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NNadir

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Member since: 2002
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Now That the Magic Has Gone.

Can the US Navy lead the world in REVERSING climate change?

In recent years, as our efforts not just to control but to eliminate fossil fuels become more and more obvious failures, I've been forced to speculate whether there is any viable way to reverse climate change by restoring the atmosphere.

The reading I've been doing isn't very reassuring, although there are many groups considering how this might be done, the most famous, and perhaps most cited paper on the topic being this one by Nobel Laureate George Olah passed away several weeks ago at the age of 89 and, until he died, was still working on behalf of future generations: Chemical Recycling of Carbon Dioxide to Methanol and Dimethyl Ether: From Greenhouse Gas to Renewable, Environmentally Carbon Neutral Fuels and Synthetic Hydrocarbons (J. Org. Chem., 2009, 74 (2), pp 487–498) The paper, according to Google Scholar as of this writing has been cited 653 times.

NY Times: George Olah Obituary (The obituary contains some nonsense in describing Dr. Olah's work, but it's OK, since NY Times reporters and editors are not very good at understanding science.)

I would be very surprised if there is anyone on this website who thinks that increasing the military budget at the expense of education, the environment, and health is a good idea, I would expect they won't last very long as members here.

But it would be a mistake to assume that all research done for military purposes is useless and worthless: Everything from Kevlar materials, to modern aircraft, to the GPS systems we commonly use in getting around, and our industrially important space technology to nuclear power had its origins in military research.

To the extent this is true, it's a silver lining on a lump of shit, the Trump budget.

Recently in this space, as I was writing a comment in some thread, I poked around to find a paper I recalled reading some time ago, that touches on this topic, specifically this one: Development of an Electrochemical Acidification Cell for the Recovery of CO2 and H2 from Seawater (Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 2011, 50 (17), pp 9876–9882). The lead author is Heather Willauer. Dr. Willauer works for the office of naval research, and her work for the last decade has been involved in making jet fuel and diesel fuel for the Navy from seawater

In general, I have a jaundiced view of people getting all excited about "scientific breakthroughs" that exist on a bench top lab scale. Most of these people have never been involved in the scale up of a bench top process to an industrial process, and although I have been so involved, I fully realize that my experience is extremely rare.

The paper from Dr. Willauer to which I referred is not highly cited but it does seem that there are plans to industrialize it nonetheless, and it has been run, unlike many of the bench top "breakthroughs" you might read around here, on a small pilot scale.

The idea of the process is to utilize the Navy's nuclear reactors on its nuclear powered air craft carriers to make their own jet fuel.

As noted in some of Dr. Willauer's other papers, and references therein, as well as other sources, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the oceans - the main sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide - is more than 100 times more concentrated than it is in the atmosphere; she claims 140 ppm. Her cell splits the seawater into components, one which is acidic, essentially an HCl solution - which discharges the CO2 - and one which is basic, an NaOH solution. (I note that left standing, or better with bubbling, the NaOH solution will capture CO2 from the air.) Thus the ocean is an efficient carbon dioxide extraction device.

She recently evaluated the costs of using this technology on the naval base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. (cf. Naval Research Laboratory Report NRL/MR/6300--15-9635). She estimates that the base, which is on a very small Island, could produce about 129,000 gallons per day (the demand of the entire island for its diesel generators and naval operations) of diesel fuel from 320 MW of electricity used to process 18 gallons per minute of seawater at a cost of between $3.76 and $5.12 per gallon using so called "renewable energy," wind and solar. This compares with a current cost of providing diesel fuel to this remote island of $6.60/gallon. (Her estimate is that by covering 1% of the land area of Diego Garcia with solar cells, one could produce about 1/10th of the required amount of electricity to generate this much diesel fuel.)

It is claimed that the Navy is seriously looking at this technology, and looking to deploy it in the next decade, although of course, there is no accounting for the rape of science and engineering that will take place for however long the ignorant and malovent Republicans rule the United States.

It is interesting to note that the island nation of Nauru, which has been stripped mined of all of its phosphate and is now, having lost all of its assets in financial schemes and totally dependent on Australian largesse and fees for storing captured Arabic refugees, has an average continuous power demand of roughly 350 MW of power, for all purposes including, but not limited to, electricity.

The island also needs to import fresh water in tankers.

A very small nuclear reactor, the size of a building, could easily provide this much power, particularly a "breed and burn" reactor designed to operate without refueling for half a century or more. Either Diego Garcia or Nauru could easily incorporate this kind of reactor in a very small area, and utilize the waste heat from it to desalinate their water. (I've often dreamt of a very beautiful arrangement for Nauru, an island which somehow pains me, because I also think a lot about phosphorous flows, on which the world's agricultural infrastructure depends.)

