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Sun May 20, 2018, 02:14 PM

The Absolute Worst Idea in Energy I've Seen, and I've Seen Some Bad Ones.

In recent years, I've seen some pretty outrageously bad ideas in energy, like for instance the idea of lead based perovskite solar cells, a subject that has had a disturbing number of publications in recent years - 38,000 according to Google Scholar - although people will undoubtedly declare this horror story "green" because, well, the word "solar" is "magic."

We really need distributed lead because, allegedly, in some quarters - although I disagree profoundly - "distributed energy" is a great idea. Shades of tetraethyl lead and that wonderful form of "distributed energy," the automobile, which has been just wonderful for the environment...

Of course, the real purpose of the solar industry is to put lipstick on the gas pig. Except as a marketing tool for gas, the solar industry, despite more than a half of a century of wild cheering, is effectively useless. Combined with wind energy it didn't produce 10 of the 576 exajoules of energy humanity generated and consumed as of 2016. Notoriously unreliable forms of energy - this includes all forms of so called "renewable energy" requires fast back up and redundancy, and, as it happens, one of the fastest approaches to grid power fluctuations is dangerous natural gas plants, failing the use of "spinning reserve" which consists of running a plant continuously while not actually using the power, "just in case..."

And this brings me to the absolute worst idea in energy, even worse than the idea of lead perovskite solar cells, a new surfactant for use in fracking, which I came across in a paper today, this one:

Comparison of Linear and Branched Molecular Structures of Two Fluorocarbon Organosilane Surfactants for the Alteration of Sandstone Wettability (Ivan Moncayo-Riascos* and Bibian A. Hoyos, Energy Fuels, 2018, 32 (5), pp 5701–5710)

From the text of the paper:

In gas fields, when the reservoir pressure drops as a consequence of gas extraction, small amounts of liquid hydrocarbons can be formed. In the early stages of the formation of these condensates, the liquid can be entrained by the gas, but as the pressure falls, the capillary forces overcome the drag forces, forming condensate banks that clog the pores available for gas extraction.(1−3) The formation of these condensate banks can change the wettability state of the reservoir rock.(4,5) Experimental laboratory-level evaluations show that there may be a decline in well productivity of up to 90% due to the formation of condensate banks, while in field studies there have been registered productivity losses between 40 and 80% due to this type of damage.(6,7)

To recover the productivity lost by the formation of condensate banks, alternatives such as hydraulic fractures and the injection of wettability modifiers have been implemented, with chemical alteration of the wettability of the formation around the wellbore being the most promising.(3,8−10) The injection of wettability modifiers can, in addition to restoring the pore channels clogged by the condensate hydrocarbons, reduce the affinity of the surface to be in contact with the liquid, thereby facilitating the mobility of the hydrocarbons in the liquid phase.(4,11−13)

Fluorocarbon surfactants have been widely used to promote surfaces that generate high contact angles in both water and liquid hydrocarbons (coined with the term “gas-wet ”) because of their high thermal stability, low interfacial tension, and high surfactant activity.(14−16) Among the various fluorocarbon surfactants, organosilanes stand out as promising structures because of their high affinity toward silica surfaces, which allows them to form bonds with the surface, thereby increasing the durability of the treatment.(12,13,17−20)


Here are the structures of the molecules they propose as "promising" to improve sandstone "wettability" for the purpose of fracking:



The caption:

Figure 1. Structures of the fluorocarbonated organosilane surfactants and the sections of each molecular structure selected: Tail, CF, and NonCF.


One of the most intractable environmental problems on this planet is the on going accumulation of persistent halogenated species, one of the worst of which is perfluorooctanoyl sulfonate, (PFOS).

This compound is found pretty much in every living thing on the planet as of now, and has generated huge concern because it is only very, very, very, very slowly degraded and has generated considerable toxicological concern.

For just one, of thousands of examples of the concern in the primary scientific literature, is this one:

Endocrine disruptor effect of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) on porcine ovarian cell steroidogenesis (Andrea Chaparro-Ortega et al, Toxicology in Vitro Volume 46, February 2018, Pages 86-93)

The only sink for these kinds of molecules, with the exception of some very rare and unusual metabolic processes (which may actually result in molecules more toxic than PFOS itself) and radiolysis by exposure to high energy gamma rays, x-rays or short wave length radiation.

While this suggests a use for what dumb people refer to as "nuclear waste," there probably aren't enough accumulated fission products available to make much of a dent in this huge worldwide problem, the ongoing accumulation of perfluoroalkyl species including but not limited to the sulfonates. Enough fission products may be available for local water purification, but hardly enough to digest all of these problematic molecules.

Note that their accumulation is mostly due to small volume products, fabric treatment chemicals, etc...

Every damn molecule in the pictures above will face the same toxicological problem as PFOS. Every. Damn. One.

Right now, billion ton quantities of dangerous natural gas are mined each year, while many of us, not me, wait like Godot for the grand so called "renewable energy revolution" which has not come, is not underway, and will never, like Godot, never come.

Now we need millions of tons of sandstone wettability reagents to continue with this cockamamie scheme?

I'm sorry. I thought the worst idea in energy was the lead perovskite solar cell. I was wrong. This is even worse, at least in theory, although I doubt anyone would take this scheme as seriously as apparently many people take the lead perovskite solar cell. Thus considered as an "expectation value" which is the probability of an event taking place times the effect of the outcome, it's probably the case that the lead perovskite cell is worse in expectation value terms, if not in terms of the risk outcome factor.

Have a nice Sunday afternoon.



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