The Ergosphere
Saturday, December 03, 2016
 

Fast, cheap, good biofuels: Can we have all 3?

Converting biomass (lignocellulose) to high-quality liquid fuels has been a huge, costly headache since the first log was retorted to make wood alcohol.  Acid hydrolysis of cellulose is costly and leaves lots of sulfate to deal with.  Enzyme hydrolysis is also costly in materials and typically slow.  Various types of pyrolysis have their good and bad points, but while some products like "liquid smoke" flavoring are never going to go out of style while people still eat barbecue, none appear to have ever made it as a source of commodity energy fuels.

That may have just changed.  Even more interesting, the crucial advance hasn't come from a chemist or an agronomist, but astrophysicist Frank Shu.

Dr. Shu's second career may wind up being of world-changing importance to mankind.  As part of the company which he founded, Astron Solutions Corporation, he has re-thought the process of pyrolysis.  Rather than heating biomass in a stream of hot gas, his advance is to use a molten salt as the heat-transfer medium.  The volumetric heat capacity of salt is hundreds or thousands of times as great as thin hot gas, which radically increases the speed of the pyrolysis reaction.  It also allows the separation of the heat-generation and pyrolysis steps (not unlike processes such as chemical looping combustion).  Last, because hot salt can be supplied separately from the stream of off-gas from the pyrolysis step and even driven counter-flow, large molecules can be thermally cracked to lighter gases and coke rather than escaping as troublesome tars.

The (seminal, I think) paper from Astron Solutions Corporation is publicly available.  Pay particular attention to Table 2 on page 3.  The thermal characteristics of the molten salt medium yield an off-gas which is effectively a clean syngas needing no further processing before use in synthesis.  (It's also a HOT syngas, which may be significant.)

That synthesis is a matter of choice.  There are a host of available catalysts which each favor different products.  However, there are vendors of turnkey methanol synthesis plants which take streams of CO, CO2 and H2 and produce CH3OH.  Methanol is a room-temperature liquid which makes a good motor fuel, and is also a basis for further synthesis (e.g. Mobil's Methanol-To-Gasoline process).  That seems hard to beat for a first cut.

Analyzing Table 2 in more detail, I get this:

Bio-product
Amount (kg)
Heating value
(MJ/kg)
Moles
Char/tar
6.00
26.46?
N/A
Water (H2O)
11.00
0.00
611.1
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
0.10
0.00
2.27
Methane (CH4)
0.74
55.50
46.25
Carbon monoxide (CO)
1.48
10.11
52.86
Hydrogen (H2)
0.68
145.80
340

Of these products, water is waste (though it can be used to wash residual salt out of char) and methane is essentially unreactive under reducing conditions.

One's eye is drawn to the last entry.  Hydrogen isn't much by mass but it makes up the whopping majority of the molar quantity of the products after water.  If a catalyst reacted all the CO and CO2 with hydrogen to make MeOH (it would make about 1.76 kg), there would still be 227 moles of it left.  This suggests that about 2x as much additional carbon could be converted to CO and reacted to MeOH.  This CO could come from e.g. gasification of the char fines in the salt mixture.

If 90% of the remaining hydrogen could be converted to MeOH, it would consume 2.45 kg of carbon and make an additional 6.54 kg of MeOH for a total of 8.30 kg.  Finding a way to recycle the methane and convert it as well would add another 1.48 kg for a total of 9.78 kg.  This is a liquid fuel yield of almost 49 wt% from wood (albeit 50% oxygen by weight).  It would also leave about 3.5 kg of char, almost 100% of it carbon.

If this yield can be produced from lignocellulose in general, a not-unreasonable 500 million tpy of biomass would produce over 240 million tpy of methanol and 87.5 million tpy of stable fixed carbon char.  At a density of 0.79 this comes to over 80 billion gallons of MeOH, some 5.2 million barrels per day.  If 80% of LDV motor fuel can be replaced by electricity via PHEVs, that would do for the remainder with plenty left over.

The remaining carbon char, if buried, would sequester 87.5 million tpy of carbon (some 320 million tpy of CO2-equivalent).  Char reportedly holds soil nutrients and increases water retention, improving fertility.

These are not the only possibilities.  If air-separation plants can be made small, cheap and reliable enough, the excess hydrogen could instead be reacted to produce ammonia.  I've read brief claims about catalysts which are fairly specific for ethylene as a product, rather than methanol.  Both are liquid at reasonable temperatures under relatively moderate pressure, so are easily shipped.

