Open Thread 26

Time for a new open thread, since apparently the previous one is now loading a little slowly… I’ll close the old one to comments, so please continue discussion here.

As for the quiescence of BNC over the past few months, well, I’ve been travelling — what can I say? But I have a new post to put up tomorrow, and a few others in train.

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.



  1. In the previous thread is a link to an Australian article. Here is a quotation therefrom:

    “Our latest research, which corroborates previous work, shows the technology already exists to solve many of the remaining questions around technological capability. For instance, the fact that wind and solar don’t generate electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining can be dealt with by installing a network of diverse generators across a wide area, or by increasing our use of energy storage.”

    Please note the word “or” in the last sentence of the quotation.

    Until a few years ago, here in the U.S. it was also asserted, also without proof, that a diverse network of renewables over an area would guarantee adequate reliable power. So far as I can see, that assertion has been abandoned here in the U.S.; it is now widely assumed that energy storage will be able to make renewables reliable even though an adequate energy storage technology has not been demonstrated except in the limited areas where pumped storage is practical.

    The Australian article merely ASSERTS that research indicates that diversity over a wide area will result in reliable power. It does not state how that research was done. The ONLY proof which I would accept, either here or in Oz, would be to have wind and insolation sensors in many of the places where actual installations would be reasonable, and carefully analyze the data over a period of AT LEAST one year to determine if the resulting power would ever be insufficient. Perhaps that has been done but if so, I am not aware of it.

    To me it seems that the assumed practicality of renewables (except for hydro and possibly geothermal) is more a matter of faith than science. Considering the strong commitment of Deutschland and a few other European countries to renewables, if renewables alone could actually be made to produce reliable power, some country by now would have succeeded in doing so. Yet, I know of no country which has succeeded in that endeavor. Occasional periods of a few hours here and there where renewables have provided adequate power do not count!

    Although I do have reservations about nuclear power, especially our current nuclear technology, it appears that only nuclear power can make it possible to reduce CO2 emissions to an acceptable level and still provide adequate power.


  2. There is a subject that seems to be taboo in mainstream media or most serious blogs, yet is really starting to bother me now.
    It is this:
    What do ‘we’ do, now that it’s quite clear that neither of Australia’s major political parties are going to take appropriate and necessary action on climate change in an acceptable timeframe?

    And who is ‘we’ at this point in Australia’s history?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. @Chris Sanderson:
    IMHO at least the top 4 parties in Australia are blind to the actions necessary to deal with climate change, possibly because climate change, its effects and the actions which might address the problems have become so divisive that there is a perception that any policy will lose more votes than it will gain, hence no policy is the best policy, especially once key emotional triggers such as renewable, nuclear, solar and wind are mentioned.

    A few years back, Barry Brook co-authored “Why Vs Why – Nuclear Power”, which attempted to initiate a public discussion about matters nuclear, not based on emotion and preconceptions but on rational consideration of the facts. It was neither a failure nor a success, in part because the other co-author, Ian Lowe, challenged the foundations of Barry’s arguments. They didn’t agree enough about the facts. So the fire of productive discourse remained unlit.

    There are plenty of blogs out there with political stances. BNC’s focus has been on the “How and why”, discussing as objectively as possible the objective truths. The science, if you will. With references to back up claimed facts.

    This is as it should be, but we are not all engineers, scientists, statisticians and economists.

    As John Cook of Queensland Uni and his MOOC “Making sense of climate science denial” course have concluded, the issue is not science but the psychology of denial.

    I don’t have the answer that Chris seeks, but current politicians follow public opinion, they don’t lead it.

    So I rephrase the question to “Why isn’t the public demanding that the government giving first priority to addressing the challenges of climate change?”

    Maybe it isn’t a party issue, is a public perception issue. More psychology.


  4. David Benson, I assumed Peter derived the $ subsidy / MWh figure from tables ES2 (Quantified energy-specific subsidies and support by type, FY 2010 and FY 2013) and ES5 (Measures of electricity production and growth)

    From this, I calculated solar at $280/MWh and nuclear at $2.10/MWh but I got a slightly higher figure for wind – $35/MWh

    I tried using table ES4 (Fiscal Year 2013 electricity production subsidies and support) but only nuclear corresponded with Peter’s figures as the solar subsidy amount is different because some of the subsidies are used for non-electrical (eg transport and direct heat) applications.

    If ES4 is used (which makes more sense, given the units), the $ subsidy / MWh figures for solar falls to $231 (nuclear and wind remain at $2.10 and 35, respectively)


  5. Greg Kaan,

    Yes, the figure for wind is $35/MWh, not $30/MWh. it was a typo. i noticed it as soon as I posted it, but didn’t want to making another comment with a correction. I am encouraged, that at least one person following the thread took the trouble to check the calculations, as I did when this chart was first posted by an economist on another blog site. Thank’s Greg. :)


  6. Peter Lang & Greg Kaan — Having an opportunity to study the Summary and some of the footnotes I conclude that to fairly compare the subsidies one should divide three quarters of the subsidies for wind and solar by 20 in order to obtain a direct comparison to the nuclear subsidy. This exercise places the wind subsidy at around $10/MWh amortized over the nominal 20 year life of the turbines. For solar about $66.41/MWh, very high as that figure is typical wholesale spot price.


  7. Greg Kaan — From a footnote in the summary. The subsidies in effect pay for capital costs of units built in that year; rather about 3/4 of the subsidies do. So amortizing over the lifetime for that 3/4 is suggested by the footnote.

    Whatever, the subsidies for solar are disproportionate.


  8. Terrestrial Energy, a Canadian startup, seems to be planning to build one of their 190 MWe IMSR units on the Idaho National Laboratory reservation. No indication who the lead customer is or how they will ever obtain an NRC license. From their website the concept appears quite good.


  9. Hi, Greg. A link within your referenced article leads to the best blunt discussion of the future of the NRC that I have seen. If NRC doesn’t find a way to become effective, they are going to face increasing competition from the likes of China. This is already dragging the centre of the entire nuclear power industry, especially for SMR’s and thorium fuels, away from USA. This could be forever.

    A growing number of engineers interested in a future in the SMR industry will need to learn mandarin, which is no simple task, and to work for Chinese masters, which from my direct professional experience is “interesting”. My daughter gave it her best shot, including a year attending school in Taiwan followed by two years study of the language in an Australian at university. She couldn’t master it.

    The other alternatives, Russia and Korea amongst them, are no more attractive from a Western point of view.

    I really hope that the Americans stay in the driver’s seat, but can they?


  10. A Professor of engineering at ANU is asserting:-

    It turns out that we can maintain grid stability in Australia with a scenario of {90% wind+PV, 10% existing hydro+bio+other} by adding in off-river (closed loop) PHES plus a high voltage DC cable down the east coast to transfer wind and solar between north and south (which tend to have different weather systems). The LCOE we calculate is <$100/MWh – which is less than fossil or nuclear or any other renewables.Importantly, wind, PV, PHES and HVDC are in >100GW deployment so no heroic assumptions are required (unlike with most other low emission technologies).PV and wind cost $65-85/MWh in Australia as revealed by the price discovery programs run through the ARENA Large Scale Solar and the ACT reverse auction programs.Moving rapidly to 100% renewable electricity will not be difficult or expensive. Then follows electrification of cars and urban heat.

    Psychologically, I want to believe him, but you can see how I replied.


  11. Prof Blakers is a specialist in the field of solar cell development where he is eminently qualified, making him an electronics engineer rather than electrical. I have severe doubts as to his expertise in analysing grid stability, especially since his involvement in the Beyond Zero Emissions group would indicate an ideological bent toward renewables. I would say his opinion is worth more than Mark Diesendorf’s but that not saying too much – again IMO.

    The argument he presents is basically the one that Mark Jacobson of Stanford University and The Solutions Project puts forward for the USA – conceptually appealing but try talking to the people who get their hands dirty about the reality.

    wind, PV, PHES and HVDC are in >100GW deployment so no heroic assumptions are required

    That says it all, really. Nothing heroic about deploying > 100 GW of wind, PV, PHES and HVDC, indeed!! Total generation capacity current deployed in Australia would be of that order, with the vast majority being coal and gas power stations.


  12. Greg, Prof Blakers seems to be wide of the mark with his 100GW figure. The current NEM generator capacity is very roughly 35GW fossil fuels and 10GW hydro, solar and wind.

    We will have to wait for the paper to be published in order to see the assumptions, model configuration and input data.

    I have absolutely no idea where Prof Blakers is deriving his assumption that the southern states will be supplied by renewables in Qld when the weather is poor in the southern states – as is regularly the case for a few days at a time.

    Currently, Queensland has a fair penetration of rooftop solar but very little other renewables.

    Is one assumption that 50GW of new renewables will suddenly appear north of the Tweed River and be conected to the lower states by multiple HVDC circuits?

    If so, that is truly an heroic assumption.

    My 45 GW NEM figure came from here: Breakdowns of this state by state and by generation technology are available from that site; look for AEMC/Generation/Map.

    Current Qld installed capacity is about 12GW fossil fuelled plus 2GW rooftop PV.


  13. From Robert Hinds on the Andrew Blakers posts.
    I mentioned Professor Andrew Blakers in a multi subject post on the end of open thread 25. This has been picked up on thread 26 and led to several responses. I heard his interview on ABC breakfast radio and decided to email him. He replied promptly to two emails and I have included them on this post unedited.

    Dear Sir. This email is in response to an interview you did on 891 Adelaide breakfast radio recently. It appears from your ANU website that you specialize in renewable power and its storage systems. Regarding efforts being made to reduce greenhouse gases from electricity production, the alternatives appear to be nuclear or renewables. (When access to mega hydro is ruled out.) The Achilles heel of nuclear is permanent disposable of used fuel. The Achilles heel of renewables is intermittency. Could you guide me towards research that would make renewables storage viable. The need for Gigawatt hours of storage for consecutive days is not even being approached by current systems. What innovative systems are in the pipeline over the next few decades that might meet these requirements? Regards.
    REPLY. We have preliminary results from our integration studies, looking at the Australian national electricity market, and a scenario with 90% wind+PV, 10% everything else (existing hydro and biomass). We take 30min data for demand, wind and sun and find that we can maintain grid stability by adding in off-river PHES plus a high voltage DC cable down the east coast to transfer wind and solar between north and south (which tend to have different weather systems). The LCOE we calculate is <100/MWh, compared with wind (US$64/MWh) and PV (US$84/MWh). The wind and PV costs are derived from price discovery programs from Governments. In other words, achieving grid stability adds about one third on top of the cost of energy generation. We will publish this work in the next few months.
    South Australia has excellent pumped hydro opportunities – the steep hills east of the gulf outside nature reserves. We’ve finished a basic analysis of SA and will release results over the next few months. Low cost off-river PHES requires a large head and a steep hill (to keep the pipe short) and not too far services (roads, power lines etc) – all of which exist east of the gulf. PHES is less than a quarter of the cost of battery storage. Battery storage looks good behind the meter competing with retail prices of electricity. Regards, Andrew
    REPLY to second email which asked for some clarifications. ….Qld weather differs from southern weather. We aim to publish this year, and have quite a lot more work to do. Separate from Mark Diesendorf. We are an ANU team. The results are not so surprising given the amazing reduction in PV and wind costs.

    I now realize that Andrew Blakers is an ANU Professor, a heavy renewables promoter and funded by ARENA. (Also on the ARENA advisory board.)
    Comments on Professor Blakers efforts will have to wait until he publishes. (I was unable to find out where his results will be published.) His article on ‘The Conversation’ shows that a man and his pea and thimble tricks won’t be disregarded lightly.


  14. The Achilles heel of nuclear is permanent disposable of used fuel. The Achilles heel of renewables is intermittency.

    I guess you are bowing to a high priest in saying that. Between ourselves, I would say that the Achilles heel of carbon fuels is permanent disposal of their waste. The Achilles heel of renewables is baseload. Nuclear has long since solved both problems.


  15. Major Challenges in Renewable Integration, Report Says
    Thomas Overton
    2016 Sep 21

    points to the issues and experiences which followers of Brave New Climate already recognize. Still, having a single review should be helpful, despite the optimism therein that the problems will be solved.


  16. Two commenters on the BNC forum mentioned Moltex Energy and their concept for a fast reactor. Some slides for a technical presentation are in a pdf entitled
    The Simple Molten Salt Reactor Practical, safe and cheap.

    I am encouraged by the fact that no reprocessing is to be done as part of the reactor. The actinide fluid is contained in slender rods which are removed after some time. Presumably some out-of-reactor reprocessing is possible.

    Somewhere there is a price estimate of US $45/MWh for 1 GW units. While likely optimistic, it is less than half of the estimates for other fast reactor designs that I know about.


  17. The article referred to by DBB is at

    It’s frustrating to note that NPP’s are now being recorded operating continuously and available for full load operation for 2.5 years or more, as against renewables, which cannot be relied on to reach 2.5 days, with the sole exception of hydro drawing from storage, which in most cases would make more money operating as peaking plant.

    The undesirability of low levels of availability, reliability and capacity factor is lost on the majority of the population.

    For any newbies present and typically calculated over a calendar year:

    Availability Factor AF is the ratio of hours technically available to generate divided by hours passed. Typical figures for solar <50%, wind (?)90%, coal, nuclear and OCGT >90%

    Reliability RF: There are various ways to calculate reliability, which is essentially similar to AF after allowance for planned maintenance has been made. The primary objective is to calculate the percentage of the time that the plant is available to generate at full load, divided by the total time that has passed minus the time lost due to planned maintenance outages.
    Nuclear and fossil fuelled generators are typically 90+%. Weather-dependent renewables suffer due to the vagaries of the weather, although battery support and other energy storage systems can lift availability from less than 50% to perhaps 75%, but in these cases the cost of energy storage should be included in the capital and operating costs for the wind or solar power.

    Capacity Factor CF is the amount of energy generated (MWh) in a period, divided by that which would have been generated had the plant generated at full load over the same period, which is typically 12 months. Typical PV 20%, Wind 30+%, Offshore wind 40+%, Fossil fuels 80+%, Nuclear operated as base load 90%, dropping to 75+% when load-following.

    When I see AF and CF figures for weather-dependent renewables which have been calculated on the basis of a 1-day or less look-ahead instead of for the whole study period, my bullshit meter flies off scale. It is not uncommon for wind proponents to use this trick to try to avoid including the effects of low-wind weather patterns or for solar proponents to avoid the night hours and forecast clouds.

    It can be difficult to identify the amount of energy generated which is sent to storage and which thus should be excluded from the figures quoted for energy produced. Energy sent to the customer is what counts.

    Energy sent to storage is irrelevant from the user’s perspective. Only that portion which is reclaimed from storage to do useful work is ultimately marketable; 30% (CAES) to 80% PHES).

    IMHO, the most important two are Capacity Factor, CF, and Energy Sent Out, ESO, although ESO is perhaps best expressed as a system-wide LCOE where storage and recovery are included in the computation of CF.

    I raise these subjects because of the entirely irresponsible focus of media and anti-nuclear power advocates alike to focus only on Chernobyl and nuclear armament, neither of which is relevant to discussion of modern (Post-1980, say) power station designs.


  18. Are insurers offering cover for the risks associated with battery storage? Is this limited to specific battery types such as those in Samsung mobiles, or does it include others, eg lead-acid batteries, which are commonly required to be in fire resistance rated and acid-resistant rooms?

    Of course, fire risks are not associated only with phones or battery panels. The volunteer fire brigade of which I am a member has attended several house fires which were started by overheated laptop computers, including one which originated in our Brigade Captain’s daughter’s bedroom.


  19. RE: Professor Andrew Blakers and pumped storage, he has been pushing this barrow for quite a while to overcome the limitations of renewable energy sources, so I do not envisage anything new coming from his forthcoming paper.

    As Robert Hinds has pointed out, his background and funding make him less than a disinterested party in the energy debate


  20. SE asks, “Are insurers offering cover for the risks associated with battery storage?”

    … including of course, cover for spillages of dissolved lead, to remove traces of lead from the neighbourhood soil, soil profile and water table to EPA standard. Localised pollution around an old power station can be made very expensive. By that standard, we should not let distributed generation become distributed pollution.


  21. Re old power stations, I had a pleasant surprise a few years back when entrusted with soil sampling and testing at depths from 0 to 70 metres in a total of over 3000 plan locations. My supervision team included three other engineers. Work was done by substantial, experienced contractors.

    The two power stations were subsequently sold to AGL by the NSW government.

    The results indicated very few major contaminated sites, mainly oil contamination to surface soils associated with oil storage and handling.

    Lead, though tested for, was rarely encountered.

    IMHO, the greatest risk is associated with fire, including electrical fires associated with switchgear and chargers for batteries of all descriptions. Plus, of course, those pesky Samsung phones.

    As a past designer of structures such as schools, hospitals and the like, my guess is that insurers will soon realise where their primary risks have changed and put exclusions in standard contracts.


  22. Re Peter L:
    I am waiting for details of what failed and where, but unfortunately the only reports I have seen thus far have been so seriously polarised that at best they consider only a fraction of the story.

    No doubt, small petrol generators are selling like hotcakes and will continue to do so for a very long time. There’s little more persuasive than a mother with a fridge full of rotting food and a couple of toddlers who don’t understand why none of the electrical equipment in the home works.

    It’s always the folk at the end of the line who suffer the longest blackouts and the end of the (brown coal) transmission line is SA. Re-energising will progress west to east and south to north from the synchronised supplies, ie Victoria. This difficult-to avoid truth will also challenge the dreams of ANU’s pumped-hydro-plus-renewables-are-all-we-need Professor Andrew Blakers.

    As Tasmanians discovered not so very long ago due to the failure of Basslink, duplication of essential HV transmission lines is not a luxury and the Heywood Interconnector and other transmission lines between generators, even wind generators and load centres are not exceptions to the rule.

    A decent spinning reserve is similarly not a luxury. If it happens to be a GT then it also has black start capacity and thus the ability to re-start islanded portions of a damaged grid in which it is embedded.

    How many batteries and inverters does it take to power a whole state for several days?

    Who still wants essential services to be designed by politicians and populists instead of engineers?


  23. Thing is, the debate has started on The Conversation and after the dust has settled it would be great if Barry would put up a definitive article on BNC.

    On 29 September 2016 at 13:55, Brave New Climate wrote:

    > singletonengineer commented: “Re Peter L: I am waiting for details of what > failed and where, but unfortunately the only reports I have seen thus far > have been so seriously polarised that at best they consider only a fraction > of the story. No doubt, small petrol generators are selling” >


  24. singletonengineer,

    Thank you. Would you like to interpret the Watt Clarity video for folks here (including me) and give us your insights? My first reaction was far too much wind and insufficient dispatchable power generating at the time.
    First shot at trying to understand what went on, leading to the SA blackout of Wednesday 28th September


  25. I didn’t find Paul’s video added anything to my own investigation on the event from the AEMO records and the Aneroid Energy site. The pricing analysis only cluttered up the issue.

    Here’s my take on the event – I do not believe that the SA blackout was caused by wind turbines being shut down to avoid overspeeding. If look at yesterday’s wind generation at the Aneroid Energy site and isolate South Australia, you will see that all was going fine with strong but not excessive output of around 70% capacity factor until the grid suddenly collapsed

    If you also check do the same for fossil fuels (you need to remove some Qld power stations that aren’t eliminated by the state checkbox), you will see the real issue is the very low amount of fossil fuel generation that was taking place at the time. The Ladbroke OCGTs were flat out with Hallett ready to ramp for coping with fluctuations but the only other thermal generators online were the Torrens B units so there was very little synchronous inertia available to stabilise the grid.

    The indications are that the Heywood interconnector was lost, islanding the South Australian grid creating a non-credible event. With the high amount of wind production and low amount of synchronous inertia, it wouldn’t have taken much of a trip event to cascade down the whole grid as there would not have been much inertia to drive current through the trip so it could be isolated.

    Or it may be that the trip was caused by a lightning strike unloading the system, throwing some of the online generators out of synch (those smallest and closest to the strike would have been most affected). Once one or 2 of the generators were tripped, the demand would have tripped the rest.

    The total lack of synchronous inertia of the doubly fed and full converter wind turbines that have been installed in Australia meant the South Australian grid was almost bound to blackout once the Heywood interconnector was lost with so few thermal generators online.

    It all played out along the lines of one scenario from the following AEMO/ElectraNet report yet the AEMO states that it was wholly a weather event


  26. EN, Greg and Peter,

    I cannot at this stage add anything of significance.

    Others on this site and elsewhere have pointed to the folly of relying on excesses of unreliables with insufficient synchronised capacity (rolling reserve) available.

    The weather certainly was atrocious, but apparently no worse than 50+ years back. Are there records of state-wide blackouts from that event? I think not, otherwise they would have been cited.

    My impression is that this week’s event is not entirely unprecedented, yet the resulting blackout, measured by extent (the State of South Australia), duration (Two days and counting, TBA), and cost ($Billions… who knows?) exceeds anything experienced previously.

    Thus, despite whatever the politicians might say, we have evidence of a degraded system. A rigorous examination of the facts is in order and I have no doubt that AEMO and various others will provide their reports in due course.

    South Australia might be positioned to give the whole world an education about the constraints that govern successful integration of high penetration unreliables in an existing system which, coincidentally, has virtually stagnant load growth year on year.

    I used the word “govern” intentionally, because words and aspirations do not govern engineering systems: physical laws and engineering realities do.

    In particular, I await the inevitable response from an ANU Professor who claims to be an engineer but who is not adequately qualified to be a member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, one Andrew Blakers. Professor, this is your chance to explain again how 100% wind+solar, about half of which will be in Queensland in order to pretend to smooth the generation and demand curves, plus a few batteries and a modicum of pumped hydro can achieve that which was impossible in SA a few days back.

    Professor Blakers, South Australians and the whole world await your analysis of the events of the past two days in South Australia. After all, you are a contributing architect to the substitution of Unreliables in lieu of the pre-existing and safer and more resilient electricity generation and distribution system in South Australia.

    UNSW’s Prof Diesendorf might also provide valuable insight as to how, if his version of the 100% unreliables in a geographically distributed configuration would have avoided a similar failure, and at what cost.

    Some might think that both will choose to remain quiet and thus escape critical appraisal by their peers and by representatives of the power generation industry in Australia, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, USA, China, South Korea, Britain and other countries which have experimented with ever-increasing proportions of Unreliables, AKA Renewables in an attempt to lower carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

    I make no secret of my reluctant recognition, several years back, that without nuclear power in the mix, we will fall short. Typing these words saddens me – many of us wished that it was not so, but an increasing number of thinking, numerate, educated Australians understand that there are no alternatives in a carbon-challenged world.


  27. Thank you Greg Kaan and Singleton Engineer.

    My expectation is that cause will be found to be very much as you both say. in a few words: too much asynchronous generation (wind and solar) and too little synchronous generation (coal, gas, oil, hydro, nuclear).

    Nuclear could provide reliable power and supply 75% of our electricity, much cheaper and much more safely than renewables.


  28. Commotion at The Conversation.

    In common with other armchair comments, this site seems to be concentrating on the small problem, which as a three-day storm that resulted in blackouts while being blind to the enormity of the recovery operation, which has been made much more painful, expensive and slow due to recent changes in the nature of the SA electricity generation and supply industry.


    A few familiar names have commented. A few more would not hurt.


  29. Back to Mars.
    Anyone watch Elon Musk the other day?

    Even he (reluctantly) seems to think nuclear may be necessary on Mars. If only we had a way of convincing him of the need for nuclear on earth, we’d be home and hosed! Imagine Elon backing “Salt-X” or “Breeder-X”? This guy gets stuff done!

    I’m loving the concept of a <$200 grand ticket for anyone who wants to go to Mars, but surely for the first 1000 people at least they would have to qualify by what the colony most needed at that stage? EG: I don’t know how many mail-clerks or artistic consultants they’ll need right away. Basically, I’m wondering how they’re going to do food in the first few years. How many tons of food would have to be shipped up there per person before the first colonials arrived?


  30. Re my post 2 comments upthread:

    The Conversation’s moderators have removed my comment and many others as well, then closed the comments down.

    What remains is a Bowdlerised remnant of its former self, devoid of all but the comments from the innumerate non-engineers, the politically correct and the sales reps for unreliable fanciful power systems.

    My primary point was that restoring to service of SA’s current grid is much more complicated and time-consuming than was the case before the revolution,in part because it had to start at the Vic border and progress north and west from there. Formerly, restoration would have been possible radiating out from the synchronous, reliable, cold-start-capable coal fired generators, which SA no longer has any of. SA is learning the hard way that when they removed the old power stations, they needed to install at least a significant proportion of hydro, solar thermal, coal, biomass, nuclear or geothermal replacements. But they did not.

    If the recent storms are the worst on 60 years, then why didn’t the BHP steel works at Whyalla close down then? Why not the lead/zinc refinery? Both have been crippled this time around.

    The costs attributable to the elongated restoration process will be industrial, social, financial and political.

    Maybe next time, South Australians will choose to have their power systems designed by engineers instead of spin doctors.

    At present, SA’s collapse stands as a warning to the rest of the industrialised world that engineering requires engineers, not politicians, populists, salespersons and spin doctors.

    Take a bow, South Australia!


  31. China leads new used fuel recycling project

    China has operated two Canadian CANDU 6 reactors at Qinshan since 2003, and these have been used over the last few years to trial a new way of recycling used fuel from China’s main reactor fleet. In particular, uranium recovered from used PWR fuel is blended with a little depleted uranium to make natural uranium equivalent (NUE, about 0.7% U-235). This has been shown to behave the same as the natural uranium fuel normally used in those CANDU reactors.

    This trial led to a 2012 agreement between Canada’s Candu Energy, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and two other Chinese companies to develop a detailed conceptual design of an Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR) based on the Enhanced CANDU 6 (EC6), which would run entirely on such fuel. One 700 MWe AFCR could be fully fuelled by the recycled uranium from four 1000 MWe PWRs’ used fuel. Hence deployment of AFCRs in China among its increasing fleet of PWRs would greatly reduce the task of managing used fuel and disposing of high-level wastes, as well as significantly reducing China’s fresh uranium requirements.

    Now a new agreement among Candu Energy’s parent company SNC-Lavalin, CNNC and the major engineering company Shanghai Electric Group (SEC) has been signed, to set up a joint venture in mid 2017 to develop, market and build the AFCR. CNNC will have a majority share in the JV. Two design centres are envisaged, in China and Canada, to complete the AFCR technology, with a view to construction of two AFCR units in China.
    WNN 23/9/16. China fuel cycle”

    I have a bit of a soft spot for the CANDUs and their derivatives.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Moltex Energy sees UK, Canada SMR licensing as springboard to Asia
    2016 Jun 28
    Nuclear Energy Insider

    lays out the Moltex Energy estimates for overnight capital costs, low, and an expectation of lower O&M costs than for light water reactor designs. For various reasons they don’t currently plan to attempt NRC licensing, which is too bad for the USA in my opinion.


  33. At first glance, it would seem to be an awful lot of effort to create an approximation to something they already have – natural uranium. Especially since the Candu’s are already rated for 1.2% fuel, which presumably will progressively replace the initial fuel as it depletes. However, the exercise is also providing an early customer for their nascent reprocessing industry. Eventually full-scale reprocessing of PWR fuel will provide the start-up fuel for the fast reactor fleet that will begin to overtake their PWR’s around 2050.


  34. I am interested to see that former police commissioner Gary Burns has been given the job of investigating the Grid failure that occurred in SA last week.

    Does anyone know anything about him?

    Google is fairly silent.

    The site has me registered as Ton Carden but it is an error. It should be Tony Carden


  35. I think we should leave the SA storm alone. It’s bad PR, and will only confirm that us nukies are collaborating in an anti-sunnie, anti-windie agit-prop exercise. There was a huge storm that knocked out dozens of major HV powerlines. Even nukes would not have been supplying power that day.


  36. Good question, DBB.

    Published in 2004 and thus a little out of date, the following discusses theoretical operational limits of CO2 Brayton cycle turbines (Chapter 2) but cautions (Chapter 1) that advanced materials have not been developed for inlet temps above 650 to 700C (1200 – 1300F).

    Sandia National Labs, 2013: More recently, (Slide 18) 650C is given as the practical limit, pending further advanced material development. Future inlet temps of 850C are envisioned, but not for at least another couple of years (Slide 18 again).


  37. Not being an engineer I don’t know how to even ask this question, but if there’s a big lump of this molten-silicon material that can store thermal heat that high, would it be able to radiate heat or somehow exchange heat to another material that’s lower in temperature and actually can go through the turbine? Or could liquid tubes of XYZ go through the super-hot material and bring out enough heat to run a turbine?

    Related: how many orders of magnitude cheaper does storage have to be before renewables actually can compete with nuclear?


  38. eclipse now — The molten silicon-based thermal store will have process heat temperature. For example, aluminum melts at 1221 °C and some stainless steels melt at 1400 °C. The result for the heating fluid, transferring heat from the thermal store to the process vessel, is a lower temperature. If sufficiently low, depending on the process, the result might be working temperature for a supercritical carbon dioxide Brayton cycle. I doubt that this combination will ever find a commercial application, but one or two might actually be put into practice.

    It is a bit embarrassing that the materials to fabricate a supercritical carbon dioxide Brayton cycle turbine with an upper temperature of 1400 °C do not exist at this time.


  39. eclipse now — A more traditional use of that process temperature thermal store would be just melting aluminum ingots for making castings. The working fluid brings almost 1400 °C to the ingot melt pot and is returned to the thermal store when its temperature falls to about 1225 °C to be reheated. That way everything is above the aluminum melting point.


