Alternative Energy Options


Energy Options

Below is a list of all the scientifically proven and readily available energy options. What kind of energy will we choose? What are the environmental impact of various energy options?

Also check out my Energy Price Calculator Table for comparing energy costs for different fuel sources at variable efficiency ratings.


Oil:

This is Oil: While at Foxboro Company we developed new Gasoline and Diesel Blending Software that greatly improved the refineries ability to make reformulated transportation fuels. On the right is the delayed coker at Sincor in Venezuela. It thermally cracks heavy oil into diesel boiling range. R2Controls designed the controls for this unit.

The middle picture shows the various separation layers in a typical oil refinery distillation column, and what uses the various components of crude oil have.

Oil Spire Oil Barrels Delayed Coker Sincor

Have we taken oil based product availability for granted? What will the price of gasoline and diesel be 10 years from now? You can form your own answer by looking at the chart below. We can see the discovery of "conventional" oil in the 50's, 60's, and 70's was greater than the production (Black line). Future discovery does not look too promising and drilling in our National Parks and Offshore fisheries will not make a big difference on a global scale. If we add in "unconventional Oil" like tar sands and possible coal , the potential supply is much larger, but the cost of production is also much larger and with current know-how unconventional oil has a much larger CO2 footprint. Technology advances for production of conventional oil and unconventional oil may help extend our production, but it is clear that total oil production will decline and this is not so far in the future.


Oil discovery and production

Coal:

This is coal and a typical coal fired power plant. The US has more than 200 years of coal, China has less than 50 years


Handful CoalCoal Plant


Nuclear:

With nuclear reactions, we often think of the conversion of a small amount of mass into a large amount of energy from Einsteins famous equation E=mc2. It is true that the mass of nuclear reaction byproducts is slightly less than the nuclear fuel and this missing mass was converted to energy. This behavior is not unique to nuclear reactions as even exothermic chemical reactions loose mass and endothermic reactions gain mass, proportional to the heat produced by the reaction. Like many power sources nuclear reactions basically make a lot of heat to make steam and then the steam is passed through turbines to convert a fraction of the heat energy into electric power. It is not completely CO2 free as it takes a lot a conventional fuel to mine and process Uranium. Most of the 2.8 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity generated worldwide from nuclear power every year is produced in light-water reactors (LWRs) using low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. The world has roughly a 230 year Uranium supply. The supply will likely grow due to future discoveries, better extraction, and could grow a lot if reactor design shifts to breeder designs or if Thorium fuel cycles are used. Thorium resources are maybe 5 times that of Uranium.

Atom Cooling Towers

Nuclear power. We know how to make both fission and fusion bombs, that release large quantities of energy very quickly. We have figured out how to control some fission reactors, but the fission reactions release solids, liquids, and gases that make a number of long lived radioactive byproducts. Different fission fuel cycles can reduce the radioactive waste and extend the fuel.

Nuclear Fusion power has the potential to be relatively clean, relatively safe, and has a massive fuel supply. The world is spending about 5 Billion Euros per year on fusion research (ITER), about the same as we currently spend on ring tones worldwide. Although artistic and personal expression are very important, we might wonder if we have our priorities right. We just have to figure out how to make a working prototype before we can work on the engineering to make cheap power at the industrial level. Three major design approaches are being worked on. These are the Tokomak (Magnetically confined torus), the Laser based Inertial confinement fusion (ICF), and the Pinch method using an Electromagnetic Pulse to implode pellets. The Tokomak fusion reactor design on the top left is the most promising design for controlled fusion. Fusion reactors produce a tiny fraction of the radiation of fission reactors. The fuel supply is enormous and this would be the magic bullet to solve our energy supply problems, but it is very hard to do as decades of research has failed to produce a working prototype. The ITER (Tokomak) in France is the most advanced research reactor. Although ITER is expected to produce (in the form of heat) 5-10 times more energy than the amount consumed to heat up the plasma to fusion temperatures, the generated heat will not be used to generate any electricity. In the photo at the bottom right is the Z-Machine (Laser based Fusion reactor) During the 100 ns discharge, the power output is 2.9*1014 W, equal to 80 times the power output of all the power plants on earth. Rumor has it that 2010 will be the year they produce more power than they consume.

