[extropy-chat] Energy & Global Warming [was: Partisans and EP]

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Sun Feb 11 12:26:18 UTC 2007

On Sun, Feb 11, 2007 at 09:08:24AM +0000, Robert Bradbury wrote:

>    I'm not so sure there is the "energy" crisis that people typically
>    think there is.  The U.S., Europe, Russia, China, and India all have
>    the technology to go nuclear.  Newer reactor designs are safer.

Nuclear has bigger problems than fossil. For one, high-grade uranium
ore deposits are limited and localized (peak uranium). If you integrate over the entire
life cycle, starting with the mine, tails remediation, processing, 
isotope enrichment, building the plant, operating it, and decomissioning 
it, you'll see that nuclear is not exactly emission-neutral, nor particularly 
cheap. As an energy source it's as subsidized as they come.

Okay, thorium doesn't have most of such problems, but the funds required
for R&D to make it a viable alternative to uranium fission would be much,
much better spent on renewable infrastructure and R&D.

>    Reactors to breed U or fuel recycling could provide a multi-hundred

Breeders are unsafe. Recycling is reasonably dirty; liquid-core thorium
might navigate around such problems, but then, it isn't there.

>    year source of non-global warming electricity.  Atomic based
>    electricity can give you hydrogen even if you don't want to go solar.

Why do we need hydrogen, especially right now? If all new cars are required
by law to be able to handle M90 (and E90, though that's idiotic) it would
take a while until world output (32 MT/a in 2004) of methanol is stepped up.
Methane is almost hydrogen, newer methanol routes through direct methane
oxidation avoid the lossy syngas/Fischer-Tropsch route, DMFC cars are at
least twice energy efficient than plain ICEs. PV/EV alone is long-term
sufficient to solve the vehicular emission problem.

>    this to ~50%.  What we lack is sufficient factory production of solar
>    panels to make the costs low enough and the conversion process fast

Right now the solar growth has been so rapid, silicon has become a scarce
commodity. The markets are already hard-pressed to put up with the growth,
so further forecast is very sunny.

>    France has already shown you can go nuclear electric (if you have the

I don't think emulating France right now is smart idea, unless you've
got large domestic pechblende deposits (of course, you can just sell them, too,
and import the rest).

>    political will to do so).  Brazil has shown you can go ethanol fuel.

Bioethanol doesn't work. What Brazil has shown that if you don't have
a native chemical industry, but lots of cheap labor and suitable climate and don't
mind putting in a lot of energy if you want to have is liquid fuel
you can do it.

This might (kinda, sorta) work for parts of Africa. For everyone else,
it's a case of heating your house with dollar bills. 

>    Spain appears to be going in the direction of wind electric. If you

Wind is already cost-effective in specific locations (largely, coastal
and mountain regions). It faces the problem of all renewable: the current
grid is too coarse-grained and too centralistic to deal with unpredictable
fine-grained local input. I don't think the problem is reformable, at least
it's worth investing into it. It might make more sense to build up a new
parallel grid bottom up, fine-grained and with control and markets built-in.

>    look at the economic shifts that Britain and the U.S. underwent in
>    WWII it is clear that emphasis could be shifted very rapidly if there

"very rapidly" doesn't work, unless there's a war. Then some selected things
suddenly "work", to the great detriment of everything else.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820            http://www.ativel.com
8B29F6BE: 099D 78BA 2FD3 B014 B08A  7779 75B0 2443 8B29 F6BE
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