Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Synthetic fuels and other options

Without question, the great economic problem confronting the world today is the pending collapse, yes I said collapse, of oil supply. I do not believe that we can even buy an additional year or postpone this event in any way shape or form. You have to believe surplus pumping capacity exists that has not already been tapped by the advance of oil from $20 per barrel to $90 per barrel. What were they waiting for? The point that I am making, is that this resource is mythical.

We now have maximum production and no elasticity while demand has yet to decline in a meaningful way. These are painful words to write, but the folks we rely on to keep our civilization ahead of things are in deeper denial than anyone. The developed world needed to support the massive diversion of resources into solving this problem about ten years ago. It will now be done in a crisis environment. George Bush may even be able to slip out of office just ahead of the angry peasants. This is one of he greatest policy failures in history, but then no one wanted to believe it was so, including ourselves, dear reader.

Even if all the political constraints on oil exploration world wide disappeared tomorrow, the reprieve would be brief. And to be perfectly honest, the sooner we replace the fossil fuel economy, the better it is for all since that will also end the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere. We still have several trillion barrels of oil in the ground available for other uses if justified. They are simply becoming far to expensive to chase from a energy cost point of view. It is pretty hard to justify spending a barrel to earn a barrel unless it is used for something other than fuel.

Faced with the same constraints in the past, South Africa and wartime Germany were able to produce synthetic fuel using coal and natural gas as a feedstock. The coal can be replaced by wood chips to great effect. This is not necessarily the best solution but it is certainly the one proven solution with all the technology extant and deliverable. The main challenge will be to maximize the use of wood chips as feedstock world wide. The Fischer - Tosch process does work.

The two other solutions which are high pressure depolymerization and algae oil culture are in the beginnings of full development and therefore as yet unproven. No one has sorted out the algae equation quite yet and it may well take hundreds of trials to sort out the cheapest and most stable production protocol. The initial focus of depolymerization has been toward select high quality waste to prove out the viability.

The technical viability of the process, as reported seems to stand up although the pilot plant economic model appears to be unsustainable primarily because the high value waste turned out to have high value. To redirect this effort into the conversion of wood chips is the best direction for this approach. The massive potential supply, the absolute uniformity of the feedstock and the production of a high quality crude, allows the process to be standardized and made cost efficient.

The only problem is that several years of aggressive development needs to be already done. Your wish to live in exciting times is about to be granted.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Human rewards of Energy Regime Change

I would like to point you to the following data on global land usage for specific numbers as to global forestland and grassland/woodlands.

Forests report at 39,886,000 square kms and woodlands report at 34,421,000 square kms. As a comparable, total farmland comes in at 15,335,000. Rather clearly, on a global scale, there are five acres of woodland to every acre of cropland. That suggests that every farmer should be responsible for the management of five acres of forest for every acre that he crops. Of course, it is never so conveniently set up for this, but we now have at least a rule of thumb for any planning efforts.

The other aspect of forest management that we need to recognize is that the inputs need not be overwhelming, although when ones confronts a wild forest, it is totally overwhelming. In practice, a forest will produce a ton of waste while growing a ton of new wood on an annual basis. The forest management trick is to get that ton of waste removed every year. That is also the sole input required for good forest management.

It sounds like a lot, but it is readily handled with modern equipment like chippers, chainsaws and perhaps a hydraulic grabber for larger chunks on a small cart. In fact there is a real price per ton for this type of effort that is readily quantifiable. It is also quickly none by semi skilled workers.

We have 7.5 billion hectares or about 15 billion acres of forest and trees able to produce on average around one ton of wood waste globally. In other words, through the simple expedient of better forest management, we can produce around 15 billion tons of wood chips that would otherwise be released back into the environment mostly as CO2 for those who think this all ends up as soil.

If a ton of wood chips could produce one barrel of oil only, we end up with a oil supply of 40,000,000 barrels per day. I think it will be possible to do twice this, but you can all see where this takes us. Good forest management practices combined with efficient conversion to hydrocarbons could by itself replace geological oil.

No one has taken a sharp pencil to the economics yet, but $90.00 oil very likely is good enough to cover the cost of actually doing this, even perhaps in the developed world and certainly elsewhere with low cost labor.

It would also be wonderful to put every idle body of earth to work harvesting and manufacturing oil in this way. Obviously, no one would lack a base job and this would be a social revolution never needing giveaways.

I also cannot promise that other methods of producing biological fuels will be any easier or ultimately much cheaper, so this can become a permanent component of the global economy.

The ultimate cost of our energy subsidized western lifestyle will be the necessity of extending this lifestyle to everyone on earth. We cannot go backwards.

The signal that this transition has begun will be the establishment of the price of oil at around $200 per barrel. That will be sufficient to support this type of projected infrastructure.

It will also trigger and encourage an unrelenting investment in alternative energy protocols and its swift expansion.

This plus the establishment of terra preta will be the greatest single economic shift in human history with two outcomes. We will have completely sustainable energy and completely sustainable agriculture powerful enough to permit a huge increase in global population.

We have 6 billion people now. The population densities of India and China is very sustainable throughout the tropics and sub tropics once the water problem is properly managed and augmented by atmospheric water. On the other hand our primary constraint of population growth will be this continuous struggle to produce sustainable energy.

As I have shown, it is completely believable that we can harness the biosphere to produce transportation oil for the current population. It is not so believable if the population jumps to much more than twice the current levels. It is also a certainty that the convenience of high energy density fuels like biological oil will make them our first and actually our best choice for portable energy.

The alternatives are possibles but certainly not nearly as convenient. After all no one is afraid of cold cooking oil. Most everything else that you may wish to use, including gasoline will quite happily flatten the neighborhood in an accident.

So yes, there is a lot of fairly simple technology to perfect, but all the ingredients are there.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wood chips and fuel.

As my readers well know, over the next twenty years, humanity has to replace the majority of the current 83,000,000 barrels of daily oil production that we rely on to day. And it has to be in a form that allows it to be used for transportation energy. In spite of the naysayers, we really have no problem with any other part of the energy equation.

In other words, we are going to survive this horrific shift in our energy options. Personal transportation will find better ways to access other energy forms through hybrids as we are seeing now.

I have already described the one best option for the production of transportation fuels, which is the production of biodiesel from a high oil algae feedstock. It promises to be super efficient and to be integrative with cattle farming. The theoretical numbers cannot be achieved today, but I think that a viable pilot operation can be run that could easily bring the cattle industry on side producing the requisite infrastructure. The feed byproduct alone may carry the investment.

