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Corey Barcus
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Corey Barcus

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Google Drops A Renewable Bombshell!

We decided to combine our energy innovation study’s best-case scenario results with Hansen’s climate model to see whether a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 would bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold. Our calculations revealed otherwise. Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO2 levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others. Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon.

Some possible solutions are discussed in the article's comments section.

#energy #economics #renewables #nuclear #engineering    #google  #globalwarming
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Thanks Kim.  Weaver leaves me nonplussed!  He links to my Energy Basics talk as if it's somehow supporting his odd assertions, when it, in fact, covers all energy sources, as it was intended to do even before I knew about TEA!
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Looks like Radiation Superstition is driving this bit of insanity:

The most troubling problem is dealing with the buildup of radioactive water, which is increasing at a rate of 400 tons in the reactor buildings every day, and another 400 tons of lightly contaminated water that seeps daily into the Pacific.


Tepco hopes to discharge tritium-tainted water after diluting it below the legal limit, but it has faced opposition from the local fishing industry. This has left it with no choice but to store the tritium-laced water at the plant.

So, what's the activity of this water?

However, TEPCO is unable to release this water because of current environmental policy issues. Therefore, TEPCO is spraying this water on the NPS site to alleviate storage concerns. Similarly, the NPS has a large volume of tritiated water at a tritium concentration of 103 Bq/m3. The total amount of the accumulated water is increasing at ~200 to 720 tons/day. This volume will eventually challenge the storage capacity.

Radiation Superstition:

#fukushima   #tepco   #water  
Three years after it was devastated by monster tsunami, the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant continues to be plagued by numerous problems as it lurches through the decades-long process toward ...
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+Ian Bradley 

Actually, you have a point. I should have been much more clear in my comment to your post.

Anyway, general mistrust is not going to help you understand this situation. I was trying to teach you something about assessing the health risk of this radiological hazard. If you do not want to learn about it, but make a big fuss over how dangerous everything is, well, I think that is fearmongering. 

Like I said, I will try and help you understand the significance of this contamination.
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The next annual Thorium Energy Alliance conference in Chicago, IL will happen at the end of May. If you are at all curious about the technology that is capable of completely displacing the fossil fuel economy within decades, look no further. These people never get enough attention. Maybe someone can encourage our Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz to attend? It's long past time to talk about process heat and molten salt science!

Hey! +Joshua Topolsky, how about having The Verge cover the conference this year? 

#energy #msr #globalwarming #nuclearpower #thorium  
Hey there Thorium Enthusiasts ,
Enclosed is a link to a real quick video we threw together explaining and promoting the upcoming conference for Thorium, Rare Earth, in Chicago Il. May 29th ( With a tour of Argonne Labs on the 30th ) - if you can repost or send to your friends who can't read that would be great!
If you can make it, That would be even better!
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The new report predicts that far from growing inexorably, "light tight oil production in the USA will peak between 2015 and 2017, followed by a steep decline", while shale gas production will most likely peak in 2015. Shale gas prospects outside the US are incomparable to gains made so far there "since geological, geographical, and industrial conditions are much less favourable.
Overinflated industry claims could pull the rug out from optimistic growth forecasts within just five years
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And this is why the seven sisters are developing the Athabasca Tar Sands. 
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Corey Barcus

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This is a very good summation of the problem we are faced with. It is not pretty, and if civilization as we know it is going to survive this century, we've got to make some exceptional decisions with regards to how we spend our declining resources on energy development.
Singularity, Energy, Complexity, Economy

I'm a Singularity critic.  I can't help seeing Joshie and Post-Human Services from Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story.

There's an IEEE post by Robin Hanson "Economics of the Singularity" which pretends to explain how the Singularity would work from an economic perspective.  I feel it fails, particularly discussing the Industrial Revolution:  "We call this transition the Industrial Revolution, but that does not mean we understand it well or even know precisely how and why it arose."

There are a few matters of interest to how the Industrial Revolution arose, and some precursors were set by European geography, politics, philosophy, and political traditions (separate form politics themselves), all of which set the stage.  But the key feeder of the Industrial Revolution is exceedingly plain to see:  Energy.

