Alternative energy question

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mihaibarsan's picture
mihaibarsan
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Alternative energy question

There's no question that we will run out of natural hydrocarbons, or at least that they will become way too expensive for burning in exchange for energy very soon.

But we do have some energy sources which we can at present consider as unexhaustable: the sun, the earth heat, the moon gravity, wind etc.

And then we have one more: hydrogen fission. We know how to produce it, but it's so powerful that we are unable to harness it and put it to any constructive use with current technology.

Chris touches very briefly alternative energy in the crash course, and stops by saying that currently we can cover only so little of our needs with this alternative.

But isn't this also on an exponential curve, maybe even faster than the oil curve? Does anybody have an idea how this curve would look near the oil one, and how fast could it develop?

Tx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stan Robertson
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Re: Alternative energy question

The actual process of interest is fusion rather than fission. Physicists have been working seriously on its development since at least the early 1960s when I was studying physics. The problems are immense. Current designs would be workable only with very large, hence very costly, facilities. It would be useful primarily for electric power generation, hence not an immediate solution to transportation needs for fuel. Break even (energy out vs. energy in) has not been achieved. It is as least several decades away from being a viable energy source. For the past fifty years, the standard answer for how long it will take to achieve break-even has been "twenty years or so." That could still be the anwer fifty years from now.

Stan

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Re: Alternative energy question

There are two and a half fusion solutions currently under serious consideration.

There's the National Ignition Facility in Nothern California which uses 192 lasers to create fusion - or at least that's the hope. It's still under construction and billions of dollars over budget as well as years behind schedule. I think there's a similar experiment being conducted in the U.K. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Ignition_Facility

There's the Tokamak toroidal fusion reactor which has been tried many times without reaching break-even. The latest iteration is the ITER facility in France. First plasma is expected in 2018. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokamak

Finally, there's the Polywell reactor which is still in the very early stages of development. It has become popular with the fringe crowd as the "solution" to the fusion problem but it's really too soon to tell much about it. So far experients conducted with small experimental models have been called "encouraging" by the scientists and engineers working with it, which is high praise indeed from a gunshy group who have learned, after 50+ years of promising that nuclear fusion is "just around the corner," to be restrained in their comments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell

The reality is that at this point:

1) No nuclear fusion program has had energy break even. So far it has taken more energy to sustain the reaction than has been derived from it.

2) Even if a fusion program is successful at some point in the next 10 years, it will take additional decades to design and construct commercially viable fusion reactors.

3) The number of fusion reactors required to make a significant dent in the world's energy need would be vast. Unless the relatively simple Polywell reactor proves to be an effective fusion reactor it's unlikely that enough fusion reactors could be built in time to avert a world energy disaster of Biblical proportions.

4) The amount of materials and fossil fuels needed to construct all those reactors beggars belief.

In short, I think it unlikely that fusion will play a significant role in energy production in our lifetimes, if ever. Aside from the sun, of course.

Arthur

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Re: Alternative energy question

GeoThermal, wind, Solar, tidal, biofuels, natural gas, magnet, coal and electric.  

 I think if technology is focused on these alternatives more effectively more possibilities and maybe abundance would happen.  Maybe even a few thousand zettajoules

Damnthematrix's picture
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Re: Alternative energy question
mihaibarsan wrote:

And then we have one more: hydrogen fission. We know how to produce it, but it's so powerful that we are unable to harness it and put it to any constructive use with current technology.

 

Excuse me...?  What's  "hydrogen fission"?

Mike.  Renewable Energy consultant (Ret)

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Re: Alternative energy question
mihaibarsan wrote:

But isn't this also on an exponential curve, maybe even faster than the oil curve? Does anybody have an idea how this curve would look near the oil one, and how fast could it develop?