This suggests that remote islands, where fuel costs are already very high as a function of their isolation, could install similar nuclear powered systems and become energy independent not only for electricity, but for all of their energy needs. As a side product, they will work to reduce the rising pH of the oceans, which has recently helped to kill the Great Barrier Reef, as well as prevent rising sea levels.

It may or may not be viable, but of all the "atmospheric restoration schemes" I find it to be more feasible than many others of which I've read.

I'll be keeping my eye on this technology.

A little off topic: In my household there has been some discussion of whether it is ethical to participate in laboratories that do military research. As an advocate of nuclear energy, which I believe is the last, best hope of the human race to maintain a stable environment, I am forced to take a nuanced view of the topic. Of course, the world has never really recovered from the overall negative way it was introduced to the public, that is, of course, with the deaths of huge numbers of people in two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This has resulted in a psychological barrier to utilizing nuclear technology, even though it is, again, our last best hope.

Dr. Willauer's work, should it actually prove industrially viable, might actually do something it is difficult to imagine being possible, which is to restore the Earth, particularly when partnered with nuclear energy.

Have a nice Sunday evening.

Deluded Scientists Think They Can Reassure the Public on the Fukushima Tuna.

Some years back before I was banned from Daily Kos for telling the truth about nuclear energy I wrote a piece there about the famous Tuna "contaminated" by Fukushima Cesium that was captured off the coast of California.

Some Remarks On the PNAS Radioactive Tuna Paper.

Recently here and elsewhere there's been some hubub about the "Fukushima Radioactive Tuna." Hopefully the ignorance, fear and superstition surrounding the famous radioactive tuna will result in less people eating tuna, since the argument is well made that this would respresent a rare case in which ignorance, fear and superstiton has a positive consequence.

Tuna are a stressed, if not endangered, species. If people are inspired to not eat them, there could be positive effects on marine ecology...


Like most of my writings over there, and many here, the "diary" was built around a paper in the primary scientific literature, specifically this one:

Pacific bluefin tuna transport Fukushima derived radionuclides from Japan to California

The authors of this paper were, um, a little surprised to see how the media picked up this paper, and so a little later they wrote another paper in the same prestigious journal to um, "correct" the nonsense hyped in the scientifically illiterate general media.

I came across this paper in my general Sunday science readings. It is here:

Evaluation of radiation doses and associated risk from the Fukushima nuclear accident to marine biota and human consumers of seafood

In it the authors write:

Recent reports describing the presence of radionuclides released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Pacific biota (1, 2) have aroused worldwide attention and concern. For example, the discovery of 134Cs and 137Cs in Pacific Bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis; PBFT) that migrated from Japan to California waters (2) was covered by >1,100 newspapers worldwide and numerous internet, television, and radio outlets. Such widespread coverage reflects the public’s concern and general fear of radiation. Concerns are particularly acute if the artificial radionuclides are in human food items such as seafood. Although statements were released by government authorities, and indeed by the authors of these papers, indicating that radionuclide concentrations were well below all national safety food limits, the media and public failed to respond in measure.


The bold is mine. "The media and the public failed to respond in measure"

In measure...

In measure...

The authors point out that the 210Po found naturally in seafood as a result of the fact that the sea naturally contains roughly 5 billion tons of its parent nuclide, uranium 238, represents a radiation dose that is, and always has been, since the first Homo sapiens ate seafood, 600 times higher than that from Fukushima radionuclides right outside the reactor.

The authors note that a "subsistence fishmerman" - there not many of these in the modern world - consuming 124 kg of fish per year would face a fatal cancer risk that is 2 in 10,000,000 higher from Fukushima the risk without the reactor, but note that the cancer risk is, and never will be 100% to start. They note this is actually so small, that is impossible to actually determine that it is a real risk at all.

I never tire of referring to the paper published in Lancet a few years back that details the risk of the 67 highest risk factors to which all of humanity is exposed, not just a possibly fetishized subsistence fisherman. Seven million people die each year from air pollution.

A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (Lancet 2012, 380, 2224–60. For air pollution mortality figures see Table 3, page 2238 and the text on page 2240.)

It was noted in this space by another poster that Japan, in order to "diversify" its electricity supply, that Japan plans to build 45 new coal plants. These plants will kill people without any accident at all. They kill whenever they operate.

