Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Mid Term Energy Independence?

So much as I'd prefer that we in North America switch over to electric driving it increasingly looks like that we don't need to do it in a hurry (the Europeans on the other hand need to do it last decade because they depend on the Russians and the Middle East for their Oil Supplies, neither of whom are their best buddies).

Occidental Petroleum and Pioneer Petroleum have trialed some test wells in the well known (but up till now considered unrecoverable reserves) massive permiam basin in West Texas called the wolfcamp.

What's interesting about the Wolfcamp is that it's similar to the bakken but is a strata ten times as deep. In fact there is so much oil in it recoverable using horizontal drilling technologies that it appears to be second in size to the world's biggest petroleum field (the Ghawar in Saudi Arabia).

Why that's interesting is that North America over the last decade has gone from declining production (and having to import more from potentially hostile regions (like it looks the the Europeans are going to have to do unless they switch aggressively to electric transportation) to increasing production. Given that in the last five years, petroleum demand in Nroth America in aggregate has declined and supply has gone up (and continues to do so) - currently at 16 million barrels per day compared to demand of 19 million barrels per day) - it's not outside the realm of possibility that North America is petroleum independent within the next five years.

No dieoff for us then.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Dieoff by Famine doomers just received another slap upside the head

One of the tenets of dieoff by peak oil is that (allegedly) oil = fertilizer and there are no alternatives (allegedly).

So let's run with the false assertion that there were no non-oil based alternatives to fertilizer up till now. Why is that? What does that mean?

Well the reason is this (or would be if it were 100% true): Most crops cannot obtain nitrogen fertilizer from the air though some can (notably legumes like peas). Those that can do not need nitrogen fertilizer or only a very little amount.

What are the consequences of this?

Well this means that we have to put artificial nitrogen fertilizer on our fields which leads to over-use which leads to nitrogen runoff which leads to fertilizer reaching the ocean which creates algae blooms which depletes oxygen which leads to fish dieoff in the ocean yadda yadda.
So it's a bit of a catch-22.

You need to put fertilizer on your crops to feed all the people but if you do it you poison the oceans which means people get less fish and the ecosphere has issues etc yadda yadda

And when the oil runs out (assuming that we see a peak and rapid decline) fertilizer will become too expensive and crop yields will decline and we can't get anything back from the ocean because the ocean is already contaminated. So we're fucked right?

Not really.

We can clean up the ocean by using targeted amounts (and thus less) fertilizer and thus limiting runoff. We also don't need to worry about oil going to fertilizer drying up because oil *isn't* the only source of nitrogen fertilizer. It's only (currently) the cheapest. Prior to the discovery of massive amounts of cheap oil, in the early industrial age, nitrogen fertilizer was mostly produced in Norway from hydro-electricity through a process which cracks the nitrogen out of the air and makes it into ammonia. So if need be we could go down that route again.


The anti-apocaliptic horseman of science rides to the rescue once more.

Turns out that researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK have discovered a way to make the bacteria which fix nitrogen from the air in legumes, useful for all sorts of crops.

One of the non-legume crops which has been colonized by nitrogen fixing bacteria is sugar cane in Brazil. After an extensive study of those bacteria species, the U of N researchers discovered one particular species which will readily colonize all sorts of crops.

The process is something like (I'm horribly paraphrasing here to come up with an analogy): make dried probiotic with the appropriate nitrogen fixing bacteria and coat the seeds of the corresponding crops with it. When the seeds sprout, the bacteria in the probiotic colonize the roots of the crops, thus enabling them to fix nitrogen from the air just like legumes can.

The upshot?

Doom from peak oil induced lack of nitrogen fertilizer has thus been postponed.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

New Battery Post: Lithium Sulphur with 4x energy density using cheaper materials than Li-Ion

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Lab have recently cracked the elusive holy grail of Sulphur-Lithium batteries.

Sulphur is a very abundant element and thus even if the energy capacity were equal to or less than that of Lithium-Ion it would still be a breakthrough because it would make batteries cheaper and thus enable better the substitution away from fossil fuel powered vehicles.

But it isn't equal to Lithium-Ion. Li-Ion batteries have an energy density of about 170 Milliamp hours per gram. These new batteries have an energy density of 1200 milliamp hours per gram after 300 charge-discharge cycles.

This is significant. In a previous post I took the pessimistic case that with current generation electric vehicles the battery costs are such that driving one gives an equivalent cost of $6 per gallon for the most expensive electricity generated from all-renewables using very expensive vanadium flow batteries to store electricity off-peak. This is the most expensive possible scenario: a world in which everyone drives electric vehicles using current generation electric vehicles and all electricity production is from wind or solar. And the cost is equivalent to $6 a gallon today's money plus the cost of the vehicle meaning the average driver would pay $600-$800 per month in car loan plus aprrox $200 per month in electric "gas" for a total monthly driving cost of $800-$1000 per month.

