” all the above options must fail (and several are proven to be working, such as Sasol and Coal to Liquids). For there to be no shortage, we only need one to work.

We have dozens that work.

All we need to do is effectively use the cheapest energy sources available to improve life for everyone on the planet as quickly as possible.

We need to take as much of the world as possible to a modern, wealthy, life style as rapidly as possible. This is best done by free markets, not government agencies; though we do need a “countervailing force” to OPEC via an “OPEC only” tariff.

A wealthy society can afford to set large parts of the planet aside for parks; a poor one can not…

There is no energy shortage and there never will be. There is a surplus of groundless fear and there is a shortage of imagination and willingness to act sensibly.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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82 Responses to There is no energy shortage

  1. Jeff Alberts says:

    Wow. That’s about all I can say. Very nice writeup.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    Thanks!

    It’s a topic that has been near and dear to my heart since about 1973 when the Arab Oil Embargo happened. Just finally got around to dressing it up a little…

    BTW, I was adding pictures and links when you posted your comment, so you may want to look at it again ;-)

    I have a couple of others like this, but focusing on other things, that will be added over time. It’s all part of my “No Limits To Growth” mind set that came out of reading “Limits To Growth” by Meadows et. al. (via the Club of Rome) and having a gag reflex at how they used computers to lie… (Example: Did you know we ran out of natural gas in 1980 and all the whales are dead?). IMHO it was the model on which the AGW panic is based.

    So: Don’t Panic! We are NOT running out of stuff!

  3. H.R. says:

    E.M.

    “Contrary to popular belief, petroleum did not come from dinosaurs. The profile of molecules in it shows that it formed in shallow seas from algae.”

    WHAT!?!? All those Sinclair gasoline station signs with the Dino logo were a LIE!?!? You sure know how to shatter a kid’s fantasy of riding a dinosaur some day ;o)

    Outstanding post, but what to comment on?

    A suggestion if you’re open to one. If you had posted this in 3-4 linked posts, one could focus on questions or contributions after each section. Right now, I’m with Jeff. All I can say is “wow” because I don’t know where to start. I’ll be back for more comments though, because it’s a great topic.

    (Hi ho, it’s off to work I go.)

  4. H.R. says:

    E.M. – Never mind that first post. It was early A.M. and I was just whining.

  5. e.m.smith says:

    I thought your prior post was fine. No worries. If you want me to erase anything or edit, I can (but frankly I don’t see what that would be… I liked the Dino signs too…)

    Believe it or not, this is 1/5 or so of “the whole enchilada” being just “the energy part”. I may yet break it into parts by energy source (and link the parts back to here as a top aggregator).

    The “preview of coming events” is:

    There is no shortage of water
    There is no shortage of food
    There is no shortage of land
    there is no shortage of “stuff”.

    Basically, if you break it down like that, there isn’t a capacity limit in any of them (or energy; as shown).

    You end up looking at it thinking:

    If we can make all the fresh water we want with desalinizers (taking only energy and some materials) and we have all the energy we could ever use, and no metals ever leave the planet so they don’t “go away” (meaning it’s just a question of energy to get them “back”…) and we can make all the polymers we would ever want:

    Then you can make all the greenhouses you want (at about 10 times the food yield) so there is no limit via food for at least one or two orders of magnitude… That just leaves land.

    So put everyone on the planet in a city like London, and you need 6 spots on the planet the size of the UK to hold them. It could fit in a Texas or two, more or less… The rest of the planet would be EMPTY of people. This is full?

    So at the end of this I’m left thinking, like you did, WOW. Where is the problem? WHERE is all this doom and gloom we’re supposed to be panicky over?

    I think most folks on the planet would be happy living in a “London” with all the food, fuel, water, and “stuff” they could ever wish to “consume”…

    A “peek ahead”: We’ve reached the sustainable yield limit of the ocean for fish. Oh No! Fish Shortage! But the only result has been a rapid rise of aquaculture to meet the demand for fish… So now we get trout for $2.25 / lb at Costco and I have trouble convincing myself to buy the $12.00 lb ocean fish. This is a problem how?

  6. Mike Graebner says:

    I’m with Jeff, WOW.

    I seem to remember something after the 1970’s oil embargo that Volvo had developed a car that got 100 mpg using ceramics. If they could do it then, I am sure we could do it now.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    I actually have the clipping somewhere in my archives about the Volvo. It got, IIRC, 87 mpg using a small turbo charged diesel driving an electric generator (a “Diesel Hybrid” in our present terminology) in a full sized (by European standards) Volvo station wagon.

    Very nice design. Well thought out. Beautiful Swedish design.

    Then Ford bought them…

    DISCLOSURE: as of yesterday and today I own a little under 1000 shares of Ford. But I still don’t forgive them for killing this excellent design from brilliant Swedish Engineers and I’ll trade out of Ford at the drop of a MACD indicator (when I’d hold them if they had a Volvo / Ford with Hybrid Electric Turbo Diesel drive train for sale any time soon).

  8. Roger Sowell says:

    E.M.Smith,

    Re: cars and transportation in general. I use a metric of $ spent per 100 miles traveled when comparing options for transportation. With gasoline at $2 per gallon, and a car that 20 miles per gallon, that works out to $10 per 100 miles. There are other costs, such as for oil, tires, brakes, insurance, loan payment, but those are mostly the same for any type of car. We are discussing the energy component here. What makes this interesting is that diesel cars can now achieve around 40 miles per gallon, at only slightly additional cost per gallon. Say it works out to around $6 per 100 miles.

    Any alternative fuel or motive technology has to beat that. Hydrogen cannot, especially when the huge purchase price is included (which I excluded above). CNG does very well, some estimates have the cost at $4 per 100 miles. The range is limited now, due to few refueling stations.

    A hybrid, even a plug-in hybrid, may do better than $6 per 100 miles, although it appears that the cost for electric recharging is $5 per 100 miles, given 6 hours to recharge off of 110v to travel 40 miles, and power at $0.10 per kwh. These numbers should change as batteries improve, but still it is wait and see.

    The key point I want to make is that the Saudis are very smart businessmen, and are keenly aware of the West’s inventiveness in hybrids and such. They will do what it takes to maintain world oil price below the level at which the alternatives make sense. That includes tar sands and oil shale, and coal-to-liquids. They did this once before in 1979, when crude price rose to $32 per barrel. That is a very odd number, why not $30, and not $40 or $50? The reason is that our break-even price for coal-to-gasoline was $36 to $40 per barrel. Smart guys. And they are doing it again, now that the speculation in oil price from 2008 is over.

    If Obama was truly interested in cutting the OPEC ties, he would provide instant rebates for the hybrid portion of new cars, plus instant rebates for conversion kits for used cars that are no older than 2 years. Not going to happen, though.

    Re coal, agree, not running out, oil, agree, natural gas, agree, uranium, power price is far too high plus toxics are a long-term problem, wave energy or ocean current energy will be the long-term solution.

    Re the future installments, agree: nothing ever runs out, it just runs away. Takes energy to “bring it back.” Even land can be created — see Florida’s lagoons and the islands.

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @Roger:

    I use cents / mile. We differ by where we put the decimal ;-)

    FWIW, I go through the “cents / mile” exercise every so often with some new car or other; then I get back in my 1980 Mercedes Diesel that cost me $1200 and drive on…

    My spouses car cost me $10,000 about 200,000 miles ago (it, too, is a Mercedes Diesel). I’m at a nickel a mile for the car capital cost (and dropping!) and I get between 24 mpg (for her big wagon) and 28-30 mpg (my big sedan – manual transmission) on fuel consumption (or about 10 cents / mile at high fuel prices, a nickel when they were lower). My “gold standard” for milage is actually the old VW Diesel Rabbit. It got 50+ mpg in a car that would hold 4 adults! I see ads for cars crowing over their 30 ish miles / gallon and just shake my head…

    Now if GM / Opel would just make this car:

    http://www.flixxy.com/fuel-economy-performance-car.htm

    I’d have a new over 100 mpg standard…

    As I’m sure you are very aware, the price bump in nuclear is mostly a “political / legal premium”. Were it just an issue of technology, costs would be much lower (as they were pre Three Mile Island). Also, there are ways of dealing with the waste toxics not the least of which is using them up as fuel! (Our present “once through” system leaves most of the energy still in the fuel pellet which we then call “waste” and dump, rather than reprocess to new fuel). I will not go into the technologies here, but there are many interesting nuclear cycles including continuous fuel recycle / refining systems that are much more efficient at using fuel and reducing “waste”. All this leads me to think that it’s not about the engineering…

    I would much rather live near a solar plant or have wave bobbers off the coast than be near a nuclear dump, but frankly, they all work and they all are acceptable to me. Cadmium Yellow was a common paint for a long time and cadmium is terribly toxic… The EU has essentially banned cadmium even in trace amounts, yet has an exemption for NiCd batteries (!) so I don’t hold nuclear to a higher standard just because it’s toxins are energetic particles rather than elements. I would much rather live near a nuclear reactor than near a cadmium contamination site or battery factory!

    Your point about the Saudis is exactly why I think we need a countervailing tariff. I’ve seen them play this game too many times. We need to tell them (and the world) that we just don’t need to be spending a few hundred $Billion a year to defend the oil supply when we have so many other choices. Letting them run prices up for 4 years, then kill the competition for one, then back up, then… It’s just stupidity on our part (or worse, somebody has paid for the best politicians money can buy…)

    Why limit conversion kits to 2 year old cars and newer? The body and suspension don’t really know “years” that much. It’s the drive train that limits the life span (at least, here in California where we don’t soak our cars in salt…) I have a 1978 or so wagon that is just fine exclusive of the carburetor … I’d love to drop a new hybrid drive train in it and run it for another decade+. I also have an old 1987 Honda that has a dead tranny that is set for the crusher where I’d really rather put an electric conversion in it. Nothing is really wrong with the body, frame, suspension, glass, wheels, design, …

    Per wave et al as the long term: Don’t count out solar PV. There are some recent lab scale developments that make plastic cells that look set to provide sub 5 cent / kWhr power. not production yet, but it’s a real game changer. There is even one company that literally prints solar cells with dyes on a thin film base.

    see:

    http://www.inhabitat.com/2008/03/10/printable-solar-cells-demonstrated/

    http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/21649/?a=f

    We are rapidly approaching the point where your car “paint job” keeps the battery charged… In sunny places having a car make 10 kWhrs / day while parked in the sun would drive many electric commuter cars to work and back without much else needed. I’m not giving up on my dream of a solar powered car yet!

