Friday, November 30, 2007

One thousand year Holocene climate cycle.

When it comes to the debate on Global Warming, I continue to be informed by the extremely clear fact that we are continuing to operate within the incredibly stable range established with the onset of Holocene some 12,000 years ago.

It really does look like a global half degree switching back and forth between the two hemispheres that operates on a thousand year cycle or so. Just think. The last high was around 1000 AD and perhaps also 0 AD and the rise of the Roman Empire in Europe. The little Ice Age hit with a vengeance around 1500 AD and the Western Roman Empire fell around 500 AD when the Rhine froze over. What little we know of the prior millennium suggests that the same cycle showed itself there to. And that half degree is more than sufficient to give us all the currently experienced warming effects in the north.

As has been said, this is actually a cause for celebration. Agricultural productivity in the Northern hemisphere will increase. The Arctic will be clear of ice every summer for at least two months and this should happen even in the next decade. This will naturally create a huge fishery. So shut up already.

And absolutely none of this needs to be linked to the production of excess CO2 on the basis of the record of the past 12,000 years.

That still leaves us with the ongoing problem of the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere. That is for sure a human created problem and must be ameliorated. What we have burned so far has forced a thirty percent gain. What exists in the ground is sufficient to make this a 100 % gain. What is more, it is a reasonable assumption that man will burn all available fossil fuels no matter what else is done and even if it is dragged out over a thousand years. It is simply too efficient as a feedstock to not be used.

As we have shown, the best solution to that problem is carbon sequestration by way of the global production of terra preta soils. It really is that simple. Of course the chatterers will try to obstruct the solution as usual, but they all die out eventually and it will simply become mandatory traditional practice.

As was true in the Amazon for at least a thousand years.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

John Carlisle in 1998 on Global Warming

I think it is very appropriate to reprint this article by John Carlisle put out in 1998. I do not know how accurate the temperature ranges quoted are and they seem to reflect the European experience. Yesterday's post shows us why northern regions are far more prone to temperature shifts in general. It also suggests that at any global set point, that a lot of variability is possible in the northern Hemisphere.

I wish to make one point though. My perusal of the various reports on historic temperatures has shown me that these numbers were cobbled together using various proxies and at the time and place represented at best a best guess. They have not necessarily been overly reviewed and even when reappraised, the former information, usually in chart form, lingers for a long time.

Once a position is accepted for any length of time, it is natural for critical analysis to fade and for that position to be given more credence than even the authors intended. In the game of climate analysis we have an uncommon amount of speculation been accepted too easily as fact. After all, I have the same problem. I need true proxies for global temperatures at any point in time and I have no choice but to accept the reported consensus. It is a little maddening to see this consensus shifting around.

The best most recent example is the infamous 'hockey stick' which is still been trotted out and will be with us so long as anyone watches Al Gore's documentary.

Thus while a six degree swing may be the experience in much of the Northern Hemisphere, the rest of the globe experienced a more modest half degree swing between the two hemispheres.

Today we are in the middle of a northern warming upswing that is lifting Europe to at least a couple more degrees of warmth before it is over. It appears to be very explainable as a rebound from the very real Little Ice Age which principally impacted Northern Europe. At least they complained the most.

Global Warming: Enjoy it While You Can
by John Carlisle

Policymakers have been arguing for nearly a decade over what to do about global warming. Noticeably missing from this debate has been any mention of the fact that natural fluctuations in the Earth's temperature, not Man, is the likely explanation for any recent warming.

Proponents of the global warming theory repeatedly cite a 1.5° F temperature increase over the last 150 years as evidence that man-made CO2 is dangerously heating up the planet and will cause huge flooding, severe storms, disease and a mass exodus of environmental refugees. Based on this, the Clinton Administration and its environmental allies want Congress to ratify a treaty that will hike consumer prices 40 percent and cost the American economy $3.3 trillion over 20 years. But the apocalyptic predictions on which they justify these drastic steps are totally unsubstantiated and ignore some fundamental truths about the Earth's climatic behavior.

The fact is, the planet's temperature is constantly rising and falling. To put the current warming trend in perspective, it's important to understand the Earth's geological behavior.

Over the last 700,000 years, the climate has operated on a relatively predictable schedule of 100,000-year glaciation cycles. Each glaciation cycle is typically characterized by 90,000 years of cooling, an ice age, followed by an abrupt warming period, called an interglacial, which lasts 10,000-12,000 years. The last ice age reached its coolest point 18,000 to 20,000 years ago when the average temperature was 9-12.6° F cooler than present. Earth is currently in a warm interglacial called the Holocene that began 10,700 years ago.

Although precise temperature readings over the entire period of geologic history are not available, enough is known to establish climatic trends. During the Holocene, there have been about seven major warming and cooling trends, some lasting as long as 3000 years, others as short as 650. Most interesting of all, however, is that the temperature variation in many of these periods averaged as much as 1.8° F, .3° F more than the temperature increase of the last 150 years. Furthermore, of the six major temperature variations occurring prior to the current era, three produced temperatures warmer than the present average temperature of 59° F while three produced cooler temperatures.

For example, when the Holocene began as the Earth was coming out of the last Ice Age around 8700 B.C., the average global temperature was about 6° F cooler than it is today. By 7500 B.C., the climate had warmed to 60° F, 1° F warmer than the current average temperature. However, the temperature fell again by nearly 2° F over the next 1,000 years, settling at an average of 1° F cooler than the current climate.

Between 6500 and 3500 B.C., the temperature increased from 58° F to 62° F. This is the warmest the Earth has been during the Holocene, which is why scientists refer to the period as the Holocene Maximum. Since the temperature of the Holocene Maximum is close to what global warming models project for the Earth by 2100, how Mankind faired during the era is instructive. The most striking fact is that it was during this period that the Agricultural Revolution began in the Middle East, laying the foundation for civilization. Yet, Greenhouse theory proponents claim the planet will experience severe environmental distress if the climate is that warm again.

Since the Holocene Maximum, the planet has continued to experience temperature fluctuations. In 900 A.D. the planet's temperature roughly approximated today's temperature. Then, between 900 and 1100 the climate dramatically warmed. Known as the Medieval Warm Period, the temperature rose by more than 1° F to an average of 60° or 61° F, as much as 2° F warmer than today. Again, the temperature during this period is similar to Greenhouse predictions for 2100, a prospect global warming theory proponents insist should be viewed with alarm. But judging by how Europe prospered during this era, there is little to be alarmed about. The warming that occurred between 1000 and 1350 caused the ice in the North Atlantic to retreat and permitted Norsemen to colonize Iceland and Greenland. Back then, Greenland was actually green. Europe emerged from the Dark Ages in a period that was characterized by bountiful harvests and great economic prosperity. So mild was the climate that wine grapes were grown in England and Nova Scotia.

The major climate change that followed the Medieval Warm Period is especially critical as it bears directly on how to assess our current warming period. Between 1200 and 1450, the temperature plunged to 58° F. After briefly warming, the climate continued to dramatically get colder after 1500. By 1650, the temperature hit a low of 57° F. This is regarded as the coldest point in the 10,000-year Holocene geological epoch. That is why the era between 1650 and 1850 is known as the Little Ice Age. It was during this time that mountain glaciers advanced in Switzerland and Scandinavia, forcing the abandonment of farms and villages. Rivers in London, St. Petersburg and Moscow froze over so thoroughly that people held winter fairs on the ice. There were serious crop failures, famines and disease due to the cooler climate. In America, New England had no summer in 1816. It wasn't until 1860 that the temperature sufficiently warmed to cause the glaciers to retreat.

