Electric Vehicles

Many of you are tired of being held hostage by oil companies. For those of you with commutes of twenty miles or less an electric vehicle might be an excellent alternative that will allow you to drive at a fraction of the cost and without emitting pollution. To be sure there are some vehicles with significantly longer range but these tend to be expensive. Also, the deeper batteries are discharged, the shorter their lifespan, so it is best to choose a vehicle that has significantly more range than you need.

I have added a new Electric Vehicles section to the side bar above the general sustainable living resources section. I have included only vehicles currently in production and available somewhere. Some may not yet be available in the United States. I have also included Plug-In hybrids since they can, within limited range, be operated exclusively on electricity.

Generally, electric vehicles come in three categories, NEV or Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, these feature limited range of around 20-40 miles, are generally very lightweight, and are limited to a top-speed of 25 MPH, and generally are very inexpensive. For someone who just needs to make the occasional 2 mile drive to the post office or grocery store and has no need for highway driving these may be ideal.

Then there is a category that is geared towards the daily commute. These generally offer greater range, anywhere from 40-150 miles, are capable of highway road speeds, are generally safer featuring roll cages and other safety features common to gasoline cars, and generally weigh about as much as a compact gasoline car. These tend to be more expensive than NEV’s owing to the higher speeds, range, and safety.

And then there are a handful of high performance electric sports cars which tend to have tremendous acceleration, top speeds, and even longer ranges, but they also tend to have price tags that put them out of reach of the average Joe. These have ranges from 130-220 miles.

The Neighborhood Electric Vehicles are by far the most common currently but probably also by far the least usable for most people. Their low price makes them attractive to those whose needs they do meet.

There are relatively few manufacturers of normal commuter electric cars today which are available in the United States. In the United States we have “safety” laws that tend to favor thirsty vehicles and prevent the import of many foreign electric vehicles and more efficient gasoline and diesel vehicles. People living in Japan, China, France, and other parts of the world have more choices when it comes to ultra efficient vehicles.

If you are aware of any currently available electric vehicles, I’m not talking concept cars like the GM Volt which probably will not be manufactured in this lifetime, but vehicles you can actually go buy and drive today, please let me know so that I can add them to the list.

Elephant Painting an Elephant

This really sheds some insight into animal intelligence. This painting was done by an elephant. You can watch it in the process in the following video. I have no idea how much training into this but this animal clearly has an idea of what it looks like and a sense of aesthetics.

It’s funny, this showed up on Digg and people there tried to suggest it was painstakingly taught to draw each line on verbal command but the video has accompanying audio and you can hear that no such commands are given.

Gasoline Tax – Wrong / Oil Import Duty – Right

Our congress critters in Washington are talking about a 50ยข a gallon gasoline tax as an incentive for people to reduce consumption. All this will really do is further screw the little guy and tank whatever might be left of our economy. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t encourage the development of alternative energy sources.

Our dollar isn’t worth squat, and the reason for that is that we import a huge percentage of our energy needs, while no longer exporting a significant amount of manufactured goods. Being the worlds food supplier is what used to save our butts from total collapse, but the rest of the world has been learning how to grow their own food and so that’s no longer balancing our imports.

To add insult to injury, many major corporations have outsources services, things like customer support, to foreign countries where the labor is less expensive.

The sad thing about the energy situation is that we have no lack of raw materials right here at home. Really, we need to get off the oil teat, but that is hard to do with all of our capital going to foreign countries to purchase the stuff, so returning to domestic production is a first step since it will keep the capital at home, and if we do it correctly we can also encourage the switch to clean renewables at the same time.

If I were King, that is if I were in George Bush’s shoes, instead of spending three trillion on a war and killing and maiming a bunch of people, I’d slap a $20/barrel import duty on foreign oil. Instead of just reducing consumption, which to be sure is not a bad goal if it can be done without totally tanking the economy, but thanks to five years in Iraq, right now it can not, this approach would encourage the production of domestic sources and renewables by making them economically competitive. It would be good for the dollar because it would reduce imports. By encouraging domestic production, it would make jobs here at home which would be good for the economy. By encouraging alternative energy sources it would be good for the environment.

Let’s look at what we have here that could solve our energy woes, because we have a lot of alternatives. First off, we have oil! Yes, shock, I know. The thing is, it’s not as cheap to extract as oil in Saudi Arabia or Iraq if you don’t count the three billion in tax payer money used to steal it, but it’s here, lots of it.

There is another issue with domestic oil though, much of the close to the surface easy to get at stuff is heavy sour crude. US refineries are not equipped to deal with heavy sour crude. Venezuela has similar quality oil, yet, they meet their own energy needs and export a huge amount of refined goods. Citgo gasoline up here, that’s Venezuelan gasoline. They build the refineries needed to refine the stuff.

Now here’s a rub, we have approximately the same amount of the same quality oil as Venezuela in southern California alone! But we’re just letting it sit there, because we haven’t got the refinery capacity to deal with it. And our oil companies won’t build the capacity when they can extract oil from the ground for under $8/barrel from Saudi Arabia and Iraq and the US taxpayers foot the bill for the war required to steal it.

If we added another $20/barrel to import the stuff and took away the tax payer financed war to procure it, building refineries capable of dealing with heavy sour crude would all the sudden start to look real attractive. We’ve got several trillion barrels of oil locked up in tar sands and oil shale. The oil companies tell us this is too expensive to process. Yet, they’re doing it in Canada, extracting, decoking, and cracking to make lighter products, all for under $20 low value American dollars a barrel for existing installations, around $35/barrel when you include the capital costs of new capacity (which is rapidly growing). There are also some small firms that are extracting oil shale oil for around $14/barrel. There is no reason that can’t be scaled up.