    The “bottom line” is that we have no need at all to be squabbling over energy supplies nor to be subsidizing oil kingdoms. We need to get over the ‘running out’ mindset and go do something else…

  10. H.R. says:

    on March 21, 2009 at 3:10 am Roger Sowell

    “E.M.Smith,

    Re: cars and transportation in general. I use a metric of $ spent per 100 miles traveled when comparing options for transportation. With gasoline at $2 per gallon, and a car that 20 miles per gallon, that works out to $10 per 100 miles.”

    There’s also a utility component. For example the Smart car is rated 36 mpg and a Toyota Corolla is rated at 30 mpg. Anytime you take a trip involving more than two people, you need two Smart cars to accomplish what a Corolla can do. There are similar points to be made for towing boats, campers, etc. And Mrs. E.M.’s Mercedes wagon is just the ticket for bulky purchases.

    How do we value utility so we can make rational decisions?

    There was a good letter to the editor in Friday’s (3/20/09) WSJ (“When a hybrid can pull a boat, then we’ll talk”) commenting on the types of vehicles Americans want and need vs a blind focus by gum’mint on mpg.

    I need to tow a boat from time to time. I commute to work by myself. I’m a do-it-your-selfer both home and garden. Mrs. H.R. and I go on ski trips with with the out-laws once or twics each winter, the nearest skiing being about 7 hours away in any direction (except south!). Rhetorically, what vehicle is best for me?

    “There are other costs, such as for oil, tires, brakes, insurance, loan payment, but those are mostly the same for any type of car.”

    I’m with you there, Roger, with perhaps the exception of batteries for electric vehicles. Battery costs are still problematic.

  11. H.R. says:

    @ March 20, 2009 at 5:22 pm e.m.smith

    “I thought your prior post was fine. No worries. If you want me to erase anything or edit, I can [...]”

    No, no… I was whining. You did all the work to put together a great post and then I can’t bother to go back and pick out the things I want to comment on? Nope… whining.

    Oh! I hit ‘submit’ on the first post at about 5:30 am local time and the time stamp is 10:04 am on the post. I believe there are 3 hours difference in our time zones, so what are the times your readers will see? Is the time stamp when you post the comment, your local time? It seems that way to me.

    “[...] (but frankly I don’t see what that would be… I liked the Dino signs too…) [...]”

    I’ve gathered from your writings that we are close enough in age to have experienced life in the same time frame. I thought you would be familiar with the Sinclair Dino logo. I hit double nickels last year.

    “[...]Believe it or not, this is 1/5 or so of “the whole enchilada” being just “the energy part”. I may yet break it into parts by energy source (and link the parts back to here as a top aggregator).

    The “preview of coming events” is:

    There is no shortage of water
    There is no shortage of food
    There is no shortage of land
    there is no shortage of “stuff”.[...]”

    That works for me. I’d like to read that.

    “[...] Basically, if you break it down like that, there isn’t a capacity limit in any of them (or energy; as shown). [...]”

    I think most people are aware on some level that humans aren’t going around creating or destroying matter. The people chanting the “recycle, recycle, recycle, omm, omm” mantra (btw, I’m NOT criticizing recycling) and then going through the roof when we dig up a little new copper and steel to make a refridgerator, which they absolutely refuse to do without, are suffering some sort of economic disconnect. We’ll mine our old landfills when it makes economic sense to do so and not a minute sooner.

    As you point out in your post, I also believe some things require more energy to recycle than the energy it takes to make more out of new resources; plastic bags come to mind. It’s worth thinking about throwing things away in a ‘smart’ way so they’ll be easier to mine later when virgin sources become harder to retrieve.

  12. Roger Sowell says:

    @E.M.Smith

    “As I’m sure you are very aware, the price bump in nuclear is mostly a “political / legal premium”. Were it just an issue of technology, costs would be much lower (as they were pre Three Mile Island).”

    Nuclear plant costs are a very complex subject, and it does depend to some extent on the technology chosen, plus the regulations (in whatever country) on design standards. I blogged (and still do) on this because I want them all shut down so we can live in a safer world with lower energy (electricity) costs.

    As you may have heard, One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day. (my 60’s side is showing).

    http://energyguysmusings.blogspot.com/2009/02/nuclear-power-costs-2008.html

    (my blog has many nuclear-related posts, I suggest typing in “nuclear” in the search function)

    It makes zero sense to build a power plant that is reasonably safe (per our U.S. standards) yet requires 30 to 40 cents per kwh to justify the investment. When the toxic waste and bomb potential are also considered, I see no reason ever to build those things. The engineer part of me knows only too well how many close calls occur, and my associates tell me things they witnessed first-hand. This will only get worse as the plants grow older and more fault-prone.

    If there was no problem, then why is most of the Western world so unhappy that Iranians built a nuclear power plant? Same thing for the North Koreans?

    Meanwhile, we have so many other sources of energy that it is simply ridiculous. The political angle is all that appears to be sustaining nuclear power; it is certainly not an economic justification, nor a power reliability issue, nor a shortage of fuels issue, nor a geo-political issue of fuel origin.

    It further bothers me greatly that our newest safety requirement is for containment buildings that can withstand an impact from a large commercial aircraft, e.g. 747 or larger. Yet this does not extend to retrofitting the existing 104 plants in the U.S. We are about to have a major problem when a large plane smacks an existing nuke. And it can be done. A locked cockpit door is no deterrent to a compromised pilot already in the cockpit. Just wait until a closet jihadist claims discrimination if/when he is denied a pilot job with a major airline.

    http://energyguysmusings.blogspot.com/2009/02/nukes-must-withstand-aircraft-crash.html

    The AGW salesmen are amateurs compared to those selling Nuclear Power Is Best.

    We currently have 436 nuclear plants in operation, with 44 more under construction worldwide. (USA has about one-fourth of the operating plants, zero under construction). It must be difficult for a congressman to vote against a multi-billion dollar project in his district, providing multi-year employment during construction, and it even keeps the lawyers happy during all the litigation that is sure to follow.

    Re infinite energy, imagine a fuel source that is absolutely clean, infinitely renewable, almost zero cost, and the raw material is the same thing as the products of combustion. Such a thing was the subject of science fiction when I was a kid.

    This would be something like taking the CO2 from a coal-fired smokestack, running it through a magic box, and obtaining natural gas. Btw, this also can be done, but it produces natural gas many times more expensive than that from a gas well.

    Such a technology is soon to be had, using sunshine to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, aka artificial photosynthesis. I blogged on this here, fourth paragraph from the bottom:

    http://energyguysmusings.blogspot.com/2008/09/peak-oil-not-big-deal.html

    Re low-cost solar PV, maybe someday, but those geniuses in California government missed it on this one:

    http://energyguysmusings.blogspot.com/2009/03/waste-of-taxpayer-dollars-on-solar.html

  13. Roger Sowell says:

    H.R.,

    “How do we value utility so we can make rational decisions?

    There was a good letter to the editor in Friday’s (3/20/09) WSJ (”When a hybrid can pull a boat, then we’ll talk”)”

    Hybrids come in all sizes and horsepower, as GM won a prize a year or so ago for a hybrid Yukon, IIRC. It was roundly criticized by the greenies, because they did not consider improving from 8 mpg to 10 mpg worthy of a prize.

    I have not read the WSJ letter to editor, (can’t read em all!) but I see construction guys driving hybrid pickups, pulling trailers all day long. Perhaps the letter-writer should get out and about a bit more.

    And hybrid delivery trucks are now in use, see e.g. Eaton. There also are now pure electric drayage trucks at the Port of Long Beach (or maybe Port of Los Angeles). Plenty of horsepower there.

    It is not a matter of all hybrids being like the Prius, wimpy and unable to pull a trailer.

    So, load up the kids, the dog, the wife, the camping gear, and the boat on its trailer, and go off on a two week vacation to the lake/river or wherever. And use a hybrid vehicle to do it.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    @H.R.

    The blog is set to run on GMT IIRC.

    We are within months of the same age (!)

    IMHO, the best way to value “utility” is by having the guy with the wallet decide what he/she wants to buy in a free market between buyers and sellers. No government mandates need apply. (With at most minor market nudges to provide countervailing power against monopolies / monopsonies and oligopolies and maybe a bit of “don’t put toxic stuff in the cat food” regulations…)

    @Roger Sowell

    Is it worth pointing out that Diesel Locomotives are a kind of hybrid electric minus the batteries 8-) There isn’t a limit on hybrid size other than the economic costs to make it. So far it’s been largely a marketing decision to make econobox cars, but that’s changing with things like the Ford Explorer (? one of those Exxxxxx SUVs). They did the same thing with Diesels in the 1980s resulting in the Diesel reputation for low power in the common persons mind – never mind you can make a Diesel bigger than a house…

    Per nuclear:

    I don’t have a particular position on nuclear power. It works and can be made safe enough, maybe, but has icky wastes (that can maybe be cleaned up enough). OK. Coal has issues. Solar has issues. Everything has issues. I’m happy to leave it up to the Engineers to define what can be done and I’m reasonably happy with the society at large deciding which of those choices to pick, most of the time…

    My major purpose here is point out that IF we choose to use nuclear (maybe in 500 years when the fossil fuels run low?) it is effectively unlimited power. We have a choice, not an impending energy crises. (Though frankly, with some lab scale solar running a nickel a kWh I think solar is going to eat nuclear powers lunch in the next couple of decades…)

    BTW, “The Curve Of Binding Energy” is a biography of Taylor, one of our best bomb designers. He pointed out that their was good Pu for making bombs and there was less good Pu but there was no bad Pu… I.e. you can make a bomb from power reactor grade Pu. India has since gone ahead and done this in their first series of tests, so we now have an existence proof. There is also an existence proof or three of using U233 from Thorium in a bomb… One of the nice things about the THPW fuel cycle is that it is more proliferation resistant due to the way it creates more non-bomb friendly isotopes in the fuel bundle.