Motor fuel, plastics, fertilizer, a third of a billion tons of CO2 sucked OUT of the air... when can we get started? 
Saturday, November 12, 2016
 

Bleg: Clean videos of A-tests

I need some video of an above-ground nuclear test, shot from the ground, with no watermarks and the original sound with no music or voice-overs.  Everything I can find has some problem or other, and the original versions are buried way down the search results by all the crapped-up and promoted copies to the point where I wore out before I could dig that deep.

ADVthanksANCE. 
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
 

Quote without comment

... nuclear currently provides 75% of France’s electricity, supporting a 90% non-fossil grid, all without advanced batteries or [s]chedulable BEV charging. California is proposing to move to a renewable-rich grid (a 50 or 55% non-fossil grid), over a couple of decades, only to be 5 times dirtier than today’s French grid.
This is fraudulent environmentalism, and should be condemned in the harshest terms.
Nathan Wilson

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Sunday, July 03, 2016
 

The weather right now



An update for the region today:

 
Thursday, June 30, 2016
 

What KQED and FAIR aren't fair to

Straight talk.  I posted this to KQED's discussion of the Diablo Canyon shutdown last night:
But as more renewable energy comes online, running renewables, natural gas and other power sources all together sometimes creates more power than the state needs. At those times, the California ISO has to switch off solar farms to avoid overloading the grid.

Retiring Diablo Canyon could help with that problem.
So instead of turning down some unreliable generators which can only generate at peak for maybe 3-4 hours a day (and never at the peak demand hours in the evening), they propose to kill an emissions-free generator which runs at peak 24/7.

Why isn't the word "insane" applied to these people?  Or, if denial of the threat of climate change is a crime, the word "criminal"?
The nuclear plant is designed to run at a steady, constant level. Nuclear advocates have argued that the state needs this kind of “baseload” power. Others say shutting down Diablo could actually improve grid management.

“It will reduce the need to curtail our solar power plants,” said Cavanagh.
It's hard to say what's nuttier here:  that the logic of curtailment is totally backwards, or that nobody dares to say that it's totally backwards.  It's as if California's government and media are run by paranoid schizophrenics who freak out over the potential of some tiny radiation exposure from a nuclear power plant, and then relieve their tension at a natural hot-spring spa where the waters and air are full of radon and radium... which come from decaying uranium.

In a California that was not ruled by the insane, the state would be building out its entire base-load to be carbon free.  Diablo Canyon would be pushed to renew its licenses to the 2040's and beyond.  San Onofre would be repaired and running.  Rancho Seco would still be on-line, and Bodega Bay would be one of the jewels of California's GHG-free generation portfolio.  Generators which cannot run when needed would take a back seat to those which can, and all air emissions would be taxed either internally (via preferences and feebates) or explicitly.

Sadly, nothing about California's energy priorities is sane.  Not one thing.

And this comment in reply to TeeJae at FAIR a couple days ago:
Your attempt to counter studies you’ve never seen is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s laughable.
I've seen Jacobson's "work".  I could tell it was fraudulent from the ridiculous level of precision it specified.  His "Solutions Project" specifies that Washingtion state could power itself with 0.5% wave devices, 0.3% tidal turbines, and 35% onshore wind.  Really, he can specify these things to a tenth of a percent?  And he can rely on on-shore wind for more than a third of total generation, when the wind over the entire BPA area can go AWOL for almost 2 weeks at a time?

Have you looked at the personnel at The Solutions Project?  There are a bunch of "directors" and a "producer", but not one engineer or scientist on the staff.  It is staffed like an ad agency, which it is.  Its product is not science; it cannot be.

You ruinable religionistas need to be forced to live according to your own dogmas until you either prove them workable or die trying.  If I didn't have you bums insisting that I MUST NOT BE ALLOWED NUCLEAR POWER, I'd be just fine year-round TYVM.
If my desire to protect people and planet makes me a “sorry excuse for a human being” in your eyes
Protect people and the planet from WHAT?  You're certainly not protecting either from climate change or air pollution; if you were, you'd be steadfastly opposed to the Energiewende and the shared German/Danish idiocy of burning coal to make up for the vagaries of wind.

