Chinese Sustainable Energy Program

China, with it’s billion and a half citizens, faces a huge challenge. For them, it’s not just a matter of maintaining the status quo, it’s a matter of having a huge population desiring to enjoy a modern lifestyle.

They intend to attain that for their citizens by quadrupling the gross national product and doubling energy consumption by 2050 over what it was in 2000. They are presently depending upon coal to generate 75% of their electricity. Their target is to reduce that to 38% by 2050. Presently electricity demand is increasing 15% per year and coal fired plants are the fastest way for them to meet that demand. Chana is installing more than one 1000 MW coal fired plant per week at present.

The pollution generated takes a huge toll on not only the health of Chinese citizens, but also on food production. The haze generated by burning all of that coal reduces net sunlight at ground level by more than 1%, with an attendant reduction in food crops. Presently, there is more than 250 GW of coal fired generating capacity under construction or in the pipeline. Already, over 40% of China’s rail capacity is dedicated to hauling coal, pollution aside this trend can not continue indefinitely.

China is planning on transitioning towards renewable sources, small scale hydro, biomass, wind, and solar among them. China also tends to make use of nuclear fission and in addition is aggressively pursuing a fusion research path aimed at bringing fusion online commercially.

To gain an understanding of just how aggressively the Chinese are pursing fusion power, consider this. The rest of the world is contributing to the twelve year construction of what was to be the worlds first superconducting tokamak fusion reactor, ITER, to allow sustained operating at commercial power levels so material issues such as how the diverter would function long term and engineering issues like heat load and neutron embriddlement could be worked out. The US contribution to this project over a 12-year period amounts to less than what we spend on imported oil in two days.

By contrast, the Chinese started construction of a superconducting fusion test reactor in February of 2006, it say first plasma in September of 2006. I’m going to lay odds that they will have fusion power online commercially before ITER is fully constructed.

China intends to build an additional 30 nuclear fission reactors for power production over the next fifteen years and by 2050, China intends to have a total of around 150GW of nuclear capacity online. This equates to about 150 nuclear fission plants if a gigawatt design is used, presently domestic plants are of a 300 MW and 600 MW size.

The Chinese are also having great success with wind power. While electricity produced by coal fired plants is averaging around 8¢/KWh, electricity produced by wind is averaging about 4.5¢/KWh. As one might expect, that is making wind power look like a very attractive investment, however, it can not be scaled up presently as fast as coal can and consequently coal still leads new power production. I suspect though that the economics of wind power will drive a rapid acceleration in the rate of wind power production.

China is also exploring advanced high temperature nuclear fission reactor technology. Conventional boiling water reactors or pressurized steam reactors operate at low temperatures with resulting poor thermal conversion efficiency. However, South Africa has produced and is operating gas cooled pebble bed reactors which can operate at far higher temperatures with an attendant improvement in efficiency.

China has demonstrated the inherent safety of a 10 MW pebble bed reactors by shutting off cooling while the reactor was operating at full power and demonstrating it’s ability withstand that without damage or radiation release. Pebble bed reactors use fuel pellets about the size of billiard balls that contain fuel inside of a graphite ball, and in some designs that is in an outer casing of silicon carbide. In my opinion the latter is a much better design because silicon carbide is not reactive with oxygen so even if the containment vessel cracks a silicon carbide encased fuel pellet will not allow radioactive materials to escape where a graphite pellet could potentially burn in that situation.

Pebble bed reactors are safe and thermally efficient, however, they are not efficient in their overall use of fuel because their operation is inherently one-pass meaning less than 1% of the uranium fuels potential can be extracted. The spent fuel is difficult to extract from used pebbles and so at present no reprocessing technology exists and the fuel can not be reprocessed.

Those are some of the things happening in China. I think it’s worth while viewing how other countries are addressing their energy needs and environmental concerns. For the time being China’s dependence upon coal is catastrophic for the environment but they are working on transitioning from coal which I see as a positive step.

Rig Zone

Even though in my opinion burning hydrocarbons for energy is the antithesis of a sustainable economy, I’ve added RigZone.com to the sidebar so those of you who wish to keep track of what the oil companies are doing have that resource readily available.