  40. eclipse now — You asked how inexpensive does storage have to be so that intermittent generators can compete with nuclear generators. The answer is that it depends so I’ll just work out an example based on the situation in the Pacific Northwest. The dollars are US currency. Bonneville Power Administration states their wholesale price is $31.50/MWh; this is to recharge the batteries. With great regularity there are 3 weeks every fall with almost no generation from the 8,000 MW of wind farms here. There is less than full generation at other times so I assume that the required 8,000 MW of batteries, enough to cover the load for those 3 weeks in the fall, has a capacity factor of 0.15.

    I assume that the competition is Moltex Energy small molten salt fast reactors, selling for a believable $42/MWh. Note that this is competitive on the Mid-Columbia hub and that it is less than half the price for new build light water reactors in the West; I don’t understand the Russian or the Chinese pricing systems. In any case, the batteries have to sell power for $41.50 which means all expenses, mostly capital plus interest, have to be met by the margin of $2.125/MWh between the sale price and the purchase price, less 20% losses.

    There are 8766 hours per annum and 15% of those, for the capacity factor, is 1315 hours. So the income to pay for all the batteries and other expenses is $2794 per annum. This has to buy 576,000 MWH of batteries to cover the 3 windless weeks.

    Somehow I doubt such will ever come to pass…


  41. Oops! I forgot to multiply by 8,000.
    $2794×8000=22,352,000 per annum.

    But if no interest and a 30 year life, that’s a total of $670,560,000 towards the batteries, etc. So $1172.31/MWh of battery. So if I haven’t made a mistake it looks possible now.


  42. Oops! I forgot to multiply by 8,000.
    $2794×8000=22,352,000 per annum.

    But if no interest and a 30 year life, that’s a total of $670,560,000 towards the batteries, etc. So $1172.31/MWh of battery. So if I haven’t made a mistake it looks possible now.

    David, I’m afraid you are out by a factor of 1,000. You need 4,000 GWh (8GW x 21 days x 24 hours). Ex-EV battery packs might cost you around $100 / kWh right now (excluding inverters, charging, environment). The total cost would be 4,000 x 1,000,000 * 100 = $400bn.

    Battery prices are never going to be low enough for 3 weeks of backup. They are only economic for a few hours. You need another solution for 3 weeks.


  43. Mars question again: is there a calculator that reduces the radiation by the amount of atmosphere? I know Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field, but there’s all this talk of manufacturing super-greenhouse gases that are 17,000 times more potent than CO2 to cook Mars up to comfortable temperatures. Then as the atmosphere cooks up and the CO2 at the poles melts, the atmosphere will increase. Now if we increase it to half an atmosphere or even 1 atmosphere pressure, and it becomes a whole lot warmer, people could walk around without pressurised space suits and basically just wear breather masks. But what about radiation? How much would the atmosphere reduce solar radiation without a magnetic field?


  44. Too hot for turbine blades? Maybe, but 1400 C may be a useful top temperature for a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generator. With the input gas salted or raised to plasma temperatures, it becomes a conductor being forced through a magnetic field, thereby generating a current.

    Nuclear heat generation doesnt have a theoretical top temperature — short of megakelvins — so the two would seem to be matched, however nuclear reactors have their own material limits.


  45. Peter Davies — Thank you!

    The original question was when would the intermittent generators be inexpensive enough to replace nuclear power plants. While I don’t want to make embarrassing errors, I am just pleased you are the one who noticed the mistake.

    Eclipse Now has, finally, an answer to his question.


  46. Eclipse Now:

    These values are from a bar graph with a logarithmic scale that I copied from some website over a year ago.

    Annual Cosmic Radiation (Sea Level) 0.3 milliSieverts
    US Annual Average, All Sources 4 mSv
    Abdominal CT Scan 8 mSv
    DOE Radiation Worker Annual Limit 20 mSv
    6 Months on ISS (average) 80 mSv
    180 day Transit to Mars 300 mSv
    500 days on Mars 300 mSv

    From this you can see that the Earth’s magnetic field ( and maybe having the earth blocking radiation from one side) cuts radiation dose on the ISS compared to interplanetary space. However, you can see that the mass of the atmosphere does most of the shielding for the surface of the earth.

    The value for the stay on Mars must ignore the effect of piling dirt on the habitat.

    Since the gravity of Mars is .4 of Earth gravity it would take 2.5 times the mass per area of atmosphere to give 1 atmosphere pressure on Mars. So the radiation shielding of a thickened martian atmosphere would be plenty.


  47. Hi Jim,
    thanks for that. Here’s a reddit thread I started on the topic, and the discussion there was quite interesting.

    “As long as the air pressure at the surface post-terraforming is at least 0.2 atmospheres, it will provide adequate radiation shielding (over 5000 kg per square meter column density). This also happens to be about the minimum air pressure that would allow us to walk around outside without pressure suits, just wearing oxygen masks so we can breathe. And there’s believed to be enough carbon dioxide frozen on Mars to make the atmosphere at least that thick.
    So despite the popular misconception, a magnetic field is not at all necessary to protect the surface of a terraformed Mars from radiation.”

    “a NASA design study for an ambitious large spacestation envisioned 4 metric tons per square meter of shielding to drop radiation exposure to 2.5 mSv annually (± a factor of 2 uncertainty), less than the tens of millisieverts or more in some populated high natural background radiation areas on Earth”

    So 4 metric tons of shielding per square meter is enough. Earth’s atmosphere has a column density of 10 metric tons per square meter, so we just need 40% of that. At 1 g, 40% of the column density would have a pressure of 0.4 atmospheres, but Mars has a surface gravity of 0.38 g so the air pressure would be 0.4 * 0.38 = 0.15 atmospheres. So 0.2 atm should be more than enough for shielding, and it’s just enough for the 0.2 atm partial pressure of oxygen we breathe.


  48. “The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will award up to $80 million to a 10-MWe pilot project that seeks to advance the development and commercialization of supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) Brayton power cycles.”

    Not much more detail than the three research entities that will be involved with the pilot plant.


  49. Crescent Dunes has managed 5 days of continuous output in July!
    They throttled output down to about 60% for 8 hours of the day but it looks like the storage was on its last legs in the hour before capturing resumed. See page 3

    Unfortunately, the period this trial took place was not given so we cannot check if there was any significant cloud cover during the trial.

    It will be interesting to see if Solar Reserve can bring down the costs as they claim they will for South Africa,


  50. Thanks for that, Greg, but the Crescent Dunes article leaves more questions than answers.

    Not a word about capacity factor, although from the graph it seems that average energy sent out on a hypothetical day is about 70MW, which for a 110MW plant represents only 64%. NB this small graph contains no data – it is a statement of expectation.

    That assumes energy harvesting via the heliostats, for much of the sunlight hours, of 200MW.

    That suggests that the field of mirrors needs to be increased by 50% to enable 110 MW sent out on the best summer day, in which case every other month apart from July will still achieve less than nameplate capacity. It says nothing about achievable performance in the winter months – perhaps a quarter of the above 64%? Or of the annual capacity factor – midway, at 50%, minus downtime for fires and maintenance?

    This is typical for the magazine which you cited, which rarely provides other than partial, cherrypicked information and sweeping conclusions, which in this case end with:
    Said Smith, “We’ve convinced the financial markets.”

    The Powermag article did nothing of the sort. The markets will need comprehensive, year-long operational data, life expectancy and capital and operating costs, none of which have been disclosed as far as I know.

    Real financial markets would be more interested in the $760M (US) government loan, the expected return for private investors and the guaranteed income, 0.135 US cents per kWh, which is several times higher than wholesale electricity rates in both USA and Australia.

    Until these questions have been answered, CST remains a vanity project for rich companies and governments which want to be seen to be doing something for political purposes, regardless of the cost.


  51. On ABC Australia News Political Editor Chris Uhlmann, 2016 Oct 19, writes “South Australia’s storm caused transmission faults, but that is not the whole story”. It appears that he has access to the latest AEMO analysis which blames the frequency cutoffs used in the wind turbines.

    I would go further in suggesting adding batteries for frequency control and also converting permanently idled generators into frequency stability units. There is a company in the USA which specializes in doing such conversions for retiring coal burners. As South Australia has some of those that might be a plan.


  52. Here is the extended AEMO report. The wind farms that tripped prior to the Heywood interconnector have been recognised to have overly conservative fault ride through settings and are being updated for greater tolerance to line faults. How this will affect the turbines in the long term remains to be seen but I would have thought that the tolerance levels were set according to the capability of the wind turbines to survive voltage fluctuations.

    The most contentious portion of the report is likely to be the statement

    Investigations to date indicate that information on the control system involved and its settings was not included in the models of wind turbine operation provided to AEMO during NEM registration processes prior to connection of the wind farms.

    A local renewables proponent website has been aggressively putting the blame on the AEMO for not having the foresight to have obtain the ride through capabilities of the wind farms. My interpretation is that the wind farm operators failed to provided pertinent information on the limitations of their facilities during registration with the AEMO to join the NEM.

    I foresee court cases for damages before this is all over,

    Synchrnous condensors would not have been enough to cover the shortfall left by the wind farm trips. Large enough batteries may have allowed time for large load shedding but what would be large enough? 500MW was lost before the Heywood interconnector tripped but how long do the grid operators need to shed that much load? I feel the amount required is not likely to be economically realistic.


  53. More big claims…

    The SunShot Initiative supports research and development of concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies that reduce the cost of solar energy. CSP helps to achieve the SunShot Initiative cost targets with systems that can supply solar power on demand, even when there is no sunlight, through the use of thermal storage. Since SunShot’s inception, the levelized cost of electricity for CSP has decreased about 36 percent, from $0.21 cents per kilowatt hour to $0.13 cents per kilowatt hour, already over half of the way toward achieving the SunShot goal of $0.06 per kilowatt hour.


  54. Greg Kaan — Batteries used for frequency control are typically at 10–15% of full charge and so have some ability to store excess generation giving the operator time to restore the balance between supply and load. In South Australia as soon as the transmission lines tripped there was excess supply. An appropriate setup might have kept the wind farms from all tripping off together, creating an excess demand situation in which batteries alone can do nothing. It would take some additional sensing gear; a local manufacturer is SEL, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory, but other companies make similar protection devices.


  55. Sorry David but the event sequence from the preliminary AEMO report below clearly shows that there were no significant periods where there was excess generation. The 2 line faults preceding the wind farms tripping were single phase to ground shorts causing voltage dips which triggered the wind farm protection circuits. These created a generation shortfall which led to the Heywood Interconnector overloading and tripping, all in a period of 7 seconds.

    Perhaps batteries could have filtered these voltage dips since they were of short duration but they would then be operating as line filters rather than general frequency support services.


  56. I’m sure everyone realizes that the subsidies for nuclear in the U.S. (every country is different) is controversial as to what those subsidies are. The EIA uses a specific set of ‘narrow’ criteria that has been criticized by anti-nukes for not including all the externalities such as mining for ore, budgets for the National Labs and decommissioning, etc. Additionally it’s criticized for not including “military” spending and R&D. The former is legit IMHO but the latter is not since commercial nuclear energy’s relationship is an ‘after the fact’ (the antis say you have to include the Manhatten Project…in fact realy we are talking about the US Navy propulsion system. But then the Boeing 707 was a direct application of B-52 technology…where does this ever end??).

    I think it’s important to broaden out the subsidy issue a bit anyway. But what IS important is including the ‘dividing’ of the subsidies over the lifetime of a project as some have alluded too. Thus 20/25 years for wind/solar, 60 years for nuclear.


  57. @Peter Lang’s “U.S. Energy Subsidies” graph at the top of this thread. The fine print on page 21 of the linked EIA reference informs:
    “The credit for the production from advanced nuclear power facilities had no value in FY 2010 or FY 2013 as this credit does not go into effect until qualifying new nuclear power plants produce electricity.

    Those “qualifying new nuclear power plants” would be the four AP1000 currently under construction at VC Summer and Point Vogle. They won’t produce electricity until late 2019 and 2020.

    Only the first 6 GW new qualifying construction will receive the $2.10/MWh subsidy, which will cover these four 1150 MW plants plus the NuScale SMR’s currently being sited at INL, which might complete 2024.

    I’m uncertain uranium mining is currently subsidised. It certainly was during the go-glow years of the 1950’s and 60’s. But production peaked at 16,800 ton in 1980, declining precipitously to 5,700 tons four years later. By 2003 domestic mines provided but 5% of the fuel consumed by US commercial reactors, when about 50% was being sourced from Russia in the “Weapons to Megawatts” program.

    Domestic production has ticked up a bit since then, but I’ll hazard we’re still buying 90% of our new uranium from Canada and Oz, neither of which noted for freebies to the U.S. Domestic producers have contested the Administrations current plan to dump surplus defence uranium on the commercial market at less than cost and market value. That would constitute subsidy,


  58. Eclipse Now — It appears that GE-Hitachi and Southern Nuclear are going to try to obtain a grant from the DOE for advanced nuclear reactor research. I have no idea whether this will lead to an attempt to commercialize the PRISM in the USA.


  59. It may just be a good time to suggest reviving some plutonium-burning designs, such as PRISM. The US is currently under pressure to show a track record of burning its surplus military plutonium, following Russia’s repudiation of the US ditching its commitment to burn it as MOX.

    The PRISM falls short of the IFR concept because it does not “integrate” with on-site reprocessing. In the current instance, that’s a real selling point. Instead of not needing refuelling until the cows come home, the PRISM needs regular refuelling with the unloved plutonium and produces a steady stream of hard-burnt used fuel useless to any would-be weaponiser. Burning 35 tonnes of plutonium would take a lot more than one (300 MW) PRISM, but it would be seen as a good start.


  60. With regard to Andrew Blakers and Mark Diesendorf, I’m curious about how much outside mainstream scientific view their opinion is. The 30 or so Australian scientists who have signed the Brook Bradshaw letter have an average h-index of about 50. I have been unable to find a single scientist with an h-index > 50 in Australia who supports the 100% renewable scenario. Diesendorf’s h-index is 22 according to Google Scholar, whereas Blakers is about 23 and Ian Plimer’s 22.

    9 of the top 10 conservation Biologists in Australia can reasonably be said to have publicly supported nuclear energy.

    I have made the statement on several other sites that “no Australian scientist with an h-index > 25 opposes nuclear energy and scores support it.” Thus far no one has been able to provide a counter-example.

    Surely we do in fact have a 97% consensus that nuclear energy is necessary to address climate-change. Is this testable? Would there be any joy in having a parliamentary committee survey the scientists? I spend much more time arguing with anti-nukes than I do with climate-change-denialists. Surely the anti-nukes are by far the greatest risk to humanity


  61. Bill Schutt — I would rather say that nuclear power is highly desirable, but possibly not necessary, in changing to a low greenhouse gas emissions world. The question is cost and environmental factors. On both nuclear power scores well despite the appearance that intermittent generators do well on cost provided all the costs and risks are not considered.

    Power planners usually want a variety of generator types to hedge against contigencies; the recent experience in South Australia suggests why.


  62. Yes, David, possibly not necessary is about right. No one can exclude a disruptive breakthrough. To argue with the doctrinal anti-nukes, you only have to believe that 100% renewable energy is a less than 100% certainty. So suppose one were to conclude that it was a 50:50 split, then clearly the safest option is to have both nuclear and renewable energy. But my guess is that there is very likely a 97% or similar consensus amongst our most eminent scientists that nuclear energy is necessary. But we need to do something to get people to accept that going for 100% renewable energy has a very good chance of causing a climate catastrophe.


  63. Bill Schutt — A climate catastrophe we are going to have unless, possibly, drastic action is taken to lower the carbon dioxide concentration well below the current 400 ppm. For from the Wikipedia article on Pliocene climate we learn that the sea level will equilibriate at around 25 meters higher than now, that being the approximate value for the mid-Pliocene, about 3 million years ago and the last time that the carbon dioxide concentration was as high as now. As the Isthmus of Panama closed well before then, the ocean circulation was much the same as now and so the climate system was as well.

    Eminent scientists rarely have the right training and experience to provide expert witnesses regarding power system design. I know one, from undergraduate days, who has recently been awarded 3 big prizes and is in line, potentially, for a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics. If asked about this, he would say that he had no expertise to offer and decline to express an opinion.

    I point out that Norway is 98% renewable power, almost all hydro. Likely when the coal burners are at end of life the units won’t be replaced so Norway could then claim 100% renewables. But we understand that Norway has rather special geography to share among only around 5 million people.


  64. Vietnam Scraps Plan for Its First Nuclear-Power Plants
    Vu Trong Khanh
    2016 Nov 10
    The Wall Street Journal

    so coal burning will rise from the current 30% to 55% over the next decade, according to the article.

    Not in the right direction. Possibly with SMRs available the Vietnamese planners will avoid any other coal burners.


  65. Nuscale sees U.S. Market for Modular Reactors, Others Don’t
    Bloomberg BNA
    2016 Nov 07

    is a good presentation of the various points of view regarding the Nuscale LWR SMR, together with a brief summary of the other vendors efforts for other countries. Nuscale continues to state that the design will only cost US $5 per gross watt generated, a good price these days in the USA, but not as inexpensive as the South Koreans in the UAE.
    Nuscale now states that construction will only require 36 months once the civil works are complete. That is comparable to the construction time for a combined cycle gas turbine.


  66. The article seemed to me rather unsympathetic. The author’s idea of balance is to quote someone from the Union of Concerned Scientists saying that no matter how small it is, it is still nuclear and therefore dangerous. (Those guys aren’t scientists!) It also quotes an economist saying that gas will always be too cheap for nuclear to compete. There was no mention of a future carbon price.

    There also seems to be errors in describing the NuScale concept. The author implies that the thing is chopped up into three chunks before leaving the factory, for separate delivery. However the NuScale website says, “The small size of the completed module permits [completed] component shipment via conventional large object transport such as truck, rail, and barge.” That is, it is a module, a single module to be delivered in one piece. (image)

    The article goes on to imply that the module is on site for 36 months before being useful. Presumably most of that time is spent with local people trying to weld the three chunks back together. On the contrary, the NuScale website refers to a critical path of 28.5 months. Compared to gigawatt reactors, the SMRs offer the major selling point of each module being able to start paying off its cost within about two years, while the rest of the power station grows more modules.

    Curiously the article says that the NuScale only carries 5% of the fuel load of the gigawatt PWR. I think the author is confusing the mass of the fuel with its enrichment level of 4.95%, the same level as most gigawatt PWRs.


  67. Roger Clifton — Thanks. I assume that the three chunks are the nuclear module, the steam turbine and the synchronous generator. The latter two bolt together and the first two require some pipefitting. Oh yes, there is also the condenser and the small cooling tower. More pipefitting.


  68. For a system advertised as plug-and-play, three years (or even 28.5 months) seems to be an awfully long time between the module arriving on site and its first electricity production. Still, experience has probably taught them to leave plenty of contingency time in the critical path analysis.

    Perhaps that is just for the first module. Since the team gets to do the entire operation 12 times during the growth of the 600 MW power station, there is plenty of scope for learning. The last module might be installed in a fraction of that time. Their next power station in a city not too far away would benefit from the learning achieved by the team.


  69. Do we know yet whether this is the construction stage for the first module? If so, there will be the usual Balance of Plant (BOP) items that include station plant. Not all need to be repeated for modules 2 to 10.
    I am not familiar with the proposed site and plant layouts, but for example, if a chimney stack is needed to vent spent gas, or cooling towers are needed for spent steam, they might take a longer time but only one or two might be needed. Duplication of shared plant is advisable in order to permit maintenance without taking all units out of service.

    Similarly, water supply and water treatment for the secondary feed water system which needs demineralised water in order to avoid poisoning the turbine.

    Hydrogen storage and/or generation plant for generator cooling?

    Compressed air?

    Station power supplies, control room(s), administration building, stores building, sealed roads and carparks, security fencing and systems, staff training facilities (plus simulator?), communication, lubricating oil storage facility, switchyard and transformer yard for stepping up the voltage from the generator’s output to match that of the HV transmission line to the nearby city/load.

    Indeed, I’d be very surprised if the station plant and first unit of a 6 x 60 = 600 MW facility could be constructed within 28.5 months, but possibly it could with prefabricated buildings.

    On the other hand, I agree that 28.5 months is a longish time between units. A couple of decades back a set of 4 x 660 MW coal fired units were commissioned at intervals of 6 to 9 months at Bayswater Power Station.

    So, a nest of 10 or 12 x 60MW bolt-together SMR’s could perhaps commission the first unit at the end of (guessing!) Year 3 or 4, but the remainder might be completed at 4 month intervals = project completion 6 or 7 years from turning the first sod.

    Of course, if a brownfield site is chosen, then the former coal fired plant would have some of these services, but in the real world, the inner perimeter of the site would probably need to be cleared and started from bare earth.

    Further discussion is probably not advisable unless with a construction schedule in front of us covering design, procurement, manufacture, construction, commissioning and licencing. What is the plural of “licencing”? I imagine that licences will be stepwise through at least four or five primary stages, for the plant as a whole and for individual units.

    A further question: Will the turbines of such a plant be shared plant, say 180MWe, or individual tiny 60MW items served by individual reactors?

    Let’s not base our plans on guesswork, or we will wind up looking very silly… and disappointed.

    Only promise that which we know can be delivered. Unreliable wind and solar aficionados are still learning that lesson the hard way.


  70. Roger Clifton & singletonengineer — Each module has its own turbine and generator as well as its own condenser and evaporator, according to various artist drawings on the Nuscale website. Shared services have to be constructed first, principally the large excavation for the 12 modules. Once that is complete, onsite construction of the modules can, in principle, be done in as much parallelism as the reactor module factory can manufacture the units.

    As for 28.5 months to mechanical completion, that is fast. A large combined cycle gas turbine takes about 3 years after site preparation is complete.


  71. Thanks for the reminder about the configuration, DBB. Since we are discussing generators of only 60MW, we can probably forget hydrogen cooling as well.

    This points to a major stumbling block for nuclear power, which is the slow build rates.

    The entire mechanical and electrical construction and commissioning time for the coal-fired Bayswater Power Station was 1980 – mid-1985. 5.5 years for 2640MW, ie 480MW/year on a single site, with civil and site works starting a couple of years in advance. That is the equivalent of one NuScale every month or two.

    30 years ago, new coal fired power stations were planned and constructed in timescales of years. The timeline for new nuclear is currently measured in decades and growing longer.

    It seems that the primary difference between the two is safety: Coal is far more damaging than nuclear, yet is subject to astonishingly detailed and expensive timelines primarily due to the regulator’s approach to micromanagement of safety related issues far beyond anything that other industries are subjected to.

    Consequently, an AP1000 constructed in USA costs twice as much and takes twice as long to construct as its South Korean sister.

    The present system simply isn’t delivering what is needed and the competition is heating up.

    Indeed, the transition away from the American regulatory model for safe design, construction and operation of NPP’s is probably so well advanced that the future is clear. South Korea, China, France, Great Britain and others are in front. Additionally, NuScale’s majority owner, Fluor, is well established in China and South Korea.

    For an aggressive, pessimistic overview of the role of the DOE and NRC in relation to NuScale and the prospects of nuclear power in USA, read this article in Fuel Cycle Week dated June 2013:

    It is over 3 years old, but nothing has changed since.


  72. The two Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear power plants under construction at the V.C. Summer site are taking 6+ years to construct, each, and are on schedule to cost US $5.87/W. The South Korean reactors in the UAE are on schedule to be completed in about 4–5 years at a cost of around US $4.5/W, depending upon the exchange rate.


  73. What does 5.1 $/kW pay for?

    Page 22 of the NuScale presentation, shows eight categories, including site assembly and balance of plant.

    The units are missing from the table, but they turn out to be millions of 2014 US dollars per 570 MW of capacity, hence $5078 per kilowatt. Curiously, this is the cost for a FOAK, so presumably the cost would come down later for a NOAK.


  74. That same presentation (here, p 26) elucidates the timeline:

    “Schedule based on 51 months mobilization to mechanical completion.
    28.5 month critical path – first safety concrete to mechanical completion.”

    That is not 28 months per module but 28 months for the entire power station of 12 modules and 570 MW. This (the financier’s?) clock starts after all the earthworks and concrete have been completed, and ends at “mechanical completion”, after which pressure tests, logistics and power ramping still have to be completed.

    It is not clear (to me) whether “mobilisation” starts when the NuScale factory starts on the first module, or when the first module is taken off-the-shelf at NuScale and placed on wheels, or even when the first bulldozer enters the site. How much time that the bridging loan must pay high interest does depend on when the first, and then the last cash hits the till at NuScale. Converting the capital would become cheaper once the station starts selling power. Impressive as 28 months sounds, the longer timeline of 51 months warns us that the full commitment is still longer than four years.


  75. Hi Jagdish. A FOAK costing of only $1700/kW of capacity is surprisingly cheap. The first unit (first criticality next year) is to be followed by seven production versions of the same 500 MW fast reactor before eventual production of 1000 MW reactors. The world will be interested in how costings for the NOAKs prove out.

    Production versions of fast neutron breeders will be crucial not just to India, but to an eventual global rollout of nuclear electricity, once the world wakes to an emergency and mobilises the only feasible large-scale energy source that can completely replace fossil carbon. However the timescale of the rollout is dependent on the doubling time (pages 8+) to fuel the expanding fleet. Oxide MOX currently in the PFBR does not double fast, but the PFBR could be converted to metallic fuel, which doubles faster.



    It looks like Illinois may now pass a bill acceptable to most parties which will allow the Exelon Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear power plants to stay open at a cost of up to $265 million per year. Apparently they have lost around $800 million over the past seven years.

    There is a sweetener for a couple of Dynergy coal-fired plants involved but the environmental lobby are now supporting the bill. Previous versions had various show-stopper clauses.

    Someone here was very concerned about both nuclear plants being shut over the next 18 months, but I forget who.



    Clause 46 and 47 appear to say that the coal power cycle is responsible for more than half of the total collective dose to the local and regional public from the discharges due to a single year’s global electricity generation.

    It also ranks PV and wind above nuclear power, due to the impacts of rare earth mining and milling.

    Further, since almost half of the impact of nuclear power is due to mining and milling, how sensible is it to not consider nuclear power in a country or state where uranium mining is legal and socially acceptable?

    This paper appears to rank, from a public and employee health perspective, electricity generation options as (worst first) Coal, Solar PV, Wind, Nuclear, Other.

    Geothermal might also rank above nuclear, depending on radon emissions.

    Thus, rational planning of zero CO2 electrical power boils down primarily to matters such as cost, availability, reliability and scaleability and less on health-related factors.

    Those who seek to place health at the top of the list of reasons for excluding/avoiding nuclear power must first demonstrate where the UNSCEAR report is wrong – and UNSCEAR, which represents almost 30 countries and is very much cross-disciplinary and global in its approach has been reporting on this subject since the mid-1950’s.


  78. See also:

    Note especially:
    “…in all cases these levels of exposure are relatively low and have little impact to public health…

    “So why talk about this? The reality is that this information is not likely to change even one single mind on whether someone supports nuclear power or fears it. We live in a world where facts no longer matter – the only truth is the one that any one person believes. Well, we believe that scientific study remains the best way forward to establish truth and that studies such as these are part of the path forward.”

    Meanwhile, news of massive coral reef bleaching events arrives daily and the root causes of climate change, in all of its forms, go unaddressed.


  79. UChicago startup turns renewable energy into natural gas
    Greg Boro
    2016 Dec 01
    Phys . org

    Electricity splits water and the resulting hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide to form methane via an appropriate microorganism. The carbon dioxide might be that in biogas, about half carbon dioxide and half methane, from waste water treatment.

    This looks quite feasible at the industrial scale, but requires a good source of carbon dioxide as well as the required ‘excess’ electricity. Maybe almost every municipal waste water treatment plant will have one.


  80. “Maybe almost every municipal waste water treatment plant will have one”

    Methinks DBB speaks with tongue in cheek. For many years it has been standard practice for sewage plants to feed their fermentation gas into a standing diesel engine, generating stable power to go back into the grid, which is much more useful than methane of dubious quality.

    The University of Chicago could have titled the project “Turning electricity that no one wants into an undesirable greenhouse gas”, but I guess that wouldn’t attract giddy young students to a fashionable cause. There must be better ways to fund and staff University laboratories to do Good Things, even if the projects don’t impress in campus coffee shops.


  81. Roger Clifton — The waste water treatment biogas is often burnt in an onsite gas turbine. I doubt that biogas will run a diesel engine. In case I am wrong about that, please provide at least one reference.

    The result of simply burning the biogas, of course, is that the carbon dioxide component is just passed through to the atmosphere. The activity described in the article produces almost pure methane, good enough to put into the natural gas pipes. Obviously, this is done with the excess not required for energizing the waste water works.

    Some waste water treatment plants produce more biogas than is locally required for operations. For example, the San Diego waste water treatment plant produces enough extra to make it worthwhile to refine out the methane. The result is of sufficiently high quality that Linde Corporation buys it to resell as bottled gas with the excess trucked to the nearest entry point for the natural gas pipelines.

    As the article points out, there is a pilot operation with a small industrial scale plant either still building or in operation already.

    I don’t make reference, usually, to all the laboratory results, most of which are unlikely to scale. This one does scale.


  82. I stand corrected. Small generators running on natural gas normally require an ignition system and a lower combustion ratio, so it is more likely that a gasoline engine is converted to methane fuel. Even so, diesel engines can be adapted, at some cost: (ref:dual fuel) and (fuel conversion). My hazy memories from the distant past were only of an oily standing engine thudding away in a shed.

    Yes, I really did think you were joking. We are surrounded by people who imagine that they are saving the greenhouse by replacing thermal generators with windmills backed up by methane-leaky gas turbines. Considering the extra threat that methane pipelines imply, it seemed to me that a system that converts sanctified (wind or solar) energy into yet another source of methane, was a grim joke to be shared among the few of us.