If you wanted to protect people from air pollution, you'd look at the success stories.  Toronto hasn't had a smog action day in some time.  Not coincidentally, Ontario shut down its Nanticoke and Thunder Bay coal-fired power plants.  This was made possible by the restart of nuclear reactors at Bruce Point.  Are you so deluded that you think this is NOT protecting people and the planet?
what does your desire to protect corporate profits say about you?
You are so stupid.  I tell you how much corporate profit is destroyed by the cheapness of nuclear fuel, and you accuse me of wanting to protect those profits.  Were you born that dumb, or did you have to study?
Bringing fossil fuels into the discussion is another tell-tale sign of a pro-nuclear shill. Despite your best straw-man efforts, fossil fuels are irrelevant to this topic.
Fossil fuels are irrelevant to the health of the planet?  WTF?!

You're either a climate denialist or insane.  It's impossible to tell which via this medium, but the total logical disconnects in your statements indicate one or the other.
Neither of these comments will see the light of day under the censorship regime of these two "press" outlets.

This country, and especially its media, need a long trip on the Straight-Talk Express.

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Friday, June 17, 2016
 

Radiophobia continues to keep people from their homes - NOT Japan either!

In the Marshall Islands.  Here's the money quote from the abstract of a paper on the continued "unsafety" of living on the former nuclear test site:
Measurable excess radiation could be expected from the decay of 137Cs produced by the US nuclear testing program there from 1946 to 1958. These recordings are of relevance to safety of human habitation and resettlement...  and relatively high gamma radiation on the island of Bikini (mean = 184 mrem/y = 1.84 mSv/y)...  the standard agreed upon by the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) governments (100 mrem/y = 1 mSv/y). External gamma radiation levels on Bikini Island significantly exceed this standard
Meanwhile, external gamma radiation levels on the beach at Guarapari exceed 53 μSv/hr ( > 460 mSv/yr), and the international radiation protection community says nothing.

Everyone should be allowed to go back home in Chernobyl, in the Marshalls, and in Fukushima.  Right now.  This is insanity.

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Thursday, June 09, 2016
 

Getting steamed by nuclear power

District heating has been big in the Big Apple since the eighties... that is, the 1880's.  The whole island of Manhattan is cris-crossed with steam pipes which occasionally make the news.

On a whim, I tried to find the price of steam in Manhattan.  I was somewhat surprised when I found it.  Steam goes for about $31 per thousand pounds, and each pound carries about 1200 BTU of energy.  This comes to roughly $26 per million BTU, or a bit under $25/GJ.

NuScale doesn't give the output conditions of the steam from its reactor, but it does give the turbine throttle pressure:  475 psia.  This yields a minimum temperature of ~462°F (239 C).  ConEd distributes steam at about 165 PSIG and 358°F (which has to be a typo, as this temperature/pressure is compressed water; real temperatures would be slightly superheated at 375°F or more), so if the NuScale was used for district heating there's some room for a topping cycle to drop the steam pressure.

The NuScale boiler inlet water spec is 300°F; assume 500 psia:  h = 627.7 kJ/kg.  Steam at 475 psia/275°C (reasonable PWR SG outlet conditions) has h = 2946.1 kJ/kg, Δh = +2318.4 kJ/kg.  Dropping this to 180 psia/saturation yields h = 2784.9 kJ/kg.  (I did not check the entropy to see if the steam would still be superheated.)  Δh = -161.2 kJ/kg.  Roughly 6.9% of the input heat is convertible to work even if high-pressure steam is tapped off for district heating.

 6.9% of 160 MW(t) is 11.1 MW, which is more than enough to cover the NuScale house loads of about 2.5 MW per unit.

Assuming up to 145 MW(t) of steam output, this comes to 522 GJ/hr with a value in excess of $12,500 per hour.  If this can be sold at 30% capacity factor, revenue from heat sales would be on the order of $33 million/year.  A NuScale unit selling for $6/W(e) installed would cost $285 million; $33 million/year in heat sales alone would be a greater than 11%/year return on investment not including electric output.

If New York could be gotten off its paranoia over nuclear power, this could be YUGE.



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Monday, June 06, 2016
 

Watts Bar Unit 2 synced to the grid and generating power

Short item at Nuclear Street.


 
Friday, June 03, 2016
 

Where to find scientific illiterates? Physicians for Social Responsibility, that's where.

The BAS just published a guest piece by one Steven Starr, among whose howlers I pulled this gem:
many individual pools contain more cesium-137 than was released by all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests combined. These utterly lethal radionuclides will require some form of supervision for hundreds of thousands of years....
Clue for you, Steven:  Cs-137 has a half-life of 30.17 years.  Roughly 90% of it disappears every century.  In 3 centuries spent nuclear fuel is so low on gamma-emitters that it can be handled with gloves, and in 5 all the Cs-137 and Sr-90 are effectively gone and the spent fuel has LESS activity than the raw uranium ore from which it came.  What remains has such low activity, and most of it alpha-emissions, that you're probably more at risk from heavy-metal poisoning than radiation if you eat it.  Those risks are pretty low, too; the "UPPU" group who got significant body burdens of plutonium through accidents show no related ill effects.

