## YOU!: Fix the US Energy Crisis

Late to the party here but a few points:

(1) There are multiple energy markets that are currently only tangentially linked.
(2) There are muliple environmental, cost, supply and safety concerns.

Supply

Let's look at the supply issue first. There is no doubt that the supply of fossil fuels is finite. There is no doubt that demand for fossil fuels is poised to increase rapidly as nations like China industrialize. There is no doubt that a limited supply and an inceased demand will increase fossil fuel energy prices in the long run. Technology is going to make more fossil fuels available as prices increase making more expensive to exploit resources more attractive, but the long term trend is still fossil fuel prices going up.

You can argue over whether it will take ten years, twenty years, forty years or eighty years to get there, but an economy that relies on fossil fuels is unsustainable in the long term.

There is also not serious dispute about the fact that the most scarce of the fossil fuels is petroleum, and that the second most scarce of the fossil fuels in natural gas (in both cases relative to current use), while coal, and the non-renewable non-fossil fuel of uranium, are less scarce than natural gas given current useage patterns.

It should also be obvious that our oil supply is highly subject to geopolitical risk. Choosing to exploit oil fields in Alaska may put off the day of reckoning a few years, but the key point is that most of the reserves of oil in the world lie outside the United States in places like the Middle East, Nigeria and Venezula which are not politically stable. (Lots of the world's uranium resources are also located in regions where political stability is lacking).

Multiple Markets

The transporation fuel market, which relies almost exclusively upon petroleum products as an energy source right now, is almost entirely separate from the other demands on our energy supply (i.e. electricity, industrial use, residential and commercial use).

The Non-Transportation Market

The fact that a variety of fuels can be used in the non-transporation market has let to price competition and lots of options to address that part of the energy market. Electricity can be produced using current technology with hydroelectric power, wind power, solar power, coal, natural gas, petroleum, biofuels and waste products, geothermal power, etc.

Petroleum is the least used fuel for heating buildings like homes and businesses in the nation. Industrial users are actively trying to reduce their petroleum use due to environmental and cost concerns. Very little electricity is produced with petroleum and much of that is in isolated areas like Hawaii and rural Alaska where there is no cheap way to transport coal or natural gas and there are insufficient local hydroelectric resources.

Natural gas is primarily used for water heating and heating buildings. It is a versatile fuel which can be used in modified vehicles for transporation, which can be used to generate peak demand electricity (it is expensive as a base electricity fuel), and can be used in industrial use. But, leaving oil for natural gas puts pressure on the natural gas supply (and those of you who heat your homes with gas know that those prices do from time to time go through the roof). Natural gas is the least polluting fossil fuel and can be clean and efficient even in small scale applications (like a home water heater).

There are rooms for significant conservation measures in the non-transportation sector. Better insulated houses and more efficient water heating systems can greatly reduce demand for energy in those areas and the market is likely to make this happen as prices for natural gas (or the main alternative electricity) rise.

There is really no danger of "running out" of energy for the non-transporation section in the near term. Even we knew for a fact that all natural gas supplies would be gone in ten years (and no one is claiming that they will be), electricity could replace every major use of natural gas with no technological advances and fairly modest infrastructure costs as almost all buildings are already wired for electricity. Natural gas is preferred over electricity simply because it is less expensive (outside uses like cooking and artificial fireplaces with are a tiny fraction of the total natural gas consumption of the nation and would still persist even if natural gas prices went up ten fold or a hundred fold).

In the non-transportation sector, thus, environmental, cost and safety concerns are predominant. The main environmental issue in the non-transportation section is that coal fired electricity plants cause significant air pollution and that the mining (mostly strip mining) to burning process for coal also generates significant solid waste and has significant environmental impacts.