  83. Can pebble fuel be recycled?

    Those pebbles were designed to be very tough nuts to crack, with concentric layers of different materials including silicon carbide. (Fig) There is only a few grams of uranium oxide in the centre, but you would have to process the surrounding graphite as well because the high temperatures would have allowed fission products to diffuse into it. If you were a commercial recycler, it would be about the last fuel type on your shopping list.

    IIRC, the earliest design was intended to have a larger amount of thorium at the centre, and the pebbles would have a long rest between cycles through the core so that the irradiated intermediary could decay to U233 and be returned to the core as enriched fuel. With no higher actinides accumulating and the surrounding graphite repeatedly absorbing the fission products, the fuel could go through many cycles for very high burn up rates. Eventually the tightly enclosed bundle of nasties would be buried unbroken.


  84. Eclipse, the website that posted the “compost bomb” article rejected my comment, possibly because it included the phrase “nuclear energy”. In contrast to many references to “renewables”, that phrase did not appear anywhere at all in a long discussion ostensibly searching for solutions to save the greenhouse. Zero.

    That zero may be a useful measure of a site’s integrity. When visiting an unfamiliar blog, it might be worth searching for the phrase “nuclear energy”, to see if they are too deaf to be bothered with. I often check the associated advertisements to see if the principals are directors of companies that sell wind and solar equipment to believers, but this site appears clean.


  85. Roger Clifton — Converting biogas to a stream of methane not of fossil origin is a most modest contribution to the excess greenhouse gas problem. But having lots of modest contributions may provide a feasible path to the solution.


  86. DBB, I have to agree with you. The only way the world could achieve “net zero emissions” would be if any remaining burning of hydrocarbon fuels were sourced from recycled atmospheric CO2, perhaps via biogas.

    Rediscovering the Sabatier reaction is not as great an achievement as the article makes out. However, it does report something more important – that the laboratory is researching turning atmospheric CO2 into higher hydrocarbons, potentially liquid fuels. That is surely the sort of research we want universities to be doing for the common good.


  87. Illinois Sees the Light–Saves Nuclear Power
    James Conca
    Dec. 4, 2016

    The US state of Illinois has just saved 3 of its 11 nuclear reactors from closing. That’s wonderful news, especially on the heels of New York doing much the same thing.


  88. California Merchant Gas Generator, Citing Market Forces, Files for Bankruptcy
    Sonal Patel
    2016 Dec 08

    A 13 year old combined cycle gas turbine, over 1 GWe nameplate, can’t compete in the Cal-ISO electricity market without a capacity, or reliability, payment of the sort that many operators of nuclear power plants say they have to have to keep running.

    I’m shocked that with the low price of natural gas this came about. Somehow the big coal burners in Arizona which supply southern California are not in the same distress.


  89. Here is a link to a recently published comparison of new power costs county by county across continental USA.

    It concludes that wind power and solar, including rooftop domestic solar, are generally the cheapest options on an “LCOE basis”, but hidden in the text is the admission that “It does not… Account for the… [future variability in ?] capacity factors for fossil fuel and nuclear plants.” (I’m not sure, from the wording, what the authors meant here.)

    Similarly, it does not “Factor in the costs associated with managing the variability in wind and solar’s generation output.”

    Thus, it is useless spin, which is a pity, because this type of study is very much relevant to the energy and climate discussions.

    I realise the pro-unreliables philosophical stance of EDF, but this sloppy article potentially works against their cause as well as that of most other energy proponents, regardless of technology through prolonging a messy argument about research methodologies.

    At best, it represents a job half-done. At worst, it is less than worthless; an open invitation to climate change denialists from the echo chamber to do what they do.


  90. singletonengineer — The LCOE depends, of course, on the capacity factor. That can never be higher than the availability factor. For the intermittent generators, but also for nuclear power plants, as generally operated in the USA, the two factors are almost the same. Not so for combined cycle gas turbine generators, which are run at close to 50% capacity these days.

    I also find it infinitely amusing that the results suggest building a nuclear power plant in Stevens County, Washington.


  91. Singletonengineer, thank you for your link to that discussion. As is so often the case, they are applying LCOE calculations to an intermittent power supply when it is only valid for a dispatchable power supply. I have replied to that forum to that effect:

    However, it is not obvious how one would calculate the cost of bringing intermittent power up to dispatchable quality. In a world of ever-increasing penetration of intermittent generators, the planners must run out of existing dispatchable hydro and pre-existing OCGT gas. Beyond that level of penetration, e.g. extra installation of wind (say) requires an equivalent capacity of OCGT to be installed along with it. Then, when the expectation of wind drops and raises the level of balancing gas consumption by the (gas inefficient) OCGT, at that moment it makes business sense to shut down the intermittent supply. That is, we should calculate the value of intermittent energy as if it is a business unit that is selling renewables fully balanced, in dispatchable contracts.


  92. A Report on Combined Cycle Projects in North America
    Russell Ray
    02 / 03 / 2014
    Power Engineering

    states that most of the gas turbines used as balancing agents for wind farms are combined cycle; essentially no open cycle combustion turbines are being purchased.

    According to this article natural gas generation is to grow at 3.1 percent per annum for decades.


  93. David, that article speaks about a risetime of 14 hours in standard versions of CCGT and bragged about a newfangled geewhiz version that could come up in just 10 minutes!

    However that is far too long for “backup” in the sense of dispatchable power that is able to fill in between the spikes of wind or solar across a span of five minutes, the minimum contract to supply constant power to a grid operator.

    If each wind farm of 50 MW capacity had to find its own gas backup so that it could sell 50 MW of constant power across any contracted timespan, it would have to be running or buying an equal 50 MW of idling gas turbine. Risetimes would be too short to raise steam, so the backup would have to be open cycle gas turbines, OCGT.


  94. South Australia’s recent islanding event is the subject of AEMO’s third report, available here:

    It is 107 pages long and considers transmission requirements for the Eastern Australian grid forward to beyond 2030, based on recent problems affecting South Australia and Tasmania.

    SA has been issued a directive that two large synchronous generators must be in service at all times in order to maintain security. If that doesn’t send a message to the “100% unreliables” crowd, nothing will.

    For example, today also saw Mia Pepper,
    who is the Nuclear Free Campaigner with the Conservation Council of WA publish an article in OnLineOpinion titled “[SA]Premier’s nuclear push is proof of a government in meltdown”. She clearly suffers from a severe conflict of interests, plus a lack of technical knowledge. FWIW, it is here:


  95. Apologies: There are two recent reports touching on the SA blackouts. One is in my previous post, above.

    Here is today’s more specific press release:

    And here is a link to the 170-page report:

    A further (final?) report is planned for March 2017.

    Further apologies – I have not carefully read these reports yet. My eyes are glazing over.


  96. Gas Turbine Combined Cycle Fast Start: The Physics Behind the Concept
    S. C. Gulen
    Power Engineering

    After your eyes stop glazing over you will see that fast starts are desirable and after an overnight period of no generation can be accomplished in one to three hours, even just 30 minutes in some circumstances.

    Once running, a 600–1000 MWe CCGT can ramp at 100 MWe/minute, which should be fast enough to track decaying power from wind farms as the wind dies down. The problem is when this happens just as the load is picking up after the overnight low. Then the ramp rate for the CCGT becomes unacceptable due to various stresses, principally thermal. So the solution used in sensible countries, like Spain, is to begin throttling back the wind farms early enough that the balancing agents can ramp up power at an acceptably low rate.

    In any case, in the USA CCGTs are used as balancing agents for wind farms when hydro is not available for that purpose. The average capacity factor of CCGTs in the USA is currently just over 50%. As CCGTs are not efficient unless run at 60% or more of nameplate rating that implies quite a bit of starting and stopping.


  97. Easier to read is an account of the latest offerings from the big 4 CCGT manufacturers:

    Fast starts and flexibility: Let the gas turbine battle commences
    Power Engineering International

    which states correct ramp rates, much lower than in my previous comment.


  98. “sensible countries, like Spain… begin throttling back the wind farms early enough that the balancing agents can ramp up power at an acceptably low rate”

    That certainly does sound sensible. However, I am under the impression that the Australian net operator “must take” any wind power dumped onto the grid. This would preclude the operator saying, “okay windies, I’m shutting you guys down for the day because I suspect you will become too intermittent for the CCGT guys to rise and fall.”… Perhaps a reader could tell us under what conditions the net operator can legally shut down the wind farms. And for that matter, whether the dumping of power still gives him credit for having accepted renewable energy, a question an auditor should be asking.

    For the sharpest collapse of wind power, there is the spinning reserve, the angular kinetic energy of turbines idling. However that can only be a few megawatt-hours, a few seconds of reserve power. Between these few seconds and the 10 minutes for an idling steam-driven system to power up, there has to be some other reserve. My nonprofessional understanding is that it would have to be a similar capacity of hot, idling open gas turbines, (OCGT), with rich gas blasting into them for the acceleration to power. Ten or so minutes later, the more gas-efficient steam-driven (CCGT) system takes over, and having emitted its dose of CH4, COx and NOx, the OCGT idles down.

    SingletonEngineer said earlier today that the South Australian government has issued a directive that the (wind-dominated, SA part of the) grid must include at least two large synchronous generators. How large? Idling and hot?


  99. Roger Clifton — I can only pass on what BPA can do in the event of excess wind energy here in the Pacific Northwest. If BPA, because of other generation commitments, cannot accept power from wind farms, it can select those which are not to generate but must pay them the full equivalent of the production tax credit, US $23/MWh. So is my understanding.

    The arrangement in Spain is much more sophisticated, with the wind farms throttling back just enough for the ramp rate of the slow hydro balancing agents. I have no knowledge of how the financing goes.


  100. Hi, Roger.
    Inertia comes not from “idling” synchronous machines, but generally from partially loaded ones. Returning cold steam-driven machines of any design to service is time-consuming and can be unreliable, so having nice, hot, synchronised partially loaded machines on line is preferable.

    Besides which, consider your car. It might theoretically be able to run all day at, say, 150kph, but isn’t it going to last much longer if top speed is used only occasionally. The same applies to most generating plant, especially the older units which are approaching their use-by dates and thus have a “sweet spot” between, say, 30% and 80% of full load. 150MW to 400MW for a 500MW coal fired unit leaves between 350 and 100 MW headroom which, when needed, might also represent higher bids and thus windfall profits for the owner. That is one reason why, in the NEM, units are bid in a number of price/load bands.

    To counter failure of any generating plant or an increase in demand such as approaching the morning peak, the sum of the available individual headrooms will provide capacity for units with headroom to ramp up and hence, to “load follow”.

    The same happens in reverse: generating plant which may or may not be fully loaded at the peak ramp back down to match a trough. There is a minimum load below which the flame in each boiler becomes unstable. It is generally not advisable for steam-driven plant to be completely shut down on a daily basis, however “two-shifting”, whereby steam plant is brought into service for morning and afternoon peaks and taken out of service at other times, has been used on occasion.

    I am not familiar with the whole range of services that are biddable via the NEM, but I’m reasonably sure that there is provision for payment for coming into and out of service for all plant at the direction of the market operator, AEMO as well as for ramping up and down at up to the specified maximum rates. AEMO also has broad reserve powers for use in an emergency.

    As to the direction to keep two large gas fired units in service in SA at all times, I have only seen mention of that, but not the specific direction, which is possibly now publicly available. Thus, I am unsure whether this is now a normal operating condition for the SA region of the NEM, or is an emergency measure intended to be reviewed as investigations and modelling proceed.

    One common “rule of thumb” is the N+1 rule, whereby there is at all times sufficient total headroom in the system to accommodate the loss of the largest single generating unit. This is generally considered to be a “credible event”, which must be planned for.

    Given the nature of the wind farms’ early self-withdrawal from service due to adoption of minimal fault ride-through settings, it is arguable that loss of a whole wind farm or even loss of all wind farms in the state is a “credible event” and should be matched by alternate readily available electricity from other sources.

    This also raises the question as to whether loss of any one interconnector, in this case, the Heywood Interconnector from Victoria, is a credible event which must be matched by an equivalent response.

    I simply do not know which way these dice will fall, but a guide might be found in AEMO’s recommendation that the Bass Strait DC link should be duplicated, at a cost of about a billion dollars, apparently in order not to increase its capacity but as insurance against failure of the existing single cable.

    The final, fourth AEMO report into SA’s woes is due next March. I expect that the real fight will start then – keeping two CCGT’s in service continually in the interim is small beer in comparison with the cost of system-wide HV transmission system redesign.

    This all begs the question:
    “What do the retail customers receive apart from increased monthly or quarterly bills from their contributions which fund the $90/MWh bonus on the energy generated by the wind farms?”

    Surely that should be on the table now, along with the question of who pays for the proposed $4B or so worth of additional interconnectors joining Tas, Vic, SA, NSW and Qld, since they are being justified by statements that lay the engineering need at the foot of wind farms.

    The rational way to sort this out is for a price to apply to CO2e emissions, at least those which are above a predetermined threshhold and for the resulting cash flows to fund the new capital works.

    Within a year or so, I am sure that many who are not strongly against considering fission as an energy source will have a much clearer understanding of the costs and benefits of the various energy options which are available.

    Oh… before I go…did anybody else hear that AEMO also predicts a natgas shortage in SA in 2018, thus making operation of multiple CCGT’s both expensive and difficult?


  101. Thanks for that reference, DBB. Modern OCGT, in numbers, can certainly ramp up impressively.

    While on interesting publications, I followed a twitter link today to a very interesting study from a university in Texas, one of a series regarding ongoing work to incorporate externalities such as environmental damage, in LCOE analyses.

    It optimistically sets out to study a wide range of power generation options, for every county in mainland USA.

    There will be argument as to the relevance of pricing CO2 or CH4 20 to 50 years into the future, as also the choice of externalities allowed for – eg None re mining or nuclear waste repositories, by my initial reading, but al least they gave it a good shot and are continuing their efforts.


  102. Roger Clifton said:

    They are applying LCOE calculations to an intermittent power supply when it is only valid for a dispatchable power supply.

    One way of doing system-wide comparisons of grid with renewables and CCGT using LCOEs is to adopt a technical version of “capacity payments”. In other words, if some capacity of CCGT is installed to back up wind and solar generation then you add the capital and fixed O&M costs of CCGT running at 87% capacity factor (in the latest US DoE LCOE document) to the usual quoted LCOE per MWh price of the renewables.

    So, for instance, using US DoE 2016 figures you would add $12.8 + $1.4 = $14.2 / MWh from the CCGT LCOE to the LCOE for generation from renewables to get a figure including backup comparable with dispatchable generators. If the CCGT already exists and is already somewhat depreciated then you might add less, depending on how your payments work.

    So the total LCOE (averaged over the USA) quoted for installation-weighted wind by the DoE rises from $58.8 /MWh (including an allowance for transmission) to $73.0 / MWh.

    That gets around the issue that with more renewable generation the LCOE of existing (or new) CCGT should increases as the CCGT capacity factors reduce because the capital cost and fixed O&M have to be recovered over reduced MWh generated, while still letting you use the simplified LCOE approach.


  103. That UTexas study does not describe Washington state at all well. The Columbia Basin is in the south central portion of the state. Most of the wind farms are there and none of the gas turbines, not what their map depicts. I could go on but the point is made; where not simply obvious the advice seems suspect.


  104. Many bandy about the idea of a ‘carbon tax’. First of all, the name is wrong. Nobody is proposing a levy on graphite or diamond, the two forms of elemental carbon. The levy is proposed to be upon emissions of carbon dioxide, possibly methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. Does nobody study and defend elementary chemistry.

    The levy is proposed for excess greenhouse gas emissions, sometimes proposed just for carbon dioxide emissions from so-called fossil fuel combustion.

    But is such a levy a tax? Looking into the Oxford English Dictionary I opine that ‘fee’ is the more suitable term, as in gate fee or tipping fee as used in Britain, and trash collection fee here in Pullman, Washington.

    So I recommend the discussions be about an ‘excess greenhouse gas emissions fee’, where some of the greenhouse gasses produced might be either included or excluded.

    Comments on the suitability of this term are encouraged.


  105. I think I have learned how to form a link on this mobile device. Just in case, here is the citation:
    Towards safer, long-life nuclear reactors — metal design could raise radiation resistance by 100 times
    Katherine Mcalpine
    2016 Dec 16
    Phys . org

    This certainly looks promising. I don’t see anything wrong with adopting these mixed materials right away.


  106. Australia tangled with carbon taxes Vs other names. The result was ugly.

    Below is a reference, but the contrast between the various possible words left the impression in many minds (I think) that something sneaky was happening and that any use of the term Carbon Price was really a dishonest attempt by a sneaky politician to avoid calling a tax by its real name, regardless of dictionary definitions.

    Hence “Great big new tax on everything” became the slogan of the Opposition, the PM lost her job due to a revolt within her own party and then the Leader of the Opposition won an election and became Prime Minister.

    Call it a fee or a price and its opponents will still refer to it as a tax, IMHO.


  107. “Excess greenhouse gas emissions fee”. Excess above what level? We know the level, it should not be negotiable. Faced with an army of hired accountants and lawyers, we cannot show such flexibility. Any emission is a bad, so any emission should be taxable.

    Already the greenhouse has so much “excess” carbon dioxide, that any net global rate of emission should be negative. However we have already been sold out on that one at COP21 in Paris, where the agreement settled on “net zero emissions”. In that phrase is the level that we can aim at, the level that can be policed. Zero.


  108. The rise times for CCGT generators, searched out by DBB and SE, are not fast enough to back up a grid of 100% capacity of wind.

    If the system consisted of one wind turbine and one CCGT (combined gas and steam generator), there would always be a lag of that-many minutes or hours after the wind drops, slightly or completely, during which the voltage drops below the standard, slightly or completely. SE has pointed out that steam turbines will only rise quickly (in minutes rather than hours) if they are already at pressure and generating power, so on that ground alone wind could never be the sole generator. Even OCGT (gas turbines, jet engines) need to be hot and generating in order to surge. 100% wind is not possible.

    In most parts of the world, the proportion of wind is so small that a decay of say, 50 MW/min can be made up from ten steam turbines rising at 5 MW/min apiece. As the proportion of wind capacity increases, the capacity of fast-rising backup would have to be supplied by the faster-rising OCGT, and and an equivalent capacity of CCGT pulled out of service.

    At some proportion of wind generation, every extra wind generator installed must be matched at the same time with an installation of plain CCGT of the same capacity. SE has told us the South Australian government has directed that a certain minimum of synchronous generation must backup the wind in their part of the grid. It will be interesting to find out if they have specified how fast it can rise…


  109. I will attempt to explain a grid with generation entirely from wind turbines and combined cycle gas turbines.

    There are three rates to consider as well as the start times for the CCGTs. These are the downramp rate for the wind turbines when a “blow” dies away, the upramp requirement of the demand at the beginning of the day, or whenever it is steepest, and the upramp rate for the CCGTs. The equation to consider is

    CCGT supply = load – wind supply

    with the worst situation being when the wind is dying just as the load is ramping up. So the CCGTs need to be already ready to go, having completed the hour or so turn on warm up. This is accomplished by accurate weather forecasting only at most three hours in advance, easy these days.

    If the CCGTs still cannot ramp fast enough to keep up with the changes in the net load on the right of the equation, the solution is to fire up the CCGTs even earlier and curtail wind generation to match the curve of

    load – CCGT supply.

    Spain does this, but there it is mostly slow hydro, not so much CCGTs.

    I encourage Aussies to inform their governments of this obvious idea of treating wind as semi-controllable instead of the inflexible “must take” policy which I gather is in force in at least South Australia. Here in the Pacific Northwest, at least, it is possible but BPA has to pay the production tax credit to the wind farm in proportion to the curtailment.


  110. Agreed, Roger.

    But first, my apologies for another very long post.

    Rise times of minutes and up to an hour are of no use when instantaneous, 6-second, 60-second and 6-minute times are the targets.

    Here is a discussion piece aimed at a non-technical audience, from an industry organisation. NB, thus not independent and possibly biased. Caveat emptor.

    From the same source, I note that it was the SA Government which demanded that two large gas fired plant remain in service continually. I had, probably incorrectly, thought that this came from AEMO. Hence my difficulty locating the precise wording of the directive.

    I have not fully thought through Roger’s statement “At some proportion of wind generation, every extra wind generator installed must be matched at the same time with an installation of [gas] of the same capacity.” Given the lack of hydro resources in SA, it is reasonable to assume that, broadly speaking, additional wind must be supported by an increment in gas, but need that be “equal”?

    Off the top of my head, a full examination of this will require examination of the NER Rules as well as plant performance characteristics.

    The Rules describe what is and is not a Credible Event, ie sufficiently probable that it must be allowed for in the overall design and operation of the NEM and, in this circumstance, the SA Region of the NEM.

    The Heywood Interconnector was providing both energy (power) and other services (FCAS frequency control, plus black start capacity) immediately prior to separation of Vic from SA.

    Other, smaller black start capacity within SA was contracted to the NEM but in the event, was either unavailable or far too late or too small or …

    Separation was primarily due to demand for excess power above that which could be supplied via the interconnector, which of course tripped.

    That left insufficient FCAS capacity to handle the combination of then-current (ie not yet isolated) transmission faults plus loss of wind generation capacity.

    Hence, the directive appears to be driven not for backup power, per se, but by the need for workable levels of FCAS. Hence, perhaps the directive contained a requirement that some capacity be held in reserve to meet unserved demand, to provide inertia, or for availability to ramp up at given rates over various time periods (seconds to an hour or two).

    Whether, in the context of SA, this implies a 1-to-1 relationship between new wind and backup gas, and if so in what configuration, I simply don’t know. I doubt it, because there might be smarter ways to operate the system and smarter ways to set individual protection devices throughout the state. I still don’t know why the load wasn’t rejected by operation of breakers close to the faults instead of the escalating wave of unserved load reached the Victorian border. That seems to me not to be a problem which lies at the feet of the wind farms entirely, but which is primarily the duty of the high voltage transmission system’s operators and designers. When transmission lines went down to earth, why were they not isolated before the problem spread?

    Other emergency responses, not considered here, might include automatic rolling blackouts, but of course, when the combination of 400MW of wind and 700MW or so from the interconnector were lost in a very short timeframe, a black SA was inevitable.

    My current thoughts are that the concept of “Credible Event” needs to be revisited. Unless controls are available to prevent loss of wind farms as single entities, rather than as collections of independent generating units, then it is clear that one family of credible event is instantaneous loss of any wind farm in the state, somewhat below 200MW AFAIK.

    Another is the potential loss of the Heywood Interconnector, which is currently being upgraded to about 1GW, ie about half of the system load when the state went black.

    My guess is that the only reasonable response to guard against the loss of the Heywood is provision of an equivalent interconnector, but from where? NSW? Victoria? Qld? Tas? Various sources, including AEMO, have recommended consideration of duplication and upgrades of interconnectors between all of these Regions.

    But is that in response to the wind percentage in SA? Or is it because, in a world where each state depends for its electrical supply on a single interconnected system, the NEM, a weakness has been discovered and that weakness is the lack of capacity and diversity of the interconnectors generally?

    The next report from AEMO will be due next March.


  111. Re: DBB. Wind plus GT.

    DBB’s explanation is spot on, as far as it goes. SA is essentially served primarily from within, plus a single large AC interconnector leading from Victorian brown coal power generators.

    The impact of the interconnector cannot be ignored, because it frequently provides 20 to 40% of the energy, but occasionally as little as (eg lunchtime on a midsummer clear sky holiday), perhaps zero or even a small flow eastwards.

    Since the largest single loss event on the system is probably the interconnecter and not the wind farms or any credible combination of generation, loss of the interconnector must be considered as a credible event.

    Whether this means that more GT’s are needed in SA, or an additional (AC?) interconnector or more aggressive load management I cannot say – perhaps all three.


  112. Thank you, DBB for your clear explanation. A typo on my part was confusing the issue… My punchline should have read: “At some proportion of wind generation, every extra wind generator installs must be matched the same time with an installation of OCGT (plain gas turbines) of the same capacity”.

    I was arguing that the capacity to rise must be part of the design of a grid. As a grid grows, the capacity of any one generator to rise gets earmarked for a specific contingency, such as increases in load due to industrial activity. Of course it is cheap to install an OCGT before there is a demand for its rapid response capability, but subsequent installation of wind will eventually earmark all such un-earmarked OCGT.

    Growing the grid any further by adding an intermittent generator would require that its backup be installed at same time. That implies OCGT of equal capacity and equal capacity to rise. That’s what I should have said.

    My argument is simplistic. In the real world, business decisions would motivate the installation of the more efficient CCGT, leaving a minority of OCGT, that would be only inadequate in the extremely rare event of all wind dropping to zero at the same time. Operator/s would be fined for such a blackout or brownout according to the rules, as an event to be risked and insured against.


  113. I am opposed to a ‘carbon’ tax-or-fee. I see no reason to levy on the production of graphite or diamonds, for that matter. Those are the two forms of elemental carbon, as everyone who has taken beginning chemistry knows.

    I am in favor of a levy, I prefer the term ‘fee’, on greenhouse gas emissions, principally carbon dioxide.

    Now as everyone should know, but it seems that all-too-many do not, carbon dioxide is a gas and is different than elemental carbon. Learned that in beginning chemistry as well.


  114. DBB,

    I like the term “excess greenhouse gas emissions fee”. which you introduced two days upthread. It’s accurate.

    But “carbon tax” is the term that’s commonly used. And it’s not that inaccurate if understood as a tax on the carbon content of fossil fuel.

    The main difficulty occurs when people speak of a carbon tax, and then give the price in terms of CO2. But most people who are familiar with the subject make the mental adjustment.

    Anyway, I certainly support an emissions fee, whatever it’s called.


  115. huon — The problem is the hoards of lawyers and lobbyists who will use any such misuse of language to mislead the legislators, few of whom seem to remember whatever basic science they studied in middle school, much less high school chemistry.

    Here is a simple account about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. In the mid-Pliocene sea levels were 25 meters higher than now, due to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of about 400 ppm, the level now reached once again.
    So long as atmospheric carbon dioxide leveisls remain at least at 400 ppm we should expect a sea level rise of about 25 meters.

    To help avoid that a fee on carbon dioxide emissions is advisable, to put it mildly.

    No, this is not a fee on the carbon content of so-called fossil fuels. For, assuming no methane leaks, natural gas has at least twice the heating value of coal. It is only the carbon dioxide going out the exhaust which counts.

    So the slang phrase, ‘carbon’ tax-or-fee, is misleading, hence confusing. Having listened to Bill McKibben recently, I am not sure that he understands the difference between carbon tax and carbon dioxide fee.

    So could we all use the correct term in the attempt to introduce such a fee, everywhere we can?


  116. If I understand DBB’s argument correctly, we should be taxing emissions (of GHGs), and not taxing solid extractions like graphite and building limestone. If we are to be that precise, the wording would have to be an “emissions tax”. That would have the side benefit of allowing regulators to apply different tax rates to the different emissions — CO2, CO, CH4, CFCs, NH3, NOx, etc.


  117. Yes, Roger Clifton! I don’t care how much carbon dioxide is produced as long as it does not escape into the atmosphere. Think of a variation on a landfill for solid wastes, that is, a repository for carbon dioxide.

    But if the carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, there is a substantial fee attached; a carbon dioxide emissions fee.

    As for the other substances you mention, other emission fee schedules.


  118. And then there’s Tim Flannery saying that if we had some form of Carbon Tax (which after the last few elections is what it is written into the hearts of all Australians for all time, no matter what we prefer!) then maybe it could fund a massive kelp farm, something like 4 times the size of Australia to farm kelp for CO2. Then what do we do with it? Biochar it and eat it and feed it to cows to reign in deforestation, and reduce the cow-burp emissions that eating seaweed apparently does? Sounds good to me. But that would be a LOT of kelp, but then again, we eat a LOT of meat, and taking pressure off the Amazon for corn or soy beans or whatever they feed cattle would be good.


  119. Eclipse, the vast harvests from the kelp farms of your vision have at least one customer on the scale required. If aviation fuel etc is to be made from non-fossil carbon, your dried kelp could provide fuel refineries with the feedstock. Cellulose and lignin in the kelp are polymers of [CH2O], where nature has already captured carbon from the air and polymerised it better than we could. Turning it into hydrocarbons, polymers of [CH2], only requires us to remove the oxygen.


  120. Dear Barry,
    I am a professional nuclear safety engineer (worked on the UK new builds, did safety analysis of all new plant designs for utilities etc.) and would like to reach out to you since you are very well connected. One of the main problems behind nuclear and its chief source for escalating cost is the simply the fact that the nuclear safety philosophy as developed by the NRC is simply false from the ground up.

    Nuclear safety as practiced throughout the world revolves around the simple hypothesis:
    Wanton and mass killing of the unsuspecting population by large scale radiological releases are GENERALLY acceptable and permittable, provided that it happens sufficiently rarely.

    With time the component of what exactly does “sufficiently rarely” mean has evolved more and more, but the first part of the sentence, the real cause and problem, has not been revisited in the past 60 years of civil nuclear development.

    With today’s technology, though unlike the 50s, we can now completely rule out large scale radiological releases to happen. And the crazy thing: there is no way to license a nuclear reactor to make use of this fact!

    Exactly because of the limitations of current licensing regimes, the AP1000 or the AES2004 are such a wierd hodge-podge of competing technologies and safety goals. I personally know several of the lead engineers behind the AP1000 and they agree with me that without the false goals of current licensing practices, the AP1000 could be much simpler, much cheaper and much safer…

    I am reaching out to you to hopefully reach a wider audience of people that the future of nuclear can only happen when the basic lie of nuclear safety is revisited:

    large scale releases are NOT acceptable.

