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On A Path to Carbon-Free Ammonia?

I should add that the hydrogenation of either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide is exothermic, and in fact that the delta G of formation is negative - energy is released -  meaning that one could actually run a Brayton type turbine from a mixture of compressed hydrogen and compressed carbon monoxide, especially as water is one of the products and would condense on cooling.     

It is the formation of the hydrogen and carbon oxides (in one conceivable case) from waste biomass that is endothermic along with the splitting of water, this being the direct conversion of heat energy into chemical energy.

August 21, 2014    View Comment    

On A Path to Carbon-Free Ammonia?

With advanced nuclear, we can avoid, I think, losing 60% of the energy available as heat from nuclear fission.

This type of system would work very much like a combined cycle gas plant, with a Brayton and Rankin cycle involved, as well as some hydrogen cycling.

There are really no existing reactor types that can do this; maybe some of the Gen IV plants, if built, would be able to reach something like 60% exergy conversion.

I've recently been reading some older literature from the 1960's through the 1980's on fast reactors.    I think the corrosion LBE issue has been solved - I'm personally a pure lead kind of guy, although I am amazed that there are so many wonderful coolant possibilities out there - we can really improve the nuclear exergy.

It does seem to me that we can do better than 60%, maybe even 70% exergy conversion to do this.   I recently calculated how long - it's on the order of centuries - humanity could survive with decent energy wealth standards for all humanity, just using the uranium that's already been mined and isolated, as well as thorium containing lanthanide tailings and isolated thorium.

We could close every damn energy mine, fracking, oil, coal, traditional gas, and even every uranium mine (this for a long time) if we simply understood and embraced what is already known.

It's really sad to see how far along we were on the road to a nuclear wonderland in the 1980's, only to be interrupted by popular enthusiasm for that very venal fool Amory Lovins, and those who followed him or assisted him into the pied piper abyss which we now approach.

Thanks for your kind words.


August 20, 2014    View Comment    

On A Path to Carbon-Free Ammonia?

The idea that EV's are acceptable is extremely dubious on thermodynamic grounds, at least with the existing electricity infrastructure.   One merely needs to count the number of energy transformations and shipments to see this.   In my first post here I referred to a paper in Environmental Science and Technology showing that in China - where 100 million EV vehicles are already in operation - most of them scooters - the electric cars - were as bad, in terms of particulates in air pollution as diesels and actually worse than gasoline powered cars.

The EV car is the worst idea in energy since, well, the car itself, irrespective of the dubious popularity of this scheme.    Besides the thermodynamics, there is a toxicological issue of metals, electrolytes, etc.

The electric car is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

I gave my reasons for thinking so here:

Happily of the one billion cars on this planet, a trivial number of them are electric cars.

(The Chinese electric scooter, by contrast, is a pretty clean vehicle compared to about everything else, except for the thing that it replaced in China, the bicycle, which was the main form of transport in China for much of the last half of the 20th century.)

In general, I oppose the car culture in its entirety, and believe that every effort should be made to reduce the reliance of humanity on this awful exercise in distributed energy.

I note that a complain about flammability would extend to all internal combustion engines.   People are killed in gasoline fires all the time, and the reason we don't care is because it's relatively common.   If gasoline fires that kill people were as widely published, and published as hysterically, as stories about radiation from Fukushima (which hasn't killed anyone) we might actually pay attention to the tragedy that gasoline represents.

Although I oppose the car culture in general, I am hard pressed to find any fuel for it that can match DME.   It has a remarkably short atmospheric half life, on the order of 5 days; it easily removed from water in spills, it has a high critical temperature and, I think you may wish to check this, the HC profile is absurdly small when compared with any dangerous fossil fuel.    Any complaint you have about DME is far worse with the more widely utilized fuels gasoline, natural gas, propane, diesel fuel, etc.

I note that DME will never have the transport problems that electricity has, nor does it's use depend on utilization cycles; it's inherently stored energy, energy that I note is readily accessible from nuclear energy, albeit not with the kind of reactors we use now.