If you take a look at it on a daily basis, you won’t miss on the oil field discoveries. If you dig around a bit, the field development tab is a good place to look, you can look at the specifics, how much oil they find, how development is going on a particular field, the estimated production life of that field, etc.

Peak Oil

In spite of everything I’ve presented here there are people who still want to buy into the peak oil scam. I’m not sure how much I should try to convince people otherwise because while there isn’t a peak oil situation immediately looming, at least not in the sense that we’ve used up half of all the worlds oil reserves, there is the problem of damage to our environment, and that is real and threatening and the right reason for transitioning to alternatives to oil.

I’m sure that James Howard Kunstler is a far more persuasive author than I am, and he’s also motivated to sell books. So what chance do I have of competing?

Those of you who really want to know the truth, it’s out there if you dig for it. One place I like to look is http://www.rigzone.com/. It is geared towards the oil industry and consequently not high in entertainment value like Kunstler’s book, however, it contains real data, the new oil field discoveries, the technological developments, the economics involved. There are other sites like it but that one makes everything available to anyone who cares to go and take a look.

On the other hand, if you just want to be entertained, read Kunstler’s book. Really, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing for the public to believe a peak oil crises is upon us, because if that actually provides the motivation to get us to move onto something environmentally less damaging then it’s not a bad thing.

My only gripe with the peak oil scam, besides the fact that it is a scam, is that by creating a perceived shortage it’s driving the price of oil up and sucking money out of the economy that could be used to invest in alternatives. It’s also causing major problems for many people economically forcing people to choose between heating and eating while the oil companies rake in 35 billion a quarter in profits. And it’s causing many Americans to look the other way while we conduct a war in the middle east because they believe it’s securing oil. In reality, it’s cut the production in Iraq considerably driving the cost of oil up which of coarse is what the multinationals had intended in the first place.

All of this isn’t to say that cheap oil is not getting scarce. There is plenty of oil left but it’s not the low sulfur light crude under so much pressure that all you have to do is poke a hole in the ground and it comes gushing out. There is plenty of deep oil, the kind you have to drill down 20,000+ feet and through granite or basaltic capstone to get to. There is plenty of oil shale and tar sands, which yield thick bitumen that has to be cracked into lighter molecules in order to be commercially useful and that increases refinery costs. There is about as much heavy oil in California as there is Venezuela. There is much oil off the Gulf of Mexico yet to be tapped but much of it is in deep water and requires deep drilling to get to. There are regions off the Pacific coast believed to have oil but they haven’t been allowed to even be explored let alone tapped.

I’d much rather see us move to clean renewable resources than tap all of these and spew more filth into the atmosphere and environment in general. I’d rather see it happen though because it’s the right thing to do for our planet and not because oil companies thought they could boost their profits by creating a perceived shortage.

Nuclear Fuel Shortage?

This article concerning a nuclear fuel shortage, on MIT’s website, leaves me shaking my head and wonder what they up to. There has to be an agenda behind this besides a genuine concern over having enough fuel for reactors because if we really had a fuel shortage we wouldn’t be creating a national waste repository that is intended to store nuclear waste for 20,000 years.

Some background is necessary regarding the entire nuclear fuel cycle. We mine natural uranium ore, the uranium once extracted from that ore contains proximately .72% U-235, and 99.27% U-238, and .0055% U-234.

In a uranium fueled nuclear fission reactor, the isotope U-235 is the fuel because it can be caused to fission, that is break into lighter elements, by absorbing a slow (thermal) neutron, and in turn also give off neutrons when that happens, which are then absorbed by another U-235 atom, continuing the chain. The resulting daughter elements are slightly lighter than the original uranium element and that mass difference is converted into energy.

U-238 isn’t completely inert however. It absorbs neutrons becoming U-239, decays to Np-239 through beta emission (emits an electron, one of the neutrons becomes a proton), and then Np-239 decays into Pu-239, again through beta decay. Pu-239, like U-235 is fissionable with thermal neutrons.

Thus in a reactor fueled with U-235 and U-238, a percentage of the U-238 atoms will absorb neutrons and become Pu-239 adding to the fissionable fuel inventory in the reactor.

However, notice that U-238 does not emit neutrons during it’s conversion to Pu-239. A light-water moderated reactor can not sustain a nuclear chain reaction with a natural isotopic mix. It is possible to sustain a nuclear fission chain reaction using natural uranium if graphite or heavy water is used as a moderator. Heavy water is expensive in the quantities required and graphite is a fire hazard as was demonstrated in Chernobyl.