    There is only one safety case that needs to be investigated:

    Deal with a complete core meltdown with a closed or open primary circuit such that no outside action, energy, water etc. is needed for 72h, and after 72h only fire water supplied by ordinary fire trucks are acceptable to prevent large scale releases.

    The shift of liability to the nuclear plant operator is not accpetable. This leads to the abandonment of design experience and knowledge into the individual sites. There is no learning effect. No, outside of gross negligence by the operator, the nuclear plant vendor is liable for his/her design.

    This is very important in order to enable the amazing lifecycle learning and improvement rates experienced in the aerospace or car industry to expand to nuclear power.

    What I am asking for is btw. no small feat. This will require the scrapping of basically every single piece of nuclear legislation, nuclear standards and design codes.


  121. It has never happened. It is not going to happen. Why give life to such an ugly fantasy?

    You failed to give a reference to anybody saying that. My browser could find nothing like it on the web either. What sort of spokesman would say that?

    Mind you, I did rather enjoy its apocalyptic poetry. How is this in the same style… Intermittent mass killings of innocent people across the globe by large-scale carbon dioxide releases are accepted without question, provided only that the emissions are decorated by occasional wind turbines and solar panels


  122. Roger C’s “poetry” provides some strong imagery for Christmas morn… now back to the visiting grandkids, who will inherit this world from the current adults.

    Sad to say, I am convinced that any low-carbon energy plan that relies on one or a combination of:
    Intermittents – backed by gas turbines;
    Pumped hydro – not conceivably large enough;
    Batteries – too little, too late, resource-limited;
    Population reduction – what reduction?;
    Demand management/ efficiency – and what about the 70% that is not currently electrical?;
    Ignores LULUCF – Blind to much of the issue;
    Not strongly founded in science – dreaming;
    Does not assess safety consistently – biased;
    Ignores the potential of selected options, eg nuclear – commercially conflicted;
    Ignores ocean warming and acidity – blind to reality;
    Ignores cost and affordability – also blind to reality;
    Relies on public handouts while claiming that their technologies are mature – On the public teat; and
    Chooses to ignore the realities of stable, operating power transmission and distribution systems – childish…

    … are denying my two grandkids their birthright.

    I could add meat-eaters to this list, but as one who until a year back raised grass-fed beef cattle I am currently reviewing the role of my lifestyle in my grandkids’ futures. Most land is not suited to cropping, so I have allowed 50% of my land to revert to lightly managed natural bushland, most of which has recently been accredited as “Old growth”, though established on grazing land in the 30 years I have lived here. This is very much a work in progress.

    I’d be interested to hear opinion about my use of a wood fire for heating, when 100% of the fuel comes from management of my land.

    Season’s greetings to all.


  123. singletonengineer — By all means wood for space heating and cooking too. For the former, I suggest a Franklin stove. For the latter see if you can acquire an old fashioned wood fired oven with range. Both are cast iron appliances. I have used both with fully dried wood.

    Consider a charcoal maker. The advantage is less mess to clean out of stovepipes.

    I future recommend looking into a biochar pyrolysis unit if your woodlot is large enough. Many people have fabricated their own, often trailer mounted, and describe the results on websites.

    Feliz Navidad!


  124. It is surely virtuous for SE to heat and cook using windfall timber from his own patch of ground. Purists might protest that the fallen branches provide homes for small fluffy animals, but it wouldn’t help their numbers any if the uncleared firewood had increased the likelihood of a catastrophic fire. Catastrophic fires are becoming increasingly prevalent as the climate diverges from the wetter, cooler climate into which each forest had evolved. I would guess that by clearing away the windfall timber, SE is finding a peaceful coexistence with the local ecology.


  125. Hi, Roger.

    As a volunteer firefighter for over a quarter of a century and as a one-was-used-to-be remote area fire team member, (RAFT: helicopter insertion or walk in) I remember the fires which resulted in the addition of a new category above Extreme. In the past 15 years that category was demonstrated to be meaningful and necessary.

    I leave small piles of timber on the ground throughout my land, wherever I have worked. This is not so much for “small furry animals” as it is for insects and other invertebrates, who need refuge as surely as I do. Only a fraction of the woody matter makes its way to the firebox. That includes occasional larger pieces, such as tree trunks, which, if left for 4 or 5 years and then disturbed invariably erupt with wriggly beasties of all shapes – some of which are rarely ever seen otherwise.

    One small dam which is in my care but unfortunately is on a neighbour’s land is slowly becoming choked with grasses and sedges is a real delight, but no place for the unwary. Snakes abound, drawn by the frogs and lizards. There is no pump on that dam any longer and stock have been fenced out for no other reason than to let it become whatever it wants to be. That neighbour is now in his late 90’s and has only visited that corner of his property once in the past 30+years. I look after the fences and occasionally let some stock in to browse when feed is low.

    Things that I didn’t know existed include Peripatus (?) (or “velvet worms” akin to millipedes) and Banda-banda snakes. Both beautiful, harmless and rarely seen.

    Indeed, there is almost sufficient windfall timber left for the pit fired pottery weekends which we host every couple of years. I admit to topping up the fuel for these events with sawdust and a few discarded (untreated) pallets from the local hardware stores. It wouldn’t be honest to describe these events as being environmentally benign, but my guests who camp on site for a night or a week certainly appear to enjoy themselves. Cooking, of course, is primarily done using a wood-fired pizza oven. Music is either acoustic or none.

    Bye for now.


  126. It all sounds charming, Singleton, with a real connection to place. In the burbs we so often have to buy wood in for events like those! But I see it as lifestyle choices. After all, the EcoModernist manifesto is all about intensified productivity of the areas we do use so that we have more room for those we don’t use, and I guess that should apply to accommodation as well.


  127. Very much agreed, EN. Our kids have left, we have a home far bigger than our needs and we are contemplating what to do with 60 acres in a town mining where coal and power generation are declining slowly.

    I hope that some small part of the Ecomodernist Manifesto addresses the transactional friction which inhibits re-purposing of real estate – whether to new uses or to more appropriate owners as personal needs change. I’m thinking of real estate agents’ fees, stamp duty on contracts, the many repetitious other costs such as title searches and financing set-up charges. We are in no particular hurry to move on yet, but a lot of money is spent unproductively when shuffling land around.

    And before I go… the windfall profits that accrue to developers through re-zoning, from which the community rarely gains much, if anything at all.

    I’m particularly unimpressed by the fast train financial models which rely on income from transfer of town planning, rezoning, redevelopment and profits from land and property sales generally along the corridors and in the cities which have stations. I call that the “Sydney airport” model, whereby the operator gets the right to screw all and sundry at every point, for decades, with no community input or control.

    You show me a fast train proposal and I will show you an undemocratic, out of control rip-off many times the scale and impact of any cross-city privately owned toll road.


  128. Wow. People can come to things from such different perspectives! No judgement on you, and I’d like to hear more about your concerns, but I was kind of hoping that corporate consortium proposal got through because then at least the East Coast would HAVE a fast rail and take some pressure of the world’s 3rd largest air corridor?


  129. BHP and friends first delivered a VFT proposal in the mid-1960’s based on this same Trojan Horse theory of ripping money out of the commons.

    I attended, as a student, a lecture on precisely this circa 1966 and recall very clearly my concerns.

    It is a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scam that, if agreed to, will line the pockets of a select few at the expense of the property, liberty and money of the many for generations.

    If, and it is a big IF, VFT can support itself, then it should do so on the basis of its being a transport system, not as the largest land grab since colonisation. There you have it – a 50-year old thought bubble that has stood the tests of time.

    As a civil engineer, I’d love to be involved in such a large infrastructure project, but this one is entirely driven by the almighty dollar. If it is worthwhile as an infrastructure project, then it should remain in public hands in perpetuity, rather than being driven by robber barons.

    And, yes, you might have guessed correctly. I am somewhat of a leftie socially, if not always politically. I try to be rational, which is a major impediment to party involvement of any kind. But Barry’s web site is apolitical so I will cease at this point.


  130. The article says that the ex-tropical depression that is storming through South Australia currently “came from the Pilbara”, i.e. from the north-west of Australia. More accurately, it has come from an unusually hot sea between north-west Australia and Indonesia, the Indian Ocean equivalent of El Niño in the Pacific. The resulting humidity has given Darwin an early, heavy wet season. One consequence on all this poorly drained land is a saturated soil under a hot sun that perpetuates, rather than (as usual) dessicates cyclonic systems as they move from the hot sea onto the hot wet land. Yes, this time it was only a category one cyclone that decayed into a tropical depression, but this time it reached across the continent to South Australia. It won’t be the last time.


  131. Hi Singleton,
    ever since I topped “Political Economy of the Welfare State” in my social sciences Advanced Diploma I’ve been both a bit of a leftie and a bit of a free-market fan. I can appreciate both systems, but tend to be into Ordoliberalism / Social Liberalism. But sometimes, if the government doesn’t have the vision or money to do something, I sometimes appreciate the efforts of Corporations, even if it is a land-grab. And what do they want to do but sell us a new town or two, something our growing population might need? (Only if they’re good places to live though, and that also depends on good town planning).


  132. EN, you do realise that the plan is to draw 5 or 10km radius circles around stations near Central, Campbelltown, Mittagong, Goulbourn, Canberra, Albury/Woodonga and so until Melbourne, plus a couple of side cities in (say) Gosford and Newcastle, I presume?

    Plus a strip one or two km’s wide between these nodes, 1000km’s long. That way, the transport company will gain town planning and monopoly transport control over the centres of maybe 10 Australian cities, including 4 or 5 of the largest cities, counting the Campbelltown/Western Sydney as a city in its own right. Commercial advantage, not quality of life for the residents will rule the options and social fabric of the towns of up to 40% of all Australians, all under the guise of better public transport, although that will only serve those who seek to travel rapidly between the major centres – ie, the mid-to-upper income brackets and corporates.

    Which bank do you want to be majority partner in this? Who do you trust?

    Which political party would you trust to negotiate this deal on the public’s behalf? None? Remember, this backroom deal will probably, like the sale of ports, other infrastructure such as electricity assets and (recently) the Newcastle bus, passenger rail and ferry services, via contracts which are neither publicly disclosed nor openly negotiated. This is the way to foreign ownership, hidden profits, reduced services, tax avoidance and corruption on a grand scale.

    The current local and state government systems might be deeply flawed, but that is not of itself justification for their broadscale flogging off.

    If it is in the public interest to construct high speed rail then it is also in the public interest for the most experienced construction authorities in Australia, the state governments, to construct, own and operate them on behalf of those who elect them, rather than to pass the parcel to corporations which, by definition, cannot have the public interest at heart. Shareholders must and will come first.

    As before, consider SYD airport and the rail line to the airport stations – both examples of the most expensive service providers of their class anywhere on the planet.

    Is there a state where the NEM and AEMO has, through improved supervision, management and efficiencies of now-privatised electricity systems brought about reduced tariffs, increased reliability and lower carbon emissions? Or, perhaps, improved apprenticeship schemes and employment outcomes, improved local manufacture opportunities, better design standards, better knowledge retention and development either in-house or nationally? I say not. They have certainly not covered themselves with glory in the past two decades… and what have the states done with the billions of dollars that they sold these assets for? Where are the public benefits from the Thatcher era in Britain or the Kennett era in Victoria or those many who followed those trail-blazers?

    By all means, pay and supervise a consortium to design and construct the VFT, but if the economics demand support, ensure that the assets remain in public ownership, along with every other social right which might otherwise be transferred out of public control. If the public and government want such a project, then the government must win the support of its electors and do the job properly. This includes arranging finance. To do otherwise is antisocial, whatever name it is called by.

    But first and foremost: where is the draft of the project’s enabling legislation? Where is the financial plan? The expected cash flow statements for each year of the projected contract period? If it’s OK to lease something for 100 years, it is OK to see the financial justifications in similar detail.

    Liked by 1 person

  133. Government interventions to incentivise renewable energy and to create capacity markets is exactly the opposite of the approach that is needed. Give up on wind and solar. Surely most informed people realise by now they can make no significant contribution to world electricity supply, let alone to world energy supply.

    What is needed is not more intervention by governments driven by ideologues’ beliefs. Instead, what is needed is for government to remove the piles of regulations that distort markets and create high risk for investors. Start by removing all incentives for renewables. Minimise regulation and government intervention. Regulations should be aimed at ensuring fair competition, and secure and reliable supply for the long term at minimum cost.

    France did it brilliantly from the 1970’s despite the headwinds of the anti-nuke protest movement. France is the pin-up example the world should follow. But times have changed. What was done back in the 1950-1980’s by governments building, owning and operating the plants can now be done more effectively by the private sector – as long as we have light, appropriate regulation that gives confidence to markets and investors that there will be regulatory stability for the expected life of their investments – e.g. 60 to 80 years for modern era nuclear power plants.


  134. I have skimmed parts of Tom Blees’s work, but never finished the book.

    Most of this stuff is personal observation and conviction. Probably needs fact checking. Maybe needs more distance between me and the topic… but why aren’t 50 years enough? Why am I still not happy about the VFT proposals, when I know that very substantial decarbonisation of transport is an essential part of stabilising our climate?

    This morning I read “Crocs in the Cabinet”, authors Ben Smee and Christopher Walsh. What a depressing read it is! It explains the backstabbing, deal-making and dishonesty that have been part of the NT Government and political scene for a couple of decades. It includes as asides the botched privatisation of the Territory Insurance Office and of the Port of Darwin.

    My own experience as one who has assisted with staging of Chinese New Year in 2015 and 2017 on the Newcastle Harbour Foreshores I offer as an example of a future where once-public assets have been sliced up and locked away.

    In order to stage the event, on land which was formerly part of a working port but has become a developer’s dream, we needed to access the foreshore promenade. Reduced to a mere shared-use walkway plus a few mini-parks not suited to kids’ cricket or kite flying, it now belongs to or is controlled by a handful of separate private owners (think 10 storey residential with ground floor restaurant and commercial), plus Council, the Ports Corporation, the representatives of the Chinese holders of the Port’s 100 year leas and more. In some places a simple roadway will have three proprietors, each with their own stipulations and tiny parcels of land.

    Bottom line: Nobody seems to be in charge any more. The public has little say about “Public Access to Public Spaces”. Where I once roamed freely for miles as a child with a fishing rod is now nice enough in its own way, but horribly overbuilt and lacking in life other than rats and cockroaches, of which there are plenty.

    We should do better than this.

    Besides which, with Skype and similar, what’s the need for VFT? It’s now legal for electronic meetings of management committees of incorporated associations in NSW… why is it not general practice for governments at all levels and for businesses? Imagine a House of Representatives Dial-in session… a Senate video enquiry, a telephonic Question Time sans theatricals. There goes half of the justification for the VFT, which, by the way, will do nothing to reduce freight transport by truck or air. Ref: Clause 22, Page 17.

    The simplest way to decarbonise travel is to reduce the need for travel. Smart organisations are getting smarter about travel. Early adapters are trialing Prius or completely battery-powered private transport, including battery assisted cycles.

    I’ll read Tom Blees’s book when I get a chance.


  135. “regulatory stability for the expected life of their investments”

    The possibility of hostile regulations from a future government present risks to a long-term investor, which could be insured against by a government loan guarantee system. Would that be too interventionist?


  136. A recent comment caused me to think about the role of semiconductors in destabilizing the old, staid electrical power industry. Power electronics for solar PV and wind turbines as well as computers and communications leading to digital meters and tighter controls. For example, here in Pullman we have a new industry, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory, providing digital electronic protection devices for the electrical power industry.

    So just now the structure and regulation of the industry is in flux.


  137. (@ DBB) Transmission of signal along the power grid represents one possible goal for application of new electronics. If the grid operator could dictate changes in frequency directly to the electronics of the generating devices, synchronous generation could become distributed. Currently distributed wind generators are asynchronous, which to my understanding means that they add power to the grid by slightly increasing the frequency (rather than the amplitude) of the waveform received on the grid. If I’m right, that requires the waveform to be dominated by synchronous, fossil generation at all times.

    High frequency signal can only get from one side of a transformer to the other with the aid of a bypass of some sort. But the bypass also has to be robust against lightning and geomagnetic surges.


  138. Anyone ever wonder what power would look like in 200 to 500 years? While I’ve moved from hating to loving nuclear power over the last 7 years, and see it as a wonderful gift to humanity, I’m also a fan of space colonisation. Anyone ever dream of the Luna Ring?

    On 29 December 2016 at 21:35, Brave New Climate wrote:

    > singletonengineer commented: “I have heard much the same but lack > understanding of the practical limits. Of course, in this connected world > where internet-linked metering and the like are commonplace, there are > other possibilities. A post on this subject might be appropriate.” >


  139. Eclipse asks for our vision of the distant future. For guidance, I am inclined to go 500 years back in time, and imagine I am looking over the shoulder of a hunter-gatherer, who in his turn is looking across a sun-blasted Australian landscape devoid of many slow and wonderful creatures that his ancestors had driven to extinction. The few remaining creatures, too fast or too poisonous, are only sufficient to support a thin scattering of homo sapiens. What more technologically advanced civilisations preceded them? No one knows, as we do not know who of us will have descendants surviving in their own wasted landscape. For it is surely wastage that is underway now.


  140. Hi all,
    for years I’ve been recommending electrorefining pyroprocessing of nuclear waste on the basis that it brought out all the actinides together, and was therefore proliferation resistant. Now on page 5 of the following paper I find out there’s ways to fine tune pyroprocessing for the recovery of high purity plutonium, when I thought all the actinides had to be retrieved together. Comments?


  141. Eclipse, perhaps you mean the special apparatus in Fig 3 on page 8? I guess no reactor design would be immune from military interference. However the design of the plant as described in “Plentiful Energy” is resistant to theft of weaponisable material. An inspector on a routine visit might check for inept military activity by checking that the reactor did not have a “blanket” set up, that is, fuel that was absorbing a lot more neutrons than it was emitting. However more likely the concern would be to frustrate any escape from the routine cycle of material containing weapons quality plutonium. To that end the operators need only ensure that (and the inspector need only check that) all fuel, whether fresh or partly used, contained a sufficient proportion of Pu240 (to actinide) to ensure that the ratio of 240/239 would always be greater than 7%. That is, that plutonium in any stage of the routine cycle would always be of reactor grade, unsuitable for weaponising.


  142. Eclipse, on your second question… Electrolysis is chemistry, that is, it works on the outer electrons of each atom so is not sensitive to which isotope of that element it is. It cannot change the isotopic proportions of plutonium or uranium from reactor grade to bomb grade. At the date of this paper, the proportions of the different isotopes of plutonium were only ever changed by the duration of neutron irradiation that the fuel had received.

    The IFR process, described in “Plentiful Energy”, electrolyses an ionic solution with similar proportions of the two elements, uranium and plutonium. The more electronegative of the two is uranium, so uranium plates out on the cathode. The process continues to draw uranium out of the solution until the solution is relatively rich in plutonium. What was once a stray inclusion of plutonium in the plate increases until it’s becoming a significant proportion. Then that cathode is withdrawn and a liquid cadmium cathode is switched on and draws into it both elements at different rates, another proportion. In each case the proportions are determined by the Nernst equation, which is a function of the two electronegativities and their concentrations. Similarly, the remaining solution still has a mixture of the two elements.

    The process you’re looking at in that paper refers to reactions across the face of a liquid cadmium anode. Metal fuel is dissolved in the cadmium, then a current travels through the face of the cadmium as mainly plutonium ions going into the ionic melt. So yes, relative to uranium the plutonium is enriched in the melt (but not its isotopes). But here too, the Nernst equation rules the different proportions. You would have to crank through the arithmetic to find out how “high” is the theoretical resulting purity.


  143. Thanks Roger, I’ll file that one away for future reference, I really will! (I email them to myself and have various nuclear tabs in gmail, so I can browse if it’s a slow day at work). One more thing if your time allows: does the Nernst equation ever allow bomb-grade stuff to be collected this way, whether Americium, Uranium or Plutonium?


  144. Bomb grade americium? That’s news to me.

    I think that the answer is that chemistry isn’t going to separate isotopes, whose reactivity is similar regardless of the number of neutrons they have in their nucleus. Also, the Nernst Equation describes behaviour of electric cells, which is a branch of physical chemistry.

    That is why physical methods such as centrifuges that operate on small differences in atomic mass are used.

    Wikipedia: “While different chemical elements can be purified through chemical processes, isotopes of the same element have nearly identical chemical properties, which makes this type of separation impractical, except for separation of deuterium.” (Search term: “isotope separation”.)


  145. What you refer to as “this way” is only one of many tools in the training of a modern chemical engineer. In the bad old 1960s, the nuclear powers used a lot of expensive chemistry to purify plutonium from its uranium matrix and surrounding fission products and minor actinides. However such an industry requires its raw materials to contain plutonium with less Pu240 than 7%. That would require premeditated short-term irradiation of uranium-only fuel, referred to in old literature as “blanket fuel”.

    In a future world where all new fast reactors were initiated with fuel that had been bred in fast reactors, the fuel would start with a much higher proportion of Pu240, which would actually increase as the fuel burnt. An operator who wanted to keep the inspectors off his back would ensure that all fuel that came through the front gate of his nuclear power station contained at least 7%. That way there would never be any fuel worth stealing, used or otherwise, and little for the inspectors to fuss over.

    Liked by 1 person

  146. Hi guys,
    I’m running out of energy dealing with ‘Brian’, and anti-nuclear troll over at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This post rankles. Any comments on Brian’s post, and especially, the paper he quotes?
    From Brian:

    You lose.

    This paper presents the results of an evaluation ofthe relative proliferation risks of particular reprocessing technologies of current interest. The assessment focuses on determining whether three alternative reprocessing technologies – COEX, UREX+, and pyroprocessing provide nonproliferation advantages relative to the PUREX technology because they do not produce separated plutonium. This study considers how a facility may be threatened under various proliferation scenarios. For each alternative, the measures of proliferation risk considered include the relative difficulty of achieving the objective, the time required, the cost to the adversary, the likelihood of detection, the cost ofsafeguards and physical protection, and the characteristics ofthe material acquired. This evaluation found only a modest improvement in reducing proliferation risk over existing PUREX technologies and these modest improvements apply primarily for non-state actors.

    IBrookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY 11973, USA 2Pac~fic Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, /iVA 99352, USA 3Los Alamos national LaboratOlT, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA 4Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM 87185, USA 5Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL 60439, USA 6ldaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID 83415, USA 7QinetiQ North America, McLean, VA 22102, USA


  147. Eclipse Now — The fundamental point is that the plutonium in used power reactor actinide pins is a mixture of at least two isotopes. Only one of these can be used to make nuclear weapons. The other “poisons” the reaction so that there is only a messy fissle.

    So so-called proliferation studies have to make up wildly improbable scenarios in order to justify the so-called research effort.

    Also, if it matters, PUREX is hard to do and only the French have some success at it. Pyroproccessing, on the other hand, is relatively easy and was demonstrated some time ago with the EBR-II. It isn’t perfect, research continues, but in fact it is mostly good enough for practical use. The British NRL should soon state whether the PRISM, plus pyroproccessing, suffices to dispose of Britain’s excess weapons plutonium.


  148. EN, I have visited the site. After making a few comments to and about your tormentor, it is clear that this wrangle has continued beyond a year.

    Give up.

    You have already spent far more time than enough dealing with a fool with a closed mind. Better to save the energy for those who are prepared to listen, to stay on topic, to argue rationally and to avoid sweeping generalisations, appeals to “authority”, bait-and-switch and shouty commenting style.

    If the site was competently moderated, “Brian” would not survive. Indeed, judging from the many deleted comments downthread, it appears that “Brian” may have received some pretty severe modification, but too late and inconsistently.

    For what it is worth, my site name is “aussie engineer”. How come ended up with two WordPress handles I don’t know.


  149. Eclipse, that website is “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists”, a pack of fast talkers who are blatantly prohibitionist. Because they would blind the public to the alternative prospect of a world being cooked in carbon dioxide, they do not show the respect for evidence that would entitle them to be called “scientists”. Have nothing to do with them. You’re wasting your time, and by sicking us onto them you’re wasting our time too. Let’s check out DBB’s offering…


  150. EN: Re that pesky journal.
    A quick check of some recent publications from this organisation confirms what others have written. The Journal itself has existed in several forms and via a number of publishers, starting with a pamphlet first circulated in 1945. Obviously, the original editorial staff and policies have evolved.

    The Journal itself is described by its publisher as not peer reviewed, however the head corporation is, a giant listed corporation with global reach. The company states on its corporate web site that its Academic Division publications are peer reviewed, which is clearly not the case.

    An example of the nature of the Journal and its reluctance to accept criticism is in the Letters column at

    See “Yucca Mountain Logic” on Pp 74+. The letters are highly critical, yet the author’s response is shallow and self-serving.

    I am left wondering what responsibility is attributable to this journal for the ultimate abandonment of the Yucca Mountain facility.

    Aspects of the current South Australian debate closely mirror the tactics employed by those opposed to Yucca Mountain. negative side.

    Verdict: A waste of time and effort.


  151. Re: DBB’s comment, where he referred us to an article where the levelised cost of electricity due to solar includes the “imposed cost” caused by running combined cycle gas (CCGT) as backup to the solar. By including the cost imposed on the dispatchable backup, solar could be costed as a dispatchable power supply, putting it on the same costing basis as fossil generators. Good idea.

    Of course the author was simplifying the scenario to a system composed only of solar and CCGT in order to explain the concept of “imposed cost”. However, if CCGT were indeed used as backup for solar, the cost imposed on it would have to also include the wear and tear due to the steam pressure rising and falling so abruptly as to accommodate solar’s abrupt entry and exit. There would also be the cost of maintaining steam pressure that may or may not ever be released to the turbines when the solar cuts out.

    I think it is more realistic to do the calculations on the basis that each new solar generating unit must be matched capacity for capacity by new open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) committed solely as its backup. Although other dispatchables can be made to throttle back when solar picks up, only OCGT has the risetime required to fill in when solar cuts out. In this case there is no wear and tear on the steam system, as there isn’t one. However, the gas turbines still have to be hot and running whether they are needed or not. I believe that planning for the frequent acceleration up and down increases an OCGT’s capital cost too.

    Because the generation by the OCGT is entirely due to the absence of the solar, all of its costs should be included in an LCOE of a combined solar-plus-OCGT contribution.


  152. Thanks “Aussie Engineer.” My wrangle with Bwwiaaaan a year ago died down, and only recently reignited when something triggered another attack on nuclear power in his tired brain. The main topic this time was pyroprocessing, and – as you have observed – good luck with trying to get him to stay on one topic! It’s just the same as debating climate deniers.
    Assert A.
    We share research that disproves denialist myth A and backs climate research.
    Assert B.
    Rinse and repeat a dozen times, until people drop out of the conversation in frustration with the denialist just changing the topic every time they’re trounced, and finally we end up back at A again!
    Denialist’s don’t debate, they rotate. This guy seems to be doing the same with nuclear power.


  153. But Young’s modulus of elasticity will continue to ensure that timber flexes more than steel or concrete of similar section size.

    Since serviceability requirements (eg deflection-to-span ratios) are real, very tall buildings constructed from timber are destined to have more column and beam volume than might otherwise be the case, thus leaving less usable floor space and increasing the height of a given number of floors. Or reducing the number of floors in a building of a given height.

    Very good examples of buildings which were both rigid and lightweight included the World Towers. The external columns provided immense stiffness without using the more common approach, which is for heavily reinforced solid concrete central cores of lift shafts, stairs, toilets, etc. Yes these facilities were still central, but were largely lightweight concrete supported by structural steel columns.

    Provided that there is an appropriate price on carbon dioxide emissions, competent designers and cost estimators will steer towards low-carbon solutions and away from high carbon ones.

    I am not in favour of mandating that a particular material be used for any given purpose, since to do so would freeze development of more advanced, efficient designs. Kind of akin to mandating that wind+solar = good and that nuclear = bad, both of which are true only part of the time.

    The article discusses 10-storey buildings and refers to the good fire protection properties of timber when used in large sections and appropriately detailed. I agree that both are practical and reasonable using laminated sections, whether glulam, cross laminated, or plywood or a combination of all three.


  154. So the Moroccan solar thermal array has an “availability factor of 93%”.

    Talk about meaningless numbers! How can this plant be available for more than the 50% of the time that we know as “daytime”?

    Allowing for start-up in the morning and cooling off as shadows lengthen in the afternoon, plus allowance for cloud and rain and whenever the mirrors are stowed in storm mode during high winds, the maximum possible is well below 50%, probably less than 10 hours per day.

    Question to ponder:
    “If a power station lacks fuel, in this case, full sunlight, can it be considered to be available?”

    Answer, from AEMO’s website:
    “availability factor for a… generating unit means the amount of time in a calendar year as a percentage that the… generator would expect to be supplying electricity to the system.”

    This is not to be confused with capacity factor, which relates to the actual energy delivered/generated and is thus lower again.

    35% AF for this plant would be optimistic.
    25% CF ditto.
    93%? Someone’s dreaming.
    Show me the numbers.


  155. “some scientists have … arguing that the power produced by geographically dispersed wind turbines in windy and calm locations at any one point in time will average out”

    Those would not be scientists! No doubt there are idiotic fanatics who believe that, on average, everyone in a 100% RE grid, would get adequate power. However that average would be over time, not an average in space, across the wind turbines supplying the grid. Like a gambler averaging out his winnings and losses in a casino, eventually the gambler will go broke and the grid will blackout. End of averaging.