    I’m certain that Iran is aware of the potential to make a bomb from power reactor Pu, since the Indian program was the model on which the Pakistanis built there program (which is the source of much of the Iranian program…)

    My Paranoid Moment worry is that Iran puts a crummy Pakistani style nuke on one of their launch vehicles (claiming a research satellite launch) and detonates it in the ionosphere over the U.S.A. (claiming an accident) Any non-mil spec electronics that are line of sight from about 400 miles over the central U.S.A. would be fried. Cars, banks, electrical control systems, you name it; all gone. I’m sure they are aware of this (or I would not be posting it) but I’m not so sure the average person knows it.

    Consequently, I’d be more than happy with a future energy system based on solar, wind, coal, cow pies, whatever; and with no nukes. But at the same time, it is very germane to point out that we have a few million years of nuclear power should we wish to use it (or some brighter version of us a few hundred thousand years from now…)

  15. Roger Sowell says:

    E.M.Smith

    You mean diesel engines like this? (on a container ship)

    I guess it depends on definitions, but the diesel-electric locomotives are probably not a true hybrid. GE made a true hybrid locomotive and brought it to Union Station in Los Angeles in 2007. It has the traditional diesel-electric drive, plus regenerative braking, plus huge batteries for storage and assisting on acceleration. The reduction in fuel consumption was around 15 percent.

    Re the nukes, we already have more than 400 running, with 44 more on the way, so that cat is out of the bag.

    The only problem with solar PV is the storage. As batteries improve, or some other way to store electricity is found, the reliability will also improve. That is why I like solar to hydrogen, because we can store the hydrogen by compressing it.

  16. Ellie in Belfast says:

    Excellent article (having followed link from WUWT) and very interesting site from initial impression. Will probably become a regular lurker here too.

  17. Jeff Alberts says:

    “(a “Diesel Hybrid” in our present terminology)”

    It seems there are to types of hybrids, in our current terminology.

    The Prius type – An electric motor drives the vehicle unless energy demands are too great, then the gasoline engine will drive the vehicle directly.

    The Locomotive type – the type you’re describing above. Where the petroleum-derivative engine is merely an electric generator to provide power to the electric motor, which is the sole driver of the vehicle.

    The latter is a much better choice, and probably less complex than the Prius type, I would imagine. And since the Petroleum engine is running at a constant optimal speed, it gets wonderful mileage. No clutches or complex transmissions. And of course using CNG or something to power the Petroleum engine, we have a virtually unlimited supply.

  18. Jeff Alberts says:

    There’s also a utility component. For example the Smart car is rated 36 mpg and a Toyota Corolla is rated at 30 mpg. Anytime you take a trip involving more than two people, you need two Smart cars to accomplish what a Corolla can do.

    Why even drop down to the Corolla? My wife’s Toyota Matrix will easily hold four adults and gets about 35mpg. I really don’t see what’s so smart about the Smart car.

    I used to own one of those Rabbit diesels mentioned above. Yeah you could fit 4 adults in it, but don’t try pulling into 60mph traffic with it. Not a lot of pickup. But i think the diesel Beetle gets about the same as the Rabbit used to, but has more oomph.

  19. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ellie: Thanks!

    @Jeff: Yeah, adding a tubo does wonders. No loss of milage but a lot more OOOMPH! All it takes a money :-|

  20. Roger Sowell says:

    @Jeff Alberts,

    Re types of hybrids.

    Bunches of types, the ones you mentioned of course, plus an electric assist (Toyota Camry uses this, basically an electric motor on the drive shaft).

    Another type uses wheel-motors for drive power, and the gasoline engine runs just to charge the batteries. This is much like the locomotives.

    Another type that Eaton uses for delivery vans uses hydraulics to recover energy from braking. The brakes activate a hydraulic pump, this pushes fluid into a storage tank at high pressure (the storage tank has a gas bubble so things don’t split apart). Then the high-pressure fluid reverses the pump, acting as a turbine, to send power to the wheels on acceleration.

    Some buses used, or maybe still do, the hydraulic hybrid design.

    Conversion kits for vehicles are applied to front-wheel drive vehicles, and replace the rear wheels with wheel-motors, add a battery, and a computer to integrate the system.

  21. Jeff Alberts says:

    Yeah, adding a tubo does wonders. No loss of milage but a lot more OOOMPH! All it takes a money :-|

    At the time, money was something I did NOT have. And it didn’t help when that semi bumped me off the interstate. That was the end of my Rabbit.

  22. Jeff Alberts says:

    Roger Sowell: Bunches of types, the ones you mentioned of course…

    Thanks for the info. it seems though that there are still, generally speaking, two main types, where the petroleum engine directly drives the vehicle part of the time, and those where the drive is totally electric with energy provided by (among other things) the petroleum engine at least some of the time.

    The one very interesting one I saw the other day on some show, was a compressed air vehicle. Can be refilled from an industrial compressor (usually from reserve tanks at the filling station) or from a home compressor that comes with the vehicle. The latter takes much longer to refill. There’s still the energy needed to run the compressors, but during actual vehicle usage there is zero pollution (one could even filter the exhaust to make the air a bit cleaner going that coming), no batteries to dispose of or catch fire. In collision and stress testing the carbon fiber air tanks would simple split and release air, not explode with fragments. Seemed extremely safe.

    So if you had nuclear or some other “renewable” generation source, you’d end up with an extremely clean vehicle, with zero dangerous substances on board (besides the driver).

  23. H.R. says:

    @on March 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm Ellie in Belfast

    “Excellent article (having followed link from WUWT) and very interesting site from initial impression. Will probably become a regular lurker here too.”

    Howdy, Ellie. I too followed the link here from WUWT. It’s tough to keep up with the reading on WUWT nowadays, so I always stop here first now.

    I think commenting here will be at a different pace than at WUWT. I forsee E.M.’s posts drawing comments over a longer period of time rather than a 1-3 day flurry of comments and then the thread goes dead. I just came back here from making a comment on the “Chinese Food Fight?” post, and I’ll probably visit that post weekly over the next few months. It’s got legs.

    Please don’t just lurk. I’ve enjoyed your comments on WUWT and would be interested on your take over here on a broader range of topics. Some of us (28 people, I’m guessing?) in the U.S. are aware that there are at least 2-3 more countries in the world besides the U.S. of A. ;o)

  24. Mr Lynn says:

    Howdy EM!

    Like others, followed you over from WUWT (the California Socialism link). I’m mightily impressed with your erudition. Think I’ll forward a link from here to my cousin in Madison, WI, who’s a ‘peak oil’ (and peak-everything-else) enthusiast (if one can be enthusiastic about gloom-and-doom forecasts). As I have mentioned on WUWT, there’s not only the earthly oceans, but the entire solar system there for the taking, once we figure out how to get to orbit cheaply enough.

    The problem with Iran’s nuclear plant, of course, is that it’s just a cover for bomb-building. What annoys me most (besides the enormous danger to Israel) is that the Russians know this, but are helping anyway. Are they too stupid or self-serving to realize that a nuclear Iran could one day be a threat to the infidels of Mother Russia, too?

    /Mr Lynn

  25. E.M.Smith says:

    Welcome, Mr Lynn!

    Thanks for the compliment.

    The basic problem with the “peak stuff” thesis is that “stuff” doesn’t to away. We do mine the easiest to refine stuff first, but the reality is that there is only one thing standing in the way of, for example, all the copper you want. That is energy. And once you have unlimited energy (hopefully demonstrated in this article) then the “stuff” just becomes a question of price…

    So what does “go away”? Things we burn, like oil, coal, and tropical forests. Things that go extinct, species. Nuclear fuel (though we showed that’s basically infinite for all practical purposes). Kinda running out of ideas about this point…

    But if oil, coal, etc. are in the common energy bucket, it doesn’t really matter if we “run out” and it “goes away” in a couple of hundred years. So we’re left with just two things that we ought to be fighting tooth and nail to preserve:

    Forests and species.

    That is where, IMHO, folks ought to concentrate their efforts.

    So is there doom and gloom there? Do we run out of wood?

    We can grow tree farms of fast species and drastically reduce the pressure on forests. We don’t do it enough, but we could. Some high yield Poplar and Eucalyptus species run 25 to 50 TONS per acre per year. Quite a lot per person … So no “shortage” of wood or fiber, but a need to focus on more intensive tree farming.

    That leaves us with species. We have real issues there. Mostly from habitat destruction. But even here, there is hope. We are now able to sequence genes and recreate lost species. All those pelts, skins and other odd bits in museums become a repository of hope. While it would be better to have arks full of gametes and best to have a live critter; having a preserved dried critter is ‘workable’.

    Add in the fact that the vast majority of all species are kinds of beetles, and the problem shrinks even more. If I lose a beetle with 2 red spots on it’s wings that lives on one single tree in Bolivia, but right next to it are almost identical beetles with 2 reddish spots in one case and 2 red spots with a red fleck in another; am I really all that impoverished? (And yes, there are some tropical beetle species that seem to be specific to a single large very old tree… Darwin can work fast!)