What people don’t understand is that the diminishing production in the US has nothing to do with the Hubert curve, it has nothing to do with half the resources being exhausted. What it has to do with is oil fields in the middle east where you can poke a hole in the ground and the stuff squirts out under pressure. Those fields are diminishing and now pumping and steam injection and other techniques are often needed but there is more deeper and there is also much heavy crude that nobody wants because of the lack of refinery capacity to deal with it.

I mentioned that it is mostly heavy crude here; the easy to get at stuff. But there is some light sweet crude still available however it’s deep and generally drilling through bedrock is necessary to get at it. Several super giant fields of this nature have been discovered recently. They weren’t discovered until recently because until recently nobody drilled through bedrock or basement rock because oil of biological origin doesn’t exist there. Oil of biotic origin can only be found in sedimentary deposits.

But natural gas, oil, and solid hydrocarbons are all produced, in abundance, in the Earth’s mantle. Some of it seeps to the surface and can be extracted without drilling deep but most of it remains deep within the Earth requiring deep drilling to extract. The technology for drilling deep enough has only recently been available in the United States. It’s been available in Russia for a number of years and it’s what allowed them to become the worlds second largest oil producer and for a short time, before the Russian government confiscated a good portion of Yukos assets, the worlds largest. They’ve done it by drilling through granite bedrock to tap abiotic oil below.

Generally speaking, deep abiotic oil tends to be of the light sweet variety because the lighter components have been trapped and haven’t had a chance to evaporate off or disperse.

Here in the United States, this abiotic oil is just starting to be tapped; wild cat oil prospecting company Wolverine Oil drilled deep in parts of Utah that Chevron had declared barren and they found oil, lots of oil, and not just any oil, but the desirable light sweet crude. A super giant field containing light sweet crude has also recently been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico about 175 miles from New Orleans, and this involved first going through five miles of water, and then a number of miles through the ocean floor crust. Abiotic oil from the mantle is what’s being tapped and again it’s light sweet crude. Mexico has found a similar super giant field, and so has Brazil off of it’s coast. This stuff exists in great quantities all over, it just happens that the ocean crust is thinner and it’s easier to get at there, but still difficult and expensive.

The point is, we have plenty of oil domestically, the only reason we import oil, is that it is cheaper to obtain from foreign sources if all the real costs, the cost of the war, the impact on the value of the dollar that results from having a negative trade balance, aren’t considered. The oil companies don’t incur these costs so they don’t care. But if we slap a $20/barrel import duty on imported oil, they’ll start caring.

Now what else can we do? Well, let’s look at a huge amount of wasted energy in this country, night time electricity production. You see, nuclear plants can’t be throttled down at night because it takes too long to get the nuclear chain reaction back up to a higher level again and there is tremendous thermal mass involved as well. Thermal mass and boiler dynamics also make it difficult to throttle coal fired plants. Because nuclear and coal together provide 71% of the US electricity generation, we have a huge wasted capacity surplus at night.

There is enough surplus in fact to provide all of the energy we use in the daily commutes of the entire US. We could displace the majority of oil used for gasoline by converting to plug-in hybrids or all electric vehicles with enough range to handle our average commutes. In other words, we could eliminate the importation and burning of all that oil used to make all the gasoline we use for commuting, eliminate all of that carbon dioxide production, without generating a single gram of additional carbon dioxide or nuclear waste producing electricity because all of that carbon dioxide and nuclear waste is already being produced but the energy is simply being completely wasted. This is really nothing short of criminal.

Our politicians keep telling us, replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents and save the planet but that will do nothing towards stopping these HUGE systematic energy wastes and that’s what we need to address. If we did this, we could eliminate oil imports, the cost of oil would plummet, and our economy would benefit and we would decrease carbon dioxide emissions in a huge really substantial way instead of kind of barely.

What else can we do that will save huge amounts of money? Well, about 17% of the energy put into the grid never comes out the other end, and this is largely because of the losses in long distance AC transmission lines. We could eliminate about 90% of those losses by converting those lines to DC transmission. At the same time we would increase the capacity of the grid, because converting to DC eliminates phasing issues that result from line sag caused by thermal loading. We’d eliminate electromagnetic radiation from those long distance transmission lines and the leukemias and other cancers that go with it. We’d eliminate the susceptibility of our grid to space weather and avalanche grid failures. For any line longer than 300km we’d save money in the process. The problem, thanks to deregulation, nobody wants to pay for grid improvements. If we eliminated 15% of the losses in the system, that would enable us to shut down more than half of our natural gas fired plants; that natural gas could be turned into liquid fuels via the Fischer-Troppe process displacing even imported oil.

We have enough wind sites in just three states to provide the power needs of the entire country, if we had a sufficiently robust grid to distribute the power and if the wind was consistent, but it’s not, and there in lies a problem with wind power.

But it’s a solvable problem, if we build 3x as much wind power as we need and distribute that geographically, then somewhere there will always be wind and enough capacity; however, having to overbuild by 3x ruins the economy of wind power, unless you can do something else useful with it, and you can!

There are two technologies at present that can take carbon dioxide, water, and electricity and turn it into butynol, an alcohol that unlike methanol and ethanol, can be burned in existing gasoline engines without modification and actually generally provide better power and mileage than gasoline. It also produces only about 3% of the emissions that gasoline produces in the same car. It is thus an ideal fuel for existing gasoline cars. It can also be mixed with diesel, although how much can be mixed depends upon the cetane requirements of the diesel engine because butynol has a cetane rating of only about 25 where most diesel engines require around 45. However, added to biodiesel, it can actually raise the cetane rating. Butynol also can be substituted for diesel in turbines such as jet aircraft engines, and many of the gas fired power plants could also burn butynol. Initially, these plants could be placed near coal fired plants and use the CO2 produced to produce liquid fuels instead of being released in the air. Yes, it would be released when the fuel is burnt, but if conventional fuels were burned, they would have produced CO2 in addition to that produced in the coal plant.