There is one additional option, that meshes with my original thesis. That is forest management. Our technology now allows labor efficient protocols for forest management. The owner can salvage wood waste every spring from his forest in the form of wood chips and sawn blocks. We want to rebuild and transform our woodlands globally into maximal ecologies. This key element of forest management is poorly capitalized, yet if it is capitalized we can establish a waste wood stream that will be uniform and transportable.

In fact the vigorous removal of wood waste will stimulate strong regeneration of forest growth and suppress the prospect of powerful forest fires limiting us to managed brush fires.

This massive stream of wood waste can be be treated in two ways. The first and least desirable is atmospheric combustion that uses the heat to support pyrolysis. A liquid fraction will be driven of that can be used as a fuel. The rest will be either burned or converted into charcoal that may or may not be used for agriculture, though I suspect that is the only useful application without burning again.

The point is, is that the output is rather small and the quality is problematic and complex. There is currently a lot of enthusiasm around it, but I must admit that I am not overly optimistic. I simply think that we can do a lot better.

A lot better, means running this same feedstock through a high pressure chamber at 600 atmospheres and 600 degrees which reprocesses all the constituents to their simplest form. This is the principle of depolymerization. This approach is very promising and the wood waste provides a uniform feedstock that can be implemented globally. The output will be hydrocarbons.

Of course, creating this wood chip gathering infrastructure also opens the door for the folks who believe that it will be possible someday to convert cellulose into the constituent sugars. The key to all these technologies is a steady supply of waste wood chips that can then be processed.

The point that I want to make, is that a wood chip recovery program can be created at the national level, inducing the woodlot owners to start systematically managing the waste output of their forests and to stockpile chips. These chip inventories are then available for processing in some form while the superior forest management and economic considerations mature.

I will develop some numbers tomorrow, but in fairness, I do not think that we can use it to offset the largest fuel burner of all. It will help though.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Kevin Potvin and peak oil

Kevin Potvin, who publishes a give away eight page newspaper in Vancouver called The Republic of East Vancouver did an article titled 'Peak Oil Already Arrived in 2006. The article will not be available electronically for a couple of weeks. It is drawn from the study done by Energy Watch Group of Germany.

Kevin's politics are fairly obvious but he has done us a service by attempting to appreciate the impact of the anticipated decline in oil production.

The report essentially says that we are now facing an unrelenting 2% annual decline in oil production. This means that todays 83 million barrels per day will fall to 58 million barrels per day in 2020 and 39 million barrels per day in 2030. The truth is that everyone in the oil industry knows this and are positioning themselves accordingly. In the meantime everyone else is whistling in the dark and the political leadership is paralyzed by the glare of the freight train. I am sure George Bush is fervently hoping that this chicken does not come home to roost in the waning months of his mandate.

This is, of course, no more than what I have been saying in my posts. Energy Watch has fleshed in the details. This report can be downloaded from the referenced link.

It gives me no pleasure to play Cassandra at the Oil party. We can all see that no one really wants to believe that this is happening. The rest of the media has not even started to realize how big this story actually is. So long as the pain is fairly minor it is easy to pretend that tomorrow will never come. I expect that the US will release part of its its strategic reserves as a move to hold down domestic prices when the push comes, but this will be only a band aid.

We are facing a twenty year scramble to replace transportation fuel. During that twenty year span, the automobile as we know it will be driven from the road. It is the one single source of non essential oil consumption that we can displace to make up the shortfall. We are all going to have our garages storing hanger queens. Recall that China has built out its share of the modern world with really very limited use of the automobile. We can retreat back to similar levels of usage.

This story is the single biggest news story of this new century and its solution(s) the biggest shift in technology innovation ever imagined. In a single generation we will and must convert over to a purely sustainable energy tool kit.

Those who have read all my various posts know that the necessary solutions are either in hand or are at least identified. The use of algae agriculture is the main event, regardless of the nonsense spouted by champions of various other far more limiting methods. Algae needs a sunny desert, a recyclable water supply and a supply of nitrogen to produce all the fuel we will ever need. We just have not developed the art of it yet, but that is what we are really good at.

Even better, the only byproduct is proven to be excellent cattle feed.

However, let us get all this into perspective. It is ugly.

We consume 83,000,000 barrels of oil per day. Each barrel is about 160 liters of oil. That works out to about 6,000,000,000,000 liters of oil per year. And this has to now also be spread out to each individual of earth to be ultimately fair. What it really means is that each individual needs to produce a thousand liters of oil per year. Yet Oil seeds are hard put to produce 1000 liters per hectare. Algae can theoretically reach production levels of 10,000 liters per acre. This all means that algae oil production using desert lands is our only credible option, with a little help from our many friends in the alternate fuel game.

To replace all that oil, every farm must fit algae culture into their production cycle world wide. And substantial blocks of desert must be put to work. This is all possible, but we now must move quickly. That is the real problem. Glacial action is not a choice anymore. Welcome to the $300 gas tank that I have been promising.

All my suggestions for terra forming the Earth put forth in my posts are now starting to look conservative and will turn out to be almost tentative. The alternative is economic genocide for the globe, and believe me population reduction is not an option.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kyoto protocol denounced

In a recent article in Nature magazine, well regarded economists have declared the Kyoto protocol as a failure at generating tangible results. Of course, this should have been obvious to all. Without direct technology change, the only way to reduce CO2 emissions is by direct economic contraction.

To date we have had neither. And fantasies that forced CO2 reduction is an option are in dreamland. At most we will get transferrance which is most certainly not reduction. So far transferrance has been to China and India who are even less careful about what is dumped into the environment.

The harsh unrelenting reality remains. We are going to burn most of the extractable oil, gas and coal that we can get our mitts on over the next century. We will work hard at doing it more efficiently, but somehow I do not think that the coal mining industry is laying off its workers anytime soon.

As I have pointed out, the only credible replacement for these high quality fuels is algae based bio fuels. This will become well established over the next fifty years and we will get very good at using it. That will not stop us from pumping cheap oil and mining cheap coal until it is no longer cheap. Only when agriculture can bring the cost of such fuels well below that of fossil fuels, will the fossil fuel economy disappear.

Since we are going to burn it all regardless, our only economic strategy that has any validity is to systematize a global carbon credit economy that starts with a direct global tax of CO2 emission. This is as simple as taxing the fuels directly with absolutely no exceptions. This directly underwrites a carbon credit system. A meaningful dollar value could be $20.00 per ton of carbon contained.

In this way, absolutely no new distortions are introduced that will fuel political manipulation. At the same time, been a true global tax, it will inspire a working forum for tackling other global problems.

This tax will accomplish two things. It will swiftly induce a massive investment in more efficient energy regimes for all participants to remain competitive and will thereby strongly shift investment into better technologies. And secondly it creates a financial carbon credit worth $20.00 per ton for newly sequestered carbon.

