Sustainable Economy

There are many issues that need to be resolved in order for our survival on this planet to be sustainable over the long run. Some of the major issues are food production, energy production, and waste disposal.

One idea being pursued by some is the idea of intentional communities which are self-sufficient and live directly off the land in a sustainable manner. Use only what you need, produce no waste that can not be re-used, and don’t destroy the top soil at a rate that is faster than it can be replenished and your survival should be sustainable. Initially I questioned whether there was actually enough arable land for the worlds population to be fed without intensive farming, and I’ve come to the conclusion there is.

Requiring the worlds population to radically change their lifestyle to achieve sustainability is guaranteed to fail. A percentage will change for the global good but most will not. Some can not because of disabilities or other medical issues.

I believe that it is possible to design a system that would allow those who wish to continue living a modern lifestyle in a manner that is sustainable from a technological perspective. The problems of sustainable energy production, food production, exhaustion of resources, and disposal of waste are addressable. The major obstacles are vested economic and political interests.

Proponents of intentional communities bypass this problem by bypassing capitalism, becoming self-sufficient. However, they can not entirely financially isolate themselves from world economies because even land, which they require, has economic value.

The rest of us will either have to find a way to get past these vested interests in spite of a broken economic and political system, or fix the system. One major problem I see with the system is that as it is currently structured it requires continuous economic growth with attendant continuous increases in raw materials and energy and continuous increases in waste product.

People borrow money and it is expected that they pay it back with interest. This requires an expanding economy which is accomplished through consumerism. Making and marketing an every increasing quantity of junk we don’t need in order to keep the economic engine growing.

In order to live in a sustainable manner, we need a sustainable economic system that doesn’t require continued growth of the money supply. Credit unions are a step in the right direction, there is still interest but at least that is balance against interest paid.

Another area that artificially drives expansion of the economy is the stock market system. Originally intended as a method allowing people to pool capital to own a business, it has become a giant international online casino. People buy based upon hope of short term gains and then sell. Corporate board members then are pressured to maximize short term value at the expense of long term sustainability.

Republican pressure to lower short term capital gain taxes are misguided, because they will only exacerbate this problem. What are needed are incentives for people to invest for the long term so that board members will start thinking past this quarters results.

Yet another problem is that environmental costs aren’t included in the price of many products and services. Take nuclear fission power, it produces both long term transuranic wastes and short term fission products. Presently wastes are simply stored on-site but at some point those plants are decommissioned and then what? The industry isn’t worrying about this, that happens many quarters out. But it’s a real cost, that if included, would probably render nuclear fission financially prohibitive today. Now, there are ways to actually re-use the transuranic long term wastes leaving only short term wastes. That would greatly reduce that expense, but as long as no economic incentives exist, they’re going to continue doing what they do.

I don’t know how we fix these things but for the rest of us who aren’t going to go live in intentional communities (which as near as I can tell is the modern word for what used to be called a commune), they must be fixed.

The science and technology to fix these issues exist. We know how to build a type of fission reactor that will be a net burner of transuranics allowing us to extract around 20x as much energy from them as was produced during their production, eliminating the long term waste disposal problem and greatly improving our energy situation. We don’t do this because of vested economic interests. It’s much cheaper to continue running uranium through one-shot reactors wasting 95-99% of the fuels energy potential and creating a vast long term waste problem.

We have the science and technology to build nuclear fusion power plants which produce only non-radioactive non-toxic helium as waste and have no potential for melt down or explosion. The only science left to do to make these viable is some material research. The problem of superconductive magnet coils was an issue but the Chinese decided not to wait another 12-years for ITER and solved this successfully on their own.

The only real effort the US is part of at this point in the fusion area is ITER, and we contribute the equivalent of 2-days worth of oil imports over 25 years towards that. This tells you how seriously we aren’t about getting off oil. There are alternate avenues to fusion which could prove much cheaper than the Tokamak route that should be but aren’t receiving serious funding.

Fusion power would provide cheap unlimited energy allowing us to eliminate the need to burn hydrocarbons for fuel. The low cost of the fuel and low environmental impact of fusion power would make it practical to desalinize water on a large scale making desert into arable land. It would make it practical to recycle waste materials that presently are not recycled because the energy costs are too great.