I believe that some kind of self propelled vehicle, things like tractors, buses, ambulances are acceptable, although none will be without risks to health and the environment.    The best we can do is to try to minimize, combinatorially, risk.

I've been collecting papers on DME for quite some time, probably in excess of a decade, and the only thing that stuns me is that something can be quite so good without being broadly accepted. 

I have always found the argument that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and for that matter, the enemy of the excellent.

By the way, I think the idea that thorium is superior to the uranium/plutonium cycle is way oversold.   Thorium has many attractive properties, to be sure, but it also has some drawbacks when compared to uranium and thorium, most notably with respect to the U-232 problem.

Although I disagree with you, thanks for your comment.

August 15, 2014    View Comment    

On A Path to Carbon-Free Ammonia?

Thanks, Nathan, for your comment.

In the paper, they report as ">30%" the Faradaic efficiency for the synthesis of ammonia, but in the paper's abstract, they indicate that the overall Faradaic efficiency including hydrogen as 35%.   This suggests much energy is lost as heat.   How much of the heat can be recoverable to add exergy through some sort of utilization is not clear at all.

Another issue will be the production of steam, which will also impact the overall efficiency of the system.

Lately, in my private time, I've been exploring ideas - some of which were explored in the golden age of nuclear creativity, the 50's, 60's and early 70's, but were abandoned at a time when they knew far less about materials science than we do today - involving some very high temperature nuclear reactors, running at temperatures way over 1000 C, it seems possible that with what we know now, we might consider getting to 2000C.    It is easy to imagine incorporating some steam generated during temperature step downs being diverted to this process (if it's viable) thus improving the exergy profile.

I also like the oxygen side product.    Many of the schemes one sees for combustion systems using carbon compounds in enriched oxygen environments.   This offers many environmental advantages.

These days one reads a lot of papers about chemical looping, which often amount to metal oxygen carriers to allow carbon - be it dangerous fossil fuels, biomass, or combustible waste garbage - to be burned in a pure oxygen environment.    Theoretically in these systems one can eliminate the need for smokestacks and collect pure, or nearly pure carbon oxides as a result of combustion.

However there is no intrinsic reason that these kinds of systems cannot be built using electrochemical (or thermal cycle) oxygen.    In the latter case, there are quite a number of thermal cycles that can produce a 50:50 mix of carbon dioxide and oxygen, an atmosphere with which one could imagine doing wonderful things.

This of course appeals to me, since I'm a DME kind of guy.   Since you're an ammonia guy, I hoped you would enjoy this post, and I thought of you immediately upon coming upon the paper.

However there are two ways that this electrochemical ammonia system could provide pure oxygen.   The authors report that the cell ran both on air and on purified nitrogen.    Running it on air, if one can avoid diffusion of oxygen toward the cathodic gases, one would be stripping nitrogen out of the air, leaving a residue greatly enriched in oxygen and the noble gases.    As above, this purified oxygen might well be used as described above.

As for water, the authors report that these kinds of cells can actually use the hydroxide ion, and not water, as a hydrogen source.    Thus it may be possible to control the water level of the final product to low levels, or alternatively, to freeze it out.    I don't think it would prove to be a big problem if this system was, in fact, scalable.

Have a nice weekend, my friend.

August 15, 2014    View Comment    

On What are the Capacity Factor Impacts on New Installed Renewable Power Generation Capacities?

The statement you make that "Today the cleanest and most efficient source of power and heat generally comes from natural gas," is, if nothing else, to my mind, tragic.

I will never agree that any form of energy which resulted in the unrestricted dumping, as of 2010's EIA figures - it seriously worse today for sure - of 6.4 billion tons of dangerous fossil fuel waste into the atmosphere can only be called "clean" as a joke. 

(This calculation ignores the fact that the second worst climate forcing gas is methane.)

But, regrettably, I don't think you intend this a joke.   Like too many people in these times, you actually believe it.

It takes about 31 years for a billion seconds to pass, something we forget when throwing around the word "billion."   When I try to imagine the scale of this, I'm left like Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness, muttering as he dies, "the horror! The horror!"