I showed you yesterday how easy it will be to use this credit to induce the 2,000,000,000 subsistence farmers to sequester carbon while also upgrading their land. They alone can actually solve the whole problem, or come so close that it is the same thing. After all, with this type of support and land improvement and perhaps a little proper social support, these farmers are no longer subsistence farmers. Go look and see what has happened in China, much as I am sure they complain.

And the absolute beauty of the proposed system, it is dead trivial to audit the process. A ten percent allocation at most for the financial institutions and we will even have enthusiasm at all levels. Of course the crooks will try to divert ninety percent into their pockets while turning the farmers into slaves. Since this is a global system, this may actually be global opportunity to lift the bottom third of the global population out of their difficult circumstances. Certainly this is a new option.

Besides, though it is absolutely critical to get the subsistence farmers on board in order to have the maximum social and economic benefit, it goes without saying that the rest of the global economy which has the available capital to deploy will work overtime to earn their fair share without any further intervention by any government.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Assaying soils for carbon

We passed over it lightly yesterday, but the one most important aspect of the biochar protocol at the subsistence level is the inherent ease of accountability. At the end of the day, a financial institution will be dispensing funds to small operators. It must be easy.

With terra preta it is. For the first few years, it is simply a matter of a field representative walking through the acreage a couple of times during the season and then confirming the distribution of biochar.

Whatever distribution strategy is used it will be self evident to an experienced field representative how well the operator is doing his job and even how many years of biochar has been distributed. The color will change.

The additional threat of a carbon audit consisting of a formal sampling program and an assay of the blended samples every several years will keep the operators honest. Even this is simple to do. It consist of bagging a bunch of shovel fulls of soil and then blending them together and then assaying a sample. It is also something the farmer can do himself if he disputes the independent assay.

The assay process itself could be as easy as putting a one kilo sample into a bottle of water of water and shaking. I know that when I did this with soil, that any charcoal separated and was quite visible. Of course this visual cue needs to be properly correlated with analytical results but once done, a good field assay is possible and very likely sufficient.

The only type of soil that may resist this type of assay is the high humus type. This is actually rather rare in agricultural lands, in spite of our efforts to maintain a good humus content. And if the humus is very high, we hardly have a pressing need to improve fertility.

In other words, just as the Brazilian Indians, the farmer can do all the required science himself and be totally independent.

Vastly more important, if we want to dispense carbon credits as cash, it is now easy to do. The only remaining question is regulating the social contract under which this happens. We want those farmers to be owner operators so that the cash and fertility benefits is not siphoned off by a landlord. The owner operator needs the added incentive of the improving land so that he treasures his soil.

The point is that we can be picky and use this leverage to improve the economic model under which these people live be simply demanding it. Cash is truly king sand can be used for good or satisfying any one man's greed.

Otherwise, the rewards of poppy growing will compete even with this protocol.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Eliminating global hunger and poverty with terra preta

When all is said or done, it is reasonable to say that on average that we are burning approximately one ton of geological carbon for each human on earth each year. That finally scopes out the real human scale of our problem. If every human being becomes responsible for sequestering one ton of carbon, then the globe becomes carbon neutral. It is easy to piece together the economic models from that core idea.

What I think we have also accomplished is to show that this is very feasible. Imagine 2,000,000,000 subsistence farmers annually sequestering three tons per head while producing terra preta soil and hugely upgrading the fertility of their land and generating a crop of corn to feed their family also.

It we subsidized this process at only $20.00 per ton of carbon, we will augment family and farm income also. The total global budget would be as little then as $120 billion dollars. If we are generous and take this figure to $50.00 per acre we end up with a trillion dollar annual budget. This is all within the operating parameters of the carbon credit system.

This is likely the cheapest way available to eliminate the carbon problem and certainly the best way since we simultaneously are creating new capital in the form of fertile lands and well fed and healthy families. Such a program can eliminate global hunger and global poverty, and we have a wonderful check and balance in the need to produce enhanced soil. A simple assay can prove out performance as needed.

The truth is is that these farmers will not need these credits at all to justify the creation of terra preta once they know that it is possible. However, the money is certainly there already and it will sharply kick start the whole process. Knowing that switching to corn on some of his acreage and making biochar will double his family's income will motivate them all. And once the benefits are throughly understood there will be no going back.

You may want to reread my many posts on using corn stover to make an earthen biochar kiln without any outside tools found in this blog.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Market Shivers

The one thing that I learned decades ago about markets is that over the long term, the bulls win. The bears may be right on selecting the losers but over time the winners eat up the garbage left over by the losers and the only real losers are those holding stock in the losers. A certain amount of cash is disappeared but the expanding credit system easily produces more.

The tragedy of 1929 is that the banking system did not understand this and over reacted to a bad market break by cutting of credit and savagely reducing the money supply. It took years for the global economy to claw back to the economic levels of 1929 and we have not made that mistake twice.

The difficulty we have today is that our money supply is not a true fiat currency. It is linked inexorably to oil, since oil still represents over ten percent of the global economy. This means that continued economic expansion will be stifled by tight oil supplies. And a real contraction in the daily oil output will have the same massive effect as a contraction in the money supply.

Hello Houston, we have a problem. In this blog we have investigated and discovered alternate strategies to replace this pending oil shortfall. I know and if you have followed my reasoning, you know that we can completely free ourselves of using any geological oil by making agriculture our principal partner in the solution. It will still take time. But once done our economy will never again be dependent on a finite resource and we will be good for a million years.

In the meantime, the market is slowly waking up to the nasty fact that we are unable to expand oil production significantly anywhere in a hurry. After all we have now had almost five years of high prices to encourage expansion and it simply is not happening fast enough. That is why the overall market is starting to adjust downward with a series of 300 point breaks and consolidations. This is a good time to assemble cash and to learn patience.

Right now the market is waiting for the other shoe to drop. That would be a 2,000,000 barrel drop in production somewhere. There are candidates and it is inevitable somewhere. Saudi Arabia would be the most dramatic. It would end all denial.

This type of very bad news will induce a deep market break and take a long time to overcome. As should be clear, however, the probability of bad news like this is steadily increasing while the probability of good news is declining.

In fact the only source of commensurate good news on oil can only come from the drilling rigs out in remote difficult basins. There may be another Saudi Arabia out there that can give us another fifty years to get our energy act together. After all my readers have seen the future. Fifty years of progressive scientific development will make the implementation of these ideas easy.

On an optimistic note, I suspect that the one great untapped trillion barrel oil resource will turn out to be conventional oil in the Mackenzie delta and the Beaufort Sea. Discoveries have been made and anyone who has worked through the geological logic described in my article titled Pleistocene Nonconformity can figure it out. This oil was produced in the last million years and has not had millions of years to escape. At least there is little evidence that it has with the exception of the trillion barrel tar sands.