In my opinion, we should have a national crash program to bring fusion online rapidly. In the meantime we should continue to expand other renewables, wind power, geo-thermal, etc.

If we do this it will allow us to greatly reduce our negative impact on the planet. It’s hardly the only thing we know but it’s a major thing.

What can we do as individuals? You can write your congress critters and tell them that we need to get serious about fusion and other renewables and stop killing for oil. We can really look at our own lives and avoid buying junk we don’t need, and where possible buy used stuff that otherwise will go into a landfill, or things made from recycled materials. We can reduce our energy consumption as much as possible.

Food Production

Can anyone point me to reliable data regarding the amount of land required for food production for a human being using various methods and with various diets, modern agriculture verses more natural methods, western diets verses less meat intensive diets verses vegetarian diets, etc? Thank you.

Controlled Nuclear Fusion

In the past I posted an idea regarding a possible way to scale up a device called a “fusor”, a small hydrogen fusion reactor that uses electrostatic forces to accelerate deuterium ions towards the center of the device where a portion of them collide with sufficient energy to fuse releasing neutrons, helium, and energy.

These devices have been around for many years but they only generate a very small amount of energy and consume more energy than they produce. They are useful as neutron sources.

Conventional fusors consist of two concentric grids inside a vacuum vessel to create an electrostatic field gradient to accelerate deuterium ions. The difficulty with this approach is that a large number of ions collide with the inner grid heating the grid and melting it before a usable amount of power can be generated.

My thought was to operate the fusor not as a steady state device but rather as an AC field device such that the charge on the inner grid reverses just as the ions pass it, avoiding collisions.

Dr. Robert W. Bussard came up with another idea to eliminate losses to the grids. He eliminated the grids. Instead of using grids to create the electrostatic field, he has come up with a magnetic means of containing electrons to create a potential well.

Personally, I find Dr. Bussard a bit annoying because he feels the need to attack any competing approaches such as Tokamak, never the less I find his approach interesting and promising.

Here is a video presentation by Dr. Bussard on his machine. It’s an interesting talk if you discount his trashing Tokamak fusion. The large size required for a Tokamak and cost really doesn’t represent a big issue in a nuclear power generating situation because you are talking about power levels of 600 megawatts or more an a large machine is required just for heat load considerations.

The video describes the evolution of the machines they built and how they kept addressing various issues with each generation and eventually on the last attempt created a machine that produced fusions at 100,000 times the maximum achieved by Farnsworth with his fusor. At that point they ran out of funding.

My feelings on the Tokamak reactors, particularly the spherical Tokamak reactors have the ability to make power commercially economically, the majority of the science is done for Tokamak reactors and the scaling laws are known. They will be too large to be used in portable applications such as powering trains and planes and ships and spacecraft.

This technology is not quite as ready but this system may be able to work for these applications. They believe that at a size of 2-1/2 meters these can produce power even with a PB11-proton system which is aneutronic (produces all charged particles, no neutrons). A deuterium-tritium system can be around 1-1/2 meters. Still too big for a DeLorean but small enough for large aircraft, ships, trucks, trains, and spacecraft.

The spacecraft applications are incredible, this technology could make trips to Mars and even outer planets practical.

Ultra Capacitors

A lot of hype has been given lately to ultra capacitors. They are a new type of capacitor that can theoretically achieve energy densities similar to or even surpassing lithium ion batteries.

The creators of these capacitors hope to replace chemical batteries in everything from laptops to cellphones to electric vehicles. Electric vehicles in particular they claim will benefit because they say ultra capacitors can charge and discharge at higher rates thus allowing more effective regenerative braking.

It is my opinion that much of this hype is overblown. There are issues that I think will severely limit ultra capacitors applications. Chemical batteries maintain a relative constant voltage across the majority of their discharge curve. A lithium ion cell using a graphite anode is typically just under 4 volts fully charged and just over 3 volts fully discharged.

If you had a 4 volt ultracapacitor, it would be 4 volts fully charged but 0 volts fully discharged. At 3volts, you’d only have used 44% of it’s capacity. So to use an ultracapacitors full capacity you have to have equipment that can operate over a wide voltage and current range (because the current will have to increase as the voltage decreases to maintain the same power level).

