Posts tagged ‘Alternative Energy’
Oil and gas are finite resources? True. But so is water. Oil and gas are the source of all life on Earth? Nope. Water is more important. Careful when you start drilling into a shale. As these residents found out, the result of the drilling is that the methane in their driking water is so high, they can light their water on fire. Doesn’t that sound good for society?
Let’s take a closer look at the Marcellus Shale before we start tearing up the Barnett Shale. Maybe we’re not quite advanced enough to drill this yet. Maybe we should focus some energy on nuclear fusion and maybe we’d be able to stop drilling.
Fusion Energy as Alternative Energy
Large-scale reactors using neutronic fuels (e.g. ITER) and thermal power production (turbine based) are most comparable to fission power from an engineering and economics viewpoint. Both fission and fusion power plants involve a relatively compact heat source powering a conventional steam turbine-based power plant, while producing enough neutron radiation to make activation of the plant materials problematic. The main distinction is that fusion power produces no high-level radioactive waste (though activated plant materials still need to be disposed of). There are some power plant ideas which may significantly lower the cost or size of such plants; however, research in these areas is nowhere near as advanced as in tokamaks.
Fusion power commonly proposes the use of deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, as fuel and in many current designs also use lithium. Assuming a fusion energy output equal to the 1995 global power output of about 100 EJ/yr (= 1 x 1020 J/yr) and that this does not increase in the future, then the known current lithium reserves would last 3000 years, lithium from sea water would last 60 million years, and a more complicated fusion process using only deuterium from sea water would have fuel for 150 billion years. To put this in context, 150 billion years is over ten times the currently measured age of the universe, and is close to 30 times the remaining lifespan of the sun.
Despite being technically non-renewable, fusion power has many of the benefits of long-term renewable energy sources (such as being a sustainable energy supply compared to presently utilized sources and emitting no greenhouse gases). Like these currently dominant alternative energy sources, fusion could provide very high power-generation density and uninterrupted power delivery (due to the fact that it is not dependent on the weather, unlike wind and solar power).
There is no possibility of a catastrophic accident in a fusion reactor resulting in major release of radioactivity to the environment or injury to non-staff, unlike modern fission reactors. The primary reason is that nuclear fusion requires precisely controlled temperature, pressure, and magnetic field parameters to generate net energy. If the reactor were damaged, these parameters would be disrupted and the heat generation in the reactor would rapidly cease. In contrast, the fission products in a fission reactor continue to generate heat through beta-decay for several hours or even days after reactor shut-down, meaning that melting of fuel rods is possible even after the reactor has been stopped due to continued accumulation of heat.
There is also no risk of a runaway reaction in a fusion reactor, since the plasma is normally burnt at optimal conditions, and any significant change will render it unable to produce excess heat. In fusion reactors the reaction process is so delicate that this level of safety is inherent; no elaborate failsafe mechanism is required. Although the plasma in a fusion power plant will have a volume of 1000 cubic meters or more, the density of the plasma is extremely low, and the total amount of fusion fuel in the vessel is very small, typically a few grams. If the fuel supply is closed, the reaction stops within seconds. In comparison, a fission reactor is typically loaded with enough fuel for one or several years, and no additional fuel is necessary to keep the reaction going.
A new study by CarGurus.com that suggests that, increased fuel economy notwithstanding, hybrids don’t deliver good value for the money. In fact, the average hybrid costs 25 percent more to own and operate than its gas-only counterpart.
It is also notwithstanding the environmental impact of hybrids. As more people depend more heavily on mobile devices like laptops and phones, we create an increased demand for batteries. That’s seperate from the current trend of hybrid cars. How much material does it cost to power a CAR compared to a camera? These heavy materials are expensive to move. These hazardous materials are dangerous to dispose of (which comes with a high cost). Obtaining these materials requires mining and drilling – a practice that always leads to problems. These materials are only found in a certain few areas. What good is it to trade dependence on oil-rich countries for dependence on rare earth material-rich countries (China and Russia are the 2 largest sources)?
Neodymium, terbium, dysprosium, and lanthanum are all considered rare earth metals, and all are being depleted, quickly, by popular hybrids. Anyone who’s considering a Toyota Prius [or other hybrid] might want to remember this quote from Jack Lifton, an independent commodities consultant and strategic metals expert, who calls the Prius “the biggest user of rare earths of any object in the world.” (Source: See ‘Car Gurus’ below)
Alternative power is great. But are batteries the best option? The materials used in batteries are so rare that they are called Rare Earth Elements! Should an alternative energy source use a power source that has the word “rare” in its name?
Car Gurus: Toyota Prius: King of Green, or Earth Killer?
Reuters: As hybrid cars gobble rare metals, shortage looms
Live Science: Shortage of Rare Earth Elements Could Thwart Innovation
Popular Mechanics: 4 Rare Earth Elements That Will Only Get More Important
Popular Science: Shortage of Rare Earth Minerals May Cripple U.S. High-Tech, Scientists Warn Congress
Wind power at home is becoming a reality. The EarthTronics Honeywell wind turbine works in “low wind” areas. For use in homes or small businesses. Awesome!
In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.
Improvements in alternative energy (Democrat), or drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and tax breaks for oil companies (Republican)?