The significance of the Little Ice Age cannot be overestimated. The 1.5° F temperature increase over the last 150 years, so often cited as evidence of man-made warming, most likely represents a return to normal temperatures following a 400-year period of unusually cold weather. Even the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the chief proponent of the Kyoto Protocol global warming treaty signed in December 1997, concludes that: "The Little Ice Age came to an end only in the nineteenth century. Thus, some of the global warming since 1850 could be a recovery from the Little Ice Age rather than a direct result of human activities."

Leading climate scientist Dr. Hugh Ellsaesser of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says we may be in for an additional 1.8° F of warming over the next few centuries, regardless of Man's activities. The result would be warmer nighttime and winter temperatures, fewer frosts and longer growing seasons. Since CO2 stimulates plant growth and lessens the need for water, we could also expect more bountiful harvests over the next couple of centuries. This is certainly not bad news to the developing nations of the world struggling to feed their populations.

Thus, far from being a self-induced disaster, global warming is the result of natural changes in the Earth's climate that promises to yield humanity positive benefits. In the geological scheme of things, the warming is not even that dramatic compared to the more pronounced warming trends that occurred during the Agricultural Revolution and the early Middle Ages. Moreover, there is strong evidence that this long-needed warming is moderating. All things considered, global warming should be viewed for what it is: A gift from the often fickle force of Nature. Enjoy it while you can.

John Carlisle is director of the Environmental Policy Task Force, a project of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to him at

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bjorn Lomborg and Global Warming Excress

Bjorn Lomborg has weighed in with a recent column on the ongoing global warming debate essentially decrying the rather strident and poorly supported positions of some of the more exuberant promoters of the global warming ideology. I also find it difficult to mistake a natural upward adjustment in the the apparent average temperature regime of the Northern Hemisphere for the End of the World, particularly when it appears to be offset with an equivalent minor downward shift in the Southern Hemisphere.

I also have great faith in the public's ability to discern aberrant nonsense for what it is, and those that cannot are usually pretty good at canceling each other's votes out.

What Bjorn does do is argue rather persuasively that a warmer Northern climate may actually be a Good Thing. Simply the reduction of the winter death rate is a benefit.

In the meantime the wack crowd would have a massive rise in sea levels and are predicting a temperature shift of over 2 degrees or pick your number.

In the real world, it is believable that the shift in the Northern Hemisphere is around 1/2 a degree over the past century depending on how the calculation is made. It is believable only because surplus heat is slowly eliminating the perennial sea cover of the Arctic.

I think that we can all agree that the Arctic is the area most affected and also the place where this heat is expended. I think that we also can agree that the sea ice effect extends to a maximum of thirty degrees south.

A back of the envelope calculation then suggests that a half degree shift in northern temperatures will mean at least a seven fold shift of 3.5 degrees in the arctic and more likely a ten fold shift of 5.0 degrees.

The reverse is also true and probably had a lot to do with the determination of the half degree shift in the first place. Obviously a shift of 2.6 degrees would give the Arctic a short violent tropical summer before it crashed back into winter.

I think it is far more likely that we are actually looking at the optimal shift right now and that it will not shift any more. This does not mean that changes in the Arctic are over. In fact they have just begun. That half degree shift is much more effective than anyone realizes as yet.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Carbon Credits

The one aspect of the so called global effort to tackle global warming that I find most disturbing is the stumbling initiative to establish a carbon credit market. The concept is very laudable. We can all grasp that a transfer of money from those dumping CO2 into the atmosphere to those taking it out would go a long way to both measure the size of the problem and to also ameliorate it.

What I have yet to see in the press is a credible explanation of the mechanics. And my own efforts were rewarded with a maybe next year response and that was two years ago. What am I missing? I suspect something is clearly wrong and the most likely reason is that the approach to date is simply wrong headed.

It seems too easy for participants to rig a green wash rather than a working solution when there is no particularly clear market mechanism and reporting system.

If we return to the efforts spurred by the Kyoto accord, we immediately discover one primary flaw. It is the lack of equality among the participants. The accord was patched together by a group of folks all trying to protect their short term interests every way they could. It was not an accord so much as an effort to preserve the status quo and assign blame when it fell apart.

The only system that will ever actually work is one that treats everyone equally, with at most a negotiated transition for those facing immediate hurt. The only way that this can be implemented is by assessing a direct transfer credit against every barrel of oil produced and every ton of coal mined globally. It is simple and the producers are then stuck with the very real task of actually spending those credits efficiently.

The present attempt is already a hodge podge of gerrymandering and special interest manipulation which will actually raise the cost of business and create huge imbalances deleterious to the global economy.

The UN can find itself in a management role of enforcing compliance. This will be as simple as cutting off the right to export and transferring the credit obligation to the receiving refinery. The audit process can actually catch it all and the cost of non compliance will actually lose access to a profitable side line for the producers.

In the meantime, it is outrageous that industrial carbon obligations have been outsourced to China and India who have no need to meet these obligations. If the system is not universal, we will be treated to the charade of the worst and dirtiest industries been bounced around the globe every twenty years until they have a final home in Tongo Tongo.

A universal credit system stems the incipient fraud and deceit we are already been exposed to. We already have the word 'greenwash' joining the lexicon.

An universally clear global carbon credit or defacto global carbon currency is a fantastic way to establish a proper global financial system because it is directly tied to the life blood of the global economy and will be forever in some form or the other.

It then makes it easy to monetize the establishment of terra preta soils worldwide since that is the one certain method of sequestering carbon in the long term. The carbon sequestered in the Amazon two thousand years ago is still there and still supporting excellent farming.

Slight changes in tillage, although helpful, actually does little more than perhaps prevent further loss of carbon which is actually not good enough.

Without question, it is necessary to call another global conference and use that conference to impose the carbon credit obligation on the producers and empower the UN to police the system. It will still take time to sort out, but it will sort itself out. Let us do it right this time.

When NAFTA was imposed, the transition was implemented in small steps over ten years. We should do the exact same thing here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Transition to THAI oil production

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I think that we are facing a true winter of discontent. The global economy has to absorb and adjust for several uncomfortable changes over the next year. I am personally a perennial optimist but also a realist.

We have to overcome a shrinkage in US purchasing power known also as credit, brought on by the unraveling of the sub prime lending business, while the global economy is now eating an energy tax in the form of much higher fuel costs. This is not funny.

What is more, there is little reason to think that the credit decline will not be felt globally. Institutions are taking hits everywhere and they simply will not have as much liquidity. Remember that it was excess liquidity looking for a home that created this mess in the first place. And real estate price inflation took place just about everywhere.

We can thus expect a rolling squeeze on borrowers lasting about three years or more as inventories are unwound. I personally think that there is enough global liquidity slopping around to sponge up the excess housing inventory in the US within three years or very quickly.

Higher energy costs will impact everywhere, but in the US in particular. There is plenty of room for a recession style contraction in the economy that cannot be bailed out this time with cheap money. It is already dirt cheap.

The best scenario is for the oil price regime to stay generally neutral over the next three years while the credit markets work through their problems. In spite of the heated press. the credit situation will work itself out because the global economy will continue to expand for at least another generation or two simply because of the transition to a global middle class modern economy.

A shift in the price of oil to $200 per barrel will surely precipitate a serious recession. The problem is that looks as likely as a decline back to $60 per barrel. In the meantime, the industry and the users are all in denial. New discoveries now are still far too few, although they are been made, and they all need decade long lead times to become productive. The necessary wells that should have been discovered over the past fifteen years were not made.

The only technical fix that is even on the horizon and looks like it may be implemented is the THAI production protocol. It actually looks like the second coming of the oil business. although few have heard of it.

Right now it is been successfully tested on the deep tar sands in Alberta. Three well pairs are now sustaining 2,000 barrels of fluid per day with a water cut of around 50%. They have all started in the past eighteen months. They are currently shaking out the sand handling problems and perfecting the process. Two more years of production should see theses wells paid for. I do not know how long the wells will operate until the available resource is properly depleted and I am sure that the operators do not know either.