I will say this for dangerous natural gas - which easily kills more people each year than either Chernobyl or Fukushima did, albeit with no one shedding a tear for any of the dead - it has had a very successful marketing campaign.   I personally want to throw up when I hear the term "clean natural gas" but one hears it flying around all the time.

Of course, successful marketing is not necessarily ever the equivalent of reporting any kind of truth.

Cigarettes, too, had a very successful marketing campaign:  If one looks back, one can find ads claiming that cigarettes good for one's health.   It seems impossible today to believe that actually happened, but it diid.

Understanding this, I can imagine what future generations will have to say about "clean natural gas."   Regrettably the effects of a belief in "clean natural gas" will most likely be more awful than even a belief in healthy cigarettes ever was.

August 6, 2014    View Comment    

On What are the Capacity Factor Impacts on New Installed Renewable Power Generation Capacities?

Well Jon, I have to respectfully disagree.

I don't believe that any, never mind all, so called "renewables" need development.   What they need is to be abandoned.   Despite 50 years of rote cheering for them, they have clearly failed on a grand scale, expensively failed.

I also disagree with your contention that I have overstated the risk of natural gas.    Two centuries from now, how will any survivors of this short term exercise in immediate gratification regard the results of a shattered continental crust, leaching god-knows-what minerals into whatever water flows through them, never mind the residuals of the fracking process itself?

I ask myself this question everytime I think or read about this issue: Much of the current issue of Environmental Science and Technology consists of papers about the risks of this myopic enterprise and it's telling how many papers among them include in the title, the words "risk" or "impact."

If one looks into it, one can learn that mines closed more than a century ago represent serious environmental risks, acid leaching, heavy metal contamination of water supplies, etc, etc.   Now, if one recognizes that compared to modern industrial mining - done by huge powerful machinery rather than miners with pick axes and shovels, members of populations that were miniscule compared to modern populations, one should, I think, be more than passingly disquieted.

This is why I am a supporter of nuclear energy and only nuclear energy, because the energy to mass density of the materials required for nuclear energy production is enormous.    We have right now, without operating a single mine - more than 1.6 million tons of depleted uranium isolated and above ground.    Converted to plutonium, this material represents the energy requirement - at current rate - of two centuries of all the output of all energy sources on this planet.   I'm sorry, but I can't justify processing billions of tons of semi conductors and the like - even if I believed it possible that it might work (I obviously don't) - in a quixotic effort to make a cute, but deficient source of energy, when we have all this available all this uranium ready and available for use, potentially allowing us a future for centuries without operating a single energy mine of any type.

This greenwashing of dangerous natural gas and the silly quest to return to the 18th century's renewable "nirvana" suggests that we don't give a hoot about the future; we are culturally a myopic and self serving set without the slightest regard for those who come after us.   Thus when the future refuses to forgive us, as I believe they will, they will be well within their rights.   We simply will not deserve forgiveness and what will remain of and for us, as memories, will be nothing but contempt.



August 5, 2014    View Comment    

On Can Nuclear Make a Substantial Near-Term Contribution?


Note:  This post was intended as a response to Robert Bernal's comment on the thermal cycle below, but ended up here by mistake.  I will leave it here in any case. - NNadir

Nevertheless, if one supports nuclear energy on environmental grounds, as I do, the fast neutron spectra is definitely superior to the thermal cycle.

It is not enough for any scheme to rely only on internal costs, but it must also calculate external costs, the costs to the environment and human health.

Nuclear energy is already superior to everything else on the basis of an external cost calculation, but it can be made even better.

It can be shown that with the fast neutron cycle, the uranium and thorium already mined can support all of humanity's energy needs for well more than a century.     Since the chief external costs, albeit trivial costs, of nuclear energy are all involved with mining and enrichment as well as radon releases from depleted uranium, these costs can be eliminated almost entirely using a fast neutron cycle.