As wind power production increased coal plants could be taken off line. As the supply of CO2 from coal fired plants becomes scarce, we could sequester the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and start reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This could be done by a variety of methods, chemical means or fractional distillation of liquified air.

The Bussard Polywell fusion reactor is close to being a power producing reality; the last research reactor before a naval propulsion reactor is build, has been built and if it tests out, a 100 MW naval production reactor will be next. These cost about 1/1000th of what it costs to build a Tokamak fusion reactor or a nuclear fission power plant and produce only helium as a waste product. Further, there is enough fuel available to provide for our energy needs for around 15 billion years. There are no exotic materials required to build these, superconductive magnets aren’t required, no nuclear waste produced, no danger of an explosion or melt-down. These would be safe to build in cities, where any waste heat could be used for domestic or industrial heating.

They are small and light enough that they could find applications in large aircraft or space craft. They could make terraforming a practical reality in a short time frame by allowing huge amounts of energy to be applied to the problem.

In the Western US we have huge geothermal resources; enough to power the entire country if they were fully exploited. Mother Earth is always producing heat internally and gets kind of pent-up if it can’t find an escape route and we end up with Mt. St. Helens, so why not exploit this resource to the fullest and use all of that energy for useful things rather than allowing it to devastate hundreds of millions of acres.

The nuclear industry really needs a revamping, both because it could provide much cleaner and more abundant energy but also to get rid of the transuranic waste instead of trying to store it for 50,000 years which is just plain hocum. All we are doing is creating a disaster for future generations if we don’t deal with this problem now.

The beauty is we have the technology to do it. A type of reactor known as a fast-fission reactor, one that uses fast neutrons instead of thermal neutrons to induce fission, can burn all of the actinides, the long lived transuranic waste products. A conventional one-pass reactor only utilizes about .7% of the natural uraniums energy potential, this type of reactor with a closed recycling cycle, could use 96%, in other words, it would get 137 times more energy out of the same fuel while producing waste that is only hot for 300 years instead of 50,000 and while reducing the waste volume by a huge amount. There is even technology that could take the longest lived isotopes in fission products and reduce those to products that will decay in less than twenty years, and energy could be extracted in the process.

The type of reactor necessary to do this would use helium gas, liquid sodium, lead, or liquid salts as a coolant. This is necessary because water acts as a moderator and slows neutrons. Operating at a higher temperature this reactor would be more efficient thermally and produce less waste heat.

In many other countries, instead of cooling towers, the waste heat is piped to cities and used for residential or commercial heating. This is something we should be doing in this country instead of just dumping that waste heat into huge cooling reactors and heating rivers downstream from the plant.

Solar energy is also becoming cheaper, particularly some new thermal solar schemes using cheap plastic Freznel lenses for concentration of solar energy. Because there is a 90% correspondence between solar energy availability and electrical load, this type of power production can be very economic. The more power we produce from renewables, the more CO2 production we can offset.

One last thing we really should do is electrify our railroad system. North America is the only continent in the world that is still backwards in this respect. This makes us dependent upon diesel fuel for our railroads. Electrifying it would allow them to run from whichever energy source is the least expensive at the moment and would insure the ability to get food to our tables and move products about the country. We really need to get away from dependency on a single fuel for our very survival.

Take a moment to write your congress critters and help instill these ideas into their head. We can’t keep doing business as usual, it isn’t working.

Methane in Earth’s Mantle

Click on the title to see an article detailing an experiment showing that hydrocarbons are created abiotically in the Earth’s mantle.

Here is another study which determined that solid hydrocarbons in rocks that originated in the upper mantle were not organic in origin.

Here is another study in which isotopic evidence shows that hydrocarbons coming up from hydrothermal vents is not of biological origin.

Here is yet another study showing that the formation of hydrocarbons in the Earth’s mantle and the existence of huge quantities of hydrocarbons in the mantle is likely.

Industries in control of hydrocarbon extraction are doing a good job of throttling supply to drive the price up through the roof; there is not an actual shortage of the stuff.

We do have a limited supply of is oxygen, so even if we’ve got infinite hydrocarbon supplies; we do not have infinite oxygen supplies. The atmosphere can not sink an infinite amount of carbon dioxide. Burning hydrocarbons for energy is not sustainable and has very undesirable environmental effects.

But the current oil rape is just greed, and perhaps to a lesser demand, lack of foresight on the part of industry in terms of their failure to anticipate increasing demand from China and India.

Frustrated with Government

We are facing shortages of food, water, medical care, fuel, and human services. The human population of the world continues to climb in spite of having already reached the point where we are putting a severe strain on the worlds resources. There is only one possible outcome if we don’t take immediate and substantial action and that is a global population crash. In other words, the majority of us will die, those that remain will suffer greatly.

We face immediate food, water, and fuel shortage issues. All of these issues are interrelated. In the United States we depend heavily on irrigation to grow our food crops. We’ve depleted aquifers at a rate that substantially exceeds natures ability to replenish them. As a result, land which was formerly productive is now becoming non-productive due to the lack of water. The high cost of oil combined with ill conceived government regulations, primarily driven by special interests, has diverted a huge amount of corn from human and animal consumption to methanol production. This has resulted in a doubling of the cost of corn which has encouraged farmers to switch from other food crops to corn production. At the same time there is a fungus attacking wheat resulting in substantially lowered wheat yields.

To the degree that biomass can be a partial solution to our energy problems, methanol derived from corn is about the least efficient biofuel solution possible. Methanol from corn uses almost as much energy to grow, harvest, ferment, and distill the corn, as it yields in the energy content of the methanol itself.

First, current methanol production uses only sugar or starch as a feedstock. However, it is possible to use cellulose as a feedstock by fermentation with some bioengineered organisms, or by conversion using synthetic enzymes. This allows us to use agricultural wastes, forestry wastes, even lawn clippings to make liquid fuels. This means we can use the corn produced, as human or animal feed, and take the stalks, which would have been waste and convert them into liquid fuels. It allows the use of crops that can grow in marginal land or with less water that would not be suitable for most food crops, so that instead of diverting food crop land to energy production, land not suitable for food crops can be used for this purpose.