Japanese government planning to build 45 new coal fired power stations to diversify supply

In the authors of the original PNAS paper on the "radioactive" Tuna and its, um, putative "reassurance" conclusion write:

This study shows that the committed effective dose received by humans based on a year’s average consumption of contaminated PBFT from the Fukushima accident is comparable to, or less than, the dose we routinely obtain from naturally occurring radionuclides in many food items, medical treatments, air travel, or other background sources (28). Although uncertainties remain regarding the effects of low levels of ionizing radiation on humans (30), it is clear that doses and resulting cancer risks associated with consumption of PBFT in eastern and western Pacific waters are low and below levels that should cause concern to even the most exposed segments of human populations. Fears regarding environmental radioactivity, often a legacy of Cold War activities and distrust of governmental and scientific authorities, have resulted in perception of risks by the public that are not commensurate with actual risks.


The bold is, again, mine.

This would be funny except that the fear and ignorance the paper proposes to address will kill people since we live in a time of dire environmental stress for which, I contend after years of study of the issue for which nuclear energy is the only viable technology that has a chance of saving what can be saved.

The authors of the PNAS papers are kidding themselves if they think the "public" will act intelligently or wisely and not view things in paranoid isolation from one another. Scientists are in no position to address stupidity, the stupidity associated with the Fukushima event, and stupidity anywhere else, whether the issue is vaccinations, or genetic modification, or the health consequences of fossil fuels.

We live, afterall, in a world where there were enough people who thought that having Donald Trump be President of the United States would be a good idea that it actually happened.

The media played a huge role in the promotion of Donald Trump, just as it is playing a huge role in climate change and, peripherally, not that we care, in the 7 million air pollution deaths as well as other environmentally related deaths, such as a lack of basic sanitation for more than a billion people.

I was banned at Daily Kos for stating that opposing nuclear energy is murder.

I cannot apologize for this statement, since it is murder, but there is nothing I can do to prevent this murder from becoming more wide spread.

The propaganda machine told you that banning nuclear energy in Japan would be fine since so called "renewable energy" is so great. It is not great. It didn't work. It isn't working. It won't work. We're now well above 400 ppm of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere and no one alive today will ever see a level below that, but it is almost certain that many of them will see values much, much higher.

Japan is building coal plants because, um, they convinced themselves that nuclear energy wasn't, um, "safe."

End of story.

More deaths on the heads of the paranoid anti-nukes. n/t.

Accumulation of Perfluoroalkylated Substances in Oceanic Plankton.

A paper with the title of this post appears in the current issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The link is here: Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (5), pp 2766–2775

Perfluoroalkylated compounds are now widely considered to join some well known toxic species like, for instance, PCBs (Perchlorobiphenyls) and PBDE's (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and DDT and many others as members of a class of compounds known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Many of these compounds were originally contained in consumer products; PBDE's for one example were originally developed as flame retardants in fabrics and electronic devices. Sometimes these POP's were utilized in important industrial infrastructure systems important in every day life. PCB's were widely used (and are still present) in transformers on which our electricity depends as well as in other devices, like capacitors in TV's.

Perfluroakylated products were used in a wide variety of products, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) for example is a degradation product of Teflon. Spray on products designed to protect fabrics in furniture and clothing often utilized perfluorinated organic compounds.

The introductory text of the paper gives some insight to the level of concern associated with these compounds.

To wit:

Perfluoroalkylated substances (PFASs), including perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs) and perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids (PFSAs), are ubiquitous in the global environment. PFASs have been detected in wildlife and human tissues and have been associated with a broad array of adverse effects, including neurodevelopmental alterations,(1) reproductive,(2) immunologic(3) and metabolic effects.(4) The occurrence of PFASs has also been described in remote oceanic and polar regions.(5-8) Concerns regarding the persistence, toxicity, and environmental effects(9, 10) led to the inclusion of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), its salts, and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride (PFOSF), in the list of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) regulated under the Stockholm Convention.(11) Perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) is currently under consideration for its inclusion in this list. However, ongoing production of PFOS and its precursors, of PFCAs and their respective precursors, as well as new alternative PFASs(12-15) requires continuous monitoring and fate assessment of PFASs in the global environment.