These new batteries would mean that potentially the cost of electric "gas" would go down in an all-renewable world AND the cost of the monthly payments. If the cost breakdown of the batteries in an electric vehicle are the same as today ($10Gs for the vehicle and $20Gs for the batteries) then we would have $10Gs for the vehicle and $x for the batteries. Taking the cost of the materials as being the same but the range is 1200/170 = 7 times greater, let's do some math.

Now the current range of e.g. the leaf is 120 miles. That sucks. Let's bring it up. We want at least a range of 400 miles. So that's 400/120 = 3.33 times more battery. So we have 3.33/7 = 0.47 times the cost of the current batteries to give us 400 miles range instead of 120 miles range.

So at $20Gs for the initial price of the old-style battery, we have 0.47 x $20Gs = $9400 for the cost of the new and improved battery. Which gives us a price of $19,400 for the new and improved Nissan Leaf with a range of 400 miles. Not too shabby. This brings the price of the monthly car payment down from $600-$800 a month to $19,400/$30,000 = $388 to $517 per month for a total monthly driving cost of $588 to $717. That's *hardly* going to break the bank. And this is the *pessimisticly EXPENSIVE* case.

Now of course these batteries are still in the lab, but let's consider the implications in keeping with die-off debunked.

Well first of all clearly there's going to be no die-off at peak oil because we don't need oil for the largest part of current oil consumption (transportation). We can extrapolate further from there but that's for another post. Enough to mention that in this current world we have plenty of options for CHEAP electricity. We don't need to use expensive all-renewable electricity with batteries to store it. We could have a combination of cheap renewables, no batteries for storage, with off line backup utilizing nuclear, gas-powered, coal-powered, whatever. In other words I'm being way the hell too pessimistic in my calculations and likely what we're going to see is that cheap electric vehicles will start to chip away at the edges of any peak oil decline and we will HARDLY EVEN NOTICE it happening.

Now I say "chip away at the edges" rather than replace into insignificance because of one small inconvenient fact. North Americans i.e. the muppets of the global driving population will en-masse do something entirely stupid and counter-productive: Instead of choosing to drive e.g. Nissan Leafs with a 400 mile range costing $20Gs, they will instead prefer to drive F-150s or equivalent (whether fossil fuel powered or electric) due to their insistence on all the repeated myths they tell each other as to why the "NEED" large trucks for daily driving rather than "WANT". So North Americans will instead not take up electric vehicles at the same rate as other parts of the world because the largest market will be electric F-150s (or equivalent) with only a 120 mile range instead of nissan leafs (or equivalent) with a 400 mile range. Meaning that North America won't come into the electric game until the tail end of the switch-over. But never-mind - gas prices will probably not rise much higher than $6-$10 per gallon as a result of subsitution in the rest of the world.

The knock on effect of course will be that the rest of the world will be able to industrialize and buy automobiles because they will no longer be limited by the availability of cheap gasoline and instead will have the availability of cheap electricity with which to drive. And mobility creates markets.

So the conclusion is this: instead of seeing die-off because of peak oil or else "limits to growth" club-of-rome scenarios, we're going to see continued global growth and more of the global population lifted out of poverty. Business as usual in other words.

Die-off? Hit the snooze button.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Oh Look at this: Unsubsidized renewables cheaper than fossil fuel in Australia

So one of the many whines we hear from naysayers and doomers is that renewables can never be cost competitive with fossil fuels and thus what's the point of doing them.

I've always begged to differ as it's obvious that with falling renewables prices it would be inevitable that at some point a line would be crossed where it just made economic sense to replace fossil fuel power with renewables. That line has been crossed in Australia (and likely in other areas as well).

Bloomerg New Energy Finance has this to say:
A study conducted by BNEF’s Sydney analysis team, who painstakingly priced the various different sources of electricity by Australian Dollar per Megawatt hour for new builds shows that electricity produced from a new wind farm costs AUD 80/MWh whereas a new coal plant is AUD 90/MWh and a new baseload gas plant is AUD 95 /MWh.

It's important to note that these are unsubsidized costs.

If carbon pricing were included the cost of a new coal plant goes up to AUD 143/MWh and that of a new gas plant to AUD 116/MWh.

Most of the naysayers are operating on a mix of outdated information and hearsay. Michael Liebreich the CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance says “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date”.

“The fact that wind power is now cheaper than coal and gas in a country with some of the world’s best fossil fuel resources shows that clean energy is a game changer which promises to turn the economics of power systems on its head."

Doomers: sit up and take notice.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

New Flow Battery Created at Stanford out of inexpensive materials

One of the currently technically feasible battery storage systems for large scale (but intermittent) sources of power from renewables such as wind, solar and wave is flow batteries.

These batteries can be scaled up to pretty large storage sizes such as tens of megawatt hours and so are definitely a technical solution to storage of intermittent power. There are currently a few places in the world where there are ongoing trials, such as a wind farm in Ireland, a couple of places in Japan and some south Pacific islands.

The issue with these batteries is, however, that they are often complicated and made of rare materials such as Vanadium. Also required is a membrane to separate the two liquids between which electrons flow. This membrane has to be replaced every so often, adding to the expense.

