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June 11, 2007

Getting the scope of the Energy problem right matters

The Economist points out that there are more economical ways to reduce energy usage They are correct. However, there is the issue of scaling up some of the money making ways.

Even if a lot of people follow the more economically positive steps of insulating houses, switching lighting etc... unless this results in coal or fossil plants being shutdown or operating a lot less so that less pollution and CO2 is generated then there is no actual reduction.

Better insulation and better lighting have been known for decades. Up until recently the lighting switch has only be done for 5% of lights. This is even with legislation in california that requires a percentage of flourescent lighting and dimmer switches on new construction and remodeling.

More fuel efficient cars: 1 million hybrid cars now. Great pat yourselves on the back. But there are 600 million cars on the road worldwide. Every year 65 million more car and trucks get added.

The energy efficiency efforts are nice but it is like you have 1000 concentration camps operating 24X7 and shutting them down between noon and 3 pm on Tuesdays. This comparison is not an exaggeration. The World Health Organization quotes 3 million dead from air pollution every year. Another 1.5 million die from bad water. Most of those dead are from fossil fuel usage.

Changing out the powerplants is what is needed. It will take 2-3 and probable more decades (at the fastest rate) but that is what has to be done.

China is building dams at the rate of a Three gorges every other year. By 2020 they will have 155GW more hydro power. But they are still adding coal at one plant per week. They are not getting rid of the existing coal plants (except shutting down the smallest and dirtiest and replacing them with cleaner, bigger coal plants.)

In the US are any of the environmental plans targeting the coal and natural gas plants to shut them down ? The most aggressive is to make them less polluting over the next 8 years. That is better than nothing, but to really handle the problem we have to phase out the coal plants and fossil fuel usage. (Or cure cancer, heart disease, asthma and use gene therapy to make everyone immune to particulates,
arsenic, mercury and smog poison and later to high temperatures, extreme weather and less water). I think it would be easier to mass produce the nuclear reactors, scale up wind, solar etc... We should and still are working on the disease cures.

The world will be spending $40 trillion over the 45 years on infrastructure. 11 trillion on energy and another 11 trillion on transportation. We should use that money and tackle the full scope of the problem. Fixing it sooner we will save trillions that we would have spent on the people we made sick or killed.

Some other info related to refuting the arguments against scaling up nuclear power:
Nuclear proliferation has killed no one

Argument: Nuclear can't scale up fast enough
Answer: 12 reactors per year in 1974 in the USA, more power added from operating efficiencies gains even with no new nukes, MIT 50% power boost to existing reactors.

266 reactors in the world constrution pipeline and rapidly increasing

China might build 300+ by 2050

Argument: There will not be not be enough uranium when we scale up

Answers:
There is Uranium in flyash (coal waste), a lot of flyash has been and still is being generated

There is still plenty of Uranium from ordinary sources which have not been fully explored, because of the 30 year depression in prices and activity.

Breeders and reprocessing are viable technologies in use and development now


Seawater uranium (not needed until ordinary sources are stretched but
could be cheaper than ordinary land sources if properly developed)
Here is info on a cost analysis for recovering uranium from seawater (10,000 ton per year setup. There is 3.5 to 4 billion tons of Uranium in the oceans.

I am not sure why some would think that scaling up this experimentally proven capability is less solvable than scaling up nanotech for terawatts of solar power.

Here is the copy of the table.

Table 2. Adsorbent production cost (production capacity = 10,000 tons/year)

Item Cost (billion yen/year) Percent Comments

Production equipment and amortization
0.165 billion yen/yr
3% of total costs
1.8 billion yen equipment cost

Precursor material cost
4.137 billion yen/year
84% of total costs
600,000 yen per ton nonwoven,

87,700 yen per ton for polymerization - reaction reagents

Operation expense (includes personnel) 0.62
13 personnel cost, repair cost
Total 4.93 100 unit cost of adsorbent

Unit cost of adsorbent 4.93 million yen/ton (4,100 yen/kg-U)

the biggest cost would be the precursor material.

Link to polyethylene production.

You can divert less than 0.1% of the polyethylene for 10 years when you decide to scale up the seawater extraction. Then you can make a little over 1 of the 10,000/ton year processes each year. In ten years you have 100,000/ton year.

The world capacity of polyethylene production increased up to 70 million tons per year, the polyethylene output in 2005 amounted to 65 million per year

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Multiple 10,000ton/year uranium harvestnig operations looks doable.

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We can have a better economy by getting rid of coal

We should also get rid of inefficiencies (superconductors and other technology for less energy losses and fix transportation (plug in hybrids, all electric cars, better mass transit).

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