Basically, then, anything that is more environmentally attractive than coal is a good idea if it can be done at a manageable cost and with greater or equal safety. Nuclear fission meets this test (particularly with breeder reactors). Wind power meets this test. Photovoltaic power is close to meeting this test for summer daytime peak useage in the sunbelt (i.e. to power air conditioning). Hydroelectric power meets this test but has already been heavily exploited, and geothermal power availability is highly localized. Conservation schemes also abound. Better insultation is the most basic, and solar power is quite efficient at reducing the need to heat water with other fuels (water heating and not photovoltaic applications are the main current commercial use of solar power now). Co-generation plants that use heat directly as well as generating electricity for steam plants in urban or industrial areas are highly efficient. This list is not exhaustive.

In short, the non-transportation section is not in a crisis, and has numerous possible solutions that modest policy nudges to encourage could easily put on a fast track. A simple "carbon tax" on fossil fuel emissions, for example, could easily create the incentive to encourage change while funding research into conservation and alternative sources without unduly tinkering with market mechanisms in this sector.

The Transportation Market

The real problem is in the transportation area. The options for reducing pollution are fewer (and the pollution from this type of energy use is significant), the likelihood of supply being a problem is greater (not actually running out, but seeing prices rise, particularly as China and other developing nations increase their demand while supplies don't get dramatically greater), and the amount of effort needed to adapt to new technologies is greater.

Air

Air transportation will simply have to get more expensive. There is no good alternative for powering a jet to petroleum products, this is a very small part of the total demand (probably under 1%), and this is the highest value petroleum use in the transportation section.

Of course, as air transportation gets mor expensive, passenger rail becomes more attractive for medium distance, budget conscious passengers, indirectly reducing demand in this section.

Rail

One of the best ways energy use in the transportation sector can be reduced is with increased use of rail. Freight rail already is fully converted to diesel-electric hybrid power systems of the type just beggining to appear in passenger cars like the Prius. They are many times less polluting and more fuel efficient and less costly than moving freight by truck with no new technology at all. Shifting more long haul freight to rail, with trucks making deliveries locally, to and from the train station, could dramatically reduce transportation sourced air pollution and petroleum demands.

It does require a new business model and technology, with a focus on containerizing cargo. It would also benefit from modest efforts to increase the speed of freight rail -- not to the 190 mph of the TGV in France for passenger rail, but another 5-10 mph above current norms. Mostly though, it would require much more efficient technology to move containers carried by rail off trains and onto trucks (and visa versa). But, this is a far easier task than creating a hydrogen economy, developing viable fusion power, or a host of other far more commonly discussed sexier energy conservation proposals. Simply removing the government subsidies that favor road over rail (users bear only about 40% of the cost of the road system through gas and other transportatio related taxes, with the rest coming from general revenue taxes mostly at the state and local level) and penalizing trucks that fail to meet the same emissions standards of other parts of the energy use economy would go a long way towards securing this switch.

We also need to look more intelligently at passenger rail to see where it makes sense and where it does not. Passenger rail at an average of about 35 mph over vast rural areas of the interior United States, which is mostly what Amtrack does outside the Northeast Corridor, is idiotic and exists only due to massive per passenger government subsidies. This is better terminated to allow intercity buses (which still beat cars in environmental and safety respects) become more economically viable.

But, passenger rail at 90-190 mph at medium intercity distances (i.e. before the speed advantages of air travel become overwhelming) in high density corridors between urbanized areas (e.g. the California coast, the Northeast Corridor, the Front Range of Colorado, the major cities of Texas, the major cities of Ohio) can make lots of sense. Also, because high speed rail systems are typically in urban areas close to power plants and operate on fixed routes, electricity is often a good energy source for them so the burden on the petroleum supply can be alleviated and shifted to the less crisis prone non-transportation enegy sector. The rest of the developed world (Western Europe and Japan) makes wide use of high speed rail in these conditions.

As long as we don't try to use passenger rail to connect small towns in Nebraska, as we do now, it can be a good part of the solution.