    Frankly, with not too much money we could preserve frozen gene sample from every major critter on the planet and a heck of a lot of everything else (modulo the beetles…) and hold off extinction. Add in a world society of affluence and you get lots of money to preserve habitat and build parks.

    The danger comes in the transition. From too poor and technologically unable to damage to ecosystem but very hungry; to empowered with the tools of destruction but not yet realizing that you don’t need to destroy the forest to survive any more. That is when you get “the march of the chain saws”… So we need to get folks through that transition as fast as possible.

    That is how to “save the planet”. Put 4 or 5 billion people to work at shops and factories in cities, with apartments and cars and all the food they can eat from highly efficient farms and aquaculture. THEN they want to save the forest & the Tiger … But keep them in mud hut villages on the edge of starvation? The forest is cut for fuel and the Tiger is the enemy out to kill them.

    So what does this have to do with copper, steel, and cement?

    With energy, you can make all the steel and cement you want. There is more limestone than could ever be “consumed” and that used for cement can be recycled back into new cement anyway. The planet is mostly iron. We never can run out. The other big critical need is copper. It is at the heart of an electric society. There are more tons of it on the ocean floor in manganese nodules than we could ever use. With concrete, steel, and copper; you can build cities and cars. Add in “petro” chemicals that are unlimited and you see where this is headed. A little sand and glass is unlimited too.

    So we don’t need to fight wars over “stuff” and nobody needs to break their back trying to fight for a living with a hostile forest or desert. We can build all the high rise cities needed to house 20 billion people and not begin to put a dent in the world. Steel, concrete, copper, glass, plastics, rubber, (and aluminum and magnesium and…). With desalinization we save the river environment from destruction with dams. With aquaculture we save the oceans. With greenhouses we save the open lands. With intensive tree farms we save the forests.

    In the end, the path to saving the planet passes directly through modernity and the technological urban society. (As much as I love the semi-rural life and personally do not like city life; most people like it and it is the solution.) It is the notion that we need to not use technical solutions and that we need to go back to the land in rural villages that is broken.

    There is no shortage of stuff, and there never will be.

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and per Iran and Russia:

    The Russian Bear knows in it’s heart that it is able to take down anyone on it’s border. It believes that it can nurture the thorns in the side of the west to it’s own benefit.

    Why are they more right that we are? Because they are willing to be ruthless.

    Russia would be willing to lose 1,000,000 people in a nuclear exchange with Iran if the need ever came up. So they are willing to gamble with that chip that a nuclear Iran would be more trouble to us.

    While we would recoil in horror from it, they embrace the malthusian mathematics that says they have enough nukes to obliterate a nuclear Iran with an “acceptable” loss to Russia; should the need ever arise. That they do not have the same ability to take us down is the only big issue. We are a threat. Until that threat is removed, the little issue of a nuclear Iran is an acceptable price.

    So here we sit. We don’t see ourselves as a threat. And that leaves us puzzled. Why do they do this insane thing? And that is because we see the world looking out, not looking back at ourselves from their point of view…

  27. Mr Lynn says:

    FYI, I linked to your essay above on ‘peak’ stuff in the endless Lindzen thread on WUWT,

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/03/30/lindzen-on-negative-climate-feedback/

    in my post here, Mr Lynn (18:20:42),

    where I also reference the direction G(overnment) M(otors) under Obama are going to take us:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123906731177395605.html

    Better get your V-8s while you still can!

    Re the Russians, you have opted for ‘self-serving’ over ‘stupid'; I might be inclined to the latter, but in reality it’s probably the usual insane combination of both.

    /Mr Lynn

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    The Russian gamble on a nuclear Iran is, from their point of view, self serving. Wether the Russian gamble is stupid, brilliant, or insane will be answered by events in the fullness of time…

    I would only point out that Russia produces a large number of very good grand champion chess players.

    Per V-8s: I already have one in a fine old Mercedes Benz sports car from about 1980. Though I’m eyeing one from the mid-70s when they had the most performance (by 1980 the smog law impact had resulted in less performance even with more engine and more fuel consumption). It is vastly cheaper and easier to find a fine old car needing TLC and fix it up than it is to deal with the new cars (barely operational when new and doomed in 5 to 10 years because when worn they can not be made to meet their years stringent smog tests) and the disposable car mentality. The cost to ‘fix up’ is often less than the sales tax on a new car (now 10% in California…).

    BTW, the same class of sports car today is available with a V-12 in it. Germany does like it’s big engines! It performs similarly to the V-8 from the pre-smog era, but costs a whole lot more, weighs a whole lot more, sucks a whole lot more fuel, and is a bear to work on with every cubic inch under the hood packed with gear and hoses…

    GM has a long and sordid history of announcing all sorts of whiz bang cars and showing prototypes at auto shows that are never produced. ANY announcement from GM about anything other than a main production vehicle is nothing but a publicity stunt. (Until proven otherwise by actual production, that almost never happens…)

    One of the ‘hidden costs’ of smog laws is the efficiency reduction that it brings. Engines must be detuned (to keep NOX low) and they must be run on the edge of misfire lean to keep CO and HC low. All this results in less efficiency of the engine. Folks crow about 30 ish MPG in a small car today when in the late 60s and early 70s the same class of car was being sold with 40 and up MPG. There were a couple of decent 50 mpg+ plus cars I used to drool over (VW Rabbit Diesel, original Honda) I’d guess that about 1/4 of our motor fuel goes “up in non-smoke” to meet smog requirements. That is an astounding cost. (I like clean air, and I don’t have an opinion on reducing smog gear: I do think the cost of wasted fuel needs to be a bigger part of the debate on how much smog reduction is enough…)

    So my behaviour is simple. I find a car I like in an old package and sink the money into it to make it as new as I want. Better to send the money to my mechanic than to state sales taxes ($5,000 on a new one) and registration taxes ($75 on my old sports car! Vastly more on new ones.) and all the health and retirement benefits for UAW employees (above $2000 per new GM car last I heard). $7000 buys a lot of nicer old car and a major fix up. A few hundred (to in some cases thousand+) of reg fees avoided per year pays for a lot of ongoing maintenance. And I get a car with performance and efficiency. Not only that, but it fits the green “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra at the “reuse” step, so I can say I’m doing it to save the planet ;-) You do need to find a good and trustworthy mechanic to do the rework / restoration.

    No car payment. Low insurance costs. Decent milage. Better performance. Big engine. And the “Ooooh! Looook!” points and waves when driving it too! And they wonder why the ‘average life’ on cars keeps going up and new car sales keep dropping…

  29. Hugo M. says:

    Regarding oil resources, I wonder if you know about the hypothesis of the astrophysicist Thomas Gold on the origin of petroleum and mineral coal? It’s a story centered around archaea and emerging carbohydrates from the deep — an insight which by the way turns our accustomed doctrine about the origin of life on earth literally upside down: life did not start in small warm tarns on the surface, but inside the warm and humid environment inside the earth crust, fed by a gentle flow of carbohydrates stemming from the time our solar system was formed.

  30. E.M.Smith says:

    @Hugo M.:

    I’ve read about Gold’s theories. I think there is some truth in what he says, but that there is also a great deal of truth in the oil from Algae in shallow oceans thesis as well.

    Interestingly enough, people have replicated both! You can grow algae in a shallow pool, then put them under heat and pressure and get “oil”. You can also take CO2 and H and put them under heat and pressure with rock based catalysts and get oil too!

    I think the basic conclusion is that carbon likes to make oil and it’s a normal and natural part of the solar system with or without life to make it.

    My personal belief is that life started at the mid ocean ridges. It would explain some of the oddities of biochemistry (like our use of a variety of odd metals in certain enzymes and the central role of sulphur in key amino acids – not things that you would expect unless you had lots of sulphur and metals in the “primordial soup” … and those are found in volcanic areas).

    That could be the ridges, or it could be the warm crustal zones you mention. I lean a bit toward the ridges due to the rapid hot / cold cycling possible as water cycles around them. That is helpful in DNA zip / unzip replication and would accelerate the mutation of DNA filled proto-cells into living process form. (PCR reactors – the things that replicate DNA – do it with a thermal cycling to promote the unzip, replicate, rezip cycle)

    So back to oil: There are some interesting places where there is oil with the “wrong” markers for a living origin. There are some places with undeniable markers for origin from life (particularly algae). The two sides toss rocks at each other. I suspect the reality is some of each.

    Then there is that oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, Eugene Island, that “ran out” and then mysteriously decided to refill… They tracked it back to a hole in the bottom that has oil streaming upward into the “empty field” above. Nobody is willing to “explore it” again since that might shut off the giant flow of money they are getting for free; so we wait while they bicker about what it means.

    Unfortunately, trying to find academic references with quick google searches has not returned much, so I’m left with more “controversial” sources. This one has a religious bias, but the chemistry and geology look correct to me:

    http://www.truthonthenet.com/oil_abundance.htm

    While this one has a decidedly racist red neck bent on its home page, this link is the only clean quote of the Wall Street Journal article I’ve found so far, and is just a straight quote. (I’m still looking for a less “controversial” source.)

    http://texusa.com/Oil.htm

    Or this one that has some comments chopped into it:

    http://signal94.blogspot.com/2007/12/it-aint-dinosaur-juice.html

    (I’ve left out the ones that have the article festooned with adverts… It looks like the WSJ is holding their archive tightly behind subscription and the only way to get an online copy is from someone not so willing to pay attention to the WSJ “rules” or someone who has commented it enough to qualify as editorial quoting … sigh.)

    The bottom line on this is that there might well be vastly more oil than we know, and there is no way to say yes or no yet. So I had enough in the article to show we have ‘no energy problem’ and decided to leave out the speculative bits.