The biogeochemistry and long-range transport of POPs depends largely on their physico-chemical properties. The water solubility of ionizable PFASs is higher than that of chlorinated POPs, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs). For that reason, although PFAS neutral precursors undergo atmospheric transport(16) reaching remote regions,(17, 18) oceanic transport of PFASs has been suggested as an important transport vector from source regions to remote marine environments.(19-21) Due to the importance of the marine system in the global distribution of PFASs, previous surface seawater monitoring has already been reported.(7, 9, 22, 23) The occurrence of PFASs in deeper seawater has received little attention in terms of vertical profiles(22) and vertical transport.(24)


I have an interesting book on the topic of these compounds in my personal electronic library:

Toxicological Effects of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances

In it one can read all about the fun physiology of these compounds and find lots of interesting references like this one:

Neurobehavioral teratogenicity of perfluorinated alkyls in an avian model (Neurotoxicology and Teratology Volume 32, Issue 2, March–April 2010, Pages 182–186) (It's about chickens, and not humans, although - to allow a little innuendo, it could also be about humans. I often think one might need to be neurologically impaired to vote for certain kinds of people and, to recall, Ronald Reagan was known as the "Teflon President")

Anyway, the scientists in the paper originally cited here investigated the concentration of perfluoroalkylated compounds in oceanic plankton, a key element in our biosphere, and what they found was disturbing, at least to me, since I am professionally involved in the measurement of compounds at physiologically relevant levels.

PFOS and PFOA were ubiquitously detected in plankton samples with concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 43 ng g dry weight (dw)–1 and from 0.5 to 6.7 ng gdw–1, respectively. Short chain PFCAs were generally more frequently detected than longer chain PFCAs (detection frequency among all samples: PFBA - 65%, PFPeA - 100%, PFHxA - 7%, PFHpA - 100%, PFOA - 100%, PFDA - 21%, PFUnA - 69%, PFDoA - 7%, PFTrA - 3%, PFTeA - 3%). Regarding other PFSAs, PFHxS, and PFDS were not always detected in plankton (found in 59% and 14% of the samples, respectively), and their concentrations were always low (<LOQ to 0.9 ng gdw–1).


"ng" here refers to nanograms, billionths of a gram, and gdw–1 refers to "per gram dry weight." If you are comforted by the concentrations being at a billionths of a gram, don't be. Most important drugs of physiological importance, things like antibiotics, blood pressure drugs, heart drugs, cancer drugs, etc, etc, etc exert their effects at similar concentrations, and some do it pictogram (trillionths of a gram) levels.

Many of the other persistent organic pollutants are also halogenated, for instance PCB's have carbon chlorine bonds, and PBDE's have carbon bromine bonds, both in aromatic rings.

The big difference with perfluorocompounds, which have carbon fluorine bonds, is that the carbon fluorine bonds are extremely strong, and therefore far more difficult to break.

All of these compounds can be remediated by exposure to radiation but the energy of the radiation required is a function of the bond strength. It is possible in some cases, to break chloro and bromo carbon bonds with UV light, particularly in the presence of catalysts, the most notable being titanium dioxide and various derivatives know in the class of titanates.

A caveat is that UV light requires in general, um, energy. This is described in a nice "opinion" paper a few issues back in Environmental Science and Technology:

Photocatalytic Water Treatment: So Where Are We Going with This?

The author writes:

During the Cold War era race to the moon between the United States and the USSR, the Soviets are now believed to have possessed a working lunar orbiter, lunar lander, and functional moon suits at the time of the Apollo 11 success. They lacked, however, a reliable rocket capable of getting this payload to the moon. While the quest for photocatalytic water treatment (PWT) is a bit less awe-inspiring, parallels can be drawn between the moon race story and the failures of this enticing form of water treatment. In a 1996 interview with Chemical & Engineering News, chemist James R. Bolton commented on the surge of recent studies within this new field: “This may be a strong statement, but I think the interest in TiO2 is a good example of scientific hype.”(1) Twenty years later, it is surprisingly difficult to argue that he was wrong. The field has ballooned within academia and spawned a growing number of subfields pursuing new applications of PWT, improved catalysts, and reaction mechanisms. And yet, the fundamental technology has scarcely demonstrated a capability to survive outside the lab. While I am a hopeful believer in PWT and active participant in the field, “hype” is perhaps still the best descriptor of its present driving forces and academic allure. In fact, among the water treatment fields, photocatalytic processes arguably show the widest disconnect between research directions and the actual needs of the water industry.


In any case, UV radiation is not strong enough in most circumstances to break carbon fluorine bonds.

A very nice (open sourced) paper in the Nature sponsored journal Scientific Reports describes this nicely.

A class of fully fluorinated hydrocarbons known as perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs, CnF2n + 1COOH) has been widely applied in various ranges for several decades. They are receiving increasing attention because of their easy bioaccumulation and persistent toxic environment impact. Perfluorooctanoic acid (C7F15COOH, PFOA), as a PFCA has already been detected in environment waters, human bodies and wildlife1,2,3,4. As a ubiquitous environmental contaminant, PFOA has the following features: extremely resistant degradation, bioaccumulation in food chains, and long half-lives in human bodies, all of which present characteristics of persistent organic pollutants5,6. The major human exposure sources to PFOA and other PFCs include drinking water7 and edible fish8 etc, and can lead to several chronic and developmental problems, such as children attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder9 and lowered immune response to vaccinations10. Statistic survey shows that its concentration in human bodies and wildlife continues to increase in certain location globally11.

