environment,energy,greenhouse,gas,carbon,dioxide,global,nuclear energy,clean energy,emissions,global climate change,environmental impacts, Nuclear Energy Can Save US: August 2007

Nuclear Energy Can Save US--America�s 100 nukes equal four million barrels of oil per day.

Billions of lives and civilization itself may be at risk from the Global Warming & End of Cheap Oil, Crisis. Rising sea levels and rising oil prices could be the end of civilization as we know it. The problem is so huge that the most powerful answer, many nuclear plants, must be deployed. Currently, America‘s 100 nukes deliver the energy of four million barrels of oil per day. Wind and solar cannot do the job, and may delay the real answer too long. Still, all kinds of clean energy, plus conservation, plus reducing deforestation, will be needed to help the poor half of the world, and for civilization to survive through this century.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Beyond Kyoto--America Needs an Emissions Goal

The goal of the Kyoto Treaty is for member nations to reduce their CO2 emissions to a level 7% below that of 1990. The CO2 is from burning of fossil fuels, so emissions rise and fall with the Q(BTU) of energy from the fossil fuels that a nation burns. The US didn't join, because we can't meet this goal; at least not in this century.
Americans are becoming aware of the problem, but we need a goal that could be reached in a reasonable time. How about that year in the future when emissions will stop increasing; i.e., when yearly fossil fuel consumption stops increasing (and we hope, decreases yearly from then on)? That will be the year when clean energy, mostly nuclear and wind, comes on stream in large enough quantity to maintain economic growth. For fossil fuels the yearly growth rate has averaged one percent; this will be a good target for clean energy also.
Per www.eia.doe.gov, US fossil fuels consumption was 71.3Q in 1990; to meet the Kyoto goal of 7% reduction, our fuels would have had to decrease 5.0Q to 66.3Q. This is not possible; actually, we used 86.2Q in 2004; and estimate for 2015 is 103.4, 2030 is 115.3Q.
Clearly America's fossil fuel use is far beyond the Kyoto ideal. For example, to meet a one-percent increase in clean energy in 2030 would take 1.15Q. Nuclear industry sources claim that currently only two nukes could be build each year under the best of circumstances; but 29 plants are being proposed. Suppose that by 2015, America goes nuclear again with two nukes per year, and that by 2030 we will be building five per year. Five would provide 0.4Q. If the build of wind turbines that year equals 7000, 2000Kw, units, they will produce another 0.4Q for 0.8Q total. Another 0.35Q from many diverse sources would get to 1.15Q, and there would be no emissions increase. Year 2030 may be too soon to hope for. However, I believe that America should declare as a national goal, which year our emissions will peak.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Let Insanity Begin" (LNG is Coming)

The quote above is the title of an editorial last year in the Baltimore Sun newspaper. It really shows the silliness of antinuclear bias. They were protesting a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) offloading port to be opened near the lower end of Chesapeake Bay. They feared an LNG explosion; not the explosion itself, but the problems it might cause, since there is a nuclear plant a mile or so away. In reality, the nuclear plant, protected by 150 million pounds of concrete, would be the only place for miles around that would be totally unfazed by the worst possible explosion; and an LNG explosion could be very bad indeed. The tankers are quite safe, double-hulled with reinforced tanks, but during days-long, unloading into holding tanks on shore, and into pipelines to distribute the gas, many people worry about accidents. The port is still not fully operational, due to local opposition. Industry experts say that America will need dozens more new ports of the same type in coming decades.
America uses about 25 trillion (T) cubic feet of natural gas a year. By chance one T is equal to one Q, or 500,000 barrels of oil per day (0.5MBPD), and is equal to energy of 12.5, one-gig nukes. We produce about 20T and import the rest. From Canada and Mexico, this product comes by pipeline. The other major import route though, is via LNG tankers into five offloading ports. LNG is liquefied and compressed at the exporting country, and each cubic foot of LNG contains 500 cubic feet of gas. Large LNG tankers carry natural gas with about one full-megaton, TNT equivalent (3 billion cubic feet of gas times 5 times 10 to the twelfth ergs per cubic foot = 1.5 x 10 to the twenty-second ergs) . Still, the tiny chance of an explosion must be tolerated, because America must have energy to survive. It is said that academics must “publish or perish”; our world economy, and with it civilization itself, is the same. We must have more and more energy; and it must be clean energy, or we will perish.
Natural gas is the sweetest, most environmentally-friendly, fossil fuel. For equal amounts of electricity, natural gas discharges only 45% as much CO2 as coal (842 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour for gas, versus 1897 pounds CO2 for coal, per NY Times article. See post, “Clean Coal“ and Global Warming).
(Consumption of 25T natural gas equals 25Q, equivalent to 12MBPD oil; or 300 one-gig, nukes. Natural gas is much cleaner than the other fossil fuels, but no where near as good as nuclear.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