Second, ethanol is not the only alcohol that can be produced through fermentation, and for fuel purposes, it is not the best. A four carbon molecule called butynol or butyl alcohol is far better suited as a transportation fuel. Gasoline has an energy content of approximately 125,000 BTU/gallon, ethanol has only 85,000 BTU/gallon and methanol only about 64,500 BTU/gallon. Ethanol and Methanol are also corrosive, methanol much more so, and thus hard on metal and some plastic and rubber engine components. Ethanol and methanol require a much richer fuel to air ratio to burn properly and so can only be used in mixtures of about 10-15% in an unmodified gasoline engine. Methanol can not be mixed with diesel at all due to it’s highly polar nature. Ethanol can be mixed with diesel up to about 10% if it is very free of water content, however, it reduces the lubricating efficiency of diesel causing increased engine wear and it reduces the cetane rating of the fuel.

Butynol by contrast has an energy content of 115,000 BTU/gallon, a road octane of 94, and can be used in an unmodified gasoline engine up to 100%. Butynol has a cetane rating of about 25, ethanol has a cetane rating of 8, methanol has a cetane rating of 3, most diesel engines require a cetane in the mid-40’s though some engines can run on lower ratings and with turbines it’s not an issue at all. The higher cetane rating of butynol allows it to be mixed with diesel in much higher proportions than ethanol and mixed with biodiesel, it can actually raise the cetane rating of the fuel. Because butynol is not hydroscopic, it can be transported in the same pipelines used for petrochemical transports, ethanol and methanol can not be transported this way.

Butynol is a better fuel for gasoline engines than gasoline! The stoichiometric ratio for gasoline is approximately 14.7:1. That means 14.7 parts of air contains just enough oxygen to completely combine with the hydrogen and carbon contained in the gasoline. The most complete combustion of gasoline happens when the mixture is close to being stoichiometric. The stoichiometric ratio for butynol is 12:1. On the surface that would seem to be a disadvantage to have a stoichiometric ratio that is different from gasoline, however, it’s actually a good thing and here’s why.

Automotive gasoline engines are actually run with a mixture of close to 12:1 because a stoichiometric ratio burns too hot and causes pinging, high nitrous oxide emissions, and engine damage. This results in higher carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions from the engine, and those unburnt hydrocarbons only contribute to heat in the catalytic converter instead of engine power.

A stoichiometric ratio of butynol runs cooler because it is less volatile and has a higher octane rating, as a result butynol in a gasoline engine is ideal. Because it is at a stoichiometric ratio, hydrocarbon emissions are reduced to about 3% of what they are with gasoline and carbon monoxide is reduced to levels so low they can’t be measured by conventional exhaust sniffers. At the same time it produces more power and better fuel economy than gasoline even though it’s energy content per gallon is slightly less, because of that more complete combustion. It contains no sulfur and produces fewer sulfurous acids as a result. Because it burns cooler than gasoline, it also produces fewer nitrogen oxides and as a result fewer nitric acids. So this fuel is a big win for automotive applications, better mileage, greatly reduced emissions, and more power.

It used to be that there were only two ways to derive butynol, one was to derive it from oil, the other was to ferment it from plant sources similar to ethanol or methanol. Oil derived butynol defeats the purpose of finding a renewable alternative. Until recently, it was not efficient to ferment plants because the organism used would die at relatively low concentrations limiting yield. However, this has been overcome by a two step fermentation process and now it is possible to derive as much butynol from a bushel of corn as ethanol, but because the energy content of butynol is 135% that of ethanol, you get 35% more energy from that same bushel of corn (and preferably non-food feedstock) if you make butynol rather than ethanol. But there is an additional energy benefit, and that is that the 2nd stage of the two-stage fermentation process also yields hydrogen that can be used as process heat making the overall energy production even more efficient.

I did mention that there used to be only a couple of ways to make butynol, but there have been some recent developments that provide alternative means of producing butynol. Concentrated sunlight in combination with a catalyst is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Recently, it was found that concentrated sunlight and a catalyst can be used to split carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen. The carbon monoxide can then be combined with water vapor forming what is called process gas, and that process gas can then, by a variety of catalytic processes, be turned into a variety of liquid fuels including ethanol, butynol, high quality diesel, and various other substances. This can provide a market for carbon dioxide produced by existing power plants and in do doing displace carbon dioxide that would have been produced by burning oil derived transportation fuels, or it can use carbon dioxide sequestered directly from the atmosphere.

Another new method involves what has been described as a reverse fuel cell which takes water, carbon dioxide, and electricity as input, and produces butynol as a product. This is a way we can take electricity during times when a surplus exists and turn it directly into liquid fuels that can be used for transportation, including airplanes. I failed to mention earlier, butynol also works as a jet fuel and that actually was what lead to the development of this reverse fuel cell. My understanding is that Richard Branson had a desire to find a sustainable and environmentally friendly fuel for Virgin Atlantic Airlines, and butynol is one fuel being considered, presently biodiesel is also being used. He contracted with a company to develop this technology. Information is very hard to come buy so I have not been able to find out details with respect to the economics or viability of large scale production by this method.

But if it works, if the reverse fuel cell method works and is scalable and economical, it could do really good things because another means of generating electricity, wind turbines, has evolved into the least expensive method of generating electricity, less expensive even then coal, and much cleaner. But here is the rub, the wind blows when it wants to and that doesn’t always correspond with when you need power. As a result, if we wanted to provide all of our power needs via wind alone, it could be done but only by over building capacity by a factor of about four times and taking advantage of geographical diversity. If we have to overbuild capacity by four times it ruins the economics of wind power. But, if we can take that surplus capacity and use the electricity to make butynol with which we can meet our transportation energy needs, then the economics of wind power are improved considerably.