Fusion Reactor Mushroom Cloud
Nuclear Waste Z Machine pulse

Natural Gas:

Most of us know about Natural Gas, it is mostly methane (CH4). Natural Gas has a slightly lower CO2 footprint than oil. New advances in extraction from US shale deposits have improved production, but like oil, production is exceeding discovery and we have likely already reached peak productions. Russia, Iran, and Qatar have most of the worlds Gas reserves. Currently Natural Gas is a bargain for the US consumer due mainly to government price regulations. The improved gas production techniques are more costly, and this does provide a hedge against steep price increases. Propane is not regulated in the same way and it is noticeably more expensive than natural gas on the basis of $ per BTU.

Propane Tank Nat Gas Plant

Hydro-electric Power:

Hydro power is great from a CO2 and energy efficiency perspective; As no fuel is consumed Hydro power is typically very cost effective. Hydro provides roughly 10% of our current electric power, but unfortunately we cannot rely on Hydro power for much additional expansion as most, but not all, hydro sites have already been developed. Dams do disrupt fish migration, flood land area, and disrupt the natural cycles of water flow, but overall these problems are small compared to the alternatives.

Hydroelectric Dam Hydroelectric Generators


Bio Fuels:

Using the Sun for creation of biofuels has many possibilities. The term Biofuels, as currently used, only describes a small subset of Solar driven biological processes. The sun is the source of energy driving most (but not all) of the biological cycles that maintain life on earth.

    The major biological cycles of matter are: Carbon Cycle, Nitrogen Cycle, Phosphorus Cycle and Water Cycle
These complex cyclic engines move mass into and out of living things and allow humans to consume calories and carry on with life. More detailed biological cycles are at work in living things to create chemical energy in the form of Sugars, Starches, Carbohydrates, Proteins, and the energy workhorse ATP. in the "Krebs cycle" and the "Citric acid cycle". At a fundamental level many of our industrial energy processes are not cyclic and not sustainable, as they depend on digging a resource out to the ground extracting the useful materials and energy and creating various byproducts like CO2, SOx, NOx, soot, ash, municipal wastes, industrial wastes, nuclear wastes, and military wastes.

It does not appear that biofuels can be produced in the quantities required to replace our current hydrocarbon consumption. It has been estimated that using available know-how, that biofuels might be able to provide about 30% of our current liquid fuel consumption. Lets take an example to illustrate. Suppose we use the classic "Energy Balance" to roughly compare the land required to propel a biofueled car vs. the land required to propel a photovoltaic powered solar electric car.

Biofuel Car:

    ~5% Sunlight --> cellulosic energy
    50% growing season
    50% loss for fertilizer & fuels
    50% cellulosic energy is converted to liquid fuel energy
    25% conversion to work in a modern car engine
.05*.5*.5*.5*.25*100 = 0.156 percent of the Sunlight is available to push the vehicle

Photovoltaic Electric Car:

    12% sunlight converted to DC power
    85% efficient DC power to the Grid
    70% efficient Grid to Batteries
    80% efficient Batteries to work
0.12*.85*.7*.8*100 = 5.7 percent of the Sunlight is available to push the vehicle

It's no contest, the Solar electric car wins hands down. It takes roughly 38 acres of Biofuel farmland to produce the fuel to propel a biofueled car the same distance as the same sized electric car charged from 1 acre of solar photovoltaic desert. Keep in mind this is only the energy balance and many other factors are involved. The technology of Solar electric and the mass production of electric vehicles is not so well developed as Biofuel infrastructure. Recent advances in Algae farming to make Fuel could improve the energy balance of biofuels.

It is interesting to note that the EPA departed from the science based regulation of transportation fuels when they mandated 10% Ethanol in gasoline. Previous to that each gasoline quality regulation had a scientific basis to have a net reduction per the 1990 Clean Air act, i.e. Tetra Ethyl Lead, Sulfur, CO, and unburned hydrocarbons. The MTBE debacle points out that we cannot always predict problem regulations create and that we are still learning how to use liquid fuels and keep a clean environment.