The advantages of ultra capacitors, their high charge and discharge rate capability has been duplicated in advanced nano-particle based lithium ion batteries. There are lithium ion batteries in production today that can be fully charged in 3 minutes and charged to 80% of their capacity in one.

Present day ultra capacitors do not have the longevity one would expect from a capacitor, down to about 80% of their initial capacity after 1000 charge / discharge cycles.

I’m not saying ultra capacitors aren’t a useful technology, but I do not believe they will displace chemical batteries in all applications like their manufacturers would like to suggest. Rather I think the hype is mostly “investors give us your money” crapola.

Battery Technology

There are many new competing battery and super high density capacitor technologies (ultra capacitors) emerging that promise to make electric vehicles truly viable.

See this article on ultra capacitors as an example of one of these new technologies. These articles often talk of ultra capacitors as if they are equivalent to batteries except that they can achieve ultra high charge and discharge rates.

I am skeptical with respect to the technology described in this particular article because it depends upon changing the dielectric to allow the ultra capacitor to hold a charge of several thousand volts. The problem with this is that what allows these high capacities to start with is a very high surface area electrode with a very thin layer of dielectric insulator. The thicker the dielectric, the less the capacitance and the less total surface area can fit in a given volume. But to withstand high voltages the dielectric has to be thick.

There is another aspect of ultra capacitors that make them a problematic replacement for a battery. A chemical battery maintains a relatively constant voltage across the majority of it’s discharge cycle. An ultra capacitor does not. This means that whatever circuitry feeds power from the ultra-capacitor to a load also needs to dynamically transform the voltage and I’m not really sure how that would be done.

State of the Union

I am so tired of Bush coming on television and telling us the economy is rosy and we must persevere in Iraq.

The economy is NOT rosy. They manipulate the core inflation rate by excluding housing, fuel, and food, the things which are essential to our existence and which have inflated in cost the most.

The economy is NOT rosy. They fake the unemployment figures by not counting what they call “discouraged workers”, those that have been unemployed so long that they have dropped off the unemployment roles.

The economy is NOT rosy. They talk about the number of jobs created, but they don’t tell you they are exceed by the number of workers looking for jobs or that the jobs are largely minimum wage service jobs that nobody can live on.

Bush continues to try to tie Iraq to terrorism even though the CIA has stated that there was no credible link between Iraq and terrorism. The invasion of Iraq has created a whole new generation of terrorists where none existed.

The figures for American deaths in Iraq is bogus. They act as if 3,600 families having lost their children for oil company profits is not tragic. Many more Americans have died than that. If a soldier is seriously wounded, they fly them to Germany right away. If they subsequently die in Germany, they are not counted as an Iraq fatality. Supply line and security, were outsourced in this war. More private citizens in these functions have died than soldiers.

Iraqi deaths don’t count. Estimates range upwards of a million Iraq deaths. In addition to military action, some have starved, or died from heat because electricity to run air conditioning was cut off. Iraqi people died from disease when clean water wasn’t available. People will have to live out the rest of their lives paralyzed or with missing limbs.

This war has created terrorists, destabilized the middle east, reduced Iraqi oil production driving the cost of crude up worldwide, and killed and maimed countless people. But we must stay the course, kill and maim more people, keeping the price of crude, and oil company profits, high.

The truth is the economy is in a serious world of hurt. The fed is caught between raising the interest rate causing an already failing economy to collapse, and not raising it causing foreign investors in the dollar to lose faith in our currency and divest causing the value of our dollar to plummet, and if that were to happen we would not be able to buy the oil we have become dependent upon.

To resurrect the economy we must cease the military adventurism and rapidly eliminate our dependence upon foreign fuel. There is no reason we should be dependent upon foreign fuel. We actually have vast oil reserves in the United States. At one point we did not have the technology to extract oil from oil shale or tar sands, but there are processes now for doing both at under $15/barrel and our oil shale deposits exceed all of the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia several times over.

We also have vast deposits of sour heavy crude, like that in Venezuela. Our refineries are not build to process this oil however. That needs to be remedied. If I were king we’d have a substantial import duty on foreign crude and refined products to encourage the oil companies to build the necessary refinement capacity and shift dependency to domestic sources.

Another source of oil we have is deep deposits under granite capstone, as predicted by the abiotic oil theory. We have super giant fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in Utah. They require drilling some five miles down through granite to tap, but we have the technology to do this.

