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Archive for March, 2012

Coal has always been controversial because it burns producing a large amount of soot and other pollutants. When it was first came into widespread use during the industrial age it has already found many uses as far back as 400 BCE by the Romans. The Aztec also used coal but some was more for ornamental purposes than burning it. During the industrial age it was used to fuel industries and heat homes which lead to a thick cloud of soot that hung in the air which made breathing often difficult. The smoke would get so thick that it would not only block out the light from the sun it would seem almost night, or twilight, making it hard to see where you were going. Coal produced a dirty black smoke that left many of the well to do to hire maids and servants that did nothing more than wipe every surface more than once a day to keep the house clean.

That’s the end of a brief history for coal. Nothing has changed much except that with the Clean Air Act and changes in the way coal fired power plants were regulated helped to clean up the air by removing much of the soot. There are still varying amounts of other material that leave the smoke stack but nothing like in the industrial age of the 1700’s and 1800’s when pollution was unregulated.

Currently we in the U.S. get the majority of our electricity from coal fired power plants, around 55%. Along with electricity power plants give us a vast amount of pollutants: mercury, radioactive particles, sulfur dioxide, haze producing particles too small to filter, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, arsenic, lead and carbon dioxide. Anyone trying to sell you on ‘clean coal’ is trying to give you pile of stink. To say it more plain, clean coal is horse shit. There is just no such thing! They would have to remove all smoke stacks and filter out all the contaminants 100% somehow and then get rid of the toxic soup that results. Coal pollutes, end of story.

Coal unfortunately will be with us for some years to come. But, that may not be for much longer. As of 2000 the energy output of coal has been dropping, not because of less energy produced but we have had to use a lesser quality of coal which just doesn’t produce as much energy as the harder higher quality coal we have been using. We have reached the peak in coal energy. There are coal supporters claiming we have at least 200 years to go before we hit peak in coal production, and that may be true but the quality of that coal will only go down forcing power plants to burn ever increasing amounts to produce the same amount of energy. So, who is right? It depends on your view really. I am of the view that if it takes every increasing amounts to produce the same amount of energy then we have hit a peak.

So. what is the answer for our future? Leave coal behind us, in our past. Coal is not only, and will always be polluting despite the clean coal double-speak there are other hidden costs people tend to overlook. Mountain top remove is the worst. Instead of sinking shafts into the ground it is now common practice to remove everything on top, haul it away, then extract the coal, and leave behind a waste land and tailings ponds where nothing will grow for a very long, long time. Some areas can be rehabilitated by replanting but it is becoming less of a desirable thing as it only adds to the cost and cuts into the profits.

Mountain top remove pollutes on many levels: tailings ponds of poisoned water, tailings piles and over burden, run off that chokes a river until it no longer flows, poisoned run off down stream, and then the heavy equipment which uses huge quantities of petroleum. There is nothing positive to say about this method of mining.

To leave this behind we can divert the subsides in every increasing amounts toward Solar and Wind energy instead. Start with as little as ten percent. Then add a pollution tax that goes toward renewable energy only to help home owners to add energy saving devices, insulation, solar panels and maybe a helix windmill. Then every two years move another ten percent from coal subsides toward renewable energy installation nation wide. As we produce enough electricity from renewable sources it is time to shut down the dirtiest coal fired plants first until we have so few left coal fired plants that they can be left as a back up should they be needed while new forms of large scale energy storage are installed.

Of course that is a very simple view there is so much more to it. The idea is that homeowners get the assistance to help us move toward renewable energy sources as businesses should have enough funds themselves to do this transition. As we transition to a new future powered by renewable energy sources some business will not survive and there is no reason to throw money at a business to move from dirty fossil fuels to renewable source if it isn’t going to survive the move.

Coal and renewable sources of energy could live side by side for at least the next 25 years but not much longer or we will never let go of that which is causing health problems, environmental pollution and is one of the dirtiest sources of energy we currently use. It’s time to make our peace and say goodbye to coal.

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This is going to be a short and not so supportive article of nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is not carbon neutral. Nuclear energy is not clean. Nuclear energy is not 100% safe. Nuclear energy is not going to be way to power the future.