If physicians actually wanted to be socially responsible, they'd learn something before spouting off.  It's a pity that this guy is a senior scientist and not a physician, otherwise it might be possible to charge him with malpractice and get him out of the fear-mongering business.  Sadly, PSR is just a front group for well-heeled anti-nuclear interests; if they were subject to real medical and scientific discipline, it might be possible to make them ACTUALLY serve the cause of social responsibility.

 
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
 

The kabuki corpses of failed Green ideas: dead, but preserved and weilded by puppeteers

Atomic Insights has what appears to be a new Green troll.  He dredged up the tried-and-discarded concept of shrouded wind turbines from a post at NBF.  Such ignorance deserves derision, and I gave him some:
Check this out.
http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/08/japan-has-wind-lens-turbine-design-that.html
Oh, look, a rehash of a concept from the 1970's that went nowhere then for the same reasons it is still going nowhere.  It's a huge fixed structure that will collect hundreds of tons of ice in winter storms and can't be feathered against high winds.  It's still subject to the Betz limit and can't generate wind when there isn't any.
(NB: wind turbines with shrouds and diffusers are a very old idea, older than nuclear power IIUC.)
How would the Johnny come lately nuclear community/industry rebut this?
Perhaps you should ask the people at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution why they thought coal-fired steam engines were so great when they had wind for free; you might learn something.
Why would Japan or Asian nations — or we — continue nuclear plans or startup now?
Why would any serious movement recycle BS concepts that they KNOW cannot work to actually eliminate fossil fuels, unless they are secretly working to protect fossil fuels?
 
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
 

Watts Bar Unit 2 has gone critical

Local article:
Licensed reactor operators at Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Unit 2 project reached a major milestone at 2:16 a.m. EDT, Monday when the unit's reactor achieved its first sustained nuclear fission reaction.

Also known as achieving "initial criticality," TVA says Unit 2 is now generating heat under its own power....




 
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
 

Quote without comment

... in our modern world it does not take too much time to learn enough about almost any topic to be able to recognize propaganda and sift interest group messaging from more accurate information. You don’t need fancy degrees or position titles. You don’t even more than very moderate resources. All you need is honest curiosity and the ability to pay attention to the world around you.
Rod Adams
 
Thursday, April 28, 2016
 

The Energy Collective keeps going downhill

The site administration for The Energy Collective is not doing its job.  Perhaps it is not competent to do its job.  Regardless, a simple matter like users unable to log in should be responded to and fixed quickly, right?

Not really.  I'm logged into Wordpress, but on TEC I get this:


So, it claims I'm NOT logged in, but when I click the login link I get this:


Two complaints to support@theenergycollective.com have neither produced a correction nor received a response. (Neither have any previous complaints.)

At this rate, it won't be long before the site is history.

Edit 4/28 19:20 EDT:  After the firewall problem was fixed there was ANOTHER problem, but that finally got fixed too.  However, this suggests that things are not tested before going to production.  That is going to bite badly... again (like the HTML conversion debacle and the continuing failure to support list tags).  
Thursday, March 31, 2016
 

The Energy Collective collapses due to gross incompetence and inability to accept criticism

The Energy Collective was recently taken over by Energy Post.  This didn't have any visible consequences until just a couple days ago, when Energy Post attempted a conversion of the site from Drupal 6 to Wordpress.