However, PFOA is very stable and considered almost non-biodegradable under natural environments because of the strong C-F bonds (116 kcal/mol). Besides, some researchers reported that PFCAs could almost not be degraded by advanced oxidation process. The principal reason may be that C-F bonds can't be destroyed effectively by hydroxyl radicals (·OH)12,13. Various treatments for PFCAs including adsorption14, photocatalysis15,16, photolysis17, thermolysis18, sonochemical19 and other methods20,21 have been tested for decomposing PFCAs. However, harsh reaction conditions at high temperatures and high pressures are usually needed18,19. Furthermore, the mineralization and defluorination of PFCAs always could not be achieved completely, and toxic by-products might be formed during the decomposing processes12


Complete mineralization of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) by γ-irradiation in aqueous solution (Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 7418 (2014))

The authors were able to completely mineralize (convert the perflurooctanoic acid to fluoride salts and carbon dioxide) under relatively mild conditions, but they required gamma radiation to do it.

I always have the same agenda:

In the 1950's and 1960's there was some discussion of utilizing gamma radiation to routinely purify water, and of course, there are still some people who know quite well what a good idea this was.

Since when I was a dumb and easily distracted kid, I can still remember some looney somewhere shouting at some anti-nuke demonstration I was at that this was horrible since gamma radiation came from "nuclear waste" and this was "our" water!!!!!

Our waters are all turning to shit.

Fear and ignorance have won the day, and in those times, when I was attending anti-nuke demonstrations, I was part of the reason for spreading that same fear and ignorance.

Recently, since this is the sixth anniversary of an event in which close to 20,000 people were killed by, um, drowning and collapsing buildings in an earthquake in Japan, I've been hearing a lot on this website about the reactors that failed in the same event. I've commented on this picayune garbage in my usual acerbic way, but it will do no good.

What is done cannot be undone.

Environmentally, the reactors at Fukushima are meaningless in the sense that they are of small consequence in the big picture. Perfluoroalkylated substances are far more important, and even they fall far behind climate change and air pollution in terms of their overall threat to humanity and the planet's biosphere as a whole.

We make fun of the Republicans for representing that saluting the flag is a more important issue than, say, um, climate change as if we are immune to trivializing distractions.

We are not.

Have a nice evening.

Donnie says "wrong" a lot when he doesn't know what he talking about too.

My suspicion is that this entire exchange involves a lot of projection.

Apparently on this website, we have people with a fairly violent streak requesting that other people suspend their anonymity to discuss - this is funny and cute - peer reviewed papers.

That's not going to happen. Scientists know when they are talking to other scientists, and this is what the word "peer" means in the context of scientific papers.

I am more than happy to repeat - it's a source of pride - why I was "run off" at DKO, a website run by a journalist with no scientific training whatsoever, who, lacking even a modicum of scientific training is also a dumb assed anti-nuke.

I said, citing the clear result of a widely read and widely discussed scientific paper this one that, in effect, "opposition to nuclear energy is murder." It's not a statement for which I can apologize, since it's, um, a true statement.

In making this case, one of the world's leading scientists on the topic of climate change used exactly the same analysis I often use here, that air pollution kills about 70 million people every decade.

The scientific literature literally explodes with information on that topic.

Markos, um, didn't like that, but I notice that Jim Hansen has become persona non grata at Kos and elsewhere. When liberals - and I am a political liberal - make the case that they admire scientists only because the scientists tell them what they want to hear rather than the, um, truth, the result is becoming that to which you object.

This certainly applies to Markos in the current case. For years there was all this evocation of Jim Hansen as a wonderful thinker until he said something that is true but which differs from Markos's preconceived, and frankly, idiotic notions: "Nuclear energy saves lives."

I will say that my writings at Kos did allow me to befriend a number of scientists of like minds, and thus was worth it. The ownership there is clearly not smart enough to understand environmental issues, but some of the people who wrote me there were.

You've been mildly amusing over the years, but you're reaching the point of obsession that seems, um, Trumpian to me, and, I suspect, with an under current of lacking in self control. One never knows where these kinds of things go, but there's no need to find out.

I think it's time to add you to my small, but pointed, ignore list, which consists entirely of people who I regard as having nothing useful or intelligent to say. Since adding the other two frequent posters in this forum of similar mindlessness, I find I waste less time. So be it here.

