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View Diary: Three big problems. One simple solution. (126 comments)

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  •  Oil (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mmacdDE

    Doesnt merely provide energy. It also provides feedstocks for a huge chemical industry.

    You can't make medicine, plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc from electrons. you can't pave roads with them either.

    look into the chemicals that make up crude oil sometime. it's absolutely insane how useful the stuff is.

    I'm not saying we can't get off the stuff, but nothing else comes close in terms of utility and energy density for the money. nothing.

    anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

    by chopper on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 06:59:01 AM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  But that said (0+ / 0-)

      there are ways to convert one type of material into another. It might be possible to convert organic waste into something similar to oil, with a similar chemical structure.

      But it would likely take a lot of energy, which has to come from somewhere. At this point, probably oil or a derivative.

      Which really doesn't help much.

      •  A couple of points. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calamity Jean

        1. We don't need to get to zero oil. We need to cut out the majority of our oil. If we cut back drastically on oil used for transportation and grid power, we can probably continue to use oil for "medicine, plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides," and to pave roads. (And if we do land planning right, we'll need much less road construction & maintenance.)

        2. There are processes to turn organic waste into oil, most notably thermal depolymerization. TDP looked set to take off when it seemed the USDA was on the verge of banning animal slaughterhouse waste from animal feed (due to the Mad Cow scare), but that didn't happen, so TDP still hasn't become financially viable. But the price will probably continue to come down, and if we taxed GHG then TDP might be competitive instantly. Further reading:

        http://discovermagazine.com/...

        http://en.wikipedia.org/...

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 11:48:30 AM PST

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        •  That's what I was thinking of (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          HeyMikey

          Thanks for the links.

          I doubt we could ever get to zero oil. But drastic cutbacks would be great.

        •  tdp (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          HeyMikey

          is nice, but much more energy intensive than extracting oil. for now, anyway.

          now, if we taxed GHGs to make stuff like that competitive, oil would cost a ton. like a lot. now, it should cost a ton, but our entire system is based on oil being cheap. so you also have to rearrange our entire civilization and economy to operate on a base energy source that costs many times as much.

          anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

          by chopper on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 06:59:05 PM PST

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          •  Trends are good. (0+ / 0-)

            According to that Discover Magazine article I linked, the TDP process is 85% energy efficient.  It requires 15 BTUs for every 100 BTUs in the feedstock. The fuel gas it generates can power the process, leaving a lot of liquid fuel and useful solids for sale.

            Of course that was 2003, early in the process. Scaling up and refining TDP might have resulted in improvements, or might've shown the efficiencies wouldn't scale, at least not yet. I dunno. But I assume the original figure is still in the ballpark. And can, sooner or later, be improved with experience.

            Extracting oil is getting less and less energy-efficient, and more and more water-intensive. Getting oil from tar sands and natural gas from fracking both require a lot of water; was reading an article earlier today noting the fracking boom in the American west is exacerbating the effects of the drought, taking water away from cities and agriculture. And getting oil from tar sands and shale deposits also requires a lot more energy input than the traditional oil extraction method of just drilling a hole in the ground.

            In other words, the cost of fossil oil is going up--in terms of money, energy input, and water. And the similar costs of TDP will probably drop, as the technology matures. At some point the lines will likely cross.

            As we've noted, that point would come a lot sooner with a greenhouse tax.

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Fri Mar 08, 2013 at 09:32:33 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  which means (0+ / 0-)

              tdp has an EROEI of about 6:1. that's at absolute best.

              that's about the same as heavy oil and some of the really marginal oils we're going after right now. our country was built around oil with an EROEI of about 50:1 or better.

              anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

              by chopper on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 06:51:41 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Those days probably over. And... (0+ / 0-)

                There is of course some oil left at 50:1 EROEI. But not enough for everybody. The average EROEI of today's oil surely must be lower than that, and it's only going to get worse.

                And then there's the water problem posed by tar-sands oil and fracking of gas. TDP actually produces ultrapure water.

                And finally, the energy consumed by the TDP process is internally generated. That's not perpetual motion, since TDP is only unlocking energy that's already there.

                "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                by HeyMikey on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 09:56:25 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I'm not saying (0+ / 0-)

                  Anything about perpetual motion. I'm talking about EROEI.

                  also, tdp needs to be tuned for the feedstock, so it doesn't really work well if you just dump landfill in it. great for disposing of old tires tho, but that won't power our transportation sector.

                  if we're honestly trying tdp, you know we're scraping the bottom of the barrel. which is a real bad sign for the stability of our economy, which is based on free-flowing cheap oil.

                  anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

                  by chopper on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:13:18 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I don't get the pessimism. (0+ / 0-)

                    Worse come to worst, we can build a bunch of nuclear plants. They'll provide all the grid power we need, and all our vehicles can be plug-in hybrids. They'll still need some oil, but a lot less. Nuclear energy might (or might not) cost more than coal or oil, but not outrageously more.