I've been using Wordpress for years, and had no real complaints about it.  But this conversion... it was like having the Library of Congress edited and reprinted by Mad Magazine.  EVERY BIT of formatting in copied posts and comments was completely stripped out.  Not just blockquotes and lists, but bold and italic tags were removed—irrecoverably, I was told.  Here's what I put in the "new look" thread:
I couldn’t find this post in the last 10 screens of old posts (which took a VERY long time to sort through) so I wound up posting it in the newest post also.  I only re-discovered this because it wound up listed in the new comments.
Among the problems we now have:
1. List tags aren’t allowed. Not flagged, just stripped without notice.
2. ALL hyperlinks to previous posts/comments are defunct, 404. Nobody thought to implement redirects for them.
3. ALL formatting has been stripped from the copied-over comments. Indents, italics, things distinguishing quoted material from new text… stripped, and vast amounts of intelligibility utterly destroyed in the process.
4. The link to change to “oldest first” sort doesn’t work.
5. Comment hyperlinks are now harder to use than under Drupal. Instead of simply having a link, one must (a) click the “link” icon, (b) click inside the box that appears, (c) select-all and copy (3 keystrokes minimum), (d) click in the address bar, (e) right-click and then FINALLY (f) select “paste-and-go”. Whoever came up with this should be removed from all administrative roles, effective immediately. It is beyond outrageously stupid, it is malign.
6. Worst of all, attempting to use the permalink on an only comment (first in the thread) did NOT link to the comment, but the “respond” box! I was able to get the correct comment link using Domain Inspector (the comments section is not included if you “view page source”), so it’s obviously available to whatever generates the page and SHOULD be used to make a straight hyperlink.
7. Comment edit box is way too small.
8.  Comment notification box is checked by default, doesn’t remember previous un-checks.
I strongly suggest that comments be closed, all comments made under WordPress mailed back to the commenters with the URLs of the discussions where they were posted, and the conversion re-done PROPERLY once the admins have figured out how to fix the conversion issues.
(shortly after this, a host of expanded HTML options were enabled in comments. Not before.)

I was told this could not be fixed:
1.Formatting is allowed on all new comments. Legacy formatting was not possible without checking and hand coding 50,000 comments.

2. External URLs remain where they we’re coded in full.

3. Formatting, See 1.

4. Sort function works for all new posts, there may be issues with legacy articles for reasons discussed above

5. Linking is possible, it may take 2 more clicks.

6. Comment Box – the box is designed to be typed in to and expands as you type. If you copy an paste and essay in to it you can use the Cursor Keys to navigate through the text. On first press of the cursor key the box will enlarge to show the full text.

7. Comment notification is now un-ticked as default. Legacy data of’ un-ticking of box’ was unable to be retained. There is however a new Subscribe feature.

There are also new features that let you search the comment box by Authors or text. You can now embed Video and there is a new feature that lets you attach files to your articles e.g. a pdf on the benefits of Nuclear Power.

If you have any further technical questions or requests please email: support@theenergycollective.com

Many Thanks

TEC Support Team
I was not alone in my negative appraisal of the quality of conversion; Willem Post had this to say:
Engineer Poet,
I was reading your comment.
It appears to me like a butcher job. Totally incredible.
It needs to be redone, including all the bells and whistles.
It needs to beta tested, before going live.
My posted articles are the OLD versions.
I cannot let people see these old versions, because of many significant changes and additions.
I may have to delete my articles.
I want the MOST RECENT VERSIONS of my articles posted.
I want the EDIT function restored; no edit function, no more articles from me, for sure!!
I want the LIKES count function restored.
If possible, I want the VIEWS count function restored.
I hope Karel reads this.

I made a reply which was removed and returned to me by e-mail:
the database was in a very bad state, which caused endless problems with the conversion
The problems I'm talking about have nothing to do with the database, but with slipshod conversion of the HTML of comments.  It was certainly possible to do better, because I now see almost all of the formatting options that were previously missing at the top of this edit window.  But someone was sloppy and got all of that lost in the mis-translation. Unless someone was criminally sloppy, the scripts used to read the Drupal database and do the conversion are still there.  Minor tweaks will fix the (documented!) HTML issues.  Just do it over. Speaking of documented issues, the stylesheet hid part of the width of the right sidebar with an opaque gray overlay, looking like this:
I got a defensive and hostile note attached to it:
Karel Beckman
To engineerpoet38215@yahoo.com
CC  support@theenergycollective.com Aaron Weiner 'Matthew James'
Mar 30 at 3:54

Please note I removed your latest comment because I find it offensive and rude.
We do not tolerate offensive comments on The Energy Collective.
If you make any further comments that cause offense, you will be permanenlty blocked from commenting.

Mr Karel Beckman, editor-in-chief
(does this guy have a thick enough skin to be running a major website? does he have the competence to recognize when things are going wrong? he's sure not scoring any points with the people whose oxen have been gored.)

This was already very bad.  But it got worse.

