A necessary interlude

Like most interesting things in life, blogs are dynamic beasts. They are a reflection of the personality of their writer(s), projected into cyberspace. They evolve, as the opinions of their writers are shaped by new or unappreciated knowledge, commentary, feedback, and changing circumstances. My blog, Brave New Climate, is no different. After a little over a year in production (here is the first post), it has been a successful venture, albeit exhausting at times, and often exasperating to boot. Still, I feel it has stayed true to its original intention — to provide a rational, evidence-based communication tool for me to engage the public on climate change, and to never compromise on what I believe to be honest and justifiable (irrespective of whether such conclusions are convenient or not). That’s never going to change.

Yet there is no doubt that BNC has taken some unexpected directions. My past swordplay with the climate change sceptics has served a purpose — but my interest in this endless game has waned, and besides, others continue to do it much better than me. I’ll probably still pitch in occasionally, but it’s too much like bobbing for apples in a communal cesspit to make it a regular activity. My exhortations to my readers to understand the seriousness of the climate and sustainability crises, and to better appreciate the urgent need for action, laid an important foundation for the blog — but ultimately, there is only so many times you can say ‘the world is doomed unless we change our wicked ways’ before it starts to become depressingly banal, and people turn off. I continue to see this blog as playing a useful role in communicating snippets of hot news in climate science (although these days, I mostly do this via Twitter) and in hosting guest posts from well-credentialed and thoughtful people with important things to say about climate science, meteorology, carbon trading, psychology, national policy, and the like. But — and I think you can see where I’m going with this — these tasks no longer represent the primary drive behind BNC. It’s now predominantly — and unashamedly – a blog about realistic solutions.

In comments on a recent thread, reader ‘Matt’ asked the following, quite reasonable question of me (see here, comment #53):

“Thank you for a fascinating and sobering series of articles. You, Peter, and Ted, have persuaded me that renewables can’t supply the current (never mind BAU projected increases in) energy requirements of the developed world on their own without vast and unrealistic expenditure in money, time and effort. The numbers seem pretty clear.

I’m sure that when recognition of the CO2 and energy supply problems reaches a critical mass, and the political will and money starts to flow on the required scale, economic forces will do the rest and the nuclear option will indeed be widely deployed. Our current society functions on the basis of large amounts of instantly available energy, and without a major and disruptive reshaping of the way we live- which, incidentally, is what most greens seem to want, and may go some way to explain their attitude to nuclear power- sources of power with high energy densities are going to be necessary.

But I’m a little uncomfortable with the impression I often get from reading this site- that nuclear power is the only viable FF alternative and that it should be pursued vigorously and as soon as possible, to the exclusion of all other options (and wind/solar in particular). Many articles and discussions seem to circle around this idea. As a layman, it’s difficult to know what to make of it- that viewpoint may well be true, but for me there are too many unknown unknowns. How about a broadening of the discussion to consider other pertinent issues? Otherwise, this blog risks becoming a nuclear advocacy site with an occasional bit of climate science commentary thrown in.

These are the sorts of questions I have in mind (apologies if they’ve been discussed previously on the site, but not much showing up with a basic search) : What about the other potentially non (or low) CO2-emitting high energy density option on the table, with a few hundred years left in it- coal with CCS? What role can gas play in reducing CO2 emissions, at least in the short term while we transition to nukes? What about Ted Trainer’s idea of ‘depowering society’ to the extent that renewables can meet energy demand? (I can see many problems with this, but would love to see a critique on the site. More generally, articles exploring the demand side of the problem seem to be thin on the ground). Accepting that renewables can’t supply the developed world’s energy needs in their entirety, do they have a role at all? (in smaller isolated communities, in the developing world etc) How do smart grids work- how much can be done to with transmission systems/distributed storage/demand management etc to increase the number of viable options on the table?”

Below I reproduce my answer, because in my opinion this gets to the heart of why and how the BNC blog has evolved:

It is my conclusion, from all of this, that nuclear power IS the only viable FF alternative.

I am vitally interested in supporting real solutions that permit a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, especially coal (oil will, at least in part, take care of itself). If the conclusion is that wind/solar cannot meaningfully facilitate this transition, why bother to promote them? Now, I should make one thing quite clear. I am not AGAINST renewable energy. If folks want to build them, go for it! If they can find investors, great! Indeed, I’m no NIMBY, and would be happy to have a conga line of huge turbines gracing the hills behind my home, just as I’d be happy to have a brand spanking new nuclear power station in my suburb. But why should I promote something I have come to consider — on a scientific and economic basis — to be a non-solution to the energy and climate crisis? That doesn’t make sense to me.

To your questions:

1. Coal with CCS — doomed to failure. Why? Because the only thing that is going to be embraced with sufficient vigour, on a global scale, is an energy technology that has the favourable characteristics of coal, but is cheaper than coal. CCS, by virtue of the fact that it is coal + extra costs (capture, compressions, sequestration) axiomatically fails this litmus test. It is therefore of no interest and those who promote it can only do so on the basis of simultaneously promoting such a large carbon price that (a) the developing world is highly unlikely to ever impose it, and (b) if they do, CCS won’t be competitive with nuclear. CCS is a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

2. Natural gas has no role in baseload generation. It is a high-carbon fossil fuel that releases 500 to 700 kg of CO2 per MWh. If it is used in peaking power only (say at 10% capacity factor), then it is only a tiny piece in the puzzle, because we must displace the coal. It it is used to displace the coal baseload, then it is a counterproductive ’solution’ because it is still high carbon (despite what the Romms of this world will have you believe) and is in shorter supply than coal anyway. Gas is a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

3. The developing world lives in Trainer’s power-down society already, and they are going to do everything possible to get the hell out of it. The developed world will fight tooth an nail, and will burn the planet to a soot-laden crisp, rather than embrace Trainer’s simpler way. Power down is a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

4. It is nice to imagine that renewables will have a niche role in the future. But actually, will they? They don’t have any meaningful role now, when pitted in competition with fossil fuels, so why will that be different when pitted fairly against a nuclear-powered world? I don’t know the answer, and I don’t frankly care, because even if renewable energy can manage to maintain various niche energy supply roles in the future, it won’t meet most of the current or future power demand. So niche applications or not, renewables are peripheral to the big picture because they are a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

5. Smart grids will provide better energy supply and demand management. Fine, great, that will help irrespective of what source the energy comes from (nuclear, gas, coal, renewables, whatever). Smarter grids are inevitable and welcome. But they are not some white knight that will miraculously allow renewable energy to achieve any significant penetration into meeting world energy demand in the future. Smart grids are sensible, but they are not a solution to the climate and energy crises.

To some, the above may sound rather dogmatic. To me, it’s the emergent property of trying my damnedest to be ruthlessly pragmatic about the energy problem. I have no barrow to push, I don’t get anything out of it — other than I want this problem fixed. I don’t earn a red cent if nuclear turns out be the primary solution. I don’t win by renewables failing. The bottom line is this — if this website is looking more and more like a nuclear advocacy site, then you ought to consider why. It might just be because I’ve come to the conclusion that nuclear power is the only realistic solution to this problem, and that’s why I’m ever more stridently advocating it. This is a ‘game’ we cannot afford to lose, and the longer we dither about with ultimately worthless solutions, the closer we come to endgame, with no pawn left to move to the back row and Queen.

So what can you expect from BNC in the future? Much more on nuclear power (both Gen III and Gen IV), obviously, since I now consider this technology to be the core climate change solution — whilst openly acknowledging the yawning gulf between the scientific understanding of nuclear power and the public’s perception. This must change, and I hope, in my modest way, I can be an agent for that attitudinal shift. I also plan to launch an extended series on renewable energy, with an aim to break down the often complex and multifaceted critiques being made, into simpler, single-issue chunks, which can be more readily pinned down and understood. I will also profile some of the less well-developed low-carbon technologies, such as tidal, wave, microalgae, and geothermal, and speculate on their possible future roles. I hope in this way that I’ll be able to reinforce people’s understanding of why I no longer hold renewable energy to be a primary solution — and yet, by the same yardstick of maintaining intellectual honesty, I’ll also try my very best to keep an open mind to unconsidered possibilities and caveats that are raised by commenters (be these against nuclear energy, and/or for renewables). As I said, healthy thought should never cease to evolve.

Naturally, some past avid readers of BNC will find, or have already found, these changes in direction of the blog to be uninteresting or even distasteful. So be it — those people must seek and pursue your own interests and solutions. To the rest, I welcome you as partners in this ongoing journey of discovery, disappointment, optimism, and plenty of hard-nosed critical thinking.

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128 Comments

  1. An incredibly well-rounded, reasonable response to Matt’s post. Thanks to Barry Brooks and Tom Blees for making informed, clear logic accessible. There is, however, one form of renewable energy that we should oppose: corn ethanol. Here’s to a second year just as interesting as the first.

  2. This website has been a breath of fresh air; other popular (unnamed) blogs on low carbon energy issues won’t tolerate any suggestion that renewables are inadequate. Commenters who suggest a role for nuclear get a sharp dressing down. However the low carbon imperative grows stronger all the time so something’s got to give. Just this week I heard from an industry insider that the Olympic Dam expansion will not go ahead, yet global uranium demand grows. Again this week we see Rudd at the UN talking big on climate change; he’s now got to come up with something that isn’t obviously lame.

    I think we must maintain the pressure to do something, anything as opposed to the procrastination which prolongs the coal dominated status quo. This blog is obviously succeeding not only from the traffic counts but frequent references on other popular sites such as John Quiggin.

  3. As others have said, I too greatly value this blog and the way in which you expressly link the case for nuclear power with the case for GHG mitigation (and indeed, other legitimate environmentla objectives).

    If I am to be counted amongst those posting here who give the most credence to a role for renewables, energy efficiency and usage avoidance, storage etc it reflects my doubts about the political viability of nuclear power, and consequently a rather pessimistic outlook about its capacity to make the kind of difference it needs to make in the short to medium term to forestall the development of new coal-fired capacity. It would be a setback if being candid about the constraints on resort to renewables and the implications of reductions in per capita energy usage in a context where nuclear power was deprecated simply white-anted the case against more coal-fired power.

    We are at a point where our policy context could either proceeed rationally or rapidly become extremely pernicious. The complicating factor is that the most voluble firends of nuclear power in the public policy debate tend to be those bearing a reckless and at times sociopathic disregard for human wellbeing and the preservation of the ecosystem services on which humanity depends. This makes it difficult for those of us whose advocacy for nuclear power as a key component in human utility has nothing whatever to do with the interests of rentseekers but starts from a desire to protect and develop the context in which every human can achieve his or her full human potential. We find ourselves in a cold alliance with morlochs while those who should be our allies see us as part of the problem. Strongly advocating a role for renewables and for energy conservation and persistently stressing primary regard to minimise the footprint of human society on the biosphere helps distinguish us from the Barnaby Joyce’s of the world and to reach out to those like Andrew Glikson, Ted Trainer and doubtless, Stephen Gloor, who, I do not doubt, share our basic concern for human wellbeing.

    This is a difficult path to tread, not the least because as Peter Lang has pointed out, renewables, at least at this stage, offer rather less promise than its most enthusiastic advocates would have. Yet it is a path I believe we must tread if we are to win over the people we need to win over to break the logjam and out manoeuvre the fossil fuel lobby.