There is a lot of discussion and research in the area of Biofuels, genetic plant engineering, improved farming yields, sustainable farming methods, BioChar, soil preservation, Ocean farming and fish management, and many other very important topics that will determine the maximum number of people the earth can support.

Solar Power:

Solar energy is our main long term option. We have explored enough of the neighborhood to know that the planet Earth is the only decent real estate likely to support any quantity of frail humans. The Sun should be around for a few billion years but even the most bold futurist might find it hard to predict how life on earth will evolve over that timescale. Solar power has the potential to provide all of our power needs. So far it has not been as convenient (as easy to make it work) as exploiting the stored energy in coal, oil, gas, and Uranium. The sunlight hitting the earth in less than 10 minutes could supply all of the world’s current electric power for 1 year if it could only be captured and used cheaply and efficiently. The amount of Sunlight energy that hits 1 acre in Arizona on an average day is equal to about $4000 of electrical energy @ $0.15 per Kw-Hr. Orbiting solar generators have been proposed and solar energy does power most of our satellites and the space station too. On a clear day the solar flux is about 1000 Watts per square meter at the earths surface. That is basically the energy of a hair drier every 3 feet. Compared to biofuels, solar electric power would use a relatively small amount of land (or ocean) area. The sunniest places are generally in dry regions that do not compete with farming. Photovoltaic cells and solar thermal engines can be used to generate electricity, but currently the cost is higher than most of the alternatives. We are finally starting to do a small amount of basic research in the area of solar technology and there has been some progress in developing more efficient solar cells, heat engines, and related technology. Generally solar electric approaches trail wind as a cheap source of renewable electric power, but that could change if solar cell cost and efficiency are both improved as a result of research breakthroughs.

Photovoltaic Panels solar panels

The best we can tell is that the Sun has been around for a long time and looks like it will stay running for a very long time to come..

SXT Sun Oahu Sun Set

We should be happy that our sun is not too small or too large. If our sun were as large as some stars, it would extend past Saturn! Our sun is barely a single pixel compared to the much larger star Antares. As we look into sky we have observed incredible releases of energy that we are struggling to explain such as Super Novas and Quasars. One quasar's luminosity is estimated at about 2 trillion (2 × 1012) times that of our sun, or about 100 times that of the total light output of average giant galaxies like our Milky Way. Now that could power a lot of hair driers!

Sun and Planets Antares



Solar Thermal Power

Solar Thermal Power is the use of solar heating power as opposed to photovoltaic (PV) solar power. Mirrors are used to focus light energy onto a single point much like a giant magnifying glass.

The mirrors are usually focused on a boiler aparatus covered in a highly absorbant material. The boiler heats up producing steam which is then use to power anything you want to attach, such as a turbine, etc.



Wind Power:

US Wind energy resources could in principle power more than 200% of our US electric power grid. Denmark currently gets over 20% of their electric power from Wind energy. Careful site selection and new turbine technologies are making wind competitive with Coal fired generation when the cost of Cap and Trade for CO2 emissions is considered. Coupled with grid energy storage like "pumped hydro power" or CAES (Compressed Air Energy Storage) Gas Turbine Power Plants, wind can be made to be "dispatchable". Smart Grid technology will also make it easier to put intermittent generators like solar and wind onto the grid, reducing the costs for new transmission lines.

Wind Turbines

For the best scientific data and information on wind energy, nobody has done a better job than the Germans. Check out the world's #1 premier company in Wind Energy Technology:

http://www.windtest-nrw.de/

Resource Materials:

These 2 Documents below are all the hard scientific data on wind, from the world's leading professionals.
These guys know what they are talking about. (Shared for educational purposes only) Do not copy, alter, or distribute!

Wind Physics (Power Point) - The Physics of Wind Technology, Equations, etc.

Wind Technology Aspects (Power Point)




Wood:

Wood energy is our most traditional biofuel. Wood is mostly carbon, and the energy content of that carbon came from the sun via photosynthesis and the carbon mostly came from the air. The amount of standing carbon in the worlds forests is quite massive. Forests are great but management is needed, to prevent over forestation, especially as oil prices rise.

In northern Russia and Siberia, wood is burned for heat in order to survive the most brutal winters. Brick or stone fireplaces are often used.

