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Wood, the fuel of preindustrial societies, is half of EU renewable energy

Wood, the fuel of preindustrial societies, is half of EU renewable energy

Source: Ben Adler. Aug 25, 2014. Europe is burning our forests for “renewable” energy. 
Wait, what? grist.org

Preface: By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood. In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable-energy consumption.

Although Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe, with 75% of their land covered in woods, they may not have enough biomass to replace coal when all coal plants are shut down by 2029.  Much of their land has no roads or navigable waterways, so imports would be cheaper than using their own forests (Karagiannopoulos 2019).

Vaclav Smil, in his 2013 book “Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization” states: “Straw continues to be burned even in some affluent countries, most notably in Denmark where about 1.4 Mt of wheat straw (nearly a quarter of the total harvest) is used for house heating or even in centralized district heating and electricity generation.”

There are three articles about wood below. Some other wood energy reports:

2016:  Forests in southern states are disappearing to supply Europe with energy. In the past 60 years, the southern U.S. lost 33 million acres of forests even though biomass is not carbon neutral. Salon

2016: Japan is now turning to burning wood to generate electric power because of fewer nuclear power plants after Fukushima

***

1. The Economist. April 6, 2013. Wood: The fuel of the future. Environmental lunacy in Europe.

Which source of renewable energy is most important to the European Union? Solar power, perhaps? (Europe has three-quarters of the world’s total installed capacity of solar photovoltaic energy.) Or wind? (Germany trebled its wind-power capacity in the past decade.) The answer is neither.

By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can concentrated solar power be used to generate industrial process heat?

Can concentrated solar power be used to generate industrial process heat?

This post is based on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) paper:

Kurup, P., et al. 2015. Initial Investigation into the Potential of CSP Industrial Process Heat for the Southwest United States. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

***

Industries use enormous amounts of fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity to make products like steel, cement, chemicals, glass, and refine petroleum, with nearly three-quarters of energy used in the form of heat. Industry uses 30% of all energy, and 83% of that energy is generated by fossil fuels mainly to create process heat directly, indirectly with steam heat, or to generate electricity at the factory for reliability and to operate machine drive equipment (EI 2010).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is CSP-to-generate-high-heat-needed-by-industry.jpg

It is possible for a Parabolic Trough collector (PTC), which looks like a giant upended cattle trough, to make some of this industrial heat and replace some of the fossil fuels used (mainly natural gas).

But the industrial uses this concentrated solar power collection is most useful for are heat applications from 110 to 220 C (230 – 430 F), especially those processes that use pressurized water or steam.

So that leaves quite a few very important industries out, since they use 2000 F heat or more, such as iron, steel, fabricated metals, transportation equipment (cars, trucks), computers, electronics, aluminum, cement, glass, machinery, and foundries.

Industries where solar industrial process heat (SIPH) might be used are paper, dairy, food, beer, chemicals, and washing/cleaning.   No doubt some processes within other industries like plastics and rubber, textiles, and others also have a need for industrial process heat that’s less than 430 F.

NREL isn’t proposing gigantic, billion dollar concentrated solar power collectors like the ones that take up miles of land in the deserts of California, Nevada, and Arizona.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

One million plant & animal species at risk of extinction

One million plant & animal species at risk of extinction

As usual, no mention of birth control or carrying capacity. 

Plumer, B. 2019. Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace. New York Times.

Extinction rates are tens to hundreds of times higher than they have been in the past 10 million years. 

Over the past 50 years, global biodiversity loss has primarily been driven by activities like the clearing of forests for farmland, the expansion of roads and cities, logging, hunting, overfishing, water pollution and the transport of invasive species around the globe. 

All told, three-quarters of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by people, the report found, and 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished since the 18th century.

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Coming Copper Peak

The Coming Copper Peak

Elon Musk told a closed-door Washington conference of miners, regulators and lawmakers that he sees a shortage of EV minerals coming, including copper and nickel (Scheyder 2019).   Other rare metals used in cars include neodymium, lanthanum, terbium, and dysprosium (Gorman 2009).

***

Richard A. Kerr. February 14, 2014. The Coming Copper Peak.  Science 343:722-724.

Production of the vital metal will top out and decline within decades, according to a new model that may hold lessons for other resources.

If you take social unrest and environmental factors into account, the peak could be as early as the 2020s

As a crude way of taking account of social and environmental constraints on production, Northey and colleagues reduced the amount of copper available for extraction in their model by 50%. Then the peak that came in the late 2030s falls to the early 2020s, just a decade away.

