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On Can We Really Decouple Living Standards from Energy Consumption?

Nathan, FYI : Calysta Feedkind Protein is made from fracked/fossil methane. Biomass would be a vast environmental improvement, unless it was methane destined to be flared anyway.

July 3, 2015    View Comment    

On Reliability Means Being Connected: We Need a Strong Integrated Electricity System with Nuclear Generation

Milton, it's an unfortunate characteristic of human nature we find ourselves taking whatever works "too well" for granted, whether it's electricity or more fundamental needs like the right to vote or freedom itself.

A somewhat embarrassing anecdote: at the wise, worldly age of nineteen I ran out of gas on a lonely stretch of highway after the first tankful in the first car I ever owned. You see, my parents had been filling up the car I borrowed from them transparently and "effortlessly" (like so many other needs they filled, RIP). I knew the car required gas to run; I didn't understand it until I had to get out and walk. And I've never run out since.

I'm afraid we're destined for a similar experience with utility electricity, except of course the consequences are far more serious. In the New York Times yesterday, a sobering account of how a dysfunctional grid is forcing poor South Africans to languish in darkness while the rich power their homes with diesel generators. An accurate accounting of the country's per capita carbon emissions would be appalling.

July 3, 2015    View Comment    

On Rare Earths Not So Rare?

Geoffrey, after 2010 Molycorp was hardly a standalone company, retaining oil industry veteran and Chevron CEO of Mining Mark Smith as their own CEO - until he abruptly resigned in 2012 in the midst of an SEC investigation.

Small wonder the company has been "long struggling".

This is oil company modus operandi, of which examples abound. Another recent one: patent encumbrance of large-format NiMH batteries.

July 3, 2015    View Comment    

On How Much Land Does Solar, Wind and Nuclear Energy Require?

Steve, agreed that the ultimate goal has to be zero carbon, and there's no guarantee that replacing a natural gas-fired infrastructure and economy (the "bridge fuel") will be any less challenging than replacing a coal-fired one.

That said, a low-carbon economy can be a waypoint to a zero-carbon one by focusing on adding  zero-carbon generation incrementally. Shifting from coal to natural gas may enable greater short-term gains, but it extends reliance on fossil fuels farther into the future.

July 3, 2015    View Comment    

On Should Gas & Oil Methane Emissions Be the Next Obama Climate Policy Priority?

John, you raise a good point about methane - it does make a difference what other atoms carbon happens to hook up with, and CH4 is bad news (chlorofluorocarbons are super bad news - some with GWPs hundreds or thousands of times worse than methane).

We probably agree that doubling down on methane leakage at the wellhead is probably much ado about little, especially when Bakken flaring is lighting up the sky with wasted energy (better than venting methane, yet still criminally wasteful and environmentally harmful).

July 2, 2015    View Comment    

On Should Gas & Oil Methane Emissions Be the Next Obama Climate Policy Priority?

John, every cow in every herd which exists today is made up of carbon atoms which were pulled from the atmosphere by the grass it eats. The environment readily recycles what remains of their bodies within a year or so after they die (organic material in landfills takes longer) and returns the carbon to the air. And the cycle continues.

The earth could be covered by livestock, and the amount of carbon in the biosphere would remain constant - no new carbon is created, and none is destroyed (carbon atoms can't be created or destroyed except by nuclear transmutation in the cores of stars). In the earth's early history there's evidence volcanism contributed significant amounts of geological carbon to the biosphere, but that's no longer the case. USGS:

Do the Earth’s volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? Research findings indicate that the answer to this frequently asked question is a clear and unequivocal, “No.”

That leaves fossil fuels as the only significant source of carbon being added to the cycle, and the root cause of climate change (the hockey stick curve is perfectly aligned with the dawn of the Industrial Age). It's an often misunderstood, but extremely important distinction. Without fossil fuels, over the course of a century or two atmospheric carbon concentrations would reach equilibrium and climate would stabilize. Continuing to burn extracted oil, coal, and natural gas is making that impossible and sealing our fate.

July 2, 2015    View Comment    

On Should Gas & Oil Methane Emissions Be the Next Obama Climate Policy Priority?

John, any comparison of enteric and landfill GHG "emissions" with those derived from fossil fuel extraction is a spurious one which doesn't assess the true damage fossil fuels, including leaked methane, are wreaking on the biosphere.

Every gram of carbon which is emitted enterically from livestock (and 325,000,000 Americans, which generate 52% as much as domestic livestock and are unaccounted for in your chart) was sequestered a decade or two earlier from the atmosphere - as were nearly all GHGs emitted from decaying landfill waste. They're part of the carbon cycle in which humans and most other life forms present today have evolved and to which they've adapted.

Fossil fuel GHGs represent additional carbon sequestered millions of years before humans came into existence. They're quickly re-creating an environment in which humans, and many of the plants and animals upon which we depend, are ill-suited to survive.

July 2, 2015    View Comment    

On North Carolina Solar Leadership at the Crossroads

Luis, North Carolina's solar accomplishments can be summed up in three words:

Blah, blah, blah.