  4. Barry, you should quit ignoring Nuclear Fusion, not the International Megabucks Boondoggle of ITER, but the potential Black Swans, like Robert Bussard’s Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion, Plasma Focus Fusion, Tri-Alpha Energy’s Aneutronic Colliding Beam Fusion, Spherical Plasma Fusion, General Fusion’s shockwave Fusion. Also Blacklight Power (which I admit maybe bogus) & Jovion Zero Point Energy and Cold Fusion is also showing promise. There is also a possibility for anti-matter catalyzed fusion, one method is using positron storage, which Positronics is developing. Logic dictates, that funding should be prioritized to the ratio of (potential economic & environmental benefit / cost of development) X probability of success. By that criteria many of these exotic technologies deserve funding, certainly in the 100′s of million dollar range, unlike the few millions that they struggle with. Many of these technologies have the potential to blow away all other forms of energy production – precipating a true social & economic revolution across the entire planet. Certainly we should not gamble our resources on any one technology, but all technologies that have potential to be major green energy sources should be investigated until their potential is thoroughly understood. While ridiculous scams with no hope of acheiving anything but sucking taxpayers pockets dry are being pumped with 100′s of billions in funding. This includes Hydrogen, Clean Coal, Agrofuels, Solar & Wind Energy.

  5. Fran – it seems to me that Barnaby Joyce and you both dismiss non-solutions for pretty much the same reasons. ie they would cost a lot (in dollars, jobs, time), they mostly represent local symbolism for what is a global problem, and they won’t ultimately work. The fact that you can better articulate a solution that will work does set you apart somewhat but I don’t see why you are so hung up on being grouped with people that otherwise essentially agree with you. Perhaps you should question whether you are too wedded to left / right political tribalism or the notion of good versus evil? It is okay to be in one group on one issue one day and in a different group a different day on a different issue. Live outside the box.

  6. In terms of low cost solutions I’d be interested in thoughts on the “Cloud Whitening” option. In essence it entails increasing the reflective property of clouds by spraying vast quantities of sea water into the air. Advocates suggest that it is vastly cheaper than altering our energy infrastructure.

  7. TerjeP @ 6 – My thoughts exactly.

    Barry, I understand that your interest in the climate scepticism debate has waned. I do hope though, that you don’t abandon too much the “hot news in climate science” aspect, as really it is central to the nuclear argument, and I enjoy the way you link issues through posts, even if they aren’t “categorised” the same.

    Cheers, look forward to the future of the blog.

  8. Sorry Terje, but BJ doesn’t really favour nuclear power. He’s only “for” it because he knows raising it causes angst in the ranks of those who favour mitigation and invites them to think that perhaps coal would be better after all. If the ALP left were for nuclear power, BJ would be against it and railing about mushroom clouds over Townsville and spitting on the coal industry.

    He also doesn’t care about jobs or the cost of renewables, but claims to be so as to keep the heat on the government. His pleading about coal miners making windcharms in Nimbin was pure animus to the environment, which as part of the farming porkbarrell lobby he cut his teeth on.

    I don’t see why you are so hung up on being grouped with people that otherwise essentially agree with you

    It’s simple. I am a bona fide humanist and environmentalist. Sounding like or being associated with people who are disingenuous loudmouths trying to protect the interests of the world’s biggest polluters is as counterproductive as it is unpleasant.

  9. Hi Barry,

    Don’t write off gas too quickly. Next year Ceramic Fuel Cells will be commercialising their Bluegen system http://www.cfcl.com.au/about/ which theoretically could provide baseload (at a CO2 generation rate 25% less that burning gas alone). Before you scream Peak Gas please consider that Natural Gas may be the result of an abiotic rather than biotic process. Whilst it is generally believed that the methane found on planets like Mars, Jupitar, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto and Neptune is of abiotic origin, here on earth it is argued that it is only from biotic sources. I am wary of anything touted as “Peak” as Mud Volcanoes alone produce an estimated 20 million metric tonnes a year. We still have so much to learn about the internal processes of this planet let alone that of the Biosphere.

  10. Thank you for your “directional clarification”, and I look forward to many more interesting posts, though I disagree with several of your conclusions, as follows:-
    We defiantly need to get off our collective backsides and ensure we burn as few additional fossils as possible. However I disagree with the focus on “any nuclear”, because the current emotive, political and legislative obstacles are best overcome by a “new technology” strategy rather than a “rebranding”. Focusing on Gen IV as the way forward could work, albeit over time that we don’t really have.
    Gen III nuclear is not something I (or I suspect most people) would support mainly because of concerns over waste disposal in the absence of a commercially tested Gen III to Gen IV waste conversion. I am not aware of a single working effective disposal system that can be expected to remain safe for the life of the waste.
    On the other hand, promoting Gen IV as a technology that is ready for commercial testing and which has few of the problems of Gen III is extremely valuable. It is however much too easy for folk (Helen for example) to use the emotive argument and discount the whole field. I believe your position aids this by appearing to favour “any nuclear” as opposed to Gen IV only.
    Solar and Wind obviously suffer from intermittency, but the recent interesting reviews on your site seem to assume that a single technology has to meet the total demand. I suspect solar (probably thermal) will contribute mainly to peak power in the shorter term and that economies of scale, combined with the unwillingness to go nuclear will make it an important technology in places like Australia. It could even be used as preheating for natural Gas or (cough) coal in the short term, again with the focus on reducing fossil use rather than finding the perfect solution immediately.
    In the nuclear / renewables comparison the major financial cost that doesn’t appear to be factored in for the nuclear option is insurance during operation and waste disposal. In practice this probably has to be met by government but it should be included in direct comparisons between technologies, and a commercial quote would probably be a deal breaking cost. Again this comes down to a perception of risk.
    Again thanks for your insightful blog.

  11. I think you are right Barry to concentrate on viable solutions to the problem.
    Although my personal background is not scientific and therefore I don’t have much to add to the technical debates surrounding the various technologies, I have been able, from the posts and the comments, to understand enough of the pros and cons for potential competing energy sources, to engage others in the community on the subject.
    So – I will still be here even if you only hear from me occasionally :)

  12. My feeling is that the public is not as strongly anti-nuclear as the Centre Left politicians who now hold sway in many countries and provinces. These fortyish politicians cut their teeth on social justice and anti-nuclear campaigns and their mindsets became frozen. The environment was never really their main game, just settling scores. Now Scotland is to join Germany in replacing a nuclear power plant with coal fired generation
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/glasgow_and_west
    /8271978.stm
    Political bloodymindedness if ever there was. South Australia’s Mike Rann is another with his ‘no nukes on my watch’ attitude, despite SA having a quarter of the world’s easily mined uranium.

    If these Centre Left jurisdictions go into an irreversible energy descent due to wrong decisions or inadequate investment I think the leaders will be judged harshly. Note that politicians who sided with the second Iraq war are all now on the scrapheap. Perhaps that will happen to those who hold out for magical solutions to energy problems.

  13. Like most other readers here, I appreciate what Barry’s doing with this website and think it’s worthwhile clarifying the blog’s purpose and direction from time to time. I’m glad my previous comment was helpful in this process.

    Without the background to engage in detailed debate here, I’m left deferring to others on the technical ‘what is and isn’t possible’ questions, while trying to get a broad feel for some of the numbers and orders-of-magnitude involved. And sometimes it is possible to identify apparent gaps in the discussion or unquestioned assumptions. Some of these may actually reflect assumed knowledge which I don’t possess (always happy to have that pointed out to me!), while others are energy and climate change issues that just don’t seem to have been considered in any depth yet. And some of these don’t have anything to do with nuclear power. The list of questions in my previous comment was a first attempt to bring some of them together, and while Barry’s brief answers were interesting- and quite possibly correct- it would take detailed analyses at the level of some of the recent renewables posts before I’d call the matters settled.

    I certainly don’t find the increasing focus on nuclear power distasteful, and agree with the majority view here that a large scale roll-out of nukes will be an essential part of dealing with the climate change problem. But like others have said, I hope Barry finds the time to address some of these other issues and re-visit climate science from time to time. On reflection, perhaps my own thinking is starting to come full circle now- that the underlying problem is no longer ‘there is no alternative to traditional FF’s’ [there is- depending on where you live in the world, some variation of nuclear power either on its own or with hydro, FF's with CCS, perhaps with some niche/localised renewables or whatever ends up being most practically achievable, economical, and acceptable to the population concerned] but that there is no widespread public recognition or belief in the likely adverse human impacts of ACC, and little political will to enact a meaningful solution.

  14. I doubt Barry anticipated the blog would go in the direction it has. But
    the swing to nuclear is really a question of following the arguments to
    their logical conclusion. That’s how things should work. I’m thinking the
    stationary energy issue is pretty well settled from a basic principles
    point of view. So I’d like to see more posts on non-stationary energy. The
    constant stream of this years miracle biofuel is next years dismal failure seems
    to indicate that this is going to be a lot tougher than anybody
    suspects. Nature is running a biofuel series at present which is worth
    reading.

    John Newlands#14: Since I came out on nuclear, I’ve found all sorts of
    people whom I thought totally disinterested in such matters
    giving me a hard time about it. Try being a pro-nuke vegan some time John.
    My guess is that media Mike has definitely done the numbers and knows
    exactly what the public thinks. He also won’t be backing any “IFR and shut
    down the mines” line in a hurry. So nuclear will be a tough
    sell in Australia … but happily this blog is international!

    I’ve also been digging around the childhood
    leukemia data and am working on a little response to Caldicott’s OLO
    piece. Probably of most use posted on OLO rather than BNC.

  15. On the contrary Geoff, I get the feeling that Barry knew exactly where this blog was going… and that is not a criticism… in many ways this site had to soundly demonstrate it was pro-science and committed to tackling AGW, before playing the nuclear trump card. Masterful tactics.

  16. The thing I especially like about this is that it singles out nuclear as a threat to coal. Wind? Solar? Oh those are no threat. Build as many wind turbines as you want. Build solar plants. That has no affect on the job security of coal miners.

    Well there’s another side to that. I read some time ago the unions found the amount of maintenance etc that would be required for solar and turbine and figured out that it would be a job bonanza and their numbers would swell. So related unions are actually in favor of these energy production methods.

    Nuclear actually aligns itself fabulously with our first world economy. Ideally you prefer the market to decide, however capital intensity is extremely important to raising living standards. What essentially distinguishes a poor country from a wealthy one is the amount of capital devoted to workers known as the capital to labor ratio. Nuclear power is highly capital intensive and the ratio of workers to output is far less which means that labor can be channeled elsewhere in the economy.

    If we want to raise living standards continually the direction of the economy should always be towards a higher capital to labor ratio. Nuclear power helps achieve that objective.

  17. @Geoff I like to think I’m succeeding at mind games with deep greens. I attend local gatherings to protest against old growth logging. Since I now get by quite well with PV, wood fired cooking and heating, biodiesel and general energy frugality you’d think I would be accepted as one of the ‘brothers’. Not so when I tell them how limited these options are.

    Deep greenyism has religious overtones in that it requires belief in the supernatural. Much of that has rubbed off on to the urban trendies who I suspect form the dinner party companions of politicians. I wonder how long that will last though with increasingly bizarre weather and fuel shortages within a few years.

    Sidenote: I see the ABC has now gone into bat against the RO desal at Whyalla to supply Olympic Dam.
    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2695601.htm
    They didn’t say no desal, just move it somewhere else.

  18. Well, here in the Pacfic Northwest, abundant hydro now has to be supplimented. The main suppliment of choice is combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT), generating only 40% of the CO2 that a new coal fired plant would. The NPPC expected about 11% of power deliveries to be from CCGT just by completion of projects in development in 2002 CE. Of course, nowadays wind power is in the news, maybe 20% of grid total capacity by 2025 CE.

    But better is coming. In is perfectly feasible to have an oxy-fuel gas turbine with (inexpensive) carboon dioxide capture. Unfortunately these are unlikely to be on the market for 15(?) years. There is a good likelyhood that most existing gas turbines will be field upgradable to oxy-fuel, although not as efficient as new designs. In either case, almost 100% of the CO2 generated cn be so captured. (Not quite 100% because of the use of exhaust boost burning going into the steam stage.)