    BTW, the giant field found by Petrobras off the coast of Brazil and the abnormally deep strike by Chevron in the Gulf of Mexico mean one of three things:

    1) Our old theories about the lower limits of biotic oil are wrong and we need to drill deeper in much of the planet before we say there is no oil to be found there. (i.e. there is a whole new layer of depth to explore).

    2) These were just very oddball anomalies never to be seen again (so far, not the case. That’s what they said about the first ultra deep strike… and they keep finding more ‘anomalies’ at depth).

    3) The biotic origin of the oil is suspect and maybe it’s abiotic oil. (This will take a long time for folks to prove and accept even if it is true. We’ll just have to wait and see.)

    One last comment on aboitic oil:

    We know that there is a whole class of meteorites that are carbon rich (carbonaceous chondrites) and we know that methane atmospheres are very common on other planets. We have found complex organic molecules in meteorites and as spectra in space images. We know that methane, under heat and pressure and in the presence of a rock catalyst (at a minimum, zeolite in particular) will form heavy hydrocarbons like gasoline and Diesel oil. Then we are surprised at the notion that oil might be a primordial abiotic component of earth? All the pieces exist for it. I see nothing to prevent it.

    We know that many bacteria love to eat oil. It might just be that we started with abiotic oil and life came along and started eating it… thus the mixed signatures in some oil wells and the tendency of life to store energy as glyceride fats and oils. Maybe (and it’s a highly speculative maybe) oil is a natural part of the planet and life and has been from the beginning of life…

  31. tmtisfree says:

    @EMS

    Thanks for your kind words at WUWT!

    The main site for the theory of abiotic oil is http://www.gasresources.net/ with a full load of papers worth reading.

    Excellent articles of you here I read with great pleasure. Keep the good work!

    Bye,
    TMTisFree

  32. Mr Lynn says:

    I have a friend who subscribes to the WSJ (print edition), so he probably has access to the online archive. Give me the reference and I’ll see if I can get it.

    Does the Brazilian deep find have biotic or abiotic signatures?

    /Mr Lynn

  33. E.M.Smith says:

    @Mr Lynn: The reference is the link. The whole article is reproduced there. Don’t think a subscription holder can give me a link. I already have the text (and I could put it up myself, but don’t want to violate any copyright) Basically I’m looking for a link, not just the text. If your friend can get that, it would be great.

    Brazillian oil is controversial. It’s in sedimentary deposits, so biotic folks say “See! It’s normal!” and it contains foraminifera shells and similar, so it has a ‘life’ signature. Then again, it was found in “too deep” a location where the sediments are “too young” so the abiotic folks say “See! It must be deep abiotic seepage, not dinosaurs!” And the folks at Petrobras just say “We found oil” and don’t really care from what…

    I didn’t find much decent in a google search. These looked interesting:

    http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=58682

    http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=47265

    Mostly I just found rampant speculation. I think nobody really knows.

  34. Hugo M. says:

    @E.M.Smith: I do share your oppinion, that probably both hypothesis on the origin of petroleum have some truth in it, depending on local geology. Brown coal deposits clearly are of biotic origin, as one finds plenty of ancient trees therein. But, if I had to believe Gold, mineral coal is another story: Fossils are particulary rare there. But if they are found, then they are in a pretty good state, much like they had been conserved very gently by an experienced preparator using a fluid hydrocarbonic medium. I would like to know if this holds true everywhere mineral coal is found.

    Regarding the “central role of sulphur in key amino acids “, we know about 20 proteinogenic amino acids. Only two, methionine and cysteine contain sulfur, although methionin certainly plays a central role as a chain starter.

    If we also speak about black smokers here, temperature cycles and even PCR, we first had to speak about the chemical evolution which (for probabilty reasons) would depend on favourable conditions at numerous places. One of these conditions would be a high concentration of reaction partners, another stability in time. And besides from black smokers being somewhat rare in space and time, their emissions also dilute very quickly into the sea. In a nutshell: there is no particular reason to consider the exhaust as the most important part of a steamship.

    I mentioned Thomas Gold, because you wrote elsewhere, that the signature of fossil fuels would fit to a biotic origin, implying plants as the primordial carbohydrate source. I personally liked Gold’s view that carbohydrates and other gases (e.g. Helium) diffusing repeatedly through layers of partly aqueous rocks would be depleted from heavier isotopes. While I know that the highest grade of 13C depletion is done in a stack of photosyntetic membranes, it is at least thinkable that a certain part of the petrol we find now is a product which at multiple stages passed through archae membranes, thus accumulating 13C depletion.

    I agree with your notion, that published numbers on oil reserves are fully political, with oil prices sometimes lowered as a weapon to outcompete rivals — yet not only in the technological field. Germany, once an empire build upon local coal resources, was soon after it lost “World” War II almost completely dependend on oil, which was considered much more practical, clean and cheap, then.

  35. Mr Lynn says:

    EM: I had just skimmed your post and hadn’t followed your links, so didn’t realize they contained the entire WSJ article. A quick Google search shows several others have reprinted it as well, e.g.

    http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/4834/oil.txt

    which also boldly declares, “Fair use claimed.”

    Well, as you imply, in pre-WWW days ‘fair use’ didn’t allow you to reprint an article in its entirety, and it’s good you respect the WSJ’s copyright, even if no one else seems to. Here’s a link to the original:

    http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi?id=SB924151147795357823.djm

    But as you already discovered, it’s behind a subscriber wall. I don’t think you’ll find a WSJ link that isn’t, much though it seems like locking the barn after the horse has escaped.

    AFAIK the doctrine of ‘fair use’ hasn’t been updated since the 1980s (when I was conversant with it), except in case law, e.g. here:

    “Los Angeles Times v. Free Republic, a recent case, involved a bulletin board that posted the entire text of many news articles originally published on two newspapers’ web sites. The purpose of the posting was to encourage BBS members to add commentary and criticism. The newspapers sued for copyright infringement. The BBS operator sought summary judgment on its fair use defense, which the court rejected. The court found that the market for viewing articles online, for selling copies of archived articles, and for licensing others to display or sell the articles would be adversely affected by the availability of verbatim copies on the defendant’s web site. Although the web site was non-commercial and promoted critical comment, the defendant failed to show that verbatim copying of the articles was necessary to achieve its purposes.”

    http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/RL31423.pdf

    So you are probably wise to refrain from quoting the WSJ article in its entirety, though I’m sure you can quote it in ‘fair use’-sized pieces without fear of the WSJ coming after you.

    —————

    Thanks for the update on the Brazilian oil—I wasn’t aware that the late Professor Gold’s theory of abiotic origins was getting new life, as it were, from recent discoveries, ambiguous though they may be.

    Wouldn’t it be something if the ‘peak oil’ doomsayers could be definitively disproved? Though it wouldn’t help us much if the AGW doomsayers stop us from burning anything that creates CO2. . .

    /Mr Lynn

  36. tmtisfree says:

    Just a comment about Mr Gold: he seems to be a professional plagiarist as related in http://www.gasresources.net/Plagiarism(Overview).htm and in http://www.gasresources.net/Gold_plagiarism(complaints).htm.

    Bye,
    TMTisFree

  37. Hugo M. says:

    @tmtisfree: Could we set aside such slanderous remarks against someone who died in 2004?

  38. E.M.Smith says:

    I know about the controversy over Gold vs Russian scientists. As I have no way to resolve it, I would prefer to let it be.

    There have been many times that Russians have discovered something and published it in Russian. Then someone else discovered and published the same thing, not in Russian. This is much less of an issue now than it was in the past, but the language problem was a problem for a long time.

    For now, I’d prefer to focus on the science and technology and let the political / precedence issue fall to others to resolve. After all, it was a very long time before Tesla was recognized as inventing radio prior to Marconi… And don’t forget that Bell might not have actually been first with the telephone, just first to the patent office…

    Per Abiotic oil: The biggest support I see for it is the simple fact that we can make synthetic oil by methods remarkably like what is propose for abiotic oil. One path is methane under pressure with catalists (zeolite catalysts were originally discovered as natural minerals, only later made synthetically for use in turning methane into gasoline and oils.) Another path is carbonate and water with lots of heat and pressure. Similar to the synthesis gas path we use to make just about any “petro”chemical you might want.

    Those facts pretty much say the argument is over degree, not kind. There will have been abiotic oil formed. We just don’t know if it is trivial or dominant. There also was clearly some oil formed from algae (it can be up to 50% plant oils) as evidenced by the structure of the oil with fragments that can be tied with particular organic structures. Then there is the bulk of oil: hard to characterize with bits of both characters.

    The interesting bit, in the context of this article, is that when we started drilling where the biotic oil theories said there would be no oil… we found oil. So we know that those theories are not sufficient to guide where oil will not be though they are beneficial in guiding to where oil is likely to be.

    Now we need some new ideas on how to find all the oil that can’t be, but is; and is being found.

    So there is going to be a lot of oil found, just not very efficiently.

  39. H.R. says:

    E.M. – “Another path is carbonate and water with lots of heat and pressure.”

    That one makes the most sense to me given my enthusiast-level knowledge of geology. I don’t see catalytic materials being well-mixed with methane s.t. a lot of oil would be produced. But hey, what do I know?

    Thinking out loud it seems catalytic material would get covered in oil and block further interaction with methane whereas enormous beds of carbonates could easily be saturated with water and then be buried to undergo the pressure cooker process. The only fly in that ointment is that limestone seems to be more prevalent than oil. OTOH, there’s a heap o’ oil under the Saudi Arabian beach. Instead of limestone, they wound up with oil?

  40. Neven says:

    Hi E.M.,

    You directed me here through WUWT. Thanks, I enjoyed the read.