    No doubt studies of large-scale turbulence will add a refinement beyond a simple random distribution of wind power in the grid. In that case the researcher should be thrown some more funding. But the grid operators already have a white-knuckled awareness of the probability that the collected wind supply will drop below the reserves of dispatchable power.


  156. Wiki’s first paragraph is correct. Then comes the spin.

    How about IEEE,

    3.1 availability factor (AF):
    The fraction of a given operating period in which a generating unit is
    available without any outages.

    Unless nights and high winds and rain and clouds are counted as outages, then Wiki disagrees with IEEE.

    Here is a fourth authority:
    “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.”


  157. “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean”

    Of course it is good practice for participants to agree on a meaning of an obscure word at the start of a discussion, to avoid subsequent confusion. We on BNC often fail to say what we mean when using the word, “actinides”, which is used in various circumstances to mean elements with Z equal to or greater than: 87 (Ac+), or 92 (U+), or 94 (Pu+), or 95 (Am+) – the last usage being short for “minor actinides”. Confusion can arise.

    In hot discussions, a protagonist may have every intention of introducing a word with hidden meanings to ambush you when you use it in your reply. In the case of the word, “waste”, I try to avoid using it at all in my replies. Instead I substitute a more specific term with unambiguous meaning, such as “used fuel”, or “fission products”. To many of our antagonists, the only good destination for “waste” is for it to be completely converted into CO2 and released into thin air. Other waste is then logically “intractable” and again logically, should not be “dumped”.


  158. OK, here we go again. Pyroprocessing may not separate out the bomb grade plutonium from fuel rods, but what if the reactor is burned for a short time only so that mainly bomb-grade Pu is there? The pyroprocessing does not have to be an isotope sorter if there’s only Pu-239 in the rods. As someone explained above, depending on the cathode used, it can be set up to extract pure plutonium, and if there’s only / mainly 239 there, we’ve got a problem.

    From the paper Bwwwiaaaan quoted:

    “The isotopic composition of plutonium is affected by how long it stays in the reactor. Short exposures produce plutonium with very little Pu-240 and with very little plutonium being consumed by fission. Long exposures produce high Pu-240 concentrations, and a substantial portion of the plutonium produced is consumed by fission.”


  159. Eclipse Now — Yes, that is the way wPu, weapons plutonium, was produced. The signature is shutting down the reactor every 7 weeks or so to replace the uranium pins. The IAEA is likely to notice.

    Much, much easier is the method both India and Pakistan used to obtain uranium weapons; ultracentrifuges. That way no reactor is involved. The only disadvantage is that the weapons are noticeably larger.

    The fact remains that state actors can acquire nuclear weapons. They don’t even have to be rich; consider North Korea.

    I do not find proliferation boogeymen a valid reason to avoid nuclear power plants. Sufficient IAEA safety inspections suffice.


  160. Eclipse, we have given you a comprehensive variety of technical answers now, so I think any problem remaining is in the phrasing of your question. Rather than give us any more homework, may I suggest that you do some work on the question? If you were to rephrase it a dozen or so times, I think you’d find that you already know the answers to most of those versions.

    For a start, I suggest that you replace those vague terms, “pyroprocessing” and “waste”, with more specific concepts. If you have a friend or a community that you are asking on behalf of, you might work with them on specifying quite what their concerns are.

    Please don’t quote Brian or his ilk to me. His words are offensive to my eye. If you want to see a fight with him, go fight him yourself. It is your own puzzles that we can help with.


  161. Pyroproccessing refers to several different processes
    but in the context of nuclear spent actinide pin processing refers generally to separating the actinides from the actual “wastes” and further, sometimes, separating the uranium from the plutonium and both, possibly, from the minor actinides.

    The account in “Plentiful Energy” is adequately thorough; enough to make my head spin. Some chapters are found on this website.


  162. The complete book can be downloaded here. We read that their implementations that they called “pyroprocessing” changed over time. The early work reacted melted metal fuel with a ZrO2 crucible. The “skulls” left behind became subject for electrofining later in their experiments, described in detail. The full-scale, full-cycle version planned to recycle one-month-hot fuel into ready fuel pellets was proofed but never implemented.


  163. The Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) resembles the EBR2 (of IFR fame) in that it is a fast pool-type reactor of 65 MW thermal with two loops of sodium coolant. The WNN page says that the fuel has (starts up with?) 150 kg of plutonium 240 and 98 kg of plutonium 239, implying a safe ratio of 35%. Unlike the EBR2, it uses oxide fuel rather than metal fuel.

    Russia is about to supply its next load of MOX. For those who like to get hysterical about such matters, this implies an international traffic in plutonium. On the other hand, it augurs hope for a decarbonised future where fast reactors in non-nuclear countries can be supplied with plutonium-bearing fuel prepared in the nuclear countries.


  164. German Vs French carbon intensities of electricity.

    Leaves little room for argument as to whether the French efforts almost half a century ago were far more effective than the thousands of millions of Euros spent by the Germans in the past decade.

    Sadly, the French carbon intensity has suffered a recent uptick due to a combination of anti-nuclear factors.


  165. Tim Flannery has suggested massive kelp farms could sequester all our CO2 emissions each year. ““Seaweed grows at 30 to 60 times the rate of land-based plants, so it can draw out lots of CO2,” Flannery told E360 in a recent interview.” …
    “If you cover 9% of the world’s oceans in seaweed farms, you could draw down the equivalent of all our current emissions — more than 40 gigatons a year.” … Seaweed farms can also reverse ocean acidification. Off the coast of China, there are about 500 square kilometers of seaweed farms producing edible seaweed for the food market. PH levels have been shown to rise as high as 10 around these seaweed farms. At the moment with an acidified ocean it is 8.1. … You could buffer oceans,” he said. “They are fantastic places for growing fish, shellfish, or prawns, just because of that buffering impact.”

    Biologist, climate champion, and former Australian of the year Dr Tim Flannery has suggested massive kelp farms could sequester all our CO2 emissions each year. ““Seaweed grows at 30 to 60 times the rate of land-based plants, so it can draw out lots of CO2,” Flannery told E360 in a recent interview.” …
    “If you cover 9% of the world’s oceans in seaweed farms, you could draw down the equivalent of all our current emissions — more than 40 gigatons a year.” … Seaweed farms can also reverse ocean acidification. Off the coast of China, there are about 500 square kilometers of seaweed farms producing edible seaweed for the food market. PH levels have been shown to rise as high as 10 around these seaweed farms. At the moment with an acidified ocean it is 8.1. … You could buffer oceans,” he said. “They are fantastic places for growing fish, shellfish, or prawns, just because of that buffering impact.”

    Seaweed can be fed to cows, which has been shown to reduce their methane burps close to zero

    Could this massive biomass to replace niche liquid fuel markets like airline fuels? Or will something else be cheaper?

    Could it replace shipping fuel, or again, will something else be cheaper?


  166. EN, that is 46 million square kilometres, or close to 6 times the surface area of Australia?

    Where do you propose that we start, and how?

    I used to think that Tim Flannery was an intelligent guy, a polymath and an extremely trustworthy judge of issues across a broad range of topics.

    These days, I’m convinced that, like last Christmas’s mangoes, he is way past his prime.

    Why he thinks that proposing hare-brained schemes such as this while simultaneously refusing to discuss, let alone to support, nuclear power as being a valid option for consideration of carbon free energy is his business. I know that this is so – as a foundation financial supporter of his Climate Council I asked for this policy to be either explained or reviewed but the answer from his senior staff was a flat refusal.

    Tim’s assessment of both seaweed and nuclear power are erronious. I am now an ex-member.

    As with most things, unless a costed, right-size, fit for purpose proposal is on the table, walk away.

    This one’s just hype, which is otherwise known as click-bait.


  167. Knowledge builders and problem solvers and others.

    I might be showing personal bias here, but EN’s question serves as a reminder, to me at least, that professional scientists are the world’s knowledge builders.

    Similarly, engineers are in the profession of being problem solvers. Engineers’ primary role is to convert the bodies of knowledge which have been developed by scientists into solutions for the problems of the world.

    Sorry, folk, but PR consultants, sales folk and lobbyists are not problem solvers and much of the hype holding back developments in low- and no-carbon strategies comes from their direction. Which, unfortunately, now includes the Climate Council which was started with great fanfare and which was, initially at least, received by many with great optimism.


  168. “you could draw down the equivalent of all our current emissions — more than 40 gigatons a year.”

    Eclipse, you know that this is nonsense. You know that there is nowhere on this planet to put 40 gigatons a year of anything at all. Yet you repeat it here as though we have not already dismissed the concept of sequestration. Obviously, we’re going to get angry.

    Don’t tell us that this is the voice of a much respected leader who needs his head banged against the wall. It is your voice. Cut it out!


  169. Hi, DBB.

    Two problems:
    1. The Sahara is not empty space and is not exactly secure from a military perspective.
    2. The Australian Outback is not empty either – it is a wonderfully complex and diverse group of regions, each with its own character.

    Short of Armageddon, neither is available for such schemes.

    Meanwhile, South Australians argue endlessly about the merits of setting aside a few acres for radioactive waste disposal/storage. One thread of the argument follows the line “there’s nowhere for it to be put”, ie the whole of the 1 million or so square miles is fully occupied.

    Back in the real world, none of the extreme mega-dreams is achievable – no 40 billion tonne sequestrations, no broad ocean kelp forests and no million square kilometer projects.


  170. David, you did not provide an answer to the question of “where would you put 40 Gt/a of CO2?”. You did not because you cannot. But instead of admitting that the quantity is too huge to hide, you pointed to the primary production of the biosphere as if it were vastly greater. In contradiction, your own link gives a figure for terrestrial production (and subsequent respiration) of similar ballpark! It’s seems to me that you are in denial of the size of the problem.

    Even if it were (miraculously) reduced to artificial wood, [CH2O], that would still be 40 km³/a. There is no place and no process on earth that can accommodate such a flux. It is one cubic kilometre per week, every week, for as long as the carbon-based civilisation lasts. And the energy required for any such process would be several times the energy that the carbon originally delivered.

    We are surrounded by goodhearted people who desperately want to believe that token reductions will forgive them for destroying the environment that created us. They are in denial of the imminent death of the world we once knew. We should not join them. We should be bravely contemplating the new climate beyond.


  171. The afforestation argument calculates that the CO2 is both stored in the trees across the Sahara & outback and the new organic activity in the soil, which can be enormous. I remember reading somewhere that biochar stimulates extra microbial action, especially in fungi. They breed and dye and (fast) generations later build new soil in the process, which stores something like 5 times the weight of the original biochar.

    If the kelp cannot soak up the whole 40GT, then can we at least agree that studies into the economics of the idea of it as an interesting fibre and fertiliser source could be beneficial? What if we can replace the airline industry’s liquid fuel needs this way, while storing some of the raw biomass NPK for fertiliser? What if kelp biomass helped generate some synthetic feedstocks for the petro-chemical industry? Is the fibre any good for producing synthetic mod-woods? What excites me about the idea is that it is sheer biomass from non-agricultural regions, which is of course the old problem with land-based biomass schemes. The old food v fuel problem.


  172. Roger Clifton — Please find and study the full paper by Ornstein et al., “Irrigated Afforestation of the Sahara desert and Australia outback …”, freely available as a pdf.

    The paper claims that using much, but not all, of these two deserts will sequester a little more than 2 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide per annum. That almost keeps up with current anthropogenic production of excess carbon dioxide. Obviously, the world population needs to move, as quickly as may be, to other than so-called fossil fuels. But start sequestering at the same time; in a subsequent comment I will elaborate on why.

    The trees, if properly cared for, will continue to grow at a good pace for a long time. For example, on the north end of Vancouver Island I once saw a base section of a tree which was already over 250 years old at the time of the Battle of Hastings. In any case, the wood can then be converted to biochar. In fast pyrolysis about 1/4 is turned to a gas which is combustable; a heating fuel to replace natural gas? About 1/2 is turned into a liquid which can be refined into transportation fuel. The remaining 1/4 is the actual biochar. This can be buried up to root depth to improve soils. It can also be compressed into artificial anthracite for deep, permanent burial.

    According to Ornstein et al. the cost is affordable, being less than one percent of the world’s gross domestic product. All told, feasible as well as necessary to avoid the consequences listed in “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas.


  173. singletonengineer — Armageddon started the year I was born, 1940. For already then Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica first backed off its grounding line. This will lead to much of the ice in West Antarctica eventually melting. It is easy to check that so long as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels remain at or above 400 ppm the sea levels will rise about 25 meters higher than now. For that was the sea stand in the mid-Pliocene, with a global temperature of around 2 °C higher than now. For other miseries, see recent articles on Real Climate.

    The Sahara desert is 2.9 million square km, close to the same size as the 50 states of the USA. In Ornstein et al., “Irrigated Afforestation of the Sahara desert and Australia outback …”, it is proposed to use much, but not all of it, there being two large exceptions. I assure you that the remainder is nothing but sand and rock. Well, there are some oasis, etc. The few oasis are too small to change.

    The peoples of Egypt and the Maghreb, but also the Sahel, are underemployed and would be pleased to have work in basic construction and tree farming. Some might be employed as security agents as might be required. I opine that having enough employment will tend to pacify the region. In any case, most people in Egypt and across the Maghreb do not live in the desert.

    I know little about the Australian outback. The closest I came was a flight from Brisbane to Cairns.


  174. Australian Outback?

    Lived and worked in Alice Springs plus terms on a fly-in-fly-out basis in Leinster, West Australia. Both qualify on any analysis as being in the Dead Centre, which I can confirm is very much Not Dead.

    Central Australia is an exciting, vibrant, varied and hugely interesting place to be.

    However, my real point is that real project proposals are founded on analysis, not spin. News coming from New York re closure of yet another great NPP and other news which links the gas industry with antinuclear activity convinces me that the real problems lie not with finding solutions to high atmospheric and oceanic carbon loads but with those who, acting out of self interest, are prepared to make bad into worse.

    Have a great day. Mine isn’t quite that good – my doctor has just left, after diagnosing early stages of a degenerative, incurable disease. As might be expected,I sought medical advice for medical questions. If only climate scientists and engineers received the same respect.


  175. An earlier comment offers the challenge of disposing of a cubic kilometer of wood per week. Assuming that the proportions of gas, liquid and solid from pyrolysis of the wood are 1/4, 1/2, 1/4, the difficulty is utilizing the liquid.

    For the gas can be consumed in keeping the fast pyrolysis going. This is what is done in the pyrolysis units I have read about. The solid is the biochar to be buried.

    The liquid fraction is approximately twice the volume of the petroleum pumped each and every week. So all the existing uses of petroleum can, in principle, be displaced by “bio-oil” with the remainder to find beneficial uses for. More bioplastics? Heating oil? I am sure that the future can find some uses for what is essentially a waste product.

    I haven’t included my, most approximate, calculations. Kindly check this yourself.


  176. David, your link to forests-in-the-deserts still doesn’t address the question of “where to put the stuff”. It waves its arms enthusiastically about creating the forests where forests couldn’t be before, happily under the delusion that the only thing stopping the growth of the forests before was lack of water. What to convert the wood to, and where to put it is simply not addressed at all.

    Eclipse, none of the schemes you refer to include a sufficient description of “where to put 40 Gt/a CO2”. As far as I can see, all of them are in the category of token reductions, no more than pleas of innocence as emissions continue unabated.

    However those schemes that propose to actually use it in place of fossil carbon could count. It is true that if all emissions from fossil carbon fuel were recycled, re-energised as replacement fuel, the problem would be solved without any need for storage.

    However the question of volume still remains to be answered. Current fuel refineries throughput 4.3 Gt/a of hydrocarbons, so a complete recycling of emissions back to fuel would require something like a tenfold increase in the activity of fuel refineries.

    Except for the idea of extensive kelp farms, the extraction of CO2 from the air remains an unsolved challenge.

    (SE: what say you just drink the stuff anyway, slowly, sipping each rationed drop… :) )


  177. Roger Clifton — I have addressed the question of where to put the stuff in several previous comments. Do learn to read before commenting.

    Your attempt to provide a link is broken.

    In any case, the main issue is water. The micronutrients are readily addressed. The most important is nitrogen, which is considered in the Ornstein et al. paper. You ought to read it with some care.


  178. Sorry, David. It takes me about an hour to compose a comment, during which time your reply had gone up on the site.

    Turning captured CO2 into artificial wood at a rate of one cubic kilometre a week using vast amounts of (probably nuclear) energy was hypothetical, to point out that the quantity was impossibly huge.  The destinations you propose for it would certainly flounder for the same reason: the volumes predicted would be equally impossibly huge.

    Any process that could turn captured CO2 into any form of polymerised carbon cheaper than crude oil would instead be snaffled up by the (already huge) fuel refineries to be converted into familiar streams of petrochemicals and fuel.

    (here is repaired link to forests-in-the-desert-pdf)


  179. From
    the presumed 2 ppmv of carbon dioxide removed per annum by growing trees in deserts contains 4.26 Gt of carbon. Wood is approximately 50% carbon so the annual weight of wood to be removed from the well established forests in the desert of Ornstein et al. is 8.52 Gt. The pyrolysis results in about half liquids, so 4.26 Gt of derived liquids is to be sent to refineries. From
    that is almost the same as the weight of crude pumped and sent to refineries now.

    Somehow I doubt that the weights and volumes are impossibly large as it is currently accomplished each and every year.


  180. DBB, are you assuming halving the woody mass by biocharing it at a 50/50 gas to biochar processing rate? There are many reasons to reverse the desertification we’ve caused around the Sahara, and if we leave enough desert for biodiversity concerns etc, but afforest some portions, then forestry is its own reward, let alone the added benefit of sequestering carbon.

    If we’re getting rid of the Tim Flannery seaweed project of 40GT a year, that’s 20 cubic km’s of syngas a year! That’s vastly more than the ‘cubic mile of oil’ we use a year, or 1.6 cubic km. That kind of syngas is … truly unimaginable. An energy baron’s dream. Surely, and here’s the real rub, that makes backing up renewables possible? Solar & wind during the day, seaweed syngas at night. Done?

    OK, so once we’ve thoroughly rehabilitated ALL our farmland soils with biochar, and maybe some grazing and pasturelands as well (35% of the non-ice surface of the earth), what do we do with the rest to sequester it? Use industrial presses to crush it into bricks, maybe with a biomimicry agent to cement it, and then start rebuilding those coal-topped mountains with it? We’ve got to get rid of 20 cubic km’s a year! Crush it into bricks and drop in the deep ocean? How does it interact with sea microorganisms: would it be better to powder it into the ocean to stimulate other systems?


  181. EN, a cubic mile is not 1.6 cubic km’s.

    More akin to 1.6 cubed, actually 4.17 cubic km’s.

    I’m still getting my head around the rest of your post, but my starting point is that the easiest, simplest gains can be made at the front end by reducing carbon emissions, rather than in the middle via sequestration or afterwards via clean-up projects such as imaginary reforestation and kelp farming schemes.

    There are many possible reasons for this, including:
    1. Each tonne of CO2 not emitted is a permanent gain.
    2. CO2 avoided cannot escape from storage after “capture”.
    3. CO2 avoided cannot be leaked from processes such as during transport or industrial conversion.
    4. Generally, the technology for avoidance exists and the need is for diversion of portion of current less effective efforts, eg development of wind, solar and natgas facilities to more effective (dollar for dollar) options including the frequently and irrationally overlooked massively increased use of nuclear power for primary, high value energy. Remember, electrical energy is the top of the tree. It is more flexible than any other and is able to be transported and converted anywhere and into any other energy form.
    5. The time for development and implementation of nuclear energy has been demonstrated by France and others to be streets ahead of anything that can compare with it. China is currently proposing to grow its 28GW (Nameplate) of nuclear power to 120 to 150 GW by the 2030’s – I’m not sure of the dates. This is entirely achievable.
    6. My grandchildren need the process of net “carbon” (ie GHG) emission elimination to be a done deal within their lifetimes. They cannot wait for the political, legal, social, research, trials, engineering and natural processes involved with world-scale untried, undeveloped, unplanned technologies to come to fruition. Simply growing those trees to maturity takes what? 40 – 50 years? Or, perhaps, you really envision sugar cane’s one-year cycle, in which case deserts are out of the question.

    Maybe I’m missing a key fact or ten, but don’t trees grow extremely slowly when located in less than optimal conditions? Desert trees can be 100 years old and still only stand on 100 mm trunks. Or are deserts, suddenly, going to be fertile, with deep, moist, fertile soils and without harsh climates? I guess that I’ll have to read that book, but it certainly isn’t at the front of the queue. Is there an Executive Summary? Perhaps a few reviews by independent experts? Or is it just dreaming, like Professor Tim?

    By all means, try other pathways; but in doing so, also ensure that you don’t provide the naysayers and roadblock-builders with excuses for “more of the same” FUD. Investigating alternatives must not be available as an excuse for not getting on with the job at hand at full speed and while using the very best and most effective tools that are available.

    There is a world of difference between a Tim Flannery sideshow and a Broadway blockbuster.

    To succeed at this task we need blockbusters and soon.


  182. Both elimination of the use of so-called fossil fuels and the sequestration of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the oceans are necessary; neither is sufficient unto itself. Neither is an excuse for not doing the other.

    Won’t be easy or inexpensive. For example, somewhere I saw an estimate that rising wealth and expectations will double the demand for petroleum products in the readily foreseeable future. While sufficiently mature forests in deserts could supply enough “bio-oil” to replace current demand for petroleum, there is no possibility of doubling that, as far as I can tell. So about half the demand needs to be shifted to electricity based transportation, etc.

    Growing anything in the desert requires careful attention to the details. The Israelis are very good at it, with many decades of practice. I would certainly want them as consultants.

    But yes, while there is plenty of sunlight, the high evaporation rates have to be controlled. The Israelis, as far as I know, invented drip irrigation. Deployment of that technique appears advisable. One additional advantage is that the micronutrients can be dissolved in the water for spreading without waste.


  183. According to
    the top 8 oil & gas companies earned, together , a total of about US $1919 billion in the year studied. Assuming but half that, very conservative, is from sales of crude oil, the world is willing to pay almost one trillion US dollars for the stuff.

    So if it is correct that the fully established forests in the deserts can produce an equivalent amount of “bio-oil”, the operation can pay its own way even at prices ruineously low for the majors.


  184. Hi DBB,
    biochar yields vary, and it can be set up to produce half biochar, half energy products (both syngas & oil).

    “Temperatures of 400–500 °C (752–932 °F) produce more char, while temperatures above 700 °C (1,292 °F) favor the yield of liquid and gas fuel components.[12] Pyrolysis occurs more quickly at the higher temperatures, typically requiring seconds instead of hours. High temperature pyrolysis is also known as gasification, and produces primarily syngas, which has been used as vehicle fuel in some times and places.[12] Typical yields are 60% bio-oil, 20% biochar, and 20% syngas. By comparison, slow pyrolysis can produce substantially more char (~50%); it is this which contributes to the observed soil fertility of terra preta. Once initialized, both processes produce net energy. For typical inputs, the energy required to run a “fast” pyrolyzer is approximately 15% of the energy that it outputs.[13] Modern pyrolysis plants can use the syngas created by the pyrolysis process and output 3–9 times the amount of energy required to run.[7]”


  185. an equivalent amount

    When a refinery gets from biomass an equivalent amount of carbon as currently, it needs to get the equivalent amount of energy as well to complete the processing into fuel. To increase the calorific value of a hydrocarbon stream, traditional practice in refineries is to “add hydrogen”, which in a decarbonised economy would have to be electrolytic hydrogen. However rather than bother with such a hazardous and intractable intermediary as hydrogen, I like to think they would more directly “subtract oxygen”. Electrolytically of course.

    The current price of crude oil is US$54 per barrel or $396 per tonne. Its calorific value is about 40 GJ per tonne. So a competing source of energy would have to be cheaper than $10/GJ, or 0.036 $/kWh. That is pretty cheap to beat, but a nuclear power plant on site might achieve that.

    The calculation would be different if a carbon tax had been applied to the crude oil before it arrived at the refinery…


  186. David asks, why add more energy?

    If all of the world’s consumption of coal, oil and gas is to be replaced by recycled carbon, all of the energy that was taken out in the original process must now be inserted into the recycled carbon so it becomes fuel again. In other words, CO2 must be converted back to [CH2] so that the same carbon can supply the same customers with the same amount of energy from a different source.

    In a separate BNC blog, we have discussed the extraction of the CO2 from seawater, in which case all of the energy must be put back using nuclear electricity. When the carbon capture is done by seaweed or forests, a certain amount of solar energy goes into making the intermediate biomass, [CH2O], but the energy content is a long way short of [CH2], the most popular carbon fuel.

    If you pyrolyse the biomass before delivering it to the refinery, you may have increased the energy content per carbon somewhat, but at the expense of returning some carbon back to the atmosphere, which is contrary to the main point of the exercise. Considering that photosynthesis is much better at collecting carbon than it is at collecting solar energy, it is surely better to deliver all the carbon, as raw biomass to the refinery, and leave them to restore the energy content using an efficient, proven industrial process.


  187. Aha! Now I see what Roger’s saying. Instead of cooking some of the seaweed syngas to run the process, use nukes to cook the seaweed into biochar and then keep all the gas. It just depends on what is politically acceptable, I guess.

    “Additionally, fifty percent of seaweed’s weight is oil, so we would theoretically only need to set aside three percent of the world’s oceans for seaweed farming to meet world energy needs.”


  188. Acacia plants… there are many nitrogen fixers in desert plant species, including many Acacias. That similarity is why Australian and African “wattles”, originally were classified as Acacias.

    The various similar yet often unrelated species were reclassified globally in 2012.

    Overall, the species formerly classified as Acacia are now spread across five genera:

    Acacia: 1032 species, Australia, Asia
    Acaciella: 15 species, Americas
    Mariosousa: 13 species, Americas
    Senegalia: 199 species, Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia
    Vachellia: 156 species, Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia</i>

    Globally, approximately 1000 of the total of 1400 species of nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs are Australian natives,which are sometimes dominant in Australian desert landscapes. My guess is that 300 Australian Acacias are desert-dwellers.

    As for Israel’s experience, I am well out of touch, but from distant memory they had great early success with species of Eucalypt, another primarily Australian genus with hundreds of members, especially several Eastern Australian coastal and inland species (nb not necessarily desert dwelling) including E. saligna (Sydney Blue Gum) and E. maculata (Spotted Gum) and the red ironbarks, E. Sideroxylon and E.crebra.

    These eucalypts, also recently reclassified as Corymbia species, are not nitrogen-fixers and are not native desert-dwellers, so if grown in depleted soils will need heavy fertilizer application, eg from sewage effluent which relies on proximity to cities, or from artificial factory sources which these post-guano days rely on natural gas as a feedstock.

    Fixed nitrogen, the major component of fertilizer, is an excellent example that one gets nothing for free in this world.

    Proposal that rely on greening deserts needs to be supported by very much more detail than just wishful thinking and a suggestion that Israellis might be consulted.

    Where, precisely, can the necessary millions of tonnes of nitrogenous fertilizer come from, and on what time scale? I say that it is an impossible dream.


  189. Israel is far and away the world’s best recycler of sewage effluent at something like 40 to 50%.

    It is difficult to justify use of broad scale desert planting on the basis of sparse population (ie “waste”, or at least, very low cost land), then to rely on sewage for nitrogen, without which growth becomes stunted.

    Large olive and date trees at Siwa Oasis are not examples of high growth and are entirely unsuited to conversion of CO2 to biochar and oils.

    A lemon-scented gum I planted in sand soil grew from seedling to somewhat over 30 feet high in the period 1970 – 1974. That is another species which was once planted widely in both Israel and California, but I understand to be less desired these days because of its vigor. Only after the local authorities removed the tree did the reason for its vigor become apparent – a broken domestic sewer pipe. Roots had traveled a long way down the smaller pipes to the main, where they caused mayhem.

    Growth relies on water plus nutrient plus time. We don’t have time, so must focus on the other two.

    By the way, date palms are among the worst of introduced pest tree species in inland Australia, for many reasons including that they provide shelter for other pests such as feral cats. They are entirely inappropriate.

    African Olive trees are locally very widely distributed and difficult to eradicate pests, especially along country roadsides. I am reminded as I write this that I must grub out the thirty or more alongside my boundaries.

    Informed consent for broad scale plantings within Central Australia would need at least a generation’s assessment in order to develop the necessary knowledge.

    In the Australian vernacular, “It simply isn’t on, mate!” Not till the far side of 2050, at least.


  190. A reminder to contemplate the size of a problem and not just the possibility that there might be a problem.

    Here is today’s news re 10,000 deaths per annum in London due to poor air quality.

    London: 10,000 per year.
    Three Mile Island: Zero then and still zero.
    Fukushima: Zero.

    Yet there are misguided but otherwise educated and rational folk who steadfastly affirm that radiation due to nuclear power is a major killer.

    What hope is there for the planet?


  191. singletonengineer — The Ornstein et al. paper proposes acacias, for nitrogen fixation, followed by giant eucalyptus. I am not proposing anything else for tree farms in the deserts. Sorry for the confusion.

    As for additional fertilizer for faster growth, sure. Roger Clifton’s refinery will convert some of the biomass into methane so there is a source for the Haber process. The P and K for the NPK fertilizer will have to come from mines. However, the brine from desalination of sea water can be spread out to dry with the salts a source of whatever…


  192. Biomass needs condensing and transporting to a refinery. The deserts are huge, making wheeled transportation expensive. So I still suggest pyrolysis on site. The fluid fractions can then be piped to a refinery. The solid fraction, the actual biochar, is buried near the pyrolysis site.

    This means some of the syngas is consumed to power the pyrolysis; see the Wikipedia page. It is still the case that the remaining fluids would approximate crude oil by weight and volume.