Tx

I agree, there is an exponential curve here, its still at a grassroots level (so perhaps you cant see the curve yetWink) all over the world, thousands and thousands of people are beginning to hack away in their garages at there own alt energy ideas. Thousands of little projects are springing up. I myself am off to the local engineers today with stage 2 of my humble little prototypes, im very excited! which wont change or save the world overnight but they will (i know they will!) provide very cheap solar power for the people around here and indeed in any country with a decent amount of sun

i dont think there has been anything else like this kind of mmovement before has there?. Perhaps a war effort somewhere before. But If we could only incentivise it properly we could put a massive massive massive dent in the amount of fossil fuels needed by the world as a whole and send the exponential curve up to a level where it would make a difference to our predicament

and sure you can mention EIoER and Chris's other equation (sorry cant remember it but it was something like time/money/resources) and you would have a point on the grand scale but it wont make one damm bit of difference to me an my prototypes or anyone else like me banging away in their garage right this very minute

I mentioned what I was doing to quite a few friends and many have said "oh you need to talk to so ands so, he's doing this/ or that" and sure enough there are dozens of people within 50 miles of here all doing little experiments in a mind boggling line up of invention and ingenuity, and dare i use the word here, hope.

Now you may feel tempted to chuck some cold water on my little plans with some fact of other, but that cold water will instantly evaporate into steam where it will either go to underfloor heating or to heat a greenhouse, be stored in an insulated tank for later, or be converted into eleccy with a small turbine, a Stirling engine, or purify drinking water, or even via heat pumps to airconditioning and refrigeration, i could go on all day so please, bring on the buckets!

 barrt

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Re: Alternative energy question
Quote:

I agree, there is an exponential curve here, its still at a grassroots level (so perhaps you cant see the curve yetWink) all over the world, thousands and thousands of people are beginning to hack away in their garages at there own alt energy ideas. Thousands of little projects are springing up. I myself am off to the local engineers today with stage 2 of my humble little prototypes, im very excited! which wont change or save the world overnight but they will (i know they will!) provide very cheap solar power for the people around here and indeed in any country with a decent amount of sun

 

Aha, this is what I'm looking for. Truth is that sun is a bloody good energy source for home heating even when cloudy.

But there are many others (than fusion that is). Anybody has data on how this energy evolved in the past 20 years?

Tx

 

 

 

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Re: Alternative energy question

To the scientists out there: you are CORRECT and I am WRONG. Yes, I meant fusion not fission.

And
yes, could be workable only in maybe 100 years; but if we do make it, it would produce so much energy that it can effectively be used for example to make carbon and oxygen from CO2. 

Really the question is: do we have alternatives in the meantime? Some good data available?

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Re: Alternative energy question

Yes, there is an exponential function.  And its power is virtually unlimited:

"We are awash in energy (10,000 times more than required to meet all our needs falls on Earth), but we are not very good at capturing it. That will change with the full nanotechnology-based assembly of macro objects at the nano scale, controlled by massively parallel information processes, which will be feasible within twenty years. Even though our energy needs are projected to triple within that time, we'll capture that .0003 of the sunlight needed to meet our energy needs with no use of fossil fuels, using extremely inexpensive, highly efficient, lightweight, nano-engineered solar panels, and we'll store the energy in highly distributed (and therefore safe) nanotechnology-based fuel cells. Solar power is now providing 1 part in 1,000 of our needs, but that percentage is doubling every two years, which means multiplying by 1,000 in twenty years. Almost all the discussions I've seen about energy and its consequences, such as global warming, fail to consider the ability of future nanotechnology-based solutions to solve this problem." -- http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0692.html

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Re: Alternative energy question

"We are awash in energy (10,000 times
more than required to meet all our needs falls on Earth), but we are
not very good at capturing it. That will change with the full
nanotechnology-based assembly of macro objects at the nano scale,
controlled by massively parallel information processes, which will be
feasible within twenty years. Even though our energy needs are
projected to triple within that time, we'll capture that .0003 of the
sunlight needed to meet our energy needs with no use of fossil fuels,
using extremely inexpensive, highly efficient, lightweight,
nano-engineered solar panels, and we'll store the energy in highly
distributed (and therefore safe) nanotechnology-based fuel cells. Solar
power is now providing 1 part in 1,000 of our needs, but that
percentage is doubling every two years, which means multiplying by
1,000 in twenty years. Almost all the discussions I've seen about
energy and its consequences, such as global warming, fail to consider
the ability of future nanotechnology-based solutions to solve this
problem."

<sigh>

In the immortal words of Spongebob Squarepants, "Good luck with that!"

Arthur

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Re: Alternative energy question

With all due respect, that is nonsense.....

To start with, solar power is very diffuse.  It is useful, but it will NEVER run hi-tech hi-complexity systems making nano-technology, certainly not on any scale that will keep business running as usual.....

