Off the keyboard of A.G. Gelbert
Why They Work and Fossil & Nuclear Fuels Never Did
The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It can also be called the zone of life on Earth, a closed (apart from solar and cosmic radiation) and self-regulating system.
This is a “Big Picture” article about energy resources and use by humanity. In the article I question the most basic assumptions that have become “common wisdom” in our culture in regard to the celebrated “cost effectiveness” of fossil and nuclear energy products and the view that renewables are not a suitable replacement due to alleged “low” EROI (Energy Return on Energy Invested – sometimes shown as EROEI in the literature). I even question the assumptions used in the EROI methodolgy for quantifying exothermic chemical processes (how much energy is released when rapid oxidation, otherwise known as an explosion, occurs in a given energy product). I will prove that the EROI methodology is, not simply flawed, but unscientifically skewed to narrowly define energy input and output boundaries so as to favor fossil and nuclear fuels and simultaneously delegitimize renewable energy product cost effectiveness. It is most telling that the EROI documents and discussions at The Oil Drum web site are the ones that first show up when you do an EROI google search for fossil fuels and/or renewables. The claim of scientific objectivity in regard to fossil fuels at a web site called The Oil Drum can only be considered acceptable in a country like ours where the oil and nuclear lobbies control much of the narrative and just about all of the governmental policies energywise. Tell me, dear readers, would you consider taking advice on the efficacy of a vegan diet from the owners of a steak house? Do you think they would celebrate the fact that rice and beans provide a balanced protein intake that covers all essential amino acids? Do you think they would, after you provided evidence of the facts, offer chickpeas, which are equivalent in protein density to meat without the fat, as a replacement for the kiddy burgers?
Chickpeas have 361 calories per 100g, and are a good source of protein containing about 20 percent in content, which is equivalent to meat.
Rice and beans are both nutritious yet inexpensive foods that, when combined, form a complete protein.
Somehow, I think you will agree that the steak house owners are just a tiny bit biased in favor of meat and will attempt to undermine the vegan diet by the following reactions: 1) Ignore it. 2) Ridicule it. 3) Attack it with false propaganda. Provided enough people can be kept in the dark about the benefits to the body and the pocketbook of a vegan diet, the steak house owners and the entire chain of profit generating meat production facilities from raising cattle, hogs and chickens to every fast food burger joint in the country can continue to enjoy the status quo and their profits. I am not a vegetarian. I bring this example to you (remember the time Oprah had to back down on her claim that red meat was bad for you because of the cattle rancher outcry? – She was referring to scientifc studies but the beef industry prevailed anyway – truth be damned when profits are threatened is the predatory capitalist motto) simply because it shows how mendacity is used to defend a bias, regardless of the truth. I will prove here that the same mechanism has corrupted, not only our government energy use, subsidy and research and development grant allocation policies, but the very mathematics used by scientists to define energetic exothermic processes. The Procrustean Bed gaming of the boundaries for the EROI methodology is where we begin. I am not a mathematician but I can add, subtract, divide and multiply. Regardless of the calculus formulas or other advanced mathematics and statistical tools used by the scientists doing the EROI math, I will show that every energy cost they leave out favors the fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries in their flawed EROI comparison with renewables. At the end of the article, after having presented the case which, not simply justifies, but requires a switch to 100% renewables in order to guarantee a viable biosphere, I will point you to some excellent videos from Germany (you have to go to the German web site to see them – they are free but they sell the DVDs of the videos for those who wish to spread the word) where renewables providing power to industrial processes, as well as consumer energy demands, are paving the way to an energy future free of disruptions, price gouging from contrived fuel shortages and price shocks/hikes from wars (mostly contrived as well) and/or speculators. Parts of this article may be a bit boring. Please try to remember that your thorough understanding and use for dissemination of the data here to others out there may enable you, after you verify it’s veracity, to effectively counter some status quo victim of brainwashing in the “follow the herd” school of “that’s how the world works and we just have to live with it” tradition. Your efforts to wade through this and digest it’s contents will, I firmly believe, help attain a sustainable future. An unsustainable world is a world that isn’t “working”. What I want is for it to work.
ENERGY RETURN ON ENERGY INVESTED (EROI or sometimes EROEI)
Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrustes Measuring the EROEI of a single physical process is unambiguous, but there is no agreed standard on which activities should be included in measuring the EROEI of an economic process. In addition, the form of energy of the input can be completely different from the output. For example, energy in the form of coal could be used in the production of ethanol. This might have an EROEI of less than one, but could still be desirable due to the benefits of liquid fuels.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_investedThis is the general formula: EROEI = Usable Acquired Energy (output) DIVIDED BY Energy Expended (input) The formula appears pretty straightforward, does it not? If you get less energy out than you put in then you will get a number below “1” (i.e. 1/2 = 0.5 EROI not good, 10/1 = 10.0 EROI good). Since the units in this formula are energy units, let’s define those:
Because energy is defined via work, the SI unit for energy is the same as the unit of work – the joule (J), named in honour of James Prescott Joule and his experiments on the mechanical equivalent of heat. In slightly more fundamental terms, 1 joule is equal to 1 newton-metre and, in terms of SI base units:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Units_of_energy What’s a newton-metre? What are SI units? Don’t worry about it. Anybody that wants to do an in depth discussion in the comments of how scientists came up with the units from observing the heat effect of lots of energetic molecules in a measured volume of some gas, liquid or solid is free to do so. In the meantime, readers only need to remember that more Joules (J) = more energy.
So taken with the “fabulous fossil fuels” are some people out there that they have the audacity to start using “barrel of oil equivalent” and “ton of oil equivalent” to measure energy rather than sticking with Joules (J).