I like to book-mark the most recent comments in comment threads so I can return to them and scan for newer additions.  On Tuesday, I believe, those bookmarks ALL stopped working.  I can go to individual discussion threads, but links directly to threads or individual comments are re-written and sent to personal profile pages (mostly my own).  For instance, whether I click from my bookmarks or paste in the address bar, this:

http://www.theenergycollective.com/hydrogen-or-battery-the-power-of-future-transportation-infographic/#comment-215879

gets re-written to this:

http://www.theenergycollective.com/profile#comment-215879

I have complained to support@theenergycollective.com, with no replies and no fixes.  There's certainly plenty of desire remaining to fix these problems and get everything spic and span again, but that all will and energy appears to be OUTSIDE the administration of Energy Post.  The insiders refuse to admit that there are any problems, let alone ask for assistance in fixing them or explore possibilities.  (This is what I'd expect if it was being run by a few tyros who are in way over their heads, especially the violently defensive reactions to practically all criticism.)

It is now between painful and impossible to follow and participate in discussions on TEC; for all intents and purposes, Energy Post has destroyed The Energy Collective.  Worst of all, Energy Post management will not even admit they have a problem.  There appears to be one last, sad snapshot of the site at the Internet Wayback Machine, but that may be all that remains of this once-valuable forum.

----
Here is an example of how the technical staff have broken links into TEC.  I bookmarked this URL, where I was having a discussion on the Drupal version of the site:

http://theenergycollective.com/jim-baird/2324066/mad-energy-policy

This URL no longer exists, and there is no re-direct; it now comes up 404.  The Wordpress copy of the article appears to have been at no less than 2 URLs, and it now comes up as this:

http://www.theenergycollective.com/jim-baird/2373676/mad-energy-policy

Why the gratuitous change in URL?  I have no idea, and the staff aren't talking.

 
Sunday, October 11, 2015
 

Paranoid fixations of anti-nukes

Nothing suggests mental illness more than the tortured reasoning used by anti-nuclear activists to attempt to justify their positions.  Often they fixate on particular claims which turn out to be utterly ludicrous after even shallow examination.  One of these is the argon-41 chromosome-damage "theory" currently being flogged by BasG (Bas Gresnigt) over at Atomic Insights.  This short-lived isotope (half-life 106 minutes, beta-decaying to stable potassium) is a noble gas, and disperses rapidly in air by diffusion and turbulent mixing.  The "researchers" who tortured their data to make it confess the crimes of 41Ar got it to sign a statement amounting to this:
  1. Spent nuclear fuel emits neutrons due to spontaneous fission.
  2. The neutrons escape into the air and run into 40Ar atoms, forming radioactive 41Ar .
  3. 41Ar ionizes due to recoil from the neutron capture.
  4. The ion is attracted to dust and water particles, keeping it close to the ground after formation.
  5. Because of this, the effects of 41Ar are most strongly felt upwards of 20 km from its point of formation, rather than immediately next to it.
  6. The measurable effect is an increase in the male-female sex ratio at birth, because the X chromosome has more DNA than the Y chromosome and is more susceptible to damage.
Got that?  I lost 5 IQ points just from reading the crap required to write that summary, so I'm not going to repeat it.  Oh, the "researchers" conveniently left out the mechanism by which 41Ar singles out the sex chromosomes for damage, rather than causing mutations and consequent birth defects all over the genome.  It's just one of the ways that 41Ar is evil, I guess. 

Back in reality, things are just a little bit different.

Argon is only a trace constituent of air.  Nitrogen is 78% of air by volume, while all isotopes of argon are only 0.93%.  Further, each molecule of nitrogen has two atoms while argon has but one.  Last, the thermal neutron capture cross-section of nitrogen is 1.91 barns, while argon's is only 0.675 barns.  The upshot is that a free neutron in air is about 470 times as likely to be soaked up by a nitrogen atom (forming stable 15N 14C by the (n,p) reaction) than by 40Ar.  My understanding is that even that's not terribly likely, and the most common fate of neutrons in air is beta-decay to hydrogen (half-life ~11 minutes).

But let's follow this to the end.  40Ar plus a free neutron have a total mass of 40.9710480385 AMU.  41Ar masses 40.9645006 AMU, for a difference of 0.0065474385 AMU or on the order of 6 MeV.  This will be released as a gamma ray.  This is certainly enough to ionize an atom... but is it likely to stay that way?  The ionization energy of argon is 15.7 electron-volts (eV).  The ionization energies of both nitrogen and oxygen are less than that, so at the first collision with an oxygen or nitrogen molecule the newly-formed 41Ar+ ion is going to steal an electron and not be an ion any more.  That will take on the order of picoseconds.

Last is the issue of location of the decay.  The typical human contains enough potassium that the beta decay of 40K occurs around 4000 times per second; against this background of beta decays, you'd have to have a huge effect from 41Ar to measure something.  But even if an atom of 41Ar was able to stay ionized, attach to a dust particle or water droplet, and stick around near a human, what is the likelihood that it could be ingested and migrate to the gonads before it decayed?  Roughly zero.