There may also be others. Most people do not realize how hard it is to understand the geology of an oil basin or how much has to be spent to get lucky. I never forget the 100 hundred dry holes in Alberta before Leduc #1. You look at the map today and you wonder how they ever missed.

In the meantime, there is a real Sword of Damocles hanging over the market and the market will be unsettled for a long time.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Algae production for the feed lot

I quote the following summary from a paper on feeding algae to cattle. The paper is well worth reading in its entirety because they discuss feeding protocols to cattle. The results were very positive and even suggestive.

The possibility of using unicellular algae (Chlorella and Scenedesmus) as feed for cattle has been studied. Mixed algal culture was grown in a shallow polythene-lined pond and gave a recorded daily yield of 95 tonnes of algal suspension (packed cell volume 5-10 ml/litre) or 247 kg dry substances per hectare. The cost was about $1.25 (Tk. 50) per tonne of algal suspension production. Dried algal cells contained 613 g crude protein (N x 6.25) and 155 g fibre per kg DM. In a 120 d feeding trial 8 growing cattle (7 females and 1 male), of indigenous breed with mean initial live weight kg 146"9 kg, were fed ad libitum urea- molasses-straw and 2 kg/d wheat bran as basal diet. The treatments were 0.5 kg/d Til (sesame) oil cake per head in group I and ad libitum algal suspension in group II. The suspension was drunk at 10% of animal live weight. These animals received no other liquid (water).

Inclusion of algal suspension did not improve total metabolizable energy (ME) or crude protein (N x 6.25) intake but increased daily gain, although insignificantly (P > 0.05) from 399 g for the oil cake treatment to 458 g in the algae group. The feed conversion efficiencies were 6.2 and 7.4 g live weight gain per MJ ME intake for the oil cake and algae groups, respectively. Crude fibre digestibility was significantly (P < 0.01) higher in the algae (81.1%) than the oil cake group (76.2%). For the 120 d feeding trial, the estimated net economic loss was $5.0 (Tk. 200)/animal on oil cake while there was a $14.4 (Tk. 576) profit/animal on algae.

This is actually along way down the road in the road in the mastering of algae husbandry. Dry weight algae is a prime animal feedstock on its own. If we successfully select an algae blend that also maximizes the production of biodiesel, we have a very economic protocol for the production of both feed and oil.

At present the best oil production is around ten times the oil production from oilseeds. The potential is ten times that. Of course at the present time I am mixing apples and oranges as these two applications must have some level of conflict which we need to overcome.

What I am reaching for, though is a least effort protocol for the algae production stream. A system that produces oil and feed through a one step process is very attractive to farm operation. You are continuously shipping oil at the farm gate and consuming the pressed algae as cattle feed. The indicated efficiency of the feed aspect means that any oil production is a bonus to the feed lot.

A conversion of the global cattle industry over to algae feed has the additional benefit of releasing huge amounts of acreage from feed grain production.

In fact this revelation will create a huge demand for an algae production protocol on the part of the agricultural industry. The oil aspect and the release of land will be a bonus.

It was also noted that the production rate approached 100 tons of dry product per hectare compared to a previously reported 10 tons per hectare. Comparing either figure to grain production of perhaps a ton per acre is very compelling. A lower oil yield may even be acceptable in this type of regime.

Of course, this requires a nitrogen fertilizer input that is significant but obviously vastly superior to cropland fertilization in which the bulk of the fertilizer is currently lost. and never used.

The idea of having a one acre algae field replacing as much as fifty acres of grain production is very compelling.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thermal Depolymerization

The history of this technology is fairly extensive and can be reviewed through the link to wikipedia. In its simplest manifestation, it attempts to emulate the process by which oil is produced in the geological environment. This a laudable objective.

Changing worlds technology has taken the lead in this commercialization attempt. From the press coverage they have garnered and their disclosure, it is fair to say that they have told their story well. Their silence over the past year speaks loudly to to the actual difficulties that are always encountered in this product development process.

I have personally have held back from jumping on their bandwagon simply because I truly appreciate the type of learning curve that they are trying to climb. And the curve can be incredibly costly. The fact is that high pressure process chemistry has lagged over the past one hundred years because of this. You really have to be able to throw away a very expensive pressure chamber when it fails. Imagine throwing away a submarine. The pressure to stick with what is built becomes overwhelming and perpetuating.

After saying that, I happen to love high pressure process chemistry because of its huge potential. The idea that we can flow organic wastes into black box and produce oil, mineral and water is compelling. The problem is the small five or ten ton pressure chambers that must handle pressures of around 600 atmospheres and high temperatures of 600 degrees.

These are the same specifications that are needed for the Haber process for producing nitrates. It is very much a technology that you want someone else to perfect so that you can license it.

Then there is the problem of feedstock. The only practical feedstock is the municipal waste and sewage stream. It is already been gathered in central locations so there is absolutely no need to factor in collection to the economic model. Success will quickly draw any surplus agricultural waste into the system if the city facility is operational.

Huge volume numbers are bandied about but underestimate the water content, which will add an unwanted second level of beneficiation to the waste(sewage) stream.

This led me to a thought experiment in which a mine shaft was sunk to a depth in which a water filled shaft would achieve the necessary pressures. This would provide an inlet for the waste steam which would descend down through the water column to the working pressure zone. We still have to engineer the chambers and the heat production equipment and heat exchange systems. A lot of issues would need to be considered, but I think it has a chance now that we are mastering the materials issue in Iceland on the geothermal systems.

Assuming that the fuels produced can sustain the temperature needed, and that the surplus water can exit as live steam, we have a high volume continuous process with a minimal labor input. It would be a remarkable engineering feat.

The bottom of the chamber would have to be sloped to allow the slow migration of materials to a solids recovery device and the oils and other lights need to be trapped in chambers forming the roof of the reaction chamber. Fluid jets can be placed in the floor to keep material moving and perhaps as a way to move heat.

Microwave energy might be used to top up the necessary heat content. As I said, it would be remarkable engineering feat. But if it worked properly, we convert the urban waste problem into an asset that produces a large volume of fuel oil as a benefit in a way that will be inexpensive to operate. A little like a dam.

At the present, the more likely approach will be an above ground processing plant in which tipping costs are reallocated to subsidize the plant. This is a great solution and has soluble engineering issues. And we are paying anyway, so why not for a better solution that produces auto fuel?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

$300 oil and all that

Our current global oil production and consumption is running at 88,000,000 barrels per day. In 2015 we will need 98,000,000 barrels per day. In that seven year period we know that current production is likely to decline, perhaps by as much as another 10,000,000 barrels per day. This is what global peak oil looks like folks. Nobody is able to add significant new production anywhere and they are trying hard.