+Gail Tverberg provides an excellent analysis of this here:
"The Long-Term Tie Between Energy Supply, Population, and the Economy" (August 29, 2012).

The relationship was recognized much earlier, in 1957, by USN Admiral Hyman G. Rickover ("father of the nuclear navy"):
"Energy Resources and Our Future"

That's a remarkable piece of insight, foresight, and prediction which holds up very well today (his oil exhaustion predictions are fairly close to current estimates, population estimates were low, but he pre-dated the Green Revolution which boosted growth, and then subsequent moderations via demographic effects.  For a military man to anticipate much of the ecology, counterculture, and limits-to-growth movements is really telling.

I'm pretty sure Rickover would have been aware of peak oil as Hubbert's work was published in 1956 and was being discussed at the time, as Google's Ngram viewer illustrates:

(FWIW: Discussion took off markedly after 2000:

Oil isn't just an energy source, it's energy storage

 We can generate energy via renewables, but finding places to store it is a Hard Problem.  Especially in transportation, which relies almost exclusively on it and accounts for 25% of total energy use.  Of the alternatives available:

- Straight biomass use would account for 22% of all plant productivity, without conversion to other forms: (

- Electrification (electrified heavy / light / high-speed rail or EV storage for cars) addresses many needs of ground transport, though battery materials are limited, costs increase, and capacities are limited compared to present.  I suspect we'll see a mixed fleet with several modes of power, as well as greatly increased transit and human powered vehicles (bikes fit cities well).  Technology might help:  self-driving care-share / ride-share services could reduce fleet sizes and increase passenger-miles per vehicle.

- Water transport can revert substantially to wind, though with a significant decrease in speed, service levels, and predictability.  Or biomass-fueled steam.  Though with 1/3 of all tonnage being oil, shipping demand would fall markedly:  Data on shipping energy needs are hard to find, and few energy/renewable research groups seem to publish much on the topic.  While ships are technically suitable for nuclear powerplants, I doubt either the economics nor security aspects of running non-militarized vessels with payloads of nuclear decay products through eel pirate-infested waters at night merits consideration.

- Air transport would be most affected.  I predict an almost total substitution of ground (rail and air) travel, with some lighter-than-air craft (for which solar power is very feasible: topside surface area would provide several times Hindenberg's power rating, though battery or fuel storage would offset lifting capacity).  Heavier-than-air craft would be limited to exceptional luxuries, government, and military use.  Small, solar-powered drone aircraft might be used for observational and similar uses.  The Solar Impulse project has been much criticized be me and others for portraying solar human flight as practical.  It's not.  It's possible, but only just.  Small, light solar craft could work though.

- Some limited fossil fuel use (petroleum or coal-derived fuels) might be still used for specific needs.

- And advances in biofuels or electrically-powered liquid fuel synthesis might also allow for creating at least some liquid fuels, though in vastly smaller quantities than the world has been consuming recently, and much less than would be required to allow the undeveloped world to meet even a small fraction of Western consumption.

Storage is the challenge

Outside of transport (which Kurzweil discusses briefly) the principle challenge isn't so much efficiency as total capacity, scale, and net cost.  National power systems must adapt to changes in both supply and demand, and switching to renewables greatly increases the complexities.  One option is to do away with the grid (localized production and consumption) though I doubt this is grossly feasible.  Storage, on the level of a week or more's total energy requirements, seems essential.

Tom Murphy's "Do the Math" blog shows there's nowhere near enough lead in the world to build grid-scale storage on lead-acid batteries.  Donald Sadoway's liquid metal battery research takes precisely the right approach:  what's cheap and abundant, and how can we turn it into sufficient storage to meet needs, efficiency per kg / m^3 be damned.

Cost, not efficiency, matters

Future energy is about $/W and $/Wh.

There's plenty of sunlight.  Building capacity takes time and money, but it can be done.  Building additional capacity to account for losses in storage, transmission, and conversion is also largely feasible.  Even maximizing solar efficiency (presently practical at 15-25%) pushes up against a hard limit of about 1kW/meter^2 at ground level.