Wood Pellets Russian Stove 2 Russian Stove 1

Geothermal:

Geothermal energy is heat escaping from the center of the Earth. This heat is mostly from naturally occurring nuclear reactions, so if you think about it we are basically sitting on a Nuclear Pile. It is certainly possible to generate electric power as molten rock (lava) can easily make high pressure steam capable of running a generator. The 2006 MIT study on Geothermal Power claims the technically extractable portion of this energy is some 2000 times our present energy consumption.

http://web.mit.edu/erc/spotlights/underground_heat.html

EGS technology calls for drilling a well down to the hot rock and then injecting water forcefully enough to open up tiny fractures in the rock and extend them horizontally away from the well. A series of injection and production wells are then drilled into the region of fractured rock. Water sent down the injection wells sweeps through the hot fractured rock and back up the production wells, providing large quantities of hot water or steam to run electric generators at the surface. One of the operation issues is that industrial boilers go to great effort to purify and treat the boiler feed water. Steam direct from the ground will almost certainly contain lots of minerals that will leave deposits, so there are a few maintenance issues. It is hard to imagine a practical heat exchanger to make steam from water with the heat gained from lava flow. There are a number of successful projects, and there is a lot of potential.


We have 2 big energy problems.

  1. Problem #1 The world is running out of Oil The price of oil hit over $125 per barrel in 2008 but has fallen considerably in 2009 as a worldwide recession reduced demand. The price elasticity of Oil can be seen from the experience of Hurricane Katrina. We cut back about 5% as a result of gasoline going up to almost $4.00 per gallon. Europeans have had higher fuel prices and they have adapted to use less than 50% of the energy of Americans. Our US dependence of imported oil is a significant vulnerability to our economy. It is said that "discontent is the mother of invention". Discontent is arriving for some, but will arrive for many more when the supply of oil falls and the price wars begin. The estimates for peak oil vary somewhat as many production companies keep this information close to the vest and some have misstated their proven reserves to improve the perception of future profit potential. On the other hand new well technologies and an unexpected recovery of production in older wells has pushed the peak further in the future. Best I can make of it is that peak oil will be reached by between 2010 - 2018. As we go forward, there will be less crude oil entering our oil refineries, and less finished products leaving them. More refineries will be closing. Living standards in Asia and South America are approaching those of the US and worldwide demand for oil has put us in a fierce global competition for a declining resource.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil

    M. King Hubbert was a Shell geologist. He was branded an alarmist in 1956 for predicting US oil production would peak in 1965-1970. 15 years later he became a legend, when he was proven correct when US production peaked much as he predicted. He used a bell shaped model to predict the production of oil wells over their lifespan. Oil production in the US peaked in ~1970 and has been declining ever since. Drilling for oil in our national parks and coastal fisheries will not make a significant change in the date for global peak oil. This activity is mostly a grab for small amounts of remaining black gold. Promises of large oil resources in these areas are not born out by the geology data from hundreds of thousands of oil wells. We can see the upcoming supply problems and we are better off to start making transitions now. It will take some very significant changes to our lifestyle to cut our addiction. Many people seem paralyzed into inaction and continue to consume and import oil as if it will never end. This problem is not unlike the Whale Oil industry about 100 years ago, except back then, we had mineral oil to save us, and we did not have problem #2: Global Warming. We can still have a warm house, a vehicle to get to work and play, and power to run our wonderful machines and electronic devices, but we need to choose our new equipment and lifestyles carefully as energy consumption and liquid fuels especially, will become increasingly expensive. The hydrocarbon price increases in the spring of 2008 are not temporary; they will seem like a bargain in just a few years.