Have a nice life, and watch out for that liver, big boy.

A manager is in a balloon and gets blown off course...

The manager was lost and said to the person on ground "Hey you, do you know where I am?" The engineer replied "You are on a hot air balloon, approximately 10 m from the ground heading north-north-west at about 1 m/s".

The manager, irked, shouted back "You must be an engineer, your answer is correct but doesn't help a bit!". The engineer snapped back "And you must be a manager. You got where you are by hot air and it was entirely your fault that you're lost, but somehow it now sounds like it's my fault!"

They got a million of 'em.

I wish I could attend Jessika Trancik's lecture tomorrow at the Andlinger Center for Energy...

...and the Environment.

Here's the abstract of her talk:

ABSTRACT
Wind and solar industries have grown rapidly in recent years but they still supply only a small fraction of global electricity. The continued growth of these industries to levels that significantly contribute to climate change mitigation will depend on whether they can compete against alternatives that provide high-value energy on demand. Energy storage can transform intermittent renewables for this purpose but cost improvement is needed. Evaluating diverse storage technologies on a common scale has proved a major challenge, however, owing to their widely varying performance along the two dimensions of energy and power costs. Here we devise a method to evaluate storage technologies against the dynamics of energy demand. Some storage technologies today are shown to add value to solar and wind energy, but cost reduction is needed to reach widespread profitability. The optimal cost improvement trajectories, balancing energy and power costs to maximize value, are found to be relatively location invariant, and thus can inform broad industry and government technology development strategies.


highlight seminar: jessika trancik, massachusetts institute of technology

At the Andlinger Center, it's all "renewable energy" all the time.

The bold above is mine, and is a rare bit of what's called "honesty" about so called "renewable energy" about which we've been cheering like rednecks for Trump for half a century.

but they still supply only a small fraction of global electricity.


In the week ending February 27, the readings at Mauna Loa were 407.37 ppm, 3.29 ppm higher than last year during the same week.

Now we hear, "Energy storage can transform intermittent renewables for this purpose but cost improvement is needed. Evaluating diverse storage technologies on a common scale has proved a major challenge, however, owing to their widely varying performance along the two dimensions of energy and power costs"

How and when will wind power become a significant form of energy? When we hit 450 ppm? 500 ppm? 550 ppm?

I'm getting a little fed up with the Andlinger Center.

When they look at a ton of plutonium over at the Andlinger Center, they run over to Von Hipple's office at the um, Woodrow Wilson school, and figure out how many nuclear weapons could be made from it.

Curiously they don't look at an offshore oil rig and figure how much napalm it could produce, but they look at plutonium and calculate how many theoretical bombs it involves.

When Jim Hansen - and I - look at a ton of plutonium - including weapons grade plutonium which, speaking only for myself, I'd like to see denatured via fission/capture - we see about 80 petajoules of energy, enough to power two large nuclear plants for a year, thus saving thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to air pollution.

Nuclear energy saves lives, and it is, in fact, our last best hope. This crap about "economic energy storage some day" is no more useful than "wind power will be the answer by the year 2000" half a century ago.

History will not forgive us, nor should it.

The Role of Declining Genetic Diversity in the Final Extinction of the Last Wooly Mammoths.

Although wooly mammoths went extinct on continental landmasses about 10,000 years ago, it appears that an isolated colony of these animals survived until relatively recent times - about 3,700 - years ago on Wrangle Island, which is off the coast of Siberia.

An interesting article in the open source journal PLOS Genetics details role that declining genetic diversity played in the ultimate extinction of this colony by comparison of the genetic map of a preserved specimen dating from around the time of the extinction with that of another preserved specimen from about 45,000 years ago.

The article is here: Excess of genomic defects in a woolly mammoth on Wrangel island (Rebekah L. Rogers, Montgomery Slatkin, PLoS Genet 13(3): e1006601.)

Some text from the full papers introduction:

Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were among the most populous large herbivoresin North America, Siberia, and Beringia during the Pleistocene and early Holocene .However warming climates and human predation led to extinction on the mainland roughly10,000 years ago . Lone isolated island populations persisted out of human reach untilroughly 3,700 years ago when the species finally went extinct . Recently, two complete high quality high-coverage genomes were produced for two woolly mammoths . One specimens derived from the Siberian mainland at Oimyakon, dated to 45,000 years ago . This sample comes from a time when mammoth populations were plentiful, with estimated effective population size of Ne = 13,000 individuals . The second specimen is from Wrangel Island off the north Siberian coast . This sample from 4,300 years ago represents one of the last known mammoth specimens. This individual comes from a small population estimated to contain roughly 300 individuals .