We need to not use food crops for energy production, and we need to not displace food production for energy production. But even if we avoid doing these things, water, climate change issues, and plant diseases such as this new wheat fungus, are still going to challenge our food production ability, and water is the biggest factor. We have no real shortage of water, what we have a shortage of is fresh water. We can desalinate water from the oceans, but that is an energy intensive process and we already have a shortage of energy. So clean renewable, sustainable, environmentally friendly energy production, is key to our future, and these shortages are here now and they will get worse, so this a problem that we need to address immediately, not forty years from now.

I write my congress critters, and I get back responses like, “I was a co-author of the … bill”, it contains incentives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10% over the next 40 years, or some other such totally inadequate drivel. This isn’t what we need, what we need is to take immediate concrete rapid action to resolve our energy, food, water, and environmental issues now.

Energy is really at the center, with adequate inexpensive and environmentally friendly energy, we can have all the clean water we need. With adequate supplies of clean water, food production becomes a non-issue. And with adequate water, food, and energy, poverty can be eliminated. And if we eliminate poverty, we will eliminate population growth and reduce the pressure upon the Earth’s resources. And with all of those things addressed, we can make serious inroads into addressing disease and improving the human condition. With adequate energy, recycling virtually anything becomes possible, reducing the demand on the Earth’s resources while at the same time reducing the introduction of harmful substances into our environment.

Government should be passing legislation that puts the massive numbers of unemployed in our country to work building clean energy infrastructure. We should be investing in education to teach people what they need to know to build this infrastructure. We will need engineers, scientists, to design and improve new technologies.

But right now we need to invest heavily in clean technology we already have, wind power, geo-thermal, solar, tidal energy, ocean current energy, wave energy, ocean-thermal energy, sensible biofuels, etc. With solar we have many options beside photovoltiacs, we can build a device known as a solar chimney. A solar chimney is basically just a big brick chimney that gets heated by the sun, draws air up it and through a turbine generating electricity. One advantage of a solar chimney is thermal mass. Because the brick has substantial thermal mass, a solar chimney will continue to produce electricity during the night and for up to three days of overcast weather.

Another technology uses Fresnel lenses or mirrors to focus sunlight on an absorber, to boil water, and drive a conventional steam turbine. Although this tends to involve less solar mass than a solar chimney, there is almost a 90% correspondence between electricity demand and solar flux so even without energy storage, a very large percentage of our energy needs can be met this way.

Liquid fuels, gasoline and diesel, can be made from coal or natural gas by various processes. While I would like to see all of our energy needs met with completely sustainable and environmentally non-damaging energy resources, this can’t happen instantly, but one thing we can do is to displace electricity production by natural gas or coal with renewable resources, and then we can make transportation fuels from the displaced coal or natural gas. I envision this as an intermediary step intended to address serious short-term shortages. In the longer term we can replace petroleum, natural gas, or coal derived fuels used by the transportation sector with solar or surplus wind energy derived butynol, electrification, and if the Bussard polywell reactor works out, even hydrogen-boron fusion.

I am hopeful that the Bussard polywell reactor will be commercially successful and we can replace diesel with hydrogen-boron fusion in ships, trains, and large aircraft. The Navy is funding the Bussard reactor as a possible replacement for fission reactors used in ships and submarines. A bussard fusion reactor using hydrogen and boron as a fuel generates no radioactive waste and electricity can be generated directly through a reverse magnetoplasmadynamics process instead of having to use a thermal process resulting in almost double the efficiency and a smaller heat and acoustic signature. For now we must get started with technology we already have.

This shouldn’t come in the form of incentives designed to steer things over half a century, it should be a crash program that puts people back to work now, creating renewable energy infrastructure that we need now.

I included a link to a Wikipedia article on hydrogen-boron fusion only for the purpose of explaining the significance to those of you who may not be familiar with the concept of aneutronic fuels. However, the Wikipedia article is biased by the conventional idea of using a Tokamak reactor to achieve fusion through thermal acceleration of atomic nuclei. Such an approach is unlikely to be viable, but other methods, such as the Bussard reactor, which accelerates particles through an electrostatic potential well, have a much higher probability of succeeding. The author of the Wikipedia article appears to be unaware of alternative fusion approaches (as is the general public and our representatives that should be funding these alternative approaches strongly).

Global Warming – Is it natural or manmade? Yes.

There is still a debate with respect to what is causing global warming. Is it the result of man-made carbon dioxide being dumped into the atmosphere, or is it natural variations? The answer is yes. It is both.

Because it is both, the problem is far more pressing than if it were either one. Most of the publicity surrounding this issue takes one side or the other and then conveniently presents only evidence supporting their position. This only muddles the situation and leaves people with the feeling that real information isn’t available or that the problem is too complex to understand and therefore too complex to act on.

There are factors I am unaware of and some that I don’t fully understand, but I do understand more than what is generally being conveyed to the public, and I am completely convinced that there are both man-made and natural sources and that both are substantial.

On the natural side, people keep saying that the sun’s luminosity hasn’t changed significantly. This unfortunately is not accurate. If you look at only the light output in the visible spectrum, roughly 700nm red to 450 nm (violet), the output in this narrow spectral range is reasonably constant. However, if you look in the ultraviolet, the variably is considerable, and farther up the spectrum you look, the more significant is the variability.

During solar maximums, UV output is up considerably from times of solar minimums. This does impact our weather significantly. The sun has a 22 year magnetic cycle consisting of two cycles of build up of magnetic field, decline, reversal, buildup, and decline, so every 11 years there is a solar peak, and a solar minimum with the magnetic field being opposite of what it was previously.

But this cycle is itself irregular, there are longer term regular cycles upon which this cycle is superimposed that make some cycles more powerful than others, but there are also unexplained periods of exceptionally low and high activity.