After peak Copper

Whenever it comes, the copper peak will bring change.  Graedel and his Yale colleagues reported in a paper published on 2 December 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that copper is one of four metals—chromium, manganese, and lead being the others—for which “no good substitutes are presently available for their major uses.”

If electrons are the lifeblood of a modern economy, copper makes up its blood vessels. In cables, wires, and contacts, copper is at the core of the electrical distribution system, from power stations to the internet. A small car has 20 kilograms (44 lbs) of copper in everything from its starter motor to the radiator; hybrid cars have twice that. But even in the face of exponentially rising consumption—reaching 17 million metric tons in 2012—miners have for 10,000 years met the world’s demand for copper.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate change risks could cause an American “Fukushima”

Climate change risks could cause an American “Fukushima”

Preface. Nuclear power plants need a constant supply of electric power to pump cool water into a reactor’s core.

Ninety percent of them, 54 plants, have at least one flood risk exceeding their design.

If flooding stops the power supply long enough, as happened in Fukushima, the core can overheat, melting through its container, as well as the nearby spent nuclear fuel pools which unlike the core, are in the open air, releasing deadly levels of radiation.

*** Some excerpts from:

Flavelle, C., et al. 2019. U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Weren’t Built for Climate Change. Bloomberg.

The NRC directed the operators of the 60 or so working U.S. nuclear power plants to evaluate their current flood risk, using the latest weather modeling technology and accounting for the effects of climate change. Companies were told to compare those risks with what their plants, many almost 50 years old, were built to withstand, and, where there was a gap, to explain how they would close it.

That process has revealed a lot of gaps. But Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and others say that the commission’s new leadership, appointed by President Donald Trump, hasn’t done enough to require owners of nuclear power plants to take preventative measures—and that the risks are increasing as climate change worsens.

Ninety percent of plants, 54 of them, have at least one flood risk exceeding their design. Fifty-three weren’t built to withstand their current risk from intense precipitation; 25 didn’t account for current flood projections from streams and rivers; 19 weren’t designed for their expected maximum storm surge; 19 face three or more threats that they weren’t designed to handle.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining

Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining

Preface. Everyone talks about oil spills, but what about the dirty mining that will have a huge polluting footprint on the earth, and potentially destroy the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery among other side-effects? Renewables aren’t cleaner and greener than fossils, and require a hell of a lot of fossils to mine the ore, deliver it to a crusher, blast furnace, and fabrication, all accomplished with fossils. 

***

Sadasivam, N. 2019. Report: Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining. Grist.org

For more than a decade, indigenous communities in Alaska have been fighting to prevent the mining of copper and gold at Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and a crucial source of sustenance. The proposed mine, blocked under the Obama administration but inching forward under the Trump administration, has been billed by proponents as necessary to meet the growing demand for copper, which is used in wind turbines, batteries, and solar panels. Similar stories are playing out in Norway, where the Sámi community is fighting a copper mine, and in Papua New Guinea, where a company has been mining the seabed for gold and copper.

Weighing those trade-offs — between supporting mining in environmentally sensitive areas and sourcing metals needed to power renewables — is likely to become more common if countries continue generating more renewable energy. That’s according to a report out Wednesday from researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. The report, commissioned by the environmental organization Earthworks, finds that demand for metals such as copper, lithium and cobalt would skyrocket if countries around the world try to get their electric grids and transportation systems fully powered by renewable energy by 2050. Consequently, a rush to meet that demand could lead to more mining in countries with lax environmental and safety regulations and weak protections for workers.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why solar power can’t save us from the coming energy crisis

Why solar power can’t save us from the coming energy crisis

Preface. Embedded within the posts below are even more reasons why solar electricity can’t replace fossil fuels.  Meanwhile, all solar and wind do is add to the giant fire of burning fossil fuels and contribute a tiny bit more power, about 4% of all the power we use. But that will end at some point of the maximum grid integration level for a given area which is already happening in California (California hits the solar wall).

* * *

Solar power contraptions require oil for every single step of their life cycle. 