NC's 1,011 MW of solar capacity generated a pitiful 824 GWh of energy in 2014 - six-tenths of one percent of the state's electricity, for a dismal 9.3% capacity factor.

Tarheels aim to have two-tenths of one percent of utility solar by 2020, the same year their southern neighbor goes online with 2.2 GW of clean, carbon-free nuclear. South Carolina's Sumner Units 2 & 3 will be generating over twenty times as much clean electricity as all NC solar combined.

Clean energy advocates who are paying attention think this repeal effort is not only a good idea, but long overdue.

Below: Duke's Asheville Coal Plant helps to generate electricity on cloudy days when solar is AWOL. 40% of NC electricity comes from coal.


July 1, 2015    View Comment    

On How Much Land Does Solar, Wind and Nuclear Energy Require?

Hops, when the wind dies for GE's Invenergy 2.5MW turbine with storage, the puny 50kWh battery is dead by the time the blades stop spinning.

Like the ineffectual 5W solar panel included in the Nissan Leaf top level SL trim option, which doesn't even generate enough power to run the car's radio, integrated turbine storage is an expensive way to help customers who don't know any better feel better.

July 1, 2015    View Comment    

On Rare Earths Not So Rare?

Geoffrey, there's quite a bit more to the story here.

At the Thorium Energy Alliance Conference in 2012 Jim Kennedy of ThREE Consulting presented an impassioned and convincing argument for reducing dependence on Chinese rare earth imports. Thorium, with one proton too many to qualify as a rare earth element, plays an important part, because virtually all commercial production of REs originated from mining the mineral monazite. As far back as 1900, monazite mines were a profitable source of the thorium used for mantels in gaslights.

Monazite mining began to disappear in the early 1980s due to classification changes instituted by the NRC and the IAEA which identified it as “source material” - the thorium therein could be used to breed U233, and it was therefore supposedly a proliferation risk. A more tenable reason was the recognition of abundant and cheap thorium as a threat to not only uranium's dominance as a nuclear fuel, but potentially fossil fuels' dominance of energy.

Some feel it has induced oil and coal interests to actively suppress development of domestic rare earths, and it doesn't take too much conspiratorial imagination to see the heavy hand of fossil fuel money behind Eugene Gholz's Rare Earth Elements and National Security. Here Gholz, Associate Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, and co-author of Protecting 'The Prize:' Oil in American Grand Strategy, dismisses fears about rare earth dependence as "just the newest entry in a long line of exaggerated fears and panics about leading economies’ access to raw materials."


There's now exactly one non-Chinese producer of rare earth elements and thorium, Lynas in Australia, which is hanging by a $191,000 annual profit thread. That's what the free world's supply depends upon, and in my opinion there's a good explanation for it.

Radioactive "source material" - and cheap, abundant, carbon-free fuel - at TEAC 5

Chinese acquisition of the world's rare earths/thorium supply chain

June 30, 2015    View Comment    

On Moving Nuclear Energy Discussions Forward

Rod, apropos of your comment:

Three out of four of the members of that panel agreed that the current structure and funding model for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission makes it virtually impossible to develop, license and build anything other than a large light water reactor in the United States. One problem is that the rules are directive and have been written with light water in mind.

I post a 2013 email I received from a chemist/venture capitalist involved with efforts to jumpstart molten salt development in the US in response to my inquiry as to what it might require:

We have discussed the prospect MSR development here in the U.S. with several key players from the DoE and the NRC - very high ups, including the Asst. Sec'y under Dr. Chu who just left.  The answer from the former Asst. Sec'y of Energy was, 'I personally am in favor of modular reactors and MSRs in particular.  Unfortunately, Congress and the legislative process is so tainted, MSRs have very little chance of being developed here in the U.S. and will very likely be developed abroad.'

We have approached over 70 Members of Congress (House and Senate; Democrat and Republican) and have gotten exactly zero results.  I then resorted to the more nefarious route: I have spoken directly with lobbying firms as well as Republican and Democrat operatives.  I now have the dollar figures needed to buy the votes in the respective House and Senate Energy subcommittees.  This is despicable, but apparently requisite.  At least I have a goal in terms of the capital I am currently in the process of raising (about $14.7million, total).  Even with this in hand, I am still skeptical, since 'Big Uranium' is quite firmly entrenched and unwilling to accommodate.

It's the reason why my colleagues have already formed a for-profit entity outside the U.S. with the explicit intention of building the world's first assembly-line-ready MSR.

Sadly, I wish I had better news for you.

You may assign to this all the credibility internet hearsay deserves.

June 30, 2015    View Comment    

On How Much Land Does Solar, Wind and Nuclear Energy Require?

Som, the short answer is that the United States is thirty times as big as Germany.

Ideally all generation would be local, but in Germany local renewable energy is insufficient. So minus nuclear, renewables "imply" the extra environmental cost of burning coal.

June 29, 2015    View Comment