During periods of high activity, Earth’s temperature increases, and during low activity, it decreases. Over the last 100 years, the overall trend has been an increase in solar activity temperature.

Contrary to popular belief and contrary to what we are told; solar flux and radio active decay within the Earth are not the only source of energy input. The Earth is also bathed in a constant bombardment of subatomic particles that we collectively refer to as cosmic rays. These rays consist of particles such as protons traveling at extremely high velocities, very close to the speed of light.

Distant cosmic events, matter being sucked into black holes, neutron stars colliding, ordinary stars being cannibalized by by a neutron star or black hole, these sorts of things generate cosmic rays. Cosmic rays affect our planets atmosphere in two ways, they can dump significant quantities of energy into our atmosphere and magnetosphere in short time frames, and they can affect cloud formation and precipitation which in turn affects the planets reflectivity as well as heat dissipation. We do not know why, but cosmic rays have been on the rise in recent years.

The heating of our planet by cosmic rays can be direct, as when particles collide with molecules in the atmosphere, and it can be indirect, increasing the natural flow of both ionospheric and telluric currents which then creates heat due to currents flowing through electrical resistance.

Most cosmic rays are intercepted by our planets magnetic field and then enter near the poles. However, our planets magnetic field has been declining over the past century (this is also part of a natural cycle) and as it declines, the point at which cosmic rays enter moves to lower latitudes. This affects the heat distribution as well as the weather. Where cosmic rays enter, those particles leaves ionized paths in their wake that serve as condensation points thus enhancing cloud formation at high altitudes.

Also on the rise is volcanic activity, particular under water volcanic activity. The volume of activity that exists is only recently being appreciated. The last global ocean survey counted more than 2 million undersea volcanoes. Granted, these aren’t all active, but it’s a number about 100x larger than what was previously believed to exist. The truth is that nobody really has an accurate assessment of just how much carbon dioxide volcanoes are contributing, but we know for sure it’s on the increase.

So, we’ve got solar activity that, although presently we’re in a solar minimum, is on the longer term on an increase. We have an unexplained increase in cosmic ray bombardment. We have a weakening of the Earth’s magnetic field. And we have an increase in volcanic activity. These all contribute to global warming and they are all completely out of our control.

Then we have the man-made side which is always oversimplified by the media as being solely a function of carbon dioxide production. Actually, it’s far more complex than that. Methane is several hundred times more potent than carbon dioxide gas, and until very recently it was on the rise. In the last few years, methane levels have leveled off and the thought is that methane has reached an equilibrium state where it is being broken down and oxidized into water and carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere at a rate that matches the rate that it’s being generated. So that may suggest that greenhouse gases effect will not be rising as fast as it has been because methane is no longer rising. Water vapor is another potent greenhouse gas but it’s really a mixed bag, because while it prevents the escape of heat from the Earth, when it forms clouds, it also reflects heat and reduces heat input. Scientist do not have a firm understanding of whether the net effect is heating or cooling.

We also need to consider the effect that man has on the planets albedo, when we pave over a significant percentage of the planet with asphalt, build houses with dark roofs, we are affecting the planets reflectivity and causing more energy to be absorbed and less to be reflected back into space.

Then there is thermal pollution, we use nuclear plants as one means of making power, they’ve got those huge cooling towers dissipating waste heat. Typical thermal conversion efficiency is less than 40%, which means if you have a nuclear plant that is generating 800MW of electricity, it’s actually making 2 GW of thermal heat energy, of which 800MW is being turned into electricity and the remaining 1.2 GW is dissipated as heat. This is a non-trivial amount of heat, enough to heat a river used for cooling by several degrees. Collectively, all of these sources have some effect.

What can we do? The truth is that we can’t eliminate our warming of the planet entirely, we can only minimize it by the efficient production, use, and distribution of energy in the most environmentally friendly means possible.

We lose approximately 17 percent of the power we produce in transmission. If we converted all of the AC transmission lines that are 300km or longer to DC transmission, we’d be able to approximately double the transmission capacity, eliminate electromagnetic radiation from the power lines, reduce transmission losses to low single digits, eliminate cascading failures, eliminate sensitivity to space weather, and without changing the transmission lines or insulators, only changing the terminal equipment would give us these gains.

A new type of fusion reactor, known as a polywell or Bussard reactor after it’s inventor, may soon provide an alternative energy source that can generate electricity directly using a reverse magnetoplasmadynamics method of generation rather than a thermal cycle, and this may make efficiencies as high as 80% possible but we shouldn’t count our eggs before they’re hatched. While this technology is looking very promising, seven generations of reactors have been built and the last research reactor before a commercial power reactor, is currently being tested. But until it’s online producing power we can’t know that it will pan out so in the meantime we should continue to invest on renewable sources of energy such as thermal, solar, geothermal, etc, which add neither heat nor carbon dioxide to the environment.

Redesign

Hope I don’t offend anyone with the redesign but I’ve had about enough snow for the year so decided to make a change since I was in here removing old java script stuff that had been taken over by marketing pukes.

Redirect To Advertisement Site

We had a “Green Toolbox” on the sidebar which was a list of resources maintained by another site. It was a java script item and apparently that site is no longer and an advertising site took over the domain and setup an automatic redirect so anyone with that in their sidebar got redirected.

I apologize for this but had no way to know in advance that they’d do something flaky like that. It has been removed from the side bar.

Global Warming – Sun

My Position Regarding Burning Hydrocarbons For Energy

I feel it necessary first to state my position regarding burning of hydrocarbon fuels to provide energy because, whenever I try to expound on the real problems facing us, people misinterpret what I write to suggest that we can remain dependent upon burning of hydrocarbons to meet our energy needs. In fact, the situation is more urgent than it would be if we were completely responsible for global warming and running out of oil immediately.