Yes we are awash with energy, but it's like trying to catch individual raindrops to fill up water tanks in a rain shower.

AND I contest the notion that "we're not very good at capturing it".  The house we live in runs entirely off solar power, using the grid to store our daytime surplus.  All our hot water is solar heated, 100%.  In winter, the entire house is 100% solar heated.   We don't own any heaters even though the temperature drops below zero on winter mornings.  It's not capturing it that we're no good at, it's USING it sustainably!  We consume 1/6th of the average Australian electricity consumption.  I'm planning to reduce this further this year, to maybe 1/8th.

What we are lacking, is the political will to implement the ideas I have incorporated in our house.....  and it beats me why.  It's like people think we're living in a cave or something. 

Then you say "Even though our energy needs are
projected to triple within that time, we'll capture that .0003 of the
sunlight needed to meet our energy needs with no use of fossil fuels".  REALLY?  Just what energy source did you have in mind?

Here in Australia, I've calculated that just to meet the targets of building the solar (we have poor wind resources) infrastructure needed to reduce emissions by 20%, would require SIX new coal fired power stations.....  and that's just in my state of Queensland.

You mention the tripling in demand...  I can tell you now, it will never happen, we in fact have to reduce demand by 90%!

Over the last several years, Renewable Energy has been growing at anything from 24 to 30%, a year.  YET, that amount of growth has not even been able to remotely keep up with increasing demand, the RE sector is actually SHRINKING as a fraction of the total energy distribution. 

You also show a degree of ignorance when you say we'll store energy in fuel cells.  Fuel cells are not batteries, they're generators. You feed fuel cells with H2, and get electricity out.   This sort of stuff has been "20 years hence" since forever.  It's still 20 years hence!  To make matters worse, we don't have the resources to make enough fuel cells for everyone on Earth.....  and the cost would have to come down by at least three orders of magnitude.

And now of course, there's the ticklish issue of just where will the money come from....?

Sorry to ruin your day, but these are the facts.  I also used to believe all this stuff, I actually retrained in alternative energy technology thinking there would be a huge future in it, but not anymore.  A pessimist is a well informed optimist.

Mike 

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Re: Alternative energy question
Damnthematrix wrote:

it will NEVER run hi-tech hi-complexity systems

Never say never amigo, ever. its just shortsighted & unwise IMHO. Also I'll wager £5 your Alt energy tech course didnt cover nano materials? and your 2nd line;

Damnthematrix wrote:

certainly not on any scale that will keep business running as usual.....

well business wont be running as usual, we are having a massive worldwide gear down right now as you know, that leaves a whole lot less slack to be taken up. You say you use 1/6th of the typical aussie house and want to increase it to 1/8th, my bet will be that number goes the other way as the rest of Austrailia and the world catches up with you!

You also say;

Damnthematrix wrote:

AND I contest the notion that "we're not very good at capturing it"

I think he is talking about globally. Ok so maybe you capture what? 0.001% of the solar energy that lands on your property, great, but what about the rest of us? we capture wayyyyy less than that and surely that means we're not very good at it, yet.

All meant with the greatest if respect Dtm Smile

 barrt

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Re: Alternative energy question

The trouble with solar panels or other alternative technologies is they seem to take a lot of energy, most likely lots of cheap oil, to build and maintain.   I keep coming back to the simple conclusion the only viable long term solution is to use much less energy. Fewer things, less travel, lots of insulation seem the simplest solutions.  My current solar systems are my garden and the big windows on the south side of my house.  My bedroom is probably cooler than 40F but I'll be quite comfortable tonight under 8 blankets.  Just some thoughts I'm throwing out, which are always evolving of course.

 

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Re: Alternative energy question

"I think he is talking about globally. Ok so maybe you capture what?
0.001% of the solar energy that lands on your property, great, but what
about the rest of us? we capture wayyyyy less than that and surely that
means we're not very good at it, yet."

Actually, I capture 100%!

Every blade of grass, every leaf of every tree, goes into nurturing the soil and the animals who live here with us.

NOTHING leaves this place, and it is constantly improved by every photon that hits it... 

 

BTW, I'm not increasing to 1/8th....  I'm decreasing from 1/6 to 1.8th...!

Mike. 