    Though I appreciate your positive outlook I feel there are bits and pieces missing which are quite fundamental. For instance, Energy Returned on Energy Invested. No mention of that at all. And are you 100% sure about Peak Oil? Do you realize there isn’t anything that has the energy density that fossil fuels have? Do you realize that the EROEI of oil and other fossil fuels has been declining steadily? How much energy will it cost to get the transition going? Sure, filling the Sahara with solar panels would generate a lot of energy, but how much energy (and years) does it take to realize that project? How about the infrastructure? Etc, etc, etc.

    You might want to have a look at the following sites to see if they can sway your perspective. Lots of well-written, well-researched and intelligent stuff out there:

    http://theoildrum.com/

    http://questioneverything.typepad.com/

    http://www.jeffvail.net/

    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/

    And a recent article about Limits to Growth in American Scientist: http://www.esf.edu/efb/hall/2009-05Hall0327.pdf

    Another thing I think about a lot and that bothers me about growth, is the physical, psychological and spiritual effect is has on people. People are trained to consume, culture has a synergistic relation with consumption, because otherwise the system would fall apart. The absolute downside of this is that people (and kids!) are continuously bombarded with advertising propaganda which indirectly gives a lot of people the gift of obesity, cancer and drug dependence. These numbers have been steadily growing as well with no signs of levelling off.

    Extremely important in all of this is of course that the AGW theory doesn’t hold, otherwise the whole edifice comes crumbling down.

    And on a final note, I missed one promising technology: GenIV nuclear reactors. Here is a good site if you want to read up on that with interesting comments and discussions: http://bravenewclimate.com/

    Cheers,

    Neven

  41. Neven says:

    I’m not sure if my post came through first time round, so here it is once more:

    Hi E.M.,

    You directed me here through WUWT. Thanks, I enjoyed the read.

    Though I appreciate your positive outlook I feel there are bits and pieces missing which are quite fundamental. For instance, Energy Returned on Energy Invested. No mention of that at all. And are you 100% sure about Peak Oil? Do you realize there isn’t anything that has the energy density that fossil fuels have? Do you realize that the EROEI of oil and other fossil fuels has been declining steadily? How much energy will it cost to get the transition going? Sure, filling the Sahara with solar panels would generate a lot of energy, but how much energy (and years) does it take to realize that project? How about the infrastructure? Etc, etc, etc.

    You might want to have a look at the following sites to see if they can sway your perspective. Lots of well-written, well-researched and intelligent stuff out there:

    http://theoildrum.com/

    http://questioneverything.typepad.com/

    http://www.jeffvail.net/

    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/

    And a recent article about Limits to Growth in American Scientist: http://www.esf.edu/efb/hall/2009-05Hall0327.pdf

    Another thing I think about a lot and that bothers me about growth, is the physical, psychological and spiritual effect is has on people. People are trained to consume, culture has a synergistic relation with consumption, because otherwise the system would fall apart. The absolute downside of this is that people (and kids!) are continuously bombarded with advertising propaganda which indirectly gives a lot of people the gift of obesity, cancer and drug dependence. These numbers have been steadily growing as well with no signs of levelling off.

    Extremely important in all of this is of course that the AGW theory doesn’t hold, otherwise the whole edifice comes crumbling down.

    And on a final note, I missed one promising technology: GenIV nuclear reactors. Here is a good site if you want to read up on that with interesting comments and discussions: http://bravenewclimate.com/

    Cheers,

    Neven

  42. E.M.Smith says:

    @Neven:

    I think the 6 links kicked you into the Spam queue, thus the delay. Sorry, I may raise that number (by default it was 3, so I doubled it…)

    EROI is a useful concept, but I was trying to keep this article non-technical. Accessible to all. The “bottom line” on it is that when we reach the point that oil takes more than a bbl to lift, we will use non-oil to lift it. Just as today we use cheap natural gas to convert tar sands in Canada into oil. We can also use nuclear heat to mobilize oils and lift them, if desired (much as the VW process put a “nuke” in the fuel tank with process heat via coal gasification). I decided to dodge that topic as the article was getting a bit long already.

    But that’s the answer to the “EROI means we run out of oil even sooner” worry. It means we run out of easy oil, and start using other energies to lift it (due to wanting the special features of oil) rather than convert those energies into some other form. (i.e. if battery losses in charging are too high, it will be cheaper to lift oil with nuke electricity than to charge an e-car). It’s just an engineering / economic optimization issue. It is not an energy availability issue.

    Similarly I dodged the specifics of new reactor designs. There are a great many and they are interesting, but my goal was just to show lots of power is available, not to be exhaustive of nuclear design. Again, it’s an engineering design choice, not a fundamental limit. I’ll “hit the link” though…

    BTW, I’ve been to a couple of the oil sites you mentioned. I’ve also got a few dozen books on the topic on my shelf (including one by Hubbert!) and have researched this in great depth. Energy, and alternative energy, was my major Economic focus from about 1973 on and was part of why I followed the academic path I took. I’ve been studying the “Energy Economics Issue” since about then…

    My goal is not to show that Peak Oil is wrong (it isn’t – we will hit Peak Oil at some point; unless Gold is shown right). My goal is simply to point out the flaws in the notion that we know Peak Oil is here Right Now, to point out the rate of ramp down (about the same as the ramp up – that is, 100 to 150 years) and to point out that there are lots of alternatives waiting in the wings should we ever need them. Heck, coal alone will carry our “petroleum” needs for a couple of hundred years if we wanted to. Sasol, Rentech, Syntroleum, and Synthesis Energy Company are all existence proofs.

    Take a look again at the topics of coal and nuclear power. We could entirely replace oil with those if we wanted to. South Africa (and Sasol in particular) constitute an existence proof.

    Take a look again at the topic of solar power and biofuels. We could entirely replace oil with those if we wanted to. Brazil is an existence proof. Origin Oil, Petrosun Energy, Global Green Solutions and several others have working algae systems with great energy ROI, they can compete with oil at $80/bbl, not with it at $30 / bbl. It is only an economic issue, not an availability of oil products issue (we can use Algae forever with a hard lid at $80 / bbl cost in 2008 dollars with frighteningly high EROI).

    Both coal and biomass have very high EROI. ( 8 to 1 for Brazilian sugar cane ethanol).

    The EROI concept in interesting, but a distractor. We simply don’t run out of very usable, very profitable energy. Ever.

    BTW, if we covered the Sahara with solar cells, we would electrify the entire planet several times over… I think you need to look at issues of scale again. Solar thermal would power the US from about a 100 x 100 mile chunk of desert. We are about 1000 x 3000 miles (as a single digit of precision approximation). 3,000,000 / 10,000 = 300. We need about 1/3 of one percent of the surface… The Sahara is way too big.

    9,000,000 square km per wiki. Each square km is 1,000,000 square meters. So we have 9,000,000,000,000 kW per HOUR of sunshine. World consumption is 18,000,000,000,000 kW-hrs So we have 1 kW for each 2 kW-hours we need. OK, so how many sunny hours are there in the Sahara each year? … Again we end up at about a 300 overage factor. (at 20% efficiency we would need 10 hours to make our 2 kW – hrs and that would be all in one day, so we have 364 days left over or we make the thing 1/365 as big…)

    It is very helpful to do a bit of math when you use a metaphor or toss out a though experiment. It keeps you focused…

    But to address the question: Current solar cells are net energy positive, solar thermal more so. I forget where I saw it, but one of the solar companies (I was looking for stocks to buy) has planed or was building it’s own solar power plant to make it’s facilities self sustaining. One of the newer ones uses INK to make cells on thin film. The embodied energy is near zero compared to older silicon cells. EROI in solar power just isn’t an issue. At all.

    (Do the math on a 1 m square piece of aluminum foil and the 1 kW power on it… you rapidly realize that solar thermal with mirrors is very very energy positive…)

    Per rampant consumerism: Yeah, bothers me too. (It’s that Amish grandparent thread…) I like to live minimally. But that is not an issue of energy availability. It is an issue of what kind of society do you wish to build. Theology and sociology are outside this thread…

    But one can live a modern technical prosperous life and not be indulging in rampant consumerism. In fact, it is essential to raise everyone on the planet to a modern technical prosperous life. It is the only thing shown to drop population growth below replacement without resorting to the 4 horsemen of Famine, Plague, Pestilence, and War…

    Cancer is a complex topic, but just note that most cancer comes from self inflicted things: Tobacco, Alcohol, low fiber diets. These are personal choices and not energy related. The major reason we have increasing cancer is that we have prevented most other diseases from killing us!

    Obesity: I have a theory that this is directly a result of trans-fats plugging up the fat metabolism. Can’t prove it yet, but it fits all the data. We’ll see as trans-fat levels drop to zero. At any rate, it has nothing to do with energy availability. It is a choice about what you eat, or it is a disease that is beyond your control; not a result of energy policy.

    So those topics are important, but to conjoin them to the energy question is just to cloud the issue. Set them aside, and address them on their own terms.

    So at the end, I’m back where I started:

    There is no energy shortage, and there never will be.

    What you do with that fact is up to you…

  43. Roger Sowell says:

    Ed, there’s a running debate over Peak Oil on Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog…I posted a link to this entry of yours… should be interesting!

    http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/08/24/yergin-forget-peak-oil-demand-is-the-key-to-crudes-future/tab/comments/#comment-77711

  44. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ll let you know if anything happens!

  45. Tony says:

    This is outstanding!

    I landed from Power and Control http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/, whose energy preferences are more in the Bussard IEC Fusion area (ie something that has a reasonable chance of working – unlike Tokomaks!), and have been blown away by this.

    I am so pleased you have spent the time to collate some of the wonderful things that are going on outside the chatter-sphere of chicken littles all telling each other the sky is falling.

    Excellent.

  46. Mr Lynn says:

    I agree with Tony. I’ve put links to this post, and the companion (“No Shortage of Stuff”) on my email signature.