The Russians became the worlds second largest oil producer, and for a short while the worlds by drilling for this abiotic oil. China has recently discovered abiotic oil in Viet Name and North Korea. This abiotic oil is found under inverted bowl shaped granite formations which trap oil rising from the earth’s mantel below them.

There are many alternatives to oil that can meet our energy needs, and for the sake of avoiding the climate on Venus, we should be vigorously pursuing these.

We need a change in direction. We need to take the money we’re throwing at Iraq, bring our people home, and put that money into energy independence.

Human Problems

In order to live on this planet in a sustainable manner we’ve got some real human problems to overcome. On the surface, we can look at corporations only interested in this quarters balance sheet. It’s tempting and easy to blame the corporate powers that be but I think we also need to take a look at us and our habits.

Our entire economy is based upon consuming. Industries invent more “stuff” to market to us so they can make money. Most of this stuff is stuff we don’t need, after all we survived fine without it.

The problem is that manufacturing all of this stuff we don’t need takes raw materials from the planet and generates pollution and waste. Even more than that, it takes human time to make, consume, and dispose of all of this stuff.

We spend money on Ipods, cd’s, computers with audio, stereo amplifiers and speakers, so we can have music. But, wouldn’t it be better to spend that time and those resources to get together with our fellow human beings and make and share music with each other?

We’ll spend money on a bow-flex or some exercise machine, when we could be out playing games with our friends and neighbors and family and getting exercise in a far more enjoyable fashion.

Then there is the Internet and the computer I am typing this on. It is my belief that humans have the ability to directly communicate with each other but we lost that when we cut ourselves off from the all that is. That ability of communicating directly would be so much more transparent than the most advanced computer and internet interface ever can be.

What makes me believe this is that I’ve had little flashes of this. In high school, I had a friend that moved up from San Diego. We would have conversations that never had more than the first couple of words of a sentence because the other person would already know what they were going to say and start to reply.

One day, he was describing to me a strip-mall where he lived, and all of the sudden I got an absolutely visual image like I was standing in front of it, and I stopped him. I said wait, does it have this store, and then next to it, this store, and then this, and so on. I was dead on.

I think this is an innate human ability that we’ve somehow lost. I don’t know why we’ve lost it but if we could get it back, all of this Internet would be unnecessary.

I’ve had some other weird experiences like this. One time I was flipping a nickel while sitting in a radio class at high school and called it heads/tails correctly 31 times in a row. Never was able to repeat that or anything like it.

I’ve had a number of things like this, that happened to me only once, happen. I believe it’s God’s way of showing me what we are actually capable of. I haven’t been shown how that we can realize these capabilities.

I think though that we should start where we can. Think about the stuff we buy, is it really necessary? And if it is, do we need a new one? Or can we use one that someone else no longer has a need for. This would take some of the pressure off of this planets resources. We need to start treating our planet better.

Death By Global Fart – It Has Started

The title of this article may look like a joke, but it is very serious.

Hopefully you’ve been paying attention to the news and you’ve heard about or read about the huge dead zones in the oceans. These are caused by nutrients from fertilizers and animal and human waste entering the oceans causing huge algae blooms near the surface blocking light preventing any plants below from receiving oxygen thus causing the water to be depleted of oxygen resulting in the death of everything in it.

It’s not just dead zones which can result in oxygen depleted waters. Mixing of deep ocean water with shallow waters can also do this.

Not quite everything and here is where the big problem lie. You see there is one life form that thrives. There exists a form of bacteria in the ocean that dies in the presence of oxygen but thrives in it’s absence. These bacterias obtain energy to drive their biological processes by combining sulfur and hydrogen into hydrogen-sulfide.

Hydrogen-sulfide is what gives rotting cabbage and farts their wonderful odor. At levels of about 100 times that at which you can smell it, it is toxic. If you’ve ever been locked in a small room with someone that had burritos for dinner the night before you know this.

A positive feedback cycle is possible where as these bacteria thrive, the hydrogen sulfide they produce can kill more oxygen producing life forms, resulting in more oxygen depleted water, and more anaerobic bacteria.

A mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago in which 95% of the species died, is believed to be tied to just such a global bloom of this type of anaerobic hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria.