The real payoff, however, is that this protocol can be rolled out on thousands of wells just on the tar sands. And there are negligible inputs required unlike the mining protocol. And it can really be done very quickly in Alberta.

This exact same technology can be applied in theory in every other oil resource in the world and can lead to the recovery of huge amounts of left behind oil.

The creation of a pyrolysis front in the oil bearing formation upgrades and mobilizes the bulk of the remaining oil all0wing it to flow readily to the production well. If the oil cannot escape, it is likely to be burnt providing process energy.

Unheard of seventy percent recoveries are been touted by the project promoters.

If THAI fails, then the oil option will continue to evaporate and quickly. Right now, we are trying to get through the next several years while facing pending production declines.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Algae Trial in New Zealand

Hamish Macfarlane has introduced me to a company that he has had involvement with named Aquaflow bionomic corporation out of New Zealand. What these folks have done is to tap municipal sewage settling ponds that are already producing algae for their feedstock.

They do not describe all the details of their process, but it is obvious that their first step has to be to run the algae rich water through a filter press. They are then able to harvest the contained lipids from the concentrated algae. No one is talking about yield which must be quite low since we are dealing with a mix of wild algae at this time.

Since the initial feed stock is sewage, it also suggests that the de-oiled dry mass may be unsuitable for cattle feed. This does beg the question of what to do with the substantial dry mass in any attempt to create a commercial industry.

What is important, is that these sewage settling ponds are nutrient rich and need to be biologically reprocessed before the fluids can be reused in whatever manner. Maximizing algae production while capturing the bio available nutrients is a very good intermediate step that preserves the nutrients.

Separating the algae from the grey water is simple, economic and easy with a rotary filter press, and if that produces a product that can then be used as a feed stock for further processing, we may have an economic basis for doing all this.

This harvesting of an algae feed stock from sewage settling ponds can be maximized and be an important contributor to the bio remediation of the sewage cocktail. The algae will not likely be a collector of toxins that it cannot handle or even break down. This means, that by and large this process separates the sewage feed stock into two separate feed stocks.

Through aeration and stimulation the settled and dissolved components will lose a lot of their reactivity and become usable even as high quality crop dressing. The surplus nutrients will end up been carried away in a living algae biomass that can then be perhaps used in further processing.

So far the New Zealand company has been able to collect the lipid content of a natural blend of wild algae. I suspect that the yield is at best a trivial amount of the total bio mass but will at least establish a threshold. We will discover what percentage of oil is retained regardless of processing energy and input. Anything over that may be deemed as potentially recoverable.

Then the interesting question is whether it is possible to selectively stimulate the growth of superior oil bearing strains, and just as important to keep them in suspension. We know that the most important oil algae species likes to sink to the bottom which is not very good in a sewage settling pond.

A simple fix might be the installation of a secondary pond that is fed by a surface waters only drawn off by a skimming barrier and packing the dissolved nutrients and micro organic particulates. Then the algae can grow out primarily in the secondary pond and be aggressively harvested there with pumps.

In a perfect world, the grey water then exiting the secondary pond would be totally spent with all the nutrients absorbed into the algae byproduct.

This would also allow a stimulation of algae populations to improve oil yields.

The other question is if it will be possible to treat the pressed algae in anyway that could make it fit for cattle feed. There is only so much molasses can do, but if the algae mix can sponge up the unpalatable components during the growing phase, then this becomes a very effective way to produce rich fodder for cattle and the oil yield is not necessarily the most important part of the process.

This is a lot of speculation, but at least someone has a working prototype system to explore the possibilities. We will have to keep watching.

In the meantime others will experiment with a mono culture approach fed by chemical feeds.

I personally like the idea of been able to use a wild algae blend, but must admit that I am not optimistic that economic yields of oil can be achieved that way.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Termite Cellulose Conversion Research

Picked up another bit of encouraging news in the press today. A group of scientists have begun the process of determining how termites digest wood. So far they have separated out a potpourri of enzymes from the insects gut that must be responsible for the breakdown of wood cellulose. This is work that I can support whole heartedly even though it is a very beginning.

As I have already posted, the best method currently available to upgrade a wood based feedstock is to use slow pyrolysis to produce a black acidic liquid at a 70% yield. It looks like oil but it is not. For it to be usable, additional reforming would be needed, and the silence on that subject is not promising. The only positive benefit that I can see using that method is ease of transportation. All this reforming and chemical processing begs the question of actual process energy efficiency.

Yet wood chips are the one biological feedstock that is sufficient to our needs, actually need to be collected in order to properly maintain the health and vigor of our woodlands and forests, and also collects nutrients from deep down that can then be put into our croplands.

And the really frustrating aspect of this feed stock is that cellulose is a molecule produced chemically from long chains of tied together glucose molecules. The fact is that our forests are arguably forests of almost one hundred percent sugar and water that we cannot touch at the moment. Anything that successfully releases that sugar immediately allows the conversion of those sugars into alcohol and thus into ethanol fuel. This can be a wonderful fix to our pending loss of fossil fuel as a transportation energy source.

Simply allowing the material to rot releases the bulk of the material back into the atmosphere as CO2 without any serious gain to ourselves. The soil gain is actually comparatively negligible although this seems to go against common sense. That is why we would like to at least convert a lot of it into charcoal in order to use it as a near surface nutrient sponge.

Now we have a biological research strategy that could actually take us to an industrial production protocol that is capable of converting the global wood chip feed stock that can be readily produced through simple good forest management into a feed stock for ethanol.

Of course, the first painful step is to discover what path ways are been utilized by the digestive processes of a termite. Their extraordinary high efficiency is very compelling and that suggests that the reaction pathway will turn out to be super efficient when we actually can replicate it in a bottle. My only comment is to wonder that no one has tried this already or even done some of the basic research. Of course, there may be an extensive literature out there and we are actually seeing ongoing work been trumpeted as a new idea.

Back in the middle of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for scientists chasing a new idea to first quietly go to the various scientific journals produced in the late nineteenth century in German to make absolutely sure it was not a new idea. Those boys had a head start on everybody when it came to chemistry and the depth to explore a lot of avenues.

I will be looking for more literature on this subject because it is very important to the future of agriculture and fuel production.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Clear seas in the Arctic by 2015

NASA published this report a month ago on the Arctic sea ice conditions over the past two years.

A couple of very suggestive observations are made and need to be noted. Of course, the fact that ice coverage has been reduced is obvious to everyone and the known 60% reduction in total ice volume between the two data collection dates of 1957 and 2000 has also been commented on extensively by myself. In fact, this has led to my own analysis and prediction of a likely date for total sea ice disappearance as early as 2015.

I am only able to say for sure that it should not be much sooner. The NASA report calls even that into question.

The last two years saw a significant shift in the arctic wind regime that has had the effect of speeding the clearing of the sea ice off most of the Arctic and inducing the release of substantial long term ice into the lower latitudes. The article reads as if this has never happened before or has never been observed before.

This presumably implies that a lot more atmospheric heat is now finding its way into the Arctic helping the process of melting along. This is new, then the next question is whether it will be stable. It certainly supports a global transition in the weather regime and explains the warmer winters that we have experienced in the temperate climes.

In any event, hugely larger open water areas allowed a lot more solar energy to be absorbed by the Arctic Ocean this summer, perhaps because this switch was turned on. The question is whether this is a new wind regime that helps bring northern temperate zones back to their pre little ice age highs.

It actually makes a lot of sense that this is exactly what will happen. The high temperatures experienced in Scandinavia over five hundred years ago could well be the result of a natural wind regime adding a couple of degrees of extra warmth in combination with a clearing out of sea ice from Arctic waters.

In other words, we have already reached the optimum temperatures previously established in the past and it is simply taking time for all the effects to be fully expressed.