In the near term future, hybrid drives are the best way to reduce petroleum consumption for cars and trucks. They work well at scales from subcompacts to big rigs (keep in mind that our nation's train system already has used this technology for decades, and it has also been tested in Hummer's and SUVs, as well as the more familiar Toyota Prius). It has all the performance of a conventional vehicle, is less polluting, is more fuel efficient, requires no new infrastructure and has a modest price differential which is partially simply a function of economies of scale.

A near complete conversion to hybrid technology could reduce petroleum consmption by 20-30%.

The easiest way to boost hybrid drive technology would be to shift funding for the road system from general taxes to gasoline taxes, which might incease gas prices by 50 cents to $1 a gallon, which creates an incentive of something on the order of$250 per mile per gallon of fuel efficiency improvement, enough to make hybrid drive technology look good.

Along with hybrid drive technology, we also need to look at ways to make diesel engines cleaner burning (e.g. by removing sulfur so we can use more emissions cleaning technology at the tailpipe) so that this more fuel efficient fuel source can leverage the benefits associated with hybrid drive.

A hybrid drive diesel is even more fuel efficient than a hybrid drive gasoline engine, but produces more of certain kinds of pollutants due to a dearth of regulation of those pollution sources so far. Modest emissions regulations for diesel could make this a real good option for reducing petroleum dependency.

In the longer term, we need to think about reducing the sprawl that makes universal use of cars and trucks to do anything necessary, through better land use, and we need to look at wider use of fully electric cars.

Fully electric cars are already viable for intra-city use. They also perform just like a regular car. But, they have shorter range and take a long time to recharge (even though a plug in your garage or at your workplace parking spot is all that is required). This makes them unattractive for anyone who every makes long range trips, as most people buy vehicles for peak use (hence the trend of single individuals driving to work in huge SUVs).

The peak use purchase syndrome for both SUVs and as a discouraging trend for electric cars can be addressed by making the rental car market work better and reducing subsidies and regulatory biases in favor of big, polluting vehicles. Why own an SUV or full cab pickup you only use the full abilities of, when it is quick and easy to rent one for the weekened, at a fraction of the price. A little nudge and attitude adjustment here could have a big impact. For example, why not sell smaller cars and sedans bundled with a voucher for ten days of year of SUV or pickup rentals?

The technological barrier for fully electric cars is batteries. The rest of the technology is proven, works great, and explains why hybrid cars provide an advantage even now. But, batteries are expensive, have lots of toxic elements, and don't have a high enough energy density, among other problems.

R&D efforts towards better batteries should be one of the biggest priorites in the nation, far ahead of nuclear fusion (which even if discovered would only solve a crisis we don't have), other other long shot efforts. It doesn't take a scientific revolution. Improvements of degree make electric cars and trucks more and more attractive. And, once you have viable electric cars and trucks (even if you need petroleum for rural areas, just as we use it in those areas for electricity generation now) that can get widespread use in urban areas, we have largely solved the problems associated with petroleum and can address the source energy pollution problem with the variety of non-transportation section options discussed above.

 Quote by Kenneth The drawback to this is the fact that, because masonry is generally cooler than the hot outside air (in summer); when this outside air comes in contact, it tends to dump a lot of its absorbed moisture onto the colder masonry walls. As result, basements are often wet and moldy, especially in the more humid areas.
I have observed this phenomenon for two years in my new house and it is strange here. In summer moisture is absorbed by the cinder block basement walls. I suspect it goes into the pores so that the basement is not quite as damp as expected. In the fall as the outside cools the water comes out and lands on the windows, lots of it. Then as the basement cools the vapor pressure drops and the windows are dry again.
It is important to have air conditioning or dehumidifier in the basement during some very damp summers.