In discussions of energy production and consumption, the units barrel of oil equivalent and ton of oil equivalent are often used.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Units_of_energyTo the credentialed scientists in the EROI study published at The Oil Drum’s credit, they appear to have used Joules and MegaJoules(MJ) in their energy units. Use your own imagination as to how objective it would have looked to claim EROI in ethanol and other renewables is too low in terms of “barrel of oil equivalent” units. Okay, so we’ve decided to use “J” units as the input and output energy units in the EROI formula. How do we know how much energy is in a given measure of gasoline? For you oldy goldies here, do you remember leaded gasoline? Gasoline was goosed (increased octane rating) by adding tetra-ethyl lead. Lead hurt the environment and caused serious health issues and developmental disorders for humans (and surely a lot of animals that were never considered in the studies) so unleaded gasoline became the norm with the lower octane rating. The reason I bring this up is because changes in octane rating change the activation energy needed to start the chemical reaction/explosion. A low octane gasoline technically has more energy than a high octane gasoline does because a lower octane rating requires less energy (lower energy of activation) for the reaction to begin. The energy density per mole in a high octane gasoline is assumed to be lower due to the higher energy of activation. This is a half truth. This half truth is used by the EROI experts to claim ethanol, which has a high octane rating, has a lower EROI than gasolene. Simply changing the compression ratio in an engine to a high compression makes ethanol equivalent in MJ/L to gasoline. But, of course, the Hall study arbitrarily stopped at the octane rating “energy of activation” differences between gasoline and ethanol with zero discussion of high compression engines. That was very convenient for gasoline EROI and very inconvenient for ethanol EROI. Furthermore the Hall study studied oil and “conventional” natural gas together in computing EROI:
Oil and conventional natural gas are usually studied together because they often occur in the same fields, have overlapping production operations and data archiving.
.. authors also estimated through linear extrapolation that the EROI for global oil and conventional natural gas could reach 1:1 as soon as about 2022 given alternative input measurement methods
Sustainability 2011, 3, 1796-1809; doi:10.3390/su3101796 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability The authors of the above study made a reasoned assumption that the energy density per mole of global oil and conventional gas is, for all practical purposes, identical. Though one is a gas and the other a liquid, after processing inputs and putputs with similar infrastructure costs, that appears to be a logical approach. The problem with this approach is that the petroleum industry energy density numbers which predictably apply quite well to hydrocarbons result in bad data (low EROI) when applied to a renewable like ethanol. There was a study done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory: “BIOMASS AS FEEDSTOCK FOR A BIOENERGY AND BIOPRODUCTS INDUSTRY: THE TECHNICAL FEASIBILITY OF A BILLION-TON ANNUAL SUPPLY”, Perlack, Wright, Turhollow, Graham, Stokes and Erbach – 2005. The conclusion of the Oak Ridge study was that the U.S. could meet at least 30% of its transportation fuel needs from biomass sources by 2030 “…with relatively modest changes in land use and agricultural and forestry practices.”. But the Oak Ridge Laboratory study, assumed, in error, that biofuels (speciﬁcally, ethanol) should be compared to petroleum fuels (speciﬁcally, gasoline) on a heat content basis (e.g. British Thermal Units) when estimating fuel efficiency. The Heat Value of ethanol is 65% of that of gasoline. Almost all researchers on this subject assume that ethanol’s fuel efficiency is 65% of that of gasoline. Even the U.S. Dept. of Energy thinks this is a valid assumption. Perhaps this is because so many of the studies pertaining to biofuels feasibility are done by individuals with economics backgrounds. The property of fuels known as the Octane rating indicates a fuels capacity for being combusted under pressure without pre-igniting. This is of great importance because fuels with higher octane ratings can be burned at higher combustion chamber pressures and produce more power which results in more work output (i.e. miles per gallon) than a fuel with a lower octane rating that cannot be consumed at higher combustion chamber pressures. Ethanol has an octane rating of 115. Gasoline‘s is 93-95 for high test gasoline. This means that ethanol can be burned in a higher compression engine or an engine with combustion chamber pressures boosted using turbocharging or supercharging. The Department of Energy continues to base its estimates of fuel efﬁciency (and greenhouse gas emissions) for ethanol based on the Heat Value of ethanol relative to gasoline. This is entirely in error as it does not recognize the importance of octane rating and the characteristics of the engine the fuel in question is used in. The fact is, ethanol’s higher octane rating than gasoline enables it to be consumed in a higher pressure combustion chamber and obtain comparable (or better) fuel efficiency than that obtained with gasoline. This also means that the estimates of how much of the fuel supply we can meet using ethanol are significantly low. The estimate of the Oak Ridge study assumes ethanol can only achieve fuel efficiency relative to gasoline that is equivalent to ethanol’s “heat value” relative to gasoline’s or 65% of gasoline’s. But in actuality, ethanol used in an engine that takes full advantage of ethanol’s higher octane achieves comparable fuel efficiency to gasoline’s and thus the amount of the fuel supply that can be met with ethanol is not 30% but 46% (1/.65). So, returning to the EROI numbers published by the SUNY ESF study at The Oil Drum, you can see that they are way too low (from 1.29–1.70 ) because they low balled the OUTPUT in Joules of ethanol. Output is the top number on the EROI equation. I refuse to believe that these math wizards over there did not know that ethanol’s higher octane rating would result in equal or greater energy output than gasoline given a proper engine combustion chamber. This was a deliberate attempt to undermine the EROI of the corn ethanol renewable in the service of fossil fuels. The EROI number for sugar cane ethanol (8.0) that Brazil has achieved would be even higher if the output energy was corrected to the level of gasoline in the EROI formula. Furthermore, corn is a really poor choice for biomass because it requires so much energy to prepare the ground, fertilize chemically and harvest. This biomass crop may not have been deliberately set up to fail as a bonafide competitor to gasoline, but it has certainly worked out that way. The precise point where The Oil Drum continues to have it wrong on ethanolis this assumption which totaly ignores the FACT that gasoline ONLY has more useable energy than ethanol if you use it to boil water in a lab! In an internal combustion engine the effective MJ/L difference used to transform heat energy to mechanical energy is NEGLIGIBLE:
“New Perspectives on the Energy Return on (Energy) Investment (EROI) of Corn Ethanol,” Adjusting for the lower energy content of ethanol (21.46 MJ/L etoh vs. 34.56 MJ/L gasoline = 0.62), we calculated that the net energy from ethanol is roughly 0.99 billion ‘‘gasoline-equivalent’’ liters.