    Even better is to use a mixture of biomethane and natural gas as the fuel; the more biomethane, the less fossil carbon going into the air or the capturing facilities.

    As I have written previously, running the oxygen generators could use intermitent energy sources such as wind or solar. The heavy duty finsl CO2 compression could as well, I think.

  19. Barry, you seem to want BNC to reach not just a circle of followers, but the wider public as well.

    In which case, more structure would help. Say I am concerned about proliferation. I haven’t been following this blog. How would I know to go to http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/21/response-to-an-integral-fast-reactor-ifr-critique/
    – ? How am I to guess that the argument there applies to all reactors, not just IFR? (I mean this argument: “not a problem for states that are already nuclear-weapon states.”)

    Whereas had this argument been included in a simple hierarchy, I might’ve navigated to it in three steps: ->NP ->Externalities ->proliferation.

    I would even go further and suggest that the design of your front page should cater for curious first-timers more than for the followers. Followers will find their way! It is those who read/saw/heard you in mainstream media and are curious to see the details of your argument, who need to be taken extra care of.

    simpler, single-issue chunks
    YES, absolutely; and I further suggest, let these chunks be organized into a transparent structure.

  20. Alexei @ 21
    I take your point, but, as a librarian, understand the complexities of classification and cataloguing – of going from the general to the specific, as you suggest. Probably Barry does not have the time for such an endeavour, given that he runs this blog in his own time, apart from his academic work.
    However, if you type the specific term (e.g. weapons proliferation) in the search box at the top of the left-hand column, you do get a list of relevant posts to read.
    Barry – perhaps an example of this could be given underneath the search box i.e.Please enter the MOST SPECIFIC term, for your query, in the search box e.g.not “nuclear power” but “weapons proliferation”

  21. I started reading this blog for the climate change science however was dismayed by the progression from reasonableness on renewables to a completely polarised view on nuclear.

    The reason I no longer read or post here except very very occasionally is that for some reason completely wrong answers can be treated as gospel and reasonable objections shouted down by the pro-nuclear crowd that now inhabits this blog.

    Nuclear is still not the complete answer not matter who says it. Renewable systems can and will take the lions share of the future energy load with nuclear relegated to the niche product that it should be.

    Concentrating on a sideline that nuclear will be, as you are doing, you will be missing out on all the fantastic developments that are taking place with renewables, smart grids and energy efficiency relegating the otherwise excellent information on climate change that you could be concentrating on to a backwater Rather than picking the solution and manufacturing answers that suit your agenda from people that do not understand renewables or how renewables will work in an integrated system really you could embrace all solutions as you nor any one else can say that nuclear is the answer.

  22. #24: “progression from reasonableness on renewables to a completely polarised view on nuclear

    Strange, because I (and many others I think) made the same transition. I was not part of the pro-nuclear crowd, but now I am, reluctantly at first, but beaten back by logic. That is why this blog is so valuable to me. You also say this:

    Renewable systems can and will take the lions share of the future energy load with nuclear relegated to the niche product that it should be

    That sounds like a completely polarised view to me, and you’ve picked the solution. So it is weird that you then say:

    Rather than picking the solution and manufacturing answers that suit your agenda“.

    My experience in reading your posts, Stephen, is that you do exactly this for renewable energy.

  23. Thank you Barry very, very much of your information as to the IFR.

    I am wordless to follow your crusade with this terrific IFR. Are they nuts, the scientists and politicians? Of course they are. I am astonished.

    Like the potential energy of Greenland and Antarctic ice masses. Nobody even try to understand the energy there. And fresh water for all the world. Both of them for whole the world for a thousand years. Very simple hydro power: ice down (the upper half of course), rotating generators: electricity. Shipping the ice to the dry areas and cities of the world. Calculate this hydro energy potential.

    There is animal idiocy in humankind. It doesn´t take IFR, it doesn`t take potential ice cap hydro energy.

  24. More on Structuring
    (further to mine #21 and Perps’ #23)

    Imposing a structure doesn’t necessarily mean re-working or re-filing anything. Just as a glossary goes on top of a book, no need to change the book.

    All that’s required is adding some posts that will be the structure’s nodes. Like, “Nuclear externalities” node might list the externalities, with their associated costs, and provide a link for each externality to where further details can be found.

    This is not extra work, IF Barry wants to make sure he has left no gaps in his argument.

    Nor does it have to be complete to be useful. Perps’ situation was probably different, he had to be perfect. Last 5% of perfection take 95% of the effort!

    But if it could be made (near-)complete, tasks like answering Andrew Glikson would be a breeze!

  25. At the soonest there won’t be an IFR for 15 years. Probably more.

    In the meantime replace coal burners by CCGTs to eliminate 60% of the CO2 produced by burning coal and obtain the same amount of reliable power. (Actually, slightly higher availability and certainly less of other pollutants)

  26. I seem to recall former WA Premier Alan Carpenter saying there would be no uranium mining while he had anything to do with it. He should have been careful what he wished for because he has paid the price
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/09/25/2697226.htm?section=justin
    He is now out of the picture and WA will get several uranium mines.

    However Carpenter anticipated the need for setting aside a percentage of natural gas reserves for domestic use ie quarantined from LNG export. Current State and Federal governments seem to have no grasp of this which is why the gas boom will lead to higher electricity prices. Around 2015 we will want gas for everything; as vehicle fuel, to earn export dollars and for 50% lower carbon electrical generation. Secondly most of Australia’s natural gas (not coal seam) is now in the north west not the south east where the population is. Like Carpenter I’d like to see a long term policy on how Australia’s gas reserves should be allocated.

  27. I didn’t know it was official; the Federal government is opposed to the development of a nuclear power industry according to Energy Minister Martin Ferguson speaking on a plan to conduct yellowcake to uranium conversion in Australia. I presume that’s uranium fluoride.
    http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,26125534-5006301,00.html

    Ferguson had a good week a few months back when he declared that a nearby radon contaminated geothermal plant would produce baseload power. A few days later he went to China to sign a $50bn LNG export deal. Our energy future is in good hands.

  28. Ok, you’ve probably answered this elsewhere BB, and I’m too lazy to look, but why do you like the IFR over the LFTR? In particular, do you really think the sodium blanket is no issue? Could we not do it all with, say, LCFRs?
    Is it because you think the IFR is more ready-to-go?
    I’m with you on that if that’s the reason – because my reading of our current energy situation is that we are in Wylie Coyote off the edge of the cliff land, and we have to do something very effective very fast or we are very screwed.
    L.

  29. So visceral is anti-nuclear feeling among senior ALP figures that I think a new gas pipeline is on the cards. Santos no doubt has the ear of government http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,26125614-2682,00.html with the suggestion of more gas backed renewables. While APPEA alleges that Cooper Basin has 12 tcf (12 X 19.4 Mt) of gas left I think most of their reserve figures are an order of magnitude too high. Santos could import coal seam gas from Queensland with some short connectors on the existing pipelines. Since there will be two CSG liquefaction plants on the east coast that gas will compete with export LNG at $400/tonne.

    Here’s my new bold prediction for 2010. Rann will announce a new gas fired plant at Pt Augusta (replacing coal) or Roxby Downs (replacing diesel). The gas will mostly originate in Queensland. I’d guess production cost will be over 10c a kwh, but hey it’s not nuclear. The ALP old boys club will ensure it gets every kind of permit and subsidy.

  30. Lawrence, yes, the IFR is more ready-to-go. We should be demonstrating the commercial version of the Argonne IFR programme (the GEH Super-PRISM), including immediately building a 100 tonne/yr pyroprocessing plant to kick off the process of electrometallurgical reprocessing of spent fuel. However, it’s looking more likely that this will happen first outside of the US. We should also immediately restart and push fast on the LFTR R&D programme to re-energise the expertise and iron out the few remaining technical and engineering hurdles, including resolving the two-fluid system and moderator issues.

    The sodium coolant is not the issue it is sometimes made out to be — it has a number of huge advantages, and one overplayed drawback (combustion in air/water). I actually plan to do a post in the near future where I explain a bit about this, as it’s so often raised.

  31. If you want nuclear energy in Australia then you need to vote LDP or Liberal. Politically I don’t see any other option on the ballot at the moment. Wishing that the ALP leadership will change it’s tune simply isn’t going to make it so.

  32. BB do you have any sense at all about waiting to see what the Polywell is going to amount to? I would advocate full-steam-ahead (no I don’t advocate General Fusion) on fusion work, esp the cheap IEC approaches, but also full-steam-ahead on fission breeders.
    Actually I’d advocate more full-steam-ahead on fission breeders since we know they work, whereas no-one knows how to make fusion actually produce ongoing net power.
    I’m worried (perhaps I attribute them too much intelligence) the politicians might be stalling thinking they’ve got some ace to pull. Do you remember Shrub saying something like that a few years ago?
    And I still think FB is a troll, and also TerjeP (say Troll). They talk a lot, and I don’t think they add anything; infact I think it’s like listening to Saruman – a bad choice.

  33. Lawrence …

    if you’re going to assert I’m trolling, you’d better come up with something more pernicious than that I ‘don’t add anything’.

    For the record, I am for the LFTR because it’s easier to sell in the short to medium term, but if the IFR can be demonstrated at commercial scale, then let’s have them too.

  34. Lawrence said:

    BB just said the opposite – the IFR is more ready-to-go.

    Actually Lawrence, Barry’s position is summarised here.

    My view is that we push Gen IV/IFRs as the ultimate solution that must be pursued vigorously, but don’t let a slower-than-ideal uptake block the ongoing development of nuclear power in the interim … China, for instance, has around 100 x AP-1000s on the books. At least we know that there is no point blocking these, because their fuel supply limitations are irrelevant (enough U-235 to power them all to retirement) and their long-lived waste gets eaten by IFRs … If not ready, I still suggest we go to a Gen III+ design. Why? Say IFR or LFTR, for some inexplicable reason, doesn’t work out. Gen III+ are bad then, right? (because of the HLW problem, primarily). Well, that’s quite true, but my feeling is that at this stage of the game, we’ll have so many other things to worry about, climate and energy wise, that a few extra tonnes of HLW is going to be the least of our concerns.

    I wouldn’t disagree at all with this.

    Who’s trolling now?

    Fran

  35. And for the record Lawrence, while questions of engineering and associated feasibility are the starting point for discussions on energy policy on this blog, they are not the only po=urpose of this blog, IMO.

    If one believes, as I do, that the primary constraints to the roll out of clean nuclear power are not questions of technical or commercial feasibility but matters of politics and culture, then discussions of these matters are germane.

  36. Fran, that quote summarised my view well, although I need to flesh out the idea of the Gen III / Gen IV synergy a little more in the near future, as it’s critically important to understand.

    When Fran said: “I am for the LFTR because it’s easier to sell in the short to medium term” I think she is talking about public acceptance (thorium fuel, which breeds very little Pu, and is perceived to be more proliferation resistant than IFR — although that’s highly debatable), rather than technically easier to sell. The reverse is probably true, because of the long experience with sodium cooled fast reactors and the GEH blueprint (and the Toshiba 4S).

  37. Barry,

    Eli thinks you are making a major error. There will be no single solution, there will be a mix of partial solutions or there will be no solution. While there is a virtue in the marketplace (and it will be determined by the market, the problem being that it is necessary to get people to recognize the built in future costs of fossil fuels) of having apostles for each partial solution claiming it is a total solution, at the point of implementation reality requires that the buyers discount the sales talk, and at that point the winners will be the realistic sales folk.

    Wind and solar also have their proponents, for example, a comment in a recent Science purporting to show that China’s energy needs can be met by wind alone.