Financing the transition is exceptionally problematic

"Verbing weirds language"  - Bill Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes

"Energy weirds economics" - Dr. Edward Morbius

There's a whole other discussion on how capitalism, banking, financing, and growth play into things, and I'm only really just starting to take a hard look at the steady-state economy literature.  It is, though, another area that Gail Tverberg gets into in detail.  Her background is as an actuary for Towers Perinn, it's rather up her alley.

The short of it:  while economic shortages can drive up prices, they cannot increase physical supplies of something that don't exist.  Nor can economics violate the first law of thermodynamics:  a shortage of energy cannot increase supplies, nor provide substitutes.  _Energy itself is not substitutable_ (though forms of energy are).  The effect on oil prices, as Tverberg points out, is that they tend to get very unstable:  rising as the economy expands, then hitting a level which is unsustainable, triggering a recession (or depression), 

At the same time, established interest of which oil is huge -- the majors are the largest companies in the world by revenues and market cap -- and financial returns on capital tend to favor rent-seeking or short-term returns over long term.  Even established financiers such as John Doerr have found investing in green tech challenging ( 

And the investments necessary for renewable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral energy and infrastructure are huge.  Trillions if not hundreds of trillions of dollars.  Spread over years, but with R&D and other development required, it's still a huge price tag.  Likely dwarfing Kurzweil's predicted $80 trillion return from the Singularity.

And the process is open to many opportunities for failure and collapse. some of which we may well be seeing already.  Compare photos of life in Afghanistan (a marginal economic zone) in the 1960s with today.

I have a very hard time seeing how humanity gets through the next 50 years while maintaining, at least in pockets, not only elements of modern high-technology, but the ability to continue creating and sustaining them.  *Energy enables complexity*, and complexity requires energy.  Most future development paths call for both increased complexity and reduced energy, which ... doesn't seem to work.  What I've seen of the Singularity folk largely hand-waves over this (I'm looking for further information and clarification).  While there are some possible solutions to energy needs (solar looks feasible in raw capacity, nuclear may offer either a bridge or long-term (millenia) solution, though at a huge increase in complexity and additional long-term concerns (waste, proliferation, safety, mismanagement, corruption, and asset ownership concentration).

And it's not just being able to use items we've already built, but to make more.  Chip and pharmaceutical fabs have very stringent quality constraints. They're not feasible with 19th-century technology.  Or even much tech available through much of the 20th Century.

Paul Allen's 'The Singularity Isn't Near'

Paul Allen presents a pretty good general criticism of the Singularity as well: (Kurzweil's response:

From Allen's critique, the "complexity brake" is probably the most salient point.  You deal in technology, and are no doubt aware of two maxims:  "complexity is the enemy", and "we build systems as complex as we do because to make them any more complex would make them unmanageable" -- we're constantly working at or near our limits to manage complexity of design, construction, implementation, support, training, use, etc. (And, for what it's worth, version control systems are part of that complexity management scope).

There are other points as well, Allen notes that Kurzweil cherry-picks from phenomena which represent dramatic advancement while ignoring a great many others which have shown little progress in recent decades -- there are technological limits, and ultimately physical limits which technology can only approximate.

Technology doesn't substitute for energy

Technology can make previously unavailable energy forms available, and it can extract more useful work from existing energy sources.   It cannot create more energy out of whole cloth.   That's a violation of the first law of thermodynamics.

Economic efficiency (GPD/joule and joules/capita) fall with time -- that's part of economic progress. Even net national energy use can fall, as did that of the US through parts of the 2000s, though it's climbing again.  Peak was 2006, and we were below that as of 2011.

But Jevon's paradox states that increased efficiency results in increased consumption.  I suspect that this itself is a consequence of two factors:  technological advance and increased resource availability (as was the case in the 19th century -- humanity was just climbing on the fossil fuel rocket sled).  So the pattern could allow for both increased efficiency and reduced consumption where technology is advancing as resource availability and prices increase.