http://www.countercurrents.org/murphy100810.htm The actual figure, since ethanol’s high octane rating makes it equivalent to gasoline in an easy to obtain higher pressure combustion chamber in internal combustion engines, should be 34.56 MJ/L as a minimum. I say this because ethanol burns much cleaner than gasoline and reduced costs in simpler catalytic converters (or none at all) for cars would, in a sane world, increase EROI for ethanol from cleaner burning and increased mileage per liter. Now add to this the other biomass crops out there like Lemna minor (Duckweed) that grow 8 times faster than corn with no tilling and cheap harvesting as well as many perennial grasses that can be converted to ethanol and you have an irrefutable argument for replacing gasoline with ethanol. But there’s more. Scientific assumptions about energy release during rapid oxidation are surface or substrate dependent as well as temperature dependent. We all know that when you strike a match, the chemicals on the match head increase to what is called kindling temperature. At the molecular level, what is occurring is that the Oxygen molecules floating around the match head combine with the match head chemicals as soon as they are all expanded (that’s what heat does to them) sufficently to combine. Once the “energy of activation” is achieved, the chemical reaction proceeds at a previously, scientifically measured and predictable rate. Think of it as pushing a boulder off a cliff. You need some exertion (small amount of heat) to get the boulder to begin falling and accelerating at 32 feet per second squared until terminal velocity (air friction prevents further acceleration) is achieved (a lot of heat is produced until it reaches a self sustaining oxidation which then proceeds until all the reactants are oxidized). The “cliff” can be a vertical drop (very explosive) or a gentle slope (slow oxidation with a gradual heat release). Rust is an example of slow oxidation. What I ‘m trying to get across to you is that the fossil and nuclear fuel industry never want to talk about is that the reaction can be slowed down or speeded up by controllling the distance from each other and distribution of more molecules of the fuel and oxygen. You can also introduce a catalyst which reduces the energy needed to “push” the “boulder” off the “cliff”. This means you need less heat to get the reaction going. In this case you end up with a higher energy output for a given amount of input. Surely you see how this can affect the EROI formula. But once again zero attention is paid to any renewables using catalysts to increase the energy output by these EROI studies. No, the standard everything must be measured from some thermodynamic straight jacket for a given simple exothermic rapid oxydation. This is ridiculous. But it makes criticizing the current fossil fuel and nuclear paradigm difficult because the numbers are quite accurate for hydrocarbons and also nuclear fission heat release. If a more scientifically broad view of thermodynamics in exothermic processes was embraced, the EROI formulation would have to be modified to favor the separate, but slower energy producing processes of e.g. biomass products from crops that are presently considered waste. The added energy input from using all of the crop for, not just ethanol, but heat from “waste” would raise the EROI. The mono mania with a long hydrocarbon chain like petroleum has pushed the “experts” into always attempting to discard multiprocess approaches to determining EROI for one crop. I don’t think it’s because they can’t count to two or three; I think it is because of fossil and nuclear fuel bias. These people are not stupid; they are compromised by the EROI Procrustean Bed that arbitrarily has excluded inputs that lower fossil and nuclear fuel EROI and included outputs that raise it. I have mentioned only fossil fuels in regard to the gaming of the EROI but nuclear fuel is a far more blatent example.
The SUNY ESF study summarized the EROI of nuclear power from previous studies . The review concludes that the most reliable information is still from Hall et al.’s  summary of an EROI of about 5–8:1 (with a large part of the variability depending upon whether the electricity is corrected for quality), and that the newer studies appear either too optimistic or pessimistic with reported EROIs of up to almost 60:1, to as low as even less than 1:1.
Sustainability 2011, 3, 1796-1809; doi:10.3390/su3101796 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Since nuclear fuel has a foot in the grave and another on a banana peel, I won’t spend much time on it except to say that the EROI is a blatent falsehood. That nuclear fuel EROI can be 1.0 or higher is pure fantasy. In order to run a nuclear reactor, you need to build and insure it. These costs can certainly be converted to energy inputs but are excluded from nuclear EROI. The energy required to store used nuclear fuel rod waste and other nuclear waste generated at the plant and keep it from overheating or contaminating the environment for centuries is not included in the EROI either. Then there’s the energy to mine, concentrate and mill the uranium followed by manufacturing the fuel assemblies with multiple rods and the uranium pellets in them. Nope, not included. The day to day operation of the nuclear plant is included, period. This is ridiculous. Add to that the energy used in cleaning up nuclear pollution and you have an energy black hole combined with a horror story in negative health impact to the population. Finally, there are many studies that have clearly proven that the uranium fuel cycle is not carbon neutral so any attempt to claim nuclear power plants are “green” and CO2 free energy sources is a pure fiction.
A big 1,250 megawatt plant produces the equivalent of 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year during its life.
What about gas fracking energy costs? I ask you all reading this who just watched the above video, how do the EROI experts, like the one I had some trouble with when I complained (Stoneleigh – this means you) that she left out aquifer poisoning in her EROI calculations, separate the science from the emotion? How can these people fall back on a formula that so narrowly defines energy inputs and outputs that they can blithely ignore the energy costs of cleaning up aquifers and dispensing health care to cancer victims? WTF is wrong with these people? The article I complained about on unconventional fuels not being a game changer was an insult to the intelligence of any thinking human being that knows anything about gas fracking. Don’t let anyone tell you that gas fracking has an EROI of 1.0 or better. It’s another Procrustean Bed fabrication. Gas fracking is an obsenity.