There are some indications that it is beginning to happen again:

So far people can only speculate on the smell, but I think it’s no coincidence that it’s happening first in the most populous region of the United States. Dump huge quantities of sewage into the Ocean, feed the bacteria, cause a large bacteria bloom, anaerobic bacteria thrive and when the wind blows the right way New York gets to enjoy it.

This time it only sent 12 people to the hospital. It’s a problem that is going to get worse if we don’t take action to stop it.

General Insanity Threatens Our Future

I am more than a little bothered by the fact that junior decided to ignore the will of the American people and instead send another 20,000 of our youth to Iraq.

I am troubled by the fact that junior continues to portray Iraq as the source of 911 terrorists when the CIA found no involvement in terrorism by Iraq.

We face some real problems on this planet, global warming being one major problem, dead zones in the ocean being another.

Presently, 20% of the world government budgets are wasted on military expenditures, 6% of the world GNP goes to the military.

In 2005, the US consumption of oil was 20.8 million barrels per day. The military directly consumed 132,788 barrels of oil in 2005. This may sound like a drop in the bucket but remember that the US has outsourced many of the functions traditionally done directly by the military, supply line and security for example.

It’s impossible to know the REAL percentage of the GNP dedicated to military expenditure, but the above the board percentage is a little more than 6%. This does not include though many ancillary expenses nor does it speak for the huge black budget figures that are not available to the public. Even at the 6% figure, that translates into a real consumption of around 1,248,000 barrels per day.

2006 oil production in Iraq was 2.14 million barrels per day, still 400,000 less than pre-occupation levels. So our military consumes more than half of Iraq’s entire production. Between the reduction in production and the waste, together this is taking more than half of Iraq’s oil production off the world market.

In case you’ve been wondering why you’re paying almost $3/gallon for gas (more in some regions), when you take half of the production of oil from country with the 2nd largest oil reserves in the middle east, you are going to create shortages and drive the price up.

This is directly ruining the US economy. Oil has recently come down to around $55 per barrel, from at times more than $70, but pre-war it was under $40, usually close to $30. The direct result of this has been a huge increase in the US trade deficit.

The huge increases in the US trade deficit has weakened the dollar against other currencies and the result of that is that the fed has had to raise interest rates to keep foreign governments from totally divesting of US currency, thus causing the value of the dollar to totally plummet. The result of the increased interest rate, combined with a record national deficit financed at that high rate, is to ruin the economy.

Because the US economy is the biggest economy in the world, around 13,475 billion, when the US economy suffers so goes the rest of the world.

In 2005, in terms of purchasing parity, Chinas national GDP was 8,883 billion, at the official exchange rate (because China currency is not yet fully floating), 2,225 billion. I wasn’t able to find the GNP rate for China for 2006, but I did find the growth rate in 2006 was 10.2%, and so the 2006 rate can be calculated as 9,789.07 in reach purchasing power, and 2,451 billion under the official exchange rate if they haven’t changed since 2005 (and they probably have). The US debt is 70% of GNP, China debt is 10% of their GNP. They’ve had 10.2% growth in the last two years.

Estimates abound that suggest that China’s economy won’t overtake ours until around 2050, however, as part of their gaining favorable nation trading status they had to agree to convert their currency to floating market rate currency. As they do this, the numerical GNP will come to reflect the real GNP. At the current growth rates of the US and Chinese economies, China will overtake the US in terms of real purchasing power in only six or seven years. However, given the debt ratios my expectation is that Chinas rate of growth will increase while ours decreases or even goes negative.

We need to fix our military expenditure and our energy situation if we are to survive as a nation. If you look at what is happening in this country now, we are going exactly the same direction that the Soviet Union went which eventually resulted in it’s break up.

We need to start tapping our own energy reserves, and we do have huge reserves in this country. There are heavy crude deposits on part with those in Venezuela in California. There are large deposits of oil shale and tar sands. Initially extraction was very expensive, but oil from these sources can now be produced for under $15/barrel. There is a deep super-giant oil field underlying Utah which is sweet light crude, but to get to it requires drilling 20,000+ feet through granite bedrock as this oil is under a granite capstone as predicted by the abiotic oil theory. There is a super-giant field recently discovered in the Gulf of Mexico that is larger than Ghawar, formerly the worlds largest and it is my understanding the quality of that oil is good as well, but that requires deep sea off-shore oil drilling.