The past two years have seen the Arctic start the clearing process in a fairly convincing manner. Even though I was even predicting the rapid decline long before the process was underway, I did not fully recognize the actual onset.

A permanent wind system that delivers heat into the Arctic is a natural and predictable outcome of an atmospheric warming cycle regardless of it's causes. How else might we get rid of surplus heat in the Northern Hemisphere?

A wind system sustained by an ice freed Arctic in the summer should be a powerful engine in spreading the new regime around the Arctic Basin.

The next interesting question will be if this trend is sustained as we go into the next season. I thought that last season's behavior was very much a part of the normal ebb and flow of the warming process itself.

I can now suggest that if this climate trend is shifting to a new Arctic regime, that the winds and related heat transfer will actually be as strong or stronger than this season and will continue to strengthen over the next several seasons until all the summer sea ice is gone and the system can stabilize.

In other words, clear sailing in the Arctic by 2015 is possibly more likely than ever.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

UN promotes Global Warming Propaganda

I suppose I should comment on that story put out under the auspicious of the United Nations over the weekend. It came down very strongly on the side of the climate warming as a human caused natural disaster in the making position. Fair enough as special pleading but a little offensive in that they keep trying to masquerade as an authority delivering a sermon from the mount. They even crank out the obligatory petition of scientists in support of their well polished position.

Come on guys, there is plenty of good and excellent reasons to promote doing the right thing in properly husbanding our resources. I just do not think we have to act like it is a matter of democratic choice playing I have more scientists than you. Real change happens when one man says no and sets out to convince others.

You have watched me champion several credible choices that we can all support, knowing that they will change things for the better. They are not even a swindle, as far too many schemes doomed to failure are.

You only need to review my work of terra preta to know that we have created a mechanism that will sequester all the CO2 ever dumped into the atmosphere, while establishing a best practice agriculture worldwide. We can do this without even been too concerned about energy inputs and water supplies during the early stages.

In the meantime, the UN is pushing its private agenda by promoting the climate warming bandwagon by an ongoing series of press releases. This is ultimately a diminution of their own credibility and is disappointing.

You can also be very sure, that if we came to them and said 'we have solutions that require your support', we would only get obstruction. Is it ever possible for a group of people to shift their position without active leadership somewhere? As always, the sheep like their paychecks and will never rock the boat. And though we have leaders, most are only leaders and lack imagination.

We as readers need to do our part in ending the climate warming debate by telling our own circle of contacts that there are policies that are not costly and will resolve the problems causing damage to our environment. A good start is to introduce them to this blog. We have covered most of the bases here.

On its own though, that is not enough. We have created a world in which change can be brought about through political action. And that means that we must educate reporters and politicians about our creditable options. You have all the copy that you need in these pages. Spread the story to these folks and encourage them to lead the fight to a better world.

And we all have to. The UN is clearly pushing a political agenda through their press release program and actually doing something takes a very distant back seat to acquiring money and resources. Of course, that is merely my opinion, but a plea for support without a clear program for success is all about money and always makes me uncomfortable.

Anyone who has worked his way through my blog knows we have solutions. In fact they are fantastic solutions that can be readily proven out. The idea that half the global population can develop a successful agricultural lifestyle while sequestering carbon was just too much to ask for. The discovery that the Amazonian Indians had actually done so in some of the worst agricultural conditions possible was a very pleasant surprise. My modest contribution was to figure out how they actually did it so that we could replicate it worldwide.

This is the nucleus of a global agricultural revolution that needs to be told. Can you imagine the UN actually getting behind such a program? A real action program?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holocene Climatic Stability Cause

Reading a little of the press this weekend on the subject of Lake Agassi, the giant melt water lake that developed as the ice age melted away got me thinking. Just how much ice was sitting on land in the first place? We know that it was enough to raise the sea level by a good 100 meters over three millenia.

Knowing the area of the world ocean to be around 361 million square kilometers (wikipedia) we quickly convert this to a total volume of around 3,000 to 4,0000 cubic kilometers of ice. Surprisingly, this actually matches our expectations and we would have accepted a lot more. Of course, crustal depression may have accommodated a lot more as a rising crust theoretically produces more volume for the ocean.

Surprisingly, the annual melt rate therefore averages around a cubic kilometer per year. which is quite moderate. It looks like a lot but it was actually rather slow, melting at a stately few net inches per year rather like our current glaciers.

All the melt water did end up in the Atlantic and this created a annual pulse of fresh surface water into the ocean that must have mixed with and impacted the dynamics of the oceanic current system and its related weather. We can also be sure that this annual pulse was relieved by the escape of water into the South Atlantic and around the gap between Antarctica and South America, possible in the form of warm equatorial waters. We will let the speculators go crazy over that possibility.

On average, however, the sea level rose about one meter every generation or so for a period of three thousand years. More importantly, it did not go catastrophically faster at any time with perhaps the sudden release of Lake Agassi. This meant that populations had plenty of time to plan their response.

It certainly explains why a rising sea mythology is so deeply embedded. This was continuously observable to anyone near the sea. One other effect that is not so obvious is that the inter coastal region was always migrating and the related biosphere was always playing catch up. This surely had an impact on the productivity of these traditional sources of food that we do not yet appreciate.

So we can dismiss the idea of a sudden deluge that swept away countries although countries were overwhelmed such as the Indonesian Plain and the North Sea Plain in particular. Both were important sites of human habitation. And do not forget that what was lost globally was the continental shelf fairly early on. The creation of that plain may be our best proof of the duration of the Northern Ice Age.

I think that the current crustal configuration is incredibly stable, because it will be impossible for a Northern ice age to get going. No other crustal configuration could have served us as well, so long as the Atlantic is closed at the Equator and the Northern portion of the Equatorial Waters is forced into the Arctic. It is also obvious that a Northern Ice Cap is the norm throughout most of Global history, even if we have not found all the records. The only way that it is avoided is if the pole is open ocean as we have today to some degree and a source of warm water is available.

It is also interesting that the crust in the Northern Hemisphere appears to be somewhat in dynamic balance balance around the pole as is the continent of Antarctica around the South Pole. It may mean nothing, except to give encouragement to those supporting the idea that the build up of the northern ice cap was sufficient to trigger crustal slippage that ultimately stabilized into this very advantageous position. Maybe human good luck was inevitable.

On the other hand, those coastal plains were pretty extensive and also pretty livable unlike the arid hinterlands and related highlands. They could well have supported large human populations as equivalent lands do today. We simply do not know and perhaps can never know.

The point that we can make is that for the past ten thousand years and perhaps for the next million years, the global climate will no longer be kicked around by a growing Northern Ice Cap whose impact reaches deep into the temperate zone. We may even see the Greenland Ice Cap partially disappear while parts of the Antarctic cap should actually grow by a like amount.

This gift of Holocene climate stability should go on giving for a long time after we come to our senses and stop using the atmosphere and the ocean as a dumping tip.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Global Climate Engine

I have just commenced reading a book that focuses on the past 20,000 years of human development as seen through the eyes of archeology. It appears useful and once I have properly gotten into it I will do a review for you all. What really jumped out at me however, was a chart that maps the oxygen isotope ratio in the ice caps.

Variations in the ratio is a proxy for whether the global climate is warmer or colder. It is also reasonably reliable over the twenty thousand year time span as is the ability to take ice samples in the Antarctic covering the same period. I think that we can accept the results as useful over the designated time span. What certainly can be trusted is the observed variability ratio.

What stands out in the chart is that the Pleistocene Nonconformity is more abrupt than perhaps understood before. The global climatic shift was not just from a seriously cooler climate to the our warmer era known as the Holocene, but from a clearly very volatile regime of shifting worldwide climatic conditions to the current regime of very low variability.