This is a 20,000,000 barrel per day volume swing that must now be accommodated by forced rationing through the market. Global production must stabilize at a level were replacement remains possible. There is no evidence to suggest that the current levels of production can be replaced. The Tar sands are good for a portion of this shortfall but still only a fraction of it. All other new production is very deep and very expensive and cannot be delivered for years.

If the oil industry spent every dime they ever had on new oil, they could not catch up. It took us a hundred years of full out investment to establish 88,000,000 barrels of daily production. We must now create 20,000,000 barrels of daily production in seven years.

The only place it really can be done is in the squeezing of the last oil out of the major historic fields through the application of massive capital. THAI (toe and hell air injection ) will come into its own in this environment. But this all takes a price regime that supports such a massive jump in capital investment.

That is why we are going to see $300 oil very soon. The market only requires an excuse now.

The modern automobile must come off the road as quickly as possible. $300 oil will do very nicely in changing peoples habits. And I hate to even say it, but rationing will become necessary. There simply will not be enough oil available at any price to allow luxury transportation. Goods transportation must take priority.

We could maintain our consumption rate if the the daily volume can be stabilized and we let the market slowly prioritize usage. With heavy capital investment, this current level could be sustained for another 10,000 days before all the difficult oil is pumped out or mined and used. It remains that we will be doing economic handstands while this is happening since every addition to oil production must now be planned years in advance, while every reduction will be 'unexpected'.

I am in charge of the permitting of a very deep wildcat gas and oil test up in the mountains of Utah. It is one of the last untested bits of the huge Uinta Basin. The lease was available because it was part of the Ashley National Forest. The cycle will take a minimum of three years to complete before a drill can hit the ground. If we desperately needed that resource next year I could not help at all. Yet the information that I am looking for could be proven out in four months of work with a drill and a drilling bond for restoration.

I also know of a highly likely onshore billion barrel oil field. Without a proper deal and guarantees it will stay in the ground. I do not think any of this will change with $300 oil.

The major point that I want to make is that we are shaping up for a repeat of the 1978 - 1982 oil crunch that distorted the global economy and we are far less well positioned for this. There is no Saudi Arabia able to increase production at will. We have conversation and lies instead.

This is also likely to trigger a major downdraft in securities markets as investors try to figure out who the winners and losers are. It will take the auto industry around four years to retool to adjust to the new price regime. The baby boomers retirement is likely to be on hold.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Alex Hutchinson on stopping hurricanes

I read an article this weekend in the globe and mail by Alex Hutchinson who reported on several radical strategies for taming hurricanes. Most can be dismissed out of hand, although I am been perhaps a little unfair. On the other hand, we are really not that desperate to try most of them.

In any event, there has been a recent enthusiasm for linking global warming to a projected sharp increase in hurricane numbers. Of course the past two years gax been making nonsense out of that scheme.

What caught my eye though was his description of a deep water pump. This was an area that I had investigated a couple of decades ago with some interest. It had caught my imagination. The important statement however to me was that the transport pipe needed to be only 150 meters in length in order to have an effect on temperature.

The principal concept is to lift cold deeper water to the surface and using that to slightly lower the ambient temperature of the surface water. A very modest drop in surface temperature, around the equatorial waters of West Africa would kill the formation of hurricanes, which we all agree is a good thing.

There is one other major benefit not described. If the pipe goes deep enough, the water lifted will be mineral rich and will stimulate a a massive bloom of sea life down current. The mere fact of lifting enough cold water to create the appropriate temperature will in itself produce a massive fishery in what becomes the Gulf Stream.

Also not appreciated is that the problem of lifting the water is actually not a problem. Thanks to the difference in salinity there is a hydrostatic pressure difference between deep water and the surface that is positive. Certain enthusiasts even wanted to tap this as a source of power. The point is that if one can suspend a stiff walled pipe in the vertical position so that the inlet is a mile below the surface, it is fairly easy to give it a kick and start and maintain a strong flow to the surface. In fact it will come out as a strong jet at the surface.

The engineering problem then resolves to the problem of building long vertical straws that do not collapse and maintain neutral buoyancy. A large cross section is preferred to avoid very much friction. So our engineers need to make a make a long fat pipe, but perhaps not nearly so long as I anticipated twenty years ago. It would be tilted in the current and anchored to the sea bed with the top or outlet positioned a hundred feet below the ocean surface. Can we make it any simpler? When I was thinking about it I was trying to contemplate having a turbine taking energy out of the exit jet of a deep tube.

Instead, with much shorter tubes, we can tolerate a vastly lower exit velocity and no sub sea engineering. It is only a tube! We gain a control mechanism for the hurricane breeding grounds and a huge fishery linked directly to every tube emplacement that will surely pay for maintenance at least.

The question remaining is how to make the tubes themselves. There are many obvious and expensive methods available that could be used. Perhaps initially we will build a thin concrete shell on land with flotation chambers and then float it out to the anchorage. That may be good enough.

We do have one more tool in our bag of tricks. It is that it is feasible to grow calcium carbonate and manganese sulphate on a metal mesh by the application of a low direct current. This is exactly what shellfish do. Thus we can envisage continuously building a metal tube frame out of even low quality rebar and chicken wire and lowering it into the sea as fabricated with the direct current turned on. A mile long tube is no longer an impossibility if it is desired. It takes several months to fill in and it will become thicker and stronger as it matures. Of course flotation will have to be actively managed, but that will be true for any system.

A simple trick, a monster tropical fishery and no hurricanes or typhoons to wipe out our cities. Maybe it can actually work.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Buffalo and Industrial Biochar

I got to take a long weekend attending a wedding party in Edmonton for a niece. Good times by all. I chatted up a couple of my favorite subjects and picked up a few tidbits and clarified an idea or two.

The first is that buffalo herds are becoming very visible in Northern Alberta. this suggests that the critical mass exists for a huge herd expansion. More importantly, if they were not economic and easy to ranch, this would not be happening. I am told that they are commonly mixed with beef and have obviously become very fence trained. This was the big concern at the very beginning.

What this tells me is that buffalo have been completely accepted into our animal husbandry culture and that there are plenty of farmers moving into the business. We will all live to see millions of animals from the current 500,000 stock. I also know that a number of plains Indian reservations are actively building herds. There is a certain irony in having the descendants of those icons of the great plains take a leading role in buffalo husbandry.

I also got to talking about biochar and terra preta.. I realized that my hesitancy over using a small ten to twenty ton shipping container as a biochar kiln on the farm is misplaced.