These two specimens offer the rare chance to explore the ways the genome responds to pre-extinction population dynamics. Nearly neutral theories of genome evolution predict that small population sizes will lead ton accumulation of detrimental variation in the genome . Such explanations have previously been invoked to explain genome content and genome size differences across multiple species .


The article is, again, open source, so there is no need to quote anything more to the interested reader.

It is well known however that this issue is involved in the survival of many nearly extinct species that we haven't killed off yet. The most famous example is the Cheetah, which apparently survived a near extinction event about 12,000 years ago and is facing another such event presently.

A recent paper on the genetic diversity issues in Cheetahs and the poor quality of their sperm is here:

Continued decline in genetic diversity among wild cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) without further loss of semen quality (Terrell et al. Biological Conservation Volume 200, August 2016, Pages 192–199)

An excerpt from the introduction to that paper, which may not be open sourced follows:

1. Introduction

Inbreeding is linked to negative fitness consequences across a diversity of mammal, bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, insect, and plant species in the wild (Allentoft and O'Brien, 2010, Frankham et al., 2002 and Keller and Waller, 2002). These negative effects are most profound in traits closely linked to reproductive success, including seminal quality and fecundity (Frankham et al., 2002). Species-level genetic diversity is correlated with semen quality among 20 mammals (Fitzpatrick and Evans, 2009), and analogous correlations have been documented at the individual level (i.e., within species) in the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus; ( Ruiz-Lopez et al., 2012), Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi; ( Asa et al., 2007)), and Mohor gazelle (Gazella dama mhorr; ( Ruiz-Lopez et al., 2012)). Within Felidae, the link between genetic diversity and male reproductive traits is well established. A single generation of inbreeding reduces semen quality in the domestic cat (Felis catus; ( Neubauer et al., 2004)) and leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis; ( Wildt, 1994)), while free-ranging inbred lions (Panthera leo) produce higher proportions of malformed spermatozoa and have fewer seminiferous tubules compared to non-inbred counterparts ( Wildt et al., 1987). Consistent with this relationship, semen quality is relatively high among felid species with greater genetic diversity, including the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), jaguar (Panthera onca), and African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus; ( Pukazhenthi et al., 2006b and Swanson et al., 1995)).

Although some natural populations have persisted over long periods with limited genetic diversity (Reed, 2010), most studies support a general relationship between inbreeding and population decline/extirpation (Keller and Waller, 2002). In particular, the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) provides a compelling example of the consequences of extreme inbreeding. Compared to other puma subspecies, the Florida panther is highly inbred, with a population size of < 100 individuals ( Johnson et al., 2010 and Roelke et al., 1993). Males experience severe reproductive defects, including an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, drastically reduced semen and testicular volumes, impaired sperm motility, and very high percentages (> 90%) of structurally-abnormal spermatozoa ( Mansfield and Land, 2002 and Roelke et al., 1993), which are known to be incapable of fertilization (Howard et al., 1993). Conversely, introgression of DNA from eight Texas pumas (Puma concolor stanleyana) increased heterozygosity in the Florida population and resulted in fewer reproductive defects and greater offspring survival ( Johnson et al., 2010). Aside from the Florida panther, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is perhaps the most thoroughly-studied wildlife model of inbreeding depression. The cheetah's lack of genetic diversity was originally detected by allozyme analysis and the ability of unrelated conspecifics to accept reciprocal skin grafts ( O'Brien et al., 1983


This planet is now experiencing a mass extinction comparable with say, a large meteor strike, since like a meteor strike, it is experienced a sudden (on a geological time scale) climate change event. We may think that by preserving a few individuals, we may - as the biblical literalist fools have it - have a Noah's Ark kind of situation. But we do not. Diversity is important, not only in making a truly great country - our greatness is about to go extinct - but in making a truly great population.

There are many nearly extinct great species for whom this is an issue, including but regrettably not even close to limited to, African elephants, Tasmanian devils, Siberian tigers, California Condors, Rhinos etc, and in the plant world, the species that most breaks my heart, the American Chestnut. (The chestnut is already effectively extinct, but genetically modified - by cross breeding - examples are currently being bred by the American Chestnut Society)

The scars on the strength of these species, without deliberate genetic modification, will not go away, and their long term survival is in question, even if we manage to preserve a few individual samples.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend.


ORNL Carbon Dioxide Information Center to Shut 9/30/17. View the Emissions Data While You Can.

One of the earliest thinkers to reflect on climate change was the great engineering scientist Alvin Weinberg, who headed the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) from 1955 until 1973, when he was fired by the Nixon Administration.