    Wind offers an important alternative to coal as a source of energy for generation of electricity in China with the potential for substantial savings in carbon dioxide emissions. Wind fields derived from assimilated meteorological data are used to assess the potential for wind-generated electricity in China subject to the existing government-approved bidding process for new wind farms. Assuming a guaranteed price of 0.516 RMB (7.6 U.S. cents) per kilowatt-hour for delivery of electricity to the grid over an agreed initial average period of 10 years, it is concluded that wind could accommodate all of the demand for electricity projected for 2030, about twice current consumption. Electricity available at a concession price as low as 0.4 RMB per kilowatt-hour would be sufficient to displace 23% of electricity generated from coal.

    Note that the cost of coal does not include the cost of dealing with the emissions (not just CO2) so a major part of the problem is eliminating the future subsidy. Eli is trying to get his department to include disposal costs at the time any of the organikers buy their methylethyldeath. At root this is the same problem and also a hard thing to do.

    Further, IEHO, wind and solar have significant advantages for electrifying underdeveloped areas as they do not need a national distribution network or a huge cadre of trained caretakers. Among the lessons from Iraq is that small, independent generating facilities are superior in chaotic situations

    On top of all this we have the Marty Hofferts, Randall Mills and myriad hucksters of the world, selling sunshine and two or three impossible things before breakfast, and the delayers who assure us that we will find the majic energy stone and don’t have to do anything today, or that we have more important things to do and don’t have to do anything today.

    In short, less enthusiasm would be appreciated. Nuclear will be part of the solution, if there is one, almost certainly starting with improved current designs, but it will not be the entire solution, nor could it be.

  38. TerjeP #41.

    I have serious doubts that any nuclear construction project will be seriously considered in Australia until there is demonstrated support throughout the political spectrum. Consider the historical stop-starts of the Australian nuclear industry. I do not believe it is credible to expect any utility, state or even federal government body to begin a project – only to have it cancelled with the turning of a political tide.

  39. Nuclear Australia,

    If I wanted to be cynical I might suggest that you are saying that voting doesn’t matter. Less cynically I think your observation is a valid one up to a point. However the dilemma then is that parties can win votes by opposing Nuclear Energy but can not win them by being permissive towards it. The net effect is no change until some nuclear messiah arrives. If it is important that Australia ends nuclear power prohibition* then at some point via some means the issue has to gain political traction.

    The Liberal / National coalition introduced the GST (for better or worse) with fierce opposition from the ALP and a lot of others in the community. Now that it is implemented and the ALP it in government they aren’t rolling it back. In fact it was the only tax to be sheltered from the wide ranging tax review that Kevin Rudd intitiated after he was elected (the review isn’t finalised yet). Likewise I suspect that if nuclear power was legalised under one party in government then the other would be quite likely to keep such a reform precisely because the logic of nuclear does stack up once you get past the rhetoric. Of course as with the GST they might try and win the next election on the issue and if that was the election that brought them back to office they would feel somewhat obligated to roll it back.

    I doubt that Kevin Rudd will leave office earlier than the ALP loses government. As such his ultimate position on this issue will matter. So it comes down to whether he cares more about retaining support from the ALP left or about Australia adopting nuclear power. I think nuclear power will lose that contest.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    * On this point I don’t personally think it matters much in the global scheme of things what Australia does. However political reality seems to suggest that if we don’t go nuclear we will be building a lot of alternate and expensive energy systems. So from an economic efficiency point of view I think it is important that nuclear becomes permitted.

  40. “I have serious doubts that any nuclear construction project will be seriously considered in Australia until there is demonstrated support throughout the political spectrum. Consider the historical stop-starts of the Australian nuclear industry. I do not believe it is credible to expect any utility, state or even federal government body to begin a project – only to have it cancelled with the turning of a political tide.”

    The key to overcoming this obstacle is to develop such a broad base public of support for nuclear power that no major party dares to stand against it (the opposition of the ALP is all based on populism anyway).

    Installing such a base of support will require some vigorous grassroots activism by a dedicated pro-nuclear organisation. I have recently formed such an organisation, and once we’ve sorted out the website, pamphlet design, and some final minor admin issues, we will be going public.

  41. TerjeP@#41:
    “If you want nuclear energy in Australia then you need to vote LDP or Liberal. Politically I don’t see any other option on the ballot at the moment. Wishing that the ALP leadership will change it’s tune simply isn’t going to make it so.”

    You seem like a fairly reasonable person, but if you want anyone to vote LDP, you have a major liability in Bird.

  42. Barry,

    Would you please explain why you prefer the IFR to liquid thorium salt reactors? (Or point me to where you have already.)
    My understanding was that neither of the above would get past government regulators requiring a demo model for ~ 10 years to confirm safety. Not to mention that it is still illegal to do the on-site separation. From which I conclude I am unlikely to see commercial versions running in my lifetime.

    The second choice of modular pebble bed reactors is not bad. I prefer the idea of having lots of 120MW units sited to suit demand anyway and by the time the government makes up its mind we can buy cheap ones from the Chinese factory production line. Just kidding, but a sad reflection on the direction America’s manufacturing ability is heading.

  43. Well, CCGT is even more ready to go. Get the go-ahead and in 4 years the 570 MW (nameplate) plant is on-grid. (The time is for PNW; 2 years for permitting and 2 years to construct.)

    While that is going on, start some nearby biomethane from algae farms. Can probably do 400 hectares worth each 2 years.

    I earlier posted a link to the CSIRO study of a 400 ha sea water algae farm. Ought to pay for itself, especially with a nearby CCGT to purchase the biomethane and return the exhaust gas to the algae farm.

    Surely there is no political opposition to doing this? Could be started on Monday…

  44. David.B.Benson@#54:
    “Well, CCGT is even more ready to go. Get the go-ahead and in 4 years the 570 MW (nameplate) plant is on-grid. (The time is for PNW; 2 years for permitting and 2 years to construct.)

    While that is going on, start some nearby biomethane from algae farms. Can probably do 400 hectares worth each 2 years.

    I earlier posted a link to the CSIRO study of a 400 ha sea water algae farm. Ought to pay for itself, especially with a nearby CCGT to purchase the biomethane and return the exhaust gas to the algae farm.

    Surely there is no political opposition to doing this? Could be started on Monday…”

    Gas plants do have an intermediate role as peaking plants for nuclear baseload (until we can phase them out with advanced peaking and load-following nuclear plants), but as far as I’m aware, peaking is done by open cycle gas plants. I understand there are issues with ramping output from closed-cycle turbines up or down which makes them inappropriate for a peaking role.

    If we are going to construct gas plants as an interim measure to (slightly) reduce CO2 emissions, wouldn’t it make more sense to build the ones that can transition to a peaking role after we begin to introduce baseload nuclear power?

  45. You need to look at my other posts on this. “CCGT” means combined cycle. In the US, they are used *more and more* as base load plants see they have that capability albeit with higher ‘low load limits’ that thermal only gas plants. In California this all they do build, in fact. If the price of gas shoots up, so does the cost, instantly, of the power these plants produce.

    Many CCGT are built with either combustion or condenser “by pass” meaning they are can easily be run in open cycle mode, bypassing the HRSG. There are some major leakage issues with these modes of running which can mean a shortened life span for the HRSG (Heat Recovery Steam Generator) or the steam turbine and condenser.

    Secondly, they are prodigious gas AND particulate producers. Particulate is completely unregulated in the United States and is the source of main complaint to locations of either OCGT or CCGTs. As bad as coal? No, of course not but bad *enough*.

  46. If we include combined heat and power there are four varieties of gas fired electrical generation. Maybe it’s simpler to call them steam cycle, gas turbine, combined cycle and CHP. In practice I understand that CHPs use a small piston engined generator since the fuel cell version is prohibitively expensive.

    If Australia does get a feeble carbon trading scheme next year then running existing gas plants at higher capacity would seem to be a likely first response. However if oil watch pundits are right we will shift to natural gas fuelled transport by 2015 or sooner and gas will get expensive.

    @David are you saying 400 ha of biogas production could support 570 MW? That’s 142 continuous watts per square metre way way above what PV can achieve.

  47. David Walters (56) — Particulates? From what? Natural gas is almost pure methane, a little butane and propane, also something added to give so-called natural gas its distinctive odor.

    NOx producers, since the units burn the fuel in air. CO2 is 40% of coal burning when run in the usual mode of no afterburning, just 540 MW units then for the type I’m thinking about. That size (or smaller) is in use around here for helping to manage the daytime and early evening ramp up and down. Peak shaving and backup of wind are done via hydro.

    Except that just now the price of natural gas is so low that I suspect the few CCGTs around are running 24/7 with hydro doing the all the peaking, this to help fill the storage resevoirs.

    Using biomethane not only is carbon neutral (in the proportion used), but the price would be quite stable via long term contracts.

  48. John Newlands (58) — Oh no. It is just that CSIRO priced out a 400 ha sea water algae farm to determine it was competative provided it was located near a power plant (for the exhaust stream). Without the excess CO2, about 12+ tC/ha/yr is achievable in sunny locations. With the excess, double that with the expectation that over time, one can increase to almost triple.

    An important advantage of co-firing biomethane and natural gas is that no adjustments of any kind have to be made and also all the nutrients are captured in the digester for reuse. The only consumable for making biomethane is the water (so sea water is prefered). If wood and coal are co-fired, the burning unit needs adjusting or even replacing and the ashes are filled with coal clinkers (fly ash). Can’t put that back on the soil and can’t use it in concrete. Not good.

  49. In my opinion, the most likely path to widespread acceptance of nuclear power in Australia is via the promotion of thorium.

    I say this because unlike uranium, which in many minds is controversial in ways some of those bothered aren’t even quirte sure, thorium is scarcely known. I’d be surprised if even 10% of people who have completed a year of undergrad could claim to have heard of it, still less speak for 60 seconds on it.

    What that means in marketing terms is that thorium will be defined by its promoters rather than its enemies and the enemies will be on the defensive from the start, because the sales pitch for thorium can put a plus everyhwere uranium puts a minus.

    Are you worried about Chernobyl? Well that was a uranium-powered reactor. A next gen[we call it this to draw a line through the old scoresheet] thorium reactor is a totally different design, one that is sub-critical, and thus can’t meltdown and so is inherently safe. We don’t need to add that all the others are totally different because by this time, people won’t be interested, but can find out if they can be bothered. At the level of sound byte, the pitch is effective. We repeat inherently safe as often as possible.

    Are you worried about plutonium and the proliferation of weapons grade nuclear materials? Well thorium reactors produce no weaponizable plutonium, so neither they nor their wastes are of interest to people wanting to make nuclear weapons. Thorium reactors can only be used for peaceful purposes. In fact, thorium plants can even be used to burn plutonium from nuclear weapons, so thorium plants are a good example of nuclear power contributing to a safer world.

    Are you worried about tailings dams from uranium mines? Well most Australian thorioum will be drawn from the tailings of monazite recovery. Currently its a waste product but instead we will use it. In fact, we can even get thorium (and uranium and its breakdown products from coal waste. A thorium plant can help clean up radioactive waste. Most people don’t know that coal plants emit radiation so we get in a shot at the main rival to nuclear power in a way that makes throium look like the solution.

    Have you heard that uranium won’t last long enough to make a difference? Well there’s three times as much throiuum as there is uranium and quite a bit of the world’s thorium — maybe 25%, is in Australia. We’d be mad not to encourage the world to use this cheap, clean, proliferation-resistant inherently safe source of energy supply.

    People say that Australia is too small a country to make a difference, but with cheap, clean, proliferation-resistant inherently safe next gen thorium-plants, Australia can make an important contribution to a cleaner, safer world.