Nuclear energy is not carbon neutral. Nuclear energy is not clean.
Let us start at the beginning. Mining the raw material requires huge amount of dirty fossil fuels to extract from the earth, process and finally refine or later reprocess into material that can be used in a nuclear power plant that produces electricity. All along that path there are huge amount of pollution released and carbon dioxide. Anyone claiming it is carbon neutral are only talking about there not being a smoke stack – they literally have blinders on and only see through the very small slit in their blinders.

Then, after the material is all used up and is no longer usable to produce electricity it is sent to a plant that can reprocess it taking out the spent parts and reform the usable material, which is a good idea but it requires energy to do so. It then has to be shipped back to the power plant and this can be repeated several times before the nuclear material ends up in a pool of water for storage on site where it stays until we can figure out what to do with it.

Nuclear energy is not 100% safe.
Nuclear material is unsafe for more than a one thousand life times (1,000 x 80 years = 80 thousand ) and possibly longer depending on the material and the way it is stored. This means that it is radioactive and harmful to all life forms on the planet for the entire time it is radioactive. Not only that there is the problem of tailings from mining and other sources along the path of processing or reprocessing.

Then there is the plant itself which after about 40 or so years becomes unsafe for people to work in as the whole plant becomes increasingly more radioactive. The only safe thing to do it to dismantle it and bury it. We have no other solution at this time.

Nuclear energy is not going to be way to power the future.
I have scoured for articles or any information on how much longer we can expect to mine material for our nuclear power plants and I have found varying time frames. Some say we have nothing to worry about we can use it well into our future while other’s say we will run out around the time we run out of oil, coal and natural gas – around 60 to 100 years. Just because it will be around for another 100 years does not mean we can sit back and do nothing, it means just the opposite. As we get closer to running out we can only expect the cost of it go up, and up as supply declines which means that near the end it will be so costly we just won’t turn on our lights or heat our homes any longer. We shouldn’t be complacent but rather act right now to overt the high costs we can expect in the coming future.

My Solution:
Follow what most of Europe is doing right now, moving toward a sustainable future with renewable energy and conservation. Europe has a three prong approach to the future: make use of all the current available measures that help to cut energy consumption by the maximum, like the Passivhaus. Then add Solar heat (and cooling), Solar Photovoltaic panels and a wide variety of windmills, from large windmills out at sea to smaller helix windmills on roof tops within cities or not as large windmills in the countryside. And last, add measures to help store excess energy in the form or pumped water or with biogas plants built near or on farms.

This is exactly what Germany and Sweden,  among other European countries, are doing to produce all of their own energy within their own borders. Automobiles are also being replace with public transit and bicycles.

Nuclear energy can play a small part as we transition toward renewable energy sources but not for the long-term for the one big issue so many people brush aside – where are we going to keep radioactive material that is harmful to all life forms for such a long time. Some try to mislead you by saying it has a half-life of such and such but that is only represents half of the time required for us to store it safely. What about after that? Nuclear material and everything form tailings to the power plant itself need to be dealt with. The sooner we can close them down the sooner we can move on to something less dangerous to life on planet Earth.

A few references:
http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2010/02/will-we-run-out-of-uranium.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/15/nuclear-power-after-the-flood
http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/nuclear-faq.html
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-nuclear-power-world-energy.html
http://timeforchange.org/pros-and-cons-of-nuclear-power-and-sustainability
http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/nuclear-power-pro-con
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/opinion/sunday/sunday-dialogue-nuclear-energy-pro-and-con.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/15/the-case-for-and-against-_n_781567.html#s178811&title=Con_Its_Safety

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Joyce, sorry for the wait on your question on magnetic motors. No, I have no information on them. I did some searches and found some videos but really no information. The people who claim to have built them say they are producing more energy than is going in. That would violate the laws of physics. Now if it is somehow possible then why aren’t these people building them quietly to produce all of their own electricity, and for their family and friends? They could literally be making electricity to could sell to the utility company each and every month, but that is not happening. I want to see such a motor, have it tested and if it is for real I would produce them at cost for anyone that wanted one.

Until I can verify it for myself I don’t think they work the way some claim and there is no free electricity. It would be better to follow the European example, convert your home to a Passivhaus design (much, much better than Leeds) and then add Solar Photovoltaic panels or helix windmill. With conservation you would produce so much energy each and every month you would be paid by the utility company instead of paying them.