One may carry on endlessly (and ignorantly) about garbage about nuclear explosions and other tortured stuff as is taking place in this thread - albeit not with you - but the fact is that dangerous fossil fuel waste kills about 40 million people a decade, and mining and transport of dangerous fossil fuels, as well as dangerous fossil fuel accidents and dangerous fossil fuel wars add further to this death toll.

In any comparitive analysis, it is very, very, very, very, very clear that nuclear energy saves lives, and it follows that anti-nuke ignorance costs lives.

The types of reactors we have built in the last half a century, while producing an enormous success that led to saving millions of lives and preventing much environmental damage that have otherwise occurred, have been successful at restraining the use of coal, but no so much oil and gas.

To phase out the mining and use of these last two very obnoxious fossil fuels we need other types of reactors.   

I note that the main fast reactor that has been built, the sodium cooled LMR is not a very good design in my view, although people still build them and all of them are superior to coal plants, but we have only scratched the surface of possible fast reactors.    In a wise world we would not focus so much on the past - and I include the LFTR in looking backward - but use the enormous body of knowledge that we have obtained in material, chemical and other physical sciences to build reactors vastly superior to even the already superior reactors we have built and continue to build.

These, in my view, should emphasize the fast spectrum, and include both the plutonium/uranium cycle and the thorium/U-233 cycle, with full utilization of minor actinides.    It is feasible, although probably not likely, given the power of fear and ignorance, to completely eliminate every fossil fuel mine - every oil well, every gas field, and every coal field - as well as, for that matter, every uranium mine for a very long time to come.

We probably are too stupid to do it, but it is possible.

It astounds me to no end that we have failed to recognize this very real possibility as a species.   It's almost a kind of suicide.



August 5, 2014    View Comment    

On Utility Clean Energy Deployment: Do Enough Customers and Stakeholders Care in Virginia?

Why should consumers insist on moving to distributed energy?   I would argue that this is contrary to their interests, particularly if their interests are concerned with their health and the health of the rest of the world.

The largest single example of successfully commercialized distributed energy in the world is the automobile, which can hardly, given its environmental impact, be considered an example of "cleaner energy."

The assumption that distributed energy is cleaner and safer than centralized energy is highly dubious.   Anyone who doubts this should consider whether he or she can more safely dispose of mercury from, say, a CFL bulb, than can a huge corporation with high level scientists who understand mercury's chemistry and who are prepared to deal with it in bulk.

The fact is that solar cells, in particular, which often contain toxic materials, will ultimately result after they have failed, in becoming distributed pollution, much as motor oil and car exhaust became distributed pollution.    It is very, very difficult to contain diffuse and distributed pollutants.

August 5, 2014    View Comment    

On What are the Capacity Factor Impacts on New Installed Renewable Power Generation Capacities?

The serious environmental problem that so called "renewable energy" has is that even if it reached 50% capacity somewhere - it won't, but let's suppose it did - this extraordinary waste of money and resources would still be dependent on dangerous natural gas, which in the mind of any serious environmentalist with a long term view, is nothing other than disasterous.

Natural gas is not safe - even if we ignore the news every few days when a gas line blows up somewhere killing people about whom we couldn't care less - it is not clean, since there is no place to dump its waste; it is not sustainable; and the practice of mining it is a crime against all future generations who will need to live with shattered, metal leaching rock beneath their feet, and huge amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

And let's be clear, so called "renewable energy" is nothing more than a scheme to entrench this natural gas tragedy.    As for the entirely questionable economics of this disaster, it ought to be immediately clear on inspection that any system requiring intrinsic infrastructure redundancy will be less economic than a single system that operates nearly continuously.

The fact is that worldwide - with billions of people living in poverty - we sank a trillion bucks into this wasteful so called "renewable energy" scheme over the last decade and it has no real effect on environmental disaster before us.



As the OP points out, this stuff doesn't last very long before breaking down.   The situation will be much, much, much worse when this trillion bucks worth of short lived stuff has to make its way to landfills.   Trust me, that's not far off.


August 4, 2014    View Comment    

On Can Nuclear Make a Substantial Near-Term Contribution?

Why the word "can?"

The word is "is."

Nuclear energy is simply the world's largest, by far, source of climate change gas free energy.  Period!