Alongside the growth in drilling, reports of fouled water, bad odors and health complaints also have increased. In the few places where basic environmental sampling has been done, the results confirm that water and air pollution are present in the same regions where residents say they are getting sick. Last spring, the EPA doubled its estimates of methane gas leaked from drilling equipment and said the amount of methane pollution that billows from fracking operations was 9,000 times higher than researchers had previously thought.
In Colorado, the ATSDR sampled air for pollutants at 14 sites for a 2008 report, including on Susan Wallace-Babb’s property. Fifteen contaminants were detected at levels the federal government considers above normal. Among them were the carcinogens benzene, tetrachloroethene and 1,4-dichlorobenzene. The contamination fell below the thresholds for unacceptable cancer risk, but the agency called it cause for concern and suggested that as drilling continued, it could present a possible cancer risk in the future. Even at the time of the sampling, the agency reported, residents could be exposed to large doses of contaminants for brief “peak” periods.
http://www.propublica.org/article/science-lags-as-health-problems-emerge-near-gas-fieldsHow did we get this fracking nightmare besides the spineless lackeys that do happy EROI calculations for gas fracking? In the video above these frontmen for predatory capitalism were mentioned: Hill & Knowlton. They are famous for the Tabacco commercials in the 50s. Nothing has changed. Fracking and the Gas & Oil Industry
In 2009, members of ANGA (America’s Natural Gas Alliance), a lobbying organization for the gas industry, spread $80 million in funds across several agencies that included Hill & Knowlton to try to influence decisions on the process of gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing Similar to the strategy used for the pro-cigarette campaigns run in the 50s and 60s, the tactic the company is using for the issue is to simply raise doubt in the public’s mind about the dangers of the fracking process.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_%26_KnowltonDo any of these EROI experts figure what the following does to EROI numbers for fossil fuels or is this more stuff that doesn’t fit in the Procrustean Bed?
Duke Energy CEO Bill Johnson resigns after one day, gets $44 million in severance For his eight-hour tenure as top dog at Duke, Bill Johnson made a cool $44.4 million.
http://grist.org/news/duke-ceo-bill-johnson-resigns-after-one-day-gets-44-million-in-severance/I haven’t mentioned the tar sands EROI but these “unconventional oil resources” are estimated by Professor Charles Hall to be abot 5.0 or less. Try a lot less, professor; less than 1.0 when all the energy costs in cleaning up the horrible mess they are creating in Canada come due. Oh yeah, you don’t include that in the formula, do you? What about those huge EROI numbers (up to 100.0!) that the EROI experts claim were the norm in fossil fuels when oil was easy to get out of the ground and you didn’t have to destroy so much land and lop off mountain tops to get to the coal? Yeah, the EROI experts lament all these added MJ/L of energy inputs needed these days and celebrate the good old days. Those were the days before automobiles when Rockefeller would flush his waste (gasoline, among other refinery poisons) products from refining into the rivers at night. Those were the days well into the early 20th century when coal miners worked for slave wages and suffered from myriad lung diseases. Those were the days when miners got shot for wanting to work in decent conditions with decent pay. Those were the days that the heat energy overload on the biosphere began and the CO2 pollution began in earnest. I firmly believe that the huge EROI numbers for early fossil fuel of nearly 100 are inaccurate because many energy input costs, energy extracted from the public in form of subsidies and handed to oil corporations, energy to build infrastructure and energy to care for an increasingly sickened population from fossil fuel pollution as well as energy to clean polluted lands was, right from the start, offloaded from the fossil fuel balance sheets and on to we-the-people. Fossil fuels were never cost effective. The captains of industry stifled renewables in their infancy in the late 19th century. Writers, even back then, were discussing the possiblity of clean and renewable energy from electrolysis of water to use hydrogen as fuel. Sure, the technology needed to be refined and developed but the subsidy money went to oil. There was a real interest in electrification through renewables. Cleveland had wind generators in the late 19th century. Scranton, the town incorporated as a city of 35,000 in 1866 that is now facing bankruptcy from financial shenanigans of predatory capitalism, became known as the electric city in 1880. Electric trolleys were all the rage in many U.S. cities. Had these avenues been pursued, we would not be saddled with this polluted world. Now, despite the flawed EROI methodolgy which produces numbers above 1.0 for fossil and nuclear fuels, some people in the engineering field are waking up to the fact that the writing is on the EROI wall for them and renewables are the future.
Our society faces the colossal challenge of rapidly developing alternative energy sources that generate sufficient surplus energy to replace fossil fuels. Otherwise, material standards of living will decline – beginning with those of poorer people – as ever more resources have to be devoted to generating useful energy rather than to producing other goods and services. EROI figures indicate that the future lies in renewables like wind and solar, not unconventional hydrocarbons.
