18 June 2013

Coal is dirty.

As studies show, electrical energy is directly correlated with economic prosperity and increased human lifespan.  As a result, it is no wonder that the trend across history has been toward increasing energy use and, more recently, electrification.  In the case of less-developed countries, with little access to "clean energy" systems like solar, wind, and nuclear, this electrification is frequently accomplished by burning coal.  Today, let's take a look at some of the health effects caused by the combustion of coal.

First of all, how much coal do we use worldwide?  The World Coal Association (2009) states that worldwide, about 41% of electricity comes from coal.  This number varies, from as high as 93% in South Africa to as little as 41% in Germany (home of the world's largest repository of solar panels).  On a worldwide, annual basis, that comes to a whopping 7678 megatons of coal.  In terms of volume, that's 307 BILLION cubic feet (about 8,300 Empire State Buildings) of coal per year.  Each ton of coal puts off 2.86 tons of CO2 -- a total of 22,000 megatons of carbon dioxide per year, assuming complete combustion.  It's no wonder that coal combustion is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

World energy use by source

Carbon dioxide isn't the only thing coal releases, though.  It also releases sulfur dioxide (a major cause of acid rain), nitrogen oxide (also acid rain, plus smog), small particulates (which aggravate the lungs and other systems), heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, and more), and particles of uranium.  In fact, due to the particles of uranium contained in coal, and released when it's burned, coal combustion releases 100 times as much radioactive material into the environment than an equivalent nuclear reactor.  Wow!  Of course, the actual amount of radiation involved (about 2 mRems / year) is trivial and hardly a health hazard...

The mining industry causes significantly more deaths than industry as a whole.

The real health hazard comes from those tiny particulates, sulfur dioxide, and heavy metals.  These materials mean that residents of areas near coal plants have elevated levels of health problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.  Odds are even worse for the miners -- 49.5 out of every 100,000 coal miners died in 2006.  That's an eleven-fold increase over private industry as a whole.

Want to see a really striking set of numbers?  Check out these mortality rates for different energy sources.  Worldwide, coal accounts for 160,000 deaths for each trillion kWh (10^12 kWh).  Given that we used about 143,000 TWh (1.43*10^14 kWh) worldwide in 2008, that's almost 10 million deaths worldwide due to coal combustion alone.  Compare that with nuclear power, which at 90 deaths per trillion TWh at 13% of worldwide capacity causes about 1700 deaths annually.  Even the renewables (listed in the graph above as 3% "other renewables"), assuming the low mortality rate of 150 / trillion kWh of wind, gives only 643 deaths at a remarkably tiny production rate.  Huge difference.

Energy Source Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
Coal (elect,heat,cook–world avg) 100,000
Coal electricity – world avg 60,000
Coal (elect,heat,cook – China) 170,000
Coal electricity- China 90,000
Coal – U.S. 15,000
Oil 36,000
Natural Gas 4,000
Biofuel/Biomass 24,000
Solar (rooftop) 440
Wind 150
Hydro – global average 1,400
Nuclear – global average 90

Clearly, with all these health problems (not to mention CO2 emissions) we need a shift away from coal for power production.  There are many alternatives.  The United States is currently championing natural gas as the "clean" alternative -- and considering its relatively low death rate plus its lower emissions, it is definitely a step in the right direction as a transitional fuel.

But not even natural gas will provide us with the total non-reliance on carbon for energy systems, or with a truly indefinite supply of energy.  There are a handful of technologies that CAN.  Solar and wind are good, but they are currently limited by energy storage.  The most promising candidate for base load energy with zero emissions is nuclear power.  But given that you're reading a LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) blog, you knew that.  Right?

11 June 2013

Can water be pressurized to form hydrogen?

Recent research from Malcom Guthrie, of the Carnegie Institute for Science, in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Spallation Neutron Source has provided new insight into the ways by which water can be split into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen.

The work uses a stream of high-energy neutrons to observe what happens to hydrogen atoms (i.e. individual protons) when ice is pressurized to extreme levels -- 500,000 times atmospheric pressure.  Because ice crystallizes through hydrogen bonds, these extreme pressures were once predicted to provide an alternative mechanism for water dissociation by direct, high-strength hydrogen-hydrogen bonding.  These predictions appear to have proven true.

Could this:  

be pressurized to become this?