The chart is utterly compelling. For twelve thousand years the chart has flat lined showing minimal variability. Prior to that, not only was the average temperature colder, it moved back and forth over a wide range of variability that is at least an order of magnitude greater than is apparent today.

In reality, this confirms the geologic nature of the Pleistocene Nonconformity more that any other argument. A one million year regime that included a huge northern icecap ended in a couple of thousand years due to the ice cap been shifted thirty degrees into a nonsustaining environment that also was able to prevent the mere rebuilding of the icecap in one place as it was been melted in another. We had an incredibly lucky throw of the dice that has actually likely seen the global climate restored closer to the type of climate experienced over the past billion years.

My readers will want to revisit my posts under Pleistocene Nonconformity back in June and July.

For the record, the onset of the northern ice age coincides with the establishment of the Panama - Central American land bridge that closed off the Atlantic a million years ago. A pretty unique event in global geologic history. It has also taken a pretty unique configuration to prevent the establishment of a full icecap at the pole during our era. It is principally dependent on a large imbalance of northern equatorial waters been forced into the Arctic. It is almost an engine.

That engine has made the northern hemisphere hugely habitable to ourselves. Without it, North America, Europe and all of temperate Asia becomes largely uninhabitable, as was true during all of the Pleistocene.

Perhaps now we understand better why humanity broke out of the tropics only ten thousand years ago. Prior to that it was not really a very good option. All the advantages of the temperate climate were simply not available and in those small areas were they existed, wide climate swings made any culture other than game hunting terribly vulnerable. Our so called climate shifts are trivial by comparison.

Thus, prior to the shift from Pleistocene to Holocene, mankind could hope to establish a proto civilization in only the tropics and semi tropics. This included all of Africa, the Indonesian Plain and India and not much else.

The advent of the Holocene gave us the world and the possibility of agriculture as we know it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lukewarm Fusion

It is worthwhile reading Jed's comments on the status of so called cold fusion in Monday's post. He particularly reports on recent experimental work on 'lukewarm' fusion and cold fusion that has very successfully replicated the original results plus some. The experimental results are hugely ahead of any theory and it is perhaps time I waded in.

It is my contention that we are observing phenomena induced by the peculiarities of short range fields at molecular distances. They are obviously difficult to model and impossible to model using current particle theory derived from back engineering from observation. The Heisenberg uncertainty principal makes sure of that.

Having said that, my own efforts over the past forty years have yielded a core metric that allows the fabrication of particle system models and is actually the long dreamed of theory of everything, or at least that is my speculation. The metric also establishes solution protocols for third and higher ordered differential equations.

My current limitation is that to progress further, I really need access to an army of scientific programmers who know how to work around the limitations of our hardware. I personally was able to take the equations only so far until they blew up. Convergence is a bitch. And it is a long march to construct a neutron model let alone an atom.

In any event, from my perspective, it makes sense that electron bombardment of these structures and their complex fields could trigger anomalous events however induced. We are actually witnessing the birth of a major new area of experimental physics as confusing as the original research on radiation without nuclear theory.

Having said that, I would like to see my audience expanded before introducing any of this work so that we can have a lot of folks working on the modeling problem itself. I am not kidding when I say that the modeling will quickly balloon the need for manpower and some sort of web based community to keep everyone together and sharing information. The good news is that anyone capable of getting into college level first year mathematics will be able to work with the problem.

The first step is to expand the audience, and that means you telling friends who have an interest in maths and science and challenging them. And once I am satisfied the audience is big enough, I can publish a page at a time and open the door for comment and discussion.

In the meantime, I welcome fresh topics to talk about on the issue of Global Warming. I am only one person, and surely I have missed something. In fact the launching of this blog led me to discover terra preta and from there to figuring out how the Indians actually did it. Because of this, I am now very confident that an agricultural revolution is on the way that will eliminate the CO2 problem and restore global fertility. The rest of the world will just require several years to catch up to us. Can we do more?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good news on midterm Oil Production

The world is currently pumping around 85,000,000 barrels of oil per day. Global demand is increasing as the global urban middle class triples in size from a base set in 1980. They have the money to own a car. The natural decline curves tell us that just to maintain current levels of production, we must add 30,000,000 barrels of new production over the next twenty to twenty five years.

If production cannot grow, the supply must be rationed by price. We are now seeing the first sniffs of that with oil at $90.00 per barrel. As I have been posting, price rationing will not really set in until oil climbs into the $150 to $250 range. And since it is not possible to maintain supply in the short term, this is about to happen. The next oil shock will most likely be triggered by the recognition that deliveries are persistently falling.

The fact that the Saudis finally went for full disclosure of their production capabilities is a major defensive action. Their production has been 2,000,000 barrels per day lower over the past couple of years and back in line with earlier rates after several years at at the higher rate. This is a recognition that secrecy will be dangerous in the face of oil at $200 per barrel when everyone will be demanding that they fix the problem.

The fact is is that the Saudis are saying 'don't look to us to fix this'.

We already know that further expansion of global oil production is not in the cards. The real problem is that we are just as ill placed to handle global contraction. The only strategic reserve is the oil used for the private automobile. It is even enough to perhaps carry us over.

So the question really is, can the oil industry replace 30,000,000 barrels of production over the next two decades so that we can make the adjustment and transition into an alternate fuel regime? We know that it is going to be touch and go for the duration simply because of natural lead times. And the Oil industry has to a large degree failed to find the new reserves fast enough, let alone develop them.

Another problem that must not be discounted is the sheer political orneriness faced by the Industry. I personally am aware of a billion barrel prospect onshore. I just need the screaming eagles to give me a hand. And other projects have come across my desk over the years that are also attractive geologically but impossible politically. There is just too much money for human greed not to run amok.

I am heartened however by the announcement of a major multi-billion barrel field in deep waters off Brazil. These basin remnants have always been very prospective and promise a number of major fields around the globe. The much more important observation is that they were actually able to do it.

That opens the door to a number of coastal prospects that may be as attractive. The bad news is that it will require one such field each year for the next thirty years just to maintain current production levels. The boys are good but that is a tall order.

The tar sands can increase by another two million barrels per day within the current mining regime. To do more than that will require extensive reserves of non existent natural gas. This is not a happy prospect when we are now facing a real shortage there also. The only viable alternative is the gasification of some of the bitumen to produce the necessary process energy.

Other issues will constrain the mining rate to these levels for the foreseeable future. However, that gives us a comfortable 300 hundred year reserve of this particular feedstock.

The really good news comes from the apparent success of the THAI test in Alberta. They now have three well pairs in operation for months and this can be expected to be sustained for some years.

You may recall my earlier postings on this subject. The technique consists of drilling a horizontal production well along the base of the tar sand for a distance of at least a thousand meters. A second vertical well is drilled to communicate with the end or toe of the horizontal well. Air is pumped down under pressure to initiate spontaneous combustion. This creates a flame front migrating along the the horizontal well impacting on a cross section that will reach the top of the formation and extend out to the sides. I do not know the actual area of the flame front at this time and so can not really predict the total capacity of the well. The flame front produces some char and hot bitumen and pyrolysised bitumen as process fluids. These drain the flame front and end up in the production well from which they can be pumped. We can expect a remarkable recovery rate of 70% of the oil in place using this process with all the process gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen been dissolved in the oil improving viscosity or exiting through the production well. This process has the effect of directly improving the gravity of the oil by at least five so that typical 12 gravity oil becomes 17 gravity oil, making it eminently transportable unlike the original bitumen.

At this time, making allowances for barriers which may not be necessary, the deeper tar sands are producible using conventional techniques with THAI at a recovery level of at least fifty percent. Most of these deeper reserves are actually fairly shallow and are simply outside the scope of mining.

All of a sudden, The Alberta tar sand reserve jumps to a trillion barrels as does the known reserves in the northern Amazon. And the environmental and other costs are already largely contained, particularly if little of the process gas escapes into the atmosphere.