A smaller metal kiln would need a daily charge of 10 to 20 tons of plant waste. If the plant waste is corn stover or bagasse, we are processing one hectare's waste on a daily basis. This should, with normal crop management, draw from a one mile radius which is very typical of the large modern farm. This could be operated on a continuous basis throughout the year.

It would be necessary to store the waste in a convenient form next to the kiln and it would be necessary to also store the biochar product until the time for putting it back into the soil. Once the waste is harvested though, the actual production process could be made into a simple daily chore with a little equipment or even just a large front end shovel.

The oven itself (you may wish to review my earlier postings on shipping container incinerator design) been of two lung design will not leak and all the volatiles driven off go directly back into the heat production cycle. It may be possible at some added expense to capture a part of the volatiles as a byproduct.

Because the container is a sealed device, the packing ratio is not nearly so critical as in the earthen kiln design needed by pre-industrial farmers. In fact it would be convenient to chop the stover as is done anyway, and then to blow the material into wagons and holding bins from which it can be then blown into the kiln. There is a good chance that fairly simple modification of existing equipment will solve the technical problems.

Any such dedicated system is also ideal for disposing of unwanted straw bales and any other agricultural waste.

The important concern, is that we are now describing a system that can be made as automatic as your washer dryer and as time saving. The actual burn process itself is easily monitored and controlled with a little in the way of electrical control systems. It should no longer matter even if you are burning a partial load, as long as the space itself is filled to prevent too many hot spots of full combustion.

The capital cost of such a system is potentially very low with the nasty wild card been the very high temperature bricks needed for the small second lung. The rest can be assembled by any backyard mechanic once the design is tested and shaken out.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nuclear Future

As my readers know, I do not lose much sleep over any likely shortage of grid power anytime soon. There is just too many ways to improve utilization and to produce this power load. Surprisingly, the least costly source of new power available to us will continue to be nuclear, provided we continue our perfection of process.

Fear of something has crippled the industry for thirty years. Yet the industry needs only to advance the engineering a little to make the technology bullet proof, permitting containable accidents only.

More importantly, the advent of breeder reactors will allow fuel to be reprocessed and essentially reused until the uranium itself is fully consumed. This will eliminate the spent fuel storage problem. (which is why the utilities keep the stuff) It is just that this whole cycle will take many decades to totally implement, but we will get there.

Again we have to struggle with the public relations problem presented by plutonium. And again the security protocols must be bullet proof. Engineering can do this.

We are now expecting a three fold increase in nuclear plants to take the place of non existent hydro plants. This inventory should be sufficient for the globe with additional grid power needs fulfilled by the range of alternates.

These alternates properly include volcanic geothermal. a little hydro,wind and tidal, and a lot of fossil fuel for decades to come.

I do not think that solar will ever be a good choice for grid power. It really wants to be operated off grid because of the space requirement. It really shines on the roof of a building suppling that building. On the other hand, it may become so much in surplus that we have to feed it into the grid.

My own sympathies are to take the excess solar energy and use it to harvest atmospheric water for the local trees. This will be a great choice in most places except the occasional rain forest.

My real point is that the advance of technology will put us in an ocean of electrical energy. Imagine the Sahara desert totally forested and watered through stand alone solar panel driven water collectors. The surpluses would be unbelievable. To say nothing of the likely surplus of water that will build up and develop drainages. Recall that the Sahara used to be covered with large lakes.

The difficulty is that electricity does not transport very well. It was the increase in transmission distances by several hundred miles that permitted the development of James Bay in Quebec. Any protocol that could eliminate the transmission by wire system we have with a truck friendly containment system would be a revolution in energy and would at least double our current available energy supply. It would also lead to a possible fix in transportation energy.

Right now, it is a possibility in theory only, with the implementing technology still too undeveloped. And if biodiesel from algae pans out, we will never really need to go there except as an intellectual exercise.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Egyptian Desert Irrigation

A delightful item yesterday. They are starting to grow trees out in the Egyptian desert beside the Nile. They are relying on some form of direct irrigation from the river. As someone who grew up in a world were the Middle East seemed to resist any simple application of common sense that might imply spending money on the potential welfare of the people, this is refreshing.

We do not know the scale anticipated, but we only have to think of the Great Valley of California to grasp the potential. This will also open up living space for the population among the orange groves.

This particular corner of the Sahara will be totally dependent on river water for as long as the remainder of the Sahara remains untouched. It is as far down wind as one can be without been in Saudi Arabia. I do not think that there is enough atmospheric water available in this part of the desert to ever hope to harvest water that way. We have to wait for the forests to be expanded up to these regions.

For those who like massive engineering schemes that can impact local climate there is the Qattara depression. It is below sea level covering 80 by 120 kilometers and runs sub parallel to the Nile at a distance of less than 100 kilometers. Filling it with sea water is a rather attractive option and using the intake flow as a power source is an option. More interesting, it has been proposed that the Nile flood waters could be diverted into desert channels that would end up in this same depression. The barrage would be built far to the south in the Sudan, I think, and would create a separate riverine system.

This hydraulic system would be a natural replacement for the Aswan High Dam which will eventually silt up and become useless as a storage reservoirs.

In the meantime, really good water management can provide a green cover for thousands of square miles of desert around these riverine systems. And eventually all the Sahara can have a green cover thanks to atmospheric water harvesting, and this will also induce a natural hydraulic cycle that will include ample rainfall now so sorely missing.

It ia all possible and it is good to see the Egyptians taking the first steps.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Long Arctic Indian Summer

For the moment, I want my readers to totally put all you have been brought to believe about the human impact on global warming completely out of your mind and travel with me on a thought experiment. Let us imagine that humanity is missing. What does the data tell us then?

500 years ago, we had a climate down shift called the Little Ice Age that ended the long lasting Medieval Warm P9eriod that had held sway for over two hundred years. Since then, the climate of the Northern Hemisphere has very slowly warmed back to the previous climate regime. My analysis of the impact of a modest positive warming influence has shown us that this can explain all the current evidence, and that we are about to have a full return to a warmer Northern climate.

The planet Earth has two natural heat sinks at the poles that operate over a yearly cycle due to the tilt of the poles. We like to ignore the Antarctic, but it is the dominant cooling engine, simply because it has a small continent able to collect an ice cap and a huge uninterrupted circumpolar ocean current that shields it from warm water intrusions. This is one mean cooling machine.

The arctic is the complete reverse of this. We have a land ringed deep ocean for most of the ice cap forming 15 degree polar area. There is only one break in this ring and it is fed by a large bounded north equatorial ocean that must pump warm water into the Arctic. Had this been engineered deliberately, I fail to see how it could have been improved on. We may discover, once all the crustal positions are properly worked out, that this is a rarity in global history.