  193. Hi all,
    even though I’m not a scientist, after passionately searching for a biomass answer to our energy issues 12 years back, and becoming firmly convinced that biomass could not generate enough energy because there just isn’t enough agricultural land to generate that kind of energy, I did have my suspicions about Tim Flannery’s 9% of the oceans seaweed theory. I just asked on another science forum, and this was the reply.

    I read and meant to reply to this when it first appeared, but was distracted by the usually chaos of end-of-year professional life. :(

    My initial question about Flannery’s plan to vastly expand seaweed farms – the linked article give his proposal as an area of 9% of the world’s oceans – is about where to put them?

    Except for a few species, seaweed thrives only in shallow coastal water. A looking up of the area of the Earth’s oceans and the length its coasts shows that, is every coast was used, the average width would be about 10 km (3.6 x 1012 m2 / 3.2 x 108 m =~ 10112 m). This includes many coastlines, such as the Arctic and Antarctic, that are too cold for seaweed. I’ve only personal, anecdotal data, but I’ve never seen much seaweed in water much deeper than 30 m, or further offshore than a few km.

    Has anyone actually mapped these proposed huge seaweed farms?


  194. Hi all,
    I really don’t think we need to fertilise deserts, as many of the minerals we need are in the rocky sands, but are just too try to support life. Witness any area of Outback or Sahara after a freak rain. Life appears. If you just add water, most deserts have weeds that are good at fixing nitrogen and digging the other nutrients out of the local rocky outcrops etc.
    Now if we’re actively planting, then they might first grow whatever proves to be one of the faster cropping plants like bamboo or kudzu or something that can be cropped quickly and go in the biochar burner. Then you have biochar! Dig that in, and you not only get the trees growing, but super-charge the development of microbial life in the soil. It sucks down nitrogen as the fungi grow, and increases the overall carbon sequestration of the region. It locks in water, making that expensive desalinated water go so much further. It provides a good mix with the sand or crushed rock to bring the soil back to life.
    Check these with and without photos:

    Not only this, but if you do it in conjunction with seawater greenhouses, you get many nutrients in the seawater. Seawater greenhouses themselves grow factory-farmed tomatoes or other fruit, and Sundrop farms outside Adelaide has a major contract to expand. But in Africa they’re trying to produce 5 times the water the individual greenhouse requires, so that they can expand into other crops outside the greenhouse. Some of them get into aquaponics as well. There’s a lot of exciting work being done in learning how to bring the desert back to life, economically.


  195. Eclipse Now — If the link in your footnote 1 is to the Ornstein et al. paper for which the abstract can be found here:
    then yes, that is the cost they claim. However, once the forests are producing syngas and bio-oil, refined into heating gases and transportation fuels, bioplastics, etc., then the cost can be fully offset, so it seems. And more. For $43 per barrel of crude oil is well below the current market value of crude oil. Then, guessing, $10 per barrel equivalent to collect and refine the biofluids brings the price of the equivalent bioproducts to the low range of the crude oil market.


  196. Re: NPK in deserts:

    “Lehmann explains that nutrients from plant and animal remains—like nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium—bind to charcoal or biochar, drastically reducing how much is washed away by the constant rains. It is a gradual process that begins with the charcoal breaking down in the soil over time. Tiny pores in the charcoal, along with changes in its chemistry, provide more surfaces for nutrients to adhere to, which in turn encourages microorganisms to colonize the soil. “With a handful of biochar you can keep many more nutrients in the soil than with a handful of mulch or compost. It is like mopping up nutrients with a magnet that looks like a sponge—that is, it has high surface area like a sponge but can attract a thin layer of material like a magnet,” Lehmann says.”


  197. EN, your comment makes no sense unless there is at least a reasonable load of NPK to start with.

    BTW, I once was deeply involved in a research program involving Western Sydney University and CSIRO, targeting use of power station ash as a soil improver (NB not a fertilizer – an improver: there are legal and practical reasons for the distinction between the two). Long story short, we had out hopes lifted when pot trials indicated that adsorption of nutrient onto the massive surface area of the ash enabled it to be held within the soil, thus reducing the tendency for nutrient to leach either too deep within the soil profile for the roots of the plants or even to be washed right out. It also improved the moisture holding capacity of the soil, as had been reported from WA in field trials involving dairy effluent being applied to sandy soils, which are very common in that state.

    So far, so good.

    Additional benefits included reduced potassium toxicity for intolerant native species.

    The whole thing was dropped when field trials indicated that the nutrients were liable to be dumped if the pH reduced below a certain point. Since dairy wash water tends to be acidic this point was reached very rapidly, the nutrients were dumped, the grass died and the benefits were illusory.

    The project was, understandably, canned.

    Now, I have no idea whether similar processes affect soil carbon as affect fly ash but I bet that you don’t either.

    But the NPK must come from somewhere – it MUST be present in the soil, yet you seem to believe that it will appear miraculously, like some kind of pixie dust sprinkled by Peter Pan as he flies above the fields.

    There is no Peter Pan, no pixie dust and almost no NPK in many very old, severely leached desert soils. It absolutely must be added and balanced – there is no alternative.

    I’m only a civil engineer with a bit of postgrad chemistry under my belt. You needn’t believe me. But please at least base your beliefs on serious studies by qualified, independent research agronomists, chemists or botanists; folk with serious depth of relevant knowledge and who lack commercial bias. My teams included at least a dozen PhD level researchers, working in multiple centres for a couple of years and checking each other. Unfortunately, since the work was private and commercial, the actual studies have been retained by my former employer and not released to the public.

    And the qualifications of your sources are what?


  198. One more proliferation question on the ‘short burn’ hypothesis. So Bwwiaaan is still going on and on about his ‘short burn’ paranoia. My question is how would they ensure no pure U238 rods are put in the reactor whenever they eventually need to add new uranium to the cycle? Is it something in the refining stage? Anyone got links to authoritative sites that defuse this paranoia from proliferating?


  199. EN asks, “how would they ensure no pure U238 rods are put in the reactor” (and removed after a short burn)

    There are answers to this one, but it is mistake to even begin. Our enemy is carbon, not proliferators, and the question is a distraction from the main threat. Tell your Luddite questioner that it is police matter and we leave such know-how to the inspectors.

    I reckon that your questioners are willfully frightening gullible listeners with an ugly fantasy entirely of their own creation. It’s a red herring. Show anger.


  200. Hi, ER.

    The following is not authoritative, not even verified or based on actual facts… which are strangers to Bwaiiin in any case and thus irrelevant.

    The question is trivial and just plain silly. It assumes that nuclear power stations are essentially uncontrolled places, where random, unsafe and surreptitious things can and do happen.

    There are nuclear regulatory authorities, of one kind or another in all jurisdictions.

    Simple conceivable tools available for use include:
    1. Monitoring movements of materials on and off site.

    Inspection of maintenance records and logs of maintenance activities, such as would indicate material being added to or removed from the core.
    Registering and stock-checking actual rod assemblies on a site. They are both dangerous and valuable. Of course their stock movements are rigorously managed. Does Bwiaan say otherwise?
    Interviewing employees “Have you witnessed activity X?”
    Presence of independent safety inspectors 24/7/365,perhaps in several layers (Local, corporate, regulatory/Federal, regulatory/State).
    Locking and sealing specific plant items that, if opened, would enable access to the core, etc. That would, I imagine, be very much a central point of any safety management program where highly radioactive materials are stored.
    Secure remote monitoring and recording of key areas and items of plant that would be necessarily involved in removal of core material – eg video, radiation measurement, personal ID cards… thus logging every movement of man, machine or material via a range of processes.
    Presence of dead ex-employees who have been exposed to unauthorised levels of radiation during the process of attempting to steal radioactive materials and/or to remove core material at an early stage.

    The list is endless. The point is, of course, that no regulatory authority would approve of a system which did not rigorously manage risks associated with movement of people and materials, whether authorised or otherwise. The NPP simply would not be permitted to load core materials the first or any subsequent time unless these systems were in place, independently monitored and effective.

    Bwiaaan’s problem is that his approach to this has been akin to that of a fish flapping around on the floor of a boat – he has nowhere to go and nothing to gain, but he still flaps. Having swallowed a hook, he is now trapped in a place which he does not understand and over which he has little or no control. So, he and others like him flip, flop and flap with no hope of effect on the outcome.

    Bwiaaan’s questions will, eventually, die with him.

    Conversing with Bwiaaan will not bring an end to his flipping, flapping or flopping. He has no choice and nothing that you can do short of violence will alter his perception of the need to continue his current path.

    Most of all, please recognise that only rational people are open to rational argument.


  201. Eclipse Now — Natural uranium is almost pure U238:
    and depleted uranium even more so. Neither will sustain the nuclear reaction and the reactor containing such won’t work well. Unless there is a sufficient density of U235 the reaction will come to a near stop.

    The way to make weapons plutonium is to run a reactor for a short time. The challenge is then to separate the plutonium from everything else. Only state actors have the resources to do so.


  202. Huon posted a link to an article authored by James Conca, who has extensive experience as a geologist and geochemist.

    It is thus reasonable to assume that Mr Conca is familiar with earlier studies which mirror his own, including those which are based on accelerated weathering of olivine.

    While it is certainly interesting to read of new studies on additional rocks types, the fact remains that he is nowhere close to describing a solution to the problems of geosequestration of CO2.

    Four points that are not addressed in this article:

    ONE: The CO2 will be injected dissolved in massive volumes of water. Where does the water come from and where does it drain to? He refers only to the greatly reduced volume of the dissolved CO2 when converted to a carbonate salt as against the volume of CO2 as a gas.

    TWO: There is no indication that the project is feasible, scaleable, affordable or practical, only that it is interesting to note that CO2 can, after two years in contact with an appropriate basalt, precipitate as a salt. Yet the short article is written as though this is a panacea for CO2 geosequestration. When, how and at what energy and monetary cost? – he is silent. Remember, even a single 1000MW coal-fired power station will consume of the order of 500 metric tonnes of carbon/hour; over 4 Mtpa. That results in stack emissions of about 15 Mtpa CO2 which needs to be collected, dissolved in (clean?) water, pumped to the disposal location, injected a kilometer down in drill holes in massive basalt deposits, monitored for years and this whole game will be repeated thousands of times over across the globe.

    Globally, if we continue to burn coal and other fossil fuels, we will need to dispose of 50Gt/a CO2 annually, until the coal runs out. Is this what is being proposed by Exxon?

    When does crystal ball gazing end and snake-oil sales begin? I say that this is snake oil.

    THREE: The choice of comparison of the salt volume as a solid, excluding consideration of the volume of water, with CO2 as a gas is interesting. If the basalt becomes waterlogged with a hydrostatic head of 500 metres or more, as appears inevitable, then the appropriate comparison is with CO2 not as a gas but as a pressurised liquid. Indeed, the volume of the transport water is likely to be many times the volume of the CO2 liquid avoided – hence the mention of earthquakes should not read as though they are avoided by this process, but that the situation will be worsened wrt some other sequestration pathways and comparable with other sequestration pathways that inject CO2 in aqueous solution.

    FOUR. The author uses the term “we”. He is not an independent observer or reviewer. He is a partisan, a spokesperson for Exxon’s interests. Accordingly, his statements cannot be accepted unless independently verification.

    The article is interesting, to a point – but it is not persuasive and probably IMHO serves primarily to avoid action to reduce fossil fuel consumption. It is designed to promote delay and confusion when action is needed.


  203. singletonengineer,

    Thanks for your gracious and interesting comment. Just a few quick thoughts for now.

    –As to water, you might take a look at another article, “Getting water to all the right places…” in Apparently, very little water is required to sequester the CO2.

    –I hope most sequestration will be used to draw down atmospheric and oceanic CO2, not neutralize dirty fuels.

    –James Conca does not seem to be an apologist for fossil fuels. He recently celebrated the saving of nuclear power plants in Illinois, USA.

    Finally, as an aside, I stand in awe of anyone who has peripatus on or near his property.


  204. Yes, only a little water is required:
    In the corny video the PNNL test is explained. I am no chemist but I am under the impression that the water is also bound in the reaction.

    Not mentioned is that this process will cause the basalt to necessarily swell. Not a lot, but likely to increase cracking.

    The big problem is obtaining carbon dioxide which is pure enough and then pressurizing to a super critical state.


  205. While I applaud the Plan A approach of just insisting that fossil fuels be shut down.. what if they aren’t?
    Paris was a joke where everyone agreed that everyone else should limit warming to 1.5 degrees, but not them. On current ‘commitments’ from Paris, we’re heading to over 4 degrees!

    I’m forced to applaud those brave, persecuted, misunderstood climatologists who WILL actually ask what the hell we’re going to do as Plan A fails. Plan A only has about 12 more years, then we’re toast. Bill McKibben says DO THE MATH! You’re all engineers.
    You watch this 3 minute piece and tell me if Plan A is going to work.

    If it only takes 3 minutes to show that Plan A has, in all probability, completely and utterly failed, then what’s Plan B?

    UNLESS there is a miracle of overnight rapid agreement to fast-track something like 200 reactors a year, THE MATHS says Plan A is stuffed. Given the lack of momentum, we’re already going to cook this planet 4 times over. We’re stuffed. Be as purist as you want, write long paragraphs of accusing me to be a fossil fuel stooge, do your worst. But the maths is against you. We’re STUFFED! Given the infrastructure momentum is currently in the wrong direction, and the public have no friggin idea about nuclear, we’re stuffed. It’s climate election night, and I’m calling it. We’ve cooked the planet already. It’s far too late.

    I’ll live to see some of this unfold. My kids could live to see civilisation collapse, unless some of us actually applaud and stop scolding those climate scientists willing to ask what if Plan A, “just don’t do coal”, goes wrong. We’ve seen how effective abstinence campaigns were in stopping HIV. Even some Catholic churches will allow discussion about condoms. How’s fossil fuel ‘abstinence’ going? Again, DO THE MATH!

    Plan B = About half the climate cooled by solar shield, or we get into really bad effects form the solar shield itself.

    Plan B will also have to involve olivine and biochar and seaweed sequestration methods, and many others. Olivine is great because when laid out on the ground and after it has soaked up CO2, it can wash down rivers and de-acidify the ocean. And we should probably encourage it to end up in the oceans, as Roger’s always asking where to put so many cubic km’s of the stuff. Last time I looked the oceans were pretty big.

    Again, I wish we were sane enough for Plan A to work. But all the Bwiaaans of the world have ALREADY delayed nuclear until it’s too late. It’s just too late. We CANNOT build enough nukes in time! But we can do everything we can to fast track nukes will also not tearing shreds out of any climatologists who legitimately ask, “What are we going to do now that A has actually, categorically, mathematically failed?!”


  206. A HORRIBLE anti-Mars thought occurs: if we warmed Mars up with super-greenhouse gases to the point where the CO2 poles melted, which would in turn see CO2 ablate out of the regolith and give Mars 30% BAR which would protect us from radiation, start the hydrological cycle, let us walk on the surface without a vacuum space-suit but instead normal clothes and a breather mask, and maybe even some farming on the surface, AND THEN we started to grow forests… wouldn’t those forests soak up that CO2 and then cool the planet back down again? We’d have to have large taxpayer funded super-greenhouse gas factories just to keep up with supplementing whatever SUPER greenhouse gas we were adding to the depletion rate of CO2 from the atmosphere as we added shrubs and bushes and eventually trees to the Martian surface! Sorry, it’s just the way my mine works. I’m a fan of many genres, expert in none.


  207. On CO2 sequestration in basalt:

    singletonengineer, you were right to question the water use. James Conca mistakenly said the injected CO2 was dissolved in water. It was, rather, supercritical CO2 mixed with a little water. My mistake for not catching that error.


  208. DBB, Your comment and link were quite helpful. As you say, “The big problem is obtaining carbon dioxide which is pure enough and then pressurizing to a super critical state.” So you might enjoy checking out NetPower, which is building a pilot plant in Texas.


  209. Thanks, Huon – I was mystified as to where all that water would go.

    Roger, your links illustrate the Law of Unintended Consequences must be reckoned with in all novel processes.

    Perhaps I am a pessimist, but I see solutions for the effects of climate change primarily in what we already know and tend to disregard speculation about the unknown. Hence, my increasing regard for NPP’s.


  210. Not “would”, Huon – it is a very large “If”.

    Still pre-experimental. The key high pressure turbine doesn’t exist yet in any form. There are no results to consider. Evenmicro-scale tests have not yet been attempted. Original partner ShawGroup has changed hands and is now part of CB&I, which has its own problems. Wait till the results of prototype trials have been published before forming opinions regarding viability – this is still very much at the possibility stage.

    The following comment from the article gives little reason for hope.

    “If this technology works, it creates an entirely new pathway to economically cut CO2 at a massive scale in a very short period of time,” Thompson said. “Even if half of what they claim pans out, it’s a big deal. If 25 percent of what they claim pans out, it’s still potentially important.”

    Progress towards lower greenhouse gas emissions is being continually frustrated by those who pin hopes on untried technology. There is very good experience available over a period of 50+ years that demonstrates conclusively what CAN be done. Any focus on what MIGHT be done sponsors more delay and confusion.

    Even worse is the daisy-chain effect that occurs when one untried technology (the linked article) is held up as an example of how another technology which is untried and is most unlikely to work becomes linked with other novel downstream technologies, each with their own very low probability of success, eg geo-sequestration of CO2 via basalt injection which might, but probably won’t be practicable.

    Well, if each of (say) five steps along this path has a probability of success of 10%, then the resulting probability of a successful daisy chain is 0.001%.

    To use a phrase out of context, this is all noise and no signal. Stop cheering.


  211. No, the reactions indicated in an earlier post, while exothermic, don’t generate enough heat to melt rock. So stuffing carbon dioxide about 5 km down will not cause any form of eruption.

    Enough of it in one locality would cause the ground to bulge.


  212. Well, let’s do the arithmetic. Geothermal gradient is 25 K/km, so temperature of the rock at 5 km depth is 5×25+25 C = 150 C. To frack the basalt (quite possible, as it is laid down in successive horizontal flows) a large quantity of water and sand is pumped down at over-pressures to fracture and lift up a few metres some 5 km of basalt (5000 m * 3 t/m3 *10 kN/t = 150 MN/m2 =150 MPa). Then a few million tons of CO2 is pumped in at similar pressures to spread through the wet fractures as a hot acid. Having sealed off the well, the ongoing reactions between fluid and basalt soon raise the temperature past 374 C, the critical point of water. Now when a locality of roof collapses, the supercritical fluid flows upwards to where its pressure is just that much more than the back pressure of the surrounding (but shallower) rock. Thus driven, upward cracks form more readily and the roof is that much readier to collapse again. At some point, the process accelerates, the roof collapsing into an upward-creeping cavity, bottom-fed with an over-pressure of a few million tons of hot gas. If the escape is gradual, we risk suffocating the surface life, if rapid, we have a diatreme explosion.


  213. Fine. Just don’t stuff all that water down the drill holes. Just enough, which is quite small, as demonstrated by PNNL. See the video in an earlier post.

    I suppose one ought to check just how much water is already present in the basalt formation. Locally all the city water comes from the Grand Ronde basalt formation. So if wet, don’t put much carbon dioxide in any one place at the same time.


  214. …And a fourth.

    The owner’s representative, Mr Knox, agrees with me:
    Aware of problems with carbon capture projects around the country and of the risks of hubris, he said: “We’re not going to declare victory before it’s time.”

    With maximum potential, if successful, to capture under 90% of 6% of the CO2 from the existing power station, plus with its own power generation facility (Natgas?), it’s still far too early to claim that salvation is at hand.

    As one who worked alongside David Mills on the design and construction of Australia’s first solar thermal array in the 1990’s and, with others on two subsequent, ever-larger, more costly yet essentially valueless such facilities subsequently, I feel that I am entitled to my opinion that initial hype is generally followed by obscurity.

    Clean coal from a personal perspective:
    Replacement of electrostatic precipitators with fabric filters, thus preventing over 90% of particulate stack emissions: Commenced commercial roll-out 1970’s, became widely accepted within 20 years. Parasitic power cost: 1 to 2 percent.

    Dry cooling and sulfur scrubbing reduced water requirements by 90% or more. Reduced sulfur-gas emissions at the stack 90% or more. Parasitic power cost <= 10%.

    Clean Coal carbon capture and re-use/storage: Has been discussed, pilot plant after pilot plant has been abandoned or failed for a couple of decades. NYT publishes a story that another trial will commence in a month or so. Parasitic power cost <= 30%. Less, if another party accepts the CO2 transport and injection cost in order to extract more oil, but isn’t that oil destined to be burned?

    Hold the party until we have something to celebrate.


  215. SE warns us, “CO2 … injection … in order to extract more oil, but isn’t that oil destined to be burned?”

    Yes. Enthusiasts of enhanced oil recovery by CO2 injection failed to point out that a successful injection of a large quantity of CO2 means that a large quantity of CO2 will soon return to the atmosphere.

    Late in the production of an oil well, the remaining oil is largely trapped in pockets and droplets by its buoyancy in the formation water. The CO2 dissolves mainly in the oil, expanding the volume of each droplet and decreasing its viscosity so that it emerges from hiding and joins the flow. Such CO2 as does dissolve in the formation water induces the coagulation of colloids and clays, increasing its viscosity and reducing the proportion of water in the extracted liquid.

    A low viscosity oil is easier to pipe, especially in cold weather, and the eventual escape of CO2 back into the atmosphere may not occur until it is being processed at the refinery. I might add that if a carbon tax had been applied to those escapes, it might motivate the refinery to hydrogenate the CO2 into saleable fuel. Currently however, refineries get their energy dirt cheap, their carbon for free, and their pollution as a money-driven right.


  216. CB&I, a partner in the CCS project, is so enthusiastic about the project that it isn’t even mentioned on the corporate website.

    Those seeking an overview of the 60 or so CCS projects world-wide might choose to look at for the less than 20 completed trials. Another page on this great MIT site lists 42 trials that were cancelled or abandoned, including 2 in Australia.

    Unfortunately, MIT’s online resource is now frozen – it is essentially an archive to Sept 2016 of parts of an EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery) study.


  217. Those interested in the cost of carbon storage in the Otway facility in Victoria will find a thumbnail summary at

    Project cost $25M
    Stored CO2 65,000 tonnes (presumably short tons of 2000lb)

    Cost per tonne CO2: A little above A$400/t.

    Commercially, the cost would of course drop considerably, but will it ever be competitive, especially when the cost of capture is considered?

    See also, Gorgon, the Australian project which is largest CCS in the world.


  218. And again, this time pointing out that the Gorgon project’s storage and long term reliability risks have been accepted by the State and Federal governments.

    “The State and Federal Governments announced in August 2009 that they would jointly accept responsibility for any long-term liabilities associated with the storage of carbon dioxide as part of the GJV.2”

    Peter Garrett, the Federal Minister at the time and with a Greens background perhaps didn’t realise the logical inconsistency between claims that the US Government accepts the long term storage risks for USA’s nuclear power reactors (they don’t – an industry fund was set up long ago for this purpose), and his own actions in relation to long term storage of CO2, despite the known presence of a major fault zone, The Barrow Fault, in the project area. The Barrow Fault is stated to have emitted within the past 10,000 years.

    NB. Even the Gorgon Project only aims to capture 40% of its CO2 emissions. Imagine the anger if the nuclear power industry was to plan to release a comparably large percentage of its emissions in an uncontrolled manner.


  219. Eclipse says, “Paris was a joke … Plan A has, in all probability, completely and utterly failed, then what’s Plan B?”

    The genre of Apocalyptic literature has always provided thinkers with visions of a collapsing world. The Wikipedia entry gives a marvellous summary.

    Many of the readers on BNC would have been brought up with “The Day of the Triffids”, which paints a particularly rosy Plan B for our heroes. This book is in the well populated category called “cosy catastrophe”, where all the good guys live happily ever after, while the vast mass of lesser people perish.

    The concept of “closing the farm gate” against a threatening world has probably always been an option for our species. In 1971, lost in the forest in Timor, I stumbled across a very cultured family (on a tiny, but self-supporting farm) that had retreated from reach of the authorities in the towns. Similar dreams abounded at the Nimbin Festival , and later a couple of us stumbled through the rainforest in the nearby Lamington National Park, looking in vain for a similar escape. Others are still in the Nimbin area, trying to close the farm gate.

    In common with all such visions is the use of “renewables”, that enables forward-thinking people to perpetuate at least some modern technology while the outside world collapses … Such as an electric fence to keep out the non-forward-thinking people.

    I hold faith that world public opinion reads the writing on the wall and takes action to soften or avoid the disasters ahead. However that would require enough us to Bravely contemplate the New Climate as it looms.


  220. Indeed, Roger.

    Post-Nimbin I became interested in what would eventually become a cooperative alternate lifestyle hippy dole-bludging, music-playing, subsistence hangout on a few hundred acres at Toorumbee, west of Kempsey, NSW. Many of my friends absconded there with stars in their eyes, only to have the whole thing collapse over the next half dozen years into anarchy and ruin.

    Avoiding society’s ruin is the business of governments, love ’em or hate ’em, but Western governments appear to be moving in the direction of having no policies and of outsourcing whatever decision-making that they can to international corporations and to oligarchs.

    Ahhh… Nimbin… my wife and I attended the Aquarius Festival of early 1973. Memories of undergraduate times, of being very recently married and of optimism. That was before the post-truth era, back when arguments could be had on the basis of facts.

    That was also near the peak of the “Ban the Bomb” movement which morphed into the “Ban the Nuclear Power Stations” movement of today, which relies on an assumption that the core of every NPP is an unstable, uncontrollable gigaton weapon that poses an unacceptable risk to mankind and to civilisation.

    Many thanks for reviving some old memories.


  221. The first article spoke of being able to power 20,000 homes for 4 hours. At ~1.7 kW/home, that’s 136 MWh. Their choice of example suggests they only have 20000*1.7 = 34 MW of customers, so the investment would still be relatively big. I guess it’s a selling point to guarantee prospective customers 4 hours of power when their neighbors are blacked out.


  222. Hi, Roger.
    1. The assumption that battery backup will supply all 1.7kW average is a leap of faith. I have seen nothing that indicates that more than minimal light and power have been allowed for, ie perhaps no heating or air conditioning.
    2. Not necessarily a separate grid – fancy metering would suffice, akin to off-peak power metering. The unsupported circuits, across selected portions of the grid, could be switched off during crisis periods – thus, perhaps, leaving all of the lighting circuits plus nominated power circuits in participating customers’ houses energised.
    3. So, quite manageable and more affordable, with battery size perhaps limited to a third or less of your calculated figure.

    Unfortunately, would require every meter to be modified or reprogrammed right across the serviced area, plus rewiring of each participating house’s fuse box, to separate the “emergency” circuits from the remainder.

    The necessary technology has existed for decades, because it mirrors features of existing off-peak metering which I understand to be controlled through ripple currents.

    However, ripple currents are reported to have unfortunate side effects on electronic gear such as some lights. Here’s an example where a householder has gone to extreme lengths trying to prevent flicker in low energy downlights:

    The overall package determines individual customers’ experience. It is more than simply adding a battery to an existing grid. But we never hear of the additional costs which accrue to the users, the distribution authorities and the electricians who are tasked with solving the problems. (Read the link – it is worth the time.)


  223. In response to DBB’s comment, if the intermittent generators are directly backed up, then all customers will be served. That, to me, is the not smart Plan B.

    Plan A is targets specific loads, thus enabling priority for (a) paying customers and (b) lighting and refrigeration, etc, for those paying customers.

    Plan B backs up the intermittent generators, must be large enough to service all loads, including pool pumps, air conditioning and heating. If Plan B is adopted, but with capacity below that of the intermittent generators it must replace, then it will be inadequate. Not might be: will be inadequate, just not as frequently as for the No-Batteries case.

    Of course, in the cited example, we do not know from reading the NYT whether we are considering Plan A or Plan B.


  224. “I am under the impression…”. If this is not just a guess, then perhaps a source?

    I have pointed to two possible processes – one notionally much more effective than the other.

    There are other possibilities, in this Smart Metering © era, such as have been discussed in relation to demand management.

    What I do not know is what the actual bases of the design of the battery pack are – only that the proponents (spruikers?) think that it is pretty good because it can last for 4 hours (ie, sunset to bed-time.)

    If I was on life support under those terms of supply, I’d feel a great need to ensure that my last will and testament was up to date.


  225. Hi all, assuming an abundant clean nuclear grid, what is your favourite solution to replace long-haul trucking? Of course, in a nuclear-clean electric transport future, the *busiest *trucking routes would be replaced by rail or even fast-rail. But what about those other, less busy routes that only a long-haul truck would do?

    There are already all-electric buses and garbage trucks that can do around 480km of city driving. That’s stop start, but not the high speed energy drain of highway long-haul. It’s also a lighter truck category, and not the heavy-long haul.

    Other than boron and hydrogen, I’m wondering about smaller, all electric…

    …RELAY TRUCKS Would a network of multiple light robot-EV’s be able to relay trailers? Instead of an electric battery swap, with trailer-trucks they might just consider swapping the truck. A truck pulls in to the depot, nearly out of juice, and the trailer is swapped onto a fresh truck. The old truck sits and recharges and when ready accepts another trailer at the depot, and is off on its way. It means light trucks instead of heavy, at … what are the categories again?… about a third of the load? It also means maybe 3 or 4 trucks to do Sydney to Melbourne? It would definitely require more capital investment up front. But there are savings. Electricity is vastly cheaper than diesel. Robots are vastly cheaper than contracted truckers, and probably safer too. Anyone think this is viable? They would have to analyse the sheer capital involved, and have a business model around moving individual trailers ASAP down the network.