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 ...Shortly after the completion of the Nagano plant, Pacific Biodiesel began to attack an even larger problem for the Landfill – grease trap waste. With the addition of a custom designed grease trap oil processor, PacBio was then able to supply its own boiler fuel, again while diverting 140 tons of grease trap oil from the Landfill each month. This biofuel product is available for considerably less than petroleum diesel fuel. [continued]

 Willie Nelson: On the Road Again with Biodiesel
http://www.biodiesel.org/resources/p...lie_Nelson.pdf

 Quote by hitssquad The average American male makes 2.5 million year-2000 dollars in his lifetime and wastes much of that on luxuries such as cars that can go three times the maximum speed limit, low-brow entertainment, jewelry, dysfunctional clothing, mountains of poisonous "food", glorified 18th-century "health care", preventable "accidents", low-brow weddings, divorces from spouses that simple psychological tests would have told them they should not have married, low-brow funerals, etc. On a $2.5 million lifetime income, I think a person can cut back on a few of those things and afford to build a$500,000 high-security home.
So we're going to eliminate fast cars, entertainment involving depictions of car chases, bling, pretty stuff, junk food, health care, weddings, divorces, funerals, and accidents. And, while we're at it, we are going to join a monestary and swear oaths of chastity and obediance, so we can spend all day praying that we going get sick or hurt or die or fall in love or fall out of love or have any emotions that involve the limbic system.
 while hydrogen is cool, i like this: Develop nuclear fusion to the point where it is safe and efficent. Then, develop new battery technology that can recharge quickly and store lots of power. With nuclear fusion, power everything. No dangerous by-products like smog or radioactive crap. Then put these batteries in cars and other vehicles and use them to power them. your fueling station will have a plug . What do you think, it seems logical, dosn't it. THere is probably some problems somewhere, but those can be fixed. Just an idea that would probably never happen Fibonacci

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 Quote by 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 while hydrogen is cool, i like this: Develop nuclear fusion to the point where it is safe and efficent. Then, develop new battery technology that can recharge quickly and store lots of power. With nuclear fusion, power everything. No dangerous by-products like smog or radioactive crap. Then put these batteries in cars and other vehicles and use them to power them. your fueling station will have a plug . What do you think, it seems logical, dosn't it. THere is probably some problems somewhere, but those can be fixed. Just an idea that would probably never happen Fibonacci
 Cellulosic oil technology, developed in the UK, but stifled by the Crown\, is our best resource. Next best is "Turkey" fuel, recently developed in US looks to be 2nd best. Things are looking up on the energy front!!

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 Quote by Robust Cellulosic oil technology, developed in the UK, but stifled by the Crown, is our best resource. Next best is "Turkey" fuel, recently developed in US looks to be 2nd best. Things are looking up on the energy front!!
The ethanol is a small step but not really a solution. And by the Turkey fuel I assume you mean the TDP (thermo depolyermization) where different organic wastes can be converted to oil like products. Again, nice step to reduce oil needs but not a full-blown energy solution and not much help on the pollution front.

The electrical system is the big problem and here in the US its mostly coal with some natural gas so the pollution is huge as well. In addition the infrastrucure is old and costly updates have been postponed to the point of massive costs (postponing them even more) so its a very complicated problem.