To get around this problem uranium is enriched, isotopes are separated using gas diffusion, centrifugal, or laser isotopic enrichment methods so that fuel containing 2.5%-5% U-235 and 95-97.5% U-238 results.

When natural uranium is enriched, typically 15% of the natural uranium becomes enriched uranium at 3.5% U-235, and 85% becomes deplented uranium with .3% U-235. So only 29.2% of the U-235 present in the original ore ever gets into the reactor and about 17% of the U-238. More than 80% of the energy potential of the ore has been eliminated before it ever makes it into the reactor.

During the reactors operation, approximately 1% of the U-238 is turned into Pu-239 and a percentage of that is then fissioned along with U-235 fuel. But at some point the ratio of fissionable isotopes drops too far and waste products that absorb neutrons but do not fission and supply neutrons increases to the point where a chain reaction can no longer be sustained and the reactor must be refueled.

At that point when the spent fuel is removed from the reactor and placed in waste ponds, only 4-5% of the U-238 present in the original fuel (1% or so of what was in the original ore) was used and much of the Pu-239 bred from that is still unused as well as a percentage of the original U-235. Between than .75% and 1% of the natural uranium’s energy potential has been utilized in a one-pass fuel cycle.

MIT is saying we have a fuel shortage because we are presently mining uranium at a rate of only about 65% of the rate that we’re using it in reactors. In the United States, reactors are only using it in a 1-pass fuel cycle and thus more than 99% of the energy potential of that fuel is being wasted.

In addition to that we have huge stockpiles of Pu-239 that have accumulated as part of the weapons programs in the United States and Russia and this also could be used to fuel reactors. It is more problematic however because it is relatively easy to build a bomb from Pu-239, but not from reactor grade uranium which is only enriched to a maximum of around 5% and more typically 2.5-3.5%.

The problem that shuts down the reaction isn’t just a lack of fissionable U-235 and Pu-239, it is the build-up of other actinides, elements heavier than uranium, which absorb thermal neutrons but do not fission and provide additional neutrons as well as some fission products that are neutron absorbers which poison the reaction by absorbing too many neutrons. Fission products also create mechanical problems.

If we reprocess the spent fuel, remove the U-235 and Pu-239, and re-use those in MOX fuel (mixed metal oxides, U-235 and Pu-239), and do this to the greatest extend that we can, we can extract around 2% of the uraniums fuel potential.

Just moving from a single pass to a multi-pass fuel cycle would reduce the amount of uranium that we would need to mine to less than that which is currently being mined. There really isn’t a shortage of uranium, it’s just less expensive to mine fresh ore than to reprocess waste.

We should reprocess, because by doing so not only do we reduce the amount of uranium that needs to be mined, but we reduce the long-lived radioactive wastes by a similar amount.

However, there is a way that we can extract 60-70% of the uraniums fuel potential (with current isotopic separation efficiency) and eliminate most of the long-lived radioactive waste.

In the spent fuel there are two radioactive components. Actinides which includes uranium and all elements that are heavier, and fission products, the daughter products of the fission products. The fission products are highly unstable and decade to stable isotopes in a relatively short time frame. By the time 300 years have passed, they will have decayed to the point where there radioactivity is no higher than the natural ore that was originally mined and are considered safe for disposal at that point.

It is the actinides that are problematic because they have much longer half-lives and it will require in excess of 20,000 years for them to decay to the point where radioactivity is no greater than the original ore.

Of all the actinides produced, only the isotopes U-235 (present in the original uranium fuel), U-233 (bred from thorium, and Pu-239 and Pu-241 are fissionable with thermal neutrons. But all of the actinides are fissionable with fast neutrons. Burning these requires the use of fast-flux nuclear reactors. Early fast-flux reactors had some inherent safety issues because reaction rates could vary rapidly.

However, generation IV reactors have been developed which have inherent stability features. For example, fuel designs that have negative temperature – reactivity coefficients such that as the temperature increases the reaction rate automatically decreases. There are numerous schemes for accomplishing this.