                    As a worst-case scenario for the economy, that's not so bad.

                    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                    by HeyMikey on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 06:42:33 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  well (0+ / 0-)

                      sorry but hybrids don't do much for our addiction to oil. it improves efficiency but we'd still need way too much of the shit. also it's not like nuclear is cheaper than fossil fuels. not even close.

                      of course i'm pessimistic. the only solutions anybody has involve wholesale massive changes to our entire economy and infrastructure and involve much more expensive forms of transportation fuel than our modern country was basically built on. i love a nice liberal fantasy land full of small walkable cities and people working huge community gardens full of organic beets as much as the next guy but i also live in the real world here, and more importantly so does everybody else in the country. you know, the guys who don't want to dig up beets for a living.

                      to me the question is 'why wouldn't anyone be pessimistic?'

                      anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

                      by chopper on Sun Mar 10, 2013 at 07:17:10 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  You're overdramatizing. (0+ / 0-)
                        sorry but hybrids don't do much for our addiction to oil. it improves efficiency but we'd still need way too much of the shit.

                        You don't get the significance of plugin hybrids. The Ford C-Max Energi can go 21 miles without burning any gas; the Chevy Volt can now go 38 miles without any gas. Those ranges will surely improve with competition. This means if you work within the battery range of your car, you drive to work on battery alone; charge while you work; and drive home on battery alone. When you have extra driving to do, you have to burn gas, but most people can cut out most of their motor fuel use with no changes to road infrastructure or driving habits.

                        And changes to zoning laws cost essentially nothing, but would significantly reduce total miles driven.

                        We'd have to beef up the power grid if most car owners were plugging in daily and nightly. Fine. That's doable at reasonable investment. Especially if we deploy widespread solar and wind, so more power is generated near point of use, and doesn't have to be transmitted long distances.

                        also it's not like nuclear is cheaper than fossil fuels. not even close.
                        The price of nuclear is likely to come down with tech improvements on the horizon. But even at the current price, it's affordable.

                        So...

                        the only solutions anybody has involve wholesale massive changes to our entire economy and infrastructure and involve much more expensive forms of transportation fuel than our modern country was basically built on
                        I don't see it. In Europe gas has cost $8 a gallon or so for decades and that hasn't been a problem. (They have problems, obviously, but not due to $8 a gallon gas.)

                        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                        by HeyMikey on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 09:39:29 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  basically (0+ / 0-)

                          everything you're talking about here is technology that is arguably better than what we may have now, but it's not like we can just snap our fingers and replace the cars and trucks that make up our entire transportation sector. plug-in hybrids are not a cure, they're just better than what we have. besides which, miles per gallon is going up in america, but not as fast as the cost of oil. oil is about 6 times what it was in 2000 and rising. plug-in hybrids also do basically nothing for our trucking industry.

                          and 'changing zoning laws' does not magically move people closer to their jobs.

                          as to nuclear, no, sorry. even with better technology it's still very costly to site, build, run, insure and decommission these guys. nuclear has all manner of hidden costs. it just can't compete with fossil fuels currently, and if it becomes cost competitive it isn't because nuclear got better, it's because FFs got worse. which is a very bad sign.

                          as to europe, europe is for the most part designed differently. from a transportation standpoint we should be more like europe, but we can't just up and become europe. it isn't viable at all without a great deal of pain. this is why we are so sensitive to high energy costs and europe is far less so.

                          you're arguing technology, i'm arguing sociology. these technofixes would have a much better chance of 'saving us all' if we started implementing them 35 years ago. but this is like quitting smoking after you're diagnosed with emphysema. yeah, it's never too late to quit, but you're not going to get better.

                          anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

                          by chopper on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 10:26:55 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Half-full, half-empty. (0+ / 0-)
                            you're arguing technology, i'm arguing sociology. these technofixes would have a much better chance of 'saving us all' if we started implementing them 35 years ago.
                            At last, some agreement.

                            Yeah, nothing I'm suggesting is going to make a dramatic difference by next year, or even next Presidential term.

                            But before we can tackle the sociological problem of getting people and corporations and government to change, we have to settle the technology and tech-use questions of what changes they should make.

                            Seems to me there is a package of technologies and tech-uses that would bring about significant change over, say, a decade; and dramatic changes over two decades; if pursued vigorously and consistently.