But:  increased efficiency also generally calls for higher levels of technology, and hence complexity.  CFLs and LEDs are harder to fabricate than incadescent bulbs.  Electronic systems controls are more complex than centrifugal governor.

With increased energy, you're expanding the potential wealth envelope.  With increased efficiency, you're merely getting closer to the walls of that envelope

Tainter and Collapse Theory

There's a whole "collapse" literature out there.  Jared Diamond and James Howard Kunstler are among the more popular.  Among the more compelling theoretical understandings is Joseph Tainter's work:

Unless Kurzweil & Co. can explain complexity, energy, and sustainability (there's some addressing of these points in his book, which I've been stabbing at piecemeal so far), and the transition path to these sources and stores of energy, I'm going to have an exceptionally difficult time accepting his vision even with the issues given above.

Note:  This is long and more of a ramble than I'd like but it's the best stab I've taken yet at a bunch of interrelated issues I've been thinking about.  

I've also omitted a few topics:  climate change (significant, but largely merely putting additional constraints against using fossil fuels), renewables other than solar (may provide a substantial fraction of needs, but solar seems to be the leading option), carbon-neutral (mostly nuclear:  limited known fuel reserves for present technology, a possibly bridging option to a sustainable energy economy, very significant technological challenges, especially for fusion).  

The fundamental problem is addressing the question on this graph:

Thanks for reading this far.  You know who you are.

(Adapted from a post to +Don Marti's stream).
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Corey Barcus

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Let's use an environmentally friendly approach to breed fissile for our nuclear reactors!
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Some anti-proliferation details for a symbiotic fusion-fission power system are presented in this talk at TEAC6 by nuclear physicist Ralph Moir:
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I love this! Thank you David!
I am quoted in this story. “The moral to me is that we need a bigger, more ambitious economic plan than just raising the minimum wage,” said David desJardins, a San Francisco-based investor who serves on the alliance’s board. “We need to tie it together with the idea of shared prosperity.”
Members of the Democracy Alliance say the party’s scope should expand beyond raising the minimum wage.
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Let Egypt's government know that this is unacceptable behavior for a civilized state!
Urgent! Sign the petition, please! Every signature and every minute counts!

To Grand Mufti Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam:

"As citizens from across the world, we are horrified by the mass death sentence handed down to 528 Egyptian citizens in Minya. By all reports the trial has fallen short of the most basic legal standards. As the highest Muslim leader in Egypt, your moral authority is a powerful force for the future of Egypt. We call on you to formally reject this ruling and save these lives."

A kangaroo court in Egypt just sentenced 528 people to death. This is likely the biggest mass execution ruling this century, but one man can stop the killings. 

Egypt’s most important religious figure, Grand Mufti Allam has 10 days to reject the decision. Religious leaders are already condemning the ruling, and as the first Mufti to be elected by his peers, he has a legitimate mandate to be the nation’s moral leader. Let’s create a global plea from people of all religions to provide clemency and block this barbarous ruling.

This was a political show trial -- the military regime is using the firing squad to wipe out the opposition. If the world does not speak up, the consequences for Egypt and the world are beyond dangerous. Sign now to save these lives and stop a spiral of violence -- when one million of us have joined, religious leaders in Egypt will deliver our call for compassion directly to the Mufti.
It’s the biggest mass death sentence ruling this century -- but one man has the power to reject the monstrous ruling and save their lives. Click below to take action and share widely.
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Thank you Egypt!

From the Journal of Radiation Research and Applied Sciences:

Safety assessment of molten salt reactors in comparison with light water reactors

Open Access funded by The Egyptian Society of Radiation Sciences and Applications
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Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) illustrates the role of technology in improving our quality of life.

Not long before his death Joseph Rotblat, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told Jonathan Schell that “The main enemy now is poverty, which we don’t need a war to fight.”[vi]  I agree. The ultimate cause of conflict in the world today is surely structural violence—meaning violence that’s built into the structure of societies by limitations and restrictions on development. 