http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/energy-return-on-energy-invested-2012-06-15 So, to summarize all the above, the following “Energy Expended” inputs (the bottom part of the EROI formula*) have been arbitrarily left out by those EROI experts like Professor Charles Hall and the people from The Oil Scum (sorry, I meant the Oil Drum – really) web site: 1) Energy required to bioremediate pollution impacts from energy resource extraction. 2) Energy required to ameliorate negative health effects due to dangerous working conditions. 3) Energy required to counter negative effects on national GDP from slave wages. 4) Energy expended in wars to defend fossil fuel resources in foreign countries. 5) Energy equivalent in government subsidies taken from the populace and given to fossil and nuclear fuel producers. * If you get less energy out (top of the formula) the than you use to get the finished product (bottom of the formula) then you will get a number below “1” (i.e. 1/2 = 0.5 EROI not good). Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrustes The Procrustean bed “real world” of these experts is, and always was, a predatory capitalist, destructive and inhuman contrived “world” that they and all the lackeys that have benefited at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the human race and the biosphere cling desperately too by claiming it’s “the way the world works and we just have to live with it”. No, (Ashvin, Stoneleigh and Ilargi: pay attention) that is not “the way the world works”; That is “how a predatory capitalist con works”. Any mathematician worth his salt can, given a standard upstream and downstream time frame from energy extraction of e.g. ten years before and ten years after, quantify all the above Energy Expended Inputs in Mega Joules per Liter. But because that would shrink the EROI numbers for all fossil and nuclear fuels to a fraction of 1, well below any justification there ever was for making use of these poisons, they won’t do it. Furthermore the improper use and interpretation of thermodynamics by arbitrarily assuming that things that go boom (rapid explosive oxidation) are the gold standard in defining energy per se, they have made important “energy of activation” and “reaction velocity” variables seem irrelevant. The science of hydrocarbon chemistry and nuclear fission benefits from this flawed view that the more HEAT density in an exothermic process, the greater the potential EROI. That’s certainly true with hydrocarbons and nuclear fuels. That is NOT true with renewables. The best example I can think of is the internal combustion engine. The purpose of this machine is to use the energy of the explosions in the combustion chambers to drive a piston and produce mechanical energy. An electric motor produces mechanical enegy without wasting over 80% of the energy input on useless heat. The internal combustion engine, not only loses massive amounts of heat energy in the burning of fuel, but also must use part of the mechanical energy from the combustion to cool the engine. The EROI experts will certainly acknowledge that an internal combustion engine is only about 20% efficient but they flat refuse to see that the electric motor, because it doesn’t produce all that useless heat energy, can do the SAME AMOUNT OF WORK FOR LESS ENERGY. They may counter that I’m playing thermodynamic games here and the electricity to power the electric motor is coming from a fossil fuel or nuclear power plant so I’m just passing the energy buck, so to speak. Again, that shows the prejudice of these EROI experts to polluting fuel sources. In the subsequent paragraphs I will show how world electrification complete with electric motors being the motive force in industry and transportation, can achieve exactly the same amount of “useful work” (at a minimum) now produced by fossil fuels with less energy inputs because the resource is PV, geothermal, wind and wave. You would NOT have all the useless heat energy now contributing to an overheated planet. Along with all the CO2 and other greenhouse gases, we sure don’t need billions of engines spewing 80% useless heat energy into the biosphere. Combustion has it’s place with the use of ethanol in furnaces to provide heat in winter where ALL the heat energy output is made use of. Biomass ethanol used as fuel in high compression engines should be seen as a step in weening us away from gasoline but the whole approach to energy systems that is married to the “more heat is is better forever!” view is scientifically bankrupt because it refuses to address the damage to the biosphere that waste heat imposes. As I said in a previous article, nature paces living energy systems with enzymes that lower the energy of activation and control the biochemical reactions to avoid overheating living tissue. It’s high time the EROI experts accepted that the future lies in an energy extraction paradigm that does not go boom (explosive, rapid oxidation). We need, for our very survival, to use direct and indirect solar and geothermal energy in a manner so fine tuned that there is zero waste heat. We need to electrify all mechanical energy systems and provide them with electricity from renewable and truly efficient, non explosive energy processes.
Let us now see what our global energy requirements are and how renewables can satisfy them. Remember that our new paradigm has a huge energy debt from all the pollution caused by fossil and nuclear fuels, the chemical industry pollution and many dirty industrial processes. Even as we begin to power the world cleanly, we will need to be expending a LOT of Mega Joules per Liter to bioremediate the mess the dirty fuel industries have left us with. Note: The EROI reference below is stated as EROEI but it is the same thing. The “10:1” number convention is a way of stating an EROI of 10.0 with a reference value of “1” as signifying that 1.0 EROI equals equivalent inputs and outputs. All the EROI numbers I have mentioned previously have the “:1” implied after the number so I have simply left them out.
Given the strong dependence of current technologically advanced economies on oil, Peak Oil may be a distress for entire economic sectors (Hamilton, 2009) if no alternative primary energy is made available during the next decades to take the place of fossil fuels (Hirsch et al., 2005). In a recent report, Heinberg (2009) defined four conditions that a future primary energy source substitute should satisfy: i. must be able to provide a substantial amount of energy— perhaps a quarter of all the energy currently used nationally or globally; ii. must have an Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI) of 10:1 or above (see Appendix A); iii. cannot have unacceptable environmental (including climate), social or geopolitical impacts; iv. must be renewable. Moreover, as discussed in this manuscript, an additional requirement must be also considered: v. Must not depend on the exploitation and use of scarce materials.
The above authors are being too conservative. As of this writing, renewables already are at 19% of the global energy pie and that information is probaly somewhat dated due to the several month lag on data collection. Because renewable use and their technical efficiency is constantly increasing through added infrastructure and research and development, while fossil and nuclear fuels are in a state where their EROI numbers, even by the gamed formula standards, are heading below 1.0, the renewable percentage of the energy pie will probably increase exponentially, rather than linearly. The fact that renewables, in the early studies nearly a decade ago, had a mere 1% of the global energy pie is strong evidence that the growth is exponential. For those pathetic, parochial clingers to the status quo ante who arrogantly dismiss renewables and their 10.0 PLUS EROIs with the claim that renewables are a mere drop in the world energy bucket, I suggest you get some metaphorical floatation gear because there is a renewable tsunami coming. Let us now return to the world energy requirements study and how renewables can fill the gap:
All combined, these authors assume that only 11.5 TW (the 68% of the total mean power) should be produced by the renewable mix to satisfy the 2030 demand of an electrified society. This is close to the 2010 production of 12.5 TW. Current electric generation is only 2 TW, so a six-fold increase is required.
The potential primary power sources that remain after this first screening process are wind and concentrating solar thermal (CSP) devices. Besides, the engineering of both technologies is well known and understood and do not actually depend on rare earth elements (REE) and/or scarce materials.