                            So we have a target. Time to commence pursuit.

                            Nuclear is expensive: Assume you're right that it can't be made much cheaper. Even so, compared to the consequences of climate change, it's a bargain. That again is a problem of sociology/politics, not really tech or even money.

                            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                            by HeyMikey on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 10:48:28 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  a decade (0+ / 0-)

                            is far too optimistic. it takes a great deal of time to construct a nuke plant and get it running, for good reason. it isn't the area to cut corners. much less a hundred, or several hundred, which is what we would need.

                            forcing auto makers to raise average fleet efficiency also takes a very long time to put into effect, and that's for a reasonable rise, not a large one.

                            unfortunately, the rise in the cost of oil and gas does not take nearly as long, as 2008 and years subsequent has showed us. our time to brace ourselves for a tight oil market was decades ago, back when we had the time to develop and implement these technologies such that they'd be very widespread by now.

                            as for the sociological problem of getting americans and corporations to change, good luck with that. we, as a people, and corporations, are willing to change if our backs are truly against the wall, but at that point it's even more 'too late' than it is now. we're not a forward-thinking people.

                            to me, all the cornucopian techno-talk is like bragging about the really great lock you bought for the barn door when it's already open and the horse is long gone.

                            anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

                            by chopper on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 11:08:37 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  WWII. (0+ / 0-)

                            What needs to be done is less of a societal and industrial transformation than WWII was. So it's mainly a question of political will.

                            Will we get off our asses without a climate Pearl Harbor? (The fact we didn't recognize Katrina and Sandy as such argues the answer is No.)

                            Seems reasonably clear that a high enough GHG tax would motivate us sufficiently. Again, that's a sociological-political problem, not a tech problem.

                            Krugman says a GHG tax high enough to prompt significant action would NOT significantly harm to the economy. Krugman in 2010:

                            The Congressional Budget Office, relying on a survey of models, has concluded that Waxman-Markey “would reduce the projected average annual rate of growth of gross domestic product between 2010 and 2050 by 0.03 to 0.09 percentage points.” That is, it would trim average annual growth to 2.31 percent, at worst, from 2.4 percent. Over all, the Budget Office concludes, strong climate-change policy would leave the American economy between 1.1 percent and 3.4 percent smaller in 2050 than it would be otherwise.

                            And what about the world economy? In general, modelers tend to find that climate-change policies would lower global output by a somewhat smaller percentage than the comparable figures for the United States. The main reason is that emerging economies like China currently use energy fairly inefficiently, partly as a result of national policies that have kept the prices of fossil fuels very low, and could thus achieve large energy savings at a modest cost. One recent review of the available estimates put the costs of a very strong climate policy — substantially more aggressive than contemplated in current legislative proposals — at between 1 and 3 percent of gross world product.

                            Let's assume the three years we've wasted since then mean we have to take more drastic action now. Maybe strong enough climate action would now have double the effect on the US and world economy. We're still talking about a slower rate of growth, not economic shrinkage. In fact, the US and Euro economies could use a jolt of Keynesian stimulus, so now is the perfect time to borrow or print a lot of money and spend it on green tech.  Or to induce corporations to spend down their record profits and cash hoards on green tech. But again we come back to politics.

                            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                            by HeyMikey on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 11:38:15 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  asdf (0+ / 0-)
                            Will we get off our asses without a climate Pearl Harbor?
                            of course not. we wouldn't even do so with one.

                            taxing GHGs may not cause a large hit to our economy by itself, but it hardly is an overnight fix. we'd still emit too much carbon and be dependent on oil for many decades. we can't just up and build hundreds of nuclear plants overnight even if we had the will - that isn't a technology issue either.

                            to me, our dependence on oil is much like the climate change problem. people keep saying we can avoid 2C by just 'building nukes', the truth is we're hitting 2C no matter what, and even if we went full-bore building nukes (which we won't), what the hell do we do for the decades it takes to build them all? bike everywhere?

                            my point is, and always has been, what we're talking about now is palliative. and palliative is nice and has it's place, but it isn't a fix. it's far too late for fixes, like with my aforementioned emphysema patient. once you accept that, you still push for changes, but you realize that it isn't going to be painless. it's going to be pretty bad.

                            anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

                            by chopper on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 11:58:46 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I don't really disagree. (0+ / 0-)

                            There is a range of possibilities--from bad to worse to horrible. I agree it's too late to avoid bad. But I think we can still avoid horrible, and that it's worth the effort.

                            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                            by HeyMikey on Tue Mar 12, 2013 at 06:00:26 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

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