Satisfying human aspirations is what our species invents technology to do. Some people, secure in comfortable affluence, may dream of a simpler and smaller world. How ever idealistic they imagine such a dream to be, its hidden agenda is brutalizing. Millions of children still die every year in our resource-rich world for lack of adequate resources—clean water, food, medical care. The development of those resources is directly dependent on energy supplies. The real world of real human beings needs more energy, not less. As oil and coal continue their historic decline, as climate change accelerates, that energy across at least the next 50 years will necessarily come from nuclear power and natural gas.
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A good overview of the potential of thorium and the molten salt reactor technology.
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Energy and its role within the economy:

Another lecture by Charles A. S. Hall focusing on Peak Oil:

Peak Oil Postponed? - Charles A. S. Hall

And the following Q&A session:

Peak Oil Postponed? - Q&A

The first lecture on Peak Oil:

Peak Oil Postponed? - Kjell Aleklett
Rewriting Economics:  Charles A. S. Hall - Biophysical Economics

Hall is the originator of the concept of EROEI:  energy returned on energy input.  He's an economist, by way of physics and ecology.

He's literally rewritten the textbook on economics on the basis of physical economic principles -- essentially the ideas I was struggling to fit with how the classical economics texts were written when I was in college.

The strengths of Hall's approach:

1) Is consistent with know scientific laws (particularly thermodynamics)
2) Makes sense of history
3) Gives lie to indefinite growth
4)  Explains residual in Cobb-Douglass (production function) equation & failure of Phillips curve (inflation / unemployment relationship)
5. Gives an absolute limit to market solutions

The video runs an hour.  A slide deck that's similar but not identical is also published here:

His textbook is Energy and the Wealth of Nations  Pricey (as are most texts) with a range of reviews:  strong on content, weak on editing.  I haven't read it myself but will try getting a copy.

Biophysical Economics - Professor Charles A.S. Hall
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This was really quite interesting, but as the rest of the scientific community has weighed in on EROI calculations, we have produced a far better analysis referenced by both of these articles (Thanks Daily Kos & Brave New Climate!):

Several recent analyses of the inputs to our energy systems indicate that, against expectations, energy storage cannot solve the problem of intermittency of wind or solar power.  Not for reasons of technical performance, cost, or storage capacity, but for something more intractable: there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.


Here's the idea in a nutshell: in the US, a kWh of energy (unweighted) costs about 10 cents but it produces about 70 cents worth of GDP, a ratio of 7 to 1. (Note the switch: we're talking money now, not joules.) If we do the same computation in exergy terms, the ratio is 16 to 1.  That means the fully monetary ROI of exergy, for the economy as a whole, is 16. But remember that if we have an exergy source whose EMROI is less than 16, its fully monetary ROI must be less than that -- which means that deploying such a source on a large scale will reduce GDP. The economy becomes less efficient as we deploy less efficient energy sources to run it. As we spend more of our time and effort making exergy, we will spend less making all the other stuff we need and GDP goes down. The flip side of this is that as the price of electricity goes up and GDP goes down, the economic threshold decreases: more marginal energy sources will become profitable.
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Corey Barcus

Nuclear (fusion/fission)  - 
How about a nuclear reactor that can revolutionize the industry and vastly improve our ability to address poverty and global warming?
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If society is to progress on a truly humanistic basis, without being subject to mental epidemics and virulent social diseases to which the subconscious falls an easy victim, the personal consciousness of every individual should be cultivated to the highest degree possible. -Boris Sidis
I am an amateur social scientist looking into major social problems particularly in connection to the Energy Crisis. I believe the current political impasse can be seen as part of the Tower of Babel Syndrome brought about by the Rise of Science in opposition to traditional religious thinking. The underlying cause of the Crisis relates to Net Energy and the discovery of Global Warming, which is likely only to be resolved by developing new, more efficient forms of nuclear energy as part of the Thorium Race. The most promising Green Nuclear technology currently is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.
  • The Evergreen State College
    cognitive science
I do advanced research in the public interest.
scientific literacy
    software developer, 1999 - 2000
  • Equilibrium
    software developer, 2000 - 2001
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