One Billion Tons of Coal

All of my life I have been interested in how energy is produced. For the last 28 years that interest has turned into serious worry.
The DuPont Magazine “Context”, Spring 1979, had a picture with the following caption “Shown above are loaded coal hopper cars awaiting shipment. This can give some idea of America’s energy appetite when you consider that coal is our least important fuel (18%)”. Coal is now 23%, and sure to rise further. The picture shows, what may be as many as 100 railroad sidings, a half mile or so long, teeming with coal hopper cars, (just a portion of more than one billion tons of coal that were burned that year in the United States). My concern was only about the air pollution that would come from burning so much coal. We knew that coal burning effluents contained nitric and sulfuric oxides; radioactive radon, thorium and U-235; soot; organic carcinogens, etc. which are positively dangerous to our health. Today however, we know of the even more serious danger of the otherwise benign, CO2 discharge, and the Global Warming that it might help to cause.
This leads to my primary worry about energy; only nuclear plants deliver massive quantities of clean, non-greenhouse gas energy, that can compete with, and replace, fossil fuels. One pound of nuclear fuel produces the same energy as 200,000 pounds of coal. Wind energy is alright, but it cannot solve the greenhouse problem, unless hundreds of thousands of turbines, better yet, millions of them, are built. Unless that is what we shoot for, wind energy will only divert attention from the real solution.
(100 nuclear plants produce 8Q of energy per year; 1.2 billion tons of coal produce about 24Q, three times as much; 2000 tons of uranium fuel in the 100 nukes, produce as much energy as 400,000,000 tons of coal; one ton of Uranium fuel produces as much as 200,000 tons of coal; one pound of Uranium fuel equals 200,000 pounds of coal.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ethanol Redux

This is a second try to show why I think making ethanol from corn is so bad; even if the corn to ethanol, conversion process improves so that it is energy neutral.
Several different goals have been suggested in government circles, and conversion efficiencies are all over the map, but none of those variations change the problem. To use a recent congressional proposal; by 2020, 30 billion gallons of ethanol would be made from corn. Suppose that clean energy for conversion would be provided by 50 nukes. 30 billion gallons would be equivalent to 2.0MBPD (same as 50, one-gig nukes); 720 million barrels per year of oil that we would not have to import. This might save $72 billion (of $100 oil) for this portion of America’s energy. Some people will then say that the corn-ethanol saved this much money on imports, but that will not be true.
The nuclear energy will have saved the import of 720 million barrels of oil. All that would be accomplished by destroying millions of tons of corn, would be to make the nuclear electric energy (or some fossil energy) into an automobile-friendly form.
Instead, if millions of cars are operating on hydrogen, an amount of hydrogen equivalent to 30 billion gallons of ethanol could be made by the nukes, from water, not food.
Even better, if hybrid gas-electric cars become popular, the electricity for an equivalent portion of cars could be delivered directly from the nukes, without corn or water intermediaries.
To me, better then any of these, would be all-electric cars, with batteries for town and rural roads, and brushes to pick-up electricity on long distance roads. America’s current automotive energy is equivalent to about 250, one-gig nukes. This is based on Scientific American Chart, Sept. 1990, showing transportation, worldwide, equals 51% of oil use. America’s current oil use is 40Q of energy (www.eia.doe.gov), equal to 500, one-gig nukes. America’s percentage of oil use may be higher than average, and 17 years makes some difference, but 250 nukes, for America’s transportation, is a fair estimate.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Ethanol From Corn Will Not Do.