The funniest thing about this 41Ar "theory" is that there are actually people who take it seriously.  So who's pushing this nonsense?  There are two basic possibilities here, not necessarily mutually exclusive:  either they are objectively deluded (crazy), or they want you to be.  The latter want to panic you into following their agenda, which you wouldn't do by pursuing your own interests.  And that, my friends, is evil.

Note:  Corrected the results of neutron capture in nitrogen, H/T rrmeyer.

Edit:  corrected notation. 
Sunday, October 04, 2015
 

How unreliable is wind?

Someone on The Energy Collective suggested that 24/7/365 facilities like data centers could run on "renewable energy" (meaning unreliable wind and solar) by taking the first pick of power from a wind farm or other facility and letting others take the surplus.  Specifically, he said this:
The wind farm that HP is drawing from is 300 MW. If they get first dibs on generation,it's not out of the question that 95 percent of the time it will generate more than 112 MW which would be a 37 percent CF.
Is that true?  I decided to find out.

Here's a plot of Texas wind generation over March of 2014, courtesy EIA:


I cut this down to a 143-by-489 area (69927 px²) of just the plot itself trimmed down to the production maximum, and used Gimp's histogram function to measure the red area.  It came to 32026 red pixels.  If we assume that the production peak was 100% of nameplate (unlikely, but it's favorable to the case) that's a capacity factor of 45.8% for the month.

45.8% of the 143 pixel height is 65.5 pixels.  Cutting the graph down to 65 pixels from the baseline yields this:




The curve never quite goes to zero, but it gets close to it several times; it stays very low for an entire day.  Even the wind across the entire state of Texas, cut down to its capacity factor for the windy month of March, is not reliable enough to keep data centers running; the net capacity factor for the entire state of Texas is just 73.9%, far less than the 95% assertion of "wind smith".  The infrastructure of an information economy needs reliability more like 99.99%.

But what's left over?  Here's what that curve looks like:



In the windy state of Texas, in March 2014, the "leftovers" from preferred loads taking everything up to 45.8% of the peak has a capacity factor of just 22.1%.  It's a very spiky curve that has gaps lasting days when there is little or no power available.  What sort of business or process could anyone operate using power that was so unreliable?  I can't think of one.  Maybe you could dump this power to heaters or some other extremely cheap load, but what you'd do with the heat I'm not sure.  At one point I had the idea of using surplus electricity to heat crushed concrete, with the goal of dehydrating the cement and converting it back to separate streams of cement, sand and aggregate for recycling into new concrete.  I don't know if this is chemically possible (does hot cement react with sand or otherwise become inseparable and unusable?), but at 22.1% capacity factor the kilns and sifters and whatnot would have to be very cheap to make this a workable proposition and you'd have to get the power for close to nothing.

"Renewables" fanatics (maybe I should start calling them "windbags")  like to say that the wind is always blowing somewhere.  At least for Texas in the month of March 2014, that much was true.  However, there were many periods even in that blustery month where it was certainly not blowing hard enough to keep essential 24/7 things running.  When it comes down to e.g. pumping stations filling up and backing raw sewage into homes and buildings because the unreliables are not there that day, even the most fanatic Green is likely to burn fossil fuel instead.

The unreliable sources of energy are simply not going to replace fossil fuels.  They can't; their characteristics make it an engineering impossibility.  This is why Greens need to drop their contrived objections to those sources of energy which actually can.

 
Wednesday, April 01, 2015
 

Book review: "Earth Unaware"

After reading "Ender's Game" and so many of his other works, I thought that it was mighty hard to go wrong with Orson Scott Card.

I can now say that it is a sinking feeling to find out just how wrong I was.  At least, when he affixes his name to something as a co-author.

I read "Earth Unaware", and shouldn't have bothered finishing it.  Is OSC phoning it in, or what? Based on what's in the book, I'm assuming that his contribution was his name and some of the characters which show up in later novels.  His co-author Aaron Johnson has no concept whatsoever of orbital mechanics, radio propagation, or even basic physics like elementary particles.  The least one can do if one can't remember the difference between gamma rays and cosmic rays is look it up, and it's excruciatingly obvious that he didn't bother.