    It’s probably just a daydream, as one decent sized boron and hydrogen long-haul truck would carry the load of 3 trailers in the smaller category, let alone adding in the extra trucks for the relay. But it was exciting to read about these all electric buses and garbage trucks, and I got to brainstorming about the robot-relay equivalent.


  226. Eclipse asks about off-highway heavy haulage in a future world with unlimited carbon-free power and no fossil fuels… Surely synthetic diesel would power long-haul trucks and all remaining internal combustion engines.


  227. Feedstock for synthetic diesel can only be CO2, hopefully extracted from air or sea. Ballpark costs were found feasible in another discussion.

    In your vision of electrified road-trains running in priority lanes on major highways, the power could be drawn from dedicated overhead power lines, at the same time as recharging the individual trucks for their final delivery runs. Electrified freight trains would compete. Off-highway work, such as tractors, graders etc, would need something like synthetic diesel.


  228. I might add that most of Australia’s intercity highways have lengths of one-lane-each-way. An extra lane would be necessary, as those long road trains would be dangerous to pass. However, as autonomous vehicles, they could space out for safe passing on narrower roads, except when linking up together during a overhead-powered-recharging stretch of (extra) lane.

    That sounds cheaper, and more civilised for other road users!


  229. I received a call from the West Australian asking for some clarification (I supplied some references) about the letter below that I sent in comparing German and French CO2 emissions in 2016.

    Is the objective of climate change policy the installation of renewables or CO2 emissions reduction?

    Germany is seen as the world leader on climate action because it installed 95GW of renewables in just 16 years giving a total of 105GW.
    Yet German renewables produce just 30% of their electricity, most is provided by fossil fuels when wind and solar is not available.

    CO2 emissions have been reduced by just 20 million tonnes in 16 years to 306 million tonnes, giving a CO2 intensity of 473g/kWh, well short of the climate target of 100g/kWh.

    (In German however from the graphs for 2016 dividing 306 million tonnes of CO2 by 648TWh gives 473g/kWh.)

    Annual renewables subsidies are €25 billion giving German domestic electricity prices of €0.30/kWh.

    By contrast France installed 63GW of nuclear capacity in just 20 years replacing most of their fossil fuel capacity.

    French nuclear produces 75% of their electricity.

    French electricity CO2 intensity is just 73g/kWh or 6 times less than Germany.

    French domestic electricity prices are €0.16/kWh or half those of Germany.

    Yet another year of real world evidence continues to show that while renewables enjoy popular political support they do not significantly reduce CO2 emissions.


  230. Alan Savory has used TED talks to generate money for his business, which is founded on vanity projects and not peer reviewed.

    There are plenty of uncomplimentary comments on line for those who look.

    It’s best to wait for expert, independent confirmation – which seems not to exist.

    What’s the saying? “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”


  231. I have a lot of sympathy for other things about the “mob, mow, and move” grazing method. The cows appear to be happier and healthier, as evidenced by not requiring truckloads of anti-biotics. The method is best exemplified by Joel Salatin, famous for his “Polyface Farm” method of cow-rotation around the paddocks with chickens following through 4 days later to scratch the cowpats around in the hunt for fly larvae. The method brings the land back to life, and gets about 4 times the cow-days per acre than any other method. It makes me question the EcoModernist claim that feed-lot grazing is better.

    Joel also claims it can store all the carbon we need to, but I have not seen it peer-reviewed. What was the figure? A cubic km a week? What’s that levelled out over all the world’s grazing lands? Assume some will go underground as the soil health improves.
    33,585,676 square kilometres

    This calculation could be important, as it will demonstrate what we are discussing if we turn to biochar, etc.


  232. Then let’s do the calculation. Currently, 40 Gt/a of CO2 is being spread through the atmosphere across the entire world’s surface, of area 510 Mm2. The ratio comes out to 78 g/m2/a, that is say, 80 grams of CO2 per square metre every year. If you instead divide by 33.6 Mm2, that comes out to 1200 grams of condensed CO2 per square metre of farming land every year for godnose how long. I suspect the farmer would regard it as poison rather than fertiliser.


  233. One tiny little kg of biochar per metre? No way man, that’s entirely doable! The problem would be generating the sheer volumes of biochar in the first place, not spreading one tiny little kilo of it over a metre of grazing land every year. I mean, actual agricultural cropland would probably do with about 3kg a year, as per the IBI recommendations.

    “At the moment there is no research into maximum amounts of pre-treated biochars that you can add to soils. So for now we suggest that users keep to the UK suggested maximum limits for pure biochar of 3kg of biochar per square meter every 12 months.”


  234. No one is saying we should use biochar as an excuse not to clean up our energy systems ASAP.
    The farmers mix the new biochar in each year, with fertilisers etc, and gradually the biochar turns to terra preta over time. Do not underestimate the difference active biology makes to biochar. It’s not just charcoal dust then, but a completely different organic self-healing fungal network, moving nutrients around almost like an information sharing network. The difference between terra preta and biochar is like the difference between a LWR and an IFR.
    So the answer is the plants, or cattle pastures, or forests, or croplands, would love it.
    A comforting thought is that if some President of the UN managed to orchestrate a worldwide biochar program of this scale. As we cleaned up our energy systems, it would gradually start to turn the dial down!
    A less comforting thought is that a maniacal cabal of fossil fuel technocrats use it to justify their products. The CO2 stays at around 400ppm or higher, and we pass 2 degrees, but here comes the interesting bit. We eventually pass peak oil and gas and finally even coal! Nations would finally be forced to adopt cleaner energy systems as they simply started running out of cheap enough fuels, and the price each year started to rise that little bit more. A truly gargantuan program like this would also generate a lot of clean liquid fuels to help spread the stuff around! The biochar program itself would generate a lot of energy.
    The problem, as I see it, is obtaining all that biomass in the first place. I haven’t had it peer reviewed, but one comment from a science forum claimed kelp only grew in nutrient rich coastal areas of maybe 3% of the world’s oceans. That’s still a lot of kelp, but not the 9% proposed by Tim Flannery. Where does the other biomass even come from?


  235. EN, you have mastered the sweeping statement.

    Several comments back you mentioned “mob, mow and move”. Well, many Australian farmers do precisely that. It is also what happened in nature before the fence was invented – cattle and most other ruminants were migratory animals.

    I doubt that EN has ever raised cattle, so perhaps he can be excused for erroniously assuming that “truckloads of antibiotics” are used for cattle production. This is far from my experience with grass-fed beef and rotating paddocks. My cattle have never seen antibiotics, which I firmly believe should only be available at the hands of a vet and then only to respond to a specific, diagnosed illness.

    Really, I do not understand where some of this stuff comes from.


  236. Further…

    As for chooks eating fly larvae…

    Once dung beetles become established in a paddock, even one with firm clay and not much soil, cowpats are buried within a few days. These industrious little beetles do a great job of taking the fertilizer underground, aerating the soil and eliminating the fly problem at the same time… for free, automatically.

    No hens required.

    The result is that local birdlife (White-winged choughs, Magpies, Noisy Miners and more, where I live) scratch around and eat some beetle larvae.

    Native ducks and certain wasps and other wild things probably help… I’m not sure. There must be a million agronomists and biologists out there who have done the studies, but I know what I observe on a daily basis.

    Hens are, of course, welcome, but they are nowhere near necessary. The humble dung beetle plus nature do a pretty good job of spreading the goodness around.

    Feedlots, of course, are another matter. Dung piles and hard floors are of no use to dung beetles. Those “ecomodernists” (whatever that term means) seem not to have much of a plan if they think that feedlots are preferable to grass-fed for beef cattle.


  237. “peak oil and gas and finally even coal”

    Eclipse, don’t believe in “peak” anything. These stuffs are minerals, to be extracted endlessly from the inexhaustible volume of the earth. There is more reduced carbon available at the reach of a few megabucks for whatever heavy industry needs. In fact we have enough fossil carbon to f*** the greenhouse over and over and over and over and still not run out.

    What we are running out of, or have already, is things with area. It is the area of the earth that is limited, and it is the not-so-vast layers that we live in that we are polluting. To name a few, there is the ozone layer, the groundwater layer, surface freshwater and rivers, the salt layer, the root zone, the forests, the lower atmosphere, the abyssal plains, the mid depth oceans, the oceanic mixing layer… And there’s the greenhouse, which is already full.

    Anyone who says that we might as well use up all the remaining gas, and worry about its replacement later, is participating in a crime of historic proportions. Such people are due for certain condemnation when our grandchildren get around to judging us.


  238. En
    I would like to point out the scale of biochar distribution that you are talking about. The current world crop yield for cereals is 380 grams per sqm. If you are talking about biochar distribution of 1000 grams per sqm a biochar distribution system 2.5 times the size of the cereal production system would be required.
    For every 1000 hectares of cultivation at one kg per sqm requires 10,000 tons of biochar. To distribute this in rural Australia would require 250 truck loads at 40 tons per truck (B double) from wherever the biochar is being produced to the property.

    The total estimated area of world cultivation for cereals is 630 Million hectares at 1 Kg per sqm that requires 6300 Million tons of Biochar. This equates to 157.5 million 40 ton truck loads.

    Is this every year?

    It is a little more complicated than just saying it is doable.

    Is there an EROEI figure for biochar.

    Is it not better to not produce the greenhouse gases in the first place?

    I must also agree with singletonengineer. I am not aware of cattle farmers using antibiotics at all for paddock raised beef, lamb etc. I have never seen a truck load of antibiotics.

    I have no knowledge of feedlot cattle though or piggeries except that where there are piggeries there are flies.

    Also, I am not aware of the cattle industry using pesticides and herbicides on graving country. Another urban myth that I have heard. At stocking rates of one beast per hectare and above, the costs would be prohibitive.
    Here is a reference to the Long Paddock
    A lot of cattle use the Long Paddock.


  239. Singleton,
    have you listened to a science podcast in the last few years? Anything on the coming antibiotic resistance challenge? Anything on FEEDLOT cattle, which is what I was critiquing, not traditional (and infinitely more preferable) grass-fed beef? Seriously, man, you need to watch “Food Inc” or do some basic catching up. Just because you’ve got your own grass fed cattle does not make you an expert on the shameful practices in America. I give up. Go to the wiki or don’t, it’s up to you.


  240. Hi Tony,
    when I wrote biochar was doable I meant the plants receiving 1kg per metre per year was doable. You’ve correctly pointed out the sheer scale of transporting and spreading that biochar around! Even the International Biochar Initiative talks about biochar only forming a ‘wedge’ or 1/7 of our response to climate change, not the whole lot. Supply of feedstock would be an enormous issue, as would the transporting. But if we’re looking on a per-farm basis, it could operate the other way around. As David Benson has pointed out somewhere far above, there are mobile biochar factories that can drive out to a farm and process their agriwaste for them. It works out much less than 1kg per metre, but still does magic for the soil.

    The are exercise was to address the concern that IF we could find the sheer biomass for our TOTAL annual emissions, would there be anywhere to put it? The answer is yes. But that raises the question: HOW? At what expense?

    EROEI? Well, it produces enough syngas to run the next burn, or more if the burn is run off the grid. It could produce a lot of oil! As DBB said above:-

    the presumed 2 ppmv of carbon dioxide removed per annum by growing trees in deserts contains 4.26 Gt of carbon. Wood is approximately 50% carbon so the annual weight of wood to be removed from the well established forests in the desert of Ornstein et al. is 8.52 Gt. The pyrolysis results in about half liquids, so 4.26 Gt of derived liquids is to be sent to refineries. From
    that is almost the same as the weight of crude pumped and sent to refineries now.

    Somehow I doubt that the weights and volumes are impossibly large as it is currently accomplished each and every year.


  241. What? Now you admit that the biochar concept can only ever capture a theoretical maximum of one seventh of the recent rate of emissions? All that chatter has been distracting us from, and giving legitimacy to, our continuing emission of six sevenths of the current rate of emissions! Considering that the rate of emissions is increasing (*), any token reduction will quickly be smoothed over as if it never happened.

    Do you mean to say that you knew all along that biochar could only ever achieve this much? You would have led us to believe that we could continuously capture and return to the ground all the fossil carbon that we are currently extracting from the ground. Shame!

    (*) We are currently emitting fossil carbon at a rate of 30-40 gigatons per annum of CO2 equivalent. The carbon cycle cannot adapt to this much, instead it is overloading many reservoirs, mainly the top hundred metres of the ocean and the atmosphere. One of the measures of the rate of worsening is the full graph at NOAA, where the rate for the greenhouse is now approaching 3 ppmv/a.


  242. Hi Roger,
    I’m just exploring the options. I haven’t seen the IBI comment on how much seaweed we might grow, and I simply don’t know if 9% of the world’s oceans will even grow seaweed given nutrient limits. I don’t know enough! I’m just connecting smart people here up with smart people elsewhere and seeing what comes out in the mix. You guys are all much more scientifically educated than I am, and I appreciate your time and input into this. What do I know? Maybe future governments will figure out how desperately we need carbon sequestration, and will see the growing evidence that biochar brings soils back to life. Maybe they will see the win-win-win-win of biochar from seaweed bringing biomass and NPK nutrients back out of the oceans via seaweed, along with all that CO2, and will charge a carbon tax that enables all this. Carbon taxes might pay for a growth in the road-train industry. “Centipede” road-trains carry up to 200 tons of ore. Convoys of them might be biochar delivery to the relevant farms, where there might even be a collection of agriwaste back to the biochar factory.

    My point is who knows what is possible when we mix up some new ideas? Most Aussies don’t know that burning nuclear ‘waste’ is a thing. Who could have predicted how Henry Ford’s assembly line would have lead to cars so cheap that we invented a whole new way of deploying ourselves in the landscape – suburbia! At the turn of the 20th century, who could have predicted the sheer size of suburban sprawl? If seaweed can be grown in various deepwater, low nutrient zones, who knows how big this might get?

    IBI focuses mostly on land-based biomass sources like agriwaste and forestry wastes for their 1/7th, and George Monbiot was so alarmed he wrote a diatribe against it, worrying that it would lead to a massive deforestation epidemic. But if it comes from the oceans, and helps de-acidify the oceans, fertilise our farms, deal with climate change, etc etc… what’s wrong with that? Maybe the 1/7th model of the IBI is outdated.


  243. “Maybe future governments will figure out how desperately we need carbon sequestration

    It is far more likely that a cynical government will see that a desperate public can be fobbed off with false promises of future sequestration of all the carbon that they want to emit in the meantime. It is evidence-based sites like this one that tell web surfers that they are being lied to. We should not be saying “maybe”.


  244. Using forests in the Sahara desert and the Australian outback results in about 4.6 gigatons of liquids for refineries and about 2.3 gigatons of biochar, both per annum once the forests are established. Both figures are for the carbon content only.

    The liquids replace crude oil. The biochar is buried.

    The current rate of excess carbon dioxide emissions is, Roger states, about 35 gigatons of carbon dioxide, ignoring the ‘equivalent’ part. That is about 9.5 gigatons of carbon. This grandiose scheme covers about 8.9 gigatons, almost all. But it is better than that as 4.6 gigatons, the liquids, replace crude oil. Therefore the scheme can considered to be carbon negative.

    As I always state, this must be a supplement to eliminating fossil fuels, not a replacement for “keep it in the ground”.


  245. David, your vision does not stand scrutiny. It is poetry to the ears of the solar energy fraternity, but the numbers get smaller each time we look at them.

    “Using forests in the Sahara desert the Australian outback results in…” No, it is not an established fact that such forests could be made to survive or be sufficiently productive.

    “The scheme covers about 8.9 gigatons, almost all [current annual emissions of carbon]”. No, it doesn’t. Your own figures only amount to 2.3+4.6 = 6.9 gigatons, a shortfall that requires yet more area to be included in the appropriation.

    “4.6 gigatons, the liquids, replace crude oil”. No, they don’t. (Solar energy believers would fix blindly onto this statement as confirmation for their romantic belief that forests can sustainably collect grid-useful amounts of solar energy.) The volume of such liquids would be a much greater number of cubic metres, because much of the liquid would be water and the 4.6 Gt of carbon would be a variety of relatively low energy forms, especially C-O and C=O, but also C-N. Instead, it would have to be nuclear energy that replaces the crude oil, while this horrible sludge supplies the carbon.

    “The [2.3 Gt/a of] biochar is buried”. We have never agreed on quite what is meant by “biochar”. Perfectly caramelised wood would have only yielded water as liquids, but the hotter liquids you describe imply that the bottom fraction would be heavy in longchain pyroligneous tars, unstable and toxic. You don’t say where more than 2 km³ of this horrible undead stuff will actually be buried every year, indeed you can’t.

    “This must be a supplement to eliminating fossil fuels, not a replacement…” This scheme would not be a supplement, it could only ever be an expensive token PR exercise. Worse than zero value, the vision provides raw PR material for ageing decision-makers to blow smoke screens at a younger generation while the angering climate looms over their future. Amidst the artificial confusion, it should be our voices that provide clarity.


  246. The seaweed ecology wiki only mentions sunlight and a shallow enough anchorage point to grow seaweed. Nutrients may not be the limiting factor I thought.

    Tim Flannery again:-

    “The most exciting, if least well understood, of all the biological options involve the marine environment. Seaweed grows very fast, meaning that seaweed farms could be used to absorb CO2 very efficiently, and on a very large scale. The seaweed could be harvested and processed to generate methane for electricity production or to replace natural gas, and the remaining nutrients recycled. One analysis shows that if seaweed farms covered 9% of the ocean they could produce enough biomethane to replace all of today’s needs in fossil fuel energy, while removing 53 gigatonnes of CO2 (about the same as all current human emissions) per year from the atmosphere. It could also increase sustainable fish production to provide 200kg per year, per person, for 10 billion people. Additional benefits include reduction in ocean acidification and increased ocean primary productivity and biodiversity. Many of the technologies required to achieve this are already in widespread use, if at a comparatively minuscule scale.”

    If big oil get wind of this, then let them at it!
    1. 200kg of seafood per person! That’s over half a kilo per day!
    2. Some of our NPK nutrients – normally flushed out to sea via the toilet – recaptured for land farming.
    3. And biogas energy backup for a renewable world that the politicians and pundits seem so intent on!
    4. Maybe some biochar left over to help retain that NPK and moisture in our farmlands.


  247. James Hansen has a concise and IMO reliable post about climate change and measures to deal with it, including CO2 extraction.

    Young People’s Burden
    04 October 2016

    See especially “Principal Implications” section on page 2. If we start cutting emissions soon, then most of the excess CO2 can be removed by fairly inexpensive, natural processes including improved agricultural and forestry practices.


  248. Yes, an addition error. The Ornstein et al. scheme accounts for not quite 2 ppm of carbon dioxide.

    Of course the trees will grow in the desert. Earlier I posted links with photos of oases. Not so far from here is the Columbia Basin Project, irrigated with water pumped from the Columbia River; for about 75 years now. There are many more examples.

    As for the pyrolysis products, read
    In particular the liquids require refining before use as transportation fuels. Note that the weight I gave was for the carbon only.

    But be assured that the actual biochar is entirely suited for use as a soil amendment; this is widely practiced and the forests themselves provide ample room to continue to improve the soil.


  249. Arid lands accumulate heavy salt loads in their soils, above the capilliary zone. Irrigation adds water to the water table, raising the capilliary zone and eventually pushes the salt layer up into the root zone, killing the agriculture and collapsing the civilization based on it. Having a short future, desert forests would not be productive for the indefinite future required.

    But Huon’s point is surely the answer: we should first stop emitting carbon. Reducing its greenhouse levels then become really possible rather than token. Starved of fossil carbon, the fuel refineries would turn to all sources of recycled carbon, including forest biomass — while it is cheaper than direct capture.

    Huon’s Hansen et al paper refers to the rapid political change necessary as precursor to any attempt to rescue the greenhouse. Rapid political change is also known as revolution. Forcing such change is a job for the younger generation. So where are they?

    Liked by 1 person

  250. Roger Clifton summarizes the climate challenge, as presented by Hansen: “…we should first stop emitting carbon. Reducing its greenhouse levels then becomes really possible rather than token.”

    Luckily Hansen goes on to outline the key steps to reach that objective:

    “Technically, it is still possible to solve the climate problem, but there are two essential requirements: (1) a simple across-the-board (all fossil fuels) rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic source (mine or port of entry), not a carbon price “scheme”[–]and the money must go to the public, not to government coffers, otherwise the public will not allow the fee to rise as needed for phase-over to clean energy, (2) honest government support for, rather than strangulation of, RD&D (research, development and demonstration) of clean energy technologies, including advanced generation, safe nuclear power.” (Young Peoples Burden post on Hansen’s website, page 3, Personal Opinions, C.)


  251. Thanks, Huon.

    Hansen et al’s first point asserts that a carbon price should be paid at the point of extraction, which I wholeheartedly endorse. Once paid, there is no room for company accountants to cheat with a thimble game to hide the carbon from the taxman. However, it also does not allow room for a politician to bend the rules for big friends, so would lack support in the legislature (of the reader’s country).

    Their second point is that we need honest leadership in the same legislature. He despairs at the moral vulnerability of politicians lobby by carbon interests.

    Huon’s link goes on to point out that we can bypass a corrupted legislature by taking rights issues to the Courts. Hansen sketches progress on a case drawn up by/for his granddaughter, charging that carbon polluting infringes the rights of the young. Wish them strength!


  252. “Huon’s link goes on to point out that we can bypass a corrupted legislature by taking rights issues to the Courts. Hansen sketches progress on a case drawn up by/for his granddaughter, charging that carbon polluting infringes the rights of the young. Wish them strength!”
    If only! It would bypass all the dithering. Strength to them indeed!


  253. Er, yes, the second point did emphasize the need for full-hearted support for “research, development and demonstration of clean energy technologies, including advanced generation, safe nuclear power.”

    He also pointed to the “developing world need for abundant, affordable, reliable energy”. The vision is clear!

    If anyone is capable of mass production and worldwide export of nuclear reactors, it should firstly be the US. However there are also places like Korea or Britain that are equally capable. Given full blueprints and QC by the designers, many other places could manufacture and export.


  254. EN, Hansen’s full article points out that he and his daughter are attempting to break new constitutional ground in USA and that there is concern that they may not get to first base. The Constitution of USA has far more human rights embodied in it than the Australian, or probably many others.

    Indeed, it is difficult to find anything approaching a bill of rights in any Australian jurisdiction and certainly not federal.

    Hence, no federal ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption), but that’s another story.

    My amateur reading of the Australian version suggests that more attention was paid to states’ rights than to personal ones. Since Federation, the rights of Corporations and of Capital seem to have the upper hand, but that is also another story.

    People don’t come last. We are way in front of the environment/commons, which seemingly are plundered at will.

    But, back to your point,which is that IF Hansen’s daughter and her friends get a hearing, then that will only be relevant within the USA and, because this is new legal territory, if she is even partially successful, legal skirmishes are guaranteed to continue for years. I wish her all the best, but hold no hope that she will turn the tide.


  255. Hm, you almost won me over, but I’m not a fan of a Bill of Rights. I of course support human rights, but think that should happen through more flexible legislation than a once-for-all archaic document that encodes ‘rights’ like the ‘right to bear arms’ where a high priestly caste get to interpret how the country should run, without reference to democratic debate.


  256. “without … democratic debate” That is one, if not the point of a bill of rights. When the majority is baying for your blood, your rights save you from rough justice.

    I guess it protects the individual from the tyranny of the majority of the people. In protecting the commons, it would protect the commons from the majority of the past, where we have traditionally polluted by dumped our waste gases.

    If Sophie and James Hansen succeed, the US will have a precedent to influence future legal decisions on the greenhouse and pollution in general.

    See also Storms-of-My-Grandchildren by James Hansen


  257. EN, fair enough, but Australia currently does not guarantee many human rights beyond property rights and USA is one of very few places where a challenge based on human rights is even conceivable. Any decision will be irrelevant outside the nation.


  258. Apologies for a long post, but here we go…

    Independent Review of the Extreme Weather Event. South Australia, 28 September – 5 October 2016. Report presented to the Premier January 2017.

    Over 200 pages and very well written, this report explains in great detail just how wrong things become during emergencies which combine extreme weather, flooding, wide spread blackouts, communication failures and many levels and more. How exactly can a city run with no power, no fuel, no credit cards, no banks, no money, no phones and no water and sewerage pumps? It brings all these issues together and makes many recommendations for addressing them.

    The report does not analyse the electricity failures which culminated in a state-wide “system black” or the technical reasons for delays re-establishing power supplies.

    What it does do very well is to detail what happened after the first assumption was proven wrong. That assumption is that the power supply is adequate for society’s needs. It wasn’t, especially within the city of Adelaide, as became evident within an hour or two. It wasn’t, despite the much greater resilience of rural communities, where power was lost for more than a day or two.

    It even has a go at “Our ABC” regarding the limitations of radio broadcasts.

    It should be required reading for anybody involved in community safety or risk assessments generally, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that playing with the reliability of power supplies on a grand scale is not acceptable in modern communities; reliability of power, water, communication systems are not optional extras – they are core requirements.

    I, for one, will consider whether or not to enter an elevator during extreme weather, especially with my invalid wife. Not wanting to spend a couple of days in a closed space, I will be much more likely to take the stairs in those buildings which permit use of stairs. IMHO, all stairs should ideally be available 24/7 not only for exit, but between floors. Becoming trapped in a lift isn’t acceptable – it is horrendous, and I say this as one who has on several occasions been directly responsible for releasing trapped persons and who has been trapped in lifts during or immediately following commissioning. Hint: if you cannot climb a 12m ladder in the dark, then escape might not be possible until technicians arrive to release the brakes and power is restored to the drive motors… but the technicians’ phones aren’t working, so they don’t come. And your phone isn’t working so you have no way to know whether help is on its way. Not pretty. Not acceptable.


  259. Hi all,
    this seaweed thing could be amazing!

    Seaweed farms alone have the capacity to grow massive amounts of nutrient-rich food. Professor Ronald Osinga at Wageningen University in the Netherlands has calculated that a global network of “sea-vegetable” farms totaling 180,000 square kilometers — roughly the size of Washington state — could provide enough protein for the entire world population.

    The goal, according to chef Dan Barber — named one of the world’s most influential people by Time and a hero of the organic food movement — is to create a world where “farms restore instead of deplete” and allow “every community to feed itself.”

    But here is the real kicker: Because they require no fresh water, no deforestation, and no fertilizer — all significant downsides to land-based farming — these ocean farms promise to be more sustainable than even the most environmentally-sensitive traditional farms.

    Here are some of the other tasks it could perform:

    Growing Ecosystems
    Our farms use restorative and foundational species that provide habitats for hundreds of marine and bird species.
    Our farm model creates natural reef systems that harbor hundreds of wild species.

    Mitigating Climate Change
    Our farms create barriers that mitigate the impacts of storms, while growing kelp that soaks up five times the amount of carbon as land-based plants.

    Preventing Dead Zones
    Nitrogen pollution has become a crisis in many areas, causing algae blooms and decreased oxygen levels from their subsequent decomposition. Our farms sequester nitrogen and limit the potential for algae blooms.
    Farm Products


    Animal Feeds

    Food Products





  260. Win or lose, Hansen’s legal challenge will generate a lot of publicity and will help apply pressure to legislators. What’s needed, then. is to formulate a carbon tax (CO2 fee) which can appeal to both the right and the left.


  261. I imagine that a universal carbon tax (ie, no exceptions) would be introduced very gently, say 1 $/t, so as not to destroy profitability. That sounds like a small burden on the producer, but consider that much more carbon comes up a well or mine than gets to be burned by the final customer.

    Consider gas. During exploratory drilling, initial flows are flared off (burnt on site). Similarly while establishing production. On site, the 10 to 40% CO2 is washed out and dumped. Undersea pipelines leak methane as they age (and cop a few fishermen’s anchors), an amount that rises until it is similar to the cost of a submarine repair job. Liquefaction trains use up to 30% of the feed as power to chill and compress the liquid. LNG ships boil off liquid all the time, some of which is re-liquified onboard, some with a minimum of entrained air goes to the ships engines (when the engines are idle in port the ships are ablaze with light). But the air is difficult/dangerous to separate so further excess mixed gas is dumped. Having landed, it travels through long-distance pipelines whose leakage is tolerated up to about 1.5%. When the gas is reticulated through an ageing city pipework, leakage starts in earnest – gassed soil changes its biota and even tree roots may die. It leaks in city buildings and occasionally reaches an explosive mix. The customer may have paid for the fraction of the gas he has received but would probably claim his only emissions were during full production, not during startups or malfunctions.

    All of this carbon is a “bad” for the greenhouse, so all of it should be taxed. At source, as Hansen et al note.


  262. Why $1/t, presumably meaning $1/t CO2e? Surely, if the goal is to reduce emissions by X%, then the fee/tax must be appropriate to achieve that goal and no more or less.

    An auction is probably the best way to determine that fee or tax, but as a previous government in Australia discovered, the interim period where a nominal fee was set in order to frame a market became a bitter battleground.

    As a guide to thinking, a 2500 MW power station might have the following profile:
    Ash in coal 25%
    Capacity factor 70% allows for all outages plus periods of less than full load.
    Coal consumption 8 mtpa (Metric tonnes)
    Thus 6 mtpa carbon in coal.

    CO2 emitted = 6 * 40 / 12 = 20 mtpa.

    Gross income approaching 1 billion dollars, depending on market and contract prices.

    20mtpa CO2 @ (say) $10 = $200M.

    Upstream emissions, eg of CH4 and CO2 emitted during mining and transport will add to this if the Hanson policy is adopted, so say $250M fee as a ballpark 2500MW power station.

    The above figures indicate 15.33 GWh energy sent out.