  2. Problem #2 Global Warming So called anthropogenic (Human generated) CO2 is small compared to naturally generated CO2, but we have steadily produced CO2 and clearly have increased the inventory of CO2 in the atmosphere. At the same time we have cut and burned forests that act to consume CO2. Earths CO2 concentrations have been steadily rising from 270ppm to our current 385ppm(2009). We have observed that the Earths average temperature has risen about 0.7 oC during this same time. We have observed clear signs that our climate is changing especially with the warming at the poles. Many countries have subscribed to a goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 oC to avoid negative affects on weather, rainfall, sea level, and various ecosystems. Now I have modeled a lot of processes myself, but nothing remotely as complex as our entire planet. When it comes to models we have a saying: “All models are wrong, some are useful”. Atmospheric models will have errors and will not be perfect. Modeling the earths temperature is particularly difficult. Even though climate models are not perfect, we must use them for making predictions, or else we are guessing. It may be that mankind eventually can control our planets temperature. It may be that we would benefit by being a little warmer, but we could really wreck the place if we let our temperature get out of control. Before you develop a control scheme you always need to focus on understanding the process. If our goal is to regulate temperature we must understand all of the variables that impact temperature and identify the load upsets to the process. The obvious manipulated variable is to reduce CO2 emissions, but this is rather hard to do as much of our economy is based on consuming them. Another option is geoengineering and there are many ideas for this. So how can we judge the effectiveness of any proposed control strategy? The best way to judge is to use the climate models to see the magnitude and dynamic response of any proposed action. Our current CO2 concentration is not a reasoned result of us controlling our environment, but only the byproduct of our growing population and massive consumption of available resources.

See The R2Controls page on Global Climate Change (Global Warming) for more details on this important subject.


Compute your own CO2 footprint on this EPA web page:
http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html

The human race is a victim of their (our) own success. We now have only 6 acres of land per person. Some of our economists tend to ignore the Law of conservation of Mass and Energy at our peril. We rate the strength of our economy based on how fast we dig out of acre 1 and make waste dumps on acre 6. Faster would appear to be better. We have run out of new frontiers and there is no place like Earth in our solar system to expand to, and the next closest sun is very, very far away.

Bacteria would simply consume all of its resources and die in its own waste. If humans are smarter than bacteria, they better start acting like it. It does not have to be like this. We need to quickly transition to a sustainable long term energy system, and focus the creative energy of scientists, engineers, blue & white collar workers, farmers and others on transforming our industries, businesses, and communities.

Some of our corporate leaders and business managers often find it easier to lobby our government to avoid change and competition, than to transform their business to serve societies real needs. Few companies today would act the way DuPont managers did when they became aware of the Ozone depleting effects of Freon. DuPont managers closed down the business, found alternatives, and transformed the business segment. These actions have clearly made improvements to preserve our protective ozone. Actual ozone levels while still somewhat low appear to have bottomed out since about 1995. Unlike a relatively diversified DuPont, the Oil business tends to be purely hydrocarbons, so it is hard for them to support a transition away from carbon. Oil companies make products we love and are part of the solutions, but it will take changes in many areas to achieve a sustainable energy infrastructure. At one time oil companies had massive research and development to develop oil production and refining technology. Exxon had Florum Park and Mobil had Princeton. In the 80's we cut back on research and focused on low cost production.

Perhaps it is time spend money on research for a new energy infrastructure.

Some other useful links are:
Energy sources and destinations:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec1_3.pdf

Download the Mckinsey report - a comprehensive set of plans to keep global temperature rise to 2 oC
http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/ccsi/pathways_low_carbon_economy.asp

I hope that every Scientist, Engineer, and Business manager, is upholding their own responsibility and code of Ethics (AICHE).

Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and protect the environment in performance of their professional duties.

CO2 is now regarded as a pollutant, and the EPA has the technically and politically difficult assignment to control the CO2 concentration.