This technology can also be implemented as fast as conventional oil and can also be applied to partially depleted conventional oil fields anywhere in the world. I suspect that the cost per produced barrel will be very similar to that of conventional oil. Maybe twice as much.

In other words, THAI turns two trillion barrels of heavy oil and a trillion barrels of remaining non productive light oil into a viable resource. At least that is the promise. So with this technology actually working, we have a accessible working reserve that is good for a century or two.

This does not solve the CO2 problem, but it allows high oil prices to shift us onto alternative options that are CO@ neutral.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Time to sharply expand Fusion Research

I realized yesterday that my comments on the Brussard initiative lacked a good description of what he and others are tying to do. Without a picture it is a bit tricky, but a picture has the additional flaw of shaping the reader's conceptionalization from the get go.

The core idea is to create a spherical potential well that is used to create the necessary conditions for fusion. The tokamak creates a potential well along the toroidal axis leaving, if you like, a degree of freedom along the axis. Can we imagine another geometry besides these two?

Since our understanding of the physics has hugely expanded over the past fifty years, it certainly was time to take a good run at the spherical potential well. So far the results have been encouraging and not terribly expensive, though if you are paying the bills, you would not think so.

The analog article does describe the details to date and certainly shows that this is fully justified research. At this point it would actually make sense to have several major countries to competitively fund the ongoing effort which may still need to proceed for a number of years. It is always a great mistake to take an optimistic interpretation of current results as a target with funders whose enthusiasm will always wane in the later stages turning the enterprise into an exercise in 'budget control'.

I personally think for example, that cold fusion will not prosper until we can model fields properly at the molecular level. In the meantime we have gotten hints at best.

On the other hand, the entry costs of advancing this knowledge base is not as prohibitive as we all once believed. The recent bursts of optimism even suggests that we are closer than we think.

Fusion energy, if produced cheaply enough, completely eliminates our dependence on any fuel cycle and its natural constraints. It would be delightful if at the end of the day it could even be produced in small devices eliminating the need for batteries and the like. In a way, that has always been the promise of fusion power.

Our disappointment comes from the reality that we really do not appear to be any closer after fifty years of directed effort. We have learned to simply not expect a thing.

In the meantime, the death of Robert Brussard has surely impacted on his initiative. The project needs fresh innovative research and very stable funding. A new funding source should come on board and set up a system whereby a capable physicist cum engineer is engaged on five year contracts to pursue this work. Also a high level of disclosure needs to be implemented so the community is able to follow and contribute.

Everyone knows what the goal is and everyone accepts that it will not be easy. Secrecy ceases to become very applicable and can be managed to protect any particular advance. In fact, secrecy will be the death of this project.

It is time for everyone with knowledge to take this problem of the back shelf and investigate their options. Innovation is clearly overdue and needs to be competitive.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fusion Energy and Robert Brussard and Tom Ligon

I have never commented on the subject of fusion energy because for the past few years there has been a dearth of material available. It is almost like fifty years of ongoing research on the tokamak is simply coming up empty and no one wishes to admit it.

After saying that, recent articles in Analog have brought us up to date on the efforts of private groups tackling the issue. In particular, work by the late Dr Robert Brussard are now been reported on and they appear to be very encouraging. It seems possible that where money failed, imagination may succeed. Once again, we can be nervously optimistic.

I recommend that everyone reads these articles, even though they are not easy to track down. In the meantime, I would like to make two observations.

Firstly, the enthusiasm over cold fusion generated by Pons and Fleishmann over their experiments should have been stillborn. A successful experiment would have resulted in the instant death of the scientists, but few observers understood that and those that did were unable to stand in the way of a good story.

Secondly, once you forget about tokamaks, one can consider a number of other fuel scenarios like the boron cycle which is totally safe. This makes multiple efforts to make a fusion reactor very promising.

The key article in Analog is by Tom Ligon who reported on the subject as early as 1998 and then got directly involved with Brussard. He has published an update in the January 2008 analog.

There is now a necessary belief that fusion energy will be achievable and perhaps even cheap. And its availability will actually eliminate over time all other sources of static energy.

A note to my readers. It has been just announced that a massive deep water oil field off Brazil has been discovered that is several hundred kilometers in length and will contain several billion barrels of very good oil. It will not see the market for a decade but will certainly allow other producers to produce full out in the meantime. Of course, it is not enough to plug the soon to be expanding hole in production but it provides hope that an extra decade of conventional oil may be located in the deeps.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The threee options for global transportation fuel

As should be now clear, mankind has three options capable of supplying transportation fuel similar to what we are used to. That is fuels that derive their energy from the burning of molecular carbon and hydrogen.

As shown yesterday, it appears likely that we can extend the usage of geological hydrocarbons for around a century or so because we are mastering the art of their extraction. This will continue to be cheapest once it is all sorted out over the next twenty years.

The second source is the two stage conversion of wood chips into firstly a bio liquid through fast pyrolysis and then into a usable fuel perhaps through several reforming technologies. Since the first stage is liquid, and the feedstock is sufficient to globally replace oil, the payoff is obvious and the research should succeed.

The third source is algae oil. Research on production is in its infancy and it is still impractical and poorly understood. Did you ever wonder how many centuries it took to master the art of making wine? Same problem. The reward however is a huge leap in productivity on a per acre basis and the ability to preferentially use deserts. And the product will need little processing to use. It is also capable of completely replacing geological oil.

Then it comes down to preferences. The best solution is to successfully harness wood chips, not because of the fuel itself but because of the secondary need to manage woodlands properly worldwide. We truly kill two birds with one stone.

This second goal must also be met if we hope to handle much larger populations. The integration of agriculture, woodland management and the human population is very necessary in order to achieve a fully energy efficient civilization.

The farm and woodland needs access to a community with available surplus labor in order to be able to maximize productivity of the resource. Ultimately that is how we prospered when the only available energy came from our backs.

One reason I totally appreciate the amazing achievement of the Amazonian Indians is the fact that they managed to create terra preta soils with a resultant high population density and a semi urban society using only their backs. If they had had to cut anything, it would never have happened. It simply would have taken too long to both cut material and to build out a proper kiln. Having a crop that could easily be pulled out of the seed bed with its soil contribution made the job possible.

Modern technology allows a small community to have all benefits of the urban world while still integrated with farm and woodland. This was not true ever. Such formal integration must now be planned for and implemented for civilization to achieve maximum energy efficiency while handling much larger populations.

Recall that five condo towers tied to one square kilometer of farm land gives us a population density of around 1000 people per square kilometer. We can all imagine that. Since around 15,000,000 square kilometers are readily available to us for human occupation in some form or the other, it becomes fairly clear that we can accommodate a population of 15 billion without becoming cheek and jowl. The real secret is to plan so energy needs are minimal and self sustaining.

It is all very possible.

As an aside, I have focused on strictly organic solutions to the transportation energy equation. Other options exist but are technically much more challenging and face the natural problem of an inability to integrate at all with the current legacy of gasoline and diesel power plants and engines.

Electrical systems require super batteries that are cheap. This research has been ongoing forever and has not changed anything that matters. And other storage systems ultimately give us the problem of traveling around with a bomb in our fuel tank. Not very likely even though I like a couple of the methods.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Michael Klare and Oil Insuffiency

This rather excellent article can be found at:

Preparing for Life After Oil

By Michael T. Klare, The Nation. Posted November 8, 2007.