In general fast-flux reactors use either a liquid metal (typically sodium or lead), a liquid salt, or a gas coolant operating at greater temperatures than a boiling water or pressurized water reactor would operate at. This higher temperature translates into higher efficiency. Also, the liquid metal cooled reactors operate at close to atmospheric pressure so there are less plumbing problems.

By using these reactors, 60-70% of the energy content of the uranium ore can be extracted. This can be improved further as separation efficiency improves. Right now however, we have an excess of weapons plutonium stockpiled that can be blended with natural uranium rather than enriching it, and that is providing for a portion of our fuel needs and is the reason we do not have to mine more.

The cost of uranium is a trivial portion of the total cost of producing electricity. If it were to increase by 100x, it would still only account for approximately .7¢/KWh and a 100x cost increase would increase the supply tremendously.

A uranium shortage doesn’t exist and won’t limit nuclear power production. Intelligent use of uranium could reduce the fuel consumption to less than 2% of that which is presently required to generate a given amount of electricity. Thorium can be used as a fuel and there is 3x as much thorium in the Earth’s crust as there is uranium, and what’s more uranium produces more long-lived actinides than does thorium for the amount of energy produced.

What is the motivation behind MIT’s announcement of an impending uranium shortage?

Heat Pump Dryers

The Japanese have had microwave clothes dryers for some time. These use microwaves to heat the wet clothes rather than hot air and by doing so they save approximately 35% in energy consumption. They switch to resistive heating for about the last 10% of the cycle to prevent problems with metal objects. For reasons I am not familiar with these are not available in the United States.

Heat pump dryers are now available in the United States, and these save approximately 65% of the energy consumed by an ordinary dryer. Dryers generally represent around 6% of a households energy consumption, and if you have teenage kids even more. In addition to directly consuming 6% of a households energy budget, dryers also contribute to energy required for heating and/or air conditioning because the air they exhaust to the outside hot came from the inside, and that air will be replaced by cold or hot air from the outside requiring additional energy for heating or cooling the house.

Heat pump dryers cost about $300 more than a conventional resistive heating dryer. Over a ten year lifespan, they will save approximately $1000 in electricity costs assuming the average cost of 8¢/KWh and average household laundry. The savings will be even greater where the rates are higher or if your household has a higher than average amount of laundry. This is before you factor in heating and air conditioning savings which are even greater.

A heat pump dryer is also more convenient to install, requiring only a drain like a washer and no external vent. In addition a heat pump dryer requires only a standard 120 volt outlet, not the larger 240 volt 30 or 40 amp circuit of a resistive heating dryer.

Instead of heating air, blowing it over clothes, and then exhausting the hot air outdoors and taking fresh air from indoors, a heat pump dryer heats air, passes it over clothes, dehumidifies the air, and passes it over clothes again and again. No air is exhausted outdoors, and liquid water from the dehumidified air is simply drained. Heat energy is not wasted.

Not including the savings in heating and cooling, if everyone switched to heat pump clothes dryers it would save 445 billion KWh of electricity every year, 35 billion dollars in electricity costs each year nation wide. Because our trade deficit, and economic woes, are in large part the result of the energy we import, this would be a very good thing for our domestic economy. Surplus electricity could be used by electric vehicles, or we could burn less natural gas for power generation and instead liquify it and use it to power our vehicles instead of imported oil.

It would reduce the average load on the power grid by 50 megawatts, about 1/10th the output of a medium sized nuclear reactor, but it would reduce the peak load by more than this because most people don’t do clothes at 4AM.

Anything we can do to save energy consumption will allow a larger portion of our energy needs to be satisfied by renewable and environmentally benign sources and less carbon dioxide will be generated as a result.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like warm weather. It’s the species dying off, cities underwater, desertification of farmland and forest, things that really bothers me. Unfortunately they seem to be an intrinsic part of global warming. A great deal of global warming would be happening without our contribution. We should not accelerate or intensify it further by altering our atmosphere.

Even better than a dryer when weather permits is a clothes line. 100% renewable (solar) powered, no electricity consumption.

Heat Pump dryers are available in Japan and Europe from multiple vendors but like microwave dryers they are not widely available in the United States. One company that does produce a number of heat-pump consumer appliances is Nyle Special Products, and I’ve included a link on the side bar. If anyone knows of other suppliers that make household heat pump dryers available in the United States, please contact me and I will add them.