    EM, there’s a book waiting to be written here!

    /Mr Lynn

  47. E.M.Smith says:

    @Mr. Lynn:

    Thanks! Yeah, it keeps naggin me to be written… I’ve had this percolating in my head for about 30 years now, must be ready by now ! :-)

    I was planning to do it during my ‘early retirement’ but then the AGW fantasy came along and demanded someone to tilt at those windmills…

    Notice that this is one of my earliest postings.

    So I’m hoping that AGW gets killed off by a solar minimum driven darned cold, but not deadly, year or two, so I can get back to the book I’d always planned: “No Limits to Growth” (c) but we’ll see…

  48. Mr Lynn says:

    Your anti-AGW work is important. But it looks like the edifice is beginning to crack, so maybe we won’t have to wait for a deep solar minimum to freeze their arses off.

    I like “No Shortage of Stuff” for a title. But “NO (blankety-blank) Limits to Growth” is good, too.

    /Mr Lynn

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  50. Brian H says:

    Tony;
    If you want some far more exciting and nearer-term fusion action, check out LPPhysics.com .
    Short version: Small Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) generators, with output around 5MW continuous and footprint about a shipping container size, cost around $300K FOB factory door, output ~¼¢/kwh, no steam cycle (direct power output), no waste (a little He4), fuel unlimited (boron and hydrogen, about $5/MW-year). Intent is to have inexpensive mass-production licenses made available world-wide within 4-5 years.

    First the “renewables”, then the conventional generating sources become economic roadkill. It’s not even worthwhile maintaining existing plant with this alternative.

  51. Brian H says:

    P.S. to above: aneutronic, so only minor “side-reaction” radioactivity, readily shielded. Service housing below background within 9 hrs of shutdown for maintenance/refueling (2-6 x per year, a day or two each). Instantly dispatchable (variable on command).

  52. Brian H says:

    Heads up! I just directed the attention of the wee warmist “Spector” here. He/she/it will undoubtedly be around shortly to slash your numerous heterodox assertions to shreddies with his/her/its NERF halberd!

    You have been warned. >:/

  53. Jason Calley says:

    Wow! Sounds promising!

    I want one in orbit… :)

  54. Brian H says:

    Jason;
    Yes, it’s very attractive for VASIMR or ion-drive or … The problem is heat disposal, since there is no massive exhaust stream to “blow it out the butt tail”, or airstream to dump into. Passive radiative cooling is tough!

    The ISS runs on <200 KW. 5MW would be a 25X upgrade …

  55. E.M.Smith says:

    @BrianH:

    I think this is what you were talking about:

    http://lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/

    They have a Spanish Language page as well:

    http://lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=95&Itemid=117

    Very interesting stuff…. And it looks like it will work(!)…

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  57. Brian H says:

    EMS;
    Yes, and this year could tell the tale; after a year+ hangups crafting and commissioning replacement switches for commercial gear that couldn’t perform as advertised, they’re on the cusp of graduating from test D-D fuel to B-H, which will enable them to hit the “scientific break-even” or “unity” point. Thereafter it’s a few (<5) yrs of engineering refinement of a production design.

    Very open outfit; access the ~monthly tech reports and patents for more detail.

  58. Brian H says:

    EMS;
    have you given any thought to the implications?
    I personally most expect to enjoy the reports, hopefully with video footage, of Ehlich’s head detonating. “Giving society cheap, abundant energy … would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun” Ehlich, you know the one.

    >:)

  59. E.M.Smith says:

    While I’m pondering how long before various government agents show up with “CLASSIFIED” stickers and other government’s agents are lurking in the bushes with optical sights… We’re talking hundreds of $Billions to low $Trillions of money and huge impacts on international relations. The “losers” side is not a group of nice folks: OPEC (and all the Middle Eastern culture of suicide bombers and assassination that comes with it), Russia (and all the political assassination culture that comes with it), the entire USA historical power structure (and all the Evil Robber Baron kids in it – including the Rockefeller groups, that have not been bashful about destruction of competition – see the history of Standard Oil monopoly practices…), Chavez (not a nice guy at all and depending on oil for power), the entire Agenda 21 “control though scarcity fear” machine globally (a few hundred $Billion per year – and the UN Rent Seekers are very much not bashful about death and destruction), and…

    Frankly, were I ‘on to’ something that looked this good, I’d be doing it in complete secrecy until it was a ‘done deal’ or be issuing very pessimistic press releases (and only share real results in private to selected folks).

    The “plastic airplane” was discussed in a Pop Science magazine including a note that it didn’t show up on radar well (and was invented by a dentist). Then it disappeared. Later it showed up as Stealth. I was about 8 when it went dark, nearly 35 when it resurfaced. In the footnotes of stealth is a mention of a dentist and early work being classified… so if their technology suddenly “doesn’t work” and is roundly raspberried… I suggest building your own (but don’t tell anyone ;-)

  60. Brian H says:

    Unfortunately, the prime mover is, despite having the DoE rug pulled out from under this level of research a few times, insufficiently paranoid about the consequences of government funding and would gladly accept it, I think. But they’re bumping along on bare-bones private money and investment. He won’t sell “voting” participation, just profit-participation, since he is determined not to let the process be quashed.

    Given the choice of defense by secrecy and defense by maximum exposure, he chose the latter.

  61. Brian H says:

    If you want a peek into some of the difference it makes, btw, wander through the discussion groups associated with Bussard’s Polywell (talk-polywell.org) and Focus Fusion (focusfusion.org). The former seethes with speculation about the state of research, whether the USN is still supporting it, whether it will ever emerge from “black” status, etc. They are openly admiring and envious of the floods of information and the openness of the LPP work.

  62. Brian H says:

    Just to elaborate a bit on the consequences of openness:
    The combination of the published patents, technical reports, collaborations with other DPF researchers etc. world wide, papers submitted in conferences, etc., is that if LPP were to be cut off and “CLASSIFIED” tomorrow, others would have enough information to replicate the work quite readily. Around the world. The CLASSIFIED stickers would probably kick such replication into high gear.

    Same for any enforced buy-outs, brutalization, etc. In any case, it’s better odds than trying to be invisible. When the invisible vanishes, who notices?

  63. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. “The “plastic airplane” was discussed in a Pop Science magazine including a note that it didn’t show up on radar well (and was invented by a dentist). Then it disappeared. Later it showed up as Stealth. I was about 8 when it went dark, nearly 35 when it resurfaced.”

    And even now, no one ever talks about stealth surveillance satellites.

  64. Jason Calley says:

    Speaking of stealth and surveillance…

    A few years ago I chanced into a conversation with a retired Air Force officer who had worked for years in developing surveillance satellites and the subject of stealth satellites came up. Obviously it was not a subject which we could discuss in any detail, but I mentioned in passing that as an amateur astronomer I had seen a lot of satellites over the years. As most of you probably know, on any good, clear night, from a dark location, you can see probably a dozen or so satellites, naked eye. You can tell which are in relatively low orbits or high, which are in equatorial, which are in polar orbit. Often you can tell which are rotating (from brightness changes), etc.

    Anyway, his response was “you mean you saw them through your telescope?” to which I said, “No, no, naked eye. They are not that hard to see.” He then said “Good Lord, they would have to be HUGE!” and at this point the conversation changed markedly. I could tell from his behavior and body language that he thought I was either a liar or an idiot.

    Amazing. It just struck me as very odd; here is a person who spent years working on secret surveillance satellites and who had not an inkling of what was involved in actually observing them. Even people in positions of authority have very compartmentalized knowledge.

  65. E.M.Smith says:

    The space shuttle was sized to carry a Bus Sized Object as that was the size of the Big Bird spy sats. They were made at Lockheed right on one side of Moffett Field(where giant cargo planes would pick them up and take them away…)

    Everyone “in the valley” working in tech new about it. But nobody would ever admit it.

    The Shuttle Program was depricated just after the spy sats shrunk to much smaller sizes due to synthetic aperture from multiple small birds and other advances made the need for a parabolic antenna bigger than a greyhound bus unneeded…

    Yes, the Spy Sats were huge… now they have a Wiki page:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KH-11_KENNAN

    It is believed to resemble the Hubble Space Telescope in size and shape, as the satellites were shipped in similar containers. Furthermore, a NASA history of the Hubble, in discussing the reasons for switching from a 3-meter main mirror to a 2.4-meter design, states: “In addition, changing to a 2.4-meter mirror would lessen fabrication costs by using manufacturing technologies developed for military spy satellites.” A CIA history states that the primary mirror on the first KH-11s measured 2.34 meters, but sizes increased in later versions. NRO led the development of a computer controlled mirror polishing technique, which was subsequently also used for the polishing of the primary mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope.

    Assuming a 2.4-meter mirror, the theoretical ground resolution with no atmospheric degradation and 50% MTF would be roughly 15 cm (6 inches). Operational resolution would be worse due to effects of the atmosphere. Different versions of the KH-11 vary in mass, with earlier blocks ranging from 13,000 to 13,500 kilograms, whilst later blocks have a mass of around 19,600 kg. Its length is believed to be 19.5 meters, and diameter is 3 meters or less.
    [...]
    In 1999, NRO selected Boeing as the prime contractor for the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, aimed at replacing the KH-11 satellites by a more cost effective constellation of smaller, and also more capable reconnaissance satellites. After the failure of the FIA in 2005, NRO ordered from Lockheed two additional legacy hardware KH-11s. USA-224, the first of these two, was launched in early 2011 two years ahead of the initial schedule estimate.

    SO at nearly 20 TONS and a stowed size of 3 meters diameter, it’s big. On orbit, it deploys a very large parabolic antenna to slurp up all the sigint it can (in addition to the optical mirror for photos) per what I’ve been told and pictures I’ve see that are reputed to be it.