A friend asked me, if you were in charge of solving this problem, what would you do? This is a great question for an engineer. Here are the answers of this engineer. Luckily I am not a Politician that would need to sell these solutions to the public, as it is clear that these solutions would be politically difficult, even if they are the right medicine for the ailment. Here are 10 things I would do:
  1. As the US and China are the largest CO2 emitters it is key to work with China to take a leadership role for international agreements (like the Copenhagen and Kyoto accords) on controlling our climate. I think the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2oC seems reasonable and should be the basis for action. The specific targets for CO2 emission reductions and geoengineering actions should be based on model predictions that show these actions will be effective to meet the 2 oC goal.
  2. To meet CO2 emission targets economists would recommend a "Carbon Tax" rather than "Cap and Trade" system. Cap and Trade systems risk abuse and corruption. I think the "Carbon Tax" will be fairer and more effective. "Cap and Trade" markets encourage investor speculation, and this does not encourage the correct actions so directly as a carbon tax.. Establish the measuring systems to tax all CO2 going into the air at a uniform rate in $ per ton of CO2. I.e. Tax gasoline, diesel, coal, natural gas, firewood, wood pellets, Biofuels, and forest burning, based on the CO2 emissions. Plan the tax rate starting at a low rate at first until the monitoring and tax collection systems are functional. Provide a tax planning trajectory to allow businesses to plan for future tax increases to allow time for business transitions. The free market forces will act to allow the most effective solutions to prevail. Use the tax money for research and incentives to help us transition off of Carbon and to help those people and businesses most adversely impacted by such taxes to make adjustments.
  3. Pay US landowners, farmers, or entrepreneurs to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. It will be challenging to document the amount of CO2 removal in order to pay in $ per ton of CO2. We know that consumers will respond to higher prices by conserving and innovating. The standing carbon content of forests needs to be managed. We especially need to encourage the preservation of the tropical rain forests, as they remove a proportionally much greater amount of CO2 than our temperate forests, roughly 3 times the amount. All imported rain forest products must be certified as sustainably produced. Some of the CO2 tax collections should be used to help countries like Brazil and Indonesia to preserve their forests. Some tax money should go to poorer countries that need help to make a contribution.
  4. Offer consistent long term tax credits to encourage companies to expand research and development for constructing a sustainable economy. For example this would be for R&D involving energy production, solar power, wind power, carbon capture, trains, planes, vehicles, control systems, power distribution, efficient machinery, efficient buildings, batteries, nuclear power, sustainable soil management, biofuels, geoengineering. Where large State or Federal projects are involved fund design competitions to encourage new and improved technology and to find the most efficient sustainable path forward.
  5. As the EPA has authority to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, they should be involved in adjusting the CO2 tax and making sure there are no loopholes that would prevent us from achieving the 2 oC temperature rise target. The EPA has been on a path of regulating fuel economy directly. I think they should focus on the CO2 tax, as this naturally penalizes large and inefficient vehicles. I think the free market can work more efficiently than government agencies deciding which technology is best. The combination of peak oil and carbon taxes will surely raise the cost of liquid fuels. The free market will likely come up with durable and safe 100+mpg vehicles and greatly improved transport systems. From a thermodynamic point of view moving people has a very low efficiency. Why is the marketplace missing the 1000 lb vehicle?

    After standing in line to pay $10 per gallon for fuel, when the cursing is done, I will bet on the success of the simple concept of the "Loremo" (~120 mpg):
    http://evolution.loremo.com/content/view/13/47/lang,en/
    Or maybe an established sales channel like VW will win with the ~150+ mpg of the "L1":
    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/09/volkswagen-l1-concept/