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Another thing. I do have to apologize for the not so good article on hydrogen but I just find the whole thing one big fat joke. It will never power any economy much less your car or home. It is such a scam! Hydrogen is, 1) not a source of energy but an energy carrier, 2) all along the energy path you are losing energy and what you get back in the end is no better than an internal combustion engine, 3) you are better off using the electricity, natural gas (methane or biogas) directly rather than waste energy to convert it to hydrogen. Hydrogen at best may play a small part as a form of energy storage, but a very small part because compressed air and water pumped uphill have better returns. Not only that recently a professor at MIT came up with a battery that can store a good amount of energy for a good price.

We need to stop wasting energy and money persuing hydrogen as a source of energy.

That would have not made a good article either but I dare anyone to look at the data, the research and see for themselves and they will have no other conclusion. Anyone pushing for hydrogen never back what they say with data, they only talk in fantasy, dream like statements of possibilities. They are just full of hot air and if we could harness that we would be energy independent for sure.

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And lastly. I have decided after some thought that I need to add something to this blog to help bring in some, even if it’s small, income. I’ve decided to look at adding some books from Amazon to my posts as a way to make money. I know, I know. I’ve done my research and found that people are no longer making a so called living at blogging, unless they have more than a handful of them each bringing in some money. But, being unemployed and finding it hard to find work that would actually pay the bills I need to look at having more than one income source and this blog is going to be one of them.  I am also looking to teach classes with regard to sustainability, around the Greenhouse Project itself, and what we have to look forward to in the future with regard to peak oil, peak water and peak land. Anyone interested in hiring me to speak at their event please email me. Thanks.

 

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Currently our federal government is wasting tens of billions of dollars on hydrogen research and use.  There are even organizations set up to help take that money all to promote what will never be a source of energy in the future.
[http://gas2.org/2009/07/08/government-funding-for-hydrogen-fuel-cells-program-reinstated/]

A Brief History:

A Swiss Alchemist, Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus, in 1520 discovered hydrogen sort of when he described a gas rising from iron dissolving in sulfuric acid. Robert Boyle also dissolved iron in an acid to create what he called a flammable air. Henry Cavendish from England in 1766 detected hydrogen in a demonstration where he dissolved various metals in sulfuric acid and showed the resulting gas burned. In 1783 the gas was finally names hydrogen by A.L. Lavoisier. In the same year Jacques Charles created the first hydrogen filled balloon.

Jules Verne published the Mysterious Island in 1874 in which he describes in Chapter 33 the use of hydrogen and oxygen to replace coal. Here is the text:

“It is to be hoped so,” answered Spilett, “for without coal there would be no machinery, and without machinery there would be no railways, no steamers, no manufactories, nothing of that which is indispensable to modern civilization!”

“But what will they find?” asked Pencroft. “Can you guess, captain?”

“Nearly, my friend.”

“And what will they burn instead of coal?”

“Water,” replied Harding.

“Water!” cried Pencroft, “water as fuel for steamers and engines! water to heat water!”

“Yes, but water decomposed into its primitive elements,” replied Cyrus Harding, “and decomposed doubtless, by electricity, which will then have become a powerful and manageable force, for all great discoveries, by some inexplicable laws, appear to agree and become complete at the same time. Yes, my friends, I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable. Some day the coalrooms of steamers and the tenders of locomotives will, instead of coal, be stored with these two condensed gases, which will burn in the furnaces with enormous calorific power. There is, therefore, nothing to fear. As long as the earth is inhabited it will supply the wants of its inhabitants, and there will be no want of either light or heat as long as the productions of the vegetable, mineral or
animal kingdoms do not fail us. I believe, then, that when the deposits of coal are exhausted we shall heat and warm ourselves with water. Water will be the coal of the future.”

“I should like to see that,” observed the sailor.

Hydrogen as the coal of the future is kinda like what they are saying about hydrogen replacing oil today. The whole thing is fanciful as Verne, nor any scientist at the time, understood Energy Returned on Energy Invested. That is still a problem today with many people, namely politicians.
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested]

During Nixon’s years in office there was a push to move toward a new energy future using Hydrogen as stated in a great speech that Bush Jr repeated. (Sorry I looked for the speech but I could not find it.)

Why is Hydrogen a waste of our time and money?