A team at Stanford, however, has solved a couple of these problems at least in the lab by the creation of a flow battery without a membrane and also using the relatively inexpensive and abundant materials lithium and sulfur.

A utility scale system would be capable of being scaled up to handle many megawatt hours.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Diesel from Bacteria

So I'm not holding my breath waiting for biofuels from algae or whatever but nevertheless this is interesting as it shows just how far we're coming along in the development of biotech with plug-in parts to the genome that do exactly what we want them to do:

Professor John Love from Biosciences at the University of Exeter and his team have modified the ubiquitos E.Coli bacteria to produce a bio-equivalent version of diesel.

This is revolutionary because it's not just some kind of fatty acid or ester which needs a convoluted and possibly energy intensive method to process the chemicals into diesel or gasoline, instead it's a drop-in replacement.

Prof Love and his team worked with Shell on this and though it's not ready for commercialization and still faces a number of hurdles to bring it there, it's nevertheless very interesting.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Death by Mathusian Collapse: The horseman of famine

Just a short post today.

So the premise of the one particular doom scenario (reminiscent of Thomas Malthus and loosely tying into the Limits to Growth crowd) is that the population will increase to say for example 10 billion people and we will all starve.

The doomers like to tie this together with the fact that the green revolution from the 1960s where we (they would say narrowly) avoided famine by increasing crop yields to keep up with population and that the green revolution recently appears to have stalled.

Well my doomer friends, here is yet another nail in the dieoff-from-famine doom scenario:

By sheer and utter accident it turns out that a scientist trying to replicate some extinction events hypothetically caused hundreds of millions of years ago by the toxic gas Hydrogen Sulphide seeping out of the oceans, has instead discovered that the plants growth faster, germinate quicker and produce significantly more biomass.

Frederick Dooley, a University of Washington doctoral student in biology who led the research has this to say:
"With wheat, all the seeds germinated in one to two days instead of four or five, and with peas and beans the typical 40 percent rate of germination rose to 60 to 70 percent." he said
"They germinate faster and they produce roots and leaves faster. Basically what we've done is accelerate the entire plant process," he said."
"The most significant near-term promise, he believes, is in growing algae and other stock for biofuels."

Oh well. Maybe doom from famine is postponed a bit longer.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Doomers are like Zombies

Doomers are basically zombies because there is an endless supply of them and their brains are already partially eaten because they keep coming up with the tired same old shit over and over again.

There is one post on some scientific site today allegedly debunking the possibility of running our current (and a few years down the line) civilization off of renewable resources.

I won't even bother posting the link because it's a tired reheat of droning doomer arguments but it riles me that such gibberish is given airtime.

The argument basically boils down to this: It’s expensive so don’t do it. What if population grows? The horror: if population grows to infinity then obviously you can’t have infinite growth so nyah.

Recommendations are the same old tired hippy/druid/English teacher bullshit: cut back on growth. Live with what you have today. Keep those who are in grinding poverty still in grinding poverty because if we grow then maybe some small furry creatures might be displaced from their environment.

Here’s my debunk of their debunk: I’m not going to waste my breath taking you seriously. It’s like the unending supply of doomer trolls in the dieoff/peakoil forums repeating the same tired old mantra. It gets tiresome repeating how things actually work. Instead I’m imagining an episode of the Walking Dead where I’m eating a bag of popcorn on the roof with a few cases of ammo shooting the zombie doomers down in the streets who caught the Rage Virus from their cans of MREs from Savinar.

What’s funny to me is that they think that “you can’t grow forever” counts as any kind of valid argument for “don’t try to grow today, tomorrow, the next day and for the next century or more”. It’s also amusing how little grasp they have that the economy *doesn’t* grow in a straight line to-the-stars trajectory: just like China’s blistering growth of the 90s slowed down in the 2000’s and has slowed down further. Also like the way Microsoft grew like blue blazes in the 90s etc etc.

I recommend these doomer idiots read Joseph Schumpeter and get a handle on creative destruction and Kondratieff business cycles. I also recommend they actually do the math to figure out exactly how far away we are from any putative “limits” to growth here on Earth never mind if we used some of the energy we could harness to pull in resources from off-Earth.
No doubt they’d dismiss that as sci-fi, all the while doing so using a globe spanning computer network that has all the current knowledge of mankind accessible from star-trek like communicators (i.e. “cell phones”) from anywhere on Earth. To quote a friend of mine: Sheesh!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Ooops might I have been right about *smoke*

In one of my previous posts I debunked the idea that the warming which we've seen could be caused solely by Carbon Dioxide and is most likely caused by smoke and aerosols (i.e. black soot).


Surprise surprise turns out I was right. http://www.agu.org/news/press/pr_archives/2013/2013-01.shtml Da-da-da-dum!

Well guys that's quite the easier problem to tackle than Carbon Dioxide isn't it? And we can handle it quite comfortably by putting particle scrubbers on smoke stacks while NOT shutting down the economy.

So what are we waiting for?