After reading up on the issues the strongest canidate is nuclear power. IMO the nuclear proponents need an intelligent PR person who can frankly address the needs of the industrialized nations. One who can address the concerns and admit the over-stated promises of the past and fears about the future. A person who can communicate the problems and overall long-term risks and benefits. Until then, we're clawing at incremental improvements.
 I disagree that the electrical system is the big problem. The electrical system is an opportunity to use cleaner fuels, but, unlike the transportation system, isn't facing any impending fuel shortage and has a host of technical fixes from wind to nuclear available. In contrast, the continued viability of the transportation system, which overwhelmingly relies upon oil derivatives, is acute. One economic indicator, the price of a barrel of oil (at $58 last time I checked), which has a clear long term trend towards going up, has the potential to paralyze our modern economies everywhere, and particularly in the United States which has chosen not to tax gas nearly as much as its competitors in Europe and Japan (where taxes roughly double the cost of gasoline compared to the United States), and thus is much reliant upon cheap gas than its competitors. Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor Staff Emeritus in the news:  After a year-long delay, Honda and a partner have announced they will sell a$2,000 home fueling station for natural gas cars starting in the spring of 2005. Initial sales, estimated at 500 a year, will be limited to California, but Honda could then expand to other states such as New York, where natural gas cars are used in the state fleet. ...The biggest obstacle to broader acceptance of natural gas vehicles is the limited availability of refueling stations," American Honda Vice President Tom Elliott, said in a statement. [continued]
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5960905
 Here's a start, at least. I am thinking the small town of Chico, CA, where I live, could become energy-independent with this tree, while also reclaiming vast areas of hard pan which surround the town. Karanji Tree In the past year, info on the Internet about the Karanji has doubled, leading me to believe there is already a growing interest. Of course, when I say doubled, you must understand there was not much to begin with.

This is a project by statkraft in norway to extract power when freshwater mixes with saltwater.

I read a little about it in a swedish science magasine but I have troubble finding more info on this technology. Does anyone here know anything about it and how big can it become? Obviously there is no shortage of either salt nor freshwater in most parts of the world so if its a efficient energy producer it could very well compete.

 Saline power plant trials In collaboration with SINTEF, NTNU and the Research Council of Norway, Statkraft has just opened the world’s first laboratory dedicated to research on saline power generation. In Sunndalsfjorden fresh water from the Aura Power Station runs into the fjord. The source of energy is actually the meeting of fresh and salt water. The technology is based on osmosis, one of the basic principles of physics. All energy levels tend to equilibrate. This means that fresh water has a natural tendency to dilute seawater. We can extract useful energy from the mixing of fresh water and seawater, if they were previously separated by a semi-permeable membrane. When the fresh water diffuses through the membrane it creates a pressure differential that can be used to drive a turbine. SINTEF is working on the development of this membrane.
Scroll down to middle of page
http://www.ntnu.no/gemini/2003-06e/4-7.htm#19
 I did not realise how old this thread was before making my post. So I apologise if I should not have brought it back to life.

i read the article , but can not figure how they are going to get power from osmosis..
below , this was also on the same page
 Problematic aurora borealis The aurora borealis is a beautiful natural phenomenon, but it can also cause real problems for military high frequency (HF) communication systems in northern Norway. The aurora causes distortions in the ionosphere some 300 km up, where radio waves are reflected back to the ground. These disruptions may interfere with the reception of pictures, text, and sound.
anyone see anything wrong with the statements above..??
for one thing the aurora is an effect of solar wind interacting with the magnetic poles of the planet , its not the cause of anything..
 Recognitions: Gold Member Homework Help Science Advisor One approach is to "dam" a fjord or estuary with an osmotic membrane set at the base of the dam. Fresh water passes through the membrane, dropping the fresh water level by whatever distance is desired for conventional hydroelectric power generation methods. Problems to be solved are: 1) membrane strength to withstand couple hundred kPa to MPa pressure differences between the two sides of the "dam;" 2) membrane permeability to pass sufficient amounts of fresh water to make such a project practical; 3) mixing the diluted seawater on the seaward side of the membrane to maintain enough osmotic gradient to maintain flow; 4) filtration ahead of the membrane to reduce fouling; 5) determining bypass flow rates to rinse crud the filtration system passes from the upstream side of the membrane. If it ain't obvious, the trick being accomplished with the membrane is to add 10s to 100s of meters of fall to the stream, river, whatever at its outlet to be used for h-elec power generation.
 Dose any one know what the max output of a large hydro generator at full capacity

Mentor
 Quote by Mike Nagle Dose any one know what the max output of a large hydro generator at full capacity
There is no theoretical limit, but the largest in existence is the Three Gorges Dam at 18,000 megawatts, 18 times a typical nuclear reactor.