Remember that the ocean rose 300 feet around 12,000 years ago. Prior to that the continental shelf was shaped by ocean currents and land erosion for millions of years. This unusually stable process formed long broad and very shallow coastal plains. This could never have happened if the sea level was shifting radically back and forth.

The indications are though, that left to its own devices, that natural climate balance for the Arctic is a little warmer than what we are experiencing now. The medieval Warm Period lasted a comfortable 200 years if not a great deal longer. The Bronze Age optimum lasted for thousands of years. In between, it is fair to say that it was more often warm than cold.

In fairness, all our information is drawn from proxies that are very prone to local variation. This is particularly a factor with shifting human settlement and disturbance. The only trustworthy information comes from pollen data from the more northerly transition zones and even that will actually lag the changes by a couple of centuries. We are experiencing that today.

The fact remains that a four hundred year climate cycle may simply defy resolution. The only certainty is that the antiquity of human habitation is universal.

The question then, is not why is it not warmer, but what causes it to chill out in the first place. Left to itself, the Arctic climate will moderate with total sea ice destruction every year. A moderate Arctic will mean less extreme winters throughout the Northern Hemisphere and improved growing conditions everywhere.

The good news, is that once the North is at its natural stability point around the complete elimination of summer sea ice, it appears to stay warm for a long time. There is likely enough freezing going on to prevent any cumulative heat retention.

The bad news is that sooner or later, the party is over.

My best theory, is that a surplus of Antarctic cold water is forced into the Benguela Current, strengthening it substantially and for decades lowering the temperature of the Gulf stream sufficient to allow ice accumulation in the Arctic. We are talking of a very small switch in energy transport when compared to the total regime. We do not even know if the atmosphere is a significant factor at this point.

All we really have is plenty of misunderstood and conflicting data of which we need a lot more.

When we see the world from this perspective, the good news is that it is getting warmer. The bad news is that this will end. And what did humanity have to do with any of this?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Starting at the bottom

I started this blog with he simple objective of promoting the use of forest building to sequester carbon. I felt that this was a valid objective for the developed world to accomplish. The fixes were a combination of institutional will and emerging technology permitting the forestration of the dry lands by atmospheric water harvesting. Doable but only with the most modern concepts of economic governance.

Then we stumbled into terra preta and discovered that primitive agriculturists had done the job hundreds of years ago. We established a working protocol that matched the evidence and also gave us a way forward. It worked for subsistence farmers who only had their own backs as capital.

We are still a long way from industrializing this protocol for the benefit of the modern world. Most cannot grip the reality that it will never be economically feasible to haul biomass in sufficient volume to a large industrial scale converter. The primitives solved it by mastering the art of it in the middle of their own fields without a significant increase in human work.

We have to do the same thing today with whatever technical assistance we can invent. We are not there yet.

Throughout the tropics, we have huge tracts of well watered tropical soils that are almost unexploitable as agricultural lands. These same lands have huge populations of land starved subsistence farmers that just need to be shown how. If all we did was to convert the slash and burn crowd over to terra preta corn culture, we will likely sequester a ton of carbon per individual per year while eliminating one of our biggest sources of outright atmospheric pollution. The improved land productivity will release much of the lands back into tropical forests, sequestering their share of natural carbon. And once the agricultural land has been treated several times, the need for additional terra preta production will decline.

We can start to solve the global problem of surplus CO2 by helping the worst off farmers establish a better living for themselves and really needing no more than a little instruction an perhaps some seed. Everyone else will catch up as their technical needs are addressed. But it is clear that we must start with the unluckiest.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Oil trend

Oil is now trading quietly over $80.00 a barrel. Part of that reflects the downward shift in the US dollar against other global currencies. Part reflects the decline in inventories and the unrelenting erosion of energy security. We can expect a decline in global production to set in over the next couple of years. We cannot expect an increase in production.

As I posted earlier, the only thing that will bring consumption back in line with either flat lined production or even declining production is a move to a punishing price regime obviously we are about to break a $100. And any shock will hand us our heads with a quick move to $200. If I were wrong this year, the price would have cooled of for the fall and be trading at least $10 cheaper.

Of course, trying to massage market direction from a maze of statistics, some very doubtful, is at best a mug's game. Oil represents perhaps 10% of the global economy. This is a guess since it once represented 12%. In any event, it is the one commodity that truly dominates the global economy, and because of that the only proper way of looking at it is in reverse.

In simpler terms, how much oil currency is needed to transact business. This ratio has been in decline for several years now and it is not getting better. The producers are slowly been flooded with foreign cash that they are finding harder and harder to get rid of. Just how much do you think that the cash holders want to be invested in derivatives backed by sub prime mortgages.

It is getting harder and harder to place this sea of cash. It was exactly this scenario that created the great inflation of the late seventies. Right now our central bankers have got to be holding their breaths.

Right now we need a monster multi billion barrel oil field to give us a break. All I know for sure is that we all are about to get our collective asses kicked. The alternate solutions will take years to implement.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The progress of static grid power

I read recently that we will need to add another 900 nuclear reactors over the next fifty years to meet global demand. The current count is 435. That is a huge number. There will also be a lot of coal burners brought on line besides. The key point of all this, is that all our static grid power must be produced in this manner.

Here, we actually do not have a meaningful fuel supply problem for a century or two at least, although it is going to get more difficult. That is why uranium is at $75 a pound from $10.

As I have posted, the residential reliance on grid power is open to displacement by both geothermal systems or super efficient solar systems. I notice that a company has started producing solar shingles using silica wafers. What took so long?

This is all good, except that that is only a portion of grid power demand. The major portion is industrial and commercial. This sector has already done handstands over the past thirty years to minimize its reliance on grid power while the residential market is even now just beginning.

There is really no better way for them to generate power that they have not already put to work.

Of course, since stable grid power by way of nuclear and coal is available on demand, it will continue to be the supply of choice.

The two available major alternatives are tidal generation, very much in its infancy and deep geothermal, rapidly coming up to speed. There are a number of bit players such as wind power, while becoming economic have other drawbacks slowing their implementation on a similar scale.

I personally love deep geothermal which is quietly going from strength to strength as we discover the tricks of dealing with deep hot caustic environments. Our real strength, however, is the simple fact that one hundred years of drilling technology can take us into the type of geology we need. Our oil industry service industry is almost ready for this challenge.

Even sedimentary rocks are getting hot at fifteen thousand feet. We can reach twice that although from a oil industry perspective there is little point because costs are climbing on a power curve and it is eventually too hot for hydrocarbons. In other words, drilling below the hydrocarbon zone should put you into the geothermal zone. This is a bit of a simplification and a gross understatement of the difficulties that will prevent us from rushing out and actually doing it that way any time soon.