2.1. Wind, water and solar proven technologies Windmills of 3–5 MW are being currently built and installed; this is a proven technology in expansion.The EROEI of wind turbines has been estimated in the range 15:1–40:1 (Kubiszewski and Cleveland, 2007). The capacity factor (CF, i.e. the ratio of the power actually produced to the theoretical maximum) of commercial turbines has improved overtime, from 0.22 for units built before 1998, to 0.30 for units in 2000–2001, and 0.36 for those operating after 2004–2005 (US DOE, 2008, p.27). The EROEI of CSP stations is close to 20:1 (Vant-Hull, 1985). Parabolic trough stations are more extended and proven CSP technology.
From now to 2030, plausible technology developments would permit colonising continental shelves up to 225 m depth with both founded and floating offshore windmills. In addition, two hybrid wind-wave systems could enhance the yield and power stability of offshore wind turbines: (i)attaching attenuator floaters at the base of windmills and (ii)deploying floating platforms with attenuators at the base and wind turbines above. An example of this technology is the Green Ocean Energy Ltd. prototype of 0.5MW (see: http://www.greenoceanenergy.com/index.php/wave-treader). Another example of attenuators is the Pelamis floaters, from Ocean Power Delivery Ltd. (Drewetal., 2009), which generate 0.75 MW with a 120 m long device. An example of the second approach is the Floating Power Plant prototype (see: http://www.floatingpowerplant.com/), designed to produce 10 MW, 56% from waves and 44% from three windmills.
Notice the use of hybrid energy systems to increase efficiency of energy collection. This is a giant paradigm shift from the mono mania that the fossil and nuclear fuel industries pursue with their “one size fits all” approach to the detriment of the environment (this inefficient approach to energy extraction also simplifies EROI math. ). Fossil and nuclear fuel advocates hate hybrid energy extraction techniques. I guess it confuses them or perhaps their predatory capitalist mindset is too consumed by monopolising one energy source in order to achieve price control and then squelch competitors. Whatever their flawed rationale, their modus operandi is unsustainable. Snippet 5;
The three main advantages of hybrid installations are: increased energy return per square kilometre; reduction of maintenance costs of equipments and undersea transmission cables; and compensation of wind generation intermittency, as wind and waves are not necessarily correlated (with the exception of storms).
Fig. 2. Annual average (July 1983–June 2005) of incident insolation on a horizontal surface in kWh/m2/day. Data downloaded from the NASA Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy site (SSE, http://eosweb.larc.nasa.gov/sse/, release 6.0). Grey and blue dots have twice the real areas occupied by the CSP stations to improve the readability of the figure (see text for details). White lines represent main distribution grid lines. The length scale corresponds to latitude 45°N. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
The above jpg shows where we will get much of our energy from renewables. As you all know, the sun, directly or indirectly, is our energy power source. We now have the technology, even in it’s infancy as to achievable levels of efficiency, that is proven, durable and being installed in the high renewable energy extraction potential points throughout the globe. This is no pipe dream; this is real, practical and happening, unfortunately, for financial reasons (cheap reliable energy free of price shocks) rather than our desperate global climate situation killing various lifeforms in our biosphere at an increasing rate. But even if it’s just being done for profit, my attitutde is, “Any Port In The Environmental Collapse Storm”. If the profit motive is needed to have a sane energy extraction standard, so be it. This is a table of the proposed Energy infrastructure: Snippet 6:
|Type||Power fraction(%)||Capacity factor||Rated power (MW)||Units|
|Stirling plants/air cooled CSP||28||0.25||300||50,460|
|Parabolic Stations, 12 h storage||12||0.4-0.75||300||9800|
Table 1-Energy production mix proposed
Fig. 1. Annual average of wind speed at 50 m above the surface of the Earth in m/s. Data downloaded from the NASA Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy site (SSE, http://eosweb.larc.nasa.gov/sse/, release 5.0). Light blue, blue and dark blue correspond to regions where the wind speeds are in the ranges 6–8 m/s, 8–10 m/s and >10 m/s, respectively. The red line delineates the 200 m isobath, representing the continental shelf.(For interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.) A. Garcı´a-Olivares etal./EnergyPolicy41(2012)561–574 563
In addition to hybrid systems, other techniques are being proposed for power consistency: 2.4. Intermittency constraints The unwelcome power variability associated with renewable sources may be mitigated by: (i) geographical interconnection (Zhou, 2009); (ii) use of hydroelectric power to smooth out supply (Czisch and Giebel, 2006); (iii) using reversible Electrical Vehicle (EV) recharging as grid storage (Kempton and Tomic, 2005); (iv) using other electric storage systems, as for example, water pumping, air compression, batteries, hydrogen production and storage and (v) using smart demand-response management and weather prediction to better match inflexible loads to the power supply (Delucchi and Jacobson,2011).