It has already produced as much energy as would have resulted in the dumping of 64 billion tons of carbon dioxide, roughly the equivalent of two years worth of dangerous fossil fuel dumping, at current rates.

No other form of energy has prevented as much dangerous fossil fuels from being burned.    No other form of energy has produced annual amounts of energy exceeding tens of exajoules per year and resulted in as few deaths.   If the dangerous fossil fuel industry - which kills something like 30 to 40 million people every decade - were required to meet nuclear standards, it would be shut, and with it, the so called "renewable energy" industry which depends upon it.

Without nuclear energy, the atmosphere would have passed easily over 405 ppm carbon dioxide this year.    As it is, it passed 400 ppm, mostly because of appeals to fear and ignorance against nuclear energy.

Seen in this light, the doubts about nuclear border on environmental insanity.


July 31, 2014    View Comment    

On Hurricane Sandy Is Ushering in a Smarter Power System

I live in New Jersey.   I lived through Hurricane Sandy.    I huddled in my living room, no power, my foot bleeding for hours wondering if a tree would come through the roof and kill my family.   (Happily, except for my injury, my losses were much less than many other people in this area; my losses were minor.)

What I heard before the storm was that Oyster Creek, which easily produces more electricity than all the so called "renewable energy" capacity in the entire State, was going to kill everybody when it washed out to sea.   One could hear the anti-nukes salivating in hopes of a "nuclear disaster" that they could elevate beyond the natural disaster, a la Fukushima.

Oyster Creek is still there, and still producing more electricity than all the so called "renewable capacity" in this state, much more cheaply, much more reliably.

In a bit of irony, since I despise the bourgeois money sucking useless "renewable energy" industry since it's chief effect is to entrench dangerous natural gas, I had destroyed solar cells lying on my street.   I think they were "First Solar" cadmium jobs, that had been hanging off a telephone poll in a paen to wishful thinking.    It took several months before someone came to haul the trashy things away.

I almost certainly didn't produce as much energy as was burned by the truck that idled during its installation.

Hurricane Sandy was a terrible event, something no one living in California could imagine, any more than most New Jerseyans can imagine a large powerful earthquake.    The difference between earthquakes and the hurricane is that the hurricane was an extreme weather event, the type of event the frequency of which people attach to climate change.

More than a trillion bucks has been sucked out of the world economy for the "renewable will save" affectation in the last decade.   The result has been nil.   The planetary atmosphere blew threw 400 ppm of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide this May at the typical accelerating rate.

Like every other state being sucked into the "renewables will save us" scam, New Jersey is rapidly becoming a dangerous natural gas hell hole, a situation that will be all the worse once Oyster Creek is forced to close.

It rather upsets me that the renewable energy scam likes to revel in the disaster of Hurricane Sandy to score points.   It's a useless, and if one must know, rather toxic industry that will never be as clean, as safe, as reliable nor as affordable as nuclear energy.   Saying how great Hurricane Sandy was for renewable energy is, frankly, obscene.    In contrast to nuclear energy, the so called "renewable energy" industry - which is supported by people who care not a whit about dangerous fossil fuels and the massive death and destruction they cause, but prattle endlessly and insipidly on about "nuclear dangers" -  would not collapse in a New York second without fracked gas.   The waste from that gas, and the other dangerous fossil fuels on which the so called "renewable energy" industry depends for its existence, kills millions of people each year, and is driving a very dangerous game of climate change Russian Roulette.

Spare me, please. 

Have a nice day tomorrow.

July 31, 2014    View Comment    

On Solar and Other Renewables Maintain Lead in U.S. Generating Capacity Installed

Well said, although truth be told, no matter how well its said, and how often its said, it will not get through.

Despite decades of pointing this clear and unambiguous fact out, the chief thing that the so called "renewable energy" industry generates is complacency not energy.

This is most unfortunate, because if there's anything dangerous in these times, complacency would be it.

In time this obvious attempt to deliberately confuse the issue will be seen for what it is, a crime against the future.

July 25, 2014    View Comment