If solar power and concentrated solar power plants can’t produce enough power to replicate themselves entirely, plus produce the energy needed by society, then they are not sustainable.  Oil is used by mining trucks, ships to take the ore to facilities that use fossil fuels to crush the rock and permeate it with petro-chemicals to extract the metal from the ore.  Then the metal is taken by diesel truck to a smelter which can only run on a blast furnace running 24 x 7 x 365 for years to extract the metal for fabrication (these aren’t electric because even one outage would destroy the brick lining). Every single part uses fossil energy to make, and thousands of parts are shipped on diesel vehicles to the assembly factory.  And of course, in all of these steps, workers drive to work to do their jobs, including finally building roads, cement platforms, and electric transmission to connect the solar PV or Concentrated Solar plant to the existing electric grid. 

Wind and solar power require even more fossil fuels

Wind and Solar Power Require MORE Fossil Fuels

Solar is seasonal

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We evolved to exercise and need high levels of physical activity to be healthy

We evolved to exercise and need high levels of physical activity to be healthy

Preface. This is my summary of Herman Pontzer’s 2019 “Evolved to exercise. Unlike our ape cousins, humans require high levels of physical activity to be healthy” in Scientific America. As fossils decline, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll use more muscle power, so get in shape now…

Also, your personality as measured by the Big Five Personality traits will be better if you exercise. Couch potatoes are less conscientious, open, agreeable, and extroverted. The link with exercise was relatively strong. Physical activity predicted personality better than disease burden did (Stephan 2018).

***

Apes are a lot like us, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos share over 97% of our DNA. But the differences are interesting. Our bodies changed dramatically over the past two million years with a larger brain, invented tools, language, hunted and gathered, and our survival depended on lots of physical activity.

We couldn’t just sit around like chimpanzees and eat fruit all morning, nap, groom, then gorge on figs, hang out with friends, group, another nap, and more fruit and some leaves. Likewise, oranguatans and gorillas are also idle and sedentary, spending 8 to 10 hours resting and then 9 or 10 sleeping, walk about 1.8 miles a day and climb about 330 feet, equal to another mile of walking.

Humans who try to slack off this much risk serious health problems. Without at least 10,000 steps a day, the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic disease increases. Sitting at a desk or in front of a TV for long times ias also associated with an increased risk of illness and a shorter life span. Basically, physical inactivity is on par with smoking as a health risk.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Groundwater rise. Yet another climate change threat.

Groundwater rise. Yet another climate change threat.


A graphic showing how sea level rise lifts freshwater, causing groundwater inundation in low-lying areas. Credit: UHM Coastal Geology Group

Preface. In coastal areas flooding is likely to be caused from groundwater rise because as sea levels rise, they won’t only move inland, flooding low-lying land near the shore; but also push water up from the saltwater water table, on top of which is a layer of lighter fresh water. As the salt water rises with rising seas, it will push this fresh water upward. In low-lying areas, that water may emerge from the ground. 

The consequences are that water will leach inside homes through basement cracks. Toilets may become chronically backed up. Raw sewage may seep through manholes. Brackish water will corrode sewer and water pipes and inundate building foundations. And most hazardous of all, water percolating upward may flow through contaminants buried in the soil, spreading them underground and eventually releasing them into people’s homes. The coup de grace will be the earthquakes, which, when they strike, may liquefy the entire toxic mess, pushing it toward the surface. 

The result will be that in places like Oakland, flooding will occur not just at the shoreline, but inland in areas once considered safe from sea level rise. The threat it poses can’t be neutralized with the usual strategy: physical structures that keep the sea at bay. No matter how many seawalls we build, many experts say, groundwater can still gurgle up from below, potentially turning large swaths of the densely populated shoreline around the Bay into unwanted, unplanned, possibly toxic wetlands. 

***

Grace Mitchell Tada. March 25, 2019. The Sea Beneath Us Sea level rise has a gotcha-from- behind twin: rising groundwater. It’s already here. And some experts maintain, we’re not ready for it. Bay Nature

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate change effects on hydropower in California

Climate change effects on hydropower in California

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is drought-dam-lake-oroville.jpg

Preface. The main impact of climate change will be on hydropower in California, which is the largest source of renewable electric power. Besides natural gas, it is the only dispatchable form of power to balance unreliable, intermittent wind and solar power.

But hydropower is often unavailable (i.e. drought, low reservoirs, to provide months of agriculture and drinking water, protect fisheries, etc).

CEC. September 2014. Climate change impacts on generation of wind, solar, and hydropower in California. California Energy Commission Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory .

Excerpts:

The study findings for hydroelectric power generation show significant reductions that are a consequence of the large predicted reduction in annual mean precipitation in the global climate models used. Reduced precipitation and resulting reductions in runoff result in reduced hydropower generation in all months and elevation bands. These results indicate that a future that is both drier and warmer would have important impacts on the ability to generate electricity from hydropower.

Increased production of electricity from renewables, although desirable from environmental and other viewpoints, may create difficulties in consistently meeting demand for electricity and may complicate the job of operating the state’s transmission system. This would be true of any major change in electrical supply portfolio but is especially so when the proportion of weather-dependent renewables- which are subject to uncontrolled fluctuations-is increased.

Climate change may affect the ability to generate needed amounts of electricity from weather-dependent renewable resources. This could compromise California’s ability to meet renewable targets. For example, it is well documented that climate change is affecting the seasonal timing of river flows such that less hydropower is generated during months of peak demand and maximum electricity value. Generating solar and wind power may also be impacted by long-term changes in climate.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Hydropower can’t help with the energy crisis

Hydropower can’t help with the energy crisis

Preface. When fossil fuels are gone, there aren’t many ways to balance the unreliable, intermittent, and often absent for weeks at a time power from wind and solar.  Biofuels and burning biomass is one solution, it’s dispatchable and can kick in at any time to make up for lack of wind and solar, but using biomass as a power source is one of the most destructive ways to generate power as I explain in “Peak Soil” and probably has a negative return on energy invested.

So Plan B for renewable power would have to be hydropower.  That was the main proposal Stanford professor Mark Jacobson had to keep the electric grid stable and up and running.  But in 2017, a group of scientists pointed out that Jacobson’s proposal rested upon the assumption that we can increase the amount of power from U.S. hydroelectric dams 10-fold when, according to the Department of Energy and all major studies, the real potential is just 1% percent of that.  And since dams are so ecologically destructive, there would be a great deal of opposition to even building 1% of the dams Jacobson proposed.

Plus, most states don’t have hydropower. Ten states have 80% of hydropower, with Washington state a whopping 25% of hydro-electricity.

Hydropower isn’t always available.  A lot of water has to be held back to provide agriculture and cities with water, so there will be many times of the year when it can’t be released to keep the electric grid up.

And hydropower isn’t renewable, dams have a lifespan of 50 to 200 years.

Without all that additional hydroelectricity, the 100% renewables proposal falls apart. There is no Plan C because of all the shortcomings of battery technologies.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Vanishing open spaces: population growth and sprawl in America

Vanishing open spaces: population growth and sprawl in America

Before the fossil fuel age began, about 80 to 90% of people farmed to make a living. Since the end of the oil age will send us back to the past, farmland and farmers will once again comprise the greatest numbers of people.  So it’s alarming that on the cusp of peak global production of oil, we’re losing farmland at such a fast clip to development.   We need all the land we can get – in the Great Depression people were hungry, back when there was just a quarter of the population we have now, with 25% of people still farmers, unlike the 2% today. 

Cities were originally built where the best farmland and water existed. As cities and towns grow, they sprawl outwards over this prime farmland – in fact, that’s where 85% of developmental sprawl happens. The United Nations calls this soil sealing – the permanent covering of soil with impermeable materials such as asphalt or structures.  This leads to a total soil loss of food and fiber production, for water to infiltrate and be held and purified, and often increases flooding , the ability of the soil to hold water, loss of purification capacities, loss of carbon sequestration, increased urban heat from the loss of vegetation, and less biodiversity (FAO 2015).

Between 1945 and 1975, enough farms disappeared beneath concrete to pave Nebraska (Montgomery 2007), about 49.5 million acres (77,350 square miles).

Between 1982 and 2010 the U.S. lost 41.4 million acres, 14% of its crop land.  That’s equal to 65,000 square miles, an area as large as Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania

Over a third of all land that has ever been developed occurred in the last 25 years.  If we keep paving over cropland at this rate, it will all be gone in 200 years.   

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book review of Jaczko’s “Confessions of a rogue nuclear regulator”

Book review of Jaczko’s “Confessions of a rogue nuclear regulator”

Preface. After presenting a lot of evidence for why nuclear power plants are inherently unsafe, Jaczko concludes: “There is only one logical answer: we must stop generating nuclear waste, and that means we must stop using nuclear power. You would think that it would make sense to suspend nuclear power projects until we know what to do with the waste they create”. 