    That’s how I’d pitch it because it distinguishes itself from what for the semi-tutored public is nasty stuff — uranium — and addresses the chief concerns that puboic has about nuclear power in a positive and easy to understand way. Once people have seen thorium plants operating and IFR is up at commercial scale, the latter will be much more saleable.

  50. FranBarlow@#61:
    “In my opinion, the most likely path to widespread acceptance of nuclear power in Australia is via the promotion of thorium.

    I say this because unlike uranium, which in many minds is controversial in ways some of those bothered aren’t even quirte sure, thorium is scarcely known. I’d be surprised if even 10% of people who have completed a year of undergrad could claim to have heard of it, still less speak for 60 seconds on it.

    What that means in marketing terms is that thorium will be defined by its promoters rather than its enemies and the enemies will be on the defensive from the start, because the sales pitch for thorium can put a plus everyhwere uranium puts a minus.”

    I respectfully disagree. The anti-nuclear movement will simply respond with a crash-campaign of thorium demonisation. They will point to the fact that thorium must be transmuted to (gasp!) uranium to be useable. They will make up all sorts of crap about the immaturity of the technology, the bottlenecks in the breeding cycle, ‘intractible problems’ with corrosion from the fuel salts, allrged proliferation issues with U-233 and so on.

    How can I say they will do this? Because they’ve already started. Lovins, Jim Green and Co. have already fired their first shots in this campaign.

    I’ve already said this to the Energy from Thorium LFTR guys: Promoting thorium by demonising uranium is a very bad strategy. No one on the pro-nuclear side will gain anything from such a strategy. Far, far better to take the bull by the horns to begin with and denounce the very root of opposition to nuclear power. Don’t avoid the ‘N’ word. Don’t be ashamed to mention uranium. Proclaim it loudly and proudly. Proclaim it with the kind of self-assurance which implies as a matter of course that the opposition has no valid case. Reclaim the terminology for the pro-nuclear cause.

    The hard-core anti-nukes cannot be reached by a pro-thorium strategy, and are in fact not worth the effort to convert. They’re more useful to the pro-nuke cause where they are in any case. Do not shape your message around the doctrines of anti-nuclear ideology. This only plays into their hands. Do not make the mistake of thinking that we need the support of the current ‘green’ movement. What is critically necessary is to organise and mobilise the support of the people who are already passively pro-nuclear. We need to get them active.

  51. 32 tonnes CH4 per HA per yr.
    =
    387,200 kwh/HA/yr
    @USD$0.012 per kwh, current price of NG
    =
    $4,528.14 per HA/yr

    Just what is a hectare of land worth in Australia that you afford a tiny gross income of $4,528 per yr? What are your expenses? What are your resource inputs, especially energy?

    Compare with a good 16% efficient crystalline Solar Panel, fixed at latitude, Brisbane Australia generates (acc. PVWatts calc):

    1398 kwh/M^2/yr
    =
    13,980,000 kwh/HA/yr
    =
    36 times the energy of the Biogas.

    Myself, not being a fan of Solar Energy –>

    Sounds like that Biogas is a total LOSER!

    Pretty much typical of Biomass. To understand why, read Tad Patzek:

    “….Therefore, the current rate of crude oil consumption on the earth is about 300,000 times higher than the peak geological formation and deposition rates of heavy and conventional crudes in the Late Tertiary (3×2650+5×1300 m3/yr21). Similarly, the current rate of natural gas consumption is about 1.4 million times higher than its peak geological deposition rate in the Late Tertiary (2,100,000 sm3/year). Finally, the current rate of coal consumption is about 60,000 times higher than its peak deposition rate in the Late Carboniferous (80,000 tonnes/year)….”

    http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/patzek/CRPS-BiomassPaper.pdf

  52. I forgot to mention that the Biogas has to be compressed, stored, transported and converted to electricity to be of much use, so that’s say 50% efficiency at best, so that makes our Solar PV (flat plate at latitude that is) on the same area – 72 times the energy output per unit area.

    And unlike the Solar PV, the biogas requires labour & materials inputs every year.

  53. I respectfully disagree. The anti-nuclear movement will simply respond with a crash-campaign of thorium demonisation.

    They won’t cut through though because they won’t be able to point to previous nuclear emergencies or refer to existing uranium mining, talk about yellowcake etc …

    Promoting thorium by demonising uranium is a very bad strategy. No one on the pro-nuclear side will gain anything from such a strategy.

    I’m not proposing demonising uranium. I’m proposing to step around the question — making it moot so that we can have a new discussion untainted by irrational prejudices. If we can talk about thorium as the bright shiny new thing that circumvents all the claims about uranium then we can exorcise the demon. People can be brought to see nuclear power in a positve light and then, as the debate advances, see that even the problems alleged to attach to uranium-based nuclear power were grossly exaggerated. But we must first prevent them from putting an equals sign between nuclear power and human catastrophe. That equals sign attaches to uranium.

    The hard-core anti-nukes cannot be reached by a pro-thorium strategy, and are in fact not worth the effort to convert. They’re more useful to the pro-nuke cause where they are in any case

    I agree, almost. There was a time not so very long ago that the term ‘hard core anti-nuke’ could have been applied to me. with some caution. Certainly that’s how I’d have sounded to you, maybe 10 years ago, but I always believed that I was driven by pragmatic considerations, even though I now know that I was partly moved by other concerns. In my experience though the bulk of those who object to nuclear power are not hard core anti-nuke at all. They don’t understand how it works. Most of us have not studied enough physics to understand the cycle of isotope decay or enough biology to grasp the relationship between radioactivity and cancer, or engineering to understand thermonuclear devices. Where there is fear and uncertainty and doubt, rational people behave irrationally, and become unreachable.

    Thorium is a potential circuit breaker.

  54. Warren Heath — Thanks. The economics are in the CSIRO report I linked. It seems their conclusion is a a few such algae farms can be suitably sited without difficulty. But not, it seems, the lots and lots it would take to make a large dent in excess CO2 emissions.

  55. And further to the above Finrod, if one wants to persuade large numbers of people of something one should consider the mechanics of doing so.

    Very few people find admitting they have been flat out wrong about something for much of their life appealing. If they have held and expressed strong views to family and friends about something over a long time, asking them to reverse these imposes a very high adoption cost in public embarrassment.

    Giving these people a plausible loophole, an opportunity to backpeddle, makes sense, especially when it is well established that the cheapest and most effective marketing strategy is one that recruits people within the target group to create a context in which their peers can adopt an idea.

    Oh yes … I was opposed to uranium mining and nuclear power because of nuclear weapons and Chernobyl but this is obviously completely different, and now with climate change being so important …

    Baby steps Finrod

  56. Fran Barlow@#68,70:

    Fran, my strategy will be to point out and promote the positive benefits of nuclear fission rather than to endlessly respond to spurious anti-nuclear criticism. That will provide a focus for the ‘passively pro-nuclear’ to rally around, as well as enabling the ‘passively anti-nuclear’ public (as seperate from hard-core anti-nuclear activists and their acolytes) to internalise reasons to alter their position without too much ego getting in the way. The trouble with some of the points being used to promote LFTR is that they are responses to anti-nuclear criticisms of uranium and uranium-to-plutonium breeding. This might seem a clever tactic initially, but in the long run (which the anti-nukes will make damn sure isn’t very long at all) those arguments turned against nuclear power in general, and will be all the more effective for having been previously pushed by a subset of the pro-nuclear community.

  57. David, Warren if pure (ie well scrubbed) methane has an energy density (LHV) of 40 MJ/kg then a hectare produces
    (32t X 10^3kg X 40 X 10^6j) of energy
    That hectare is 10^4 square metres and there are 31.53 X 10^6 seconds in a year. Dividing I get about 0.1 watts per square metre as the year round average output. That is before heavy parasitic losses for CO2 removal (15-35% of biogas), harvesting fresh gunk and cleaning the digester as you mention.

    However I still think methane is the universal fuel of the future for farm vehicles and cars in a world of no petroleum. Biogas, natgas, coal seam gas and hydrogenated synthetic methane (Sabatier)can be blended according to availability. Therefore I wish Australia had a plan to conserve some for the long run.

  58. Fran Barlow,

    Are you worried about Chernobyl? Well that was a uranium-powered reactor. A next gen[we call it this to draw a line through the old scoresheet] thorium reactor is a totally different design, one that is sub-critical, and thus can’t meltdown and so is inherently safe.

    Minor points: thorium reactors are not subcritical, and a subcritical reactor would not necessarily be meltdown-proof.

    Major point: why wouldn’t you say, “Worried about Ghislenghien? Thorium fission cannot occur outside the bounds we set for it. With fission, the rules are different”. Then you’d be telling the whole truth and not insinuating any untruth.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  59. Minor points: thorium reactors are not subcritical,

    They can be made so however …

    a subcritical reactor would not necessarily be meltdown-proof

    True, but ignorant people don’t really understand the concept of a meltdown outside of the vision they have of chain reactions associated with fission. What we would be trying to do is to address them where they are. Anyone who already knows that this wouldn’t necessarily prevent a melthdown is going to be open to a more detailed engineering discussion.

    why wouldn’t you say, “Worried about Ghislenghien?

    Because few have heard of it, so nobody is frightened of it. People would look at you oddly. We’re doing markleting, remember? Not trying to look like geeks.

    It seems to me that if people are frightened of half-truths (more accurately in many cases 1% truths) we are entitled to take them where they are and answer the thing they are frightened of without complicating the matter further. If this leads them to ask more rational questions, then they are entering the very ground we want them on — reason and pertinent facts.

    That’s not lying or misleading. It’s coaching.

  60. Finrod and Fran etc

    Let us hope that the results from the ARC funded research to be done, regarding public acceptance of nuclear power, shows a positive result.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,26056731-5005200,00.html

    I suspect, through my own local straw poll, we might be pleasantly surprised.
    Regardless, groups such as Barry’s SCGI and Finrod’s upcoming advocacy community are essential to furthering public education on the topic.

  61. Pingback: Thinking critically about sustainable energy (TCASE) 1: Prologue « BraveNewClimate.com

  62. John Newlands, why would you want to use Methane as a fuel when you can use Methanol instead?

    It only costs 3.2 cents US per litre to convert NG to Methanol. Methanol has 1.5 X the volumetric energy density of CNG @ 3700 psi, 11.3 X the energy density of H2 at 2200 psi, and you don’t need the heavy, dangerous high pressure tank. And Methanol is much easier to transport, is extremely clean burning, burns at double the efficiency of a gasoline engine in a port injected, spark ignition version of the standard TDI Diesel engine, with much lower emissions. It is also more efficient than the diesel engine, without the high emissions. Unlike with diesel & gasoline, spills are a minor matter, wash them down with water. It quickly dissipates in the environment, evaporating or consumed by bacteria.

    And the EPA estimated that replacing Gasoline with Methanol would reduce the number of deaths & injuries due to vehicle related fires by 95%.

    And Methanol can be made carbon neutral from Nuclear Electricity, Water & Biomass/Flue Gas/Atmospheric Carbon.

    Methanol use for Vehicles in China (unfortunately they like to use Coal-to-Methanol which last I read cost 13 cents a liter to produce in the USA):

    http://www.ensec.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=148:chinatakesgoldinmethanolfuel&catid=82:asia&Itemid=324

  63. TerjeP #51 & 52,

    I take your points. Voting certainly matters, but I stand by my claim that no nuclear project will begin without broad support. Rather than cast a vote on any one issue whenever the next election comes around; one could put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) to make their views on nuclear power clear to their representatives.

    I can’t find the link between the launch of a sustainable nuclear industry and the implementation of GST. As an example, take the NPP project begun at Jervis Bay. All efforts and expense pumped into that project were a complete loss. If someone reverses the GST, where is the downside? What has been lost beyond future revenue for government? The risk of loss due to stop-starts of large capital engineering projects is too great. Investors need long term business confidence.