I have known for some time that carbon dioxide emissions is not all there is to global warming. Some of my readers assume that I am promoting the continued reliance on the combustion of hydrocarbons for our energy needs. What I know makes the need to transition to better energy sources far more urgent.

I’ve stated that oil is more abundant than the oil companies tell us. I have stated that the peak oil theory is not correct as commonly understood. There will be a peak to oil production, but it will occur because other energy technologies become cost competitive, not because we’ve used up half of the world supply. The peak in US production occurred not because we used up half of our reserves, but because oil was cheaper to produce in other parts of the world.

The largest reason we need to stop relying on oil for energy is that we can not ever break the global poverty cycle as long as we are dependent upon oil to provide for the energy needs of our economic engine. It is precisely for this reason that global banking interests and energy interest wish to keep us dependent upon oil for our energy needs. Oil is an energy resource that controlling interests can readily throttle thus limiting economic growth and prosperity for the entire planet, while allowing an elite handful to prosper and the expense of the global community.

Even that elite handful actually suffers because human potential would allow all of us to do and be so much more if we were not limited by this constraint. We could travel the universe, live in a virtual paradise, integrate with other galactic life forms and learn much about ourselves and our universe. Even the elite would benefit from this greater freedom, knowledge, and improved world environment.

Dependence upon combustion of hydrocarbons to provide for our energy needs is in effect jailing us on this planet, for if we are to escape the confines of Earth and become a galactic civilization, energy abundance far beyond what oil can provide must power our economic engine.

Without abundant clean energy, we can not provide the clean and abundant water necessary grow the food necessary to bring impoverished regions of the world out of their impoverished state. Africa, parts of India and the Middle East, regions of China, Mexico, and the United States, are all limited by water availability. Water desalinization is a viable solution only with the availability of abundant clean energy.

The Earth is strained to support the existing human population. Human population growth occurs in only impoverished regions of the world or through immigration from these impoverished regions. In developed countries where there is a decent standard of living, and social infrastructure to take care of the elderly, people do not have large families, and population growth, with the exception of immigration from impoverished areas of the world, is negative, even in the presence of extended life expectancies.

If we solve the energy problem, we can solve the poverty problem. If we can solve the poverty problem, then we solve the problem of a population that is growing to where it exceeds the planets carrying capacity. Furthermore, by solving the energy problem, we also increase that carrying capacity by reducing environmental damage.

The majority of our environmental problems are directly related to energy production, or food production in an environment where insufficient energy is available to recycle wastes and minimize damage. In addition, while our political leaders use religion to insight us to fight each other, in truth most wars are economic and are fought over limited land which has sufficient water for robust food production, or over energy resources that make it possible to survive in less favorable conditions. War squanders resources and does further environmental damage. War is a source of needless suffering. War does nothing to increase the availability of scare resources.

In the past, we didn’t have the technological means to free ourselves from dependence upon the combustion of hydrocarbons as our primary source of energy. Today this is no longer true, we have not just one but multiple viable options, any one of which could free us from our reliance on hydrocarbon fuels.

Now that I’ve stated my position on dependence upon oil, I hope that you will not misinterpret what will follow to suggest that we should not be concerned about global warming. The exact opposite is true, because changes are coming which are entirely or largely beyond our control, and because surviving those changes as an intact civilization requires energy resources far more abundant and reliable than those currently in use, and because those energy requirements are far beyond what combustion of hydrocarbons can scale up to, the need to ween ourselves from hydrocarbons as an energy source is actually far more urgent than if global warming and the scarcity of petroleum were our only concern. In addition, changes we are making to atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial chemistry has dire biological consequences if we continue even in the complete absence of global warming.

Global Changes and Personal Biases

I apologize for what might appear as fluff before getting to the meat of this article. There is some meat coming, honestly, but I really believe a great deal of background is necessary for it’s proper interpretation.

I have no doubt that massive global changes are coming our way. I am gifted or cursed, depending upon your point of view, by dreams and visions depiction future events and conditions as well as out of body experiences that have allowed me to travel to other times and places. Because I know many people put little credence in such things, I have maintained a separate blog, “Dreams, Future Visions, and Out Of Body Experiences“, documenting what I have seen.

I say that I am gifted or cursed, because whether it is a gift or a curse depends entirely upon whether or not I can somehow find a way to use the information that has been made available to me to avert disaster.

The curse portion comes from the fact that my actions alone, if I can’t influence and motivate others to act also, will not and can not be sufficient to avoid catastrophe. The situations we are heading into can only be altered collectively. But that’s also the good news, they CAN be altered collectively.

I have tried to base material here on strictly scientific grounds and I have tried to keep my opinions and conjectures separate from scientific fact. I know that to some of my readers this may not be the case because I do not make extensive efforts to document my sources or provide a bibliography, and thus things I know to be true are often assumed to be conjecture.

However, I believe we are coming to a time when science and spirituality are beginning to examine the same fundamental truths and are beginning to come to some of the same fundamental conclusions about the nature of our existence. I make the distinction between science and scientific dogma, and distinction between spirituality and religion, because I believe that scientific and religious dogma are both in complete opposition to science and spirituality. I am neither with the fundamental religious groups that believe the Earth is 6,000 years old, nor the science crowd that believes in a static objective dead reality that started with a big bang 13 billion years ago and has only been winding down ever since, both are based upon dogma and inconsistent with observational data.

I do believe in God, in the sense of a universal sentience, love, and intent, driving the evolution and unfolding of all that is. I do believe in Jesus as described in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, and the message of love and forgiveness conveyed in those books. I believe there many fundamental truths to be found elsewhere in the Bible, but I believe that many people try to take things that were meant metaphorically literally and that great harm has resulted from doing so. I also believe that much that is described in the Bible in a way that was intended to be literal is hard to comprehend because the people at the time did have language to describe what they saw or experienced, and that still today we suffer from this problem.