http://www.imedea.uib-csic.es/master/cambioglobal/Modulo_1_03/Ballabrera_Diciembre_2011/Articulos/Garcia-Olivares.2011.pdfThe study referenced above is thorough. So thorough that it lists every metal used in the energy infrastructure today as well as their uses in wind turbines, PV and CSP to list a few. They even project when these metals will be exhausted at current extraction rates. They warn that the renewable solution requires a steady state economy and not the continuous growth paradigm of capitalism and energy extraction corporations. In other words, it’s time to stop being pigs. We live in a finite world and pretending otherwise for environmental rape and predatory capitalist profits threatens human society and the biosphere. Yes, we can go full renewable and meet today’s total energy demands. Full electrification will reduce the unusable heat polluting the atmosphere from inefficient internal combustion engines that must go the way of the Dodo bird. The savings from newfound efficiencies with renewables will provide some limited room for growth in addition to a lower overall energy load for exactly the same mechanical energy previously used to run civilization because renewables don’t produce massive wastes in heat energy at all steps of the extraction and use process that fossil fuel and nuclear energy products do. Where I disagree with the authors is on their insistence that the renewable energy sources must be scalable. I believe that scalabilty of an energy source, unless it is a government utility (i.e. fully socialized and non-profit), will lead to unscrupulous short cuts and new externalized costs for the populace for the benefit of private power corporations. The promise of renewables must go hand in hand with decentralized power sources. The authors recognized PV panels could make a huge contribution but did not consider them cheap enough yet and voiced concerns with the future availability of the somewhat rare metals used to make them. This issue is being addressed and overcome so I believe the authors will be pleasantly surprised with the massive contribution PV will make to the total picture. The authors discarded alleged low EROI renewables for consideration because of their scalability bias. As I stated early in this article, biomass ethanol, if properly used, has an EROI of at least that of gasoline without the environmental baggage of gasoline. And other biomass products like Lemna minor (Duckweed), that grow eight times faster than corn without heavy industrial chemical fertilization or pesticides will certainly produce EROI numbers far above 10.0. Passive geothermal (also discarded by the authors because it isn’t scalable) and other renewable heat sources such as e.g. placing mirrors a short distance from the north side of house in winter to reflect sun onto the north facing wall to drastically lower heating costs will play a very important role in the picture of total sustainability. In addition, decentralized renewable energy infrastructure provides jobs, not in the feast or famine pattern of ethics free, dog eat dog, vicious predatory capitalist “business” model, but in a sustainable, predictable and humane way. While we are busy bioremediating all the damage Rockefeller and the nuclear nuts have saddled us with, we will be dealing with violent and unpredictable weather for a century or more. Decentralized renewable energy infrastructure has the added bonus that it provides resiliency to communities in the event of a disaster because “something” is always going to be working and neighbors with some working renewable energy infrastructure will be able to help those without access to energy. Embracing sustainability is embracing a caring society and rejecting the mindless and destructive wars and erosion of trust that is destroying our civilization from the evil wrought by corporations and the psychopaths that run them. We must reject these human predators who constantly pit everyone against their neighbor for profit. There are still so many goodhearted, thinking people out there that take the stewardship of this planet seriously. We can do so much to live in harmony with the biosphere if we could only constrain the insanely greedy psychopaths among us. Just look at the beauty and harmony with nature we are capable of:
Germany is the world leader in turning the dream of a world 100% powered by renewable energy sources into a reality. I invite you now to proceed to this German web site and watch the following free videos. These videos are not about proof of concept or pilot programs. These videos are about nuts and bolts applications going on today. To show you how fast things are changing, the largest wind turbine available that is referenced in the above study about a year old has already been increased by over 1MW in energy generating capacity. The switch to renewables is really happening and these videos prove it: There are five videos. They are all immensely enjoyable and filled with details of interest about several renewable energy technologies but if you are rushed for time, the last one on Wind Energy does a good job of putting them all together. Those new Wind turbines are BIG! When you click on the link below, scroll to the following sentence:
Watch the film online! If you are interested in watching the Spanish or French version please change the language-option of this website.
Below that sentence you can click and watch each video, one at a time. I recommend you watch them in sequence from top to bottom as they are listed. You won’t be disappointed.
Solar energy Hydropower Geothermal energy Bioenergy Wind energy
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I am certain there are some people out there clinging to the status quo ante that will not be pleased. What will be the reaction from people with vested interests in the fossil and nuclear fuel bankrupt paradigm be? See the beginning of the article for the reaction of the Steak House restaurant owners to replacing the kiddy burgers with chickpeas. So prepare for the ignore, ridicule and attack sequence. The “Steak House” owners are not about to change their name to “Chickpea Heaven” or something like that. But, if all these people so invested in the horror that is fossil and nuclear fuels would sit down and really think that what they are doing will eventually kill their descendants and much of the biosphere, then “The Oil Drum” web site would morf to “Sustainability From The Sun” web site. And maybe dear Professor Charles Hall and friends would stop their Procrustean Bed mathematics celebrating things that go boom and denigrating passive sustainable renewable energy processes that don’t. A big thank you to the Doomstead Diner web site and those that work it and comment on it. like Reverse Engineer (alias Josey Wales!) and Peter who designed an outstanding forum and thread architecture. Print this and plaster it everywhere you can. The planet Earth is our home and we need to do everything we can to save it. Challenge the deniers to argue the points made here. Demand proof rather than some huffy dismissal about not understanding the laws of thermodynamics, capitalism or free enterprise. Ask them how many Mega Joules per Liter will we expend in dealing with THEIR “GIFT” TO US of 400 parts per million of CO2, increased cancer rates, excess heat from internal combustion engines that are only about 20% efficient, erosion of democracy through monopoly oil corporation price control and purchase of of our representatives and laws and useless wars that get our children killed for their GOD DAMNED profits (no, I am not swearing; I am certain the creator is not amused by humans trashing his garden or those who, like some poor deluded souls, claim that this is the way the world works and we just have to live with it). And tell them to stuff it when they say we-the-people are responsible because we consumed their products. If they return all the profits and swag from subsidies made by big oil and nuclear, then we’ll consider that possibility but otherwise it was THEY who corralled us into consuming their crap so they could centralize riches and power and turn the USA into a plutocracy ruled by ruthless oligarchs. Call them cowards for drinking the koolaid. Force them to face responsibility for ruining the future for their offspring with ther blindness and greed. When the Biased Bums at The Oil Scum claim you don’t know what you are talking about when you claim that ethanol (otherwise known as ethyl alcohol) is a superior fuel to gasoline because it gets better mileage in high compression engines and burns cleaner translating to a GREATER effective EROI than gasoline, push this into their face and ask them why they never got the memo:
Ethyl alcohol in the early 20th century The following excerpt is from a Paper to the American Society for Environmental History, Annual Conference March 26-30, 2003 By William Kovarik, Ph.D. “Studies of alcohol as an internal combustion engine fuel began in the U.S. with the Edison Electric Testing Laboratory and Columbia University in 1906. Elihu Thomson reported that despite a smaller heat or B.T.U. value, “a gallon of alcohol will develop substantially the same power in an internal combustion engine as a gallon of gasoline. This is owing to the superior efficiency of operation…” (New York Times Aug. 5, 1906) Other researchers confirmed the same phenomena around the same time. “USDA tests in 1906 also demonstrated the efficiency of alcohol in engines and described how gasoline engines could be modified for higher power with pure alcohol fuel or for equivalent fuel consumption, depending on the need. The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) and the U.S. Navy performed 2000 tests on alcohol and gasoline engines in 1907 and 1908 in Norfolk, Va. and St. Louis, Mo. They found that much higher engine compression ratios could be achieved with alcohol than with gasoline. When the compression ratios were adjusted for each fuel, fuel economy was virtually equal despite the greater B.T.U. value of gasoline. “In regard to general cleanliness, such as absence of smoke and disagreeable odors, alcohol has many advantages over gasoline or kerosene as a fuel,” the report said. “The exhaust from an alcohol engine is never clouded with a black or grayish smoke.” USGS continued the comparative tests and later noted that alcohol was “a more ideal fuel than gasoline” with better efficiency despite the high cost.”