    Also, note the impact Labor’s change on the three mines policy is having on the domestic uranium industry – not least significant being the influx of considerable foreign investment in the sector (notably from China).

    Consider what the opposition’s environment spokesman Greg Hunt said last month when Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce told his party’s annual federal council meeting in Canberra that a referendum should be held asking voters if they want nuclear power in Australia.

    “It’s not on our plans, it’s not on the table at the moment, and it won’t be until such time as there is bipartisan support.”

    http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/libs-nats-split-on-nuclear-power-20090824-evvz.html

    Such statements put the focus clearly on Labor. The most reasonable policy the Coalition can adopt is to remain open to the consideration of nuclear [at most - talk about the potential benefits, how the associated risks could be mitigated, etc.], but to strongly resist any temptation to actively promote it until Labor agrees to a serious, civil and objective duologue on nuclear technology and its potential role in Australian energy policy.

    Any other approach would lack what Ziggy Switkowsky refers to as ‘political pragmatism’.

    There are signs of change. Just a few days ago, a nuclear power research collaboration between ANSTO and ANU was announced. After signing the deal, Science Minister Carr – borrowing a term from Hillary Clinton’s 2008 election campaign comments on nuclear power – said, “We are agnostic about particular fields of research that our scholars pursue. It’s not a question about taking an open mind or a closed mind.”

    The article and subsequent comments went on to coddle and reassure the coal industry, which takes us right back to the photo Barry chose to begin his post. The coal industry certainly seems to fear nuclear power’s introduction more than any other no/low carbon technology or demand reduction programme (efficiency, conservation). This backhanded endorsement is an encouraging reminder of the significant potential contribution NPPs can make to reduce emissions in Australia and abroad during the years and decades to come.

    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/technology/866345/aussie-nuclear-researchers-join-forces

  64. Warren I was handling methanol just yesterday for my regular biodiesel brew up. I buy part filled 205L drums from dirt track racers. They run it in big block supercharged V8s. One time I inhaled the fumes too deeply and everything went into spiral swirls, like the effect in Photoshop. I wear goggles and gloves and keep a water wash handy in case of skin contact, particularly when making the sodium methoxide catalyst. If methanol freaks me out when I’m used to it others will like it less.

    Also the energy density of methanol is well under other liquids like petrol at STP. Agreed methane has to be compressed at 220 bar if I recall to get that high petrol-like energy density. However we produce methane in our guts so it’s both familiar and non-toxic.

  65. Nuclear Australia,

    My point about the GST had nothing to do with investment. It had to do with how we sometimes arrive at bipartisan support via hostile division. Today the GST has bipartisan support even though it did not when implemented.

    I work for a coal mining company (since April 2008). I don’t think the coal mining industry is even slightly phased by nuclear energy. The political poster featured in Barrys article was not produced by the coal industry. It was produced by the labour movement which is affiliated with the ALP. I would have thought their motives were bleeding obvious. To spell it out they were trying to neutralise fear of the ALPs ETS in mining communities and direct fear towards the coalitions policy position. The intent was to shift votes from the coalition to the ALP and had nothing to do with any genuine concern about nuclear. I would have thought that it was a bleeding obvious piece of propaganda.

  66. Not trying to look like geeks

    I’ve always found it possible to look like one, without much effort at all. Maybe it’s just a gift.

    Nuclear will be part of the solution … but it will not be the entire solution, nor could it be.

    A Science article was linked, and I was able to read the title: Potential for Wind-Generated Electricity in China, emphasis mine; potentials are usually expressed with the verb “could” rather than “can”, but Rabett chose the latter. But with nuclear energy, he won’t say it can, nor will he say it could. Why couldn’t it?

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  67. @David B. #61:

    Particulates? From what? Natural gas is almost pure methane, a little butane and propane, also something added to give so-called natural gas its distinctive odor.

    You dont’ know much about combustion chemistry then do you? “Pure” methane is a carbon atom and some hydrogen atoms. When going through combustion some very SOLID and GASEOUSmaterial is produced:

    1. H2O [which is the steam you see rising from *every* gas plant)
    2. NOx gas [where the free radicals of nitrogen in the atmosphere combine under high temp with oxygen, also from the atmosphere in the combustion cycle, to produce it, this is largely mitigated through ammonia injection],
    3. CO2 [a LOT of this, not as much as coal, but TONS anyway] and…
    4. Particulate produced from combustion where excess carbon finds it’s way to a pure form whenever hydro-carbons burn. It is ALWAYS produced.

    The average 550MW CCGT produces about 100 tons of particulate in the form of PM2.5, PM5 and PM10 (“Particulate Micron”). If you live down wind out to about a mile from a OCGT or CCGT you increase your chance for respiratory illness. In the US, opposition to CCGTs is focused entirely on this issue.

    David

  68. Folks, on the LFTR vs LWR vs IFR debate.

    I’m an early “joiner” of the LFTR crowed and I’m a big booster of it. I’ve written on the Daily Kos and my own Left-Atomics site essays on “Toward a Thorium Economy”.

    However, like Fran and others here, I will not counterpoise the LFTR to any other form of fission power. I think it’s a big mistake a lot of my fellow LFTR devotees engage in. A lot of this is how one places *emphasis* on certain comparisons. Ignoring the IFR for a moment, I promote LFTR as something that is part and parcel of the current LWR Renaissance. Something that is evolutionary and revolutionary *better* than LWR but not framed as: “The LWR is worse than LFTR” but rather the LFTR offers enhancements over the LWR.

    I always argue that LWR are important, we need to build 10 times as many as there are now but that the LFTR (or insert favorite Gen IV tech) is more advanced than the already safe and cheap LWR, that it is simply something that will replace the LWR when the LWRs finish their life expectancy.

    I believe the LFTR or any Gen IV technology is tied part and parcel to the *success* of the Gen III/III+ reactors. We rise and fall together. The general public is only go to get superficially the advantages of Gen IV technology. I’ve already seen Caldicott go after LFTR (and yes, it’s so clumsy as to be *stupid*). But Fran and others are correct: LFTR has a huge advantage and the antis have a real hard time understanding it.

    BTW…the main ‘argument’ is proliferation…the idea that someone can make a U233 bomb. That’s an easy one, but fun too!

    David

  69. John Newlands, if you got dizzy breathing Methanol ( which would be very hard to do), that is entirely due to its harmless, intoxicating effect, very similar to ethyl alcohol. I’ve worked with Methanol and dozens of other solvents in industry, and Methanol is about the safest & least troublesome of any, and it sure as hell doesn’t “freak me out”. Try working with gasoline, chlorinated hydrocarbons, motor cleaner, brake cleaner, ammonium hydroxide, or even kerosene is much more nasty. Spill Methanol on your hand it quickly evaporates. Maximum safe level of exposure is total immersion of your hand for 10 minutes. 200 ppm is rec’d safe limit for breath exposure for 8 hrs, compare with 1 ppm for the benzene in gasoline.

    Gasoline fumes, unlike Methanol are a known carcinogen. Spill gasoline on your hand and it dries out your skin, causing cracking & an awful smell. As little as one teaspoon of gasoline entering the lungs is almost immediately fatal. The poisonous effects of Methanol are much more mild, and do not occur for 10 to 48 hrs after ingestion. Unlike gasoline or thousands of other poisons, it is easily treatable, by 4 standard drinks of alcoholic beverage and one drink per hr, by a fomepizole tablet, or by taking folate. Only humans & primates are prone to the acidosis effect of Methanol, which is caused by the enzyme dehydrogenase, which in primates, converts ethyl alcohol to acetaldehyde, but converts methanol to formaldehyde, which changes to formic acid in the blood, which will gradually build up in the blood until it causes nerve damage.

    Methanol is routinely available in grocery stores in flimsy plastic containers (you’d never get gasoline like that) as fondue fuel. It has been used as a fuel in kid’s model airplane engines for over 50 yrs, due to its safety. Used as an automobile fuel would probably mean adding a colorant and a bitterent – very simple minded.

    Energy density? NG at 220 bar has 58% of the energy density of Methanol, not including the humungous, awkward shaped, exposed heavy fuel tank, which has to be removed for regular testing & licensing. Even propane has the same energy density of Methanol, when you include the volume of the again, awkward, exposed tank. It’s true Methanol has half the energy density of gasoline, but burns at double the efficiency. And as a generator in a series hybrid, efficiency will be doubled again, so you will still get double the mileage on Methanol over gasoline. And Methanol can be used in a fuel cell as well, which a company in California is developing.

    Safety? Ever see the extreme regulations on handling, usage & storage of standard industrial gas cylinders. That’s 2300 psi, not 3700 psi. An episode of Mythbusters showed an industrial gas cylinder shoot through a concrete block wall and half way into another. What happens when the automobile fuel system leaks gas into an enclosed garage? KABOOM! Propane explosions are common and deadly. What happens if you run out of fuel on the road – how are you going to refill – you can’t – call a tow truck. What if you want to go out into a rural area, and want to carry extra jerry cans of fuel with you – you can’t. Some good information on Methanol safety in the following biodiesel document in the section at end “More about Methanol”:

    http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_make.html#moremeth

  70. GRL, subjunctively Eli would say #85 is what might be called a grammar flame were one so inclined.

    OTOH, the Science article was talking about a much more limited situation, wind power in China for the necessary electrical generation increase in the next 20-30 years. Barry is writing about the entire enchilada.

    Then you have the needs of the chemical industry which will never be covered by nuclear.

  71. the needs of the chemical industry … will never be covered by nuclear.

    Its need for liquid hydrocarbon could be so covered. This might be done with nuclear power stations that …

    generate hydrogen from water
    calcine mineral carbonates, MCO3 —> MO + CO2
    expose the MO to air so that it can recarbonate itself
    carbonate the hydrogen, CO2 + 3 H2 —> HOCH3 + H2O
    convert the methanol to C8-ish hydrocarbons plus water

    All of the steps have been demonstrated. The recent price of a thermal megawatt-hour in mined -CH2- is $40, and in uranium, $0.67. The race is not always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that’s how you bet.

  72. Most gas powered vehicles such as the current crop using LPG/propane are actually dual fuel and require liquid fuel to start. If the gas cylinder runs out they can get home on a litre or so of petrol. Admittedly methane requires 10 times the pressure of propane to get acceptable energy density. If explosive ruptures do occur there can’t be too many since the world has 8 million NGVs, notably in Pakistan, Iran and Argentina.

    I’d like to see practical net energy estimates on hydrogenated synfuels because at the moment it’s all speculative.

  73. John Newlands (72) — The CO2 in the biogas, after separation, goes back to the algae ponds. I’ve assume a net 32 tonnes CH4 per hectare per year. Presumably as more is learnt about how to run an algae farm this would grow to more like 44 tonnes.

    David Walters (86) wrote “4. Particulate produced from combustion where excess carbon finds it’s way to a pure form whenever hydro-carbons burn. It is ALWAYS produced.”

    Thanks. I hadn’t thought enough about the formation of black carbon, AKA soot. That can be air bagged. In my proposal, all of the exhaust stream, possibly after condensing out the water, is to be returned to the algae farms to provide the extra CO2 that the algae need. Would the blcak carbon tend to go with the water being condensed?

    I’m not quite sure what to do with the NOx, but the CSIRO algae farm report didn’t seem to care.

  74. Hmmm…right now the only technology employed for particulate is in the coal industry (obviously). They use something called ‘gas bag technology’ and it’s basically a series of physical filters designed to remove PM10 and above and has some mitigating effect on PM 2.5 and PM5. But it’s like a home vacuum cleaner: no matter how good your filter is a lot of particulate is still gets through. You have to ask “Why is there no particulate mitigation with GTs right now?”. The main reason it’s not part of any EPA standard (In the US) so there is no ‘market’ for such technology beyond the coal industry.