  1. Hydrogen is not freely available as it is usually tightly bound up with other things and it is not easy to pry free.
  2. Currently Hydrogen is obtained by pulling it from its bonds in Natural Gas which releases a huge amount of Carbon Dioxide.
  3. To pry Hydrogen from it bonds requires a huge amount of energy and often a high temperature steam. (To get hydrogen from coal for instance requires nearly one thousand degree temperatures, high temperature and pressure steam which leaves behind pollution. Not exactly a clean energy.)
  4. To convert Hydrogen to electricity wastes even more energy and the end result is you get much less energy out than put in. This means that you always need more hydrogen, and more hydrogen, and….
  5. To store Hydrogen either requires very large tanks, high compression to 10,000 pounds per square inch which also requires it to be cooled to -253 degrees Celsius (about -424 F) and that requires special handling and storage.
  6. What sort of environmental implications are there? If we convert sea water to hydrogen then how is sea life impacted? How will weather be impacted with all this new water vapor floating around?
  7. Also, who will pay for the Hydrogen Infrastructure?
  8. One example given (see link below) it would be better to use the electricity produced by a renewable source than the hydrogen as you would lose around 85 – 90 % of the original energy in the process.  Having said that I do admit it could be used to store energy. But how would it compare to compressed air as a form of energy storage?
  9. Hydrogen cars cost a million dollars currently and that price will not come down anytime soon for you to afford one before the oil runs out.

There are other reasons as you can see in the links below. Hydrogen is not our answer to replacing oil or any other fossil fuel. All the money currently spent on hydrogen would be better off being put toward giving all of us free Solar Photovoltaic panels so we can produce our own electricity to help us move off fossil fuels. I would imaging it would actually be cheaper to give us Solar panels than to keep wasting it on hydrogen.

Links:
http://www.recoverybydiscovery.com/hydrogen.htm
http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/hydrogen-economy-fuel+cell/480
http://knol.google.com/k/hydrogen-energy-system-efficiency#
http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-hydrogen-hoax

We should be more sensible than heading down a make believe path that has no hope of taking us anywhere.

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Growing up in the 70s I remember hearing about conservation, using less, as a way to cut both the amount of energy used and the cost of energy. Conservation was just one of the words I had heard. Energy savings, better efficiency and the implementation of renewable energy sources, also known then as alternative energy sources, were being researched. Solar energy was the big one at the time. More efficient homes were also a big topic with many new designs like the envelope house, or homes partially submerged or well insulated with either a trombe wall or passive solar.

Through the later 70s and into the mid-80s we actually saw a drop in energy use, mostly by cutting wasted energy by building better homes , cars that got more out every gallon of gasoline and improved energy usage in appliances. Then Reagan got elected and he proceeded to undo all the success we had.

One of the first things he did was pull the solar panels off the roof of the White House. He then proceeded to undo all the energy savings we had gained in the previous decade and we saw cars go from being energy efficient to energy hogs in the form of SUV’s. Not only did they use more energy they got larger. Homes got larger too and less energy efficient. It was as if the energy shortages of the 70s never existed or the fact that the U.S. went from a major exporter of energy, oil first, natural gas second, to a major importer. We still have a supply of coal but oil and natural gas are running out and Reagan acted as if it didn’t matter.

In 1989 Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute coined the term “negawatt” which meant the watt of energy not used or rather a savings in energy. The negawatt is the idea of reduced energy usage. Today it is seen more as a commodity that can be sold the same as a watt is sold. The idea is that energy that is not used represents not only a savings by someone but reduced pollution that industries finding is hard to become more efficient could use to claim a reduction in their own pollution, namely electric companies.

The true savings lies with someone implementing the energy savings where lasting savings continue after the initial costs have been paid for well into the future especially as the cost of energy goes every skyward.

Around the same time as the idea of the negawatt became known professors Bo Adamson of Lund University in Sweden and Wolfgang Feist from the Institut für Wohnen und Umwelt (Institute for Housing and the Environment) in Germany came up with the idea of the PassivHaus through some research projects starting in 1988. The first Passivhaus residences were built in Darmstadt, Germany in 1990.