The reason I am going to such great lengths to elaborate on my beliefs is that no human being is or can be truly objective. The observer is always part of the observed phenomena; we can not isolate ourselves from our environment; we are part of any experiment we conduct, we are part of any system we observe. Therefore, we can not hope to eliminate all of our biases, the best we can do is to understand our biases and what affect they may have both directly on our observations and on the systems which we observe.

In order for you to understand my own observations, it is necessary for you to understand my own biases. Because I believe that I have critical information about our future, and because I believe our survival and state of being, is inherently and critically dependent upon our understanding of how the future is unfolding, I feel that it is critical that I communicate what I know as effectively and concisely as possible. I apologize for boring you if I have done so.

The Meat

I told you there was some meat to this post, and now with all of that background here it is. I have observed for some time changes in the way radio signals propagate. I have observed changes in climate, I have observed changes in solar behavior, and I have observed changes in Auroral activity, and I have suspected correlations between these phenomena.

The Maunder minimum left little doubt that there is some correlation between solar activity and Earth temperatures. There is also little doubt that in the last one hundred years the Earth’s temperature has been trending upwards, although that trend is superimposed upon the 11-year sunspot cycle. The portion of the cycle where activity is declining results in enough decline in Earth’s temperatures to offset increases in temperature due to human or other causes. The portions where activity is increasing we see increases in Earth’s temperatures. So overall we see a kind of staircase increase.

But interpreting how much warming is the result of solar activity and how much is the result of human activity or other natural activity is extremely complex for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these reasons is the fact that that solar cycle isn’t strictly cyclic. There has been a general trend towards increasing intensity of each solar cycle over the last hundred years which unfortunately neatly overlaps increasing releases of carbon dioxide and other pollutants due to human activity making it difficult to clearly distinguish the thermal effects of these two processes. Furthermore, over the last century there has been a decline in the Earth’s geomagnetic field. This, along with increase in solar activity, both impact how the solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, and this has non-trivial effects on energy input and global climate.

I’ve run across a variety of interesting bits of information over the last few nights, one of which tonight was this paper, entitled, “Modulation of Cosmic Ray Precipitation Related to Climate”, authored by J. Feynman and A. Ruzmaikin, which details how the changing solar activity impacts cosmic ray deposition into the Earth’s atmosphere and the effects which it has on climate. This is in PDF format so you will need Adobe Acroread or other PDF reader to read it. It enlightened me as to how cosmic rays play into the unfolding of our future and further increased my appreciation for the complexity of the factors affecting our climate.

In my Dreams and Visions blog, I’ve posted about dreams in which I have seen something resembling a cross between an extreme auroral display and a kind of false sunrise. I’ve posted an image of what it looks like which I created in Paintshop Pro. Now tonight I learn that there has been a systematic widening of the Aurora oval and one of the mechanisms behind that widening (although not the only mechanism that I am aware of) and I can arrive and what I’ve seen through the extrapolation of current trends into the future.

Another phenomena I’ve seen in dreams, a lifting of the apparent horizon (not an actual physical lift but an optical phenomena relating to refraction) is currently observed to a limited degree primarily in polar regions, often referred to as Fatma Morgana mirages except that the existing mirages tend to be highly distorted and limited due to limited regions of temperature inversion. But what I see in the dreams is smoother and more widespread.

Well, just the other night I read that in 2004 and 2005, there were several instances of intense cosmic ray bombardments in polar regions, which in the context of the above referenced article respecting cosmic ray precipitation, and intense solar activity, makes sense. But what was interesting about this article is that observers in the polar region saw distant horizons suddenly lifted up (as if by the hand of God) during these events.

I believe things are destined to continue to get more interesting, and for those of you interested, take some time to read my blog, but for those of you who are only interested in hard facts, at least take the time to research the scientific evidence, trends, and extrapolate those into the future. I believe the same conclusions are reached either way, and that those conclusions are that we’re in for massive changes, and it will take ample, reliable, and robust energy sources for us to survive them.

Earth’s Atmosphere – What About The Oxygen?

The atmosphere of our planet has changed over geological time spans and I think it is worthwhile to reflect on what exactly that means for us and our future.

Carbon dioxide is released into the air through the process of combustion, burning of hydrocarbon fuels. When burnt, hydrocarbon fuels not only release carbon dioxide, they also release water vapor and consumes oxygen. We have increased the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere from 280 parts per million to 367 parts per million. That’s an increase of 87 parts per million. We’ve decreased the oxygen content of the atmosphere also by 87 parts per million, because it takes one O2 molecule for every CO2 molecule produced through combustion.

Presently, the Earth’s atmosphere is approximately 78.1% nitrogen, 20.9% oxygen, .9% argon, .0367% carbon dioxide, and the balance is mostly water vapor. There are a number of trace elements, primarily other noble gases. Oxygen levels in the past have varied, but what I am learning is that there is no direct way known to measure ancient oxygen levels and depending on the method used estimates varied wildly. For example, on estimate had the oxygen levels as high as 35% 140 million years ago. The estimate was based upon insect size and other factors. Now another source estimates lower.

Primary factors that affected oxygen levels involved plate tectonics and sulfur. Exposing sulfur rich rocks in large amounts can rapidly deplete oxygen from the atmosphere.

Now, we’ve got a world hungry for energy, and burning hydrocarbons seems to be the method of choice for obtaining it. We really need to get away from this but there are many financial interests that would rather we stay the course. As a solution to CO2 emissions they suggest carbon sequestration, even though know proven technology has proven to be effective in the long term.

Carbon sequestration though also is oxygen sequestration because that CO2 taken and buried, took as much O2 out of the air in it’s formation. Folks, case you hadn’t noticed, human beings are somewhat dependent upon this oxygen atmosphere as is almost every other animal form on this planet, the only exceptions being some deep see worms near deep ocean thermal vents that have evolved the ability the use sulfur as an oxidizer rather than oxygen.