Ethanol Engine efficiency exceeds gasoline engines, giving greater miles per gallon (MPG) with ethanol fuel: High Efficiency and Low Emissions from a Port-Injected Engine with Alcohol Fuels— By Matthew Brusstar, Mark Stuhldreher, David Swain and William Pidgeon, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency size: 70 Kb – 7 pages
http://www.epa.gov/otaq/presentations/sae-2002-01-2743-v2.pdfWhen they fall back on the EROI formula Procrustean Bed with the claim that EROI only deals with energy density in fuels and not efficiency coefficients in different engine types, calmly remind them (hopefully, two by fours will be unnecessary to knock some sense into their heads but you never know) that gasoline is not customarily used for furnaces, room lighting, barbeque grills or to boil water; it’s used almost exclusively in the ICE (internal combustion engine). For these fossil fuel lakeys, water carriers and quislings to refuse to measure gasoline’s EFFECTIVE USABLE ENERGY when it is actually used in an ICE to do work is the height of duplicity. But this subterfuge by Rockefeller’s admirers is not new. As I have mentioned before, way back at the end of the 19th century, Rockefeller was flushing his gasoline waste product in the rivers by his refineries at night. He could not avoid producing gasoline in his refinery cracking towers (about 19 gallons of gasoline for every 42 gallon barrel of crude refined)*. When the automobile came out in the early twentieth century, the early car fuel called benzene had to be eliminated because that hydrocarbon is a carcinogenic. As you read above in the 1906 Edison lab study, ethanol was considered competitive energywise with gasoline. What did Rockefeller do? He lowered the price of gasoline (remember his cost was near zero because it had been a waste product of the refining process) so much that ethanol was priced out of the market**. It was a win-win for Rockefeller. It was only a matter of time before his nasty habit of flushing gasoline into rivers at night was going to get him and his refinery employees facing the wrong end of a shotgun from some irate farmer who noticed his horses and cows getting sick or dying when drinking the river water downstream of an oil refinery. So Rockefeller managed to change the flush operation from the rivers to the atmosphere and make a bundle out of it too. But this predatory capitalist wasn’t done killing ethanol yet. He gave millions to a temperance group that ultimately succeeded in Prohibition legislation banning the production and use of ethanol (ethyl alcohol), not just for drinking, but for ICE fuel as well (and you thought Prohibition was just the fundies not wanting you to get high on booze. Rockefeller USED the fundies to block ethanol competition). The reality was that the “cheap” gasoline was far, far more expensive than ethanol due to the atmospheric poisons introduced. It got even worse when tetra-ethyl lead entered the mix in the 1920s. It wasn’t until about 1973 that the severe damage from leaded gasoline was recognized and even so, to this day, unleaded gasoline is not mandatory in off road vehicles. Now that ethanol is out there and available once again as a competitor to gasoline, the fossil fuel enablers return with the familiar FALSE claims that ethanol is not competitive with gasoline and the poppycock that gasoline gets better mileage than ethanol. Call out these overeducated, Procrustean Bed, creative thermodynamics “geniuses” carrying water for the fossil fuel industry on their lies and distortions. Accuse them of being well aware of the above and deliberately distorting the fuel facts when they are actually applied to their use in engines. Tell them their Procrustean Bed EROI Bullshit isn’t going to fly anymore.
*On average, about 19.5 US gallons (16.2 imp gal; 74 L) of gasoline are available from a 42-US-gallon (35 imp gal; 160 L) barrel of crude oil (about 46% by volume), varying due to quality of crude and grade of gasoline. The remaining residue comes off as products ranging from tar to naptha.
**The gasoline engine became the preferred engine for the automobile because gasoline was cheaper than alcohol, not because it was a better fuel. And, because alcohol was not available at any price from 1920 to 1933, a period during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was banned nationally as mandated in the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment on December 5, 1933. In time to produce alcohol fuels during World War II. By the time World War II ended, the gasoline engine had become “entrenched” because gasoline remained cheaper than Alcohol, and widely distributed – gas stations were everywhere.
http://www.americanenergyindependence.com/alcoholengines.aspx Tell anybody with fried logic circuits that claims this is “the way the world works” that the REAL WORLD, not the predatory capitalist hell hole they so love, is the BIOSPHERE. That world has a set of rules and, for most of our human existence on this planet, we followed them. For over a century and a half, a level of insanity not seen in human history has produced a greed fest so blind, so stupid and so incorrigible that it can only be labelled what it is: EVIL. Fossil and nuclear fuel advocates and their pseudo scientific Procrustean Bed EROI happy number formulations NEVER WORKED. The backers of these poisoned energy sources lied about absolutely everything related to their extraction and use from day one and they are lying through their teeth now to sabotage the truth about renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy sources are practical, sustainable and healthy for the planet and humans. Fossil and nuclear fuels have brought us pollution, wars and corrupted democracy.