    Can it be easily mitigated and removed? I don’t know. I suppose it could be but at what cost?

    On NOx. NOx is mitigated through several technologies employed in series with a GT. The first is the tuning of the gas burners on Frame and non-Frame units. They are tuned with computers that adjust the flame so that only a very minimum amount of NOx is produced, usually around 20ppm. Then they employ “Selective Catalytic Reducers” or SCRs for short. SCRs work in a manner similar to the way a catalytic converter works to reduce automobile emissions. A gaseous or liquid reductant (generally ammonia or urea) is added to the exhaust gases before they exit a smokestack. The mixed gases travel through several catalytic layers, causing a reaction between the NOx emissions and the ammonia injection. The reaction converts the NOx emissions into pure nitrogen and water vapors. So you don’t ‘put the NOx’ anywhere, it’s broken down back into the basic constituents of atmosphere. QED.

    Every new GT in the US has one of these suckers. Usually they have a big-ass tank of Aqueous Ammonia on site for a supply to the SCR.

  75. David Walters (93) — Thank you. Quite helpful!

    Here is my attempt to size a single big CCGT to run solely on biomethane from a big algae farm.
    Assume 540 MW (electric) at 60% efficiency and 40 MJ/kg as energy density of methane.
    Needs 13.5 kg/s or 4.86 tonnes/hr.
    Assume 90% availablity and “continuous” running. That’s 7889.4×4.86 = 38,342.5 tonnes.
    At 32 tonnes/ha/y, need 1200 ha of algae tanks on 1500 hectares of total land.

    Use sea water condensers so that some of the otherwise heat goes to maintaining the algae tanks at optimum temperature.

  76. I’m tipping that this coal fired power station will be replaced with gas fired. It’s not far from where drums of yellowcake from Olympic Dam are loaded onto the northern railway. The electrical output will help sustain activity in mines like OD which are in danger of slipping otherwise. The gas fired plant will be relatively cheap and quick to build but it won’t be all that clean and the fuel won’t be cheap.

    I predict that if/when the gas fired plant is announced that there will be back slapping all round. The anti-nuclear State and Federal governments will talk about a new era of clean energy or some similar bollocks. I hope that many point out that a gas plant is short sighted, polluting and wasteful compared to a nuclear plant.

  77. John Newlands, I doubt you would hear about vehicle NG explosions in Iran, Pakistan & Argentina. There’s certainly been a lot of propane explosions where I am, you wouldn’t here about them either. I’ve never heard of any Methanol poisonings either. There is the possibility that insurance companies will refuse to insure gaseous fueled vehicles, or limit insurance so it won’t cover explosions, or will not allow parking in enclosed garages.

    You still have shown no significant reason why Methanol isn’t a far superior fuel than NG, except that NG is widely distributed for home heating & industry, whereas the Methanol infrastructure for vehicles would have to be developed. Certainly a longer term solution than NG, but definitely a better solution.

    You can convert the Methanol to DME, which stores similar to propane, but burns better than Diesel Fuel in standard Diesel engines. Widely used in China.

    However I have not seen any reason why Methanol isn’t the optimal fuel for future vehicles. The arguments against it typically make no sense. Like in one breath opponents will say its energy density is too low and in the next breath embrace some difficult gaseous fuel, with even a lower energy density. Methanol is still the cleanest burning of all the liquid @ STP fuels and the cheapest & easiest to make in many different ways from many different raw materials, including green electricity + water + atmospheric CO2 The 200 ppm limit on breathing Methanol vapors for 8 hrs amounts to 20 liters evaporated in a small 100 cubic meter garage, with no ventilation. Pretty damn hard to accomplish that feat.

    Tom Standing on CNG fuel:

    “…The organization I work for has a fleet of CNG vehicles: several small cars and a few pickup trucks. CNG pickups are assigned to field personnel who travel to construction sites throughout the region, typically driving 100 miles a day. Almost every day they must drive 3 miles from our yard to a special CNG fueling station and wait in line to gas up. The high pressure fuel tank, protected by a hard, plastic shield, occupies almost one-fourth of the cargo bin…”

    “….Employees who drive the small CNG cars have learned from unpleasant experience not to venture onto a freeway with less than a half tank of gas. The gauge can plunge to “E” with alarming swiftness. Stranded employees have no recourse but to call our garage for help. The garage cannot simply send out a pickup with a gallon of gasoline, for they are not equipped to dispense CNG. They must send a wrecker to tow the car to the fueling station. So it goes with CNG vehicles….”

    “….Long-haul truckers, whose livelihood depends on continual travel pulling full loads, do not want to worry about making it to the next fueling station; few wreckers can tow a fully-loaded 18-wheeler. Nor do truckers want to surrender 25% of precious cargo space to CNG tanks…”

  78. Warren – Opel reckon their Zafira Turbo CNG van can go 370km on gas and 520 km on gas+liquid. My guess is that it will eventually outsell the much hyped GM Volt as it has more room and range and reasonable zip. I don’t think FCVs are coming anytime soon.

    Yes I admit 220 bar compression is a bugbear but that has to be weighed against non-toxicity and multiple sources of blending stocks. To my knowledge no retail service stations in Australia sell DME. A road near home (Lyell Hwy) has 120km between service stations so it would be good to be able to fill up on more than one type of fuel. I’ve been using 80% biodiesel since 2005 and I can see it won’t scale up.

  79. NNadir has written extensively on DME on his blog on the Daily Kos.

    DME is a diesel substitute, not a gasoline, FYI or incase any one missed it. It burns fairly clean and, of course, the idea is that it can be produced from atmospheric CO2 with nuclear thermo-chemical cracking. Same with Methanol.

    D.

  80. Fran, butanol will not burn at the high efficiency of Methanol due to its lower octane. And it is much harder & more expensive to make, with a lot less flexibility of sources. There is no way Biomass can supply anywhere near our fuel requirements. Whereas Methanol can easily be made from syngas, wood (it used to be called wood alcohol), coal, NG, biomass & water plus green electricity.

    The corrosiveness of Methanol is way over-hyped. I placed pieces of aluminum, brass, black iron, copper & steel in a jar of Methanol & the same with water, and let them sit for 6 months. After that time the Methanol was crystal clear, no evidence of corrosion whatsoever. The water jar was a dirty brown, with sediment and visible corrosion. There has been no significant problem with corrosion from Methanol, when it was used in California & British Columbia for some years.

    John, whatever the Opel Zafira can do on CNG, it can do much better on Methanol. At least double the range, without the need of dual fuel tanks or a less efficient flex fuel engine. A flimsy light fuel tank, and EPA projects 95% fewer fire deaths & injuries with Methanol than gasoline. That’s one good reason they use it in Racing Cars. As a series HEV, using an extreme efficiency Methanol engine / generator, you could easily quadruple the range of that Opel Zafira, with the same volume of fuel.

    I still don’t get this toxicity crap. If you read the article I linked, Methanol is common in nature and the human body. They dump millions of gallons of the stuff in Water Treatment plant effluent to destroy Nitrates. Kids have long been using it to fuel Model Airplanes. If someone is stupid enough to drink it, all I can say is, Hey dude there’s lots of good drugs out there, like Tylenol, which will kill you more easily.

    One other wonderful use of Methanol is for BEV’s in cold climates. Using electricity for heat will seriously reduce the range of an electric vehicle. Simple solution, have a small methanol fuel tank and a catalytic or flame type, extremely safe, methanol fueled, interior heater. It is typically six times more efficient to use a fuel fired heater than to idle a vehicle for interior heat.

    Another issue is fuel oil for heat, in areas too remote for NG delivery. Fuel Oil spills require Megabucks cleanup pushing homeowners insurance way up. All contaminated soil must be dug out and sent to a Toxic Waste Dump. Sometimes costing $100,000 for the homeowner. And home fuel tanks can cost upwards of $3000 for fuel oil. All that for a stinky, toxic, polluting heat source. METHANOL WOULD BE OH – WAY SO MUCH BETTER. A plastic fuel tank costing maybe $300. Any spills are harmless, quickly washed down with water, no stink, no mess. The flue gas is clear as pure air. No smell, no toxic emissions. And furnaces would be much more reliable with higher efficiency, and less maintenance.

    Transport of Fuel Oil to remote sites is also a nightmare because of the strict environmental regulations regarding Fuel Spills. And fuel for vehicles in Underground Mines. Why burn that smelly, smoky, toxic diesel fuel when Methanol is safer, negligible emissions, no smell and more efficient engines. A lot of Mine Workers have had their health seriously degraded due to breathing exhaust fumes from diesel powered mobile equipment.

  81. Forgot to mention, Methanol can easily be shipped by Pipeline, or Tanker, as is & has been done. As a matter of fact, I will claim it is the easiest of all fuels to transport. You can use lightweight plastic pipeline. Methanol does not even corrode black iron. It does not gunk up pipelines with residue. If it leaks or spills, it is a minor matter. No environmental hazard and minimal fire or explosion hazard. With a much more concentrated energy density than NG, it is cheaper to transport in pipelines.

    And there are many areas, like the Caribbean and the Canadian Arctic with large NG reserves, but no one wants to spend the 10′s of billions for environmentally contentious pipelines. Simple solution, build a Methanol plant at source, convert the NG to Methanol for 3.2 US cents per liter (for the big plants) and ship safely by Tanker. We’ve been waiting 30 yrs for the Mackenzie Valley NG pipeline – and it just ain’t happening. Meanwhile all that clean burning Arctic NG is just sitting there unused, while we have to import noxious, toxic, Fuel Oil at high cost.

  82. Alexei #29, point taken, and I’ve decided to work on creating a more functional index of BNC as you suggest. Might take a bit of time however, but I agree it will be worth the effort to make the archives more accessible.

  83. Gloor @ 24: Renewable systems can and will take the lions share of the future energy load with nuclear relegated to the niche product that it should be.

    You’re through the looking glass, pal. Lewis Carroll couldn’t have said it better. But don’t take my word for it. Look at Germany after two decades of intense wind and solar subsidization and development. Those stats don’t lie, and ignoring them doesn’t change the truth.

  84. Benson @ 30: At the soonest there won’t be an IFR for 15 years. Probably more.

    You know not whereof you speak. While you may be right, the only reason to wait longer than 4 or 5 years will be political inertia. The US designed, built and launched the nuclear navy in 5 years, having started with nuclear power systems in a far more primitive state of development than the IFR, which was proven with years of successful operation. If we have to wait 15 years for an IFR that will be a travesty of political stupidity.

  85. Benson @ 92: In my proposal, all of the exhaust stream, possibly after condensing out the water, is to be returned to the algae farms to provide the extra CO2 that the algae need.

    Algae advocates often propose using the CO2 from coal or gas-fired power plants be channeled to algae, and the algae to then be used to create biofuels. This is NOT carbon-neutral by any stretch of the imagination. You’re still taking fossil fuels and ultimately—albeit one step removed—releasing the CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s high time people stopped pretending that natural gas is anything close to environmentally sound, or that algae can magically make fossil-fuel produced CO2 lose its negatives.

  86. I’m not so sure about that Tom. It very much depends on the extent to which the algae forecloses new harvest of fossil fuel. If it merely adds to the supply and drives down the cost so as to foster extra consumption then maybe the net effect is zero — though of course the fossil CO2 source can claim to have lowered its intensity per unit of energy.

    If on the other hand, prices remained stable or increased and algae-based fuels substituted …

  87. I should have added of course Tom, that unless one can show that the rate of yield per mole of CO2 in the kinds of closed photobioreactors we’re talking about is greater than for example that in open raceway ponds, then there’s no particular CO2 sequestration/biofuel advantage in where one grows algae.