  6. We may need to take a second look at Nuclear Fission reactors to get us over the hump. These reactors can provide a massive base load to the power grid and complement intermittent renewable sources. Once we get the CO2 footprint for electrical generation down to a small fraction of its current footprint, then market forces will encourage electric and perhaps hydrogen cars with a low overall CO2 footprint. It may take some government support working with industrial organizations to standardize battery designs and Hydrogen refueling infrastructure. Our grid system needs to connect the 3 main US grids to provide stability for renewables. SmartGrid is a key way to help stabilize the grid and reduce the total investments required. Licensing such refueling stations to insure safety and conformity with standards will go a long way to insure the technology is efficiently deployed.
  7. We need a large educational and promotional effort to convince our country and the rest of the world to act on the moral equivalent of war. I would encourage NASCAR and Formula 1, to instigate new programs where cars will be gradually limited to a small fraction of their current fuel consumption, so that the competition rewards fuel efficient cars and driving strategies. This could lead to major improvements in engines, drive trains, and fuels. We need to encourage a new model of cool cars so that Motor Trend, Road and Track, etc. are helping to make us feed good about 100 mpg cars and not just the latest 500HP Corvette. Note that my list of 10 action items does not preclude fast sports cars, but will make it expensive to drive them a lot if they are inefficient.
  8. Fund Nuclear Fusion research and development at a much higher rate, ramping up to at least 3x the current funding level. Provide significant financial and logistical research support for the only magic bullet we have: Nuclear Fusion Power reactors. This technology has only minimal radioactive waste problems compared to the current fission reactors. We also may need to revisit Nuclear Fission technology. France has a large Nuclear capacity, and that protects them from dependence on importing oil for the Middle East and Russia. There is a big time delay between ordering a plant and bringing it on line. A physics friend claims that all the nuclear waste generated by all the current Nuclear reactors in the US in a year would fit in about 3 dump trucks. In addition to funding research into options for the Nuclear fuel cycles (such as using Thorium), I would work to establish a safe and secure Nuclear waste storage facility and get all of the distributed temporary storage of nuclear waste centralized. It is not clear if Nuclear energy will be cost effective, as without government subsidies no power company seems interested. We know that accidents like Chernobyl can cause massive worldwide radioactive pollution, and the breeder reactor fuel cycle is a security problem as it creates weapons grade materials. We may need a government backed insurance program that limits liability of power companies.
  9. Investigate Geoengineering research. Considering the difficulty of quickly reducing the CO2 concentration, Geoengineering solutions may be the only practical option available. Geoengineering may be cheaper to implement and less disruptive to our economy that simple reduction of CO2 emissions. Items such as SO2 solar shields, mists or powdered reflecting materials in the atmosphere, changing the reflectance of large surface areas, i.e. converting black-top to white-top for example. These solutions may be the only fast acting alternative. Large land areas covered by CO2 absorbers that act chemically to remove CO2 out of the air, might work technically, but it seems that costs could be prohibitive. As I imagine a tall design with lots of surface area, it seems to look a lot like trees. Most industrial CO2 removal processes would not be practical with such a dilute concentration. Our understanding of the CO2 balance of natural systems is lacking and we need to fund basic research here. It is inherently difficult to measure the average CO2 consumption/production of large natural areas like forests, peat bogs, lakes, or oceans. We really need to better understand which plants, trees, bacteria, fungus, sea plants, or other live systems are best at removing CO2 and make sure we encourage their survival and possible proliferation. These could be a key part of the solution. We need to monitor our declining Bio-diversity, capture genetic materials of vanishing species, and better understand our impact on the habitat of plants and animals both on land and in the seas. We can and should be able to better protect our National Parks and other natural places, by being more conscious of our impact, and living more lightly on the land and sea.
  10. Encourage the generation and sharing of real scientific research, reports, and analysis not influenced by political editors. It is hard enough to fix a problem that we understand, but nearly impossible if the understanding of the problems is corrupted by special interests, influencing the science. We need to use the work of other scientists worldwide and encourage the sharing of our data for the overall benefit of mankind. To me we need to put more money into basic university research in addition to encouraging expanded private research.

My 2018 Energy Predictions:

Many people shrug and say I'm not worried, they will come up with something. It would be fabulous if some secret technology being hidden by the government or the oil companies, etc., would be suddenly revealed and make the energy problem go away. Remember the too cheap to meter comment for Nuclear power? Yes we do have some dreams, and we do have some of the worlds most brilliant minds working on the problem, but I think our world will change a lot in just 10 years.

  • In the spring of 2008 I predicted that liquid hydrocarbon products (gasoline/diesel) related products at over $11 per gallon in the USA by 2018. I'm sticking with this. While this may sound high, consider that the price of gasoline in 2001 was $1.55 and has doubled in only 7years, diesel has doubled in 4 years, and we have not yet reached the point where worldwide production of oil is declining. Even with the reduced demand due to the economic slowdown and even without a carbon tax, I am gambling that once production starts to fall appreciably there will be a big worldwide grab for remaining supplies.
  • Earths population will exceed 7 billion people, with large scale food shortages in Africa
  • Cellulose and algae based Bio-fuels will expand but corn based ethanol will be phased out as a fuel
  • The less effective Cap and Trade system will dominate rather than the more effective CO2 tax
  • Natural Gas prices will remain a bargain but will rise almost proportionally to gasoline. Natural gas will be increasingly used for transportation fuels.
  • Coal prices should be relatively stable but the cost of Cap and Trade credits will make new coal facilities too expensive to construct. The cost of retrofitting existing coal plants to sequester CO2 will be much higher than other electric generation options. Some coal will be used to produce synthetic fuels.
  • Nuclear Energy will gain new interest, construction of new conventional Nuclear plants will start, but will not make a large contribution in this time frame.
  • As the price of fuels increase conservation efforts for business, home, and transport will be the most single significant part of the adaptation. You will actually be able to buy a small heated enclosed vehicle that gets over 100 mpg and there will be several 100% electric vehicles available, and possibly a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle at least in California.
  • Significant large scale Wind farms will be coming on line to provide over 5% of the grids power. Solar electric power will grow somewhat, but not nearly as much as the more cost effective wind power.