Iceland is at least teaching us how to do it. And we are currently focusing on the quiescent volcanoes. This is actually an unlimited source of power.

In the more difficult cooler hot zones, we still retain the option of using the good old Rankin cycle engine (reverse refrigeration) to generate brake horsepower.

Right now we are perfecting our knowledge.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Natural genius of Brazil's Indians

The more I discuss and pull apart the concept of the corn stover bio char production system, the more that I come to admire the achievement of these so called primitives. As my readers know, large areas of Brazil's tropical soils were made continuously fertile by the addition of many tons of low temperature charcoal or biochar per acre. This is carbon sequestration by any other name and is called terra preta.

I recognized that the only crop that lent itself easily to the charing process was corn. It produced ten tons of dry unusable waste for every acre which could produce at least a ton of char per acre. This is more than enough to visibly impact fertility. On top of that, the crop husbandry system was all about hills, so that the char was delivered directly to the hill and not to the 75% of the field kept fallow between the hills. It sounds like a basket full to me.

A review of the literature revealed that corn pollen and cassava pollen were in fact the principle crops. Cassava also produces a great deal of biomass and would nicely augment any Biochar production protocol, although I have never emphasized it.

I then recognized, from personal experience that corn had one unique characteristic that hugely accommodated the production of Biochar. Corn produces a horizontal root pad that is easily pulled out of the soil. This brick like root ball is a natural brick that permits the building of an earthen shell that could form the near vertical walls of an earthen kiln. This is hugely important, because it eliminates the need to dig a huge pit or to build a large soil bank. It can also be built anywhere and sized to the most efficient design possible.

Any piece of jungle can be burned out and with a first corn crop, terra preta can be established. Constant repetition will easily build up the carbon content to the 15% charcoal level inside a couple of generations, while preserving soil fertility.

There is also very little additional labor required, an awfully important consideration in a ulture that had no draft animals.

Once the stack is built in whatever shape works best through experience and discussed earlier, It is necessary to throw a layer of dirt on the flat top of the stack, to effect final closure. We end up with a complete dirt shell surrounding tightly packed corn stalks with a packing ratio of at least 70%.

Now comes the problem of ignition. My conjecture is that they opened a chimney in the center of the pile by pushing the dirt aside. They then dumped in a large charge of glowing coals from a wood fire held in a earthenware platter, which was then tipped over and used to cap the coals and prevent flaming. This was then covered with the displaced dirt.

And this is were the genius of the Indians really comes in. As the coal mass ate its way down through the bio mass, it drew a steady controlled stream of air in through the earthen walls and sustaining the burn. But as the burn progressed, the plate forced the process gases initially away from the chimney in back through the smoldering wall of the chimney before it finally exits through the chimney. A constant supply of fresh dirt to cover any breakouts should maintain a steady burn.

Without field trials, we seem to have a method that produces biochar by burning the process gas very completely and getting the maximum heat.

I am convinced that with a little practice, any family can produce biochar at a very high level of efficiency. This method will end slash and burn agricultural as still practiced in the tropics.

The modern farmer will want to use a closed incinerator with a double lung design to capture the maximum heat and to produce the cleanest exhaust gas. This is very capital intensive if done properly even if using the shipping container system previously aired.

I wonder what we will learn when field tests are done to compare the two systems?

All I am sure about is that the elimination of slash and burn with an annual earthen kiln system on perhaps 20% of the arable land in the tropics is a vast improvement over what passes for current practice. It will also increase the amount of continuously cropped land by orders of magnitude. To say absolutely nothing about fertility enhancement on established fields.

Traditional agriculture has beggered millions for generations. This can now change completely.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Solar revolution slowly unfolding

One aspect of the energy industry that has almost been forgotten in the hoopla over nascent technologies, is the progressive maturing of the solar energy industry. It is now the one sector that can turn on a dime with the advent of technology breakthroughs. They can manufacture panels as mechanically efficient as possible and install them as cheaply as possible. They have the needed gadgets to exploit the production energy. It has all been invented and perfected over the past thirty years.

Current manufacturing is dominated by companies in Japan and Europe. And in spite of the raw cost , it has found multiple markets and has become a large well funded industry.

This has resulted in a progressive improvement in the efficiency of silica based systems which remains largely the dominant technique.

It is still a niche solution, but it is a large industry in spite of all that. It is amazing what twenty years or so of hard work will do.

What I am waiting for is the implementation of printed solar cells on a plastic substrate that achieves 30% efficiency using nano-scaled structures. That will crash the cost of the active component by an order of magnitude and bring solar energy fully into the mainstream.

That level of cost reduction will make every building on earth potentially grid free. The industrial infrastructure is already in place to do this.

The other big gain for planet earth, as I have posted before, is that this will be cheap enough to produce a stand alone atmospheric water collector that can support the covering of the deserts with trees. It becomes the terraforming machine.

I also suspect that we will all live to see this energy revolution happen .

Monday, October 1, 2007

Arctic and Antarctic heat balance

The one fact that I find most disturbing about the Global Warming debate is that climatologists think that the Antarctic temperature has dropped by a degree. What this is really saying is that it is very likely that the net heat gain in the Arctic is almost exactly offset by the net heat loss in the Antarctic. Which implies that the greenhouse gas explanation is spurious.

The effect unfortunately looks a lot different at the two poles, due in the one case to a nearly closed off circulation system and a strongly disrupted one on the other hand. I think it will be very difficult to achieve scientific precision. However, the greenhouse effect is categorically not warming the Antarctic, and it needs to be if the theory is to retain any credence.

It makes total sense that the two poles are slightly out of balance in their ability to lose and gain heat. Variability is then a function of the corrective process. And it appears that over the centuries, the Arctic tends to warm and the Antarctic tends to chill. As I posted earlier, this can be corrected by the expedient of injecting a larger mass than normal of cold Antarctic water into the Atlantic.

The last major injection took place in the fifteenth century, triggering the little ice age in Europe. What we do not understand is if this process is triggered by a warming Arctic in some manner or is just random. With our sparsity of knowledge, we see a likely direct connection from this one data point. Yet I am not sure that we can trace another such event since the Bronze Age. The Romans did grow grapes in England after all.

We really need to get a better handle on post Bronze Age climate. The cooling effect could actually be controlled by a normal low level pulsing of the currents that may cycle through several decades and is only rarely disturbed.

Without a corrective measure, I am certain that the Arctic will return to Bronze Age conditions, which we are swiftly approaching right now. Those conditions are inherently stable unless there is an injection of cold water into the South Atlantic.

Now you know why I am looking over my shoulder.