Trains

This BBC article regarding a new French train speed record got me to thinking about our own railroads. When I was young, other countries citizens were reading about the state of the art developments in our country. Allowing our national railroad infrastructure to deteriorate is a major mistake. Other countries have developed their railroads, electrified them, made them functional for transporting people and goods.

Electrified railways can be powered by any energy source. With the exception of some urban light rail systems, our railways are not electrified. Instead, we depend upon diesel fueled locomotives to move our trains. 59% of our oil is imported from other countries. This is extremely damaging to our economy and national security. Burning producing, refining, and burning hydrocarbons is damaging to the global environment.

As the price of oil continues to increase, there will come a point when electrification starts to look like a good option. Problem is, when that time comes, resources to do so will be scarce because all of the money has been spent importing oil or prosecuting wars over the stuff.

Like fusion energy, this is an investment in our future that we should be making now. We need to know we can still move produce from the farms to our cities when diesel for trucks and existing trains runs out.

Future of Fusion

It is my belief that the next major source of energy for Earth’s population will be terrestrial fusion energy. I believe that the type of reactor that will become a mainstream source of energy initially will be the spherical tokamak.

A spherical tokamak is a tokamak with a very short aspect ratio. That is to say the height to width ratio is high relative to conventional tokamaks. The ITER reactor being built is not a spherical tokamak, it is a more conventional design and I believe this is a serious mistake. The confinement qualities improve as the aspect ratio of the plasma becomes more circular and thus a short aspect ratio spherical design can provide more fusion for the same magnetic field strength.

There is more operating experience with conventional tokamaks and I believe this is why a conventional design was chosen for ITER. I believe ITER will be completely obsolete by the time it comes online. By that time I expect that the Chinese and perhaps other countries will already have electricity producing reactors in service. It’s too little too late.

While we’ve all been dicking around over where ITER would be build, the Chinese started construction of a superconductive tokamak reactor in February of 2006 and it saw first plasma in September of 2006. Prior to this reactor no superconductive tokamak reactors had been built.

The significance of a superconductive reactor is that the coils that produce the magnetic fields are superconductive and thus create no heat from their operation. Because of this they can operate for indefinite periods. Existing research reactors use copper coils to generate the magnetic field and they overheat with more than a minute of operation so sustained operation is not possible.

ITER was to be the first superconductive tokamak test reactor to allow testing in a steady state operation. The Chinese realize the urgency of the world energy situation and built a superconductive test reactor in seven months instead of waiting the scheduled twelve years for ITER to come online.

I believe the Chinese will rapidly complete the material research that needs to be done and go on to build a full-power prototype in short order. They will work out any glitches in the prototype and then go on to produce commercial power producing reactors on a feverish scale. Meanwhile, contracts for materials for ITER will not even have been bid out yet.

The Chinese will discover reactors with a shorter aspect ratio perform better and so their design will quickly evolve into a spherical design.

It is often stated that the fuel for hydrogen fusion reactors will be so cheap that it is essentially free because deuterium constitutes one of two thousand hydrogen atoms in seawater. There is a small rub however and that is that current tokamaks can not reach the necessary temperature and pressures for deuterium-deuterium fusion to take place efficiently and so a 50-50% mix of deuterium and tritium is used.

Tritium occurs naturally as the result of cosmic ray bombardment in the upper atmosphere but at extremely small concentrations insufficient for commercial exploitation. Instead, tritium is usually bread from lithium which makes lithium a necessary fertile material from which to breed the fuel for fusion reactors.

Lithium exists in the earths crust in concentrations of only 20 parts per billion, and in seawater it is even more scarce having a concentration of only about .17 parts per billion. Presently, the price of lithium is around $27 / 100 grams, trivial considering the amount of energy that can ultimately be obtained from that 100 grams, but as the number of fusion reactors escalates, so will the demand for and price of lithium.

The tokamak design is tremendously expensive and complex. This design requires the fuel be heated to a temperature in which the average kinetic energy is favorable for a D-T reaction to occur. The problem with a thermal approach is that the nuclei all have different energies and many nuclei will either be not energetic enough or too energetic for a reaction to occur. Thus a thermal approach is inefficient.