For America to run our automobiles on food, is such a silly idea that it boggles my mind. Instead of being a Win-Win situation, it is a Tiny Win-Loss-Loss program.
The world faces a dual-crisis, the End of Cheap Oil, and Global Warming. This is especially true for America. Oil production will peak in coming decades. Oil sands in Canada hold trillions of barrels of oil, but getting it out requires huge amounts of energy. We can’t let that energy be coal, exaggerating the greenhouse problem. Canadians plan to use nuclear plants. Getting oil from rock (called shale), will take even more energy; nukes or other clean energy must be used for this. Cheap oil production, (i.e. oil wells) will peak; the nations that have it will hoard; prices will rise ever higher; and this could destroy our economy. The intention of ethanol is to counter this with home-grown fuel for our cars. However, it can only provide a small saving on import costs, and we sacrifice food to do it. This is only a Tiny Win.
David Pimental, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, has calculated that powering the average U.S. automobile for one year on ethanol (blended with gasoline) derived from corn would require 11 acres of farmland, the same space needed to grow a year's supply of food for seven people. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs .Congress now calls for 37 billion gallons (only 15% of 2006 need) of ethanol from corn, by 2017. Thirty-seven billion gallons equal 800 million barrels, or 2.2MBPD of oil, or energy of 54 nukes. If processes improve, so that conversion is energy neutral, 54 nukes would probably give enough energy for the conversion. If, instead, 54, one-gig coal plants are built, millions of tons of CO2 will be discharged; we will trash the environment. We should build nukes for direct production of hydrogen for cars, from natural gas or water, and leave our food supply alone.
America has only 400 to 460 million acres of arable land on which to grow food. In 1900 this was 6 acres per American. Since our population has increased, we now have only 1.5 acres each. In the same way that oil experts are debating when cheap oil production will peak, agronomists are trying to gauge which coming decade will see America’s food surplus disappear, and we become a net importer.
PS: Brazil may be in better shape for oil independence, since ethanol from sugar takes less energy, and they have many fewer cars to run. They also have more land available for growing sugar; but what if they destroy more of their rain forests to do it?
PPS: Ethanol from some other, non-food plants, might eventually make sense.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Wind Energy Can Help

Wind energy is great, if we are realistic about what it can do. The 4500 or so wind turbines in Altamount Pass, Calif., or 100 to be built off-shore, near Cape Cod, or a thousand in West Texas, might sound good. However, such small numbers couldn't produce important amounts of energy.
On the other hand, if America launches a century-long campaign to build one million, 2000-kw, wind turbines, we would be getting somewhere. 500, 2000kw wind turbines equal the rated energy of one, 1,000,000kw nuclear plant. Since they depend on the wind, it will take four times 500, or 2000 wind turbines to equal one nuke. In current $, one million turbines may cost $2T. This is doable, although production of cement to make the concrete footings for one million turbines might be difficult. Currently, cement production creates 4% of the world's CO2 each year.
1,000,000, 2000kw, turbines would equal 500 nukes, or 20,000,000 barrels of oil per day, or nearly twice as much energy as we get from coal each year. How good it would be if part of such clean, wind energy would allow closing many of America's dirtiest coal-burning plants. Building 1,000,000 wind turbines would not be easy though.
Germany's wind energy program is a good example. They have built more than 15,000 wind turbines so far, and plan a total of 40,000 by 2030. Guessing that these will average about 2000kw output, 40,000 will equal 20 nuclear electric plants. However, Germany is also planning to dismantle their 18 nuclear plants during the same time frame. If they do this, their clean energy will be only marginally better. Germany is the world's fifth most powerful economy, and they are only planning 40,000 turbines in thirty years. Where in the world will the orders come from to build the millions and millions of turbines that are needed, both to supplant fossil fuel plants and to increase energy for development.
Per US Department of Energy, America consumed 101Q (BTU) of energy in 2005. Rounding off slightly, fossil fuels were 85Q and other, non-CO2, fuels gave 15Q. A reasonable answer to the coming oil shortage, and global warming crisis, would be to continue using the same amount of fossil fuels (we may not be able to do anything else). America's population will increase, maybe even double this century. All of the 100Q of new energy for the population increase should be clean, non-CO2. The one million wind turbines would equal 40Q; 500 additional nukes would equal another 40Q; 80Q would be pretty close to the energy need for a larger population. However, millions of people want and deserve better lives, so economic development must also continue. Conservation, increased efficiency, biomass, etc. would have to do the rest. Fossil fuels will still be in use.
Earth's total current energy consumption is equal to 210 MBPD of oil, or 5200, one-gig, nukes, or 10,400,000, 2000kw, wind turbines.