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Re: Alternative energy question
Quote:

I keep coming back to the simple conclusion the only viable long term solution is to use much less energy. 

I don't believe that using less energy is a solution. We'll be FORCED to use much less energy if oil depletes and we don't have alternatives. Using half of today's oil will only make for a longer agony rather than solve anything.

But if solar is growing today at 30% pa, that is indeed a good sign, and it's also good sign that costs of implementing it are only 3 times higher than we can afford. Cost of new technologies have a way of going down dramatically when people take them seriously.

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Damnthematrix
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Re: Alternative energy question

Green revolution stalls on cheap oil

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Re: Alternative energy question

Thanks MatrixDamner, very good article!

 

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Re: Alternative energy question

I guess no one is actually able to answer the original question, but Damnthematrix has put it best. Most respondents have focused on what direction to take i.e. which alternative energy solution has the best promise, and here is my opinion.

I think our best step is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. LFTRs are a proven technology, research was terminated in 1975. New advances with better heat exchangers and the Brayton cycle turbines make this a highly desirable option. LFTRs can burn our stockpile of radio-active waste from existing nuclear power plants. LFTRs produce little long term radio active waste, or products suitable for making bombs. The radio-active waste produced has a short half life and requires only 300 years of storage as compared to the uranium waste which has to be stored for 10,000 years. There is also much less radio-active waste, 0.3% for equivalent power from uranium. Thorium is plentiful, there is enough in coal ash and mine tailings to power the world for 100 years, and a million years supply can be dug out of the earth. See http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2008/11/thorium-at-googles-tech-talk... and also http://www.energyfromthorium.com/ and click on “Energy from Thorium” and read. We should build a factory to build these in a size small enough to ship on trucks (200MW) and an assembly line will bring down costs. These could be set up all over the world (no worries about nuclear proliferation) and first locations should be to replace coal and oil fired electrical generating plants, because there is already power distribution set up at these locations. Pollution from these sources will be terminated.

The revolution in the transportation has already started. Almost all cars and trucks will be running on electricity instead of gas or diesel in 15 years. Industries currently dependent on oil for energy can be converted to use electricity.

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Re: Alternative energy question
Damnthematrix wrote:

"I think he is talking about globally. Ok so maybe you capture what? 0.001% of the solar energy that lands on your property, great, but what about the rest of us? we capture wayyyyy less than that and surely that means we're not very good at it, yet."

Actually, I capture 100%!

Every blade of grass, every leaf of every tree, goes into nurturing the soil and the animals who live here with us.

NOTHING leaves this place, and it is constantly improved by every photon that hits it... 

 

BTW, I'm not increasing to 1/8th....  I'm decreasing from 1/6 to 1.8th...!

Mike. 

There's no way you capture 100%, no way at all;

Lets say 1% of your land is covered in photovoltaics, this captures maybe 30% of the solar energy that lands on it.

Lets say that 97% of your land has plants photosynthesising on it, this captures approx 3% of the solar energy that lands on it

So, without doing the maths, this means you capture much less than 3% of the solar energy that lands on your property. This, without any room for doubt, leaves room for improvement.

And when you say you are going to use even less energy, that's great. But the rest of Australia is also going to use much less too. For them its going to be a much steeper curve down, meaning that its highly likely that your current use of 1/6th of the use of the average aussie household will likely go up - if they drop their energy use by 25% (which is highly likely) then you (again without doing the maths) will not be moving to 1/8th (as for you, having done so much already, will find it harder and harder to go further) but higher, perhaps to 1/3 or 1/4, who knows the exact figure

The only reason that i point all this out is that i value a discussion with someone so negative on all fronts, its helps me to examine my positive ideas in a critical light which is always a good thing Smile

Your entrenched negativity overlooks and instantly dismisses so many possible positives that it is very interesting indeed to find out more from you. Things like new material advances, new manufacturing techniques, exponential growth in education & learning and science and spirituality; man's ingenuity in the face of problems, heck even the coming reduction in the worlds population (highly contentious i know) all mean good things for the future for those smart enough to survive

The other posters in this thread had some positive, valid ideas that are well worth discussion, you instantly look for a negative to grasp onto as soon as you read a post like that.

We are not all going to die unless we have permaculture and solar power on our own land (even though that is what I am aiming for!)

and God bless the Aussies Kiss

 barrt

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