There are scientific howlers throughout the off-earth parts of the book.  An alien ship moving at a large fraction of lightspeed... takes weeks to travel inside the orbit of Jupiter, and human ships of far inferior capability nevertheless match velocities with it!  This ship generates radio noise of sufficient intensity to block non-laser communications... yet humanity appears to have forgotten how to make and use radio telescopes, because it hasn't been detected, pinpointed and intensively studied because of those very emissions!  Dust particles and gas in the Kuiper belt are a hazard to space-suited persons outside ships moving at speed... ignoring the fact that the solar wind sweeps dust into interstellar space, and the solar wind itself is moving as fast or faster than the velocities given in the book!  Oh, best of all:  the simple expedient of orienting the ship so that the hull intercepts anything from the direction of motion never occurs to the author.

If Card cared for his reputation, he'd ask Tor to remove his name from this book.  If Tor had any integrity, they'd stop selling it as SCIENCE fiction.

 
Saturday, February 28, 2015
 

Can radon suffocate you?

TL;DR:  No.  At least, not chemically.

In a discussion about residential radon in which I linked this NIH study which found that lung cancer decreases with rising residential radon levels, someone asserted that you could die by radon poisoning.  I challenged that, saying that I'd calculate just what would happen if you had even 0.1 vol% radon in air.  Then someone else said that people had died by radon suffocation in Appalachia, so I went and did it.

Stipulate that 0.1% by volume in air is two orders of magnitude below anything presenting an asphyxiation hazard.  Radon has a density of 9.73 grams/liter, so 0.1% by volume would be 9.73 mg per liter or 43.8 μmol/liter.

The half-life of Rn-222 (the only isotope which lasts long enough to get out of soil and hang around much) is 3.824 days.  This means that there's 1/e of it in 5.52 days, or 2.1e-6 (1/(86400*5.52)) of it decaying per second.  For 43.8 μmol, this is 9.2e-11 mol/sec decaying or 55 TBq (terabequerels).

The decay energy of Rn-222 is 5.5 MeV, so that 4.38 μmol has a total power output of 3.04e20 eV/sec.  An electron-volt is 1.602e-19 J, so that works out to 48.7 watts per liter of air.  The air in a room 3mx3mx2.5m high (22500 liters), spiked with 43.8 μmol/liter Rn-222, would release about 1.1 megawatts of heat.

Anything and anyone in such a room would catch fire in seconds.  There would be no time to suffocate.

Do I need to mention that if such high concentrations of radon were found in nature, people would pump it into tanks and use it to boil water?  It would be one of the most fantastic sources of free energy imaginable.

 
Monday, February 16, 2015
 

Readership: What do not see, that you want to see? Should I take commissions?

Pursuant to a dissussion on Rod Adams' blog, I'm likely going to be digging into ultrasupercritical steam cycles today.  This made me realize that most people who do this are either paid money for the effort, or are studying so they can be paid money for it.

Should I be taking commissions for analytical posts?  Something like GoFundMe?  I can use the money.

Are there any gaps in the public-domain analysis out there that maybe I could fill?

Bend my (virtual) ear.


 
Friday, February 06, 2015
 

Pre-emptively striking against Inconvenient Truths

I picked up a link to an article on the Monticello nuclear power plant and the alleged un-economic nature of the cost overruns of its recent power uprate, and went to try to add this to the discussion:
Let's have a look at the facts, shall we?

The Monticello nuclear plant is rated at 671 megawatts net.  The plant can be expected to average more than 90% of this figure (more than 600 MW), and since refueling outages are scheduled for seasons of low demand its useful capacity factor is close to 100% during the peaks of summer and winter.  All of that generation is free of air emissions of any kind, especially carbon.

It may be true that...
it’s enough money to install over 400 megawatts of new wind power.
But 400 nameplate megawatts of wind turbines, even at a generous capacity factor of 40%, is just 160 megawatts average (barely more than 1/4 of Monticello).  Neither does that figure include the cost of new transmission lines and other upgrades which are required by the new wind even if they're not billed to it; those can cost as much as the wind farms themselves.  Worst, wind farms go dead during winter and summer high-pressure systems which bring heat waves and cold snaps.

Ignoring these things won't make them go away.  Tragically, the advocates of "renewables" appear to be sticking their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing the words of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr:  "the plants that we're building, the wind plants and the solar plants, are gas plants".  Replacing Monticello with wind plus gas means about 2 million extra tons of CO2 emissions per year, about 30 million tons by 2030.  At a social cost of perhaps $50 per ton, that is $1.5 billion to go "renewable".

Please wake up.
However, immediately upon creating an account to enter this, I was faced with this screen:





Apparently, the drawbridge has been pre-emptively raised against any attempt of the truth to invade their little castle of delusion.



 
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