The idea of a PassivHaus is very simple. First, you add another pane of window glass for a total of three panes. Then the design of the home or apartment is build in such a way as to reduce escape routes for heat are greatly reduced. The residence is also super-insulated to the point where it becomes sealed as best as it can be from the outside world. Fresh air is pumped into the home via a special duct where indoor air transfers up to 80% of its heat as it leaves to the incoming fresh air to reduce the need to heat the incoming air. The residence then gains most of its heating needs through passive solar, cooking (or appliances), people and pets.

A PassivHaus costs about 15% more and has been shown to be the most efficient home design currently available. In fact a PassivHaus can cut energy usage by 90% which represents a significant savings. The remaining amount can be made up by using Solar or Wind energy making the home no longer dependent on fossil fuels for its energy needs.

Other ideas have also come along that are very similar like the Zero-Energy Building. There is also the concept of home designs where the home itself actually over the course of a year produces more energy than it uses making the home-owner money rather than costing them money.

All these ideas are not new. Passive solar design was well know for thousands of years. Adding insulation to hold the heat in was the idea behind sealing the cracks to cut down on drafts of earlier home designs and later adding drapery to cut heat transfer to the outside was also used. It was the Romans who added pane glass to take advantage of solar gain during the daytime.

The idea of making a home more energy efficient has only grown but lags behind in the U.S. which continues to act as if there is nothing to worry about believing we still have huge quantities of energy at our disposal.

To tie this to the greenhouse, the old designs were all about glass virtually from ground to the roof-top. These were very inefficient and often only a single pane of glass. In the 1970s some of the first passive solar greenhouses were designed. They often only had glass on the south side, never on the north. Some were sucken into the ground while others were above ground. The angle of the south facing glass was also different as it made the best use of the winter angle of the sun, lower than in the summer months. Combined it made better use of capturing the available sunlight to warm the greenhouse when it was needed and used natural draft to remove excess heat in the summer. They also made use of heat storage in drums filled with water or in massive stone works. Some would even pump warm air underground into a bed of large stones to help hold the heat.

These designs have changed little, it has been namely technology has created better windows and materials for insulation, everything else is still the same. Also, the bed of rocks below ground have been replaced with a what is now called a heat battery where a series of pipes run underground transferring heat to the surrounding ground to help even out the temperature throughout the day time and night time.

Being more efficient in our energy use will go a long way to keeping us comfortable in the future.

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A major cost of running a commercial greenhouse is the cost of heating or cooling. Fans run almost continuously. Massive heaters spew out a large amount of heat in the colder parts of the year while some type of cooling system keeps a greenhouse from burning up in the warmer parts of the year. The plants inside have to live in a temperature zone that is right for them or they could die or just not thrive. So the next few articles will be all about energy, the future of energy, types of energy available to us and so forth.

As we are currently headed over the cliff of peak fossil fuel energy and we are faced with some very though decisions – what are we going to replace oil, coal and natural gas with? I will not discuss just how long we have but I do believe in all my research that we don’t have very long and we should be following the lead Europeans have set moving toward a decentralized system of power production and distribution. What that means is all the old paradigms have to go.

Corporate control over our lives currently is what has lead us into a downward spiral we are currently heading in. Economic models aren’t working. Just look at 2007/2008 the start of the decline in world-wide economies that still haven’t fully recovered. Up to the very minute before it was announced and made public we were in a Recession many big name economists were cheering how good our economy was and how policies have made money for a lot of people. Then the truth of the Recession hit and they went silent. In fact many economist went into hiding because they could not explain the economic drop, decline in jobs, businesses going bust and so forth. They only play one tune, not necessarily the truth.

So, these systems for the coming future will have to have some radical surgery done to them and much of these current systems we use or are aware of can not survive past the current generation if life on this planet is to survive. All the old systems have to be cut out in a very radical manner, complete and in a permanent way. These systems have to thrown out and when mentioned we have to talk about how stupid we were and there is no going back unless we want to commit suicide once again. In other words, we have to face the truth of the manner and what we were doing was not in our best interests, or the planets.

As for energy the future will look very differently. Fossil fuels will be replaced with renewable sources of energy – wind, tidal, solar and methane being the primary ones. Current forms of energy – nuclear, coal, oil – will have to be thrown out. Conservation and energy storage will play a big part in the future too. I hope to go into enough detail to make what I’ve come to understand as our way forward understandable so everyone can see what I see. I make no claim to be 100% correct. This will be based on what I’ve learned and nothing more.

I’ll stop this article here and write the first one in this series now.

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