The problem is that Saudi production only costs around $7/barrel, Iraq, less than $4 if you don’t factor in the occupation expenses picked up by US tax payers, so oil companies would prefer those sources.

There is also the issue of the quality of the oil reserves here. What we have here in the US is largely sour heavy crude and bitumen (very heavy hydrocarbons, tar like). Since the lighter distillates are the most needed for gasoline and diesel, and since sulfur content is regulated to minimize acid rain, refining these heavy sour crudes requires cracking (breaking the long hydrocarbon molecules into shorter molecules) and the removal of sulfur.

Existing US refineries are largely not equipped to deal with this heavy crude. The oil companies would rather extract oil cheaply in the middle east and elsewhere, that they can then refine cheaply, than extract oil in the US which is twice as expensive as many foreign sources, and build additional refinery capacity that is equipped to handle heavy sour crude and bitumen.

For environmental reasons we really need to employ alternatives to burning hydrocarbons for energy, however, in order to avoid complete economic collapse, we have to eliminate our dependence upon foreign oil now. We have adequate domestic reserves to meet our needs for many years, and that can be greatly expanded if we switch to plug-in hybrids which, save for the Pacific Northwest region, can live on surplus power production and grid capacity.

In the Pacific Northwest, where a large amount of the power is hydro which can be throttled as necessary, there is no such thing as “surplus” power, there is only so much water and it can be used whenever so surplus capacity here does not exist.

The bulk of the US drives less than 50 miles per day, so plug-in hybrids capable of going 40 miles on batteries could eliminate 80% of the US gasoline consumption. About 45% of US oil consumption is gasoline used by cars and trucks. If we could eliminate 80% of that, we would eliminate 36% of US total consumption and reduce our oil imports by more than 50%.

This would be a huge win for our economy and environment. Transportation as a whole accounts for 69% of US oil consumption.

It is my belief that we should electrify our railways and go back to relying largely on trains for cargo transportation instead of trucks. Electricity can be produced from any energy source, including many renewable environmentally friendly sources, solar, wind, geo-thermal, and hydro-electric.

And with respect to hydro-electric, I’m troubled by the recent blow up the dam trend based upon the theory that they are responsible for fish population reductions.

The majority of these dams have existed for thirty or more years, yet, thirty years ago there wasn’t a problem with fish runs until the problems of over fishing and dead zones in the oceans became common.

The solution to the fish population issue is to solve the problem of nutrients from fertilizer run-off and animal and human waste, from going into the oceans. We should start by eliminating unnecessary fertilizing. Having a green lawn isn’t worth killing off all the life in the oceans. The use of fertilizers can be greatly reduced by more intelligent farming practices. One large problem is over-watering which leaches all the minerals out of the soil, down into the rivers, requiring fertilizers to replace them which are subsequently washed down the rivers by over-watering.

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ve had people try to tell me that we’re using water much more efficiently now but it just ain’t so. Anybody that believes otherwise only needs to drive up to a rural area like Burlington WA area, and look. You can’t help but see the huge circular sprinkler systems that are dumping so much water on the field that part of it is under water. These really should be replaced with much more efficient computer controlled drip irrigation.

If we can reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizers, we can also reduce our oil consumption because many of the fertilizers are petroleum derived.

If you buy the line that this has already been done, I suggest you go to maps.google.com and take a look at a satellite image of any farming region. You will see the circular growing areas characteristic of these large circular sprinkler systems. These systems basically have a big pipe with sprinklers that is suspended above the ground on a series of wheels and revolves around a central hub. Because the water is sprayed great distances in the air, a large percentage is lost to evaporation. Because there is no active control, too much water is applied.

Sewage treatment should all have tertiary treatment and animal wastes that are composted and then used for fertilizer should be composted in such a way that water can’t leach nutrients from the composting waste and transport it to the rivers. When the composted waste is used, watering should be carefully controlled to prevent run-off.

Green Living

I ran across a site that has a fair amount of useful information and suggestions with respect to how to live a green life style called Green Living.

Unlike some of the other resources I have found, this one has an abundance of suggestions that are easily implemented, as opposed to requiring a $60,000 retrofit of your house or something.