The Ergosphere
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
 

Steven Den Beste misses the mark on thorium

Over on Hot Air, Steven Den Beste claims that thorium reactors are a huge proliferation risk.

Unfortunately, he

  1. oversimplifies and gets it wrong, and
  2. is going to be taken as gospel by lots of people anyway

Here's the real dope, in a nutshell:

That's why nobody's ever tried to base a weapons program on thorium; if it was so easy, Kim Il Sung, A.Q. Khan and Saddam Hussein would have gone that way.  Even the USA realized that neither a weapons program nor a plutonium economy could come from thorium reactors (which we now know is a good thing).  Nobody did because they know more about nuclear technology than Steven Den Beste.

For more information, start with this lecture by Dr. David LeBlanc and the supporting materials.

 
Monday, August 02, 2010
 

Peak coal, 2011?

Using a multi-cyclic Hubbard analysis, researcher Tad Patzek has concluded that the world will experience "peak coal" as soon as next year (h/t GCC).

Several things are obvious:

  1. This is going to be one heck of a shock to the system.
  2. Efficiency will become much more important.
  3. Alternative means of exploiting coal which is otherwise not recoverable, such as underground coal gasification (UCG), will become much more attractive—and perhaps shortcomings such as groundwater contamination will be overlooked.

The study does contain a caveat:  "new cycles could occur if a technological breakthrough allowed mining of coal from very thin seams or at much greater depths, or if non-producing coal districts become important producers."

I believe UCG is one of the wildcards.  Massive deposits of deep, thin or undersea coal are not recoverable by conventional mining, but these could potentially be pyrolized in place and extracted as gas.  With an estimated 3000 billion tons of coal off Norway and strong interest in Britain, coal could return as supplies of Russian natural gas taper off.

This does make it doubtful that carbon emissions would fall very far before rebounding.  Nuclear is looking better and better every day.

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Sunday, August 01, 2010
 

Analysis from posts

GCC has a post on biomass-to-naptha schemes, upgrading pyrolysis oil to hydrocarbons.  The projected cost is $2.11-$3.09 per gallon.  My analysis follows.

2000 dry tons/day = 730,000 tons/year.  The yield is 48 gallons/ton for the hydrogen production scenario and 79 gallons/ton for the merchant hydrogen scenario.  (I calculate the carbon fraction captured in the product to be about 26% and 47%, respectively.  This is not a very efficient scheme.)

If we take the figure of the 446 million dry tons of crop residues as a given, the potential output from this process is 21 billion gallons/year in the hydrogen-production scenario and 35 billion gallons/year in the purchased hydrogen scenario.  (The question of the provenance of purchased hydrogen is significant.)

Even if the biomass supply can be doubled (or tripled), this scheme still falls short of providing BAU supplies of motor fuel.  It can supply the liquid fuel needs of the PHEV component of an electrified fleet.

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