Friday, 14 December 2012

Global Warming Leads to the death of the Amazon? Not.

So after a genetic survey of Amazon tree species it has been determined that many of the species have survived for a surprisingly long time in the region (over 8 million years in some cases). Previously it had been believed that most tree species originated in the cold Quaternary Period (in which we are now), beginning some 2.6 million years ago.

In fact, of the 12 species surveyed, seven have been around for at least 5.6 million years and three for more than 8 million years.

This means that many of the common amazon tree species were around during previous periods of high temperatures induced by previous instances of rapid CO2 induced climate change such as the early Pliocene (3.6 million years ago to 5 million years ago) which was equivalent to the IPCC's moderate carbon emission scenario. During the highest emission IPCC scenario, temperatures will be equivalent to what they were during the Miocene (5.3 to 11.5 million years ago).

The implications are clear: Amazon tree species can survive extreme temperatures up to and including those predicted for the most extreme emissions scenario.
So no tree dieoff then.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Even I'm Surprised

So I have to say that even though I'm a big fan of electric vehicles I hadn't realized exactly how far along we are.
Allow me to explain:

It seems that a private company in the US (note *not* a subsidized government entity but a private company) has installed more than 10,000 chargepoints all across the USA and Canada. Apparently you can get some kind of payment card and use it to pay for electric charge exactly the same way you would for gas at a gas station.

From the looks of it most of the major metropolitan areas in the Eastern Half of the country are covered. i.e. you can drive from one major city to another no problem as well as drive from the northeast round the lower states and all the way along the bottom to California and up the coast to Vancouver in Canada.

It's pretty light in the mountain time zone region tho so basically I still need a Chevy Volt or a Plug in Prius to get from where I am to the more connected regions and will still need to rely on gasoline for at least 1,000 miles. The rest of the country, however, looks pretty impressive.

The following is the map:

Monday, 10 December 2012

Well There's a Surprise

The draft of the IPCC Global Warning Report for 2013 is circulating (quite why they make a report every year is beyond me, but nevertheless).

Notable take-homes are the following:

There will be no catastrophic increase in hurricanes. Instead tropical storms will increase their wind speed somewhat but the overall number of hurricanes will *decrease*.

Wetter regions will get *wetter* (instead of "turn into deserts" as previously predicted).

Drier regions will allegedly get drier. Interestingly however, measurements in the real world over the last 60 years have shown no such drying trend in regions like Spain or the U.S. South-west in spite of the fact that global temperatures have increase by 1C (a full third of the project increase).

And last the keynote: instead of a few inches, global sealevels will increase by about a meter.

Now the last one is in fact something that needs a resolution, but the answer isn't to funnel money to corrupt third world governments (who will then turn round and park it in swiss bank accounts instead of fixing the problem) nor is the answer to kill the economy. The answer is to continue as we are now, gradually decreasing our carbon content in a drive towards a high percentage of renewable based energy as well as looking at ways to shore up sea-wall defenses.

Here's a prediction: there will be a whole bunch of Dutch companies making plenty money on consulting work.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Synfuel to partly offset Peak Oil declines?

Chris Floudas, a professor of chemical engineering at Princeton, has just published a paper outlining a strategy for replacing the entire U.S. transportation oil supply with synthetic fuels from a feedstock comprised of a combination of non food crops and other (more abundant than oil) fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. The fuel would be competitive at a $/barrel price of between $80-$110. Now, we’ve known for some time (at least the 1930s) that you can convert coal to liquids and natural gas to liquids so this is not new news. What’s different is the persistently high oil prices, which makes the process cost competitive with oil based fuels.

So let’s make a couple of assumptions here:

1. Oil prices stay high because markets are tight due to inability to raise production much
2. Using Prof Floudas’s numbers, 47 large plants would produce 71 percent of the total transportation fuel
3. Although US/Canadian oil production is increasing, globally we see a decline rate
4. We are meeting some (but not all) of the decline rate by a combination of increased fuel efficiency and substitution to electric vehicles.

So what does that look like?

For each percentage point of global decline rate, like for like, we need to replace 1% of the total U.S. fleet, which is 25 million vehicles. Now naturally, the fleet turns over once every 17 years so this gives us 100/17 for a percentage turnover every year which is about 6% of the fleet.

If every single one of those vehicles doubled fuel efficiency from 15 mpg to 30 mpg we could handle a 3% decline. That’s probably unrealistic, however, as Americans are notoriously conservative when it comes to changing their driving habits.
So how many are realistic?

Well right now we are selling about 50,000 priuses a year in the U.S. so let’s make a wild guess and say we sell 100,000 fuel efficient vehicles per year today.
Is it realistic to say in the face of peak oil we might see demand double? So let’s say 200,000 fuel efficient vehicles per year. That’s close to one percent.

So we therefore cover a half percentage point of decline rate with fuel efficient vehicles.

Let’s be super optimistic and say we can cover another half percent by replacing oil consumption all together by selling 100,000 all-electric vehicles per year. So we’ve got x-1 to cover with synthetic fuel (where x is the decline rate).

But let's imagine that we are uber-pessimists. Let's ignore the contribution to covering the decline rate from fuel efficient vehicles and electric vehicles (never mind compressed natural gas vehicles) and instead just look at how many plants we need to build and what it will cost us to do it.

So let’s be super pessimistic and say the decline rate is at the high end (say 10%).
So in the case of the U.S. that’s 1.3 million barrels needs to be replaced every year for transportation.

Using Prof Floudas’s numbers 71 percent of the total transportation requires 47 large plants, so that’s about 2/3 of a percent per plant each year.

So we need 15 large plants per year. That’s a cost of $226 billion per year.

Which is about 700 bucks per U.S. citizen per year or about 60 bucks per month or about 12 bucks per week.

So that’s the pessimistic case.

Now is that going to break the bank? Hmmmm.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Not really a debunking, just an idea for today

Just musing a little. So it seems to me that the critical piece in order to get to escape velocity for abundant energy (read renewable [and to a lesser extent nuclear]) is the batteries. Now you've heard me rant about batteries repeatedly and some may argue that I am in fact a battery nut. Not the case, just I think it's an optimal strategy. So... here's a thought: given that there's a vast number of possible chemical and material configurations for the anodes and cathodes of advanced (cheap!) batteries and a limited number (though still large) of researchers, then why not crowdsource the sifting through the materials? Has anyone else thought of this? Is anyone doing it right now? (I'll have a dig around on the internet to see if I can't come up with a story or two on it...) On the flipside, there's still a non-zero possibility that "peak oil" is way out there due to the continuing and ongoing increases in production from the likes of the Bakken in the U.S. Interesting times...