Some potential nuclear fusion fuel cycles create neutrons, D-D and D-T are among these, and the bombardment of reactor components by these neutrons results in neutron activation rendering them radioactive. They are not nearly as hot as spent fuel, but they still represent a disposal issue.

Other fusion fuel cycles create no neutrons, boron and hydrogen nuclei create only charged products, no neutrons, and thus result in no neutron activation or embriddlement of reactor components.

However, the energy levels requires to achieve hydrogen-boron fusion are beyond those that are obtainable in tokamak reactors at present.

There are alternatives to the tokamak that have the potential for sustaining the necessary temperatures and pressures. One of these is a device called a levitated dipole reactor. The earth generates a dipole magnetic field which contains a plasma at extremely high temperatures with no problem. A recent reactor design involves magnetically levitating a superconductive magnet to provide a similar dipole field. It is believed that this reactor design may be capable of reaching the temperatures necessary for hydrogen-boron fusion.

Another design is one that was invented by Robert Bussard. Basically, this design is based upon the fusor concept but replaces the physical grids with electron clouds held in place magnetically theoretically allowing it to achieve power levels that are viable for commercial power production. Unfortunately, a full-scale reactor of this design has yet to be built, and with Robert Bussard being 78 years old, of ill-health, and without others championing this design, it is likely that it never will be.

Ultimately, one of these designs may replace the Tokamak but I believe the Tokamak reactors will be the first to go online commercially. In large part I believe this is because they are sufficiently capital intensive that existing energy companies can feel secure that they still can have a lock on the energy market.

Long term however, I believe these other designs and perhaps some we haven’t even though of will take their place owing to their ability to operate on aneutronic fuels.

Either way, lithium will become the limiting factor for tokamak reactors and boron for aneutronic reactors based upon proton-boron fusion.

Another option is He3, which is exceedingly rare on earth but less rare on the moon. However, using that fuel source would require a substantial industrial presence on the moon and a substantial space transport system presently not in place.

So overall I think fusion will be a considerable improvement over burning hydrocarbons both in terms of environmental impact and availability, however I don’t believe it’s going to approach free by any means, both because ultimately the demand for lithium will drive the price up and because the reactors will be capital intensive to build even if they are relatively inexpensive to operate.

This if coarse is not to discount exploiting the natural fusion reactor in the sky, however, the density of solar power is problematic for many applications and earthbound exploitation is limited by available land.

I Wish I Had All The Answers

I wish I had all the answers to the worlds problems but I don’t. There are some things I know we’ve got to do if we are going to survive on this planet let alone thrive and find happiness and meaning in our lives.

Some of the things we must do, we must forgive each other. As the old saying goes, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth just leaves us with a lot of toothless blind people.”

We need to find a way to live within our means, this is a lesson I’m learning the hard way in my personal life as my own personal means have shrank considerably. But on a planetary basis, we’re running into this as well, we can only extract so much raw materials and create so much waste before we starve to death while drowning in our waste.

This means we need to recycle everything. The nutrients we extract from the soil, we need to get them back into the soil.

We need to stop depending upon one-way chemical reactions between atmosphere and minerals for our energy needs and shiftp towards energy sources which can be sustained indefinitely.

Even though I have elaborated that I think there are enough hydrocarbons that they could provide for our energy needs for a long time, we’re altering our atmosphere in undesirable ways and we do considerable environmental damage extracting hydrocarbons.

Tar sands are being mined in Alberta Canada, oil (heavy crude) extracted, cracked, and then sold to the United States. It takes a ton of sand to extract a barrel of oil, they extract it in huge open pit mines. This results in a huge amount of toxic trailings. The tar sands are largely below forested land. They have to clear all the trees to get at it.

We’ve got tar sands in the United States as well, huge quantities, but it is deeper and not readily accessed via open pit mining so here companies are experimenting with in situ methods of extraction. These involve heating in some way in order to lower the viscosity enough for the oil to be pumped.

We also have oil shale and extracting the oil from it has it’s own environmental consequences.

We have huge quantities of coal, and it can be processed into liquid fuel, again with environmental consequences.

Bottom line is that extracting hydrocarbons will get increasingly difficult and increasingly destructive to the environment, and burning them is always destructive to the environment, so we need to move on to something else.