Welcome to the Age of Insuffiency: As oil prices hit new highs and supplies sink, our way of life will drastically change.
This past May, in an unheralded and almost unnoticed move, the Energy Department signaled a fundamental, near epochal shift in US and indeed world history: we are nearing the end of the Petroleum Age and have entered the Age of Insufficiency. The department stopped talking about "oil" in its projections of future petroleum availability and began speaking of "liquids." The global output of "liquids," the department indicated, would rise from 84 million barrels of oil equivalent (mboe) per day in 2005 to a projected 117.7 mboe in 2030 -- barely enough to satisfy anticipated world demand of 117.6 mboe. Aside from suggesting the degree to which oil companies have ceased being mere suppliers of petroleum and are now purveyors of a wide variety of liquid products -- including synthetic fuels derived from natural gas, corn, coal and other substances -- this change hints at something more fundamental: we have entered a new era of intensified energy competition and growing reliance on the use of force to protect overseas sources of petroleum.


This article gets all the numbers and facts on the record without been hysterical about it. That option is left to us. I think that we all know that we will not be adding major new production let alone replacing declining production, anytime soon. What has actually happened is that the declines have finally caught up to the oil companies' scramble to produce new oil. When a wolf pack finally runs down a deer, it is silly to think that there is anything left in the tank to fix the problem.

Astonishingly the public is still in total denial as are the political leaders. And perhaps why not. They will face a massive readjustment and it will be uncomfortable and there will be a real struggle to adjust priorities. But in practice it is going to mean that sooner or later, you are going to park your car and utilize alternative transportation.

Those who have followed my carping on the eminence of this painful transition can work their way through the five page article and get fully briefed. The bad news is that it is all true and cannot be fixed.

Everyone forgets that the first oil crisis came about with the peak of US oil production and was actually fixed because Middle East Oil could quickly match demand at $20.00 per barrel.

Today, it is theoretically possible to match demand at $100 to $200 per barrel but not quickly.
That is a huge difference from the seventies when OPEC was showing their strength but their capacity to produce was never in question. Today it is very much in question. In fact, they are likely lying to boot.

Strangely enough there is one possible way that we may be able to extend the age of conventional oil very quickly, although I am loathe to promote it to loudly. I am rather inclined to see the massive conversion to successful carbon neutral bio fuel technologies in my lifetime because it is important that this happens.

Readers are invited to read the recent disclosure statements of Petrobank(PBG.TO)

The company is operating a clearly successful pilot test of the THAI process on deep bitumen based oil. In a nutshell, it has become possible to use a well pair to consistently drain a reservoir at the rate of 1000 upgraded barrels per day. 7api is delivered as 16api which is a huge break. And all the process energy is produced underground with no significant additives.

The reserves available to this new technology is likely almost all the tar sands not now declared as reserves. Since the declared reserves are around 375 billion barrels out of a resource that is thought to be 1600 billion barrels, we are saying that over one trillion barrels needs to be reevaluated.

Since this type of production is not needing any additional natural gas or the like to be built out, the actual roll out can be almost as quick as conventional oil in Alberta. Recall that the three well pairs currently been operated have only been in the ground for about a year. The placement of proper sand handling equipment will allow capacity production. This is under way.

Thus a mere 1000 well pairs draining very small acreage can establish sustained 1000 barrel per day production each which is a million barrels per day. This is completely within the current capacity of Alberta's oil industry. And it can be done year after year displacing the anticipated 30,000,000 barrel global shortfall over the next thirty years.

Of course, at that rate of depletion, even the Athabasca tar sands can be fully depleted within this century. Of course we will still have the same type of resource in South America and there are many additional forgotten strat traps holding this stuff around the world. The method may even work on the Green River oil shales though I am not very optimistic. In the meantime, the tarsands will always be better, particularly since we are mastering them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Nasty nature of pyrolysis oil

As I posted a couple of days back, it is apparent that the exploitation of waste wood whose supply is maximized with better husbandry will supply feedstock that can then be converted through fast pyrolysis into something called Bio-oil. This conversion yields close to 70% by weight fluids, which is a pretty encouraging result.

The initial processing realistically includes harvesting in the form of wood chips, long term covered storage to permit a high level of air drying, and on time haulage to a processor. This is all within the capacity of the agriculturist. So far so good.

The second phase has two more preparation steps. The chips must be ground screened to the size of say coffee grounds and must also be heat dried to bring the moisture content to under 10%. This particularly true in the tropics were dry wood will absorb moisture from the atmosphere.

This material is then shoved through a reactor at a high speed and high temperature to produce the vaporized fluids and some char. It is then condensed to separate out the fluids and process gas.

I assume that we can scavenge the process gas and heat and use same to support the process.

The end result is a heavy cocktail of nasty fluids that is called bio oil, but chemically has little relationship to what we normally use. The good news though, is that this is a fluid that can now be compactly stored, handled, and transported. We also can have as much as we ever thought that we might need. It is actually practical, for a price, to produce a couple hundred millions of barrels per day of this stuff.

The actual energy content of this fluid is about forty percent of conventional fuel oil, which implies that we need at least twice as much to do the job. Extensive research over the past decades has found a way to burn this fluid in a static large engine. However, the nasty nature of this material has precluded anything more refined.

We have produced a fairly uniform and blendable feedstock. Can this feedstock be reformed into a hydrocarbon or alcohol product that we can actually use as a transportation fuel? Certainly there is a great deal of effort going toward that end. We are simply not there yet.

As I have posted, our salient unsolved problem today is the production of transportation fuel. Everything else is completely doable with the tools in hand. Been able to harvest waste wood and converting same into a liquid fuel would eliminate that problem in a carbon neutral way.

I do think that algae oil will present itself as a vastly superior fuel once its production is mastered. However, the benefits to the globe from active management of our woodlands are also compelling and should be economically sustainable if it is integrated into the fuel supply system. We very likely need to master both.

In the meanwhile, the price of oil and the Canadian dollar is on a tear as investors slowly wake up to the reality that the only place on Earth today that has any hope of making up some of the shortfall is in Alberta. And we are all now waiting for the other shoe to drop. That will be the first measured decline in oil deliveries and that information will already be months late.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Climate Chart manipulation and Key Data

I set out yesterday to pull together whatever evidence could be marshaled for annual temperature ranges since the Bronze age. after a short review of the literature, I was disconcerted to recognize that our available information has been aggressively manipulated to play down the Medieval warm spell and more recently to enhance the apparent effect of the recent rise. This last rise has been challenged and debunked. Do not get me wrong. Temperatures have risen as is their natural inclination in the northern hemisphere, but not even to the level of previous optimums as yet. The hockey stick chart was pretending otherwise.

The point that I am making is that I cannot trust the data presented, because scholars have apparently taken political positions and are pushing the limits of the data as offensive as that is.

So how do we get past that difficulty. As I have posted earlier, It is clear to me that the natural tendency of the northern hemisphere is to annually gain a little heat, while the opposite is true for the southern hemisphere. Certainly land distribution alone sets up this unique capacity. This means that the northern hemisphere will sustain a long slow warming trend that goes on for hundreds of years while the south simply gets a little colder. The north will eventually achieve an optimum that will appear quite stable.

More importantly, since the north is generally warming, any measured chart will tend to be volatile upward and very difficult pin down. That means that for any small section, the upward volatility will be the same. The same will not be true for periods in which there has been an injection of cold. The floor will drop dramatically and hold for a long time until warming effects take charge. I am of course positing that an injection of cold water takes place into the Atlantic basin over a fairly short period of time, turning over the heat imbalance that has built up.

What this means is that we need to carefully study the historical record for the onset of North European cold spells. That will typically reset the warming clock.

We had a cold spell kick off in the late fifteenth century, and also the late fifth century and somewhere back in the post 1000 BCE world. The two earliest had the effect of depopulating northern Europe and gave us the Sea peoples(also likely known as the Greeks) and in the fifth century wiped out the Western Roman Empire. This last time around, we merely suffered and overcame. Of course, we enthusiastically invaded the Americas and I suspect that the Indians never noticed the difference..

The point that I am making is that these cold spells are abrupt and very effective. The recovery seems to take around a thousand years. It also appears that the last half is quite balmy, as demonstrated by the conditions attested in the historical record.