    The main constraint tends to be access ensuring that as much of the microalgae has access to optimal sunlight rather than CO2. Stoichiometrically, there’s only so much CO2 that a given mass of algae with given energy input can mobilise. Closed photobioreactors allow an operator to select for a given algae strain which may well be chosen to optimise lipids or yields under lthe likely conditions obtaining at the plant, so this might make some sense. In the end though, the real question is how much does it cost to produce a unit of biofuel or to sequester a unit of CO2, and this will be true whatever the cost put on CO2 emissions.

    I am in the process of revisiting these questions after a couple of years, but at this early stage I’m a little pessimistic about the potential role of biofuels. The economics seem not to be as flattering as I’d once thought and this probably accounts for the lack of interest even when crude was up around $150 per barrell. It may well be the case that the best role for algae is as a carbon sequestration strategy, since this would forecloze the need to keep out invasive algal species in ponds and remove the costly and difficult problem of drying and extracting the lipids and starches needed for fuels.

  88. Adrian #55, Douglas #83:

    I answered in #40 & #48 why I prefer IFR to LFTR. A demo model running for 10 years is not required for NRC certification, but a few cycles of reprocessing via pyro would probably be required for a utility to want to buy an IFR, so that would take a few years. Technically, the reprocessing that is outlawed in the US is Pu separation via PUREX — but I agree there ought to be some legislative reassurances (hey, I’m not a lawyer) to ensure that pyroprocessing is fair game. Or, as seems increasingly likely, an IFR and/or LFTR gets built first outside of the US, such as in Russia, China, India, Korea, or perhaps even France. You’ll definitely see them running in your lifetime, unless you’re intending to cark it before the next decade is out!

    Gas-cooled pebble bed reactors (graphite moderated — it is not a fast reactor) are not likely to work out, I suspect. You may as well build a modular fast SFR or epithermal LFTR. The pebbles also present real recycling challenges due to their silicon carbide coating (I guess you’d have to crush it and somehow extract the actinides, perhaps GRLC has a comment on that as I recall he once objected when I said you COULDN’T reprocesses the pebbles).

  89. Barry Re #108.

    You may be right about the NRC not requiring a 10 year demo as written law, but according to some folk I’ve talked to, they will resist without that. I hope you’re right, but so far Jerry Pournelle’s “Iron Law of Bureaucracy” has not been falsified. Fear of proliferation led to the shutdown of the Integral Fast Reactor project in 1994

    You will have to persuade me that molten sodium has any advantage over thorium fluoride. As an engineer with years in the glass industry, fighting many unintended leaks of molten glass, I really like the idea that any leak can be simply caught in a pan underneath the reactor or equipment. As mentioned before I would like to see smaller units, like the Fuji MSR 100MW reactor, dotted around the country to suit demand. I agree entirely that the first units will be built outside the U.S. I was looking for things that could be built here without further delay.

    PBRs like S. Africa’s MPBR http://www.pbmr.com/index.asp?Content=182 running helium turbines will be quite efficient if they work. Of course, some think the higher temperatures required will lead to massive problems. The advantage, for me, is that they are proven technology that could be built immediately and a better stop gap solution than wind/solar. As you know, the Chinese are committed to building some 30 of them and plan on factory production. My earlier comment on that was only half in jest.

    We should start building something NOW. Who knows what the future will bring. Maybe the Pollywell, or one of the other half dozen contenders, will work. Maybe EEStor’s ultracapacitor is real and make wind/solar practical. I’m certain the ITER won’t result in economic power generation.

  90. The big problem is that their Brayton cycle turbine presented too many stumbling blocks so they decided, as the Chinese had a few years ago, to abandon the gas powered turbine and stuck with a Rankine steam cycle.

    The PBMR’s biggest issue is the lack of serious R&D for large closed-cycle Brayton GTs.

  91. @ David Walters:

    To what degree are the engineering challenges associated with the Brayton cycle engines for PBMR-style reactors related to the choice of helium as the working fluid? Does using nitrogen, as Rod Adams advocates, improve the prospects for such technology?

  92. I don’t think it is, Luke. It’ has to do with the lack of engineering expertise on the *closed* aspect of the Brayton cycle. 99% of all Brayton cycle engines are combustion fossil driven *open* cycled GTs like the ones we have on jet planes. There really is no difference. The compressor section of the GT is designed to compressed O2 dense enough to provide the right mix for *combustion*. The compressor cycle on a closed Brayton GT is completely different and serves a different purpose.

    I will be honest…closed cycle Braytons have always bewildered me as to how the energy is transferred to the turbine blades and the exact purpose of the compressor sections. How the compressors don’t eat up all the energy when the helium (or CO2, N2, etc) is compressed and expanded through the blades.

    At any rate, no one does these sorts of large closed cycle brayton GTs. Rod Adams did an interview, oh, about 2 years ago, with the Westinghouse PBMR director who worked with the S. Africans. He noted the single biggest expense and stumbling block has been the GT, bar anything else.

    As you are aware, this is *critical* for the LFTR as it is based entirely on gas cooling and a GT since so much of the cost savings is in the lighter material for a GT as opposed to the Rankine steam engine. Also the high temp drop needed for the low end of the turbine/condenser section as well reducing water consumption.

    The Chinese are running their helium through a heat exchanger to make steam on theirs.

    David

  93. FYI…I’m not a *big* fan of the PBMR. I don’t like solid fueled reactors in general and reprocessing, as G.R.L. Cowan noted, is not that straight forward for the TRISO fueled PBMR. I wait with anticipation on seeing what the Chinese will come up with in this regard. And yes, it’s all about the money since *everything* about the Brayton cycle GT has already been “proofed” in one form or other.

  94. closed cycle Braytons have always bewildered me as to how … the compressors don’t eat up all the energy when the helium (or CO2, N2, etc) is compressed

    I think that part’s pretty easy. Compressors compress volume, and power extraction turbines expand volume, and when heat is added in the middle, there is more volume exiting the turbine than is coming in through the compressor. Same as in a once-through compressor-and-turbine such as on an airplane.

    — G.R.L. Cowan (‘How fire can be domesticated’)
    http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/

  95. Tom Blees (104) — I just passed along what three nuclear engineers at INEEL wrote in an article. So I fear that 15 years it is.

    Tom Blees (105) — Since the methane is to from anaerobic digestion of the algae, it is closed cycle carbon and so carbon neutral. The CSIRO reprt linked above points out that using fossil fueled power plant exhaust to grow algae then avoids the fossil carbon of the replaced down steam fuel, biodiesel replacing diesel in their study.

    Fran Barlow (107) — In sunny locations the limiting factor on algae growth is enough CO2 to cause the algae to divide daily; not enough sunlight is only a problem if you attempt to have too great a density of algae, not a problem for the open racetracks proposed in the CSIRO study.

    Adrian Ashfield (109) — I agree that we all did to start now! Try lots of ideas to see, in practice, what works at all and what works best in each locality.

  96. Barry, I’m a little late to this conversation since I’m travelling right now but I just wanted to say that following this blog has been an amazing experience. Its had the narrative force of a Tom Clancy novel with what seems to be such a strong story arc that I’ve often wondered if you had plotted it out in advance.

    The position you outlined to Matt above is simply where you get to if you apply radical objectivity and radical pragmatism to our present situation. As they say to pilots, “Trust your instruments”, in this case the climate science. Trust your instruments and do what works. Deal with the data with integrity, even if it leads you to places you don’t want to go (here the denialists fail). Plan the response with integrity (and here the renewable advocates fall short).

    In the last year I’ve had to come to grips with climate modelling, ecosystem analysis, nuclear fuel cycles, reactor design, renewable energy technologies, oil and gas and proliferation politics and economics, energy storage technologies, power grid design, power transmission, etc. etc. Its been very challenging, and required a lot of work to keep up. I fear that means difficulties ahead in communicating this material to a wider audience, because it is quite technical and most people will have neither the background nor the time to delve into the arguments and own the conclusions for themselves.

    Its been interesting to see how the group of active commenters here has changed and evolved as the subject matter has changed and evolved. For that reason I think the subject matter index and the TCASE series will be very useful and necessary, since the material needs to reach a wider, popular audience, and there’s too much material in the form of comment dialogue for newcomers to easily bring themselves up to speed. Remember, if BNC has been running for about a year, thats one whole year out of a very short time to achieve a solution to the climate problem. We can’t afford to spend a year educating each new visitor. There needs to be some sort of bootstrapping process.

    Have you considered writing a book based on the content of BNC, to reach more people with a more condensed exposition?

    On content for the blog going forward, amongst everything else I hope to continue to see the climate science represented, both the current state of the climate as measured, and implications for how that resets our trajectory for the future. With the focus on the energy technologies, it may not be obvious to recent readers just how dire this situation is. I listened to your CCQ&A talk a while back, and frankly I don’t know how you managed to stay sane putting talk 4 together. I would also be interested in some further discussion of geoengineering options, since it seems we are well past certain tipping points, and at least one of either carbon draw down or albedo modification or sunshades is, objectively and pragmatically, required. So lets see what cards are on that table.

    But, like Deep Throat would have said, “Follow the energy”. You’re doing something important here.

  97. Hi all, esp climatologists,

    is the hockey-stick in question after all?

    http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/thegreengrok/hockeystick-revisited

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7259/abs/nature08233.html

    Even if the MWP is true, it doesn’t discount the basic physics of what is happening now with CO2. But it would be interesting to find out what natural forcing took the temperature that high and why it didn’t trigger all the feedbacks we’re worried about today. (Maybe it wasn’t that high for very long?)

    Any feedback to these ocean records in the normal climate literature and blogs? I didn’t find any on Realclimate.org.

    Regards

  98. Barry #102,
    I am happy to see that we agree.
    Your wording though makes me fear, you might approach this task so as to best accommodate and showcase the existing posts:
    a more functional index of BNC as you suggest… to make the archives more accessible.

    I have a different idea. Let the index (or any “structuring” effort) be driven by the problem at hand. The problem naturally decomposes into sub-problems, producing a hierarchical structure.

    Something like:
    The problem is to compare Australia with nuclear power banned, to the Australia with nuclear power permitted/encouraged.
    This problem separates into two sub-problems: (all) costs of the optimal nuclear-included case, versus (all) costs of the optimal nuclear-banned case.
    Costs of the optimal with-nuclear case split further into normal costs and external costs. The former are… the latter are… etc.

    I’ve claimed in #29 “this is not extra work IF…” Here’s what I meant: You seek (or you should) to make comprehensive assessments. You therefore contemplate, for example, this question: did BNC comprehensively address nuclear externalities? In which posts, if any, were those addressed? – and then, if you merely care to write your answer down, what you get is the “Nuclear externalities” node for your index.

  99. Pingback: Do climate sceptics and anti-nukes matter? or: How I learned to stop worrying and love energy economics « BraveNewClimate

  100. Soft green technologies, like wind and solar, are hard on the land. They cause mankind’s land-footprint to increase dramatically. Man has been saving the wilderness with the hard technologies of oil and coal. For a simple reason: you drill a small hole and extract enormous amounts of energy. This is directly opposed to say a solar farm which requires a large surface area to capture the same amount of energy. Simple reasoning suggests the wilderness is threatened by soft green technologies.

    We need to save the environment from the environmentalists:

    http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=174

  101. Pingback: Anti- to Pro-Nuclear, Pro- to Anti-, who’s changed their mind? « BraveNewClimate

  102. Pingback: Why is nuclear power the core climate change solution? « SeekerBlog

  103. Pingback: Purpose and target audience of BraveNewClimate.com « BraveNewClimate

  104. Pingback: The future of Brave New Climate « BraveNewClimate

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