We need to find a way to get along, these wars, not only do they inflict tremendous human suffering, but they waste tremendous resources and prevent the international coordination that we need. Today, pollution is no longer a local problem it is global, the same is true of resource exhaustion.

We need to find a way to stop producing crap we don’t need. Our existing economic system would collapse if we did this, there needs to be a way to modify or replace it with something that is efficient for the production and distribution of what we need but doesn’t involve marketing a lot of useless crap and producing that useless crap.

We need to find a way to love each other even with our differences, and respect our differences and accept them. Only if we can start thinking on terms of what is best for the planet as a whole can we make the right decisions for our planet.

Each of us, we’re all connected more than we realize with each other and with every other living thing on this planet, and even perhaps with the things we don’t ordinary think of as living.

Healthy Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, and Streams

The health of natural bodies of water and the entire planets ecosystem is threatened by excessive nutrients entering the oceans and other natural bodies of water. In this article, I discuss one of the sources of those nutrients, fertilizer runoff. In future posts, I will discuss other sources, human and animal wastes, and industrial sources.

Anyone who has lived in Washington has seen the changes to our beaches. Beaches had sand, upon which you could walk, sit, or play. You could wade into the water and see through it down to a depth of several feet. Now the beach is littered with seaweed and the waters are murky brown-green with algae.

An increase in available nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorous has created the increase in algae and other plant materials in the Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean. The sources of these nutrients are fertilizer run-off, human and animal waste, and industrial pollutants.

We could ignore aesthetics, but algae blooms near the surface block light from getting down to any deeper waters, depriving the deeper waters of oxygen. Fish and other life die off leaving huge dead zones. Anaerobic bacteria that make their living by metabolizing sulfur compounds thrive in the absence of oxygen and create hydrogen sulfide as a waste product. Hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic and smells like a fart. Some former mass extinctions may have resulted from anaerobic bacteria creating so much hydrogen sulfide that it killed most land land species as well as ocean life.

You can see more is at stake than simple aesthetics, death by global fart if this isn’t addressed, a mass extinction including the human race. To prevent mass extinction by global fart we need to do two things, stop fertilizer runoff and improve sewage treatment sufficiently that substantial amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients, are not discharged from treatment facilities.

Fertilizer runoff comes from residential and agricultural sources. Fertilizing your lawn then watering it excessively carries nutrients off into storm drains which drain untreated into lakes and streams. Is a green lawn is really worth mass global extinction by fart? Help your grass grow healthy using aeration, a mulching lawn mower and allowing your grass to grow slightly taller.

Only water enough to soak down several inches. Grass roots do not grow deeper than this so additional water only leaches nutrients from the soil, including any fertilizer you added, down the storm drains off to your local stream. If you use a mulching mower so all nutrients consumed by growing grass are returned to the soil, and water properly so that minerals aren’t leached from your soil, you should not need fertilizers.

The practices that allow a grass lawn to grow green without causing runoff also apply to food agriculture. Get onto Google Maps and view an agricultural region such as central Washington state, you will see these big circles, rows and rows of huge circles. These are agricultural fields in which a sprinkler system that consists of a central hub with a long pipe which has a series of wheels supporting it out from the central hub, and has sprinklers mounted on it. It irrigates the land by spraying water as the pipe makes a complete 360 degree turn through the field around the central hub.

This method of irrigation is simple, cheap, and extremely wasteful. Instead of going into the soil where needed, water is sprayed on top. Much is lost to evaporation as the spray travels through the air before it even gets to the crop. Usually, these are just run on timers and take no consideration of the amount of moisture already in the soil and how much the plants actually need.

Over watering causes the water to go past the roots, leaching minerals from the soil as it does, down past the top soil into the clay below and eventually into the ground water where it caries the minerals leached from the soil with it, or it runs off the top into nearby streams. Minerals leached from the soil require replacement by artificial fertilizers.

This type of watering should be replaced by controlled drip irrigation where water is placed directly into the soil and monitored at the depth of the roots so only enough water is provided as needed. This practice eliminates water waste and eliminates mineral leaching. The system is more expensive initially but saves the farmer the expense of unnecessary fertilizer and water. More importantly, it prevents nutrients from entering natural bodies of water.

We need to take these steps to preserve our biosphere which provides us with sustenance.