Here is one of his papers, from 1977 on the subject of climate change How long is coal's future?

In case you're laboring under the illusion that coal has, um, gone away, ORNL maintains a database of carbon emissions from various sources, which, now that we live in a world ruled by liars and lies, will disappear forever on September 30, 2017. (Welcome to the future). Here is the webpage of this database: CDIAC, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Fossil Carbon Dioxide Emissions

By clicking on this link, one can be directed to a page with links to spreadsheets, papers, and other data about how we're doing with carbon dioxide emissions. Global Carbon Project - Full Global Carbon Budget (1959-2015)

Let's click together on November 2016's carbon budget xls file to see how we're doing with doing away with coal. To do this click on the tab on the bottom, "Fossil Fuel Emissions by Fuel Type." The numbers you see are in millions of tons of carbon. To convert this to carbon dioxide one should take the ratio - assuming you're not in Greenpeace and therefore can do math - between the molecular weight of carbon dioxide (44.0098 amu) and the atomic weight of carbon (12.011 amu), which as noted in the header, leads to a factor of 3.664.

Doing this, one can see that the world total for carbon dioxide emissions from dangerous fossil fuels now stands at 36.262 billion tons (with a few billion tons thrown in to make concrete). This is the highest emission rate ever observed since the data started being tabulated in 1959.

Carbon dioxide emissions from coal peaked in 2014, and fell by 0.279 billion tons, or by 1.8% in 2015 to 15.030 billion tons. However we were emitting 170% of the coal waste carbon dioxide in 2015 than we were in the year 2000, and emitting 239% as much coal waste as we were in 1976 when Amory Lovins predicted that the world would soon be saved by conservation and so called "renewable energy."

The decreases in carbon dioxide from dangerous coal were more than made up by increases in carbon dioxide emissions from petroleum, (+0.225 billion tons) and dangerous natural gas (+0.115 billion tons). Thus 2015 was the worst year ever, which is also reflected in the readings at Mauna Loa where we passed 400 ppm in 2015. No one alive will ever see a reading lower than 400 ppm, and the reason is we lie to ourselves.

If you've been checking in to this forum over the years - I started in the early 2000's - you've been reading all kinds of happy horseshit about "solar breakthroughs" "world's largest solar plant" "wind briefly produces 60% of Spain's electricity on 'such and such a date'." So on and so on.

Maybe these kinds of announcements made you happy.

Everybody loves so called "renewable energy" except a few cranks like me. It, um, didn't work. It's not working. And as noted recently in a paper in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, it won't work.

(They phrase it far more diplomatically than I do by writing:

Despite the extraordinary growth rates of wind and solar in recent years, greatly accelerated expansion is required in the next decades. Most scenarios have limited scope for large-scale hydropower expansion due to geophysical constraints. Further, most scenarios indicate strong growth in nuclear energy, but there is renewed uncertainty from the drop in public support since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. Scenarios indicate that renewables alone may not be sufficient to stay below 2 °C given physical constraints to large-scale deployment and the need to offset emissions in some sectors20, such as agriculture.


The um, "extraordinary growth" to which they refer, represented a two trillion dollar investment in wind and solar alone over the last ten years. Wind and solar combined, do not supply even 5 of the 570 exajoules of energy humanity generates and consumes each year.)

Their gentle phrasing doesn't stop me from saying that "renewable energy" won't work, and, um, it won't. (The reason is physics, with a little bit of materials science thrown in.)

The nuclear "disaster" at Fukushima Daiichi mentioned by the Nature Climate Change paper's authors was a trivial event, given that 7 million people die each year from direct health effects of air pollution, deaths from climate change not included. One has to love selective attention; it does such wonderful things, at least if you're into maintaining jobs in the coal industry. If 1000 people were to die from Fukushima radiation - they won't - it wouldn't represent even two hours worth of air pollution deaths from dangerous fossil fuels and biomass combustion, deaths that continue unabated hour after hour, day after day, and decade after decade with no hope for ending them in sight.

The public, though, doesn't support nuclear energy.

Alvin Weinberg saved more than a million lives that otherwise would have been lost to air pollution by overseeing the invention the pressurized water nuclear reactor. Other work of his is popular in pro-nuclear circles, the famous liquid fluoride thorium reactor. (I used to be a big fan of this reactor myself, but I changed my mind. Better reactors are possible and were even built - albeit using primitive technology - years before the MSRE - Molten Salt Reactor Experiment.)

Anyway. Don't worry. Be happy. If you find yourself being fond of lies, like, um "coal is dead" you're hardly the only one, as we all know by observing the orange slime mold that's infected the White House.

Have a nice evening.

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