  • Gross Energy Price Comparison Graph


    When it comes to how consumers behave with energy prices:


    VOLTAGE moves ELECTRICITY
    PRESSURE moves FLUIDS
    MONEY moves PEOPLE

    Most consumers and businesses act on the economics involved. So with this in mind I thought it convenient to see the motive force that determines how people consume energy in May 2008. The graph above shows how the prices over a few time periods I happened to collect data. It is no surprise that all energy prices have been increasing, but the important question is where will they be and what should you do.


    How can I heat my home?


    Typical Heating Cost Graph

    Now this comparison may not be accurate for your prices or your equipment, so I've created AN ENERGY PRICE CALCULATOR to help you calculate a more accurate comparison.

    In Northern Russia they use these style wood stoves to survive the winters by burning a handful of sticks every day, and sleping next to the stove. You can heat a decent size house with this type of stove on just 2 cords of wood per year.


    Russian Stove PlansRussian Stove

    So what kind of car should I drive?

    Net Fuel Cost Transportation
    Energy Source Efficiency Vehicle efficiency comments
    Hydrogen 90% Fuel Cell
    Electricity 90% Battery Vehicle
    E100 Ethanol 25% Otto Cycle Piston Engine
    LPG (Propane) 25% Diesel cycle Piston Engine
    B100 Pure BioDiesel 35% Otto Cycle Piston Engine
    E85 Ethanol 25% Otto Cycle Piston Engine
    Kerosene 35% Diesel Cycle Piston Engine
    Gasoline (Premium) 25% Otto Cycle Piston Engine
    Diesel 35% Diesel Cycle Piston Engine
    Gasoline (Regular) 25% Otto Cycle Piston Engine
    #2 Fuel Oil 25% Diesel Cycle Piston Engine
    Natural Gas (Methane) 25% Otto Cycle Piston Engine
    Wood Pellets 10% Rankine Cycle Steam Engine
    Air Heat Pump COP3 N/A Not Applicable
    Wood (White Pine) 10% Rankine Cycle Steam Engine
    Coal 10% Rankine Cycle Steam Engine
    Wood (Red Oak) 10% Rankine Cycle Steam Engine
    GW Heat Pump COP8 N/A Not Applicable

    The data above show some possibilities. Now depending on your vehicle, your efficiency might be different. Gasoline engines only convert about 25% of the fuel energy into shaft work; diesels convert about 35% and thus have an advantage even when the fuels are priced equal based on energy content. Turbines can be over 45% efficient, they can handle high altitude, and with low weight they are a good fit for aircraft. Combined cycle turbines at a stationary power plant can be about 57% efficient with hydrocarbon fuels, and when used in a co-generation mode the waste heat can be put to useful commercial functions like making steam or hot water. Electric vehicle is 80-90% efficient. H2 Fuel cells are in the range of 80-90% efficient. It is inherently difficult to obtain high efficiency for heat engines, as the second law of thermodynamics limits efficiency due to the operational temperatures. Higher efficiencies can be obtained with higher combustion temperatures and lower sink (air) temperatures. External combustion engines like steam engines are a possibility, and a wood powered car is possible, but unlikely unless we can make a much more efficient external combustion engine than the old steam engines. Electric and hydrogen cars will be the future, but only when we convert our power industry to reduce it’s massive CO2 footprint. Regardless of the type of engine it should be obvious that moving an aerodynamic lightweight car and planning for the most essential travel will save fuel, extend your cars life, and reduce your CO2 footprint.

    Send mail to rys@R2Controls.com with questions or comments about this web site.
    Last modified: 5 Jan 2017