What does this imply for the future of hydrogen production?  My first thought is that these extreme pressures -- half a MILLION times atmospheric pressure -- may make this work impractical for use in real-life situations.  But what if similar effects were observed at more manageable levels -- say, 100 or 1000 times atmospheric pressure.  Could these effects provide a more economical, less energy-intensive mechanism for producing and storing hydrogen molecules, instead of low-efficiency electrolysis?

Source from Carnegie: https://carnegiescience.edu/news/unfrozen_mystery_h2o_reveals_new_secret

04 May 2013

Pandora's Promise - Official Trailer [HD] - In Theaters This June

Richard Rhodes: Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb has, for too long, "...avoided looking at the whole picture..."

Stewart Brand: His book Whole Earth Discipline begins with "We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it".

Mark Shellenberger: "modernist" or "eco-pragmatist". Named a Time Magazine 'Heroes of the Environment (2008)'. 

Mark Lynas: Contributor to Channel 4's What the Green Movement Got Wrong" . He suggested that opposition by environmentalists, such as himself, to the development of nuclear energy had speeded up climate change.

"...can you be an environmentalist and not be pro-nuclear?.."

22 April 2013

Electricity Generated from Fossil Fuels Kills Millions - Who Cares?

Macabre Indifference:
Gruesome and horrifying lack of concern. 

Accurate, justified description of the vast majority of energy users. We really don't give a you-know-what where the energy comes from, as long as it's there 24/7, on demand.

So - will a peer-reviewed paper, claiming nuclear power has saved  1,840,000 deaths elicit more than a mass shrug of the shoulders and a concealed "So What"? I doubt it!

"...Their numbers come from calculating how many people would have likely died due to air pollution over the years, but didn't, because electricity was created by non-air polluting nuclear power plants instead..."

"...Kharecha and Hansen argue that burning coal over the years that nuclear power has been used as a viable energy source, (since 1971) instead of building nuclear plants would have led to deaths from lung related ailments from both the mining of coal, and burning it to create electricity. They have then used the number of deaths in the past from such ailments to project numbers in the future. They say that if the world would convert to all nuclear power by the middle of this century, 420,000 to 7 million deaths could be prevented. The numbers vary so much because they would depend on which energy source  would replace. Their overall point is that nuclear energy is much safer than coal—when looking at raw death numbers—and therefore should be seen as a replacement source for electricity generation, rather than as menace that should be abolished..."

13 March 2013

Parliamentarian: A buffoon or jester who entertains by jokes, antics, and tricks in a circus, play, the Houses of Parliament, or other presentation.

Could any highly paid, professional body of people come up with such a pathetically comical statement as this, and not be compared with clowns:

"...it is worrying that DECC does not have any contingency plans in place for the event that little or no new nuclear is forthcoming. Crossing one’s fingers is not an adequate or responsible approach when the UK’s legally binding climate change commitments and energy security are at stake. For a department whose principal priorities are to ensure energy security and carbon reductions, DECC appears to be overly reliant on aspiration and hope. While we share the Minister’s hope that new build will be delivered as planned, we nevertheless recommend that DECC begins exploring contingency options as a matter of urgency..." 

The above statement comes from Para 5 of 'Recommendations' of this Report, 
from the Energy and Climate Change Committee: 


Climate Change Commitments - A Joke! What difference would it make to the outcome, if the UK did not generate another single kilogram of carbon dioxide? - Not one Jot! But what a good way to collect votes, if you give every interested party a bit of what they want. It may mean another 4 or 5 years in a job.

I Repeat

23 February 2013

"...don't say No Nuclear Power, say Better Nuclear Power..."

The interview with Robert Stone starts at 27:10.

28:40 Robert Stone: "...the core reason why people are against nuclear energy is because they conflate it with nuclear weapons..."

29:54 Ondi Timoner: "...nuclear....this big scary thing....it may actually be the only thing that saves us from climate change..."

31:01 Robert Stone: "...I have no problem with wind power. I have no problem with solar power....you just can't power the world as it is now, with those; they just can't scale..."

31:14 Robert Stone: "...by 2050 we're going to need 3 times the energy that we have now - 3 times..."

31:58 Robert Stone: "....an enlightenment environmentalism....we're here, there's gonna be 10 billion of us....we're not gonna be retreating....the reality is we're gonna keep encroaching....how do we make that encroachment as environmentally benign as possible..."


38:59 Ondi Timoner: "...there are not that many great films that could spark a movement. this is one of those films..."