    At any rate, we knew when the program ended as that was when they closed down some “stuff” at Moffett, the big jets stopped visiting, and the planned closure and eventual removal of such things as Hangar One (the giant dirigible hanger) were planned / begun. They no longer needed places to handle “big iron”…

    FWIW, modern spy sats are much smaller, so will become ever harder to detect by eye.

  66. p.g.sharrow says:

    I doubt that the big kids are too worried about Small Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) . They know that practical plasma fusion is on the “Never – Never”. After they reach “unity” they need to improve it to at least COP 3 to be of any use at all. It does look cool, but plasma fusion is a contradiction of terms as the last thing plasma wants to do is fuse. There may be some useful technology being developed here but I doubt practical plasma fusion will be it.
    Too bad, as the big kids have wasted 100s of billions of dollars on plasma fusion and claim they also, only need a couple more years to exceed unity. I think I will still bet on LENR to be the first to provide practical energy production as it works in the same manner that GOD uses to power the universe. pg

  67. Brian H says:

    p.g.s.;
    The standard COP calcs are not relevant here; there is no thermal/steam cycle, no spinning turbines. Sankey diagram.

    No mystical LENR muons required. Pure standard physics, with some refinement of theory of gigagauss nano-field effects.

  68. p.g.sharrow says:

    As a matter of practical applications, power, out has to be 3 times power in. Net, not gross. Plasma fusion requires huge amounts of energy to counter the resistance of plasma to itself. Over 50 years ago, my studies indicated to me that plasma fusion could not be practical due to basic facts of applied science. Pure mathematical standard physics is long on theory and short on practical results. Generally science is discovered by trial and error and then “proved” by rearranging theory to fit the facts. Mathematical formula is very useful to conceive a solution but then an engineer and techs must create a working solution, often by trial and error to gain real facts to “adjust” the scientific fact and theory. A long and expensive process that is, at times, circumvented in science by fudging the results and claiming discovery, as it is not likely that the experiment will be rerun due to the cost and difficulty. Those of us that must create working solutions must look to applied science and not theoretical physics for our solutions. pg

  69. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. Neat info on the satellites! I have heard that way-back-when, NASA was trying to get funding for a much smaller shuttle that what was built. NASA wanted something with roughly half or third the payload, but the USAF made them a better offer, ie, build it bigger or we won’t use it. Which brings up a minor mystery. IIRC, Vandenberg AFB in California was originally slated to be a shuttle launch site. Some huge sum of money was spent building a shuttle sized pad and facilities, but it was never used. The story I heard was that after construction, it was determined that the acoustics of the location were unfavorable, and local hills reflected back pressure waves from launch, so much so that it became unusable. Just seems like a mighty odd story…

    Also, you mentioned “Assuming a 2.4-meter mirror, the theoretical ground resolution with no atmospheric degradation and 50% MTF would be roughly 15 cm (6 inches).” Very true, but that theoretical limit is more of a rule of thumb than a hard limit. The Rayleigh Criterion, as it is called, is based on the closest (angular distance) you can have two point sources before their diffraction patterns overlap closely. As I say, this is a good rule of thumb, but by using multiple images and good software (including human eyes and brains trained in good interpretation) you can do somewhat better. How much better? My SWAG is that instead of 6 inches, maybe 3 or 2 would be achievable.

    Smaller satellites do make spotting easier, but realistically, I figure that any satellite which the makers wish to have hidden can be done so pretty easily. Just shrouding it in a black cloak and putting anti-glare on the solar panels would go a long way. Sure you get more IR coming off, but who observes IR from the ground? It is amazing what the eye can see though. You may remember the 12 mile long tether lost in orbit 15 or so years ago. It was quite visible by naked eye from the ground. Twelve miles long — and as thick as a shoelace! While “location, location, location” may be the watchwords of real estate sales, for human vision the word is “contrast, contrast, contrast!”

  70. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Jason Calley: Putting it in electromagnetic terms (light it is part of the electromagnetic spectrum) you cannot tune a FM radio station with a AM only receiver. As simple as that.
    More interesting is that this law applies to EVERYTHING, thus information, “knowledge”, being as material as everything else in the universe, cannot be “seen”, “tuned” by a gross mind having a primitive circuitry. LOL!. Through this generalization you can explain the crying of some people, when rejecting or angrily responding deniers!

  71. Brian H says:

    pgs;
    “Plasma fusion requires huge amounts of energy to counter the resistance of plasma to itself.”
    It would help if you considered the specifics here, instead of making ex cathedra generalizations. There is little “resistance” to be dealt with here, as the plasma confinement lasts microseconds, and each fusion event a few tens of nanoseconds. It’s an implosive process, powered by magnetic pinching of a plasmoid knot in a self-twisted filament.

    From the link I gave above, which apparently you didn’t use:

    This analysis assumes 90% energy transfer to plasmoid, a ratio of fusion energy to plasmoid energy ratio of 100%, 80% energy efficiency recovery from the beam and X-ray pulse. If energy-recovery efficiency is only 70%, net energy is reduced to 14.6 kJ, but is still positive. If fusion energy is 120% of plasmoid energy instead of 100%, net energy yield is increased to 35 kJ. Net energy production occurs if gross fusion energy is above 35 kJ, the goal of our scientific feasibility demonstration.

    In the baseline scenario of the diagram, cycling 200 times per second would provide 5MW to the grid.

    The process’ patent might be a place to start on the specifics:

    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=7,482,607.PN.&OS=PN/7,482,607&RS=PN/7,482,607

  72. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Brian H; “This analysis assumes 90% energy transfer to plasmoid” Notice ASS ume! No proven fact. “If fusion energy is 120% of plasmoid energy instead of 100%,” IF! no proven fact.
    My lame physics experiment to confuse mass / inertia and gravity is based on more facts then that. I HAVE examined their project and science and while I like their toys, I am not impressed about the possibility of their success. Nothing personal, just the opinion of an old dirt farmer. pg

  73. Brian H says:

    pgs;
    Whatever. The “assumption” is based on best extrapolation of results and the associated theory to date. Aside from carping about quite transparent syntax, what specifically do you dispute?

    IAC, the timeline here is very short. It will be evident very soon whether the progress to date continues thru to productive levels. Unlike virtually any other such effort.

  74. stas peterson says:

    The era of expensive Energy is just about over. The scientific quest to duplicate controlled Fusion of Hydrogen to Helium that drives the stars, is nearing completion. The ITER large scale thermonuclear reactor at Cadarache France is more then half built.

    It is the LAST scientific experiment, and the FIRST crude engineering design design of a Fusion powerplant. In the long time it took to create and recreate the international consortium to build it, because of the damn Democrats, every one of the remaining questions to be answered by ITER were in fact answered piecemeal at smaller facilities around the world. So now it is merely a confirming experiment at full commercial reactor size.

    Indeed the ITER scientific personnel say we should be able to start the actual designs for the first commercial Fusion powerplalnt in about 2017, after a few engineering considerations are resolved at ITER.

    Since there is little quantities of deadly radioactive materials, the NRC approvals should be considerably less time than needed for any new Fission reactor designs that are on average taking 15 years. Long before a Thorium reeactor could be designed and approved, the Fusion reactor could be approved and begin construction.

    Energy reserves tthen exist for ten billion years or so.

  75. Brian H says:

    sp;
    ITER is garbage, a half-century long boondoggle. It cannot ever stifle plasma fluctuations and wall erosion and degradation.

  76. E.M.Smith says:

    @P.G.Sharrow:

    The purpose of high temp fusion research was to employ researchers. It has always been ’40 years to production’ as long as I’ve seen it. I suspect a lot of the research was stealth bomb research then swapped over to stealth laser weapons research. There is a curious correlation between what was a “hot” weapons idea and what was the “new fusion idea” at the same time. So “Laser Confinement” was ‘interesting’ at the same that that Laser weapons were being developed.

    @Brian H.

    Maybe ITER isn’t so much garbage as “fit for a different purpose”…

    @Stas Peterson:

    I hope you are right, but that is roughly the same story I was hearing in the late ’70s. “Give us just a few more years to prove the next step and we’ll be ready to start design work”….

    BTW, we already have energy reserves for the next billion years or so. We can power the entire planet off the uranium that washes into the ocean each year:

    https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/ulum-ultra-large-uranium-miner-ship/

    @Jason Calley:

    If you recall, the shuttle ran a bit late in arriving.

    By then, some of the spy gear was already shrinking.

    So Vandenberg started putting more packages on old standard rockets. By the time the shuttle was running, they could get enough Big Birds up at Florida and didn’t need as much launch capability ( they also cut back numbers of shuttles make as I recall it… there were planned several USAF Only shuttles that never got built).

    The “noise” story sounds like a cover story to me. They regularly launch from there an fully know the sound environment.

    BTW, it came by before in in other threads, but USAF has a ‘mini-shuttle’ launched from Vandenberg. Unmanned, but way cool. They didn’t drop launching shuttles, they just made there own littler one…

  77. Brian H says:

    EMS;
    At the very least, ITER has (aggressively) sucked the lifeblood funding out of virtually every other fusion research stream in the world. It has a lot to answer for. IMO, its backers and pushers and rationalizers should be chained in the hole it leaves just before it’s filled in by bulldozers.

  78. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. “BTW, it came by before in in other threads, but USAF has a ‘mini-shuttle’ launched from Vandenberg. Unmanned, but way cool. They didn’t drop launching shuttles, they just made there own littler one…”

    Yes, as I recall, the mini-shuttle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37 just returned to Earth a few days ago after a nearly year long mission. How ironic that the NASA shuttle was built larger than NASA originally requested due to the Air Force demand for a larger cargo capacity, and now the AF ends up with a mini-shuttle.

  79. Jason Calley says:

    Anyone have any info or opinions re the so-called “Brilliant Buzzard?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstar_%28spacecraft%29

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