    Average additional cost to the consumer is 1.63 cents/kWh in response to $10/t carbon tax/fee, before on costs and profit.

    NB I am neither advocating nor arguing against such a carbon fee/tax, only suggesting an approximate magnitude of the resulting costs to generators and consumers.

    Brown coal, due to its higher carbon intensity will be more strongly affected. CCGT, less so. Open cycle GT will depend on individual cases, the fuel used (liquid/NG/Coal bed methane), the age and condition of the GT and the duty cycle. As a rough guide, figures might range between 1 and 2 cents/kWh at a $10/t CO2e fee.


  263. Eclipse Now, I enjoyed the article about ocean farming written for (appropriately) the Atlantic Magazine. Such aquaculture is no panacea, as the author admits, but it could be useful in drawing down CO2, among other benefits.


  264. Three ways to make a carbon tax (CO2 fee) more palatable to those on the right: 1) Keep the price low, at least initially. 2) Use most of the funds to lower other taxes, especially the corporate income tax. 3) Help favored energy industries transition to the clean energy economy.


  265. Hi Huon,
    It’s a good article, but I’m still trying to contact some deep ocean experts to answer the following, an email I sent to someone I know in the industry. Tim Flannery’s take on it may not be well thought out, but to be fair I haven’t read his book yet.

    “Sorry if this is a bit random, I’m busting to know if something is possible in our ocean environments… a bit of a thought experiment. Dr Tim Flannery says truly GIANT kelp farms about 9% of the oceans (or 4 times the size of Australia!!!) would sequester all our annual CO2 emissions, stimulate fisheries and other seafood growth to about 200kg per person annually (or half a kilo of seafood a day, for a world of 10 billion people!), and all the renewable biogas, fertilisers, and other goodies we could want!

    But here’s my question: is there enough nutrient rich water in the world to grow that much kelp? The wiki says kelp forests mainly occur near nutrient rich upwellings…
    … and these are only 2% of the world’s oceans.

    It sounds like we’re missing 7% more nutrient-rich ocean. Assuming some economic miracle like big oil taking an interesting in this, is it even ecologically + biologically possible to grow kelp in 9% of the worlds’ oceans? Are there enough nutrients out there? Who might know?
    Thanks for any help!”


  266. British Columbia, Canada’s successful carbon tax started at $10 per ton of CO2 the first year. The US might start at $7, with most of the revenue used to reduce the corporate income tax, some used for household credits, and $1 used to fund clean energy RD&D.

    $1 may not seem like much, but it would raise almost $5 billion (5 thousand million dollars) per year, and would almost double the Energy Department’s spending in this area. We could finally build the IFR, at least one MSR, and do much else besides.


  267. Re – DBB’s link. I salute the courage of Miyazaki and Hayano, who are downsaying a lucrative industry of soil removal and a hefty welfare payroll to unecessary evacuees. A community suffering pervasive fear would be hard to contradict, too.

    At the time, Prime Minister Kan, who had (unusually for their ruling class) studied Physics, naysaid a hysterical Cabinet and ordered a helicopter to drop him off in the centre of the zone of instant death. There he caught the crew of the power station hard at work trying to save their units, hiding from media hysteria – and orders to evacuate the locality. Courage again.

    Meanwhile, Tokyo and other megapolises were being terrorised by their media (and ours), so the PM had to be seen to something, anything. Hence the wider evacuation, against the advice of his ex-Chernobyl experts, who must have warned him of induced fatalities, damaged social structure and a wrecked local economy. Evacuation went ahead, more than a thousand frail evacuees died, but stress casualties in Tokyo declined, presumably in net benefit. That would have taken courage too, but understandably he now hates nuclear energy.

    Five years later, no one has died from chronic gamma radiation. We don’t hear cries of astonishment from the media. At the time they probably took a pinch of salt and sold lots of newspapers. Wash it down with sake, pal. Might keep the ghosts away.



    The Australian resources minister, Canovan, has been arguing for new ultra-supercritical coal plants to be built to reduce CO2 emissions by 27%. Dylan McConnell from the Climate and Energy College at the University of Melbourne found it would cost $62bn, but that using renewables would make the same reduction at half the cost.


  269. Re the size of the carbon tax.
    I’ve long thought it should start at something tiny,such as $1 per tonne, & have some rule for how & when to change it

    Eg: up by 100% after each year the CO2 emissions are > 99% of the previous year’s, up 10% after each year the emissions are between 97 & 99 % of the previous year’s, up 1% after each year emissions are between 95 & 97 % of the previous year’s.

    Cutting emissions by more than 5% per year is probably not possible.


  270. Jim, I recommend being careful when reading the Guardian. They have adopted a “Renewables or nothing” policy which I suspect includes absolutely zero costing for transmission system upgrades, standby power for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

    If so, they are ignoring a substantial portion of the total system cost and are condemning the rest of Australia to South Australian standards of high cost and poor reliability.

    It is much preferable to follow a “do anything that works” approach, backed by high standards of engineering, risk assessment, options studies and rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

    How many NBN experiences can one country bounce back from? (For non-Australians, NBN is the name for the National Broadband Network which has been mired in cost blowouts, technical failures and project delays since its inception about 4 governments ago.) The recently issued report on the State-wide blackout has very strongly worded sections about the chaos that ensued because communications systems including radio and phone and NBN all failed when the power went off. Adelaide was not at all resilient, however even the country towns lacked sufficient resilience to last beyond a day or two without social upheaval. It is worth reading. Google “Independent Review of extreme weather…”.

    Reliability of power supplies is absolutely essential but often overlooked by the general public (And the Guardian?) until they aren’t there.


  271. Is nuclear the cheapest way to decarbonize electricity?

    A recent report by the Energy Research Partnership (ERP), ‘Managing Flexibility Whilst Decarbonising the GB Electricity System’ compares the total system costs of decarbonizing the electricity system in Great Britain for various proportions of seventeen technologies. The analysis considers and does sensitivity analyses on important inputs and constraints that are seldom included in analyses intended for informing policy analysts about policy for a whole electricity system. The ERP report has policy-relevance for other electricity systems and the methodology should be broadly applicable.

    The results presented in the ERP show all or mostly new nuclear capacity is likely to be the cheapest way to decarbonise the GB electricity system to meet the recommended 50 g CO2/kWh target.

    The most significant points I draw from the ERP report with respect to the least cost technology mix to reduce CO2 emissions are:
    1. Weather-dependent renewables alone cannot achieve the UK’s targets for decarbonisation of the GB electricity system.

    All or mostly nuclear power gives the lowest CO2 emissions intensity for lowest total system cost.
    Hydro (if suitable sites were available) would be the most cost effective at reducing emissions. Since additional hydro capacity is very limited, adding nuclear is the cheapest way to achieve large CO2 emissions reductions.
    31 GW of new nuclear and no weather-dependent renewables or CCS would achieve the recommended 50 g/kWh target at lowest total system cost.
    32 GW of new nuclear and no weather dependent renewables or CCS would achieve the same CO2 emissions intensity of electricity as France achieved in 2014, i.e. 42 g/kWh.
    Wind, marine, and CCS are expensive and ineffective.
    Pumped hydro is very expensive and ineffective. Any other type of energy storage would be more expensive.
    The worst option of all is to close old nuclear plants; doing so would increase emissions and total system costs. Their life should be extended if practicable.
    To achieve the same CO2 emissions intensity as France in 2014 would require a £70/t CO2 carbon price plus ~4% increase in total system cost.
    A £70/t CO2 carbon price alone would not be sufficient to drive the required changes in the electricity system to achieve the government’s target.


  272. Jim Baerg, Given the magnitude of the climate problem, you might consider dialing up your carbon tax a notch or two. Below is a short summary of a recent paper by James Hansen, et al., which may be of use.

    Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions
    James Hansen, et al.
    Earth System Dynamics Discussion
    04 Oct 2016

    “Global temperature now exceeds +1,25 degreesC relative to 1880-1920, similar to the Eemian period [the previous interglacial period, when sea level was 6-9 meters higher]. Keeping warming to less than 1.5 degreesC or CO2 below 350ppm now requires extraction of CO2 from the air. If rapid phaseout of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, most extraction can be via improved agricultural and forestry practices. In contrast, continued high emissions places a burden on young people of massive technological CO2 extraction with large risk, high costs and uncertain feasibility.”


  273. Peter Lang , thank you for that summary.

    “nuclear is the cheapest way to achieve large CO2 emissions reductions”,
    … needing a carbon price of £70/t CO2

    Would £70/t CO2 mean that a planner in UK would assess
    equal costs for producing power,
    between British nuclear and Polish coal?

    (for readers bothered by unfamiliar units –
    £70/t CO2 equates to £19/t C, the ball park of £20/t C
    or in USD,
    $88/t CO2 equates to $24/t C)


  274. Hi, Roger.

    Each tonne of C in coal produces 44/12 = 3.67 tonnes of CO2.

    I think that you have reversed that in your calculation of conversion factors.

    £70/t of CO2 <=> £257/t of carbon in coal.

    Adjust the second figure downwards to compensate for moisture and ash in the coal and adjust upwards for fugitive emissions of CH4 (times the CO2e factor!) and CO2 during mining, transport and storage.

    I suspect that the Peter’s estimated price of £70/t CO2 is too high. Maybe worth checking.


  275. Roger Clifton and SingletonEngineer,

    Thank you for your responses.

    SingletonEngineer, the calculation is not mine. Its from the ERP report. I explain in the post (link in my previous comment):

    Figures 5 and 6 show the CO2 emissions intensity and Figure 11 shows the increase in total system costs with different mixes of new nuclear, wind and gas-CCS. The cost increase is from the total system cost of the existing system plus a £70/t CO2 carbon price. The report states that a £70/t CO2 carbon price would not be sufficient to drive the changes in the electricity system needed to achieve the CO2 emissions reduction targets.

    The report is here: ‘Managing Flexibility Whilst Decarbonising the GB Electricity System

    Suggest spend some time understand to Figure 14 first.

    Just to clarify: £70/t CO2 = US$88/t CO2 = US$24/t C.

    However, practice has now pretty much standardised to quoting carbon prices in $/t CO2, not $/t C. The Australian Carbon Price when it was repealed was about A$24/t CO2. US EPA quotes Social Cost of Carbon $/t CO2.


  276. Hi, Peter. I am missing something.

    Hi, Peter.

    Figure 13 of your reference states that CO2 is priced at £70/t of CO2.

    Since combustion of one tonne of carbon produces 3.67 tonnes of CO2, the rate per tonne of pure carbon is higher, not lower than £70, by that factor.

    I agree that it is reasonable to base these calculations on the basis of CO2e, or (shorthand) CO2. This report and other common usage further abbreviates this to cost/t “carbon” which was, for a time, misleading.

    My comment relates to Roger’s conversion between cost/t CO2e and cost/t elemental carbon.

    £70/t CO2e is equivalent to 3.67*70 = £257 per tonne of elemental carbon in coal consumed.

    I suspect that Roger’s price of £19 was arrived at by dividing instead of multiplying.

    Regarding the report – they seem not to justify their use of £70/t CO2e, which is towards the high end of the scale. I first read the report a week or so ago, then again today, but have not not found how that figure was derived – I expect that it was assumed to be the industry norm… I cannot say one way or the other. As you mentioned, it is about three times the Australian carbon cost set three years back and subsequently dropped.


  277. SingletoneEngineer,

    You are correct on conversion of $/tCO2 to to $/tC. My bad. I did the same as Roger.

    I forgotten the basis for £70/t CO2e stated in the report. I could look it up, but it is easier for me to explain that I get the same value by dividing total system cost by tonnes CO2 avoided. I’ve done that for 30 GW new capacity of each technology in this comment:
    For example, I calculate abatement cost with nuclear is £74/t CO2e. See my explanation of method and estimates for the other technologies in my comment.

    Unfortunately, my computer with all my files with my calculations is broken, so I can’t do more than answer more from memory at the moment, so I may not be able to answer further drill down questions at the moment. But try me and I’ll see how we go – i’ts good mental exercise.


  278. Yes, I was wrong.

    £70/t CO2e is equivalent to = £257/t C
    and in USD $88/t CO2e is equivalent to = $323 /t C
    and in AUD $116/t CO2e and $425/t C.

    Hmm, so that much wouldn’t be enough to drive change. I wonder what would! I will pin up Fig 14 and see if it bestows understanding on me.

    Like Hansen et al, I would rather the tax be paid at the point of extraction (as C) rather than at the exhaust (as CO2) to pre-empt cheating and favours to mates.


  279. Roger, you ask:

    Hmm, so that much wouldn’t be enough to drive change. I wonder what would!

    I reckon I have the economically rational answer to that queestion – i.e the method that has been demonstrated to succeed since humans began to swap and trade goods and services (200,000 years ago?).

    The method is not more government intervention. It is less. It is to remove the impediments that have stalled progress for the past 50 years. Nuclear would now be around 10% the cost it is now if progress had bot been disrupted in the late 1960s and since. Nuclear could have saved 174 Gt CO2 and 9.5 million fatalities if the transition to nuclear had not been disrupted. More on this here:

    Happy to post my developed proposal on how to proceed if interested. However, I hope you can read the link above first as essential background.


  280. Back to seaweed again. Can everyone please watch this 15 minute TED talk and tell me what you think?

    He says the area of Washington State could feed the world… if we were ‘seafood vegetarians’. He’s not saying we’ll all become vegetarians. But there’s more. He’s not just growing kelp, but restoring ocean ecologies so that oysters and other shellfish grow in his farms, and fish return. He’s creating artificial reefs. He’s created an OPEN SOURCE MODEL so anyone can copy him and run their own farms!

    Anyone know any ocean experts to verify if there’s enough appropriate nutrient rich SHALLOW ocean to backup his Washington State claim? W.S. is 185 thousand km2. That’s a lot of seaweed farms!

    NUTRIENTS: The nutrient rich ocean upwelling area is around 2% of world oceans which is 7.2 MILLION km2, so that’s not an issue.
    SHALLOW: Must be shallow enough to anchor his buoys, so that means continental shelves, which also happen to mostly be nutrient rich from erosion and also oceanic upwelling currents occur along coasts.
    NOT SPOILING NATURAL ECOSYSTEMS like coral, mangroves, wetlands, etc.


  281. Is it true that just one more halving of the battery price would make it ‘profitable’? Is that just to cover peaking power, or are they starting to think it could provide overnight backup?

    But for the most part, according to a BNEF analysis, the costs of new projects would need to drop by half in order to be profitable on a wider scale in California, and that’s not likely to happen for another decade. The total installed cost of a battery plant would need to fall to about $275 per kilowatt hour. While Tesla declined to provide its pricing data, the similarly sized Altagas project was expected to cost at least $40 million, or $500 per kilowatt hour. It’s possible that with the remarkable scope of Tesla’s Reno operations, the company will be able to establish new floors for pricing, forcing the industry to follow, BNEF’s Sekine said.


  282. Eclipse Now,

    EOS are already selling DC battery packs for $160 / kWh for orders of more than 40MWh. To that add inverters and DC charging. Inverters are maybe $240 / kW (and coming down with the increase in solar PV volumes), and DC chargers must be cheaper – say half that at $120 / kWh. So for 4 hours of storage you would expect the total hardware price to be around 160 + 360/4 = $250 / kWh.

    Tesla’s technical manager let slip in a public conference call last year that Tesla battery pack prices were currently $190 / kWh, but that Tesla was expecting $100 / kWh once the gigafactory gets into full production by 2020. Reading different reports there was room for doubt whether the second figure was a battery cell or battery pack price, though the context implied battery pack price (maybe 30% more than just cells). The gigafactory on its own equates to global 2013 lithium ion production, so you would expect a big impact on costs form such a scale.

    At such prices storage would be cheap enough to cover peaks and allow nuclear stations to be run mostly at constant full output, probably a cheaper solution than modulating output daily. i.e. the saving on the reduced nuclear capacity requirement would more than pay for the batteries to reduce that requirement.

    Similarly you can afford the few hours of storage required to get a grid such as ERCOT (Texas) with excellent local wind + solar resources up to 80-85% renewables, with a surplus of another 10-15%. But this solution still needs natural gas backup for the longer-duration gaps of up to a few weeks. Batteries will always be too expensive for such gaps so the last step towards a 100% renewable grid is a lower-cost / GWh storage solution such as renewable hydrogen or methane alongside the batteries (which are still required).


  283. Hi all,
    I’ve finally found the paper Tim Flannery was quoting. This peer-reviewed paper claims that they can use submersible digesters out in the ocean that slowly draw in the kelp when it is ready to harvest, slowly bio-digest it, release the energy gases off the top and then recycle all the nutrients back out to the kelp farms in big tea-bags that slowly release nutrients, fertilising the next round of kelp! That’s how they farm 9% of the oceans when only 2% have the nutrients required to grow kelp: recycling the biomass nutrients on site while syphoning the useful energy off the top.

    They even claim we could return CO2 to 350ppm and reverse ocean acidification THIS CENTURY! But far more controversial for this list is the fact that this could provide abundant bio-gas backup to a renewable grid and all the liquid fuels we could need.


  284. Eclipse, I won’t do the homework of studying the linked documents, but address your summary. That reference to “artificial layers” sounds as if they admit that there are insufficent reservoirs for that quantity of CO2 and instead plan on fracking on a scale many times greater than current fracking for gas.

    The title (‘storing CO2 as liquid”) shows a clear intention to play on the ignorance of the faithful, as CO2 wont stay liquid in the store. Although it can be pumped down as a (sub-critical) liquid, CO2 reacts instantly with any water present. Only at dangerously shallow (~permafrost) depths would stable hydrate form immediately. Deeper, it forms an acid that attacks both reservoir and seal. The reaction is exothermic, so any large volume of both liquids would raise the temperature past the critical point of 31 C. Supercritical CO2 is an escape artist.

    The Australian regulator is skeptical about the permanence of such hideaways, requiring all sites to be undersea. Thus, after the contractor has collected the payoff and closed up their legal liability, the gas escapes into the sea and eventually makes its way back into greenhouse. Fish and porpoises might die off, but no Lake Nyos type disaster occurs.


  285. Yes, and I’m all for the olivine programs if someone will fund it. But who is going to, and why? Saving us from climate change AND de-acidifying the ocean, as olivine promises to, is great. But where’s the money?
    This seaweed program promises to feed the world, solve climate change, provide ALL our energy needs, and save the oceans from acidity! IF possible. I mean, isn’t ocean depth an issue? Don’t they need to anchor kelp farms? If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.


  286. Here is a potential source of funds:

    Instead of giving it all away in tax relief or whatever, use some to trial mafic rock to carbonate removal, some to trial forests in deserts and some to trial kelp farming. And whatever else appears highly promising.


  287. OK, here’s the idea.

    “Seafloor container carbon storage combines reductions in risks, property rights issues, and costs, relative to the substantially researched “geologic” (deep-earth) injection. Geosynthetic storage reduces cost, particularly for coastal communities without nearby oil or gas reservoirs. The cool and high-pressure nature of the deep ocean allows the CO2 to become a solid (hydrate) denser than seawater at the same time it ensures geosynthetics will remain serviceable for millennia. A thin geomembrane covering is all that is needed to prevent the hydrate from dissolving. Because hydrate requires heat to “melt,” it cannot fail catastrophically. The ease of access and sensor placement in the ocean allows detecting and repairing leaks and ultimately demonstrating that 99.9% of injected CO2 remains contained. There is no pressure build-up during filling. “


  288. Okay, Eclipse, how does he get the CO2 down there? He cant pump a solid hydrate down to the sea floor, the stuff must be liquid CO2. He must somehow manufacture the hydrate at the pipehead, and remove the heat of reaction to elsewhere before it’s released. Then spread the lumpy stuff throughout a vast volume (remember, cubic kms are needed) enclosed by a flimsy film.

    As a liquid above 0 C, its density is less than seawater by ~150 kg/m3, so the (weighted) pipe must withstand a pressure difference of ~3 MPa across a head of say 2000 m depth.

    I’ve worked with geotextiles. They resist tearing, but thin ones puncture easily, especially when laid across a rocky surface – and prickly crustaceans. Osmotic pressure through the punctures to the concentrated CO2 will ensure seawater mixing, inflation, tearing and eventual escape of the whole mass in a maelstrom that boils its way back up to the surface.

    I doubt that reading his text will explain all this away. I suspect he hasnt thought it through, and is confident that you won’t try to. Arent you insulted?


  289. EN. – Except that it isn’t going to save the planet. The project provides no more than an excuse for emitters to continue emitting. By putting the environmental damage out of sight, we would commit another massive crime against the commons.

    Edward de Bono once proposed that pollution should be dumped upstream of the polluter. So if you really can convert CO2 into some horrible mud, it should be pumped into the main streets of each capital city. The horror arising from the prospect would do a lot more to stop emissions and save the planet.


  290. David,

    Politically the Republican $40/ton carbon tax proposal will only fly if it is a revenue-neutral tax i.e. the proceeds are returned to the people. Otherwise it would be seen as a “left wing” big-government style proposal and won’t get past the Republican majority in the Senate and House of Representatives.

    But a revenue-neutral tax it fits well into the Trump agenda. The Trump supporters mostly end up net gainers. Further, those who gain most are those on low income who have a greater propensity to spend money, and this would help increase GDP – a Trump pledge. It would also spur investment in nuclear, wind and solar which would produce more jobs – another Trump pledge.

    $40 is quite a good starting price too. It would add about 0.8 cents per kWh on electricity produced by coal, and half that for gas.


  291. By digging out the fossil fuels and burning them, we have let the carbon cat well and truly out of its underground bag. We cannot put it back conveniently. The way now is to live with it. Earlier, we the humans cut off forests to convert the land to farms, housing, roads and other ‘developments’. We are definitely not going to turn it all back. Ditto with carbon dioxide.
    Additional developments are now indicated. Some of the important ones are
    1. Change our burning habits to avoid poisoning our atmosphere with sulfur and particulate matter. Convert all fuel to gas and clean it before burning. Burn nuclear fuel to reduce mining footprint.
    Preferably go for closed cycle to reduce nuclear waste.
    2. Develop crop varieties that feed on more carbon dioxide and environmental heat to produce more biomass. Cultivate them to recover the investment as food, fuel, fibre and useful chemicals.
    3. Further the water retention by geoengineering. We have to make up for loss of snow and ice.
    4. Convert the spare biomass from cultivation to char and store it on farm and forest land. Gases and liquids from processing should replace fossils as biofuel.
    5. Supplement energy by wind and solar energy combined with storage.


  292. This chart demonstrates the tiny scale of Wind+Solar in comparison to the overall task of decarbonising the globe’s energy systems if it is to do any heavy lifting.

    Nuclear power is not much better, but at least it has the advantages of safety, scaleability, capacity factor and reliability.

    Why are we still hearing of “100% Renewables” solutions? If that is the answer, then the question was wrong.

    Wind and solar’s contributions, current and projected as at 2035, are lumped into the tiny bars on the right hand side.


  293. WNN reports that the Russians have been able to achieve a 99.99% separation of fission products from actinides when recycling nitride fuel. I have been unable to find further literature on the subject, but it appears to be a wet process.

    It (99.99%) seems like a fine point to make, when the original IFR tests routinely lost 8% in their early crude “pyroprocessing” cycles. However, if the recycling is to continue indefinitely, with hundreds of cycles, users would not want the fuel to be accumulating problematic minority elements. One of them is Sm, a strong neutron poison. Other elements might increase alloying with the zirconium cladding, ageing that version of the fuel prematurely. However, such cleansing need only be done after so many electroprocessing cycles that the concentration of the offending fission product has become significant.

    On the other hand, it helps the geological disposal of the fission products to have the long-lived actinides absent, so that heat production after burial is minimised. Environmental protection is also served if there is no possibility of a strongly radioactive waste re-emerging thousands of years hence.


  294. Any chance we could get a new Open Thread in the near future? Loading OT26 is getting to be pretty slow. Granted my internet connection is probably slower than most, and I wouldn’t want you to update the thread for one person. But at least I can serve as a canary in the mine.


  295. Hi Huon,
    that’s why I wish more of us linked to the forums. Forums only load the page of the discussion that you’re up to. We could use this thread to link to interesting new discussions over there, and the forums would take the bulk of the heat.


  296. Eclipse Now and Roger Clifton,

    Thanks so much for your helpful comments. I will be using the Forum more in the future, but I continue to treasure the freewheeling nature of Open Thread. As you say, the synergy between the two offers the best of both worlds.


  297. What forums?

    I see no mention of forums on this page, the front page or the side bars.

    I note the subsequent post’s link to a proboards address – again, not described in the main pages – is this part of the fabled “forums”?

    If so, perhaps an explanatory note for the less-familar would not be astray.


  298. Just go to the link above and log in there. At once stage there was so much traffic here that each article was referred across to the BNC forums to discuss there. Then the blog slowed a bit and they just found it easier to concentrate mainly on this wordpress blog.


  299. I have followed the link to the proboards about which I still have little informationapart from the apparent fact that the content is not moderated.

    Apparently I will need to register, to manage yet another password and put up with glowing comment about storing and recovering electricity for less than a day, at 30% recovery factor and presented as though somehow this is an improvement on load-following, scaleable, reliable electricity generation.

    I accept that I am intellectually limited but I am not yet completely insane.

    The molten silicon idea has all the hallmarks of a scam, starting with admission that large sums of public money have already been absorbed by its backers, with no practical outcome.

    I wish them well with the IPO. Suckers, please line up.


  300. I initially discounted the viability of Allam Cycle combustion, which claimed enhanced thermal efficiency and very much simplified CO2 capture as a liquid at high pressure.

    Now I am not so sure, due to the paper presented at a conference last year describing progress by Toshiba and others of a 50MW operational power station.

    Anybody discussing CCS will need to keep an eye on this project.


  301. SE — Well, starting from home, you have access to nearly 300 live threads. Here are the most recently updated threads for “energy”.

    Unlike the “Open Threads” where a gem of a comment is soon buried in the chatter, (though it could possibly be found again with your browser), the forum threads are uncluttered enough to continue a thoughtful conversation with months-long intervals.

    You would be in erudite company. Indeed, I was surprised to note your absence. Many of us keep a watch out for juicy threads breaking their silence.


  302. Thanks, Roger.

    I have visited the Proboards again, after an absence of perhaps 6 months.

    There may be 300 threads there, but only a couple of dozen have been active in the past 4 months.

    I have no idea how to register and thus have posted as a guest.

    I have no idea how to obtain notifications of new posts on Proboards.

    Maybe posts to Proboards would be better initially posted on OT and those which are not rubbish transferred by someone who cares to Proboards as some kind of archive on a rolling basis.

    I guess this depends to a certain degree what value individuals place on archived material and how their short term memory for say, a couple of months is functioning.

    I’m fairly comfortable operating on BNC’s OT26, despite desperately slow connection speeds. Thanks, Telstra 4G Mobile and the non-existent NBN. which recently condemned me to SkyMuster satellite and thus to significant latency and monthly max quota 35Gb. Higher quotas are advertised but are no longer on offer via retailers due to congestion and a resulting NBN-imposed average across all residential customers of “less than 40 Gb”. That quota works out to less than 4 minutes per day download of a video such as the evening news. From then it will be “shaped”, ie stuffed.

    If I can survive on OT, others can do also.

    If I need higher speeds, I am forced to drive in my diesel fuelled ute to a hotspot in town and be a bludger.

    Has BNC considered the post-NBN FF usage that the more poorly served “customers” of Australia’s emerging poor quality NBN as they travel to others’ hotspots or to deliver kids to better served friends and associates so that they can get their School of the Air, gaming, digital film and digital TV experiences?

    I long for the “Bad old days”, when Telstra still maintained its copper system and we were able to receive ADSL 2+ and use a Skype phone or video session, neither of which is now available to me via any means.

    If a low energy future for Australia includes reduced personal transport through improved communications, then my experience has been that we are going backwards service-wise, despite doubling costs.

    One last example: my specialist doctor cannot read MRI scans in sufficient detail in my town due to slow data transfer rates, of 17,000, so he drives 80km to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, where my scan was performed. At least part of this single person transport, is repeated many times per day. Yep, another 21st Century advance due to “Fibre to the Wazoo”.


  303. Well done, EN. You asked the crucial question, “what’s the catch?” and identified correctly what it is.

    Meanwhile, I was sucked in by the use of the cachet, “supercritical”. Thermodynamic systems that cycle near the critical point of a fluid can make use of some special properties – but only in the vicinity. The Allum Cycle described does not cycle anywhere near the critical points of either CO2 or H2O. Indeed, the presence of twice as much H2O as CO2 (from burning methane) would defeat the point of cycling near the critical point of CO2 and vice versa.

    Nevertheless the system does cycle wholly as a gas, compressing the working fluid without the heat-expensive step of condensing it, as done in most steam cycles in use today.


  304. France has the longest track record of reprocessing used nuclear fuel. Now some of that know-how is being transferred to China to assist in the construction of a Chinese used fuel reprocessing facility. (WNN)

    The move is significant. Whereas the French process was to supply plutonium to a growing fleet of fast neutron reactors spawned by Phenix and Superphenix, the French program has been fought to a standstill by antinuclear groups. The Chinese program has no such obstruction and plans to expand with fast reactors beyond its fleet of (slow neutron) PWR’s to at least 200 GW by 2050. (WNN)

    Does that imply an international trade in reactor grade plutonium ? Not necessarily.


  305. Here is a story from The Age that should have been saved for April 1st. There is not much chance of the public ever having a realistic appreciation of radiation risks when junk journalism like this gets printed.

    Over $1 billion to dig up some dead cows that were buried after being injected with a radioactive trace? If anyone finds the punch line could you let me know?

    The Age


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