Jaczko isn’t the first to sound the alarm on the safety of nuclear power plants.  There’s also the 128 page report by Hirsch called “Nuclear Reactor Hazards Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear Technology in the 21st Century”, or my summary of this paper at energyskeptic “Summary of Greenpeace Nuclear Reactor Hazards”.

I read this book hoping Jaczko would explain why he shut Yucca mountain down.  The 2013 book “Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste” by William M. Alley & Rosemarie Alley, Cambridge University Press goes into great detail about why Yucca Mountain is the ideal place to put nuclear waste.

I have a lot of problems with Yucca being shut down. How is it safer to have 70,000 tons of spent nuclear reactor fuel and 20,000 giant canisters of high-level radioactive waste at 121 sites across 39 states, with another 70,000 tons on the way before reactors reach the end of their life?  

Spent fuel pools in America’s 104 nuclear power plants, have an average of 10 times more radioactive fuel stored than what was at Fukushima, most of them so full they have four times the amount they were designed to hold.

All of this waste will harm future generations for at least a million years, all of these above ground sites are vulnerable to terrorists, tsunamis, floods, rising sea levels, hurricanes, electric grid outages, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other disasters.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

45 Reasons why wind power can not replace fossil fuels

45 Reasons why wind power can not replace fossil fuels

Source: Leonard, T. 2012. Broken down and rusting, is this the future of Britain’s ‘wind rush’? https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2116877/Is-future-Britains-wind-rush.html

Preface. Electricity simply doesn’t substitute for all the uses of fossil fuels, so windmills will never be able to reproduce themselves from the energy they generate — they are simply not sustainable.  Consider the life cycle of a wind turbine – giant diesel powered mining trucks and machines dig deep into the earth for iron ore, fossil-fueled ships take the ore to a facility that will use fossil fuels to crush it and permeate it with toxic petro-chemicals to extract the metal from the ore. Then the metal will be taken in a diesel truck or locomotive to a smelter which runs exclusively on fossil fuels 24 x 7 x 365 for up to 22 years (any stoppage causes the lining to shatter so intermittent electricity won’t do). There are over 8,000 parts to a wind turbine which are delivered over global supply chains via petroleum-fueled ships, rail, air, and trucks to the assembly factory. Finally diesel cement trucks arrive at the wind turbine site to pour many tons of concrete and other diesel trucks carry segments of the wind turbine to the site and workers who drove gas or diesel vehicles to the site assemble it.

Here are the topics covered below in this long post:

  1. Windmills require petroleum every single step of their life cycle. If they can’t replicate themselves using wind turbine generated electricity, they are not sustainable
  2. SCALE. Too many windmills needed to replace fossil fuels
  3. SCALE. Wind turbines can’t be scaled up fast enough to replace fossils
  4. Not enough rare earth metals and enormous amounts of cement, steel, and other materials required
  5. Not enough dispatchable power to balance wind intermittency and unreliability
  6. Wind blows seasonally, so for much of there year there wouldn’t be enough wind

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Utility scale energy storage has a long way to go to make renewables possible

Utility scale energy storage has a long way to go to make renewables possible

What follows comes from my book  When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation , which is also where you’ll find the references backing up what I’ve written below. 

I often get letters from people about energy breakthroughs in biofuels, solar, electric trucks, and so on. This post is about the “record breaking amount of battery storage add in 2018” (go here to read the article). 

To enhance your own evaluation of the constant barrage of happy news in the media, here’s why I didn’t get excited or cheered up and go back to thinking the future was bound to be bright and shiny.

First, let’s go over the four possible ways to store electrical energy. We don’t need to store much now, because we still have natural gas, which kicks in to balance solar and wind power (but not coal and nuclear, which are damaged by trying to do this), and for much of the year provides 66% of electricity generation (along with coal), because wind and solar are so seasonal.

So if the grid is to be 100% renewable someday, which it has to be since the 66% of power coming from fossil fuels now to generate electricity is finite, then utility scale energy storage is essential Let’s look at what it would take each of the four methods to store just one day of U.S. electricity generation, 11.12 Terawatt Hours (TwH). 

The only commercial way to store electricity is pumped hydro storage (PHS), which can store 2% of America’s electricity generation today. But we’ve run out of places to put new dams. Only two have been built since 1995. There are only 43 PHS dams now, and we’d need 7800 more to store one day of U.S. electricity.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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