Perhaps it is not an accident that the Romans were able to grab Western Europe for 500 years with the state of their agricultural technology.

There is every reason to think that the only important data point(s) on the temperature chart is the onset point of very cold weather, representing the injection of a mass of cold water. The only thing that we do not know is the actual scope of the event. It may last only one season and inject enough cold water to do the job. That would be my preference and supports the abrupt apparent temperature shift.

An alternative is an expansion of the flow rate of the respective currents that is sustained for years. The difficulty with that scenario is that we would have a slow climatic decline rather than the abrupt conversions that seem to have occurred. Of course we will never know for sure until it happens again in perhaps 400 years.

What I am saying is that instead of studying the warm years of the chart, we need to focus on perfecting our knowledge of when it became nasty cold. Remember, that the barbarians who invaded Gaul gathered at the Rhine and waited it for the river to freeze!

The rest of the data can be impacted by everything from Volcanoes to forest fires and who really notices if spring is a week early or not when the effect can be very local. Knowing that a sustained cold spell is not a normal event is very helpful in understanding our options and our temperature charts.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fast pyrolysis and Wood Chips

I attached a link here to a critical review paper on the pyrolysis of wood and other biomass that was published last year in Energy and Fuels(2006, 20, 848 - 889). As I have recently posted, our two options for the production of transportation fuel that can use our current engine technology without a massive overhaul is algae derived biodiesel and wood chip derived oils using heat and or pressure.

Algae, though largely undeveloped offers the promise of a very labor efficient oil and cattle fodder production system operated even on otherwise non agricultural lands. It really lends itself to automatic pumping systems, filter presses and the like with potentially very high yields.

Wood chip processing will produce oil and char through the process of heating. The article gives us an approximate 25% yield for a slow pyrolysis with a 24% char yield as well. Fast pyrolysis promises to give us nearly 75% yield with a 13% char content. Obviously, fast pyrolysis needs to be perfected. Without question pyrolysis will produce a liquid component that I am loathe to call oil as yet but can obviously be processed into a working fuel.

The difficulty of course, is that wood chip production is never going to be particularly labor efficient. We have discussed the need to properly manage woodlands throughout this blog. If woodlands can now produce an economically viable crop in the form of wood chips, we go a long way toward the restoration of the productivity of these woodlands.

The optimal annual yield of an acre of temperate woodland will still be around one ton per year per acre of woodland. The value to the owner operator of this ton of wood chips will need to cover its cost of recovery and removal. With fast pyrolysis we are suddenly looking at around five barrels of oil equivalent production per year per acre. This may actually be financially viable for the owner a participate in with oil in the $100 plus range.

Other occasional agricultural bio waste can also be fed into the system, although the direct value of most of these feed stocks as local bio char will surely dominate.

Again, we face a very significant haulage cost component. A 1000 ton per day processor needs to draw from 365,000 acres of woodland. This quickly looks like 500 net square miles or in country with a minimal woodland component, a draw radius of thirty miles at least. That is a lot of haulage.

And that 1000 ton per day facility will produce perhaps 5000 barrels of oil equivalent and some charcoal. By oil industry standards this is significant but still fairly modest.

The principal benefit of a wood chip conversion system is that it can be easily tweaked to drive good woodland management practices, which has been sorely missing to date. It may even end up been completely self sustaining.

The benefit for the owner operator is that his woodlot is economically self sustaining while he is growing a profit in the form of sawn wood and any fruit production.

The technology will also be easily implemented in the tropics were the wood waste content per acre is several times what can be achieved in the temperate zone. Of course, moisture content will be difficult to manage.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Rise of Tar Sands and new Energy regime.

While the press has slept over the past year. the prices of oil has rather quietly risen from $60 per barrel to the current $95 per barrel. It has happened without geopolitical excuses or a catastrophic drop in specific production anywhere. It has happened because no single producer can ramp up production to take advantage of this rising demand.

This past two months, the price has been moving against the historical seasonal trends and just yesterday the projected inventory gain of 500,000 barrels turned out to be a 3,800,000 barrel deficit. Obviously everyone has accepted the fact the price of a tank of gas is going up. It is also going to be costlier to keep the house warm this winter. This should begin the first gentle wave of oil usage contraction.

I started reporting on this story back in July because all the evidence that was available strongly supported the emergence of a production crisis. It could no longer be increased to make up even for declines. It has been called global peak oil and will certainly be remembered as such. More importantly, the only government in the world that has moved forcefully in an attempt to stay ahead of the problem has been the Canadian Government, and that only because they could with the tar sand resource.

The massive long term investment cycle needed began with the first oil crisis in the late seventies. The government and its industry partners committed the huge financial resources necessary to solve the production problems. Thus while Canada's conventional production peaked at around 1,000,000 barrels per day and has since declined, the production of synthetic crude from the tar sands has moved Canadian production to a current plus 3,000,000 barrels and a projected 5,000,000 barrels of production as our likely optimum production rate.

We say optimum under current technology which uses up an unsustainable amount of natural gas. I personally think that the advent of THAI technology, now been proven out will completely change everything. This is toe and heel production which I described in an earlier post. This method also skips the massive impact on the environment of tar sand mining and hot water/surfactant separation.

The real payoff for those who do not understand the tar sands is that the real geological reserve is estimated at 1.6 trillion barrels of oil or more than the rest of the world combined. We have burned about 1 trillion barrels over the past 100 years, so 1.6 trillion barrels of new oil would tide us over very nicely into the next few decades. In addition, there is another trillion barrels of tar in Venezuela with our friend Hugo should we run out in fifty years or so. And of course there are many strat traps around the world loaded with heavy oil that was simply walked away from. Perfected THAI will access all these resources.

Yet Canada is still the only country that has had the foresight to spend the money and years to advance the necessary technology. And even if it were already possible to tap this total resource, Canada would have to achieve production levels of 50,000,000 barrels per day over the next two decades to replace the pending shortfall in global oil production let alone needed growth.

At that production level, the annual depletion will hit 18 billion barrels per year and it will take around a hundred years to clean out the tar sand reserve and perhaps another hundred years to clean out Venezuela and the other smaller reserves we know about. What I am saying is that is possible, though obviously undesirable to sustain a form of our hydrocarbon based civilization for another two centuries at least.

The real long term difficulty is that this is expensive fuel. It compares fairly directly with the expected cost structure of a wood chip sourced fuel which is vastly preferable.

Since a massive new investment in the production of transportation energy is now eminent when the other shoe drops with the rapid decline of global production, it is now that policy makers can redirect that investment energy into the reforming of the global agricultural and forest paradigm.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Thorium option

We are going to see a huge expansion in the application of nuclear power over the next few decades. It is simply too convenient and too repeatable to not fully deploy. The projected expansion actually puts current known supplies into question as to sufficiency, particularly since breeder reactor technology has yet to be developed. In other words, there are glitches.

This has tentatively opened the door to the exploitation of the Uranium alternative, Thorium. Thorium is superior inasmuch as there are less trans-uranics produced like Plutonium. It actually was the first choice for commercial applications at the beginnings of the nuclear age and has the additional advantage in that it can replace uranium in certain reactors.

The easy and perhaps accidental availability of Uranium has given that metal the lead, but thorium is still a viable option.

What we do know is that Thorium is four times more common than Uranium in the crust. On the other hand, mother nature has done a magnificent job of concentrating Uranium. It is not clear that the same ever happened with Thorium, or at least I am not aware of encouraging information and it is clear that almost no one has been looking for high grade Thorium.

This leads me to an observation that I became aware off thirty years ago when we were evaluating Airborne radiometric highs in Saskatchewan. It was that Thorium was much more common than Uranium. This may mean that low grade thorium is very common and recoverable.

It is just that no one has been given a reason to look.